Friday, December 11, 2009

competitor vs mentee

If you're my competition, think before asking me for advice.

Its one thing to open a discussion about your business with people in your field. No doubt, you can gain a lot by dialoguing with others in the biz. Especially if you're just starting out with a lot to learn, it makes sense to reach out to others with more experience. Finding a mentor is invaluable.

Obvious places to look for mentorship would be to start with the people you know. Family, friends, professors, through word of mouth. Even social or business networking groups would be a starting point.

But cold-calling, looking for guidance from a person who clearly offers a similar product, is often seen (and rightly so) as threatening. What do I have to gain by handing over all my words of wisdom to this whipper-snapper?

Maybe in the modern world where we often don't directly deal with people face to face, we're tricked into thinking that asking our competition outright for business secrets is acceptable. Its easy to not always be accountable for what we say or do in virtual relationships. What's more embarrassing; saying something stupid in person or online? Well, neither is great, but I'm guessing we'd all say losing face in person is far worse than online. And isn't it that raw, human emotion (fear, embarrassment) that keeps us in line?

Professionalism is a skill. Clearly not everyone has it. But, if you're coming to me asking for my advice, here it is, Lesson Numero Uno: Be classy. (As I tell my kids, "if you're not classy, I'll sell you to the pirates!") You'll gain far more by being respectful to your clients and competition alike.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

About honesty

Honesty cost me a job this week.

In the cosmic scheme of things, its not supposed to work out this way. The good guy always wins in the movies. Honesty is supposed to prevail.

Intellectually, I know this was ultimately for the best. But, you know, rejection hurts.

It wasn't a good match for either party --I knew that and obviously they felt it too. I went into the sale knowing it probably wasn't going to be a good match, but I could see plenty of positives in what potentially could have been a sweet deal. Trying to stay focused on those positives, I went into the meeting with the objective of making the sale and presenting myself and my business with honesty and integrity. What could be wrong with that, right?

But the problem was just that. I couldn't make the sale AND be completely honest. I chose honesty. I was bloody honest.

I was on a roll. I was connecting. There was a point during the meeting where I felt I wasn't trying to make a sale, I was just having a conversation with a truly interesting person. My guard was down. And then I said IT. I could see the wheels going in reverse, but the deal was already done.

What kills me, is that I knew at the time what I was doing. Its like, you can feel it coming, but you just can't stop yourself from saying it. Its like you're cursed, you're compelled to always tell the truth. Does anyone else have this problem?

So, you may be wondering at this point; What in the hell did I say?! Well--we were talking about passion in what we do. And to make a long story short, we did not have similar passions. What I feel passionate about in business (and in life, its really not all that different), did not jive with what they were all about.

I do believe we both came away from the meeting with mutual respect for what the other does and how they do business. I know I certainly do. And I do truly feel that I did the right thing by being honest. Even if it hurts, just a little. Staying true to our passion and our mission in business is what I know I can feel good about, and will ultimately benefit any business relationship we have with our clients.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What I'm thankful for

I have so much in my life to be thankful for, and I hope that there is never a day in my life that I take any of it for granted. But specifically thinking about Bizango, I'm grateful for not only still being in business, but happily so, together with Mark. Despite the rotten economy, the slow months, the endless number of things that can keep a small business owner up at night, the end result is: we're still here doing our thing.

I think survival in business is about not only being good at what you do, and cultivating relationships within your community, but also about persistence, flexibility, creativity and ultimately being happy with what you do. It takes skill (and perhaps learning by trial and error) to balance the compromises you make in business in order to pay the bills, and the choices you make to not compromise your integrity or devalue your work. This balance is never easy, but it helps knowing your limits. Its this knowing what you will and won't do in business, that actually allows you to be confident and to be flexible as to how you achieve success.

Friday, November 20, 2009

thoughts on successful marketing

What a relief to realize that the key to a successful marketing strategy is personal connection.

Whenever I think about Marketing, I feel anxious, like a deer in headlights, or having to do a math problem in front of the class. For me, Marketing has always evoked images of a pushy, well-polished, well-manicured, good smelling, extroverted and ultimately annoying sales person. I’m not any of those things. Thank goodness I’m not pushy, I wish I were more polished and manicured, I don’t think I’m all that bad smelling (despite what my 3 year old says), I’m definitely not extroverted and I sure hope I’m not annoying.

Given my image of what Marketing is, its understandable why I would want to run from it. I’ve never been good at being something that I’m not, so of course any of my sorry attempts at Marketing have probably come off as insincere.

The good news here is that the key to successful marketing is building relationships. Well, if you put it that way, its not so scary, right? Marketing actually starts to feel like something attainable, like something I can actually do and be good at.

Creating trust through honesty and transparency. Listening first. Being responsive. Making an effort to learn more and to find commonality. Working hard at meeting someone’s expectations because you care about the relationship. These are what build relationships, either in business or in life. Why should building relationships in business be any different than in the rest of my life? It may be more comfortable to keep things separate, keep business life and personal life in its own box. But, if running your own business is part of who your are (and I would venture to say that most business owners do feel this way), then it only gets more complicated, not less, to try to keep who you are in business and who you are in the rest of your life separate. Really, its liberating to think that I don’t have to take on a different personality to market my business.

By cultivating relationships and creating trust, I am helping to grow my business too. I’m more likely to buy from the person who takes the time to establish a connection with me (hell, I ended up dating the guy I bought my first car from), then from the super-polished, pushy sales person with their own agenda. Why would my neighbor, or the person I just met at that social networking event, be any different? Just try to imagine selling to yourself. What if you were your own customer? Would you do anything differently? The care and attentiveness you give to someone who you’re genuinely interested in will promote goodness. In the end, they may not buy from you, but they may pass your name on to their friends, or remember you a year later when they do need your services.

Friday, November 13, 2009

technophobe like me

Business owners are either tight on cash or busy. Regardless of how successful we are, we're always watching the bottom line.

Keeping your website current, its true, takes either time or money. Which do you have more of? If money is no object, then you can call up your trusty webmaster (does that word bother anyone else?), request the changes you want made, and hope he can squeeze it in sometime that week. Yes, Master!

Or you can do it yourself. What? You mean, a technophobe like me is supposed to update my own website? Are you crazy? Like, I'm not busy enough trying to do business, going to social networking events, blogging (ok, I've fallen behind on this one!), running a family, having a life...Its easy to understand why updating your website gets pushed down on the endless to-do list.

But don't let it. I can't tell you how many times I visit a site that was last updated a couple years ago. Are they still in business? Is anyone home? Its like going to someone's store where the lights aren't all turned on, or its dusty. You wouldn't let your actual retail space look uninhabited, and you shouldn't let your virtual one either.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reflecting inward

So much of our valuable time goes toward our clients' projects, its difficult to carve out the time needed to address our own website and business.

After spending some time browsing our site this morning and making a wish list of the things I would like to change, I realize; When do we think we're going to do this?

This must be how our clients feel about their websites when they come to us.  

I happen to have a full-time, very committed, hard working, GENIUS webmaster on staff--my partner and husband, Mark.  Lucky for me.  But, I also am very aware of his schedule, because I was the one who made it.  

I'd like to think that this predicament originates from our philosophy of doing business: We're here to make our clients look great online and to promote their business by giving them a tool with which they can use to grow their business and make it successful.  We honestly get excited when we hear one of our clients made a sale because of the website we built them.  We feel like proud parents.  

Likewise, we feel sad and disappointed when one of our clients goes out of business because they are struggling in this economy.  Its tough times for small businesses, and we get it.  We're all doing what we can to survive and hope better economic days are not too far off.  

We've found that many of our clients are using this time to focus inward, on marketing their business, refining their public face, streamlining efficiencies.  That's where we come in.   And it makes sense.  There are tons of articles out there that talk about the reasons to market in an economic downturn, including one from Penn State, SMEAL College of Business Research: Proactive Marketing During Recession. 

And really, if you have a business, you need a website.  And websites can be a  very easy and relatively inexpensive way to market your business.  

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just starting

I have no idea what I'm doing.

I hope I don't break anything.  I hope I don't create something that I can't then undo.  I hope I don't embarrass myself.

Blog Virgin.

So, now I'm blogging.  Mostly about the business, family, life, and how they all fit together.  

Right at this moment, my amazing husband/business partner has taken our two delightful daughters ages 4 and 2 to the "big playground", while I am in our home office managing the family business.  And blogging.

I joined the business 1 year ago this month as the "Business Operations" manager of Bizango.  I work somewhere between 5-10 hours a week on the business, mostly in the evenings after we put the kiddos to bed, and Friday mornings when Mark takes his turn with the girls.  

The most frustrating thing about the schedule is that Mark and I, despite being happily married and living together, rarely work together--except for our business meetings on the couch in the evenings, and whenever we get babysitters to watch the kids during the week, which is infrequent.  Finding time to actually communicate with each other about the business, or even personal matters, is a challenge.  You see, Mark and I have other jobs as well.  (We have to support ourselves somehow!) So, the time that we're not at our other jobs, doing childcare, that's  pre-coffee (Mark), or post-bedtime (mine, since I turn in 2-3 hours before Mark even considers hitting the hay) is tricky.

Still, we manage to have a business that we love doing together.