It’s often very easy to look at another business critically or, put another way, look at another business and be critical. It’s harder to apply that same critical eye to your own business and we’re usually taken by surprise or caught off guard when we are made aware of our own shortcomings.
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. - Matthew 7: 3-5
In the short time since I wrote this entry, I’ve found myself having to temper my own criticism of other businesses for being guilty of the same things that we’ve done.
We have a new business that has started up near us and they inquired about having some graphic design work done. Like most new businesses, cash is tight and so they must prioritize their purchases. As a small business owner, I completely understand that. The part that I didn't understand, was how they were prioritizing. Things that seemed like they should be of the highest priority were not being attended to while other things that I would have considered lower priorities were being addressed.
For example, the face of the business, the front window, was dreadful. They had used just about every black, orange and white sign that the hardware store offered to indicate the status of their business (open / closed, hours, etc.). Additionally, they were using a dry erase board to invite people in. Finally, they had a table a chairs with a flower on it in the front window. The impression that this gave was / is terrible. From the outside looking in, this looked like a coffee shop of some sort.
So, I was shocked by what I found inside when I went in for their ribbon cutting and open house. I found a professional atmosphere that was 180º different from what was being displayed by their front window. The old adage about not judging a book by its cover was bouncing around in my head trying to find a place to call home.
Unfortunately, while the concept of not judging a book by its cover is nice, we do it in an instant, often without even realizing it. If I had never gone into the business, I would have never known or recommended them to others. As it stands, they now have a shot of winning business, or at least a recommendation from me.
Here's where it gets interesting. As I was complaining about this business and the lack of attention that they were paying to their "public face," it became all too clear to me that I was guilty of a more egregious transgression with my own business.
We call ourselves a "New Media" company that specializes in web design but for the last 2 years we haven't even had a "public face" to speak of. Essentially, all we've had since June 2008 (according to the Internet Wayback Machine) has been a splash page with a bit of information about our business - address, telephone, email, LinkedIn and Twitter account info.
We were much worse off than the new business I was railing against. At least they had an excuse. We were without excuse.
How do we (and how can you) apply this? My goal is to apply the following principles to my own business and I think all businesses would all benefit by applying them at regular intervals:
- Be more critical about the state of our own businesses.
- Solicit feedback from customers whenever possible.
- Make it easy for customers to provide feedback (whether that is by being available through prominent contact forms on your website or by being available on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
- Don't assume that customers are happy because they haven't complained to you directly.
- Make time to evaluate your own business practices.
- Study the competition to see how they run their business differently.
In conclusion, while it was humbling to finally view my business the way others see it and to consider how much business we've lost because of our nonexistent public face, I can't help but feel energized about the new focus this has given me in relation to our own business and website.