Pro athletes know what their strongest skills are, and they learn to play to them.

That means they know in what situations they are most likely to succeed and how to avoid those that will expose their weaknesses.

A point guard does not try to be a rebounding star. A singles hitter does not swing for the fences.

The same applies to businesses, especially small owner-operator businesses. Your limited time demands that you focus on your competitive strengths.

What makes your business unique? How have you differentiated yourself from competitors? How do your daily actions relate to these critical tasks?

Your business plan articulates your strengths and how you plan to leverage them. This is where you should be spending your time developing new products and services, tracking customer trends and strengthening your finances.

Keep a time log for two weeks and note the issues that consume your time. Odds are that events are dictating your schedule instead of you allocating your time to the areas that will insure the success of your business.

Notorious time traps are personnel issues, supplier interruptions and customer complaints. How can you minimize the frequency and impact of these time wasters?

Successful managers frequently use an office sign to remind them of their key goals. As daily problems arise, they refer to it to determine if it is worth their time to engage on a problem.

Personnel issues fall into two categories - individual problems and those that involve two or more employees. Most individual issues can be handled via a comprehensive employee policy manual.

Disputes between employees are best handled by confronting both employees together instead of separately. Employees' stories tend to soften when the other person is in the room.

Verify the facts and make a decision promptly. Handle supplier issues in a similar manner. Communicate with the supplier's decision-maker and be prepared to negotiate a resolution.

Complaints concerning fungible products are best resolved by removing the unsatisfactory product from the customer's premises and replacing it with acceptable product.

You can negotiate the financial issues later. Be decisive and move on to things that matter.

Ralph Hershberger is president of SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit group that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment at several locations. For more information, go to, send email to or call 505-3636.