Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Business Lessons 101

One of the risks you run into when you are a small business working with other businesses of any size is not getting things done as a result of someone else. The smaller the other company, the greater the likelihood that unexpected issues will arise. This is why we no longer seek to work with one-man (or woman) operations. We are in the midst of an unexpected issue right now with our puzzle manufacturer and it is frustrating enough to make us take a hard look at exactly how much we can do ourselves and how much (or when) we delegate to others.

Doing it ourselves would be not only time-consuming but the machine is costly and then who would run it? Maybe my retired parents would like to help out. It's a possible plan but too expensive for now. So I am thinking about what we CAN afford to control and we are taking a little more of the process into our own hands.

We have a 3-year, maybe a little older, relationship with our current manufacturer. We ADORE them. We love the owners and have highly recommended the company to other people wr know who need their services. They have been beyond patient with our questions and ideas. They have been excited by what we do and have been creative in their solutions to our problems. They have been, until now, faster then we expected, delivering earlier than we anticipated. Their professionalism has helped give us a good and growing reputation.

This is the year we did our first fund-raiser, small as it was. This is the year we got into a store. This is the year we did and are doing more vending than ever before. This is the year they disappointed us and, indirectly, our potential customers.

The product - the materials for which were long ago given to them - is STILL not in our hands for delivery to the people who ordered them and we are about ready to refund their money. Some have been gracious about the situation and want to give to the kids anyway. Others are confused about what's happening and we can only say, "Please hold on a little longer." What we cannot say is, "It's not our fault. Our manufacturer is coming up short and while we built in some time, we didn't anticipate the amount of time needed to this extent." Our reputation, though nurtured by our manufacturer, is our own and we cannot pull back the curtain to expose anyone else.

The tough call is what to do about what's happening now. Again, we cannot heap enough praise on the company's past performance and attention to our needs and wants. In addition, there was a medical crisis in the owner's family and we know that has impacted this situation because I believe we are considered his client. My partner and I are believers in doing right by people, forget what the world says we should do. But we can't put our name at risk anymore. So we remain frustrated but patient. I will line up a 2nd and a 3rd manufacturing option and we have decided that we will do our best to cut off the printing we need at a certain time in the year in order to keep things flowing on time.

So what do we take away from this? When you are in business for yourself, you must delegate sometimes in order to get the job done but make sure the person/people you delegate to are as conscientious as you are. If someone fails you, consider their value to you and look at their record of performance before writing them off. People/companies make mistakes and have things happen. Loyalty is a valuable asset for both parties. Blanket decisions won't work. This has to be looked at on an individual basis. But then after looking at all the facts sans emotional attachment, for the sake of your company's health, you can't be afraid to walk away.

We push on because 2008 has a huge amount of potential for us and I'm not about to let this little setback stop us. As a matter of fact, the storm gets roughest right before it ends, right? We are about to enter our season of harvest. We must keep sowing.

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