Take Care of the Big Stuff First (Then Sweat the Small Stuff)

iStock_000007524424XSmallA very long time ago I worked at an office supply store. I won’t name any names, but let’s just say that I had to listen to “Taking Care of Business” far too often during staff meetings. In that particular store, we had a pathetic book section. It was mostly filled with tech how-to books. Things like “Windows 98 for Dummies” summed up the meagre selection. There were only a few business or “self development” titles in the mix. One of the books whose title caught my eye was “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff”, by Richard Carlson.

At the time I wasn’t much of a reader. I think I walked past the book 5 times a day for the better part of 2 years without ever picking it up. I just read the title, and it always stuck with me. The idea (assuming the book’s premise relates to the title) seemed sound at the time, and remained that way for a long time. That was, however, until I really started working seriously with small businesses.

I think the idea of not letting the small things take over in your personal life makes sense. If you are trying to raise kids, don’t freak out if one of them just won’t eat their peas and carrots. Don’t lose sleep if you only vacuumed 3 times last week instead of 5. These things seem reasonable.

Small business is a whole different animal. Especially now, with the internet giving everyone a fairly level playing field, the small things can be the difference between successful and obscurity. Here are some examples of things that I take notice of:

  1. The seller on eBay that includes a personalized note in each package they ship out.
  2. The website I signed up to that DOESN”T include my password in plain text when they send me a confirmation email.
  3. The book that has a website with handy extras for people to dig deeper into what they just read.

These things make a difference. I remember these things, and I tend to shop with those types of businesses over and over again.

Don’t Forget…You’re Not Selling The Small Stuff

Here’s the thing to remember. You still have to make sure the “big things” are in order before sweating those small things. The small things are the sprinkles on the sundae, they aren’t the ice cream. If your ice cream tastes like paint thinner (ok, I don’t really know what that tastes like…honest), nobody is going to care how generous you are with the sprinkles. I didn’t know that the girl on eBay was going to send a personalized note. I bought from her because the product was what I wanted, and for a price I felt was reasonable. The note brought me back a 2nd time, but it didn’t make the first sale.

It’s great if you have a nice website. It’s also great if your social media skills are strong, and you help out everyone on Twitter that mentions your product. Just make sure that before you even open the doors, that your product is worth talking about. In order to differentiate yourself from the pack, you first have to be running with the pack. If Michael Johnson didn’t train, and showed up to the Olympics weighing 275 with Cheetos stains on his shirt, the gold shoes would have looked even sillier.

If you are going to sweat the small stuff, then do so only after going absolutely crazy over the big stuff first. Triple test the product, give some away to friends, family, and strangers. Make sure you know everything about the service you’re providing. Run the numbers backwards and forwards (if you need help with the numbers, I happen to know a guy), and make sure that the business will eventually make a profit. When all the big things have been obsessed over, then and only then go ahead and sweat the small stuff. Make sure the bathrooms are clean. Hire someone to do a great website (don’t do it yourself if you don’t know how), create a referral program, and think up cool ways to make your customers smile.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take an awful lot of hard work and determination, but you’re up for it, right?