When the rules should be broken

Developing systems for your small business is an important part of long-term success. Having specific steps for performing the myriad tasks within a business helps to insure consistent and desirable results. But sometimes, following those steps too rigidly can create problems. Sometimes the rules may need to be broken.

Bill Hogg provides an example. He submitted an article, which was promptly rejected because it did not meet certain guidelines. After considerable explaining on Hogg’s part, the publisher finally relented and published the article.

In this instance, the publisher had a perfectly valid rule in place. But in this particular instance, that rule was defeating the purpose for which it was implemented. In other words, the rule was not achieving the desired results.

There are times when we must break the rules. Of course, if we do this too often the rules become meaningless. But if we drop the context and follow the rules, no matter the outcome, the rules are equally meaningless. Rules are not intended to be commandments to be followed no matter what. They are established to be applied in a specific context.

When we establish procedures we must do more than just state what we want done. We must explain why we want it done–what results we are seeking. Not only does this provide clarity to the procedure, it also helps us identify when the rules should be broken.

Systems for analyzing small business marketing

One of the great challenges for a small business is attracting customers. Indeed, marketing is a frequent topic of discussion among small business owners.

Many small business owners are looking for a “magic pill”–some method of marketing that will drive eager buyers to their business. While it would certainly make life easier to find such a solution, marketing is seldom so simple. Markets are dynamic, undergoing continual change, and often what worked yesterday won’t work today.

But how do we know what works? How do we determine if we should continue our yellow page ad, or distribute more door hangers, or invest more in Google Adwords?

Far too frequently small business owners simply guess. They go on their “gut”. They make decisions based on what they believe to be true, rather than the actual facts. Far too often, small business owners do not track and analyze their marketing.

While the specifics can vary between industries, a business owner must track his leads if he is to make intelligent, informed decisions regarding his marketing. He must know what marketing is drawing customers, if those customers are buying, and how much they are buying. A particular ad may fill the store, but if those customers are not buying, the ad is providing little benefit. Conversely, another ad may attract few customers, but these are eager buyers.

We must be able to make these identifications and distinctions. We must be able to compare our various advertising. And we must use more than a hunch to do so. We must have a system in place for identifying the source of our customers.

Bottlenecks and systems

Many small business owners believe that problems and frustrations are simply a part of owning a small business. But it doesn’t have to be that way. These bottlenecks–situations that create undesired results–can be eliminated, or greatly reduced, if we have a process for identifying and remedying them.

Problems and frustrations do not go away on their own. They require effort. And the key is to have a process–a method for systematically identifying and resolving these stresses.

1. Identify the bottleneck—Name the problem, frustration, or undesired result.

2. Identify the cause—This often requires probing. Don’t settle for the first answer that pops into your mind. The real cause may not be obvious.

3. Identify the actions that will eliminate or prevent the bottleneck—What actions will lead to the desired results? This will likely require change.

4. Write a detailed list of the steps involved—Make a step-by-step list of all of the actions involved in achieving the desired results.

5. Train and implement those steps—Train the appropriate employees in the procedure.

As an example, let us say that you own a service company. Your employees perform their work in homes and offices, and you frequently receive complaints that your employees are tracking dirt and debris into the customer’s facility. Rather than accept these complaints as inevitable, you can identify the cause and possible solutions, such as removing their shoes, placing a mat at the entrance to clean their shoes, or wear disposable booties.

This is a simple example, and certainly the solution to many bottlenecks is more complex. But if we identify the actions that will lead to desired results and make those actions a part of our company’s operating procedures, we can eliminate most bottlenecks. Different actions lead to different results.

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