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Is your business suffering the pain of a thousand paper cuts?

If your business is on the ropes, flat-lining or just not performing to its fullest potential, focusing and altering one thing is unlikely to turn everything around. It's more likely that dozens (or even hundreds) of small tweaks need to be made to turn things around.

Over the years, I brought in outside experts look under the hood of my businesses for advice and coaching. I always had very high expectations: I longed for a consultant, board member or mentor to walk into my business and point out the one big thing I was missing.

What I craved most was silver bullet to fix what was wrong; a proverbial guiding light to endless prosperity. Needless to say, it never came.

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It wasn't that my experts were incompetent; it was the simple fact that what a business needs next is rarely one big thing. It's usually several smaller tweaks that must be made in strategy and execution.

As a consultant, I see this all the time: Companies think they have a cash flow problem or a sales problem or a brand problem. But it's never that simple or finite.

A cash flow problem, for example, can be broken out into many different opportunities for improvement. A business may be slightly behind on collecting receivables, be carrying too much inventory, be marginally overstaffed all while having to prepay many of its suppliers.

Entrepreneurs typically look for gaping wounds in their business. They search for a large problem to which they can apply a large solution and move on to the next big thing. Instead of one big wound, however, I often find dozens of paper cuts. The company likely doesn't need major surgery, but handful of strategically placed Band-Aids.

Identifying the multiple root causes to one problem can be time-consuming. It also takes discipline. It requires entrepreneurs to get into the weeds of their businesses and to examine details they'd rather not have to worry about.

I'm sympathetic, and regularly encourage small business owners to operate at a high level. But from time to time, the owner may need to dive in to uncover the true opportunities hiding in the day to day operational noise.

When this is done successfully, a couple of things happen:

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First, you learn about the compounding effect that little issues can have in your business. Sometimes the sum of a few little problems can be the reason for your massive headache.

Second, when communicated effectively, your frontline staff and management team will gain a whole new appreciation for what constitutes an issue worth improving upon. They realize they can have a much more substantial influence than they would have thought.

The old expression 'watch your nickels and the dollars will take care of themselves' can apply to managing and growing your small business. A slow, consistent and modest approach to problem-solving can often times deliver the most impactful results.

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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