Combat Competition and Business Failure: Work “On” Not “In” Your Business

failureCompetition is increasing and only a small percentage of businesses avoid failing. Less than 40 percent of small businesses are profitable, less than 30 percent break-even and 30 percent lose money. Eighty percent of small businesses fail within the first two years. You can identify a myriad of reasons for these trends. However, one reason for poor performance and the large number of failures is that most small business owners work “in” their business and not “on” their business.

We understand that working “in” your business is important: regulators need service, tanks need inspections, and customers need assistance. However, if you spend a minimum of one hour per day working “on” operational, marketing, and sales processes and procedures that grow your business, you will outpace the competition and survive long-term.

Well-established and strong operational procedures ensure the smooth running of your business. Develop and put in writing opening and closing procedures, cleaning and maintenance schedules, and any other processes and procedures necessary to keep your business looking presentable and operating smoothly. Train and develop your staff members so that they know their assigned responsibilities and cross train so that they can perform any task when asked.

Build a plan for strategically marketing your business to prospects in order to get them in your store and to keep your existing customers buying. Develop a follow-up procedure for prospects that contact your dive center about classes, follow a strict time table, and stick to that schedule. Do you have a continuing education course scheduled? Why not sit down for an hour with a stack of student records and invite customers to be a part of the course. Don’t rely heavily on social media. Studies indicate that people value personal contact and are growing weary of social media marketing efforts. Include a mix of direct mail, e-mail, and direct phone calls in your marketing plan. No matter what processes you develop, train your staff members to follow the procedures.

Your marketing plan is successful and the prospects and customers are in your store. Now what? Time for you to sell. Develop thorough processes to maximize your sales of your products and services. Begin by assessing your customer’s needs; you have to know what they want. And if they know what they want and you have it, don’t try to talk them out of it. Once you know what they want, make sure you can intelligently explain how your products or services meet their needs. Have a plan for overcoming objections. Finally, don’t forget to upsell. That doesn’t always mean selling a big-ticket item to go along with the other big-ticket item they just agreed to buy. Think accessories such as defogger, clips, and other small items. Again, communicate and train your staff regarding how you want the sales process implemented.

At this point, you might be thinking “Doh! I already have processes and procedures in place.” Ask yourself these questions: Is my business running without me or is it dependent on me? Are the processes and procedures I have in place working or do they need tweaking? Is my business a franchise prototype and if not, am I limiting my growth and success? Here are three action steps you need to take to make sure you are working “on” as well as “in” your business:

  • Review your dive center’s operational procedures today to determine if they need improving.
  • Pull thirty student records from your recent entry-level courses and call to see if you can get them to enroll in the next scheduled advanced course.
  • As part of your opening procedures, conduct sales role playing scenarios with your staff.

We also recommend Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It for a thorough examination of the concepts mentioned above and more.


This is Part 3 of a five-part series by Patrick Abercrombie on the challenges facing dive retailers in the coming year. See a complete list of the articles in this series or read the series introduction.

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