Apple’s slogan, Think Different, was a game-changer for the computer industry when it appeared on television commercials and magazine pages in 1997. Apple set itself apart by making the purchasing decision personal. The Think Different campaign was attractive because it referenced other well-known people such as Einstein, John Lennon and Martin Luther King and it made you feel like you could be part of that club by buying Apples. Plus, it made Apple a luxury symbol. Apple has never come out with a budget laptop, because the brand is based on the notion that Apple users can afford to buy the highest-end products.

But it’s hard to “think different” when you’re doing the same things every day, which is a challenge that many people who own their own business face. Shake yourself up by teaching yourself how to think different. Some people do this by hiring a coach or consultant, and this can certainly be effective.

You may consider bringing your staff together for an open-minded meeting. The people who do the same jobs everyday will most definitely have ideas for how they could get things done in a different way.

You may find yourself saying to yourself or your staff things like, “Let’s just do it that way because we know it works.” This is the same as saying, “I don’t like where this path is leading me but I’m going to stay on this path just because I’m already on it.” If you were making any other decision–actually literally on a hiking path, in line for a food cart pod and you changed your mind about what you wanted, or buying shoes–would you stick with the decision you already made simply because you had already made one? No, most people would not! So give yourself the same freedom in your business. Learn how to do things differently, or at least, how to see that there might be a different way to think or act, and see where that goes. 

What groups would be natural customers or ambassadors for your businesses? If you sell carpet cleaning, maybe churches, retirement homes, or pizza parlors would like a discount offer.

When they redeem the discount you offered, give them the best service you can possibly provide. You can bet that they will speak highly of you to their friends and business associates.

Have you ever walked around the historic cemetery in your town? It may sound morbid but quite often these old cemeteries are full of big old trees. They have established landscaping and they often (unless they are ancient and neglected cemeteries) have groundskeepers or volunteers who keep things looking nice. We have a great old Masonic cemetery in our town and it’s on a hillside, so it’s a popular place for people who want to get in an active hike or run, or just find a quiet corner to sit and contemplate.

The people who are buried in this cemetery are our town’s founding families. They were churchgoers and they were Masons. Nearly to a person, based on the history that is known, these were successful, well-off families who were involved in local government, business and education. Why were they successful? In part it’s because they kept their business partners close. If a home needed plumbing and a plumber was a Mason, that plumber got the business. If a congregation member was a doctor, that doctor pulled the teeth and attended the childbirth. In return, that doctor or plumber’s business stayed in the group as well.

Whenever you join a group, be it Masons, a church congregation, your city’s Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club or any other philanthropic or educational organization, there’s a certain amount of networking that goes on. For the most part, these groups exist to look after the community and each other. Why not put that power of the group to work for your business?

Industry-specific trade groups perform a similar function, although for most small business a local group will provide the most benefit. Take care not to overdue the networking. We’ve written an article about good networking…I think I’ll write an article abut bad networking as well! Bad networking would be passing out a business card to every person in the room every time you show up to a meeting. Never remembering someone’s name. Focusing too much on the free food and drink at the meeting. Just as examples.

Avoid bad networking and put the power of the group to work for your business. If you’re a carpet cleaner, there’s a chance you might get the next deal. If you operate a food cart, there’s a chance you could set up shop in front of your fellow member’s business.

Sears is dying. The store where my mom took me to buy a dress for my first middle school dance. The store where I used to get left in the record album aisle while my mom tried on clothes. (Yes, department stores once had an entire aisle of actual record albums!) What was once one of our country’s brick and mortar retail pillars probably won’t survive to the turn of the next decade, if it lasts that long. The company has $4.2 billion in debt and has been losing ground over the years to Target and Walmart. The mistakes that the once-great company made go back a long way.

First, in the early 1980s, Sears’s parent company, Sears, Roebuck & Co., expanded aggressively into financial and real estate services market. They purchased Dean Witter Reynolds securities firm and Coldwell Banker. These didn’t have anything to do with Sears’s “core” operations. And, when their back was turned, so to speak, by being involved with these divergent markets, Target and Walmart started invading their space.

After that, they broke up their business into separate units. This was in the mid-2000s. By the time they did this, their company was already financially hurting. The separate units managed Sears’s well-known brands such as Diehard and Craftsman. One of the problems with this was that the managers they picked were said to have little retail experience. And this archived news story from the time supports the view in hindsight that it was a mistake. ABC News quotes an analyst who says, “I think it’s risky.” The article says, “Analysts say the changes contemplated by [chairman Edward] Lampert — who acquired Kmart in 2003 and Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 2005 — run against prevailing trends where retailers try to craft a single, cohesive business image. “He’s looking to turn it around by using a different approach,” said retail consultant Walter Loeb. “I think it’s risky.”

Also in 2005, Kmart bought Sears. But both were failing. The merger left them with twice as many under-performing stores. Once the company had lost so much money that it was consistently losing ground, it began selling off its assets to manage its cash flow. Over the last 10 years its sold off its brands like Lands End. It’s closed stores that were’t performing well. Over the last few more recent years, it’s continued to lose so much money that Sears is selling off its profitable stores. Sears now plans to sell its profitable stores and then lease them back.

All along as these things were going on, Sears customers have complained that the products they’re selling don’t seem high-quality. There’s no sense of Sears as a “department store” anymore, with brands that the customers knows and trusts.

All along the way, Sears’s actions seem to point to a company that was too busy protecting itself or denying that the marketplace had changed. It reacted, rather than adapted. There are lessons here for businesses of any size.

Lessons For Businesses From Sears Inevitable Downfall

For one, know your competitors. Walmart grew aggressively and their selling proposition was based on price cuts followed by the ability to buy your grocery’s for the night’s dinner at the same store where you’re buying your tank tops and your barbecue grill. As cool as Sears was to have all kinds of different departments, you couldn’t buy a tomato at Sears. Once customers got a taste of that convenience, they didn’t want to go back.

Secondly, be true to yourself. If you’re retail, do retail. And do it good. With options, customizations, good customer service, good business hours. Put in a kiosk where people can comparison shop. Then when they do, let them see enough to know that they really do want to buy it from you after all. Hire managers who know what they’re doing. Don’t keep employees around who waste time and don’t treat your customers with respect.

Thirdly, watch your cash flow. Once you get into trouble it can be hard to turn it around.

And finally, never stop evolving. Your customer behavior changes. Yours should too.

You signed up to be a business owner! But you didn’t major in bookkeeping in college, or marketing. Payroll or scheduling is always stressful, and you don’t look forward to inventory day. What can you do to spend more time on what you love about your business?

Now that you’ve been in business for a while, you probably spend a lot of time things you don’t like doing. Like resolving problems between employees. Customer service issues. And managing the mountain of business-related paperwork that never seems to get smaller. But what you really need to do is get to the grocery store. And your kids have been begging for one-on-one time.

Owning a business is stressful. Many business owners find out that they don’t have the time to do what they truly love about the business. Or, at least, not what they hoped they’d be doing as a business owner. Here are 5 ways to spend more time on what you love about your business.

1. Use scheduling tools.

The beauty of tools such as Facebook and Hootsuite is that you can write something now and get it ready to post days, weeks or months in advance. Do what you can when you have time, and these tools will let you skip days when you don’t.

2. Hire out what you love least.

If you’re constantly stressed about bookkeeping, or blog post writing, find a professional to do those things for you. The more stressed you are about the big things that you really don’t like doing, the less time and energy you have for the little things. Businesses big and small have professional service providers. You can too.

3. Give yourself permission to say no.

Your friends, or your kid’s school, may think that because you are a business owner, you have employees to manage everything for you. They may truly not realize how busy you are. When you get asked to do things like help out with the school’s holiday party or coach little league, there’s no need to recite a list of everything you’re already doing.

Train yourself to say something like, “That sounds fun, I’m sorry I can’t help.” Or, “I’d like to, but my schedule is full.” Resist the urge to say, “ask me next time,” because that’s setting yourself up for a similar question next week. Instead, ask for a calendar of events they need help for so you can sign up in advance. Or tell them what you can do. Say, “I have time on Monday afternoons, so if you need any help on those days, let me know.”

The more you practice this, the easier it gets!

4. Give your employees permission to make decisions.

Since I’ve worked in marketing and also writing articles for so many years, I have had a lot of experiences with small business owners who missed out on being interviewed by our town’s newspaper or magazine simply because they weren’t around, and no one else could speak for them.

You can’t be on call or in the office every hour of every day. Designate one of your employees to speak to the press on your behalf. A trusted employee can handle problems as they arise, so if you aren’t reachable your employees can still make progress.

I’ve met business owners who set aside Wednesdays as personal days, and refused to answer their phone or email at that time. There’s no harm in doing this, and in fact this may be a good way to preserve your sanity. But do empower your employees to move forward even if you can’t be reached.

5. Focus on what you did do, not what you should have done.

Set your agenda for the day, but leave some wiggle room for the unexpected things that come up. I am a list maker. I have found that I continually put about 3 times as many items on my daily to-do list as I can reasonably accomplish. I’m stressed when it’s the end of the day and I still have incomplete tasks.

I have found that simply keeping things reasonable helps so much. Write down the most important items, and hold a couple back. If you find that you have more time, you can always add them. And at the end of the day, look at what you did, and praise yourself. That’s a lot more pleasant than looking at what you didn’t do and feeling upset.