guest commentary by David Potts
Editor’s note: David Potts is a certified public accountant with more than 33 years experience. Although every effort is made to provide you accurate and timely tax information, it is general in nature and not specific to your facts and circumstances. Consult a qualified tax professional to discuss your particular case. Feel free to e-mail topic suggestions or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Business owners are trained to think about the future. There are seminars on goal settings, business planning, and budgeting. There are books on management succession, strategic planning and disaster recovery and trade magazine articles with technology or economic forecasts. Business people are futurists … aren’t they?
You can test my hypothesis with ease. If you are in business, all you have to do is pull out a copy of your goals, your business plan, your strategic plan to realize your own future orientation. If by chance you might be one of the few who hasn’t made planning a priority, start asking your colleagues about their own goals, plans, and strategies.
What I expect you will find is that privately owned businesses have a bad habit of not taking time to consider the future of their business, as least the businesses that have been in existence a few years. The demands of customers or family or your church leave a business person little time for thinking about the big items. This condition is common and has been given a name: the tyranny of the urgent.
We have all read Stephen Covey’s classic book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” or should have. We know that we should be proactive and begin with the end in mind. But I will bet you right now that the great majority of business owners and managers don’t have a plan, strategic or otherwise past the next customer deadline. But plan or no plan, the future is coming.
Most business people can reflect back on the time they started their business or started their career. There was excitement and detailed planning on how to start and grow a successful business. The problem for many was that they successfully executed their plan and found they reached capacity, their capacity in terms of time and energy. Having reached their capacity, they have been stuck in the same place for years, and the thrill is gone. Mediocrity rules the day. And most entrepreneurial minded business owners who have surrendered to mediocrity are miserable people.
If you own a business and find yourself stuck in the same place year after year, you can get out of the rut, but it takes time. Keep in mind, you’re at the top of the food chain so this condition of being stuck in place, and maybe the acceptance of mediocrity, is most likely your fault.
There are many possible causes for a small business to be stuck in place. A common cause I see is that the owner doesn’t trust their employees. It is not because the employees are not trustworthy. It is common for an owner to fear that a product or service will be delivered to a customer that was not up to his standard of excellence. That one is easily solved with training and clear and written instructions. Oh, but I forgot, there is no time to document the company’s systems and procedures.
Another reason a business can get stuck in place is the need to take all the profits from the business out of the business to live a certain lifestyle. A growing business needs continual investment to grow. A growing business will need to plow back a portion of its profits to meet the demands of a growing working capital base and to increase future capacity.
Sometimes a small business owner is just blind by being too close to the business. This is where a business owner may need to find a business coach, go to an industry trade show to meet other owners in the same industry, or just take a month off to think.
If you own a small business stuck in mediocrity and not growing, it is possible that it is the fault of the economy or a dying industry. But the most likely fault is that it is you. Therefore if you are not happy being stuck, you don’t have to be.