For a small business, volumes are written about measuring the ROI – Return On Investment. This buzz term is the subject of what is to be gained when investing in marketing, adding new equipment or hiring a key employee. The ratio of investment divided by the cost determines how big the win.
I believe there is another measurement tool that a business owner should consider – COI, the Cost of Indecision. This is the loss of revenue and momentum that occurs when a business owner can’t make a decision or refuses to delegate.
There’s no question that in this recovering economy, businesses need to invest with good judgment. As sales increase, it’s natural to revisit “investments” tabled over the past few years. It’s understandable that a business owner might be trigger shy.
Titus Maccius Plautus, a roman poet/philosopher who lived from 254 bc to 184 bc. coined the adage “You must spend money to make money.” With all due respect to Plautus, you must “pull the trigger to make money.”
By procrastinating, you postpone any chance of success. Even worse, stalling the progress after making a decision thwarts the efforts of those entrusted with moving forward.
With Plautus gone, I often rely on author and sage, Simon Sinek, for inspiration. His thoughts on leadership translate into “action moments” for me. He is both innovative and consoling. There is a Simon quote that says, “the job is not to be perfect, the job is to be better.”
I recently completed a marketing assignment for a business owner fraught with indecision and second guessing. A project of rebranding and website development that could have easily been completed in six months – yet took over a year.
This resulted in a serious COI, caused by an owner who was fixated on being perfect instead of being better. The first six months were filled with “sharpening pencils, rolling up the sleeves” meetings that should have been collaborative, idea-generating and creative. Instead, they were carefully micromanaged by a business owner with a death grip on the process – making sure that no vision, other than his own, would come out the other end.
Understandably, this stronghold resulted in a loss of enthusiasm by his key people and yes, my team as well. I would leave a meeting scratching my head and reciting out load “why did he hire us.” I had a client incapable of making a decision or embrace change. My role went from authority to vendor and his key people went from team to followers.
I began to wonder if marketing was that much different than other professional-based advisories. Would this client, in a court of law or an IRS audit, tell his trusted advisor what to do? Maybe. But I know that his inability to welcome change caused a serious halt in production. And there was a high cost for his indecision.
For those within his company, he was seen as a bully. Though often soliciting their opinion – his voice was the one that was heard last and the loudest. In time, their input ceased and they withdrew from the project – if not in body, definitely in mind.
As the marketing “advisor” after being challenged, chided and second-guessed, we retired from the project. Instead of going the extra distance to provide innovation and creativity, we retreated to allow the owner to have it his way. For us, Elvis had left the building. Our best ideas went to other clients who respected our abilities and listened to advice.
And for the owner of the business – what was the cost of his indecision? In sheer time, it took twice as long as it should have. It wasn’t meant to be a sprint – but this marathon really slowed down the process. His death grip and narrow-mindedness created a journey without a roadmap that led him right back to where he started.
After our watered-down work was delivered, his parting volley was “I’m not sure that we’re any better off than before we started.” As insulting as that was to hear, it was the truth. He had taken his company, his key people and us as paid advisors on a long trip that ended right back where he began.
Actually, he paid a high price but never really realized it. And that’s the sad part of all this. This was not a learning experience nor a teaching moment. Everyone involved could document the delays, the many changes in direction and the bullying – and somehow, it wasn’t not be his fault.
Thankfully, in contrast, most clients are not bogged down by this paralysis. Most business owners welcome innovation, enjoy change and actually listen to those who have a shared interest in the success of the company. They are the businesses that move forward, that others want to hire and where talented candidates want to work.
The great advertising sage, Leo Burnett, said “any fool can write a bad ad, but it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.”