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12 Tough Questions to Ask Yourself Evaluation is the key to keeping your business on track.

As a business owner, I always try to practice what I preach. My company, American Management Services, has 150 full-time employees around the country, constantly working shoulder-to-shoulder with small business owners whose companies have serious financial problems. We understand the pitfalls of managing employees, keeping cash flowing and micromanaging every last detail of operations.

It isn't easy. I'm the first one to admit that I'm far from perfect, and when I don't follow my own rules, it is always very costly for the company. When a mistake is made, I remind myself that we have to be our own best client. This means that we have to be willing to ask ourselves the really tough questions--questions you should be asking yourself too.

  1. Do you love your business as much as your family?
    Last month's column, " Love Your Business More Than Your Family ," was tremendously controversial. But let's be clear: You always have to love and provide for your family. However, there are times--especially in today's environment of hand-to-hand combat--when many of your normal family experiences have to be put on hold in order to tend to your business. You have to maximize profits in your business so your family life can continue on a reasonable basis.
  2. Do you take responsibility for every aspect of your business?
    Don't blame employees when they don't do something right. You're the one who hired them, defined their jobs, and you're responsible for managing them. If something goes wrong, it's your fault. The more you take responsibility, rather than blaming your employees, the fewer mistakes you'll have to deal with. If some of your employees don't respond to your directions and continue to make the same mistakes, replace them. Now might be the perfect time--the silver lining of the current high unemployment rate is that there are lots of good people to choose from. Conventional wisdom places too much emphasis on limiting employee turnover. Turnover can be good because it allows you to get rid of the dead wood.
  3. Do you play golf?
    If you're playing golf instead of devoting your time to your business, you're failing both your business and your family. Let's face it: golf is an excuse to goof off rather than an opportunity to make meaningful business contacts.
  4. Do you work on weekends?
    If not, why not? You can use the time to meet with employees, order priorities, and attend to financial details you've neglected for the last few weeks (and fantasize what you'll deal with next week). Weekends are also a good time to meet prospective employees because you'll find out what they're made of.
  5. Do your workers respect you?
    I didn't say like you. I said respect you. Whether or not they like you is irrelevant. What's important is that you are making money and they will share in that directly or indirectly. Serious profits get everyone's respect.
  6. Are you aware of all of your customers and their needs?
    As a CEO I want to know who called and when, what they wanted, what they bought, how we helped them, how we didn't, what they liked, and what they didn't. You must micromanage and then micromanage some more. With a small business you should always know what's going on.
  7. Does your ego get the best of you?
    Never rest on your success (sales and profits). Today is a new day, and you need to make money every day. Don't rest on your laurels. Exorcise the ego.
  8. Are you clear in your directions and do your employees listen to you?
    When you say something, say it with conviction and stand by it. You are the boss, and there should be no need to tell people five times what you expect of them.
  9. Do you pay for performance?
    Money talks! Employees work better when they know they'll be rewarded financially. If someone does a good job, reward them with bonuses. If not, be sure they make less. Weed out the ones who are not serious about making your business as successful as it can be.
  10. Do you pay yourself well?
    Always pay yourself first. If you're not happy with your salary, you know there's more work to be done. Vendors like to pretend they have your interests at heart, but they really care more about themselves than about you. You are not in business to make them rich, so they can always wait a few days for their money.
  11. Are you a defeatist?
    It's not the economy, stupid , it's you! Never talk yourself into a negative position. It's easy to say, "Oh, the economy is down," "Everyone is hurting," or "I need a rest." If you find yourself making these excuses, it's time to work harder. You'll be surprised at the energy that comes when your hard work starts paying off.
  12. Are you satisfied?
    You shouldn't be. There's always some way to make things better. It's that little extra that makes the difference between just another struggling business and a resounding success. Failure isn't an option. Commit to doing whatever it takes. Decide how much profit you want to make. Focus on it. Don't wish for it or imagine what it would be like. Force it into reality. Fight for every sale. Learn to love winning.

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