Lemonade Stand Simplicity

I saw a lemonade stand today, something I haven’t seen in a long time. Warm childhood memories came rushing back as I watched the two kids playfully wait for their next sale. Naturally I had to buy a glass, and it was delicious.

It dawned on me that these two kids were probably netting a larger profit than most of the local businesses in the area, and that made me laugh! Because of their youth, inexperience, lack of formal education and outside influences, these kids were doing something simple and pure. They were focusing on one thing and doing it well.

They were selling lemonade. One flavor, one size and one price. There were no up sells or discounts, no additional employees and no complicated point of sale systems. “This is a cash only establishment,” the young girl firmly told me.

As we grow older and “wiser,” we tend to complicate things, in life and business. More is better we’re taught. More features, more products and more options. It’s taken me twelve years to realize this uncomplicated fact: Simplicity is key. A three word phrase that holds more power than any business book or publication.

37signals.com, Google, Facebook, In-n-out, Ipods, Flip cameras, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Youtube, Twitter, Tumblr, Plentyoffish.com and Subway. What do these businesses have in common? They are simple and focused.

When developing your new business concept, never be afraid to embrace that lemonade stand simplicity. Focus on the key objective of your business. If you’re developing a website, watch out for feature creep. If you’re opening a restaurant, keep the menu simple and stress quality over quantity of items.

As a thought experiment, I imagined what would have happened if I took over that lemonade stand for a week and let my little entrepreneurial devil go unchecked. First I’d buy a cash register, there’s no way I can trust these little kids to handle the money properly. I’d implement credit cards using my trusty Iphone credit card swiper, which means I’d also have to open a bank and merchant account. One flavor is boring, we need at least three. And while we’re at it, we should offer small and large sizes. While word of mouth advertising is good, I think we should make some discount coupons and hand them out around the neighborhood. Did you apply for your resale number yet? We’re going to need that if we plan on expanding throughout the rest of the neighborhood. Did you do a cost analysis on the lemonade yet? What do you mean you’re only 9, that’s business 101 kid! Better add a little more water to that mix so we maximize profit. This isn’t fun anymore? Stop complaining. Who said business is supposed to be fun!? Give me a few years and I’ll turn you into Gordon Gekko.

See what I mean. It’s easy to complicate things. But don’t! Simplicity is key. Repeat that out loud until you’re blue in the face, and then repeat it some more!

And now it’s time for me to go back and get another lemonade..

To Lead is To Be Confident

I’ve often heard the term “born leader” or “natural leader” and those terms make most think of leadership as a god given talent. I, on the other hand, think it is a mind set. To be a good leader, or perceived as a good leader, confidence is crucial.

To be a good leader, one does not have to be out spoken or aggressive. I’ve met many people I consider leaders that are soft spoken and passive, but their actions and words reflect confidence in themselves.

Confidence in the way you speak and even walk, as well as your mannerisms is important in controlling how others perceive you. Leaders tend to keep their heads held up, their shoulders rolled back and they maintain eye contact. When you shake a person’s hand, shake it firmly. When you walk into a room, walk in thinking like you own it.

Silence can also be an important characteristic. Great leaders listen. Sometimes they pose questions or offer suggestions and allow others to fill in the blanks, gently nudging them in the right direction. People are smarter than you think. Often they don’t need to be directed, just given a soft kick in the rear end.

To me, a great leader isn’t someone who tells people what to do. A great leader is someone who can empower others to figure out problems for themselves, to improvise and adapt on their own. The rewards for everyone are much greater that way.

Fight, Flee or Just Plain Panic!

Rome was not built in a day. Yea I know…so cliché, but so true. No matter what kind of business you plan on starting, the beginning is not going to go smooth. It never does and it never will.

Whether it is a restaurant or a dotcom, things just pop up and cause headaches. The only thing one needs to remember when this occurs is to stay calm and find solutions.

We unveiled our new menu tonight at my restaurant and it was chaos! It reminded me of our grand opening two years ago. Food was flying in all directions in the kitchen, customer wait times were exceeding 40 mins (yikes!), employees were getting into fights with each other and numerous other problems occurred. But as a seasoned entrepreneur, all I did was observe and learn.

Don’t try to fix all the problems at once. You’ll have a heart attack or your head will explode (seriously). Begin fixing problems or as I like to call them “inefficiencies” one at a time.

A clipboard and a calm demeanor can do wonders when observing your business (that not so well oiled machine) in action. I’ve noticed time and time again that many business owners get caught up in quickly “band-aiding” the problem instead of trying to understand why the problem occurred in the first place. That’s a total rookie move, and it took me 10 years to figure that out.

So when the sh%# hits the fan, just step aside, plug your nose and endure. If you keep a cool head and fix the cause of  the problems, everything will be just fine.


Pop Ups

Funny Artwork

Well if I had seen this before I opened a bakery / cafe, I may have thought twice! I came across this while surfing google images looking for funny bakery artwork.

I had a meeting with a friend of mine today who is a business consultant doing some work for me. He brought up a term that I had to laugh at called “Pop Ups.” And while we weren’t discussing the internet, these pop ups are just as annoying.

He was referring to the sometimes relentless pace at which problems can arise while operating a business. Now I’m not talking about big problems. I’m talking about the little tedious tasks that can sometimes swallow up your time like a fat mid-westerner at a hot dog eating contest.

A quick summary of my day today: We’re out of receipt paper, we need it quick…a customer just called in and wants a different cake, they’ll be here in 3o minutes…repair guys are here to fix the walk-in freezer, wouldn’t it be funny if the health inspector came today…the health inspector just got here…we ran out of lettuce, can you get some…oh, we’re out of sugar too, can you go back…the phone lines are down…there goes the internet…what!? Our credit card machine is hooked up to the internet…one of your vendors is here to yell at you…make that two vendors…can you go to Home Depot real quick…oh, you already went, can you go back? I forgot about payroll, oh well…gotta do the books, pay the bills, count the drawers, open the mail, get change and somewhere in there consume about 4oo calories for the day.

Yes, this was my day today, and this was only half of it. The point of the story is this, get an assistant! Ha ha…I’m just kidding. The truth is, all business owners will have to deal with this in one way or another. The restaurant business just happens to be one of the best at creating these problems. But there’s always problems in every business, whether it be brick and mortar or virtual. This is where delegation comes into play. If one were to focus entirely on these tedious little tasks, you would never get anything done.

Sometimes I feel so discouraged from having to deal with these problems over and over, but that’s where the strength of being an entrepreneur and a self starter comes into play. Learn from everything! And never stop fighting…running your own business is not an easy task, and it’s much harder to give effective orders than to take them.