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Five questions to ask about your business
By Jim Kendall | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/26/2010 12:05 AM

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A self-examination of your business may be a good idea, especially now as the recovery continues to flatten. Here are five questions to ask yourself:

• Would you lend money to your business? To answer, you'll have to assume the role of a banker or investor - and ask real questions. For example, you'll want to know who your business' customers and competitors are.

Get data and analyze customer budgets and buying cycles. Request a review of competitor strengths and weaknesses. In fact, you might request a SWOT analysis - the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats exercise - of your own company.

You'll want to see well-defined, measurable goals, along with sensible six- 12- and 24-month plans for reaching them.

Of course, assess all pertinent financial data - and projections. You'll also want to review the succession plan, in case something happens to the business owner.

Raise questions. Evaluate the answers. If it wasn't your business, would you lend your business money?

• Who will take over if you're incapacitated? A broken leg that puts you down for two or three weeks is one thing; a debilitating illness is something else. If you've picked a No. 2, does she, or he, know? Do employees? Is the individual ready? In on the decision-making? Aware of company growth plans?

Having backup is tougher if you're a solopreneur. Consider an arrangement with an advisory board member or friendly competitor. Details, including protections so your customers remain attached to your business, should be in writing - which means you'll need a good small business lawyer.

• What do you know about your customers? How are their finances? How have customers responded to the recession? Are they still hiding in the cellar, or are they stirring? Should you be courting replacement customers?

If retail is your world, look even more closely at customer behaviors. Are shoppers coming in less often? Buying less? Focusing on specials or discounts? Should you e-mail coupons to them?

Web sales seem to hold up better, but online customers are subject to the same economic pressures as those who walk in. Make your website buying process easy. Think free shipping.

Evaluate customer behavior. You may need separate strategies for each customer category.

• Are your suppliers OK? The question is especially important if you rely on 1099 types to provide the services you offer. Is your designer down to two clients from five - and maybe job hunting?

Have you become your widget provider's biggest customer? Is that good?

• How long can you last? Should you change your marketing strategy? What if sales flatline? Would an exit plan be a better idea?

Asking questions about your business is difficult. So is answering. But so is the business environment. You should get started.

Questions, comments to Jim Kendall,