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7 Safe Ways to Improve Your Business in Uncertain Times

shutterstock_290093642 (1)I was speaking with a business owner recently about where to go next with her business growth planning.  

It’s been a busy few years for her. Situations have come up that she hadn’t seen before, or even considered.  

She's now very good at managing supply chain issues. 

She's learned how to inflation-proof contracts and handle long order-to-cash cycles. 

She's learned how to come up with creative ways to find people to do the work.

And the results have generally been good. She’s found ways to grow despite all the uncertainty.

She was hoping for a return to more normal times, to get ready to scale to the next level.

But the news feeds are as frothy as ever. Inflation, interest rate hikes, and potential recessions are the headlines.  It is giving her pause. 

I know that many business owners are in a similar place. They want to modernize and scale. They want to cut costs and improve profitability. They want to increase the value of the business, and they want it to be less reliant on them. 

But they don’t want to be overly aggressive right now either.

This conversation got me thinking. What are some things business owners can do, that are pretty much risk free, while they see what takes shape in the marketplace? 

Without further adieu, here are 7 safe ways to improve your business in uncertain times. Whether a recession occurs or not, these are sure-fire ways to advance.

1)     Find the North Star 

First, it's a good time to refresh the vision for the business.  

Why does this business exist? Why are you doing what you do, day by day?  

What are the goals, and what are the results of achieving them? 

What will those results do for you, as a business owner? 

If you get clear on where the north star is it will be a lot easier to decide what the right steps are to take.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

- Lewis Carroll


2)     Clear up your To-Do List

It's hard to help the rest of the company if you spend most of your day simply trying to keep all of the plates spinning. 

To make the business more predictable, and more scalable - start with yourself.   Here is one easy approach to do that.

Simply write down every type of activity you work on each month.

Meet with investors. Reconcile billings. Pitch a new customer. Book a hotel. Explore opening a new office. Take out the garbage. 

Anything you touch, big or small. Write them all down.

Then sort them into a few categories. 

  1. Special - Things I am uniquely positioned to do as a business owner and leader.
  2. Skilled - Things that need specialized skills like mine, but other qualified people can do too.
  3. Capable - Things I do competently, but so could most anyone else.
  4. Terrible - Things I do an awful job of, and which most anyone could do better.

With this list in hand, you can generate ideas that let you spend more and more time on the special items that only you can do. And get the other items done a different way. 

3)     Find Process Issues

Next, have a look at how the work gets done in key areas of your company.

Where do people have to spend a lot of time, just to serve your customers? 

What work is error prone, frustrating, and hard to get done reliably?

Where do you see custom made Excel sheets, where people are comparing to A to B to C every day, to try to catch issues.

Where do you get called upon, simply to resolve billing and payment issues?

What sorts of things do your customers complain about?

This is another list of raw material for improvements you can make.

4)     Elevate your Team

Talent is in short supply.  Talent with industry knowledge is even harder to find. 

People that understand your customers and your business are a precious resource.  

Identify people buried in operational tasks and find ways to elevate them.  Help them to use their business knowledge to help customers directly.

Have key leaders also looking at clearing up their to-do lists, using that approach up above.

Help them find items they can shed. Perhaps they can delegate some of their work.   Maybe there is a cost-effective outsourced option.   

Maybe we can just stop doing some of it!  That’s a 100% return on investment, every time.

Or maybe we can systemize it and automate it with technology. More on that later.

5)     Implement a Scorecard

So, how is the business doing?

How do you know? Is it by getting the statements from last month? Logging into the bank account? Walking around and talking to people?

Think about ‘The Desert Island Test’, from Gino Wickman in his book ‘Traction’

“Imagine you’re on a desert island somewhere. All you have is a piece of paper with a handful of numbers on it. These numbers must allow you to have an absolute pulse on your business.”

- Gino Wickman


Could you pass this test? Do you have one piece of paper that could be handed to you, to tell you how you are doing?

Identify how you will start to create a scorecard for your business.

6)     Modernize with Technology

Every business owner knows that investing in tech is part of growing a modern business. But, they worry about taking a shot-gun approach, and get concerned about return on investment.

Good news - If you’ve taken steps 1 through 5 above, you have done some of the hard work.  You’ve already found the high-yield investment opportunities.

Look for technology solutions to fix some of the issues you've identified.  

Perhaps you need a better operational system that makes manual reconciliation unnecessary. 

Maybe you need a CRM to track and measure your sales activities and make sales less reliant on the business owner. 

Or you need better customer service options so that everything isn’t done on the phone.

Technology projects you identify in this way are safe bets and will help you grow the business.

7)     Get in Motion 

This is the most important step. Now make a simple 90-day plan, with 3-7 goals for the quarter.

Commit to put these items into action.

Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

- Will Rogers


Then, rinse and repeat.  Refresh your plan for the next 90 days, and keep going.