As a finance professional and business owner, I tend to focus on the numbers. Quantitative data on growth rates, margins, revenues and expenses speak to me. They provide a uniform and fair way to evaluate performance and the allocation of resources. Some of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. today are in technology and engineering fields which are mathematically and quantitatively oriented. In short, it’s hard to argue against the numbers. But even I must acknowledge that there are many business questions that can’t be answered quantitatively.
Many problems won’t be diagnosed and treated if you are just looking at the numbers. Some are critical for determining the success or failure of your business. Here are some of the questions you may want to consider that can’t be answered quantitatively.
Do you really want to be a business owner?
Many business owners got started because they wanted to practice their particular talent, profession or passion and were not able to do so through their employer. Entrepreneurship and business ownership was a means used to achieve a particular end – fulfillment and self-actualization with regards to work.
While this may be a valid strategy for a job search, in the long-run it won’t work for business ownership. The stress and sacrifice associated with business ownership require genuine enthusiasm for owning the business. Many business owners would be far happier and more successful if they gave up the ownership part of the business and focused on refining their particular skill or talent and offering it to an employer.
Can you trust the people you work with?
I was recently at a meeting with a local business owner who has done quite well over the past few years. When it came time to discuss the financial terms of our agreement, he made sure that the door to his office was closed and that no one would disturb us. I didn’t think much of it until he returned to his desk and said “I have to do that. You don’t think I actually trust these people do you?” He was referring to his own employees.
Short-term performance goals, like meeting a sales quota for the quarter, can be achieved in almost any situation with the right combination of incentives and pressures. But if there isn’t a certain level of trust within your organization then you are setting yourself up to fail even if things are going well right now. Either you don’t know how to hire the right people, you are paranoid or you aren’t fostering the right business culture. As soon as the slightest hiccup occurs, everyone will be looking out for themselves and what would have been a minor problem for a well-run team can bring down your business.
Do you have someone close to you that tells you the truth?
All throughout history we have examples of great leaders that ultimately failed because they lost touch with reality. The same thing happens in the business world. One of my favorite television programs is “Undercover Boss”. This reality-based program disguises CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and has them work in the trenches of their own organizations. Not surprisingly, the CEOs learn key lessons and recognize that many of the decisions they make are far removed from the reality of day to day work in their organizations. This problem can also happen within a small business. A great way to inoculate yourself against the effects of isolation is having someone that gives you reality checks and will always tell you truth even if they know you don’t want to hear it.
If your business were to disappear tomorrow, who would you call first for help?
Hopefully you have a name in your head already. If so, does that person know how highly you regard them? Are they aware of the fact that you are counting on them in case things don’t go well? If you don’t know who the person would be, then you need to find someone who would play that role in your life.
As we take a little time off at the end of the year, I encourage you to contemplate these questions. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers you give yourself, then make changes and make them soon. In order to achieve the quantitative results you seek in your business, the qualitative foundation must first be built.
Mike Periu is the founder of EcoFin Media, LLC an independent producer of financial, economic and entrepreneurial content for television, radio, print and the internet. Over the past ten years he has started three companies and advised over 50 companies on financial strategies including fundraising. Mike also hosts regular small business webinars on a range of topics relevant to business owners.