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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

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.

No Man Is An Island

Who Are You Lending On?

My grandfather — may he rest in peace — always said no man is an island.  No one person can do it all by themselves and succeed.  Everyone, even the self-made billionaires of our generation, have leaned on someone else for support and guidance.  This is not about delegating tasks and outsourcing work.  This is about genuine help.  Genuine support.  No, I’m not going to break into Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” (although if you want to sing a few bars, I wouldn’t mind joining you), but he did hit the nail on the head.  There is no problem so unique that someone else hasn’t experienced or gone through what we have or are going through — a friend, a family member, a mentor, a colleague, a LinkedIn group member.  It’s not even about being weak or a failure.  It’s about knowing when to seek out help before it’s too late.

We all would like to think that we’re strong enough to endure the challenges and obstacles that’ll be hurling themselves our way.  If the Mark Cubans and Jeff Bezos can do it, why can’t we? But did they really do it all by themselves?

Should we?

You don’t need to know everything about marketing, creating a campaign, holding a conference, planning a networking event, branding your company, recruiting top talent or even writing a business plan.  Because there is someone you know who you can lean on and help.

“For no one can fill/ those of your needs/ that you won’t let show.” – Bill Withers

Social Media Management

Did you know that Intel Boutique offered Social Media Management services?  No?  Really?

It’s a little bit what it sounds like.  However, this isn’t a service in which you hire someone to manage your social media platforms for you, i.e. a contract social media manager.  Intel Boutique’s Social Media Management service is where you — the client and business owner — invite Intel Boutique to show you how to become adept (if not more) in managing and tackling your business’ social media presence.  We all know how important it has become for businesses to create a social media image.  Today, much of the marketing that is done is through social media and/ or uses social media channels to carry the message of a business or brand.  But using social media goes beyond setting up an account and a few links to the business website.  I’ve had multiple people admit they got their nephew or niece or neighbor’s kid to help them start their ‘socials’ for their business because it was easier to have them do it and they understood it better.  I understand that Gen Ys know more about using it.  After all, Gen Ys pioneered social media.  That’s fine and dandy, but how much do they know about marketing? How much do they know about creating a campaign or selecting the right social sites?  How much do they know about applying all of this to your business?

This is where Intel Boutique steps in.  Intel Boutique offers a choice of two intimate settings (one small and one large) for business owners in the Greater Los Angeles area who know a little sum-thin’ sum-thin’ about social media but haven’t yet used it or aren’t using it to its greatest value.   The service isn’t a lecture about how to harness the endless potential of social media.  It is a ‘walk-through’, if you will, in which how to best use best social sites for your business based on your business needs and audience.  No generics, no what has worked for others, no empty promises, no buying a whole bunch of fake followers and likes.  The Social Media Management service simply sits you down and explores how you need to reach your target market via social media channels.  You get to select the right sites for you — no matter if you’re selling a service or product — set up those accounts and profiles, create a campaign right then and there and get reading material (that’s been collected from various resources) that discusses how small businesses should use social media.

But why doesn’t Intel Boutique just manage the social accounts of other businesses that don’t know how or don’t have the time?  That’s not a ruled out service, however, the point of the service is knowledge and know-how.  That niece or nephew those people hired don’t really know what those kids are doing because they don’t know how to use it themselves.  That leaves them to trust a bunch of young’uns to represent their business on platforms that thousands on top of thousands will see.  These are the same kids that struggle to use a fax machine.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong in hiring someone who knows better than you what you need done.  But you also shouldn’t be so in the dark that you’re just blindly following them hoping for the best.

Stop by intelboutique.com and take a gander. You can still hire that kid on the block to set up your Facebook account.  But at least you’ll how he’s doing it and what he should be doing.

Social Media Management