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Mar 31
2005

Focus Energy on Opportunities

Posted by: Steve Marr

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Business leaders can tend to get dragged down fighting fires and dealing with problems at the expense of having the time and energy to pursue opportunities. These opportunities come and go- if they're missed, they will keep a business from growing. King Solomon wrote, "The wise look ahead to see what is coming, but fools deceive themselves" (Proverbs 14:8, NLT). Problems focus our attention on the past, whereas opportunities focus our actions on the future. When we make problems our focus, we may fail to take advantage of opportunities.

 

We all face problems, which must be identified and addressed effectively-but then we need to move on. Otherwise, dealing with problems can overwhelm our time and energy. Often, when difficulties arise, we do just enough to get by, without fixing the root cause of the problem. Instead, we should find a solution that will stop the problem from coming back again.


Bill's company manufactures automotive stamping parts and operates on a narrow profit margin. He bought the least-expensive steel available, which often failed to meet specifications. Although the supplier always replaced the sub-par steel, the time and energy required to return the defective raw material took 30 percent of Bill's time. When Bill changed suppliers, he received better quality steel at a slightly higher cost, and it freed up 30 percent of his time, which he then devoted to calling on existing customers and new prospects. The net result was growth in his business.

 

Joe was a brilliant landscape architect who did award-winning design work. However, he supervised most jobs himself and struggled with managing crews and contractors to get the work done on time. As a result, he spent 65 percent of his time managing projects, rather then creating landscape designs and developing new business. He also turned away many jobs because he didn't have time to follow up with inquiries. When he hired an experienced crew boss to supervise the installations and manage most of the follow-up details with the contractors, Joe was able to focus most of his own energy on working with clients and designing new landscapes. Within eighteen months, his business more than doubled, and he had two new crews working regularly. 


Effective leaders ask key questions to uncover new opportunities. For example, what is the biggest unexpected success that has affected your business? Often, building on an unanticipated success can be more effective than starting from scratch. One independent pizza restaurant started receiving orders from a large new apartment complex near the store. The apartment building catered to young single adults. When the pizza shop started to market specifically to those apartment dwellers, business grew by 20 percent as a result.

 

Changes in demographics may signal an opportunity. When the owner of a small chain of auto parts stores noticed that one of his seven locations was experiencing a decline in sales and was losing money, he asked his best manager to take over the store. Over the next several months, the decline in sales slowed but the trend continued. The manager worked night and day, but nothing seemed to turn the store around. A study of the surrounding neighborhood revealed that a demographic shift was underway, with a large increase in Spanish-speaking residents. I suggested to the owner that he treat the situation as an opportunity rather than a problem.

 

First, he transferred his star manager to another location, where he did his customary great job and improved sales. Meanwhile, the owner hired a bilingual manager and several bilingual customer service representatives for the failing location, and they immediately added some signs in Spanish. Virtually overnight, the store's sales increased by 50 percent and it once again became profitable.

 

The apostle Paul warns us not to be like children, "tossed here and there by waves" (Ephesians 4:14, NASB). In business, if we focus only on problems, we'll be "tossed here and there" as we try to react day-by-day to changing circumstances. If we're not careful, our problems will manage us, rather than us managing them, and the result will be missed opportunities.

 

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

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