Monday, March 11, 2013

Business Lessons from Downton Abbey

Apparently, I've been hiding under a rock while the rest of the world was watching Downton Abbey. I kept hearing about it in different social networking references, but I finally jumped in and started watching a couple weekends ago and I was immediately hooked. I watched Seasons 1 & 2, but decided I will wait until we get closer to the release of Season 4 before I watch Season 3. I guess Netflix has spoiled me into wanting all of the season at once, but I digress.

The show is freaking AMAZING! The writing is superb and I really love period pieces, so that was a huge selling point for me as well. To top it off, in the midst of the snappy dialogue, there are some great pieces of wisdom for any entrepreneur.

  • "Every mountain is unclimbable until someone climbs it. Every ship is unsinkable until it sinks." There will always be naysayers. Lord knows, I've had my share of run-ins with them. They are going to stand on the sidelines of something and tell you "Oh no, it can't be done." Don't let that kill your dream or rain on your parade. Whatever you set your mind out to do, go for it - wholeheartedly and full of enthusiasm  Just make sure you're being authentic.

  • "You're no use to anyone if you can't be yourself." Well, duh! Check out my last blog post about that very thing. It's going to be something you read often in this blog.

  • "We all have chapters that we'd like to keep unpublished." Don't ever think that you've cornered the market on things that you'd rather people not know about. Making mistakes and learning from them to create a better you are all apart of life in general, and ESPECIALLY a part of business. We would prefer that people not find out about the mistakes we've made, but owning them in order to be true to yourself are what makes you even better.

  • "We all have different parts to play and we must be allowed to play them." I guess this is a recurring theme isn't it? Everyone can't be the creator of Facebook or Apple or Microsoft. But, you do have something that you can do outstandingly well and it sets you apart from others. Don't spend your life wishing to play someone else's role or envying the role they play. Figure out what your passion is and pursue that.

  • "Sweet tea is just the things for frayed nerves." I chose to end with that one because, it's true. Life can be stressful if you allow it to be. Especially if you are an entrepreneur. But, it doesn't have to be. When you find yourself running out of steam or about to lose your shit because it's not. quite. right. RELAX! Have yourself a glass of sweet tea and revisit it when you have calmed down.

There are far more lessons from the show, but who wants to read forever, so I will put a pin in 5 for now and I will write another post about some more awesome things that they said on the show. If you haven't started watching it - you totally should!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Real Sh*t!

When I initially started my business, I was talking with my good friend Travis about what my title should be. Without any hesitation, he said "Chief Get Shit Done Officer!" For someone who uses profanity pretty regularly (I am Southern, after all), I was a little shocked by that title.

Could I really be so bold as to call myself a Chief Get Shit Done Officer?

What if I just went with CGSDO for short? Gosh, that doesn't really roll off your tongue like CEO, does it?

To Travis, it was simple - the people who would use my services need someone that can get shit done. There's nothing to think about. It's not complicated at all. He said that if I went with a term like that, I would set myself apart - immediately.

Looking back, I can't believe something so plain gave me pause. I talked it over with my business coach, who is also a woman and she said, "Are you sure you want to call yourself that?" (In a very motherly way)

My other female entrepreneur friends also gave me similar responses. To them, it was off-putting. It didn't make sense. And as a BELIEVER, how could I use such a title?

That was about 2 years ago. But, on Friday, a close friend of mine, who also kind of balked at the idea back then, told me to check out Erika Napoletano, a vibrant-looking, red head who uses helps business owners get "un-stuck" in their business and helps you GET SHIT DONE. I was excited to check out her page.

This lady cusses A LOT and I LIKE IT!

Why? Because it works! When you say something like "I help you get stuff done," that sounds nice and sincere and all that, but when you say "You can call me when you need to get SHIT done," people stand up and take notice.

My website states that my clients live by the mantra, "I don't care how you kill the cow, I just want my steak." But in the amped-up version, it should stay "I don't give a f*ck about the details, I just want shit done." Because, that's what they are really thinking. That's what they really want!

2 years ago, I allowed fear to stop me from saying what I really wanted to say and as a result, it has probably hindered the growth of my company. I probably could have been doing more and reaching more people who connected with me because I wasn't afraid to use the phrase that translates into EXACTLY what I do. I allowed the voices and opinions of people, who were never going to use my services anyway, have an effect on my business decision. That's the second time I made that mistake, but I'll save the other story for another blog post.

So, I'm not hiding anymore. I am putting myself out there for exactly who I am - a smart, savvy, Personal Concierge who GETS SHIT DONE for her clients. For the ones who love it, they'll be happy to work with me because they understand that I understand them. For the ones who don't, they weren't right for me anyway because the truth is, I talk like that...and so do my clients.

My advice to you: Don't shrink because someone else wants to put you in a box. Be as bold and as vibrant as you really are and it will attract the right people - in business and in life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Woman Business Enterprise

Recently, I was asked if I was registered as a WBE, a Woman Business Enterprise

The implication was that if I were a WBE, the person who inquired would be able to refer business to me. I politely explained that I am the sole owner of my Personal Concierge service and I handle each of my clients personally, and I am a woman.

Now, I know that based on my current business model, I can only handle a certain amount of people at one time. I am completely okay with that. In fact, I prefer it that way at this time.

So, what is a WBE? 
Woman Business Enterprise means a woman (or group of women) is in control of 51% of a company.

Why is this important?
There are a lot of government agencies and programs, as well as publicly-held corporations and private companies that strive to do business with certain minority groups and by having the proper certification, such as WBE certification, you prove that doing business with your company allows them to meet their obligations.

If you are a business that is looking to do business with large corporations, being a WBE may be the right thing for you, but it's not something I would spend money on until AFTER I'm sure it's a requirement to gain the contract.

I am currently not a service that caters to that magnitude of clientele. My clients are individuals - entrepreneurs, executives and celebrities. I don't take on too many clients at a time because I promise personalized service, tailored to meet the needs of each individual I serve, and I deliver it, personally. 

This is what works for me, and my clients, at this point. I am always open to referrals and new clients, but, a deal that would require me to be WBE certified would probably not be a good fit for my business.

My advice to you: It's important to understand what you want, who you want to serve as well as what you can and cannot do. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time (and money) running in circles, chasing after something that isn't best for you or your business. Once you know what's right for you, stand firm in that.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Swimming with Sharks

Photo Courtesy: ABC Shark Tank

As an entrepreneur, I have a serious love and admiration for the TV Show Shark Tank on ABC. I respect the business panel AKA The Sharks and I admire the moxy of the people who enter the tank hoping to get a deal. If you watch the show, you know it's no easy task and it's easy to let the situation get out of control. True to the name, they are Sharks and once there is blood in the water, you're pretty much a goner.

Each week, I live-tweet the show and point out some of the tips that I find to be important. They're often underlying messages that any entrepreneur can benefit from. This week was no different:

First up: Nuts 'N More - a fortified nut spread company.
These guys were asking for $250,000 for 20% equity stake in their company. I'm far from a math genius, and I can tell you that the company valuation is pretty darn high. They've been open less than a year and they only started selling 5 months ago, but they're putting the value of the company at over a million dollars.

Lesson 1: If you're going to claim that kind of valuation on your company, you have to have the sales to back it up. Show the trajectory.
The guys backed this by saying they have a large company that is interested in buying product from them. The problem with that is the company hasn't actually ordered because Nuts 'N More isn't in the position to produce at the magnitude that will allow them to fulfill the order. 

Lesson 2: You can't value your company off "maybe" sales. Sure, they have an interested party, but they aren't currently in the position to actually put ink on the deal and by the time they are in that position, that particular deal may no longer be available. Which could cause a huge decline in what they say the value is.

Robert Harjavec pointed it out "You're valuing the company as if you've already made the money." 

Followed by Daymond John who said, "You're working on assumptions" and with that, he was out, followed by Barbara Corcoran who said that the $250,000 was only possible if she got 80% of the business and then she was out. 

Kevin is a true Shark, he's always out for blood and he was out. 

Mark Cuban tried to negotiate with them and even asked Robert to partner with him. Robert told them that they haven't proven a business, they've proven a concept. In the end, the deal was Mark & Robert providing $250K with 35% stake in the company on the contingency that they give them $75K up front and the other $175K as needed for future purchase orders.

Lesson 3: Comes directly from Daymond John, "Don't get caught up in the big numbers. Just want what you NEED."

EVERYTHING is negotiable. As long as you know what success looks like for you and your situation, you can negotiate on the details.

Next up: Romy Taormina, Founder of Psi Bands - an adjustable "stylish" band that is meant to help prevent motion sickness and nausea. She was seeking $250K for 10% equity in the company.

When Robert asked if there was any proof that this actually works, Romy's response was "It's an FDA-cleared medical device." HUGE MISTAKE.

Lesson 4: Answer the specific question that is asked of you, otherwise, you will seem evasive.

Romy said that in the last 12 months, she's sold almost $1MM in products, but she's only had 11% net-profit. That's pretty low, but she disagreed. Of the $1MM, she has a $600K gross margin, clearing $110 (net profit), $100K salary, leaving $400K unaccounted for. She has $600K of debt and she's including past deferred salaries in that number. That's virtually unheard of. Daymond John tweeted "Does the IRS allow you to carry fwd your time as debt?" Barbara Corcoran pointed out that no investor would want to give you money for your business and watch you write yourself a check for salary you earned before they got there. You could see Romy's attitude begin to change at this point. She was getting annoyed.

Lesson 5: Leave your emotions out of it. Everybody knows that as an entrepreneur, your business is your "baby" and nobody likes it when people talk about their baby. BUT, this is business and there are going to be questions, especially when you're asking for money.

Mark doesn't like "snake oil" type products. "There's a lot of things that sell, that don't work." Have R&D to backup what you're selling. Romy didn't have that. So, Mark was out.

Robert didn't like that she used "cancer" as a way to try to push buttons. (Be careful with those hot button topics, they can backfire.) He was out.

Daymond was leaning towards the company, but the numbers didn't make sense. "The company isn't profitable if it has debt and it's not paying down the debt." In the end it boiled down to trust.

Kevin offered her $250K for 40% of the company, but, at that point, Romy was too upset and emotional about the Shark attack and she preferred to walk away.

Third candidate: NEO Innovations and their Black Light Home Tattoo Removal Device seeking $80K for 20%

Hilarity ensued with their presentation.

"I'm black, will I explode if I put that on me," asked Daymond John after they used a black and a white balloon as a way of showing how the device works. It was all downhill from there. Questions about home use of this device, regulation by FDA, safety, and the complication level of the instructions all conspired to cause all of the Sharks to swim away from this product.

Lesson 6: Be mindful of the possible liability of what you are selling. We live in a very litigious society. It's important to protect yourself and your investors as much as possible.

The last candidate was my favorite of the night: Jessica Haynes, Creator of Jeska Shoe Company who asked for $70K in exchange for a 30% stake in her company.

Her product is an interchangeable shoe that allows you to go from a pump to a wedge in no time flat. It immediately reminded me of the Miche Bag, a company that makes interchangeable purses.

Let's be honest, her math didn't make a lot of sense. The manufacturing costs are clearly too high because the product (which hasn't been made yet) would retail for $200 and the heels would range from $20-$30 each. But she had heart. 

Barbara made an excellent point, the person who can pay $200 for a shoe, would just pay that to buy 2 pairs of shoes. 

The Miche bags range between $22-$45 each for the base bag and then interchangeable shells that go on the outside of the bag are between $15-$50 each. These are the kinds of prices that will work better for Jessica.

The problem is, she's out of money. She has invested everything she has in this company and she's just a few more steps away from bringing her product to the masses, so an investment from just one Shark will seal the deal. She doesn't have any sales for the product and she's still in the prototype phase.

Lesson 7: It NEVER hurts to ask for help.

"How will you stand out so that people can find you?" Mark Cuban asked this question and it's something I believe that every entrepreneur should ask themselves this question.

I think the fact that Jessica has $63,000 of her own money currently invested in her dream says a LOT about her as a business person.

Lesson 8: If you can't invest in yourself AND be passionate about it, don't expect someone else to invest in you.

Lesson 9: Jessica said "I don't have all the answers." Don't be afraid to say that. If you don't know, you don't know. If you're willing to learn and ask for help, that's what makes you endearing.

Everyone backed out, except one, Daymond John. Kevin and Barbara tried to convince her to give up on her dream, which made me sad to hear. But, I knew the whole time that he would be the perfect person to team up with her. 

Daymond offered her $70K for 70% of the company, but, he is going to do the work for her, which is what she needs. He has all the connections for distribution, shipping and financing and it's going to help her go far. He said if a billion dollar order came in, he would be able to help her process that order. I have no doubt that's true!

I would have liked to see her negotiate and not just take the deal, but she was so excited to get a "yes" when she's been hearing "no" for so long. I get it. It goes back to what I was saying about being emotional.

Lesson 10: Everyone has a story and an experience and you never know who can relate. Don't be afraid to share your story. Jessica's story is what helped seal the deal with Daymond.

If you are an entrepreneur and you aren't watching Shark Tank, you're doing yourself a disservice. It's like business school every Friday night.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Debbie Wiener's Million Dollar Tips

I was watching The Steve Harvey Show on TV today, and I was introduced to Debbie Wiener, a mompreneur.

I immediately admired her personality. She's friendly, funny and outgoing and I like that! She came to the show with the book that you see in the video above, but the catch was, the pages were completely blank.

She said she hadn't written the book yet, but she wanted to get Steve to write the foreword. You know what happened? He agreed! There is a lot of power in being bold and asking for what you want.

She also gave some tips to 2 other business owners:
Hickey Bottom BBQ –
Character Kids Furniture – (which I think is really cute)

I wanted to share this video with you and hopefully you will enjoy the tips that she provides as you are working on your million dollar ideas!

Are you currently working on any Million Dollar ideas?