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?