Encountering obstacles is something all businesses have in common. What sets one business apart from another, however, is how they overcome business obstacles. While some allow obstacles to derail them, others have learned to prepare for them and see them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Some obstacles can be avoided. They can result from unmanaged emotions, ingrained habits, and habitual mistakes. Unattended, these obstacles become emotional thieves that steal focus, sap mental energy, and sometimes thwart the most important initiatives.
What can you do to close the door on these business obstacles so you can capitalize on opportunities to succeed? Here are eight strategies that may help you overcome common business challenges.
Listen to your gut when it comes to people.
We all have a built-in radar that tells us when we are about to make a mistake involving people. But we often choose not to heed that signal.
One of the causes of startup failures is failing to hire talented people to build an effective team. Choosing the right team, especially the right co-founder, is crucial. Some entrepreneurs pick a co-founder based on friendship—having been like-minded buddies working together in the past. In the excitement of starting a new venture, an entrepreneur may ignore the feeling in their gut that tells them the person they are about to pick does not have the managerial competence for this role. They may lack execution skills or be weak in strategic thinking. Instead of bolstering weaknesses, they compound them.
Remember that business shouldn't be personal. For example, if you hire a friend who turns out to be an underperforming employee, it may be challenging to make a timely decision to let them go. However, maintaining a persistently underperforming employee will continue to drag a business down. Therefore, it is important to have that difficult conversation quickly for the good of the business.
While some allow obstacles to derail them, others have learned to prepare for them and see them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Make frugality a company value.
It's not uncommon to witness a startup that gets some funding and begins to spend like a Fortune 500 company. Euphoria and the thrill of the win can replace common sense. Uncontrolled spending is a business obstacle that can easily be avoided. In the early days of Microsoft, they issued a "Shrimp and Weenies" memo to all employees asking them to be frugal with company money—to order weenies, for example, not shrimp, when the company pays the bill. It asked employees to consider Microsoft "the biggest small company in the world." As your company grows, keeping a frugal mentality is good advice for the long haul.
Know your value and avoid emotional pricing.
One of the business challenges small business owners often face is establishing proper pricing strategies for their products and services. Sometimes, emotions dictate the price charged. For example, fear of losing the sale and charging too little, which over time will continually lower the profit margin. This can create insurmountable business challenges down the road. Emotional pricing can also result from a feeling of pride—what one consultant called "the joy of the hunt," getting the contract at all costs and feeling good that you beat the competition. On closer analysis, this is a hollow win—price with your head, not your heart. Know your costs, keep your ear to the ground regarding your competition, and periodically reevaluate your prices.
If you regularly fail to get a positive answer to your proposals, ask customers for feedback on your pricing. Many are happy to share, and this feedback can yield helpful information going forward.
Be willing to abandon what doesn't work.
Some products or services included in a business may no longer work. We tend to fall in love with our own products and services and find it hard to let something go. It's almost as if we develop blinders that prevent us from seeing what's apparent to outsiders but not to us. As Gary Hamel put it in What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, "There's a simple but oft-neglected lesson. To sustain success, you have to be willing to abandon things that are no longer successful."
Evaluate what doesn't work and have the courage to walk away from it before it becomes one of your business challenges. The energy you will have released from letting it go will increase your concentration on what works, allowing you to apply the intensity of a laser focus on the right target.
Replace old strategies with new ones.
Some business challenges result from our ingrained habits—clinging to outdated modes and ways of doing business because it's what we know best. For example, relying on outbound marketing tactics without considering the value of inbound marketing strategies. Inbound marketing is the brainchild of HubSpot. It means attracting customers through various avenues such as blogs, podcasts, videos, social media marketing, and many other forms of content marketing. It's the antecedent of outbound marketing, which includes strategies such as cold calling and direct email marketing.
Being willing to explore new marketing tactics you may have yet to use can help you grow your business and remain competitive. Embrace social media, create valuable content to share freely on your website, and consider hiring a professional to help you optimize your website or even outsource your small business marketing program.
Know the biggest business obstacle you face.
If you could eliminate one big obstacle in your business that would allow you to grow exponentially, what would it be?
Common responses have been finding and training the right people to grow the business and how to find easier access to capital. What would your answer be? Gaining clarity is the first step toward taking action steps to prevent obstacles from obstructing your road to success.
- Do you have inadequate IT that slows things down?
- Are there inefficiencies in using the technology and software?
- Are you understaffed?
- Are people confused about roles and responsibilities?
- Is the decision-making process slow because all decisions must go through you?
- Is a growing workload slowing down progress?
Don't distance yourself from the sales function.
During the startup phase, entrepreneurs generally act as sales chiefs. They know their product or service best because they created it. As they grow and start to hire staff, some founders may remove themselves from the sales function. They slowly distance themselves as they focus on financing, people management, and other operational issues. That becomes a major business obstacle because sales can make or break a business.
Standard advice usually given to entrepreneurs is to avoid wearing too many hats and not to micromanage the business. While this is true, when it comes to sales, it's prudent to always keep sales in your peripheral vision so you are not caught off guard and can adjust before business obstacles and business challenges pile up.
Moreover, don't let a busy schedule prevent you from training or developing your sales team. Sales teams are critical for any company that wants to grow and succeed. Investing time in providing ongoing training for your sales team is essential.
Stick to the knitting.
Simplify and stay focused on what you know and what you do best. In other words, stick to the knitting. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman coined this phrase in their seminal book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best Run Companies. As the authors put it long ago, be wary of business diversity.
As the oft-repeated adage goes: "New businesses die of indigestion (taking on too many things), not starvation (lack of opportunities)."
Questions to consider to avoid getting derailed in your business:
- What is core to the success of your business?
- What parts of your business are your bread & butter? That is, where does your organization's primary income come from? Where is the money made?
- Who are your bread-and-butter customers?
Stay focused on your core product or service. Don't layer more onto your business. If you believe in your offering and know it adds value, it may not pay to look for the next exciting thing. Boring pays.
Every business has challenges. Knowing some of the most common business obstacles and how to overcome them can set you and your business on a path for success.
A version of this article was originally published on June 14, 2013.
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