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Solve the Problem - Stop Firefighting

Last updated April 15, 2020

Firefighting is such hard work.

Many business owners spend all day everyday firefighting. They successfully move one problem off their desk only to see it replaced with another one – one which, ironically, they’ve seen before. The sad part is that very few of the problems that business owners deal with each day are unique. They’ve all happened before, but they’re never really been solved. All the problem ever gets is a sticky plaster, instead of the plaster cast that the problem requires to treat it correctly.

In Sam Carpenter’s book Work the System, he calls this scenario “whacking moles”. As a mole pops its head above ground, you whack it on the head, and it goes away. But it’s only a temporary solution; the mole will pop up again and again. In the end, there are so many moles popping up all over the place that it fills your entire day. You’re exhausted and you dread tomorrow, when it will start all over again.

We all know of businesses that have ceased trading for whatever reason – some voluntarily, many not so. We also know that many companies go bust because they run out of cash, but in most cases that isn’t the real cause. Here are some possible underlying reasons:

  • It was much too late when they finally became aware of the problem.
  • They've uncovered a problem, but actively ignored it – the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome.
  • They failed to address the real problems, perhaps they were distracted by dealing with the symptoms.
  • They lacked the skills, commitment, or leadership to solve the problem.
  • They allowed a problem to escalate out of control.

All these actions, or lack of them, can be avoided. You have a choice. If you want to avoid bumping into the buffers, then you’ll need to develop your problem-solving skills to avoid the inevitable crash.

The measure of success is not whether you had a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year,” said John Foster Dulles, Former Secretary of State.

That sums up the situation brilliantly.

Naturally, when you’re working hard to solve problems, your time is fully employed. You've little time to think about future opportunities. You don’t have time to spot them or to take advantage of them when they come along. Not only are you losing out on new opportunities to accelerate your business growth, you are running hard just to stand still at best. Ignoring those problems means that your business will continue to…

  • waste time
  • delay achieving your objectives
  • see stress, tension, and time off work increase and production fall
  • waste precious resources

This costs the business more money: time spent doing non-productive things as well as money spent focusing on the wrong thing.

Grown-Up Businesses consistently work through their problems, right down to the root cause. They strive to solve the problem once and for all. Their goal is never to deal with the same problem ever again. They dedicate time to this and focus on really solving the problem, so that they save lots of time and money in the future.

Adrian and John run a professional practice in the construction industry. Both are technicians and excellent at what they do, but they’re always looking for new sales and clients. They have lots of meetings and issue lots of quotes, but just never seem to win the business. They positioned themselves as “experts in their field”; it says that on their website. They’re not the most expensive and they do deliver results, but sales are still tough.

I suggested some research with clients – a quick dipstick test. When they were talking to clients, I told them to ask each client, at the end of the conversation, “What three words would you use to describe our company?” They didn’t do what I suggested; instead, they emailed all their clients and asked the same question.

The point of the telephone call was to get an instant reaction from the client, rather than a carefully considered response, which wasn’t going to be as helpful. Few responded, but the responses they did receive held the key to their problem.

For example, one client said they were “competent”. I asked Adrian and John how they felt about this. “Pretty neutral,” they said. I explained that they positioned themselves as experts; a “competent” rating wasn’t good enough. The excuses followed. I suggested a call to the responder, to dig a little deeper and find out why they were only competent. It didn’t happen for ages. In Adrian and John’s mind, poor sales were the salesman’s fault.

They had the perfect opportunity to discover the root cause of their sales problems, but they ignored it. The situation deteriorated until the pain was enough for them to act. When they did talk to their clients, they discovered why they hadn’t been rated as expert. As a result, they changed the way they served clients, the offers that they made, and the quality of their work, together with added-value services. This enabled them to complete more sales and get their business moving forward.

  1. What problems have you dealt with in the last six months?
  2. What did you do to solve them?
  3. Which ones had you dealt with before?
  4. How much did it cost you not to solve the problem and how much will dealing with the same problem again cost you?
  5. Are your team delegating problem solving to you?

This blog is taken from my book The Grown-Up Business. You can read the first chapter or buy the book in paperback or on Kindle now.

shirley-mansfield-CoachSME
Shirley Mansfield
Master Business Problem Solver

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~ Sam Carpenter Work The System


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