Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My name is Anne. I am a social media convert

photo by neededwanted.com
When I started out in social media, I gingerly put my toe in the LinkedIn water and before very long, was swimming with a robust group, where some lively and helpful discussions were taking place.

So next was Twitter.  After all, as a busy small business owner, I could only devote so much time to this new fad - social media.  Well, fast forward a few months and I am hooked.  Actually truth be, with my addictive personality, it is sometimes hard to switch it off.

And I have had some success, proudly boasting that I have over 1,000 followers.  I have to admit, having a regular column with the Huffington Post has also helped to boost my numbers.

What I have found is that when you send out useful information/reports, peppered with just a few promotional pieces, people trust and want to follow you.  You become recognized as an expert in your field.

So what do I find to tweet about? No one really wants to know or cares what you had for breakfast.  Keep it professional, with the occasional personal tidbit, just to keep people interested.  I have subscribed to several of the topic-based daily e-newspapers. They provide a quick summary of blogs, articles and reports on your chosen topic, which in my case is women and business. 

While sometimes it does take time to scan through what is available, they are great resources.  I also add to my time commitment as I actually read the articles or blogs, before tweeting or retweeting.  One, I want to make sure the information is worthy of tweeting and will be of interest to my followers, and second, I gain useful knowledge too.
In our busy lives, these quick snippets keep me abreast of what is happening, and I am always learning something new.

Industry-related magazines such as Inc and Entrepreneur and business section of The Globe and Mail are also good sources of information for me but I am sure you know where to get the latest information on your industry.

I am often asked how long I spend on this activity and it is usually just half-an-hour a day.  I tend to do it first thing before the emails start to pour in and the phone rings off the hook. 

There’s also some Twitter etiquette to follow which can take a bit of time because when someone retweets your tweet or mentions you, it is expected that you will say “thank you.”  But if you do it at the end of the day, you can send out a one-time tweet to acknowledge everyone, rather than individual ones.

You can also use programs such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to program and schedule your tweets so they are spread out throughout the day.

I know… you are wondering about Facebook.  It’s on my list.  We have a Company of Women page, but I have not paid too much attention to it.  Like everyone else, the “to-do” list grows but I know from others that it will be time well-spent.

So if you are hovering about getting into social media – take it from me, the non-techy one, that once you get over your initial fears, it is worthwhile and can be another way to grow your business.

And yes, I will be tweeting this blog.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Showing Up

Years ago I remember a member complaining to me that no one had rallied to support her when she was holding a home party.  However, when I quizzed her further about her involvement in Company of Women, it turned out she hadn’t actually attended any events nor had she, prior to this invite, bothered to connect with other members.

In other words, she was missing in action and missing the point.  I responded by saying  that it was hard to provide support to someone you’ve never met.  No one knew her and she hadn’t taken the time to build any relationships.   
And that is what it is all about. Women are quite intuitive about their relationships.  Most of us can smell a “taker” at a hundred yards, although we can be mislead by seemingly kind overtures.  That sort of attitude wears thin and when it is “all about me” the path to success can be very lonely.

Many of us give willingly not expecting anything in return, and when you have that attitude invariably we do gain something – maybe not straight away – but regardless, trust that you will reap the benefits down the road.  I take great pleasure when someone does well as a result of a lead or introduction I have instigated. The person’s success is reward enough.

But you can’t expect people to know who you are or what your business does, through osmosis – you do actually have to show up.  Even if the topic is not of interest, the people attending are.

Make a date with yourself and your business to get out to networking events – if nothing else – it is a break from the four walls, a chance to meet like-minded women – and hey, who knows -  you might even have fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Learning Through Play

As I sat on the floor counting and sorting out Lego, my husband was shaking his head, quizzing me on why I was doing this.

It was all in preparation for an exercise we were doing at a Company of Women dinner.  Now interactive sessions are always a bit of a gamble, especially if the people there really don’t want to play.  Fortunately, the women were more than ready to tap into their creativity and go with the flow.

Divided into groups by industry, the task was for the different teams to brainstorm ways that they could work together and upon reaching consensus, build a Lego structure that would best illustrate their proposed project.

It was actually quite fascinating and served to remind me of how when we chose a career we naturally gravitate towards work that suits our personality style. I am actually a trained True Colours/Personality Dimensions Trainer but it’s not something I have done in some time, yet that’s really what we did on Tuesday night. 

We had three groups – Business to Business (B2B), Health and Beauty and Home/Finances and each model revealed the underpinnings of the participants’ personality style. 

True to form, the folks who made up the B2B group, developed a business toolbox, through which small business owners could remove the chaos in their lives. This group represented virtual assistants, bookkeepers, graphic designers and HR specialists, all of whom are organized, and detailed oriented. They’d thought through their business plan and done the math.

 At the other end of the spectrum, the Health and Beauty group which was made up of spa owners, life coaches and health service providers were more interested in reaching out and helping other women feel better about themselves. They wanted to reduce the sense of isolation for women going through  cancer, divorce, abuse, etc…    Money never even came up in the discussion.

Five minutes prior to the end of the exercise, the group,  mainly made up of financial professionals, had no sculpture on the board. Nothing.  But one of the team quickly erected a creative model that represented their project.

This group wanted to develop a website that would provide people with vital information which would assist them in connecting to professionals in the instance of a difficult life situation such as cancer diagnosis or an accident. They’d worked on revenue streams to make the project financially viable and where they differed from the Health and Beauty Team was that their project focused on providing education and information, whereas the other group wanted the women to feel better through the services provided.

 Despite their tardy start, the financial planners won.

This exercise truly reminded me of the validity of personality type programs as each group was consistent to their colour type.  The B2B group were gold – organized, structured and wanting to help, while the Health and Beauty team were blue, the colour most interested in supporting people and for whom, money is a necessary evil.  This group finds it hard to invoice or chase up payments. 

And as for the financial planners, they were green – life long learners who take a logical approach, spending more time on planning so that when they deliver, every detail has been thought through.

Now we did  have one colour missing– oranges – they would be your event planners, actors, performers or recreation specialists.

Years ago I did a similar exercise with a group of seniors, assigning them with the task of designing the perfect centre for seniors.   It was equally fascinating to see how people of all ages and backgrounds, still came forward with suggestions that were so true to their personality styles.

What did they come up with?  The oranges wanted a multi-rail system that would take them to the different recreational activities offered throughout the facility.  The blues – the romantics, wanted a dating service. The golds wanted storage space and the greens, well they were still thinking about it.

All of which goes to show that when we choose the right career for ourselves, we are being true to our personality style.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Growing Your Business

What’s the best thing you ever did for your business? I can think of a couple of steps I took. First I joined a mastermind group and later after I had been in business seven years, I hired a business coach. 

Both involved some commitment on my part. I had to invest in myself, put out some money and do the homework but the return on investment was well worth it. 

Why? With a mastermind group you quickly learn that you are not alone with your fears and frustrations. Not only do others feel the same way, but together you can learn and create some practical solutions. Helping others realize their truth is also rewarding, as you start to realize a) you do know something and b) you can be a useful resource. 

So you don’t just learn from the business coach leading the group, you benefit from the objective input from your peers. And you need to leave your ego at the door. One time I remember presenting a sponsorship package I’d crafted. I thought I’d done a pretty good job but after a few choice comments from a marketing expert in the group, I realized my work was not done and it was back to the drawing board. 

However, it is the accountability that takes you the furthest. Having to report back each month makes you do the work. Excuses won’t wash and it is hard if you have to ‘fess up that you haven’t completed the task assigned. You also build a support network for yourself, one that lasts well beyond the six-month group meetings. 

Having a business coach was the next step up, but this is not always an affordable option for everyone. Her undivided attention for an hour on my business and my challenges, was well worth the money. The process also boosted my confidence, helping me realize that actually I did have business savvy, I just needed to fine tune where I spent my time and money. 

And just like counselling, there comes a time when you don’t need that support any more and you can stand on your own two feet, happy in the knowledge that, on the most part, you are headed in the right direction. 

As you look at what you need to do this year and what you want to accomplish, I really encourage you to consider joining a mastermind group. You won’t regret it and it is well worth the investment of your time and money. And aren’t you worth it?

Company of Women has several mastermind groups starting in January and February – for the new entrepreneur, more seasoned business owner and an online group as well. Check out our website to learn more – www.companyofwomen.ca

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Staying ahead and afloat – reinvent your business

I remember years ago hearing an early childhood educator explaining that in children's art, whatever is important to them is usually larger than life, and out of proportion because that was their focus. At that time, when I looked at my young daughter's sculpture of herself, sure enough, the earrings were massive (she desperately wanted to get her ears pierced).

If you relate this concept to your business, I wonder if we tend to focus most on what is important to us rather than what is of crucial interest to our clients or customers? In other words, we've maybe taken our eyes off the ball and been all consumed with getting the word out about our product or service, when we are not even speaking the right language, one that translates well to our target audience.

It therefore pays to look at the big picture -- of your own business and everyone else's rather than focusing on one aspect, no matter how important it may be to you. It's a changing world of business, and if our businesses are to survive, we need to be flexible and prepared to change how we do business. It's time to reflect, rethink and redesign what we do.

Easier said than done. Many of us are locked into delivering our products and services in one way, but it behooves us to look beyond that and truly reflect on what our customers need and want, not what suits us to provide for them or what makes us the most profit. Remember if no one is buying, you're not making money at all.

Where do you start?

1. Check in with your customers. Find out what are the pressing issues and challenges they face. They will be pleased to be asked.

2. Look to see if there is a fit with something you could offer to relieve their pressures or address their problems.

3. Revisit your offerings, ask yourself what could still be offered but re-tweaked and packaged in a different way.

4. In this tight economy, people are looking for value for money. Do the math, number-crunch the figures and see how you can come up with something that is affordable, but still allows you to make a profit.

5. People like to feel they are getting a deal. Be prepared to give something away in order to attract them to your business and other purchases.

6. Once you have decided on your new track, let your customers know. Thank them for their input.

7. Consider starting up or reviving your ezine so customers frequently hear from you. Make sure you provide value-added information and don't just promote your business.

8. Use social media -- like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to spread the word. The price is right.

And like the earrings, just because you want something badly doesn't always mean that it will happen straight away, sometimes you just have to wait until the time is right.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Your Success is Our Business

Like many women, I am uncomfortable selling my “wares” especially when that actually equates to selling myself.

However, after hearing our guest speaker Kim Duke, I have a new attitude. “Think of ‘sale” as a four-letter word.” advises Kim “And replace it with another one – ‘help.’

Now that I could get. So often what we have to sell is solving a problem for someone else so in other words, we are helping them. I like that way of looking at it. I like the idea that what I have to offer is making a difference, and when I can get past myself, yes, this sale approach could work.

What are you selling? What problem are you solving? Does this perspective change your outlook on sales? When I used to run classes for women starting a business, one of the big questions we asked was what business are you in? Often it was not that obvious to the newbie owner.

For example, it could be said that through Company of Women I am in the networking business. But I would rather say that I am in the business of hope - inspiring women to realize their potential – personally and professionally. In other words, your success is our business. When I look at it this way, I feel empowered to sell, to help women connect with one another and with all that we have to offer.

So what business are you in? Think about it. Perhaps this different take on what you do, will help you sell and achieve your goals.