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..

Book Review: Rework

Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson

In the words of Seth Godin, this book will make you very uncomfortable and that is a good thing.

I love this book!

It’s an out of the box view of how to start and run a modern business. With chapter titles such as Meetings are Toxic, Your Estimates Suck, Drug Dealers get it Right and Resumes are Ridiculous,  Jason and David have turned the business world on its head.

In the spirit of this book, I’m keeping this review short and simple. This book is easy to read, straight forward, honest and cutting edge. Buy it, borrow it, read it.

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.


Social Media Marketing – No One Way Streets

There are no one way streets in a successful social marketing campaign. Remember that.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of businesses trying to harness the power of social media. They register their Twitter accounts, start fan pages on Facebook and maybe even create their very own blog. That’s definitely a step in the right direction. However, that’s only the beginning.

Many businesses think this is enough and simply start blasting away with ads and bulls%@$, as they did “back in the day” through more traditional channels. A TV commercial is a one way street, as are most radio ads or billboards. Marketing via social media is not.

All one has to do is look at the phrase “social media,” social being the keyword here. It’s all about interacting with your customers. Not by simply posting events, alerts and ads (dare I say spam) on social media sites, but by seeking out and responding to customer feedback. Empower the customer, give them a sense of belonging and they will love you.

If a user comments on your Facebook fan page, respond to it. If someone new begins following you on Twitter, acknowledge and thank them. It can be that simple.

For anyone that still can’t grasp the idea of social media marketing, here it is in a nutshell: Interaction with customers, or perhaps we should now call them fans or friends, on a two way street, where communication flows back and forth.

That’s it! Now go forth and start building a fan base.

-Mike Mulhall