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.

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Drowning in Ideas

Do you ever feel this way?

Like you have so many ideas that you are drowning in them?

You don’t know which ones to do first. They are all great ideas and they would work – probably. Other people have made them work for their business. You can make them work for you, too.

They all come with pieces you don’t know how to do, especially around technology. Podcasts are a great idea and you can even see yourself doing them. But. What mic to use? What software? Where and how to post them? Video is good. Writing articles. Making signs. Doing PR. Automating. All of it, would be great, but how?

The information is all out there. You can fill your day just reading, listening to podcasts and watching videos showing you how what to do to succeed in your business. Some of it is great and some of it is fluff. How do you find the good stuff? Really, I want to know your methods for finding the good stuff.

Most of it is for online business. Dig even a little and it turns out it’s all about online business. Great ideas, but how do they help you with your store, restaurant or service business? Hint: your customers are online, too. Feeling as overwhelmed as you.

Lean Canvas is a powerful tool for helping you see very clearly, where you should concentrate in your business and what is most important to your customers. Here’s a great online ebook to show you how the lean canvas is used for startups. I’m hosting a workshop on how to use Lean Canvas as a tool for offline businesses that are past the startup phase. https://youreffortlessbusiness.wordpress.com/business-strategy-workshop-series/

Lean Canvas isn’t just for Startups

The lean canvas  is a tool used by Startups to model a business idea. There are several versions, but they all have you think through essentially the same things: your customers, how you interact with them, and their problem that you are solving. Further they ask you to outline revenue and costs.

When used properly, it is designed for you to make several lean canvases with different assumptions on each one.

For instance, you may want to make an app for shared rides to and from other-than-school classes (band practice, teams, dance or music lessons). You identify several distinct user groups: after school kids, other than school kids, adults. Each group has different needs, wants and desires. In several cases the user is not the payer – parents pay, but kids get the lift.

A lean canvas is made for each user group and the riskiest bit in each scenario is identified. Those risks are tested to see which of those scenarios is the most likely to succeed. As you do that testing, you will be looking for all feedback that will help you refine your offering. For instance (yes, I played with this one) I thought the riskiest bit would be that parents were afraid to let their kids travel with ‘strangers’ (really just other parents that they could all get to know), but the feedback from parents was that even though they found the driving around irritating, they felt it was a way to show their parental love. That’s a tough one to overcome. If one were to pursue this app, we would have to show how this app would help parents in showing parental love, by maybe pointing out that not driving meant a home cooked meal.

You can see how this is a valuable tool for a startup that is trying to figure their way forward.

Can you use it in your traditional, mature business?

You bet you can!

In fact, you have a huge advantage, because you have access to your customers, right?

Start by making a canvas for each of your product/service offerings and each of your customer groups. for instance, if you had a women’s clothing store, you might have a canvas for business attire, for dressy and for casual. Your customer groups may be business women and retired women. Once you start playing with mixing and matching those, you get a better understanding of which group buys each of your offerings and what they are most interested in with them?

Then ask them. Start by asking them why they come to you. When I asked my bookkeeping customers why they came to me, they didn’t talk about competence, timeliness or adherence to regulations, no, they talked about comfort, relief and assurance. That changed the way I set up my service, how I offered it and the story I told to attract the right customers for me.

Think about your favourite customers. What do they buy? When? How?

How can you do that, only more?

What service is important to them? Back to the women’s clothing store: can you spin that service off as a value-add or as a paid option? Personal buyer, private viewings, trunk shows?

As you can see this is a great tool for strategic thinking for every business. What do you think?

If you would like to learn more, join me for our Lean Canvas is not just for Startups Workshop.