The summer heat reminds me of how and when my entrepreneurial spirit began: summer camp. Not going to summer camp, but holding a week-long summer day camp at my house for the neighborhood kids. I was 12 years old and lived in Daytona Beach, Florida. My house was perfect, with a large patio deck and huge swimming pool and slide. I corralled campers by handing out announcement flyers to parents.
For $19 per child, moms and dads could get their kids out of their hair for a week. Those seven days as camp founder/director/counselor to 16 campers taught me far more about the basics of running a business successfully than I could possibly appreciate at the time. These basics are helpful for all entrepreneurs/business owners to occasionally revisit:
Make your “camp” irresistible to consumers. There were many other day-camp options in Daytona Beach but parents were attracted to mine because it was conveniently in the neighborhood, which meant no additional carpooling for them. My hand delivery of the promotional flyers to parents (rather than mailing them or just leaving them at their front doors) called to mind “trust,” as most of them either already knew me or my parents. These two factors – location and trust – were my differentiators. In today’s business world, consumers have innumerable options to fill almost any need. What distinguishes your product or service and makes it more desirable than your competitors’? The answers to this question are the factors and characteristics that feed your competitive advantage and attract consumers.
Be impeccably organized to give “campers” an outstanding experience. I created a detailed activities schedule for every day of camp, including a Plan B in case thunderstorms rolled in and we had to go inside. I arranged materials and supplies at the crack of dawn each day so that everything was in place and ready to go when the campers arrived. Operating a business requires immense attention to details, preparedness, and thinking ahead. If you’re not well organized across all aspects of your business, you’ll always be in a reactive mode, driven by problems and putting out fires. Lack of organization trickles down to tarnishing the customer’s experience.
Wear your shiny silver whistle and stand firm as the leader. Before my camp began, moms and dads gave me insights on how to handle their kids, and they reminisced about things they liked most about their own camp years. I enlisted a friend to be a second counselor during camp week and she also gave me some ideas. During camp, the kids would beg to do this or that activity again and again or tell me how they wanted to change it. I absorbed all of the information, but ultimately I had to blow the shiny silver whistle I wore around my neck and confidently make decisions. As a business owner or entrepreneur, it’s helpful to get advice and tips from others, but there’s a stopping point. Intake input graciously. Then step forward and blow your whistle. You, the leader, determine the who, what, where, when, why, and how to make your business successful.
Get the girl with the red boots out of the pool and handle crisis briskly, calmly, and properly. One day camper Debbie wore her red patent leather knee-high boots to camp – and accidentally fell into the swimming pool. A few of us jumped in to help her get out safely, however, the red boots obviously were drenched. I called Debbie’s mom right away to report the incident. I assured her that her daughter was fine – but not the boots. That evening, I called again and offered to pay for a new pair. Debbie’s two siblings were also at my camp, and their mom replied, “The kids are having a great time and are not here annoying me. Don’t worry about it.” (The next day Debbie was back – wearing her soggy red boots!) As a business owner, always handle crisis head on. Don’t dodge or make excuses. Talk directly with whoever has been affected. Quickly identify and implement a resolution. And, although it wasn’t necessary in this instance, check back with the customer afterward to ensure you have remedied problems to their satisfaction.
Build strong relationships by exhausting “campers” with great satisfaction. The campers went home at the end of each day drained from overdosing on fun. When the week came to an end, there was a reverberating echo from the parents, “Will you do it again next week?”
Although decades have passed, I occasionally bump into some of my former campers (most now parents) and their parents (most now grandparents), and our bonds remain strong. With big smiles, they still share their memories of Camp Sheryl with me. I put my heart and soul into the camp, and that’s exactly what it takes to be an entrepreneur and run a thriving business.
To be successful in today’s business environment, it’s not good enough to “meet the requirements.” You have to enthusiastically build customer relationships and go the extra mile to keep them coming back, and earn their referrals.
Sheryl Kurland, a.k.a. The Relationship Insider, is a relationship expert, author, and speaker at college campuses. She’s been interviewed by ABC World News Tonight, The Daily Buzz nationally syndicated TV morning show, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and 100+ other media. You can subscribe to her free weekly relationship tips here.