A 5-step process to diagnosing and curing your business problems
Are you experiencing problems in your business that seem unsolvable? It could be that you are using inappropriate remedies. Here's how to find the right cure.
I periodically experience areas of tension and soreness in my neck and back due to old sports injuries coupled with prolonged periods of writing.
For the longest time I would apply heat to the areas — warm showers, heat patches, hot water bottles — automaticaly assuming heat therapy would soothe the pain.
When it didn't, I sought expert opinion and was told that certain types of body pains are caused by inflammation and that fighting inflammation with heat was like adding fuel to fire.
In addition to addressing the activities triggering the pain, when there was a flare up I needed to switch to ice packs, cold showers and topical aids that cooled these sore areas.
Now when I experience these issues the discomfort is short lived because I understand the underlying cause and I'm using the right treatments.
Likewise, you may be experiencing problems in your business and trying to use solutions that are not appropriate. Perhaps you're following well-intentioned but misguided recommendations from a friend, or applying thoughtful but irrelevant advice from an article you once read.
It could even be that you have just a bit too much confidence in your ability to solve the problem or too much pride to ask for help. Whatever the case, you are probably making assumptions about what's wrong and what can fix it.
What you need is a methodical approach to diagnosing disorders in your business and finding the right treatments. Here's a 5-step process to apply that uses a top down approach to identifying and solving business challenges.
1. Start with yourself
Particularly for creative entrepreneurs, it is quite likely that you could be confusing personal problems with business problems.
Personal problems are the internal or external factors that prevent you from operating at an optimal level as a business owner.
For instance, an internal issue is having trouble dealing with negative emotions so anytime there is a challenge in your business you collapse under the pressure.
Another internal issue is lacking the discipline you need to stick to a solid business routine and as a result experiencing inconsistency in business outcomes.
An example of an external factor is having family obligations that prevent you from dedicating the time you need to your business (many business owners with partners and/or children struggle with this often).
Another example is working a full-time job or going to school while you are trying to get your own business off the ground. The inability to allocate time between the two could be causing issues in your business.
All of the above are personal problems. There may not necessarily be anything wrong with the business itself, it's just that you aren't able to perform at the level needed to grow your business to the level you desire.
Just as we’re seeing bad presidents jeopardize the health of the nations they lead, as a creative entrepreneur your personal issues show up in how you perform as leader of your business.
You have to make space for personal growth and be savvy about how you manage your other life themes outside of your business.
2. Revisit your purpose
Continuing with a top down approach, the next step is to assess your business purpose. Now, from my experience as a business coach, I know that there's a fair chance you don't even have a business purpose.
Many creative entrepreneurs are driven by the desire to realize their talent, skills and ideas and jump directly into starting a business without fully flushing out what it all stands for.
What is your personal vision and how have you infused that into your business? How exactly do you want to influence the world with your talent, skills and ideas?
These types of high-level questions are critical. As purpose influences process and process is necessary for progress. So you need to have a strong reason for existing and a clear vision to pursue so your work has a sense of direction.
If you do have a solid business purpose then the next question is: are you staying true to it? Problems in your business could be directly linked to going down a path that's not aligned with your purpose.
This often happens with creative entrepreneurs who start chasing money, accolades or other more material signs of success and become out of touch with their creative energy as a result.
Of course you are in business to succeed: it's natural to want to earn more money, gain awards and recognition, and so on. You wouldn't be motivated to push past the challenges without the promise of success.
Just be careful to seek success in a manner that's in sync with who you are as a person and aligned with the purpose you've established for your work.
3. Evaluate your strategy
If you believe you are fully operating within a well-established purpose, then pull back the next layer and evaluate the other areas of your business strategy.
Again, if you look at strategy as purpose, process, progress then at this point you need to assess the set of steps you are taking to fulfill your purpose (your process) and then see where you are falling short on execution of these steps which may be stunting growth (your progress).
So let's dive into this with a series of questions:
Do you have a process?
Are you sure it is the right process?
Are you following the process?
Where along the process are issues arising?
As a business coach, the majority of problems I see are process-oriented. Either no process exists (or it does but isn't being followed), the process is bad, or the entrepreneur is struggling to effectively execute one or more steps.
There are two processes I personally use to run my businesses and to help fellow creative entrepreneurs run theirs.
The first is The Abundant Business Blueprint™ which is a high-level formula for obtaining freedom, fulfillment and financial success. Before starting any new venture I flow through this formula first. When I'm going through strategic planning for a venture I use this formula to guide me. And when I experience problems with a venture I consult with this formula.
The second process comes into play within the financial element of the The Abundant Business Blueprint™. This is my six-figure business plan, which ensures I'm addressing the components that are necessary for a business to generate wealth.
No matter where you are flailing in your strategy, you could benefit from walking through the above processes which will fast track your ability to identify and fix your business issues.
4. Repair what you can
The above steps are important because they ensure you correctly diagnose your issue. So by now you should be well-aware of the root cause of your problem. But that's only half the battle: you also need to determine and apply the right cure.
Some problems are within your ability to address yourself. The problem may lie in an area that you happen to be skilled in or you may intuitively know what to do next. In that case go ahead and alleviate the problem.
Also keep an account of how you solved this problem for future references. This issue or a similar one may come up again and you won't want to go through the entire top-down problem-solving method again just because you forgot the cure.
However, one thing to look out for here is over-confidence in your ability to tackle this issue. Try to be self-aware in this stage. If you sense that you are merely guessing at what could work or feel uncomfortable moving forward with your solution it may be better to ask for help.
5. Seek sound counsel
Finally, depending on the problem you've identified, it may be wiser to seek expert assistance. There are specific instances in which not trying to solve it yourself is the better move, such as:
It's a reoccurring problem you've failed to solve many times.
It's a problem that requires a specialist highly skilled in this particular area.
It's an overwhelmingly problem or one you don't have time or capacity to address.
It's a problem you simply don't feel empowered or interested enough to exert energy on.
As I mentioned earlier, for years I was inaccurately self-diagnosing my ailment and, as a result, using methods that were making the problem worse. In my case not seeking sound counsel led to a prolonged period of unnecessary suffering.
Your excuse may be not having enough time, money or energy to devote to bringing in external help. But how much time, money or energy are you wasting struggling with challenges you can't push through?
How many hundreds or thousands of dollars have you invested in this issue that could have been better spent elsewhere?
How many hours, weeks or months have you allocated to this issue, stealing valuable time away from your personal life or other important business activities?
How much has this issue impacted your mental, emotional or physical health and how has it stunted the growth of your business?
Seeking help is a necessary habit to practice as an entrepreneur. Even better to establish a set of trusted advisors (be it coaches, consultants or mentors) who can guide you through tough times.