Ask SCORE: It’s Decision Time: Are You Ready?

Many of the decisions you make as a small business owner can be difficult and stressful. Although there is no way to guarantee that every course of action you choose will be the best, using a sound process to arrive at your decision will go a long way toward being able to implement it with confidence.

As you gain experience making tough decisions, you’ll be better able to tackle the inevitable choices that are more complex, or must be made quickly. 

Here are some tips for making thoughtful, well-informed decisions:

Define the problem. Be specific, what is the decision is that needs to be made? Is this really your decision or someone else’s and do you really need to make a decision at all? If you do not have at least two options, there is no decision to be made.

Brainstorm the alternatives. Draw on all available knowledge resources to learn as much as you can about the implications of each option. Identify contributing factors that potentially can be changed in order to improve a particular alternative and those that must be accepted as is.

Weigh costs versus benefits. The time-tested exercise of listing pro’s and con’s on opposite sides of a piece of paper still works. Try to match up direct causes and effects as much as possible, but also consider intangible influences and outcomes.

Balance your research. Seek out as many perspectives as possible, but remember that many opinions, even those of “experts,” are subjective and potentially based on incomplete information. Also, avoid blindly accepting an opinion because it’s exactly what you want to hear.

Trust your instincts. Intuition can be your ally, especially if what appears to be a good choice just doesn’t “feel” right. Think about the reasons for the uncertainty and look for further evidence that counters or justifies your concern.

Recognize your limitations. We all have likes and dislikes that can bias our thinking in a certain direction. If you lean toward an alternative simply because “it’s always worked,” you may be missing out on something that may prove to be a better choice.

Do a reality check. Cross off those alternatives that most likely will not occur.

Divert your attention. Take a break from your decision-making and do something else, unrelated to business if possible. That wonderful machine known as your brain will still be chugging away on the decision while you take a walk, watch your kid’s soccer game, or simply look at the window. The decision factors may not change in the interim, but a fresh look is sure to make a positive difference in how you evaluate them.

Just do it. Once you have made your decision, get moving on it and move on. Don’t agonize about “what if’s” or wonder what someone else might have done. If it turns out that another option was better, so be it. Mistakes are just as important to small business success than being right, sometimes, even more so.

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