Lessons from Poor TV Choices

I have a confession to make: I watch Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell. ...well, "watch" is really far too strong of a word. It's that thing that I watch-but-don't-watch when crocheting or sewing. I like to think that I'm contentious about the media I feed into my brain, even if it is only with only half my attention. (For those of you who don't watch these shows, basically the premise is that failing restaurants and hotels, desperate for help turn to an opinionated and easily exacerbated Brit for help turning their businesses around.) While I tend to think of this kind of TV as formulaic dribble, I can say with confidence that there is much I have learned from watching this show, and it's even relevant to entrepreneurs! Here three of the things I've learned and how they may be relevant to you:

1. Know your trade and know your industry.

Gordon Ramsay (the host of both shows) is chronically running into restaurant owners who've never worked in food service. While I'm sure there are some restaurant owners who do just fine and have never worked in food service, there is a demonstrable trend among the failing businesses featured on Kitchen Nightmares. 

The message here for all entrepreneurs is to know your trade and know your industry; have the training (and certification, if applicable) and experience to be competent at your trade. Also know how most people become successful in the way you want to be successful. i.e. do most people work in a restaurant before launching a restaurant? For successful people who haven't previously worked in restaurants, what skills and experience did they have when they started their restaurant? Forging your own path is always an option, and it is a good idea to find out why the path of least resistance is the least resistant. 

What the path of least resistance looks like varies widely across industries: yoga teachers usually teach at gyms and studios before starting their own studio or private practice, where as plenty of massage therapists leave school and immediately start their own practice. All things equal, try to have as much real-world practice as possible before starting your own business so you will be comfortable with *doing* the thing you do. It's critical that you're comfortable and competent at your trade so that you'll have room to learn all the business-y things that come along with starting your own business. Some training programs have a lot of focus on practicing the trade; some students will find that's an ample amount of practice and some may want more. In many fields (but not all) it's simple to be employed in your field, which would give you the experience of practicing your trade prior to launching your own business. In some fields this isn't really an option, so how else can you get ample practice before going it alone? Or maybe you're going to get practice while launching your business and you've got the resources (and patience) to make that happen. Every entrepreneur is different, so do what makes sense for you in order to set yourself up for success. 

2. Have a clear, concise idea of what your business is; it shouldn't be too far off from what's been done before. 

On the show this looks like a Greek restaurant that has hamburgers on the menu, the Italian place that also has belly dancing performances, or the hotel that's also a live music venue. The motivation for these combos is often that the owners have an interest in more than one thing and they want to marry the two. Sometimes two interests can be married and it's a match made in heaven. As these shows prove, it's also often not. Be sure to think marriages through, and a good way to do so, is to ask yourself why this doesn't exist already. Why are most hotels not also live music venues? Well, because live music is loud and hotels generally need to be quite so people can sleep. Some restaurants have belly dancing, but not all. Why? Because the restaurants that do also have belly dancing as part of their culture; it's ethnically relevant. There is no belly dancing in traditional Italian cuisine. Why don't most Greek restaurants have hamburgers? Because when you go out for Greek food, you expect to order Greek food. If you want a hamburgers, you'll go out to a diner. Mixing the two sacrifices clarity. Not to say you couldn't start a Greek Burger restaurant, but prove that you can run a restaurant before adding that level of complexity.  

For you, the service providing one-man-show, this teaches two lessons: (1) do not try to be unique, you already are, and (2) be intentional about how and if your interests join.

I sometimes hear concerns from solo entrepreneurs that the service they provide is not distinct enough from everyone else who provides that same service in town. The truth of the matter is, if you're proving a service, the service you provide is necessarily different than what that other guy provides simply because YOU'RE the one proving the service. Focusing on articulating what makes you unique is a much stronger marketing plan than muddling your message with a second interest. 

Think long and hard about how two interests might mesh, and if at all possible tackle one interest at a time. e.g. if you're a dance teacher and a therapist you can either offer dance therapy or you can have two brands: one as a dance teacher and one as a therapist with different websites, business cards, company names, email addresses. Marketing "dance therapy" is challenging, but it's one thing. Marketing "dance lessons" and "therapy" are two different things, each easier to market than "dance therapy" since people know what they are where as they may be confused about what "dance therapy" is. It's important to not confuse the dance students with therapy talk or the therapy clients with dance talk. The easiest option is to pick "dance lessons" or "therapy" (i.e. pick ONE interest) and go with that, then tackle the other interest if/when the first is successful.  

If two things have never been mixed before, proceed with caution! It's not impossible, but perhaps you should climb a hill before setting your sights on the peak of Mt. Rainier? If you're hell bent on it, make sure you're experienced in both trades and industries you're trying to meld (see point #1) and then investigate how others have mixed the two interests. Learn from others who are blending the two. What are doing; what's working and what's not working. 

3. Clean and simple decor. 

There's a segment every episode in both these shows where Gordon Ramsay (host of both shows) runs around the business getting grossed out at how not-clean the place is and how weird the decor is. This is the easiest one to nail, especially for entrepreneurs who are just starting out: keep your client-space clean and simple. You can always change things later, so start with the bare essentials when it comes to furniture and decor. A color on the walls (or even just one wall) does a lot to warm a place up and tie everything together. Your first furniture doesn't have to be perfect, just get something that gets the job done. And then be sure to clean! My personal experience of dust is very subtle, so I have to be extra conscious because I don't want my clients to have a subtly dusty experience. 

For folks who have been in business a while, be sure to refresh every once in a while, even if it's one item every year or so. Keep in mind issues of wear: Can you tell where your clients always sit on your sofa? Does that throw rug have a path where everyone walks? As well as issues of style: Is your sofa a floral print just like grandma's? Does that rug scream 1970? (Skilled decorators might be able to swing these, but when in doubt, copy what you see in an Ikea catalog.) You always have the option to hire a decorator, maybe you can find someone to do trade with!