When we last traveled together, we learned a few things about business from Mongol warriors, Belgian chefs, and postmasters in Antarctica.
You picked up a few valuable “souvenirs” for your website — like properly welcoming your customers, managing expectations, and limiting your expertise.
On today’s tour, we’ll be visiting Thai food markets, Chinese dumpling shops, and ancient Peruvian ruins to learn three important business lessons.
For those of you new to our tour, my name is Betsy Talbot, and in 2010 my husband Warren and I left the US for an open-ended trip around the world. As we’ve simultaneously traveled and managed our business these past two years, we’ve learned entrepreneurial skills and tactics from some very unlikely sources. Today we’re sharing a few more of those with you.
Slather on your sunscreen and put on your hats, because today’s three destinations (and lessons) are sunny, useful, and bright.
Let’s get started …
1. Start. Right now.
The markets in Thailand are bustling every single night with pedestrians and motorbikes jamming the roadway. Locals and tourists alike flock to their neighborhood markets for a selection of delicious Thai foods, from spicy curries and soups to noodles and stir-fried dishes.
These food vendors all start with a burner, a wok, and some fresh ingredients. Not every cook even has a cart, some start with just a small grill and a stool to sell roasted corn or kebabs. Others have expanded to have small tables and chairs next to their carts for the steady stream of business they’ve amassed over the years. Yet others strap their carts to a motorbike and travel around to the bars at night, to serve people who need to soak up the alcohol they’ve consumed with some good food.
These entrepreneurs simply get started, using the basic ingredients to run a business and then adjust as they go, working into new markets or adding specialties as the need arises.
Too often we get caught up in making our business “perfect” before we announce it to the world, working out every possible scenario or problem so we can be prepared when it happens. Most entrepreneurs will agree that business looks a lot different 1, 2 or 3 years in than it did in the planning stages. Trying to think everything through before you start is simply wasted energy.
Overthinking is a death blow to action, and action is what drives revenue.
Done is better than perfect.
An expertly-prepared jungle curry soup from a simple food cart in a market can start the revenue and customer base to eventually open up a full-blown Asian restaurant.
- Projects require deadlines. If you aren’t pushing yourself to launch by a certain date, you definitely won’t.
- Avoid scope creep. If your project continues to grow, you are never going to finish. Treat your project like professionals do and finish what you started. The ideas that blossom along the way should go into a list of options to add later … when you have a finished product on your hands.
- Alter your mindset. Instead of thinking of all the reasons you can’t start now, flip the argument and list all the reasons you should start now. When you change your perspective, you change your motivation to get things done.
Case Study: Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live recently talked with Alec Baldwin on his Here’s the Thing podcast. He says being “ready” is a state of mind, one you can condition yourself to overcome with regular deadlines. “I say it every week, we don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30.”
2. Develop a catalog
When you think of Peru, the first thing to pop in your mind is probably Machu Picchu. In the 100 years since its (re)discovery, it has become one of the most popular destinations in South America, topping the bucket lists of people all over the world.
Visitors expect a magnificent experience, a spiritual connection, and a sense of being in a sacred historical space. What visitors don’t always expect are the 5000 other visitors in their hiking boots and zip-off pants looking for the exact same thing.
Peru has another grand historical highlight: a pre-Incan fortress in the north called Kuelap, only recently rediscovered in the 1980s. It is an enormous site, soaring high above the surrounding valleys with a bird’s eye view. The building style is ingenious, with a gate that gradually narrows to fit only a single person — making defense of an attack almost child’s play.
The government of Peru is working hard to excavate the rest of this site and encourage tourism. There are currently about 50 visitors per day, and these lucky souls get to watch an active excavation as well as practically have the site to themselves to explore.
It does not rival Machu Picchu in visits or revenue yet, but in time it will. The tourism department of Peru knows they will attract more tourists and generate more revenue per tourist if they have other magnificent ancient sites to offer adventurous travelers, so they are hard at work making it happen.
Your product or service may be as awe-inspiring as Machu Picchu, but if it is your only offer, you will only get one sale per customer. A happy customer has nothing else to buy from you, even if they are standing there with credit card in hand. When you have a few offerings relating to your core specialty, that thing you rock like no one else, customers have more options to work with you, further cementing your relationship and building your revenue.
- Use questions and suggestions from buyers of your main product to create supporting products and services. Fill the knowledge or service gaps pointed out by your audience.
- Mine your blog content for ideas on new products and services. Dig through your blog archives to find posts with the most traffic or greatest number of comments. Expand on the topic in a new product or service using the article as a launch pad.
- Interview your best customers to find out how you can serve them better within your specialty. Listen closely to the language they use and develop products and services using that language.
Case Study: Speaker and publicist Nancy Juetten of Main Street Media Savvy took her premium service of helping local businesses gain more press for themselves and spawned classes, webinars, ebooks, and teleseminars for those who wanted a less-expensive, DIY solution. She’s exploded her business by giving a wider range of potential customers more ways to do business with her.
3. Get personal
Jinghong, China is at the southern end of the country on the Mekong River, just up the road from Laos. While not a major city by Chinese standards, it still boasts a population of about half a million people.
We were traveling with a new Chinese friend, and after a day of sightseeing we asked if we could find a dumpling shop for a snack. He scouted out a little hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall where a woman was busily making fresh dumplings at a large table.
She seemed very excited to see us, and we thought it was because we were the only customers. Turns out, she had just opened her restaurant and thought it lucky for her new business to have international travelers arrive in the first week. (There are not very many Western tourists in China in general, and especially in these more rural regions like Jinghong.)
She invited us, through our friend’s translation, to come back for a special dinner that evening after closing with her and her grown son.
We returned and enjoyed a long evening of drinking rice wine — the homebrew version from her personal stash, not the store-bought version we brought as a gift — trying new foods, and sharing life stories and plenty of laughter. We told her how to attract more foreign travelers to her shop — namely by putting up a sign in English that said “Dumpling Shop.” She taught us how to properly toast in China.
We ate hundreds of meals during our months in China, but her little dumpling shop still stands out as our favorite. We’ve recommended The Northeast Fat Mother Dumpling Shop to every traveler we meet going to southern China. (And yes, that’s the real name!)
When you keep yourself hidden behind your website, never revealing exactly who you are or more than what someone could find on a resume, people have a hard time connecting. We all prefer to do business with people we know, like, and trust. Even when you can’t personally get to know them all, you can let your customers get to know a little bit more about you.
- Share a candid snapshot of yourself or your team on your About page, one with some personality or showing you participating in an activity you like.
- Reveal something personal and totally unrelated on your About page, like a hobby or an unexpected interest.
- Drop regular hints of your personality in your blog posts and website copy. People like knowing these idiosyncrasies about the person behind the site. It’s like finding out your favorite author hates broccoli just like you do. It’s another point of bonding between strangers.
Case Study: Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, is mad about skydiving, NASA, and cats. His business is in PR and networking, but he regularly drops info about his big loves in his blog, Facebook updates, and Twitter. You feel like you know Peter even if you’ve never met him, which gives him an edge over other thought leaders who just spout wisdom.
Taking your lessons home
This concludes today’s tour. Your “souvenirs” include:
- A “Just Get Started” button from the apron of the Thai food cart vendor
- A postcard from Macchu Picchu to remind you to develop a back catalog of products or services for the hordes of visitors who will come to your site later
- A bottle of homemade rice wine from Fat Mother to remind you to loosen up and get personal with your customers
Now that you’re back at home (or back at your homepage), I hope you’ll just get started on a catalog of new products and sell them with a little personal twist. It’s the international way of doing things, and more important, it is the more profitable way of doing things.
Stay tuned for our next tour, where we’ll visit remote but colorful Siberia, Irish pubs outside of Ireland, and landlords in Denmark.