Thursday, February 11, 2016

Small Business Man (6) - Hidden Operational Details

I went out with a few friends to a Sens game a couple of weeks ago. In between puck drops, they asked me how things were going at YourSuit; one of them in particular wanted to know about business matters that I hadn't anticipated. He's been thinking about starting a small business as well so we talked a bit about "stuff you don't realize you need to do when you run a business", a.k.a. hidden operational details. Our talk reminded me of the early stages of Breaking Bad, minus the violence and illegal activity (haha).

Sometimes it can feel this way.

It was a pretty interesting chat, so I thought I'd share. Here were some of the hidden operational details we talked about:

Don't make promises you can't keep. 

This goes without saying, but in application it can be very difficult. I can't tell you how many times I've had an inquiry from a potential client who needed a suit within a very short time frame. Sometimes it's tight, but with some careful planning it can be accomplished, such as the suit that was constructed for Jacques Martin this January.

Jacques Martin (from ESAFE) in a checked suit for his son's wedding.

Another shot of Jacques suit (100% wool) and shirt (100% cotton).

There have been cases where I thought the turnaround time, though tight, was doable, but I ended up declining. It sucks, because as a small business owner I'm always looking to increase business, but I have to be logical; there is no use taking on something if you can't deliver. A missed opportunity is always better than a failed opportunity. So, if you're not 100% sure you can do it, don't.

Be neat and tidy.

In their politest tone, my friends would describe me as a clean freak, but neat and tidiness has almost reached another level since I began operations. This is definitely something I hadn't thought about at first. Most client consultations (suit measurement, fabric selection, etc.) happen in my own home, so I always do a quick sweep of my space before clients arrive; sometimes it feels like I'm having an open house every day. What I cook also becomes a factor if I have a one-on-one with a client that day; ideally, I'd want the house to smell like nothing, so I try my best to stay away from cooking aroma-rich foods. (If you cook at home regularly, you'll understand how challenging this can be.)

It's not always easy being clean, but it's worth it.

Since it's winter, there's also the added effort of making sure the driveway is cleared and the steps are salted. There have been times where I've completely forgotten about the snow until the last second, so minutes before clients arrive I'm shoveling and salting like a mad man, all the while trying to make sure I don't break a sweat so I look fresh when clients arrive.

Treat start-up costs as start-up experiences.

Not all start-up costs are necessary, but that doesn't mean you should skimp on all start-up costs. Small things, like business cards, registering a domain name, etc. are necessary for businesses, so these are easy to justify. However, there will be bigger investments, and I've found that you really do need to treat them as investments (as opposed to 'costs'). My brain seems to always look at these as cash outflows, which they are, but they're also investments in the business and, if executed properly, should yield returns in the future. I often need to remind myself that these start-up costs are more like seeds; you lose them as they're buried into the ground, but in time they'll provide you valuable shade.

TRY to DIY before you outsource.

Businesses outsource all the time, mainly because they (1) Don't want to do it, (2) Don't have time to do it, or (3) Don't know how to do it. Outsourcing makes logical (and economical) sense in many cases because businesses can delegate things they're not good at and just focus on their specialties. However, if you don't have the funds to outsource, you'll have to rely on other means. In my experience, I'd highly recommend small business owners (or anyone, for that matter) use a DIY approach; it's amazing what you can learn from trying.

A true champion.

When YourSuit started, I shopped around for a graphic designer. But after seeing some of their prices and works, I opted to watch YouTube videos and learn some basic Inkscape tools instead. I spent way too much time clicking and drawing, making thousands of mistakes, but I ended up creating a logo that I was happy with, and it was a good learning experience (not to mention, free!). I can say the same thing with regards to discovering some basic web design tools, creating office templates, etc. If you try to DIY, you may realize that you have skills you never thought you had, which can save you money in different ways; you won't have to pay someone else, you'll gain valuable skills/experience and you'll have a better idea of what kind of work really goes into the specific types of services you require (which will make evaluating vendors and suppliers a lot more straight forward in future).

Get used to thinking about your business. All the time.

Remember this line from the Hangover?

I laughed so hard the first time I watched it. This is the attitude from a lot of employees out there; work responsibilities don't exist after 5PM. For business owners, there is no such luxury. Having your own thing and working for yourself is exhilarating, but it can takes its toll. I was humbled to hear my buds say that they admired what I've been doing with YourSuit, but I did tell them that it's not always fun and games. When you put your name on something, you really do take it to heart, and no matter how hard you try to relax, some part of your mind will always be on your business, especially if something's gone wrong.

Just like the name suggests, hidden operational details are, for the most part, hidden. They're usually small things that add up to something significant. Other items were discussed, but these were the ones I remembered most. I hope this was somewhat helpful/insightful. If any of you have any hidden operational details, please feel free to share.

Happy February, everyone.