The ideal time to knowing how to turn a struggling small business around is before it becomes a struggling business.
But why before it happens?
Because you should have the knowledge of how to solve problems ahead of time. Then you can use your wisdom to prevent the struggle-status from happening in the first place!
If you are already in a struggling business you need a plan of action to knock those problems into submission.
Owning a business is like attending a school of ever-lasting hard knocks
Running a small business is hard work. Not only are you responsible for everyday operations on the front end, but there are many things on the back end that you must worry about. There are many reasons why small business owners struggle with their companies.
Operational issues can put a damper on your business, even put you out of business. Your company could be struggling because of the lack of good customer service, employee theft, poor storefront appearance, or organizational structure issues. And those are just a few of possible problem-causing issues.
The importance of immediate action to avoid a struggling business situation
If you are a struggling business and you need help turning your company around, you need to aggressively analyze what’s wrong. Get to the root of the problems now, not tomorrow. Then nip it in the bud before you get too far gone for a real fix!
Let’s dive into many of the issues that can affect your business. We will cover some solutions to these problems that you may act to help your business recover.
Types of business
Every business operates differently, and every business has different needs and requirements. If you own a large laundromat with several janitors, then perhaps every item discussed here may apply to you. If you run a home-based business with you as the only employee, then only some of the items described here may apply to your situation.
1. Take a hard look at your company
The first thing that you will need to do before you can begin to turn a struggling business situation is to take a hard look at your company. Perform a complete audit of your business. This will let you know where you stand, and an audit will often help to point out your weaknesses. You will then be able to analyze what you are doing wrong. You can perform the audit yourself or you can hire a firm to conduct it for you.
To me, as a small business owner, I would always perform such an audit myself. Why? Because nobody knows my business better than me! Now, if you are not able to spot the problem areas yourself, then bring in a professional to assist you.
Keep one thing in mind though: You need to be totally openminded going into audit-mode. In other words, if you perform your own audit it’s crucial that you put your own mind in a complete neutral mode. Open your mind to be a neutral “observer” as to everything going on within your business, with no bias or pre-assumed opinion towards anything or anyone.
In that way, you utilize your common-sense street-smarts to analyze your own observations to spot problem areas early. you don’t want to get into a struggling business mode!
2. Poor customer service skills
One of the biggest mistakes a small business can make is to neglect their customer service skills. As most agree, customer service is a key part of a successful business plan. If your employees are not being friendly to the customers, you have a real problem on your hands. In order to analyze your customer service, you will need to dig deeply into the daily customer service activities to investigate, and before you become a struggling business you have to turn.
How to get the scoop on your customer service performance
Have 2-3 separate people that your employees don’t know to call your business and ask questions about the products or services you offer. Also, have those same persons physically come into your establishment to buy something and ask product or service questions. This will give you a good idea about your level of customer service.
To fix your customer service issues, you will need to properly train your employees on the problem matters. This will give them the skills needed to conduct proper customer service.
Finding yourself needing to further train your employee in customer matters should not happen in the first place.
The fault here could be you for failing to provide proper training in the first place.
Other reasons may be that million-dollar customer smile and motivation-energy the employee impressed you with during the hiring interviews simply dried up. In that case, you would need to find out why that customer smile is no longer there. Then base the next problem-solving step on the root to your employee’s problem.
This is a classic example of why I always stress that one qualification for being an entrepreneur is the ability to think and act like an excellent diplomat and psychologist!
Once the training has been completed, keep your eyes on your staff like a hawk. This will help you weed out those that have a bad attitude which cannot be changed or the ones that are simply unqualified to work with the public.
3. Not LISTENING to the customer or utilizing customer feedback
One of the biggest mistakes that can be costly to any small business is a failure to listen to what customers say and utilize customers’ feedback. Many times, business owners simply don’t seek feedback from customers while others ignore the feedback they are getting. Customer feedback is a valuable tool that every company should be using.
Now, be aware that you are ALWAYS going to have what I call the one-percent customer.
The one-percent customer is that one out of every one hundred or so customers who are bound to show up at your business sooner than later. This is the customer who will always complain about something, no matter what you do to please that customer. That customer will not result in putting your business into a struggle-mode. He or she may threaten a boycott, going elsewhere, a lawsuit, or give you a bad Google or Yelp review, but don’t worry about that person.
The spontaneous customer outburst after-effects from those type of personalities usually disappear like dew vanishing when the sun comes up in the morning. As soon as the customer leaves your problem is usually gone.
Some people are just plain miserable with themselves and the world around them always. Simply keep a smile on your face and wish them a great day as they walk out.
The personal approach
As an owner you should be out there greeting customers, shaking hands smiling, and make every customer feel like a million dollars. Casually talk to your customers and you’ll be surprised how much you will learn about operations at your own business!
Typical questions I ask customers include: “Are you being treated with a smile when you come in here every time”? “We are here for you, so if there is anything you feel we can do better for you please let me know personally”. “Are you happy with the cleanliness of the store”? “…it’s so nice to hear that Jennifer is taking care of you always”.
Get the picture? As an owner, you should PERSONALLY chat with your customers, and ALWAYS carry a pleasant smile on your face. Make every customer feel like a million dollars in your place.
That in turn, leads to more business for you, from a happy customer’s spreading the word-of-mouth about your business! The bottom line? Profits!
Discretion is smart; you’re on a mission to turn your struggling business around!
And most importantly, interact with your customers away from where your employees can hear what you’re chatting with the customer about, if possible. In that way, if the feedback is bad about specific issues you can assure the customer of discretion when they want to talk with you.
Instead of nervously looking around to see if you are at a safe distance from people eavesdropping simply “lead” your customer to follow you while you start conversing. Naturally make your customer follow you while you reposition yourself into a quieter area of your store, perhaps to talk while you are sorting some inventory shelves?
Psychologically you are also sending a subliminal message to that customer’s mind that you are working hard to keep the store looking organized and perfect for them. At the same time, you are showing the customer you are never too busy to pay attention to him or her.
The written approach to surveys
Here is an additional method that some business owners like to use: written surveys.
Personally, I am not a fan of this, since I hate when people hand me a survey, imposing on my time, to fill out about my experiences at the business. I also hate it when businesses ask me to complete a survey on receipts or by email. I just don’t have the time for that.
People are not stupid. Written surveys rarely offer anything of value to the customer. They know that written surveys generally go into a mass papermill with no personal attention to their specific opinion or issue.
If the survey is set up to offer replies, then such replies are most often sent out as a pre-written form-reply, mailed out by a “customer service rep” with absolutely zero authority to act on individual customer-specific issues.
If you still want to use written surveys
Your survey should ask customers important questions related to your products and services as well as their overall buying experience. But keep in mind, the survey should be short and to the point. Most customers will not want to spend more than a few minutes of their time when filling out a survey.
Once you have started receiving surveys back from your customers, make sure to go over them and record the data for future reference. The answers could give you a clue as to why your business is struggling and what to do to turn the business around.
And most importantly, personally answer the survey responses warranting such!
4. Lack of attention to detail and accuracy of order fulfillment
This is another issue that many companies face. Not paying attention to details can really put your business at risk of becoming stagnant or fall apart.
The fine details are what make your company different from the rest and you should focus on them in order to make them better. Many jobs that your staff and you will do should be of the highest quality while other jobs need less attention.
How to fix the problem from lack of attention to detail
In order to fix this issue, you should call a company meeting and explain to your staff which jobs or tasks they should be paying more attention to.
Watch for operational areas where mistakes are repeatedly being made by not paying attention to details.
You could create a chart of all the jobs performed daily and highlight which ones need to be given more attention to. This will help save time and make your company more efficient. Also, make it clear to your staff that lack of attention to details fro now on will be considered a serious issue. Each person on the team will be held individually responsible for mistakes as a result of their lack of attention.
5. Theft from employees and customers
A huge problem that can really cost your company a ton of money is employee and customer theft.
Almost all businesses deal with theft at some point in time.
When someone steals from your company, that is money that you will never get back. This can hurt your bottom line and if it goes unchecked, it could possibly cause you to have to close down your business.
Loss prevention plan
When it comes to turning a struggling small business into a success, you must take a deeper look at your loss prevention plan.
In a small business, chances are you will wear all the hats, so the loss prevention management will have to be left entirely up to you.
You should also install security cameras around your business. Not only will this help catch those that steal from you, but cameras will also deter people from stealing in the first place.
The theft comes in many forms
You may trust your hair stylist hair salon employee to run the store for you alone during slow hours. There is always something to do in a business. But with no customers present, she is spending two hours texting with her boyfriend while getting paid by the hour. This while she’s supposed to do cleaning and perform other chores during idle customer times, as described in her employee manual.
Is that theft? Yes, it is, she is stealing from company time, not doing what her employee manual says she’s obligated to do during idle times.
Following up – remedies
If an employee or a contractor steal from you, make sure you document the incident well, consult that person, or get rid of that person immediately if the offense is serious. Don’t ever allow such a person’s actions to place you in a struggling business situation you have to turn. Nip it in the bud right away.
When a customer is a thief, then let that person know he or she is not welcome in your place of business again. secure any video recording of that customer’s activities to keep as evidence if further adverse situations should materialize from that customer in the future. If necessary, call the police and let them handle the person.
NEVER get into a physical altercation with anyone. Control your temper and be methodical when you resolve theft issues.
TIP for retail establishments
Always have a “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone…”-sign conspicuously posted in your store. Some police jurisdictions require such a sign to be in place in order to enforce your right to restrain problem customers from entering your store. In addition, you should also have a “no trespassing” sign posted somewhere. That would strengthen your case for allowing the police in some jurisdictions to kick someone walking into your store not to do business, but for the purpose of loitering.