Saturday, October 26, 2013

Build relationships - it will keep your business alive

As someone originally from the non profit sector, I truly enjoyed and got what Jonathon Fields had to say at the recent The Art of Small Business event.

I am sure as others heard him talk about the social revolution, they questioned the relevance to small business, but you know what, if they didn’t get it, they were missing out.  Because when it comes down to it, what he was really talking about was building a tribe, and who doesn’t want more loyal customers, more followers, and people who believe in us.

Jonathon was giving us the tools, but perhaps it was a stretch for some.  In fact, without appearing too sexist, I suspect the men in the audience may have been more cynical, because what he was talking about was building a business based on relationships rather than transactions.

Much of it related to how groups could be united over a common concern or challenge, and as he spoke, I certainly identified with that bond that women entrepreneurs share as they strive to succeed in a world that still favours men.

What really resonated was when he talked about the common enemy.  Who is your dictator he asked?  My answer – networking groups that are transactional not relationship based, and taking it deeper – the old boys’ club which does not recognize the value and contribution of women entrepreneurs.

Next he talked about building your rally cry which he encouraged to be a strong story that united people.  One of the examples, he gave of where it can backfire was around the Occupy movement, where the end vision was not shared and in the end that divided those involved.

His advice was to build and craft a creed that would draw and bind you together, because when you have a shared language, you can become a tribe.  As for the leader, this needed to be someone who is driven to serve, was transparent and honest, and prepared to be both authentic and vulnerable.  Ihe individual leader and the crowd together should define the path and develop the key messages, he recommended.

In his closing remarks, he talked about the two key human needs he’d identified – people are looking for something to believe in and to belong to – something we foster at Company of Women, and in fact the theme for our 2014 Journey 2 Success Conference is Be bold. Be brave. Belong, so I felt validated in the direction I was taking our organization. Always good to know when you are on the right path.

This need to foster personal relationships actually dovetailed well with the comments made by the first speaker, Mitch Joel, who observed in this changing world, we all need to do business differently if we want to survive and thrive in today’s business environment.

Mitch emphasized the power of direct relationships.  All of us, he noted, need to build a direct relationship with our customer and how we do that has to be multi-faceted, or as he describes it, sex with data, where you relate on different levels and mediums such as social media, blogs and email.  Making it personal and relevant is important.  He highlighted  the example of Amazon, a company that is noted for its personal touch, such as the personalized emails about books you might like.

While each speaker approached their topic from a different perspective – one taking a technical/social media direction, and the other focusing on relationships and empowering people, each emphasized the need to connect with our customers, if we want to stay ahead.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Exit strategies

This week I sadly witnessed what happens when someone stays on past their sell- by -date. As I listened to this individual, I felt myself cringing and feeling embarrassed for him.  This is not the way to leave your career when for most of it you have been revered and respected by your peers.

When you are a business founder, how do you know when it is time to hand over the reigns to the next generation of leaders?  How do you know when you should retire or move on?

As a social entrepreneur, I have started several organizations – most in the non-profit sector.  Each time my departure has been a heart-felt decision, but I kept the wise words of a friend in mind.  He advised that when the founder is coming up with projects that are fitting his or her needs, not those of the organization, then it is time to go. 

I know in one instance, I was bored so I was constantly looking for some new shiny thing to work on, when what the organization desperately needed was to stabilize and put the systems in place so it could function efficiently.  Once I realized that I was hurting the very organization I had lovingly help start, I left.

But sometimes the decision is sort of made for you and you are ousted out of your leadership position. Perhaps you have overstayed your welcome, or your vision is no longer shared by key stakeholders.  Now that can be painful, but you move on and with time recognize what you could have done differently. 

Listening to the cues and paying attention to what others are saying, or more to the point, not saying can guide you to make that difficult decision that it is time to leave. 

When it is your business, and it’s no longer fun, and it feels like work, hard work, maybe it is time to re-examine your goals and direction.  Maybe it is time to come up with some exit strategies.  Are you going to sell the business?  Is there someone internally who might take over?  Or do you just close shop?  Whatever your decision, know that it takes time to orchestrate, if you want your departure to be done seamlessly.

What you want to avoid is what many of us witnessed this week, with your reputation in tatters and that last memory unfavourable.

No.  What we all want is to retire gracefully at our prime, with a successful career/business behind us.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Getting yourself out there

I loved the way Cathy Nesbitt goes after publicity.  She doesn’t hold back and uses every advantage to get her name out there.  And I am confident that PR guru Tsufit would concur that you have to “Step into the Spotlight” if you want to be discovered.

But how do you do that?  Especially if you are an introvert at heart.  Regardless of your personality style, the goal is to become the expert in your industry; the go-to person when journalists want a comment or quote for their articles.

Clearly when you are only one of a few who does what you do, like Cathy and her worms, it is much easier to get media attention. It can be harder for the rest of us. For those who are happier behind a computer than in front of the camera, writing blogs and articles is a good starting point. 

I’ve been blogging for eight years now and initially it was because I liked to write, I didn’t even care much if anyone read them.  Today that has paid off for me, in that I now write for other people and publications – like Huffington Post – and just one blog can spiral into great publicity. 

Take the one I did on women and money.  Before I knew it, I was being interviewed by Global TV and a radio station in Vancouver.  Now truth is, don’t tell anyone, but I am not really an expert on women and money, (my husband will be quick to attest to that,) but I am out there and I am knowledgeable on women and business.  The first journalist found me through Google, so make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and accurately showcases your expertise.

Yes, writing press releases is one way to get your name out there, but frankly your story has to be newsworthy, otherwise it just gets lost in a sea of paper.  I used to have great success in getting my releases in the local paper.  However, that was mainly because I knew the local reporter and had built up a relationship with her.  But when she retired, that ended and the paper placed their emphasis on businesses that advertised with them.

Public speaking is another way to get your name out there.  When you are giving a presentation, you do have a captive audience and if you do a good job, word will spread. If that really scares you, maybe start by being on a panel.

One way, that is often overlooked, but can be effective, is to volunteer, sharing your expertise with a non-profit organization.   Not only are you doing good, but you get to broaden your network and you just never know who you are sitting next to at the board meeting.

Getting back to Tsufit, you may want to grab a copy of her book Step into the Spotlight, because it is jammed full of practical information, and, she’s funny too. As she asks, “Which would you rather be?  Batman or Robin? You know Robin is never going to get his own show. “  You decide.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Making decisions

When you are making a major change in your life – personal or professional – how do you go about it?  Do you make the decision and forge ahead immediately or do you ponder, reflect, and slowly implement your plan?

I have realized that I tend to act differently depending on whether the change impacts my personal or business life.  Take our recent move from our home of 28 years.  It has been a very gradual process and over the last three months since we sold the house, we have been moving stuff out of the house, box by box.  So when it came to moving day, it was only big furniture and by that time, I was so sick of sorting, packing, and unpacking that I just wanted it done and over with.  There wasn’t the emotional tug I expected.

In hindsight, this was probably the best way to go, rather than the traumatic move all in one day when we just move out and close the doors for the last time.  Looking back, we did the same when we emigrated to Canada.  We could have just flown over and in eight hours arrived in Canada, but instead we chose to come over by ship – a Russian ship – which took 10 days and arrived in New York – a whole other story.  But it was a gentler way to leave one country and arrive in another.  Plus truth is, we were exhausted after a slew of farewell parties.

Yet in business, I find that when I make a decision, I often act on it straight away, especially if it is a bright, new shiny idea that I want to implement.  Much of it is about seeing opportunities, and leaping in. And sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  A little more time thinking through the implications and nailing the details, might have saved me some grief down the road.   But when it has worked, it’s been glorious. 

Years ago I remember Cora Tsouflidou of Cora’s Breakfast and Lunch sharing that when she has to make big, tough decisions she would check in with her head AND her heart.  Sounds like good advice, because whether you are right or left brained, listening to both can help you weigh up the odds. 

Our slow transition from one home to another, made it easier for me to move on and get excited about the future.  Likewise, in business, when there’s a lot at stake, I am learning that it may be better to think it through and plan, rather than taking that instant leap of faith.  But knowing myself, the process can’t take too long, or I lose interest and move on to something else.