01 September 2011

Eight Strange Ways of Doing Business

I saw this list on the Etsy forums one day. I forgot what it was called, so I can't link back to it, sorry. It was a list of how this person approached business that I found interesting.

1. If I don't know what to do, I do nothing.

I stole this philosophy from Taoism. Taoists have a practice called "wu wei", which means "do nothing". This practice of "non-action" essentially means that by doing nothing, you achieve everything. You're better aligned with the nature of things. It's similar to "going with the flow". By practicing wu wei, you'll live with a sense of alertness in inaction that leads you to always know what to do when facing any situation. 

I practice this not just in business, but in life. If I'm confused or unsure about what action to take, I do nothing.

2. I trust my instincts. 

Nobody in the forums has the answers about how you should run your business. Nor does your family, your psychiatrist, your dog, or any experts you find online. Only you have the answers.

By all means, though, use family and friends along with the forums and the experts for ideas and suggestions. But use them to give you ideas, not answers. Brainstorming, but never solutions. Never hang your hat on anything anyone else says if it doesn't feel exactly, perfectly, and flawlessly right to you. 

And if you don't know how to tap into your own gut and trust your instincts, see point number one and study the Tao Te Ching.

3. I do the math.

When I opened my jewelry store in April of 2008 (yes, this exact website used to sell jewelry -- see my first sales), I priced things based on what I thought people would be willing to pay. Within about four days, however (without any prompting from anyone but myself), I realized that I needed to create a worksheet to account for all of my materials costs, overhead, and other expenses. I started operating under a formula very early in the game.

And now, whenever I think about running an ad or doing a promotion or buying a piece of equipment, I still always do the math. If the $150 ad isn't going to bring me $300 in business over x period, I don't run it. If the new equipment won't allow me to reduce annual costs by the price of it (or allow me to produce at least twice as much in half the time), I don't buy it.

Trust your instincts, but do the math first.

4. I test everything.

If you're not sure whether or not something will work, test it. Make two listings - one with and one without a single variation -- and see which one gets the most views or sales. Then test another single variation, and another. And promote, talk about, and post about each item exactly the same.

You can ask the forums for their thoughts – and I almost always do and get some great ideas. But since nobody really knows anything (see below), your best bet is to test your ideas, measure the results, and roll with whatever works.

5. I believe nobody knows anything.

I'm a big fan of William Goldman. He's the writer behind "The Princess Bride", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and the original "Stepford Wives" screenplays along with a zillion other books and screenplays that few people under the age of 45 have ever heard of. In his neo-classic book, "Adventures in the Screen Trade", he ultimately concludes that nobody knows anything about Hollywood. The same goes for just about everything.

So when you don't have the answers, ask the forums, ask your mom, consult with your husband. Hell, you can even hire a consultant to tell you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and who to do it with. But don't expect anyone to give you the magical answers for yours. Nobody knows, for sure, how to turn your $800 business into an $8,000 or even an $8,000,000 business. 

I don't care how much experience someone has. I don't care how many sales someone has. I don't care how many venues their products are on, how many people have complimented them, how many hairs they have on their head. I don't care how many Fortune 100 corporations they've been CEO of. Nobody knows anything about how to make your business (or theirs, frankly) succeed.

You can make a lot of intelligent guesses, but a lot of your seemingly stupid decisions can result in a sales explosion. There are no tricks, no secrets, and no magic formulas. Because nobody really knows anything.

6. I avoid paranoia.

"I think this buyer wants to copy me." 

"This person is from Mozambique. Do you think they're trying to steal from me?"

"My customer said the package never arrived, but what if they're lying?"

Paranoia. The belief that people are out to get you. I'd bet that 99.99% of the paranoia we read about on these forums is wholly unfounded. And I believe this because we're all just tiny little people in a great big world and why would anyone pick one of us out of the pack, decide we're somehow vulnerable, and launch his attack?

I blame the media for this. Over the last 30 years, we've heard and read so much about child abductions and hoaxes against old folks that some of us probably believe the bad guys are everywhere.

I firmly believe nobody is out to get me. First of all, my stuff's just not that exceptional or worthy of theft. Secondly, believing that will interfere with my ability to give the heightened level of customer service I demand from my business. So I assume the best, and if I take a random loss once in a while, them's the breaks.

7. I don't invent sales barriers.

"Should I put a minimum on credit card orders?"

"Should I include trash bags in my shop along with the unusual sized garbage cans I sell?"

"Should I offer returns?"

No. Yes. Yes. It's that simple. Anything you do that makes it more difficult for any customer to make a purchase from you and feed your children is guaranteed to limit your income. 

If you don't mind the risks involved by making it more difficult for customers to spend money on your products, by all means create more rules. Invent limitations. But if you want to create a customer oriented organization that puts moving product ahead of emotional worries, needs and desires, remove any barrier to doing business with you. Get rid of anything that would make any person who likes your products think twice about paying you for them.

8. I do not have an Etsy business.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful that Etsy was here when I was ready to open a store. The low cost of entry, striking design, and flexibility made it a very appealing project. But at this point, I do not have an Etsy store. An Etsy store is a part of my business.

I feel the frame of reference is an important distinction. By deciding that my business isn't Etsy, I almost never get upset about what Etsy does to our stores. Etsy's been an enormous help in growing the business, but as a classic commitment-phobe, I never want to put all my eggs in a single basket.

Etsy is a tool, as is QuickBooks, my glorious computer, my desk, and my library. Getting mad at these things for not going into that round hole is an exercise in futility.

Isn't it interesting? I love seeing ideas and thoughts on how to do business, since I don't really know what I'm doing, business-wise. I hope this helps you, too.

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