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7 signs that your business is in trouble

When navigating through dangerous waters a wise captain keeps an eye on certain signs. The shape and size of certain waves, the color of the water at critical points, the presence of rocks or sandbars, things that can be difficult to spot for the untrained eye. The truly wise captain knows these signs because he or she has sailed through treacherous waters before and survived to sail again. And they constantly watch for the signs.

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But what if you had never charted your way through rough stretches before? How do you know what you should be looking for? It’s been said that a smart man is one that learns from his mistakes--a wise man learns from other people’s mistakes. While there may be many warning signs that indicate a business is heading into dangerous seas, there are a certain few that every business owner must be diligently aware of.

Don’t be a Captain Smith

I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.

Captain Edward J. Smith, HMS Titanic

On April 15, 1912 the HMS Titanic sank in the early morning darkness after having struck an iceberg two and half hours prior. Tragically, over 1,500 people perished. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage and considered nearly unsinkable by the owners and many of the officers and crew on board.

Unfortunately, very few lifeboats were filled to maximum capacity when they were lowered from the Titanic into the icy water. This caused the death toll to rise dramatically. When the order came from Captain Smith to commence loading the lifeboats, the Titanic's officers were probably unaware of the magnitude of the situation. Their apparent complacency did not instill a sense of urgency in the passengers and therefore caused many of them to balk at the opportunity to get into a lifeboat.

In retrospect it has been easy to see that many signs were ignored, dismissed, or simply regarded with a cursory acknowledgment. While your business certainly does not compare with an ocean liner, the same unfortunate results could occur from a combination of ill-preparedness, complacency and the inability to recognize and appreciate the danger signs.

The twin dangers evident in the Titanic disaster were ignorance, or lack of knowledge, and presumptuousness. Key players in charge of the ship were either woefully ill-equipped to see and recognize the danger signs, or were overly confident that nothing of that magnitude could happen to “their” ship. While we trust that most business owners are wise enough to know that their “ships” are not unsinkable, not every owner is necessarily aware or knowledgeable of what danger signs to watch for.

The seven deadly business warning signs

1. You don’t know where your next sale is coming from. 

Having a consistent and reliable flow of customers and sales is essential for the health and growth of any business. Marketing and lead generation must be effective and ongoing in order to provide the flow of sales, current and future, needed for planning and for implementing strategy.

2. Your employees are unhappy or demoralized.

The culture, environment and atmosphere of your business will have a direct impact on your customers by way of client fulfillment, customer service, and overall productivity and quality. Unhappy and demoralized staff will not perform to the standards you want and this will have a tangible effect.

3. You feel like you can never be away or take a vacation.

If the functioning of your business is wholly dependent on you and your presence, it will never grow further than that. You must have an effective management component in place to free you from your business enough to have a life outside of the business.

4. You are losing more customers than you are gaining.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that if you are consistently losing more customers than you are making it is simply a matter of time before you have less customers than you need to break even. And if that trend continues you will be taking on water – or red ink!

5. The company’s objectives are not clearly defined to your employees.

This is a bit more insidious but still critical sign of trouble. Imagine a soccer team where none of the players know what the team was trying to accomplish. It’s not enough to simply “do your job” – everyone needs to know the vision, the strategy for getting there, and how they fit in with it all.

6. Your business is constantly in a “survival” mode.

This can actually be a combination of signs and symptoms, but the general sense of it is easily recognized and can be deadly for a business owner. The daily onslaught of unpaid vendors, outstanding receivables and lack of sales can grind away at you and take the wind out of your sails.

7. The passion is gone and you dread going to work every day.

A loss of passion can be attributed to any number of things, but is usually a result of the combined toll of many of the signs listed above. It could be argued that a business owner who has no passion for what he or she is doing is on a fast-track to “jumping ship,” to keep to our metaphors.

Smooth sailing

Despite economic and other conditions, the reality is that most any business can not only survive, but thrive and grow while avoiding taking on water or losing direction. How do you avoid these pitfalls?

  • Be at the helm at all times
  • Have a map and a destination
  • Keep both hands on the wheel
  • Maintain a diligent watch for warning signs

As the business owner this is part of your primary accountability to yourself and to your employees, customers and vendors. It has been said that although the destination is important, it is the journey that makes the venture worthwhile in the end.

If your business is displaying some of these signs, then schedule a free coaching session with an EMyth Coach. They will be able to help point you in the right direction.

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EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

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