Friday, November 30, 2007

Free Advice! Free Advice!

If you’re considering self employment let me be the first to say - go for it man. It can be the most rewarding thing you will ever do. It could also be the biggest pain in your ass you’ll ever experience, and I mean the large inmate, prison rape kind of pain in the ass. I've been doing this for some time, and believe me; I've made my share of mistakes. I've also stumbled across a good decision here and there. So, since I'm in a generous sort of mood, I've decided to compile some choice nuggets for those of you who have either recently started a business or are considering taking the proverbial leap of faith. Consider this free advice, wisdom from lessons learned if you will.

First, if you're a small business owner, you already know (or should already know) that one of your greatest challenges is the challenge of providing value to your customer at all times. Now, that value can either be real or perceived. You can over analyze that statement all you want, but the fact is that in the end, you want people to feel like they are getting their moneys worth, or at least that they leave feeling as if they were treated better than they would have been treated had they gone to see your competitor. I use the word "feel" for a reason, because honestly, you could care less how their experience would have been across the street. You just want them to think it’s always a better experience at your place. That doesn't mean you get an open license to publicly blast your competition in front of potential customers. In fact, that angle more often than not backfires, and it makes you look like an asshat. Between true value and perceived value, perceived value is the most ubiquitous. Wanna know why Americans are so damn fat? Because Outback and Applebee’s and TGI Fridays and Bennegan’s and O'Charlies have all figured out that by serving you big ass portions, portions that you cant possibly eat in one sitting, they are creating a very lucrative perceived value. You, the fat ass customer, end up thinking that you're getting more for your money. More than let’s say, if you had gone to Olive Garden. Hey, here’s a thought... maybe that endless salad bowl isn't such a bad idea after all. Anyway, the point is that the perception of value is often more powerful than value itself. Why? Because it doesn't cost Chili's squat to heap on an extra pound of mashed potatoes, even if it ends up in the trash. They will gain so much more when you leave feeling fat and happy. You'll gain a few things too, by the way.

Second, as a rule, don’t ever misrepresent yourself, your experience, your service, or anything about your business. In short, cut the bullshit. People hate bullshit. I mean, you would think that one is common sense, but then again maybe collective wisdom isn't really as common as it should be. So it’s not surprising that we're a victim of shit slinging more often than we should be. If you're the a owner of a small business hocking goods or services to the general public, and it's just you, I mean...just you as in no other employees or help, do us all a favor and refrain from using misleading statements such as "we" offer the best blah, blah, blah or "our team of qualified professionals". If you're a sole proprietor-- and the only one on the job, just say so. There’s no shame in being an owner operator. People often make that mistake because they think it's always better to portray some sort of image that their company is larger or more established than it really is. Don't do it! It's disingenuous and retarded. Imagine meeting your soul mate online. (I know it's a goofy analogy, but humor me here...) Imagine meeting someone, I mean really meeting "the one". You guys hit it off right away and start chatting it up every day for months. You tell each other everything. You have really fallen for each other. Then one day she tells you that she's really into you and wants to meet in person. Problem is, those were Jude Law's abs in that shirtless photo you sent her of yourself back on day two. Nice job asshat. Now what?? It's the same thing with your business. What happens when your "extensive resources" can't deliver because YOU'RE SICK??? What happens when your "eager staff" has to pick up YOU'RE KIDS??

Lastly, don't give your shit away. TIME IS MONEY, if you've spent time on it, charge for it! I have a friend who's a high-end trim carpenter. I'm talking about a real old school craftsman. The kind of stuff where the crown and baseboards fit so tight that no caulk is needed. He also builds custom wood shutters, those Spanish Cedar Bermuda beauties you often find on historically correct eighteenth century houses on Tradd Street. He told me once that some competitors confronted him at a jobsite on the peninsula and angrily asked him how he got away with charging so much. He told them that value is not the same as price. Value is what someone is willing to pay for something, if that something happens to be perceived to be of a higher value, it will command a higher price. Over the years he had created the perception of being the very best. Are their others just as good? Sure there are... but this is the guy that built those custom mahogany bookshelves over on their buddies Edisto Island Estate. He has created a perception of value every bit as lucrative as that pound of mashed potatoes they heap on your big ass extra value meal.