Small Business Owners — Are You Looking For Opportunities to Learn?

If you’re not learning, you can’t grow your business. Heck, you may not even be able to maintain it.

In my professional career, I’ve come across peers and clients who don’t need to read a book because “they already know it.” They don’t go to sessions at a conference on SaaS Marketing because they “already know it.” They don’t ask people questions at networking meetings because “they already have a marketer in their BNI group.”

Sadly, these scenarios are not made up.

Yes, Business Owners Still Need to Learn

It’s impossible to know everything so you must keep learning. You can learn how to do something better. You can ask yourself why you’re operating a certain way. Is that reason still applicable?

Learning includes customer insights. These insights come when you ask questions. For example, though this video is from January 28, today is April 1. I’m in a Residence Inn in St. Louis. There is no coffee pot in this room. The coffee maker is here, but not the pot. 

If I mention it to the front desk, I’m predicting one of two reactions: a) she’s just a Karen (GenX, short hair, likes to complain) or b) how did we miss that? Ain’t no thing since I brought Suiss Mocha instant coffee – just in case. Thankfully, there is a microwave in the building.

So, here I am as a customer. How can I learn from that?

Business Owners are Customers Themselves

Yes, I’m a business owner. Though I don’t have employees (I have a couple of vendors), I can still learn from every experience – especially those when I am a customer.  

In the case of the coffee pot, I know I just can’t even with telling the front desk. Why? I’m tired. It’s not my job to tell the front desk to check rooms before they’re available. And maybe they do. But the person who does it, skipped room 304. Who knows? I just don’t want the friction today. You know?

But if I were here for business (not moving 1,550 miles away), I would tell them.

Where is the insight from Coffee Pot Gate? Not every customer will give you insight. They won’t all tweet. They won’t all complain. (And, are complaints really just to bust your ass? Probably not.)

What makes you loyal to a brand? That’s another question that business owners can learn as customers themselves. What do you like about going to Starbucks? How does it make you feel when you get your T.J. Maxx $10 Rewards Certificate? 

Business Owners Can Learn As Employees

Recently, I’ve taken a part-time job at T.J. Maxx. Firstly, to have extra money to pay debt faster. Secondly, for travel and fun money. Thirdly, to get out of the house (single lady with a cat works alone, hello). Fourthly, because my client work dropped significantly Sept-Dec 2022. That’s another sad story. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned being an employee again – especially in retail. I’ve learned that 21-25 year-olds have work ethic and are some of the best managers I’ve ever had. I’ve learned that there are career opportunities in retail. 

I’ve learned about systems and processes and checklists – stuff that I “already know.” But it makes me think. What should I do every night, every week, and every quarter? How can I reward loyal members with exclusive members-only events three times a year? It’s more than just emailing people. I’ve learned that even when the TJX Rewards Card emails members, they don’t necessarily read or remember information.

I’ve been reinforced that looking people in the eye is valuable. 

I’ve been reinforced that asking people questions is never a bad idea.

I’ve been reinforced that there is always something positive you can say to everyone.

Does a smile or a laugh really make that much of a difference in someone’s work day?

Spoiler alert: it does.

Video Highlights

00:24 Do you learn by asking questions?

01:31 Empathy only works if you do the work.

02:17 Are you teachable?

03:22 You can learn from what not to do.

04:10 Don’t pass on information you “already know.”

Raw Transcript 


Hey, YouTube. I love my hair, but it’s driving me banana pants. And I thought I would come to you and do a little video about something I get asked about a lot, or actually something I encounter a lot, and that is being unteachable.


So I like to ask people, uh, questions because that’s the best way to learn about them. And sometimes I’m a little flabbergasted at how close-minded people are. Now, I knew this because I was, um, a teacher and sometimes when you’re tutoring people and you’re teaching them about math or whatever, then it’s really easy for them to get unfocused and decide they already. They are so frustrated, they’ve already closed their mind. There’s nothing they can possibly learn. You know, there’s nothing they can possibly learn. And that puts you in a really precarious position because as a business owner or somebody who wants to advance in your career, the most important thing you can do is have an open mind and to think about things in a different way, to experience things, um, new of the way your customers are, um, experiencing them. Try to put yourselves in their shoes.


We talk a lot about empathy lately, but that means going through those exercises. What is it like downloading an app without the wifi? What is it like signing up on a form on your website? Does it work for everyone? Are you asking when people, are you asking someone who’s never used your, your website to um, tell you what you do?


You know, is for me, the third time I got, somebody asked me if I specialized in marketing for bars and pubs, I was like, okay, I have to change this language. Right? Because that was my analogy and I love that page cuz it was clever and witty and fun, but it’s too disguised, right?


So are you teachable? Are you able to take in information from other people through your experiences and sort of apply them to a) what you, what you are doing correctly? There is a huge value in understanding and validating and, um, and reengaging the knowledge you have. We call that reinforced learning and it is so valuable. Another reason is what you shouldn’t do.


Remember that show What Not To Wear? Now, I know they have new versions of it, but Trinity Woodall who, uh, if you’ve seen me, me on Facebook or whatever, I’m obsessed with her. I’ve, I’ve just, I’ve thought she’s awesome forever. But she used to have this show, uh, called What Not To Wear and explained why things aren’t working right. So there’s a lot of people, we get stuck in our ruts and stuck with what our, what we’re wearing without thinking about the utility of what we’re trying to achieve. So it’s being open for that.


So sometimes you can learn what not to do, you know? Um, are you in a coffee shop and, uh, somebody takes your order and then you’re waiting for them to make the order before you pay? That is inefficient. I’m not sure why anybody does that. But, um, it happens a lot. It happens a lot in Door County. Um, if you’re listening to this and you’re offended, I’m sorry. <Laugh>. Um, but the, that’s the reality. The reality is why are you doing it this way? And it could be that there is a unique part of the culture that I’m misunderstanding. But to me, coming from California and then San Antonio, it makes zero sense.


Um, so I try to look at every client and every experience I’m having as what, what reinforced learning is there? What should I not do? What insights am I getting on processes or ideas on, oh, this is how this person is doing it? I wonder if I could do that? If I wonder if I could learn from this thing that I’m liking. 

I’m noticing that I like this thing, this experience, this shop. 

What of that can I bring into, uh, my business, my products, my customer service?


So reinforced learning, what not to do, and insights. So that’s, those are my tips for you today on keeping your mind open. Of course, I also recommend that you watch documentaries, um, read non-fiction, and from a variety, a variety of sources that may not be exactly your industry.


Because where, where we get stuck in ruts is by putting those blinders on and only looking at things that are from our industry instead of opening up our mind to different experiences.


And I will talk to you later. You can find out more about me on Bye.