The Seven Best Business Tips I Ever Received

This week I am teaching EntreLeadership Performance Series here in Tennessee, and will be finishing the week off with a couple of Formula races in Savannah. I’ve asked some of the incredibly talented commenters of this blog to share their wisdom. Here’s a great post by Jana Botkin. Jana is an extraordinary artist. You can see her work here. You can guest post as well! Read how to here.

When I first decided to become an artist, all I knew was how to draw. I had more jobs than anyone else. Unfortunately, most were great examples of how not to do business.

And then, along came Shirley Goodness.  In 1990, she opened a gift shop on the main street of our small rural town, population 8,500.

For some reason, Shirley liked me and my artwork. First, she wanted my note cards to sell in her shop, then my prints and finally my originals. Next, she asked me to work for her part-time. Eventually, she made space for my studio within her store.

Most of what I know about business, I learned from Shirley. She understood retail, resale, merchandising, marketing and human nature.

Here are her most powerful lessons on retail that can be applied to almost any business:

  1. Make things easy on the customer. Offer to let her take it home and try it out, put things on hold, have a layaway plan, hand him a pen, give her a box to dump her purse into when she can’t find her keys, make sure every picture is ready to hang. Do whatever the customer needs to make a decision to buy.
  2. Be discreet. You don’t know if that gift is for a surprise party or that the customer just broke the family budget. Just keep quiet.
  3. Presentation is everything. Rework your displays often, take things out of the plastic, gift wrap in a signature style, pay attention to color and scale, use calligraphy if you know it. Make things look as appealing as possible.
  4. Even in a down economy, the rich still have money. When a big freeze hit the local citrus industry, Shirley still bought some high-end items for her store. Those with money bought nice things to soothe their worries.
  5. Don’t sight-qualify. Some of the wealthiest people drive the worst looking cars. (I may be in danger of getting mistaken for a rich person.)
  6. Whatever is next to the beating heart will sell. This is why space by the cash register is so valuable. Whenever Shirley was reworking a display, items would sell before she finished.
  7. Be nice to everyone. A total stranger would ask her for a donation, and she’d just smile and say, “I think I’ll pass this time.” You never know when someone will remember your kindness (and your great looking store) and return as a customer.

Question: What are the best business tips you’ve learned from your Shirley Goodnes



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

77 thoughts on “The Seven Best Business Tips I Ever Received”

  1. Those are some awesome tips Jana! Thanks for sharing from your experience! First off its nice to know I’m not the only small town person here! My town is right at 8k!
    I loved your suggestion about making things easy for the customer. By the examples you gave, it’s very obvious you are GREAT at that! The example of the box to dump the purse in, is an example to me of how you not only make it easy, you put yourself I the customers shoes and do for the what you’d hope someone would do for you! And that is the true customer service! It goes way past “being nice”!
    Thanks again for your wisdom!!

    1.  @Skropp Actually it was a “big” town to me because at the time I was living in a town of 110! 😎 You are right on about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes – when you can feel another person’s fear or frustration or confusion, it helps you know what you’d want in that situation. And it was all Shirley’s wisdom, not mine, but you are welcome anyway. 😎

      1. @cabinart Perspective is funny. I have so many friends that I tell them that a town with 20-30k is big and they just look tame like I’ve lost my mind…because compared to where they live, thats even tiny haha.
        And as far as who’s wisdom it is, you’ve internalized it and utilized it ad now shared it, so I consider it your wisdom, learned from Shirley 🙂

        1.  @Skropp  @cabinart  Town size is in the eye of the beholder.  I was born and raised in a “town” with 27 million people, I work in a town with almost 400K and I live in a town with 8K. And there’s no way you will make all of them people happy. Any questions? 🙂

        2. @lilykreitinger @cabinart I LOVE my little town. Born and raised here, don’t really have a desire to move haha. This country boy would lose his MIND in a town of 400k or 27 million!

        3.  @lilykreitinger @Skropp Yeah Lily, but what really matters is if those towns were in the Eastern Time Zone or not, since all other time zones are relative to EST/EDT.

        4. @Jon Henry @lilykreitinger Man Jon, you’re really sold on the East Coast aren’t you? Haha. I have a feeling you’re gonna bust my chops over it for as long as we remain friends… 🙂 hold on, are we friends, I mean I don’t live on the east coast or anything, are you even ALLOWED to be friends with me?

        5. @JoelFortner took a class spring break trip there in 8th grade. DC, Philly, Gettysburg. I loved it…couldn’t ever live there though. I did love living in upstate NY though…

        6.  @Skropp  @JoelFortner I fell in love with my friend’s house in Old Town Alexandria. Couldn’t stop taking pictures and oohing and ahhing over the age and the character. It was sort of embarrassing. But all those people squished together in such small spaces sort of uses up the oxygen.

  2. Great tips, Jana! I’m sure I’ll think of others later, but one thing I remember is back when I worked at Hardee’s. Our general manager would always have an emphasis on cleaning. The place had to stay clean. If you were not taking care of a customer, you were cleaning the door glass (that was probably the biggest emphasis). If the door glass was acceptable, then you were cleaning tables, trays, counters, sweeping, mopping, checking the bathrooms, etc.

  3. Another thing I remember from Hardee’s is a saying my general manager would always say: “Non-optional option.” Basically, you have a choice to do this; but it has to get done, so you don’t have a choice.

  4. One of the best tips I know comes from multiple sources, but was always said of both Mother Teresa and John Paul II–make each person feel like they are the only person in the world when you talk to them.  Focus completely on them, their needs, how to serve them.  When people leave your business feeling like that, they will be back, and your business will grow.  Also known as “super-serve” them.

    1. Dale, that is a rare quality in today’s world of “smart phones” – how many people are fully present in a conversation any more? That takes real intentionality, and it does feel good!

      1. @cabinart Great point about phones Jana! I’ve began making it a point whenever I’m checking out or ordering or something at a store or restaurant to NOT be on the phone, or to ask the person I’m talking to to hang on for a sec…talking on the phone hole purchasing somethig must make the cashier feel extremely unimportant, and I don’t wanna be the one to make them feel that way!

        1.  @Skropp Makes me feel crummy when I am present but my companion would rather talk to someone who is absent. Besides, I can’t figure out what to do – am I supposed to put my fingers in my ears and say “lalalala” so I don’t eavesdrop?? 

    2. @Dale Powers i LOVE being aeound people like that! Have you noticed Chris is that way? When chris talks to you, he makes you feel like youre his best friend from all the way back in third grade! I completely agree if you meet all their needs, answer all their questions AND make them a sandwich, they’ll be back time and time again!

  5. Love this post Jana, and love, love, love your piece.  You’re such a gifted artist. I think some of these business tips apply to life lessons too. Be nice to everyone, don’t judge a book by its cover, take pride on how you present yourself… WOW!!  Thanks for your insight! Woot woot!!

    1.  @lilykreitinger Thanks, Lily! You are right about these being good life lessons too. “Be discreet” is just another way of saying “don’t gossip”!

  6. @ChrisLoCurto Cris you do great work and What are some of the best ways to enhance my business and get the word out?

  7. MattMcWilliams2

    One of the best tips I ever received was from a direct report.
    He happened to live about 200 feet from me and was over at my house one night and he said “I’ve never had a manager reward someone so well for a job well done as you. Don’t ever stop that.”
    I was known for running in the office, giving high fives, shouts of joy, giving an X-Box here or there, and the like. I was a little self-conscious of this and thought I was being too unprofessional. He put me at ease with who I am.
    I’ve never stopped doing those things and never will. 

    1.  @MattMcWilliams2 People love to be appreciated – good for you for being so uninhibited and exuberant! That is the sort of thing that brings joy into a boring office.

    2. @MattMcWilliams2 Man Matt, I wish you were my manager!! People want to be around people that are positive, kind, fun and passionate. It seems like you embody all of those! Hats off…

      1. MattMcWilliams2

         @Skropp  Thanks! 
        But I did leave out the bad parts…I was much younger (27 at the time), running a 50+ person company with 2 others and had no clue how to handle my emotions sometimes. Every mistake was life-threatening, every decision critical, and if someone didn’t do things perfectly, act as fast as I thought they should, or offended me, it wasn’t pretty.
        I’ve lived…and learned…forgotten and re-learned.

        1. @MattMcWilliams2 Oooh, ok, so you were human? Haha. To be 27 and running a company of 50+ you had to be doing a few things right. I’m 27 and I’m not running anything…yet! Haha

        2. MattMcWilliams2

           @Skropp  It was called right place, right time. We got in our market before it boomed…meaning it got saturated. Couldn’t have done it 2 years later.

        3. MattMcWilliams2

           @Skropp  Thanks! Read here how we took it from an burgeoning empire to a burgeoning pile of poo: (comment on a post from last week)

        4.  @Skropp  @MattMcWilliams2 When I was 27, I THOUGHT I should have been running the company where I worked! Still wonder if I could have made it more profitable than the owner. . . 

    3. @MattMcWilliams2 I love this! In my last job, I used to scare team members by using a huge orange cone as a megaphone and I used to dump packaging peanuts on people over cubicle walls. It was quite fun. 🙂

      1. MattMcWilliams2

         @JoelFortner  Nice! The things we did are the stuff of legend. We were a company full of early to late 20-somethings, with a few old folks (you know, 30-year olds).
        -Chair races around the building (we weren’t the only tenants)
        -Afternoon football toss to think of ideas (usually outside, but once inside, I put a large hole in the wall)
        -Inviting other team members into to fill up the CEO’s bed with french fries. He was my roomie and a heavy sleeper.
        -Repeat the above only with pepperoni
        -Repeat the above only with a bottle full of hotel lotion
        -Repeat the above with various other substances. It’s any wonder he still roomed with me.
        -Changing a guy’s wallpaper to basically be the background icons and watching him try to open anything on his computer for 20 minutes.
        -Changing the path of various icons on the CEO’s computer so that when he clicked Word, it opened MS Paint, Firefox opened Excel, Outlook opened Windows Media Player, etc.
        -Playoff beards
        -An electric cricket…won’t go into details but wow that was fun.
        Good times…totally increased productivity in the end too.

        1. MattMcWilliams2

           @cabinart  @JoelFortner I would have had to fire myself, so no. I don’t necessarily suggest doing any of those things…well some of them are probably OK. It helped that the CEO was my best friend from childhood too.

  8. The being nice to everyone is the kicker.  It applies to ALL people!  At a place I worked I would hear people get a little nasty with vendors when things were running behind schedule treating them a lowly servant.  I would warn people about behavior like that coming back to bite them.  Sure enough, I have seen those same vendors change jobs and now work for a customer in which we would have to deal with!  I bet they remembered how they were treated.

    1. @Kevin Edwards Great point Kevin. I think that kind of attitude would indirectly affect the rest of the team as well. They see you treat a vendor that way and it speaks to the type of person you are and your team becomes either scared of you or loses respect for you. Neither is beneficial.

  9. List Lady strikes again –
    1. Shirley just called me to say I left off the most important one – “Promote thyself”. Never was any good at that, so I usually ignored it and let her handle that part!
    2. I think the title should have been “best retail advice” rather than the general ‘business tips”.
    3. Is this called “writer’s regret” when one wants to edit after publication?

    1.  @cabinart I don’t think there’s ever anything that’s published that the writer doesn’t want to edit something. When you have a book’s worth of ideas, it’s hard to condense it to a page!

    2.  @cabinart A1. Say thanks to Shirley for us.
      A2. Retail advice applies well for general business advice, and life advice.
      A3. Editing is a never-ending process. Don’t worry about it. It’s a great post and we’re a laid-back crowd.  🙂

      1.  @lilykreitinger @JoshuaWRivers Good to know that all writers want to keep editing, but do you think Chris will check in and fix the misspelling of “Goodness” in the question? I’m twitching slightly here!

        1. @cabinart @lilykreitinger @JoshuaWRivers Promoting yourself is hard!! You always feel like you’re being egotistical! Maybe if we thought of it as more of promoting a product or service (which, in essence, it is) it would be easier.
          And I second what Lily said, we’re a pretty laid back crowd. Haha and I’m sure Chris is just grateful to not have o be worried about getting posts cranked out I doubt he’ll change a thing 🙂

  10. Scooping Ice cream one summer I learned one of my lessons, Never make a customer wait to pay for his purchase! (obviously this was before the age of the mega store)

    1.  @John Briese I forgot that one – Shirley used to say that when someone is ready to pay, be ready to take their money and finish things up quickly!

      1.  @Aaron Nelson  I have walked out of a store becuase there was a long wait… if I don’t walk out, I can usually find a couple of things that I did not need after all.  I guess I should be greatful for this time to evaluate my needs vs wants… bad for business though.

  11. No better way to learn than from someone with experience!  Having a “mentor” really is invaluable!  Thanks for sharing @cabinart !!!
    Be discreet.  Hmm.  I may have to have a talk with myself about that. 😉

    1. @selfemployedbob @cabinart It’s crazy how little mentor ship is talked about these days! Our culture is so high on themselves and we’re taught to do whatever we feel like…no wonder so many in my gen are racking up huge student loan debt then whining it’s not fair when they can’t find a $150k job doing nothing!! No mentorship! (can ya tell those people drive me up a wall??)

  12. I’m so late on this great post, but I really really enjoyed it! You know what I thought when I read it? How amazing Shirley Goodness is as an instigator. That’s something we can all learn about business, don’t you think? 
    What would happen if we took someone and promoted them? Sheltered them?  Shared our platform with them? (however big it may be ) – in short: mentoring.
    Maybe Shirley didn’t formally tell you that she wanted to mentor you or try and add momentum to your work, but I think that’s a great example of leadership, and a business tip in disguise. 
    Great post!

  13. Beautiful art, Jana – you are so talented.  And you are right -these are powerful lessons you learned from Shirley!  Great points – great post!  Thanks, Jana!

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