Knowing that your business is failing is one of the worst sensations that you can ever experience. Feelings of sick desperation tangle with fear, anger, and frustration, causing a knot in your stomach so big you literally may die. In some cases, the anxiety is so much that you really do end up in the emergency room with a heart attack.
Of course, the most common question is how do I fix my failing business? Is it salvageable? Can I work harder and push through? Our natural tendency is to hunker down and focus on the parts of the business that we know best. We tend to believe that the littlest things will revive our business if we can just perfect them. The more desperate we get, the more engorged our determination is to focus on some of the most obscure things, thinking that the fine print of our business details are dragging us down.
I have seen owners in failing businesses meticulously keep handwritten notes of every coupon that a customer brings in, thinking that a thrifty customer or two was his demise while failing to notice that his poor attitude in front of customers was driving traffic to his competition. I have had over-stressed business owners tell me that their main problem was that they could not find the right people to hire. On further examination, the owners literally were upset that the would-be employees would not work for free for a few months until the business got back on track. “It’s a great opportunity,” the owner told me.
I could tell many more such stories, but the point is when our business is failing, all reality and reasoning goes out the window. We blame everyone but ourselves and look for redemption in all the wrong places. So, how does one fix a failing business?
I know from experience that this is really hard. Stress breeds more stress, but the problem is that it also clouds our judgment and makes it impossible for us to find solutions. If you find yourself with a failing business, you won’t have a chance of saving it in panic mode. The best thing that you can do is step away for a little while, not very long, but take a couple of days to rest, think and start honestly evaluating where you are and how you got here.
Once you have taken some deep breaths, gotten some rest, and are in a relatively calm place, let’s face it: a failing business never puts us in a 100 percent Zen zone. It’s time to really get honest with yourself. 10 times out of 10, I have found that a failing business’s core problems is with the owner. Sure, you may have a management problem, employee issues, tough economic times, a changing industry, but the bottom line is that it is up to you to ensure that you are hiring trustworthy and dependable managers, empowering employees to do their job, adapting to current economic woes, and keeping your business relevant to the needs of your customers. There is no problem with your business that you did not cause and that is good news. You caused it, you can fix it.
Look at the Big Picture
Often times, I find that owners of failing businesses have a very narrow view of what they think the problem is. You can’t fix your failing business without looking at the big picture. Throw out the magnifying glass and look at the wide-angle. Business is too complex to assume that any one issue is the sole cause of your business’ shortcomings. One issue is a weakness, but it has to be compounded by multiple hits in order for it to start buckling. Ask yourself what the root cause of the issues is. For example, in the story about the coupon tracking business owner, they were right to recognize that their dwindling sales included an abnormal percentage of coupons, but the root cause was the fact that people were only willing to come in and face rude, slow service if they could get a two for one deal. The root cause was that the owners failed to provide exceptional service that would breed repeat loyal customers. Thus, the only people willing to come in were the bargain hunters looking for an unbeatable deal.
Shift your Thinking
Fixing a failing business starts with you. You have to step back, look at the big picture and honestly evaluate what is going wrong. This does not mean that you beat yourself up, but it does mean that you need to step up and take responsibility for your business. The buck stops with you, so if you’re emotional, irrational, fearful, or hopeless, then there is nowhere to go but down.
Feed your Business
The most common mistake that I see failing business owners make is to close the purse strings. They are afraid of making hard decisions and choices because they cost money. Just like when you are sick and the doctor says drink lots of fluids, you need to add fuel your business if you want to fix it. This does not mean that you spend money for the sake of spending it, but ultimately you have two options: you can do nothing and close your doors, or you can find the problems, design a solution, and move forward. Yes, this will cost you money. Most likely you will need a consultant, or a marketing expert to help rebrand, or more experienced staff and management…perhaps you will need all of the above. The only way to fix a failing business is to go all in.
There is no small fix and changing little details will never fix anything. Businesses fail because of large problems, not from little issues, and the bottom line is that large issues take lots of time, money, and energy to fix. The good news is that if you’re willing to move forward, there is a good chance that you can fix your failing business and turn it back into a thriving dream instead of an all-consuming nightmare.