The business owner's greatest fear

When the competition is fierce and the economy is down, it's natural for small business owners to focus primarily on short-term results -- and on making short-term decisions. While we'd like to think long term, we nearly always operate from a short-term perspective. When revenues are down, customers are deserting, making payroll seems like an impossible dream or cash is flowing in the wrong direction, a short-term perspective is often all you can afford.

Who has time for long-term considerations when the short term is uncertain?

But what if you knew? What if you knew, without a doubt, that you and your business would survive for the next 20 years? What if, for example, you knew:

-- A problem employee will still be on the payroll one or two (or heaven forbid, 20) years from now. Does it make sense to keep ignoring the problem? Do you really want to deal with that employee for years?

-- A disengaged partner won't leave the business of his own accord, and for the next 20 years, he'll make minimal contributions while taking a major share of profits. If you knew that, would you try to address the problem now or decide just to live with it?

-- A small market with a limited customer base will always be small. Would you relocate, expand or find different sales channels, or would you keep complaining about limited opportunities for the next 20 years?

Short-term crises can cause us to ignore longer-term headaches, roadblocks and challenges. We tend to push aside larger chronic problems as we fight smaller, more immediate issues.

So take a step back from the day-to-day and turn the proposition around. Assume hard work, intelligence and persistence will overcome short-term business issues and challenges. Assume you and your business will still be here. In fact, assume you'll still be right here, right where you are today, facing the same problems and frustrations. Then take steps to address them now.

Above all, make sure you never have to look back and say, "I can't believe it's been 10 years and I'm still dealing with this (stuff)." That should be your greatest fear -- make sure it doesn't become a reality.