When faced with pressure on their business model, most leaders simply focus on reducing expenses. That's not nearly enough

David FullerMy dog died last week – but the truth was that she had been dying for several months.

Last winter, she had a couple seizures in my driveway and I considered having her put down. But after a couple weeks she revived and had a great spring and summer.

In the last month, she definitely started slowing down. She wasn’t in pain but couldn’t walk far.

I knew the end was coming soon and there was nothing I could do about it. And then one day, when she was prepared, her life quietly slipped from her body.

A few weeks ago, I had a Zoom meeting with a business owner in a different community. He told me about his business and we went through his financials. He faced some uncontrollable hardships due to changes in his industry. It became apparent to me that his 10-year-old business was in decline, had been for quite a while and he was going to have to make some drastic changes to keep it from dying.

There have been few times in history when so many business models have come under severe pressure so fast as in recent years. Technology combined with aging demographics, regulatory changes and even global warming have put significant burdens on businesses. As a result, many businesses are dying slowly and many owners, being unaware of the seriousness of the situation, fail to respond until it’s too late.

My book Profit Yourself Healthy outlines the seven areas that business owners must focus on to increase profitability. However, when faced with pressure on our business model, most leaders simply focus on reducing their expenses. Often this focus can be a good start because we do grow fat in good times. Unfortunately, the primary focus tends to stay in this area instead of the other six areas that can lead to a transformation of a business.

When our businesses are dying, we tend to ignore the circumstance. We hope that it will go away. By doing our daily tasks in the business, taking care of our customers and burying our head in the business, we imagine that things will take care of themselves and the bad times will blow over.

As leaders, we notice the signs and smell the rot and hope others don’t see it. But they do. Our staff feels the pressure and sees the signals, and they quietly start looking for other jobs. Our customers start noticing that we’ve cut our services, neglected fixing things and seem desperate for their cash.

So what do we do if our business is on a downward slide?

There’s no easy answer and each business situation is truly different. I’ve turned my own businesses around and helped others do the same. I sold a business that was starting to slide. I’ve coached business owners to close their businesses when it was too late. None of these solutions are easy.

Often the hardest thing for business owners to do in this situation is to decide to move onward. Often we become frozen in indecision because of the risk and pressures we face as leaders. We feel we have nowhere to turn and all eyes are on us. We mistakenly think that the failure or success of our business is our personal failure or success. We feel shame that we’re at the helm of this business and it might be dying on our shift. It’s a tough tough place to be. I get it!

My dog did die.

And my new client may just be able to transform his business into something new.

Healing and dying are two powerful experiences that we see in life and in business. They can be very painful but very freeing. Turning around a business or closing one can both be the beginning of something new and often exciting, not the end of something.

The journey of a business is not as important as the journey we’re on as business leaders.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.


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