An Investment

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?

No.

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?

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Ask The Right Questions, Find The Right Clients

We put so much emphasis on finding clients.  And rightly so.  They are the bread and butter of our businesses.  Without them, we wouldn’t have a business  — we make our money  by selling products and services to our clients.   It’s as simple as that.  But not really.  Because although we may position ourselves to be of service to someone  for a fee, not everyone who needs what we have t is someone who should be our client.

Sounds a little conceited, I know, but there’s a reason to this rhyme.

Every so often I’m given a little wake up call — by my own doing or otherwise — of the certain elements I need to tweak here and there for Intel Boutique.   One of the things were brought to my attention by a colleague and long time friend of mine who asked  if I was still using my questionnaires.  I genuinely like to help people, especially when it comes to my area of expertise, which gets in me in more trouble than I like because there are instances where I’ll just drive right in.   But I needed to revisit this questionnaire to keep grounded and be more discerning.  So I ended up  re-writing it from a simpler but more direct questionnaire focusing on my needs and my prospect clients’ needs.  What is this questionnaire I’ve apparently been neglecting for too long?  It’s a client questionnaire.  It’s purpose is to help me gauge whether or not a client is worth taking on.

Yes, I said ‘worth’.  Because as blunt as it may sound, not everyone is worth the time and energy.

So, after I rewrote this questionnaire and gave it a few look-overs, I realized why I’ve been teetering with so many of my recent  clients is because  I never did a questionnaire on them to explore what they were looking for and what they really needed.  And of course, to see if the time I would put in would be worthwhile.  Needless to say, I’m glad I rewrote it.  And I rewrote with specific intentions:

  1. I need to know what the client is looking for — often people are so overwhelmed themselves, they want to unload everything onto you, making you their own little generalist.  That’s an immediate no-no.
  2. I want to find out they’re immediate pain points, what are they struggling with the most. I want to find out if it’s in my scope or not and how is it affecting their business and why.
  3. I need to know if they have a budget for outside help/vendors/services– whatever you want to call it.  I found that most people know they need someone else to help them, know they need to pay them for that help, but don’t know how much or can’t afford a lot.  And because I don’t believe in leaving  money on the table, I work within their means — but not outside my standard.  In other words —  I give them what they can afford and no more than that.  It’s not a selfish act, but a conscientious act.  I’m sure they don’t give out much for free and neither do I.  And the quality of my work doesn’t diminish, just the quantity.
  4. And of course, I want to know — how long will they need my services for.  Everyone likes long term clients, but in some cases, not so much.  Clients who start showing issues with making payments or become unbearable to work with, we want to make sure there’s an exit route for that client.

My questionnaire is about 10 questions long — not very intensive, but it asks all the right questions I need to know to make a decision whether you want to work with that person or not.  And the better prepared I am knowing what I client needs and if I’m willing to work with them, the better prepared I am in building that business relationship.

Weathering Business

Now that L.A. has finally dipped out of that ridiculous heatwave we were in for the past two weeks — in spring, no less! — it’s time to get back to business.  And speaking of business, how many small companies out there were able to sway customers from leaving their air-conditioned cars, homes and offices into their place of business?  What were some tactics business owners employed to negate the heat and still turn a profit?  Mind you, this is Los Angeles, and the weather forecast has much to do with the business forecasts as all the other elements — natural or otherwise…

One local business in LA lures customers in with the promise of cooler temps

One local business in LA lures customers in with the promise of cooler temps

“Not Interested”

No one likes getting random solicitations from telemarketing companies trying to sell them crap they already have or don’t need.  And yet, they keep calling and keep calling and calling.  Don’t you ever wonder why? Yes, some companies sell your information to others and that’s how they have your contact information.  Other times, we give it to them without even really knowing.  How?  Simple — via our website.  Actually, our domain names.  These telemarketing companies aren’t combing through hundreds and thousands of websites themselves.  They don’t have to.  Every time someone registers a domain name — actually buys it — they exchange their information, obviously for payment reasons, in order to reserve and own it.  Think of as digital real estate.  By registering a domain name, these marketing companies know who owns the domain site (us), where we’re located, our email address, our phone and whatever we were required to give up in order to buy the domain.  And because most of us don’t want to spend more than we have to, we don’t opted in to have that information hidden.  In other words, we don’t spend the extra bucks to make it harder for unwanted solicitations.  Thus, we get slammed with all kinds of nonsense from fast speaking salespeople trying to make a commission.  No beef with that, everyone’s gotta earn a living, but not at our expense and on our business line.

To better handle solicitations and to keep them from calling back, wise up:

  • Never just hang up.  Without a verbal indication from you stating to be removed from the list, they’ll recycle you back into their system and call at a later date.
  • You must say “Take me off your list” for them to take you off their list.
  • Some telemarketing companies will actually keep you on their list for awhile only to call you in a month or so and try again.  A certified letter from you to their physical business might be necessary to cease ALL calls.
  • Never say “not interested”.  You’ll just be recycled back into their system to be called at another time.
  • If your employees are answering on your behalf, instruct them to never identify your gender.  A lot of the times, these marketers have no clue who they’re calling, they just want to speak to the owner.  Identifying your gender gives them a little ammunition for when they call back later.  Trust me, if they can’t reach the owner the first time and they haven’t been told to remove the number off their list, they’ll call back later.
  • Any time it sounds like a marketer and they’re unwilling to identify themselves and where they’re calling from until they speak to the owner, immediately tell them to remove you from their list. (Do you see the running theme here?)  Cut them right off at the knees.
  • Never tell them you have someone else working for you or looking into what they’re offering.  They’ve been trained for rebuttals and that opens up an opportunity to further their quest.
  • “No, thank you” is the same as saying “Not interested”.  You’ll just be recycled back into their system to be called later.

If you find that you’re getting too many calls for solicitations and you don’t have time for all this bull**** , spend the extra bucks on having your information blocked when you buy a domain.  Stop opting in for the ‘more information’ box unless you want and can to commit to an action.  And any time you do conduct business with a third party, whether it’s electronically, over the phone or in person, ask them if they sell their clients’ information to other third parties and to be removed from that system.

Our time is precious, our fuses are short and we have businesses to run.

Overqualified

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.

Media Kit It

Every business, no matter how small, large, the employee size, industry type or location should create for itself a media kit.  If you don’t know what a media kit is, think of it as a business’ résumé — it highlights the accomplishments, the goals and the journey of the business.  It tells the brief story of the company’s creation to its present standing.  Media kits have commonly been associate with publications such as magazines, journals, newspapers and books, but no longer.  If you operate a business, you need a media kit as part of your marketing package.

When writing a media kit, focus on three (3) primary elements: (1) What is your business and what is it about, (2) Who do you serve; who is your target audience and how does your company serve/help them and (3) the cold hard facts and figures about your company.

What is your business about — is a service based business, product based, B2B?  What industry is the company in, what niche; how much technology is infused — simply put, what does your business do and for you?

Who do you serve — who are the people your company caters to and makes it products/services for and why?  This, you gotta know.  This you should’ve known starting the business.  And when writing about who the company serves, look further past the demographics and into the lifestyle of your customer/ client.

The cold hard facts — This is the most straightforward aspect of the media kit.  It deals is measurements, reach, dollar signs, because it’ll be mostly made up of figures.  And these figures should as accurate as possible.  If you have a following (such as social media) include how people, if you have a newsletter include the subscribers.  Always include sales figures that play in your favor.

Utilize every glitter and sparkle that makes your company stand out and stand up against your competitors.  Remember, this is your business’ résumé.  Make it work.

The Rejection Letter

Everyone gets rejected.  Everyone has been rejected.  If you haven’t been rejected just yet (wait for it) you are one lucky S.O.B. and the best way to win friends and influence others is to keep that little annoying tidbit to yourself.  For the rest of you out there, I know you all know rejection all too well.  Whether we experienced it in grade school as children getting picked last for dodge ball teams, getting that extremely thin letter from the university we were so sure we were going to get in, or having your best friend say they rather just stay friends. We’ve all been rejected at some point in our lives.  And getting rejected while building and soliciting business doesn’t get any easier.

Or maybe it can.

Rejection, if we know how to shift our attitudes accordingly, can change how we do business.  We’ll begin to look at rejection as an obstacle meant to be overcome (which it is) rather than a brick wall that cannot be penetrated.  With shaping how we think about rejection and how we plan to treat rejection as it comes at us, we first must be honest with ourselves.  We must acknowledge what our weaknesses are and where they lie.  And we all have weakness.  (Listen, I don’t care how perfect you think you are, you have a least one weakness — and probably very few friends).

By acknowledging your weaknesses, start by writing a rejection letter to yourself.  Write it as if you are the client who just received a proposal from your company or a sales pitch from yourself (the business you, not the client you) and you’ve decided that you’re not the best fit for your current needs.  And because the client you knows all about the business you, be brutally honest.  Tell the business you why you’re not going to go with your company.  Maybe the business you doesn’t have enough experience in the industry or field.  Maybe the business you doesn’t sound confident enough over the phone or in person.  Maybe the business you doesn’t have a solid track record.  Maybe the business you doesn’t have the resources to get the job done — whatever it is, let the client you just rip the business you a new one.  Some clients don’t hold back and you need to be brace yourself for their honesty.  You need to be able to tell yourself what clients maybe thinking if they decide “no”.

A brutally honest rejection letter prepares you for a counter argument; save a sale or hold onto a client.  The object of a rejection letter is to poke holes at your business.  And your job is to be able to spin it so that they client or customer no longer sees those holes as problems.  You want to acknowledge the holes they see but assure them you have plugs for those holes.  Think of the plugs as activities or practices you’ve incorporated into your business to provide them with peace of mind.

Because that’s what clients and customers really want.  They want to know if they give you their money, that they are going to get their expected value for it.  And by ensuring they get what they paid for and it’s actually what they want, they’re going to reject you.  Clients are going to try to find something wrong until you show them all that is right.  But you gotta beat them to the punch.  Know client’s possible rejections first by creating your own rejections.