Friday, August 29, 2014

The cows are lying down and other signs to watch for...

My mother and aunt were quite superstitious. So I grew up hearing warnings that it was bad luck, for example, to spill salt and when you did, you had to toss some over your left shoulder.    When you gave someone a wallet, you put a penny in it for good luck, or putting shoes on a table was bad luck, and so on.

But my aunt’s favourite was that when the cows were lying down, it was going to rain.  Now this one, may have some semblance of truth to it, and I thought of her the other day when I drove past our field and noticed that all our cows were lying down, and sure enough, later it did rain.

So what are the signs that you need to look out for in terms of your business. My mother would tell you that itchy palms meant money. Hearsay is that if it is your left hand, the money was going out, whereas if it’s your right palm, it was coming to you.  So is this a sign that your business may be about to take a nose dive or more positively, just take off?

Certainly tracking your numbers is the obvious first way to predict what may be going to happen, yet many business owners don’t. 
Studying your figures and where you make the most money is one way to tell you which program/product/service to pursue further, and those where, when you do the math cost you a lot to provide and are slow to sell, are perhaps the ones to drop.

And it is something you need to do on a regular basis, not just once in a while, because things change and what was popular one month, may not be three months down the road.  Everything has its season.

There are other signs around us too that are indicators of how business will be.  When it is a tight economy and people are scared about the future, there’s less funds available to spend on what may be considered luxuries.  This may be the time to introduce lower-priced items or services or to bundle your offering.

When you see local retail businesses close down, you have to wonder what is happening?  Have the landlords put the rent up? Have property taxes gone sky-rocketing?  If you own a store and those around you are literally closing up shop, you need to pay attention.  When there’s empty spaces around you, people have fewer reasons to come shop in your area.   

Another sign to pay attention to, is what your gut is telling you.  Too often as women we ignore our instincts, and yet, when we reflect back about doubts we may have had, we find we were right.  So pay attention to your intuition. 

None of us has a crystal ball about what the future holds, but often there are signs to watch for, we just have to pay attention.

As for our cows, I am watching them carefully as then I will know when to bring my umbrella with me. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sometimes life on the wild side, isn’t so wild.

This summer I decided to “invest” in a local community farming program, through which each week I would collect my box of goodies from the local farmer’s market.

I wanted to support this young farmer, Nathan, and treat our family to truly fresh vegetables.  When I collect the box I am always faced with some new vegetable or a friend from the past that I haven’t cooked in a long time – like eggplants.

It’s meant that our meals have become more varied as I experiment with my new produce.  It also means that I’ve taken a few risks, and stepped outside my comfort zone, food-wise.  Take the purple beans.

They were a deep purple and I could visualize them looking so colourful and pretty on the plate, and wondered if they would taste the same as their cousins, green beans.

Guess what, they turn green when they are cooked. Who knew?

It was quite disappointing really – back to the same old, but for the four minutes while they cooked, I thought I’d taken a step on the wild side.

It makes me think of when we step outside our comfort zone within our business and take that small risk, to find out that after all, it was no big deal.  That’s when you wonder why on earth you spent so long debating the issue, when in reality it didn’t make that much of a difference, except maybe in your mind, because you’d conquered another fear.

All of which leads me to think that playing it safe is over-rated and taking a risk is the way to go. After all, you might find, like my purple beans, that in fact it’s all the same, except you’ve crossed a line.  A line that takes you one step closer to realizing your goals.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lessons from the pup

Now you knew it, I would not be able to resist writing about the puppy.  It’s like having a resident blog right in front of me.  While I know it is early days – just three weeks since we got our little lad - but I can tell you I am learning a lot and much of it ties into your business too.

Same time, same place
Routine is important and especially during this house training period.  Now we are doing well, but I am not sure who is training who.  All I know is that there are certain times when without fail, we need to go outside.  He already has his favourite spots, so we just go straight there.

Business lesson - Likewise, set routines and processes can help your business run more smoothly.

Go with the flow
Now this is a hard one for me.  I am used to being in control of my time, but right now I have to confess, it just ain’t happening.  It’s like having a toddler, I have to keep an eye on the little guy, so that is somewhat disruptive to the work day. 

Business lesson - Flexibility is also key in running your business.

Lower my expectations
This one follows on from what I said above. I am used to accomplishing a lot, but in order to survive and still feel content about my day, I have had to drastically lower my expectations on what I will get done. If I don’t, I know I am just going to feel frustrated and annoyed with myself, and unfairly, Brodie.

Business lesson - Often when we start out in business we have unrealistic expectations of what we can achieve and the amount of business we can bring in – this is a new relationship too, so it takes time.

One for all, all for one
Now he is sleeping through the night, albeit he is up early (4.30 am), but we all go to bed and get up at the same time, as he is easily disturbed and we don’t want to make the day any longer than it already is. 

Business lesson - It’s like building a team, all focused on the same shared vision.  In our instance, getting some sleep.

Invitation only
When we go for a walk, sometimes he likes to sit and be called, and then he gallops along, tail wagging to be congratulated and we repeat the performance. 
Business lesson - Something we maybe should do more often with customers – invite them to a meeting where there is no real agenda, other than getting to know them and how you can help.

Hugs help
He is a real snuggly guy, and often all he wants is a quick hug and stroke and he’s a happy camper. 

Life lesson - Maybe we should be giving the other important people in our lives the same treatment – a few hugs and positive comments can go a long way.

Lone ranger
I always knew this about myself, but I really thrive best when I am with people – so staying 24/7 alone with the dog has been a test, one I am not sure I passed, as I really craved company.  Note to self – I need to be connected to other people. 

Life lesson - Knowing yourself and your preferences helps as you grow your businesses.  Our more introverted friends would probably welcome the isolation, but not me.

Know that it will get better
As he matures I know we will enjoy each other more, and I just have to wade through the tougher times to get there. 

Business lesson - Similarly, sometimes you just have to barrel through the challenging times in your business, with the knowledge that better times are ahead and you just have to turn the corner.

All this from a little guy who is growing fast, just like your business can, when you pay attention and learn lessons along the way.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Learning from a costly mistake

I was recently interviewed and asked about the top three mistakes I’d made in my business.  Only three I thought, that should be easy.

But one came to mind immediately.  It was in the early days of Company of Women, and we’d decided in our infinite wisdom to run a May Play Day on a Saturday for women in the community.  We booked a hotel, lined up presenters, vendors and designed a neat passport, etc… It all looked pretty.. and fun.

We also decided to advertise in the local paper, and that was the big mistake.  We shelled out $6,000 to be on the back page of the paper – yes, the entire page.  It looked beautiful but we neglected to find out if the women we wanted to attract to the event, ever had time to sit down and read that paper.  Clearly they didn’t, because the turnout was low.

Those that came had a wonderful time, but the end result was disappointing.  We learned several important lessons from this mistake –

1.              Stick to what you do and know best.  We did a relatively good job of reaching women business owners, but with members of the community – we had a ways to go.

2.              Do your homework before making a big advertising spend. Check whether your target audience read or get the advertising format you are using. Now today it would be easier with social media, but not back them.

3.              Women don’t always want to play on Saturdays. Women business owners tend to be protective of their weekends. They want to spend them with their families, and Saturdays are usually the day for chores, not coming out to play.

4.              Don’t run before you can walk.   We leapt from evening dinners once a month to this all day, Saturday event.  No one really knew us. We had no history of putting on this type of event. No track record.

5.              It’s a lot of work.  The actual event itself was labour intensive.  We were exhausted at the end of the day, and when we barely covered our costs, we learned the hard way, that it wasn’t worth all the effort.

6.              The first time is always the hardest.  That’s how you learn and certainly with other events we have put on, the second year was way better.  But we were burned, and didn’t go there again.

The key with mistakes is to learn from them and move on.