Get in the Flow
Your business is energy, and it’s meant to flow. Just like a person—or anything else in the universe—a business is an energetic entity. If, as a person, you stub your toe on a pointy rock, you’ll probably feel some pain. The same goes for your business: If even one aspect is out of balance, the whole organization will feel it.
The Feng Shui of Business Bagua
If you’re familiar with feng shui, you already know that a bagua is an ancient map used for energy balancing. What you might not know is that the bagua also can be used as a tool for business success. Of course, we’re not just talking about the feng shui of physical space or environment. When it comes to business energy, you need to consider all aspects of the place, people, environment, systems, data, and measurable results of your company, including:
- Owner care
Moreover, all these energy systems are energetically interrelated. In other words, when profits are up but your employees are cranky, overall business feng shui is still problematic. When marketing is good but products don’t sell—same thing. In fact, when even one small part of your business is stuck, the whole thing gets bogged down.
Faltering or flowing?
What does stuck look like? Tess Whitehurst, feng shui expert and author of Magical Housekeeping, says, “When people describe blocked energy, they might use words such as: ‘stuffy,’ ‘overwhelming,’ ‘shady,’ ‘musty,’ ‘dank,’ ‘cluttered,’ or ‘stale.’” According to Whitehurst, whenever energy is blocked in a space, “it indicates, reflects, and holds in place blocked energy in other areas such as prosperity or overall harmony.”
Flow looks much nicer: “The words people use when describing an environment with positive energy flow might be: ‘vibey,’ ‘happy,’ ‘magical,’ ‘ambient,’ ‘elegant,’ ‘cozy,’ or ‘fun,’” Whitehurst says. “Everywhere you look, you see vibrancy and sparkle.”
Again, we’re not just talking about the physical environment of your business. We’re talking about all aspects of your company—the energy of your organization as a whole. How do you determine where your business is stuck and how to get it flowing? Keep reading and find out how you can make energy move in 2011.
Six smart strategies for creating flow
Why are the big fish—top national retailers—big? Because they’ve cracked the code on how to do things right: great products, competitive pricing, smart inventory systems, and above all, a true willingness to serve their customers.
Take a look at these six essential strategies that the leading brands use—along with helpful hints from body-mind-spirit retailers and entrepreneurs:
1. Be consistent
McDonald’s spelled it out decades ago, with their famous Big Mac mantra—“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese …” Customers knew exactly what they were getting. Today’s on-every-street-corner leader, Starbucks, follows suit. No matter where you are in the world, your favorite signature caramel latte is pretty much the same. Customers crave consistency. What do you offer yours?
Kim Perkins, owner of Elysian Fields in Sarasota, Fla. (www.elysianfieldsonline.com) says, “Customers want to know they can count on you. That not only means keeping your word and doing what you say, it also means the store being open on a set schedule, keeping best-selling inventory on the shelves, making sure classes or appointments start on time, and so on. These things need to be true all the time, not just sometimes,” Perkins advises. “It makes customers and employees know they can trust you.”
2. Make inventory move
Stuck inventory is stuck energy. But sometimes, we’re so in love with our lovely inventory, we actually try to hold on to it. Release any possessive energy. Let your stuff go. Buy smart, test new items rigorously, track sales with a solid inventory system—and keep your inventory moving.
Karen Charboneau-Harrison, owner of Isis Books in Englewood, Colo. (www.isisbooks.com), says, “We pay attention to current across-the-board interests (what’s currently hot), and when we see a line that was great for a while but has been getting dusty, first we move it to another area to see if people will notice again; then, it goes on sale and we don’t reorder.”
Tracking inventory is key, she notes. “We use Anthology for book and music inventory and track those sales very analytically—there’s only so much shelf room!”
3. Hire awesome employees
Drive through Dutch Bros. at 6 a.m., and you’ll likely be met with a cheerful “What can I get for you?” and a smile so bright it looks like sunrise. It can be a bit much to deal with at the crack of dawn, but that’s the kind of corporate culture that keeps customers coming back. How’s your employee attitude—and how do you support it?
“I come from a corporate background where it was important to keep employee morale up,” explains Vicky Thompson, publisher of New Connexion (www.newconnexion.net), a conscious-living magazine in the Pacific Northwest. “My editorial assistant and I always celebrate Pastry Fridays with special treats!”
It’s important to recognize employee needs, she adds. “We do Manifesting Mondays where we write down weekly goals and dreams—for both our professional and personal goals. We’re running a business, but it’s a business run by people, and we take time to recognize our needs.”
4. Provide amazing service
At Costco, if you forget to grab a double pack of muffins for the two-fer special, without hesitation the bagger will trot the one-quarter mile to the back of the store and bring them to you while you wait. Would you jog one-quarter mile for your customers?
“Customer service is everything,” says Susan Weis, owner of breathe books in Baltimore, Md. (www.breathebooks.com). “Because of that, my energy and the energy of my staff must to be ‘on’ at all times.”
In fact, Weis and her employees make a concentrated effort to keep their own energy moving. “If we are feeling down or out of sorts, we need to bring ourselves out of it by saging ourselves, or doing some pranayama (breath work) or find some other way to transform our energy,” she says. “Believe me, the customer can feel it!”
5. Become a destination
Make your store so fabulous and inviting that customers go out of their way to visit. In Oregon for example, people from smaller towns drive for hours to shop at Trader Joe’s in Portland, dropping hundreds of dollars every trip. How far will customers drive to visit you? Give them a reason, be it a fantastic event, great staff, inspiring services, outstanding value, or all of the above. And let them know about it through inspired, frequent e-newsletters.
“In this particular type of business, we’re not selling just books, jewelry, and ‘stuff,’” explains Charboneau-Harrison of Isis Books. “[Customers] expect us to interact with them in very personal ways … have a human relationship with them.”
Having expert staff is key, she says. “I want my customers to know they can come to Isis and get information either from talking to one of my staff, myself, or one of our psychics; or from the books, DVDs, and oracles we carry; and no question is dumb. We learn from our customers every day.”
6. Support your colleagues
Think past your customers—to the whole world of support available to you via business associates. In today’s economy, networking’s gone global, and like-minded colleagues can be wonderful collaborators—especially if you return the favor. Look for new, unexpected ways to network for mutual benefit.
“We’ve all become creative in surviving and thriving, and those new ways of doing business will be beneficial in the long run,” says Thompson of New Connexion. “For example, when a large local bookstore stopped producing their quarterly event catalog, they increased to three full-page ads in our magazine. That, in turn, encouraged two local groups of healing practitioners to buy full-page ads using shared advertising.”
Your Business Bagua: 2011 Workshop
It’s a new year, the perfect time to take stock and set intention for the months to come. Ready to dive deep? Head out for coffee with this article, a notebook and pen, and the chart on p. 11, then answer these questions in writing, for each bagua square.
Very soon, you’ll notice the areas where you’re doing great—and where you’re energetically out of balance. Better yet, close up shop for the afternoon (yes, really!) and take your employees on a mini-retreat—you may be surprised by what your team has to say.
- Is your business making enough profit? How much profit would you like to make?
- Are you making a living wage? Are your employees?
- Do you have a reserve fund? How much?
- Are your fixed expenses too high? What about variable expenses?
- What was your smartest ROI expenditure last year?
- Your worst?
- How would you define your business in five words or less?
- What promise does your brand make to your customers?
- Do you keep this promise? How?
- How are you perceived in the community?
- How do you want to be perceived?
- Does your marketing reflect your brand? How?
- Are your employees happy working at your store?
- Does serving customers make them feel happy?
- Are they experts on your merchandise?
- Are they aligned with your store’s mission?
- Do their positions let them use their best skills? If not, why not?
- Is there anyone who doesn’t belong on the team?
- What is your top customer demographic?
- Are you serving them at the highest level?
- What other customer demographic would you like to attract? How?
- How much money does an average customer spend per visit? A top customer?
- How are your customers served by visiting your store?
- Do you use intuition to make business decisions? If not, why not?
- Are you open to synchronicities and serendipities?
- Are you guided by them daily? What are some examples?
- Does your store feel like a sanctuary or haven?
- Do customers walk in and say “ahhhh”?
- Do customers linger in your store?
- What areas in your store feel the best? The worst?
- What areas in your store produce the highest sales? The slowest?
- When was the last time you updated or rearranged?
- Do you offer little extras, such as tea, chairs for reading or resting, and so forth?
- Is your personal life satisfying? If not, why not?
- Are your relationships healthy? If not, why not?
- How’s your health?
- How much downtime, or free time, do you have each day?
- Do you have a spiritual practice? What is it?
- What is the purpose or intention of your business?
- Does your business reflect your life’s path?
- What is your mission/intention for 2011?
- How would you like to see your business shift or expand in the future?
- Do you have positive colleagues who support you?
- How often are you in contact with them?
- Do you regularly network to meet new people?
- Do you have at least three business friends you can count on? Who are they?
Now, take a moment to notice which areas are energetically stuck. Next, head back to your store and back up this intuitive data with hard, left-brain facts: sales numbers, accounting data, and so forth. Remember: You’ll get the best answer when you use both your intuition/right brain and analysis/left brain.
Finally, make the shifts in your business as needed, and track the results. As the year goes on, redo this exercise from time to time as a way of reassessing what’s stuck and what’s in flow.
First published in Vol. 25 No. 1 of Retailing Insight. © 2011 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.