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?

Time Wise Clients

One of the things I’m probably a little too uptight about is time. More specifically, my time! I hate wasting time or letting my time unnecessarily be eaten up for no apparent reason. And where I struggle a lot with this, is with clients.  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s always beautiful and sunny that makes people in Los Angeles want to linger longer, share more stories and squeeze in another joke.  I don’t know, but whatever it is, I have seen hours of my time slip away because of side conversations and random randomness.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that the best way to keep a client is to build a relationship with them .  And because I travel to my clients, this is is always done in person for me.  With that being said, so many of clients get a little too comfortable with me and our conversations will digress onto other topics unrelated to the business at hand.  And what happens?  2 hours just turned into 6.  Not very responsible, I’ll admit, but the reward — if we’re looking on the bright side of things — their business and referrals.  Some of you may say, well in that case, go ahead and give them 6 hours.  But the truth of the matter is, I may keep their business and earn someone else’s, but 6 hours (which is 25% of the day) doesn’t leave much time for other important things.  What else could be just as important as a client?  Uh, other clients?  Working on the business?  Tweaking my marketing efforts?  Sleeping?  Just to name a few.  And if I give a client 25% of my day, then I’m allowing that person to only monopolized my time, but also my business.  And one of  the first rules I learned about being in business was never let one client dominate your business to the point they are your business.  Because when they leave, so does your business.

But I’ve gotten better with managing my clients on my schedule.  Because I have to responsible for my time, even when they’re unaware of it.  And it’s made a huge improvement, because now I can better assess where and how to spend my time with them when I’m done meeting with them.

  • For starters, I tell them before we meet what time I have to leave.  That way they get an idea how much we’ll be spending together and better helps them organize their questions for that meeting.
  • I set my alarm.  Oh, hell yes, I do.  It’s rude. It’s loud. And disruptive.  And that’s the point.  When I say I need to leave by 3;00pm, I need to show them I mean it.  So the alarm goes off as an audio reminder.  They still have questions?  Email them to me.
  • And since I brought it up, I make email the first point of communication.  Let’s meet for the pertinent stuff, email all the other, please. That way I break the habit of having to meet for every little whim.
  • Keep in-person meetings down to once a month, if necessary.  I tried this with one client, and it went over superbly.   For the secondary meeting, we held a Google HangOut session which shaved off a total of an hour from our normal meetings and I loved that. Not too mention, gas is still over $4 for gallon here in L.A.  Let’s save the road trips for something more meaningful, right?

It was suggested to me to charge for in-person meetings to deter those clients who feel they need to meet all the time.  I’m not comfortable with that yet, but there may come a point sooner or later.  I figure if someone’s paying for my services, I’m not going to nickle and dime them along the way.  No one enjoys that and very few, if anybody, returns for that kind of abuse.  But I’ve found the strategies mentioned above very helpful thus far.  I get my time back.  And that’s what I really wanted.  Yes, I want to meet with my clients — work in the business — but, I also want to be able to work on the business.

 

 

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.

“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.

Overqualified

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.

Group Bang

Social Media.  Not whatever else you were thinking… (cochinos!)

Groups, to be exact… on LinkedIn.  No longer the underdog to keep a watchful eye on, LinkedIn is the number on professional social media network every professional should be log onto.  I first created my LinkedIn account in college because our university’s career advisor told us how important it could be in landing our ideal job.  She proclaimed it was going to be more effective and promising in helping young graduates find employment opportunities than CareerBuilder and whatever it was that came before Monster (come on, I know somebody out there remembers what I’m talking about).  So I created an account and filled out my profile — poorly, at first.  No picture, no description, just the mere basics.  And all of my connections were my classmates and friends because I didn’t know any better.

It wasn’t until after graduation that I took LinkedIn more seriously — because, hey, I needed a job — but LinkedIn too, got more serious.  In fact, that same year, LinkedIn rolled out its mobile app version for hipsters, yuppies and real professionals on the go.  So I sat my butt down, uploaded a cleaner looking picture, described my strengths, asked for recommendations, gave recommendations (in hopes of getting more recommendations), updated my skills, included academic information and joined groups.

Over the past few years, I’ve tweaked my profile, filling out more sections to my profile as LinkedIn offered more for me to add.  But the game changer for me  — joining groups.  At first, I was like everyone else.  A bystander watching others start and guide conversations and share valuable information.  Every so often I would click “like” to beef up my participation.  But no one cares so much if you just “like” a thought, a question or an article.  LinkedIn Groups are about conversation, feedback and most importantly, answers.  It’s one of the most viable places to get answers from professionals from diverse fields and backgrounds.  But you gotta be willing to be an active participant.

It can be a little intimidating in the beginning when you share your first article, blog post or question.  You don’t know who’s going to respond, what they’re going to say, or if they’re going to outshine you with their comment.  Oh, well.  It’s a worthwhile gamble in which you’ll never lose.  How is that? Most people are bystanders.  They’re watching the interaction and conversation without ever joining.  Those that do reply rarely attack (in my experience) shared content — as long as you’re sharing something valuable or thought provoking  — and anything they add in conjunction will be of value to you.  You’ll even find that some of these people you’ll add to your connections and continue many more conversations outside the group.  Quite honestly, you cannot lose.

Forget about how you might measure up.  These are other professionals, not perfectionists.  Start by sharing what matters to you and you’ll find it matters to someone else too.