The following is part two of a four-part series on calling "Focus On A Small Business". I'm profiling local small business owners Renee Johnson and Chris Roberts, owners of Barkwheats, an organic dog biscuit company. I took them out to lunch and picked their brains. Here's some of what I learned.

Chris and Renee certainly have a successful small business but that doesn't mean they're done working on it. It would be easy to stagnate once things are going well but Chris and Renee get being innovative and are always trying to learn more. Where do you start? Um, everywhere:

Look at what you've admired about places you've worked before.

Both Chris and Renee speak with great respect about the companies they've worked for, which I really respect. Not only does this attitude make Chris and Renee look classy (and not catty) but it also means that all their work experience is valuable since they are willing to examine it. "Our expectations are high because we've worked for cooporations (that have set a high bar)…we're going to be at that bar or better."

For example, Renee has had a lot of nonprofit work experience, which may not seem applicable to business at first glace. What she got out of her nonprofit experience is "good work flow…making sure we're not wasting time", which has contributed to such choices as getting effective project management software.

Your family (and friends) can help.

If anyone in your family has run a successful small business for any length of time, there is something to learn from them. Plus they'll be flattered you asked. (I've got to get my ducks in a row and talk to my mom and brother-in-law; they've been so helpful in my little questions so far, even though I'm not selling hardware like they are.)

Find out what's important in your industry and go for it.

Chris and Renee just got B Corp certification and are the first pet product company to do so. (Other companies who have it that you may be familiar with are Seventh Generation and Method.)

Looking at the website, I now understand not only the official and legal hoops there are to jump through for this certification but also why it is important for Barkwheats to have this certification.

P.S. The B Corp website has some free downloads to help improve the social and environmentally responsibility of your company. Click here to check them out.

Have professional development experiences… and revisit them.

Chris and Renee attended The Coop America Green Business Conference in San Fransisco and got a ton out of it. As a matter of fact, they continue to learn from it: they audio recorded the seminars they went to so they could revisit them. "I think a lot of it was relavent, we were really inspired and came away from it with a bigger vision then what we had. But then to go back and listen to it three months after we implement something…I think we'll understand it even more."

Small businesses I think are hesitant to invest in professional development but it is really quite valuable, especially when you continue to revisit the ideas from it after it is over.

I think if you're the kind of person to learn from just about everything you do, I think you have the open mind to be an entreprenneur: the flexibility to be successful, the knowledge to improve, and a growing network of people and resources to draw from.

The next post: Getting the Word Out. It's the aspect that most impresses me about Barkwheats because for being a two person operation doing all their own manufacturing, these folks spend some well invested time in online marketing!

Read part one of this series: The Little Things (AKA Some Subtile Stuff About Business Plans)…

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