I’ve been radio silent for a while. A LONG WHILE. In that time, it seems that I’ve been absence from Intel Boutique, but I’ve really been quietly working on a couple other projects I’m excited about launching at the end of this year and early next year. One of the projects I’ve been gradually building is rapidseedbox.com — an idea that has been very close to my heart for quite awhile that I’ve decided should no longer be on the back burner. Another in-the-works venture is what Intel Boutique will dissolve into. During this “quiet” time, I’ve spent working with a long time friend and colleague of mine in regards to elevating our respective business ventures that will bring the best of talents and time under a unified effort. Yes, at the end of October, Intel Boutique will be phased out. Remnants of its presence will still be — as I hope it would be — but what it’ll be merged into will be something much greater than its solitary mission. What Intel Boutique will look like with a new vision and new aims, I cannot say at this moment. Actually, I won’t say. The preparation for its incarnation is something I don’t want to tease just yet with tidbits here and there. The target audience will still be aimed at those in business for themselves and those aspiring to self-employed, but the execution will be much more direct.
In the meantime, I will sprinkle the best information and resources I can find for business owners, as Intel Boutique comes to a graceful close. They say all things must come to and end. But endings are usually just another beginning transformed. As is this.
It’s a bit of last minute news, but for those of you business owners who have the time this morning, Los Angeles City College is hosting a small business workshop and expo today, along with the Hollywood Business Source. It’s a free event, so if you have the time, there’s really no excuse, if you have the morning available. The campus is out for the summer, so no need to concern yourself with unruly students. And the college provides plenty of parking in their structures. Event starts at 10:00am. So, If you’re up, go get at ‘em!
It was one thing to see “for sale” or “for lease” signs when the economy was at its worst, but now that the job market as improved to a new high (low) just with just a little more than 6% of people unemployed and looking for work, why are there so many boarded up buildings on commercial blocks? Is funding still an issue for many continuing or would-be entrepreneurs? Is it just not cost effective to hire as we enter the 3rd quarter of the year? Or, as one study suggests, because of the improved job market and jobs added, have many returned to the work force as employees? Where have the businesses gone?
As I look back over the things I’ve done and learned while starting and building a business, there’s something I realized I’ve overlooked. I’ve ignored it or gave little thought to it and it’s surprising because this — I firmly believe — is the key to success. I’ve talked and written about what the keys are to success. I’ve argued there weren’t really any “keys”, but an adopted mindset and attitude. I’ve read numerous articles about what successful people have in common with one another. I’ve read those articles about the mindsets and patterns of millionaires. Not just because they’re millionaires, but because they must be doing something right in order to have become millionaires. Right? But in between the chatter and the musings and the research, what makes the business owner successful, what makes the entrepreneur a millionaire and what gets the start-up founder funded? A great marketing strategy? A knowledgeable board of directors? Deep-pocketed venture capitalists? The best idea ever?
It’s the investment. The investment you make in yourself everyday. You don’t have to have a whole lot of education, a whole lot of money to start, a whole lot of friends, or whole lot of anything . You do need to have the time to invest in yourself and seek out investments that will return for you. I mean, yeah, that may mean getting more education or building up a larger network. But it really boils down to being better than you were yesterday. It’s taking the time and looking at what you have offer and making sure you can offer it as best you can. Outperform yourself.
I’ve tried taking on multiple projects and services thinking that the more I offered, the more clients I’ll gain because the more people I’ll appeal to. Did NOT happen. One, it’s hard to spread yourself thin and still be the go-to person for 5,000 things. Two, I wasn’t equally interested or passionate about everything I was trying to offer. Thus, many services lacked luster. Just because I could do it, doesn’t mean I should’ve. And vice-versa. It was when I narrowed down what I could offer and would be willing to offer to just 3-5 services and sharpen those skills over and over again, that I noticed myself getting referrals, getting recommended — getting the kind of running start I wanted. Not because I was trying to be everything to everybody. But, because I invested in myself first. That, allowed me to better for my clients and it’s paid and continues to pay off.
How do I invest in myself?
- I sign up for community classes that are of interest to my business and professional goals
- I take community college classes
- I periodically attending networking events
- I explore the businesses in my community
- I talk to other business and aspiring business owners
- I read — a lot– of articles, magazines, books, blogs, any thing that strikes my fancy
- I search jobs on Craig’s List to see what employers (business owners) are looking for in candidates who do what I do
- I take some of those free classes on Coursea, Standford Online or Venture Lab
It’s seems never-ending, which is why it’s something I have to be passionate about. Because if I wasn’t, I couldn’t do it. And what would be the point?
Have a safe and fun 4th of July, everyone!
One of the things I’m probably a little too uptight about is time. More specifically, my time! I hate wasting time or letting my time unnecessarily be eaten up for no apparent reason. And where I struggle a lot with this, is with clients. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s always beautiful and sunny that makes people in Los Angeles want to linger longer, share more stories and squeeze in another joke. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I have seen hours of my time slip away because of side conversations and random randomness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that the best way to keep a client is to build a relationship with them . And because I travel to my clients, this is is always done in person for me. With that being said, so many of clients get a little too comfortable with me and our conversations will digress onto other topics unrelated to the business at hand. And what happens? 2 hours just turned into 6. Not very responsible, I’ll admit, but the reward — if we’re looking on the bright side of things — their business and referrals. Some of you may say, well in that case, go ahead and give them 6 hours. But the truth of the matter is, I may keep their business and earn someone else’s, but 6 hours (which is 25% of the day) doesn’t leave much time for other important things. What else could be just as important as a client? Uh, other clients? Working on the business? Tweaking my marketing efforts? Sleeping? Just to name a few. And if I give a client 25% of my day, then I’m allowing that person to only monopolized my time, but also my business. And one of the first rules I learned about being in business was never let one client dominate your business to the point they are your business. Because when they leave, so does your business.
But I’ve gotten better with managing my clients on my schedule. Because I have to responsible for my time, even when they’re unaware of it. And it’s made a huge improvement, because now I can better assess where and how to spend my time with them when I’m done meeting with them.
- For starters, I tell them before we meet what time I have to leave. That way they get an idea how much we’ll be spending together and better helps them organize their questions for that meeting.
- I set my alarm. Oh, hell yes, I do. It’s rude. It’s loud. And disruptive. And that’s the point. When I say I need to leave by 3;00pm, I need to show them I mean it. So the alarm goes off as an audio reminder. They still have questions? Email them to me.
- And since I brought it up, I make email the first point of communication. Let’s meet for the pertinent stuff, email all the other, please. That way I break the habit of having to meet for every little whim.
- Keep in-person meetings down to once a month, if necessary. I tried this with one client, and it went over superbly. For the secondary meeting, we held a Google HangOut session which shaved off a total of an hour from our normal meetings and I loved that. Not too mention, gas is still over $4 for gallon here in L.A. Let’s save the road trips for something more meaningful, right?
It was suggested to me to charge for in-person meetings to deter those clients who feel they need to meet all the time. I’m not comfortable with that yet, but there may come a point sooner or later. I figure if someone’s paying for my services, I’m not going to nickle and dime them along the way. No one enjoys that and very few, if anybody, returns for that kind of abuse. But I’ve found the strategies mentioned above very helpful thus far. I get my time back. And that’s what I really wanted. Yes, I want to meet with my clients — work in the business — but, I also want to be able to work on the business.
Take your time. Read through the list and see if you had or still have any of these beliefs. No shame in being honest, all of us have probably had at least one one of the listed items pass through our minds as we begun to conduct and operate our business. So much has changed over the course of a few years and over various industries that we cannot continue to hold onto outdated beliefs, especially as business owners. Everything goes through cycles, phases and re-boots. Holding onto what we think is right is because it’s what we’ve known all long is the equivalent to throwing money away. And no one I know is in the business of doing that.
- Your customers can and will find you — The Great Recession (I love still calling it that) turned many people into obligated self-employed persons. People started their own businesses because they had to in order to continue to earn a living. Skipping over the personal metrics of what that all means — you are not the only person doing what you’re doing or offering what you’re offering. I don’t care how well your website was designed, how quick you launched the business or how much money you invested. You don’t exist until you let people know you’re in business. Which means,you have to find your customer, not the other way around. Ideas: marketing — traditional and online, networking, community partnerships and word of mouth.
- There is no “free” money out there for small business owners – It seems like it’s no money out there, but there is. A lot of the times, it’ll be in the form of a contest, and other times it can be a private grant. Either way, if you want to raise money that you’ll never have to pay back again, just be willing to put in the time. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I suggest staying away from the SBA and Grants.gov. Most business owners aren’t professional grant writers, cannot afford a grant writer, don’t have the time and energy to read through the mess they call eligibility requirements and will not meet the guidelines imposed to receive the government funding available.
- The customer is ALWAYS right — If the customer is always right, then why are they coming to you? No, seriously, think about it. If the customer had all the answers and knew where to find all the resources, why are they knocking on your door? This is not said to inflate our own egos, but just to help put things into perspective when we’re questioned by a customer or client about our capability and knowledge. We never want to approach them defensively, but with a bit of enlightenment. A reminder, so to speak, that we can do what we do because of how long we’ve been doing it, how trained we are at doing what we do and what we know about what we’re doing.
- If it worked then, it will work now — Nope, nope, never. The problem with this belief should be obvious, but maybe it isn’t. If you haven’t heard it before, let me share it with you now: The only constant in business is change. Your customers will change, your prices will change, your hours of operation will change, your employees will change and yes, how you do and conduct business will change because the economy and market are always changing. Don’t believe me? Fine, don’t change. Come find me in six months to a year’s time.
- Working smart outperforms working hard — Uh, no. You can work smart, but you still have to work hard. There’s no way around that. And we’ve all heard it before: Work smart, not hard! Let’s be honest, someone had to work hard to come up with that, so what does that tell you? There really is no substitute for working hard and working smart just means you’ve taken all that hard work and created a system for it. That’s truly what it is. Yes, many of us have been working hard only to spin our wheels and get nowhere. So how do we avoid that trap? Direction. Work hard towardssomething, not just for the sake of working hard.
It’s easy to hold onto what we know and what we believed was working for us when there’s so much new untested crap being thrown our way. However, we have to be wise and responsive enough to separate what sticks and what sticks to the fan. The times are always changing. We need to make we adjust, set sail and flow with it.
No one likes getting random solicitations from telemarketing companies trying to sell them crap they already have or don’t need. And yet, they keep calling and keep calling and calling. Don’t you ever wonder why? Yes, some companies sell your information to others and that’s how they have your contact information. Other times, we give it to them without even really knowing. How? Simple — via our website. Actually, our domain names.
These telemarketing companies aren’t combing through hundreds and thousands of websites themselves. They don’t have to. Every time someone registers a domain name — actually buys it — they exchange their information, obviously for payment reasons, in order to reserve and own it. Think of as digital real estate. By registering a domain name, these marketing companies know who owns the domain site (us), where we’re located, our email address, our phone and whatever we were required to give up in order to buy the domain. And because most of us don’t want to spend more than we have to, we don’t opted in to have that information hidden. In other words, we don’t spend the extra bucks to make it harder for unwanted solicitations. Thus, we get slammed with all kinds of nonsense from fast speaking salespeople trying to make a commission. No beef with that, everyone’s gotta earn a living, but not at our expense and on our business line.
To better handle solicitations and to keep them from calling back, wise up:
- Never just hang up. Without a verbal indication from you stating to be removed from the list, they’ll recycle you back into their system and call at a later date. This is exactly how I ended up buying a spin bike (Keiser M3) that I probably didn’t need.
- You must say “Take me off your list” for them to take you off their list.
- Some telemarketing companies will actually keep you on their list for awhile only to call you in a month or so and try again. A certified letter from you to their physical business might be necessary to cease ALL calls.
- Never say “not interested”. You’ll just be recycled back into their system to be called at another time.
- If your employees are answering on your behalf, instruct them to never identify your gender. A lot of the times, these marketers have no clue who they’re calling, they just want to speak to the owner. Identifying your gender gives them a little ammunition for when they call back later. Trust me, if they can’t reach the owner the first time and they haven’t been told to remove the number off their list, they’ll call back later.
- Any time it sounds like a marketer and they’re unwilling to identify themselves and where they’re calling from until they speak to the owner, immediately tell them to remove you from their list. (Do you see the running theme here?) Cut them right off at the knees.
- Never tell them you have someone else working for you or looking into what they’re offering. They’ve been trained for rebuttals and that opens up an opportunity to further their quest.
- “No, thank you” is the same as saying “Not interested”. You’ll just be recycled back into their system to be called later.
If you find that you’re getting too many calls for solicitations and you don’t have time for all this bull**** , spend the extra bucks on having your information blocked when you buy a domain. Stop opting in for the ‘more information’ box unless you want and can to commit to an action. And any time you do conduct business with a third party, whether it’s electronically, over the phone or in person, ask them if they sell their clients’ information to other third parties and to be removed from that system.
Our time is precious, our fuses are short and we have businesses to run.
You know those people — they have to send us an email, a text, or dial our number every 5 minutes because they forgot to tell us something when they called 5 minutes ago. Do they think that’s cute, because it’s not! And we have clients who are just like this — unless you’re one of the fortunate few. Seriously, there are clients who become very — I already used annoying in the title, so I’ll say — attached. They cannot go a single day without texting, or emailing or leaving a voice mail making sure we’re doing our job because they want to make sure we’re on the ball. They’re trying to lightly keep tabs on us, but in fact, they’re driving us crazy.
But it’s understandable. I don’t necessary welcome the obsessive attention, but I completely understand where it comes from.
Put yourself in your client’s shoes, who has gone from service provider to service provider with little to no results. Every time they change persons or companies, they have to start all over again building a relationship and trust only to be let down when it doesn’t work out. So when they finally come to someone (us) who are actively showing more promise than all the others they’ve dealt with and paid out to, it feels almost to good to be true to them. They become a little more hands on than they need to be because they want to make sure the progress they’re seeing is real and is going to stay real.
Now, sometimes you’re dealing with a micro-manager, someone who’s use to overseeing every little detail because they want to ensure any work done is getting done to their specifications and to their liking. In this case, draw a line with them upfront or it’s going to be a battle till the two of your part on unfavorable terms. For everyone else with an annoying client, but not a micro-manager, the best way to remedy this situation is beat them to the punch. After your first couple of meetings with your client, get a feel for their expectations, their ideas and the gaps they’re trying to fill. The more often you’re able to provide close to, if not exactly what they need, the less likely they’re going to be nagging at you. It’s really that simple. You may find them a little frustrating to work with in the beginning, but start over-delivering and surpassing their expectations. That annoying-ness will disappear.
You can call it good business sense, you call it Psych 101, just don’t let them keep calling you.
If you’re a service based business provider (B2B), you already know how challenging it is to find new clients. Even harder if you’re relying on them finding you. Forget about your website, forget about your online and offline marketing tactics, standing out in the sea of all others, is the equivalent to being the needle in the hay stack. So then, how in the world are you suppose to find clients if your business’ site doesn’t rank on Google’s top 10 or your clients don’t know who you are?
You find THEM!
One of the most simplest tactics that may turn some heads or raised a few eyebrows is browsing a site that is infamous for scandal and scam:Craig’s List. I know, I know — but bear with me here. Although Craig’s List is sketchy and has been known to make the headlines in a very bad way, it is also a good source to find leads — depending on what kinds of services you offer.
Under the “Gigs” tab on the Craig’s List home site, there are a handful of categories that fall under the types of gigs people are looking for help with. Being realistic here, you have to cast your net wide and often. You are not the only person who is scanning to see what’s available, so the more often you frequent this section, the more likely you’re gonna to stumble on a few worthwhile chases. Also, be aware that some people already have a dollar amount in mind what they’re willing to pay for what they need. You can negotiate if you feel the task is worth more or you can take what’s offered. Up to you. In other cases, you’ll be able to set your own prices. Depends on the agreement.
Avoid, as with any other posting, any listing that sounds like a scam, that gives you very few details or has a link that directs you to a more sketchy site. The goal is to reap clients from an unlikely source, not be taken by some con artist.
Craig’s List is not for everybody. Maybe the thought of doing of business from someone on Craig’s List disturbs the holy hell out of you — that’s completely understandable. It does take some time to feel comfortable navigating those waters. You may want to tryFreelancer.com, People for Hire or Fiverr.com. Those sites are much more reliable, but work is harder to find because much more people are competing. If you want to see results and change things up a bit, you’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone. And Craig’s List does border outside the green zone. You know what they say, “In order to gain something you never have, you have to do something you never done.”