Preparing Your Business For The Future

Inspiration for the following article is brought to you by those business owners who have a false sense of security about the future of their business.  The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Maggie is a business owner who has a flower shop, here in the valley of the sun.  She’s been doing it for about 4 years, and is definitely a competent professional in her field.  She gets up at the crack of dawn and opens her place up Monday through Saturday, and puts in the time needed to keep her head above water.

I met Maggie in late August of 2015 while buying some flowers for a family member.  During my visit to her shop we talked about many things, including business.  “How are things going?” I asked.  “Awesome!” she said.  Maggie’s shop was a virtual beehive of activity.  Conversation was occasionally delayed by customers coming in to make purchases, but neither of us seemed to care.  I waited patiently, got a few words in, here and there.  I left my card, shook her hand, and went on my way shortly after capping off our conversation.

Later that evening I decided to have a look at Maggie’s website and local web presence, just to satisfy my curiosity.  Visibly the shop was busy, so I thought I’d have a look to see what she was doing right.  I was expecting to see a custom website that looked like a great marketing piece.  Instead, what I saw a let-down.  First, a “Build It Yourself” (Weebly, I think) website that looked a little spooky, in my opinion.  It looked much like an enlarged business card with a couple of photos and text slapped together.  Strike One.

I squinted to find something I liked about it, but couldn’t.  After visiting her site, I did a local search for the products and service Maggie’s shop provided.  Nothing!  Not only were there no business listings for her shop in the over 20 legitimate FREE business directories, but there was no mention of the shop anywhere online that I could find, aside from the website.  Maggie’s shop did not rank at all on Google, and there were no reviews or social media channels for her shop to be found.  Strike Two and Strike Three!

So how could a shop that had no web presence be so busy, and appear viable?  For one, Maggie had a good location.  The sign outside of her shop, though dated and a bit weathered, was visible from every point of the busy intersection I passed by about once a month.  Maggie has also been in business here in the valley for over ten years, so obviously many already knew her shop’s location.

A few weeks later, as I stopped for a red light across from the flower shop, I decided to drop in and say “hi” to Maggie, and to tell her how impressed I was at how busy her shop was, with almost no local web presence.  She poured me a cup of coffee and proceeded to open up about how she worked 60+ hour weeks, how she gave away free flowers to those who could not afford them, and how appreciative those people were.  She went on and into detail about her struggles to keep the business alive and even mentioned how purchasing her sign almost broke her financially.

“You’re obviously doing a lot right” I said, as she continued.  Then she broke down a bit and told me how difficult things had been until recently.  She said that keeping the lights on, and suppliers happy was pretty stressful up until a couple months before I stopped by for flowers.  “Then, all of a sudden, I got busy! I don’t know why, but suddenly I had more orders than I could fill in one day”.  This was a great problem to have, right?  Rags to Riches….well, not really.

I’d seen this scenario many times in my travels.  Though I was thrilled with the fact that Maggie was doing well, I had a nagging feeling of what was to come.  I do a lot of detailed assessments in the trenches, and I get into the nooks and crannies of small business.  I leave no stones unturned, so in my mind I knew that what I had found regarding Maggie’s place would make it tough to rain on her parade, but I had to open things up.

I started with the positive, as I always do and I’ll admit that getting to the negatives, is something that can be pretty uncomfortable for me.  After all, who likes to break someone’s heart and say things that can sting a little?  Certainly not me.  Maggie was also a very nice woman, which made things even more difficult.   So after a bit of beating around the bush I brought up Maggie’s website.  She sat quietly while I told her why free websites were a bad idea, and how they can hurt a business.  She didn’t move a muscle when I told her how her business listings were non-existent, and actually started looking around the shop inattentively as I mentioned there were no reviews on her shop anywhere online.  It was as if I was talking to a reflection, and not a person at that point.  Then she stopped me and said:  “Tim, you’re a good man, and I know you mean well.  I can tell.  But I’m doing fine.  I have a website, though I know it’s pretty weak, and things have never been better here.  I have more business than I have time for at this point”.  I paused.

Maggie, like many business owners was experiencing a momentary, temporary peak in business that usually goes unexplained, even by experts.  No one seems to be able to pinpoint why a business can be just scraping by one moment, then doing well the next, without any intervention, other than maybe a little elbow grease.  So, instead of candy coating things, as many do in this situation, I gave it to her straight.  I told her that things aren’t always what they seem, and how again and again I thought it was amazing how well things had picked up for her.  I also told her that I was sorry to say that I knew, based on experience that it wasn’t permanent.  Well, you could have heard a pin drop when Maggie said she had to close the shop.  It was 6pm by then and I had to get moving myself.  The last things I said to her was:  “Maggie, I really hope I’m wrong.  I think you’re doing an awesome job and I hope you never need my services”.  I meant it.  “I’ve seen this before, and I really think that now is the time to prepare, organize and create a great web presence and image to ensure this trend continues”.  She thanked me politely, and I left.  I drove home feeling pretty terrible, like I had failed her.  And I honestly hoped things continued to go well for her, regardless of what I knew to be true.

Less than 6 weeks later I got the call.  I almost didn’t want to take it at that moment because I knew what was coming.  It was Maggie, and she didn’t sound good.  “What’s wrong I asked”.  “You were right Tim, you were right.  I’m so sorry.  I know I was kind of rude, shuffling you out, like I did a while back.  Things have really taken a slide here.  I don’t know what to say”, she said.  I reassured her I wasn’t upset by her giving me the bum’s rush and I that I understood her.  I did, after all.  We talked for a bit about her dogs, her kids, her broken apple tree that was hit by some high winds, and then she asked me what she should do first.  At that point, I think I made a friend for life.  And that’s as awesome as it gets for me.

Maggie is doing great now.  She’s stable and rankings have improved.

One thing she said to me the last time I spoke with her was:  “Don’t wait until it’s raining to buy an umbrella, huh Tim?! Ha ha”  I guess that’s the moral of this story.  I love what I do, and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Until next time, I hope you flourish beyond your dreams.  If you need an umbrella, I’m here for you, as always!

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