As you read this you are likely just getting back into the office after a long Memorial Day weekend.
(And if you’re not, then you need to learn why taking vacations is important to the success of your small business, and how to make the time to take them. For help, read last November’s Tip post, How to Delegate Your Way to a Much Needed Vacation.)
It can be tough to get back in the swing of things if you’ve truly taken some time off (meaning you were not checking email and responding to texts 24 x 7—you know who you are!), even if it is as little as a three-day weekend. This infographic from a British travel company provides some tips to keep you motivated when you return to the office. For business specific tips, Lifehack offers the post Everyone Should Know These 10 Tips Before Returning To Work After Vacation.
One of the more interesting Lifehack tips is a suggestion not to read email in chronological order, but instead to sort it by subject or sender so that you’re, “finding out what happened while you were gone, as opposed to when things happened.” The final tip is to “Cut yourself a break” if it is taking you a long time to catch up, noting that if you just relax you’ll get back into that groove before you know it.
That’s good advice. Even better advice is to actually allow yourself to take breaks to refresh your mind when you start to feel overwhelmed. Science shows they work. To learn more, read the Scientific American article Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. It’s a long article that details multiple studies and covers, “Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.”
What should you do during these breaks? One school says you should do something enjoyable and totally apart from the work from which you are breaking. But, why not kill two birds with one stone and choose a break activity that helps hone your small business skills. One way to do that is to play business simulation games. Now, that may not seem like much fun—but some of these games are just capricious enough to make you forget your troubles for a while. Others are not exactly cute Anime or action packed, but they do let you creatively unleash your business acumen.
Search for “online business games” on Google, and you’ll get millions of results, many of which are completely frivolous and unrelated to any actual business strategies. However, these 4 are worth your time to explore.
This fun marketing game has the player setting up food carts throughout a village. The goal is to corner the food cart market and rack up as much gold as you can. You start with a single cart in a single location selling two types of product. You set prices and select your product mix, then “play” the day and watch people swarm around the park, some of whom make purchases from your carts. You get a daily revenue and profit summary, then the opportunity to make business adjustments and play the next day. As you progress, you can add additional carts, expand the capacity of your carts, offer additional products, and utilize sales and marketing tactics; you can even take a loan from the bank to expand more quickly. It is pretty rudimentary, but it is a great way to hone your pricing and marketing strategies—pitting two carts against each other with a different marketing mix in the same location, and varying strategies based on location profile.
You don’t need an account to play, and you can leave and return to resume your game (as long as you don’t erase the cookies that hold your game). Feel free to skip the introduction, but do walk through the tutorial to learn the navigation. You can play a cycle in just a couple of minutes, so this is a great choice for a short break.
2. IBM Innov8
This game was created by IBM to sell the value proposition of its business process management software solutions. So yes, it is a sales pitch—but it is also a useful way to try your hand at optimizing common business activities. The game has three modules, Smarter Traffic, Smarter Customer Service, and Smarter Supply Chains. The traffic module is likely not useful to most small business owners, but the other two modules enable you to test the effectiveness of your choices for allocating resources. For example, in the Customer Service module you are asked to allocate Highly Skilled and Low Skilled workers to take Difficult, Average, and Easy support calls. You can run three simulation allocations, and then must select one to use. You then see the results for both customer satisfaction and cost.
Each section in a module is preceded by a video, which you can skip via the link in the bottom right. (They seem to load slowly, so you may want to skip them). You can play here, and go here to learn more about the game.
From the MIT Sloane School of Business, this simulation game is based on a real life case study of Sony’s launch of Play Station 3. Play the simulation as an individual and you’ll be pitted against a single computer controlled competitor. You control three factors in the simulation: price, royalties paid by game developers, and subsidies for compatible games. Enter your choices and then run a 1 year sales cycle. The simulation will show you how well you performed vs. your competition in the marketplace. You can view your income statements, compatible game reports, installation base reports, and industry data for the year—all accompanied by graphs and comparisons with your competition. Review the data, make adjustments, then run another year.
The game is not only useful to test your strategic pricing and marketing skills, but also to provide detailed examples of how your decisions impact specific data points. For example, you can see how a $10 change in price affects all components in an income statement.
If you’re interested in the background of the game, you can read the full case study here. There is also an instructional video that provides background on the case, as well as some high-level information about how marketplaces work and how your decisions will affect them. If you just want to get to how to play the game, jump to position 17:30 in the video for a tutorial.
MIT Sloan offers several other similar simulations. Each is based on a different case study, and a different type of market problem. But, all function in largely the same way: asking you to manage three or four inputs, and running a 1 year sales cycle, then reporting results. You can see the full catalog here.
Unlike the other three games, Virtonomics is a true mmog (massively multiplayer online game), played by over a million people around the world. The goal of the game is to create a profitable and a competitive business, in an economy modeled on real world conditions. You start the game with a capital allowance, and you take it from there—using your best business strategies and tactics to create your first startup, and then build your empire. You can choose your industries, locations, partnerships, and employees; and you can see the results of your decisions and how you are faring in the Virtonomics economy.
The goal of Virtonomics is to enable you to learn from virtual mistakes, so that you don’t make the same ones while running your small business. The simulations help with that, as do the other players. The site notes that it is a, “ virtual economy, fully populated by sentient people – businessmen and businesswomen, entrepreneurs, university and college students and overall smart individuals forming a friendly, business oriented community. Players are keen to share their knowledge and experience, explain how to implement successful business strategies and grow your company exponentially.”
You can sign up to play for free with your email address and a password. To get a look first, check out the Screenshots page. The discussion boards are also a good place to experience the community. For game basics see the Main Forum, and for tips and tricks (and some expert real business advice) see Questions and Answers.
Now that you’ve tried your hand at business games created by others, how about creating one yourself? You can use it as a marketing tool, or as an internal team building tool. And, it is easier than you might think. One of the most popular Tip posts from 2014 was Answer: Your Customer Jeopardy, which highlighted an application that enabled you to create your own custom Jeopardy game boards. The site is still active, and you can go to Jeopardy Labs today and program your very own game. It can cover topics in your industry, insider knowledge about your company, or anything else you choose. I created a sample back in 2014, and it’s still live. So, if you want to try your luck at one more game, play PaySimple Trivia Jeopardy.
Get Small Business Tips like this one by signing up for our Small Business Smarts newsletter.