My hairdresser only works two days a month cutting hair. (Her “other” job as a psychologist keeps her pretty busy. Really.) So it can be difficult to get an appointment, and for these past two months, due to various business trips and vacations, I haven’t seen her for longer than usual. That means I have roots.
Since I have a big business meeting coming up, I needed to cover aforementioned roots and bought some stuff at Target to do it myself. Mission accomplished. I was pretty proud of myself and made a note to cancel my upcoming appointment. But when I pulled my hair into a ponytail (I swear I think better that way), I noticed a big chunk of white hair on the left side of my head. Upon further examination I quickly saw that, beneath the surface, my bright white roots remained intact. I immediately tore up the note to cancel my hair appointment.
My problems with my hair are like so many businesses today — everything looks fine on the outside, but a quick glance below the surface gloss and the flaws become readily apparent. This is an important lesson for you entrepreneurs on many levels. First you need to think about how you see, I mean really see your business.
Too often entrepreneurs are so busy creating and selling and marketing they don’t really see what’s going on under their noses. This touches upon a little of what I wrote last week, that business owners can’t hide away in an office. You need to get out and not only walk among your employees, but talk to them as well.
Don’t confine those conversations to a few hand-picked people you’ve always trusted. I’m not suggesting they’d deliberately lie to you, but they could be trying to protect the status quo. Talk to as many people as possible. Solicit feedback. If you pick up some rumblings, but you can’t get very far (not all employees like complaining to the boss), ask someone your employees like and trust what’s going on.
If you do uncover a problem, do something about it! This is more difficult than you might think. I’ve seen entrepreneurs react in different ways to the discovery that something’s gone awry in their businesses. One all-too-common reaction is the quick fix, with business owners rushing into action. But this is like slapping a coat of paint on a termite-ridden house. The easy solution or quick fix doesn’t correct the problem, it just covers it up.
Then there’s the “sky is falling” approach where business owners overreact and start making wholesale changes. This may address the problem eventually, but this solution is often more complicated and costly than necessary. It’s like knocking down the whole house, instead of just dealing with the termites.
In either case it’s action without thought. For many years entrepreneurs prided themselves on being different than their corporate counterparts. “We can turn on a dime” went the mantra, while the big guys endlessly researched and studied and talked about possible solutions. And while there’s truth to that — smaller businesses can and do react more quickly to challenges — the fact is the best solution lies somewhere in the middle. The ability to turn on a dime can be beneficial, but only after you take the time to make sure you’ve found the right answers.
Times like these call for insight and action. Were you prepared for the economic downturn? Back in January when I announced in a meeting that we were in a recession, I got “scolded” for overreacting to rising gas prices. Many Americans got caught with their heads in the sand on this one. By the time business owners and managers realized what was going on, for many it was too late for solutions. Millions of people got laid off, thousands of businesses filed for bankruptcy, and the stock market tanked. A little foresight might have prevented at least some of this.
It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. It’s a tough balancing act to keep one eye on the horizon (the future) and one on the ground (today). You need to anticipate what may be, while staying aware of what is. The only way you can do this it to dive beneath the surface of your own business. If possible, be your own mystery shopper. Look at your Web site with a critical eye. Is it easy to navigate? Can customers find what they’re looking for? Are your prices evident? A survey a few years ago by online information resource Thomas Register showed that an overwhelming number of online customers move on if a price list is not readily available on the site they are visiting.
If you’re a retailer or service entrepreneur, you obviously can’t shop anonymously at your own business. Get a friend to do it for you. Have them rate the service they received and the employees who assisted them.
You can shop your competition, however. It’s important to keep abreast of what they’re doing and compare your own business accordingly. It might be morale-boosting to say you don’t have any real competitors, to think you own the market. Please don’t believe your own hype. In the 21st century, no one owns any market. If you don’t believe me, just ask the folks at GM.