You are in business not just to EARN. Take it a step further and LEARN.
One of the words and concepts that I still remember from a Philosophy class some 5-6 years ago is techne. In the lecture, it is said to be the Greek root word of what we now refer to as technique. My rough English translation of the definition is “doing that understands and understanding that does.” Or if you want you can replace the word ‘understand’ with ‘learn’.
Of course I won’t deprive you of the actual Filipino definition that was given to us: “paggawang umuunawa at pag-unawang gumagawa.” Yes the actual class was in Filipino and I really love doing Philosophy in Filipino. For me, it makes the experience of learning richer and more close to heart. Anyway…
Why am I bothering with this word again? Well the past few weeks has been a whirlwind of business demands and orders, which we initially dubbed as Christmas Madness, but now it seems to me more like Christmas Chaos. Well I’m not really complaining about the barrage of orders here and there. In fact, the business is booming! At least for the Christmas season. So if you are in a similar situation where your business is booming because of the holidays, then you will probably agree with me that we should be happy and thankful, instead of complain.
Yes, and indeed I am. Not to mention filled with learning and pretty tiring as well. But that’s business for you. Maybe one of the drawbacks of being a businessman compared to being employed is that weekends and holidays are not necessarily free days. If your business demands these days from you, then you’ll have to use such days, work and do business on such days, otherwise the business will suffer. Not unless you’re already a tycoon and employer and no longer that hands-on. If you are, then thank you for still bothering to read this entry.
It is in this light that I want to stress techne. After all the careful planning, forecasting, costing and other preparations that we have done, once we plunge into the actual operations of the business, we must bear the concept of techne in mind. The actual business operations, the dailies, the customer behavior, the patterns of supply and demand, will come to life in forms that we have never fully understood when we were just planning. And as such, while we do, we should continuously understand and learn. And while we understand and learn, we are business as usual. BAU.
Learning has always been cyclical, an unending process. And learning becomes more richer with the experiences we have in life, with all our do’s (and dont’s), and even the do’s and dont’s of others. Even for small businesses like ours, you might want to equip your business with the following broad techniques:
Business and Operations Manuals
Big complicated businesses surely have this, and it won’t be hard to create one for small businesses right? Or while it is still small that is. Document your processes and operations such that whenever you do the same step again, you don’t ask “How did we do this again the last time?” What’s the actual measurement? How long to cook? Where to cut? What color? How hot, cold, thick, short, it should be? These questions should have been answered in the planning stage, and if need to be revised, on the implementation stage. But regardless, there should be a document keeping this in mind for us. Businesses applying for franchise licenses are required and will do well to have manuals. With manuals present, accuracy, precision and ease of replication of the same quality product or service is enabled. Also, expertise is shared and is not concentrated on certain subject-matter experts. Otherwise, that will be concentration risk for you and it will disrupt your succession plan.
Observe the Market and the Customers
Don’t just accept and do orders or keep on selling. Observe and study your customers. Which item do they like best or least? Do they usually haggle for lower prices, or are they always amazed with your low prices? Are their expectations in terms of delivery time aligned with your service-levels, or are they usually impatient and keep on following-up, or do you always under promise? Small businesses tend to overlook and ignore doing some analytics on their customers and sales, but if you can help it, I suggest you do. Try to make use of the daily sales logs and recordbooks that you have, not just to track sales or keep tabs on the honesty of your store personnel. It shouldn’t just be limited to inventory tracking as well. But rather, an approach to understand the customers and the demand more. At which time of the day or month does the demand peak? Or when it is least? Are your customers mostly female or male, what age group? What socio-economic class? Is your business seasonal, if yes, what do you do with off-peak days or months? If you get to understand these things, then you can make the proper adjustments in the business. Remember, techne. What you find out may not necessarily be what you have anticipated during the planning stage. So act on it!
It’s Okay to Say No
We’ve heard this a lot in different contexts and I agree that it is okay to say no. They say the customer is always right but as a businessman you might disagree. Others say that we should make it right with our customers. This latter version sounds more sensible to me. Be realistic in taking in orders and setting up delivery time. Don’t always give in to the demands of customers and end up failing to deliver. For me, it is more important to be honest and to be realistic by saying no to some customers, instead of accommodating everyone and not being able to deliver to most promises and commitments made. Take a step back and weigh which one is more important to you: more sales now or more promises kept in the long run? Saying yes to all customers is not always the right thing. Learn to negotiate and learn to say no, if it is to the best interest of both the business and the customer. Especially during this season when business capacity is almost overloaded while business demand remains overflowing still given the customers cramming for holiday shopping. There will be instances when customers will have to be turned down (nicely and politely of course). Inevitable. And don’t just say no to them, instead say no and but. Be honest and sincere in admitting that certain customers may not be accommodated at this point, but at a certain point in time, the business will be once again open to cater to them. Or that if they can approach us a lot earlier next time, then we’ll be happy to do business with them.
These are really broad ideas for small business but I do hope you learned something. So that next time you operate the business, face a customer or work all night to deliver orders the next day, you don’t just do, you learn and understand as well.