Friday, January 28, 2011

Top 3 Lessons of Being a Small Business Owner

Typically, this blog is filled with photos of my latest artistic/life pursuits and maybe you could say this post is applicable to that but I can't help but hear my mind repeating...

"If you always do what you've always done, you are always gonna get what you've always gotten."

I've been a small business owner for almost 2 years now and I've learned quite a few things about business and myself. There is something both insanely invigorating and begrudgingly exhausting about owning your own business. There are lessons to be learned and to be shared. There are many lessons still to come-lessons I'm sure that will knock me on my "tukes" and lessons that will leave me floating (for a very short time, I'm positive) in sheer satisfaction

If you are contemplating opening a retail store or if you are in the midst of it and need another idea, perhaps my learnings will help.

1.) Before you do anything; know who you are, what you are capable of, what jazzes you, and what defeats you. Make a list. Check it twice. Be honest with yourself. Then make a list of the qualities you believe make for a successful business owner. If you don't have them all, find someone who does. Be patient with yourself but leave no stone unturned. It's ok to ask for help. Find yourself (or create) a group of people who share your passion, your work, and can help you (even if the help is just listening) when the going gets tough. Make a list of your personal cheerleaders and use them often. This gig is not for wimps.

2.) Shopping is more than exchanging money. I could write this whole post from just this lesson. I'll use a specific example of "what not to do" to illustrate this point. Shopping is a very sensory experience. Your shop should provide "delight" not "dismay".

Your shop should not:
-Be without light. Proverbial and literal light. If there is a dark corner, buy a lamp. If the wall color sucks the life out of you, buy some paint. If you are not infusing the place with your own "light", see Lesson #3.

-Smell like a wet basement. For $10, there are numerous "plugin" devices at your disposal. Your shop should smell like a clean house. Your customers are your guests, would you invite guests for dinner if your house wasn't in tip top shape?. If you sell clothing (which we do), the shop should definitely not smell like old garage sale clothes.

-Contain handwritten signs ripped out of an old notebook. Ditto on the signage with mispelled words and grouchy sentiments. IE, this example is pretty much a guarantee that I will never return. "If you try on close, put them back. I'm not your maid."

-Make customers feel like they have no idea what you are selling. I'll use the clothing example again since it's what I know. Upon entry into your shop, it should be apparent that you sell clothes. A customer should feel inspired by the displays, feel comfortable touching and trying things on, know where the dressing rooms are, and be able to easily manuever around. If your shop is multi-level, the "good stuff" should be on the street level. And make sure your customers know that there is another level to look at. Make them want to climb the steps to find the treasures you have to offer. Nothing should look like an afterthought.

3.) A shopowner must be "ON". ALWAYS. I'm an introvert. I know I am most comfortable and efficient when I am working and playing in my own head. However, when the situation deems it necessary, I can swing to the other side. If you can't swing, then don't even open your doors by yourself.
One of the hardest things to do sometimes is to be "On" when you're not. You're worried about your finances, your husband is driving you nuts, your kids are sending you to the brink--and now you have to be "nice."

Your customers are not only buying your inventory--they are buying "You." Negativity is not becoming--and your customers should never feel it. In your shop or from you in the community. You can still be stressed without being rude. Put on your shopowner face and make your customers feel welcome.

You should never under any circumstances:

-Take a phone call when you are checking out a customer.
-Yell at anyone in customer earshot. This includes frustrating phone calls with a vendor who just doesn't get it. Leave the shop, take the call at home, whatever.
-Let a customer enter your shop without greeting them
-Let a customer exit your shop without thanking them-Even if they didn't make a purchase.
-Judge a book by it's cover. All people , even if they don't appear your "target" customer, matter.
-Make someone feel like they are bothering you.
-Say, " I dunno." It's your shop, you know. It's your town you're working in, make it your priority to know. Know 2 places to eat, 2 more shops to stop at, where the nearest gas station is with an ATM, and the cross streets that your shop sits on.

3 lessons is enough for today, we'll pick up where this left off. I'm in the market for question answering if you need it, so don't hesitate to leave a comment or email me.