10 Questions to Keep Asking About Your Business

Since this morning, I have seen several posts on Twitter in regard to the Forbes list of 10 Questions You Should Never Stop Asking published on November 20, 2009. A summary of those questions is copied below, for the full commentary, I recommend you read the original article.

  1. What is our purpose for existing?
  2. Who is our target customer?
  3. Why does anyone need what we’re selling?
  4. If there is a need, is it enough to support a profitable business?
  5. What were our competitors up to?
  6. Can you reduce expenses–without harming the product?
  7. Do we have the right leadership?
  8. Do we have the right employees?
  9. How will we continue to drive revenue?
  10. How are your employees holding up?
Courtesy of Flickr.com by misallphoto

Courtesy of Flickr.com by misallphoto

This list, however, is targeted to a business of a certain size and upward. What should you be asking if you are a one-person shop? To complement this list, I’ve prepared some additional questions that you may find useful, that will hopefully lead you to being in the position to use the list from Forbes.

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
    Similar to the first question on the Forbes list, this question makes you look at your goals. If you don’t have any yet, then you should sit down and write a few down. It’s hard to get somewhere in particular if you don’t know where you’re going. Alternatively, the answer to this question might be “nowhere in particular” and “let’s see where this takes us”. Both of these are valid, but you should be aware of the answers.
  2. How am I going to reach my goals?
    This question addresses both short-term and long-term goals. If the answer to your first question was to build an application soon to be included on all mobile devices, then the answer to the second question will include points such as:

    • Develop the key components to the application
    • Contact mobile device manufacturers
    • Monitor available applications for those devices for possible improvements
  3. Do I have all the skills needed to reach those goals?
    No one person is perfect for all tasks involved in running a business. You may be really business savvy, but lack some technical skills, or you might be an expert salesman, but don’t know how to deal with copyright laws. You’re either a Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None, or, more likely, you are the Master of One. If you don’t have a needed skill, how are you going to fill in the gap? (The answer might be that you’ll hold out for a little while.)
  4. Who will pay for my skills or product?
    This corresponds to questions 2 and 3 on the Forbes list. Your idea might seem to be really good to you, but do you know whether or not it’s viable as a business? Have you spoken to any potential clients about it?
  5. Who am I competing against?
    If you don’t understand your competition, then you might not understand your own product. Be aware that your clients will know about your competition and ask you about them. You can demonstrate your expertise by being aware of the differences between what you offer and what your competition offers. If it’s exactly the same as what the competition is offering, however, most potential clients will prefer the business that’s been around longer. Which leads to the next point:
  6. How do I expect to succeed against them?
    This is also known as your Secret Sauce by some business writers. This is the factor that makes you, or your business, different. It might be a customized algorithm. It might be a new approach to an old concept. Whatever it is, this is what will set you apart from your competition.
  7. How am I spending money, and can I reduce that?
    It is incredibly important to keep track of your expenses and revenues, and to constantly review that record. You should know where every dollar is coming from, and where it’s going. For example, if you have a small office with a coffee urn, do you know how much it’s costing to run it? How much did you pay for your business cards? Who owes you money, how much, and for how long? What does it cost you to keep your website running? Are you getting good value for your dollars?
    Only by keeping track of your budget can you hope to keep your business profitable, and be able to grow. How else will you be able to reduce your expenses without compromising your product?
  8. Is it time to hire someone?
    Hiring your first employee can be an extremely difficult decision to make. You become responsible to pay them, and they will get paid before you do, always. In order to make your first hire, you should know what it is that employee should be bringing into the company. Do you want someone with the same skills you have, or do you want a specialist? If you find yourself spending excessive time on administrative tasks instead of working on your clients’ projects, your first hire might be an administrative assistant who can do most of that work for you.
    What’s important to remember is that the hire needs to be worth the investment. If you pay them $40,000 a year, then they need to be adding that much value to the company and then some. In other words, you should see as a result of hiring that person your revenues go up by more than $40,000 per year. Some would say that this number should be around 3 times their salary, or $120,000 per year. The exact number is not relevant, though, but what is relevant is that the employee be worth their salt.
  9. What are my clients saying about me?
    In the age of social media, word about you and your business can spread extremely quickly. It’s important to be listening to what your clients are saying about you. This will let you address issues before they become problems, or to head off potentially damaging rumors (which are not, in fact, correct, or at least, not correct anymore). Gone are the days where customers and clients could be treated with impunity, as they now have outlets to vent against individuals and companies. Make sure you’re listening! (Chris Brogan talks about how to do this.)
  10. Am I balancing my work life with my personal life?
    Too often overlooked, it’s important that you don’t lose track of the bigger picture. Are you spending some time on your family and friends, or are they all forgetting about you? Yes, you’re busy running a new business, but remember to set aside some time on a regular basis to keep those aspects of your life strong.

This list is by no means complete, but hopefully, it will give you a start on keeping your business strong and growing. If you have a question that you think belongs here, please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear what you are doing to ensure that your business is on track to success!