9 Simple Tips to Solve Your Small Business Problems for Good

Article title “9 Simple Tips to Solve Your Small Business Problems for Good” with illustration of a book titled 99 Problems

If you're like most small business owners, you're always looking for ways to solve frustrating problems and improve your bottom line. But what if the solutions were right in front of you?

There's no need to spend hours searching for answers when you can find them using the information you already have. You just need to know how to use it. By learning to identify the root cause of your issues, you can put an end to expensive and time-consuming trial-and-error methods and start finding real, lasting solutions.

It can be hard to find the root cause of issues in your small business. But it is worth it because you'll be able to eliminate the source, rather than just a symptom.

Think about a nice suburban lawn. It's green. It's full. It's free of weird divots and crabgrass. But suddenly up pops a dandelion.

Dandelions are often considered weeds and many people want to get rid of them. But they're notoriously hard to eliminate for good. Why? Because they are designed to be tough.

They can withstand a variety of weather, they have hardy stems, and they are super talented when it comes to spreading their seeds far and wide (you know those white fluffy puffballs they turn into that your kids love to blow everywhere?)

And on top of all of that, they have really deep roots. This means that if you try to remove a dandelion by just pulling from the head or the stem, you're likely not going to get the root. And it will grow back and multiply before you know it. You haven't removed the root of the problem, literally. You've only removed a surface-level issue, literally.

That is exactly what you're doing in your business when you're only solving the easy, initial problem. The root is still hanging around waiting to return so you can waste more time and money on a new or repeat symptom.

So, let's stop spending our energy on the symptoms and solve the real issues so they never freaking come back! In fact, according to recent research, "small businesses that use process improvement tools are up to 18% more profitable than those that don't." I'm sharing 9 things that can help you find the root cause of problems in your small business and fix them for good.

 

When you only solve surface issues, the root problem is still hanging around waiting to return above an illustration of a dandelion

1. The first step is to admit you have a problem

This seems like an easy one, but it's often the hardest. In order to find the root cause of your business problems, you have to be willing to look at issues head-on. That means being open to the idea that there might be something you're doing that's contributing.

It also means being honest with yourself about the impact the problem is having on your business. If you're in denial about either of these things, it will be tough to find a solution.

And if you have a small staff or leadership team, it can be even trickier. Your team needs to be comfortable with each other, willing to be open and honest about issues that come up. It's especially important to remove emotion from these conversations and keep it from becoming personal.

 

2. Identify the real problem

The real problem is often not what it seems. Just like with the dandelion, you have to look beneath the surface to find the root of the issue.

This means taking the time to ask the right questions and really listening to the answers. It also means analyzing all of the data you have related to the problem.

Once you've identified the real problem, you can start looking for solutions. But be careful not to jump to conclusions or try to fix things before you understand what's going on. This is the biggest challenge!

It's also hard to know when you've gotten it right, so trust yourself and remember that you will get better at this process the more you do it.

 

3. Take a step back

When you're trying to find the root cause of a problem, it can be helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture.

This means looking at things from a different perspective and seeing the problem in a new light. If you have a team or even a trusted friend or mentor, this is a good time to ask them to weigh in.

It also means considering all of the possible causes and ruling out anything that's not related. You don't want to go down the wrong path. You can always make a note for future discussion if you need to.

 

Illustration of a thought bubble with a question mark and the quote: Step back to see the full picture. This means looking at your business from a different perspective to see it in a new light.

 

4. Identify related symptoms of the problem

Remember that the initial problem you identified is likely the symptom of a bigger issue. Because of this, there are probably other symptoms hanging around either currently wreaking havoc or waiting to pounce.

Some of these symptoms might be easy to spot, others will require some digging. But, it's important to try to identify them all because that will make it easier to know when you've hit the true root cause.

 

5. List potential causes

Once you've identified the symptoms of the problem, it's time to start listing potential causes. This can be a daunting task, but start by looking at things that are within your control and then move on to outside factors. Don't forget to consider both short-term and long-term causes.

A popular way to find the root cause is to use a process called 5 Whys. And it's not just a clever name. To use it, you just ask yourself (or your team) "Why" five times.

Asking why five times might seem like overkill initially, but you'll see once you start, you can get to five pretty quickly. And some issues may be uncovered in three and some may take seven or more.

For example, let's say you're trying to find the root cause of a problem with your lead generation:

  1. Why are sales leads down? Sales leads are down because we have not been actively pursuing them.
  2. Why have we not been actively pursuing sales leads? We have not been actively pursuing sales leads because we do not have a dedicated sales team.
  3. Why do we not have a dedicated sales team? We do not have a dedicated sales team because we have not had the budget to hire one.
  4. Why have we not had the budget to hire a dedicated sales team? We have not had the budget to hire a dedicated sales team because our overall revenue has been down.
  5. Why has our overall revenue been down? Our overall revenue has been down because our product line has not been resonating with our customers.


The 5 whys can help us to understand the root of our sales lead problem and help us to come up with a plan to address it. By exploring the reasons behind our low sales leads, we can determine what changes we need to make in order to see an improvement. In this case, it is clear that we need to focus on increasing our overall revenue so that we can afford to hire a dedicated sales team. By taking this step, we should see an increase in sales leads as well.

Try initiating the 5 Whys next time you come across a problem and see what you come up with!

 

Illustration of a book titled 99 Problems + 5 Why’s above the quote: An effective way to find the root cause of a problem is The 5 Why’s technique. Try asking yourself’why’ 5x next time you face an issue.

 

6. Gather data related to the problem

Depending on the problem, you should hopefully have some data available to you for digging deeper. Figure out what you have and then pull together only what's needed for this specific situation. Having too much information makes it easy to get off-track.

You might look for data in your CRM, your email marketing platform, your customer support logs, or your website analytics account, to name a few. Most of these types of tools have reports that make it easy to request just what you need.

 

7. Analyze the data

Now that you've gathered your data, it's time to take a closer look at it. Try to identify any patterns or trends that might be present. This will help you to focus your efforts and zero in on potential causes.

Using our sales leads example from above, the data we might want to use to determine why sales leads are down, include:

  • How many sales leads we had last month/quarter/year
  • What our average conversion rate is for sales leads
  • How many sales calls we made last month/quarter/year
  • How many touch points we had with each lead last month/quarter/year

This data can help us to understand whether the problem lies with the quality of our leads, our sales process, or something else entirely.

 

8. Take action to eliminate the root cause permanently

Once you feel like you've figured out the root cause of your problem, it's time to take action to fix it. This might mean making changes to your product, your processes, or your team.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you have a plan in place for addressing the real issue so that you can see lasting results. Your plan should be documented and available to anyone involved in executing it.

I recommend breaking your plan down into bite-size steps that you can clearly state. Make sure each step has a due date and someone is accountable for it.

Yes, I know if you're a solo business owner you are taking it all on, but being accountable for something doesn't mean you have to do it. You just have to make sure it gets done. You might need to figure out how to delegate or outsource certain steps to hit your goal.

Remember, we're trying to eliminate the root for good so we never have to deal with it again. What is that worth to you?

 

9. Monitor the situation and adjust as needed

Finally, once you've taken action to address the root cause of your problem, it's important to keep an eye on things and make sure that the problem doesn't crop up again. You might need to make some adjustments along the way to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

Also, be honest with yourself if you start to realize you might have missed digging deep enough the first time around. It's okay if this happens because you're a bad-ass boss who knows what to do. Practice makes perfect, my friend!

The fact that you've made it this far means you are serious about strengthening your business where it counts. Take a proactive approach to problem-solving and learn how to find the root cause of issues in your small business to solve them for good and you'll never have to see them again.

If you're having trouble solving a problem in your business, I think the biggest takeaway from this article is the 5 Whys process. This simple questioning technique can help you to get to the root cause of the issue so that you can take action and fix it for good. Figuring out the root cause of any problem is seriously a skill that you need to keep working on so you can get better and better at knowing when you've hit it. Humans are designed to find the fastest, easiest way to solve a problem, so we're inclined to just skim the surface and move on. You're working against instinct!

 

5 Why’s: “If you’re having trouble solving problems in your business, the biggest takeaway is The 5 Why’s” with an illustration of a crystal ball

Now what?

If you're feeling overwhelmed and like you need some help getting your business back on track, I would encourage you to book a discovery call with me. In this call, we'll discuss your business in more detail and see if one of my coaching packages is the right fit for you.

In the meantime, I've got a free root cause checklist you can use to get started on these nine tips - I'm even throwing in a 5 Whys worksheet! You can grab that here.

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