What are the top 15 questions to ask a business owner and provide the challenge needed to grow?
As small business owners, we don’t ask ourselves enough questions that really make us think. What questions would make you squirm and want to avoid answering? These are the questions that every business owner should ask of themselves. If you are fortunate to have a coach or mentor, these are the questions they would ask in order to hold you accountable and ultimately help you grow your business.
To make it easier to assess where your business is vs. what direction it needs to be heading, we’ve rounded up the top 15 questions to ask a business owner.
As a business owner, how would you answer them?
1. Why did you start your business? What drives you?
First in our list of questions to ask a business owner is all about your ‘why’.
In the words of Simon Sinek, you should always start with why. If your answer is “to make a profit”, think again. Making a profit is a result of your ‘why’.
Your ‘why’ is the reason your business exists in the first place- it’s the purpose and belief that sits behind it. Thinking about your business from this perspective inevitably translates into your marketing and how you sell, meaning people are more likely to invest in your offering if they resonate with your cause.
2. What are you passionate about in your business?
As a business owner, it’s easy for the day-to-day stresses of running your business to drain your energy, until eventually you’re left feeling burnt out and unsure of how to progress.
Reminding yourself what in your business you’re passionate about is really the key to success. Once found, you’ll have the motivation to take the necessary action to improve your business.
Discovering your ‘why’ can help reignite your passion for your business, but there are other useful tools, as well. Jim Collin’s Hedgehog Principle is one that can help you build a business that you’re passionate about, as well as one that will keep you ahead of the competition and creating sustainable income.
3. What keeps you awake at night?
Got that niggling feeling that something in your business isn’t quite where it needs to be? Don’t ignore it. If there are worries keeping you awake at night, they’re probably there for a reason and the only way to get rid of them is to solve the issues at hand.
However, when you’re so close to a problem, it can be difficult to understand what needs to be done to fix it. We often find that most business owners concerns can be boiled down to certain problems with their processes, which cause knock-on issues when they’re poorly organised.
If you’re struggling to get your processes in order, it could be time to look for some external help.
4. What be the one thing if you had unlimited resources, what would you do to improve your business?
No business is perfect. There will always be things that can be improved- but that’s not a bad thing. It simply means that you have the opportunity to continually enhance your business.
Identifying the things you’d do if you had unlimited resources is a great exercise to follow so that you understand where your priorities lie and what kind of developments you hope to see in the future as you continue to grow. From here, you can start outlining your plan of action to get your business where you want it to be.
5. What’s stopping you?
This question is an important one- and it’s where you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing business growth. Usually, it will be a lack of resources that are preventing you from growing your business in a sustainable way- whether that’s cash or people. However, a lack of resources shouldn’t stop your business development altogether.
For example, in order to grow your business, you’ll need marketing so that your target audience has a way to find out about you and why they should buy from you. If you don’t have the resources to do this internally, outsourcing is a good option. For those on limited budgets, there are flexible options out there where you can have a dedicated team helping you with your marketing, as well as a range of coaching and training that will help you learn how to grow your business while taking some of these tasks in-house to reduce costs, which is what we do at KUB.
Ultimately, if your return on investment justifies the costs- take the plunge. A lack of resources shouldn’t be the thing that stops you.
6. What’s your 10-year goal?
If you’re running a business, you’re probably no stranger to setting goals. They’re invaluable for outlining what kind of progress you’re aiming for and provide you with the direction you need to plan so that you can achieve them.
10-years might seem too far ahead to set goals for, but it’s well worth your time. While you can’t really predict what will happen over the course of the next 10 years (after all, which businesses foresaw the disruption of things like Brexit and coronavirus?), it allows you to think big and start making plans that will see your business become more secure and sustainable over time.
Of course, a big 10-year goal will need to be broken down into smaller chunks so that you can gradually work towards making it happen, but with a solid wireframe to follow, you’ll be thinking steps ahead of most of your competitors and have a greater chance of success.
7. What element of your job would you gladly give up?
The more you enjoy what you do, the more you’re likely to thrive doing it. This is why it’s important to assess the responsibilities you take on day-to-day and consider which ones you’d happily stop if they didn’t have to be done. The chances are there’s at least a couple of tasks that will come up.
As well as identifying the parts of your job that are your least favourite, think about how you could repurpose your time without them. This could be a new task that would benefit your business or even time to rest and recuperate so that you can put more energy into the parts of your job that you enjoy.
If you have responsibilities that you don’t enjoy, it could be time to recruit someone to take on the work or outsource the task completely. Life’s too short to simply ignore it and try to power through- and the extra energy you spend doing things that you don’t enjoy could be sapping the energy it takes to succeed at the parts of your job that you really love.
8. If you couldn’t work in your business through injury or sickness, how would your business survive?
If you are a sole-trader then there isn’t a lot you can really do if you are injured or sick. Ideally, you would have key person insurance in place to compensate you for the loss of business and hopefully, your regular customers will be able to accommodate you and come back when you are back at work.
Ideally, as a business owner with employees, you will have built a team around you who can take care of things in your absence. You will have put in place processes and systems that means that the work still gets done in the way you designed it. This should be the goal of any business owner that the business can continue even when a key member of the team becomes unexpectedly unavailable including yourself.
9. What is your exit as nobody lives forever?
No one builds a business without hoping it’s going to stand the test of time- but planning for your exit is one of those things that many business owners put off. If left too late, the process of ensuring your business’s future and retiring when you want to can become tricky.
If you want your business to continue to thrive once it’s left your hands, you need to start thinking about who’s going to take over the reins. This process can be more straightforward for family businesses, but for others, finding a suitable replacement can be a mammoth task.
Whether you want a solid succession plan in place or simply want to sell your business when the time comes, it’s never too early to start outlining the finer details. If you’re not sure where to start, we’d always recommend consulting with a trusted advisor.
10. If you weren’t running your business, what would you do?
For business owners, the day-to-day of running a business means that we have to deal with a whole range of responsibilities, and it’s easy to lose sight of what areas of the job and skills you should be prioritising and developing. So while this might not jump to the top of the list on questions to ask a business owner, it’s important to consider.
This is why the above question can help you refine the role you play in your business. By asking yourself what else you would be doing if you weren’t running your business, you can gain perspective on where your strengths lie and what kind of work you enjoy doing the most, things you can incorporate into the direction you take your business in.
11. How is your bank account? Does it have a growing cash balance?
Business owners know that profit is essential for business growth, but they don’t always know what steps to take to generate more of it.
To understand what direction your business is headed in, you need to consider the growth of your chosen market and what market share you have in it. The more growth in a market there is, the more competition there will be- but this comes with opportunities if your offering is disruptive to the market. If you have a large share of a low growth market, then your business is more likely to have long-term security as profit margins are high.
To become more profitable, you need to consider your market positioning and focus on the products or services that produce the most sustainable income. The Boston Consulting Group Matrix is a particularly helpful tool for working out where your business sits within its market and getting you to consider your next steps.
12. If the world stops like in the 1st lockdown, could your business survive 3 months with no sales?
Very few people saw a pandemic like COVID19 coming, or if they did, little was done in the way of preparation, which is why this is one of the most relevant questions to ask a business owner.
The fact is there will always be external threats to your business, and the only way to deal with them is to plan for them, even if you’re not sure what they are yet. Ideally, your business needs to be in a position where it could survive at least 3 months of little to no sales.
If you’re not sure what other external factors could be affecting your business, it’s worth taking the time to complete a PEST analysis, where you look at what political, economic, social and technological issues are influencing your business or market to help you identify the ‘bigger picture’ threats and opportunities in your market.
13. What would happen if your computer systems were hit with ransomware?
There are lots of challenges in running a business, much of which is about keeping control over the reins, so the last thing you need is a ransomware attack jeopardising all your hard work.
If you don’t already know, ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information ransom- this is where your critical data gets encrypted so that you’re unable to access files, databases or applications without paying a ransom.
These kinds of threats on the rise, with nearly 3 x as many incidents occurring in 2020 as they did in 2019- so how do you keep your business protected?
Ransomware Taskforce (RTF) recently published advice that businesses can follow to reduce the risk of these kinds of attack, which include the following:
- Mapping your security processes to already popular cybersecurity frameworks
- Completing ransomware risk assessments
- Ensure any outsourced IT providers are fully equipped to manage these risks
14. How often do you learn something new?
One of the great things about being a business owner is that the learning never stops. This has always been the case, but it’s only in recent years that eLearning has really begun to take off in the form of online courses, making ongoing learning development more accessible than ever before. Business owners can use these resources to improve a whole array of processes that they rely on to run their business- from project management to marketing.
As demand for online courses increases, so too does the demand for in-person training and coaching tailored to individual businesses. This is a great option if you’ve tried your hand at online learning and want someone to help you fill in the gaps in your knowledge and gain real traction for your business.
15. How much time do you spend working on the business?
Many business owners spend most of their time working IN their business, but few spend enough time working ON their business- which brings us onto the last of the questions to ask a business owner.
To really help your business to thrive, you need to look at the bigger picture as well as dealing with your day-to-day responsibilities. Spending time reviewing, planning and preparing for a number of eventualities is the only way to secure your business and head down the road to success.
However, if you’re swamped with the everyday duties with little time to plan for the practicalities of the direction you want to take your business in, it could be worth investing in a reliable high growth business coach to get you on track.
So which of the questions to ask a business owner resonate with you? Which gave you the most insight? If you work through these questions systematically, you will get greater insights into why you are running your business and help to give you a better sense of direction.
For some ideas on the greatest challenges that business owners face, read Challenges Faced by Small and Medium Sized Businesses
If you would like some help asking these questions of yourself then call 0333 050 9053 and we will be happy to have a chat.