Back to Basics – Small Business Fundamentals
Businesses in today’s fast paced and competitive marketplace are always looking for the latest and most innovative way to grow and expand their presence. All too often however, this rush to grow leads managers and owners alike to neglect the fundamentals that the most successful operations are built on. Overlooking the basic strategies and approaches that are most applicable to your situation on a day-to-day scale can distract you from the basics that truly drive your business.
During the four years I lived in Bordeaux, France, I worked at the Charles Dickens Pub as a bar tender, shift leader and manager. Although we always tried our hand at various events, marketing techniques and promotions, it was by sticking to our basic principals that made us the top British pub in Bordeaux and one of the most successful in France. It was by developing a strong team behind the bar, careful attention to the relationships we cultivated with our clientele and by focusing on the products and services we knew best that we achieved our success.
Listen to Your Team
The people you have on your front lines are the eyes and ears of your organization. As much as you may want to hole up in your office and tweak or rework your business plan for the hundredth time, the most reliable opinions and informed points of view will come from your staff. Avoid cutting costs at the expense of your team’s happiness. Smiling faces can’t be mandated via a company memo from management. They come when people are treated with respect as an equal member of the group and when their efforts are sincerely appreciated.
At the pub, what the staff said was given serious weight. Staff ruled when deciding what type of happy hour was best and when, how to be a ‘good neighbor’ in the extensive pub community and use our place in that network to our advantage, or how to handle ourselves behind the bar and create the type of atmosphere we felt best suited our target clientele. When the pub was hitting its highest numbers over the longest stretches of time, it was with a staff that felt a sense of ownership in the operation. A group of team members on the front lines that are visibly enjoying themselves and firing on all cylinders draw in patrons and create lasting relationships with customers. Time and time again we had customers remark that the Charles Dickens had been recommended by friends or coworkers as far away as England. This helped us create a profile around the city, the country and abroad that no amount of money could have paid for.
Your Customers Aren’t Simply Walking Wallets – Talk to Them!
Regulars and repeat customers decide to become regulars or repeat customers when they feel comfortable and appreciated rather than simply another means of reaching the day’s target figures. Ever wonder how your barber or hairdresser seems to remember not only your name, but details of stories you’d told so long ago even you don’t remember them? The answer is that if they didn’t remember your name, you wouldn’t be a regular of theirs. Taking the time to chat with the people who fuel your business helps break down the wall between client and businessperson. Sticking to our ‘back to basics’ mantra here, word-of-mouth advertising is as basic as it is supremely effective. All the social media posts in the world won’t beat out the simple but sacred affirmation of one friend recommending your product, place or service to another.
Simple gestures do not go unnoticed. At the pub I worked in we wouldn’t hesitate to treat a loyal customer to a coffee on the house every once in a while as a nod to their consistent business. If a regular came in with a new group of schoolmates, maybe that last pint of beer for them would get rung up on a discounted price and served with a knowing wink across the bar. Making your bread and butter customers feel like they’re recognized on a more intimate level will far outweigh a complimentary shot or packet of bar nuts. During our weekly trivia nights the bottle of bottom-shelf whiskey handed out to the winners guaranteed a packed house every Tuesday evening in a city crowded with Tuesday evening events. When our best customers mentioned a great deal at our rival’s bar, we listened to them and acted accordingly to adapt to the dynamics and conditions of the moment. Being heard and having your thoughts or casual opinions recognized is as good a loyalty program as anyone expects to find. No stamps on their frequent buyer card – just a handshake before they leave and knowing that they’ll be back trumps all.
Do What You Know Best and Do It Well
In the age of quadruple-culture-fusion joints and menus so expansive you need an extra half hour just to wrap your head around them, simplicity is reasserting its importance. If your chef is cooking burritos, kung-pow chicken, lasagna and Reuben sandwiches all in the same kitchen, how good are they all going to be consistently? Specialization is increasingly becoming a badge of quality.
In the Charles Dickens we knew beer. We knew great draught beer and great bottled beer. Our cider knowledge and selection was second to none. Our cocktail menu was virtually nonexistent, our wine selection was adequate and we had almost no kitchen or food to speak of and nobody expected more than that. There were excellent cocktail bars and great restaurants and even better wine bars all over and knowing who we were and what we did best was instantly recognizable by the hordes of folks coming in to order pint after pint after pint. Juggling a dozen balls is impressive but very few people can do it well. With a smaller amount of things to tackle your business can demonstrate its excellence in those areas and with those products and services.
Don’t Just Serve Your Community – Be a Part of It
As plain as all of these points appear at first blush, it’s all too easy for small businesses to get lost in the weeds. Focus on your team, your customers and the products and services you know best and keep it at that. By putting your efforts into these three areas you can avoid spreading yourself too thin and your target customers will recognize the attention to the basics. Whether you’re serving pints over the bar, financial advice across the desk or haircuts under the scissors, don’t just operate on behalf of a bottom line – become part of the foundation of your community. The rest is just window dressing.
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