There's an old joke that a consultant is someone who listens to the employees, tells management what they are saying and takes a fee for it. This is truer than most consultants would like to admit. If you want to solve a problem without paying a big consulting fee, learn to do three things:

  • Listen to yourself
  • Listen to your team
  • Do what makes sense

Yes, it's really that simple--90 percent of advanced tools like process reengineering, project management and quality management are just common sense. My mom once asked me what I did for a living. When I explained it to her, she said, "but that's just common sense." I replied, "It's because you call it common sense that I'm so good at it." Good old mom!

The Common Sense Approach
1. Fix what you can, instead of blaming others. Sure the economy sucks, suppliers mess up, and customers are a royal pain. That is as true for your competitors as it is for you. What makes winners different is what we do about the problems we can solve, and how we inspire our team to take a can-do attitude and do good work.

2. Fix the right problem. Think like a doctor. You wouldn't be happy if your doctor gave you stomach medicine for a heart condition. In business, though, we often fix the wrong problem. For example, when sales are low, we push the salespeople. Most likely, they're already doing a good job, and the problem is in marketing. Remember: The cause of a problem is almost never where the symptom shows up. Find the cause and fix it; you can't fix a symptom.

3. If the problem comes back, find out why, and fix it. Say you have some defective parts in your products. Getting rid of them isn't enough. How do you know more defects won't arrive with the next order? Instead:

  • Check with your supplier: How can they confirm that there will be no future defects?
  • Change your contract: Add a penalty for defective parts.
  • Change the way you choose suppliers: Go for quality, and prevent the problem.

Now that you know how to fix problems, you just need to find the problems that need fixing.

4. Find problems by complaining. I recommend complaining. There's a great technique for finding your problems--and blowing off some stress--from Barbara Sher's book WishCraft. She calls it the power of negative thinking. Stand in front of a friend and deliver a standup comedy routine titled What's Wrong With My Business? Complain about everything. Be specific. Rant, rave and get it out of your system. Have your friend write down every complaint. There's your list of problems. Now start solving them.

Which problem do you solve first? It doesn't matter. If you have time and energy, fix the one that will be the biggest boost to your bottom line. If you're running around like a chicken with your head cut off, then fix the one that is bugging you the most.

5. Listen to your team. Go to your team, and tell them you want to make a fresh start. Tell them you want them to enjoy their jobs more and get more done. Ask each person on the team for three problems that you can fix to make their lives easier. If you haven't done this before, it may take a while before they take you seriously, but you'll get there. And when you do, you'll find that after you help them, they'll be ready to help you.

6. Your business works best once you've fixed the pipes. Be the plumber for your business. When you fix all big leaks, things start to flow. When you fix all the small problems, profits shoot through the roof. What flows in a business? Products, services, and solutions flow to your customers and money flows to you.

I hope you're not in business just to make money. The purpose of a business should be to do what we love, love what we do, make our customers happier and better off, and the world a better place. But money is the measure of a business. Track money--gross revenue, expenses and net revenue--to find what is working, and what is not.

Then fix your business.