““A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open.” ~ Francis Bacon
I was helping two wonderful ladies who own their own public relations and marketing firm. They had been working together for more than seven years, but they only had less than $100,000 in revenues last year.
They had taken other part-time jobs to make ends meet, but otherwise, they did not seem to be overly concerned with the lack of adequate revenue. In fact, when I asked them about it during numerous conversations, they just said over and over again that they did not know what to do and had basically given up.
When I probed further and asked why they did not have enough clients, they blamed the customers, they blamed the economy, but they never took any responsibility themselves. They just expected some miracle to give them great revenues and profits, which of course, did not work out.
Their situation was so surprising to me. These ladies help other firms with their marketing but had clearly forgotten how to apply these skills to their own business.
I asked another question that made them more receptive to our discussions. I asked them, “If you were called in as a marketing consultant for a firm that had the track record that you have, what would you do?” This one question allowed them to clearly see the big hole they had dug for themselves and forced them to look at their situation with a different set of eyes.
They knew they needed to do something to reenergize their business, and they are now spending one day a week on marketing efforts. They have started calling on former customers and are exploring alternative markets that might work for their business.
Did I fix the problem? No. I just asked the right question allowing them to see their situation from a different vantage point and recognize what needed to be done.
It was far more beneficial for them to figure out the problem on their own instead of having me just tell them. If I would have just given them the answer, they would not have owned the solution, which is so important.
In all my 40+ years of teaching at various universities, I have always used the Socratic method with my students. The key to this method is asking the right questions to allow the students to figure out the solution to a real life problem for themselves. Just giving someone an answer is quick, but it does not instill any real sense of ownership of the solution.
So how does an entrepreneur realistically apply this concept to their business? When a staff member comes to you with a problem, benignly guide them by asking the questions that will reveal the best solution. Following are a few examples of these types of questions:
• If you were to do it over again, what would you do differently?
• What are the ramifications if we do not do this project?
• If you were called in as an outside consultant, what would you recommend?
Now go out and make sure that you are helping your staff figure out the solutions to their problems by asking probing questions. While initially this is a slow process, in the long run, it has so many benefits.
You can do this!