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The #1 Problem with Small Businesses

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My Mom used to tell me to not take on too many responsibilities: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” she used to say.

If you’re an independent business owner, this advice doesn’t apply to you.

On top of having created your business, you are now responsible for overseeing all the operations of it, envisioning its future, aligning your team with your vision, and making the major decisions that impact its well-being.

You are more likely to bite off more than you can chew, and then, chew it.

JonSchallertBlogSo imagine my surprise when years ago I sent out a survey to hundreds of chambers of commerce and downtown organizations with a single question:

“What is the number one problem with your city’s small businesses?”

When the answers came rolling in, I didn’t have to tabulate the responses. From across the country, one word was universally repeated: Apathy.  Overwhelmingly, I was told business owners in their cities and towns were apathetic to improving their businesses, and this included not wanting to update the look of their businesses, improve their product lines, step up their customer service, and a variety of other complaints, all grounded in the basic belief that owners didn’t care enough to improve their business operations.

I’ve always disagreed with that survey.  Here’s why:

First, I think it’s easy to look at a business from the outside-in and make incorrect judgments about it, especially if you’ve never been self-employed.

Second, I believe business owners generally function in a perpetual state of being overwhelmed, juggling too many tasks in too little time, all the while running their businesses. I think the outside world forgets that independent business owners have other things to do besides running their businesses, like being a caring parent, spouse, partner, volunteer, and community leader, while still sleeping enough, exercising, eating right, and maybe, sitting down and taking time to think.

Third, today’s business owners are engaged in a daily learning curve of monumental proportions. Number one, they are responsible for staying abreast of the changes in their industry. But on top of that, they have other issues to think about, like analyzing, judging, and committing to which new technology tools would be most advantageous to their business. For example, should they use Woobox, Gro Social, North Social, or Social Campaigns to get more Likes on their Facebook page? Most business owners would answer that they don’t know.

What owners do know is they ARE passionate about their business, and the majority recognize they AREN’T experts in a host of categories including financial analysis, store design, social media, marketing, advertising, and publicity, just to name a few.

Owners will also be the first to tell you what changes they know they should be making in their businesses, but they’ve delayed implementing, not because they don’t care, but in that big priority list that is ever present in their minds daily, they don’t have the knowledge, outside resources, finances, time, or sanity to tackle that challenge right now.

The truth is that I have rarely met an entrepreneur who doesn’t care.  I’ve met apathetic employees, landlords, citizens, shopping center developers, students, Colorado pot smokers and cats.  But not apathetic business owners.

So for those who look from the outside-in, you should understand when you meet owners like these who are battling to make their businesses better, that look on their faces is NOT the look of an owner who doesn’t care; it’s the look of being overwhelmed when you are the person who is expected to have all the answers, but you’ve really not had time to even consider the question.

Oh, here’s one other word of advice: If you want to help, please do not walk into their businesses and utter a cliché like “Work smarter, not harder” or “Work on your business, not in it.”  They’ve know that. They’ve heard it before. And they’ve thought that every night before going to bed and first thing every morning walking in their doors.

If you really want to help them, give them resources and assistance that make their lives easier.  Help them by providing solutions that will help their businesses leap forward.

And I guarantee they will reward your community with a business that everyone will be love.

About Jon Schallert
Jon Schallert is the only business consultant in the world teaching businesses and communities how to reinvent themselves into Consumer Destinations. Jon speaks to thousands annually on his 14-step “Destination Business” process, which he developed over the course of nearly 30 years interviewing over 10,000 business owners in over 500 communities. When Jon is not speaking around the country, he conducts his 2½ day Destination Business BootCamps in Longmont, Colorado, and oversees his company’s online training network, Destination University.
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