When deciding to use a beautiful photo of Mount Fuji or that funny cat picture as your screensaver or to have the Cobb salad or a turkey sandwich for lunch, a simple coin flip will do. But, for big decisions that affect the direction and success of your company, navigating which way to head when you reach that fork in the proverbial road means you need something more than the quarter in your pocket.
What is your decision-making GPS system? Small business owners are confronted perhaps daily with large dilemmas or issues to resolve—having a method to make a smart choice streamlines and focuses those often daunting determinations you need to make. Here’s a checklist of seven questions to ask before making that big decision.
1. What is best in the long term?
When making a big decision, thinking beyond the “right here, right now” is a vital first step toward avoiding a big stumble. “It's easy to make decisions based on what's [simple] at the moment or what makes my ego feel good. But those are rarely the right decisions,” says Ian Ippolito, founder and CEO of vWorker.com, which connects employers and entrepreneurs with virtual workers. Sometimes it helps to add a specific time frame on that question, as Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global marketing strategy consulting firm, suggests. “[One of] the main things I think about is will it matter six months down the road,” says Arnof-Fenn. Thinking in terms of a finite time horizon often provides better insight to the right solution.
2. What is the return on investment?
For any small business owner, evaluating how this choice will impact your bottom line is essential. Christy Cook, president and founder of Teach My, the maker of award-winning learning kits for children, agrees. “I am not a ‘numbers’ girl, but over the years, I have trained myself to ask the same question every time: What is the return on investment? If small business owners don’t measure the ROI, decisions will be made that could put the business into serious financial jeopardy.” Frank Deblasi, cofounder and CEO of HooplaDoopla.com, the online money saving site, says ROI goes beyond just finances, “I think this is a very common question for business at any stage, as it can cost money and time to not get a return on something—[whether it is] a marketing decision or even hiring a new employee.”
3. Are there any other decisions that need to be made before this one?
All too often when running a small business, many issues must be dealt with at the same time. Prioritizing which one needs your immediate attention is as tough and as important as figuring out the right answers to those decisions. “For the last year, we've been implementing a raft of changes, and we always need to weigh the pros (and any cons) of the change and see if anything else is needed more urgently,” says Sandip Singh, CEO and founder of the fundraising website GoGetFunding.com.
4. What's the worst thing that can happen if I make a mistake (and can I live with it)?
Just as fundamental as exploring the benefits to any change, looking at the worst-case scenario can provide a prime perspective. “We use the same advice in running our [own] business as we give to the business owners we work with,” offers Jim Stewart, founder and CEO of ProfitPATH, a strategy consulting firm, “For them and us the main question is ‘What's the worst thing that can happen if this goes wrong?’” Being able to evaluate how your company will handle a situation if projections are incorrect or unexpected additional funds are needed to complete an expansion is crucial.
5. What will happen if I don't do this?
Stewart often asks this after tackling the doomsday situation. Envisioning the alternative—doing nothing—can lead to a more definite outlook on the issue, perhaps even providing alternative choices not considered before or a totally new path your company could take to achieve a similar result.
6. How would I advise someone else to handle this decision?
Take yourself (and the emotional cloud that may overshadow a solid choice) out of the equation. “By approaching a decisions from this angle, you attempt to remove the personal and emotional attachment from the outcome and get closer to the most logical answer,” suggests Charles Gaudet II, CEO and founder of Predictable Profits, a leading small business marketing company.
7. What does my gut say?
Tap into that instinct that has led you to this place to begin with—but consider doing so in a quiet moment only after asking all of the other questions and analyzing data you have available. “I relax myself for a few minutes until I feel completely calm,” explains Ippolito. “Then I ask myself, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ It's often easy for me to say ‘Yes’ to this sort of question in an excited mood, but then, in a relaxed mood, I'll realize the true answer is ‘No.’ This trick has saved me from making all sorts of bad decisions.” Combined with logical assessment, channeling that indispensable business intuition that has brought you success is the perfect final question to ask before you act.