Oh the Places You’ll Go

Deciding to start your own business and be your own boss is very much like stepping through the pages of the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You’ll Go. You become the character in your own story, and as it goes in the beginning of the Dr. Seuss tale, you are the guy who will make decisions about what direction you will steer. There is so much enthusiasm and potential in the beginning. Dreaming, planning, and creating fill your days. The possibilities are endless and invigorating. You can choose to participate in the practices that you want, and avoid the conventions that you don’t. You are the master of your universe and boy, does it feel good. No one to answer to. No one to hinder your creative flow. Starting a new venture is always a time for intense optimism, and as the story states, you’ll fly high and take the lead. You’ll be the best of the best. Enthusiasm and optimism can be like a drug, an addictive high that engulfs your daily existence. Pinch yourself. What luck have you come upon by having the opportunity to work for yourself and be your own boss.

But alas, reality always has a way of creeping up on us. Luck? What luck? Now is the time that you will discover that a successful business is far from a stroke of luck and being your own boss is harder than you anticipated. There will be snags along the way that will hinder progression. No road is always smooth. Your business will encounter challenges and setbacks along the way. This is to be expected. It can, however, be extremely disheartening at the time. When starting a new enterprise, you don’t dream about the road bumps. You may plan for obstacles, but they certainly don’t figure into the anticipation portion of owning your own business. When the time comes that you hit a slump as the character finds himself facing in the book, the road back can be very difficult. Decisions will need to be made on how to effectively alleviate the hard times and allow your business to once again prosper. Dr. Seuss talks about people who reach a place where they just wait, wait for something to happen to them or their business. That is a luxury that you can’t afford when you are the owner of your own company. You must pick yourself up and figure out how to remedy the slump you’ve been in. Willingness to work hard is the one constant key to being successful in business.

So in the words of Dr. Seuss in Oh the Places You’ll Go, life is a great balancing act and so is business. Success comes not from a stroke of luck, but rather the hard work you are willing to do. The road to successful achievement has its ups and downs, but if you figure out that ideal balanced formula, your business and personal life will gel and prosper. We can only find the path to success through the trials and tribulations of experimentation. As a business owner you will experience those peaks and valleys, but it is how you navigate them that will make the difference in whether you succeed or fail. Business as life is a twisty road. Success is bred through the perseverance and flexibility of the entrepreneur. Although you will encounter potholes along the way, no matter the challenges, the journey is a rewarding experience full of adventure and intrigue. Good Luck!

 

Are You Business Savvy?

Are you business savvy? According to an article that I recently read, there are seven key ingredients to being business savvy. Let’s take a look and see how many of these categories you have conquered and how many you still need to work on. As I look at the list of business savvy attributes, I realize that these characteristics are important for anyone who will make a great leader. The first on the list is to, “Seek self-awareness”. In my opinion a true grasp on authentic self-awareness is a gift given by time. Maturity is the gift of being able to know yourself well, but also be able to see other’s points of view. As a leader this is crucially important. Being able to put yourself in the place of those taking direction from you and thinking about how they feel about your leadership approaches will help you to be a reflective leader who cares about the welfare of his employees. The next ingredient to being business savvy works hand in hand with being self-aware. Being able to, “appreciate different perspectives” is a branch of self-awareness where you can see other’s points of view, take them into consideration, learn from them, and grow as an individual.

“Value and recognize others”. As a business person, you most likely can’t run a successful business alone, so if you don’t value your employees and your customers, you are sunk. I feel that this element is extremely important in operating a successful business. First you have to actually show your appreciation to employees that do a great job for you. They don’t know that you feel this way unless you actually tell them, and believe me, they will respect you and work harder for you if you do let them know how you feel. I realize in the hectic course of the day there might not be much time to profess your admiration to your employees, and this isn’t something that must be done every day or even every week, but by acknowledging the value that your employees bring to your business during appropriate times and intervals, the praise may go to them, but the actual rewards go to you. So often we only hear the negatives in life. Giving praise for a job well done can be a powerful motivator. Showing appreciation to customers is also super necessary. Remember, without those customers you wouldn’t be in business. Sometimes showing a customer appreciation is as simple as giving them excellent customer service. Customer service can be hard to come by these days, and going the extra mile for a customer can go an extra mile for how they think about your business or service.

The next ingredient might at first seem confusing, but if you look closely at the suggestion, it’s not off the mark at all. “Validate your assumptions and analysis”, from my view point, means simply to trust your gut feelings (ok, maybe go a little farther than that), but really, use those feelings to launch you in the direction that they are leading you. Sometimes it may be as simple as trying out a new idea that you think will work well for your business. Sometimes it may go a little farther into researching to find an answer to a question that is burdening you. Take the time, find the answers, and make the changes that will give you peace of mind. Taking the time to validate your assumptions and analysis leads us into the next key to a successful businessman which is to “yield when appropriate”. Many times it is necessary to be going all out when you are trying to create a successful business, but there are plenty of times when it might be a good idea to pause and reflect on the direction you are heading. Are you treating your employees and customers well? Are you taking the right steps to further promote your business? And are you listening and considering advice from other trusted professionals? No one has all the right answers. Sometimes it is beneficial to pause and reflect.

As you take a breath to pause and reflect, think about how to “Manage your timing”. Timing is so important with everything in life. Timing is key in business as well. When is it the right time to expand your business? When is it the right time to take a loan? When is it the right time to have a big sale? There are endless questions revolving around good timing that as a business owner you must be prepared to answer. I think that most of these ingredients to business savvy fit hand in hand with each other. Being able to manage your timing fits tightly in the hand of being self-aware. It is important to take the time to reflect and choose an appropriate path to all aspects of your businesses life.

The last suggested ingredient for business savvy in this article is to “Embrace Empathy”. At first glance that seems a bit strange, but upon closer inspection it begins to make sense. As a business person you will see many ups and downs. It is important to remember how you felt during those down times. Being an empathetic person means that you are open and receptive to understanding the highs and the lows that everyone goes through. Having this ability will help you to deal with employees, customers, and vendors in a much more relaxed and understanding way, and that can only be good for business as well as your soul. So being business savvy seems not to be all about knowing the right answers to everything, but more about having the ability to care and self-reflect in order to find the best answers for your business to the best of your ability. Blending the appropriate amounts of each of these ingredients will surely help you in your venture as a business person, so remember, being in business is challenging enough. There is no reason to make it harder by not following the recipe.

To read the full article that this blog was adapted from, “Six Tips to Develop Business Savvy Skills” by Lisa Boesen, click here.

A Girl Can Dream

Last night I had another of my frequent, (I guess you’d call them nightmares), about cooking. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I have these nightmares quite often. I am usually cooking homefries, and I can never make enough in time to fill all of the orders that I have. Last night was no different, but it was also tinged with breakfast and lunch orders intermingled, something that short order cooks do not like. I was cooking and cooking, and I couldn’t catch up. Then the dishes started to pile up, and I didn’t have time to do them either. Of course no one would help me. They just let me struggle in my imaginary anguish. When I wake in the morning from these nightmares, I am literally exhausted because I feel as though I have been working all night, but what’s really strange is that I want to continue sleeping because I want to try to catch up with the orders. (Not likely to happen in a nightmare, but a girl can dream, right, no pun intended). This job is so ingrained in my soul.

It has been six and a half years since I sold my restaurant and still I have these dreams. It was not that I did not enjoy my business, quite the opposite really, but it was a very stressful time. Owning a business is the American Dream. Many people have the aspiration to be their own boss. What they don’t quite understand until they are catapulted into that coveted position is that once you are your own boss, there is no one left to pawn your problems off to if you want them dealt with properly. That was the position that I was in at my restaurant. I was the boss, but I was also a short order cook. I couldn’t afford to pay several employees to do the job that I had. I would have made no money at all, so instead I just dealt with the stress of the overwhelming breakfast and lunch crowd (which was a good thing for the $$, but whew! for me). During breakfast I assumed the roles of cook, dishwasher, takeout counter server, and cashier, while still being the boss and manager. Like I mentioned in an earlier blog, the business owner wears many hats. I didn’t make that up. When I think about it now, I can’t believe that I really did all of that.

But don’t let me scare you, present or future small business owners. The rewards far outweighed the lingering nightmares from my experience as a small business owner. I entered the business as a naïve twenty-two year old girl. I exited a thirty-nine year old woman who had experienced many things in those pivotal seventeen years. If my life were a sandwich cookie, one side would be a young wafer, the other side would be an older, tougher cookie, and the cream in the middle would be the maturity that I developed as my own boss and business owner. Nothing makes you grow up or learn new things like being plunged into a world where all the decisions are yours, all the problems are yours, but all the rewards are yours too. It was very rewarding to operate a busy and successful restaurant for all of those years. It felt great at the end of a busy day that flowed smoothly. The sense of accomplishment was grand. Even now after all of these years I encounter people who tell me how much they enjoyed coming into my restaurant. That is still satisfying to hear because it validates all of the hard work that I put into it.

I matured immensely in those seventeen years. You argue that I would have matured anyway, and you would be right; but I matured quicker in the ways of responsibility which cannot be taught in a book. I worked harder than I have ever worked before or after in my life, a kind of work that people don’t understand until they do it. I spent nights and weekends dedicated to the needs of my business. I would recommend that you allow yourself more free time than I allowed for myself, but the work needed to be done, that I can’t deny. I took care of incidents, acting as bouncer and peacekeeper of the establishment, I was accountable for paying all the bills, and I also had the pleasure of taking out the garbage and cleaning the greasy equipment. Some of these tasks I could have done without, but they are all factors that made me who I am today.

Even though I still have “nightmares” about not being able to catch up with cooking my food orders, the dream of owning my own business and realizing that dream with the accomplishments that I gained from it far outweigh any negative subconscious distress that I may encounter. The American Dream offers so many intangible rewards and learning moments. I’m fortunate to have been able to have that experience, and that experience will serve any entrepreneur well if they allow themselves to dream.

 

Do Your Homework

As a former business owner, one thing I know for sure is that there will be many instances when equipment breaks and fixtures falter. These are the times that try men’s souls. One of the worst feelings is when the work day is going along smoothly and then all of a sudden a wrench gets thrown into the flow. Now it is up to you to figure out how to deal with the roadblock that has interrupted your day. One of the great things about being your own boss is that you don’t have to answer to anyone. One of the worst things about being your own boss is that there is no one there to pass the buck to when answers are needed. Thinking about this topic almost makes my skin crawl as I remember all the times when a wrench was thrown into my daily business flow. More times than not, something will go awry that will need to be dealt with.

As a restaurant owner, I had so many days filled with broken equipment that I’m not sure I can count that high, and as a new business owner, I didn’t know who to turn to for speedy efficient help in solving my dilemma. I can tell you a horror story about the first refrigeration repairman I had who worked for over six hours on my bain marie and it still did not work. That was a hefty bill and for nothing. The bain marie had become the bane of my existence. By trial and error I found a different refrigeration repairman who was wonderful, speedy and much cheaper. That was years ago now and business owners don’t just have to rely on trial and error any more in finding the right fix it company.

Today there are multitudes of options for acquiring information about service industries that could be hired to do a job for you. Most people have heard of Angie’s List, but did you know that all of the reviews are checked to verify that they indeed came from a real live consumer and not just someone at that particular company trying to make their business look better. You have to pay a little for this information but it could prove very valuable in the long run. Some other sources for company and service reviews are Yelp, Google+, Yahoo Local Listings, Insider Pages, City Search, and Consumer Search. The biggest problem with using any of these options is that there is no guarantee that the business you are looking for will be reviewed, but it is worth a try and you will be no worse off by checking first.

Then there’s the websites that are dedicated to providing the best information about businesses for consumers, The Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports. The BBB will give you information about if and what type of complaint is filed against a company and if it has been resolved to the customers satisfaction. The website also rates businesses based on an F- A+ Scale, A+ being top of the heep. These are great jumping off points for checking into businesses worth working with, and don’t forget in these days of social networking such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn offer consumers platforms to express their opinions about companies from whom they have received services. Since social networking is so huge, this is a great way to connect with people to find out their thoughts on the services a company provides. Last but not least, let’s not ignore the tool that was barely in existence way back when I needed that refrigerator repairman, the internet and websites. These days most companies have at the very least a rudimentary website and most have more sophisticated websites where testimonials might be prominently displayed extolling the virtues of said company. At least you can see a few opinions about the company; however, the company is not going to post negative comments so how valuable this is, is up for conjecture.

Based on all of these options though, your chances of having a more successful approach at picking companies to do work for you are much better than mine were, which is encouraging, but let us not forget to do our part first. A wise decision for a new business owner would be to assess as many of the areas of his/her business where problems could arise (heaven knows we can’t account for them all until they happen, but we can make a valiant effort). Make a list of potential services they may need and do research ahead of time. Read the reviews. Peruse the websites and testimonials. Ask friends, neighbors, and fellow business owners their opinions. And just plain research companies in your area so that you will have a jumping off point when problems do arise, and I promise you that they will.  When those problems transpire, you will be armed with a list of potentially favorable service companies to call. That will alleviate part of the headache right away.

Finding the right provider is huge, but there’s another element to the whole conundrum. Once you find a company that treats you well and does a great job for you, you need to treat them well in return. It has been my experience that when working with any kind of service provider, you should always make sure to pay the bill on time and be as accommodating with them as you want them to be with you. Building a good reputation works both ways, and I have found that if the customer also has a good reputation, the service provider will go above and beyond in their service to that customer. This could come in very valuable when an emergency situation arises. Having a good rapport with the companies you employ can save you a lot of headaches. When I finally found companies I could count on, I made sure that I treated them well too by paying the bill in a timely fashion and working with their availability to the best of my ability. I found that they went out of their way to be helpful to me also. So remember these three things, do your homework before you have a problem, make a go to list for when problems arise, and when you have found the company that works best for you, treat them in return as you want them to treat you. It will make a considerably positive difference when it comes to operating your business successfully.

Your Service Needs to Please Your Customers

When tasked to write a blog about an aspect of business, I thought to myself, why not start at the beginning of what inspires me to patronize a business. By starting from this angle, I hope to motivate the burgeoning or growing business owner to take a moment or two and think about what is in my opinion the most important aspect of running a successful business, customer service. A business can spend thousands of dollars on advertising, which I’m not saying is not at all important either, but when it comes right down to it, if you patronize a business and receive poor customer service, will you come back regardless of the advertising campaign? I know the answer for myself, and I probably know your answer as well without even having to ask.

So what gave me the idea to write about customer service and its effect on the success of a business was my experiences with my favorite restaurant and also being a former restaurant owner myself. More on my business later, but for now, I would like to focus on what makes my favorite restaurant my favorite. I have come to love a cozy little Italian restaurant which is located about thirty minutes from my home.  The distance does not stop me from making the journey to this restaurant at least once every two weeks. I have been making this journey faithfully for over two years now, and the reasons for this are the keys to sustaining a successful business of any kind.

I was recently reading an article about the practices that make for excellent customer service, and I realized that my favorite restaurant covers many of these practices, which is why it has become my favorite restaurant. As a customer, I am greeted at the door and shown to my seat. The owner himself will many times shout a hello and wave from the kitchen. My waiter always knows the answers to my questions and is attentive but not intrusive. But perhaps most importantly, the food is always delicious and consistent. It is in this last statement that I feel lies one of the most important aspects of customer service. Customers need to know that the product that they receive from your company will always be consistently of top quality. So my admiration of this restaurant relies on several factors related to excellent customer service, attentiveness, friendliness, knowledgeability, and consistency. I don’t need to see this restaurant advertised. I don’t care that I have to drive a little farther to get there. I go regardless because I know I will be pleased each time.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a restaurant owner too. Several years ago I sold my restaurant which I had operated for seventeen years, but in those seventeen years I learned many aspects about good customer service. Our customers were treated like they were family. We learned the names of the “regulars” and welcomed them each time they came to patronize us. I worked very hard to serve food that was consistent in appearance and quality. But let’s face it, sometimes customer service requires more than just consistency and friendliness. Sometimes you have to be an actor. Sometimes customers are difficult and you have to keep that smile on your face, or sometimes you are under the weather but the show must go on. So you have to learn to fake it sometimes too. You also have to learn to be a good people reader. No two customers are alike, so the ability to read personalities will help you to better serve each customer.

Surprises and usually not of the good kind also factor in to good customer service. You must always be prepared to calmly handle the unexpected, an irate customer, a technical malfunction, or a myriad of other possible pitfalls that may come your way. The most important things to remember about providing your clients with excellent customer service is that this is what is going to keep them being your clients, and the steps for you to maintain that good customer service are always evolving. You must be flexible enough to evolve with them. Most importantly, pay attention to all of your customers and learn from them how to give them the best customer service you can offer. They will tell you in subtle ways, if you are willing to take their cues.

So marketing your business may be a necessity, but once those customers are acquired, customer service is what is going to keep them coming back. Make customer service the focus of your business objective and you will have a much increased chance for success.