Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

That’s the old saying… meaning when you see a little issue you might want to look for a bigger problem.  Every business owner knows little problems are often indicators of something smoldering just out of sight.  Some days we feel like we’re running from fire to fire, looking for some way to keep things running smoothly.  Maybe you’ve experienced this… I know I have.

From customer service situations and problems with products or services to mistakes, missteps, and arguments between team members – managing your business can feel like a constant battle.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s take a look at these tips (from experienced firefighters) and see what we can learn about preventing fires and managing profitably.

Investigate recent blazes to identify the cause.

Firefighters know that prevention begins with understanding the situations that cause a fire in order to remove as much risk as possible.  In the same way, preventing issues in your business starts with reviewing your recent struggles and mistakes to discover why they happened.

Problems in our business – customer issues, production issues, financial issues – provide clues we can use to improve.  Perhaps a recent issue with a new customer began with a missing section in your welcome packet or miscommunication by a member of your team.  Or maybe you don’t have a welcome packet at all – red flag!  Maybe last week’s team member mistake was a result of incomplete instructions or a few forgotten steps.  Possibly you could have avoided a delay by properly scheduling your time or making a regular inventory of your supplies.

Some questions to ask:

  • What challenges did we face in the last few months?
  • Did these challenges have anything in common? If so, what?
  • What solutions did we use to overcome these challenges?
  • Would implementing one of these solutions permanently be appropriate?

Make sure fire extinguishers and alarms in place and functional.

Firefighters know that alarms are only valuable if they are in good working condition.  They also realize that have to find a fire extinguisher before you can use it to put out a blaze.  That’s why good fire prevention involves checking alarms frequently, practicing your response to an emergency, and making sure equipment is available.

The same logic applies to your business.  When a problem occurs, everyone on the team needs to know what tools are available to them and how to find the perfect resource to help them resolve the issue.  They also need to be able to quickly ask for help and alert others to the issue.

Some questions to ask:

  • Do we have a single place where we gather team resources and tools?
  • Does everyone know how to access our tools and resources?
  • How do we notify others on the team of problems and issues?
  • What resources do we need to add to address common problems?

Eliminate risks and make the environment safe and secure.

Once the causes of fire are identified and risks are determined, you can make sure the alarms and tools for fighting fires are in place. A firefighter then can turn her attention to eliminating risks and installing “fire safe” methods of prevention.  Hazards are eliminated and dangers are removed.

In your business, this critical step is something known as creating systems.  Something as simple as a customer service checklist can eliminate the risk of misunderstanding and prevent a customer service fire.  A set of work instructions can prevent errors in creating your product or delivering your service.  And, a process like a weekly team meeting can prevent a blaze of misunderstanding between team members.

Some questions to ask:

  • Are all my mission-critical processes documented? If not, what am I missing?
  • How can I use checklists to make sure we hit every step?
  • What meetings, email check-ins, or reminders can I use to communicate with my team?
  • What can I create to welcome new customers to my business?

You shouldn’t have to continually fight fires in your business.

Sure, there will always be small issues and matters that require your attention.  Managing profitably means putting systems in place so you can prevent mistakes, miscommunication, and constant questions from your team.  It doesn’t have to be complicated – sometimes a checklist or a simple PDF is all that is required for a mission-critical system – but you do have to be intentional in your approach.