photo by Milos Milosevic
One of the best things that I can do with my clients is to ask great questions. As a business owner the key ingredient for success is confidence. Being decisive, having a plan and pushing forward are just part of the job description. But that doesn’t mean you should just put your head down and go – taking the time to question things, make the right course adjustments at the right time…that’s what will ultimately get you where you want to go.
How do you know what questions to ask? Every business is a little different, just like every business owner has their own way of doing things. However there are fundamental core aspects of a successful business that have to be in place if you want to succeed in the long run – regardless of what business you are in. If you start with that foundation and make it strong, everything else will come into shape.
Below are 10 questions that I recommend every business owner should take time and consider for their business. If you don’t feel like you have a lot of time, read through the list and pick out the 2 or 3 questions that make you the most uncomfortable and start there.
The questions below are intended to challenge you and if you take them seriously most of them will be difficult to answer…or at least difficult to get comfortable with.
1. Do you have the right people in the right seats?
The heart of any small business revolves around the people – you could have a great business idea, an amazing business model, but if you don’t have the right people to pull it off it’s going to fail. Conversely the right people can take an average idea and make it something special. The right people are the ones who buy into you, your core values and what your big picture is.
Getting the right people into the right seats is a different challenge. You have to be clear on what has to be done to succeed and how owns the responsibility on delivering all aspects of your business (hint…if you as the owner have all of the responsibility – you’re not going to grow). Are you evaluating your employees and your organization on a regular basis…and taking action?
2. Are you actively using your core values to find and manage employees and attract customers?
Your business is only going to thrive when it’s operating from a position of strength and authenticity. That strength comes from everyone operating off of a common playbook and leveraging shared core values.
Core values represent what you (and your company) are all about – as an example, the Container Store does a great job with their Foundation Principles. If you don’t already have them documented, it may take some time to boil your values down. You will keep tweaking them over time, but once you have a clear set of core values, you will be able to manage your business based on those principles. And once you start visibly living those core values, you’ll also find that you are attracting customers and employees who share those same beliefs.
What are your top 5 core values?
3. Where are you going? In the next year? In the next 3 to 5 years?
Clarity is extremely important when it comes to growing your business. In order to keep everyone on the same page and rowing in the direction…you first have to know where it is that you want to go. Although this sounds easy, most business owners don’t have written long term goals…or if it is written it’s not clear, concise and easily communicated.
Do you have a clear-cut summary of what you want to achieve written down?
4. What’s the most important thing you should be doing right now?
Entrepreneurs and business owners like shiny things – it’s easy to get distracted, either by the possibilities or by the problems that are out there. But if you really want to make progress, you need to keep a laser like focus on the most important thing.
What are you and your team working on right now? Is that the most important thing you could be doing? If not, what can you do about it?
5. Are you communicating clearly to everyone…all the time?
In his bestselling book ‘Winning’ Jack Welch says the following:
“Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it.”
Making your vision come alive with everyone around you requires you to explain things in clear concise statements – no jargon, keeping it simple. The second step is sheer repetition. Just like your customers have to hear your marketing message and benefits multiple times before they ‘get it’, you will have to repeat your vision and direction many, many times.
And it’s not just about the big picture – you and your entire team need to be constantly communicating about day to day stuff as well. A benefit to being a small company is that you can get everyone in the same room (and hopefully on the same page) at almost any time. Use that to your advantage.
Are you meeting regularly with everyone in your business? Do you have regular communications set up? Are they effective?
6. Are you building on the systems in your business?
A successful business is built on many successful systems that predictably fulfill what needs to be done. Taking an order from an existing customer? There’s a system, a process, a procedure for doing that the right way.
Generating new leads? There’s another set of systems to do that. Each of these systems should be understood and documented, because that’s how you continually improve the foundation of your business…reviewing the systems and processes of your business and improving them 1 by 1.
Do you have an inventory of the major processes in your business? Do you have the most important processes / systems documented? Do you regularly review those systems? If not, what would it take to start doing that?
7. Do you know how well your business is really doing?
Are you having a good year? Are you having a great quarter? How do you know? Are you measuring anything? Sadly there are a lot of business owners who just ‘feel’ like things are going well (or not going well) but don’t have any real information to back that up.
Do you have a top 5 list of Key Performance Indicators that are available on a regular basis that will tell you how things are going? Do you meet weekly to go over your business scorecard? Do you have at least a couple of metrics you can use to project how things are looking for next quarter? Next month? Are you managing to numbers or to gut feelings?
8. Are you marketing consistently?
Most people find marketing to be a bit of a mystery – as the old saying goes “I know half of my marketing is working…I just don’t know which half”. There are a lot of reasons why your marketing may not be effective, but the issue that I see most often with small business owners is a lack of consistency.
Are you sporadically communicating with customers and prospects, only to get busy and not send anything to them for several months? Do you try different tactics and then move on to something else after a month or two? What are the 3 to 5 marketing tactics that you’re most comfortable with? What would it take to make those part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine?
9. Do you have an effective marketing message?
The second biggest marketing issue that I see is the lack of an effective marketing message. Are you clear in all of your communications about the benefits and outcomes that you deliver to your customers? Do you tend to focus on price or features? Worse yet, are you talking about yourself instead of about your customers and their problems?
A great marketing message…one that has a clear target market (and everyone is not a clear target market…). A great marketing message has an overt benefit, a real reason to believe and a dramatic difference and will outperform an average marketing message by a factor of 10X or more. When’s the last time you took a hard look at what you were telling people? What is your key marketing message? Is it effective? How do you know?
10. Are you working ON your business rather than IN your business?
A successful business doesn’t happen by chance. Unfortunately you can’t just start with a great idea, head down the path and expect to hit your long term target. Building a great business requires constant evaluation and improvement, it requires you to step outside of the day to day urgency and look at the big picture and make changes along the way.
Working ON your business can be as simple as carving out a couple of hours per week and reviewing questions like these. You could consider working with a Coach or joining a Peer Group Advisory Board to regularly challenge your assumptions, get a different perspective and plan where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
Are you regularly carving out time to look at the big picture and drive the outcome you want?
The right questions can make a huge difference – how did you do answering these? What questions did I miss? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach