Buzz Your Business Interview: Jill Lublin

November 27th, 2009 by admin

Today’s Buzz Your Business features a special interview with Master PR Strategist Jill Lublin. Jill is an international speaker and the author of three bestsellers; Guerrilla Publicity, Networking Magic and Get NoticedGet Referrals, her latest book to hit the shelves. She teaches crash courses on publicity around the world  and her passion is to help people bootstrap their publicity. That’s the tip she wants to share with you today: How to bootstrap your publicity, improve your visibility and get your business moving!

BB: How would you say bootstrapping relates to publicity?

JL: Guerrilla Publicity is all about bootstrapping; the subtitle of my book says, “Using time and imagination instead of money,” and that means bootstrapping! I’ve always been a bootstrapper myself. I started my own business on credit cards. I’ve grown it and I am now a successful author, I run courses all over the world; but truthfully it started on nothing; some good ideas, and me and my energy! And I think that’s what bootstrapping often is; it relies on terrific people with their vision and their purpose; and then you go out into the world. But you do it smartly, using specific tactics and techniques. In regards to publicity, you don’t go out and buy expensive ads. That would be crazy. You don’t go waste money on high-falutin’ marketing strategies. You take step-by-step replicatable systems that drive profits to your pockets and prospects to your door.

BB: In terms of you own consulting; how would you support someone who is launching a new business and bootstrapping?

JL: The first thing I look at with any client is what I call, “It’s all about your message.” How are you going to get your message out to the public so that the public embraces it and says, yes! I want to hire you. I want to play with you. I want to buy your product or service. And that’s what we’re trying to get people to do; buy your product and your service but without hitting them over the head. We do it by giving them stories and placing stories in the media using what I refer to as, “Everything you’ve got;” which is all about creating a message that works. You have to solve people’s problems and present yourself as an expert. Experts solve problems; so stop thinking of yourself as a widget maker, or a provider of services, instead think of yourself as an expert. So what are you helping other people with? What problems are you solving? Once you focus on that, then you can go into the media, then you can make the media interested in you. It’s never about your business and that’s a mistake most bootstrappers and entrepreneurs make. They keep thinking that the news – and that’s what we’re talking about here, the media, publicity – is all about them and it isn’t; it’s about the readers, and that’s what they need to keep in mind.

BB: What are the three publicity tips you would give to bootstrappers? Are there three things they can do?

JL: Yes, first thing is baby steps. Focus on your message. Don’t just bring yourself out there until you have honed in on your message. That will help you have something to say when you’re addressing prospects without being a deer in the headlights… it will become a script that you can use in networking events, with prospects, clients, customers and with the media.

Number two is become a celebrity in your own backyard. In other words, don’t forget where you live and your geographical region; make sure you get lots of local publicity. National publicity often comes from local, from the city or provincial news. Create ongoing announcements that you can place in the local business journals and the local daily newspaper every sixty days or so.

The other piece that I would suggest is focus on your “ooh and aah factor.” What is it about you that makes people go “ooh and aah” about you? What is it about your personal message that other people would be interested in? A variation of that is to do what I call “Everything you got;” which means capitalizing on your ethnicity or your religious affiliation, so if you’re a Christian, you will want to target Christian media.

BB: What do you think it takes to be an entrepreneur?

JL: It takes guts, determination, focus, commitment, and a “No matter what” attitude, because there’s going to be plenty of “No matter whats.” You have to be willing to keep going and to believe in yourself.  And to stand tall, because sometimes it’ll be all rough, sometimes you won’t know where the cash flow is coming from and sometimes you’ll be praying for your next customer, but by being consistent and persistent – those two key words are very important, consistent and persistent – and if you focus on publicity, marketing and keeping your vision forward, no matter what, then you will find success. I know very few people who don’t who are that committed. So keep going and keep a “No matter what” attitude so that you can stay in the limelight.

BB: How did you get your idea for your current business?

JL: I was working in the music business helping musicians promote themselves and I found out I was really good at it. That was after going to law school for a year, which I did not like because for a creative mind like mine, it just wasn’t the place to be. So I ended up working for a music business attorney, and the music side of the business was interesting so I started promoting entertainers and musicians – usually for independent record labels. Then I started working my way up and became Director of Promotion and Publicity at several independent record labels. And here is where I learned to bootstrap because I was working for independent record labels with no budgets and no marketing department besides for me – I was the marketing department – and I could see these big record labels marketing departments with two million dollar budgets! I mean, give me two millions and I’ll make anyone famous! But we had to do it with zero budget, or by bootstrapping, or with fifteen thousand dollar max. We once sold out a Carnegie Hall show before the artist even arrived in New York! We used what is now called viral marketing and which I then called grassroots marketing. We used all our resources and got very creative in order to build interest for our artists. That’s were I got started and then I opened my own business because I thought if I can do this here, I can do this for others as well. And I love working with all kinds of businesses and all kinds of entrepreneurs because each one presents a new challenge, a slight variation on the marketing aspect, and this brings together all my bootstrapping ideas and my Guerrilla Publicity techniques. And it all serves to move entrepreneurs forward and my commitment is to helping entrepreneurs get their message heard. That’s what I am all about.

BB: Do you think it’s important to have support from friends and family when running a business?

JL: Yes, it’s important. I am not saying that you’re always going to get it because they’ll look at you and say, “gosh you’re not making any money,” or “how come you can’t afford this or can’t afford that?” What can help with that is to set out rules and have a strong foundation and get help for the gaps in your knowledge. Mine was around financial literacy and how to structure a business. So I got trained and I also got a team around me. I am all about hiring a team, even if it’s for one hour a week, if that’s all you can afford. Or get an intern, who does not cost anything except for my time and consulting and that’s a very good bootstrapping idea.

BB: Do you think it’s important to be aware of your higher purpose in business and if so, is your higher purpose related to your business?

JL: I think my life, my business and my spiritual practice; it’s all become one now. It wasn’t always like that and in fact I used to feel quite a bit of frustration because what I always wanted was to touch people’s hearts, connect people and help them get their message heard. And then I found myself in a man’s world of business and then I realized that this is exactly what I got to do! Touch people’s hearts, connect people and help them get their message heard! So yes, I want to be one with my life, my business and my spiritual life. Before I go on stage, I pray. I hope that I will touch the hearts of the people in the audience. I pray for God’s words to work through me so I can touch others. I pray that I can give them benefit and value by my being in that room and that I too shall be supported, because it is a symbiotic relationship, of course. I feel that I am here to do God’s work, and I don’t think of it as religious but a spiritual calling. Right now I am doing God’s work by helping people get their message out and that’s pretty powerful. I am also working on a TV show about hope, called “Messages of Hope” and that’s powerful too and that’s part of my calling. It’s important to structure my business so it works, financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s all about doing what works for you.

BB: Does spirituality or religion play a part in helping you succeed?

JL: Yes. In the past few years, I have been working closely with spiritual mentor Bill Bowman. Prior to that, I had always been committed to my transformational work. I am very business oriented and I am very structured in many ways but then I have this spiritual world where I have always gone to learn about transformation and practice it too, first in myself and then in the world! I believe that as we heal ourselves, we heal the world and how fabulous it is for me that as I heal myself, I heal my clients and that, who I become, they become and we can all rise to the top together! So I am very committed to my growth and transformation, I have always been a seeker. But I have noticed that in the last few years of working with my mentor – who is very gentle and all about spirituality and soulfulness – I have noticed my business increasing, my revenues increasing, my clarity around my mission expanding, my level of peace expanding, no matter what is happening in the outside world and we all know it’s been a wild ride.

BB: One of Bootstrap Business’s principles is “Know Your Channel,” and I imagine that in publicity it’s very important to not only know your message but who wants to hear it. Could you share some comments about channel and PR?

JL: In that regard, what I would do is look at your target audience; you have to find your market. Once you determine that, you have to ask: what are they reading, what are they watching, what are they listening to in the media? And then you go after that. You want to get your message heard in those areas. One of the first sessions with my clients is all about that. So you call it channel and I call it reaching your target audience, but it’s the same thing. Who are they, where do they live, are they in your region, are they national, or international, are they in your age range, are they men or women, do they belong to a certain group either ethnic or otherwise. Those are the questions you need to answer and those are your channels. The good thing about those channels is that they each have media specifically oriented to them and that’s a good thing.

BB: Do you have any rules or guiding principles that you use in running your business?

JL: If it ain’t fun, don’t do it. And that includes working with clients now if I can see some… let’s call them warning signals. It’s come to a point where I won’t work with people if they are too demanding or too difficult to work with, or simply not enjoyable because life is too short. And I have rules in my business. I have no-refund policies; I have contracts people have to sign. I am much more structured. I know exactly how long I spend with each client. We have a system now on how to reach people and I think that having systems in place is a good guiding principle. In publicity, it means making replicatable and duplicatable systems and the truly magnificent thing to me about how I work with people is that they get to do this over and over again.

BB: What are the top three things people should make duplicatable in regards to their publicity?

JL: The first thing is how they send out announcements and what they do with them. The other is the step-by-step formula, like what are they going to do every day, every week, every month or every quarter. The third thing is having someone who is scripted and who can smile and dial; someone who will get your message heard and get people to pay attention to you.

BB: How important is it to set goals and reward ourselves when we meet those goals?

JL: I set myself a monthly revenue goal and, each day, I write three high value activities that I am going to do to meet that goal; those activities have to be measurable in both time and money and this is a powerful strategy that has guided my life for the last few years and interestingly enough, reaching my monthly revenue goal is often dependent on whether I accomplished those three high value activities. I highly recommend it!

Thank you Jill!

For more info on Jill Lublin, her books and her schedule of courses please visit: www.jilllublin.com

To find her books and more on Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/ydxxwex

To win a chance to get your business buzzed on our network, please send an email to: buzz@bootstrapbusiness.org


Don’t Hire Stupid

November 26th, 2009 by admin

When my family and I were trekking in the Kumbu, the Mount Everest region in the Himalayas, we hired my dear friend and climbing guide, Pema Dorje Sherpa. He is an energetic and charismatic man and we loved his stories. He was responsible for planning how much food to take, how many porters were needed to carry supplies, and where we would stop to rest or sleep. He basically coordinated all the details of the trip so we
could stick with hiking.

Trek coordinators like Pema usually hire porters from local villages. These men are paid to carry heavy loads on their backs. As I observed other hiking parties, I noticed that they had a lot more porters than Pema had hired for our adventure. Although we didn’t have as many porters, our group had more yaks. One day, I asked Pema why he used yaks rather than porters. Yaks were more expensive, ate more food, moved slower, and couldn’t climb the high mountain passes. Having so many yaks meant the group had to take the valley routes, which required a lot more travel time. What kind of business sense was that?

Pema thoughtfully answered, “Yes, that’s true, but they don’t get headaches. They don’t complain about sore eet. They don’t whine and gripe. They don’t beg, work the clients for tips, or swindle handouts, and I never have to fire them.” As the trip progressed, I realized the wisdom of Pema’s philosophy. This little lesson shaped my thoughts about how I do my hiring. Let me explain.

Several years ago, I sold several of my businesses and shut down a couple of others. In working with one, it came to a point where a good part of the team had been dissolved. Consequently, I was required to jump in and, for a short time, handle aspects of the business that were previously taken care of by others. I was dismayed as I discovered that I was able to complete tasks that I had previously hired five people to work on.

I might not have done some things with the same level of accuracy as they were doing them, but they took me far less time. While running a one-man show was not a long-term solution, I was, in large measure, able to do the job of five individuals. What I would have given for a yak! I’ve seen this situation frequently. It is vital that you keep your business lean and only hire enough people to cover the tasks at hand.

One of my heroes is a man named Ray Noorda, the charismatic leader of Novell, Inc, in the 1980-1990s. One of networking technology’s pioneers, he had a philosophy that, for many years, bothered many people at Novell, including me. He was heard to say, “It’s spring cleaning, whether we need it or not!” Every spring, Novell would lay off 15 percent of the employees, regardless of the financial status of the company. The longer I’ve been in business, the more I’ve come to understand the reason behind this action. This was his way of systematically keeping the company lean and effective.

More than just streamlining, this spring cleaning gave him an excuse to get rid of all the deadwood drifting around the hallways. It sounds harsh, but no matter how vigilant you are, growing organizations accumulate more dead wood the larger they get.

Many of you have seen employees playing video games or surfing the Internet while they think the boss isn’t looking. As a general rule, you can always run much leaner and have happier, more satisfied employees when the company is running efficiently. Everyone likes to feel that they contribute. Doing busy work is both draining and demeaning. Don’t have employees who get stuck with that kind of work. Around here, the team hears me say, “Slow to hire, quick to fire.” Make a lean, effective team.

My personal preference is to have no more than 15 employees. To maintain that level, I will outsource certain aspects of the business. After hitting that 15-person threshold, I find that we lose the intimacy we enjoy in our small-business environment. On top of that, the team begins to lose energy. In my work at Novell, I was always fascinated by the company’s startup story. A small team of five individuals named SuperSet created 90 percent of the famous network operating system, NetWare. Once the core was created, Novell went about hiring thousands of additional engineers to write and maintain the remaining 10 percent. That just isn’t necessary. The brutal reality is that employees will expand their work to fill the workday, often wasting money, momentum, and time.

Porter’s Points – Don’t Hire Stupid

  • Always run a little lean in the organization. It’s okay if some of your specialists take on one or two general assignments.
  • Whether you set up a schedule or not, always be sure to know when it’s time for spring cleaning.
  • Decide now what limits you will put on hiring. Perhaps your idea will grow bigger than Rich’s 15 employees; if you think it will, decide what your action will be. Growth must be deliberate, not accidental.

Do You Need It?

November 24th, 2009 by admin

In the community where I live, there are two brothers who are successful businessmen. One day, one of their employees got frustrated with their attitude toward their finances. He complained to me, using the following joke as an illustration: “How do you make copper wire?” When I didn’t give a satisfactory answer, he said, “You throw a penny on the ground and let these two brothers pull on each end.” Although he meant it to be demeaning, I took it as a compliment and wished someone would tell that joke about me.

Now, you don’t want to stretch every penny into copper wire. There is a difference between being frugal and being downright cheap. Frugality means living within your budget and being realistic in what you can spend; cheapness means buying poor-quality ingredients for low prices while expecting to produce a high-quality item. It doesn’t work. Don’t even go there.

Often, people end up cheap because of extravagance in other areas. Some rent expensive office space but skimp on salaries. I have a simple tip for keeping things under control: never buy inessential things with money that you do not have. That way, you’re more likely to have the money there for the things you absolutely need to take care of, such as bills, payroll, and equipment.

While you should be frugal in your business, be sure to treat your employees as well as you can. Don’t overspend, there, either, but you cannot let employees take second place, especially when they see you spending company money on nonessentials that benefit you and not them. Some entrepreneurs try to cut dangerous corners. Skimping on essentials or not fulfilling contracts is a surefire road to disaster. As important as it is to be frugal, it’s more important to be honest and keep your word.

Setting up an office is a very encouraging, “feelgood” part of starting your business. Developing your workspace, whether it’s a rental suite or a basement, is part of acting big. You need to be able to “go to work.” But be careful! It’s a lot easier to order nice office furniture and a thousand “Post-Its” than it is to get on the phone and get your product or service into the market. Let your frugality keep you in check, and never, ever forget this: don’t substitute the joy of accomplishing something with the thrill of buying something.

You’re not creating an office; you’re building a business. Your passion and devotion to your venture should carry you through, regardless of your locale or the style of your desk. When bootstrapping, your funds are your best friend. Think about the needs of your business. Before you invest in nice furniture and expensive office space, think: can I hire employees to make use of the space I currently have? Wait a bit and make sure you have some cash coming in before you make any big changes.

Several years ago, a business acquaintance of Ron’s started a health services business based on a revolutionary piece of equipment. She made proper financial and use arrangements with the patent holder of the equipment, hoping to help people and make some money. Things should have gone well. However, the equipment was extremely expensive.

In order to purchase a few of these machines, the business owner and her partner set about raising $2 million. Once the money was available for their use, the pair went and bought a whole bunch of office furniture and other accoutrements. They had no customers lined up to purchase the machines yet, but wanted their new, “triple-A” office space to look full and attractive. They knew the importance of acting big and felt they had to look like they really could compete with the other healthcare practitioners. Sadly, though, they had no idea how to behave small.

In addition to setting up shop in a high-rent business district, they filled each office with plush furniture, outfitted the lunch room with a professional, automated ping-pong table, bought the latest in computer equipment for each office, and—last but not least— purchased not one, but two airplanes. Airplanes? It was important for them to act big, sure, but behaving big in this fashion proved to be a disaster for everyone. No revenue in sight, no potential customers, no idea if insurance companies would approve their service—and they were buying airplanes. Their seedling company, the partners, the venture capitalist, and the bank all yook a nosedive. The two partners chewed up the $2 million before the business ever left the hangar.

It is important to give the perception that you are big enough to play the game; however, acting big should not be at the expense of your stewardship for the company’s resources. Some of the greatest successes pinch pennies, pay attention to details, and manage every resource in a scarcity mode.

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, did exactly that. It is said that when he saw a penny on the street, of course he stooped over and picked it up. I love that story. You have to think that way. In the early stages of your company—really, in all stages of the company— you must create a fiscally conservative culture. Behave small by asking yourself, “Do I need it?” before you try taking off without any gas.

Porter’s Points—Do You Need It?

  • Never confuse putting on the face of confidence, stability, and professionalism with bloating your company with unnecessary frills. Outside of your organization, act big. Inside, behave as small as possible.
  • Don’t let your employees think you are cheap. Frugal and cheap are not the same thing.

Escalation

November 19th, 2009 by admin

Identify the power players in the organizations you do business with. Every organization has decision makers and decision stoppers. The latter are often disgruntled individuals who, when faced with any sort of query, will usually assert, “No, that can’t be done.” Face it; the admin’s job is to get you off the phone. He or she, doing his or her job, will attempt to create a buffer between you and the person he or she represents.

As a business owner yourself, you can appreciate not wanting to talk to everyone who calls. However, to get things done you need to contact the decision makers. Escalation is a way to get through the door, past the front desk, and all the way up to where you’re playing on the same level as the power-playing managers. The key is also to make them escalate back to you. Doing this maintains your big-organization persona, regardless of how small your bootstrapped business may be.

When you want to get decisions made, you have to match layer for layer. To talk with decision makers, you cannot start by calling the admin—that is, you cannot. Your admin calls their admin. If there is another layer between the admin and the manager, have your admin request that layer to get back in touch with your business through a similar layer—and then have your admin or your partner take the call. The key is that you don’t want to have to be on the phone until you can verbally sit down with your target manager or other power player and get things done.

In this same way, when somebody calls back, it’s okay to make them take the escalator up to you. If mid-level management calls, your admin answers the phone. Even if upper-level management calls, let your admin determine how urgent the call is. You don’t want to be the one to answer your phones. The chain of authority must match up. Because of that, whoever answers your phones needs to be on the same level as their secretary or admin. Make sure you have someone there to boost your level for you, even if it has to be our partner. This first use of escalation—matching layer for layer—shows your contacts that you have just as much right to be in business as they do, no matter how small of a business you might be.

A second thing escalation does is give you a way to reverse course when a poor decision or miscommunication is made. We use this tool all the time, and it has gotten us out of some sticky jams. Though you as the owner are responsible, at the end of the day, for every decision in your organization, having an escalation buffer gives you the ability to reverse course when necessary.

Recently, one of our partners inadvertently placed a wrong term in a contract we were negotiating. He had committed us to do some intensive work before payment. Upon realizing the misstep, another partner was able to reset the client’s expectations so that work would not begin until payment was received. One of the powers of partners is the ability to play good cop or bad cop as needs be.

The third invaluable tool that comes from a line of escalation or an “admin buffer” is crucial: you have time to react. When faced with a ringing phone and a direct line of questioning, you may feel pressured to make decisions quickly. Sometimes this works out perfectly; other times, you make mistakes. It’s much better if the question goes through an admin.

Even if you don’t have an admin, be the admin for a moment. Say that you need to think it through, or to talk it through with one of the partners. Confidence in any relationship can be undermined with even one mistake, so to buy time by not shooting from the hip and by instead using an admin or time buffer gives you the ability to react appropriately, deliberately, and thoughtfully. Don’t let a customer press you into a knee-jerk decision. There are very few cases where someone has to have the answer right now.

Your administrative assistant plays a crucial role in escalating your business, as I explained. When I was first starting at Mitsubishi, we were a relatively small office, attempting to land a contract with a very large company out of Chicago. This company built many of the pinball machines and video games that are available throughout the world. My administrative assistant—the wonderful Shawn Jensen—had left a message with the vice president, and a couple of days later he called back. We were a small enough division at the time that I was painfully aware when a VP called back. I was available at that moment to talk, but Shawn answered the call smoothly, saying, “Oh yes, you’re trying to reach Mr. Christiansen. He’s available at either 10:25 or 2:50 for approximately 15 minutes. If those times are not possible,” she casually mentioned, “you’ll have to wait a few days because Mr. Christiansen is flying down to Mexico for a weekend with his wife and then to the UK to take care of some business there.”

Shawn’s collected, confident nature further established my credibility and escalated my importance in the eyes of this VP. Everything she said was true, even if a bit embellished. In the end, the vice president got the message: Rich Christiansen is a very important and a very busy man.

In the early stages of your business, you might not have all of the pieces in place. The important thing is to act like you do. In the early stages of my startup with Ron, any time either of us got into a tight spot where we didn’t have a definitive answer, we’d say to the customer, “I need to talk with my partner.” That bought us time to mull it over ourselves before we approached each other to confer. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even have to check with Ron, or him with me, before we could reach a decision. But it gave us time. The key is to have the levels in place so you have the space and time to step back and take a clear-headed approach.

Porter’s Points – Escalation

  • You need to put an escalation path in place— admin, mid-level management, owners—for those times when you require time or space to respond.
  • If you are a team of one, get comfortable saying, “I need time to think that over. Let me get back to you.”
  • You don’t want to be like the government. Escalation can obscure critical decisions at the bottom of the chain of command. Role play or talk through how escalation will function—who are the key people, interaction points, clients, and vendors that need to be escalated? Put a buffer in place, then follow up with decisions and communication!

Don’t Do Desperation

November 17th, 2009 by admin

Last winter my wife came home and told me about a strange sign she had seen in the window of a local specialty children’s clothing store. It said something along the lines of, “My kids can’t live on clothing— everything’s on sale!” At first, my tender-hearted better half was worried and wanted to shop there so the owner’s kids would get some dinner that night. However, the desperation on the sign made her feel uncomfortable, and she end up not even going in. Desperation is a major turn-off.

Lots of small businesses are afraid that if they try to create a big persona, someone will see through them. Rather than trying to act big, they act desperate and behave small. They beg clients for work and plead for lower prices from their vendors. This kind of attitude makes clients, vendors, and competitors alike all cringe. It’s embarrassing.

Have you ever seen the movie Hitch, starring Will Smith? Smith plays Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, a love specialist who helps men take the right steps to find and catch their dream girl. At one point in the movie, Hitch teaches one of his clients how to kiss. First, he says, you have to watch the signals. A woman fiddling with her keys at the door is signaling that she wants to be kissed. Once you know she wants to be kissed, you lean in; however, you have to stop right before you seal the deal. Let her come the final 10 percent of the way, Hitch explains. If you take it upon yourself to just kiss her, you might succeed that once, but likely not again.

Watching two men discuss and practice the art of kissing was absolutely hilarious, and at the same time the situation contained a principle that is true in many aspects of life. When you are a small but competent company, you have to make a great first impression, be creative in your approaches, and make sure you have a “great first date.” When you find the company fiddling with its keys, go in for the kiss. As you approach, however, make sure you allow them to come to you in the end. No matter how badly you need the work, letting them come to you helps them feel that they really are benefiting from your services and not just giving you a handout. Using language such as, “We’ll give this some time to make sure we’ve got the best fit,” is an amazing tool to make your interest known but not appear overly excited about the deal.

Porter’s Points – Don’t Do Desperation

  • No matter how badly you need that deal, play it cool. Great business deals and great first dates are based on confidence and common interests, not on groveling and haste.
  • A good business relationship is almost intangible and unwritten. It’s not strained, emotionally charged, or jittery. It needs to feel natural and comfortable. You won’t create that feeling if you’re operating out of desperation.

A $1,200 Cup Of Hot Chocolate

November 12th, 2009 by Rich Christiansen
I have spent the last 3 days in Beijing, China and arrived in Japan this evening.  I have concluded that:  Free market system blended with Communism = Chaos!

As I write this post,  I have:
  • No fresh underwear
  • No toothbrush
  • No comb
  • No medicines
  • No dress clothes
  • No shoes
  • No sales material
  • No gifts for our clients
  • Nada … Nothing
All 6 of our bags are somewhere between Beijing, China and Paris, France.  This has been a perfect ending to a perfectly insane day.  Could I share with you how my day went?
Today our flight was scheduled for 11:15 am.  When we woke up at 6:00 am it had snowed and Beijing was a complete mess.  The night before I had 2 custom suits tailored that were to be delivered to the hotel by 6:00 am – Nothing at 6:00, nothing at 7:00, nothing at 8:00.  Our scheduled bus was supposed to arrive at 8:00.  We packed all our cool knock-off stuff in the extra knock-off luggage we purchased at the Silk Market and there we sat in the lobby of the hotel.   No transportation and no suits.
Finally at 8:30 am the mini van arrived.  Now the key decision:  do we leave our new custom tailored suits behind and get to the airport or risk missing the flight and wait?  Being a bit of a gambler,  I gave it another 10 minutes and the bet paid off.  In rushed the tailor holding our suits.  We stuffed them in one of our suitcases and off we raced.
First dodge of a bullet.
If the roads held up, no problem, we would still make it.  But when we got to the highway, the freeway was at a stand still.  The driver turned off the highway and started taking back roads. Still crazy slow, but at least we were moving.   When he got to the  turn on point back to the airport express way,  the police had shut down the exit.  There we sat for 30 minutes with the freeway running fine right above us.   We were now one hour before our plane departure time.  We knew we would miss the flight.
Just when we gave up the police with no warning let us through and off we went.   The driver spoke no english at all,  so we called the hotel and they translated with the driver how long it would take him to get to the airport.  He said 40 minutes…  This was past the time of our flight departure.
Despair.  We then caught a break – the drive took 20 minutes, so 20 minutes left to flight leaving.  We rush in and get in line and the supervisor states, “Because of weather the planes are delayed by 6 hours.”   OK, we can live with it.  We fight and push through the extra fees they are attempting to charge us and make our way through immigration and customs.  My partner Curtis Blair wants to go to the gate, but I say, lets stop for a hot chocolate – we have 6 hours right?  We stop to buy a hot chocolate.   When we get to the gate,  they get angry with us and say we missed the plane.  The plane just pushed back and we watch our plane  going out to fly.  They say they changed the delay and even though they told us 6 hour delay, our fault for not being at the gate.
We then had a complete mess of reversing our direction and undoing customs and immigration.   The long and short of it, we ended up paying $1,300 more for a flight on China Air to Tokyo.  Upon landing we discovered the joyful news that ALL of our luggage was on its way to Paris!
And how was your day?

Please Leave A Message

November 12th, 2009 by admin

One aspect of your “office” that often goes overlooked is your phone system. If you are working hard to create a professional appearance, don’t ruin it by neglecting this component! Think of your personal phone. Does your voice mail message sound something like “Hey dudes, this is Joe. Leave me a message and, umm, I’ll get back to you when I feel like it.” Let’s hope your office phone doesn’t sound like that! If it does, fix it right now.

Even if you have to use your home or cell phone as your main contact number, you can record a professional message. Compare this one: “Hello, you have reached the office of Joe Johansen. Your call is important to me. Please leave a message, and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.” Potential and current customers and vendors respond well when you act big. Yes, you may get some ribbing from your buddies, but if it helps solidify a deal, it’s worth it!

If you have a little more time and resources, consider a phone with an automated answering system. When I called the “corporate offices” of one company I dealt with, I was greeted by a recording of a woman with a classy, zipped-up British accent that was incredibly pleasing to the ear. The recording came across as spicy and engaging, exuding the appearance of a large and progressive company. It was golden!

Even though I knew there were only three people in a teeny Southern California office behind the recording, the casually elegant accent won me over—almost. As the woman’s voice concluded, I heard a man say, “You’ve missed us in our office; our normal business hours are 9-5. Call back during that time, or press extension 1 for John, 2 for Fred, or 3 for Mary.” Talk about dumping their gold into the dirt.

Rookies often make two of the very same mistakes: they allow direct access to the decision makers and they give away the exact size of their organization (three people!). As far as possible, build a buffer between you and the ringing phone. If you don’t actually have an admin, take turns “playing” admin for each other. It gets a little complicated, but it’s worth your time. On the second mistake, it would have worked much better to go through a list of possible “departments,” rather than names. For example, “For Sales, press 1. For Accounting, press 2. For Support, press 3.” Direct the calls to whichever line you’d like—if John deals with the sales end of things, route those calls to him. When he answers, “Hi, this is John in Sales,” nobody will be the wiser.

Another great trick is to offer a “company directory” function, where callers type in the first three letters of the first or last name of the person they are trying to call. Voila! Without ever knowing that Mary is only one of three people in the office, callers instantly have her on the line. Usually, it’s only sales reps who will catch you on this. If they call and have no success with their pitch in “Accounting,” they often call back and try “Support,” not realizing that both numbers forward to Fred. But it livens up a Monday afternoon, that’s for sure!

During the time I was working from my home with my blown Achilles tendon, I got in contact with the president of a large regional mortgage firm. At the time, I was working out of my basement. We had managed to outsource some leads to a call center and had received a great referral from another colleague that led to this executive’s company. I called this president and acted very calm and confident, when in reality I knew very little about how mortgage leads even worked. With a little bit of luck and some superior B.S.-ing skills, I managed to confidently navigate my way through the discussion.

At the end of the call, the executive pulled in his vice president, and said, “Rich, let me introduce you to Mike. Now, Mike is going to be managing this relationship, and Mike, I really want you to treat these guys right. This isn’t a couple of guys in a back office rubbing two dimes together!” At the time, I remember thinking, “Nope, no back office here—I’m in my basement, and it’s not dimes I’m rubbing together, its pennies!” But because I was confident and we did the job well, the two of them never knew.

It doesn’t matter where you’re doing business, you must project confidence and competence. Your service or product is worth the customer’s investment, so you have to be careful to never sound desperate. When people call, have someone else answer the phone. Schedule specific times to speak to new clients, and make sure you’re not always available. It’s a balance between being ready and playing hard to get.

Porter’s Points—Please Leave a Message

  • Be polished and professional, even if all you have is your cell phone.
  • Use your phone system as a buffer. You may not always need to use the buffer, but when you do you’ll love it!
  • If you lack confidence and technique, the person on the other end of the line will see right through you. Be assertive and skilled, and callers will have no reason to think that you are anything but—even if your “organization” is just you and a laptop at a card table.

Your Administrative Assistant

November 10th, 2009 by admin

The most amazing executive administrative assistant I ever had was a young woman named Shawn Jensen. Shawn taught me about the real impact an administrative assistant can have. (It didn’t hurt that she had learned a few of her tricks from her mother, who had been the executive assistant for Stephen R. Covey.) In a very calm yet deliberate manner, Shawn controlled the mood and intensity of the office.

I remember walking into her area one day to overhear her say into the phone, “Rich is not prepared to speak to you.” This, of course, caught my attention. I wanted to know to whom I was not prepared to speak. And why those words? She told me the person calling was with one of our major suppliers and that she had observed this individual becoming too casual in our relationship. The result was he had been off-loading some of his responsibility onto me. Being the rescuer that I tend to be, I had simply shouldered the load and dealt with it. Shawn’s save not only increased my status in the yes of that company, but protected my resources and enabled our company to be more successful. Shawn would build, lift, and protect me, as well as optimize my time. To this day, I can hardly speak of her without having very tender, fond thoughts.

During the time we worked together, I was traveling extensively all over the world, burning the candle at both ends. Shawn tracked the status of my flights for me to keep everybody posted on my whereabouts. I remember one specific trip (I’m sure it happened countless times when I wasn’t aware) where I discovered my flight from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to Birmingham, England had been delayed. This was a busy weekend flight.

Shawn discovered the delay and realized that I was going to miss my connection. She went ahead and contacted the people who were to pick me up and informed them that I would be late. She then called my wife, who was expecting a call from me when I landed, to let her know that my call would come a couple of hours late. Admins don’t get any better than that!

I remember another young woman named Erin Johnson. We were looking for an admin, and while she was only a junior in college, we were drawn to her bright mind and her personality. We hired her on the spot and she instantly started impacting the business for good. Everyone who entered our office was quickly drawn to her soft yet firm personality. I remember her walking into my office on multiple occasions and saying, “Rich, you’re doing my job,” when I was engaged in various administrative tasks. She quickly took those things off my plate.

Not only was she task-oriented, but Erin would keep track of the pulse of the office, and any time we began to get counterproductive, she would give me a headsup. She would also let me know if anyone had any personal or work-related issues they were dealing with. She was aware of undertows that I would completely miss. In addition to simply being brilliant, she became my eyes and ears.

Once, as I was driving to a lunch and talking with a business partner, she chimed in and said, “I disagree with you, Rich.” This of course caught me off guard, and I asked her to explain. I do not remember what the matter was, but her logic was flawless. From that point forward, I greatly valued her opinion. I knew she was in the game.

Erin managed the finances and helped us grow three different businesses. This young woman, who earned her degree in elementary education, is now running the finances and, in essence, controlling the bookwork for one of the fastest-growing debt relief services companies in our region.

Your administrative assistant is the most important hire you will make. Do not call this person your “secretary.” A title like “administrative assistant” or “executive assistant” gives weight and authority to the person answering your phones. He or she will be the gatekeeper of your organization, deciding who enters and who does not. There are a few qualities an admin must have. First, make sure he or she is capable of representing your company with an amiable personality and respectful tone. Only consider those potential admins who are friendly and easy to talk to, but who will always have your interests in mind. And, most important, your final selection must be someone you can work with. You need to find someone to whom you can effectively communicate your desires and expectations and know that they are understood. In the very early stages of a startup, this person might even be your spouse (if you work well together and won’t be too bossy with each other), or one of the partners can step in.

Porter’s Points – Your Administrative Assistant

  • Your admin must know exactly how things are running in your office. Find an admin who cares enough to know. He or she must be every whit as invested in the venture as you.
  • Your admin needs to second-guess you for the best, making judgment calls you would make without shifting the weight to your shoulders. He or she might make mistakes, so be forgiving and help encourage the learning process.
  • Your admin must know everything but convey nothing.
  • Do not treat your administrative assistant “small.” If you do, he or she will start acting small: pushing pencils, disengaging, and forwarding calls straight on to you. How you treat your admin will elicit like behavior.

Acting Big

November 5th, 2009 by admin

Twenty years ago, it was much more difficult for small companies to achieve significant market penetration without extensive financial backing. As a result, those who controlled the wealth in the world got richer, and bootstrappers were restrained from achieving rapid growth.

That has all changed. Think about how easy it is for a savvy businessman to get a website up that is just as professional-looking as, if not more than, his large corporate counterparts. Think about how a small company can leverage its abilities by outsourcing aspects of its business. Think about how easy it is to create the illusion of “big.” It is no longer necessary to have a large building with a huge internal staff, even in service-oriented businesses. With blogs, the Internet, cell phones, YouTube, text messaging, and social networks, it is almost hard to not get recognized if you do really great work.

With our modern small-business advantages, I believe it is almost more difficult to compete as a large company. Large companies carry the burden of bureaucracy, too many employees, and a lot of overhead from buildings and expenses. There are, however, three things that larger companies do have going for them:

  1. More resources and capital
  2. Strong reputation and branding
  3. Expertise and stability

Any company can survive for a period of time without fulfilling the first two, but the last one is vital to getting your venture off the ground. It’s where you need to focus—and where you can create the required image. Google proved the power of starting with number three above and then adding one and two. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, after meeting in grad school and finding themselves somewhere beyond strapped for cash, charged a terabyte of disks to their credit cards and assembled them in Larry’s dorm room at Stanford. Their idea for a new search engine was really quite ingenious, and they knew they just needed to be patient while they gathered all the needed resources. As they did so, the young programmers moved up the Internet food chain quickly enough that after about a year, they had to move their company into their friend’s garage. Surrounded by rusted bikes and kitty litter, they kept programming as they had in the musty college dorm. In this environment, they were surprised to suddenly land their first legitimate funding. When it happened, they realized they hadn’t even set up an actual business entity or a bank account, so they had to sit on $100,000 while they scrambled to get a place to deposit it.14 What a success from such a small start! But do you think they introduced themselves to potential venture capitalists by saying, “Well, we’re only in a garage right now, but we think we’ll get
bigger”? No.

Porter’s Points –Acting Big

  • If you don’t have a big office, don’t worry.  You’re an entrepreneur. You have big dreams— let those be your office, and act like you mean them!
  • Learn from the way large and small companies work. Do their ad campaigns give them a professional image? How about their employees? Emulate the good things they do in your up-and-coming venture.
  • What was the last personal service you received? How was it provided? Could you tell if the provider was a large company or took calls in its basement? List the things that impressed you. Those are the positive attributes you should adapt for your venture.

Porter’s Preface: Act Big, Behave Small

November 3rd, 2009 by admin

In this next chapter of Bootstrap Business, Act Big, Behave Small, Rich teaches the necessity of acting like a large organization when bootstrapping your start up business.

When Rich leaped from the corporate world into full-time entrepreneurship, he hadn’t intended to land in bed, but there he was, totally immobile and staring down the barrel of months of unadulterated bed rest. Days after quitting his job (and leaving behind his steady paycheck and benefits package), he snapped his Achilles tendon while playing basketball. Instantly, he was bedridden; his only option after the initial intense pain and discouragement was to build a company right from home. His wife and son wired up a computer with Internet access and off he went, starting the business while propped up on pillows.

After a month or two of crafting and building a model that worked while lying in bed, he brought in a partner and then an employee. The two of them would show up for work, check in with Rich— still in bed—and go down into a small office they had created in the basement. If they needed to talk to him, they headed back upstairs and into Rich’s bedroom.

Eventually, Rich healed enough that the big event of the day came to be his hopping downstairs to help coordinate his little group’s efforts. Though far from ideal, the situation worked. Since their company generated mortgage leads, they only needed a computer, the Internet, and a telephone to connect to both the lead generators and the lead buyers. Their leads rose in quantity, and soon they were servicing major mortgage brokers in the United States.

There was one especially tricky aspect in all of this: maintaining a professional image. The entrepreneurs weren’t the only people inhabiting Rich’s “office.” In addition to the two partners, the one employee, and the one wife, there were six children ranging from ages two to seventeen. Dad had to establish a special signal for when he received an important phone call. Even then, he could only forestall the banging piano, children’s laughter, teenage music, and other household noises for so long before they would resume. Rich would much rather have gone to an office away from the distractions and noise, but he had no choice. He didn’t want the business to suffer, but recognized that one major purpose of childhood is the joy of making large amounts of uninhibited noise. He also knew that for the business to come across as competent and professional, he would have to “act big.”

Acting big is different from behaving small. Although Rich’s scenario was extreme—and not ideal—the situation forced Rich into very small quarters and into acting like anything but a guy lying in bed with his employees down in the basement. As soon as he could walk and drive, Rich and his buddies moved into an office, but even then it was still just the three of them. To succeed in the early stages of entrepreneurship, do as Rich did: he kept his behavior frugal but prevented himself and treated his clients as though he were a serious, big-time business. And you know what? He became one!