Are you ignoring an ache in your small business?

Roughly two weeks ago, I began to notice that one of my teeth was suddenly sensitive to cold. A few days passed with this being the only symptom, but then early last week, the pain became more frequent and prolonged and wasn’t always related to me eating or drinking something cold.

Still, I tried to ignore it until this past Monday when it became obvious that something was seriously wrong and popping aspirin every four hours was not the solution. It was time to call the dentist. Turns out the tooth was cracking in an area between two fillings. A root canal – the thing I had feared so much that it had kept me from calling the dentist  – appears unnecessary, although I will have to get a crown done and will be out of pocket about $1,200.

My reason for sharing my dental woes with you is that my experience with my molar is akin to something I’ve seen small business owners do all the time. They sense something just isn’t right and they may even know the source of the problem – such as an incompetent employee – but they delay and delay until a small ache grows into a big, throbbing ache that can no longer be ignored.

Sure, some business problems are temporary and will resolve themselves without you taking action. But most won’t; they’ll just get worse and, in the meantime, they are costing you in ways you may not even be aware.

I am reminded of a good friend (we’ll call him Mike since that’s his name) who ran a life insurance agency back in the early 1990s. He had hired an agent who was going great guns in terms of making his numbers. Sure, there were some early warning signs that perhaps this agent wasn’t great at after-sale service, but his sales numbers were so terrific that my friend chose to ignore these hints of trouble.

Then, Mike got a call from one of the agent’s clients and heard an earful about how upset the individual was because his new life insurance policy had not been delivered to him. This is a big, big client service mistake in this industry, and when Mike started nosing around, he found many more big, big client service mistakes to lay at the agent’s door.

Had he acted sooner, Mike could perhaps have paired this great salesperson with an administrative support person who could have made up for his woeful client service. But by the time Mike finally decided the pain was too much, things had gone way too far off the tracks and his only recourse was to fire the agent.

In the end, Mike’s firm lost clients and it became a real crisis for the business because Mike had to spend significant time cleaning up the mistakes left behind by the fired agent. That meant he had less time to do sales himself and revenues plummeted for a time. And all because he had ignored the early warning signs – those few tweaks of pain that signaled that all was not right with this particular agent.

Next time something starts to nag at you, don’t ignore it. Take time to analyze why you’re concerned. What is the source of the pain? Are you sure you know the full extent of the problem? How can you fix it? Be sure to consider the full potential downside of ignoring the pain. Consider worst-case scenarios, but, all too often, things do end being worse than you think.

Don’t be like me and my molar. All I did by waiting a week to call the dentist was to suffer more intense pain for a longer period of time than was necessary. I mean, seriously, did I really think my tooth was going to heal itself? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

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