To do better, face up to what you’re avoiding

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Michelle van Schouwen

Many small business owners (and most humans) are avoidant by nature. For example, we don’t weigh ourselves when we suspect the news is not good. We might not open bills we can’t yet pay.

In business, an owner might look away from annual budgeting, employees with questionable intentions, or even online reviews or diminishing product reputation. Or maybe new competitive threats… the list goes on.

Taking the time to consider these potential blind spots can spell the difference between success and failure, whether for a new product offering, a new hire, or the survival of the company itself.

What is it you are avoiding facing? Consider that small voice inside you. It knows you are looking away from potential pain and difficulty, but increasing the odds that you’ll walk right into it.

-Finance is a serious avoidance issue for many small business owners. You should know the numbers. For example, what are your anticipated revenues for the year? Fixed and variable expenses? Month by month profit and loss comparison from year to year? At my marketing company, we painstakingly reviewed our cash flow, profit and loss, and upcoming business pipeline every single week. (We switched from Friday to Thursday afternoon, because sometimes the Friday review would cast a shadow on my whole weekend!)

-Personnel problems are another area in which employers can become avoidant, simply because they can be such a minefield. But ignoring poor performance, ongoing conflicts between staff members, and even dishonesty, can cause you trouble. (Check out my Succeeding in Small Business post Vexing employee problems only an employer can understand.)

-New product development can foster unwarranted optimism and failure to recognize any number of possible pitfalls. A great process to integrate into your planning is the Pre-Mortem, in which you imagine, before the fact, that a project has failed. You come up with all the reasons this may have happened, and then devise ways to avoid each potential scenario for failure. We’ve written in depth about the Pre-Mortem in this blog before.

-Your business’s reputation and standing in its community or industry also deserves your most steely eye. Check out your online reviews. Survey your customers. Take an honest look at your competitors to see if there’s anything they are doing better than you are. Henry Brown has written some great advice about managing your business reputation.

Other blindsider problems may include facility or safety issues, burnout (yours or employees’), inadequate technology, bad long-term vendors, or a myriad of other business-busters.

Sometimes, facing facts is the hardest, most painful part. The next steps are more concrete, if also more time intensive. But you must take action to change what’s wrong.

And then? Mark your calendar three months in the future with the query, “Have you taken a hard look at what you’re avoiding? If not, do it now.”


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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