The Question Every Business Owner Needs to Ask Themselves (But Doesn't). Stack resources behind what is going right in your business to unlock new levels of success.
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During the Great Recession, I went to an Entrepreneurs' Organization Learning Event where the speaker changed my life. He said that all 50 of the business owners in the room were inevitably working on their biggest problems, trying to fix them. And in that treacherous economic time, we each had plenty of problems! He knew we thought about those problems all the time — at night, in the shower, while driving, on the weekends — and that we had our very best people working on them, too. All of our resources were focused on fixing problems. That's human nature.
The thing he said that stuck with me is simple yet brilliant: Rather than focusing on problems, we should find what is going right and put our resources toward doing more of it.
My company followed his advice, found the thing that was going right and did more of it. It saved the company and inspired a full pivot to an even better business. That statement literally changed my life!
Ask the right question
If you search the internet for questions you should be asking about your business, most concern expense control, profitability and solving issues. I even queried AI, and while I got a list of 12 great questions, they didn't include, "What is going right?"
The company growth and execution systems used by business accelerator programs do not typically prompt entrepreneurs with this critical question. In fact, they often direct resources at identifying your largest issues — encouraging business owners to work on up to 10 issues all the time.
Now, I am not saying that time should not be spent fixing problems. Problems that could kill the company must be addressed. What I'm asking is:
What would happen if you spent an equal amount of time amplifying what is going right?
Make peace with quitting
Doing more of what is going right often gets backburnered in favor of Ms./Mr. "Fix It" and the notion of never giving up. But if quitting something in favor of doing something that produces better results grows the company, why not?
In Annie Duke's book, Quit, she outlines all kinds of situations where it makes more sense to quit than continue. The 336-page book has 11 chapters of examples. I am not saying you must immediately quit certain things to make space for amplifying others. But make peace with the idea that it's okay to deemphasize some issues or put them on the back burner and turn your focus toward what is going right to see what you can do.
Identify what is going right
So, what could be going right in your business? There are many possibilities:
- Is one product line more successful than the others?
- Is there a type of customer who is buying more and appreciating you more?
- Is there a way of delivering your product that is getting more traction than another?
- If you have multiple locations, is one doing better than another?
- Are there certain types of people who are more successful in your organization?
- Do some of your marketing and advertising methods perform much better than others?
- Is one distribution channel working better than another?
- Operationally, which methods of running your business are working well?
Why not double down on these winning ways? Look for things that succeed with little effort or come naturally — things that are flywheel-ish. Intentionally apply less effort to the things that are hard to do, require a ton of effort, and feel like pushing rope in order to free up resources for doubling down on what is working.
As you ponder this, an important tip is that the thing going right might be a small thing. So look high and low, and involve your team — because everyone sees your business from a different viewpoint. For example, let's say you have 50 customers and three newer ones are nuts about your product. That could be one of the things you identify as going right. Ask yourself what those three customers have in common and how you can find more of them.
Break free of the past
Another common scenario is that something that worked well in the past just is not working well now because of increased competition or another factor. Is it time to deemphasize that in favor of something else? Just because you started that way does not mean you have to stick with it. For example, maybe retail was working well, but now your new online approach or wholesale shows more promise.
A friend of mine runs a business in which they track what advertising source each sale comes from in a traffic log. One of the big questions that came up in my search to ask yourself was, "How do you increase sales?" This friend was always pursuing that. He continuously invested in new methods of advertising. In areas that were getting poor results, he would try to tweak the wording or ad placement. I suggested he double down on the top three sources rather than trying to improve the poorly performing ones marginally. In other words, "Why not just do more of what is working?"
He followed that suggestion and — while that was not the sole reason for it — his company revenue has since tripled. He shared that focusing on what was going right freed up all kinds of team time because it takes less time to do more of what you know versus dreaming up new strategies and fighting the tide. It also boosted company confidence, as more customers supported the company by buying their product.
Fight your 'fix it' nature
One of my favorite thought leaders, Dan Sullivan, once asked our strategic coach class, "What do you get if you work really hard on a weakness for 10 years?"
The answer: At best, a really good weakness.
It is hard to fight our deep-down entrepreneurial desire to identify problems and try to fix them, and it feels oddly unnatural to find the thing that is going right and do more of it. But it is worth the effort! This one question has the possibility of transforming your business and growing revenues to the next level.