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?

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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 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.

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?

Basket Vendors

Street Side Business 3What you see here are a few women on a side street corner and some bags on the ground.   You would assume there’s nothing of mere importance happening.  Just a few Angelinos going about their day.  Maybe they’re carrying on conversation, maybe they ran into each other and it’s been a while.  Or maybe this was their meet up spot.  But no.  These women may or may not know each — they do seem awfully friendly to be complete strangers, but it’s 8:10 in the morning.  And they haven’t finished going shopping or were merely catching up.  They’ve purposely stopped on this particular corner for a reason.  And no — these are not women of the night who are putting in overtime.  But business is still taking place….

 

 

You’ve seen this around town before.  I know you have.  And I’m sure these “pop-up vendors”, if you will, aren’t only in L.A.  People with their baskets selling hot food and cold drinks to the masses. You may not think 3 or 4 people would be considered the masses, but this is just a snapshot of a minute.  One minute in which a customerStreet Side Business is being served.  Not in a restaurant, not in line of a food truck, and not by a delivery person.  But by someone who knew they could sell their product without a middleman or red tape or limitations.  Let’s not look at this as would you or would you not eat from someone selling food out of a basket.   I’ll be the first one to admit I’m a little cautious about taking food from someone who’s also handling money, but that’s just my thing.  Look at this as GUMPTION.  As INITIATIVE.  As in talking your walk.  Someone thought highly enough of their product to take it to the people without waiting for the right time or having everything they’re “suppose to have” in place. Our opportunities aren’t always going to be perfect.  And the resources will not always be there.  So, what are you going to do when you only a few of the puzzle pieces?  Wait for things to line up and hope for the best?  When you have an idea that you can no longer sit on anymore, what are you going to do about it?  Let it waste away like so many other people do with their ideas or are you going to grab you a basket and do something about it?  Yeah, you can go ahead and criticize these people for all being too alike in what they’re doing, saying they don’t have a permit or license for handling food and transacting business.  But do you really think the give a damn?  They’re working on theirs while you’re thinking about yours…

Opportunities are no good without action.  Better grab a basket and get in motion.

Sometimes Our Efforts Are Small

A woman gets on the bus carrying two reusable cloth bags; one bag is filled with chocolate candy bars, the other is filled with holiday cards.  Once on board, she pays her fare then begins to ask every person riding the bus would they like to purchase a holiday card or a chocolate candy bar for one dollar.  Some people she asks in English, others she asks in Spanish.  But she asks everyone.  Most people decline, but some accept.  Regardless of whether someone bought a candy or card, she says the same thing with a smile on her face “Happy holidays to you.”  She juggles the bags and money between her hands steadying herself as the bus is motion never breaking her smile.  Although the majority of the riders on the bus choose not to buy anything from her, she carried on more conversations than transactions.  People were curious about why she was selling.  Was she selling for her child’s school to raise money?  Was she selling as part of community fundraiser?  No.  Her children were out of school for winter break and she didn’t belong to any community clubs.  She had wanted to earn a little extra money this holiday season to ensure she could afford to buy her kids something nice for Christmas, but didn’t have time for a second job and she had to rely o mass transportation to get around.

She took the bus everyday, worked around people and she could speak English and Spanish.  It may not have seemed like much, but she took what she could do, used skills she already had and employed her environment.

Sometimes our efforts are small because our desires are small.  But small efforts can lead to big impacts we could never imagined.  But we gotta make the effort and put ourselves out there <— insert cliché here, right?  We’re two weeks out from the new year and this is about the time people pretend to get serious about making life changes and commitments.  Just make one in 2014: Make the effort.

New Year’s In November

Happy New Year’s in November!  No, this isn’t a federally recognized holiday in which we all get the day — well, as if most of us take any days off.  New Year’s In November is a concept I started a couple years back to figure out a success route to the New Year’s resolutions we all make come January First.  Whether we want to lose weight, run a marathon, go into business for ourselves, travel more, make more money, quit smoking, stop drinking  — whatever it is — we all want to make those important changes to our lives to be better healthier, wealthier, well-balance people.  But instead, most of us fail.  Not because of the resolutions we make, but how we’re going about achieving them.   Everyone gets the ball rolling and stays on track for the first couple weeks in the month after the first.  About 3/4 of people who make resolutions will keep them for a little while.  But as time progress, fewer and fewer people will keep them.  It’s be estimated that about 50% of the people who started out with their resolutions will keep them until the end of June that year.  But what happens to the rest of the year?

What makes celebrating New Year’s in November any more promising?  Nothing — and everything.  It’s not about jump starting your resolutions two months in advance.  It’s about preparing yourself for those resolutions, those changes.  Taking small steps now.   Giving yourself two months of time to wrap your head around how you will accomplish your resolutions.

It’s a challenge.  A personal challenge that I open up to everyone that’s reading this.  I typically write for people who are in business for themselves or thinking about going into business, so let’s start with you guys.

Give yourself two months to get on the track to where you’d like to be come top of 2014, do what you need to now.  What steps are needed to take to get your business to the next level?  Start them now.  Much of it might be planning, budgeting, asking someone with more experience or knowledge for help.  You have the time now to figure that out.

Do it.  You have two months to decide where you want your business to be in 2014 and have the time right now to see it gets there.  Will you wait to for 2014 to plan for 2014?