10 Things I Learned In My First Year Owning A Business
January 13th of 2017 marked the one year anniversary of my family buying a local business. It was something I never could have imagined happening in my life, and I am more than thankful that it did happen. It was a huge lifestyle change for me going from dancing 8 hours a day, to being an employee at a 9 - 5 job, to being the manager of the shop in one year. I have learned a million things this past year, but I have listed the 10 most important things I learned over this past year!
1.) All Customers Are Important
It doesn't matter if it's a parent swinging in to grab a pair of tights or a Professional Ballet Company submitting a 3-Page order; Every single person who walks in that door is the reason we are still open.
2.) Keep Up With Local Events
Knowing what is going on in the community is key! If there is a competition in town that you didn't know about, an entire group may come in and wipe you out of all of your tights! I know because this happened, and we had no tights! When you know the events, you can prepare the inventory for what you know is coming. It also shows that you care about the community and what is happening, and be informative to customers about the events.
3.) Everyone Is Replaceable
This one is a pretty big one for me. Comparing to the day we bought the shop to our one year anniversary, only one person has stayed on from the original group of employees I started out working with. We had a couple employees that were convinced that the shop would not go on without them and we would fail if they left. Obvisously we are still going, and doing better than we thought. Everyone is replaceable. Even me!
4.) Communication Is REALLY Important
This is SO important! Not communicating with employees, customers, vendors and other clients can cause MAJOR problems. You could lose your biggest client due to a lack of communication. This one was a hard one for me to learn because I am an introvert and never had been comfortable calling, or even sending an email to someone. I have forced myself to get over that an be in nearly constant contact with some of my biggest clients to be sure that they are well taken care of. And not only just those clients, but customers as well! Not once have I been told that I have called or emailed too many times. The customers need to be updated on what is going on just as much as the big clients do.
5.) Listen To What Your Customers Want
I have found this to be a very big part of this year. On one of our biggest trips, we conducted a survey for our customers to fill out, asking what they would like us to carry. In return, whoever's name was drawn would win a $25 Gift Certificate to use at the event or bring it into our shop to use instead. The results of the survey were crazy! A good 25% of dancers said that we had everything they could have wanted. Others wanted a bigger variety of fancy dancewear like Eleve and Yumiko. There were a small handful who didn't write anything at all. This gave us a much better idea of what they wanted to see from us, and we took almost immediate action. I emailed a few of the companies letting them know who we are and the business we have. One of them responded, and by the New Year we announced that we would be carrying that brand. The Customers were thrilled! It is almost certain that you will fail if you don't listen to your buyers and what they would like to see from you.
6.) Under Estimate and Over Perform
It is so much better to under estimate and over perform than to over estimate and under perform. Example: A customer special orders a dance shoe from a company that only takes 3 days to ship to us. By telling them a week to week and a half for it to get here will give you some wiggle room in case of weather delays or a surprise back order. So when the shoe comes in earlier than they were told, it's very exciting for the customer! Keeping the customers happy is key.
7.) Make All Customers Feel Special
Whether it's a little girl getting her first ballet slippers to a young teen getting her first pair of pointe shoes, they all need to feel important and special. It was how I felt going to the dance store as a teenager. I had my special person who knew my name and what I liked and it made me feel so important! I personally want everyone who walks through my shop to feel that way. Whether it be for ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, ballroom; everyone should feel important coming to my dance shop.
8.) Take Care of Your Employees
This may (or may not) seem like a given, but it's really important to have employees that actually enjoy working for you. Sometimes life or health problems come up, and as a manager, you need to decide how to cover for their shift and make due. This has happened recently where a family member has died and I told them to take the rest of the week off if they need to, and I'd take care of the rest. If they are feeling sick, I'd tell them to take it easy or (if its really bad) then I send them home so they can get well. Occasionally, if we all have had a rough week, I'll go get cookies and white cheddar popcorn (that stuff is crack to us!) and treat everyone on the Saturday shift. We've had a couple days this winter where it has snowed so bad it was dangerous to even drive. We called all of our employees and told them to stay home and enjoy a day off. The shop was still open, but only my family went down to work. I consider all of my employees my little family. We all get along great and they are happy working for my family and I!
9.) Lists Will Save Your Life
There have been countless times when I have been so overwhelmed with things to do that I have given myself an anxiety attack and fluids coming out of both ends. It was not fun. My mom is and always has been a huge believer in making lists. To Do lists, Priority lists, and sort of list you can think of, she would make. This has been a HUGE help to me when trying to prioritize what needs to be done in a timely manner. And, it gets all of my thoughts out of my head and onto paper.
10.) You Can't Do Everything By Yourself
This by far has been extremely hard for me to learn. Within the first year, I had some difficulty trusting old employees to get things done timely and correctly. I was smart not to trust them as they made several mistakes and ended up leaving, or getting fired for their mistakes and behaviors. Now that we've got new people who are eager to learn and help, I am at so much ease. I feel completely confident delegating tasks to any one of my employees, and if they are unsure about even the tiniest detail, they will ask for assistance. It has taken so much weight off my shoulders now that I have a group of employees that I can fully trust.
There are a million other things I have learned about managing, owning and running a business that I could write a novel about it! This adventure has brought me so much joy (and stress! lol) and I would not change it for anything else! Let me know if you have any tips or tricks as a business owner! I'm still very new to this and would love to hear your thoughts!
This is it for now!