Solve Your Business Problems in Just 10 Minutes

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 11, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Tips in 10

Running a business can be messy sometimes. In spite of our best efforts, we end up with dissatisfied customers and goals that aren’t achieved and broken products and a stack of receivables. If business was easy, everyone would be starting their own and everyone would be successful. But business isn’t easy. Things happen. Sometimes those things can be controlled and sometimes they cannot.

So, regardless of whether you’re a top business guru or your own personal business rollercoaster is just starting out, you will experience problems. They might be big problems or little problems; they might seem insurmountable or they might seem like small hiccups in your day-to-day operations. But you will face them.

When I encounter problems in business – no matter how big or small – I take ten minutes to deal with them. I recommend you do the same:

Step 1: List your stressors

I start by writing down a list of my stressors: Everything that is annoying me or angering me or keeping me awake at night. I write EVERYTHING down on this list, whether a business stressor or a stressor within my family or my social life. Am I angry that I stubbed my toe in the shower this morning? It goes on the list. Am I annoyed that my friend keeps calling me for relationship advice? It goes on the list. Am I annoyed at the customer who is taking too long to pay? It goes on the list. Your business problem will be there and so will a bunch of other things.

The purpose of doing this is to help separate out the business problem you want solved from the rest of the things that are bugging you. And, the exercise of writing down your stressors can often help to release a bit of the stress you feel. You’ll be able to look at your business problem with a much clearer head when you list all of your stressors in one place.

Step 2: Write down the business problem

At the top of a blank piece of paper, write down the business problem you have. You might write “I have too many receivables” or “My vendor doesn’t deliver on time” or “I can’t keep up with my workload”. Just write down the problem as you see it.

Step 3: List the affected parties

Now list the people who are affected by this situation. It might just be you. It might be you and one customer. It might be you and all of your customers. In the example of: “My vendor doesn’t deliver on time”, the people affected are you, your customers, and your vendor.

Step 4: List the goals of each affected party

Beside each name on the list, write down the goal of the party. What does each party want? You want happy customers. Your customers want your product or service to be delivered when they want it to be delivered. Your vendor wants a loyal customer who pays on time.

It’s at this point that you can often start to see a solution appear. Now in the simple example I’ve been using, the solution might have been obvious to you from the beginning, but more complex business problems will also start to resolve themselves here.

By looking at the goals of each affected party, you’ll often see the most important point of the situation. In this case (as you probably already guessed) the most important point of the situation is that your customers who want timely delivery of your product or service are not getting it. So, even though you’ve stated your problem as “My vendor doesn’t deliver on time” the REAL problem is that your customers aren’t getting their products or services on time. And now that you know what the real problem is, you can start to work on a solution.

Step 5: Brainstorm solutions to the real problem

By waiting until this point to brainstorm, you can now create better solutions that effectively address the real problem.

In the vendor example I’ve been using, if you focused on the initial problem of a slow-delivering vendor, you would end up with solutions like “talk to the vendor” or “withhold payment from the vendor” or “find a new vendor”. These are decent, workable solutions that you might still come up with when thinking about the real problem but you might have other ideas, too. Perhaps you can create a lower cost solution that bypasses the vendor all together. Or perhaps you can order in larger quantities (to get a bulk discount) and keep a slightly larger inventory on hand.

Start to narrow your solutions to one or a few that are workable and likely to be most effective. In some cases, you might need to create a short-term solution to deal with the immediate problem (for example, if you have a really upset customer) and a long-term solution to deal with the larger issue (for example, if your really upset customer is upset about something that is a persistent concern in your business).

Step 6: Ask yourself this important question

So far, you’ve started thinking about potential solutions and you might even have a couple that you can act on. But there is one more step that is missed by 99% of business owners out there and I think that it’s crucial to success.

In this step, you need to look at your list of solutions and ask yourself: “How can I come out looking like a hero in this situation?”

Yes, I want you to ask yourself that question in every business problem. In some situations it might seem irrelevant but in most business problems, I’d suggest that your reputation could be damaged in some way if you don’t ask yourself this question. For example, if you have lots of receivables to collect on, you might have some great “strong arm” solutions but this “hero” question might filter out some of those solutions. Or, in the case of an upset customer, you might sincerely apologize and offer to provide the service at no charge but when you apply the “hero” question, you could find a way to really create a remarkably positive experience for the customer rather than simply a free service to appease them.

Step 7: Implement your solutions

Plenty of business problems are not addressed, not because they stop being problems but because the business owner doesn’t like to deal with problems, and they simply procrastinate. (The problem doesn’t usually go away on its own. Rather, the business owner ends up learning to live with the problem).

Step up and do what needs to be done. This part will take longer than ten minutes (but the steps up to this point should only take about 10 minutes).

Bonus Tip:

Business problems will crop up regularly. Take 10 minutes to address them as soon as possible and you’ll end up with a more successful business. Oh, and if you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll notice that you’ll also end up with…

1.    An ongoing list of stressors that you can deal with later if you want.
2.    A growing body of creative solutions you can implement on other occasions if applicable.
3.    A constant improvement of your business reputation that you protect relentlessly.

PS: Your stressors and solutions also make great content when put in writing. Blog about them!

Heather Recommends:

If you are a coach, freelancer, or entrepreneur who wants to succeed like a pro, I can help.

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