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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5 Outdated Beliefs That Are Hurting Your Business

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.

OutDated

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Seven (7) Things Someone Should Have Told Me…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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.

Annoying A$$ Clients

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.