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Seven Deadly Business Killers

These viruses can infect even the most promising retailers. Here’s how to cure them.



We all know how devastating a computer virus can be, but not everyone is aware of the destructive viruses that can infect a business. Unlike computer viruses, these profit killers aren’t transmitted through space; they grow and fester within the infected business strictly from internal causes.

Here are seven of the most common business viruses along with the antidotes you need to keep your store from being infected by them.

1. Telephone Sickness
Your telephone can be a powerful business builder or a destructive business killer. Every time a customer or potential customer dials your number, it’s a request for information or help—the kind of information or help that could turn a prospect into a new customer. Any failure to satisfy these requests indicates the presence of the Telephone Sickness Virus.

Train everyone in your store to understand the importance of one of your most powerful business tools—the telephone—and the urgent need for treating every caller with courtesy and respect.

Make sure your telephone always is answered promptly. Do not allow it to ring more than three or four times, and make sure that everyone identifies himself or herself by name in a cheery voice when they answer the phone. 

2. The Invisible Low Performer
Even one slacker in your store creates an internal virus that will eat away at productivity, profits and customer confidence.

Dealing with an underperforming employee is a challenging task for most pet supply retailers, but failing to face up to the problem will make a bad situation even worse. It can result in added stress on other employees who might have to pick up the slack—and resentment among those who can’t understand why the offender is allowed to keep their job.

The cure? Show your top-performing employees how much you value their work and that you won’t tolerate a slacker.

3. The Tardy Invoice
Do you send bills directly to any of your customers? Of course, it’s best to adhere strictly to a pay-as-you-go philosophy, with no exceptions. However, if you do billing for anyone, never forget that neglecting money owed to you can be devastating to your cash flow. It’s essential not to allow your receivables to go untended. You’ve earned that money, you have a right to it and you need it.

You can slay the Tardy Invoice Virus by setting up a fool-proof system for promptly sending out an invoice or reminder to every customer who owes you money, and by following through relentlessly on every late payment. This is as important to your financial success as the quality of the service and products that you offer. If your customers learn that you are cavalier about money that is owed to you, you can be certain they will stretch your patience (and your cash flow) to the limit.

4. The Faultless Boss
The Faultless Boss Virus would have you believe that it’s always someone else’s fault when things go wrong. This is a common virus among business owners and managers, and it can damage your business in several ways.

Former President Harry S. Truman eliminated the Faultless Boss Virus from his presidency when he adopted the phrase, “The buck stops here.” By acknowledging his willingness to shoulder the blame when things go wrong, Truman put his subordinates and constituents on notice that he wasn’t a finger pointer.

If your employees feel that you’re never willing to shoulder even part of the blame for business miscues, they’ll withdraw from the kinds of decision making and innovative thinking that could make your life easier and your store more successful.

Instead of passing the buck, be willing to take on at least part of the blame should things go wrong. Consider the possibility that your instructions weren’t clear, or that the involved employee made what reasonably appeared to be a good decision at the time. Once in a while, accept the blame even when you know you weren’t at fault.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop and demonstrate sincere interest in your employees is to take the time to find out something about each one...and then following through from time to time with questions that show you are genuinely interested.

5. The Invisible Employee
With your busy schedule it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of superficial contacts with employees. Consider this actual exchange overheard between a business owner and an employee passing in a hallway: 

Employee: “Good morning, Mr. Smith, looks like we’re going to have a nice day.” 

Boss: “Fine, thank you. And how are you?”

That sort of disconnect between an employee and a busy boss is all too common today, and a sure sign of the presence of the Invisible Employee Virus. This virus preys on the susceptibility of workers at all levels of our workplace hierarchy who are craving individual recognition and the essential dignity that goes along with it. Failing to supply it can lead to a loss of initiative, lowered work ethic and destructive depression on the part of the offended employee. 

One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop and demonstrate sincere interest in your employees is to take the time to find out something about each one, including simple things such as the name of a spouse or child, or employee hobbies or special interests, and then following through from time to time with questions that show you are genuinely interested.

6. Foggy Instructions   
Are the directions and instructions you give to employees always crystal clear? If you think so, there’s a good chance that you’re wrong. The ability to communicate with precision doesn’t come naturally to most of us, regardless of the extent of our education and business experience.

Industrial psychologists studying the effectiveness of communications among humans uncovered an important weakness in this vital area of our lives. Much of the problem, they say, is the result of a limited vocabulary and the way many of us choose our words.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the failure of an employee to follow your instructions or carry out a project the way you intended, it’s quite possible that the fault was your own, because you failed to make your instructions unmistakably clear. Too often, we assume that everyone will, or should, understand everything we say or write. This situation provides a happy breeding ground for the Foggy Instruction Virus.

Some years ago, a detailed study on business owners and managers revealed that a broad vocabulary was the most often seen characteristic in successful executives.

That’s not surprising when you consider that words are the only tools we have for communicating our thoughts to others. Because a manager must get things done largely through the efforts of others, the ability to express thoughts with clarity and precision is an obvious necessity.

Educator Henry Thomas wrote, “Words are the materials out of which we build our thoughts.”

This sentiment, echoed by countless experts, leads to an inescapable conclusion: Since words are necessary in the formation of our thoughts, an expanded vocabulary will improve the quality of our thinking.

However, they say, you should not take the job of building a powerful vocabulary to mean the relentless addition of exotic words just for the sake of sheer numbers. The most appropriate word seldom will be the longest or most obscure one. The trick is to master enough words to allow clear expression of your thoughts without resorting to the use of words that are beyond the understanding of all but college professors.

To be sure, effective communications can be an elusive target. But owners and managers who make a sincere effort to improve their skill in expressing themselves and their ability to understand others will gain an important business advantage by inoculating themselves against the Foggy Instruction Virus.

7. The failure to guard your most precious business asset
Your employees form the bedrock of your business. While adequate wages are a fundamental requirement for employee satisfaction, money isn’t the only motivation for most workers. Recognition for a job well done and respect for individual effort are important contributors to low employee turnover and high productivity.

Nonfinancial rewards such as a dinner out, suggestion boxes with rewards for usable suggestions, and other incentives are valuable at any time, but they take on special importance when circumstances limit your ability to increase wages.  

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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