Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

May 20, 2013

Are You Having Growing Pains?

What’s keeping you from growing your business to the size and profitability you want? Has your growth been slowed by things that keep dogging you? How can you smash through those barriers and move to the next level?

Here’s what I hear all the time from owners:

— You’re a solopreneur, and you want to grow beyond what you can handle by yourself.entrepreneurial vision

— You have a handful of employees, but everybody’s reporting to you, driving you to a frazzle.

— You’ve got managers, but you’re still running day-to-day operations, and you’d love to hand this off to a trusted top manager, to free you up to focus on growth—and a vacation!

If you’re nodding your head yes to any of these, check out our free webinar, Smash Through the Top 10 Barriers to Growth, on June 4.

I’m doing it jointly with two other small business experts: attorney Nancy Lewellen and productivity consultant Rosie Aiello.

Here are the details.On that page, scroll down to see the 10 barriers we will cover.

I will focus on three areas:

1. Management style for growth. Make sure you’re not the bottleneck to your company’s growth.

2. Profitability. See how you stack up against the 12 Principles of Profitability.

3. Marketing & Sales. Make sure your Magic Chain of Marketing has no missing links.

This free webinar will be an exciting tune-up for you, to help you quickly discover ways you can overcome your own growth barriers.

Check it out and sign up now while you’re thinking about it.

Call me at 415-491-1896 if you want to find out if it would be right for you.

July 3, 2012

12 Steps to Introduce Change to Your Employees

“How NOT to introduce change” was the topic of a previous post. So how should you do it? Follow these steps. I’ll elaborate on these in upcoming posts.

  1. Treat change as a shift in your business culture.
  2. Take leadership. Don’t leave it to others.
  3. Do your homework before you start.
  4. Involve all those affected.
  5. Apply the Problem Solvent.
  6. Build acceptance, starting with allies.
  7. Address questions, concerns, and objections.
  8. Tackle resistance.
  9. Watch for the hidden barriers.
  10. Stick to it. Don’t get sidetracked.
  11. Know when to change course.
  12. Declare completion.

I’ll talk about these in upcoming posts, but I’ll start here with #8, “How to tackle resistance to change,” because that’s what the most people ask me about.

How to Tackle Resistance to Change

When you introduce change to the people in your organization, you can count on questions and resistance. Even making minor changes: “All I wanted to do was change the type of fluorescent bulbs we use; I had no idea this would rouse such heated discussion!”

How do you tackle this resistance? Here are a few guidelines from my “Twelve Steps to Successful Change” from my new ebook.

Resistance comes from supportive and well-meaning people—it isn’t necessarily antagonistic. It can come from long-time employees, your partner, spouse, co-owner, or even from you. Yes, you! You, as owner, are an enthusiastic backer of the new system. You want the benefits, yet you resist the change and become part of the problem yourself. If your people sense this, then you give them tacit permission to vacillate and backslide.

Can you spot these negative reactions to change? How will you address them?

• Inertia. Any change is resisted. Its value must be proved.

• Not invented here reaction. “If we didn’t come up with the idea, it can’t have much value.”

• Busy-ness. “It sounds great, but we have way too much to do already.”

• Bad timing. “We can’t do this just now. We need to wait until after the summer season.”

• “It’s just another whim of the boss. If we drag our feet, she’ll get tired and forget about it.” This is an important comment on your management style.

• Fear. “I’m afraid I’ll be held accountable for all of these tough things in the future.”

• Resistance to your mandate. You think you are asking, “Will you do this, pretty please?” while others hear you demand, “You will do this!” Perception is reality!

How can you create allies from people who are initially indifferent or against you? By heeding their concerns, and producing positive results.

Resistance with a smile. Some people will smile and say, “This is a great thing.” But then they will pick it apart and criticize you behind your back. For example, a long-time loyal employee may subtly resist things you want her to do that push beyond her comfort level. These might include mastering a new technology, adopting new systems, logging time or activities, supervising others, or even participating in the coordination meetings for the big transition.

This puts you on the spot. You are loyal to her but you can’t let her dictate the pace of change. She has done her job well up to now but now the job requirements are changing. Can she adapt? Is she willing to learn? How can you make it easier for her?

Her initial resistance may melt away once the change is made and positive results are apparent, but it may not. She may not be happy with the new responsibilities, and on top of that feel guilty for letting you down. She may well be happier elsewhere.

The Foot Draggers’ Club. Some who resist turn out to be saboteurs. Unfortunately these might be long-time employees. They may pay lip service to the change yet drag their feet to the extent that the process is endangered. They may seek out others who don’t want to change and reinforce each other in their resistance. Their hidden agenda may be to prove that the new process won’t work so you will go back to the old way of doing things. It is dangerous and debilitating for you to allow this to spread. In most cases you will have no choice but to get rid of such people.

You can find the whole program laid out in my new ebook “How to Introduce Change to Your Employees” on Amazon for Kindle or iPad. A very affordable $2.99.


June 7, 2012

How NOT to introduce change to your employees

What are the WORST ways to introduce change to your employees? Yeah, I’l be glad to tell you the BEST ways, but first see if you’ve used any of these approaches:

  • Surprise your people by springing it on them.

    How well are changes accepted?

  • Issue a fiat: “Starting Monday, everyone must . . .”
  • Introduce change on a whim: “Hey, I had a good idea; why don’t we…”
  • Assume you know best and ignore people’s questions and concerns.
  • Seek the input of your people and then ignore it.
  • Say one thing, do another.
  • Keep everyone guessing.
  • Let negative rumors spread because you haven’t said enough–or anything.
  • Play down the burdens and hassles involved.
  • Start the project and then abandon it.
  • Make the change seem like punishment or extra work.
  • Wait until the change is forced upon you, then do it in crisis mode.

So this is what you want to avoid. What’s the best way to introduce change? That’s the next post.


February 14, 2012

What’s a Typical Growth Rate?

From a question asked at my plan workshop

MC. “What’s a typical rate of growth?”

MVH. There’s no typical rate.  It is better to ask what growth rate could you handle? Also, what is the right size for you to grow to? How big do you want to grow and why?
Your rate of growth will depend on several factors:
• How you finance–self, bank, investors
• How scalable your business concept is
• Quality of your top people. Your growth team
• Your systems. Can your systems be easily scaled up?
• Ease of bringing in new customers
• Your ability to manage growth or to hire managers who can do so for you
• Outside variables. Economic climate. Amount of competition. Laws and regulations that impact you.

I would be glad to help you assess these things for yourself. This is an issue we work with all the time in our Business Groups.

November 29, 2011

Business growth dilemma #3: Grow profit while you keep personal touch

Many businesses lose their personal touch as they grow. This is the classic struggle between “corporate bean counters”—profitable and impersonal, and “mom and pop”–small and happy but poor and hard working.

We know that growth and profitability spring from good systems and procedures. The things you used to make up as you go along, you must now do by the book. Everything you do must make the numbers. Alas, the personal touch that customers love seems threatened.

So how can you retain your personal touch while improving efficiency, productivity—and profitability?

It requires a shift in attitude.

The owner of a retail store said to me, “My employees—and me also—used to resist all these systems and procedures. We wanted to serve each customer in our individual way. But we found that systematizing the routine things allowed us to be more creative and personal with customers. And customers loved the consistency and predictability in our operations.”

Another owner said, “My business is an expression of my soul. So if I wasn’t there all the time, the business suffered. So I was chained to the business. To launch a second location, I had to find a way to ‘bottle my soul’ and train others to run things by my values and standards. And they still have to make their numbers!”

You must turn your viewpoint around, and view systems and procedures as a way to maintain your personal touch rather than overwhelming it.

This is a major theme in my “Top 3 Barriers to Small Business Growth—and how to overcome them” program.

October 8, 2011

Business Growth Dilemma #1–Doing Paid Work and Developing New Work

Filed under: Growth Management,Overcome growth barriers — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 4:32 pm

When we’ve got lots of work, we don’t have time to market. Then the work ends, and we have to start marketing to find another big project.

This is a classic entrepreneur’s dilemma, and it can lead to the dreaded boom and bust cycle. However, a mistaken assumption lies beneath this—that we don’t have time to do both customer work and business development.

When I question owners about where they spend their time, I usually discover a third category of activity—“minutiae” —that takes an inordinate amount of their time. Yet these routine admin tasks are the easiest to hand off to someone else. Once we do this, then we often have time for doing the work and the business development.

Some people enjoy one and resist the other. Love doing the work, hate doing the marketing. Or vice versa. So, you bury yourself in the work so that you can plausibly claim that you have no time for marketing.

What is your strength? Where do you make the biggest contribution to your company’s success? Could you arrange your business so that you could focus on your strength, and hand other things off to someone else? If you are best at bringing in the business, then hire someone to do a substantial part of the paid work for you. If you are best at working with customers, then hire someone to do business development for you. This should make your business grow and prosper, because you focus on the activity you are best at. And in either case, hire someone to handle admin and routine for you.

How can you afford to hire this extra person if you have a small business? Let’s assume you have a viable business with growth potential. So if you find a way to hire this needed help, it can pay off for you.

To figure this out, answer a few questions like these:
— What is the highest-skilled person you could bring in to give you the support you need to boost your company’s growth? What’s their job description? What personal qualities must they have?
— What’s their learning curve? How long would it take for this new hire to pull their own weight? The more experienced the person, the shorter their learning curve.
— What’s the upfront cost and payback period of hiring the expertise you need for growth? I.e., how much will you have to invest before profit from the new business generated covers the cost of this person?
— Are you willing to risk this investment in your business growth?
— How would you need to change the way you run your business to best take advantage of their skills? What habitual ways of running things would you have to change?

These are the questions we tackle in our program, “Top 3 Barriers to Business Growth—and How to Overcome Them.” Ask me about it.

October 5, 2011

Business Growth Myth #2. “I must oversee everything.”

Everybody comes to you, so you can’t get other things done. This is another management habit that can keep you from focusing on the things necessary for growth.

I often hear two related complaints that pull in opposite directions. Here are two examples:

1. “My customers—and my employees—always ask to talk to me, because I have the answers.”
But you also complain, “My managers do not handle as much responsibility as they should.”

2. “I need to watch the numbers. I just have to shut myself away in my office more.”
But you also say, “I need to keep in touch on the floor, both to know what is happening and to motivate my people.”

What I see about this. You are operating at two levels—manager and floor supervisor. While it is important for you to keep in touch with what is happening, the question is, how much? You are clearly invading the turf of your floor managers who should have the primary responsibility for keeping in touch and motivating the troops. Since you are doing part of their job, your managers feel frustrated and take less initiative.

My recommendation. Examine your own motivation. Is it possible you are holding on to the floor work—at which you feel more comfortable—to avoid facing bigger challenges, such as tracking the profitability of each thing you sell? Or developing new strategic alliances?

As your business grows, you must promote yourself from worker to supervisor to manager to CEO. Many owners get stuck at supervisor or manager, so their company in effect has no top executive. This is guaranteed to keep you small.

Do the work you enjoy, but find a way to do it that doesn’t conflict with the responsibilities you have given your managers. Maybe you should take one shift on the floor a week, just to keep in touch.

This is a major theme in my “Top 3 Barriers to Small Business Growth—and how to overcome them” program.

September 29, 2011

What Drives You Crazy About Growing Your Business?

Filed under: Overcome growth barriers — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 7:00 pm

What’s the difference between a company that seems to grow with ease and one that has a lot of problems growing? Often it’s the owner’s management style and attitudes that get in the way.

“Well, in my case,” you say, “it’s the problems we encounter selling in such a tough market.” Maybe. But if we talk, we may discover that your real difficulty in selling is related to the need for better tracking systems, or for more consistent effort, or for better training of your sales people. Or it may be related to your own attitude toward marketing and selling. Many I work with seem to have the attitude, “When all else fails, try some marketing!”

Tough competition, unresponsive customers, bad economy—these things are true for everybody. Yet many companies like yours are thriving. What’s the difference?
Start with your own (often-unstated) beliefs, attitudes, and work habits. I’ll give some examples, based on my work with business owners, here and in upcoming posts. Here’s one I hear all the time as an excuse why growth is not worth the effort:

Myth: “Only I can do this job right.”
“I can do it so much faster and better than anyone else.”
“It takes so much effort to manage others. I might as well do it myself.”
“My unique creative ability has gotten us where we are.
“It’s hard to let go and turn things over to my employees.”

These attitudes and beliefs can impede your growth.
People state such things as if they were cast in stone, but what I hear are beliefs and attitudes that could be changed, thus opening the door to growth and profitability. So I’m calling this a myth. After each myth in upcoming posts, I’ll give an example of how it can be turned around. Let’s start with this one:

On the one hand, you believe: “Only I can do this right.”
But on the other hand, you also complain, “I hire good people to help me, but end up just training my competitors.” These contradictory attitudes together reinforce your growth barrier.

What I see: You hire good people, but then continue with the attitude that only you can do certain jobs. The result is that they feel constrained in the job, never fully trusted, or not able to live up to the job they were hired for. Thus, you tend to drive them away. They may go to work for a competitor, or set up their own similar business.

Recommendation: Shift your management style so that you give them challenge and responsibility; they then feel better about staying with you and advancing within your company. And you are freed up to focus on growth.

Change your management style? Easier said than done, you say. But stay tuned. I’ll show how to make this happen in future posts.

This is a major theme in my “Top 3 Barriers to Small Business Growth” program.

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