7 Lessons I Learned During National Small Business Week

How did National Small Business Week impact you?  For me, this year I learned a lot more than anticipated.

It started like any other routine Monday morning; drinking my lemon, honey tea and prioritizing my day while skimming the headlines in my news feed.  Then I realized it was Small Business Week.  As a self proclaimed “doer,” I wrote a new goal to my top five for the week… I commit to support one small business each day this week.

Disclaimer: I believe when you do good, you get good and Win:Win is a way of Life.

So I took the goal one step further and engaged in business conversations with several small business owners throughout the week.  Below I share a few highlights and lessons.

  • Ashker’s Juice BarPicture this, a hip local café with a line out the door and dozens of people sitting on the patio catching some sun at 11:30am on a Wednesday.  What’s the hype: fresh and local produce, cold press juice and fresh fruit smoothies accentuate healthy entrees on most tabletops.
  • Envy US barbershopAfter my first conversation with the owner, I realized quality was priority #1.  I like quality, so on their first day of business I stopped in and received a fresh haircut. The caveat, this gesture solidifies my relationship for a B2B exchange of services.  While sitting on the patio at Ashker’s, the value of quality paid off in this example of word of mouth marketing…I overheard a guy recommending Envy Us to a friend, who immediately commits to try them because they offer a quality service and use hot towels and straight razors (differentiate from the majority).
  • Epic. On Friday night I attended an event at Epic Restaurant.  As I entered the door, I was greeted by a man who I assumed was security. Later that night, the same man introduced himself and I learned he was the owner and  he liked meeting the patrons and learning how they found his place. The value of a personal touch provides that emotional connection to the venue.
  • Orange Theory Fitness. Boutique group fitness classes boost results and boasts a cult like following. Orange Theory has an evolved business model that supports the benefits of a franchise.  For example: They do some exceptional marketing to create brand awareness and drive sales. They do this really cool thing…it’s simple but genius. They spray paint mountain bikes bright orange and chain them in prominent places around town and in front of the gym.  Their members experience a sense of community that increases commitment and accountability.
  • Squire on Main. A moderately priced upscale menu and elegant ambiance differentiate them from the majority. The restaurants success can be partially attributed to the founders restaurant experience and leveraging the branding and marketing services offered by his other business Mac Groups.
  • *My personal favorite – I stopped at 3 lemonade stands over the weekend to reward those budding little entrepreneurs.

Lessons

The core lesson is you can learn a lot by asking good questions and listening. You can intentionally put yourself in the know!  In my past life as a professor teaching career development and planning, students conducted informational interviews with professionals in their desired industry.  These interviews proved to yield residual benefits.

This week’s conversations with small business owners felt very familiar and I predict similar residual benefits over time. In life, a lot of success and accomplishments can be attributed to what you know and who you know.  As an entrepreneur you will have many roles. It’s in your own best interest to understand and experience the best practices and challenges of different businesses.

Top 7 Business Lessons

  1. “Dream big, start small” – Ashker’s started as a ice cream stand in Niagara Falls 10 years ago. Now with three locations, they don’t sell ice cream, and the theme is holistic health. Barbershop owner re-invests in his business to become part of bustling Elmwood Village.
  2. Owner involvement drives the vision,but they must be able to pivot and adapt to market demand to thrive.
  3. Team work makes the dream work. Entrepreneurs that lead effective teams leverage employee engagement to support business goals and improve accountability.
  4. Value of a personal touch in the customer experience. People subconsciously feel appreciated when greeted by first name. An emotional bond and personal connection will earn you loyal, repeat customers.
  5. Never compromise quality.  Quality differentiates the good from the average. Examples of quality:  fresh pressed juice, fresh food, organic, high end hair cut, boutique fitness, candles and tablecloths
  6. Marketing lessons – Location matters. Identify your niche market, dare to be different, do more of what works, and word of mouth rules.
  7. To successfully scale, you must standardize processes and cross train employees

Every business and business owner has room for improvement. You’d be surprised how rare it is to receive practical, honest and constructive feedback. One piece of advice to business owners is to seek out a trusted adviser for an outside opinion.  As a business owner (or employee), you are emotionally vested in the company and consumed by daily operations, that may cause you to miss the bigger picture.  A fresh set of eyes coupled with experience will catch opportunities to leverage momentum and/or streamline processes.

After writing this post, I feel a sense of accomplishment and gratification from the time and energy invested.   I hope you enjoyed reading. I’d like your feedback so we can engage with you on other “Hot topics.”

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