The other day I ran across a fabulous book of photographs called “Earth From Above” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Each photo (a year's worth) was an aerial view of the subject – everything from peering down onto a slaughterhouse floor in India to viewing the mouth of the Mississippi River from on high. In some of these aerial views I saw places familiar to me but from an entirely different perspective. One shot in particular caught my eye – an aerial view of the dirt road that winds its way up the face of an Andean mountain to Peru's Machu Picchu. I've travelled that road – but I had no idea how treacherous and long it truly was until I saw the aerial perspective. And that got me thinking that as small business owners we often don't even think about the view an outsider has of our business. Yet, those outside, aerial views can show us things about our businesses that can bring new perspective and perhaps new opportunities our way.
If you're a savvy small business owner you've probably spent a little time trying to understand how your customers see you – how they experience your product or service, how they view your after-sell customer service. But you've probably not much thought about how other business owners see you, or how you are viewed from your community's perspective. You've probably not viewed your own business as an outsider very often, although that can be extremely valuable to do. So here's an exercise that helps you get an aerial perspective of your business – that takes you out of it and lets you look at it with new eyes.
Close your eyes and get a picture in your head of your business – its location, its services, its customers, its staff, everything all in place, as if you're making a collage of its parts on a table in front of you. Now, step back from that table. Walk around it slowly, viewing the collage as you circle the table, noticing that different parts of your business come into focus as you move. What parts do you see that you often don't pay attention to? What parts look familiar? What parts seem dim, as if you don't have a clear view? Are there aspects of your business that you notice aren't in the collage at all? In your mind's eye, see yourself climbing up onto a stepladder and looking down at the collage of your business. What do you see? Are there places in the collage that you want to reach down and rearrange? Add something to? Wish wasn't there?
Imagine 4 or 5 other business owners you know come into the room and start walking around the table, looking at your collage. What do they comment on? What is their overall impression?
Giving your business a good look from the outside is something I recommend to my clients twice a year. Besides looking at your own business, I also suggest being a part of a business roundtable or mastermind group that can give you outside perspectives a few times a year. Just like my realizing I'd travelled a much longer and more treacherous path on that mountainside in Peru than I realized at the time, you may see that you have been far more successful than you feel yourself to be. You might see blind spots you can fill in to increase your income. You might see ways to collaborate with others that brings more profit to both of you. Keep in mind that an outsider's perspective can gain you fame or blame, so pay attention!