I didn't know how much I wanted to ride my bike through Times Square in NYC until I realized it might be impossible!
For our two-month stay in Manhattan I was going to rent a bike but when I saw the crazy rental prices at the hole-in-the-wall bike rental shop in Tribeca, I decided to buy one of those cool turquoise city bikes instead.
That bike was my favourite way to get around NYC.
A few weeks ago, on my quiet residential street, I saw Alexander’s cool, kinda vintage, burgundy car go by my window on the bed of a tow truck.
Was this out of the usual? Yep. My typical entertainment through that window consists of commuters (some wave to me, hi!), random deer jaywalking, joggers jogging and dog walkers. Normally, I don't pay much attention to the comings and goings while I’m working.
Then Alexander’s car went by.
Shoreline Graphics was a small, progressive design agency made up of four young, creative, go-getting guys when they hired me. I was young, keen and had no idea what I was getting into. (I'm saving my stories about being the only girl in an all boy agency for another day.)
I think the small office was about 800 square feet total and I shared a small portion of that space with Jimm, one of the co-owners. We were the sales department - the suits. We often worked together on proposals...I mean, he was sitting right there and often verbalized his thoughts. (I'm not complaining - I learned a lot from listening to Jimm on the phone and all his out loud thinking.)
Most proposals we wrote included not only graphic design but film and printing costs too (this was before websites and social media, guys). And it never failed...every time Jimm had to choose a few printers to contact for an estimate, he'd lean way back in his chair, look up at the ceiling and mutter, "Hmmm, who should we use to get this printed?". Then the same old banter about this print firm and that print firm would ensue. It started getting a little annoying, getting asked the same question over and over again. It was funny, but annoying.
In the name of efficiency, and saving my sanity, I researched all the printers within a 100 km radius, ranked them by quality, size and pricing and made a comprehensive list. I always end this story by telling people I pinned that list to the ceiling just above Jimm's chair, so the next time he leaned back and said, "so who should we get to print...", voila! He was beholding the list. But I'm pretty sure the truth is, when he leaned back in his chair the next time and asked the question, I reached for list of printers and threw it at him, mumbling something about getting organized under my breath.
That was just one of many processes we streamlined as we grew the company. It's funny, sometimes, to think about the way we used to do things, before a time saving process was established.
Are you creating processes in your business?
If you're doing something over and over again, are you thinking of ways to streamline that process? It happens in my business almost every day. If I'm not creating a checklist for logging my expenses, I'm reviewing the social posting process for a client or fine-tuning my client intake questionnaire.
If you want to grow your business, one way to help get there faster is to get more efficient.
Do you develop simple tools and systems for your small business? You don't have to be big to be organized and efficient! If you need to manage repeatable tasks, get a process so you'll have more time to lean back in your chair...and just daydream.
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It happened in a split second. Do you ever have that thought, that sinking feeling, that you want to go back in time, just one or two seconds. If you could just get time to back up a smidge, so you could re-think a decision, or undo a really dumb move.
As I stood in total disbelief, with mounds (and mounds) of shattered glass everywhere, I'm pretty sure I said a bad word (the air was blue), then I actually put my head in my hand, and shook it a little.
I like doing things all by myself.
I can do it all. And there are a lot of things that I can manage just fine on my own, thank you. But apparently, putting the umbrella through the hole in the centre of our glass patio table, and placing that long metal pole perfectly into the small hole on the stand below was a two person job. I knew that as soon as I heard (and felt) the explosion of glass. I think I knew before I started. That's why I felt soooooooooooo stupid.
As I waited for time to start going backwards, I began plucking the shards of thick green glass off my feet. And started googling how to get all this glass off a wooden deck, out from between the slats, out of the dirt below the deck. It was brutal. A huge job. I'm still working on it. (still muttering bad words)
And that really bad day made me think about the things people do in their small business all by themselves, without help, sometimes creating big messes that could have been avoided if there were another pair of hands to help.
Here are 3 big areas in a small business where asking for help may avoid a big pile of broken glass (you know what I mean)...
1. Bookkeeping & Accounting
Keeping track of sales, expenses (cost of replacement glass, etc), is repetitive stuff. It's something that someone else could easily do for you if you'll let them. There are organized, knowledgeable people out there who do this for a living. If you face that big pile of paperwork every 6 months (OK, every year), and have to re-figure it out because it's been so long, you'd be wise to outsource this to someone who does it every day and can do it for you in a snap.
2. Administrative stuff
Whether it's a real administrative person or a virtual one, (I know they are real too, kind of), if you find yourself too busy organizing your business to actually do business, a little help on the admin side will free you up to focus on what you do best - procrastinating about getting real work done! Get help with things like incoming email, scheduling, booking appointments, and using a piece of bread to pick up the really small pieces of glass on the deck.
Do you stare at the blank page, waiting for inspiration, every time you attempt a communications or promotional project? You aren't alone. Everyone has their own approach to getting ideas out there. You may be able to tell a story easily but struggle to write it down. Or, you write stories but hate editing them into masterpieces. Find a writer/editor to help you over these writing speed bumps. You can share your great ideas regularly without the pain. Get some help if being a thought leader will help your bottom line.
I'll add a fourth area - I wonder why? Websites, email marketing & social media. Some small business owners are good at this and enjoy doing it. It's fun, I know! But if you don't have the time or the inclination, and being on-line is important to your business growth, outsource it! (I know someone who can help with all this and sweeping glass too)
1. Have you done anything as shocking as breaking a glass table, ever?
2. I have.
3. What do you outsource in your small business?
Share your comments below...
If you've ever taken in a show at the majestic Imperial Theatre in Saint John, New Brunswick, you won't be surprised to know that, according to the Globe & Mail, it's the "most beautifully restored theatre in Canada". (And they should know, right?)
It doesn't matter what type of show I see there, whether it's live music, comedy, a musical or a movie, I feel kinda special just sitting in that plush seat, looking up at the chandelier, waiting for the show to begin. It's a very special place and sometimes I think for a second, do I belong here? (Then I realize I bought a ticket and they actually let me in the door).
And everyone who has ever been to a show there knows there is an army of volunteers who work every door (and window, I'm sure) of every event, making sure you aren't bringing in anything that could harm those fancy seats - no Imperial Theatre contraband allowed.
At one time, it was so strict that I don't think you could even bring in water. Just sit still, watch the show and please eat & drink in the lobby, or at home!
But nothing could prepare me for the unbridled joy I felt last Halloween. The glorious "don't even think about eating in here" Imperial Theatre was showing Rocky Horror Picture Show and there was a list of "approved" props we were allowed to bring - and throw - during the movie. Really? How could this be? Were there defibrillators handy to help revive the diligent white coated volunteers when they witnessed the shenanigans of a no holds barred Rocky Horror audience?
It's one thing to throw rice, cards, and toast around your own house - you do that, right? But to have the pleasure of toilet papering the most beautifully restored theatre in Canada? Well, let's just say, we didn't leave the place the way we found it.
With our newspapers on our heads, rubber gloves on and noisemakers handy, we proceeded to lovingly litter to our hearts content. It was therapeutic and fun.
This got me thinking about the kind of experiences that small businesses can offer.
You need to offer memorable experiences. When someone shops at your store or orders a product or service from you online, is the experience memorable? I'm talking about "good" memorable. (maybe not "throwing rice all over the floor" memorable)
Be attentive and extra helpful! Is your staff trained to ask questions and make sure your customers have found everything they need? Going above and beyond makes a big difference in your customer's experience.
Show your appreciation. Do you regularly show your customers how much you love them? It could be as simple as having a special sale or an event where you give a special discount. You could offer a free service that you know they need. These are simple things you can do that will help increase loyalty.
Get to know your customers. I don't mean you need to yell out your customers' names as they come into your shop (like the treatment Norm gets on Cheers) but remembering a name of a regular customer is important. Remembering how they like their coffee or whether they prefer paper bags is an added bonus for their experience.
Create a happy place. Make the experience for your customers fun. It's never a bad idea to help cheer up someone's day. You have the opportunity to do that with every customer experience. It doesn't cost anything and adds so much value to the shopping experience. (if letting your patrons throw toilet paper around makes them happy, why not?)
It's the little things that keep them coming back.
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The Small Business Guide
Kim Houlahan is a marketing consultant who loves helping small business owners improve their marketing.
Small Business Guide ~ Archives
Relatively Small Efforts for - wait for it - Great Results
The Truth about Working from Home
What's YOUR Superpower?
6 Things You Can Do Now
Perspective is (Almost) Everything
Are You Sensitive to Customer Needs?
Got a Process for That?
Don't Get Attached!
Aim DIRECTLY at your audience
Know When to Ask for Help
3 Things you Should Never Assume
Avoid the Wild Goose Chase
Where do you Draw the Line?
Give'em a Memorable Experience