I was having coffee with a business owner friend of mine, and he was telling me about the previous months advertising. It didn’t do much in the way of producing new customers. I asked him to tell me about his relationship with his advertising sales person. He looked a little sheepish, and admitted that the salesperson arrived at a time when he was really busy, and he told the salesperson to run the same ad as last month.

From this conversation I think it’s clear that this was not only a wasted effort on his part, but a loss to his bottom line. If my friend’s advertising had worked the previous month then he would not be complaining. However, even if that had been the case, this kind of decision-making is not the best way to spend advertising and marketing dollars that are in short supply in this economy.

Let’s face facts. Business seldom runs smoothly. It’s nice when it does but there are emergencies, unhappy customers, employee issues, accidents, and a host of other challenges that take up time and energy. But, at the same time, you don’t put a band-aid on a broken leg and call it good. Life seems to have its own schedule and it will rarely coincide with yours.

I firmly believe that successful business owners are both good time managers and list makers. They become students of their businesses and set priorities that prevent episodes like my friend experienced. There is a lot to be said for working by appointment only. I know here in Montana we are somewhat laid back in our relationship with vendors and meetings. But when the economy is as tenuous as this one is, then business owners must spend more time analyzing, than micromanaging.

Thirty percent of business plans are usually devoted to marketing. Marketing includes advertising and any effort that brings a customer through the door. Yet, most managers spend 80% looking over the shoulders of their employees, rather than paying attention to the one area of business that can positively, or negatively, affect the bottom line.

Starting today, give your employees a little free rein. Spend your time instead analyzing your business. Where are you right now? What does cash flow, inventory, payroll, average sale tell you about how you’re doing? Are there any areas that look unusual? Are any higher or lower than they should be? Have you checked your competition’s advertising lately? Are they doing more or less advertising? Are they hiring or laying workers off?

What about employee moral? Are people laughing and joking at work? Or, are they quiet, late a lot of the time, short fused? Every business has “red flags.” Little warning signs that are very easy to overlook but can rise up later to be formidable problems. Business owners need to be a lot like the old Colombo TV series. “Excuse me ma’am, there’s just one more loose end I need to check out.” One loose end usually leads to another and then another.

Everything you do, every day, should be focused on bringing in business. Employee training to insure the customer has a good shopping experience. Correct billing so customers aren’t hit with some unjust surprises. Adequate inventory so you never run out of your best sellers. Keep your promises; if you say you’ll be there at a certain time then do it.

The hardest thing for business owners to do is turn responsibility over to others. No employee is going to give the business the same attention as the owner. But, failure to do so, and continuing to micro-manage, instead of concentrating on analysis, can be even more detrimental. Training, advertising, marketing, and customer service are critical elements of every successful business. So doesn’t it make sense these things should take top priority over everything else? Stop working in your business and start working on it.

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