It’s a bit of last minute news, but for those of you business owners who have the time this morning, Los Angeles City College is hosting a small business workshop and expo today, along with the Hollywood Business Source. It’s a free event, so if you have the time, there’s really no excuse, if you have the morning available. The campus is out for the summer, so no need to concern yourself with unruly students. And the college provides plenty of parking in their structures. Event starts at 10:00am. So, If you’re up, go get at ’em!
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?
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.
Spend less for what you need . We know smartphones, tablets and laptops are not only helpful for businesses, small or otherwise, but critical in today’s market to effectively compete, close deals, complete transactions and conduct operations. And if you can do all you need to do for a fraction of the cost, wouldn’t you be all over that like white on rice? But let’s not forget items that we can use on business travel, recording imagery, communicating, the office or the employee lounge/kitchen and anything else we need to take care and manage business.
Through Costco/ Costco.com
- Samsung Galaxy S5 for your business for $99.99 with a 2-year contract
- Dell Inspiron 23 5000 Series Touchscreen All-in-One Desktop for $999.99
- Dell Inpsiron 17r Laptop for $ 849.99
Through Brad’s Deals (FYI: These deals to expire and sell out fast!)
- Refurbished Fijifilm AX655 Camera for $50
- 7- Piece Luggage Set for Travel for $100 plus free shipping
- HP Pavillion 10 TouchSmart Laptop for $285
- Apple TV (from BestBuy) for $100 plus a $25 Gift card
- Keurig K45 Brewer for $105 plus free shipping (and coffee cups)
- Rocketfish 3G Mobile HotSpot for $18
- RCA Charging Station for $14 plus free shipping
- Motorola Power Pack for $10
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (7″, 8″ & 10″ screens) for $109.99
- iEnjoy MyBolt Battery Charger for $11.99
- Blackberry Z10 4G LTE for $189.99
- Acer 15.6″ Touchscreen Notebook for $299.99
A penny saved is a penny earned…!
…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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.