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Being Stuck

What’s Stopping Your Business From Making More Money?

As an entrepreneur, you probably suffer from what Michael Gerber calls “busy, busy, busy”.

There’s always much more you which you could do…, should do.

But what really matters?

What is the main thing that is stopping your business from making more money?It’s an interesting question and it explains why I’m attracted to using the theory of constraints in my strategy coaching.

There are two techniques in particular from the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes that we should talk about.

The first is the Prerequisite Tree.

This focuses your attention on the necessary conditions to meet your goal.

It’s particularly important for start-up businesses or those that have never performed well.

The idea is to focus on the individual things necessary for your success which together become sufficient.

It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – you don’t get to see the full effect until every piece is in place.

But the jigsaw has been mixed in with other sets of pieces.

There are many things competing for your attention, but they don’t fit.

They don’t complete the picture.

The 1,001 other things you could do in your business take your time, attention and money but because they are nice to haves rather than must haves, they move you forward.

The Prerequisite Tree identifies the most important things to focus on and turns them into intermediate objectives.

We can find the items by asking “What’s stopping you from achieving your goal? Why haven’t you already done it?

The second important aspect of the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes I want to focus on in this blog is the Current Reality Tree.

This works from the symptoms of your problems – perhaps not making enough money – and working back helps us to identify the core problem which will have maximum impact.

This is identifying the constraint.

And when you can see it, you can follow the Theory of Constraints principles and do something about it.

The constraint may be inside the business.

It may genuinely be a physical constraint – you could sell much more if only you could make it.

Or it could be a policy constraint. Unfortunately it is easy to get trapped by conventional thinking and do things because “that’s the way we’ve always done them” without appreciating the consequences.

Or the constraint could be out there in the market.

You could make more money if only you could sell more.

The Theory of Constraints has an answer for that too by developing what’s called an unrefusable offer or even a Mafia offer (think Marlon Brando saying “I’m going to make you an offer you called refuse” in The Godfather”).

This is the purpose of differentiating your business and explains my interest in the Theory of Constraints and the work of Eli Goldratt.

I recommend you take a look at this excellent book

The Logical Thinking Processes by William Dettmer

in 1 – Your KPI, 2 – Your Inner Game

What To Do If Your Business Is Stuck Or You Feel Stuck

First let’s look into the problem of being stuck as a business owner:

  • What does it mean if a business is stuck or of a business owner is stuck?
  • What are the symptoms of being stuck?
  • How does “being stuck” fit into the cycle of business growth and decline?
  • What can you do to move from being stuck to being unstuck?

What Does It Mean If A Business Is Stuck Or If A Business Owner Feels Stuck?

If a business is stuck, it means that it has lost its forward momentum:

  • The rate of growth in sales and profits has slowed down, stalled or perhaps even gone into a small decline.
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  • It’s become harder to convince customers to buy because you’ve lost key factors of differentiation that gave you an edge over your competitors.
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  • If you don’t get unstuck, your business is likely to go into decline and the future of your business may be threatened. The amount of time you have to take corrective action depends on the buffers you’ve built up in  terms of cash and reserves of profit and the rate of decline in cash and profit.

[continue reading…]

in Business Problems And Mistakes

When you have a problem as a business owner, it’s very easy to feel unsure about what you need to do next to improve your business.

You feel stuck (see symptoms of being stuck) and it’s hard to get unstuck on your own.

Quite simply, you’re too close to see things objectively.

This makes it hard to move from the symptoms to the underlying problem so the temptation is to try to cure the symptoms again and again.

It’s like playing whack-a-mole. [continue reading…]

in Business Problems And Mistakes

The Symptoms Of Being Stuck In Your Business

Sometimes you know you’re stuck because you have a problem going around and around in your head without reaching an answer. Other times, you or your business might suffer from some of these symptoms:

  1. You’ve lost the feel good factor of being your own boss.
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  2. You feel conflicted about your business, as if you’re being pulled in at least two directions at the same time..
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  3. Profitability is lower than you want.
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  4. Cash flow issues regularly arise like being paid late by customers or having to fend off suppliers who want to be paid before you’ve got the money.
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  5. You get to the end of the day and feel as if you’ve acquired more new jobs to do than you’ve completed in the last ten or twelve hours.
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  6. Your employees seem to create more problems than they solve. Morale is down and you might have lost or be in danger of losing your best employees.
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  7. You know your customers are disgruntled because you can’t give them the service they demand and you want to give.
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  8. You’re unsure where you should focus the time you do have for business improvement in the future.
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  9. Customers continually encourage you to cut prices just to keep their business, let alone increase it. You’ve lost ground on the factors that used to make your business attractive to customers because it was different from your competitors.

[continue reading…]

in Business Problems And Mistakes

21 Reasons Why Your Business Isn’t As Successful
As You Want…

And What You Can Do About It

If you are frustrated and disappointed with the way your business is performing, let me reassure you that you’re not on your own.

But where you’ve taken a big positive first step is that you’ve decided to investigate the underlying causes why your business isn’t generating large profits and generous cash flows consistently each month.

That puts you well ahead of the game compared to the thousands, perhaps millions of business owners who accept their lot and suffer in silence with a business that under-performs.

My Role In Helping You To Find The Causes For Why Your Business Is Struggling

I want to help you to diagnose the problems that are holding your business back and to guide you to the right solutions.

I’m going to have to be blunt.

If I sugar-coat my words, they may pass over you and that means this opportunity will be missed.

The Three Big Causes For A Business To Struggle

  1. The business owner(s) and managers
  2. The business
  3. The market

The problem may lie principally in one of those areas or it may ripple through all three.

For You To Make Changes That Improve Your Business You Need To Have (Some) Control

There are two types of people.

  1. Those who accept primary responsibility for what happens to them and know that they can make changes to improve their situation.
  2. Those who refuse to accept primary responsibility for what is happening around them and blame other people or the general environment.

The economy sucks. You can let it drag you down or you can do something about it.

Fortunately the big difference between business owners / entrepreneurs and the rest of the working population, is that many employees are stuck with a victim-mentality and have things happen to them with little control.

Business owners generally believe they can make things happen.

They often have a positive mindset that, even in adversity, there is an opportunity to be found and exploited.

I hope you have a positive mindset too.

If not, you might want to stop reading because this is going to be a tough ride.

However if you’re an action taker determined to be in control of your own destiny, I believe you’re going to get great insight from what follows.

Why I Start With You

This may feel like a personal attack but it’s much too easy to blame the wretched economy and to use it as an excuse for poor performance.

Bear with me, I mean well.

The reason I want to get you to face some hard facts about yourself and how you are working is that these issues are the easiest to correct.

If the problem lies inside you, you can fix it and provided you keep disciplined, your business improves.

If the problem lies within your business, the span of what you have to control increases (the strategy, the systems and processes, the products and services, the people) and the level of control reduces.

It’s your business. You can make things happen but it’s harder to change than it is to change you.

If the problem lies within the market, there are more players to influence (customers, direct and indirect competitors) and you have less control. In terms of overall market demand, you may have negligible influence so you have to try to increase your market share without causing too many problems with competitors.

Section 1 – How Are You Holding Back Your Business And Causing It To Struggle?

It’s unlikely that all of these issues will apply to you but some might.

Read the question out loud.

Try to answer each one honestly, as if you’re talking to your husband or wife, your best friend or to a therapist or counsellor.

It’s a good idea to get a piece of paper and write the numbers 1 to 21 down along the side. Then make your own assessment – perhaps graded into:

1 – often a big problem

2 – sometimes a problem

3 – not usually a problem

4 – never a problem

1 – Have You Lost Your Mojo For Your Business?

Have you stopped being excited when you wake up in the morning and think about your work?

>>>> What If I’ve Lost My Mojo For My Business?

2 – Have You Stopped Working And THINKING Hard Enough?

This is a contentious point because I know many business owners work extremely long hours. However there is much more to working hard than time spent “doing stuff”. Have you heard of the 80/20 Rule? How well are you focused on the 20% of activities that generate 80% of your results?

Success comes down to a few things

  • How you feel.
  • How you think, what you think and how well you think.
  • The decisions you make and how you plan to turn those decisions into effective action.
  • What you do and how well you do those activities.
  • The results you achieve.

These have feedback loops between them. How you feel depends on what you think, do and achieve but also impacts on what you think, do and achieve.

3 – Are You Unclear On Your Goals And Priorities?

Having a clear purpose for your business is great news but it’s extremely hard to move from such a big vision down to the activities you do on an hour-by-hour basis without setting goals and objectives, deciding priorities and, yes, having a plan.

4 – Are You Poor At Controlling How You Use Your Time?

Are you clear that you make the highest and best use of your time while you are working? Or do you find that you waste too much of it and, when you look back at the end of the day, you find yourself wondering what you did and what you achieved?

5 – Are You Bad At Working To Your Strengths And Delegating Activities Linked To Your Weaknesses

As humans, none of us are perfect. We have strengths and weaknesses and we should recognise and accept them.

Much more gets achieved when people do what they’re good at and enjoy doing. Too many business owners spend too long doing low value activities that no one in their right minds would pay them to do.

6 – Do You Feel Lonely And Isolated With No One To Bounce Ideas Off?

Being the owner and main decision maker in a business can e a very lonely place and especially if the business is struggling and tough decisions need to be made.

7 – Do You Start Many More Projects Than You Finish?

Many business owners and entrepreneurs are creative ideas people. They jump from one great idea to another but move on before finishing the last. Unfortunately this is a great way to spend a lot of time, energy and money while achieving very little.

8 – Have You Become Complacent About Why Your Business Has Been A Success In The Past And In Denial Of The Current Situation?

It has been recognised that instead of success breeding more success, it can often lead to decline and failure. That’s because people are reluctant to make changes to something that has worked and although the market is sending signals, they are excused as blips.

Complacency about the future prospects of the business can easily lead to denial as problems increase and profitabilty gradually reduces, even to the stage where the business is incurring losses.

Section 2 – The Core Business Issues That Are Causing Difficulties

I’ve got no intention of letting you off the hook now that we’ve moved from you to your business.

As the business owner, you are responsible for everything that happens in your business.

If your sales revenue is too low, it is your fault.

If there isn’t enough money in the bank to meet the next payroll, it is your fault.

If your employees are driving you crazy, it is your fault.

Remember that accepting responsibility is empowering because it means that you can make changes to create improvements. In fact, it is your responsibility to create a successful business that gives certainty and stability to your family, your customers, your employees and everyone else connected with your business.

9 – Are Your Products And Services Seen As A Commodity By Customers Because Your Business Is Not Differentiated?

This reason for poor performance is my particular hobby horse and is of vital importance.

If your business isn’t different from the competition, then unless your operate in a market where demand far exceeds supply, your business has little reason for its existence.

Harsh I know but if you can’t bring some kind of unique value and satisfaction to customers, why should they give you any kind of attention, let alone buy from you?

10 – Does Your Business Lack Competitive, Value For Money Offers?

This is a reminder that while people may love (or hate) businesses, they buy particular product or service offerings.

I’d love an Aston Martin car, they don’t make one that’s right for me and certainly not at a price that I’d be willing to pay.

11 – Do You Struggle To Attract Enough Enquiries From Prospective Customers?

As I make clear in the Six Steps Profit Formula report, even when you have a great offer, it needs to be wrapped up in a compelling promise and you need to get it in front of the eyes and ears of your target market.

12 – Do You Find It Hard To Convert Enough Enquiries Into Paying Customers?

You don’t get paid on leads. In fact it is often an expensive process to convert leads into customers and considerable money can be wasted if too large a proportion of sales opportunities are lost.

13 – Are Many Customers Disappointed With Your Product or Service After Buying And Don’t Keep Buying?

It’s one thing to create a customer. It’s another to keep one and turn it into a long term profitable relationship.

14 – Do You Lack Follow-Up Products And Services To Sell After The Customer Buys The First Time?

Even if you provide a great service and receive plaudits for your customer satisfaction, your business may not be able to profit from the goodwill created if you can’t offer extra products and services.

15 – Are Your Operating Costs Too High For The Prices You Have To Sell At?

The market and your ability to influenced perceived value will determine the upper limit of the prices you sell at but your profitability depends on your costs to buy, create and deliver the products and the costs to service the customer.

A great business can be ruined by poor cost control, inefficiencies and low productivity.

16 – Do You Have Poor Quality, Untrained And/Or Unmotivated Staff?

If your employees aren’t up to it, your business will never take proper advantage of the opportunity for profit available from the market. There may be recruitment, management or leadership issues that need to be tackled urgently.

17 – Does Your Business Not Work Very Well When You Are Not There?

Having good people is a great start but they won’t produce great performance if the systems and processes are not properly designed and fit for purpose.

Great systems mean that your business delivers consistently high quality whether you are there to oversee operations or away.

Section 3 – Business Difficulties Are Coming From Outside Of The Business

If you’ve gone through the first two sections about your performance as the business owner and driver force or your business and about the business itself, but haven’t found much to fix, then the problem lies within the market.

18 – Is The Market In Long Term, Permanent Decline?

In this situation, you face a big strategic issue. Do you leave this market and look for other opportunities or do you aim to dominate the market that’s left?

19 – Is The Market In A Cyclical Decline That Should Bounce Back In The Long Term?

In this situation the business is dragged down by the market, but provided the business can hang on, demand will recover and better profitability will return. This is about managing the short term future while maintaining long term prospects.

20 – Is Your Market  Extremely Competitive Where Prices Have Been Driven Down So Low, Profits Have Been Competed Away?

Some product markets suffer from crazy, suicidal competition with average selling prices forced down close to marginal cost levels. It’s easy to get into a price war that destroys the long term profit potential and permanently shifts the balance of power towards customers and away from suppliers.

21 – Is The Market Changing Quickly Or Facing A Potential Major Shift In The Way It Works?

Some markets go through a major change where the old rules of competition and their key success factors are overturned with a new way of working. The internet first changed the distribution channel for books, CDs and DVDs and is now making the physical products obsolete.

Has that happened to you or do you fear that it might happen?

How Did You Do?

There are twenty one major reasons why your business may not be as successful as you want it to be.

How many of the questions triggered alarms with you?

If you graded your answers on a sheet of paper, how did you score?

I’m not going to give you an overall rating. That’s not how this is intended to work.

Instead it’s meant to highlight the areas where you need to prioritise your attention.

What You Can Do About These Issues

I will be writing detailed articles about each of these issues to give your more guidance, outline options and share some practical tips.

If you feel you scored badly, I urge you to seek professional advice.

If you fear your business is already insolvent, you must take specialist advice quickly because the consequences are very serious if you continue to trade. In the UK for example, the protection of limited liability given by a limited company can be lifted and those responsible can be made personally liable for the debts.

If your business is struggling but without imminent risk of bankruptcy, it would be a good idea to:

  • Talk to existing advisors like your accountants. It might be time to make sure you are clear on the current financial position of the business and put together profit and cash flow forecasts to look into the future.
  • Talk to people who can help you to solve the problems at source. I obviously believe you should talk to a business coach but you might be confident in your diagnosis of the problems and want to find more specialised help.

Please don’t ignore the situation.

Only one of the issues above – the cyclical decline – is going to get better on its own and even then, it may take a very long time and your business may not be in a position to take advantage of any upturn.

Look out for the articles to appear on the detailed points. I will be putting links under the relevant questions to make it easy to find what you need to know.

in Business Problems And Mistakes