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?
…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.
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.
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.
If you watched the Oscar’s last night, then you know that 12 Years A Slave took home best picture, Cate Blanchett won best lead actress and Matthew McConaughey won best leading actor. If you didn’t, I’m sure you Googled it and this is not a surprise. Some of the highs were Pharell’s performance of “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 and P!nk’s cover of “Over The Rainbow” which was splendidly done. As well as the moment when Ellen claimed she took Pharell’s hat and started hitting up celebrities for money to pitch in pizza, singling out Brad Pitt who only tossed in 20 bucks. But the moment that stood out for me during the entire show was Matthew McConaughey’ speech accepting best actor.
McConaughey said there were only three things in life he needed daily: something to look up to, something to look forward to and someone to chase. Just three things. Very simple, nothing over the top, nothing complicated. What where his three things? God, his family and himself — in that order. Something to look up to, something to look forward to and someone to chase. The first two were easy to follow and he explained quite eloquently how they all tied in. But when he came to explaining someone to chase — he had a little story about being asked who his hero was when he was 15 years old — he made it perfectly clear that he wasn’t chasing who is he now, the McConuaghey we saw on stage. He was chasing who he wanted to be in 10 years from then and 10 years from now. And that’s how he lives his life.
I’ve never thought about self-development as a chase. I think of chase as cops and robbers, to an extent. Being chased — trying to get away. But Matthew McConaughey’s chase is about working his way towards a better self. A self that he’s so focused on, so single-minded about, that he makes sure everything he’s doing moves him in that direction. I’m probably ad-libbing here, but that was my takeaway. That was my understanding of what he meant to chase himself. Being so absorbed by a goal — by a state of mind — that nothing deters you. Not because you’re perfect in every way, but because that’s where you want to be. That’s what you want so badly, you’ll doing anything for.
Just 3 things he puts his mind to everyday. Not some bucket list of all things he plans to check off the list before he dies. Just 3 things.
Whatever it is that you’re working on or working towards, if you could learn to let go of all that you don’t need, what 3 things would you need to propel yourself forward?
Check out these February events for those in the Greater Los Angeles area. No matter what business you’re thinking about going into, or if you’ve already started your own company, there are events here for all levels of business owners and entrepreneurs,
- February 4th – Taking Your Grant Writing Research Skills to The Next Level Event organized by eCivis, Inc. from 9am – 4pm PST. Event cost is $299 for the early bird fee, $349 for general admission.
- February 5th – FREE Self-Publishing Workshop located at 1246 Glendon Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024 (Westwood Library Branch) from 6-8pm PST hosted by the Toastmasters District One Speakers Bureau Workshop Committe, for more info, visit http://bit.ly/1fOqo6d
- February 6th – FREE Website Building Tools Class hosted by the Valley Economic Development Center from 6-8pm PST located at 5121 Van Nuys Blvd., 3rd Floor Van Nuys, CA 91403; from more information or to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- February 6th – 8th – How To Sell To Women FREE Virtual Training Event hosted by Lisa Sasevich; to register http://bit.ly/1eHENio
- February 7th – Women 2.0 Founder Friday, located at the Regus 3415 South Sepulveda, suite 1100 Los Angeles, CA 90034 from 6:30 to 9pm PST. General admission starts at $22.09. Visit http://bit.ly/1er4gjT for more information and to register
- February 8th – FREE Marketing and Promotions Event organized by the Business Entrepreneurship Club. Event will take place the LA Mission College located at 13356 Elridge Ave, Los Angeles 91342 from 10am – 12pm PST. Contact Dr. Norris Dorsey at 818.402.5050 and/or register at http://bit.ly/ML8CIQ
- February 10th — FREE Start Up Dos & Don’ts/ Business Plan class from 6-8pm PST hosted by the Valley Economic Development Center located at 5121 Van Nuys Blvd., 3rd Floor Van Nuys, CA 91403; from more information or to register, email email@example.com
- February 10th – California Small Business Development Center is offering a How to Write a Business Plan Class for $40, hosted by Santa Monica College. Event takes place from 9am to 1pm PST on the campus. To register, visit http://bit.ly/1fzdI51
- February 19th – 2014 – 2015 Annual Economic Forecast and Industry Outlook hosted by the LA County Economic Development Corporation from 7 -10:30pm PST at the L.A. Hotel Downtown located at 333 Figueroa St, Los Angeles 90071; general admission is $155 if purchased by Feb. 14th. Register at http://bit.ly/1acMC3E
- February 26th – March 1st – Black Enterpise Women of Power Summit hosted by State Farm held at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Florida. Deadline to register for general admission is February 7th at $1395. After February 7th, tickets to the event go up to $1695. For more information visit, http://bit.ly/1ildZsN
(additional events may be added)