How to Diagnose and Cure an Ailing Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

When we’re not feeling too well, it’s easy to go online, look up your symptoms and try to self-diagnose, but, as we all know, what might look life-threatening could just as easily turn out to be something far less serious, or vice versa.

The Internet may be useful for many things, but generally speaking, if you’re not well, the best thing to do is go and see an expert who, in most cases will be your family doctor.

They will be able to ask the right questions and usually be able to treat the problem or refer you to someone even more experienced in a particular field.

Fortunately, when it comes to business, the opposite is sometimes true. When you sense there is something wrong, you may not know an expert to go and consult. You may not be able to afford the expense of recruiting an expert to assess your situation and offer advice. In this case, with some careful research, it is possible to go online to diagnose the symptoms, discover why your business may be failing and get help and advice.

Being an entrepreneur has many challenges. The Small Business Association (SBA), states that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years and 66% during the first 10. But, even if your business has been up and running for several years, it doesn’t mean that, at some stage, it could face a degree of failure. You may not have had a new customer in a while, you may be experiencing a high turnover of employees or you can’t pay the bills on time.

These are all important issues that need to be addressed.

In part of his contribution published in Forbes magazine, June 2014, under the heading “7 Reasons Your Business Is Failing -- And What To Do About It”, Jayson DeMers suggests other factors that may be having a negative effect on your business and offers some solutions:

“While every business is different, there are some typical reasons for small business failure. See if any of these resonate with you, then check out the “What to Do About It” section to turn things around.

1.    You Don’t Know How to Market Your Business

Not every business owner is born knowing how to get the word out about their business, and that’s fine. But when a business owner’s shortcomings put their business in jeopardy, that’s when somebody must take responsibility and take action.

If you think marketing is too hard to figure out yourself, or you assume it costs more than you’ve got to hire someone, you’re essentially shutting down the possibility of finding new customers. Yes, marketing is an investment in time, money, or both, but an essential one.

What to Do About It: Start marketing. If you lack money, then invest an hour or two a week to read a few marketing books, blogs, or articles and teach yourself how to use social media, blogging, and PR to draw more people to your website and/or your store. If you’ve got more money than time, get a quote from a few marketing consultants or freelancers.

2.    Your Prices are Too Low

If you’ve got more work than you can handle but are still having trouble making ends meet, it’s time to assess your pricing.  Pricing products tends to be a bit easier than pricing services because you know what it cost you to buy or make those products, so price can be determined easily based on desired profit margin. But even with business services, you’ve got to factor in things like overhead (Internet service, heating/cooling), salary, and office expenses. Your profit shouldn’t be so scant you have difficulty paying your own bills.

What to Do About It: Don’t double your prices overnight. Instead, raise prices for new clients only and see what the market will bear. If you’re getting pushback, you might have raised them too much. If you’re closing sales too easily, you might have room to raise those rates even more.

3.    You Don’t Really Know Your Customers

You know who you think they are, but unless you’re really clued in to your demographic, know what makes them tick, and understand their problems, you’ll do a terrible job of trying to present an appropriate solution.

What to Do About It: A little market research can go a long way. Talk to actual customers. Use surveys. Ask questions on social media. Build out buyer personas that will turn numbers into humans, and solve the riddle of how to connect with each type of customer you’ve got.

4.    You Think Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media Don’t Apply to You

Regardless of whether you’re a global accounting firm or the bakery down the street, you should engage in an SEO campaign to help you get more customers. After all, it’s the keywords you use on your website that help the right people find you, and the links you’ve got online that help solidify your brand reputation. Social media is becoming more intertwined with SEO, but has also established an extremely strong niche of its own in the online marketing sphere.

What to Do About It: Again, it comes down to time or money. Teach yourself SEO tactics that work and stay on top of Google’s latest algorithm updates to make sure you don’t get shot down those results. Or, hire a professional SEO company that’s well-versed on the subject and can help you focus on other areas of your business while remaining competitive online.

5.    You’ve Got the Answer for Everything

There’s a bit of ego that comes with running a business. After all, if you were smart enough to figure out how to launch this company in the first place, surely you’re smart enough to figure out how to design a logo. Or manage your finances. Or tell everyone else what to do. Unfortunately, the more micromanaging you’re doing, the more harm you’re probably doing. Entrepreneurs know the things they excel at, and outsource the things they don’t. The most successful entrepreneurs do only the things that only they can do. Anything else can almost always be outsourced more efficiently.

What to Do About It: Get out of your own way. Think about those tasks that take you far too long to do, or result in shoddy work (that logo that took you 18 hours to design still doesn’t look as good as what a professional could have done in an hour), and outsource it. If you’ve got staff, trust them to do what you hired them to do. If they aren’t doing it correctly, fire and re-hire. Focus on what you do best: running your company.

6.    You Can’t Handle Growth

You started small and didn’t expect to burgeon overnight. Just ask any business that’s ever been the recipient of the “Oprah Effect” or even the “Groupon Effect”and then had a flood of sales the next day: rapid growth isn’t always a blessing. If you’re not prepared for the strain your servers will experience, the number of sales to process, or the flood of customer service calls, you risk seriously harming your brand’s reputation.

What to Do About It: Overall, rapid scaling should be a good thing, but you need a plan to quickly hire more staff and train them, as well as how you’ll manage more website traffic, phone calls, and customer service requests.

7.    You Don’t Have Business Savvy

While it’s not imperative that you have an MBA to start a business (or even a college degree) a solid understanding of finances, management, marketing, leadership, and sales will take you far. If you’ve mixed your personal and business finances, have trouble managing staff, or are just throwing your hands up at running your business in general, your risk of failure is multiplying by the minute.

What to Do About It: Consider whether you truly want to be an entrepreneur. Many business owners start a business because they want to “do what they love.” That’s respectable, but without a CEO that knows how to run a successful business, any business is doomed. And to be honest, many business owners get far away from the actual thing they love doing once the business takes flight; focus shifts from fulfillment work, and toward running the business. If you’re committed to sticking it out, invest time in classes, workshops, and resources to beef up the skills you’re weak in.”

Also, on the Entrepreneur website, I found a piece from March 29, 2017 7 by Guest Writer, Chidike Samuelson entitled “6 Lifelines That Could Save Your Failing Business”. In it, Samuelson tells us that before giving up on your business, you owe it to yourself and your employees to take certain steps. Two of these Lifelines are:

Invest in your team.

Your team has played a significant role to get your business to this critical point. Now, more than ever, you need to transform your staff into an asset. It's possible your employees don't understand your business model or the business itself. Some might be barely there for the pay check. This isn't good for any business.

Nothing grows a business like having a dedicated team whose members commit themselves to its success. Your employees must believe they are committed stakeholders and an active part of the business. By extension, your executives must become master salespeople.”

Go back to the drawing board.

Return to the root of the problem. There must be reasons why you are where you now find yourself. If you've started collecting data and monitoring negative feedback, you should have more than idea of the true causes. Now, what can you do about it? Go back to the proverbial drawing board and ask yourself some hard questions. Are you paying out more in salaries than your incomes can carry? Do you need to lay off some staff, make adjustments to compensation packages or consider other cost-cutting measures? 

Redefine your value Proposition, you deem it necessary. It could be that the very thing setting you apart from other businesses in your marketplace is a reason for your failure. Consider following the working trend, if only as a marketing test. Being different isn't best in every circumstance or space.”

He also offers this tip to help you find resources you may need to keep your company going or look at changes that need to be made:

“It's also worth researching whether you might qualify for a grant. Federal, state, county and even local development programs exist because these agencies and organizations have a deep interest in fostering small businesses.”

Whilst there are many websites offering advice and online services to help you deal with business problems, it is always good to remember that, for the same reason you make that trip to the doctor, you need to seek out contributors who have expertise in their field. Check their credentials to ensure the advice and solutions they offer are relevant to you and your company.  Also, seek out experts based in your own community as they will have local insight. 

Whatever happens, don’t despair and don’t give up until you know you have pursued every avenue in an effort to get your company back on its feet and on the road to success. 

If your problems are tackled properly, advice taken and solutions implemented, you will, hopefully, be able to look back on the whole experience as a huge learning opportunity.

Remember to involve your colleagues and employees. If they understand the reasons for any changes you might need to make they will see the possible advantages and appreciate your efforts. After all, they are in this with you.

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