How to turn around a struggling business

If there was one thing Steve Jobs taught the business world, it was how to turn around a struggling business.

February 16, 2016

Starting a company from scratch is a dream for many entrepreneurs. To have your own business that you've seen grow from the ground up is a feeling that's difficult to match.

But equally rewarding is to come in and save a struggling business - especially if it's one that was once thriving and has now fallen on hard times. Steve Jobs was probably the perfect example after he saved Apple when he rejoined the tech business at its lowest point, turning it into the world's biggest company

Generally there's a reason - or quite a few reasons - why any business is struggling, so saving it is never going to be easy. But reviving a flagging business also has its advantages over starting something completely new. For one there's already an existing brand awareness and customer base, however small they are, and that means there's something to work with at least.

Here's how you can turn that ship around:

1. Get to the source of the problem
The first thing any new owner should do when taking over a company is take stock and see where it's going wrong. It could be poor performance from staff in key positions, low morale within the company or even a flawed business model, but the key thing is that you drill down to the root cause.

2. Tackle the issues head on

Much like a dentist would extract a rotten tooth, once you've found out the problem areas of the business, it's vital to eradicate them completely. That might mean making a few tough decisions and letting some staff go, but in business there's no room for sentiment. 

how to turn around a business starbucks.jpg Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz turned things around after the coffee chain's net income tumbled in 2008.

3. Build alliances
If you've come into a company and immediately made changes that have affected staff, it's likely you're not going to be the most popular man in the office. However, it's important to make sure that everybody in the business is on the same page and working towards the same goals.

Get key members of staff on side and explain to them the importance of what you're trying to do to save the business, then allow that information to filter down to everyone.

4. Be available
Some of your staff are bound to have concerns about the direction the business is going in and your intentions. They may be fearful that their jobs are at risk or worried that you're going to stop this year's bonus. That's why it's vital to be available and to listen to any concerns your staff have and take their points on board. That way the whole workforce will be able to spend less time worrying and more time working.

5. Get informed
It's easy to become disconnected with customers and clients and feel like you've got no option but to simply guess what they want. But to stick your head in the sand is a terrible idea. The lines of communication must remain open at all times. 

If you're not sure what people want then ask, either with a formal survey for more quantitive data or simply an informal chat for something more qualitative. 

how to turn around a business j crew.jpg CEO Mickey Drexler invested $10 million of his own money into J.Crew to help turn it around.

6. Stop using the economy as an excuse
No matter if we’re in a recession or a period of growth, the economy should not force a company out of business. It’s important to pay attention to how changes in the economy affect the company, but the plain fact is that if you’re selling something worth buying, then people will continue to buy it.

7. Look for alternatives
The demand for your product has crashed, so the obvious answer is to lower prices in the hope of getting more sales, right? But the obvious answer isn’t always the right one. Dropping your prices devalues your product, so a much smarter move is to add value by providing something extra or different.

There’s always an alternative, and if it can save the business and keep your employees in a job, then it's got to be worth trying.

Image credit: Richard Davies