Sunday, November 25, 2012

Santa came to town

As women arrived armed with gifts for a member of the Herbert family, I was touched by their generosity and the care with which they had picked presents, not just for the children but mom too. 

A couple of us shared that we hadn’t gone shopping for children in a long time, and I know I for one was somewhat horrified at the price of toys! I also learned that you can buy toys at Chapters, who knew.  Mind you by the time I had reached there, I had made my main purchases so I would have been annoyed if their prices were lower – whew, they weren’t.

My girls were chuckling because one of the items Savannah wanted was a Barbi type doll, which I got, albeit reluctantly.  You see when my daughters were growing up, I was at the height of my feminism, so I would never buy Barbies for them.   

My father was a toy buyer when I was young, so Christmas was always amazing as I got the latest and the best.  Yet it was the board games that I enjoyed the most, perhaps because it meant that my parents had to play with me. And in my recent search for gifts for the children I was pleased to see that Scoop, Clue and Sorry are still around.  What did you like best in your childhood?

There are so many choices now, how do children pick what they want from Santa?  And how do families afford it, especially if there is more than one child?

Sticking to the Santa request can be tricky too, especially when the child keeps changing her mind, and you’ve already made the purchase based on a previous choice.  That’s when I used to say that “Santa shops early because he has so many children to get toys for.”

Then one year, in our wisdom as parents, we decided to ignore one of the requests, believing our daughter was getting too old for dolls, and we bought something else.  That gift stayed in the box and was never used, and there were lots of tears, especially when her younger sister got a doll.  Not one of our finer moments. 

But it is a fine line and hard when children want something that is a “flash in the pan” or just not appropriate or worth the money.

Then there’s the Herbert family, and what do they really, really want for Christmas?  To have Savannah and their mom home.  Now that’s when you get a real perspective on what is important for the season.  Let’s hope their wish comes true.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Building your business - the old-fashioned way

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Jian Ghomeshi read an extract from his new book 1982.  In it he was describing for the younger readers, how the old fashioned landline phone worked, cord and all, and how as a teenager, it was really hard to have a private conversation.  Sure took me back but hard to believe that a whole generation just wouldn’t know about our old phone system.

Just as it’s hard to believe how much we rely on email, text and social media to communicate with clients. But as one entrepreneur shared last week at the WEConnect Conference, sometimes you have to rethink how you do business.

It was a simple question from her mentor, that propelled Shantal into action, and as a result her business grew by 500 percent.

Got your attention?  I am sure, because we all want to grow and build our businesses, and 500 percent has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

So what was the question?  Her mentor asked her how many clients she’d met with face-to-face in the past year.  Her answer?   None.  And with that prod, she set about meeting up with her clients.

Seventy flights later, she’s proud to report that it worked.  Now she was quite strategic in her visits.  What she didn’t want was for clients to feel that a) she was desperate for business or that b) the purpose of the visit was to solicit more business (which of course it was really).

No, she positioned the visits as her way of keeping in touch; of learning more about the pressure points in their industry and how she wanted to build a stronger relationship with her client base.

Now one of her first hurdles was to get past the gatekeepers, and she would start by phoning and saying she just wanted thirty minutes of their CEO’s time.  Invariably it would be longer, but they all said yes.

Once the meeting was established, she determined a set of open-ended questions, and instructed herself to sit and listen, and not to take notes, as that would negate the atmosphere she wanted to create.  She would write it all down after the meeting so she could capture the information while it was fresh in her mind. 

What did she ask?  Questions about what was happening in their industry, how her company could help them, their wish lists and what they wished suppliers and service providers would do better.

Because it was not a “sales call” people opened up and seemed more willing to share their thoughts and experiences.

Suddenly she and her company were viewed more as advocates and thought leaders and she would willingly give some free advice where she could.  As a result of these meetings, Shantal’s company was approached at the outset of a project and they would  get in at the ground level.

This strategy to meet face to face with clients, changed her sales cycle and she now views this personal touch as the standard of care for her customers.  She’s found that it is all about finding and providing value to clients who have since become her company’s biggest advocates.

So… let me ask you the same question, how often in the past year have you met face-to-face with your clients or customers?  Yes, it takes time to do, and you may not have the budget for all the travelling, but as Shantal found, maybe it is time and money well-spent.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Not giving up my day job

This fall my girlfriend Anne and I embarked on a new business.  We called ourselves The  Antique Annies.  Truth is we had lots of “stuff” we wanted to get rid of and so we decided to participate in a local antique show.

After we had done the clean out, we did our homework, making up an inventory of what we had to sell and visited antique stores to get an idea of prices.

So when the evening prior of the antique show rolled around, and we had to set up, we had our antiques priced, higher to allow for the negotiations, after all that is half the fun when you’re shopping for antiques.

I had arranged for a friend, who was a real antique dealer, to lend us a tent and when we looked at the weather, we were glad we’d been forward thinking, as it was pouring with rain, damp and cold.

And then we learned some classic lessons as novice dealers:

1.    Read the small print.  I hadn’t really checked out the actual size of the booth.  I had ordered two tables thinking that would be sufficient for what we had to sell, so you can imagine my surprise when we got there – we had 20 ft x 25 ft to fill – for those of you who are visual – that’s room for three SUVs to park next to each other and still room to spare.   

2.    Double check everything is in place.  Now I did phone my friend the night before to check on where and when we could collect the tent from him.  He’d forgotten and given the weather, needed the tent himself for his booth.

Now he did honour his commitment to us, and went off to purchase a tent for us but given it was the end of the season, there wasn’t much available, so he came back with a small postage stamp size tent that looked totally lost in our booth space and could really only keep the two of us dry – forget the antiques and furniture.

As we glanced around other dealers had almost marquee size tents on the lot, which just added to the humour of it all and further emphasized our novice status.

3.    Bring gloves.  Wearing gloves would have been a good idea – not just to keep your hands warm, but to protect them while you carry and move furniture. All day the sky would darken and threaten rain, and while it was damp and cold, it never did.  With all our space, we were actually able to park Anne’s SUV, so we would take turns sitting in the car so we could thaw out and get warm.

4.    The people you meet are interesting.  One story that comes to mind is the European woman who purchased my mother’s fur jacket.  She looked stunning in it – like a movie star and it was so cold, she walked off wearing it, thrilled with her purchase.

5.    People want a real deal.  There was not as much interest in the actual antiques we had to sell which surprised me.  The focus was much more on getting a bargain.  As a result, we ended up almost giving away some really good pieces as I was determined not to take them home again. 

I did cover my costs and made a small profit – so all told, it was worthwhile.  Would I do it again?  Not so sure.  I’d almost want a written guarantee that the weather would be fine.

But it was fun and is an eye opener into a world where I am usually on the other side, negotiating for a deal and maybe that’s where I will stay.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Giving back - women helping women

We all start our businesses for different reasons – we spot a gap in service, a niche market or we want to pursue our passion, but most of all, I think as women we want more control over our lives.  We want to determine our own destiny, and on a more day-to-day level, be in charge of how we spend our time and when.

But lately I have observed another driving factor – we want to make a difference; to leave a legacy or to get in touch with our innermost thoughts.  In other words, we are looking at soul-based entrepreneurs, which may seem like an oxymoron but maybe not.

Making a difference has always been a driving force for me – whether it was when I was running a charity, working for government and now, leading my own organization.  I therefore find it gratifying and exciting to see that other women are recognizing the value to themselves and their community, of getting involved.

And we can make things happen.  Take the plight of the Herbert family where little Savannah is fighting her cancer battle at McMaster with her mother Brandy by her side.  Brandy’s decision to be there is not without sacrifice – she’s a single mother with two other young children and since August has chosen to be with her daughter and so her salary is not coming in.

As soon as I heard of Savannah’s story from one of our members, Carla Zabek, I knew we had to get involved.

So… here is the plan.  At our Eat. Shop. Play. event on November 20,  a portion of the proceeds will be going to the family; as well we will be holding a raffle.  But more, I want us to rally round and make Christmas happen for the Herbert household, and am asking you to provide gifts for Brandy (mom), Savannah (3),  Dakota (6) and Cody (9).  I will be posting more information on what they would like from Santa.

Let’s just do it. Let's make it happen.