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Wed 30 Sep 2015 01:46 PM

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How to anticipate problems

Problems are part and parcel of business life, but that doesn’t mean that many of them can’t be avoided. We look at how

How to anticipate problems

There won’t be many start-up founders across the world who would claim that running their business has been plain sailing.

More often than not waves upon waves of challenges will batter your untested vessel as you take your chances on the high seas, and without proper planning you could find yourself sinking before you know it.

There are many problems that you might face, of course. And they can be across the board.

Whether you are running out of cash, not attracting enough customers, missing targets, dealing with a disjointed team, or suffering reputational issues, there is more often than not a problem that needs ironing out.

With a bit of foresight, however, these challenges can be met head-on and dealt with quickly and effectively. Here are a few ways to anticipate problems and put them to bed before they evolve into something worse.

Improve your planning

It seems obvious, but planning is the key to dealing with numerous problems, however big or small.

The age-old maxim ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ holds true, and there is plenty of crisis planning that you can do to prepare for all sorts of eventualities.

It might take time to map out possible problems, but you could always examine the reasons behind other companies’ failure and learn from their mistakes. If you translate their experience to your experience, and trace the origins of their problems, then you might be able to avert potential issues in your own future.

Similarly, realistic simulations of which directions your business might go can help you identify holes in your business plan. Working through hypothetical scenarios can give you the opportunity to pinpoint weak links and strengthen your proposal as a result.

Your business plan should never be set in stone; rather it should be fluid and ready to change as and when it is necessary. If you’re not making these changes on a regular basis you could be heading towards avoidable problems.

Keep your team on point

The idea that you are only as good as your team holds some truth here. Your employees are working continuously to drive your business forward, make important decisions, and keep everything running on track, so you need to make sure everybody is doing the best they can.

Your team will be able to help avoid problems, catch them before they grow, and deal with them quickly if they do rise to the surface.

All of which means it is important to keep them focused, motivated and confident. If they believe they have the ability and the freedom to hone the business, navigate past or through problems, then they could save you from unnecessary headaches.

The more attuned they become to seeing problems and where they are rooted, the better equipped they will be to anticipate them before they happen.

Be finance-savvy

Keeping a close track of accounts is a good way to stay out of trouble’s way.

Money is at the centre of many start-up problems, including cashflow, investor relations, underestimating operating costs, mispricing products or services, budgeting badly, and more.

Knowing the ins and outs of spreadsheets helps, as does a good standard of financial literacy. If you’re serious about your business then getting up to speed with both shouldn’t be too much of a hardship, despite the time and effort it takes.

It’s also advisable to be conservative in your budgets and cost estimates. If you’re unsure about how to plan them, seek some guidance.

If you put your budgets and forecasts alongside your business model and growth plans then you should be able to predict where problems might arise. As and when that happens, you will need to readjust your plans and budgets to cover up the potential pot holes.

Listen to advice

How many mistakes could have been avoided if start-up founders had listened to other people?

Mentors, colleagues, friends, and peers will all be ready to air their views from time to time – sometime they will give good advice, sometimes not. But it’s important to at least listen to them when they speak.

Ultimately, decisions are yours to make, and you can reject other people’s opinions, but don’t be so stubborn as to write people off before considering what they are telling you.

However strong your self-confidence, you won’t have all the answers. If you need legal advice, ask for it. If you need financial advice, ask for it. If you need customer feedback, ask for it. Quite often they will be able to highlight a problem or where one might arise.

If you listen to advice from experts, other businesspeople and those you are targeting with your product or service, then you might well find that you can avoid problems that you might not have foreseen yourself.