Bootstrap Business Development

Taking steps to build your business


What a Trip to a Great Hair Stylist Can Teach Small Business Owners

by Annie Kile

OK – for all you fella’s out there who might think there’s nothing it for you to read this post just think about the last time your wife or girlfriend came home with a haircut or hair color she wasn’t happy with.  I’m going to bet you either said (or were at least thinking) “Why didn’t you just let the stylist know what you wanted?”  Maybe they did let the stylist know. Maybe the stylist didn’t listen.  Maybe the stylist didn’t ask.

Great hairstylists provide their clients with great consultations.  They know that’s the only way to discover their client’s wants, needs, problems, and preferences.

Every small business owner (male or female) needs to discover their customer’s or client’s wants, needs, problems, and preferences.

And that, my friends, is what this post is all about.

Expert versus Know it All

I’ve suffered through a few pretty awful haircuts but I’ve come to learn I know when I’m in trouble.

Scenario #1:  The stylist washes my hair, walks me back to her chair, pulls out a comb and scissors and is ready to start chopping after asking a few superficial questions such as “So, how much do want me to cut off?”

Scenario #2:  After letting a stylist know what I wanted, looking in the mirror, I’m thinking this doesn’t look like what I asked for. Upon questioning, the stylist says “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”

Unfortunately, sometimes it appears to our customers and clients that we aren’t listening, or even all that interested, in what they have to say.  After all, we’re the experts, we know what we’re doing, and we’re here to serve our customer’s best interests.  That’s rather hard to do unless you are completely clear as to exactly what your customer’s “best interests” are.

You might be thinking “I don’t do that!”  But you just might have fallen into a rut where you ask the usual suspect questions – which may, or may not, serve to identify your client or customer’s wants, needs, problems, or preferences.  And this can translate into a new customer going elsewhere, or losing a customer whose wants, needs, problems, or preferences have changed.

Take a Seat

Style Seat is an online service “to discover and book a salon, spa or professional online.”  They posted a piece on their blog :  “Tips on How to Give an Amazing Client Consultation.”  The tips they’ve included are as true in a hair salon as they are at any small business.

The first point they make is a critical factor in small business success:

“Consultations are crucial to making your client feel like you’re listening to them and that they’re being taken care of.  The better you can do this, the more they’ll return and refer you to their friends.”

Every savvy business owner knows that keeping an existing customer is less expensive than finding new customers.  Additionally, a general rule of thumb is that 80% of your business should come from referrals – again, having an existing customer refer new business to you is less expensive than finding new customers on your own.

The second point they make is equally critical:

“Consults can get tricky because a client may not speak up if they have questions or concerns.”

It’s really easy to think when a customer or client doesn’t express any concerns or has few (if any) questions during our presentation or consultation that we’ve hit the nail on the head and are certain to make a sale.  Actually, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ve missed the target completely.

One of the worst haircuts I ever got in my life occurred when I was too timid to ask questions or voice my concerns – and this was done by a stylist I’d been going to for over a year!  It will come as no surprise that I never returned and certainly didn’t refer anybody to her ever again.  You think I would have learned, but this same train wreck of an experience happened again with a stylist I’d never used before when, once again, I didn’t speak up.  Never went back or referred to that stylist either.

Neither one of these hairstyles were so bad that I couldn’t be seen in public.  But they weren’t want I wanted, didn’t meet my needs, and certainly weren’t styles I preferred.

How to Give and Amazing Consult

So far we’ve been talking about what can happen when we fall into the trap of thinking we “know what’s best” when, in fact, we don’t have enough information.  However, while I’ve gotten butchered enough to know when I need to get out of a stylist’s chair – I’ve also come to know when I am in good hands.  Again, the tips Style Seat provides for giving an amazing style consultation hold true for any business.  Here’s my interpretation of those tips from a perspective that holds true for any small business:

Communication is key.  If you’re working with a new customer or client it is useful to first establish some common ground.  While people’s time is important and they don’t necessarily want to “chat” – a few pleasantries exchanged can be essential as this helps gain your customer’s trust and they will also tend to be more comfortable about asking questions and sharing concerns with you.

You don’t know if you don’t ask.  The key to asking the “right” questions during a consultation is to be sure you are asking open-ended questions.  What are open ended questions?  The simplest definition of an open ended question is a question that is impossible to respond to with a “yes” or a “no.”  Instead, they are questions that are designed for a response that will provide you with information and insight into your customer.

Show and tell.  Even though you’ve asked the right questions, it is still possible to misinterpret your customer’s response.  Neither you, nor your customer, necessarily sees the world or interprets what’s been said in the same way.  Not to mention that your customer or client might not be exactly sure what it is, or how to express, what will meet their wants, needs, problems, and preferences.

What will solve this problem is a good old demonstration.  No, I’m not suggesting that you present some kind of “infomercial” – demonstrating comes in many forms.

Provide an example.  An obvious example when selling a product is the product itself – but when you include examples of how the product has worked for others this can lead to the customer clarifying or declaring a concern.  This also works when working with clients for those of us running service-based small businesses.  Rather than demonstrating a product, creating charts, graphs, infographics and the like will provide the same opportunity to receive clarification and uncovering concerns from clients.

And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that stories are perhaps the most powerful way to give your client a “real world” example.  For one, a story “shows” the value of your product and/or service.  And, even if the story doesn’t resonate – when you tell a story during a consultation (such as how your service helped another business or customer successfully) if the client you’re in front of doesn’t relate to your story, they are apt to tell you why (giving you more information.)   It is also important to note that stories are a two-way street.  Encouraging your customer to “tell you their stories” can provide you with information they may not have shared via those open ended questions you’ve asked.

Don’t tell – educate.  While we don’t want to come off as a “know it all” and while we’ve established how important communication, demonstration, and examples are for gleaning the information we need in order to best serve our customer’s best interests – there is still a need to educate customers and clients.

This is true even though today’s consumers are perhaps the best informed consumers in history.  The Internet literally places information at the fingertips of your customer, and it is a rare consumer who has not done at least preliminary research online before heading out to buy a product or service.

However, this doesn’t mean your customer or client is an expert or has a complete handle on what is, in fact, best for them.  If this is the case, rather than telling a client what they need, educate the client.  Educating the client involves “who, what, where, how and why.”  For example, the “who” might involve educating a client about why they need to outsource because they simply don’t have the time or the people on board in their business.

You may need to educate about “what and how” by explaining a process step-by-step.  You may need to inform a customer as to where a product comes from and/or how it is produced.  And, it almost goes without saying that customers who understand “why they should buy from you” are customers that do, in fact, buy from you.    

Listen – don’t lead.  Listening is a completely different process than hearing.  You hear what someone is saying simply because they are speaking out loud.  Listening requires attaching meaning to what is being said.  Too often we’re thinking more about what we’re going to say before we’ve really listened to what our customer is saying.  Which isn’t listening, instead this kind of “listening” usually results in leading or prompting a customer to “say what we want.”  It also contributes to our interrupting a customer before they’ve finished – both of which often result in our not hearing important information from the customer.

The goal of a truly expert hairstylist is to know that every time their client looks in a mirror they think “Wow! I love my hair!” and they know the first step to achieving that goal is an amazing consultation.  Our clients and customers may not literally be looking in a mirror, but we can think of our services and/or products as mirrors – and when our customers take a look in that mirror we want them to think “Wow!”  We want them to be completely satisfied and happy with their decision to buy from us.  And we know that the first step to achieving that goal is an amazing consultation.

Content is definitely King. If you’re business isn’t providing dynamic, meaningful content to your customers and prospects that develops their trust in your business, you are losing business. Not enough time to do that? That’s where I come in.



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Why SMEs Should Get Engaged to their Employees

by Annie Kile   March 2013

Recently I wrote a guest post on Merchant Processing Resource’s Small Business Corner.  This short, but power-packed post is all about how Small Business Owners can leverage employee engagement to attract and retain high-performance, highly-productive employees.   It also gives employees who work for over-controlling bosses some sound, logical arguments that it is in the best interest of the business for their boss to “Get out of the way and let me do my job”  without making the mistake of actually telling them to get out of the way and let you do your job.

Hop on over for a quick read you can take to the bank.  I’d love you to come back here and leave a reply that tells the tale of how Participative Management Principles (they’re in the post) have impacted your small business or your relationship with your boss.

Oh, and while you’re here, take a minute to sign up to subscribe to my blog — button’s to your left 🙂

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The Power of Good Enough

I’m one of those people who hold stock in the idea of synchronicity.  Events and circumstances that may be seen by others as mere coincidence I often see as being either related to each other or of significance to each other – most often both.

This thought occurred to me when I sat down to write this post and considered the three main ideas I wanted to cover:

  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Power

Notice anything?  Pretty obvious that they all start with “P”.  Now, just because three words start with the same letter doesn’t mean they’re related – but by the time you finish this post  I’m going to bet that you’ll agree with me that they these particular three words fit the synchronicity bill.

My last post talked about how those of us bootstrapping small (tiny for now) businesses have so many things to do that we often find ourselves in an “either/or” situation.

In particular, my last post dealt with the fact that most bootstrappers are looking to our businesses to make our living.  In order to do that successfully — and this holds true for those of us in the startup phase as well as those of us who’ve been at it for awhile — you need to have a written strategic plan AND you need to be networking and prospecting for customers and clients (not to mention providing services and/or products).

Either I do this, or I do that – I can only do one thing at a time — What do I do?

Here’s where the “Three P’s” come in.

“Either/Or” thinking, in my opinion, is a form of rationalization used by perfectionists.  And, to varying degrees, we’re ALL perfectionists.  The real truth is that we CAN get done what needs to be done – just not perfectly.

“If you’re not going to take the time to do it right, don’t do it at all” DOES NOT mean “If you’re not going to take the time to do it perfectly, don’t do it at all.”

In other words, perfectionism leads to procrastination.  In this case, you might put off going through the process of creating a written strategic plan because you can’t “do it right” when you’re running around drumming up business – or vice versa.  You find yourself running in circles putting the one off while you do the other – until things get to the point where you have to stop doing that one thing because, if you don’t, it means you can’t continue doing the other.

WHEW!!  Just writing that down made me dizzy – no wonder we get so stressed actually trying to conduct business like that!

But we’ve got one more “P” left in our pod:  “Power”.  Last post I referred to the fact that I have a secret weapon.  I do.  It is called “The Power of Good Enough”.

What can the Power of Good Enough do for you?


But let’s be clear here:  When I say “good enough” I don’t mean sloppy.  I don’t mean unprofessional.  I mean “good enough to get it done.”

What I mean is:   “So much better than not at all.”

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