SBM #62-10 Questions to Help to Overcome Business Failure

overcoming business failure

Successful entrepreneurs share many things in common. Hard work, focus, belief in themselves, hungry for knowledge and so on. One trait that doesn’t get much mention is the ability to accept and overcome failure. As entrepreneurs, failure can be a daily occurrence, but the worse is when a business fails.

To be sure there is a lot of noise made on social media and from the start-up world about “fail fast”. It is often heralded as a badge of honour and a goal in and of itself. The premise being that the sooner I fail, the sooner I’ll become a success. Failure is no guarantee of success. Success requires several skills and a lot of luck. Failure is no fun and it can be incredibly painful.

The real meaning of “Fail Fast”

The real meaning of “fail fast” is to instill the notion that if, the business is not performing no matter what you do and has limited chance of becoming profitable, then don’t wait a second longer and shut it down.

Unfortunately, most individuals hang on far too long, hoping and praying that their situation will improve. They fail to look at the cold hard facts and let their emotions make decisions. They continue to drain their resources long past the point they should, only to end up worse off. Had they listened to that little voice in their head that was telling them it was time to shut it down, they would have been better off. In many cases, they’ve let their pride and ego get in the way of making the right decision.

The dangerous duo

Pride and ego can be a dangerous duo when it comes to making business decisions. Far to often, we have trouble believing we were wrong. Worse still, is the fact that we refuse to accept reality because we’re afraid of what people will think of us. Guess what? Most people don’t care. Once they find out, they’ll ask what happened, console you and then move on. End of story.

Failing, whether fast or otherwise doesn’t mean the end of your entrepreneurial aspirations. Much like learning to ride a bicycle, few of us ever did so without falling down a few times. After a few tears, we got back on and tried again until we got the hang of it.

Business is no different, except instead of a scraped knee, business failure hurts your bank account and can shatter your self-confidence. Money can be replaced but self confidence can be a lot harder to restore.

Understand what went wrong

The best way of overcoming a business failure, is to take the time to understand what went wrong. Every business has many moving parts and therefore taking the time to assess the good, the bad and the ugly of the failure, usually brings to light the deficiencies- yours and the business.

The following is 10 of the most important questions to help you understand what went wrong:

1. Was the business properly capitalized?
2. Were expenses, unreasonable, in hindsight?
3. Was there sufficient market research undertaken before launching?
4. Was your target market clearly identified?
5. Did you have any industry knowledge, prior to launching?
6. Were you passionate about your work/product/solution or just passionate about the possible financial reward?
7. Did anyone, other than yourself, care about your product or service?
8. Did market forces change after you launched? If so, what signal did you miss/ignore?
9. Did you have the necessary skill set?
10. Knowing what you now know, would you have started this business in the first place?
By honestly answering these questions, you’ll hopefully understand what the heck happened to your dream. Being stewards of our destiny, we must accept most of the blame. Failure should be a humbling experience that opens us up to learning from our mistakes. Arrogance, although a self protection mechanism, serves no role in this undertaking because it clouds your perception and risks having history repeat itself.

Raise your game

This introspective look at why a business failed, goes a long way to restoring our self-confidence, it raises our game. Because if we ever hope to be successful, we must first believe in ourselves and put our failures behind us.

It’s not how many times we fall down that matters, but how many times we get up and do it better that counts.

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

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SBM #61 Training Your Team

Training Your Team

Reading Time: 5 mins

We all have our own definitions of training for our team, but in all honesty, most of it sucks. Sure, for customer facing team members, we do the mandatory, how to acknowledge a customer stuff, with all the expected please and thank you’s.

It also goes without saying that we spend time teaching them “the system”, whether that be a retail POS or other software necessary to capture and order or process payment. Add to that the mandatory workplace safety and theft prevention training, we usually feel pretty good about our efforts.

This whole area of training, has been a sore point for me for quite some time and two situations minutes apart has made me want to revisit this topic. The extreme difference in the size of these two retailers served to reinforce how deficient product knowledge training is compared to the above mentioned items. One is a local franchise retailer whereas the other is part of a global department store chain.

Let’s begin with the local retailer. This is a specialty store whose main business is selling coffee pods and teas. Judging by the inventory, it would appear that the majority of their sales are Keurig pods. As we were looking for a specific brand of coffee we found on a recent trip, I used the opportunity to ask a couple questions regarding the availability, compatibility and difference between the original Keurig machine and the 2.0 machine. Theses are machines that they sell along with the coffee.

One in three

After and few hums and haws, the answer I received, and I paraphrase, was “I think so”. What made this so noteworthy was that another gentleman was in the store ahead of us and was asking some, what I thought, basic questions and the clerk was only able to answer one of his three questions.

Seriously, this is a specialty store and people were asking about the products in the store. Aside from basic pricing information and availability of some products, the individual had limited knowledge. As a specialty store, the staff should well versed on all products in the store. Why should a customer even bother to make a special trip to this store, when many of the brands they offer are available at the local grocery store?

The thing is, people usually frequent smaller stores in anticipation of receiving something, whether that be service or knowledge, not available at mass merchants and most will pay a small premium for it.

The sad part is, this is a store that I had been meaning to visit more than once and frankly I had expected more. Future trips, if any, will be very infrequent. What a missed opportunity.

Within 30 minutes of the previous experience, I headed to a major department store in search of some new luggage. My current bags had been run over once too often by airport baggage handling equipment and in dire need of replacement.

After spending 20 minutes in the department checking out their offerings a staff member finally showed up. With such a wide assortment of brands available, it’s difficult to determine which ones are quality versus value.

Looking for answers

As my interest was in purchasing a quality product that would last, I proceeded to ask the clerk which were the best brands for durability. She responded by saying Samsonite and Travelpro. So I asked why Travelpro? The answer I got was that they invented the roller wheels and that an airline pilot came up with the idea. It’s one of those replies that leaves you thinking, so?

My next question, was what makes them, Samsonite and Travelpro so good? Is the construction better? To which the respondent said they have a better warranty and yes, they’re better made. Again, it left me wondering how are they better made?

What I had expected was a little more indepth answer along the lines of, they use a higher quality of materials or maybe they have greater structural support. This would have been an ideal time to show me the difference by opening comparable size items and point out the differences. But no, I was told that if I had any more questions that she would be right back!?

Clearly, this person had no idea what the product differentiators were and no doubt only sells based on price, or worse what the customer brought to the counter to purchase. The point is, I was fully prepared to purchase had I received the information I needed, but unfortunately, they were ill prepared.

Training should be mandatory and ongoing

Acquiring product knowledge is not difficult. The internet is a treasure trove of information on individual products and services. Better still, reach out to your suppliers and find out what they can do to help. Lunch and learn by manufacturer reps is just one way to get free training. Maybe the manufacturer has in-house data that they can share?

The point of all this is to say, that product knowledge training should carry, at minimum, equal weighting as processes. Taking the time to prioritize product knowledge and encouraging employees to do so on their own, will positively impact sales. The reality is that there are just too many alternatives in our hyper competitive environment, not to do so.

Yes, there has always been and always will be “tire kickers” who research products everywhere they can and then buy online or from a lower priced competitor. But that’s nothing new.

To counter that point, people are also very busy. Many just want to be served in a professional manner, by knowledgeable individuals. They are more than willing to buy from a company that will provide them the help and information they need to make an informed decision.

Training can be formal or informal, but it should be a priority, made mandatory and of course ongoing. Part of that training is to instill with the individual the desire to learn and explain the benefits of expanded knowledge, not just for the company but for the individual as well. People need to understand “what’s in it for them” and once they do, they’ll become self-motivated and everybody wins.

It’s no wonder the Amazon’s of the world are shipping more and more product everyday. Businesses of all sizes must realize that training is paramount, if they’re going to survive in this new age.

This has been your Small Business Minute

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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SBM #60 Be Visible for More Sales

Be Visible

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Be visible is really nothing more than the opportunity to get in front of the customer in some meaningful way. Unfortunately, it is proving far more difficult to do so. B to C or B to B businesses are equally challenged in getting through to their customers, because there are just many more roadblocks.

In the time before voicemail, a phone call to a customer’s home resulted in one of three outcomes; no answer, a busy signal or someone actually answered, pretty predictable outcomes. Along comes voicemail and call display, so now people could just ignore the call. Voicemail was supposed to be a tool to communicate information in one’s absence, however it morphed into a call screening tool when call display arrived on the scene.

The voicemail call display duo

Calls to a business customer pretty much followed the same path, however businesses usually had an additional layer of screening in place, namely the receptionist. As telephony automation increased, direct dial to customers was initially more productive, however with the advent of the voicemail call display duo, making contact quickly became more difficult.

Email on the other hand,quickly replaced the telephone as a primary communication device between business and customer. And why not? It was an easy way to send your thoughts or proposals to a client at any time of the day and unlike voicemail, you retained a written copy. Although this did create a challenge for some individuals to up their writing skills as, until this point, even the smallest companies had admin personnel who edited and finalized the final correspondence.

A response was expected

The initial upside to email was that it was a novelty and individuals promptly responded to any item that hit their inboxes. Maybe it was the novelty of this wonderful, empowering communication tool, but times have changed. Once upon a time, proper etiquette wouldn’t allow you to ignore personally addressed correspondence, but today it’s common practice. No, it didn’t matter, if the former was hand written and sent via a postal service and the latter sent digitally. In both cases someone took the time to compose the communication and therefore a response was expected

The problem today is mostly driven by the bombardment of unnecessary CYA’s or cover your ass, cc’s, bcc’s emails and let’s not forget the biggest culprit of them all, spam! It’s overloading peoples inboxes.

Average office worker receives 121 emails per day

It’s no wonder, when it is estimated that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day and sends out 40 per day. At that rate, they would easily fall a month behind within 10 days if they had to reply to every one they received.

With every technological advancement, we drift farther and farther apart from our customers. Social media and SMS are all being layered on and hyped as customer connectors, but they’re not. Just imagine what will happen when AI (Artificial Intelligence) goes mainstream? We’ll never have to talk, correspond or meet again. It’ll all be done for us. I am hopeful that the combination of Alternative and Virtual Reality might right the ship, but I won’t hold my breath.

Maybe I’m old school, but I’ve always pushed for a face to face meetings. No matter how far I had to travel or how inconvenient it was, getting in front of new or existing clients was a major sales and marketing tactic for me. Nothing beats face to face customer interaction. It allows you to see the customers reaction to your comments, thoughts or proposal. It gives you the opportunity to be in the moment to correct any misunderstandings or expand on key points. You can’t do that effectively via email.

Stickiness

The other added benefit of to be visible, was stickiness. It’s a term I have used for years in support of my need to get in front of clients. This approach is directly responsible for more than a few million dollars of revenue that I generated.

In a nutshell, stickiness is the art of being visible within client’s businesses. I’m not suggesting setting up a desk in your clients premises, although not a bad idea if the client is big enough! Being visible within a client requires effort and patience. Effort, because with all the built in screens I mentioned earlier, it’s a challenge to get a client to respond to your requests. Patience, because with everyone running flat out, meetings are now scheduled weeks in advance and not days.

The payoff though, is the more frequent you are in a clients place of business, the more people will come to recognize you. The more they see you, the greater the odds that you’ll have the opportunity to talk with them. Of course, the more you talk with them, the more you have a chance to let them know what you do.

Opportunities to be visible

A typical scenario, for me was to arrange a meeting with a client and as time went on, I got to know or at least recognize other people in the business. As we made our way to the meeting room or the person’s office, I’d make a point of saying hi to anyone I knew. It was more of an opportunity for me to let them know I was in the building.

Over time this little acknowledgement led to someone telling me to stop by when my meeting was over as they either had a question or wanted to talk with me about something and that something was usually a potential opportunity. My estimate is that this happened 50% of the time. Again, the size of your clients will impact these numbers but don’t underestimate the potential of even in the smallest of companies.

Another opportunity to be visible is upon completion of a project. Make an appointment with the customer to review the engagement. Too often, I see owners just send off the summary report and an invoice and that’s the end of it. What a missed opportunity! This is exactly when you need to be visible. Generally speaking, the client is happy with the results and are open to other suggestions you may have.

On those occasions when it’s just physically impossible to be visible on a client’s premises, there are other ways to stay front and center. For instance, the client has asked for a quote. Far too many owners email the quote and hope for the best. Instead, once the email has been sent, call them to let them know you sent it, especially with the number of emails that end up in the junk folder. Alternatively, finish your cover email with a statement, such as “I’ll call you tomorrow to discuss”. Then make sure you call.

Looking for ways to be visible to your customers pays greater dividends to the small business owner than most of their social media activity.

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

You may also enjoy The Fear Of Decisions

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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