Monday, May 11, 2009

Get Your Engines Started!

I am not an economist, but I have noted that there is a cautious buzz suggesting that we might be at the bottom of this economic slowdown.

As a business owner and a consumer, I'm thrilled! Of course, there are many long, tough months ahead as we hopefully dig ourselves back out of this hole, but at least there is some hope.

Now is the time to focus on how you can take advantage of the slow economy for both yourself and your business. Even if you only have a tiny financial cushion left after the last 12 tight months, now is the time to use it! Here are some options to consider:

1. Services are cheaper - although it's not universal, most service providers are more flexible with their rates - and may have even dropped their rates. Just like all businesses, service providers are anxious to do some great work for you to help boost their bottom line, and you can probably get lower rates and shorter terms

2. Labor is available and cheaper - the labor market is hungry for work, and many stellar employees have been laid off. Now is a great time to fill critical positions in your own company in preparation for increased business.

3. Rents are totally negotiable - if you have ever thought about expanding your physical space, now is a great time to do it. Many retail, office and warehouse locations have been vacant for 10+ months. Assume that the rate and terms offered are much higher than you should actually pay, and bring in a seasoned negotiator to help you if necessary.

4. Your competitors are still scared - the single greatest opportunity for you right now is to take advantage of your competitors' lowered spending. They have likely pulled back on everything from advertising to customer service, and their customers know it! Now is the time to swoop in and impress everyone with your strength and moxie: show them that your business is still around and doing great!

Give me a call if you need some help!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Support Site for Small Businesses

Check out this cool new support site for small businesses: PrairieDogPros

The site offers access to endorsed experts in the following fields:

  • technology
  • financial planning
  • small business law
  • marketing (that's me!)
  • coaching
  • taxes
  • small business law
  • insurance
  • and more…

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Starbucks vs. McDonald's

Since I just wrote about Starbucks, I thought I should update everyone with the latest business news from the company. Fiscal second-quarter profit dropped 77%. Why? Because the company is going through a major restructuring and closing 123 U.S. stores.

I love Starbucks, but I wonder if this has anything to do with its faster-than-light global expansion. Perhaps even more damaging is the weak economy and McDonald's latte launch:

"Over the past 18 months, McDonald's has been steadily introducing lattes, cappuccinos and mochas in individual markets across the country. Some 80% of the company's 14,000 U.S. stores now sell these drinks, and this week McDonald's will roll out a national advertising campaign trumpeting the McCafé section of its menu." Full story: TIME magazine

Monday, May 4, 2009

Work at Starbucks

If you're like me, you sometimes (or frequently) use Starbucks as an office. In fact, I work out of a Starbucks at least three times each week, using it both for meetings and as a (usually) quiet place to do some work on my laptop.

In fact, right now I'm in a Starbucks working to the sounds of "Tall Nonfat Latte" and "Grande Chai Vanilla Iced Tea" and some mellow music. There is someone interviewing prospective employees in the corner opposite from me - she has interviewed three people since I got here. Behind me is a tutor guiding his highschool client through Calculus homework, and at least two tables are occupied by people conducting some sort of business meeting.

I think that part of Starbucks' success is based on the fact that so many people use it for business. Even though sometimes I don't buy anything at all, other times I buy breakfast and lunch, plus multiple lattes, in one day.

If you're interested in the Starbucks logo and/or mermaids, then you have to read this blog!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Get Scammed Quick

ATTENTION: You can get rich quick online with no investment and in no time at all!!! I did it and you can, too!

It's amazing to me how many people I've met recently who have been scammed online by the very same type of marketing schemes we saw on TV in the 1980s and 90s. "Get Rich Quick" schemes, wherever they are marketed and whatever they entail, might work .01% of the time, for .001% of the population, but it breaks my heart to see so many desperate people getting scammed and losing their money and their self-confidence when the promises simply don't come true.

This is like the weight loss industry promising that you can lose 20 lbs in two weeks without diet or exercise. Even if it were physiologically possible, it could not possibly last.

Lasting success is based on behavior, not trickery. No quick scheme in the world, whether for making money or losing weight, will be successful in the long-term unless you learn to incorporate daily behaviors (habits) that will maintain success.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recession Marketing

I thought you might enjoy the following Q&A that I provided to a national publication writing about how small business owners can succeed in a recession.

1. What tips can you provide for organizations looking to maximize their marketing budgets?

Focus, focus, focus. The biggest problem right now is that people are spreading their marketing efforts too thin. It is much better to call one warm prospect than to send a cold mailing to 1,000 people from a database. Focus your efforts on the most profitable and likely prospects.

2. What brand building techniques do you recommend during a recession?
In a bad economy, people only pay for things that solve immediate, serious needs. Take a look at your marketing messages and determine whether they address such a need. Think in terms of Emergency Care vs. Prevention. Long-term marketing messages simply aren't selling right now, so you need to dig deep into the "pain" your customers feel and tell them how you can help.

3. Are there marketing activities you have increased as a result of the recession? If yes, can you provide an example?
I'm offering more workshops and short-term projects that deal with specific problems (per the above answer - long term strategy just isn't as attractive right now).

4. Are there specific campaign examples or strategies that have worked particularly well despite the recession?
My marketing business has actually grown in the past six months, and my pipeline is full. I think it's because I saw the consumer mentality changing and applied what I said in numbers 1 and 2 to my own company.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

10 lbs

I have been actively pursuing a healthy body for more than a year now. I've gone down two pant sizes and feel great. I've established healthy habits like eating 6+ servings of fruits and veggies most days, clocking 10,000 steps per day and sweating through 4-5 cardio workouts per week. I have cut my alcohol consumption in half and actually developed a distaste for fatty, highly-processed foods.

In short, I'm happy with h0w I look and feel, and my body is healthy.

You know what's amazing though? I've only lost 10 lbs! One year and all this work, and all the scale can show me is 10 lbs.

It's times like this that I have to remember that numbers are only one of the guides we can use in life. There are lots of other metrics for our bodies, minds and businesses that can help us know whether we are succeeding at what we want.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Snail's Pace

Because my natural inclination is to rush to the finish, I have been amazed to notice that since I started meditating I have been able, for the first time in my life, to move slowly. The amazing thing about it is that in doing so, I appear to be moving even faster than before.

This is a strange paradox - by thinking more slowly most of the time, I am able to make better decisions even faster than before.

I always knew that my propensity to move quickly was linked to my propensity to make lots of mistakes. Now, however, I can see that, given the right space and time, moving slowly reduces the number of mistakes and somehow still allows me to work just as quickly as before. I'm not sure how the paradox works, but it does, and I'm stoked!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Beautiful Life

My husband and I have crazy schedules. Our work is our passion, leaving us both exhilarated and exhausted. Today we took advantage of the fact that our "crazy schedules" also mean "flexible schedules" and spontaneously went to the beach - he surfed; I ran.

It was a beautiful day, and both of us are so appreciative of the fact that we live such a charmed life that we are able to do such wonderful things.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Casino Marketing

Yesterday we went to an Indian Casino with my husband's 88-year-old grandmother. She had the time of her life! I can't say that I really enjoyed the casino - there were clouds of cigarette smoke everywhere and I'm a horrible gambler - but I did observe some classic marketing techniques:

1. Call to action! Nowhere have I ever felt such a strong internal drive to participate in something as I did walking onto the floor filled with slot machines. Everywhere you look, there are colorful machines begging you to take a chance - and just 5c a try! How can you resist? The pull is actually physical!

What a marketer can learn: always have a call to action - your customers should know exactly what they are supposed to do at all times.

2. Sensory control: Casinos are well-known for controlling our sense of time, space and reality. There are no windows to the outdoors, and the lighting stays the same whether it's noon or midnight. There are no comfy chairs or places to relax - the only thing to do is play their games.

What a marketer can learn: if you have a retail store or restaurant, remember that the lighting, decor and sounds will drive your customers to behave in certain ways. Take advantage of the opportunity by thinking carefully about what you want them to do.

3. Possibilities: The fundamental drive to gamble is the opportunity to make a lot of money, but ask any casino owner the truth, and you know that the house always wins. In our group of five, all of us lost between $15-$100. We had also all been up by between $50-$300 at some point in the day. It's the "up" moments that drive us into the "down" ones at casinos - we think that if we try just one more time, we may win it all back (plus more!).

What a marketer can learn: always have something aspirational that your customer can "reach" for with your product. The diet industry and get-rich-quick schemes are other good examples of this.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Great Expectations

Sometimes ideas come gently, and sometimes they smack you on the side of the head like a tidal wave.

I have been working on an idea recently that is so big and beautiful that it has shaken me up considerably. Usually when this happens, I move as quickly as I can to get the idea implemented. I am always about action, action action. The thrill and adrenaline of action towards a big idea is heady and intense. Sometimes though, it feels as if I'm rushing, always racing towards the next idea as soon as the last one loses its luster.

With this new idea, I'm nurturing it slowly. Letting it percolate and build. Allowing it to gradually develop in my head before committing to any action on its behalf. It's truly the strangest, most beautiful experience I've ever had with an idea!

How do you handle ideas? Do you race to implement them before you can see any obstacles and get disappointed? Do you consider the obstacles and drop the idea out of fear? Do you slowly consider each obstacle and weigh it against the potential opportunity, gradually making steps forwards and backwards until you feel confident that you are ready to run?

Monday, April 6, 2009

How to Set Your Customers Up for Success

Yesterday I attended a meditation retreat. It was nice, but not what I was expecting based on my last experience with the organization. As a result, I was somewhat frustrated and disappointed in a way that I probably wouldn't have been if I had just known what to expect.

This is a good reminder that when you are marketing, it is important to let people know what they can expect from you. This goes beyond the time and date and a snappy title: try to also answer these three simple questions:

1. What specifically will be expected of the customer?
2. What will the customer walk away with?
3. What level of customer are you catering to? (experienced, novice, etc.)

By answering these simple questions before your customer buys, you can ensure that she is set up to enjoy herself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life is Fragile - Live it Well

Tonight as I was running down a trail near my parents' house, I noticed the sky fill with helicopters and heard sirens in every direction.

We soon learned that a car-carrier truck lost control and ran over a few cars and straight through the local coffee shop and bookstore. This happened less than one hour after I had been at that exact location. Two people are confirmed dead.

Sometimes terrible things happen to everyday people. There is no rhyme or reason for why the truck careened down the street into the quiet little coffee shop in which I had just observed several people diligently working on their laptops.

There is so little that we can control in this world, but the one thing I know we can control is living our lives well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Opportunity Is Abundant!

"Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing, that we see too late the one that is open."

Alexander Graham Bell
1847-1922, Inventor

It's no secret that now is a tough time in the economy, but it is a great time to be an entrepreneur, because we can zig and zag around challenges and turn them into opportunities. I think it is important to learn from the large corporations that are failing right now, but it is also important to remember that opportunity is abundant for those of us who can be flexible and seek new paths while others bemoan the old ones.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Money is There!

On Friday I met with a banker who deals with Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, and he told me that now is a great time to apply for a government loan to get your business off the ground. The stimulus package is trickling down to small business owners by providing them with access to capital to start and grow small businesses.

The SBA process can be lengthy and frustrating, but at the end of the day, it's a great way to get the money you need to grow, and now is a great time to take advantage of it.

If you're interested, check out some of the great resources on the SBA's website.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Painful and Inconvenient

There is an emergency situation in marketing right now: what worked before will not work now.

Customers have undergone a significant shift in the past three months: they feel as if they shouldn't spend any money unless it's on something that is extremely painful or inconvenient to them. I have seen this especially in the field of health and wellness.

For example, people who used to see an acupuncturist to help with energy and illness prevention have been cutting back on their visits. People who used to see a therapist to resolve an unpleasant past start to feel as if the work they are doing is a luxury, not a necessity. People who were working with a trainer are buying hand weights to avoid the luxury of a trainer.

Such attitudes are completely natural, and perhaps even necessary, but it leaves small business owners in a lurch.

Now is not the time for subtle marketing or "one size fits all" messages. Now, more than ever, you have to hone in on the things that are extremely painful and inconvenient to your target audience. This means that long-term health and wellness won't sell in this environment; you need to have something specific that solves a real problem today.

Don't worry - this doesn't mean you need to resort to fake hype. You just need to look at the clients who are still coming to you as regularly as they were before January. What is their greatest pain?

For example, Jane, a therapist, helps clients manage anxiety. In the past, that was enough of a marketing pitch. Now, she is noticing that people don't feel that is reason enough to spend the money on her services. Instead, she needs to hone in on the pain and inconvenience that is a result of their anxiety right now. For example, they are lashing out at co-workers and have been reprimanded and told to improve their performance. Jane needs to address this painful and inconvenient symptoms of her clients' anxiety in her marketing rather than assuming that her clients will see the connection by themselves.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Clients need justification to spend money on health and wellness right now, so be sure the address the painful and inconvenient symptoms that are affecting them today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shut Down or Keep Going?

Most business owners have hit some point in their company development at which they ask themselves whether their hard work is worth the effort. Is this the company you dreamed of building? Would you be just as happy working for someone else? Would you make more money working for someone else? Is your partner dragging you down? Is managing employees just too much effort?

These questions can cause a great deal of anxiety in even the most successful businesspeople, and they should not be taken lightly. When you feel as if you are at a crossroads in your business development and are trying to decide whether to grow the business or just get out of it, ask yourself the following questions from both a financial and an emotional standpoint:

  • How much have I invested in this business?
  • What do I love about my business?
  • What do I hate about my business?
  • What will it take for me to continue running this business and/or grow it?
  • Am I committed to this business?
If you decide to commit to your business, spend time listing exactly what it will take to keep you engaged and excited about it. For example, would it help if you hired or fired a few employees? Could you outsource a particularly troublesome aspect of the business? Practical and simple changes to the basic structure of your organization can make a large impact on its success.

In addition to considering the practical and financial aspects of your commitment, take the time to evaluate what you need emotionally as the owner. Most entrepreneurs start their business to get away from "The Boss," but end up treating themselves worse than anyone for whom they have ever worked. Often entrepreneurs work themselves into the ground and, in doing so, lose sight of the reason they started the business and lose all pleasure in conducting it.

Make time for yourself to manage and dream about your business. Make sure you are paying yourself an appropriate salary and taking vacations. When you commit to building your business, you should also commit to ensuring you are making a profit both financially and emotionally.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Small Business Owners: Stop Tweaking About Twitter

I love Twitter, but I feel it's time to make a stand for the fact that many people DO NOT need to use it - at least for business purposes.

I have met so many small business owners in recent months who are stressing out about the idea of needing to be on Twitter. They don't know why they should be Twittering, but they know that everyone seems to be talking about it.

Small Business Owners, here is a message for you: unless you provide something that people can buy over the Internet or otherwise long-distance (e.g. phone consultations, a product, etc.), then the single most effective marketing effort you should undertake is picking up the phone (or writing an e-mail) and contacting current, past and potential customers. Next, plan lunch dates with other professionals and businesses that refer business to you. That's it! Don't worry about Tweeting or Blogging or Facebook-ing. Just focus on building stronger relationships with the people who already know who you and are likely to refer you, and I guarantee that your business will grow.

Give it a try, and let me know if you have any questions!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Want, I Want, I Want!

Although my personal financial situation hasn't changed as a result of the worsening economy, I have found it to be a useful opportunity to get back in touch with frugality.

I have found it quite fun and exhilarating to embrace a more frugal lifestyle, and have exposed my tendency to go shopping when stressed rather than deal with the stress itself.

My biggest challenge, I have found, is not a desire to buy clothing, shoes or accessories; it's that I want a new duvet cover. There is no real reason for wanting it other than the fact that I'm tired of our current one. A year ago I wouldn't have hesitated, but this year I find myself constantly looking and almost buying, but holding back. As I consider each purchase, I come back to the fact that my current duvet cover works great. It's attractive, and it has been a workhorse. It's nowhere near the end of its life despite 4 years of service.

So ... there is the creative, unfettered part of me that says "what are you worried about? Just buy it! It's beautiful and will make you happy!"

Then there is the rational, prudent side of me that says "what are you really buying here? Happiness? A new duvet cover will not make you happy - only you can make you happy."

I am left wondering: am I being cruel to myself by not buying a new duvet cover, or am I being kind to myself by recognizing that money can't buy happiness?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Animal Advertising

"Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it." - Anonymous

This brings up some important questions about marketing and advertising - is it possible to sell without expecting people to 'lose their heads?'

The most obvious execution of this style of marketing is the infomercial (TV) and squeeze page (online). You know - those slick direct marketing campaigns that appeal to our animal instincts. They overwhelm us with clever copywriting, amazing testimonials and questionable statistics combined with a 100% guarantee to spur us into desperately needing something that only a few minutes ago we would never consider.

These campaigns are designed to suspend human intelligence and instead appeal to our animal intelligence - those deep-seated desires of needing to be part of the group, wanting bright, shiny objects, and making decisions from your gut, not your brain. These are decision-making skills that do have great value in our lives, especially when we are in danger, but they can also be easily exploited.

I have recently had some direct experiences in which intelligent, smart products and services that appeal directly to the working intelligence have failed miserably, while those that have almost no real value but appeal to the animal intelligence have flourished.

As marketers and as consumers, we must wonder sometimes who is really in charge: the sophisticated human, or the tribal animal.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Trouble With Choices

New! Improved! More! Better!

Marketers are constantly appealing to our subconscious desire to get the latest and greatest by using the above words to entice us into buying their products.

Interestingly, psychological research exposes a different trend: consumers don't really want new and improved products. What they do want is to feel as if they made the right choice last time they shopped, and are making the right choice this time, too. An over-abundance of new and improved can negatively impact their ability to trust the brand, since they can never really trust whether the current version is truly 'the best.'

In marketing, and in life, there is a fine balance between reinvention and improvement and steady, solid performance.

There is a lot of discussion in our society right now regarding pursuing change while also getting "back to basics." Basic financial accounting, basic values, basic foods. In fact, a lot of times it seems as if even while we're touting concepts that are New! Improved! More! Better!, we are actually seeking the values our grandparents lecture us about.

I think that we are experiencing an important turning point in our society. I don't know where we're headed, but I do hope that we can find a way to value both the new and exciting as well as the tried-and-true.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Life Plan

Do you have a life plan?

Although I'm very goal-oriented, I have always had a really hard time setting long-term goals. They feel so fantastical and even a little silly sometimes. It also seems to me like setting firm goals can put you stubbornly on the wrong path sometimes.

I heard someone talking about goals (again!) last week, and it finally sunk in that my goals don't have to be concrete. They also don't have to be perfectly clear. I also realized that I do have long-term goals, it's just that because they are a little fuzzy I wasn't really calling them goals, but ideas.

Here was his analogy: it's like you're in a room with a big door. You're standing at one end of the room, and outside the door you can see an even larger room. From where you are, you can see a few details of the larger room, but not many. As you walk closer and closer towards to the door, your view of what is in the next room gets bigger and more detailed. Your view does, in fact, change, but the core elements are probably still there. Thus, your long-term goals are constantly growing in detail and size.

I tried the concept on for size and, lo and behold - recognized the long-term goals that have been with me all along.

Let me know if it works for you!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Getting Things Done

Sometimes the process of getting things done is so overwhelming. It is especially hard for me when I have a lot of little things to do. It just feels all to easy to procrastinate on them since they are each individually so small.

This doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you consider that the best way for me to tackle big projects is to break them down into a lot of little steps. I think the difference must lie in the perceived payoff. A large job simply has a higher perceived value than a little one. This is why when you're tackling something large, you break it down into manageable pieces so that you don't become overly anxious about the end goal.

But what do you do when you have lots of little things to do that don't individually have a large payoff? How do you maintain motivation when there is no clear glory upon completion of your mini-tasks?

The psychology of delayed gratification is pretty clear: it's much harder to achieve long-term goals than it is to achieve short-term goals that have an immediate benefit. Health is the most obvious example. That hour that I spent in the gym yesterday is just part of the daily health activities that I need to undertake to maintain a healthy body. But it's not as if I come home and my cholesterol levels and pant size have instantly dropped. In fact, with health, most of the time the small steps that we need to take can be a little painful at the time and/or immediately afterward.

So - back to reality. Today I have a lot of little projects that simply must get done. None of them have an immediate payoff, and they aren't particularly enjoyable. To handle this, I'm going to plan a mini celebration when I have completed them. I'll go outside and sit in the sun and remember how grateful I am for the life that I have and the opportunities I face.

Let me know if you have any other ideas!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Just Say No to Perfection

I have recently noticed how fragile ideas are. As I have mentioned before, I come up with a lot of them, but I have increasingly noticed that I'm shooting them down almost as quickly as they appear. I think this is because I'm remembering the many ideas that have come before and judging myself on the fact that they haven't all worked out perfectly. OK, so none of them have worked out perfectly! I had a wonderful psychology teacher who discussed the "Circle of Thought" with us, and the fact that we can choose how we see our past by simply changing the way we judge its events.

Basically, the "Circle of Thought" is all about four features of our action and memory:

1. We take an action (which may be having a thought or idea)
2. We apply previous learning to the action to give it shape and form
3. We observe the response
4. We learn from the experience

And thus begins the circle. We apply all previous learning to our future actions.

For me, I think that I'm interpreting my past "reactions" as failure. By applying perfectionist attitudes to the learning that shapes and molds my future, I risk crippling my ability to move forward freely and intentionally.

Today I'm working on a new idea, and my main focus is to remember that perfection is a myth. The best that I can do is work on learning from past actions/reactions and applying my best knowledge to each new situation.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Personal Accountability

I just finished an awesome book about making meaningful changes in your life. "The Power of Personal Accountability," by Mark Samuel & Sophie Chiche, covers so many critical aspects of creating your life rather than simply taking what comes at you. My favorite concepts include:

1. You have to take action: without action, intention is meaningless. Take action small steps at a time and you will find success.

2. You have to look at what is truly holding you back. There are three possibilities: Beliefs, Emotions and Behaviors. You have to take control of all three to be successful.

3. It's not about perfection. Life is an ongoing cycle: we experience, we learn, and we apply that learning to the next situation. As long as you maintain this perspective, you may falter, but you will never fail.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Change Your Life 30 days at a time

The expression "a journey starts with a single step" is never more appropriate than when we are trying to change our selves. In fact, taking small steps is the key to making truly large changes in life. Here is a system I've developed based on several psychological studies on how to effect change:

1. Think of a few big goals that you want to accomplish in life; write them down.
2. Now write down mini-goals that will help you reach your big goals over the next 5, 3, 2 and 1 years.
3. Put your list away. You can revisit it in 6 months.
4. Now think of three habits that will help you reach your goals. When adding habits, I find it helpful to shoot for 10-minute increments. Usually I end up exceeding them, but I don't have to. If one of your goals is to start exercising, don't start by running five miles per day. Instead, start with a 10-minute walk each day. If you want to write a novel, set a goal to write for 10 minutes per day. If you want to wake up at 5 a.m., begin by setting your alarm clock back just 10 minutes from the time you currently wake up. You want to set yourself up for raging success here, so don't get crazy.
5. Create a chart that lists the three small habits you want to add to your life. Now label days 1-30.
6. Each day, aim to "check off" all three habits.
7. At the end of 30 days, your three items will be a habit. Now pick three more and repeat the cycle.
8. At the end of 6 cycles, check in with your mini-goals and big goals. All of those small steps that you took mean that you are now well on your way to accomplishing them. Update your goals as necessary, then put them away for another six months.
9. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Based on the research I have read, there is simply no better way to consistently make progress towards your goals. Let me know if you have any additions or suggestions to this method!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Critical Marketing Elements

Critical marketing elements that apply regardless of where you are, who your customers are, and what you do:

  • Price your products appropriately
  • Get the word out there somehow (i.e. market your business)
  • Look professional (nice website, cards, stationery, etc.)
  • Treat your clients impeccably
  • Thank people for referrals (if you do the above; they will be forthcoming)
  • Give other people referrals

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Body Mind Business Connection

Women entrepreneurs follow a common path in terms of self-care: they tend to take care of everyone else before themselves. Such an approach is fine for a few weeks or even a few months, but we usually start to see some negative results after 6-12 months. We may start getting sick more often, or suddenly realize that we are 10 lbs heavier and have lost all of our muscle tone. Or maybe we're just walking around angry, sad or depressed.

Such a physical and mental state is simply not good for business. We start to forget important client projects, yell at our employees, and generally perform at a lower level. That is why I'm planning the next Body > Mind > Business retreat for women entrepreneurs. It's a chance to take time out from everyday stress and focus on the three critical elements of our success.

I firmly believe that our business health begins with our personal health. My quest for personal health is a constant up-and-down journey (as you know!). I honestly don't know if there are any women (or humans!) out there who are always in the perfect state of balance. That would make us inhuman!

Please check out the details of our coming event - I would love to see you there!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Morning Space

This morning I have a lot of "to-dos" on my plate. In fact, this week (and every week in the immediate future), feels very full. It's on mornings like this one that I need to focus on how I will maintain a healthy body and mind in the midst of the busyness of business. Here are some ideas that I've gathered and am going to try:

1. Keep up my morning meditation - no matter how badly I want to sleep in. This is a tough one, but I think that as long as I give myself permission to go back to sleep after my meditation I'll be able to stick to it. For me, meditation is a cornerstone in maintaining space and balance in my mind.

2. Stretch between meetings. This is a new idea that someone suggested to me last week. I present myself to the world as an extrovert, but I'm actually introverted when it comes to gathering energy and resources. This means it's really important for me to take time between back-to-back meetings to re-ground myself.

3. Keep up my exercise program. Exercise is usually the first thing to drop off my list when I get busy, but luckily I have several commitments (classes, training sessions, etc.) that should keep me on-track. These commitments will keep me at about 70% of my exercise goals, and if I can squeeze in a couple of walks and/or runs through the week, my body will be very happy.

How do you handle life when busyness takes over? What do you do to stay on-track?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Some Disturbing News

Most of the time, celebrity news is just a fun distraction from real life, but occasionally it becomes so disturbing and relevant that it actually makes sense to mention it here.

Because I believe so strongly in the body-mind-business connection, I can't help but comment on the situation with Rhianna and Chris Brown. Both are famous singers (their business). About two weeks ago he apparently beat her up (her body). His business suffered severely as sponsors and fans pulled back, horrified. Now, the breaking news is that Rhianna and Chris Brown are "working things out" and are back together.

This demonstrates the challenge of the mind. Even when someone abuses our bodies, sometimes we go back for more. This is a function of the mind clinging to the hope that the person can change; that it was a one-time occurrence; that love will conquer all. That is simply not the case in domestic abuse.

Interestingly, while Chris Brown's business will probably recover somewhat based on their reconcilliation, hers will likely be damaged. Sadly, this is usually how domestic abuse ends.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please take care of your body, mind and business by reaching out for help. The National Abuse Hotline is a great place to start: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meditation Thoughts

Some weeks, meditation is like a beautiful flower. Other weeks, it feels like a burden; a difficult requirement in addition to all of the other tasks on my plate.

This is such a week: I have to push myself out of bed to conduct my daily practice. It's hard!

Hopefully next week will be better ...

I just have to remember that meditation is an important part of my mental health, and hold onto the memories of transformative days when I discover new avenues of my brain that I never knew existed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Target Audience Marketing

If you're freaking out about your business right now, you might be starting to flail around, wondering whether you should drop your prices or add more target audiences.

Avoid this temptation: it will only dilute your energies and discount the time, energy and money that you have already invested. Rather, get even more focused on the customers you serve best, and find new ways to entice them to utilize more of your products and services.

Here are 5 key questions to ask about your target audiences:

1. Which type of person (i.e. target audience) do the majority of my revenues come from?
2. Of that population, how do those people find me?
3. Which aspects of my product/service do they rave about most?
4. How can I reach more of those types of people?
5. How can I bring even more value to the products/services they buy most?

Answering these questions will help you create a strategic marketing approach based on what's happening NOW, not just what you think might happen someday. In this economic climate, such an approach is simply the best course of action.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pay Peanuts; Get Monkeys

My dad grew up in Zimbabwe, and has a great saying: "if you pay peanuts, then you can expect monkeys." Now, don't get me wrong - I love monkeys, and they are incredibly intelligent animals. That said, the saying nicely illustrates the challenge with pricing your service - price too low, and your customers perceive that you are not very good at what you do.

Products are usually a little bit easier: when you're selling a product like a banana, you know that you are going to eat it, and when you eat it, you'll have food in your belly. It's pretty simple, and most bananas are pretty much the same in terms of taste and quality. This means that pricing a banana can be based on simple economic factors like supply and demand.

Services, on the other hand, are much more complicated. Often the customer doesn't know what you are going to get, and it's hard to know whether you're buying "the best" or "the worst" because there are few benchmarks available. That's why pricing is so critical. You don't want to price yourself out of the market, but at the same time, if you price yourself too low, you automatically create an assumption in your customers' mind that you are not as good as higher-priced professionals.

Think back to the concept of supply and demand: the higher the demand, the lower the supply and the higher the price. Thus, someone with higher fees is perceived to be in high demand and, thus, the human brain deducts, must be really good.

I'm not saying that service professionals should over-charge their clients, but it is really important to remember how critical pricing is when positioning yourself.

Let me know if you have any experiences with this, either as a consumer or in business.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Opportunities Abound!

One of my greatest challenges is that I am constantly coming up with new business concepts. It's almost a daily occurrence. In fact, just last night over dinner, my husband and I dreamed up a complete new business that I believed was brilliant! Then, this morning, I thought up a new product to add to one of my existing businesses.

The joy and the thrill I get out of the process of coming up with and thinking through these ideas is difficult to explain fully. It is intensely exciting and fulfilling.

I become crazy-motivated to do the new idea vs. all of the "brilliant" ideas I had yesterday, last week, last month, last year, etc. Ah, yes. Those "old" ideas quickly lose their luster in the presence of such a bright, shiny new idea.

And there is my challenge: I must allow myself the great pleasure of dreaming up ideas, but at the end of the day, I also must manage these dreams to ensure they don't encroach upon all of those that came before them.

Does this happen to you? Do you struggle to keep your focus on existing plans while being constantly tempted by new ideas? Let me know if you do, and especially if you have any great ways to manage the balance!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Your E-Newsletter

I meet a lot of people who are interested in having an e-mail newsletter, so I thought I would review the benefits and best practices.

Benefits of an e-newsletter
1. Your clients, prospects and partners remember that you exist - this is the single most important aspect of an e-newsletter: it provides critical recognition that you are around and available.

2. You can share information about what you do that others might not be aware of - a lot of times, our contacts stick us in a box based on what they personally experienced when they worked with us. By writing informational articles about the broad services you provide, you are able to make that box bigger.

3. People will like you - when done correctly, an e-newsletter builds trust in your consistency, follow-through and integrity. In other words, it will make people like you, and everyone knows that people buy things from people who they like.

Best practices of an e-zine

  • Building your list - don't randomly add everyone you have ever met to your list. Build it slowly, and make sure that you get permission to send information to someone's inbox. An easy way to do this is to 1) ask people if you may add them to your list, or 2) add a line to your e-mail signature inviting people to sign up. Also make sure that signing up for your e-newsletter is really easy on your website.

  • Sending policies - how often you send an e-newsletter totally depends on the business you are in, but general practices usually suggest a range of once-weekly to once-monthly. Some people are very successful with sending an e-newsletter daily, while others send e-newsletters just once quarterly. How often you communicate depends on your market and what your list members expect from you.

  • Content - the best e-newsletters feature information that matters to their target audience. Although the ultimate goal of an e-newsletter is to convert people to buy from you, you don't want to make your e-newsletter all about buying. Remember, one of the main benefits of an e-newsletter is that you can get people to like and trust you. Don't damage that by being overly promotional.
Good luck! Oh, and if you would like to sign up for my monthly e-newsletter about marketing, please click here :-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Best Laid Plans - Part II

Shortly after my last post, which detailed how Monday was derailed by a sick nanny, I fell sick. Ah, the beauty of the body's ability to stop business!

Thus, after 2 days in bed, I am behind on almost everything, but am thankful to be almost completely better. And here is how the power week turns into the power weekend ;-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Best Laid Plans

Yesterday was supposed to be a "power" day for me. I had back-to-back meeting scheduled on either side of my hard-core workout at Burn 60. It was pretty much the perfect day from a planning point of view.

Then our nanny called in sick.

Although my husband offered to change his plans so that we could cobble together shared childcare for the day, something made me instead send him to work and cancel my plans for the day in exchange for the opportunity to be a weekday mom.

It was raining, so my little one put on her new rainboots and jacket, and we grabbed our umbrellas and spent most of the day walking around the block jumping in puddles.

The day was exhausting, as it always is with a 3-year-old, but it was also exhilarating to be able to change my plans for the day and, in an instant, spend it instead with my daughter. What is most important to me is remembering that the reason I am self-employed - the reason for all of the work and effort I put into my business - is to maintain the wonderful option of being able to drop (almost) everything for a day when the mood strikes.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Best Chocolate Frosting

I got inspired for Valentine's Day and decided we should make chocolate cupcakes. I'm not a crazy baker, but occasionally I will take 10 minutes or so to whip up something yummy from a box.

This time, I picked up three things:

1. a box of Pillsbury Devil's Food chocolate cake mix
2. a can of sweetened condensed milk
3. a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

I mixed half of the chocolate chips in with the cake batter and baked as directed for cupcakes. Over very low heat, I melted the rest of the chocolate chips with the condensed milk. When the cupcakes were still warm out of the oven, I drizzled the warm, thick) sauce on top.

It was absolutely amazing!!!

I'll be running an extra few miles tomorrow, but it was so worth it!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Too Many Choices!

One of the mistakes I see many service professionals make when marketing their business is offering too many choices. It turns out that our customers are actually less likely to buy if we don't limit their options. This is partially due to basic psychology. When someone approaches you for your service and expertise, they don't want you to offer them five choices; they want you to tell them exactly what they should do (without being a jerk about it, of course!).

A study recently published in Psychology & Marketing reviews the trouble with choices.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Life Lived Well

Did you know that the word "stoicism," as currently used, bears almost no relation to its original use, which was as a philosophy used in the early third century BCE. With this new information, I wanted to share the following quotes from major Stoic philosophers illustrating some excellent concepts for a life lived well:


  • "Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them." (Ench. 5)
  • "If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone." (iii.24.2)

Marcus Aurelius:

  • "Get rid of the 'I am hurt,' you are rid of the hurt itself." (viii.40)

Seneca the Younger:

  • "The point is, not how long you live, but how nobly you live." (Ep. 101.15)
Thanks to Copyblogger for the inspiration for this entry!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Three Things to Grow Your Business (and Your Life)

In today's climate, it does not pay to be a jerk. In fact, the most successful business owners recognize that people are what runs and sustains a business, and the Golden Rule applies more than ever before. Here are three things you can do to grow your business, and all it takes is a new way of thinking.

1. Connect: Find ways to connect on an emotional level with your customers, suppliers, prospects and employees. It's a fact that people do more business with people who they like, and the best way to be likeable is to find lots of things that you like about others.

2. Think: Consider the multiple options before diving into a business decision. There is always more than one path ... in fact, there are usually hundreds of routes that will take you where you need to go. Some are just faster than others. Avoid people who try to take away your thought process by telling you there is one single thing that you MUST do to grow. Usually they have an agenda and are trying to sell you something that you may not need.

3. Thank: Sales move 90% faster when they come through a referral. There is almost no limit to the number of referrals you can generate for your business long as you are always thankful when they are received. Call anyone who refers business to you immediately, and send an e-mail, card, or even candy if appropriate to follow up. Do whatever it takes to encourage the people who tell others about your business to do it more often.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I did it!

I tried a new form of yoga yesterday called Iyengar yoga and did crazy things that I never thought I could do! I stood on my head and did various other poses that I really did not think were possible with my body. In fact, I nearly walked out of the class when I realized what was going to be expected of me.

Instead, I stuck with it, and, you know, those poses aren't really so crazy after all!

I discovered that, as with most difficult things in life, they only appear difficult to the mind, but once you can overcome your mental hesitations and distractions, they are entirely possible!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I think I have mentioned that my greatest asset/liability is speed. I have noticed that most of us have a greatest strength/greatest weakness that both serves us incredibly well but can also trip us up without mercy.

Such is my speed. Most of the time it is a wonderful attribute; I get things done very quickly, and thus am able to do a lot of different things, including working and being a mom. It's great.

On the flip side, I make mistakes based on my speed. Last week I made a $1,200 mistake based on my speed. Luckily I can fix it for my client, so the only real loss ends up being (my) money, but it is soooooooo frustrating!

I met someone last night at a dinner party, and she was lamenting the fact that she works very slowly, and is working on working faster and not being such a perfectionist. I had to laugh, since I'm working on the exact opposite challenge: I am desperately trying to work a little bit slower at times!

We thoroughly enjoyed talking about the pros and cons of both personality traits, and it was such an important reminder that when you erect a barrier separating two sides, the grass always appears greener on the side you can't access. Amazingly, when you remove the barrier, you realize that there are benefits and drawbacks to both sides, and it's just a matter of balancing them as best you can.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Working Mommy

The other night I was at a professional group with other coaches and noticed an interesting chain of events:

1. I told a man what I do professionally
2. He nodded, understanding
3. I mentioned that I have a 3-year-old
4. He looked confused; asked whether I "work, too"
5. I was taken by surprise and got a little flustered; tried to explain that I am both a "full-time professional" and a "real mom" (whatever that means!)

This isn't the first time I have noticed myself struggling to describe the balance of my professional status and motherhood. I know that full-time moms struggle with the reverse of this situation. I am still working on the best way to present my work/life situation - a way to accurately describe that I am both a professional and a mom.

Any ideas that you have would be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Create Your Supporting Messages

The best possible response from someone who has just heard your key marketing message is another question. This is because it means that your message gave them just enough to engage them in the idea but still left enough room for conversation and interest. To prepare for this wonderful event, you should have supporting messages ready to answer the most common questions ... known in journalism as the W's: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Who: Think about who you like to work with; who likes to work with you; and who you are actually working with (and getting paid by) right now. Use all of this information to make the critical decision of describing who you work with. There is a fine line that you need to walk between setting your intention of who you want to work with and who wants to work with you (and can actually pay for your services).

What: What products and services do you provide? List them simply and succinctly and describe the benefits of each. For example, if you are a plumber, you don't just fix leaks (the feature), you prevent expensive water damage and bring peace of mind to homeowners (the benefits).

Why: Consider exactly why you do the work you do. Perhaps it is as simple as you like helping people and thus became a chiropractor. What is important here is that you mention both your natural inclination or interest in your field and also some kind of credential or supporting evidence that explains not just why you do it, but why you are qualified to do it. Combine both of these into a simple statement, and you will be well on your way to success.

When: Think about when your customers want or need you most. This relates to their "pain." For example, a vet is needed in both emergencies and for annual check-ups. By having a message to support when your customers need you, they get a clearer idea of how you can help them.

Where: This should be your simplest answer - it could be "in my office," "at your home," or "on the phone." There are lots of options, but the main point here is to tell people where you work.

How: Specifically how do you work with customers? Do you sell them a product that will solve the problem? Do you provide them with DIY information so that they can solve it themselves? Do you ask the right questions so that they find the answer themselves? Some combination of the above applies to most businesses.

You probably already have answers to these questions, but I encourage you to write them down so that you can see in black and white exactly what you are selling. Remember to focus on benefits and pain rather than features.

Good luck!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Slow Down to Speed Up

When I want to move quickly (which is almost always), my natural tendency is to form a logical argument peppered with facts, figures and knowledge. This tendency is based on the flawed expectation that by educating someone I can help her achieve resolution (and success) faster.

Of course, this approach completely backfires for one simple reason: education is not how we change minds. It doesn't matter how many facts and figures we have at our fingertips - people will ignore them (and even resist them) unless we 1) make sure that we understand what they want; and 2) allow them to arrive at the resolution by themselves, without being too invested in a single route for getting there.

Thus, it is my goal to slow down to speed up. To ask more questions and give fewer answers. When I do this, the result is invariably a shorter time to resolution without arguments, disagreements or disappointments.

It's amazing! Please let me know if you have observed this principle in action!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How to Create Your Key Message

Your marketing messages are anchored by a single "key message," which is a sentence or two that answers the question: "What is this?" or "What do you do?"

To get started, first answer these four questions:

(1) What is the name of your product?

(2) What is your product? (e.g. a soda, a bike, etc.)

(3) What does your product do?

(4) What are the major benefits of your product?

Next, fill in this sentence with the answers above: (1) is a (2) that (3), which (4).

This will probably form a pretty klunky sentence, but at least you have the basics down. Now smooth out your klunker to craft a meaningful sentence or two to communicate your key message.

Examples: Key Messages

The PowerMop features 10 individual battery-powered scrubbing brushes that can be used on all types of floors. This powerful, easy-to-use tool gets your floor up to 10 times cleaner than a regular mop.

Jenkins & Perkins is a law firm that specializes in mediation services for the construction industry. It helps its clients avoid costly, drawn-out trials, allowing them to get back to work more quickly.

Tri-Star Fitness is a group of personal trainers who work with developmentally-challenged teenagers to help them find empowerment through movement.

Next Time: Your Supporting Messages

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Marketing Messages Help You to Grow Your Business

Marketing messages are clear statements that you use to tell the world (or at least your prospective customers) what you do. They are critical for two primary reasons:

1. It is human nature to be attracted to that which is consistent, and messages ensure that you stick to a consistent communication pattern.

2. The biggest mistake we can make as marketers is to fail to set a customer up for what we are going to deliver or set them up for something on which we cannot deliver. Solid messages ensure that you tell people exactly what they can expect from you. This gives your customers the powerful satisfaction of being "right" and also allows them to promote your business to other people in the correct manner.

Here is a graphic I developed to demonstrate this concept:

Next ...I'll tell you how to create your marketing messages.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Minute Marketing

Everyone knows how important marketing is, but somehow it always falls to the bottom of our to-do lists. Here are some ideas for quickie marketing tactics that add up to just 30 minutes per day.

Make Some Calls: spend 10 minutes researching a potential new client and then take five minutes and give them a personalized call or e-mail to let them know about the services you provide. This is a modified cold call and is quite effective, especially if you are able to identify a way that you can immediately help the prospective client. TIME: 15 minutes/day

Pitch the Media: everyone knows that PR is a powerful tool, but we usually think of it in big, expensive terms. For a gradual approach, pick one publication and research it to get a feeling for the types of stories covered and who writes them. Then send a concise e-mail to the appropriate journalist, editor or assistant editor with your idea. Follow up with a phone call (you’ll usually have to leave a voice mail) and then move on to another publication. TIME: 4 hours/month

Attend Networking Events: research appropriate groups, and then during each meeting seek out just one or two potential customers or referral sources and focus on creating a relationship with them. This approach can have much higher results than spreading yourself thin and trying to connect with everyone in the room. TIME: 1 hour/month

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Smarty Pants

I have always been a little bit of a "know-it-all." Lately I have been working on bringing more curiosity and understanding (vs. "knowing") to each situation. This helps me actually build on my knowledge. It also makes me waaaaaay more secure and, dare I say, likeable. Finally, it feeds my need to learn - after all, curiosity is a much better teacher than Smarty-Pants. Here is the new graphic I'm working with:

Monday, January 26, 2009

I (Think I) Hear You!

I have always been intrigued (and a little irritated) by the statement "listen to your body" regarding eating & exercise. I wondered: "does my body really speak?" And, if it does, doesn't it want to sit on the couch eating donuts?

Since embarking on a quest to be healthier (not just skinnier), I have gradually become more in-tune with my body. It has taken 10 months of ups and downs, and very gradual moves forward and backwards, but I think that I can finally hear a tiny little murmur from my body requesting more or less food and even more or less exercise.

Please let me know if you hear your body and what it says!