Are you like a turtle crossing a busy road?

It must be the time of the year, but I’ve seen two turtles attempting to cross busy streets just in the last week. One of them was a young turtle who looked to be wandering in circles (but still in the road) but the other one was a full grown box turtle that was plowing straight across a very busy section of road.

And of course that got me to thinking about business owners…

How many business owners are like those turtles – with their heads down, only focused on what’s immediately in front of them and never realizing the kind of existential danger they are in.

Metaphorical dangers on the road?

What kind of dangers are we talking about for these business owners? Here are a few examples just to make the point:

Financially Blind

I talked with a business owner the other day who literally had no idea how well (or poorly) their business was doing financially. They had a rough idea of how they did last year (based on their tax filing) but 7 months into this year they didn’t know if they were profitable, had no way of projecting what kind of revenue or profits they might be looking at for the next quarter and basically operated on the cash in their account.

They were travelling blind – and when I asked about trying to figure out their financial state they preferred not to because they assumed they would be depressed by the results…

I understand the fear but without some kind of data there’s no practical way to plan or maneuver – you’re just waiting to get run over.

Wrong People / Wrong Seats

The single most likely issue for any business owner is a people issue. If you’re a business owner with employees, it’s very likely that you have at least 1 or 2 employees who aren’t a fit. Either because they’re not the right people (they don’t fit / share your values) or they’re not in the right seat (not a fit for the responsibilities they need to handle).

Additionally right now it’s very difficult to hire so there’s a pretty good chance that you’re understaffed in your business.

Whatever your people issue might be, if it’s left unchecked there’s a pretty good chance that it will impact your business. It might not kill you outright, but people issues will definitely leave you with some serious problems.

Broken Business Model

Another fairly common danger that business owners face is a business model that’s broken. If you’re making $10,000 from a client, but spending $10,001 to service them – you have a broken business model and it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to be run over. And in fact the more you sell in this kind of model, the sooner you’re going down.

Typically things aren’t quite that obvious or dramatic, but it is very common to not be clear on how much profit is being made (by client, by product line, by location…). The recommendation (how much money should you make as a business owner?) is that your business model should generate at least a 10% profit margin – and should also be inherently scalable – when you sell more, you make more. If your model isn’t built that way (or you don’t really have a clear business model), then you’re crossing that road with your head down just hoping you don’t get run over.

How to avoid being a Turtle in the Road?

There are lots of other potential dangers that business owners might face due to various blind spots – including competition, market changes, inability to generate demand or sell… it’s a pretty big list.

But the good news is that you can mitigate almost all of these issues by creating more visibility and actively working to find your blind spots. The challenges will still be there, but at least you’ll be aware of them and can start navigating around them and getting across that road more quickly. Here are 3 ideas that can help you increase your awareness.

Different Perspectives

One of the best things a business owner can do is to find some external advisors to work with. That could be an outsourced CFO, an external HR advisor, a marketing professional or, of course, a great business coach. As coaches, one of the biggest things we do with our clients is ask them the hard questions about what’s going on with their business and help them explore how things are actually going (versus what they wish was going on…).

There are a lot of great 3rd party advisors out there – business coaches tend to look at the entire business, but you can certainly get great insights from other advisors in different areas… and if you know that’s a particular blind spot for you that might make more sense. Look for someone who’s worked with other business owners for a while and more importantly for someone you’re comfortable with and who’s willing to challenge you.

Take some Time…

One of the best ways to get in front of the danger is to purposely slow down a bit. As a business owner a big part of your job is to actively look both ways before you start crossing streets. That’s hard to do when you’re too busy and your schedule is fully loaded 6 days a week.

It might seem simplistic, but consider adding in 1 or 2 blank spots into your weekly calendar – and the whole reason for that time is to give you the chance to step back and look at the big picture. A few hours every week to investigate what’s actually going on, to look for common root causes and plan for fixes can make a huge difference.

Start Keeping Score

Another great way to systemically figure out if you’re heading into a dangerous area is to start keeping score. Work with your team to come up with a handful of key metrics that reflect how things are going in your business. Some example might include sales or prospecting metrics (number of calls or new leads), delivery or throughput metrics and of course a couple of key financial metrics (profitability over time, actual margins realized vs planned… could be lots of things).

The key is that these metrics should be fairly easy to track and you should be able to share them with the entire team. It may take some time to settle in, but soon enough you (and your team) will start to have a good feel for what a healthy month looks like… and when things are starting to get dangerous. If you’re tracking the right things then you’ll at least have some warning as you start to cross that busy street.

What do you think? Are you currently charging forward across a busy road with your head down? Or do you have a pretty clear picture of what’s going on and where you’re headed? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this… and watch out for turtles the next time you’re out driving!

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

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