Get ready, because I’ve got a LOT to say about Small Biz. We built Butter Lane from scratch, made every dumb mistake in the book…but a few good decisions too. We were pretty smart about stuff like eCommerce and social media, and our Cupcake Classes were a big hit – and also finding great partners. But why was it SO HARD to find REAL advice on nuts-and-bolts stuff like lease agreements and POS systems? So this will be my small contribution – I’ll tell you about the stuff that worked for us..and DIDN’T. Small Biz deserves a break!
Cold call the store, or better yet, walk in the door without an appt. (Would you really do this to someone in an office?)
Ask me to do a bunch of work to set up your platform. You need a bunch of hi-res pictures maybe, or ‘a short intro’ from me. Yep, I’ll have my design team and in-house writer jump right on that. (Email deleted.)
Misrepresent your sales pitch as a ‘media opportunity’ for my biz. Yay! You’re gonna feature us in your ‘Best Of’ roundup; thanks! (Wait…all I have to do is give you $250 for a plaque..what?)
Show up to our appt or call knowing nothing about me or my biz. (Google us!)
What to do: be a partner, not a pitcher.
– Send me a data-rich, personalized email. Put my name in the subject along with a summary of how your product will help my bakery. (Hi Pam! We have a great new NYC delivery app that can help with your cupcake deliveries.) In the body give me a quick summary – with success stories – and ask to schedule a 10-minute phone call.
– In our call, tell me simply about nuts-and-bolts ROI. Give me concrete examples and success stories.
– Show respect for my time. (‘I know we only have 10 minutes so I’ll get right to the description’)
– Don’t skirt the cost. Nothing is more frustrating than spending 30 minutes with someone only to find out they’re way out of our price range.
– Buy something small from my business. You are not bribing me; it is a nice sign of respect.
Remember – I need your help! I need real, revenue-boosting products and cost-cutting concepts. Do your homework, and bring it on. Just remember to be a partner, not a pitcher.
Today we hear that he’s had to close his shop because of the backlash to his anti-gay-marriage stance. Even though I think that was a bone-headed move, I think we did small business owners a great disservice with the pile-on. The whole thing also makes me nervous, because it reminds me of the cakes I’ve ‘opted out’ of at Butter Lane. You get some pretty crazy, mostly pornographic requests for bachelor/bachelorette partes – and there have been a few I just didn’t feel comfortable asking our bakers to write. I know this is very different ball of wax than discriminating against a whole category or class… but my nervousness remains.
I think this is a good chance to talk about the business we CAN turn away. Let’s face it: that’s one of of the glorious things about being an SBO: control over your working environment. So, yes, I sometimes turn down porn cakes that gross me out, or requests from rude and/or difficult customers. (That means you, complaining UWS lady who never tips.) So here’s my vote: why don’t we focus on the discriminatory laws that matter, and that we do respect – and stop yelling at the pizza guy.
As a reminder, it’s “time+1/2” for over 40 hours/week in NY state. In a healthy economy – I get it. It’s a nice bonus to someone who puts in extra time. But during a recession, it’s torture. In tight months – months when I was often not paying myself – my bakery simply couldn’t afford it. I watched the 40-hour mark like a hawk. And it’s awful on the staff. They beg for hours! Trust me – a 20 yr old in Manhattan would gladly work 70 if I let them at the regular rate. But instead I end up splitting my payroll between 25 people when I’d much rather give it to the 15 who really deserve it and care.
During a recession, when margins and money is squeezed, the answer is more work. We all have to put in more hours and time and elbow grease. But NY laws have prevented that natural working solution. Here’s my proposal – raise the overtime cutoff to 45, even 50 hours during recession years. Any other thoughts out there?
Most do, is the quick answer, for a million reasons. Any restaurant owner will tell you that undocumented workers are the backbone of any kitchen – the hardest-working, dependable, and longest-staying. Are those employees being taken advantage of? I dunno, maybe on some institutional level, but everyone seems pretty happy about it at the places I ask. We pay everyone on the books (stand down IRS). My accountant has scared the good sense out of me with stories of $100k fines, and I went through a string of unreliable college kids for dishwashing – well-meaning but soft, who usually run at the sight of chocolate-covered kitchen on a Sunday morning. The less important reason is financial, of course, since cash payments are the common sense solution to a recessionary environment in a highly-taxed town. We’re all squeezed, so the money’s gotta come from somewhere. That extra $100 in take-home means they can afford the basics (we’re talking food and subway fare), and I can keep the lights on. Who’s got other ideas?
Six months ago, I would have said no. I think this is at the heart of the minimum wage debate. I felt, as many opponents felt, that a retail job in the food industry is a ‘stepping stone’ job. Meant for teenagers, or part-timers looking to supplement their income. Now that the economy is squeezed, and better-paying jobs are scarce, we’re trying to force these retail jobs into some sort of middle-class bracket they just don’t warrant. If you pay a burger-flipper $600 ($15/hr at 40 hours/week) or $31k per year….well you’re gonna get a highly-qualified burger-flipper, but do we all win from that? (I get to say that because I was a 15-yr-old burger flipper (well, technically at a fried chicken joint), who made $250/wk – a FORTUNE to me – for a place that got a 15-yr-old performance. I was nice but flaky, just learning how to interact with the world and people. That chicken joint – and the string of jobs after – are where I learned all of that stuff. But I digress.
Now I dunno. The managers in my shop – the ones that stay and keep us going – aren’t kids. They’re grown-ups managing a complex (some days chaotic) business, with critical problem-solving skills, customer-management savvy. They’re proactive and passionate about the business, worried about costs and sales along with me, and always more street savvy than I am. My gut tells me they should make at least $40k/yr, IMO, for a 50-hr week. (Let’s take the overtime debate off the table for now.) Could the bakery afford it? I don’t see how. What are other SBOs thinking these days?
We got a new sign and awning at Butter Lane East Village! This is the kind of thing that can make your whole day as an SBO. I wonder why. The old awning had some spilled paint on it that looked like bird poop (thanks upstairs neighbor!), which has made me blanch for months. Now if I could only do something our ugly a/c unit….