U.S. local and state governments have a series of tough decisions to make as they face record budget deficits. When I heard Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speak last year, he expressed a lesson that is actually reassuring for all small business owners. He talked about the difficult choices facing the city. Mayor Emanuel said that he had worked for two presidents in his career and that “when the decision was between good and bad, that decision was made down the hall. When the decision was between bad and worse, that came to the office of the president.” 

Many decisions small business owners face are many times very difficult, since they can be a choice between “bad and worse.” However, this does come with the job of leading your own company.

Do any of these business decisions sound familiar? 

  • Deciding between retaining or firing your best sales person, even though they are detrimental to the company’s morale. Do you give up sales or endanger damaging the culture of the entire company?
  • Deciding between finally funding your great business idea, but giving over majority control to the investors. You don’t have the million dollars needed to build the company, but if you are successful, it really won’t be your company any more.
  • Deciding how to allocate resources in a company between marketing, sales, production and customer support. Marketing wants more money to generate leads. Sales wants to hire more people to talk to prospects. Production wants to run a second shift. Customer service needs better systems to keep up with client calls.
  • Deciding between taking on a new customer, but having to borrow money in order to fund inventory for production. The customer promises they will buy a lot from you if you can produce enough inventory for them, but won’t commit to a long-term contract.
  • Deciding to hire the person with experience or the one with best attitude that fits the company culture. You need someone to produce results fast, but you also want to make sure that they fit into the team. 

Here is help in making these business decisions:

  1. Accept that there are few easy decisions in running your own business. In fact, there typically are no “right” answers. Stop searching. Accept that you need to make a decision with imperfect information.
  2. Make the decision after careful consideration, but then, do not waffle. Commit to one path and take action.
  3. When definitive action is taken, learn what you can from the result and then, plan the next move. Don’t get stuck with regrets on what could have been.
  4. Repeat.

If you follow this process, you will have a much easier time making the tough decisions. And as a small business owner, you will definitely have some tough decisions to make. 

When have you had to decide between “bad and worse”? What was the result? Please share your experiences in the comments below.