For years I’ve been telling people how they can attend a mini-seminar every day. How? By watching what happens when they try to spend their money at other businesses.

How many of you have felt like the enemy when you entered a place of business? Perhaps you walked in and the employees were hiding around the corner somewhere. And you know what they were thinking: “Oh no, here comes a customer! Just when we ordered a pizza too, doggone it.” (And the place you walked into was a pizza parlor!)

Go into a business five minutes before closing time and watch the employees’ reactions. By watching, you’ll know very quickly how they feel about customers. Now check your business. How are your employees treating the day’s last-minute callers? Is it how you would want to be treated?

You can learn a lot about how to run your business by watching the signs displayed in other businesses. “NO! We do not have ice cream!” – painted in angry red – taught me some very valuable lessons. I was with my wife, and I begged, “Can I go in and ask? Can I? Can I?” She retorted, “No, they’ll have a gun and will probably shoot you.” (Lesson learned: Don’t be angry with people who want to spend their money at your place of business.)

We walked around a four-block area and there was no ice cream anywhere! The sign “NO! We do not have ice cream!” was on the front door of a candy store, the only “sweet shop” we’d seen. (Second lesson learned: If enough people come in and ask for ice cream, maybe we should sell ice cream! It’s what we call market research.)

You can learn a lot about how to name your business by watching how others name theirs. A company I know used to be called “BM Service.” As if that wasn’t questionable enough, they started selling gas and must have had a marketing meeting. The new sign? “BM Gas & Service.” I avoid them even more now!

I also find it valuable to watch how people come to work in other businesses. Some places, the employees are pretty good in the parking lot. But as they get closer to the front door, things start to sl...o......w down. Throughout most of the day, you see them watching their watches. When they leave, it looks like the start of the Indy 500. (So, how do your employees look coming and going?)

I have watched how grocery store checkout clerks often won’t talk with you, but they will talk to other employees while they take your money. Jay Leno once quipped, “When I chided a clerk for failing to say thank you, she snapped, ‘It’s printed on your receipt!’” (Are your people visiting with customers and thanking them?)

In my programs for companies and associations, I use examples like these to teach what I’ve learned in business.
Other “lessons” include:

• Hire the right (i.e., best) people.
• Enforce high standards of appearance and professionalism.
• Recognize employees and provide meaningful feedback.
• Develop a team-oriented work environment.
• Live your “mission”; keep your “promises.”

When you watch other businesses, you realize the process of doing business can be quite simple. A friend of mine says, “Take care of your people, take care of your customers, count your money.” Most of us simply want a quality product or service at a fair price sold by someone who is honest, dependable, and appreciative.

If you take my advice to observe other businesses, you will undoubtedly find ways to change your own business. But there is a downside. One audience member explained, “I can’t go in and just shop anymore. I’m always looking for ways I can learn how to run my business.” For me, it makes spending money lots more fun!

Author's Bio: 

Michael McKinley, CSP, CPAE, is a business owner, consultant, professional speaker, and developer of Gem Gardens near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He builds and delivers customized presentations on business topics for corporations and professional associations. He owns McKinley Company, Inc., of Eau Claire, whose Alive! Alive! Associates division markets his speaking and consulting services. He can be reached at 800-225-4769 or For more information visit

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