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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“Gigs”

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.”

Just sayin’.

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.

Who Are You Trying To Kid?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have no clue what makes the Friday and Saturday operating hours so much different from the Monday through Thursday schedule.

Why do businesses do this?  Is this some sort of witty joke and the rest of us just missed it?  Are we supposed to just assume that Friday and Saturday are unique by definition, although they share the same hours?  Or are we just having our intelligence insulted here, as per usual?

Over Simplifying.fw

Is this something you do to your clients or customers?  In an attempt to oversimplify for their benefit, you’re just downright insulting their intelligence?  You know, there is a balance of keeping your clients informed and in tuned without dumbing it down or confusing the hell out them.  Just be straight-forward.  Simplify, but don’t over-simplify.   Make it clear without confusing.  Make it plain without the puzzles.  Don’t know how?  Ask the client.  They may not always know what they want, but they’re quick to share what they don’t want.  And they don’t want to be confuzzled.

Social Media Isn’t Your Problem

Social media isn’t your problem.  You think it’s your problem, but it really isn’t.  If someone sat you down and showed you how to set of a few platforms, upload videos and photos, schedule posts, ask for likes and comments, and return the favor, you could do it.  It is much simpler than what business owners imagine it to be.  Granted, it does require a little finesse, above average writing skills and time –obviously — but, social media isn’t your problem.  Knowing how to engage with social media… that’s your problem.

Be honest, how many of us thought that just setting up a Twitter account and a Facebook account was going to be enough for our business?  We thought if we had one or two pictures, the business contact info and a little somethin’-somethin’ about the business, people would visit and magically all on their own, convert themselves from visitors to customers.  How well did that work out for us?

First off, “enough” is the word we never want to use in business.  Businesses that are doing just enough are going out of business.  So, let’s unwrap our heads around this idea of “enough”.  Secondly, treat social media like a person.  A person who we are conversing with — well, in person.  Aside from the spam bots, there are people out there behind those profiles, likes and comments.  Talk to them as if they were sitting right across the way.  Social media and online marketing are such a staple in conversations for businesses that I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I bring it up.  But so many business owners — home kitchen chefs, garage engineers, bathroom mixers, attic artists, and back yard scientists — are not even giving their ideas and businesses a chance because they’re failing to use social media the right way.

LinkedIn — Don’t just accept or extend an invitation to connect.  Communicate.  Yeah, we may have over 500 connections, but if you don’t message, endorse or share worthwhile information, then those 500 plus connections are meaningless.

Google + — Yeah, many of us have added someone or something to a circle, but what does that mean?   What makes that circle and those group of people special or relevant?  Get personal and personalize.  Not everyone wants the same thing even if it’s from the same company.

Twitter — Just about everyone and their mama has a Twitter account.  But it sucks when people start un-following us and we have no idea why.  Maybe you’re not conversing enough or at all!  Twitter is all about the conversation.  So get to talking.  Ask questions, answer questions, search what your customers are looking for and share — again — useful info.

Facebook — The Godfather of social media, right?  If that’s case, then this is the social media we should be crafty with.  Visually.  If we don’t know exactly what to share on Facebook, log on into our personal account and see what our friends are sharing and reading.  Then see what their friends are sharing and reading.  We’ll find memes, photos and videos dominate Facebook.  So, get visual but remain informative.

Social media isn’t the problem, it’s all about how well we use it for our business.  If you took the time to build the business, take time to market the business.

Write Outside The Lines

There is no trick or secret to blogging for your business.  There’s no formula or magic keywords or tags that will make your business blog be the most searched source on the internet. But it isn’t hard to blog either if you got something to offer and something to share.  Normally, I would say practice till you get it right, but sometimes it’s best to hire a freelancer or someone with much more experience.  And if you’re not a strong writer, don’t know your voice yet, or don’t have the time — someone else can do it for you in the meantime, right?  But if you wanna take a crack at it, review all the rules you’ve heard before: blog at least once a week, blog consistently and spread the word around through your other social media platforms.  Sounds easy enough.  But don’t forget the add-ons — the extras that make a blog a bit better: include video, photos and links whenever you can and appropriately, share more information that can help your customer or client rather than yakking it up about how great your company is and include links to your website.

But just like the tech companies, out there, there are some rules you should break —

  • Blog inconsistently consistently — What does that mean?  I try to blog every week, up to 3 times a week.  But I don’t have select days of the week when I blog.  I blog when I have an idea, or the time to devote to an entry.  Being flexible without a set schedule also allows me to add information as I get it — event dates, the latest news or what have you.  Decide how many times a week you’d like to blog and then go from there.  Your time should dictate when you have an opportunity to blog and share, not the calendar.
  • Play with the titles.  You’ll hear copywriters discuss the importance of a good headline or tag… I say, have fun with it.  Personally, I love innuendos for titles.  There’s something about misdirecting the topic that I enjoy all too much.  A (sexual) innuendo is more likely to stop people long enough to skim the article you wrote than a straight forward boring title.
  • Trade shoes when you write.  Think of the person who you are writing this blog for.  Think about what they would to get out of it, think  from their point of view.  Then give it to them.  Be that irate customer who doesn’t understand why the store won’t take back his purchase after 31 days even though his receipt says no returns, refunds or exchanges after 30 days.  Give him solution or a loophole to working with businesses and people like yourself.
  • Vent.  Here is that opportunity to tell the world about the awful no-paying-on-time client that won’t stop calling you whenever they feel like it. Here is the chance to spill how you (and most likely every other business owner) feels about that annoying client.  You can say it all, get it off your chest, be brutally honest without ever saying their name.  Think of it as a form of therapy.  Whoo-sah!

Blogging is the content marketing your business is going to need to keep it’s edge in 2014.  Anybody with a laptop and internet can blog, which means anyone with a business too, should be blogging.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t write outside the lines when you do.

 

 

 

The Tortoise and The Hare

You’ve heard of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare.  The hare was faster but cockier and the tortoise won because, as the moral of the story pointed out, slow and steady wins the race.  Let’s think about that for a second.  Slow and steady.  Really?  Slow and steady wins the race?!  I don’t know what Olympic 100 meter dash Aesop ever watched, but slow and steady never got anyone the gold.  But, fast and reckless usually gets you no where quick, so which of the lesser evils is really worth our time?  What’s the method here?  Fast and reckless or slow and steady?

I don’t necessarily believe in those overnight successes.  One day a couple of friends had a great idea for a business and the next day, there in the millions with revenue.  Wow, right?  Not saying it isn’t possible, just highly improbable.  Look at Amazon and how long it took Jeff Bezos to get it where it is today.  Yet, working at an even pace, opportunities are going to pass you by because you’re too focused on maintaining speed — “maintaining”, when the core of business is anything but.  The tortoise didn’t win the race because he was slow and steady.  He won the race because he was persistent.  He never deviated off the path.  When the hare stopped to shoot the breeze — yeah, I’m paraphrasing here, I know — the tortoise kept going.  He never stopped forging ahead.  I’m taking the fable and making it more cliché, I know, I know, but go back and re-read the story.  Google it online.  When did the tortoise ever stop?  When did the tortoise ever get side-tracked or goof off?

Tortoise and the Hare

Better yet — let’s look at this from the hare’s perspective.  Yeah, he didn’t win because he knew he could and was kind of showing off.  I think he even took a nap while the tortoise was catching up.  And as a result, he lost.  But that’s not to say he didn’t finish.  He got to the end of the race too, just last (you really can’t call is second place if there’s only two participants).  He had the speed, the capability and plenty of time. He just didn’t manage them as wisely (how often do some of us do that, HELLO!). I’m gonna keep reiterating this.  The tortoise won, but the hare finished.   Technically, it can be said that both finished.  The prize for winning was just getting there first.  But what the’s point of being first?  MySpace came before Facebook, yet who’s number one now?

Decide if you’re more like the tortoise or the hare.  Some of us know we got the chops to get the job done, we just don’t always discipline ourselves well enough to be ahead of the game.  Fair enough, we need better will power, we can admit to that.  While the rest of us are path-driven.  We know where we’re supposed to be and where we need to end up.  That’s all that matters.  And as long as we focus on staying the course, we’ll get to where we wanted to be.  It’s a bit of a tunnel vision problem.  But, then what?  We’re first.  Doesn’t mean we’re the best or that we even matter?  We’re just first.

So, again, are you the tortoise or are you the hare?