Every business today is in the people business. Entrepreneurs often overlook the opportunities locked up in the people that are working for them or with them. A business can find new revenue or improvements to their margin by engaging the people that are actually doing the work. In my experience, an entrepreneur will pay close attention to the people in their business when times get tough and when every dollar has to count. It’s unfortunate but the reality is that limited money and resources force creativity which becomes the catalyst for changes and improvements. Where is the best place to find creativity? From the people in your business.
“How does your business make money? Are you sure?”
This question always catches unsuspecting entrepreneurs off guard but also creates a great conversation that can lead to new ideas for solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities. Many businesses focus on the product or service that they offer to the marketplace and not necessarily the problem they are solving. Common logic says that if you are the best provider of a product or service in the market that your business should be the market leader. But is this true? What makes a great product or service? The secret to every great business is that it understands the problem it is solving not the product or service it is providing. You may think this is a nuanced difference but it really isn’t. In fact, two businesses offering the exact same product or service may have two different problems they are solving. The key to profitability is being able to understand the problem that your customers or clients are paying your business to solve.
It seems simple. Your business needs money and so you begin looking for it. It then seems impossible. You discover you have limited options, if any at all. You are frustrated because you are not getting the answers you want and can’t understand why no one wants to help. If you are like most entrepreneurs you have probably failed to explain the problems that have lead to your request for money. You have probably failed to explain the solutions that your business is pursuing to address the problems and how money will help to facilitate a positive result. In short, you have failed to provide a compelling reason for someone to help your business. There is a simple way to present your request and get the money you are looking for.
“Got our year-end financials and need your input!!!”
Reading the financial statements for your business can be a very boring and unproductive exercise if you don’t know what you are looking at and what you are looking for. While entrepreneurs are rarely financial experts, they do have access to financial experts who can help answer their questions – which is part of the problem. Many entrepreneurs don’t know what questions to ask and are easily confused by the terminology, presentation and results found on their Balance Sheet and Profit/Loss Statement. Knowing what questions to ask can help you understand what you need to focus on and if you can find a way to keep your perspective simple, you might just unlock some hidden value.
At some point every entrepreneur will have a sleepless night because they won’t know how they are going to make their next payroll. By the time these thoughts are passing through their mind they would have already missed some warning signs along the way. While this is a very tough moment to get through, it is also a very important moment. Any entrepreneur that is doing something worthwhile will eventually reach the edge of a chasm that they will need to get across in order to succeed. There is no greater pressure point than having to face the people on your team who pay for their life with the job your business provides.
“So what you’re telling me is that we have never made money?”
This was an actual statement from an actual entrepreneur that was not happy with our conversation. Everything I was saying was not making sense to an entrepreneur that had money in the bank, a house, cars and investments all paid for by his business. The problem was his business had never actually made any money. The business owed more to creditors that it was expecting to receive from customers and had negative equity on its balance sheet. Basically, all the personal wealth that this entrepreneur had was from the creditors in his business including the government, vendors and his bank. Cash flow does not mean profit and this entrepreneur was about to discover how big a hole he had dug.
“If you don’t know how much money you make, how can you possibly be calling the government tomorrow with a plan on how you are going to pay them?”
I received a call this week from an entrepreneur that was 24 hours away from having to call the government and give them a plan for how the business was going to catch up on missed payroll and tax remittances. This is a very frequent conversation I have on a weekly basis with entrepreneurs that find themselves in a tough spot. It is very easy to end up backwards with the government and other creditors but your ability to understand how your business actually makes money can be the difference between your business surviving, thriving or dying.