As the creative and small business ownership world changes we sometimes feel like we're constantly chasing the "next best thing" that will work. We get fooled into thinking that there's a magic "something" out there that's going to be the key to success. We forget that the magic key is ourselves. Growing up, both of us, were greatly impacted by the tenacity and innovativeness of our mothers.
We watched as they built business, brands, and products and as they conquered competition, stayed fresh and tackled technology. We decided to sit down with them and get back to business basics. We wanted to know what worked then and what they thought could still work in business today. We learned that the foundations of business back then are pretty identical to how we approach business today. We were reminded that it's not necessarily about hat tricks, but rather simple and quality traits that can lead to growth and success.
How did you stay above the curve in your business(es)?
(Emylee's mom) Tisa:
To stay above the curve in any of my businesses I found it was crucial to have a good relationship with my clients, which built loyalty. I always made sure I had time to spend with them and to engage in conversations. I never made a sell then rushed on to the next, instead I transitioned from making “the sale” to closing “the sale” smoothly so my clients felt they were important to me and not just “another sale”. Resulting in repeat customers.
I noticed, especially in the craft shows, that some vendors looked burnout and like they would rather be someplace else. Not a very welcoming approach if you want someone to come to your booth instead of someone else’s. Especially when competition is high in most craft shows. You must engage immediately when people perk an interest your way or you lose them fast.
My marketing strategy was presentation of my product which worked so well I had other vendor copy my presentation style. Also knowing as much as you can about your product assures the potential client you have some knowledge about it and/or how it works which eases their concern if your product is something they need in their life.
As for technology, honestly we didn’t really use any technology in reference to TV/Radio commercials, Newspaper Ads, Billboards, or Flyers. Since the internet hadn’t hit the mainstream at that time we solely relied on customer satisfaction and word of mouth referrals.
(Abagail's mom) Debbie:
In order to stay ahead of the game it is critical that your business establish a niche that no one else is addressing. Accurate information on competitors is essential for product and/or service placement. In the 1980’s information was not easily accessible in order to prepare a solid business plan. Publicly held companies provided annual reports while privately held companies’ market positions were extremely obscure. A perfect example is when my first boss flew me across the country to visit each of our private competitors to evaluate their position in the marketplace. I made arrangements to meet with the Presidents of the competitors and some would boast details while others preferred to escort me out the door. Some data was limited to evaluating the quality and quantity of their front office staff, estimating the square footage of their manufacturing facility and even counting cars in the parking lot to determine how many people actually worked there. It was a different game then but the goal remained the same – provide a product or service that a customer needs while being able to find each other in order to transact business.
There is nothing more exasperating than having a product or service that misses its market window (being too late or too early to the marketplace). If you are late to the game, your business needs quite a twist to persuade customers to work with you. If you are too early you have to wait it out if you can. In my case I had a business that was a third party developer to AutoCAD software – this would be synonymous to us being an app developer for iPhones. We were way ahead of our window as we had built software that would design office space, define materials required and even prepare an itemized invoice for every nut and bolt required. We had databases for all the competitors and that was what saved us. Our software became a tool that was valued by the manufacturers and considered a threat in the industry. All software rights were sold to the highest bidder.
The 1980’s engineering computer science classes taught us to write code by punching out cards that would later be run through a main frame computer. The biggest nightmare was the thought of dropping your cards and having them get out of order – that pretty much meant starting from scratch. After college my second job was manufacturing 256K memory chips, which was not easy. Yes that is Kilobyte, not Megabyte, Gigabyte or Terabyte. Technology evolves rapidly but actually limits what can be accomplished as creativity and innovation move at a much faster pace.
What stayed the same even all these years later?
Making relationships with your potential clients and keeping relationships with return clients has always been the glue to my business.
Knowledge about your product is a must! When you can answer questions that arise you appear more legit and that you are one of your best customers. Being fresh with new ideas and new products. Nobody likes to shop anywhere that has the same ole stuff each time you go.
Marketing is so different now than a couple of decades ago. The barriers I see with all of the new technology is with our older generation. They are old school and like store fronts they can go to so giving them a website to shop is like asking them to run a marathon. On the other hand what we can do now with a virtual store is amazing, but it opens up a ton of competition and can be overwhelming at times.
Every business needs a good solid plan which needs to be re-evaluated as the business market shifts. The business plan needs to be well WRITTEN as you may need to present it to investors in a time of rapid growth. Always have it available as a reference when you seem to be getting off course.
Networking has always been a theme in business, but as the world feels less personal, who you know makes even more of a difference. Word of mouth will remain the best sales method. Networking is critical to finding employment in today’s market. In addition, it is essential in finding your customers. I think the term “networking” has evolved from thinking you are “using” others for your own gain to you are “helping” each other. Collaboration provides the greatest hope for the Information Age.
The customer is always right.
What qualities did you find were consistent in helping you grow your various businesses?
Organization, knowledge, friendly attitude, honesty and reliability. Thankfully these qualities run in my blood and helped tremendously in running my own business and now as I work 1:1 with clients and patients. They may seem simple, but they can get you really far.
A Type A personality is very effective in business. As your company grows, these individuals will take on more responsibility by nature. Having detail oriented people in key roles is imperative too. They quickly add value to an organization as they are efficient, effective and reliable. If there are certain skill sets, technical or creative, that cannot be accomplished in-house, it is best to outsource them.
What’s an old school business tactic that you want to see stick around?
I find when I make the extra effort to reach out to a client or customer even after our initial relationship has ended they love it. Whether that be a handwritten note, a phone call to ask about their progress or a simple mention online. You have to make it personal to encourage loyalty.
Business is about people helping people. Technology has taken so much of that personal touch away. Do you really know your client as a person? Today, one is most likely to respond to inquiries with a text message, email or a quick comment on a thread.
It was and still is important to actually talk to people. My dad was a traveling salesman in his day and business was handled face-to-face because personal relationships were what sold the deal. He would take clients and their spouses to dinner to solidify relationships. He also was frequently invited to have dinner at the client’s home. In those cases he always followed up with a handwritten note thanking the hostess for her hospitality. It is important that clients know they can count on you as a person and a professional.
What advice would you give to current bosses going out on their own?
Do something you love. Something that comes from the heart. Don’t start a business just because someone else is doing well in that particular business - unless of course it’s your dream. Follow your own heart and passion. Within that you will grow and you will love what you do. Always have someone you can bounce ideas off of - the crazy and sane ideas. Be excited about what you do. It’s your passion so talk it up!
Follow your passion. If you don’t have your heart committed to what you are doing, you will not do your best and possibly even not do well enough to succeed. Being your own boss is testing yourself to the outer limits. Every good idea requires implementation which necessitates a plan. You can work yourself beyond exhaustion and not get any closer to your objective if you are lost in the chaos. Stay organized and have a plan so solid that you can follow it. Don’t give up or give in because you can do it.
We are so honored and thrilled that our mamas took some time to share their knowledge with us and you! They wanted to leave you with some last minute reminders, must-haves and tips.
- When that first check for completed work arrives it is a time for celebration not spending.
- Set aside funds as they accrue so you are prepared to submit your taxes quarterly.
- Writing off expenses is great for taxes but negatively impacts profit.
- Develop a formula for the percentage of income received and how it will be divided.
- Know that it may take a lot of time before you can put yourself on the payroll.
- Once you are on the payroll, personal saving is top priority. Remember that you no longer have a benefit package or a 401k being deducted from your paycheck. In that context it is important to pay yourself first. Set aside money every month as a safety net for the future. Plan to save for short term needs and long term investment.
- The money you save in your twenties and thirties may be the only significant amount saved for retirement. Life gets in the way over time.
- Always have a backup plan. Things seldom go completely as expected.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Being your own boss is hard work but the most fulfilling job ever.
- Entrepreneurship rocks! Enjoy the ride!