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The Small Business Osama bin Laden: What’s Your Target Strategic Threat?

Small Business owners have thousands of issues to deal with each year, to the point where it is overwhelming to prioritize and focus upon the main thing, that Pareto 20% of stuff that will make 80% of the difference to you.  Business owners can profit by identifying their key target strategic threat and designing a game plan to find where it is hiding, contain it and if possible, snuff it out.

Got Him!

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death by US President Obama with thundering applause and relief by most of the free world.  Regardless of what you think of Obama or the current United States government, bin Laden’s demise is seen by many as a symbolic victory at the least in the War on Terror that began after 9/11.  Militarily, bin Laden had been neutered to a large extent during the Bush administration.  However, you couldn’t help but have that nagging feeling that we had lost our focus in the last 10 years as long as the figurehead leader of international terrorism remained at large.  Whether the eradication of Osama bin Laden was surgical or came about with a bit of luck during a military incursion designed to do something else can be debated, but for many, Osama bin Laden was the focal point of the War on Terror and has been for two decades.

Businesses have plenty of targets too.  We set sales targets for the sales team and individuals, goals for revenue and profitability, employment levels and stock price.  Small business owners also set goals that might be a tad more personal—more time at home, less at the office, publicity in the local trade association, you know the drill.  Sometimes though, we need to have a negative target, a strategic threat or challenge that must be eradicated because it has gone from being just a nuisance to threatening the very nature of our business.  It threatens our existence as much from the uncertainty it brings as perhaps any genuine consequences that might result from it actually taking place.

Osama bin Laden was a threat to national and international security for the host of free nations.  What currently is a threat to your small business security?  Are you focused on it?  Do you have a plan to deal with it or will luck and the winds of randomness dictate your response to it?  After all, you may have no more control over the outcome of your target strategic challenge as you did over Osama bin Laden.

Today’s Strategic Challenges

Every business has its own unique threat that might be eating away at the marrow of your business like slow and deliberate bone cancer, yet there are a few of them in 2011 that are common to many small business owners.

  1. Health Care Legislation – This has become a cause celeb for many in business, yet to many the fear of this current monster is driving businesses to draconian actions, despair, and even worse, changing the character of the company.  For example, formerly self-reliant companies are seeing the only way to prevent health care changes from bankrupting their businesses is to cut a deal and get a special exemption, and we read every day that many have done just that.
  2. Recession and Speed of Recovery – The recession is over…right?  That’s what we’re told, yet the fear of a double dip is handicapping small business owners from taking action.  Many have seen promising sales, yet remain on the sidelines of the economy to play it safe, and all too often miss opportunities at expansion or larger contracts with insufficient capacity to deal with them.
  3. The Real Estate Bubble – Falling residential and commercial prices have crippled many industries that support that market.  Building products manufacturing, extruded plastics and composites, and the contracting trades have taken massive hits as new construction has slowed to a standstill in many areas.
  4. Material Prices – Recession or not, raw materials like metals still have to be mined and processed, and material suppliers won’t do it at a loss.  As many go by the boards, scarcity creates a supply shortage that drives up material prices that small businesses put in their products, yet recessionary fears and a timid marketplace are putting the squeeze on corresponding increases in their goods and services prices.
  5. Transportation Costs – Fuel prices are now at levels that started the death knell of the Republicans in the presidential election of 2008, yet the press is largely silent this time around as we have become de-sensitized to the bad news.  We expect the worst.  The cost of transporting supplies and goods around the country is limiting small business expansion for those who sell hard goods more than ever.
  6. Energy Costs -  Another expense that strain on supply and governmental regulations are driving up disproportionate to inflation.  Electric power is on the rise again after seeing near historic lows in 2009-10, and that means manufacturing conversion cost has an uncontrolled variable that pressures business operations.

THE Strategic Threat Drives Focus and Success

During the Cold War the United States military was at its zenith in power, with the fighting forces completely focused upon “the Great Satan” of the Soviet Union.  After its fall 20 years ago, many warriors in the military had to regroup, some even needing psychological counseling because their focus of war was gone.  One of the biggest challenges in the War on Terror has been that singular focus, being able to see your enemy, recognize him and recognize victory upon his defeat.  Now the English speaking world fights enemies across the world in many nations that hide in underground bunkers and kill civilians to garner press coverage.  Ask a general in the US military if designing a target strategic threat is a primary goal in soldier morale.

Strategic threats have always driven businesses not paralyzed by them to greater levels of performance and success.  Y2K turned out to be a dud, but companies developed redundancies in their IT systems to deal with the contingency of lost data.  9/11 brought all forms of security to the fore again, including data storage and off-site recovery strategies, spawning new industries and perpetuating the advent of the Cloud.

Now just look at all the business threats listed above.  They all impact us all and we need to be able to deal with all of them, but for your small business, which one is keeping you up at night?  Which one of these (or another) is your Pareto threat, that if you eliminated it or contained it would have you taking bows at a press conference and buying pizza for the staff?

You need to find it, focus on it like a laser beam, and prioritize it as your number one strategic threat to your business.  You don’t need a team SWOT analysis to know what it is; you see it in the financials every month so you already know.  Chances are it’s outside of your direct control so you can’t just blow it up.  What you can do is have a what it scenario in place, a disaster recovery plan if you will, that gives you confidence that no matter what happens, you can deal with it.  That confidence becomes contagious and releases your business from the bondage of this threat and provides a framework for the next one.  Like it or not, when you handle one target threat there will be another six to take its place.

In business it’s important to focus on the positive.   That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to those threats that can launch SKUD missiles at your company.  Defeating your number one target strategic threat might be the most positive experience your company has this year.

 What’s your Small Business Target Strategic Threat? 

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