Monday, May 20, 2013

The Dangers of Solitude

Being an entrepreneur is a wonderful thing, but there are quite a few pitfalls that you should be careful to avoid. I came to focus on this while watching one of my favorite TV shows - Million Dollar Listing New York. A recent episode highlighted what it was like for the 3 realtors during Hurricane Sandy.

If you've never watched the show, Fredrik Eklund, Ryan Serhant and Luis Ortiz are top-selling realtors in New York City who eat, live and breathe real estate. Their lives are all about the deal, for the most-part. Fredrik is engaged so he has his fiance and 2 dogs that he shares his life with. Luis is a twin, so he shares his life with his brother. Ryan, on the other hand, has nothing outside of work. He has no friends, no relationships, no one to call on when Hurricane Sandy strikes. Eventually he reached his parents and was able to get to them and stay for a few days while NYC got back up and running.

It was sobering to watch. As entrepreneurs, life becomes all about the hustle. The mentality becomes "If I don't make it happen, nothing will happen" and while that is partially true, it's not the sum total of reality. Remember the saying "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?" I would change that a bit to say "All work and no play makes Jack a LONELY boy." When you spend so much time chasing the deal and/or the dream that you begin to alienate your friends and family, it doesn't bode well. Life is meant to be about balance. It's not fair to assume that everyone understands that you have to work so hard and they should just deal with it. It's equally to unfair to assume that you can have relationships that you don't pay any attention to and they're just going to be there. Relationships are like flowers, they need love and sun and water and food. If you aren't providing those things, it will die.

Your friends may not understand you journey as an entrepreneur, and that's ok. It may not make sense to them all the time and they may want you to get a "regular" job, but it's just not healthy for your mind or your soul to close yourself off from the world with only your work to keep you company. When it's a crisis or a tragedy or major natural disaster, as was the case with Hurricane Sandy, you need to have people that you can reach out to. You need to have healthy relationships that you have fostered over time. People need to know that there is more to you than just working. You need to know that for yourself.

If you're a schedule-driven person, start carving out time in your schedule to spend time with the people you care about. It doesn't have to be extensive things - maybe a meal or coffee or face-to-face chat - but it needs to be something that isn't driven solely by technology (text conversations, phone calls, Skype chats, etc.) You need to see a live person, get a hug and talk about more than work. It will help you in the long run and it will go a long way towards feeding your relationships.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Open Letter to Litigious Personal Assistants

I've been sitting on this letter for months and I was trying to decide if it's a good thing to post about or not. Then, this happened - Usher's former nanny is suing him. It's all just too much.

Dear Celebrity Personal Assistants Who Sue,

Stop it! We live in a very litigious society and there is evidence in case after case of personal assistants who decide to sue their celebrity ex-bosses for obscene and ridiculous sums of money.

Months ago, I read an article about Melissa Ishage, former Personal Assistant to comedian/actor Katt Williams, who is suing her boss for allegedly punching her and causing "serious and permanent damage." Ms. Ishage is
requesting $5 MILLION DOLLARS for the alleged incident. Have you ever seen the movie Friday, with Christ Tucker and Ice Cube? There is a scene in the movie where Ezell, the neighborhood crack addict, fakes a
slip-and-fall at the corner store and cries out that he's going to sue for $150,000, but offers to settle out of court for 20 bucks. That's what these cases are starting to sound like and I can't help but wonder exactly what the point is.

Ms. Ishage certainly isn't the first person to go down this path. Almost a year ago, it was made public that Lady Gaga's former personal assistant, Jennifer O'Neill,  was suing her for $380,000 in unpaid overtime. Ms. O'Neill claimed that she was Lady Gaga's "slave." A $75,000 a year slave, apparently. What other slaves get paid that
amount of money? I'm interested to know what kind of contract or agreement they have in place that even offers/guarantees overtime pay.

I've been in the industry for a while and from what I've seen, More often than not, Personal Assistants are salaried employees, not hourly ones, simply due to the nature of the job. We accept a certain amount of money and we agree to be on-call to the employer 24/7. Some employers require a lot during that time and some don't require that much, but it's about what you agree to in the beginning. You can't accept the terms of the deal up front and then automatically decide that you work too much and you aren't getting paid enough. Well, you can, but that's what re-negotiation of your contract is about. You tell the employer WHY you think you need more money and you use facts, not emotions, to back up your point and they can decide to agree with you or terminate you and find someone who will work for what they're willing to pay. 

From Courtney Love to Naomi Campbell - the parade of celebrities who have been sued is endless, but I think there is a larger problem. Rule #1 of being a personal assistant is protecting the principal. Your
main priority in this job is to make sure that you are doing your best to protect the confidentiality of the person you work for. You can't say that you are good at maintaining confidentiality and then run to the press as soon as something is not to your satisfaction. Where is the honor in that? Look, by NO means am I saying that you shouldn't protect yourself in a situation, especially where abuse is allegedly involved, like Naomi or Katt, but how did that come to $5 Million Dollars? What does that say about you? You're sounding like Ezell! 

I'm guessing the lawyer said, "Let's go for the big number so we have some room to negotiate." But, let's deal with the reality in that. None of this happens overnight. You're probably out of work, living on savings

while you're waiting for court, mediation or negotiation. If the case is legitimate, you're probably going to settle out of court for an amount that is MUCH less than you requested. If you go to trial and you actually win, you don't get a check that day. You're probably going to be holding your breath while the celebrity tries to appeal the decision. They are more likely well-funded enough to play the waiting game, but let''s say you get your check. The lawyers, which I am sure are pretty pricey to go against any celebrity, are going to take their fees off the top and you're left with even less. There is probably going to be an order for you to keep your mouth closed, so there goes any hopes you had of gaining 15 minutes of fame on various talk shows and/or tell-all books. You're down to peanuts, which is probably going to go fast and then what? What if you lose the case? Now you owe!

What happens after all this dust settles? Are you planning on being a personal assistant to someone else? Who's going to hire you when you've proven that you are spiteful, malicious and you can't keep your
mouth closed? Think Monica Lewinsky! Even with all her education and sweet personality (as Barbara Walters continues to point out), the fact that she broke confidence in the largest way possible has made it EXTREMELY hard for her to get any work in all the years since the Clinton scandal. She had to wait out the statute of limitations to write her tell-all book and at this point...who cares. Confidentiality is NOT something that is taken lightly in this business.

Enough about you! What you're doing as a personal assistant has the same effect on the industry as the many sex scandals involving nannies and the man of the house. You're throwing a wrench in the game for so
many other people. These cases give employers reason to pause when they think about hiring another assistant. I'm sure you don't care about that because your goal is just to get what you can out of the deal.

I guess the intention of this letter is to give you some serious things to think about and also to shed some light on the other side of this business for people who are thinking about becoming a personal assistant for legitimate reasons or even the ones that hope they get an employer who throws a phone at their head. If you're not in it for a fair salary and the experience/perks that it can bring, just quit now and find something else do.



Monday, May 13, 2013

The Importance of Knowing Your Target Customer

Recently, Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch made some "controversial" statements about the target market for his business. To paraphrase, he said he only wants thin people in his clothes (under size 10) and pretty people working in his store. And, the Internet. Goes. Wild. All of these open letters start popping up to basically say Dear Mr. Jeffries, you're a douche. The controversy. The outrage. The mean factor. The list goes on and on.

But, take a step back for a second and think about it. Did he REALLY tell you something that you didn't know? Have you ever been in an Abercrombie & Fitch? If you answered no to that question, you weren't his target market anyway. I've only been in there once with a friend of mine, but I could tell by walking about the store that it wasn't necessarily a place I would shop. Has A&F EVER carried anything over size 10? I don't think so. The people who work in the store look as if they came straight from the runway somewhere (or at least print modeling if they're short). The clothes have always been small and the employees have always been pretty. Why is it a big deal now? 

I think it's generally a big deal with people who don't understand the business of knowing your target demographic and casting all cares to the wind to stick to it. Maybe he could have said it nicer or something that could possible appease a portion of the masses, but it doesn't really matter. It is what it is and as an entrepreneur, I get it. You should to. Nobody is boycotting Lane Bryant for only carrying size 14 and up. Nobody is outraged that Louboutin only makes narrow shoes - what about all those wide-feet people who want to buy them? There is no outcry for companies like Louis Vuitton or Hermes because they don't make $2 purses so everyone can afford them. Off the top of my head, there are two companies that market to the masses and don't care who buys from them - Wal-Mart and McDonald's. We know how well that's turned out - have you ever been on this site?

EVERY BUSINESS should have a target market and every entrepreneur should be clear about who their target market is. We live in a society where people want everyone to be included and nobody to feel left out. It starts with the way they run children's sports now where they don't take score and everyone gets a trophy. On what planet does that resemble real life? 

When I first started talking about my business, The Millionaire's Assistant, I came under fire. People said it was off-putting when I said that I prefer to work with affluent males. They SAID they wanted to work with me because a name like The Millionaire's Assistant made them feel good about a status they aspire to have, but when it came to pricing, they couldn't really afford to work with me and then came the sob story - "I really want to work with you but I don't have the money right now." Again I ask, on what planet does that resemble real life? Would you work for a company that said they really want to hire you, but they can't afford to pay you? That would make you a volunteer or an intern. The name of my business (which I am currently re-branding) was the equivalent to the sign at the amusement parks - you must be THIS tall to ride this ride. It seemed pretty cut and dry - in my mind anyway. Yet, all the people who feigned outrage because of my target market were the ones who couldn't pay for my services, anyway. I think it's the same with A&F. All the people who are so hurt behind what Mr. Jeffries said weren't exactly beating down the doors or saving their pennies to shop at A&F in the first place.

Why affluent males, you ask? Let me state first that nothing is absolute, but, it's been my experience that affluent women tend to be more of the micromanaging type. They want to stand over your shoulder and watch everything that's going on and then they tend to nickel and dime you on the prices after the work is done. For example, I worked with an affluent women and originally, my pricing structure was perfect for her, but at the end of the 30-day trial, she said that she could only continue to pay me a portion of what I charge. I told her politely, "I understand, maybe I can help you find someone to work for what you can afford to pay." That's when all hell broke loose. Essentially, her message to me was that I should accept what she wanted to pay me instead of what I actually charge for service and be happy with it because she was happy working with me. I had never felt so disrespected in my business and I've NEVER had that type of discussion with an affluent male. They tend to live by the mantra "I don't care how you kill the cow, I just want my steak." This is kind of the case with most men. Have you ever watched a movie about a wedding - guys are generally tell me what to wear and what time to show up and I'll be there. (I've probably digressed, but stay with me)

In the beginning, I was shaken by the thought that my target market had offended some people. It made me feel bad, for about 2 seconds. Then reality set it for me, as I am sure it has for Mr. Jeffries and hopefully for you as well on your journey to be a great entrepreneur - the people keeping up the fuss weren't planning to shop with you anyway. They just want something to bitch about. At the end of the day, the pretty, thin people who shop at A&F are still making the cash registers ring. Affluent males are still patronizing my business and whomever your target market is will continue to work with you as long as you give them what they came for - a great product, attention to their needs and excellent customer service.