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15 Business lessons from auto rickshaw drivers

Starting a business from an idea and running it efficiently, often does not depend on lessons learned from books or other pedagogies. It is more about real-life challenges and how well you tackle them.

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, or even our home-grown example of the Bansals, did not rise to fame with their business ventures overnight. It took a lot of grit and careful planning and strategizing and re-strategizing with every failure, to reach the stage where they have reached now.

In the current fast-paced world with its depleting natural resources and green cover, what exists in abundance is — knowledge. It is free, it is simple and it is universal. It needs no mighty degree from premier educational institutions or hours of slogging over voluminous journals! If only we would keep the eyes of our mind open, we would be thrilled to see the forms in which complex lessons manifest themselves in the simple everyday objects around us.

I had a similar moment of epiphany just the other day while traveling to work when I found business lessons effortlessly concealed in the mode of transport which is used by 30% of daily commuters in Bengaluru — the ubiquitous, autorickshaws! Although most of our encounters with them tend to leave us red-faced, yet it amazing to note the business strategies that they apply every day being completely oblivious to it!

1) The power of the first impression:

Auto — Come what may, most autorickshaw drivers clean their autos every single day. Also, it is not an unlikely sight to find autos lavishly decked up in lights, posters, and colours. This sure creates an impression on the commuter’s mind, who would identify that auto from the rest the next time they are travelling.

Business — The age-old adage of ‘The first impression is the last impression’ holds good even for businesses. To keep up with the competition in the current market scenario where consumers are spoilt for choice, appearance does matter.

A survey has it that if a website can hold a reader for about half a minute, chances are that they will stay longer.

With 8 seconds being the average attention span of human beings, an attractive website is sure to reap more benefits than a highly informative and cluttered one! Build a visually attractive website with a comprehensive yet simple showcase of your portfolio and case studies to lure the audience. Take advantage of the social media frenzy and stay active on social media — it shows that you keep yourself in line with the current societal trends. And yes, clean your website junk frequently!

2) Marking your territory:

Auto — Autorickshaw drivers are quite keen on sticking to particular areas of operation, where they build their rapport with others of their tribe and frequent commuters. They are distributed area wise and mark their territories accordingly wherein they cater to commuters of that particular area only.

Business — Similarly, in business, it is essential that you create your impression in a particular territory. Dominate one specific source of leads/income. It could be LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc. In a nutshell, it is essential that you carve your niche.

3) Have a multi-directional approach:

Auto — We are more often than not inconvenienced by the constant haggling and hustling of autorickshaw drivers, sometimes even when we may just be taking a walk in our neighborhood! They keep hustling to get one passenger, from pillar to post. And most are now slowly becoming open to the idea of a tie-up with Ola and other such aggregators to increase their chances of a continuous trip.

Business — Don’t restrict yourself to a single source of leads/income. Always keep your mind and approach open for multiple channels, and tie up with freelancers and affiliate marketers. In order to thrive in this dynamic and competitive market, it doesn’t hurt to keep hustling!

4) Make your foes your allies:

Auto — In our country, commuters are often faced with two contrasting situations with respect to autos. One when they keep waiting for hours hoping for at least one auto driver to agree to take them to their destination, and second when they stop an auto and multiple others come tailgating! If the first driver denies the trip, the second one (tail-gator) comes to the rescue and grabs the opportunity.

Business — Stay close to your competitors! Understand how they are acquiring and generating leads, their choice of keywords for ranking in Google, and their strategy for campaigning for their products. Understanding your competitor’s strategy rather than stomping the competition will enable you to poach your competitor’s source of leads in a healthy way. Whereas, an antagonistic relationship with your competitors will only sap your energy for nothing and limit your chances of effective consumer outreach. Marketing can never survive on the concept of “to kill or to be killed”!

5) Target the specific requirement of your clients:

Auto — Before starting the trip, the driver always asks for the full address and a nearby landmark, and then quotes the tariff (as more often than not, the meter is not functional!). They take up the trip only if they are travelling on that particular route and if it suits their set of requirements!

Business — In business also, it is essential that you understand the specific requirement of your clients so that you are able to do justice to their vision! Have multiple meetings before taking up a project and document it well. Do not be in a hurry to start your project — start only when you have perceived the complete requirement.

6) The art of negotiation:

Auto — Auto drivers in our country are quite adept at taking advantage of specific instances when consumer demand is high. They quote higher tariff during peak hours, late-night hours, rainy days etc. However, they still manage to convince commuters to avail of the service by providing them with options of alternate routes and the like, and plus it is better to have some option to reach one’s destination rather than none at all! The auto drivers also make sure that the tariff is well negotiated and understood before starting the trip.

Business — Acquire leads by highlighting the areas where you can add value to your customer’s vision. Lure clients by providing them with various case studies and other success stories, and emphasize your Unique Selling Point (USP) to quote your best price. Make sure that you finalize the price before starting a project.

7) Have the right attitude:

Auto — Indian commuters are well acquainted with the word NO. Finding an auto driver to agree to take one home or to one’s destination often feels like sifting through a treasure trove to hit the jackpot! The consumer is the king often does not hold good for auto drivers who blatantly say NO if they are not interested to take you. Sometimes, even when you are ready to pay more!

Business — Learn the art of saying NO. It is difficult but it is OKAY. Emotions cannot run a successful business. Understand your client’s requirement and negotiate for the best price. Do not hesitate to say no if they are not willing to shell out what you are expecting. There are millions of opportunities available in the market if you have the right strategy.

8) Fix your base price:

Auto — Auto rickshaws have a fixed base price, which in Bengaluru is INR 25 for the first 1.8 kilometers, INR 13/km for every additional kilometer and INR 1/minute as waiting charge. These prices are fixed irrespective of where or how far you have to commute.

Business — It is imperative that you have an idea about the minimum worth (base price) of your business. Calculate the cost involved in various steps of your business such as manpower wages, internet consumption, electricity consumption, office rent, and other such expenses and fix a base price, after of course adding your own markup to it. Acquiring clients is a necessity. Sure. But make sure that you do not stoop below your minimum worth!

9) Keep your clients updated:

Auto — Auto rickshaws are equipped with meters to keep the commuter updated about the basic and most essential details about his travel such as distance (km), charges and waiting time. This communication is crucial to inform the passengers about the total charge for the trip.

Business — Maintaining regular communication with one’s clients is crucial for a business. It enables transparency and strengthens customer faith in the business. Make sure that you give a regular update to your clients at each and every stage of the project to give them clarity about the cost and other such factors. It positively rewards a business in the long run if clients feel that they have been treated in a fair and just manner.

10) Be wise in choosing the route:

Auto — It is next to impossible to get an auto driver to agree to a short trip. And quite often one is forced to hit the streets on one’s own legs rather than bartering with auto drivers. This is because they look at the bigger picture of profitability, even if means saying no to a few commuters. Auto drivers prefer taking passengers involving longer routes as shorter routers mean getting stuck in traffic and losing out other prospective trips, and the perks of earning INR 1/min as a waiting charge are also not inviting enough for these keen drivers.

Business — However enticing a short-term business prospect may look, try to find a long-term retainer business rather than one-time work. Don’t get stuck with low margin deals by spending too much of your time and effort. If you feel that the returns are low, move on. There is no dearth of opportunities.

11) Build a strong relationship:

Auto — Have you ever wondered how easily we are led into a conversation with an autorickshaw driver during a trip? We are often unconsciously drawn into chit-chat with the drivers, so much so that we end up discussing every topic under the sun — be it the weather, traffic, politics, and sometimes we even end up being acquainted with the driver’s family members!! This is how they inadvertently building a relationship with the commuter, so that he becomes their choice of ride every other time that the commuters notice him on the road.

Business — Likewise, dedicating time and effort to build good, strong and long-term business relationships with suppliers, employees, associates, customers, and everyone else directly or indirectly involved in it is vital for its success in the long run. A good relationship with existing clients boosts retention and also helps in acquiring new clients through reference, testimonials, and word of mouth. A good relationship with employee motivates them to work harder and strive towards the growth of the organization. In a nutshell, good business relationships help in branding, customer satisfaction, promotion, and most importantly gives a sense of personal fulfillment.

12) All work and no play can make work a DULL job:

Auto — Autos these days are no less than cars, being equipped with music systems with bass speakers and what not! Auto drivers like to keep themselves and the passengers entertained during the journey. Also, they engage themselves in casual chit-chatting with fellow auto drivers, playing cards, and chewing tobacco when not involved in a trip. These are nothing but means to keep them going through a stressful day.

Business — Amidst the rising competition in the workplace and among businesses, STRESS had become a predominant problem that curbs productivity and overall work satisfaction. Thus, it is essential to frequently de-stress during work. Don’t fill your 9 hours of work with just work, work, and more work. Take your mind off work whenever you can and be at your creative best throughout the day!

13) Adhere to meticulous terms of payment:

Auto — Auto drivers are very stringent when it comes to payment. They make their charges clear prior to the commencement of the trip. It could be the meter cost or 20 extra or typically ‘oonnendaaaf’ (one and a half) for a night trip in Bengaluru! Additional charges are applicable in case of any changes in the drop location.

Business — Ensure that you don’t land yourself in an unpleasant scenario with respect to the monetary aspects of the business. Get the full and final settlement sorted before handing over the completed project to your client in order to maintain a smooth transaction. Be transparent about the charges for any out of the scope of work, if applicable, and address it before the commencement of the project.

14) Build comrades:

Auto — Auto rickshaws in our country are largely governed by Unions and other such comradeship. Unions are responsible for fixing basic tariffs and giving other kinds of support to such rickshaw drivers. The drivers know their tribes and vehemently support each other through thick and thin, be it staging protests or sharing a casual fag in a middle of a hard day’s work.

Business — Keep your comrades close. Visit webinars and seminars conducted by those akin to your business to stay updated and know the latest in your game. Understand the trends and upgrade your business to the latest trend.

15) Stick to minimalism:

Auto — How many times have you found an auto-rickshaw driver making sure that he locks the auto before going for lunch, or to attend the call of nature? Not even once right? This is because they feel that they hardly have anything to lose! Conversely, how many times do we make sure that we have locked our car when we get out of it? The odds are clear!

Business — Minimalism comes in handy when building a business from scratch. Use the right tactics and strategy to build your business with minimal expenses, so that you can watch it reap higher ROI. Avoid spending too much on anything which you are unsure of delivering expected returns.

Therefore, the success of a business venture is largely dependent on adopting the right strategies. A big and well thought out idea can fail miserably if it is not promoted well, and even a small idea can make it big if it has the right strategy in place. Starting a business, running it efficiently and making it big is all about having the right approach in place. So hope you were able to get some tips and tricks for your business venture or at least have been motivated enough to start building one! Wish you all the best!

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