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?

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.

The Odd Man In

I remember as a child I wanted to be an artist.  I had my heart set on creating beautiful pieces that people would admire and talk about.  At one point, I even wanted to work at Disney, because they had wonderful artists that made movies come to life (mind you, I was 7 then and was madly in love The Little Mermaid movie).  But my career aspirations have change since.  In fact, where I envisioned myself working has changed a few times as I was propelling towards adulthood.  Even after adulthood, my aspirations changed.  I find myself at times thinking about all the odd jobs I’ve had — whether working through school, or just working through life — I don’t think I ever really saw myself having my own business.  Maybe because I thought it was an arrogant notion, or maybe because I thought that only certain people got to live those kinds of lives.  Whatever the reason, I laugh thinking about all the odd jobs I took on and how they seem so disconnected from where I am now.

How they seemed disconnected…

  • I definitely did the baby-sitting thing a few times.  Probably why I’m not so fond of kids now.
  • I tutored.  I think some of my friends would laugh if they knew that.
  • I worked as an inventory taker, which was a sporadic job that only offered the night shift.
  • I worked on campus at one point as a student evaluator.  I got to grade the services that were provided to students on campus.  Not too shabby.
  • I worked as an Administrative Assistant.  Yeah, that title always sounds fancier than what it really is.
  • I also worked as a General Office Clerk.  Very similar to an administrative assistant without the fancy name.
  • I was an assembly line person for a local newspaper near the university I attended.  Got to put the paper together.  That too was a another night shift job on a fully loaded academic schedule.
  • I was a banquet server.  For like SIX WEEKS!  Although I never dropped a dish, I was always afraid I was going that one day where I would spill something hot and steaming on a guest.  I nipped that fear in the bud… by leaving.
  • One of my longest gigs in my early 20s was when I worked at a department store.  I was the men’s fragrance lady.  Yeah.  I sold men fragrances.  By the way, men don’t buy fragrances nearly as often as women do.
  • I worked as some kind of personal assistant.  I say it like that because the job and title weren’t definitive, but I definitely was helping out someone with a lot of personal issues.
  • I had another gig with no real title or definitive description — I assisted a woman who owned her own graphic design business, by standing around and watching her put things away.  Her idea.
  • I worked as a remote Marketing Assistant for a real estate couple.  A little a fun, a little mundane, but one of the more interesting works.
  • Had my share of volunteering as well: local city campaigns here in Los Angeles, volunteered with the Central Station of the LAPD — now, THAT was exciting and if you want stories, you gotta email me.  And  I also volunteered as a Reading Tutor for the LA Public Library’s literacy program for adult learners.  If you have the heart and mind of making a difference, start in that neck of the woods.

Kind of a hefty list if you knew the time frame those jobs all took place under. But the one thing I gathered when I compiled this list for myself years ago strategizing my business plan, was that I tend to work and volunteer in positions of assistance.  Not because those simply were the only jobs available, but because that’s where I excel at.  I excel in helping others excel.  My service is to be of service.  It’s not a coincidence that my business rests on my personal strengths, as they should for any business owner.  It’s just me finally meeting up where I was suppose to be.

What odd jobs have you worked that actually gave you a hidden skill?

Happy Freakin’ New Year!

Wow!  2014.  Another year.  And it seems like time just keeps speeding up every year.  I still remember what I was doing New Year’s Eve of 2013 and 2012 — NOTHING!  But I can still remember how I did nothing very clearly.

And I know many of us are going to make promises and resolutions to do better in 2014 — be better, get more done, cross off many of the items of our do to lists, or bucket lists. But before we all get carried away with our never ending goals… let’s take a moment in relishing the fact that we have new year. “New” being the operative word. As in, fresh start or a blank canvas or new chapter.

Relish in the new year while it’s still new.

The Next Level

The Next Level.  I hear the phrase often.  I think we’ve all have.  Everyone who is working on something is constantly trying to take it to the next level.  It doesn’t matter what they’re working on, everyone  is trying to take it to the next level — maximize their results and their efforts — so that it pays off.  And as ambiguous as it sounds, for those people who are driven and determined to see their hard work bear fruit, the next level holds a very definite meaning.  But what is the next level for any of us?   Why is it so important that we get to that level?  What does the next level hold for us?

The Next Level is the precursor to success.   It is that transitional stage between the grind — all the energy spent to make something; manifest the dream and the goal — and success — when we finally reached what we’ve worked so hard and long for.  But it’s not something that just happens.  We can’t wish the next level into existence.  It’s the result of action.  Think of the phrase: take it to the next level.  ‘Take’, being the action word in that phrase, meaning something has to be done to reach the next step.

So how do we take ourselves, our ambitions, our businesses to the next level?  We first gotta define success and what would it mean to us to reach it.  Would we considered lots of profits and money success?  Would we considered a large market share success?  What about tons of employees, shareholders, or offices — is that success for us?  What about have a stable company that has endured and will endure a fluctuating economy?  How about a brand and image that customers and clients have come to trust and rely on?  Whatever success means to us, however we define it — from where we are now with our businesses to where we see success — that’s the next level.  And knowing that the gap in between now and success is the next level, how are going to take it to the next level?  What are we willing to do and give to take our businesses to the next level?

 

Life Sets Us Back

Some of the biggest obstacles we’ll face have nothing to do with our business.  They’ll be matters of personal affairs.  Think about the last time you were employed and suddenly a relative died and you had to go to the funeral.   You would tell your boss what happened, how long you would be out of the out office and business would continue as usual despite your absence.  Now, let’s fast forward to where you are now.  Self employed, perhaps staff of one and you were just in a car accident.  What happens now?  Well, for those of you who are familiar with what it’s like being in an accident, you the know first thing you do is exchange information with the other parties involved, get a police report and contact your insurance company.  Now, what about your business?

Regardless of whether you were injured or not, if you’re out of commission, your business is out of commission.  The business is YOU.  Whatever happens to you, know that it’s affecting your company.  And if you use you car for business; to see and meet with clients, to run errands, to pick up promotional materials, to pick up stock and inventory whatever it may be — all of that is now on hold.  But most of us can’t afford to be in limbo just waiting to see what happens.  Our business pay the bills and our financial life line.  So what do we do to stay afloat in the meantime?

Evaluate and regroup.  If it was an accident you were able to walk away from, be thankful.  But we aware of your current standing.  If it was a death in the family, a close loved one, grieve.  But don’t drown in defeat.  Sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us and we go into a state of self pity or depression which takes a mental toll on us and we’re unable to focus on energies elsewhere.  Understand you may not want to focus your energies elsewhere at the moment.  That’s fine.  But remember,  you need come back to the business as soon as you can with a clear mind and a plan so that your losses are still minimal.  Having you is still a whole lot better than not having you.

What do you need to do?  Cry, grieve, take a day off or two for you and just think about your next steps.  You probably didn’t have much when you started your business and you built it to where it is now.  An accident, a death or any other related life catastrophe isn’t a defeat.  It’s a setback.  And life will set us back from time to time.  You can consider it a test, you can consider it  random chaos, just don’t consider it the end.  Tap into your networks, friends and family and let them know what’s currently going on with you and your situation.  See if there’s anybody out there who can and is willing to be of assistance until you can get a firmer grip and pick and keep on going.  Life sets us back.  We just gotta keep going forward.

Life Sets Us Back