Minimalist Business

Minimalism is a hot topic and trend these days. It’s as much a rejection of consumerism and bad business practices (environmental, labour and greed) as it is a by-product of income disparity. It grows out of mistrust of business motives and a desire to take back the control of our lives. When a famous book about eating right starts by saying “Eat food..” and then the author concedes that that may be harder than it should be because the food we are sold is not only or always food, we can be forgiven for wanting to take control from corporations and back into our own (or our neighbour’s)  hands.

Most businesses start as minimalist businesses by necessity: focused, spare and simple. Very quickly business owners are told all they must do to be in business (see Dangerous Lies we tell Small Business Owners). We stop focusing on providing the best product or service to our customer and work on building systems, writing a marketing plan and creating return policies.

Pretty soon we are so mired in the everyday details of managing our business that we begin to see those pesky customers as distractions. We work longer and harder for less and fewer results.

Lets get back to the basics. What is a Minimalist Business?

It’s a business where the focus is on providing awesome service to our customers. There are no distractions. You and the business are running under capacity, it is transparent and open, automated, conducive, with a clear, simple, value-laden business model.

Yes, but, I hear you say, My business isn’t that simple, my customers/my service/my community are… etc. While every business is unique they all share the fundamental basics of value exchange. You provide a service (maybe in the form of a product) and your customers pay for it.

Your business can be this simple. Stay tuned for a deeper discussion in Part II.


All I need are more customers

So, is that a marketing issue or a business issue?

Let me start by saying that marketing is a big business practice and is best left to the pros. We know that a small business isn’t a little big business, it is a whole other animal. Marketing, and for that matter, finance, HR and operations are functional areas for big business. Businesses big enough to have groups of people with those specific responsibilities.

Your job, as a small business owner is to make your customer ecstatically happy. That’s it.

How you do that is:

Work from your Sweet Spot

When you can give the best of yourself (and your team), you can’t help but put out the best service. When you work from your strengths and your passion, you live and breath what you do. You gain mastery.

Be who you are. If you are trendy and cutting edge – own it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to ‘tone it down’ or your customers can’t keep up. You will attract the customers that appreciate you being out there on the edge and sharing it all with them. If you are comforting and helpful – own it! Make tea a part of your service, make your space cozy, explain what to expect so your customers are comfortable. If you are utilitarian and to the point – own it! Make transactions seamless. Stay out of the way and let your customers do it.

Help your customers get what they really want

Your customer doesn’t want to just buy a sweater. She wants to know it is the latest trend, show her pictures of that sweater on the catwalk or worn by trendsetters. It is important for her to feel on top of what is new, help her do that. Or she wants help buying it, choose several that will look great on her and help her see why they are great for her. It is important for her to feel less stress about the choosing and buying process. Or she knows exactly what she wants and you need to make the transaction as seamless and quick as possible. It is important for her to be done with this task.

This applies to restaurants, accounting and car repair, too.

Tell that story in everything you do

AKA Marketing. From the moment someone comes across your business, you want them clear on what they can expect from you. Your advertising tells that story, your place exudes that story and the experience is exactly what your customer would expect.

Your environment, from your premises, to the phone experience to your packaging all tell that same story.

Your team is clear on that story, they buy into it and they share it, too.

The experience is set on autopilot. Of course each person is treated as an individual, but the routine is set up to be, well, routine and automated.

The value exchanged on both sides is sufficient that your customer is happy and you are able to build capacity to continue to add to that experience.

Your customers become your raving fans

Who needs marketing when you have a team of raving fans telling everyone how awesome you are?


Productivity is for People Who Don’t Love What They Do

There is a whole industry around productivity tools, tips, tricks etc. The funny thing I found is that people who love what they do and are really, really good at their art, don’t need any of those things. They do their art. The thinking and planning time is done to support them in doing their art, it’s not a category of task in itself.

We’re using the Seth Godin definition of art.

“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

An artists is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artists takes it personally.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”

If you love what you do, you jump out of bed and dig in wholeheartedly

You don’t have to trick yourself into working. You don’t need tools, lists, motivational talks or pumping up routines. When you love what you do you get other things out of the way so you can work on your art.

You know what the most important things are to do to move your project ahead and you get to it

Whether it is a painting, a renovation, displaying your wares or building a business, you know where you are going with it, you have a process to get there and you execute. As you build mastery with your art, you spend less time with planning and more with doing.

You don’t get mired in the day to day. Those tasks feel like distractions, like necessary bits to get out of the way so you can get to the real work of building or doing what you love.

You have a better dialogue with your lizard brain.

Your lizard brain is stronger when you aren’t committed to what you are doing. When you are committed and excited, whispers of disaster are more likely to make you smile than to make you fearful.

Your lizard brain has a role to play, but if you listen too much, it will stop you from doing anything new. You tame your Lizard brain by listening, thanking and patting it on the head and doing what you want to do anyway.

When you do your art, you tap into something bigger than you

In her TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert described how genies or genius comes from outside of us. When you are deep into making your art, you feel the touch of that genius as ideas and abilities come from seemingly nowhere to manifest in what you are doing.

What a relief! It means that if you do great things, you can only take credit for channeling the genius and if you flop, well, your genius was being a bit lame that day.

Tapping into the genius, is a magical feeling. It feels like running with the wind. What you do is better than the effort you put into it.

Until you get to that point, it can feel more like a slog. You have to practice your art with deliberation and mindfulness until you reach mastery for your genius to be there reliably. Is that what beginner’s luck is? We are open to the genius when we try something? But then we get deeper into our head and focus on the mechanics until we have them mastered. Then the we let the genius in again. Hmm, interesting thoughts.

When you love what you do, you go with the Flow

You know that feeling when time stand still and you lose yourself in what you are doing? I’ve experienced it playing volleyball and managed to make moves that shouldn’t have been possible.

I definitely experience it when doing bookkeeping (don’t judge me). The numbers begin to dance with a movement that is both logical and beautiful. It’s why bookkeeping and any other task that means interruption, such as reception don’t mix. Just sayin’.

I like writing, I like it a lot.

The writing itself for me is a means to an end. I’m highly motivated to write when I have something I feel I have to say, or I’m writing to work through some thinking. My book, Your Effortless Business began as a writing exercise to puzzle through why business seems to be so hard when it’s really just about buying and selling what other people need or want. Business isn’t hard in the same ways all over the world, which led me to think it isn’t inherently hard. Writing it out helped me clarify that thinking.

I didn’t need help rolling out of bed every morning at 6ish to put in an hour or so at the keyboard. I’m able to keep it up anytime I have something I want to say or to figure out. If I don’t have something to say, I need the push of the productivity machine to ‘make’ me write. That’s no fun!

It’s why an artist doesn’t need motivation to do their art, but does when it comes time to make a living from it, unless sharing their art is part of doing their art. If you want to make a living with your art, you have to get to a place of loving the sharing of your art. The place of seeing that as a necessary and loving piece of the doing of your art.

The best productivity tip I can give you is: Love What You Do.

Janet Sees her Environment with New Eyes

Janet pulled into the job site just after lunch. She gathered up the papers that were strewn over the seat and stuffed them back into the file folder. She pushed them into the space behind her seat. She laughingly referred to it as her file cabinet. She kicked the water bottles, empty packaging and coffee cups away from the door so they wouldn’t fall out.

She was still wearing her business meeting clothes from her meeting at the bank. Maggie smiled at the juxtaposition of the contractor’s messy truck and the smart looking business woman. Then cocked her head and stopped smiling.

Michelle, :”Hey boss, when are you going to get a new truck, or at least clean that one?”

“Very funny!”

“I mean it, Janet. That’s your office, isn’t it? And it looks like a wreck. What do you think your customers think? What do potential customers think? Could there be jobs we didn’t get because of it? It’s the face of your business.” continued Michelle

“I’d have a hard time thinking in that kind of mess. I need a calm, serene place to do my best thinking.” Everyone was surprised to hear that from Alex. He was such a physical guy, the idea of him needing a serene place to think had them all pausing to think.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable wearing good clothes in there. It looks messy, so it seems grimey.” added Maggie.

“My last boss’s truck looked like that. He was forever losing receipts, forgetting to invoice people and not tracking our hours properly. Somehow he didn’t make the connection between his messy truck and not being able to run his business efficiently.” said, Robb.

Janet’s crew looked at her to see how she would react. She turned to look at her truck and saw it with new eyes. That was her office and it was the face of the Careful Roofers that others’ saw. Her truck didn’t project the concept of careful roofers.

She thought about how she did her best thinking on her back deck. She thought it was only because of the timing, but she now realized it was the environment as well. She thought of the nice places she liked to be in and how she felt in other places.

“You guys are right. If you are okay here, I’m going to fix that up right now. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

Keys to Crafting Your Effortless Environment

Your Environment communicates to people about who you are and how you see yourself. You will want to make sure that the story your environment is communicating is accurate.

Your mind is your most important environment so it is vitally important that you guard what is communicated to your mind. Do not fill your mind with the equivalent of junk food. Fill your mind with enriching, creative, thought-provoking communications.

Time and space to think
Your environment should give you and your staff time and space to think. That may mean a comfortable place to rest, stimulating decor and some privacy.

Sell what people want to buy
The second part of selling what people want to buy is to create an atmosphere of value and to make it easy and conducive for your clients to pay you.

Your mastermind is an important part of your mind environment.