Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How am I Different?

I spend hours talking to my clients about one of the basics of Marketing: Differentiating. I ask how they are different than other people who seem to be doing the same stuff.

15 years ago when I started working as a consultant, I really didn't think very much about that for myself. My main focus at that time was setting up financial systems and processes for very small companies and I didn't have much competition in my market.

Now, as a business mentor I have plenty of competition. I started this blog as a way for you to all get to know me. I ramped up my social media marketing and published articles elsewhere as well. In all this flurry of activity, I've been following many other folks who market themselves under this or a similar label. As I've ready their advice and watched their approach, it's been hard for me to pin down exactly what it is about me that's different. I was, like my clients, in that moment, unable to see the forest for the trees.

When posting a comment on small biz on Linkedin, it came to me: I've come from a family of entrepreneurs. It's all I've really ever known!

Many professionals enter the world of consulting after leaving the corporate world. That, for the most part is my competition. I have in fact worked in the corporate world, as a GM, CFO, CEO, all on a contract basis. The "lure of the paycheck" has never really worked on me. It's taken me quite a long time and many conversations for me to realize because from childhood, my vision of the world was shaped by the entrepreneurial lifestyle.

My first business at around age 7 was to collect wildflowers and make miniature arrangements and sell them door to door in my neighborhood. I remember this clear as day, but honestly cannot explain it given my self proclaimed identity as an introvert. (Uh, until recently...)

My first "real job" at 17 was helping this woman, who had been away from her brownstone for 10 years, renting to grad students. I keept her cool and calm and sorted through 10 years of her life and organized a sale. It was exciting and I felt like I was using all my abilities. When I headed off to college late that Summer, it was confusing in comparison. It seemed to unfocused to me.

So here I am, all these years later, telling you a bit more about how I might be able to figure out your situation and help you along the sometimes rocky road of small business. I'm not matching it to a certain business model or "ideal". Instead, I'm finding a way for you to do what you want to do and have it support you. It's what I know, down to my bones.

Shall I be corny for a moment? Your dreams are my business. Bring them to me and let's see what we can do.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Is it just a tidal change that will reverse itself naturally or a drought on the way?

Yeah, I get that we're in a recession. But your business will have it's own tides in addition to the tides of the greater marketplace. How do you tell your own from the ocean's tides? To some extent you can't. That is, if you haven't been keeping really clear records of your sales income from previous periods.

Most likely you may know exactly what you're sold in the past, but to whom and why are two more questions you may be less clear on. When you wrote your business plan you were asked to project income in different market sectors and income in different price points. Then you projected that further down the line for 3 or more years. Have you gone back and looks at those budget vs actual numbers?

When there's a crisis afoot in business, folks can be very quick to make changes. After all, agility and flexibility is what it's all about. But, if you don't go back and take a really close look at what's going on, putting your assumptions aside, you may be moving in the wrong direction.

Moving your whole fleet of products to take advantage of a little change in wind direction is a very expensive ordeal. It maybe a passing trend and perhaps holding right and developing the good thing you have to make it better might make more sense. Just like the captain of a ship, one needs to keep on eye on the horizon and the icebergs to your side. It's not an either/or proposition. Both must be done, simultaneously.

How well do Captains sleep? Maybe not so well, but such is the life of someone navigating the ever changing tides of business

Monday, July 13, 2009

Creative Business

Next Monday, July 20th, I'll be doing a tele interview for the blog Woman on Quilts at 5pm PDT. The focus will be creating and business. Call in and have the opportunity to ask questions on the many different facets of this topic!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not Your Mother's Career Counselor

When, if ever did you go to your first Career Counselor? After High School? During a mid-life crisis? After college? Chances are, there has been someone along the way with some opinions about what your life's work should be. They might have given you tests or asked questions and in the end, they were looking for a box to put you and your skill set into.

"Life's Work" is now an outdated concept for many of us. There will be many times we change what we do, how we do it and who we do it for. My last post was about the lifestyle connected to different professions. That's one example of some of the points that don't get covered in some career counseling.

I like to start all my new folks out with this question: What do you want your perfect day to look and feel like?

It's a kind of reverse engineering. Instead of asking a series of questions about what you're good at, I'd rather know what you'd like to do, day to day. Because when it comes down to it, you may love the "idea" of doing something, but the collection of tasks that make up that job really don't interest you.

Are you a musician who loves to be on stage but hates to practice? Are you a musician who loves to play in their bedroom but hates the stage? Ok, so that's an easy one. I love textile design, went to school in my late 20's to study it. I got my degree from Parson's School of Design, went out and started looking for a job. I was told it was going to be tough and not much pay. I really thought I was ready. I was training with professionals in the field! Two days into my first job I felt like I was in hell. A kind of hell I didn't even know existed.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was seriously doubting my sanity. No one asked me if I could work with no direction in a sweatshop-like environment using a set of skills I never actually learned in school. Oh, and for pennies. I've taken what I learned at Parson's and have used it a million times over in other ways. I have no regrets, except perhaps taking a tour of a studio with one of my instructors.

That experience has really shaped the questions I ask as a small business consultant. It's about all the moments that make up your day. As they say, it's more about the journey than the destination. Put yourself back in the sandbox, as it were, and ask yourself.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Your Business Lifestyle

It's not unusual that I meet someone who starts a business in an industry that's new to them. For example, someone who has been in social work but has always dreampt of having a little gift shop. Six months down the line I hear them say, "But I didn't really understand how I'd never have weekends to myself!".

Every industry has it's own particular lifestyle. It's an important thing to factor in when you're considering starting your own venture. There are decisions you can make about the structure of your business and the culture you can create and then there are things that are inherent to that industry. A great example is a restaurant. Unless you're running a breakfast and lunch cafe, chances are you'll be working nights. The most important time to be in your restaurant will be the nights. It's a complete lifestyle. That may not go over well with your family.

"If I knew then what I know now..."

Do a little research in advance and see what kind of lifestyle, folks who are doing what you want to be doing, have. Even a consultant, like myself, the lifestyle varies person to person. Not everyone works this way but many do. Now that I'm working nationwide, my day spans both coasts and continues into the weekends. To some folks, that sounds like a nightmare. For me, it's what I'm comfortable with. I know myself professionally. I know how much I can handle and how to naturally structure my days. It works with my natural flow.

It's not just about starting your dream business, but making sure that the lifestyle of that business if compatible with your personality. I may have dreams of having a sheep farm, but there's no way I'm getting up that early, or giving up my city life. Know what you want and know yourself.

Some related posts here from the past are the series' on working at home, or working with your spouse.

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