The Business Section

By Paulsmarsden (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today I have created my own business section for you. I have compiled some links to articles and business resources that may be useful if you are looking to start your own business as well as some interesting/inspirational pieces. This is particularly geared toward those who would like to start a small business in “developed” countries and in particular the US.

For general business resources including mentoring, workshops, templates & tools, and definitions for business related terms here are two resources:

http://www.score.org/ -A lot of great resources are provided like how to write a business plan, and information on the legal, financial, marketing, and management sides of a business.

http://www.investopedia.com/ -This has a great business dictionary, professional quizzes and tests, personal finance and investing advice.

Another good resource to have is a funding source like kickstarter.com. Kickstarter funds creative projects and has funded over 42,000 projects to date. Micro-loans are also available (as I have talked about a lot on this blog) and are not just for those of developing countries. Kiva.org is a great resource for that.

Here are a couple of articles that challenge some of the traditional ideas in business:

An article on creating a Business plan or business map?

Another article that challenges the need to attend business school

Finally, an inspirational yet in some ways challenging article about a business that I frequent and its business model: “For-Benefit” business

I’d like to end this post by encouraging you, if you are a budding entrepreneur, to think creatively about your business and find out how you can make a greater impact worldwide as well as in your community with it as a for-benefit business. Henry David Thoreau advised individuals to “be not simply good; be good for something,” but his advice can also apply to business. For-benefit businesses seeks to not only provide a good product and good service but also be “good for something” as well.

Some Customer Service Guidelines

Original photo titled "Feels Like Home" by Quinn Dombrowski (Quinn.anya) on Flickr. Licensed under the creative commons attribution and share alike conditions. http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/7306741752/

Original photo titled “Feels Like Home” by Quinn Dombrowski (Quinn.anya) on Flickr. Licensed under the creative commons attribution and share alike conditions: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/7306741752/

Have you ever gone into a store just to look around only to notice that the attendant working that day was also looking, but this time just at you. Unnerving, right? It almost feels as if that person suspects you are going to steal something at any moment and thus must be on guard while you are in the store. This may not be their intended message, but it quickly becomes the communicated message to the customer who is thinking the whole time: “I’m not going to steal anything; I’m not going to steal anythingI’M NOT GOING TO STEAL ANYTHING!” and eventually gets so uncomfortable that they flee the store. THIS is bad customer service at its finest.

Customer service is a crucial part of any business, but it can also be an art if done well. Art as customer service is not , but there are some dos and don’ts that are. Here are some examples that I have learned through not only my own experience with customer service this past year, but also through observation of good and bad customer service by others, as well as some pointers found in books.

Don’t: Be a “Hawk-er”

From someone selling high-end diamond jewelry to a local garage sale operator, a “hawk-er” (one part traditional definition, one part gawker, and one part the phrase: “to watch like a hawk”) is that person I mentioned before. Their eyes are on you the whole time, and they tend to make people think that they suspect them of stealing. It’s important to note that this offense can be intentional and unintentional.

Sometimes the worker may not be concerned about the customer stealing or not, but is watching them for a number of other reasons. One may be boredom, another may be due to a company policy, and another yet may be a genuine interest in the person and wanting to address their needs. Unfortunately, on the receiving end the message is the same: “I don’t trust you.”

To avoid this, make yourself useful (clean lightly, work on small projects that others can interrupt, etc.) The objective is to not freak people out, but also not abandon them either (more on that later.)

Do: Make sure you have some anti-theft methods in place

So while customer service workers want to their customers to feel trusted, it is a fact of the industry that too much trust can go awry. Therefore, there must be a balance between accusatory behavior, but making sure that theft is (as much as possible) not going to happen.

Don’t ignore people:

On the flip-side of the don’t be a hawk-er rule, is the don’t ignore people either, rule. My roommate has come home on at least two occasions being really frustrated by workers who seem to ignore her or another customer in the store. One was bad enough that she has told nearly everyone with whom she was discussing the product (frozen yogurt) about her experience there. Word of mouth is really important when it comes to retail/customer service -this cannot be stressed enough.

Do: Be generous

Seth Godin’s book Linchpin focuses on this idea a lot. Give lots of gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean give everything you in the store away -it would very quickly cease to be a business if you did that. Generosity can be shown in many different ways. Be generous with your time, your patience, and occasionally your product.

An anecdote to help elaborate: My roommate and I went to a Galleria in our area that has a lot of various things like pottery, some clothes, funny cards, etc. The store doesn’t necessarily cater to our demographic, but my roommate did buy some lotion there. The woman who rang her up was the owner and chatted with us for a bit. Near the end of the conversation she told us that she knew how tough it is to be our age –fresh out of college with little to no substantial income- and that if there is anything in her store that we really wanted but couldn’t afford we should let her know and she could help us out. We walked out of the store completely astounded. Neither one of us had ever had a customer service experience like that. She will definitely continue to have our business because of that one generous gesture.

Don’t: Have an attitude

This seems like it is pretty obvious, but it does happen pretty frequently, and can be pretty tempting. Here are a few anecdotes to help elaborate further:

My roommate and I went into a retail store the other day just on a whim. I had gone in the store a few times before, and the owner (who seems to be the only worker) had left a good impression on me the first time. When I had visited then (my roommate was there that time too), we talked to her before leaving and she told us that her customer service style was more laissez faire (my words, not hers) in that she preferred not to bug her customers. This time when we visited her store, her style seemed too extreme. She didn’t greet us at all when we entered and when we left, my roommate told her as tactfully as she could that a word on a hand-written sign was spelled wrong. The lady gave her a disgusted look, to which my roommate replied: “Well, I thought I’d let you know just incase someone else notices.” The lady then retorted with “Yeah, or if anyone cares.” We are never going back there, and have begun to spread this story amongst our friends.

The second anecdote is about a former co-worker of mine. Working with her was really difficult because of her attitude and eventually she let it spill over into her treatment of customers. Every night when she would work, the more people that came in the closer to closing time, the more her irritation grew and grew apparent to everyone around her. Eventually she pushed the envelope so far with one group of customers that they complained pretty strongly and she no longer works there.

Do: Make eye contact

My roommate swears by this. A fellow server at a restaurant she worked at told her this and she says he is one of the best servers she has seen. I tried doing this at my job for a while and when I remembered, it seemed to make a difference. (I also got a lot of people going gaga over my eyes though –another story for another time- so that may be why I didn’t do it as much by the end.)

Do: Connect with people

This is essentially what results from the previous dos and don’ts. It is the ultimate goal. Connecting with people is what customer service is all about. It takes an ordinary task and turns it into art.

I Made a Loan!

So last Christmas my brother and sister-in-law gave me a Kiva card and that enabled me to lend $25 to a young woman in Guatemala. A few weeks ago I got an email telling me that my loan had been repaid! Since then I have been looking for someone to whom I could re-lend that money. I wanted it to be someone who shared a similar story to mine. Sure enough, today I found someone who resonated with me. I made a loan to a woman age 40 who, alongside her husband, has started her own business making hand-made bags, hammocks, and backpacks. She is from Colombia and she is one of the few borrowers who is smiling in her picture. (I’m aware that smiling in a picture like this may not be a cultural norm for many of the borrowers, but it is one norm of my culture that I couldn’t shake.) I think it was that smile that spoke to me the most. It was infectious and gave me hope that my own business will succeed. I am excited and happy to be a part of her success and rise from poverty to prosperity. Even though I don’t know the woman I made a loan to, it reassures me to be connected to someone who may be struggling with the same issues. It makes me feel less alone in this venture.

Introductions

This blog is about my latest business venture: starting my own micro-enterprise “Right Brain Left Hand Creations” in order to learn what it is like to start my own small business so that I may help other women do the same. I am inspired by micro-finance –a process of lending money to the poor either as start-up cash for their business idea or  to help their business grow– and I see it as a viable solution to poverty world wide.

As far as my business is concerned, I’ve started making handmade “thank you” and “I’m sorry” cards and decided to sell them on Etsy.com. This began with my desire to have thank you cards that are very personal. I love beautiful paper and interesting lettering, so this seemed like a really natural choice for me.

I’ve never seen myself as a business person, EVER. I went through school feeling destined to go in to the non-profit world and use my talents elsewhere. When I graduated I could not find/get a job in this field primarily due to a lack of experience. That’s the funny thing with experience, though, you need it to gain employment, but employment is what gives you that experience. A question began to well up within me: how do you gain experience, if no one is willing to give you a chance? My answer: do it yourself.

Thus I decided to start my own business and see where it goes. If it fails, meh, so be it. I guess my talents lie elsewhere. If it flourishes, nice! Then I can buy groceries! (Haha.) If it gets in this weird middle state (which will probably be accurate) I’m sure I’m not the only business to do so, so it will give me empathy for those who are in the same situation and will also teach me a lot about small businesses and how to problem solve within that context. Basically, even if I fail, I feel as though I won’t lose. Life’s lessons are the best rewards and they are given liberally.

I am also going to make a loan on Kiva.org to another woman in another country and will be tracking her progress as well as providing facts about micro-finance, the global south/poverty, and gender equality.

I’m excited about this new project of mine, and look forward to creating, growing, and learning in this process.