29 June 2011

Four Ways To Grow a Successful Business

In last week's blog post, I outlined four ways to ruin a good small business.  This week, I want to look at the positive - ways to grow a good small business.  Part of this post is inspired by an email interview my daughter, the head of Girly Arts Made by ME, completed yesterday.  (When the interview is due to air online, I'll post it here.  And on Twitter.  And Facebook.  And maybe on that electronic sign over the interstate.  OK, I don't think NCDOT will let me get by with that last one.)

1.  To grow a successful business, take care of your customers.  This is the most important lesson I can give you.  I once saw a sign in a small business that said, "If we don't take care of our customers, someone else will."  Small business or large, this is an absolute truth.  Prices and products are not going to usurp customer loyalty if a business takes them for granted or treats them with less than the most awesome, personal customer service possible.

2.  To grow a successful business, strike a balance between work and play.  When you can get ahead, do that; it could free you up for some play time later.  Make time to play.  A relaxed company owner is herself a happier, more productive worker and that, in turn, inspires the employees to be happier, more productive and more efficient.

3.  To grow a successful business, create a positive experience for everyone.  You absolutely won't make everyone happy - that's not your job, anyway - but do your best to create positive experiences for contractors, employees, customers, even the delivery folks.  Have an employee who just botched an order?  You as the boss have to work with the employee to fix it, but how can you turn that into a positive?  A customer is unhappy with their order.  Take care of the customer; making this into a positive has the best chance for keeping this customer loyal.

4.  To grow a successful business, approach it with a childlike attitude.  In my faith, there's an emphasis on coming to Jesus as a little child - total faith, complete trust, not over-thinking it.  My daughter approaches her business like this.  She says, "I approach every product I make with the same question:  What will make this product sell?  The answer is, 'Because I made it, and it’s a great product!'"  The possibility of failing in any way is not even a blip on her radar.  She moves forward with the full knowledge that she will be nothing but successful.  She embodies the thought, What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

What other steps would you consider necessary in growing a successful small business?  How might you implement these steps?

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24 June 2011

Four Ways To Ruin a Good Small Business

Sad but true, the inspiration for this week's blog post came from observing the business practices of an area business.

Being a small business owner has made me extra-sensitive to the business practices of other small businesses.  I feel that observing what they do well and what they do poorly can provide some powerful vicarious learning opportunities to me.  If a business is doing something great to meet its customers' needs, then I want to emulate that in my own business.  If a business is doing something that could cost it customers or lead it to get shut down, then I want to avoid doing those things.

1.  You ruin a good business by hiring family.  While some family involvement is often normal for young businesses, hiring family members to "help them out" can lead to a tense work environment and lead to feelings of resentment among employees.  This goes double when the family members just aren't the best employees.

2.  You ruin a good business by showing favoritism.  This is somewhat related to the first one.  Some employees are going to be better than others; that's just natural.  However, be sure to play up those things that all employees do well.  In the case of this particular business, the best that can be said of one employee is, he does a very good job of not over-exerting himself.  Unfortunately, he's a relative of the boss (see #1) and therefore will be around a while.

3.  You ruin a good business by putting employees above customer service.  If you had an employee who cost you several high-paying customers, what would you do?  Shrug those customers off because, after all, there will always be more?  In this economy, there's no guarantee of that.  There's a fine tension to this.  I've had customers ticked off at me before and complained about me to my boss, and each time, I was grateful that my boss heard the customer out and stuck up for me while satisfying the customer.  There has to be a cut-off point, though.  If one or two customers register complaints about an employee, then maybe that's on the customers.  However, if several customers complain about an employee and immediately seek another business to meet their needs, then, regardless of how much you may ADORE that employee, they've got to go.

4.  You ruin a good business by turning a blind eye to illegal or unethical practices.  Bottom line, in the eyes of the law, the boss is responsible for ensuring that the employees conduct business and represent the business in ways that are lawful and ethical.  In this case, the boss is much like the parent of a minor; while the employee may get in trouble by being terminated or even, in some cases, incarcerated, the boss could lose the business altogether.  Allowing one employee to engage in illegal or unethical business practices can be doubly detrimental to the business:  (1)  As previously stated, it can cause the business to be shut down, and (2) it ensures a bad reputation for that business.

What are some business practices that you've seen or experienced that can ruin a good business?  How could the business have turned that into a positive?

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16 June 2011

I've got the Blues... Blueberries, that is

Saturday's the day - my biggest show of the year.  This Saturday is the North Carolina Blueberry Festival.  Peter and I are busy putting the finishing touches on production, and tomorrow will be the mega-wrapping day.  Much of our wares are already wrapped and labeled, but there's a little bit left to go.  What's new and great this year?  We'll be selling a limited edition Blueberry Festival soap featuring the Blueberry Fest logo and a yummy blueberry fragrance.

BlueberryImage by Sara's Soaps via FlickrWe'll have a variety of the much-loved flip-flop soaps, including a newish one that looks like last year's Blueberry Flip Flop soap but with a great scent I'm calling Beach Bound.  There will be many Blueberry and Blueberries & Cream homemade soaps there.  These are wonderful soaps and are a delight for skin.

We'll also have some new lip balm flavors from which to choose.  And, last but not least, we'll have a number of my daughter's Sun On The Go sets.

The biggest deals will be FREE Blueberry Lip Balm with a $10.00 purchase, and the Bargain Box, a full box of great soaps that are less-than-gorgeous and on sale for $2.00 each.  Get 'em while you can; after this show, leftover soaps will be donated to Clean The World.  We'll be there from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., booth #72, near the intersection of Wilmington Street and S. Walker Road.
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08 June 2011

What's your beeswax?

For those customers who don't mind if their body care products are vegan-friendly or not, I like what beeswax does for certain formulations, such as lip balms and lotion bars.  It gives it a silky glide that's incomparable.  There are many places online to purchase beeswax, but since the North Carolina state insect is the honey bee, then I personally prefer buying my beeswax from local beekeepers.  My favorite source for this is my friend Rick Coor, a beekeeper out of Goldsboro and a member of the Eastern North Carolina Beekeepers' Association.

When I get my beeswax from Rick, it's golden yellow and in a hefty 2-pound block of refined goodness, bearing that lovely warm scent that only beeswax can have.  However, it's not completely refined, so I have to give it a little extra refinement.  I thought I'd share that with you.  This is what it takes before I can even begin to put this luscious wax in my lip balms, lotion bars and bug repellents.

One pound block of beeswax as Rick gave it to me.

I wrap the block in a double layer of cheesecloth

Into the boiling water it goes.
The beeswax will melt in the hot water, but all the debris on the wax will stay in the cheesecloth.

Beeswax beginning to mix with the water

Checking to see how much of the wax has melted.  There's still a good chunk left.

All the wax is melted now, and all the residual debris (flecks of dirt, bits of wings, etc.) clings to the wax on the cheesecloth.  It'll go into the trash.
Melted wax and water.
Now this will sit for several hours while the whole mixture cools down.  The wax will harden and float to the top.

Wax hardening and cracking - a good sign.
Back to that beautiful golden yellow of the block initially.
After the beeswax and water mixture cools completely, the beeswax is now completely hard but will need to dry out for several hours before I can use it in anhydrous formulations.

The solid block of pure beeswax, nice, clean and ready to use.
When the beeswax gets dried out, it gets brittle, making it very easy to chip apart.  From here I'll chip it into smaller bits for body products.

If you're a soapmaker or chandler, what's your favorite ingredient to use?

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01 June 2011

Our Visit to Clean The World

Last week at this time, my husband, older daughter and I were in Orlando, hanging out with a Mouse, many Princesses and a whole bunch of other characters.  We had a wonderful time, and while we were in Orlando, we had to get in a visit to Clean The World, a nonprofit organization that provides soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner to people in places all over the world where diarrheal, skin and autoimmune diseases are a very real, daily problem.  Soaps, shampoo and conditioner provide needed hygiene measures that help prevent the spread of diseases.  The lotions help soothe the skin, offering relief to open sores among people suffering with HIV/AIDS-related conditions.
This graces one wall of the Clean the World warehouse.
I first became acquainted with Clean The World through the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild after the earthquake that ravaged Haiti in January 2010.  Since then, I've been connected with them through Twitter and Facebook, and Jeremy Chambers, their social media specialist, and I have gotten to know each other through tweets and phone conversations, and he's helped me discover new ways to help support this great organization.  When I knew we were going to be in Orlando, Jeremy arranged for us to meet and to tour their offices and warehouse.
This table of soaps greets visitors.  There's a painted turtle soap on the right-hand side that's adorable!
Jeremy took my husband, daughter and me on a tour, and we were able to meet some of the people behind the scenes at Clean The World.  I'm sorry I don't remember all their names; I'm horrible with names, though I remember all their faces.  One of those we met was Paul Till, co-founder of Clean the World.  (Check out his smile.  You just get the sense that he always exudes this calm joy.)

Left to right - My husband Peter, older daughter Mary, Paul Till, me
After the grand tour of the offices (physically, nothing elaborate or extravagant - "cube hell," mostly), Jeremy took us into the warehouse, which was a marvel of organization and contains a mind-numbing amount of soap.  See for yourself!  Check out the end for opportunities to support this amazing organization, even with something as simple as a text message.

Watch this space, because there's going to be some more opportunities for you to help support this awesome organization, and check out their website at www.CleanTheWorld.org to see everything they're doing.
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