Last November, my wife and I went to Kansas City to see the great modern dance troupe, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It was a gorgeous venue with amazing architecture, and we had great seats close to the stage, and the performance was mesmerizing as always. We are big fans of this dance group (my wife is an accomplished dancer) and I am always impressed by the dancers’ discipline and precision. You can see all the years of training, the sacrifice, the art and athleticism intertwined in every step.

Watching the Alvin Ailey dancers always makes me want to get better at my own craft and get better at running my own small business. I will never be a world-class dancer – I’m too inflexible, graceless and woefully out of shape – but seeing these exemplars of human excellence always gives me inspiration to get better at what I do for a living every day.

Here are a few lessons and ideas for small business owners that I took away from our latest Alvin Ailey performance:

  • What are you doing to earn a “standing ovation” every time from your customers? Are your customers standing in the aisles asking for an encore performance, or are they running for the exits? Your business will always succeed if your customers are your biggest fans, and not just buying from you out of habit, convenience, or because you’re the lowest-priced option on the market. Customer loyalty is built on love. Are you earning the love of your customers?
  • How can you improve your discipline, precision, and “artfulness” in what you do? Every day, every time we interact with a customer, we can either do it in a half-hearted, perfunctory manner, or we can pull out all the stops and give customers an amazing, memorable, remarkable experience. Every aspect of your business can be constantly improved. We can all tighten the screws, batten the hatches, train our employees better, align our marketing messages better, and improve the results of our business by honing in on delivering an optimum customer experience every day. This is not meant to be discouraging; it’s our privilege as entrepreneurs to be able to steer our own ship and make a difference for customers every day, in ways big and small.
  • Are you putting your heart and soul into your business, or have you lost some of that passion – and if so, how can you get it back? The most successful businesses start as a labor of love. For me, I started out as a freelance writer because I was bored with my job and wanted something fun to do after work. (I’m a huge nerd.) But over time, my freelance work grew and grew, and I gradually decided to quit my corporate job and run my own business full-time. Sometimes I have to rekindle the enthusiasm for my work, but overall I still wake up every day feeling grateful to be self-employed and thankful for every client and every paycheck.

As small business owners, self-motivation and finding ongoing inspiration is one of the most important ways to keep your business growing and profitable. I always feel more motivated after going to see an Alvin Ailey performance – we’ve gone to see them twice this year! Every small business owner needs to have their own source of inspiration like this. We all need something that takes us out of the everyday routine and inspires us to rededicate ourselves to getting better at what we do.