Learning By Observing

Observation telescope

Photo (CC) Ralph Hockens, on Flickr

Recently took a trip with my wife through part of the southwestern United States. I enjoy traveling and seeing the unique sites we have all across the country.

And while my wife and I have taken trips over the years and during lots of those years my role has been to help small business owners, this was the first time that I took notes on what I saw small businesses doing that, in my estimation, helped their or hurt their business. I thought I would just share some of my observations.

However before offering my thoughts, I would encourage any and all business owners to do the same thing. There is so much we can learn just from observation.

And it need not be just our observations but ask friends, colleagues, and customers what have seen that could be used in your small business. People like to talk about their travels, be they a vacation or a simple trip to the local store. They like to be asked and they like to share. Form categories of how the comments fit together.

When you have a critical mass of observations in an area, decide what it means to your business and take action. Sometimes it may just one item that sparks an idea. Other times it may be months or even years before a group of comments gel into a plan. There is no timeline.

The important fact is you are listening, following trends, and positioning your business. And you are engaging your customers at the same time.

So here goes – my observations:

  • It’s an online world. This is nothing new but to see people expecting to have online service while deep into a national park just reminded me of how we expect to be attached anywhere and everywhere.
  • Speaking of online, communities can help their small business segment. In two instances, there was free WiFi in the downtown. How handy.
  • Related to the online world is the fact that WiFi service needs to be good, especially at hotels where we depend on catching up on whatever it was we missed during the day. The same goes for restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, or any other hospitality business.
  • Having your business online is a requirement. We stopped at a small restaurant completely by chance. The food was good but they didn’t have a web presence.  How many people walked right on by because they couldn’t read the reviews? Throughout the trip we used online maps and reviews to find hotels, lodging, stores and even gas station.
  • And speaking of reviews, don’t hesitate to ask your guests to post a review. A couple of the hotels sent me an email to fill out their survey when we got home. Yet, and this is just my personal bias, I prefer the third-party sites where I can see lots of reviews all at the same time. So ask and direct me to your preferred third-party site (but don’t be surprised to know that each of us have our favorites and will probably use that one instead).
  • There is lots of competition for my dollar. And business owners are using every marketing angle they can think of to make sure I know they are there. No surprise here.
  • I have mentioned a lot about online searching but we also used telephone books, brochures, and visitor guides. One community had put menus from many of the restaurants in a community guide. Saved me from having to look them up and they included a map so I knew right where to do.
  • Visual appeal. Don’t overlook it. Little things make a difference. It influenced what stores I stopped at as I walked down the street. A couple of times I went across the street and looked at the block I had just walked and asked why I stopped where I did. Mostly it was the visual merchandising.
  • And I will end with staffing. We saw too many, not enough, those who couldn’t answer questions and those who could, those who were helpful, and those who truly understood the important link they played in being a host in their community/region.

This isn’t my entire list but you get the sense of the power of observation. I suspect many of you might take the same trip and have a completely different list. That’s why you take

Hope this triggers some thoughts and encourages you to keep your senses open for opportunities.