Saturday, June 17, 2017

Winning Tips on Starting a Small Business

Starting a small business can be a scary time for most people. The smartest people that I have ever met feel intimidated about taking that first step to being independent and fear reaching out to potential businesses that could use their services. There is something secure and comforting of staying in a job with a company that you hate instead of taking a risk and putting yourself out front. The biggest issue that potential new small business owners have shared with me is what if I can't find any clients who want to take a chance on me or do I have to quit my job and lose my salary and health benefits.

What seems like a lifetime now, 16 years ago I started Promotions West, a boutique public relations and marketing firm in San Francisco where I work as a consultant and mentor to businesses. It was a bit scary for me too. I was so frightening that I kept my full time job and started doing the business at off times, little by little. One of my mentors said to me over lunch, "When are you going to put both feet in the same place and take a chance on you." I wanted to run and hide in a dark cave. I couldn't think of anything worse than going rogue and being my own boss. After shaking in my boots for a year, yep a year, I finally made the leap to trust myself like I have trusted so many others when getting hired to work a 40 hour shift. I quickly learned that failing is and have never been an option. To help me to provide realistic tips, I reached out to loyal colleagues in the field of public relations, marketing, promotions and social media for their advice. Here is some of the knowledge that they shared with me.
"To thine own self be true Don't try to deliver services that are not in alignment with your expertise or mission. Work from the inside-out building your market base from folks nearest you, beginning with employees, shared Jackie Wright, award winning journalist, producer, publicist, filmmaker and founder of Wright Enterprises.

Beverly Lancaster-Jones, a Washington DC public relations and marketing guru and a great colleague said, "Don't neglect your loves ones while building your business. It's never worth it." "Drink lots of wine, preferably with me" is what Kami Griffiths, owner of Community Technology Network suggested. FYI, Kami is simply brilliant and I have had the opportunity to work with her and watch her build the business from the ground up and never stop, except for a glass of wine and to gain more energy to keep pushing. She is about to relocate to Austin, Texas so get ready Austin for a tornado of wonderfulness. Garry Curtis, CEO of GRC Strategies and one of my mentors added, "Hire smart people and get out of their way.

Roberta Silverstein, Owner of Brain to Fingers in Novato, CA and a longtime colleague and friend had a lot of tips to share. Silverstein recommends the following tips:
  • Have a game plan (business plan) yet be open to change and new ideas. You never know who you are going to meet who can help you, give you new ideas or network you to a client.
  • Be kind and considerate when networking. While you may be super hungry for customers/clients, if you cal a meeting, be aware of your contact's time.
  • Stay in contact - find out how your contacts want to be connected - occasional text, email or phone call.
  • Build up your own area of expertise or tap into an existing body of knowledge with your additions. You may have a contrary point of view or are looking for additional input. Ask. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and your own contacts.
  • Pick up the phone! Although there are many nonverbal ways to contact people - using a phone to call your contacts is still the best way to maintain a relationship, even it it is a quick hello.
  • Let your friends know what you are doing to start a business. They may have ideas and tips or know someone who might help or need your services.
  • Contact the Small Business Administration in your area. They are folks with a lot of knowledge. To reach Roberta: roberta@braintofingers.com.
According to Ray Mar, Product Marketing Manager at Pure Storage in Mountainview, CA, he recommends having a:
  • Business plan - to outline your overall strategy, goals, business / revenue projections so you know where you are starting out and where you want to go as a business. Helps set your vision and road map. 
  • Marketing plan - to understand your target market (who you want to sell to); understand their pain points and how you are going to solve it. Develop a go to market strategy to includes how you are going to generate awareness (social media strategy, print advertising, web presence, etc); once your get leads for your pipeline how are you going to follow-up (email nurture, sales call)
  • Should understand your competition - How is your product or service differentiated so you can position yourself from the competition (could be related to pricing, unique product/service)
  • Location - to sell product/service, encourage to conduct feasibility study to determine in whether location is easily accessible, it is easy to find, is there high traffic. 
  • Financing - If you need cash to fund your venture, banks will want your business plan to review. Alternative funding sources could be through crowd-funding (e.g. Go Fund Me); family/friends (though not highly advisable unless you have clearly written agreement, payment terms, exit strategy).

Also remember to: 
1. Dream Big
Successful small business owners are dreamers. They wholeheartedly believe they can turn those dreams into reality. If you can dream it, you can create it.
2. Identify Opportunities
Today’s most popular products and companies seemed like rather unlikely or even bizarre concepts when they were first introduced. But successful entrepreneurs are willing and able to think outside the box and see potential in ideas where other people don’t.
3. ExecuteLots of people have ideas. Taking an idea and figuring out how to bring it to market – and then getting people to actually buy it – is a completely different thing. It is this ability to execute that separates successful entrepreneurs from mere dreamers.
4. Take Baby StepsEven if their ideas are big, business owners know they aren’t able to achieve everything at once. Remember how difficult it can be for a one year old trying to walk or run? Ever notice how they fall down many times but continue to rise and try again.  It's the same principle. It takes time and lots of planning before, during and after you accomplish your goal. There is never enough money. Never enough people. Never enough time in the day. Prioritizing and taking baby steps is a sure way to gain success.  
5. Ask for HelpThe circle of true friends and colleagues can play a major role in helping to make decisions. I encourage people to create a circle but consider the type of people you want in your circle. Circles can be comprised of friends who love you, those that won't agree with everything you say, those with experience in the area that you are hoping to enter. It's important to fill your circle with people who have experience in their industry and find business partners that complement - not duplicate your skills.
6. Be FlexibleLike everyone, successful business owners make lots of mistakes. The difference, however, is that they are willing to learn from and accept those mistakes and change course – sometimes quickly. No one is going to care about stumbles along the way if the venture was a success at the end of the day. Remember, most successful people and businesses failed many times, but they kept getting up and trying again.
7. Be Confident. It's important to not let self-doubt or naysayers get in their way. All your persistence and strength to keep you focused and shove you forward, even when things get a bit difficult and full of challenges. Remember, you can do it.
8. Not be Afraid to FailFear of failure prevents many people from starting a business, going on a first date, leaving a bad job, or trying new things. Successful entrepreneurs understand the risks and try to mitigate them. Remember to not let perceived risks drive you into a mental roadblock. 
9. Build a Strong TeamAs companies start to grow and hire more people, owners know they can’t take that too lightly. Their employees and managers are the backbone of the business. During your adventure, take the time to figure out what traits, values and skills you want in your consultants or employees. Great staff makes a world of difference in being successful. At Promotions West, we also look for fun people with a strong drive to succeed. Laughter is good for the soul.
10. Ask for HelpIt’s often hard for business owners to let go. They built their companies from the ground up, after all. But the most successful ones know that the work must be shared as no one can do everything. The best advice I was ever given was to hire the best people and allow them to to do their jobs well. It allows the business owner to focus and prioritize. 
A huge THANK YOU to my contributors who spent time providing me with great tips throughout my entire career. Good luck in following your dream and organizing your circle. And remember...


Friday, April 28, 2017

Stage Fright


You are about to facilitate a workshop. People are starting to enter the training room. Your executive director or general manager is sitting up front. Funders are sitting in the back of the room. Your boss stands up to introduce you and you walk toward the stage.
As you approach the front of the room your confidence fails. Your stomach starts doing flips, your palms are sweating, and your mouth feels like it's full of cotton balls. You pick up your notes and your hands are slightly shaking. As you start to speak, your voice quivers a bit. Has this ever happened to you? Welcome to the world of stage fright. Most professionals and business people have stated that they prefer instant death over standing up and speaking to an audience.

If using a power point presentation, remember that your slides should be used as road signs only and not read line by line. Over the years, especially in working with government agencies, they read the slides to their audience as opposed to speaking directly to their audience.  Remember, everyone can read and don't need you to read to them. Slides should contain minimum information and not be used to inform. Informing or sharing information is the role of the presenter.
You are not alone if you have had this experience. Almost everyone has, even people who regularly speak to groups. Preparation is critical in overcoming stage fright. There are a few concepts that may help you to avoid stage fright:
Know your audience:
Before making a presentation, it’s always important to acquaint yourself with both the audience and the setting. Try talking to a few people who will be in the audience before you start. Reviewing the list of participants will give you a better idea of the organizations that will be attending the workshop.

Remember to look over the setting before you present. Find out where you will be speaking and try to get there early. Check out the room’s acoustics, sit in a chair and see the room from the audience’s perspective. Test the equipment and assume nothing. Be flexible—it’s the key to being a successful trainer.

Identifying someone in your network that you trust that you can present to so that they can give you positive and constructive feedback.  Most people who are rather nervous don't appear to be at all.  Knowing the information is the best lesson. It's always important to identify people that you can connect with in the audience that will give your strength and encouragement to succeed.  Good presentations always take practice. Once you have the material down, you will be able to play with the presentation and become more flexible.

Prepare your material:
Never underestimate how important good research and preparation are to reducing your anxiety. Knowing what you want to accomplish, what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it, will make you feel less nervous. Mark Twain said that it took him 3 weeks to prepare an impromptu speech. Here are four rules for preparing your presentation:
  • Know your topic. Audiences can sense when you are bluffing and feel that you are unsure of your topic.
  • Prepare more material than you think you will use. If you need to give a minute or 45 minute presentation, develop enough materials to last longer. It's better to cut back than to run out of things to say.
  • Consider questions your audience may ask you. Come up with answers to potential questions before you give your presentation. Either incorporate the answer into your presentation or hold them in readiness in case they come up.
  • Memorize the first 60-seconds of your presentation. The greatest anxiety is experienced at the beginning of every speech. It could make you more comfortable allowing you to get rolling smoothly.
  • Avoid rigid rules. Remember to use humor in your presentation if possible. It allows the audience to relax a bit and giggle. They tend to be alert and waiting for the next funny comment that will come from you.

Usually after your presentation, participants will come up to you and congratulate you on a job well done. Most speakers who think that they are nervous don't really appear to be nervous to the audience at all. Stop beating yourself, chances are you are a great presenter and facilitator. The more you practice, the more confident you will be as a speaker. Most importantly, remember to have fun with your material, your presentation and most importantly with the audience. You will find that the audience want to have a good time too.

Remember, every presentation has 3 essential objectives. The first aim is to educate: the audience should learn something from your presentation or speech. The second is to entertain: the audience should enjoy your presentation. The final element is to explain: all parts of your speech should be clear to your audience.

Remember to enjoy each and every presentation.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Exhibiting the Body Language of a Leader

Amy Cuddy, one of my favorite speakers, has argued that our nonverbal behavior not only affects others perception of how powerful we are, but it also changes our own feelings of confidence and power.


In her excellent TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” Cuddy briefly describes some high-power poses, but I would like to dig a little deeper into the body language and behavior of alphas.
Remember, an alpha is the individual in a community with the highest rank, most power or highest level of respect. Typically other community members exhibit deference towards the alpha and allow them preferential treatment or control.
Both male and female alphas have very specific body language and behavior. And, if you believe Cuddy’s prescription that behaving like an alpha will actually help you become an alpha, then you have to know exactly how to act.
Here is a deeper review of alphas high-power body language and some subtle ways to get started:

1. Steepling

Steepling is when someone brings their hands up towards their chest or face and presses the tips of their fingers together. This is a gesture of confidence, self-assuredness and even superiority. This can easily be done to inspire confidence in yourself and others during a meeting or interview. This is an easy one for female alphas in particular since it is seen as assertive, not aggressive. 

2. Smile Less

Contrary to popular belief, smiling is actually seen as a sign of submission. Submissive people tend to smile more at alphas to show they are agreeable and non-threatening to their power. Alphas in turn (think Clint Eastwood) smile much less because their power is enough to put people in line. Females in particular need to be careful not to over smile as it puts them in a submissive position. Dr. Nancy Henley found that women smile in 87 percent of social encounters, while men only smile 67 percent of the time.

3. Hands Behind Your Back

Another high-power position that you often see politicians do is when they put their hands behind their back and grab one wrist. The reason this can be powerful is that it exposes the most vulnerable part of the body–the groin for men and chest area for women. Only a supremely confident person will place their hands behind their back in that way. You often see principals or teachers do this as they walk up and down rows of student’s desks during tests.

4. Top Handshake

Alphas know how to shake hands. Not only do they give a firm handshake, but they also try to be the dominant hand in the handshake. A high-power handshake is when the dominant person has their hand ‘on top’ of the clasp. The weaker person will often take the bottom part of the handshake by exposing the underside of their wrist–which is a physically weaker position. You often see politicians jockey for the dominant handshake position when meeting in front of cameras. Two equals usually just shake hands up and down, with no one on the top or bottom.

5. The Colors You Wear

Power and confidence are not only shown through body language but also through what you wear. The two most powerful colors are black and red. Black is the color of mystery and power, while red is the color of aggression, passion and violence. You often see politicians wear black suits with red ties. Occasionally you will also see blue ties, this is because blue is the color of wisdom, loyalty and honesty. You can also use color psychology to your advantage as an alpha and think carefully about which colors you wear to work.
As Cuddy explains, being alpha is both a mental and physical state. And your actions have greater effect than originally thought as they can both influence your own behavior and others’ perceptions of your behavior. Start practicing the above body language and behavior in addition to picking up on clues from other alphas in your life and you will begin to feel alpha yourself.
Interested in learning more on how to present yourself and look as a leader -- Check out the book Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Eye Contact: Tips for Speakers


Eye contact is essential for the speakers whether you are in a small meeting or addressing a crowd of 1000. Often, failing to use eye contact means you are losing one of the most important tools you have to connect and convince your audience about your message in the speaker audience relationship. Your position as the presenter will establish you as the leader of the group. Research shows that looking away from your audience may signal avoidance, looking at them signals approach and that audiences rate it highly. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Be sure you look at all sections of the room. Don't ignore one side or the other, or favor those in front without looking to the rear of the room. If you have trouble remembering to do this, write directions to yourself in your speech text. Look rear, look left, look right as reminders to yourself.
  • Audiences can sense when you are not connecting with them.  A helpful tip is to make contact with 2 or 3 people in the audience and try to focus on them. Make sure that all 3 are not in the front row, but all over the audience. It really does help to be at your workshop prior to the participants so that you will have time to develop a bond with them, introduce yourself and find out a little bit about each of them that you can refer to when presenting. It really does work in the meeting trainings I have facilitated with co-trainers.
  • Eye contact can also emphasize an important point. Eye contact can be an important tool for visual learners, and can help audiences to remember and retain what you are saying. Use it to emphasize what you want them to recall, to indicate a specific group in the audience or to refer to what a speaker or participant pointed out.
  • Remember, it's great to have a mini chat with your workshop or seminar participants  before the training. It helps to address key members of your audience and refer back or to call on them  during your presentation. Looking over the room and at certain individuals really helps to create a bond between you and your audience. It also help you, the facilitator to relax and to smile more.
  • The most important part of this exercise is to remember to have FUN and to enjoy your presentation.
You will be pleased with yourself and participants will love you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Great Meeting Facilitation Does Exist


When was the last time you attended a meeting or a conference call that wasn't a major train wreck?

Well it happens more than you may know.  During the past year in 2016, every meeting I attended was poorly facilitated, failing to provide clear action items that needed to be accomplished. During the year there were more meeting than I can recall.  Each day I would attend anywhere from 2 to 5 meetings. Each meeting was always worse than the last one. We started to place bets to see which meeting would be worse than the last one.

Most people facilitating the meetings were unaware of what was to be discussed until the moment they sat down with a surprised look on their face while attendees were either sleeping or meditating, on their lap tops checking email, or sending text messages on their mobile devices. For me, it was the greatest waste of time and money.  Most people reminded me that I should not care because we were still getting paid and that's the way the cookie crumbles, so stop caring. I just couldn't stop caring and kept pushing for better use of our time.

Planning and organizing a great meeting is very easy to accomplish and can be an asset in engaging those in attendance. When conducting meetings I am always aware of the importance of the time of others, which helps me not to waste their time or mine with nonsense or the urge to hear myself talk in circles.

Here are some of the things that I strive for when setting up meetings:

  • Use common sense when planning and scheduling meetings.
  • Never schedule meetings on Monday mornings or late Friday afternoon.
  • All meetings should have a purpose with clear objectives.
  • Prepare an agenda and send it out at least 48 hours in advance.
  • Avoid having attendees go around the room providing updates that no one is really interested in hearing about again.
  • Keep meetings small - no more than 8 people at the max. Only invite key people that really need to be there and who can make decisions.
  • Meetings should be no more than 1 hour. That be should be shared upfront with participants. If extra time is needed to complete a thought or discussion, permission should be requested.
  • No digital devices to distract attendees. It's a great opportunity before the meeting starts for people to check in with each other and say hello as opposed to checking in with their mobile phones. It's just rude, even in today's society, not to mention rude to the facilitator.
  • Lastly, everyone should participate in the meeting, even if it means calling some people out for their feedback.
Give these tips a try when planning your next meeting and I guarantee that it will be a more productive and enjoyable experience.