Ultimately, your business depends on you and your employees. No surprise there, and you know there are times you will need to coach workers.

There are also times that you may need a coach or advisors. Perhaps you're trying to make an important decision or you need to reassess how your company currently operates. Getting outside expertise seems like a natural step.

And yet, is it? There's a source of experience, observation, and knowledge most people forget to tap: themselves. Over a lifetime of living, working, and being a customer, you know far more than you may give yourself credit for.

I was reminded of this when going to a local 3-location café chain. I've purchased whole bean coffee there for years, buying a pound at a time, which someone behind the counter would weight out. Then one day, came word that they wanted to sell pre-packaged 12-ounce bags from their roaster.

Some people would still weigh coffee out and simply charge 1.33 times the pre-packaged bag rate, because there was no pound price in the cash register system. But recently staff have completely refused, causing absurd situations like weighing out 12 ounces when the prepared bags weren't available but refusing to weigh out a pound.

Of course every business owner has a right to do what he or she wishes, but is that smart? I wondered about the owner's experiences going to stores. Did the person acquiesce when policies were changed to support the convenience of the business, regardless of the effect on the customer? My guess is no.

Everyone has a wealth of experience how business actions affect consumers. Maybe a person sees thinly a store is stocked and gives it a mental six months before closing because they clearly seem to be under-capitalized. Perhaps you're dealing with some service that is charging too much relative to the level of service and courtesy it offers. A restaurant is slow delivering food and doesn't keep enough stock of specials. An office has uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room.

Learning from someone else's mistakes is invaluable and over time you've racked up a large inventory of things that you could see had gone wrong. But if you don't remember to apply those observations, you lose the value they can provide. Here are some steps to take to bring your knowledge to your business:

  • Look at things like an outsider. This is difficult, but important. Walk through your business as though you were a customer. Look for every flaw you can find, because real customers will pick them up quickly.
  • Pull out your inventory of experiences. Think of everything that's bothered you with businesses over the years. Try to remember not just the times you hated dealing with a corporation, but the off-hand remarks about companies when you didn't care one way or the other how it might fare.
  • Apply that list. Compare your examination of your business with your list. What are signs of deeper problems, versus a surface annoyance? Which parts of your strategy should come under review?

There will still be many times you need to gain the perspective of someone with specific experience and expertise. But don't shortchange what you have at hand.