In an earlier blog post, I discussed the 7 things I no longer do in my indoor playground business as I have grown and matured as a business owner.
I referenced Michael Hyatt, who, in many of his books and programs continuously refers to designing your ideal days and weeks as “the desire zone.” Operating within your desire zone, as he describes it, simply means you are spending the bulk of your time doing what you both love AND are good at.
While there are many tasks I cut completely and some I delegate to better-suited team members, there are several duties that still lie within my “desire zone,” and that I feel are important for me to handle personally. While this is constantly shifting as my priorities (both professionally and personally) evolve, these are 5 of the tasks that I’m not giving up just yet as a business owner.
At Climbing Vines Cafe and Play, we have chosen our unique private birthday parties as the main focus of our business.
Because of this focus, I have chosen to personally plan the primary aspects of each party we host. When someone books their event with us, they get a detailed confirmation which includes my own contact information and mentions that I will be personally in touch as their event draws near.
While I don’t typically handle the execution of our parties, I do still act as the main touchpoint for parents and gather all of their information and preferences. Ten days before each party, I send out a personalized party “questionnaire” which includes all of the details we have gathered up to that point, provides additional day-of information, and asks about last-minute details.
I answer all questions the host may have in response to that email and-- after some back-and-forth communication-- I record all of their event information on what we call a “party prep sheet.” Based on clients’ choices, I make a list for all of our vendors (catering, party supplies, balloons, paper products, etc.) and will usually have a team member complete the shopping and organize all of the supplies so they are grouped by party. Since we have up to 6 all-inclusive events in one weekend, this organization is essential!
The party-prep sheet is an extremely detailed document that allows any of our party hosts to execute the event to the exact specifications of the parents, leaving no stone unturned. This has allowed me to have most weekends free yet still feel confident we are delivering an above-and-beyond birthday party experience.
After the party, we send a survey to each hosting family. If they have feedback, whether it be positive or negative, I always follow up personally. This closes the loop on clients’ experience and makes sure they know I truly care about their child’s special day. This process has lead to a significant number of repeat bookings and consistent referrals from past parties.
Not only is planning these parties something I excel in, but I also take great joy in it. Event planning is how I got into this business in the first place, so I am more than happy to take on this task. If I am ever feeling overwhelmed with the details, I know I have amazing team members I can lean on.
Speaking of our amazing team members, another task I choose to have a hand in is our hiring and firing process. While I do leave the final decision up to our cafe manager, I prefer to write the job posts and descriptions and filter through resumes and applications before bringing anyone in for an interview.
Having spent several years hiring and firing my fair share of employees, it’s easy for me to spot red-flags on applications and also find “diamonds in the rough.” Since we have most of our standard operating procedures documented and optimized, I prefer to hire based on personality and enthusiasm rather than experience.
I also make sure I personally welcome each employee to our team and touch base with them frequently to check in and gather feedback from them.
Another task that lies in my current “desire zone” is navigating the overall direction of our business and coming up with new ways to best serve our community.
Since I no longer spend time doing these 7 things (and more!), my time and energy are freed up to research what our ideal clients want and need and figure out a way to integrate that into our business model.
For example, I noticed that our birthday party bookings were slowing down in the Summer. When I asked a few customers, they mentioned that they DID love our events and attention-to-detail but preferred a Summer party to be outside at their home (since many have backyards and pools). We then began offering mobile events, where we would bring decorations, food, and activities for the children to their homes, and it was a hit!
Another example is our events. We are always adding fun new events that allow customers, especially working parents with limited weekday availability, to visit us outside of open hours and get an enhanced experience through the theme of the event, class, or activity.
If I were I still doing EVERY task in my business, I would not have nearly enough time to do as much innovation or research.
When it comes to knowing how to innovate and what to offer, it all starts with forging a genuine connection with customers.
It’s for this reason that I love interacting with our customers in-person (when I can) and on social media. I choose to work parties, events, and even open-play when my family’s schedule allows it so I can stay involved and aware of what’s happening during the day-to-day. It also gives me the chance to observe how customers are using our space first-hand and listen to any concerns or questions they have. Even though in this age of technology there are reviews, forms, and surveys, I have found that NOTHING can replace having a face-to-face conversation with customers who use your space (and likely visits competitors too!) on a daily basis.
It’s for this reason that you will even see billionaire CEOs visiting retail locations on a regular basis. Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, was famous for visiting hundreds of stores around the country each year, spending time with the customers who were spending their money on his products.
I love being a family owned and operated business, and I love for my customers to know that I am fully invested in their happiness.
While I no longer do one-on-one consulting for people hoping to open indoor playgrounds, I do spend a significant amount of time creating absolutely free content for them here on my blog and over on YouTube. I also have an absolutely free, 44-page eBook for play-cafe-owning hopefuls that they can download right on our website or by clicking here.
If someone consumes that free information and decides they still would like to move forward with their plans, I also have an online program called Play Cafe Academy where I help entrepreneurs get from daydream to opening-day in less time and with less stress than they ever thought possible.
When I was researching this business model, there was not a lot of information out there. Current owners really keep all of their business secrets close to their vest, and I don't blame them! It's hard once you've worked for years and years to establish a profitable business to want to give those secrets away for nothing. Even if you charge a consulting fee, you’re still kind of giving away the secrets that you’ve worked so hard for and it's very easy as a business owner to get a little smug and protective of your own research and development.
When it came time to open my own business, I wound up making a ton of mistakes (and I mean a TON of mistakes) because I simply didn’t know any better. So when I started getting emails and calls to consult for other potential play cafe owners, I couldn’t keep all this information to myself. While it’s easy for me to feel like an imposter or that there are other business owners more qualified than me to share this information, I know that there’s a 4-years-ago me sitting at work somewhere waiting for the next idea to jump out at them.
And honestly, I do not want to see one more business close because someone who’s walked before them didn’t share any information! So why not share it myself?!
But my time is valuable. I have two little kids and also run another business... I don't have 12 hours to spend hand-holding each perspective owner through the process. (And let me tell you, it will take at least 12 to 24 hours of paid one-on-one consulting to even break the surface of what you need, including documentation.) At the average rate of $100 to $200 an hour to actually consult, imagine what you could end up paying for just a hint of education!
PCA is broken down into eight modules where I cover everything from writing your business plan to choosing a location and signing the right lease to organizing your streams of revenue and much, much more. Students can go through these modules at their own pace, and I don't have to take the time to walk my students through the program.
This allows me to help other entrepreneurs along their path while also reserving the time and energy I need for my family and other commitments.
Overall, this business model can truly be whatever the owner wants it to be. I know many owners who choose to do ALL of the things inside their business, and it works for them because we all have different “desire zones.”
I feel very lucky that I have learned over the years what my strengths (and weaknesses!) are and can design my “ideal” weeks accordingly. If I was still burning the candle on both ends trying to tackle everything myself, I would be doing myself, my family, and my customers a major disservice.