As a business owner it's hard for me to walk into a store, restaurant, church or any establishment and not think of what I would do differently. It's hard for me to be on a website and not think about how clean it runs or what kind of branding they have in place. (For those of you who don't know my wife and I operate two businesses. One is walk in love. - a clothing brand that has one retail store in Lancaster, PA. We have 12 team members and sell a lot of shirts! The other business is a photography business - Brooke Courtney Photography. It's a five member team photographers that specialize in natural light portrait and wedding photography. Currently there are two main shooters - Brooke and Jeff, a full time assistant - Maddie, an intern -Sam and myself - the manager.) For this blog post I am going to focus on our photography business. My job, as the manager of the business and team members, is to make sure things run smoothly. That's the bottom line. I make sure we have all the information we need for shoots and that clients are paying us on time. I do all I can to make sure that brides are happy with the final product. I assist Brooke at almost all of her weddings, and I could very easily transition into being a full time shooter (I do shoot weddings by myself from time to time) but I don't for one simple reason : We Can Be Better. I think our work is fantastic! Brooke, Jeff, Maddie and Sam are extremely talented and super fun to work with... but I still think we can be better.
A lot of people take offense to a statement like that, ("we can be better" or "you could do better"), when talking about their business. Because when you own a business it is personal and any criticism of the business becomes a criticism of you. But when I tell our team that we can be better, I only mean it in a positive way. I think all small business owners out there need to start looking at themselves the same way. There are times when you need to step back and figure out the weak links in the chain and find solutions to make them stronger. It's not bad to admit that you don't do something well -- as long as you are willing to do something to change it.
For example: currently our photography team isn't good at connecting with clients after they get their final product. We see some of them here and there, but now that we have so many clients, it's hard for us to remember to send out anniversary cards, or go out to lunch from time to time. This is an area where I think our team can be better. It is not something that we can fix instantly. It will, without a doubt, take time and energy. We know this, but that doesn't mean that we don't try to get better.
Your business is always a work in progress and you need to start looking at it that way, and if you can't then you need to find someone who can. Which is exactly what I do for our team. Sometimes I have to tell Jeff or Brooke that they could have done better because I have made myself an impartial viewer. I often say to Brooke, "If I were a bride, what would I think of that?" You don't have to be a wedding photographer to have that view either, just insert your client into that sentence. For walk in love. it's "If I walked into this store what would I think? What direction would I go? What grabs my eye right away? Is it easy to understand what things are? etc." Sometimes just asking these hypothetical questions out loud to yourself, or with your team, will give you the answer quite clearly!
Fix things. Sometimes things that need to be fixed only take minutes or seconds. But, sometimes things are a bit harder and might take money, but that doesn't mean you don't start to save to make them happen. Right now walk in love. desperately needs a new website/web store that better integrates with our retail store's inventory. But, as you can imagine, that is going to take some serious money and we aren't ready for it now -- so we have to work with what we have. And that's okay. I am not saying that you have to fix every problem today, but you have to at least be aware of the problems and have an action plan on how and when to fix them. Even though we can't afford the new site now, we have been e-mailing designers to figure out pricing and how much of a budget the project will need and how we will save for it.
Try to stay away from quick, cheap fixes. If you need a new website make sure you find the right designer for the job and not just whoever is cheapest. Because more often than not, you get what you pay for. So even though your new, cheap website might seem awesome right now, you'll probably want something better sooner than you think. Quick, cheap fixes almost always end up costing more money.
Stay impartial. Critique yourself or your team often, but make sure they understand it's for the greater good and it's not mean spirited. If your whole team has the attitude that they can be better, your business will start to take off because everyone will constantly be putting out their best work. Clients will notice.
Don't be afraid. It's scary to start pointing out things that need work! Because as soon as you do it means you have to start fixing them. It's kind of like when you finally admit (out loud, to someone) you have to break-up with your boyfriend/girlfriend. You can act like everything is fine... but, as soon as those words come out they require action. Don't be afraid of it! And don't get overwhelmed by it! Some of the things will take time and that's okay. Acknowledging them is so important though!
Never Give Up. This is one of the most common phrases used in our house. Brooke and I use it for the simplest things -- like when we are looking for our keys or planning our budgets! And as a small business owner you have to have this attitude. There will always be something else ahead of you to tackle.
Keep Moving. Whether you are in your first year of self employment or your 20th, it's so important to never stop moving, adapting and critiquing. I think that when businesses stop moving that's when they start to go out of business. It doesn't mean that you have to be changing things wildly all the time, that is definitely not what I am saying. It just means that you have to understand your customer, what you are offering, and the best way to connect the two.
I think that your business is only as good as you let it be. So many business books talk about how you are most likely the problem with your business, but you are also the solution. We Can Be Better is a great battle cry that all business' should have -- and it starts with you.