Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

5 Questions for Growing Businesses as We Enter 2018

When I talk to my entrepreneurial clients about looking at the big picture for their business, I often advise them to look at each year as an individual race. Every year, each race starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st. At the end of each race, I ask them a simple question “Did you win or lose?” We then delve into a review of what happened during the year–we analyze the wins to see what they did correctly, but more importantly, we look at their losses and unexpected setbacks to evaluate how they responded to adversity.

At the end of this annual meeting, I give them a list of five questions to review with key members of their teams. The list of questions is designed to help my clients hit the ground running for their next race.

5 Questions for Every Growing Businesses

Most days, founders and executives spend time in the “weeds,” putting out fires and dealing with the day-to-day opportunities and obstacles. It’s imperative to take time every month to make sure you look at your business “from the clouds;” What does the view look like from 20,000 feet? This lets you see where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you hope to be. As we move into 2018, every growing company should ask these five questions:

One note: Don’t look at your business from the clouds by yourself. You may miss key details that prevent you from seeing the big picture. Invite key employees, outside advisors, and your partners to review the big picture with you. Their input into the future path of your company may prove vital to your success.

1. Are we on the right road to success? Almost every marketplace is going through massive transformation and disruption. What worked for you in 2017, or earlier, may not bring you success in 2018 and beyond. Look at companies such as Kodak, Tower Records, and Blockbuster for examples of how quickly an industry can turn on its leaders. Where is your industry headed in the next few years? How is it being disrupted? More importantly, how can your company get out in front of the changes? The answers to these questions will tell you if your business is still on the right road.

2. Do we have the right people working in the right positions? I like to use baseball analogies when it comes to employees. Is your shortstop playing catcher? Is your catcher currently in the role that was meant for your pitcher? Sometimes employees are in positions that aren’t a natural fit for their talents. This happens when business owners and leaders do whatever they can to hold onto key employees; they promote their stars into positions that don’t make sense. Some of your employees were meant to be managers, and some were meant to be sales or marketing superstars. Review your employee roster with the knowledge that new challenges face your team in 2018. Do you have the best people in right spots where they can have the greatest impact on helping you achieve your goals next year?

3. Do we understand the changing needs of our customers and prospects? Today, business is all about the customer. Twenty years ago, manufacturers and large corporations dictated what products and services were produced. Companies back then followed Henry Ford’s logic that “a customer can have a car in any color he wants as long as it’s black.” Today, that type of thinking is the quickest way for a company to go out of business.

Thanks to the internet and social media, we now live in a customer-centric world. The buyers control the conversation about products and services; if companies aren’t paying attention, it could very well mean their demise. My advice is to keep an open dialogue with your best customers and prospects. What do they want from you? Can you exceed their expectations? If not, why not?

4. Are we prepared to respond to major decisions in 2018? Every year, growing entrepreneurial companies come to forks in the road; decisions that will have a big impact on their futures. Some forks include whether to open new locations, buy new equipment, or launch a new product or service.

There are three types of decision makers when it comes to forks in the road.

  • The reactive business owner will make their decision too late to take full advantage of the opportunity. They were too busy in the weeds of their business to see the fork ahead.
  • The proactive business owner will see the fork coming up, and pull themselves out of the weeds of their business to make the correct decision. They will have consulted with the right people to make sure they haven’t missed anything.
  • Lastly, the predictive business owner won’t even slow down at the fork in the road because they saw it coming from miles away. They open the new location, launch a new product, and buy new equipment without missing a beat in their business.

Which business owner do you want to be?

5. Do we have a plan B if plan A blows up? Look back on your previous years in business. Was there ever a year when you didn’t have to refer to a contingency or backup plan? Most successful entrepreneurs understand that things rarely go according to the original plan. Natural or man-made disasters are a very real part of determining our success and failure in business. In some instances, a hurricane or fire creates complete chaos for a once-thriving company; other times, it can be embezzlement or even a business partner becoming disabled that requires a company to go to plan B.

The worst time to realize you need a backup plan is after the catastrophe hits your business. Play the “What If” game with your team and make sure you have answers to whatever potential disasters are out there, waiting to strike. Then, in the event something does happen, your downtime is minimalized.

Best of luck to all of you as we enter 2018. Remember to tighten your laces so you’re ready to win your next race!

For daily insights and advice from Brian Moran and other SMB Experts, join our LinkedIn group, Ask the SMB Experts. The Ask the SMB Experts group is a forum for growing businesses to come together with industry experts to discuss key issues, trends and more.


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