Monday, January 30, 2012

Making a list, checking it twice.

Okay, just to state the obvious, I KNOW IT'S NOT CHRISTMAS TIME ANYMORE but that phrase just seemed appropriate. The next couple of days I'm not letting myself add or subtract anything from my business proposal. All I can do is refine my points and make sure they're ordered properly when I talk about them this week.

Office Assistant and I crunching numbers.


Currently, I'm making sure all of my math is correct. Because that would be embarrassing. But I've seen that happen in presentations! I will not be this person.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Do You Need Some More Soap?

Hi, here's an interview with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com in a bathtub.


This is SO AWKWARD but it's really informative and thought-provoking, I promise.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Girl Crush

Today I'm combing TED.com to find presenters whose styles I like, and to get a sense of the arcs and flows of their speeches. How do they incorporate images? Is it overdone? Does it support what they have to say?

I found a couple that were cringe-worthy. The speakers were no doubt brilliant, but the images were not necessarily memorable, and there were plenty of "um's." Super distracting. Images should support the flow of your story, and they should be like memorable landmarks throughout the entire run.

Why am I so obsessed with the presentation? Because I know that how well I can state my points, how well I can speak about this, and how confident I appear can determine how far I can push my idea.

And here is someone who I think only relied on the minimal, necessary amount of images, and I still hung on to every word she had to say. She speaks like herself, not a newscaster, and yet her delivery is clear and strong. Not to mention, she's got awesome hair and is clearly incredibly smart.



I've never been good at speaking in a fake voice. I know I'm going to have to sound like me when I present, and sometimes I wish that weren't the case. I wish I could naturally sound like Connie Chung or maybe someone on Good Morning America (okay, that's pushing it), but that's not me. What is fascinating here is how Ariel is being completely transparent about who she is, and she's selling her points. It's hard not to be rapt by what someone is saying when their genuine, un-refined spirit comes directly through. This is what I'll be emulating.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Giving up the Baby

This week is one of the toughest weeks for me in regard to this project. It's the last week before the deadline, but it's not that I'm rushing to get everything done. I often am finished (or more or less ready with a very rough draft) well ahead of the deadline. It's that this time when I want to refine and perfect my presentation of the project is also a very dangerous time, because it's easy to start doubting what I'm doing (hello, Lizard Brain!) and to want to redo certain key aspects.

Sure, some refinement is fine (like completely deleting one of my potential pricing packages because it frankly was not going to be profitable enough!). But what I learned in my dance choreography training back in the day is that this is the point at which you need to let go and trust the process that brought you to this point.

This is when my Lizard Brain goes into full force. It wakes up, flicks its tongue, and darts its head around to find anything it can call stupid, useless, foolish.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No Recovery

Today I'm working on tying in this concept to everything else.

Source

I think David here is really on to something.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Do We Connect?

While I'm refining my presentation for the big reveal next week, I can't stop thinking about where else this business could go.

Beyond the basics of guiding clients to a cleaner, more focused business and marketing plan, one thing that I keep coming back to is this idea of connectivity and how it can benefit small businesses, especially in place of competition. I've seen it work for so many small businesses and small communities, and I'm wondering if there might be a way to incorporate this into a part of this vision.

Brainstorming, again.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reeling it in

Yesterday was just off. The weather was moody, I couldn't control my own moods, and my brain felt overworked for the first time in ages. I've written, read, and thought very intensely over the last couple of weeks.

Creativity needs to ebb and flow. I've just spat out so much content, and now it's time for me to pull back and assess what I have. This is where the refinement takes place, and interestingly enough, the things I need to do in order to hone in, perfect, and chisel all of the ideas and theories I've expounded feel good and natural.

I'm sketching, visualizing, interpreting, analyzing now. It's good, quieter work. It's helping me rope in my ideas, put them in the right places, and make sure that everything is stated with bright clarity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Glasses and Affirmations

All this company will cost when we first start out is zero, except for the salary to cover the staff's time. But this will come back to us one zillion-fold. I think that the most important thing for this company to have covered would be the staff time for the initial five consultations, which should be done for free.  2 hours each.

Several marketing and start-up experts, from Seth Godin to the team at Startup Weekend recommend putting your product or service to the test and refining it before you get into a situation where you've lost money on it.

After this, as I've calculated, the additional financial output wouldn't be that high, and the business would continue to enjoy a very high profitability with a low overhead.

Not to mention, as Seth Godin would say, for us to offer free consultations as a means both to educate our customers and ourselves (sound familiar?), we are being generous. We are giving away our art, we are gifting them. This does come back, in this new era of small businesses.

For example, I just bought new glasses. This was a really educational experience.



I always go to this small optometrist office, despite it not being close to anything else I need, despite its mediocre yelp reviews, for one reason. I remember them from when I was little, and I remember them fondly. When I was about 11, my mother dragged me here when she had to shop for glasses. Now, my mother is particular and specific as all hell. Let's just say we were there for a really long time.

The salesperson helping us was Yolanda. One million years later, and I still remember her name and her face. Why? Because she talked to me while helping my mom. She said she liked my nail polish, which was a funky metallic green, as I was experimenting in goth fashion.

When we came to pick up my mom's glasses, Yolanda had bought me a really nice bottle of dark, shimmery purple nail polish.

!!!

Yes! Just out of the goodness of her heart. That's not even the main story here, but it is important. It's why I came back and had yet another surprise gift from Yolanda and her team.

She's still there! She didn't totally remember me, but I'm sure I made an impression. I showed up on Saturday just after 2pm. Silly me, didn't check to see that their hours on Saturdays close at 2. But they let me in, and insisted it was alright. They never once made me feel sheepish about my mistake, and went about business as usual. 

Yolanda did not rush me or anything as I tried on different frames. She complimented my hair and my handbag, totally genuinely, but I realized she was also taking notes of my style and personality in order to find me the best frames. She only had to show me 3 frames before I made my choice. She listened to my needs, and even threw in a couple treatments to my lenses for free because she felt it would make my day to day wear with them more comfortable. Seriously!

When I came in to pick them up, I noticed that a new Mexican cafe had opened up across the alley from them. I asked if they liked it, since several cafes have come and gone in this space. Yolanda let me know they were excellent, and handed me a gift card to the cafe. 

Another memorable gesture of kindness, and (very importantly) proof to me that this optometrist office kept close to nearby small businesses and supported them, as well. 

Lessons, people. They're out there if you pay attention.



Ask, and you shall receive

Wow. Facebook can be a great source for free market research.

When I asked what was the one thing my entrepreneur friends wish someone had told them when they started out, I got SO much excellent response.

A few that seemed to really resonate:

"Think about health insurance."

"Don't sell your soul to the idea of being your own boss -- you gotta do it the RIGHT way!"


"Know your business technically. Know your business financially. Know your customers honestly."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Energy Efficiency

This morning I had a very insightful, and timely conversation with a client, considering over half of my brain power has been going to this potential consulting business.

I talked to Gary, rushing in between a meeting and a consultation on his ranch. It was before 9am.

Gary has been a client of ours for a few years, and barely makes a peep throughout the year. He has a beautiful venue that he manages and rents himself.

He told me about his first wedding hosted at his home ranch: $300 total. He said they didn't know what they were doing, but they threw something together.

Now he charges $1,000 to $4,500 per wedding, Sunday and Frida/Saturdays respectively.

He's got a Google Ad word campaign, he's updated his website, he's got phones ringing, he's got a Facebook page, and he has 2 other projects for revenue he wants to work on. But he's too busy to brush his teeth some mornings. He's definitely too busy to update his ads where he's posted the ranch, and he's too busy to look at his Google Analytics report to actually know how this stuff he's paying for is working.

What is wrong with this picture?

Gary is not stupid, and he is by no means lazy. He's a hard-worker who loves to work for himself and loves to work with brides, but he seems to be dispersing his energy inefficiently and now doesn't really know:

a) how he got here, with a popular business.
b) how to stay here, without spending too much or losing too much.
c) what he can cut, or...
d) what to keep so he stays afloat and can grow. 

The wrong decision could be extremely costly and even be the undoing of all his hard work.

I wanted to give him more advice, but given my current position, I couldn't. I'm not here to tell him how to run his business. But dammit, I think I should. He is a person who is open to learning more, who loves what he does, and just needs to review his daily, weekly, and monthly outputs of energy. What tasks can he group together? Which could be streamlined? Which tasks actually matter, and which require a lot of effort for very little in return?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Guiding Questions for Week #2 of THE PROJECT

I'm laying out the plans for an effective, engaging presentation that will not only have pictures of hot shirtless men for when I see the audience's eyes glaze over, but will have an evocative and grabbing message.

As I'm writing out this outline, or storyboard, as it were (go grab a copy of "Resonate" by Nancy Duarte), I'm pondering these questions from Seth GODin's video on TED. In this segment, he discusses his theory on how to stand out to the right people. Doing this conveys your message and your story to the people who care, connecting your business (point A) to those most likely to give a shit, pay money for your service, and tell more people about it (point B).

One: Whose status quo are you upsetting?


Two: Who are you connecting with your message?


Three: Who are you leading through your mission?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

More from Seth

"When we punish the system by fitting in, we really are publishing ourselves."

Thought of the day: don't pretend to be perfect

It's okay to not be perfect, and I think it can be okay to let your clients know this. This doesn't necessarily have to break their trust. Instead, it can strengthen it.

Hear me out.

When HCTG launched a brand new section, we approached the clients involved and straight-forwardly told them, "We're still learning. We hope you can help us learn and make this better for you, too." 

Boom. The fear of being sold something evaporated. I could actually hear the client relax and feel their openness through the phone line. They felt like they were active participants in this process, like their opinions and beings mattered.

Can this be something I can transfer to a consultation service for small businesses? Yes, I'll guide you. No, I don't know everything. But I'm here, giving you my all, my heart, and my compassion, and we'll help you  find your way to your best.

Giving a Gift

One of the things on my mind today, after waking up and immediately listening to a couple of podcasts featuring Seth Godin, is the idea of giving more of yourself to your service or product in a way that is readable to your clients. I'm thinking of different ways my business plan can incorporate this ideology.

How funny that right after listening to about an hour's worth of extremely dense and informative Sethiness, that I checked my personal email account to see a special offer from a small company that I believe has grown because of the warm heart and gift-giving of its founder, Carol's Daughter.

Yes, I'm half-white and Asian, but I use Carol's Daughter products religiously. But I'm someone who is sensitive to chemical fragrances yet loves natural perfumes and essential oils, and I love smelling like dessert. And now I love CD even more.

Her offer today? Pay $10 now for exclusive membership and receive 20% off any order today and 10% off any order for the rest of the year. That's really awesome!

Plus, I just love her personal story (see it here). Lisa's a lot like the women I work with. I think she would also say, "never sacrifice who you are or what your standards are to do what you love." It'll come back to you threefold, for better or for worse.

So now... what do I give to my customers?

Kill the Lizard!

I'm actually very friendly to animals, but this is key stuff to think about here. When you flinch, when you are worried about sounding stupid or not fitting in, that is your lizard brain talking. Learn to quiet the lizard brain, and remind yourself this is not the age of the sabre tooth tiger.


A great quote from one of Seth Godin's podcasts: "I can't tell you what to do, but what I can tell you is you need to find a way to do it."


That's right. There's no magic pill. There's not one thing you can follow. The whole point of innovation is to do something different and ask for something bolder. And that's what's scary. Scary yet effective.


Source: http://egoscueportland.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/is-there-a-lizard-in-my-brain/
So today, now that I've crunched numbers and read myself to death on financing and how to set your pricing, I'm going to look at my business plan one more time and will ask myself, "Who made this business? Was it me or was it the lizard? Where can I go even crazier?"


To draw a couple points together, the fact that every person has to find their own way to kill the lizard themselves speaks to their unique strengths and can speak to their company's unique culture. There is strength there. This is what can make you indispensable to the market. That's why you have to find this scary, bold, exciting place in yourself.


Interestingly enough, in another podcast of Seth's I listened to, he said that his prediction of businesses that will be the quickest to succeed and stay successful in the future are those that truly address and see the individual in each of their customers and clients. 


Podcast #1: http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/2010/01/26/talking-linchpin-with-seth-godin/
Podcast #2: http://media.startupsuccesspodcast.com/StartupSuccess057.mp3

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Desired Result from Presentation, Draft One

What is the result I want from my presentation?

To tell a clear story, not dictate a bunch of facts. To make my listeners, my audience, feel like they're the heroes of this story, and that I'm a mentor.

The Results I Want, Draft One

What is the end result I want? What is it you're hoping to accomplish?


Here's my first stab at this question. I want to create a consulting business that specializes in helping small businesses utilize their individual cultures to their highest potential. This will be done according to HCTG's standards and practices that have made it a successful small business for over 20 years.


I did some research on taglines today. What's interesting is that you can tell everything about what a business is trying to achieve, what the result they want is, by their little tagline.


I think I have a really cute one for this business already.



Keeping The Overhead Down

Thought of the day:



What if this company didn't pay for office space for the first 6 months as a means to keep overhead down in the first 12 months? This would keep our profit margin higher and make it easier to make up the $50,000 > it took to start up.

Perhaps this time could be even more stretched out if it seems to be an effective means.

I spent some time today reading about small businesses that operate completely from home offices, therefore bypassing any office rent, which cuts their annual spendings by large amounts. Several of them found that when they did have offices, they went to them maybe once a month.

Hmm. This could be some excess fat I can trim from this plan. And I'm all about simplifying. In fact, that's what this whole company is going to be about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Facing The Flinch Head-On

I brewed a little huge cup of coffee after my pancake coma and cracked open the book "Accounting for Decision Making and Control." Riveting shit.


But it's also extremely dry, and it's a textbook, goddammit. I'm using it as backup, but what I've found really helpful for spelling out the basics of how to start a business is this entire series on Inc.com:

I always jump at the opportunity to brainstorm and concoct business plans, but I always shy away from the math stuff. This is my flinch. And today, I'm dwelling in the flinch.



Guiding questions, from my manager.


Ask yourself, repeatedly: what is the result I'm looking for?

Ask: what is the result you want from your idea? What are you thinking it will accomplish? What should it accomplish? Get specific. Write it down and refer back.

Ask: what is the result I want from my presentation? Again, write that down.

And set reminders for yourself to keep asking these questions as you move through the process. 

It's enormously easy to be drawn off The Result. Continue to focus yourself.

How I'm Handling the Freakout, with Pancakes.

That's right, "I'm makin' pancakes. Ladies love me!"


So, yes. As I mull things over and let some thoughts percolate, I'm making pancakes. Almost as good as this guy's, but I'm afraid that my pancakes aren't as pretty. I'm using a very healthy version with buckwheat, whole wheat flour, and low fat milk. So mine aren't that pretty. They're amorphous and the batter's tough to work with. But each one gets better and better.

And then I realized, this is how ideas come. You make the first pancake, or what I always call "the sacrificial pancake." It sucks. But you have to try it, you have to make that first awful pancake. Just like you sometimes just have to start coming up with ideas.

Soon, the griddle is more evenly-heated. The batter seems to have gelled better. Everything starts to come together, from this same place you started.

So I'm trying to tell myself that as far-flung as some of my plans for this new company are, they're going to gel together. My brain griddle will be more evenly-heated with more use, and the idea will gel together.

And I'm not even posting one picture of these ugly-ass pancakes.

What has me FREAKED OUT

Accounting and financing for this bad boy. Fuck.

I spent all day yesterday dreaming and spouting more ideas and details about this dream company and went to bed high on all the adrenaline. But today, I'm looking at the hard and cold reality. I need to make a balance sheet. I need to plan out how this company will be profitable.

So what can I do?

I'm going to read the relics from my graduate school. I have several resources on accounting and financing for new businesses.

I'm going to learn how to wrangle Excel in my favor. I'd like to have a nice spreadsheet for my end presentation. I'm probably going to have to ask my (dun dun dun) mother for help on this. But this is her expertise, so I should learn to bite the bullet and ask. I'm sure that no one ever wants to ask their mom for help on a venture that's supposed to make you feel more independent, but maybe humility is a lesson to be learned here, as well.

I'm going to ask other small business owners how they tackled these tough questions.

Monday, January 9, 2012

This Creative Space

For me, sometimes the best way to get started thinking about what I want is to simply visualize it, in its vagaries. So for the first part of my assignment, while I've honed in on what kind of business I want to build (I'm calling it IdeaSpace for now...it's a Consultation Cafe), I want to envision what this environment will look like.

Source: DesignSponge


So, before laying out the nitty-gritty groundwork, I'm fast-forwarding to the future where this business exists. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What are the people in this space doing? Do they look happy, focused? Are they sitting or standing? What colors are strongest in the room?

I find that working backward like this sometimes helps you answer the nitty-gritty questions before you need to ask them by establishing what it is you really want. What your envisioned end result looks like informs you of what you need to get there.

Now, I'm more than happy to admit I could find out later that I'm wrong, but let's just play along for now. I'm not even going to get into exactly what I want this business to be just yet. I'll get there. Don't worry.

I love the idea of a space where people feel welcome and almost hugged by the room. What's that? Did you ask if I'm from Berkeley? Why, yes I am! How did you know? But what's really special about the beautiful room above to me is that as much personality as it has, it's also very barren when you pick it apart. This allows for flexibility of the space. People can arrange themselves in different ways and can sit where they'd like. I find that the more comfortable you are, and the more you're able to move around when need be, the more ideas will come to you.

I'm also thinking of the cafes I know and love around the Mission in San Francisco. These hip little junctures are striking the right cords for a reason. First up: Stable Cafe.

Source: Stable Cafe
What makes this place so special to me? It's very intelligently touching on a few important factors.

Number one: the homemade, craftwork feel in the small touches. We know from the wedding industry (ie, my current business POV) that this is popular because it feels like there's a lotta love in it. Number two: it's an incredibly sustainable and locally-focused operation. But number three, and most important to this post since this is all really about looks, here: the design of the space increases your brain power. I swear.

Source: http://www.mdarch.net/


OKAY I CAN'T FIND ANY OTHER PICTURES OF IT, but you should go there and tell people you found out about Stable because of me. And then they'll give me free coffee forever. Basically, the ceilings are high and soaring (as high and soaring as your dreams, get it?), the light is natural and non-oppressive, and there's a lovely courtyard off to the right of where this picture cuts off. I've always found that having the ability to get some fresh air and contemplate something lovely for a few seconds can refresh your mind like nothing else.

This is what I want for my IdeaSpace.  Meetings and consultations can be held indoors or outdoors. You can sit or you can stand. You can lounge or you can perch. You can take a stroll. Just do whatever you need to unlock your brain and find a solution to what ails ya.


Never be careful with what you wish for, Part Two.

Today my manager gave me the best and most fitting gift.

This is the day after I followed The Flinch's advice to take a mug, break it, and clean it up. Why? Because it's scary and weird to do something like this, and you know you'll have to take care of the mess. However, sometimes scarier things than broken mugs can happen to a person, and you have to stretch do the deepest corner of your soul and dig through your strengths and weaknesses to find out how it is you'll take care of this truly, messy mess.

Breaking the mug is just a way to reinforce to yourself that yes, you can clean this up. It's unpleasant, but you cleaned it up, right? Not so bad.

BUT BACK TO THE GIFT.

My fellow employees, manager and I are all individually brainstorming brand new business ventures. We have three weeks to come up with a plan that covers finances, logistics, creative, what have you necessary to launching a new business. We're starting this out imagining that we've got up to $50,000 start up capital, and we have to project and explain how we will make this money back over the course of 12 months.

The business can be somewhat far-fetched, but these ideas must be realistically profitable.

In the meantime, we're putting a halt on all business as usual. That means for 3 weeks full-time, I'm contemplating the business I would start.

And there you go, business school was not what I needed. More to come.

Never be careful with what you wish for, Part One.

I've often been told that when you pray for the right thing, it comes to you. But what is right? What if you're asking the universe for the wrong thing, but your view is skewed by a zillion questions and concerns. Questions like: what your mother would say, how your friends would view you, what strangers might think of you, or how does this look compared to what that person does? And concerns like: this isn't practical, thinking that way will only disappoint you later, dream on!

I figured, well then, I'd better just wish for a zillion things right back. There must be a genuine wish somewhere in that mess, and if I keep asking for the fulfillment of them, one of them must turn out. 

Just this weekend, after re-reading The Flinch for about the 2.5th time with "Downtown Abbey" playing quietly in the background, I looked at my surroundings. I've lived in this apartment for nearly 4 years. I thought it would be temporary, but I turned it into what passes as a home because I hate moving so much. I now have two cats, both snoozing on my legs as I comfortably read to the sound of soothing British accents. 

I'm too damn comfortable. When I pressed against my boundaries last fall by starting business school, I came screaming back. Not to say I don't think that was the right choice, to run away screaming, more on that in a second, but I immediately settled back into my routine. And that cold I got? Its twin reared its head and took me down this winter. 

It's been theorized that children often get sick (with common colds, nothing crazy or viral) when they are pushing through an internal boundary, or growing in some way. The mind and body is transitioning, throwing inner systems off-whack, and boom. The kid is now super-susceptible to illness. Would it be crazy to propose that I keep getting sick this winter because a part of me is afraid of not moving forward, now that I've gotten off the graduate school train? Perhaps something inside me has gotten tired of feeling stagnant, tired of the same relationships that don't work, and tired of wondering what my potential could be if I let myself be creative and passionate about my job (note: in a new way, I love said job).

It's hard to admit this to yourself when you know how lucky you already are. But if there's one thing I've learned from the past few jam-packed months of a broken spirit, broken heart, and a seemingly broken immune system, it's that wanting to improve something in your life does not take any value away from what  you already have. My job is great, but I can make it better. I'm passionate, but I could be more so. I love and live to dance, but I could pour even more energy into this. I love my friends and family and some of my friends I consider my family (how lucky), but I still want a boyfriend. Memorable people will always break through what's considered fine and good, so why don't I do this?

And today, I got the answer I've been asking for.