Business Advisor

Can your business handle some tough love?

Can your business handle some tough love?

Barbed HeartI don’t watch much television. OK, OK—I’ll admit to being totally addicted to “Game of Thrones,” but at a rate of 10 episodes a year I think my TV consumption is hardly substantial. That said, I did watch a random episode of the Food Network’s reality show “Restaurant Impossible the other day.

For those unfamiliar with the show here’s the premise:

Host Robert Irvine, a chef, restaurateur, and master of tough love, enters a failing restaurant to scrutinize and question everything—the quality of the items on the menu, the timeliness in which customers are greeted, and the cleanliness and decor of the establishment. He has two days and a $10,000 budget to turn it around.

The restaurants are often family-owned, which results in a fair number of emotional family squabbles, a bit of ego, and sometimes tears. You witness the struggling business owners wrestling with the fact that their actions—or the lack of them—are directly responsible for their business failing. Robert calls it like it is—he’s there to turn around an ailing business, not make friends or beat around the bush. People are fired, others are hired, menus are changed, and the restaurant undergoes some remodeling. The end result is nothing short of a complete transformation.

The episode I watched involved a family-owned cafe/bakery. When Robert asked the father (the baker) how much it cost him to make each loaf of bread he couldn’t answer—he didn’t know! Robert was flabbergasted. Seems crazy, right? How can someone be selling something without first understanding how much it costs to produce?

This is actually more common than you might think. When people go into business to pursue a passion they are usually exceptional at their craft but frequently lack even the most basic of business skills. Simple things, like keeping business finances separate from personal finances—which has to be one of the more obvious things you should do as a business owner—are often overlooked.

It’s also common for easily remedied items like cleanliness and staff professionalism to be overlooked because the owner simply is stretched too thin.

One can easily be numb to the dust bunnies in the corner of the lobby, or the chalk that’s always spilled on the mats. Maybe you keep tolerating staff that are just okay at what they do, but you don’t bother looking to replace them because you’re too busy and it’s just too much work.

The business owners I speak with who are most successful are quite comfortable taking a frequent, objective look at their business, asking themselves questions like: What’s working? What isn’t? What can we do to better serve our clients or improve the experience of our staff? Where are we falling down? What can we learn?

The power of the framework for “Restaurant Impossible” is the third-party expert—someone who knows how things should operate, has the ability to turn things around in quick order, and is removed from the emotional issues of the people running the business. But in the absence of a show titled “Service Business Impossible,” we owners need to get comfortable scrutinizing our own businesses and taking a heaping dose of tough love where necessary.

Here’s a short list of questions. Pretend you’re an outside observer, remove any emotional attachment, and read through and give yourself an honest grade. And if you’re really open to feedback, you can ask some of your staff and maybe even a couple of clients who you feel would give you meaningful, honest input.

  • How would you rate the cleanliness of your place of business? Your bathrooms?
  • Is the atmosphere inviting to the clients you serve, given the services you’re providing?
  • How would you rate the professionalism of your staff?
  • What is the quality of service provided by your staff?
  • Can you shore up knowledge gaps by attending seminars or training with more experienced professionals?
  • What can you do to improve the overall client experience?

Only you can answer these basic financial questions:

  • What is your monthly net profit?
  • If yours is a membership business, what is your average billing per client?
  • What are the margins on each of your services?
  • How do you make spending decisions?
  • Do you keep your books up to date?

Find yourself cringing at any of those questions? Circle it. Then figure out how to remedy the situation.

  • If you feel your staff could be better, research some continuing education resources for them. Or look to bring on some individuals with more experience.
  • If you can’t answer any of the financial questions, look for a bookkeeper or an accountant or other mentor for guidance. All owners should have a basic understanding of the financial metrics of their business.

Growing a sustainable business involves the willingness to be open to continual learning and re-evaluation. Your business will never be perfect—you’ll always find ways to improve on some aspect of the product or service you’re delivering. So get comfortable with looking at your business through the lens of tough love. That willingness to scrutinize and evolve will keep your clients coming back year after year.

Pro tip When you travel, make a point to stop in and visit businesses that are similar to yours. Sign up for a class or private lesson and use it as a chance to learn. Pay attention to how you’re greeted. Judge the quality of the service. Evaluate all aspects of the facility or studio space. Look for ideas to take home and implement in your own business. No matter how seasoned you are in your line of business, you can always learn something new.

Barbed Heart

photo credit: jan_krutisch via photopin cc

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