4 Lessons Learned in 4 Years as an Entrepreneur

On Sunday, my company, Clearly Conveyed Communications, celebrated its 4th anniversary. Along with some gray hairs and a sense of accomplishment, I’ve learned numerous lessons along the way.

CCC turns 4!

4 Lessons I’ve Learned in 4 Years as an Entrepreneur:

Starting and growing a business is a thrilling roller coaster ride. If you love roller coasters (like I do), you’re probably thinking that sounds great. Keep in mind though that you’re riding 24/7, and there are no stops — for bad days, client disasters or even life (which doesn’t stop while you’re trying to start a business). If you like consistency and scheduled days, then don’t start a business. The most even-keeled entrepreneur has experienced many “What the f%#k am I doing?” moments.

I’ve developed a new definition — and appreciation — of living lean. Most entrepreneurs and startups are not raking in venture capital money and operating on million dollar budgets. They’re trying to build something for the future and scrape by in the present. You have to scrimp, save, shop smartly and still make hard choices. There’s nothing romantic about trying to figure out how you’ll pay your mortgage (or rent) next month, but you have to find a way until you can grow.

You’re not doing business until you get paid. Looking for new business, maintaining your professional network and taking care of clients is all part of owning a business, but it’s important to not focus too much on activity. You’re not doing business until you can bill and collect payment. Otherwise, you’re doing charity work, which is commendable, but it won’t pay your mortgage.

Your time is valuable; learn to spend it well. Every entrepreneur and startup owner needs more hours in a day, so you’ll learn to value your time quickly. You have to balance how much time something will take versus the (realistic) potential reward. Every opportunity or client won’t be a good fit. As painful as it can be to walk away, wasting time on a situation that you know won’t work is even worse. Use your time wisely so that you’ll be able to spend quality time with friends and family, sleep and exercise — all necessities in the long run.

No matter what happens, remember this:

Starting and growing a business is an amazing accomplishment. You took a huge risk to create your own future and build something for yourself. It may be hard for people around you to understand what you’re doing, let alone why, but you have to keep your goal in mind. Always remember why you started your business and what you want out of it. That will help you keep going during those “What the f%#k am I doing?” moments, although close friends, hobbies and happy hour will help too.

There are so many lessons I could have mentioned, because starting a business will teach you something new every day. Some days you won’t be in the mood to learn, but try to pick up as much as you can. The experience will come in handy in the future, wherever your crazy, amazing roller coaster ride stops.

What lessons have you learned as an entrepreneur or small business owner?

Did starting a business create an unexpected opportunity for you?

Feeling the rush,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about business, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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Customer Experience: Starbucks Shows How It’s Done

Loyal readers of this blog know that I’m an espresso lover and Starbucks fan. Despite being a longtime, loyal customer, I do run into problems with the coffee behemoth once in awhile, like you will with any brand. What matters most is how your favorite brands resolve these occasional issues.

Starbucks logo on coffee sleeve

The famous twin-tailed mermaid, or Siren, makes me smile.

Earlier this week, I decided to run to my local Starbucks to grab lunch. In the midst of a chaotic day, I ordered a deli sandwich via Mobile Order & Pay in the Starbucks app. Upon arriving, I learned that the sandwich I had ordered was sold out.

The barista apologized and let me know what other sandwiches the store had and reminded me of the newly available (in our area) Bistro Boxes. I decided on another sandwich that I had been debating on ordering anyway, and my revised order was quickly filled.

The same barista, who took control of my situation, didn’t charge me the additional cost of my new order and promptly gave me two $4 coupons for future use. The best part was that I was still in and out of the store in 3-4 minutes so I stayed on schedule.

The substituted sandwich was delicious and paired nicely with my second latte of the day I brewed when I was back in my office (with Starbucks coffee, of course). Instead of leaving the Starbucks store peeved and empty-handed, the barista made sure that I walked away with a positive experience despite the hiccup.

How do your favorite brands handle the occasional hiccup?

Always drinking (or thinking about) espresso,
Jaime

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How To Turn Small Talk Into Big Opportunities

Does the thought of small talk make your blood pressure rise? Whether it’s from annoyance or fear, this is a common reaction. However, mastering the art of polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters (as defined by Oxford Dictionaries) is an important part of succeeding in the business world.

The author enjoying small talk at a conference.

Small talk can lead to big opportunities if you smile and play your cards right.

How can you turn small talk into big opportunities?

  • Pay Attention to Your Surroundings: Does your company’s CEO have memorabilia from a baseball team in his office? He’s probably a fan. When you share an elevator ride with him, that’s a good topic to bring up. Note what your co-workers display in their work areas; these items are usually important to them and make excellent conversation starters.
  • Listen: We’ve talked before about the importance of listening, but we can’t stress its benefits enough. Be present in a conversation. Don’t spend the time someone else is talking forming your response; listen to what she’s saying. It could be interesting, it could be useful and it could even lead to an opportunity. Perhaps Sally in accounting or a fellow business professional at an event has a connection to a job opportunity you’re eyeing or with a company you’d like to bring on as a customer.
  • Have a Conversation, Don’t Pitch: You’re heading out after a long day, and the CEO happens to be heading out at the same time. Be friendly, say hello and put your aforementioned knowledge of his favorite baseball team to use. Don’t spring your great idea on him as he’s heading to the parking lot. Use chance meetings or opportunities to say hello and build rapport. You’re more likely to be given a platform for your ideas if the right people know who you are and what value you bring to the company. Aggressively cornering them at the Holiday party isn’t the right way to make that happen.
  • Help Others First: Influential people, online or in real life, are used to being asked for favors by people they don’t even know. Be different: offer to help people in your network when you can. Be genuine, show interest and care about other people. Don’t offer to help someone only to expect something in return, or only offer assistance to those in a position to help you. We live in a global, mobile world today, so you never know when you’ll need someone’s help later on — like Sally in accounting.

Related reading: How to turn small talk into smart conversation

Start viewing small talk as an opportunity to get to know others around you instead of a waste of time, and you may be surprised at the results. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings, listen, be conversational and help others first. Your efforts will pay off in the long run in business and in life.

What small talk tips would you add?

Do you enjoy networking events?

A converted networker,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about small talk, your communication needs or otherwise):
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Share the Luck of the Irish with Your Clients & Employees

Whatever your background, we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick's Day revelers enjoy the celebration

St. Patrick’s Day by Courtney Collison via CC BY-SA 2.0 http://bit.ly/1QVmT1J

Here’s how to share the spirit of this holiday with your business family:

  • Throw an Irish potluck — Ask employees to bring their favorite Irish-themed foods for a festive event in the office. If you’re throwing a last-minute shindig, order in from your favorite Irish restaurant. Hand out fun promotional items, such as four leaf clover-printed sunglasses, green hats or four leaf clover beads. Remind everyone to wear green and punctuate the event with some fun Irish music (or March Madness)!
  • Enjoy March Madness during a St. Patrick’s Day Happy Hour — Invite your employees and/or clients to Happy Hour at your favorite local pub. Cheer on your favorite men’s college basketball teams (or the ones you picked on your bracket) with an ice cold Guinness in hand. If you’re feeling lucky, pick up the first round of drinks along with some hors d’oeuvres. Enjoy the camaraderie as you survive the roller coaster ride of the NCAA Tournament!
  • Hold a Luck of the Irish Contest — Invite your clients to participate in a themed contest celebrating this popular holiday. Anyone who places an order receives a mystery discount or gift. You can hold the contest digitally with a well-designed landing page, email marketing and social media promotion. Take the contest offline with direct mail, scratch off tickets and in-person visits. Don’t forget to create a hashtag and encourage clients to post their winning tickets on social!
  • Bring the Irish Spirit into Your Office — Encourage employees to wear green along with festive accessories. Reward the most festive, creative and other categories of your choice with gift certificates to your local pub, lunch delivered in the office or a day (or afternoon) off. Throughout the day, highlight your festivities on social media so fans can get to know the faces behind the scenes and see your fun culture.

St. Patrick’s Day 2016: How the World Will Celebrate From Dublin to Tokyo

However you decide to celebrate, have fun! May the Luck of the Irish be with you and your business always.

Cheers,
Jaime

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Want Your Business to Flourish? Kill Your Sacred Cows

What’s holding your business back? Probably a sacred cow.

Death to all Sacred Cows: How successful businesses put the old rules out to pasture

Death to All Sacred Cows is a business book worth reading, no matter what business you’re in.

A what?! You’ve heard them before — those magical sayings in the business world that savvy businessmen and women everywhere regard as sacred.

The customer is always right. 
Teams create the best solutions. 
Always trust your research. 

Here’s the problem with sacred cows: always and never are rarely a good idea in the business world, a place which is constantly moving, changing and adapting.

“Businesses that only look to the past to guide their futures can be doomed to failure. In a rapidly changing world, anything dated tends to be dangerous.”

We’re not saying to forget your traditions or roots; they shouldn’t be the sole decision makers within your walls. You need to make decisions based on the current situation by looking at all of your options. Making decisions based solely on past successes can cause a company to be afraid to take risks or try new things. Success breeds success, until it doesn’t.

“The point is, in order to prepare for the future you need to unchain yourself from the strictures of the past. Let the past help and inform you; just don’t let it hold you back.”

Here’s one of our favorite sacred cows: the customer is always right. Don’t get us wrong; customers are critical to the success of your business. You need people to buy your products and services. We’re lucky to work with some great customers at CCC, but that doesn’t mean they’re always right. (Neither are we.)

Unless your business operates in an industry we’re not aware of, your customers are human beings. Human beings are fallible (yep, all of us), so customers are not always right. Of course, you want to provide the best customer service and experience in the world. You need to review each situation and understand when a customer is being unreasonable or is just plain wrong. (It happens, but if you work with great people, it doesn’t happen often. 🙂 )

“We’re just saying that slavishly kowtowing to the idea that the customer is the ultimate authority on how your business should operate is a surefire way to wind up with an inoperable business.”

In conclusion, use your brains. If you’re smart enough to run a business or be a successful businessman/businesswoman, trust your gut and decision-making skills. Don’t hide behind a sacred cow; it will kick you in the face eventually. (And read Death to All Sacred Cows for sound business advice and pure entertainment.)

Your Feedback
What is your favorite sacred cow to kill?
Have you read Death to All Sacred Cows? What’s your feedback?
What other business books would you recommend?

Eat, Pray, Love — In Business Too
Blink: The Power of Snap Decisions & First Impressions
Winning as the Underdog: Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths

p.s. I’m not being paid to recommend this book. I just enjoyed it that much!
p.p.s. No real cows were harmed while writing this article (or the book, to my knowledge).

Your favorite bookworm,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about sacred cows, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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5 Smart Steps to Become a Better Small Business Owner

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you dream big. That’s probably one reason you pursued this career path in the first place. Dreaming big is great, but it can also be paralyzing. Where do you start?

How to become a SocialMedia Manager by Urs Steiner via CC BY 2.0

“Entrepreneurs are often defined by the size of our ambitions, but the best way to make a big impact is to start small steps.”                                                                -Damon Brown, entrepreneur & author

Damon Brown, entrepreneur and author of Our Virtual Shadow, recently published a smart article for Inc. entitled 21 Simple Ways to be a Better Entrepreneur. In it, he shares easy steps you can take to make yourself more efficient and productive in 2016 and beyond.

Here are our favorites:

  • Schedule a blank day: Yes, you’re busy, but that doesn’t do much for you or your business in the end. Scheduling a blank day (which isn’t a vacation day) can help you focus on the big picture and shift direction if needed. When’s the last time you’ve scheduled a blank day?

Please stop telling me you’re busy.

  • Skip the heavy lifting on Monday: Mondays are a drag. No one really looks forward to them and you’re rarely satisfied with your production. If you work over the weekend, Mondays are even worse. So take Brown’s advice and only handle light lifting on Mondays, if you can.

Your Comfort Zone: Where the Magic Happens

  • Write more, type less: How often do you physically write things down? Strategies, ideas, thoughts, musings… While we’re always fans of the written word, writing by hand can create stronger connections, motivate, inspire and help you relax.

Things I Carry: Pen and Paper

  • Walk more: Innovative ideas rarely come to us while we’re sitting behind a desk. Physical activity can be a wonderful way to break out of a rut or see a situation more clearly. Struggling to put together a plan for a client? Trying to make a difficult decision for your business? Get up and go for a walk. You (and your brain) will be glad you did.

Need an Idea? Just Walk Away…

  • Read a book a week: Entrepreneurs and small business owners need to be constantly learning, and books are the perfect way to accomplish this arduous task. They’re also a way to travel to other cultures, learn from other people’s mistakes and get lost in another world. Even if you’re not a writer, reading is a habit that you should develop.

Eat, Pray, Love — In Business Too

Who are we kidding? We loved Brown’s entire list, especially the coffee and poker suggestions. What are your favorites?

We do struggle with a couple of them, especially In the first hour of your day, avoid email and social media. Perhaps this is a goal we can tackle in 2016. Which suggestion(s) do you struggle with the most?

Whether you agree with Damon Brown’s suggestions or not, we all want to be more productive and efficient. What additional tips can you offer to achieve these goals in 2o16?

We can help you be more productive and efficient by assisting with your marketing, writing and social media needs. Let’s discuss how we can help you!

Pic credit: How to become a SocialMediaManager by Urs Steiner via CC BY 2.0

Taking small steps to dream big,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about entrepreneurship, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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The Art of Follow-Up

It’s an integral part of the marketing process yet most marketers don’t do it. Unfortunately, not following up on your marketing efforts leads to missed opportunities and sales.

"Over Coffee" by Drew Herron via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Do you excel at the art of follow-up?

We get it. You’re busy. You meant to follow up on the leads from the tradeshow or a marketing campaign or your latest email newsletter, but other things got in the way. Your boss called. Your kids got home from school. Life happened.

What’s the big deal?

The business-to-business (B2B) buying cycle is longer than business-to-consumer (B2C) and typically involves more people. You have to spend more time nurturing prospects and may have to touch them 7, 8 or 9 times (or more) before getting a sale.

How Many Touches Make a Sale?

While you would love to send out an email newsletter and have your website flooded with orders, that rarely happens. However, with the analytics available today, you can see who opened your newsletter the most and what links they clicked on, along with other data. Follow up with these prospects! They’re interested and may have been interrupted by life before reaching out to you.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  -George Bernard Shaw, author

Now here’s the fun part. How do you consistently follow up with people without being annoying?

  1. Get Social — It’s helpful to be connected to your customers and prospects on social media (business accounts at least), so you can engage with them. Each like of a post or retweet is a soft touch and reminds the person that you’re available.
  2. Note Communication Preferences — You have a slew of communication options at your fingertips today, but your customers and prospects probably have a preference. If Bob prefers Facebook Messenger, send him a message. If Sally would rather talk on the phone, give her a call.
  3. Be Customer-Focused — Yes, you want the sale but that’s not your customer’s or prospect’s issue. Let them know why you’re following up: so they don’t miss incredible savings or show up at their tradeshow next week empty-handed. How is closing this sale going to help them?
  4. Be Flexible — If you’re not hearing back, offer to schedule a quick call or visit when it’s most convenient for your customer or prospect. Let them know that you value their time and will be brief. It may be easier for your customer to meet you at a coffee shop for lunch or talk on their way to pick up their kids after work.

Following up is extra work but it also leads to more opportunities and sales, especially when done right. Use your data to decide where your best opportunities lie, but be human when reaching out to your customers and prospects. The art of follow-up is one of those things that computers just don’t understand, and that’s a good thing. 🙂

Feedback on Following Up

How do you decide when to follow up with customers and prospects?

Have you noticed your customers’ communication preferences?

Do you need more targeted leads to follow up on? CCC is Inbound Certified and we make marketing that people love. Let’s talk about how we can help you. 

Pic credit: Over Coffee by Drew Herron via CC BY-NC-SA 2.o

Happy Follow-Up Friday!
Jaime

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Small Business Saturday: FREE Writing Guide

It’s Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving that is set aside each year to celebrate and support small businesses. We appreciate the love, but we hope that you support small businesses the rest of the year too.

Blue

Why?

  • Nearly 80% of small businesses are self-employed individuals.^
  • Businesses with fewer than 5 employees make up 62% of all businesses in the U.S.*
  • Small businesses employ nearly half of the U.S. private workforce.`
  • Since 1995, small businesses have created 64% of net new jobs in the U.S.`

Who are small business owners? Your sister, father, cousin, landscaper, handyman, dog groomer, designer, accountant and friend. We live in your neighborhood, vote on local issues and help strengthen the local economy.

In honor of Small Business Saturday, we’re giving away a FREE writing guide, The Power of the Pen: 5 Steps to Writing That Produces Results

More people than ever are expected to write today (i.e. blogging, company newsletters, social media), but some people just aren’t comfortable with the written word. We hope this writing guide helps you become more comfortable with your craft and achieve the results you want.

Of course, some people would rather focus on what they do best and leave the writing, marketing or social media to someone else. If that’s you, we’d love to help. Let’s talk to see if we’d be a good fit for you.

Now let’s hit Main Street and support some small businesses today!

A proud small business owner,
Jaime

p.s. Let me know what you think of the writing guide!

Join the conversation: 
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Sources:
^ NASE | * US Small Business Administration | ` Inc.

Specialized Services to Help You Run Your Small Business Smoothly

There are a variety of skills involved in running your own business, and so many to-do’s that it can get a little overwhelming. By using specialized services, I free myself up to concentrate on what CCC does best — help brands communicate with their target audiences.

Specialized services take care of the nitty-gritty and let me focus on being my own boss. I would recommend you try to do the same as much as you can. Here are a few services that can help you run your company smoothly.

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Copywriting

Content marketing is all the rage these days, and this popular (and effective) form of marketing requires a lot of quality content. If you’re not a writer, then you’re going to want to use copywriting services, which are essential for producing excellent content and running a successful blog. You need to make sure that everything you produce is of the highest quality and originality, which can be difficult to achieve if you’re working on your own. You might not have the necessary skills required to be able to keep up with the content demand for your company, or you’d rather spend your time on what you do best. Either way, CCC would love to help with your writing needs.

The Power of the Pen: 5 Steps to Writing That Produces Results

Affiliate Marketing

At any stage, it’s essential to spread the word about your company and the products or services it offers. If you have recently started your company or are going through a rebranding process, it’s even more important. Most small business owners want to bring in more targeted leads and increase their client base, but this can be difficult to achieve while juggling the daily demands of running a business. One solution is to use affiliate marketing services. They allow you to gain exposure on other people’s websites and attract targeted leads, while still focusing on other areas of the company, such as wowing current customers.

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”  -Jim Rohn

Appointment Reminders

As a business owner, you have to deal with a lot of appointments and meetings, some business-related, some not. One misstep and you can destroy your schedule for the day and a relationship for much longer. That’s why it’s important to use a service to help keep track of your appointments. Appointment reminder services send alerts directly to software that you already use. That way you never miss a meeting or appointment because you receive constant reminders of what you need to remember.

Jumping Off a Cliff: My 1st Year as an Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur or small business owner is a labor of love. Like you, I have poured so much into my business over the past three and a half years that it’s important to me that it succeeds. Succeeding in small business requires a lot of time, effort and money, but it’s worth it when you create a successful and professional brand.

Your Turn

What services help you run your business on a daily basis?

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs or small business owners?

“There’s nothing small about small business.”

Jaime

Let’s chat (about small business services, your hopes and dreams or otherwise):
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6 Things All Businesses Should Do Over Christmas

It’s that time! The Holiday selling season is upon us…

Christmas is a stressful time for both businesses and customers. Businesses worry about losing customers during this hectic season, and customers worry about getting everything done on their lengthy to-do lists. Sure, some businesses will pick up customers as everybody is in a mad rush to buy presents. However, others can lose out to companies with better marketing strategies if they’re not on the ball.

Here are things all businesses should do over Christmas:

Offer A Discount

You might not think that offering a discount is a smart move over Christmas. After all, you have the potential to make a lot more money here. However, there’s nothing really stopping a customer from heading to a competitor for their needs. If you offer a discount, you’re giving them an incentive to continue coming to you. You could even offer the discount exclusively to loyal customers to show them you care.

Send Free Gifts

Why not get in the Christmas spirit and send your customers free gifts? You could send them a free thank you gift off your own back, or send them a free gift with their order, whatever you feel most suitable. It doesn’t have to be a Christmas themed gift to be effective. You could even make it a sample version of one of your products, or a voucher to use against a service you offer.

Run Competitions

Run competitions over Christmas to get people interested in your business. You can do this both offline and online, or one or the other. Do it wherever you feel you’ll get the most response. Holding competitions online can really help you to expand your reach and exposure. People love the opportunity to win stuff, so create a fun Christmas competition for them to get involved with.

Send Cards to Customers

Sending cards to your customers both old and new shows them that you value them. It also helps to keep you in the forefront of their minds, so that they don’t completely forget about you at this time of year. The most effective way to do it is to send business ecards. Then you can send a discount along with the card and monitor your efforts too. You’ll be able to see exactly how many people interact with your ecard, and it’s more eco-friendly!

Create Christmas Landing Pages for Your Site

Creating Christmas landing pages on your site shows that you keep it up to date. A page like this will be more engaging to Christmas shoppers. People start Christmas shopping as early as September these days, so don’t waste any time!

Promote on Social Media

Don’t forget to use social media to promote your Christmas offers and engage with shoppers. Don’t shove your offers down their throats, but make sure your online marketing strategy is on point.

All businesses should make sure they do these things over Christmas. If you do, you’ll increase your revenue and be much more successful in retaining your clients (and even adding new ones). Make sure your marketing is in the Christmas spirit, and you’ll have a great start to the New Year!

Holiday Marketing Feedback

Are you looking forward to the Holidays?

How early do you start your Holiday selling (or shopping) season?

Do you prefer printed cards or ecards?

Happy Holiday selling,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about Holiday marketing, the magic of Christmas or otherwise):
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