It’s a bit of last minute news, but for those of you business owners who have the time this morning, Los Angeles City College is hosting a small business workshop and expo today, along with the Hollywood Business Source. It’s a free event, so if you have the time, there’s really no excuse, if you have the morning available. The campus is out for the summer, so no need to concern yourself with unruly students. And the college provides plenty of parking in their structures. Event starts at 10:00am. So, If you’re up, go get at ’em!
As I look back over the things I’ve done and learned while starting and building a business, there’s something I realized I’ve overlooked. I’ve ignored it or gave little thought to it and it’s surprising because this — I firmly believe — is the key to success. I’ve talked and written about what the keys are to success. I’ve argued there weren’t really any “keys”, but an adopted mindset and attitude. I’ve read numerous articles about what successful people have in common with one another. I’ve read those articles about the mindsets and patterns of millionaires. Not just because they’re millionaires, but because they must be doing something right in order to have become millionaires. Right? But in between the chatter and the musings and the research, what makes the business owner successful, what makes the entrepreneur a millionaire and what gets the start-up founder funded? A great marketing strategy? A knowledgeable board of directors? Deep-pocketed venture capitalists? The best idea ever?
It’s the investment. The investment you make in yourself everyday. You don’t have to have a whole lot of education, a whole lot of money to start, a whole lot of friends, or whole lot of anything . You do need to have the time to invest in yourself and seek out investments that will return for you. I mean, yeah, that may mean getting more education or building up a larger network. But it really boils down to being better than you were yesterday. It’s taking the time and looking at what you have offer and making sure you can offer it as best you can. Outperform yourself.
I’ve tried taking on multiple projects and services thinking that the more I offered, the more clients I’ll gain because the more people I’ll appeal to. Did NOT happen. One, it’s hard to spread yourself thin and still be the go-to person for 5,000 things. Two, I wasn’t equally interested or passionate about everything I was trying to offer. Thus, many services lacked luster. Just because I could do it, doesn’t mean I should’ve. And vice-versa. It was when I narrowed down what I could offer and would be willing to offer to just 3-5 services and sharpen those skills over and over again, that I noticed myself getting referrals, getting recommended — getting the kind of running start I wanted. Not because I was trying to be everything to everybody. But, because I invested in myself first. That, allowed me to better for my clients and it’s paid and continues to pay off.
How do I invest in myself?
- I sign up for community classes that are of interest to my business and professional goals
- I take community college classes
- I periodically attending networking events
- I explore the businesses in my community
- I talk to other business and aspiring business owners
- I read — a lot– of articles, magazines, books, blogs, any thing that strikes my fancy
- I search jobs on Craig’s List to see what employers (business owners) are looking for in candidates who do what I do
- I take some of those free classes on Coursea, Standford Online or Venture Lab
It’s seems never-ending, which is why it’s something I have to be passionate about. Because if I wasn’t, I couldn’t do it. And what would be the point?
Take your time. Read through the list and see if you had or still have any of these beliefs. No shame in being honest, all of us have probably had at least one one of the listed items pass through our minds as we begun to conduct and operate our business. So much has changed over the course of a few years and over various industries that we cannot continue to hold onto outdated beliefs, especially as business owners. Everything goes through cycles, phases and re-boots. Holding onto what we think is right is because it’s what we’ve known all long is the equivalent to throwing money away. And no one I know is in the business of doing that.
- Your customers can and will find you — The Great Recession (I love still calling it that) turned many people into obligated self-employed persons. People started their own businesses because they had to in order to continue to earn a living. Skipping over the personal metrics of what that all means — you are not the only person doing what you’re doing or offering what you’re offering. I don’t care how well your website was designed, how quick you launched the business or how much money you invested. You don’t exist until you let people know you’re in business. Which means, you have to find your customer, not the other way around. Ideas: marketing — traditional and online, networking, community partnerships and word of mouth.
- There is no “free” money out there for small business owners – It seems like it’s no money out there, but there is. A lot of the times, it’ll be in the form of a contest, and other times it can be a private grant. Either way, if you want to raise money that you’ll never have to pay back again, just be willing to put in the time. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I suggest staying away from the SBA and Grants.gov. Most business owners aren’t professional grant writers, cannot afford a grant writer, don’t have the time and energy to read through the mess they call eligibility requirements and will not meet the guidelines imposed to receive the government funding available.
- The customer is ALWAYS right — If the customer is always right, then why are they coming to you? No, seriously, think about it. If the customer had all the answers and knew where to find all the resources, why are they knocking on your door? This is not said to inflate our own egos, but just to help put things into perspective when we’re questioned by a customer or client about our capability and knowledge. We never want to approach them defensively, but with a bit of enlightenment. A reminder, so to speak, that we can do what we do because of how long we’ve been doing it, how trained we are at doing what we do and what we know about what we’re doing.
- If it worked then, it will work now — Nope, nope, never. The problem with this belief should be obvious, but maybe it isn’t. If you haven’t heard it before, let me share it with you now: The only constant in business is change. Your customers will change, your prices will change, your hours of operation will change, your employees will change and yes, how you do and conduct business will change because the economy and market are always changing. Don’t believe me? Fine, don’t change. Come find me in six months to a year’s time.
- Working smart outperforms working hard — Uh, no. You can work smart, but you still have to work hard. There’s no way around that. And we’ve all heard it before: Work smart, not hard! Let’s be honest, someone had to work hard to come up with that, so what does that tell you? There really is no substitute for working hard and working smart just means you’ve taken all that hard work and created a system for it. That’s truly what it is. Yes, many of us have been working hard only to spin our wheels and get nowhere. So how do we avoid that trap? Direction. Work hard towards something, not just for the sake of working hard.
It’s easy to hold onto what we know and what we believed was working for us when there’s so much new untested crap being thrown our way. However, we have to be wise and responsive enough to separate what sticks and what sticks to the fan. The times are always changing. We need to make we adjust, set sail and flow with it.
…About Starting A Business In My Twenties
When I attempted my first solo venture at 24, I was wide-eyed, hopeful and frustrated. Yes, all of it. Don’t ask me how, I just was. I was frustrated with the economy and job market because no one was hiring inexperience hopefuls, degreed or not, but I was hopeful because the economy was also producing a generation of aspiring entrepreneurs who were tired of waiting for their reject letters or pink slips. And I figured because I fit into one of those two categories, I could build something for myself from the ground up too. Ha! So cute, really I was. Cute, but more clueless than anything else. But it took some faltering, failing, starting over, giving up, coming back and failing some more to figure out a reason to the rhyme.
I use to think that it was inexperience that was against me. What the hell did I know in my 20’s – more importantly, what the hell have I done in my 20’s that worthy of going into business for myself? I also thought it was lack of formal education. All I had under my belt was a bachelor’s degree that was nowhere near the realm of business. Who was going to take someone supposedly in business seriously who never studied business? It could’ve been I lacked confidence in what I could offer because I was still figuring all that out and testing the waters. Or, maybe I didn’t know enough people or wasn’t putting the word out as often as I should have. It could have been any one of these things, it could be all of those things, it could be NONE of those things. Business, whatever the industry, is quite often a hit-and-miss game. You’re gonna miss more than you hit, but you gotta keep throwing to see whether or not you’re gonna hit. Very much like a game of darts, I suppose. Despite all of that, there were some really trivial things I should have known (or wished I was told) before I ever stuck my foot out there.
- Be an asset –whenever possible as often as possible. People remember what you do for them, not what you tell them. You can yap all day, every day about how you got a business, but if that business isn’t relieving someone’s aches and pains, no one cares. Be an asset to those who aren’t even a client or you wouldn’t normally take on as a client. When you start building referrals that build your business.
- Don’t do it for free if you’re not going to do it right — Pro Bono is fine and all for the experience, but if you’re going to half-ass it, don’t even bother. Even free shoddy work speaks poorly (and loudly) of you. You may need the work or the experience, but not at the expense of your name.
- Never diminish your work ethic — It’s tempting to, especially with all the tools and apps available to kind of automate stuff for you. Uh-uh. Won’t fly. Repeat business comes down to how well your business was delivered the first time. It doesn’t matter if that was your first client or your 15th, the delivery should still be the same.
- You cannot rush time — Man, oh, man. I’m completely guilty of this one. And this is probably one of the reasons why I failed so many times. I wasn’t trying to cut corners, I was just trying to push things along a little faster. I don’t equate anything to luck (I’m more of a “fortunate” kind of person) but timing is a huge factor. As in, everything needed its time. Time to build, time to develop, time to promote, time to test, time to grow. If you don’t give elements in business their respective time, you’re building on shaky ground. Ask me how I know.
- Seek help –On occasion, it may be mental, but on most, it’s actual help. Find someone you trust (trust being the most important word in that statement) who can help you find the resources you need for whatever. Whether they’re helping you research funding options, getting you touch with their website developer, or someone who can refer clients to you. There should be at least one person in your camp. Seek them out.
- Make the investment in yourself – It took me a while to take this piece of truth to heart, because I only heard it, but never fully absorbed it. When people speak about making the investment in themselves, they mean taking time to become more valuable, more attractive to conduct business with. For me, I took this as an understanding to go back to school, attend business workshops and gatherings and network with like-minded people. Sometimes it cost me money, sometimes it didn’t. But the fact of the matter was, I always walked away from every experience having gained something that later helped me. A new contact, new information, an untapped resource – something. But I had to make the investment first.
- Your efforts and/or business won’t disrupt any industries – and that’s okay. In whatever you ARE doing, just make an impact. Add value. This goes back to number one in regards to being an asset. Mark Zuckerberg rocked the social connecting industry, but he also made an impact (initially). Focus more of being of essence than on being front page news. All that builds after you’ve done something noteworthy.
These weren’t big lessons, but it would’ve been nice had someone just whispered them in my ear from time to time. But we learn and acquired everything we need when we need it — I may not have needed to know this then, but I know it now.
You know those people — they have to send us an email, a text, or dial our number every 5 minutes because they forgot to tell us something when they called 5 minutes ago. Do they think that’s cute, because it’s not! And we have clients who are just like this — unless you’re one of the fortunate few. Seriously, there are clients who become very — I already used annoying in the title, so I’ll say — attached. They cannot go a single day without texting, or emailing or leaving a voice mail making sure we’re doing our job because they want to make sure we’re on the ball. They’re trying to lightly keep tabs on us, but in fact, they’re driving us crazy.
But it’s understandable. I don’t necessary welcome the obsessive attention, but I completely understand where it comes from.
Put yourself in your client’s shoes, who has gone from service provider to service provider with little to no results. Every time they change persons or companies, they have to start all over again building a relationship and trust only to be let down when it doesn’t work out. So when they finally come to someone (us) who are actively showing more promise than all the others they’ve dealt with and paid out to, it feels almost to good to be true to them. They become a little more hands on than they need to be because they want to make sure the progress they’re seeing is real and is going to stay real.
Now, sometimes you’re dealing with a micro-manager, someone who’s use to overseeing every little detail because they want to ensure any work done is getting done to their specifications and to their liking. In this case, draw a line with them upfront or it’s going to be a battle till the two of your part on unfavorable terms. For everyone else with an annoying client, but not a micro-manager, the best way to remedy this situation is beat them to the punch. After your first couple of meetings with your client, get a feel for their expectations, their ideas and the gaps they’re trying to fill. The more often you’re able to provide close to, if not exactly what they need, the less likely they’re going to be nagging at you. It’s really that simple. You may find them a little frustrating to work with in the beginning, but start over-delivering and surpassing their expectations. That annoying-ness will disappear.
You can call it good business sense, you call it Psych 101, just don’t let them keep calling you.
If you’re a service based business provider (B2B), you already know how challenging it is to find new clients. Even harder if you’re relying on them finding you. Forget about your website, forget about your online and offline marketing tactics, standing out in the sea of all others, is the equivalent to being the needle in the hay stack. So then, how in the world are you suppose to find clients if your business’ site doesn’t rank on Google’s top 10 or your clients don’t know who you are?
You find THEM!
One of the most simplest tactics that may turn some heads or raised a few eyebrows is browsing a site that is infamous for scandal and scam: Craig’s List. I know, I know — but bear with me here. Although Craig’s List is sketchy and has been known to make the headlines in a very bad way, it is also a good source to find leads — depending on what kinds of services you offer.
Under the “Gigs” tab on the Craig’s List home site, there are a handful of categories that fall under the types of gigs people are looking for help with. Being realistic here, you have to cast your net wide and often. You are not the only person who is scanning to see what’s available, so the more often you frequent this section, the more likely you’re gonna to stumble on a few worthwhile chases. Also, be aware that some people already have a dollar amount in mind what they’re willing to pay for what they need. You can negotiate if you feel the task is worth more or you can take what’s offered. Up to you. In other cases, you’ll be able to set your own prices. Depends on the agreement.
Avoid, as with any other posting, any listing that sounds like a scam, that gives you very few details or has a link that directs you to a more sketchy site. The goal is to reap clients from an unlikely source, not be taken by some con artist.
Craig’s List is not for everybody. Maybe the thought of doing of business from someone on Craig’s List disturbs the holy hell out of you — that’s completely understandable. It does take some time to feel comfortable navigating those waters. You may want to try Freelancer.com, People for Hire or Fiverr.com. Those sites are much more reliable, but work is harder to find because much more people are competing. If you want to see results and change things up a bit, you’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone. And Craig’s List does border outside the green zone. You know what they say, “In order to gain something you never have, you have to do something you never done.”
It seems like the only time it’s perfectly acceptable to be well-overqualified is when we’re self-employed. Because that’s exactly what our clients want. They want someone who they believe is an expert, has more than enough experience and can ultimately resolve their pain points. At any other time in our professional careers, we would never want to have too little or too much experience — just the right amount. Just enough to land us the job. But now that we’re running the show, being overqualified is in our favor.
And we are overqualified. Sometimes we just don’t realize how much experience we have. Any time a client ask about our professional background and how it relates to our business, make sure they hear about ALL of our related experience, no matter how unique their issue or project is.
Keep in mind, our experience didn’t begin from the moment we decided to go into business for ourselves. It started well before then. we just need to backtrack:
- If we ever worked for someone else — and most of have — that’s experience under our belt
- If we’ve ever volunteered, no matter the organization or the length of time, although more time equates to more experience
- If we ever helped out a friend or family member, or a friend’s family member, or a family member’s friend or whoever, that counts
- Any and all related school and training is experience
- If we’ve ever freelanced, that most definitely counts as experience
- If we’ve ever taught — and make no mistake about it, not all education takes place in the classroom. We’ve could have taught a community class, hosted a workshop, we could have been the ones providing the on site or on the job training, whatever. Teaching someone else clearly illustrates our understanding and knowledge base
So the next time a client requests to know a little more about your experience and professional history — over share and share it all. It is so much more better to be overqualified to a client than to not know what the hell you’re doing.