education | May 8, 2020 |
How to draw the map for a better business

For many, business has slowed significantly. But if you’re looking for a silver lining, entrepreneurs and business leaders have been granted an extra bit of space to think critically about their companies. If you haven’t done so lately, now is the time to ask: “Is this the business I envisioned?” (And it’s OK if the answer is no.) In BOH’s latest Community Discussion, editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen spoke with Holly Howard, founder of Ask Holly How, a business consultancy for creative entrepreneurs, about how to examine, grow and strengthen your business, even in a slowdown.

Watch the recorded conversation here, or read on to find out some of the top takeaways from Howard—from redefining company culture to engineering a growth potential plan.

How to draw the map for a better business
Holly HowardCourtesy of Ask Holly How

It’s more than ‘just business’
One of the most important parts of a business, for Howard, is culture. (And she’s not talking about beer on tap, pool tables, or any of the office perks that have been stand-ins for “culture” in the past decade.) Clearly defining values is what will solidify the foundation of a company—and those values should be the root of everything from leadership to financial planning. Howard said a mistake many businesses make is focusing on marketing or PR initiatives that lead with the company’s deliverables rather than with its values—often bringing them to brand themselves with buzzwords that aren’t wholly aligned with what the company really stands for or offers. While business requires tact and calculation, we cannot forget that it’s composed of relationships and run by people—business is human, and being human is powerful.

From product to person
Once you’ve established your own company values, it’s important to really get to know your client. “Do you know what your client ate for lunch, what’s on their bedside table, what candle they’re burning?” asked Howard. “You have to know them that well. Remember that our service is a vehicle to deliver an experience.” If you don’t know your clients that well, it’s time to do your homework. “People skills are valuable—get to know your clients, what their life is like, their interests. You can do a client survey and ask how they would describe their experience with you to their best friend,” suggests Howard. She also sees Instagram as a window into your client’s brain. The takeaway: Rather than focusing on what your brand delivers, ask yourself more about the wants and needs of the person receiving the service.

Finding the right words, right now
Culture informs tone, which in turn informs messaging—a company’s values are going to be the attraction for customers, so clearly defining that language internally will unify company messaging and consistently attract clients that are a strong fit. “If you’re clear on culture, it’s easier to be clear on tone,” said Howard. Wondering how to engage or re-engage with clients in this climate without sounding tone-deaf? Howard suggests a slight shift in perspective (and language): Rather than viewing that conversation as a sales pitch, connect with your client. Write with what is special about the experience of working with you in mind—and focus on what you can offer, not what you’re selling. “When you stay product-focused it’s hard to run a business. It’s more about the people skills,” she explained.

Get vulnerable
Sometimes as a result of trying a new process, people realize that parts of their business aren’t working—but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “It’s not a failure; you’re still learning something,” said Howard. Running a business often ends up being a tool for self-evolution, since strengthening the company requires not only leadership, but also personal growth and emotional intelligence. Howard has observed that though creative entrepreneurs often put their heart and soul into their product, they put a wall up in their messaging; she said that finding the strength to be vulnerable about your values in all parts of the business—including marketing—is what will resonate with customers the most. In short, put yourself out there, even when it’s scary. “That moment where you feel excitement and terror at the same time—that is the best moment,” she said.

Work backwards
Whether you’re trying to grow your client list, scale revenue or redefine company culture, you have to visualize the endpoint in order to move toward that goal. “It’s about having a vision for what you believe is possible and being optimistic that you’ll take the actions to make that vision a reality,” said Howard. Think of what it is that you’re trying to build in the future, and then reverse-engineer from that vision. “It’s not about one foot in front of the other. It’s about working backwards from that point to make that a reality.”


Business of Home’s biweekly Community Discussion is a new series of interactive Q&A events on Zoom for BOH Insiders. Hosted by editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen, the conversations explore how COVID-19 is impacting interior design and the home industry—and how designers and brands should respond. BOH Insiders can tune in every Monday and Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST or watch the recorded sessions here. (Not a BOH Insider? Learn more about our membership community here.)

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