5 Outdated Beliefs That Are Hurting Your Business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   So much has changed over the course of a few years and over various industries that we cannot continue to hold onto outdated beliefs, especially as business owners.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OutDated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.

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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.

“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.

Do It If You Can Measure It

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.

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.