So you want to own your own business, huh?

Yesterday we published a guest post by Karen Post, a regular Throttle Media guest author (No, I can’t help you. 9 reasons passing on cash will make you richer. – Karen Post).  This post was a big hit around here and we discussed it at length and one thing that was evident is that we all not only agree with this post but we can relate to it.   The fact that we are a media company brings us all walks of life in terms of people reaching out to us and wanting to advertise and market in one way or the other.

One of the conversations that we had yesterday that stemmed from Karen’s post was businesses that have little or no money to market themselves.  I cannot tell you how many times we have had new startup businesses come to us wanting to use our services to get them off the ground, to market their services, but had very little money to spend.  We have heard it all:

“Well I am just getting started so I have a very low budget”

“I want to test this out first and see how it works before committing to anything”

“I can only afford around $300, what can I get for that”

“Can you split the payments up?”

“I will pay you $X for each converted lead I get”.

I don’t want to sound uncaring or rude, or selfish, but if you don’t have the money to advertise and market why are you calling us?  My time is valuable, this is not a charity, I am not here to offer free advice, this is a business and we have a product to sell.  If you cannot afford to purchase the proper marketing and advertising for your business, than you were not ready to go into business.  Just because you filed a DBA in the county you live in and opened up a bank account with $100 does not mean you are ready to be in business.  Before doing anything you need to have the following done:

  • Research the type of marketing you are going to invest in over the first year or at the very least the first two quarters.
  • Identify the market needs of your business
  • Objectively evaluate and research your concept; is it viable?
  • Investigate and understand the risk factors
  • Create a business plan including a marketing Plan of Action (POA)
  • Fund your business through
    • Savings
    • Investor
    • Small business loan from a bank or Credit Union

If you have not done the above then you are not ready to open your doors for business, how can you go in business if you can’t afford to market the company you have created?  Calling a marketing company and having a sales person go through the time and trouble of explaining what type of services are available to you and having them dedicate their time and then disclosing that you can only afford to spend $300 is problematic to me for a number of reasons, the first is I find it to simply be bad business manners if you will to take up someone’s valuable time who is trying to earn a living when know you can’t afford to spend more than $300, the second issue is even if you find some cheap marketing that you can do for $300,that is exactly what it is, it’s cheap marketing, what exactly do you think you are going to accomplish for $300?  You are clearly not being realistic.

Karen’s article rang true for us in many ways yesterday with that I just wrote about being one of the big things that stands out for us here as I am sure it did for many of you who read her article yesterday.  Starting a business is a serious thing and it’s not for everyone, having an idea is not enough, everyone has ideas, not everyone has what it takes to capitalize on those ideas.  A good resource for anyone thinking about going into business is “10 Steps to Starting a business”.

Those of us that are in business did not just wake up one day and decide to start a business, it took a lot of time, effort, knowledge, learning and money and we have all gone through a learning curve to get to where we are today, and this is not something you can skip.  It’s like deciding you want to be a doctor, you have to go to medical school first, there’s no way around this, you can’t just start calling yourself yourself a Doctor, you have to go to medical school, you have to intern for several years before you can call yourself a doctor and it all requires time, experience and money.  Hanging out your shingle in business in not any different, going into a business is serious business….

No, I can’t help you. 9 reasons passing on cash will make you richer. – Karen Post

Sorry I can’t help you. 9 reasons why passing on cash and new business will make you richer. This blog post is important to every business owner. And it’s a really fun one for me to write, since I recently cruised on an Amtrak train to Aspen from Denver (77 bucks and a priceless experience).

 

No we can’t do lunch either.

Originally posted 9.2.10
This is way cool! I’m in an awesome, relaxing environment and working too.

Plugged in, computer on my lap,  beautiful views of the mountains and bears, a glass of wine, jamming to Amy Winehouse and wearing my Bose headphones, so the screaming kid two rows in front to me does not even bug me. No consistent Internet, but that’s OK, a break from it is healthy.

All week I’ll be blogging from the road. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Now back to “No, I can’t help you”. 
Saying no thank you to a gig, a sweet opportunity or some cool cash is no easy job, especially if you’ve got bills that need attention and staffers to pay. New business prospects in any category can be so seductive. It often feels like a new admirer, or sometimes a life raft or better yet, a way to breathe, like my inhaler if you’ve got asthma like me.

Why the rush of adrenaline and excitement? Because as entrepreneurs many of us are programmed to think that any cash flow is good cash flow and without it, you could be another dead fish sinking up the shore of economy. Whoever started that thinking is likely broke and wondering what happened. The fact is, not all business and opportunity are created equal. There is smart money from great customers and there is toxic money that will wear you down and be a time sucking, distracting poison that will also slow down your journey to achieve success. The key is knowing the difference and having the ability to say “no thank you”, when it’s not the right fit.

Last week a prospect contacted me. She had discovered my consulting web site via a Google search. Her first note to me indicated she was an accomplished doctor, who had a new book and needed everything, brand name, brand program, blah, blah, blah etc. I responded ASAP and we scheduled an initial phone chat. I’ve learned many years ago, that before you jump to a person-to-person meeting, first talk on the phone, be armed with some qualifying questions (what is your schedule for this project, do you have a budget, who else is doing this? Tell me about your support team etc.) do a lot of listening, and in advance check the prospect out online.

Our call followed and was productive. We had good chemistry, she explained her product and where she wanted to go with it. It was a diet product that I had an affinity to (the wellness space) and there seemed to be a large enough opportunity to continue to invest time with her.

I recommended that the next step be, that we meet in person. However, before then, I needed to see an executive summary to be clear on her goals and assess if they had their ducks in a row. Being a branding or any kind of consultant is a collaborative effort. If the client is a train wreck, the program results will likely be similar. We scheduled an in person meeting for that following Friday. I followed up with an email clearly outlining what I needed to see and included a non-disclosure agreement, so she would be comfortable sharing her business plan.

I got no reply from her or confirmation that our 2nd meeting was set after my email. I sent her a second email and still no reply. Then 24 hours before our scheduled follow up meeting, she resurfaces with her executive summary. By that time, I had already booked the Friday time shot, so I offered an alternative time next week. After reviewing her documents, I also got a sense that this was a business operating in a bit of a fog zone. No hard research. No business plan. No business financial model. No target market. And unrealistic view and budget of what it takes to launch a brand and produce significant income results. These deficiencies are not deal killers,  as long as they are open to getting some professional assistance in filling in the missing pieces. One of my favorite business planning tools is called Business Plan Pro. This PaloAltoSoftware is easy to use and priced for the entrepreneur. I highly recommend tapping in to a resource like this to help create your business plan. But no matter what, if a client does not know where they want to go, what their goals are, it will be a high-risk road to get them there (flag 1).

Additionally in my email back to her, I shared a range of costs for my branding and marketing firm to produce the marketing pieces and provide the consulting that she was requesting. The 2nd meeting was scheduled for Tues. and I needed to drive about an hour from my office to get there. Monday night I received a reply to my rough budget range, the questions about the holes in her plan and some inquiries about her 50/50 business partner. Her reply concerning the business plan was stretchy at best. Her detail about her business partner was also suspicious to me. He was 50/50, but not a funding source, not medial authority and his area of expertise a bit fishy too, financial advisor and astrologist. His web site was even more troubling, cheesy and no screaming signs of marketing guru-ness (flag 2). The entire reply was a collection of more red flags. It went from the initial reach out of “we need everything, branding wise” to “we have no money until we sell the book” and need some initial consulting (flag 3). These new discoveries seemed unfortunate. Because, I really liked the doctor, admired her achievements and love anything that helps people feel good and be healthy.

It was evaluation time for me. Do I meet with her and her partner on Tues. or punt?
Here are the 5 questions one should ask when evaluating an opportunity.  No matter how appealing the cash is, if you answer NO to more than three, pass, punt and abort all efforts and get back to something that will get you closer to your most important goals.

1) Do you believe in and love the category? Yes, I did.

2) Will the work be fun? Could be.

3) Within 6 months will you be fairly rewarded for the value you contribute? No.

4) Is there a leader who can make decisions? For me, committees or a 50/50 partnership are no better than a bad nightmare.

5) Does the company or prospect know where they are going? And have accountable goals documented? No.

6) Do they (today) have the funds to pay for your value? No.

7) Do you believe they have their ducks in a row? No.

What is your gut telling you, go for it? No.

9) Will taking on this project be a direct stepping stone to one of your top 3 goals in life? No. Are there less than 3 big and bright red flags? NO.

Mine red flags: 5 day before a reply after our first call to confirm meeting, a light weight business plan, no funds, betting on a brand to be their business and a 50/50 business partner that I was not clear on their contributions. This one is likely a no brainy for you to know what I did. However, it’s not surprising when it’s a real prospect, with some real green cash, and a smooth talking prospect—it not so clear or easy.

If your time, (which we all have only so much of) could be better allocated to something that is going to get you closer to your real goals, then. . . Just say NO to business you should not be doing. Focus on the right stuff that matters, stick to your plan, your standards and enjoy your success.

I wish this doctor and all startups well. And maybe this one will pull it off and I will have missed a great opportunity. That’s OK, there is a ton of right fit business out there, use your energy on finding and serving them and you’ll be a richer entrepreneur for it.

I’m loving this train ride. I should be in Aspen in few hours. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how to identify, other pass, punt and abort prospects too.

Would you want to work for you?

Almost everyone that has been in the workforce for a length of time can probably tell a story of a boss that they didn’t like, a tyrant, a dictator, an all around unpleasant individual.  Now that you are the boss and have people working under you, whether that be in a business of your own or a management position somewhere, the question that you should be asking yourself is what do your employees think about you?  Will they be thinking about you in 20 years from now when they are telling their story of a boss that was unpleasant to work for?

Don’t get me wrong,  as the “boss” I am not here to win a popularity contest, I am not looking to make new friends, or drinking buddies, or to fill in that extra chair on poker night, when I hire someone to do a job I have certain expectations and anything less is simply unacceptable.  Those that have worked for me will tell you that I am tough, and I am picky.  I am not running a preschool; if I wanted to be a babysitter I would have started a child care center.  But I have always tried to be fair, and I am a firm believer that you can be a friendly boss without having to give up on any of your expectations.  I believe that as the boss it is up to me to create the atmosphere that my employees have to spend a large part of their day in; if that atmosphere is not a positive one, a comfortable one, and yes even a happy one than I have a problem, I will have created an atmosphere of unhappiness, and an unhappy employee is not a productive employee.  Listen none of us wants to work for a living, we all want to win the lottery and we all want to wake up and have to make the difficult decision of whether we are going to spend our day golfing or sailing, but unfortunately for most of us we are never going to win the lottery, we have to work for a living and so do the people that work for us, and by creating an atmosphere that people enjoy being in you will create a much more productive employee.  Like I said you can have high expectations, just not unreasonable ones, remember those people that walk through that door each day do not stop being individuals, there is no invisible magic scanner that removes their personalities for eight hours, they still have families at home, bills to pay, worries, hopes, fears, and dreams, and all of this should be embraced.

 

I have seen the difference in call center teams where one manager was super strict and no food, no music, no reading material of any kind, no talking to your neighbor, nothing was allowed, just answer the phone when it rings and do your job, versus another team in the same building where the manager allowed small snacks, drinks as long as they were in a spill proof cup, magazines, small radios on the desk as long as they were not turned up too loud, it was okay to talk to your neighbor on either side of you as long as you were at your desk and not bothering anyone who was on the phone, and most importantly that you answered calls on the first ring and did the job that you were supposed to do.  The latter team had better numbers, sales were higher, and everyone on the first team wanted to be on this team.  The manager had high expectations, coached her employees on the calls they made, provided constant team building exercises, and was considered a part of the team not just the boss; this team was successful.

So ask yourself this question, “Would you want to work for you?”  Be objective and really look at your management style externally.  If the answer is no you wouldn’t want to work for yourself, than perhaps it’s time for a change in management style….

Opt-in Email Lists, to buy or not to buy

The other morning not long after I had gotten into the office and was sipping my morning coffee and going over my daily “to do” list, which by the way seems to grow longer each day, I got a frantic call from a client who had purchased an opt in list and had just sent out their first blast the day before and said that he needed my help because they had a big problem from the mailing they had just done.  This same client had asked for a quote on a large B2C nationwide list they were interested in purchasing and instead of using my company he had decided to go with a company that sold him several million U.S. B2C emails for just a few hundred dollars.  I advised him against it telling him it was very doubtful that this was a legitimate database. But he insisted it was, they had had explained to him the process that they went through and how every single email not only had double opted in but was also verified to be an active address prior to being sold.  So he went ahead and purchased his magic list as I refer to it and a couple a few days later is calling me;  His “Big” problem was that his hosting company took his site down probably because their IP address had probably been blacklisted by various organizations due to all the complaints they had received. He said he couldn’t get the company that he purchased the list from on the phone and they were not responding to the many emails that he had sent. Imagine my surprise.

So there are two mistakes that this client made, the first is they conducted their own email marketing campaign, something I discussed last week (The Email Marketing Chronicles – The Danger of do it yourself Email Marketing) and he purchased a cheap list which I have also discussed in the not too distant past (The Email Marketing Chronicles – Co-Registration Data) but I felt that it was important to mention this again because believe it or not some people get burned several times before they get the picture and maybe, just maybe I can get through to someone and save them some pain and misery.  I promise you that nobody, NOBODY is selling 5 million quality opt in emails for $199. It’s a scam! I know it comes with IP address, time and data stamp, and it looks very legitimate. It’s a scam! And in case you didn’t hear me; it’s a scam! If you want a quality list go to a legitimate list company and expect to spend more than $199 or hire an email marketing company to send your ad for you.

If it was so easy to do these things yourself, than the pros wouldn’t be in business in the first place. Use sound business common sense and use your head to make your decision not your wallet.

Does a bad website mean bad service?

As we all know there are thousands upon thousands of websites on the Internet these days, no matter what you search for the result displayed is usually a staggering number.  I don’t know about you but when I click on a link in a search result I make a decision in about two seconds on whether or not I am going to continue on that site or not based on what the site looks like.  If the site does not have a professional look to it, I hit the back button and move on to the next site in the results.  Just because there are thousands of websites on the internet doesn’t necessarily mean there are thousands of good ones.  Anyone with an internet connection and ten bucks can put up a website, the question of course is have they put up a website worth looking at.

For me one of the biggest turn offs is a site that looks like it was created in Microsoft Word and over the years I have had many small business clients tell me that they can’t really afford to pay a professional to create a site for them and my answer to that is you can’t afford not to have a professionally created website.   The old saying that you only get the chance to leave a first impression once is certainly true in this case.  If your website reeks of amateurism then the natural conclusion is probably going to be that everything about you falls into that category.  Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that every company needs to spend $5000 on creating a website, but I am suggesting that you need to have a professionally designed site. You may be in a business that doesn’t require you to have a dynamic site powered by a database, with all the bells and whistles maybe all you need is simple informational site that gives some basic information about your business along with contact information.   I have seen plenty of websites that consists of only two or three pages but have the look and feel of professionalism and entice me to find out more about them.

There are plenty of design sites out there that will create a simple information site for you for under $200, just do a Google search for “inexpensive professional web design” and you will have plenty to choose from.  It is not necessary for you to have a site that is created completely from scratch and is totally original, but it is necessary for your site to look good, remember the home page of your website is representing your business and is the first impression that a potential customer has of your business, so make that impression count, make it a good one because you won’t get a second chance.