Sunday, September 29, 2013

October is Coming

In a couple of days, it'll be the first of October and the beginning of the 31-day Blogging Challenge. Thanks to the prodding of my friend, I've decided to participate.

I actually look forward to it. It's going to be a challenge to me in several different ways. It's not just about creating a post a day for 31-days, it's also about endurance and persistence and authenticity. And, because I'm the ambitious-type, I decided to up the ante.

I'm not just going to write 31 blog posts for My Entrepreneurship Diaries, but I'm also going to write 31 posts for my business blog as well.

You've be warned....LOL!

Have no fear! Some of the blogs are going to be long and some of them are going to be pretty short. There are no restrictions or guidelines involved in this process.

They say it takes 21 days to create a habit. I'm curious to see how well that goes after the 31 days.

If you're interested in signing up to join, click here. Meanwhile, be sure to check back here daily or subscribe so you can follow along and see how this shakes out. I promise, I'll try to make them interesting and entertaining.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lessons in Authenticity from "Pretty Woman"

It's Thursday, #ThrowbackThursday, as it's called on various forms of social media, to be exact. What better way to honor that than by doing a entrepreneurship post based on a "classic" film - Pretty Woman.

If you haven't seen the film (shame on you) or you need a refresher, you can watch it on Amazon streaming video - and I suggest that you do.

It's 2-hours long and full of useful tips, but I'd like to just stick with the information that can be gleaned from the first 30 minutes or so.

Let's jump right in:

Scene: Edward (Richard Gere) is lost in a colleague's car, that he clearly can't drive, and he needs directions to the hotel where he'll be staying in Beverly Hills. He stops, in attempt to find the right gear without stripping the transmission when he's approached by Vivian (Julia Roberts). They have a brief exchange about directions and how much she'll charge him. He protests and she responds, "I can do anything I want, I ain't lost."

Business Lesson: When you offer a service to your clients/customers, it's important to remember that you are in control of setting the tone for the relationship, especially in your pricing. Clients come to you because in one way or another, they are lost. They need something. It's up to you to be authentic to yourself and the people you want to serve, but, sometimes, you need to be firm and remind them that they came to you for a reason! You can't be afraid to have that discussion, as necessary.

Scene: Vivian and Edward are riding along in the Lotus and he asks her about her pricing information. She tells him and they exchange words about it. He says, "You're kidding!" and she responds, "I never joke about money."

Business Lesson: KNOW YOUR NUMBERS! You shouldn't stumble or fumble, especially when it comes to discussing your pricing information. I can't stress this enough. If you've read some of my earlier posts, you'd know, I'm a huge fan of Shark Tank and I can't tell you how many times I've seen people come on that show who don't know this information. Is this your business, or is this a hobby that you dabble in from time to time? If it's the former, you should never be thrown off by this discussion.

Scene: In the same scene mentioned above, Vivian tells Edward she charges $100/hour and he tells her that it's crazy talk considering she has a safety pin holding her boot up.

Business Lesson: Appearance matters. We live in a pretty superficial society and that's the way it is. I'm not suggesting that you break the bank in any way to have the latest brand name anything in order to come off a certain way. After all, we're talking about authenticity here and if purple labels aren't who you are, don't do it to impress someone who may or may not become a client in the end. That said, you should be able to find a happy medium between $700 jeans and having a safety pin holding your boot up. If you rock jeans and a t-shirt or in my case, jeans and heels, just make sure it's neat. (And if there is a safety pin holding anything up/together, make sure it's not visible to others)

Scene: Once they get to the hotel and in the room, there are several candid exchanges between Edward and Vivian and I believe that these conversations are part of what endeared her to him. Right down to her taking off that horrid wig and showing her real, red hair.

Business Lesson: Never be afraid to be yourself. The people you are meant to serve will understand and relate to who you truly are. The others will fall away. I talked about that before in a previous post. What resonates within you? WHO ARE YOU? Let that shine through.

Scene: After their first night together, Richard decides to proposition Vivian to stay with him for the remainder of the week. He clearly enjoys her company and her conversation. They start to talk price. She throws out the first number that comes to mind - $4000 and the negotiation starts. They settle on $3000.

Business Lesson: Negotiations require finesse. Being overly eager can cost you. In the end, she says she would have "settled for" $2000 and he said he would have paid $4000. Know your value. Don't allow a client to low-ball you. Not to say this is exactly what happened in this scene, but, $1000 got lost somewhere. Don't allow that to happen to you. Negotiations should provide a win-win scenario and nobody should walk away feeling like they lost anything, especially if you want to do business again in the future.

Let's just end it with 5 lessons. I love the movie and I could probably come up with 10 more, but who has that kind of time. The point I want to make is there is a way to be true to yourself and be true to your clients at the same time. It's up to you to find it. When you give up too much of yourself to make the client happy (as is the case later in the movie), nobody feels good about it.

In order to operate from a place of authenticity, you need to know who you are, who you are passionate about working with, and the value of what you're providing. If you keep these 3 things in mind at all times, I think you'll have a great time as an entrepreneur and your clients will have a great time doing business with you.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Either you're IN or you're out!

I have a love/hate relationship with LinkedIn for many reasons. I think it's an excellent tool and as a Lifestyle Manager to affluent clients, it's the best choice in the social media realm. My clients aren't hardly on Twitter and they use Facebook for keeping in touch with family. But, when it comes to matters of business, they're more likely to be found on LinkedIn.

Personally, I use LinkedIn as my search engine of choice when I want to learn more about someone I'm planning to do business with.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2011, I used LinkedIn as a way of connecting with people who also work with my target market so I could start establishing relationships and scheduling meetings to introduce myself to them. I think it's an excellent tool for this, especially if you're moving into a new field of work or a new city. You want to connect with the people who are already there.

I rarely use the canned message that comes with a LinkedIn invitation. Mainly because it's not authentic to who I am. I'm from Texas, so I'm friendly. I want to tell you why I am reaching out and why I want to connect with you. I did that for every invitation I sent out and the response was overwhelming. People accepted my requests, some people initiated further discussion and even offered to help me.

The other side is where the "hate" part of the relationship comes in. A good portion of people aren't interested in strategic alliances, they just want to talk about how you can help them. The message is the equivalent to "Thank you for connecting with me, now let's talk about what you can do for me."

I've been added to various newsletters and updates that I never signed up for and it's a violation of what's allowed on the internet. You're not supposed to randomly add people to your newsletter just because you have their email address (which is why I don't put my email address on my business cards).

Another issue I take is with the relatively new endorsement option. When you do business with people, LinkedIn gives you the option to ask these people for a recommendation letter, of sorts, that you can display on your profile. As one person put it, "In light of the fact that we're a generation that doesn't like to actually write anything anymore, LinkedIn created the endorsement option." This allows people to choose from a list of things you do and proclaim your proficiency in it.

As a result, I find myself being endorsed, quite frequently, by people who don't know anything about me and I've had numerous discussions with other colleagues who have the same experience. If you're interested in being true to yourself and your business, you find this to be odd. For other people, who are just happy to receive the accolades, it's not a big deal. But, remember, affiliation matters! I don't think you should go around giving out endorsements all willy-nilly because if something doesn't work out, it could come back to bite you and when you say you didn't really know the person that well, you'll look slightly foolish (just my 2 cents).

Just like anything else, LinkedIn is a great tool when you use it properly. When people find you interesting, they will want to talk to you. Don't make it all about you. Add value to the people who value you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Affiliation Matters

In business and in life, who you associate with matters a GREAT deal. To put it in mob terms, introducing someone to the wrong person can get you WHACKED! Maybe not actually killed, but it can kill your business and your reputation, if you're not careful.

As a result of this belief, I am EXTREMELY careful about who I do business with. A prime example is my previous post. The person who taught me all those business lessons, which I passed on to you, was a referral from someone else. YIKES!

Last week, I was contacted by an extremely persistent business-owner. He started with a generic invitation to connect on LinkedIn - I really dislike those, you should take a couple moments to actually send a message to the person you want to connect with. He also completed my consultation request from my website and asked me to contact him. I knew something was a bit off, so I responded with an email asking if he was looking for a Lifestyle Manager. He didn't reply. Instead, he called me. He said that he has this service that he is sure my clients could benefit from using. He's so sure, in fact, that he's willing to give me money for every client I refer to his business.


What people need to understand, especially about what I do, is that trust is EVERYTHING. My clients trust me. They depend on me to be true and authentic with what I do for them. Referring them to some "great service" that I know NOTHING about, simply for the money I would get from the referral is a breech of that trust. Additionally, you have to ask this question, "Is the money I get as a kick-back going to outweigh the long-term contract with the client?" If the answer is no, don't do it.

I believe that recommendations should be organic, especially if you're being authentic and people are to trust you. If you personally do business with a company and you've had great results from doing so, then, of course, you would want to spread the word about how great they are. If they give you something for being loyal and referring people, that's an added bonus, but it should NEVER be your sole motivation.

A few years ago, a person I trusted referred me to a copywriter to write the content for my website at the time. BIGGEST. MISTAKE. EVER! The guy basically took my money and disappeared. He didn't mean any of the promised deadlines. He didn't respond to any communication requests. He wouldn't give me a refund before he "finished the project" and when he did finally give me the copy, it was completely off the mark. I had to go through hell and high water to get my money back, but what I did come to learn was that I wasn't the first person he had done this too. There were many people out there like me and apparently none of them had come forward until I did. The lady who made the referral said it was the worst mistake of her career. So many people had contacted her to tell her how terrible their experience was and astonishingly, many of those people preferred to just forget the whole thing instead of request a refund.

Here are your takeaways:

  • The wrong affiliation can cause irreparable damage.
  • If you don't know/like/trust what you're referring, don't do it.
  • If you're only referring for the kick-back money, you're not being authentic. (Even though some people choose to put a disclaimer on the communication "I'm being paid to tell you this product is great" it's still inauthentic)

I personally don't think it's ever worth the risk, but that's for you to decide. Who you affiliate with MATTERS!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Importance of Endurance

Photo Courtesy: Flickr Jeff Sass

This blog is inspired by Diana Nyad, who, at 64 years old has recently completed the swim from Cuba to Florida. She's made 5 attempts to swim the 110 mile journey over 35 years, starting in 1978. After each failed attempt, she has said she isn't going to try it again, but she's proof that your innate desire to succeed has to be stronger than your disappointment with failure.

Ms. Nyad had a message for us all when she reached the shore: "I have three messages. One is we should never ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team."

The 110 miles from Havana to Key West is treacherous! It's often filled with box jellyfish, sharks, rough currents and storms. I suppose people question "Who in their right mind would attempt to swim in something like that?" There are MANY people who feel the same way about entrepreneurship, which is also a dangerous undertaking. Instead of jellyfish and sharks, our path is filled with quite a bit of uncertainty and unscrupulous people - sharks in their own right. A large part of our job is to have the sheer will, determination and endurance to continue to swim on anyway.

When an attempt to make this swim previously didn't work out, Ms. Nyad did something that we all should learn to do, she figured out what the problem was and she made adjustments for the next time. She got a different wet suit to put on at night so that her arms and legs were covered. She consulted experts on jellyfish and got a sting stopper gel that she could put on her body to protect her from the stings.

She also made adjustments to her support team. She had a group of people who swam ahead of her to disperse jellyfish or sharks. On her last attempt, she suffered her first asthma attack that was severe she had to stop. She obtained a pulmonologist to be a part of the team that accompanied her on the journey. She worked out what she needed for nutrition to sustain her during this trek and her team would use a tube to supply it to her while she would tread water.

Everything, even being a solopreneur takes some kind of team to help you be successful. It can be the friends and/or family members that cheer you on and provide a consistent source of encouragement. It can be a business coach who provides practical insight or helps you see things in a different way. A lawyer, an accountant, a financial planner, people who refer clients to you and definitely the clients you work with. Of course it's your name on the business, but you can't do it all alone and if you think you can, you're going to face a lot more disappointments that can be avoided. Have a team in place that supports you. It's imperative to your journey.

There will be times that you will want to give up! Every fiber of your being will be screaming at you to quit. It will feel as though your sanity depends on it. You can quit. Of course you can and I definitely wouldn't advise you to push through anything at the risk of your health or well-being. The other option, is to figure out a way to keep going anyway. Maybe you need some meditation or a retreat or regular massages or something along those lines. Stress and tension need an outlet. (Have you tried scream therapy? LOL) Whatever outlet you choose, make sure it's something SAFE that won't harm yourself or others.

The huge takeaway I got from Diana Nyad's story is this: When you are determined enough to achieve something and you keep putting forth the effort and adjusting your plans and methods to ensure your success, there will come a time when EVERYTHING, even Mother Nature (in this case) will step out of the way and say "You know what, we've thrown everything we had at this person and they won't quit, so let's just move out of the way and let them pass." And when you finally reach YOUR Florida Keys (or whatever you end goal is) you'll be so happy that you made it. You will look back over the times you wanted to quit or maybe even did quit, and you will see the lessons in everything and the victory that is the result of sheer endurance will be that much sweeter!

For more information on Diana Nyad, click here.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The check is in the mail, the dog ate my homework (and other scenarios to avoid)

I ran down several different options for how to write this post for my readers. As my tagline says, I'm sharing stories because I believe that being an entrepreneur is a marathon, not a sprint. I found myself in one of the very situations that I know enough to avoid during the month of August. Without going into a whole lot of details, I think it will be best if I share the lessons I learned from it.

I was in the beginning stages of establishing a relationship with a new client. The person came as a referral via email, we spoke on the phone several times and then we scheduled our first in person meeting. The "client" was late. After the first 10 minutes or so, I text to see if the "client" was still coming. I got a response that they lost track of time and they were on the way. By the 35 minute mark, I sent a text suggesting that we reschedule for another time/day. I didn't get a response and shortly thereafter, the "client" walked in the door. Which brings me to Rule #1:
  • Don't be disrespectful of anyone's time and don't allow anyone else to be disrespectful of yours. Set your own limit - whether you allow 5 minutes or 20 minutes as a "grace period" for a meeting, be sure to stick to it, especially in the beginning. If a person is going to be late, the courteous thing for them to do is notify you, not the other way around where you're checking in with them to verify they are still planning to keep the appointment. Once you "let it slide" (especially with a person that's habitually late) it's going to set the tone going forward. They will always be late and you will ALWAYS be aggravated. Time is money, especially when you're awesome.
In a brief conversation, this "client" made mention of something that I hold dear to my heart. Once I engaged in a conversation on the topic, it became the be-all, end-all of every discussion. We weren't talking about business as much as we were talking about the other topic. Rule #2:
  • Be very, very cautious of people who attempt something you love (cars, sports, fishing, religion, puppies, etc) as a way to lower your defenses, especially when you find yourself talking about that thing every time you try to have a serious conversation about business. When you try to bring up an invoice or payment or something else important, and they circle the conversation back around to how cute their dog is, it's a red flag. There's a time and place for everything. We can talk about Fido or Fluffy after we discuss business. 
Maybe it's a Southern thing, but I am used to people who are a little overly friendly. Sometimes, it's a genuine behavioral trait. Other times, it's BS. Hence, Rule #3:
  • Be watchful of people who try to get too familiar with you too quickly. You have to be able to tell the real from the fake, but make sure you control the situation. People only know what you tell them. If you rush into a new relationship telling everything about yourself without being fully aware of the other person's intentions/motives/agenda, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Am I suggesting you aloof and obtuse with people you do business with? Of course not. Just be cautious. As Jackie Chan said to Chris Tucker in Rush Hour, "I like to let people talk who like to talk. It lets me find out how full of shit they are." Also known as Psychology 101.
In school (on TV), the favorite excuse was "My dog ate my homework." I don't really have a lot to preface Rule #4 with, so I'll just jump right into it:
  • It's a BLARING siren attached to a red flag when you have someone who is constantly involved in some kind of tragic situation, ESPECIALLY if these "tragedies" always happen to come right around deadlines. This can apply to many scenarios including rules 1 and 2. They're always late because of some major thing that happened before, during or after they were on the way. The dog/car/church that they love so much always has some major thing that comes up right when it's time for them to pay or sign a contract, etc. Don't get me wrong...stuff all of us; however, if you find yourself involved with someone who is a little more "accident-prone" than most, do you really want to do business with them? Even if the dog really did eat their homework?
And because today, I was introduced to TLDR (too long didn't read - so you don't have to Google it like I did), I'll just give you the other rules without the foreword for each.
  • Rule #5 - Communication in email/text will come in handy should things go sour. While signatures and actual paper contracts and such are the normal (or antiquated) way to go, we live in a digital age, where emails and text messages are just as solid in court as a signed contract. The definition of "in writing" has changed. So don't think that just because you don't have a signature on a piece of paper, you don't have anything to back you up should you need.
  • Rule #6 - Don't ignore your gut. Throughout the course of this situation with this client, I kept getting red flag after red flag and I kept justifying it in my head - talking myself out of what I knew to be true. People do this everyday in relationships, but it has no place in business. When you start seeing things that make you have questions, ask the questions and if necessary, sever the relationship. Protect yourself. Tis better to be careful, than to get screwed.
  • Rule #7 - Speaking of getting screwed, get your money (either all or partially) up front in situations/businesses that warrant it. For me, I'm a Personal Concierge/Lifestyle Manager, so once I do the work, it can't be undone. It's imperative of me to get paid in advance. I prefer all up front, once an agreement is made about what will be done and the costs, but I'm ok with splitting it up 50/50 or 1/3 in the beginning, 1/3 at a halfway point and 1/3 upon completion. You have to feel that out in a way that works best for you and your clients. The busy clients I work with don't have the time or the interest in paying as you go, they often prefer to pay it all so neither of us has to keep stopping in a project to take care of payments.
  • Rule #8 - Do your research. When someone wants to work with you, they are checking you out. It's in your best interest to obtain the information from them necessary for you to check them out as well. Sometimes, with a generic name, like Nikki Johnson, you're going to require a little more information in order to Google them. (Try it, Nikki Johnson will get you all kinds of results, but Nikki Johnson The Millionaire's Assistant is guaranteed to bring you the right results)
  • Rule #9 - When in doubt, don't. If you think a person is sketchy and then they start asking you for personal information like your ID or Social Security Card, business formation documents, tax ID information, tax returns (yes, I was asked), 1099s, etc - RUN! 2 words: IDENTITY THEFT. 2 more words: American Greed (great show on CNBC, if you haven't watched it, you should)
  • Rule #10 - If you ignore rules 1-9 and you end up in a screwy situation, it's important to remember this rule - DON'T HOLD GRUDGES - not with yourself and not with the other person. Figure out your next step QUICKLY and devise your plan for moving forward.
Nobody is perfect and as my friend said, when you're an entrepreneur, you're going to take some gut punches along the way, but you definitely want to minimize the hits by making sure you do your part on your end. As you're growing and learning, like I am, it's your job to make sure you get the lesson in any bad situation, understand what YOU did to contribute to the scenario, and make sure you do better next time. By all means, don't be too hard on yourself and in the event that you get screwed, you have a options - file a complaint with whatever board best fits the scenario (BBB, Attorney General, etc.) Don't quit (although at many points along the way you will want to) and don't let the less scrupulous people of the world get you down. I almost did, but I decided that I'm better than that.