A few years ago, my son was tasked with interviewing someone who has a “growth mindset” for a school project. He chose me, and we discussed succeeding after failure. More specifically, he learned about how I failed to recognize the power of my network, and who taught me how to put my network to use. Certain parts of networking have always come easily to me, and other parts I had to learn the hard way.
After my interview, he grabbed his pencil and a piece of paper and asked me for “tips for life” regarding networking, so I discussed the best ways to stand out. I told him how I scored interviews with companies and for positions that I was under-qualified for. I explained how I used connection skills to gain opportunities, mentors, and skills that would help me build my own business.
So how did I simplify this process to explain it to a 10-year-old?
ResearchI explained to him that one thing I did if I had a meeting, an interview, or was meeting someone new was to RESEARCH them. I would type their name into Google and look at their LinkedIn profile. I would find something interesting that they worked on, a cause they supported, or something else that would help break the ice a bit.
AskI told him to make sure to focus the conversation on the other person. Ask questions, make mental notes, and later, when you could, write down what you remembered about the person. For the past 13 years, I have written notes about people and kept them in a file so that I can “remember” important details about each person I meet.
ConnectMeeting someone is one thing, connecting with that person is another. My goal with every interaction is to find a way to truly connect with someone. I explained that finding common ground is crucial, and a lot easier than you would think. Connecting with someone is deeper than just talking, and will make you memorable.
Follow-UpI explained that without follow-up, the researching, asking, and connecting were pointless. Follow-up shows the other person that the conversation was meaningful and that they matter. Years ago, I made it a point to follow up with everyone by a handwritten note. In recent years, I used email; however, more and more I understand the importance of a personal touch, so I showed him my note card stash and networking goals and made it a personal goal to liquidate my note cards by year end.
These days, it is so easy to get caught up in the quickly-revolving door of speed-networking, but doing a little research, asking the right questions, connecting with people on a deeper level, and following up will get better results. You’ll find that you no longer have to face the business world alone — with your strong network, you can get the job you want, find the clients you want, and gain the opportunities you want, only a lot easier. People truly want to help one another, but first, you have to have a meaningful connection.
I have a confession to make: I don’t have it all together. There are days where I feel the pressure of poor planning and days where I just don’t get enough done. That said, I have learned a lot over the past several years that set me on the path of being clueless to being successful.
I’ve always been responsible, punctual, and organized. I’ve experimented with different productivity methods, time management strategies, and habit building programs, but nothing fit me and my lifestyle. It took a long time in my business of trying and failing before I figured out what worked for me. I spent a lot of time trying and talking and planning, but very little time getting things done and delivered to the audience that I wanted to reach, until one day when I realized that I was spinning my wheels and going nowhere.
As a business owner, it’s my job to make sure that everything functions and gets taken care of. I’ve done my job taking care of my client needs, but many times I would get so wrapped up in what they needed that I forgot to pay attention to what my business needed to succeed. This created a feast or famine situation for my business — times where I was so busy I could hardly get any sleep, and others where I seriously considered throwing in the towel and giving up on my company. It took a big situation before I decided it was time to take charge of my business’ needs, and that situation stirred me into action.
Over the past decade or so, I have created many business plans and marketing strategies for my clients. I have helped them build their dream company from setting up to launch to growth, all the while thinking that I was doing my job. What I failed to do was put that same attention and care into my own company, and I realized that it was time to prioritize my company, and in doing so, prioritizing my time and my value. I got incrementally better each year but wasn’t doing enough of the right things at the right times. I have a feeling that this is common — businesses focus on the clients and customers, and ignore their own human resources that make their business function. This causes many problems, and in my case, caused me to be on the verge of burnout.
Last year, I took October off from engaging new clients, which was a huge gamble. Going completely off the radar never looks good, but I knew that I needed to create the same level of structure and attention to my brand and create the kind of life I wanted to live. I realized that while I was keeping a structured schedule, I was plugging in the wrong things at the wrong time. I also realized that I need to delegate more to others who may have more interest or specialization in various aspects of my business than I have. I needed to build a business that was on the right path to bring on help, and I needed to be in front of clients in a more on-purpose, enticing way.
Since then, I have been the least-stressed than I’ve been in years, even though I’m doing more client work than ever. I feel like I finally cracked some secret code to go from clueless to successful, which is to value what you bring and work to showcase that. In doing that, you attract positive opportunities and more peace of mind. It may be too soon to say, but having my time and sanity back by structuring my business in a way that fits me has allowed me to do more to build my company and makes me approach client work in a much better way. This refresh allowed me to put the focus where it should be.
In 2014, I undertook a personal challenge: “The Year of Saying ‘Yes!’” I decided to take every opportunity that came my way, despite my actual level of interest or growth opportunity. For the first few months, I excitedly said yes to board of director positions, pro bono work, organizing multiple events, and local fundraisers. I also tried to tackle every opportunity I created for myself, including writing books, articles, and workshops for my own business and others. By December, when I was evaluating the experience, I was not only seriously burned out, I was seriously questioning my sanity. The challenge, however, taught me an extremely important lesson for 2015 and beyond; the power of “no.”
Fear of Hearing and Saying “No”For some reason, many of us have a fear of hearing and saying no. How many unasked questions and risks not taken are due to that fear? No is a simple, powerful word, but is it really better to not use it? Is giving into the fear and not taking a risk giving into failure? Is failure the ideal result? I pondered these questions and thoughts constantly during my year-long experiment. Why was I saying yes to so many things — most of which have little consequence? By saying yes to things that did not excite or interest me, I risked saying no to things that mattered.
I had to answer a scary question: “What is the worst that can happen if I hear or say ‘no?’” I learned that saying and hearing that little word allows for more focus on solving other problems. If I asked for permission and did not receive it, I gave myself permission to pursue something else. If I am approached by an opportunity that does not fit my personal interests or goals, I was allowed to put more focus on myself, my business, my family, and my priorities. Saying no is placing a value on your time and expertise. It helps you commit to projects that boost and promote growth. Burn out from over-commitment can squash your mood, self-worth, and creativity. Saying no allows us to control our time and personal well-being.
What’s the worst that could happen?When I decided to undertake this challenge, I hoped that I would gain a larger network, varied experience on different types of projects, and the ability to try new things. What I didn’t take into consideration was how often I’m asked to pitch in or help out. I also realized that the reasons I decided to do a year of yes were good, but that I was not going to achieve the results I wanted. For an entire year, I had to ignore the little voice inside my head that says “is this really worth your time?” I gave in to every request, whim, and opportunity, and it made me feel worse than if I’d said no.
We often feel that saying no creates hurt feelings. There is a huge fear of missing out or being seen as a disagreeable person when we say no to an opportunity. We also feel that if we turn something down now, we will miss out on other, future opportunities. When we are feeling negative thoughts, we need at to ask ourselves: “Am I saying yes out of passion, or guilt? Which is better for both parties involved?” By saying no, you allow yourself to only take on commitments where you can feel successful, in control of your decisions, and like you are actually contributing to a cause you believe in.
How to go from “yes” to “no?”Keeping an arsenal of proper, straightforward, and polite responses to people who want your time is key to navigating the avalanche of requests. By recommending a person who is a better fit, you not only help two individuals or entities with aligning goals collaborate, but you do not have to feel guilty for saying no. Honestly saying where you’d like to contribute to future projects allows you to bow out at a time where you cannot commit, but also keeps the door open. Sometimes the best way to say no is just that simple — no, thank you though. Show your appreciation for the request, but kindly (and firmly) decline, and do it without feeling guilty.
Ask yourself — are you the best version of yourself when you are zapped from too many yeses? I’m going to guess that that answer is a very solid, emphatic “no!” By only taking on obligations that really matter, you gain control of your time and commitments. Keeping stressful obligations at bay allows you to focus your time and energy on the things that actually matter. By saying no to things that do not fit your personal and business goals, you are saying yes to your greatest asset: your time, as well as possibilities for collaboration in things that matter. Your future sanity and opportunities for growth will thank you.
Recently, I had the following question sent to me:
What are several e-business applications that you might recommend to a small company to help it survive and succeed in challenging economic times? Why?
It was great timing because recently I started keeping track of the programs I depend on to do business. As a small business with a small staff, we depend heavily on keeping projects organized and accessible by the entire team. Here is my list and reasons for the best tools an online company should be using:
1) A good email marketing program — Email marketing helps you to sell to your clients in their inbox, instead of hoping they see your social media post or visit your website. You can control the opportunities for your business to receive more traffic and higher sales conversions by regular, curated content for your list. MailChimp, AWeber, and Constant Contact all offer free or low-cost basic plans, meaning you can create personalized, branded emails without breaking the bank.
2) A social media automation program — HootSuite and Buffer both allow you to take time back in your day, which is important when you are trying to resuscitate a business. Having consistent social presence helps you to maintain trust with your current customers, and build trust in new markets. You can easily tailor your content for multiple social media platforms and schedule them to post ahead of time. BONUS: Canva is a great free program for creating branded graphics, which allow you to promote your business better, for less.
3) A blog — Companies always hear that they need a blog, but many are inconsistent or irrelevant to their audience. Using LinkedIn, Medium, AND your hosted website’s blog regularly allows you to build credibility and clout within your industry. You can share your expertise and build trust — plus blogging allows you to craft a message and call-to-action for your reader, making it more likely for them to make a sale. I have received clients not only from my blog but from guest blogging. Even small contributions to other blogs have lead to clients. (HARO — Help a Reporter Out — is my favorite way to find writing opportunities!)
4) A few web tools — Google is King of the web as far as search goes, so it makes sense that the tools you need to be successful are offered by them. Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Tags, Apps for Work, Voice, Calendar, Adwords, and Ask are all necessary to operate an e-business.
Analytics helps you to monitor your web traffic and find out what works for your audience, and what doesn’t. Webmaster Tools allows you to be indexed by Google, so whenever your website has a change or addition, it’s seen in search results. Tags help you to differentiate your website based on its content, industry, and expertise. Apps for Work keeps your organized, by offering domain-specific email addresses, email management tools, CRMs, Accounting, and other applications, allowing you to keep your business in one place, managing and following up with leads and customers. Voice is a phone program that allows you to have a phone number other than your personal cell. Calls come through the Voice number, your calls are announced, and your voicemails are emailed and transcribed. Voice means you won’t miss another opportunity to follow up, and if you get a call that someone else can answer, they can check the messages on the designated email. Calendar is great for individuals and teams — I color coordinate different tasks and activities within my calendar to keep everything straight. I book meetings and can see my staff’s availability as well. Adwords is another website traffic tool, but this one is not free. Adwords can cost as little or as much as you want, and it’s used for creating advertising campaigns that show up in search results. This is important when you want to rank higher in searches, and want to be on the top or side “featured” ads. Lastly, Ask is a great web and mobile capable tool. You just say “Okay, Google…” and give it a command. I use this to send emails, text messages, or to open applications. It’s not perfect but sometimes works when you’re time crunched and don’t want to swipe your text, or if you’re attempting to multitask.
5) A good contractor — when times are hard, staffing can dwindle. The need is still there, so hiring a temporary contractor or freelancer can help when work needs to be done. Finding work that can be delegated can be a challenge, but anything that is not your main focus (working with clients) can and should be delegated when it makes sense. A great freelancer makes sure that tasks are completed in alignment to your goals, and communicates openly with you to get the work done.
Imagine this: you are an insurance agent that needs to grow their business. You specialize in insurance sales and can cite your offerings at the drop of the hat, but marketing and sales are a bit tricky. You have three choices: 1) you can try to balance growing your business and create the marketing yourself, knowing that it won't be as effective, 2) you can hire someone to help with your marketing who has the knowledge, experience, and time, or 3) you hope you can get by without marketing. In the short- and long-term, it makes more sense to pay a contractor or freelancer to complete the work for you - they are more efficient, knowledgeable, and can tailor their work for your needs and budget. Your ROI will be worth it!
6) Cloud document management — Google Drive is a great program for managing paperwork in the cloud, but personally, I prefer using Dropbox and Evernote. Dropbox allows me to create, store, and share documents easily with clients and customers, and allows me to access the documents anywhere. Evernote allows me to organize projects and coordinate with staff within different notebooks, meaning that we can all be working together, no matter where we are.
7) A good notebook — You can’t always do work on a computer, so Rocketbook is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Rocketbook allows you to designate each of 7 icons to email addresses or files in the cloud using your cell phone. You write in the Rocketbook, snap a picture of your page (with the corresponding icon marked), and the app puts your files where they need to go. When the notebook is full, you toss it in the microwave to make the ink disappear. It’s a bit pricier than the other options, but due to its portability and ability for reuse, it’s worth the cost.
These tools are important for a business at any stage, but due to their low cost (many are free) and high capabilities, they are crucial for struggling businesses. Almost all of the programs are mobile-compatible, allowing you and your team to work from anywhere. They have streamlined a bunch of processes and kept our business as close to paper-free as possible.
I have written my fair share of business plans. I have reviewed them, and judged them and looked over various investor pitches including them. I have been contacted by multiple businesses looking for them. And over the past fourteen years, I have questioned the necessity of them. There’s a huge misconception that every new business needs a business plan in order to be taken seriously. Companies that have no real reason to have a business plan spend money unnecessarily on their creation. I see it all the time — “URGENT! I need a business plan written immediately! I can pay $100 for you to write 10–12 pages!” Realistically, many of these companies need business plans the least.
STOP UNDERAPPRECIATING THE VALUE OF YOUR PLANI want to call out every business that ever tried to pay someone to write their business plan for them for a low amount of money. Your business plan, when you need one, is your first sales opportunity. That plan, with all of its required, formatted, and structured information, is your first impression to investors who may or may not fund your idea. Are you really willing to allow the lowest bidder to have that much control over that initial impression? Besides, in order to get a professional plan, you have to pay for it, and $100 is not going to cover it. In the event that you truly need a business plan, budget at least $50 per hour for it, and be prepared to be an equal partner in the preparation of the entire plan. An absentee business owner in the business planning process is noticable to investors, and they will never fund your business if they think you didn’t put in due diligence into your business plan.
STOP UNNECESSARILY OUTSOURCING WORKI want to touch upon why a company would consider outsourcing their business plan. Imagine that you are a business owner that has put countless hours, blood, sweat, and tears into your idea. You have bootstrapped and built, acquired customers and failed, and now you have reached a point where you have proven yourself and your company enough to pitch investors for funding. Are you willing to outsource your business plan, which is a reflection of the work you have put in so far and the promises of what you are willing to do to grow your company? If you are, evaluate your reasoning. Is it a lack of confidence in the writing and pitching process? If so, you might be better working with a consultant to build your business plan rather than outsourcing it. If it is due to a lack of time, then you need to reevaluate your priorities. Like I said, this document is your first impression to potential business partners and investors, and if you don’t have time to craft that message yourself, then there might be an opportunity for you to outsource other areas of the business so that you can focus on creating your plan.
STOP ASSUMING YOU NEED A BUSINESS PLANI want to remind businesses that not every one of you is seeking funding, therefore, you don’t need a structured business plan. If you feel like you need a more organized visual of your company, look into creating a business model instead. A business model puts all of the fluid parts of a growing business in front of you, so that you can test and adapt your business to fit what works. The basis of the business model is to see what you are doing, for what market, and how it is working for you. You put the information on post-it notes so that when something changes, you aren’t digging into a certain section of a document, you are pulling the note down and swapping it with the current information. It is a living part of your business, rather than a rigid document living on your computer.
Business plans take time, effort, and experience to craft them properly. That said, most investors hate them. They are boring and the information is typically fabricated. There is no passion shown in its pages, and most businesses seeking investment funds are high-risk, so even with twelve pages of thought out plans, there is no guarantee of success. Investors invest in people, not ideas or papers, so put in the time to craft your personal brand, level of expertise, and love of what you are doing. This goes much further than a “must-have” document. Infuse everything you do and write for your company with a strong brand built on purpose and proven need, and you might have a chance. In the meantime, stop posting want ads for low dollar business plans. They are offensive and will get you no where. Invest that $100 into a consulting session and a template — you will get farther.
If you need help deciding on where you should be putting your money in your early-stage startup, I can help. Finances are tight, but investing in someone who has experience starting and growing businesses can move you ahead quicker, without wasting so much time and money on things that don’t work.
Several months ago, I hit a wall. I realized that I had more projects planned than I could handle on my own. With good intentions, I had placed tasks throughout my Google Calendar for all of the projects, plus my timely work-related tasks, plus personal tasks, as well any meetings or appointments or reminders I needed. I had notes and lists and files full of information to get everything I thought I needed to get done, done. Needless to say, I found myself overwhelmed and unproductive.
I know that I’m not the only person who does it — puts dozens of meaningful-seeming tasks on your calendar, only to move them along since they don’t take priority, only to realize that nothing got done toward your idea or project. I also know that I’m not the only one who feels like they are spinning their wheels day after day because they have a ton of ideas of things to do and no time to do them.
How did I remedy this issue?One night, while I was desperately trying to get some sleep, a stream of thoughts came to me. It started with acknowledging that my lack of productive work has been a serious problem in my work life. Then it made me think about the last time I felt truly productive.
I thought about how, when we are young and learning to communicate, we create bright, colorful, simple notes and lists. We hang them up for everyone to see. When we get a little older, we use notes to exert our wants and needs — signs like “Stay Out!” or “3 days until Disney!” Our notes still excite us and were reminders for things that mattered.
In our teen years, our notes turn more clandestine. They stay hidden and are passed in secret, and are less about things that make us happy or excite us, and more about our private thoughts and feelings.
The older we get, the more utilitarian our notes get. In school, we take notes to remember things that we will be tested on later. In business, we take notes for certain files. These notes only emerge as a touch-point to move us from A to B. They’re not flashy. They’re not colorful. They’re not fun or visual or something we put up to keep front of mind.
And this is where we, as adults, have it wrong. Notes should not be ideas and thoughts that are buried in Word documents and accordion files. They should be visual reminders of our goals. They should be in front of us as movable tasks that we can shift — ideas that can be pulled up when time allows to help us move forward.
After a couple hours of these thoughts, I wrote them down. The next day, I wrote everything that seemed important on my calendar onto a post-it note. I dug into my Evernote files and wrote down long forgotten ideas. I sorted through my physical files and pulled out any tasks that were bumped from my to-do list. And then I cleared my calendar of everything movable. I called it my Clean Slate Project.
What did this do for me and my productivity?The last time I felt truly productive in my work life was nearly a decade ago. I had been consulting startups for a few years and had an opportunity to become more involved in one. I understood how many hats employees of a startup had to wear, but I never expected to be tackling the tasks of four different positions at one time. I remember feeling overwhelmed and wondering how I could shift from Purchasing to Marketing to Design to Project Management and still get enough work done.
The way I handled the various tasks of each position became clear to me — I had to make it visual and it had to be color-coordinated. I didn’t have space or the budget to have a white board for each position, so I had to make do with what I had: post it notes. I assigned each position a color and used coordinating post it colors for each. Every time I had a task arise, I added it to the post it for that position. I designated an area on my desk to my post it storage. Each morning, I would organize the post its in order of importance, pulling one as a single focus. If I had time, I’d pull the next. If I didn’t, then each night, I’d color-coordinate my post its and leave for the day.
This did more for me than I realized. It allowed me to delegate my workload for the day depending on what was important. It allowed me to keep important tasks and duties in front of my face instead of tucked in a binder on a shelf. It allowed me to use my available down time to work on creative projects and ideas because I had to plan at my fingertips. Despite the extreme differences in my titles, I felt balanced about the work I did. When I went home at night, I felt relaxed knowing that I had my plan for the next day. When I came in to work in the morning, I felt motivated to clear through the post it notes.
Fast-forward back to present day — I decided to use that method again. Now that I own two of my own businesses, run various workshops and trainings, and have several side-projects, I needed that same sort of visual reminder of what I needed to do. I needed the flexibility to move tasks based on importance. I also wanted things to be in front of my face so that I didn’t forget about them.
By taking everything off of my calendar and putting them on post its, I was able to more than double my productivity in just a couple weeks. Every day, I can see exactly what I want to get done. By pulling a single post it and putting it next to my keyboard, I can focus on just one thing at a time. Then, when I have time between clients, I can pull another task and work on it. If I don’t finish it, I can put the note back with the others to pick back up when time allows. And even better, when I complete a task, I can physically tear up or throw away my reminder so that I can move on.
This method is not for everyone, but having bright, colorful, visual reminders works great for me and my multitasking career. The psychological benefits from having creative tasks and ideas side by side with my day-to-day duties helps me to feel excited about my workload, rather than feel dragged down by having to stick to a time table on my calendar. Plus, when you get to actually purge a completed task, it somehow feels like more of a relief.
What one method have you found that keeps you on task?
It’s no surprise that startups are stressful. The whole basis of starting a business is taking risks, which doesn’t leave much room for comfort. The stress that an entrepreneur feels can be beneficial to getting a venture off the ground, but some entrepreneurial stress can be prevented.
Cash flow is the top stressor that entrepreneurs have when starting a business, and is the biggest factor in canning an idea. Most startups turn to seed or angel funding when cash gets low, but risk and low valuation can keep businesses from getting the capital they need to feel comfortable financially. A founder’s lack of income can impact their ability to keep the entire company afloat, and a lack of payroll expenses can keep employees from coming or staying on board during the early stages of a business.
While a start-up can’t guarantee a certain amount of sales or cash flow, there is something that a founder can do to maintain their finance-related sanity for the first year.
First, build up a cash reserve. Second, make sure you don’t invest in areas of your business that are unnecessary. Third, bootstrap as much as you can. And fourth, pay yourself first. These four tips will at the very least keep you afloat, and at the most allow you to build your company without breaking the bank.
A cash reserve sounds like an easy thing to prepare prior to starting a new business, but many entrepreneurs poorly plan or mismanage their cash reserve. Many business owners plan for the best case scenario instead of the worst, which leaves them scrambling if things go wrong. Your working capital needs should include six months of income, plus save 5–10% of all revenue earned. This can be adjusted for different business needs, and as the business grows, a different cash reserve percentage or total may be necessary. If you need to keep inventory, have more legal costs due to trademarks or patents, or have to rent a commissary or manufacturing space, you will need to prepare for higher upfront costs and include them in your budget.
It’s ideal to imagine your startup working out of a huge office, with staff collaborating in a free-flowing workspace, however, businesses need to not invest in areas that aren’t necessary. Office space, for the most part, is an expense that most businesses don’t need, especially in the first year. Instead, your home office or kitchen table are the most cost-effective workspaces. If you need a place for collaboration, a coworking office or local cafe would be the next least expensive options. As far as staffing needs go, many of them are also unnecessary for a startup. Instead of dishing out an annual salary and benefits for a full time assistant, employ a virtual assistant. Contracting work out when your cash flow is low makes sense — you only pay for the projects and hours you need work done. You work with qualified, capable people who can finish your projects for much less than a full-time team can. Saving money by not paying out huge rental and salary fees is a great way to keep dollars flowing where that are beneficial.
Bootstrapping is almost a competition among some entrepreneurs, but all should employ a reasonable level of it in their business ventures. Cutting down expenses to the bare minimum will help that cash reserve hold out in case things go south, or production takes longer than planned, or an unexpected cost pops up. In the event that you face a large, unplanned expense, the best action is to pay for it yourself. If that’s not realistic in your business, then next best step is to ask family and friends to invest in you and your business. If this also doesn’t garner enough, before you turn to the bank, turn to your network. Crowdsourcing is a popular way to gain funds necessary to take your business to the next level, and build a customer base. Investors and banks will have additional costs associated with their services, so bootstrap whenever you can to cut those costs.
Founders who start a business often cut back on everything, work ridiculous amounts of hours, and refuse to cut into a businesses profits by not paying themselves. This is contradictory to what should happen: founders should always pay themselves first. There is a lot of time, effort, and brain-power associated with starting a business. Startups cannot exist without these founders, so it only makes sense that they are paid for their efforts. Startup owers shouldn’t be raking in the dough to the detriment of the company, but they should be setting aside a liveable wage for those first few years. A good industry standard is no more than $75,000 per year for at least the first year, despite profits. Those who don’t pay themselves end up broke, burnt out, and with nothing to show for their efforts.
Financial issues can stop any business in their tracks, but with a little planning, saving, cutting, buckling down, and knowing where to put your money, a startup can succeed and founders can build their dream company. Staving off financial stress can help you put your focus where it is needed, on product or service development, customer relationship building, and exposure opportunities, instead of wondering where your next dollar is coming from.
Opportunity. Sometimes it feels finicky and uncertain. Sometimes it feels like the well has dried up. Sometimes it feels like opportunity is definitely not knocking.
And then sometimes, opportunity feels like a floodgate being opened. Everywhere you turn, there are new opportunities.
Are you controlling your opportunities for opportunity?
Berle had it right: If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. When was the last time you actually built that door? If you are not constantly cultivating opportunities, they won’t happen. You can only sit on opportunity and ideas for so long — idleness leads to nothing. Take those ideas, plans, and goals, and put them into action.
I moved from an area where my business was primarily word-of-mouth, to an area where no one knew my name. It was 2010, and the country was still in recession. Opportunities, so they seemed, had dried up. I waited for knocks on the door that never came.
In 2013, after almost three years of career stagnancy and few opportunities, I decided to build a few doors.
How do you build opportunity for yourself and your company?
First, I started attending local networking events. I joined two civic organizations. I finally updated my website. I increased my social media exposure. And most important — I started crafting how I wanted to work, the types of projects I wanted to be involved in, and the types of opportunities I wanted to find. Then I told anyone who would listen (not in a forceful way — craft your “opportunities wanted” pitch into your introduction).
After a few months of making opportunity my main career goal, it happened. I can happily report that through networking myself and my business, building better marketing, and talking about my goals and what I can offer others, I find myself happily busy doing work that I love.
So how can you take this leap to build better opportunities for yourself?
Know what you want to do. Know your passions. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Continue your education in the things you want to do. Then talk about them. Find networking opportunities. Build social media and internet marketing into your daily plan. Actively approach opportunities you want head-on. Then watch the floodgates open.
What’s the first thing that you do when you want to find a new resource, research a new problem, or find a solution?
You GOOGLE it! But what comes up when your potential prospects, leads, and customers are Googling you?
Like many, I went to college following high school. Also, like many, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. After a few years spent jumping from Entomology to Pre-Law, to Microbiology, I settled on pursuing my degree in Psychology — but not to become a therapist. My goal of getting a degree was so I could, ideally, head my own research lab. Over a decade and a half since I started on that journey, I’m no closer to doing biochemical research, and that’s okay. It turned out that Psychology, while my passion, was not my true calling in life. Business, especially working with startups, ended up being what I loved to do.
Over ten thousand dollars in student loan debt later, I was approached with an opportunity. I was working in an architecture firm at the time and was contacted by two local businessmen. They had seen the way I worked and thought that with a little mentoring, I could manage a few companies they had invested in. Turns out, they were right. Within a few months, my naïve, fresh set of eyes had uncovered policies and processes that just didn’t make sense. Eventually, new practices were put forth that made the company’s successful, and the investors happy — and I had found my niche.
Now don’t get me wrong — my education in Psychology has been extremely beneficial, but for many years, I thought that without “MBA” after my moniker, I would never be taken seriously in the business world. Once again, I was schooled in ways that I never expected — and mostly for free.
The library has been a business owner’s best friend. MOOCs have helped me learn new industry standards in business, as well as other areas that have drastically changed how I run my company. Mentors and advisers have taught me that hands-on doing is far superior to hands-off learning. Most important of all, I learned how to think about problems and solutions, not just what to think.
The recent financial crises have proven that a college education doesn’t mean that you will have a successful career. Looking throughout history, many successful and memorable thought leaders were either drop-outs or drastically changed paths or careers. This isn’t meant as an attack on higher education — it still serves its place in terms of careers that require certain licensing, as well as being a part of the adult maturation gap between high school and “real life.” My main point is that a crowdsourced education can be just as helpful in your career, and won’t leave you penniless.
Continued education is huge in most careers, and many resources are available for free, or a low cost. Coursera, edX, Lynda, BrightTalk, and Future Learn are just a few of the places you can find classes to learn new skills to build your educational background, including many classes from top colleges and universities. Over the past several years, I have taken free classes in Lean Entrepreneurship, Social Entrepreneurship, Project Management, Coding, Foreign Language, Astrophysics, Cognitive Behavior, and Infectious Diseases, just to name a few, all from the comfort of my own home. Take a look — you never know what you’ll learn next!
What are your favorite sources for free online learning?
Every day, I get asked to explain what I do. Over the past 16 years, I have worked hard to find the right way to explain the answer, depending on who was asking. There are so many reasons that a business should hire a consultant, and I only fit about half of the needs that are brought to me. My brand pitch answers the question “what do you do,” but tends to leave more questions. After giving this some thought lately, I’ve identified six specialties that consultants tend to help with.
Objective perspectiveBusinesses often fall into a routine and see the same results because of it. Like the quote, “when you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always gotten.” When that strategy stops working, it’s time to bring in someone with new insight. A consultant is great for this because they come without the baggage an employee would bring. They are invested in finding, diagnosing, and solving your company’s problems without being invested in the company itself, which creates less of a conflict of interest problem for the business. Consultants bring creative solutions, resources, and tools to solve issues that are keeping the company from moving forward. They are the short-term intellectual capital that a company requires when they don’t need a full-time person with that skill set.
Automation and optimizationSometimes changing workloads among employees cause problems that a company cannot fix on their own. There might be skill gaps or overlaps that can cause decreased productivity among the teams. A consultant can evaluate and implement solutions that save time, save money, increase productivity, and build scalability within the company by evaluating the needs of the company and the skills of the employees. Then, the consultant can offer advice on how to automate and optimize the workloads so that the right people are contributing to the right work.
Crisis managementThere are several things that can cause a “crisis” within an organization — employee turnover, exit planning deficiencies, declining sales, and restructuring are just some of the actions that can throw a company into a downward spiral. These issues can cause serious and sudden productivity issues, declining sales, and poor strategic planning. A consultant can help in crises by assessing a company as it is and building a plan to get it where it needs to be. Crisis management consultants work similarly to the automation and optimization plan but under extreme pressure to turn situations around quickly.
Facilitating a functional teamIn business, personalities can be just as important as skills. Serious personality differences can cause conflict among teams, which reduces the team into a dysfunctional semblance of individuals who are unwilling to work together. Consultants can work through these issues to develop cohesion and make sure that goals are better aligned. They can teach skills and procedures in order to overcome the conflict that exists, and create a plan to keep it from destroying the progress that a team should have. They can also evaluate the needs a particular team should have, and make recommendations for missing or overlapping skills that would help the team to flourish.
Internal personnel cannot be the bad guysOftentimes, it is detrimental to a company to hear bad news from the higher ups. The news can create an anxious and sometimes hostile working environment. When a business has to deliver bad news, a consultant might be the best choice for the message. Consultants specializing in delivering changes and strategies that cannot come from internal personnel can craft the bad news in a way that makes sense, and since they are an outsider, the ill effects of the message are often taken less personally. A consultant specializing in crisis management is often the right fit for delivering the changes to the masses and knows how to strategize a plan for a turnaround.
Building new opportunitiesBusinesses looking for growth have many options, and sometimes the path leads them to develop new lines of business, and occasionally, a new business altogether. Sometimes companies have current ideas and projects that need outside validation in order to move forward. A consultant specializing in business and product development, project management, and startup growth strategy is the right fit for these needs. In many cases, employees don’t have the entrepreneurial skill set needed to grow creative ventures — but a consultant can teach a team the right skills, strategies, and processes for achieving the goal of creating a new product or service. They can also facilitate team building and evaluate skill sets in order to build the right team for the project.
Most businesses need to hire a consultant to solve a problem that they have at one time or another. Clearly identifying the needs of the company and finding the right consultant to fit that need is important to gain the results desired. Not every consultant will be the right fit, so be sure to have an understanding of what you need and make sure that they can offer the right solutions. Whether it’s for a fresh point-of-view, to improve productivity, to solve a serious problem, to fix a broken team, to deliver bad news, or to create a new venture, consultants can find the right way to grow your business.