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?
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 towards something, 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.
Spend less for what you need . We know smartphones, tablets and laptops are not only helpful for businesses, small or otherwise, but critical in today’s market to effectively compete, close deals, complete transactions and conduct operations. And if you can do all you need to do for a fraction of the cost, wouldn’t you be all over that like white on rice? But let’s not forget items that we can use on business travel, recording imagery, communicating, the office or the employee lounge/kitchen and anything else we need to take care and manage business.
Through Costco/ Costco.com
- Samsung Galaxy S5 for your business for $99.99 with a 2-year contract
- Dell Inspiron 23 5000 Series Touchscreen All-in-One Desktop for $999.99
- Dell Inpsiron 17r Laptop for $ 849.99
Through Brad’s Deals (FYI: These deals to expire and sell out fast!)
- Refurbished Fijifilm AX655 Camera for $50
- 7- Piece Luggage Set for Travel for $100 plus free shipping
- HP Pavillion 10 TouchSmart Laptop for $285
- Apple TV (from BestBuy) for $100 plus a $25 Gift card
- Keurig K45 Brewer for $105 plus free shipping (and coffee cups)
- Rocketfish 3G Mobile HotSpot for $18
- RCA Charging Station for $14 plus free shipping
- Motorola Power Pack for $10
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (7″, 8″ & 10″ screens) for $109.99
- iEnjoy MyBolt Battery Charger for $11.99
- Blackberry Z10 4G LTE for $189.99
- Acer 15.6″ Touchscreen Notebook for $299.99
A penny saved is a penny earned…!