How To Solve Common Business Problems

August 31, 2011

August 31, 2011 –

Hope is not a plan!

If you own a small or home business, you have problems.  Hopefully not many of them, but common problems exist for most business owners.  A primary reason for these are unrealistic expectations of yourself, customers, and the business.

Problems are not without solutions, however.  Customers issues may be analyzed to find trends and commonality.  Industry comparisons and reports can uncover financial concerns.  Look at your own communication and management style and ask others what they see and think.

Julie Rains pens an excellent article examining common problems and suggests solutions for them.


How To Solve Common Business Problems

By Julie Rains

As a small business owner, you are a natural optimist and risk-taker. But, have you crossed the line that separates optimism from delusion?

Being hopeful is easy—in the short-term. Wishing for less demanding customers, more motivated employees, and more cash in the bank requires far less intellectual work and emotional effort than making an honest assessment of your business.

Opening your eyes to issues you would rather ignore and admitting mistakes can be painful. Doing so, however, allows you to move directly to solving problems and creating the business of your dreams.


Do you think your customers have out-of-control expectations? Dismiss the idea that dissatisfied customers are outliers.

Scrutinize complaints

Pinpoint who is complaining (new accounts? long-time customers? everyone in your southwest region?) and what their concerns are. Look for patterns of customer frustration. Look hard for common threads if the issues seem dispersed.

Deal with sources of the complaints, which may mean correcting the behavior of an offending employee, reorganizing a dysfunctional department, or educating your entire team on the right way to promote a new line to existing customers.

Analyze returns

Check product descriptions and images for accuracy. Look at service guarantees to determine whether they are consistent with industry standards. Discern if marketing promises are realistic or overstated.

Adjustments may be straightforward. A hastily prepared, misleading product description can be rewritten to more accurately convey attributes relevant to consumers. A problematic merchandise category can be discontinued and replaced with a more profitable line. Customers can be qualified to make sure that service packages are appropriate for their needs.

Keep promises

Find out whether your company is adhering to its schedules, delivery commitments and lead times as communicated to customers. Calculate the percentage of on-time deliveries.

Clarify the reasons for late deliveries. See whether jobs are scheduled according to capacity, throughput times and material availability. Ascertain if pressure from customers dictate schedule changes. Decide whether to prioritize orders from certain customers based on profit margin, volume or other factors. Get an understanding of how promise dates are determined. Establish rules for creating, communicating, monitoring and verifying compliance with schedules.


Do you have self-centered employees who are uninterested in innovation, customer engagement and higher levels of profitability? Stop giving them slack.

Perceive shortcomings

Think about manipulation in the past, times that defensiveness overruled reason, and other troubling moments. These interactions represent the core of an employee’s personality, not the rough edges.

When conflict arises, be clear about your position and reject any push-back. Communicate that you will make decisions by examining all aspects of a situation, not rely solely on information that one employee shares. Let employees know that you realize that mistakes will happen but cover-ups and denials are unacceptable.

Touch base

Uncover fears of a new technology application, heavier workloads or loss of control over a certain work area. Discern lack of understanding in your business model and vision.

Go ahead and implement sure-fire ideas. Remember that employee buy-ins are useful, but not essential. Remove employees who may sabotage new tactics, products, etc. from certain projects or take them out of the workplace.

Observe work habits

Note attendance and productivity, questioning employee dedication if problems persist over a long period of time. Set goals and describe habits that will achieve objectives. Monitor results to confirm that employees are focusing on your business, not dwelling on their problems or pursuing their personal interests.


Is your business operating at full capacity but failing to generate cash? Get a handle on what is clogging cash flow.

Calculate profitability

Design and institute a method to compute profits by category (such as customer account, market segment, product line, service offering or project). Review pricing structures and capture and assign costs through methods such as project-based accounting.

Unprofitable categories will become apparent. Clarifying your next step will be more difficult. Obvious actions include raising prices, cutting expenses, and eliminating lower profit items. A more complex approach will involve reinvigorating your brand or developing proprietary products to command premium prices.

Check your infrastructure

The cost of pricey office space, well-credentialed consultants and full-featured technology systems can outweigh the benefits of high profit margins, heavily negotiated rates with vendors, and otherwise frugal spending habits.

Decide what is essential to running your business. Review contractual commitments with an eye toward canceling certain agreements. Recognize needs that have changed and revise spending accordingly.

Assess cash flow

Customers want to pay later than expected and vendors demand faster payment. Valued customers have been allowed to delay payments. Vendors with high-demand items have asked for payment on delivery. The squeeze means that your business rarely has the cash needed to operate smoothly.

Investigate new credit and payment options. Revise credit terms. Update your payment acceptance methods so that customers can easily pay when your bill is presented. Talk with vendors about ways to better organize product shipments and service deliveries, more closely aligned with company needs and customer payments.

Problems have solutions

These scenarios are a sampling of predicaments that may be present in your business. Together, they are overwhelming. Individually, they can be tackled. Solving just one problem is liberating, giving you the confidence, insight and skills to deal with the next set of difficulties. Greater clarity will allow you to manage your business for the results you want.

Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread.



What is Innovation?

January 18, 2011

When I’m out on the road speaking to audiences about innovation, it is reinforced again and again that innovation has become a buzzword, and much in the same way that people struggle to define love – there is no commonly accepted definition for innovation. Try asking someone:

“What is love?”

And then see if their definition matches your own. Chances are it will be completely different. Then ask them:

“What is innovation?”

Try this with a group of people and then the fun really begins.

In many cultures people talk about a language of love, mostly because the subject baffles most of us and we are always failing to truly communicate our love to the special people in our lives. And, if you think about it, often the most successful love language is non-verbal. I’m afraid this won’t work for innovation.

From the Language of Love to the Language of Innovation

So, let’s examine the importance of the language of innovation, or to be specific, the importance of creating and sharing a common language of innovation in your organization. This begins with actively defining in cross-functional groups (multi-level if possible) what you want innovation to mean in your organization. It may sound like a silly or pedestrian exercise, but my experience working with organizations looking to commit to innovation has shown repeatedly the necessity of getting everyone speaking the same language before an innovation effort begins. And you know what?

Most organizations skip this step.

You may think that everyone in your organization knows what innovation means, or that it should be obvious what you want your innovation efforts to achieve and that you can just skip this step. But, how many of you would build a product without at least a business, marketing, product or technical requirements document?

An Exercise in Perspective

I don’t want to give away the exercise I do in my speeches, so here is a new one for this article. Imagine that you work for an automobile manufacturer and I were to task you with the solving the following technical challenge, and think about what your approach would be:

“How would you make our automobiles use less gasoline?”

Now, some of you might focus on making the automobile lighter, others might focus on making the engine more efficient, still others would focus on making it more aerodynamic, and a few of you would think about ways to make an automobile that ran on something other than gasoline altogether.

Ask the innovation question in the wrong way and you will get different innovation results than you expect.

While it may be good sometimes to have people going off in lots of different directions, that needs to be a conscious choice, otherwise the innovation energy of your organization will dissipate and little will be achieved. You must focus the innovation energy of your organization and that is done by defining what innovation means to your organization and what the common language around innovation will be.

Getting Started

As I described in Innovation is No Accident, a formalized approach to innovation begins with defining what innovation means for your organization and by creating a common language for the organization . So, how will you define innovation in your organization?

As a thought-starter, here is my definition of innovation:

“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative – that are then widely adopted.”

For me, value is the key. To truly be successful at innovation, you must increase the value enough to overcome the pain of switching from their existing solution (even if that is the ‘no solution’ solution).

But, you must decide with those in your organization what innovation means to you, what your common language of innovation is, and make a plan to communicate these things out to the entire organization. Creating a language of innovation is more than just defining what innovation means to your organization. It also requires you to agree how you are going to talk about innovation in your organization and often it is wise to combine these with communications of your innovation vision, strategy and goals – but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, I leave you to explore the important work of creating your own shared innovation language.

Parlez vous innovation?

Braden Kelley is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden is also the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy, and @innovate on Twitter.


Should You Quit Your Day Job?

January 4, 2011

With the economy recovering and prospects brightening, everyone considers leaving their job to pursue their own dream.

During a question and answer panel on MSNBC, we were asked, “Should you quit your day job?”  Two panelists gave the usual, “Don’t leap before you look.  Examine all options while collecting a check from your primary job,” etcetera.

I’m sure I shocked the audience when I emphatically said, “Yes, quit.”

I get the quandary:

  • There is so much uncertainty in the world right now, who knows what the future will bring?
  • How will you know it is a viable business model?
  • You have a [wife,] [child,] [parent(s)] to support.

But none of that will change.

The only thing that can change is you. Right now.

And the clock is ticking…

While I was still building my Retail Doctor brand consulting and speaking, a startup company offered me a prestigious position.  The “safe” money was on taking the salary they were offering.

They were willing to give me flexibility; I could still do my consulting and speaking any time I wanted. I took the job.

I helped take that startup from one location to over a hundred.  At the same time I was still speaking. I was still consulting. I got some great clients.

But at the end of each day, after spending 10 hours or more concentrating on marketing the other brand, the last thing I wanted to do was focus on my own.

After all, I had safety and flexibility — I could do it tomorrow.

The more I worked on that other business, the more I realized I was letting my own flounder.

Could that be you today?

No one can serve two masters. Either she will love the first and hate the second or hate the first and love the second.

Do you feel chained to your job?

Make the leap. The fact you’re unsure probably means you have a very good idea what you need to do to make it happen. Instead of hearing, “What if…?” in a bad way, how about seeing the “What if…?” in a good way.

Look, all we have to work with are a dozen eggs in a day. If you use six for your safe salaried job and five for your family, you only have one egg left.

You can’t just go out and add more eggs; you only have that one. And that’s for watching The Apprentice on Netflix, updating your personal Facebook page, going to Nascar, you name it.

I know because that was me when I was ready to leave.

Do you feel that when you are working on your “side business” you are Superman, but when you go to your “day job,” you’re surrounded by kryptonite?

You need to associate more pain with staying than leaving.  You need to associate more happiness with leaving than staying.  You need to think, “What if I could…”:

  • Make my business successful in a year?
  • Tap into a new market?
  • Get additional funding once its up and running?
  • Have all the time to work and play at something I love?
  • Be juiced to see the opportunities for my idea, not someone else’s?

Your takeaway: its never easy to break free to follow your dream. But if you are reading this and you feel in your gut that now is your time — take heart.  You can do this.

By Bob Phibbs

Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor® and author of The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business (Wiley.) Phibbs has helped hundreds of businesses in every major industry, including hospitality, manufacturing, service, restaurant and retail. Find out more about him at


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