It is easy to assume that the most valuable business lessons to be learned are those that come from observing others.
How did Apple roll out its latest product? Who is Forbes suggesting that I follow? Why isn’t that startup gaining traction?
While it is certainly wise to learn from the successes and missteps of others, we mustn’t underestimate the inherent value in our own first-hand experiences.
I recently helped a friend orchestrate a weekend garage sale. My sole purpose was to facilitate a purge of belongings and a move across town. In fact, I very much considered it a “break” from my small HR coaching/consulting business (Harmony Insights), which regularly occupies my thoughts.
As it turns out, the sale was a timely, impactful reminder of the basic business tenets that (should) serve as the foundation of everything that I do with Harmony Insights.
Following are ten plus one lessons that I gleaned from the experience…
1) Don’t chase perfection. Had we insisted on polishing every last piece of silverware, mending all weathered garments, and tracking down all missing appliance manuals, we would have delayed the sale and, perhaps, my friend’s move. We put imperfect items outside, and guess what… they sold.
2) Link arms. Rather than going at it alone, we aligned our efforts with a neighborhood-wide sale that was taking place the same weekend. Instead of seeing the other homes as competition, we understood that the community event would attract a larger audience for all involved.
3) Start early. It wasn’t necessarily an attractive option to be up before sunrise on a Saturday morning to begin moving items outside. However, it maximized the amount of time that we would have to greet pedestrians, many of whom came through during the morning hours. We would have missed the early crowd had we set up shop when it was more convenient for us.
4) Take calculated risks. The weather forecast was calling for light drizzle throughout the day. People who stopped by even wished us luck with dark skies overhead. I wasn’t eager to haul everything outside, only to haul it back in, or, worse, have things like books and electronics damaged by the rain. With fingers crossed, we readied tarps, outlined plan B… and sat in amazement as the clouds parted and the sun emerged.
5) Go to your audience. When posting a sign on a tree out front seemed insufficient advertising, I stood in the road in front of the apartment with a second sign. More people stopped. Then I walked to a popular nearby cross street. Even more people stopped. From there, I could see the busiest intersection of all just down the road, and that’s where I spent the majority of my time. Our sales increased dramatically.
Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes along. ~Samuel Butler
6) Ignore the haters. One cannot stand holding a sign of any sort at a high-traffic intersection in Chicago without hearing occasionally colorful language from passers by. I heard plenty of it myself that afternoon, but then I also had people stop to comment on how much they enjoyed garage sales, how pleasant the weather had turned out to be, and how nice it had been to meet and talk with my friend. It was where I chose to focus my attention that made all of the difference.
7) Don’t micromanage. While I was attempting to direct people toward our garage sale, I couldn’t help but wonder how my friend was handling customers back at the apartment. I even found myself tempted to leave my post in order to check on her progress. Had I done so, traffic would have slowed, and sales would have decreased. I realized that I had to focus on my role and trust that she was excelling in hers.
8) Be willing to say, “No.” When we refused to budge on a negotiated price that still wasn’t attractive to a potential buyer, he got in his truck and drove away. Just as we began to question our strategy, the man returned, paid what we were asking, and was on his way. Defining a clear boundary maintained the perceived value of what we were offering and perhaps increased the desirability of the item itself.
9) Establish rapport. We learned quickly that engaging visitors in conversation extended their stay, invited additional consideration of items for sale, and often inspired a purchase. When a man mentioned liking a particular shade of blue in one of the available scarves, my friend tactfully directed the man’s attention toward objects of similar color with unique stories behind them. Through the garage sale, my friend came to know her neighbors in a way that she hadn’t previously, and vice versa.
10) Give things away. The child who got excited about the headphones was given the headphones. The couple who stopped by with a minivan while we were cleaning up for the night was sent home with a collection of odds and ends. Countless possessions were dropped off at the Salvation Army instead of being sold on eBay or Craigslist. No strings attached. No collateral. No IOUs. It just felt like the right thing to do.
+1) Stand out. My greatest opportunity to attract customers just happened to coincide with the very edge of my comfort zone… and it is here that I learned perhaps the greatest lesson. “Standing out” at the side of the road would have included doing anything more animated than holding a “garage sale” sign in a passive, outstretched hand. Yet, even as someone who writes on the importance of nonverbal communication and speaks daily on the limitations of comfort zones, I could not bring myself to draw the additional attention that my personality style so feared. We’re all growing.
So, there you have it. And, yes, I’m entirely aware that I illustrated the value of living your own experiences by regaling you with stories of mine.
Do you have anything that you can sell out in the driveway?