Adding SPARK To Your Business

I want to thank Rosa for the chance to share with you today. Rosa has been a real inspiration and to be a part of her Ho’ohana Community is a real privilege.  I discovered a powerful learning tool earlier this year in the form of Audio books. I find I can learn while driving, walking, and exercising. Since these activities are usually non-productive learning times, the addition of an iPod and headphones has been wonderful. I have listened to over 120 hours of audio books in the last 9 months. This would be the equivalent of reading for three, 40 hour work weeks.

Most of the audio books I’ve listened to are part of Josh Kaufman’s, Personal MBA program. The idea behind this program is to get the equivalent of an MBA education by reading 42 different business books. I’ve taken the general principle of the program and modified it to use Audio books and an iPod. My book list is somewhat different and geared towards popular business audio titles. I started a new blog earlier this year called MBA on the Run to document my progress. This personal study curriculum has led me through many aspects of business analysis including marketing, branding, and small business entrepreneurship.

Since this is a masters program I decided I needed a thesis to focus my studies. I decided to focus on small businesses in downtown and old town business areas. In my studies on the different aspects of these small businesses I noticed that some businesses were very successful while others struggled. My thesis question has emerged…

Why do certain small businesses do better than others?

After listening to some of the best business authors on my iPod, I came up with five things that I think have a direct bearing on success. They are…

  1. Story
  2. Product or Service
  3. Atmosphere
  4. Routine
  5. Key Values

These Five things allow us to judge the merits of a company and subjectively rate their effectiveness. The five areas form an acrostic that spells out SPARK. Let’s take the five areas one by one and see how they tie in with the average small business.

In Seth Godin’s books such as Purple Cow, and All Marketers are Liars, Seth explained how businesses need to develop a compelling and authentic, "Story." Great companies tell us stories all the time. We all know we’ll be faster if we wear Nike shoes, we’ll feel better if we eat organic food, and that FedEx will get it there tomorrow.

We probably all have heard the story of Ray Kroc and his amazing story of franchise success with McDonalds. Stories abound in garage to riches circles such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak with Apple computer or the creation story of Hewlett-Packard by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in a tiny garage workshop in 1939.

In his book, Primal Marketing, Phillip Hanlon points out the need for a creation story. The creation story is an important because it lets the customer know where you came from, the hardships you went through, and the path you took to success.

Every Business needs to tell its story! Stories are powerful. Stories bring in customers!

BusinessstoryAs great as a good story is, if the product or service is not excellent, customers will quickly find out and go elsewhere. What makes a great product? What causes us to shell out our hard earned money to buy that new widget or sign up for that wonderful new service? Three things come quickly to mind. Innovation, Value, and Excellence. All three of these constantly drive my buying decisions and I suspect they influence yours too. Things that are new and fresh inspire our imaginations. New colors, new scents, new songs” they all drive our purchasing decisions.

Why buy that practical but boring Honda Accord when you can have an exciting new Saturn Sky Roadster? Why just get an ordinary cup of coffee when you can have a Kava Lava Java Supreme? When I look at my purchasing decisions they are often-times driven by the desire to have the newest or most interesting item. Boring is out” flashy is in. I’ll pick the remarkable new widget every time.

Every time that is” unless I have time to compare and really think about the decision before I make it. Is this new item really a great value? Can I get by with last year’s model for $5000 less?

One thing that affects almost all of my buying decisions is quality. When I was younger most of my decisions were strictly determined by price and I soon found out that a low price many times brought trouble. With modern manufacturing techniques the quality of many products is much higher than it used to be. In 2006, product excellence should be the goal of all companies.

We need an excellent and innovative product or service that offers good value.

As great as your product may be, if it doesn’t catch our eye or stimulate our imagination, it’s just a commodity. Your product or service must differentiate itself from the pack. This is what “atmosphere” is all about. It’s the colors, sounds and aromas that excite our senses. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s the unique icons and a strategically placed type font. It’s the soft sounds of a local band. It’s different from normal and draws us in.

Does your business have “atmosphere,” or is it plain white walls with plastic chairs? Does your website exude creativity or is it a cookie cutter affair? Will people notice your smooth Columbian decaf latte or will they cringe at the taste of your Maxwell House instant coffee?

Whatever your business or service entails, adding some atmosphere is usually a matter of focus and attention to detail. Is your product instantly recognizable or is it lost in the myriad of New Times Roman type fonts on a cluttered page of advertising. Does white space describe your walls instead of your advertising strategy?

Providing a unique atmosphere is a must.

As unique as your business is if customers can’t figure out how to buy things or use your service they will leave in frustration. Does your business have a well laid out path and a comfortable routine? Do your customers know where they are going or are they playing a guessing game? Do they know how to read your directional signs or are they facing a crossroads with no directions? Can they understand the language you use to describe your products or services or is it like a foreign language to their ears?

So many times there are potholes, ruts, and detours that customers encounter when they come upon a new business. Does your website work properly and are all of the links active and working? Is your phone number accurate? Is there a map to your new location? Questions like these are important to ask.

Providing an intuitive and comfortable routine will help customers do business with you and bring them back time after time.

What do people say to themselves after they leave your business or experience your service. What are the words they use? These key values are commonly shared with their friends and family. If they are positive, their friends will want to experience them. If they are negative, people will stay away. These key values are a mixture of the other values above.

When you combine the business story with the quality of the product and experience it in the unique business atmosphere while following the routine path, these items form a synergy that can be expressed in just a few words. Phrases like "Awesome coffee, great atmosphere" might be what we say after visiting Starbucks while "hot and delicious" might describe Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Key values form the basis of word of mouth advertising.

I’ve found that rating different businesses on a 1 to 5 scale in each of the five areas and then averaging the results creates a useful number to compare business effectiveness. My thesis is… the higher the SPARK rating the more successful the business will be.

Ignite your business… Add some SPARK!

Related posts:

Creating Spark

Remarkable Audio Learning

The Power of 48 Minutes 

John Richardson is the author of Success Begins Today a personal development blog featuring articles about success, goal setting, and time management.


  1. says

    John, I am very appreciative of how you have taken your thesis and made it so concise for our forum, thank you. Note to readers: On his own Success Begins Today blog, John elaborated on each SPARK component in a separate posting – start at the “Creating Spark” related link he offers.
    However while the businesswoman in me loves your acronym, the coach in me is cheering for your learning process, i.e. a) the way you have taken Josh Kaufman’s suggestion and made it your own private AND public learning vehicle with MBA on the Run, and b) in searching for a tangible result, how you have challenged yourself in coming up with a meaningful thesis.
    This is disciplined, self-motivating learning at its best.

  2. says

    AS I read your very thought-provoking article I was doing some mental box-ticking. Somethings I might have done not too badly on but I know for instance that the “products” I offer are not clearly define or easy to get to.
    Oh dear!! If only I could wave a magic wand and get things in order in a flash!
    Excellent food for thought.

  3. says

    Hello John,
    I wanted to comment on the topic
    of audiobooks.
    There are quite a few online locations
    where you can download free audiobooks.
    Project Gutenberg
    19,000 free ebooks
    “Accoustical liberation of books
    in the public domain”
    Also check out your local library online.
    Mine has a digital catalog where members
    can download ebooks and audiobooks.
    Ebooks can be downloaded in Adobe format.
    Excerpt from the description of the digital catalog …..
    “Enjoy library materials while relaxing in your favorite chair, listen while you exercise, or take them along when you travel. There are never any overdue fees. All media will play on your PC or
    laptop as well as select portable devices
    (including some cell phones), and you can copy audio onto a CD to play in your car.”
    Many elderly folks give up on reading,
    and sadly on learning, due to poor vision.
    Now audiobooks will be the answer,
    and they can CRANK the volume. :)
    Maybe a CD player and audiobooks
    might be an option for that difficult
    holiday gift for Mom, Dad or Grandparents.

  4. says

    Great post John. The SPARK acronym is catchy and meaningful. I am a fan of Kaufman’s list as well. It’s always been interesting how many organizations don’t pay attention to the “A” part of your equation. I appreciated you including their online presence in that. There are many times where I have left a site because it’s in disarray or their purchasing links are so hard to figure out.

  5. says

    “Three things come quickly to mind. Innovation, Value, and Excellence.
    All three of these constantly drive my buying decisions and I suspect they influence yours too. Things that are new and fresh inspire our imaginations. New colors, new scents, new songs” they all drive our purchasing decisions.”
    Very insightful. Excellent advice. The advent of business blogging has allowed Exquisite Safaris to tell stories about innovation in tourism, the value of philanthropic travel and excellence in our service more than ever before.

  6. says

    hello, great article, I actually stumbled upon this article while searching for articles for small business recognition awards. I love the spark theory. Every business should implement something like spark, if not that business will just be another place with dead end jobs. Every business needs a face, and some direction. Thank you for this article and its intriguing ideas.

  7. says

    Aloha Chris, thank you for visiting Talking Story. This article was written by John Richardson of Success Begins Today, for a guest author forum here called Joyful Jubilant Learning. Be sure to take the “Related posts” links at the end of the article to read more of what John offers – great stuff.
    And of course, we always welcome you back here too for more of Talking Story!