Entrepreneurship comes with a full of surprises at all times.
If you are an aspiring business operator or an entrepreneur, you can probably relate to this statement.
Just by looking at this year alone for my business, there were a few twists and turns I did not anticipate. After all said and done, they were all good. Yet these unexpected happenings can take you off the rail rather quickly ending up losing sight of what truly matters the most in your business.
When something good and unexpected happens, you do want to keep the momentum going to get the max out of what life throws at you. Once that settles down, you might feel a little "off" about your business overall, and that's normal. I have been there. Many times.
In my previous post, I have covered the importance of simplifying your business in order to scale. While you experience highs and lows through your business, being skillful at working continuously on simplifying your business depends on how much you feel aligned with your business emotionally and strategically.
In case you are wondering, emotional alignment and strategic alignment - both need to be met. You can't just pick & choose if you want to achieve the best outcome possible for your business.
Here, I'm going to share a fun & simple exercise to achieve both at the same time.
Emotional Alignment is Often Overlooked
If you are like me, you are probably good at keeping an eye on your strategic alignment by asking yourself whether a business activity is worth investing your time & energy as well as your team’s.
How about your emotional alignment? Do you strongly believe that the way your offer is delivered to your customers directly reflects your values at all times? Is this the best you can do? Or, has your business chosen a path of its own and morphed into something you weren’t anticipating?
We often overlook these questions for 2 main reasons.
1. We get sidetracked with what’s happening with our business now and these questions do not cross our minds.
2. These questions require deeper thinking. Deeper thinking requires removing ourselves from our daily life, sitting quietly alone and reflecting on our thoughts. By far, not the most exciting task for many. As a result, we tend to avoid these questions.
This is a big problem.
Historically, there was a strong notion that business operators must be tactical and strategic in order to run thriving businesses. Many books are written about this subject matter. Business schools certainly focus on this way more than so-called “soft & ambiguous topics” such as leadership, human capital management, and resilience training & other mental management training.
If anything, what I can take away from running my own business and consulting other business owners for years is tactics and strategies are only effective when our mind is in the right place.
Misalignment between your genuine values and what you have now known as a “business” is the main cause of entrepreneurial depression, burnout, stagnation (a lack of growth), procrastination, high-turnover of employees, avoidance of serious issues – the list goes on.
Don’t scoff at this as a “fluff” or “touchy feely thing.” Doing this exercise will help you face what you might have been avoiding all this time. If done right, what you discover from doing the exercise can magic-leap your business.
The Exercise: Create Your Own Dream Physical Shop
"Wait, I'm in service business (or online shop). I have an office, but I will never have a physical shop!"
I know. You are baffled. I bet you never even thought of doing something like this. That's the whole point, actually. Let me explain by presenting the key benefits of this exercise:
1. Create a meaningful distraction in your thinking routine to effortlessly look at your business differently.
2. Subsequently, you are forced to get out of your comfort zone to answer some of the questions you will see in this post.
3. This seemingly silly exercise is a serious tool to do some reflection on your business with less mental resistance.
Because it is highly unlikely that you'll have a physical location for your business, it takes pressure off when you do the exercises. Get it?
Be open minded. After all, what do you got to lose? Remember, this is just an exercise. Have fun with it!
Objectives - What You Will Achieve
The exercise will allow you to get back to your why's by exploring what feels right to you and what you need to make that happen. Just to reiterate – your why’s are why you do what you do and why your business should exist.
What feels right to you is the part that helps you align yourself with your business emotionally by identifying gaps.
What needs to happen in order to feel the way you do about your dream location is the part where you do some strategic thinking.
Here's the bonus - This exercise works perfectly when you find yourself comparing your business to other's. Reflecting on your dream physical shop will be the reminder that you should only care about what you envision for your business and not by comparing your business to someone else’s.
The difference between creating a vision board and this exercise is that you are creating something that's not based on your needs & wants. Instead, you will be forced to figure out, "how can I best present my offer to the public in a way that reflects my value?"
Because of it, you will discover clues that you wouldn't get from vision-boarding.
Think of a place where you want to come and work every day. You would be looking forward to being there to sell what you have to offer and getting big smiles (or huge sighs of relief) in return. Putting yourself in that environment where your values are aligned with your business can solve many problems you may be facing in your business right now.
OK. Let's dive right into it!
There are 5 seamless steps to this exercise.
In this post, we will focus on the first 2 steps with the tips on how to go about the rest.
Pull out a pen & paper. At this stage, I prefer you use your hand and write your ideas as opposed to using your computer. There's something about handwriting that sticks to your brain better. Once the general ideas are written down, feel free to go crazy with Evernote or Pinterest if it suits you.
Also, you can freely write anything that comes to your mind including pictures, diagram, stick figures, mapping a process you name it. Don’t hold back. There are no rules as to what you can write or can’t.
Be sure to describe why you chose what you chose for your shop. If you don't know, it's OK. But, I'd like you to think continuously about why you think your shop looks that way while you go on about your business.
Note that you aren't creating a brand-new business with this exercise. It's still your business. Just imagine if you were to open your service to the public by having a shop, How would you prep the space?
No need to worry about logistics on how you carry out your service. No need to worry about budget. Assume you have all logistics worked out & you have unlimited amount of resources including money to make it happen.
This may be hard for those with type A personality. I know what you will say. “I can’t put my shop here without a counter because I offer XYZ preferably on a counter-setting, but I don’t want a counter in my shop…”
Stop. Over. Thinking. Once again, don’t worry about logistics. Just focus on what you want to see and how you want to feel if you had your own shop.
How to Go about Building Your Shop
You don’t have to follow in this exact order. You can skip if you are stuck at one point to move on to other areas of your shop. Here, I am listing some of the questions that you may not think of to help stretch your imagination further.
Don't glaze over this part and try getting as specific as you can.
“Location, location, location.” You’ve heard this before. How you describe the location of your shop will reveal so much underlining beliefs that you weren’t even aware you had. So, get serious.
Would your physical location be part of the mega modern shopping mall complex in a suburb? A quaint gift shop by the ocean side? On top of a mountain? A standalone location in the middle of a busy urban area?
Which floor is yours located? Don't assume you can only have one on a ground level.
What's around your shop? A major landmark? Similar size shops offering a variety of goods? A hospital or a major train station where foot traffic is heavy? Is your shop part of a daily flea market? Who said your shop needed to be at a static location? No one.
This is just a reminder to let your imagination go wild.
Once you specify where exactly your shop would be located and what's around it, ask yourself why that is the case, and why not other locations available to you. Ask what this particular location represents as a significant part of your business?
External Decor / Entrance
What's your shop front looks like? How can someone find your shop?
Are there stairs to get to the door? Is the front area all glassed in? Any displays? A sign? How large? Neon sign? Iron gate with security cameras? A solid door with a security guard standing by?
What's the color of the door? What type of door is it? Automatic doors that open & shut by themselves? A glass door that anyone can see through? A wooden door? A metal door?
What else is there that you see? Plants? A prop? A driveway leading up to the entrance? Any benches?
How does it make you feel? Inviting? Hidden? Open? Intimidating? Why?
Interior / Size / Structure
Let's go through the door. What do you see first? A counter? Is there a person greeting you? Is the entrance area small? Open? Narrow?
How much light does it have? Dim lit? Natural light coming through the roof? Florescent lights? Warm lights?
Open & spacious? Or you see many doors for individualized spaces? A narrow corridor leading up to the main area?
How large is the space? Are there many walls that make smaller rooms? It it's a complete open space? How many square footages? Multi-level with a spiral staircase? Elevators?
Do you feel any air? Cold? Warm? Breezy with open windows? AC'ed?
How does it make you feel? At home? Cozy? Clinical? Serene? Buzzing with people? Excitement?
Display / Color Scheme
What else do you see in the space? Waiting area? Display showcases? Don't get overly concerned about not being able to put anything in these display cases. If you see them, you write them down.
Any shelves on the sides? What's in those shelves? Items you care or collect? What’s on the walls? Any art? Wallpaper? Or wood panels?
Any desks or tables? How large is each? How many? What are they made out of? Any chairs to go with them?
What's the overall style if you see one? Shabby chic? Workshop? Modern? Museum-like? Boutique hotel lounge? Contemporary? Spa-like? Neighborhood bar?
Who do you see in the shop? Describe them in detail. Mainly middle-aged professional men? College students? Wall-Streeters? Young mothers? Artists? Pre-schoolers?
They don’t have to be representing who your current customers are. Maybe they are your current customers. Maybe you see someone different. Think of who you want to be in your shop that you want to serve. Don’t get hung up on customers you work with in real life.
What are they doing? Talking to either customers? Or sitting quietly by themselves like you see them in a library? Or lined-up waiting for their queue?
What are their facial expressions? Serious look? Are they elated? Anxious? Curious? Crying for help?
How are they dressed? Do they put on a uniform? If so, what does that look like? Classy? Casual?
Are they smiling? Approachable? Or, do they look serious & ready to get to work?
How are they interacting with customers? Engaging? Or letting them take their time to browse around yet standing by for support? Offering water or coffee? Are they doing some demonstration?
How many? Just one? Or, an army of staff on the floor? Or… none at all?
What do you smell in the space? Smell of paper? Flowers? Fragrance? Salty air? Freshly prepared food?
When we try visualizing a space whether that is a home or office or shop, we often forget to think about a sense of smell. But, when you go to an open house and smell chocolate chip cookies or an apple pie being baked in the kitchen (as part of staging a home to sell), you realize how important to pay attention to how a place smells.
So, we don’t want to skip on this one.
Noise / Sounds
What do you hear in the background? Just chatters? Or music? If so, what type of music? Something you curate, or just picking out a station on Spotify? Or live music by a band?
What kind of noise do you hear? Glasses clicking? Shuffling papers? Notification blips & pings from devices?
What do you want to hear in the space?
Are You Surprised with What You Came Up with?
Once you feel you got to a good point to describe your imaginary shop, we can start analyzing what all of this entails. I am hoping that there are some elements of surprises in what you want to see as your physical shop.
The key question to ask yourself is, “Is my team and I currently providing the same look & feel as well as a kind of experience to our customers right now?”
For example, say you want the feel of a Bed & Breakfast in your shop. In this case, your shop might be a standalone home in a quiet part of the town or on a country side. Maybe the front area of the house has a flowering garden leading up to the entrance door. The furniture isn’t uniformed. Instead, visitors will see a collection of eclectic and cozy pieces that scream “home” that they wish they are in right now. “Home away from home” is your motto and vision.
Are you providing that sort of experience in all areas of your business including in your marketing? Are you letting in someone who much prefers to stay at a transactional business hotel?
What we are doing here is to identify gaps a.k.a. misalignment. If you want to provide a B&B feel to your customers because that is your expertise and values you believe in but letting in business travelers to your business, then that is a gap. Do you see what we are doing here?
More quick examples.
You believe your offer is best represented by a membership only luxury spa style shop. Yet your core message you currently broadcast through your promotion is all about limited time only discounts and flash sales. That is a gap, isn’t it? I got you there, didn’t I?
Here’s another classic example for you.
You believe your shop houses customer experience pros as your staff where they are extremely attentive with subtle gestures. A glass of water comes out before a customer asks for it. Offering a place to sit before customers feel a bit tired from browsing around or making sure their rain jackets & shoes are dried off before they go back out.
Is that how your current staff interacts with your customers? No? Oops!
The reason I can easily come up with these examples is because I have witnessed through all of these by tending to my clients. If you feel you have been caught red handed, don’t be. The businesses I helped through years all had one of these if not more. In some cases, some of them refused to face their gaps.
You probably know how it ends with those who resisted accepting their gaps, don’t you?
The exercise unearths hidden gaps between what you deeply & subconsciously envision and what you are currently doing that is potentially against your vision. Now it’s time to face the music.
Strategize, Communicate & Execute
The next step is to create a master list of all the gaps you identify from this exercise so that you can take a look at each and strategize how to combat it. Before jumping on to strategize, there is one thing you must do.
YOU MUST COMMIT TO THE CHANGE YOU ARE ABOUT TO MAKE.
Before writing that copy about a flash sale, before you tell your staff “it’s a numbers game,” before you water-down your service for the sake of “efficiency” (or out of laziness), you need to make a commitment to recreate your dream shop by pushing yourself forward to emulate the same experience in your business.
Trust me when I tell you this – Those who could not resist the urge to result in their old habits (for instant gratification) which were not aligned with what they think their business should be continuously struggled and limped through their business for years. They chose to rip off the Band-Aid very slowly just to 1/5th of the way only to stop right there and then.
Don’t let that be you.
Every business decision you and your team will make is based on how your dream physical shop looks like.
Say, you ask, “Should I hire this person?”
Pull out your notes, pull up your Pinterest board, and ask the same question again, “Should I hire this person?”
Imagine how easy it is for you to make the decision. Most of the time, you already know the answer. To back this theory up, why don’t you name one bad business decision you made while you look at your dream shop description and whatever visual aid you came up with.
Clearly & instantaneously, you know why it turned out to be a bad decision. The decision was not aligned with your vision.
Once you get extremely intentional about making this change and commit to it, you can now face each gap you identified. As you get clear on your strategic plan, only then, you can start communicating your thought process with your team.
If I were you, I would be transparent as to why I am sharing what I am about to ask them to execute, how I arrived at that decision, and the benefits we will reap by making these changes.
Some will be supportive. Some will resist. Let go of the ones who resist as they were not supposed to be there to begin with. This is another misalignment that you “get to” work on, which is aligning your team with your overall business vision. Be open to suggestions coming from those who are supportive. After all, it should be a collective effort.
Finally, you and your team are ready to implement some changes you laid out. Be sure to:
1. Set a timeline,
2. List clear objectives,
3. Put KPI’s to monitor in place,
4. Place milestones that are challenging enough,
5. Be flexible with the plan for unforeseeable turnouts.
This is not a sprint, by the way. It’s more like a half marathon. I would not start with multiple objectives unless you have sufficient resources especially labor. Start with one. The beauty of starting with a simple objective is the act of doing so will open up other doors rather organically to show you the next steps that are even more aligned emotionally & strategically.