It was one thing to see “for sale” or “for lease” signs when the economy was at its worst, but now that the job market as improved to a new high (low) just with just a little more than 6% of people unemployed and looking for work, why are there so many boarded up buildings on commercial blocks? Is funding still an issue for many continuing or would-be entrepreneurs? Is it just not cost effective to hire as we enter the 3rd quarter of the year? Or, as one study suggests, because of the improved job market and jobs added, have many returned to the work force as employees? Where have the businesses gone?
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.
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.
The library. They have books. magazines, periodicals, DVDs, workshops, community papers, events and computer access — all for the cost of your membership. And what does a membership cost you? About 4 minutes of your time to fill out a one-side application. FREE, in other words. But how many business owners do you think make a routine trip to their local library?
Well, you can argued and say you have a computer with internet access at the office or home. You get the Wall Street Journal delivered to your doorstep. You’re a member of Amazon and you can order whatever book you want to when you want to. And you never miss the nightly news.
First, you’re still only get a fraction of the available resources the library can offer you. Second, the library offers everything to you for free!
Amazon charges you, internet and cable provider sends you a bill, not mention the other utilities you’re running up while you’re at home or the office.
Another valuable tool that the library offers for free: language learning. Think Rosetta Stone. It’s called Mango Languages and it’s function is very similar to Rosetta Stone. And the best part for those who believe they can find whatever the want from the comfort of their couch… Mango Languages has an app that is downloaded to any phone as long as you have your library card’s ID number.
The library use was once revered as a wealth of information and now that everything has gone online, the library has lost it’s sparkle. Or so people think. You’re be surprise what you can use and learn by taking trip to your local library. Besides, we’re way over due for being offline.
I had a good friend and colleague ask me my opinion the other day about attending a women’s expo sell a cookbook she recently published for sale. She started to the conversation by first telling me she needed some business advice, then proceeded to ask me if I have ever been to an Ultimate Women’s Expo. I have, I’ve been to one. And I told her so. I told her all the things they had readily available for the attendees including a panel of women experts to talk about health, workshops that spoke of expanding your income and giveaways throughout the event. Then she asked me should she be an exhibitor at one.
My answer to her was “Do it if you can measure it.”
She went on to tell me all the things she’d want use the venue for — sell her cookbook, have little recipe cards ready to hand out, have her promotional t-shirts for sale, possibly do a giveaway and interact with other women there. She continued by telling me all the things they had to offer for exhibitors at this two-day event. I could tell she was excited about it because she told me it was “the perfect venue to sell, market and promote [my] recipes to active and enthusiastic women, all searching for great fashion, beauty, health, nutrition, fitness, financial planning, careers, home decor, direct sales opportunities and more!”
I said it again, “Do it if you can measure it.”
I don’t think she entirely understood what I meant when I told her that. She replied asking if I could look into it for her and see if it’s something she should do. I told I could (and I will) and let her know my thoughts once I delve into it. But what I meant by “do it if you can measure it” is that I didn’t want her to walk blindly into something without having a measurable goal in mind. If she wants to sell her books at the expo, then she would need look at the number of past attendees, see how many other vendors attended last year, how many of them sold their products, which vendors were similar to hers and figure out from those number how many she could aim to sell. Yeah, it seems like a lot of work (the right way always is), but it’s better than losing out on a whole lot of money needlessly.
The same would apply to interactions and networking, since that was a goal of hers too. I do this all the time. Whenever I drag myself out to a networking event, my goal is to meet and keep in touch with 5 new people. I don’t ever change that number, actually. 5 is a simple number to keep up with. I can email 5 new people when I return home from the event, I can call 5 new people to schedule a meeting with, and I can share useful information with 5 new people. And from those 5 new people, I can measure my success in building a relationships. Even if only 2 or 3 people keep in touch with me afterwards, that’s a 40-60% of new people addition to my network. Not bad.
Do it if you can measure it.