Have You Turned on Your Financial Lightbulb?

Hard to believe that I’ve had my own company for 9 years now. As I’ve been contemplating my future direction, I found my mind wandering back through the years reflecting on the good, bad and the ugly of being an entrepreneur. Clearly, the good outweighs any of the challenges or I wouldn’t still be doing it today, but boy oh boy, the mistakes that I’ve made.

Are you paying attention to your numbers?

No, I don’t mean your sales numbers, although those are very important. I mean, are you paying attention to things like cash flow and profitability? If you were like me, you don’t pay much attention to the financial segment of your company.  You never learned about balance sheets and profit and loss statements.  Financial statements rarely, if ever get produced.  If there was enough money in the business checking account to pay the bills you are happy.  Your accountant?  You use him for taxes once per year.  Sometimes you are shocked that you owe the IRS a lot of money.

I certainly have a lot of business strengths, but people, accounting and finance are not two of them. As a result, I learned a lot of painful financial lessons over the years.  These days, I do pay attention to the financial side of my company.  Though I will never be a financial management wizard, I’ve discovered that minding your numbers is actually not hard once you understand the simple terms.

Meet Ruth King.

All of us have blind spots when it comes to our businesses. For some, it might be sales or operations. In my case, its finances. For the last several years, I’ve committed myself to learning because even though I will never be naturally gifted in the finance department that is no excuse for not knowing what is going on. I’d like to introduce you to my coach and teacher Ruth King, who is the creator of the website, www.TurnOnMyFinancialLightbulb.com, small business self-help financial coaching.

At Ruth’s site, you can learn about the importance of balance sheets,  profit and loss statements, cashflow, breakeven, pricing, and all of the financial things you need to learn to have a successful business.  Ruth explains this information in plain English, not in accounting gobblygook:

Hundreds of small business owners have taken this course to rave reviews like:

“I’ve been through other financial classes.  With yours I really got it for the first time.  The light bulb finally went off.”

 ”I normally don’t get jazzed about this stuff but I’m jazzed.”

 “I just wanted to drop you a line and thank you.  It is the best money I ever spent.  I now understand  how to read my financial statements and what the  income statement and balance sheet mean. Funny when you buy QuickBooks no one really  explains things the way you do.”

Ruth really knows how to explain accounting terminology in English so that you “get it.”  You take it when it is convenient for you.  And, Ruth even reviews your course homework to make sure you “get it.”

Take the quiz on the home page – I did. You can immediately see whether this course is for you. When you enter EV12578 in the promo code, you receive a $100 discount on the course tuition.  This is a “Thank you” from me to you.  It just might be the right thing to help you.

In the spirit of full disclosure…

I believe so passionately in the good work that Ruth is doing to help business owners improve their financial acumen that I signed on as a referral partner. As peeps from my network sign up for Ruth’s program, I’ll earn a little residual income also. Though I’m earning a little income from the referral, please know that Ruth really knows her stuff…I wouldn’t recommend her otherwise no matter what the referral fee!

What’s Your Why?

People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.  –Simon Sinek

If you haven’t checked out Simon’s TEDx video, you have to…now. The fact that it is in the top 20 TEDx videos watched is impressive on its own, but what Simon says (couldn’t resist) may seriously challenge your thinking. It has mine.

Let me ask you something…

Can you answer the question, why do you do what you do? I don’t mean what; I don’t mean how…I mean WHY.

Why do you sell cloud computing?

Why do you sell image consulting?

Why do you sell home services like plumbing repair?

Why do you sell books at Barnes and Nobles?

Why do you sell sponsorships to conferences with a cause?

Why do you sell social media marketing?

Why do you sell hotel rooms and conference space?

Why do you sell leadership programs?

Why do you sell coaching?

Why do you sell whatever the next wiz bang technology of the future is going to be?

Get the idea?

Famous leadership and motivational guru’s too numerous to name here have all preached about what they believe inspiring others is all about. Many have complicated theories, elaborate approaches or long lists of the tenets of great leadership.  But I have to say that when I listened to Simon talk about his concept of The Golden Circle, I had a serious “ah ha” moment. The concept is elegant and simple, but don’t be fooled. The concept is quite powerful, and if you, like me, really let the magic of Simon’s words sink in, I’m betting that you can’t help but be challenged to think differently also.

What is your why?

Meet someone at a networking event and ask them about their business and it is quite likely that the answer you receive focuses on “what” the company does and “how” they do it. Pretty standard and sometimes boring approach isn’t it? What’s really that inspiring about either one? What you do is merely the proof of what you believe to be important. The how…well, that’s just the process for getting it done.

Which leads to why…

Why do you do what you do? Simon suggests that using an inside out approach produces far greater results. People buy what you believe he tells us; not as much as what is accomplished or the results delivered. When you focus on the why, you realize that your goal is not about doing business with anyone with a pulse who can buy your product or service. Instead, your goal becomes one about doing business with people who believe what you believe.

There is no way that I can do the matter justice, so I want you to go and watch the video and then….come back and tell me what you think.


Networking Game Plan

by guest author, Peggy Parks, The Parks Image Group

I had never networked until I started my business and was absolutely petrified. What should I do? What should I say? How do I start a conversation? How do I end a conversation? What do I talk about? How do I approach people? What do I wear? It was all so overwhelming. Therefore I’ve decided to assemble this “cheat sheet” for those of you who may feel uncomfortable mingling in a room full of strangers. Read this before you leave the house!
Before the Event: Have a Plan

  • Where are you going?
  • Why are you going?
  • Who will be there?
  • What is your goal?

Make sure you have plenty of business cards (neatly organized in a card holder) and a pen and notepad. Clear out your wallet and handbag to avoid any embarrassing spills.

Have your “elevator pitch” ready. An “elevator pitch” is essentially a spiel you give in the time it takes to ride an elevator (anywhere from 30-60 seconds). Hit the major bullet points - who you are, what you do, what you’re looking to accomplish - and be prepared to recite this throughout the event.

When You First Arrive 

  1. Survey the room. As you approach the door, take a moment to check your posture, adopt a relaxed and confident facial expression, and determine whether or not anyone you know is inside. Take a deep breath - it’ll help you calm those nerves. 
  2. Make conversation. Approach someone who is standing alone - most likely they’ll be grateful for the effort. Do not interrupt people who are deep in conversation, and do not invade others’ personal space. If you’re still at a loss, introduce yourself to the host or check-in person; oftentimes they are happy to make introductions to get the party going.

What to Say
We all know to stay away from politics and religion, but you should also make sure that you leave your personal life behind. Don’t talk about health issues. Do not criticize the venue or the food. Do not gossip.
Check the headlines and be aware of what’s going on in the news. This will give you a conversation starter. “What do you think of….?” This way you can gauge the person’s opinion and respond accordingly. There’s less chance of offending someone.
The easiest thing to do is ask others to talk about themselves. We all love to do this. Even if the person you are talking to is boring, be mindful; do not make them feel uncomfortable. Listen to them, nod, agree, be in a forward position, and look at them, not at who is coming through the door!

Should the person not know how to stop talking, you need to make a graceful exit. Do not make them feel bad. Smile; tell them you enjoyed the conversation and that you need to mingle with others.

Business Cards
I attended an event earlier this year. The event had already started and I noticed a woman who came in late. Before she sat at a table, she made sure she distributed her business card to everyone in the room. She was trying to be “discreet” but was very disruptive and rude. The woman next to me said, “Peggy, she needs to take your etiquette class.” What was she thinking? (She wasn’t.) Do not hand out your business card unless someone asks for it. All they will do is throw it away. Do not assume you can add someone to your distribution list simply because you have their contact info. Networking is about forming relationships, not selling yourself. People won’t buy from you unless they know you, like you, and trust you. It all takes time. Research shows that it takes seven “touches” for people to remember you. Exercise a little patience and take the time to forge a connection.
What to Wear
If you want to “work the room,” I recommend that you wear friendly and approachable colors such as a medium brown, a medium blue, or earth tones (if they are flattering to your skin tone). Wearing black may be a bit intimidating.

Wear a jacket which has two pockets. It will help when giving out your business card. Put your business cards in your right pocket, and put the business cards you receive in your left pocket (or vice versa). This will prevent the embarrassment of giving out someone else’s business card!
Following Up
This is the most important part of networking. Don’t let a great connection slip through your fingers because you were too lazy to follow up!

  1. Enter your contacts into your database. Include a few notes so that you can recall what you discussed.
  2. Pay it forward by making connections and introductions. Not every person you meet will present a business opportunity for you - yet. But by connecting someone with another contact who may be in the same field you can impress two friends, who will more than likely return the favor down the road.
  3. Send a thank you note or email if you are short on time.
  4. Check back a month later.
  5. Connect on social media. LinkedIn and Facebook - provided your profile is professional, not personal - can be a great way to keep in touch.

Peggy M. Parks is an international image consultant and founder of The Parks Image Group, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Custom corporate workshops on professional business attire and etiquette, private one-on-one consulting that features a personal and individually crafted image plan and wardrobe planning and selection form the core services Peggy’s company provides. www.theparksimagegroup.com

Ignoring the Instructions

This morning, for about 5 minutes, I ranted, raved and stomped around my office wondering why some people either cannot or will not follow specific instructions. Why do some people just insist on doing it their way, no matter how many times you ask them to “follow it exactly as I’ve described here”?

For some things, like running your sales territory, maybe you don’t need specific instructions that detail what you should do with each and every minute of your day. Not all team members will need to do things the exact same way in order to achieve results. But for other things, like when you are working with technology, as an example, following the exact instructions usually means something either ends up working, or it doesn’t. Some instructions are meant to be followed!

The final irony…

The same individuals who blatantly ignore instructions, invariably will point the finger of blame at someone else when things fail to go as planned.

Resurrecting 3 Words

At the first of this year, I blogged about my respect for the approach that Chris Brogan takes with setting new goals. Tried his approach myself in 2009…I was pretty pleased with the results. Naturally, I wanted to challenge myself with Chris’ process again in 2010, which I did (and have), but I also said that I would be back in a few days to share with you my three words for the new year with you on my blog. I missed my deadline. I’m back now, and I’ll share my “key 3″ in just a minute.

Before I do…

As I climbed the sales ranks while still working in corporate America, I was conditioned to keep business and personal separate. Don’t discuss things like politics or religion or any other controversial subject for that matter. Don’t want to risk offending your buyer.  It’s that same conditioning that leads companies to fear social networking, blogs and the like. Understandable. You don’t want your employees to “blurt” anything and everything out there on the world wide web. It stays there. Forever. That’s why guidelines must be established, training given and appropriate management oversight put in place to ensure that employees don’t go to far off the corporate reservation.


If 2009 taught us anything, it’s that we must bring transparency, openness and trust back into our working relationships. In short, we need to be more human with each other. It’s OK to share what motivates you or knocks you down in life. That’s all part of being human. And that leads me to the reason why I disappeared for just a bit.

You see, nine months after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, my mother died on January 12, 2010. Though I knew it was coming, I was still knocked down. I had no clue what Alzheimer’s was really about before this happened. Perhaps, you don’t either. What I know now (and really wish that I didn’t!) is that the disease afflicts everyone involved. Frustrating, confusing and agonizing for the patient. About the same for the family members involved. The health and quality of life of many Alzheimer’s patients deteriorates over a period of years - not months. In that way, Mom was lucky. She isn’t suffering any longer.

The Alzheimer’s Association, which envisions a world without the disease shares a few statistics on their website, which might give you some sense of the disease’s magnitude:

  • As many as 5.3 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s.
  • Alzheimer’s and dementia triple healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and older.
  • Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s.
  • Alzheimer’s is the seventh-leading cause of death.
  • The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.

I pondered whether I would share this personal side of my life with you. In the end, I decided that it was OK. Tough things happen in our lives, which can sometimes knock the wind right out of our sails. People around us cannot help us or support us if they don’t know we need the help!

Finally, about those 3 words. My key 3 in 2010 are: Charioteer, Marksman and Physical.

  • Charioteer- like the Charioteer at Delphi, I holds the reins of success in my own 2 hands.
  • Marksman - this is about precision, practice, patience and teamwork.
  • Physical - reminds me to get outside to connect with mother earth and exercise daily. Good health is a gift!

Is it Time to Just Say NO?

Most of us are busy, but undisciplined. We are active, but not focused. We are moving, but not always in the right direction. -Jack Canfield

In the things they never told me before I became an entrepreneur file is how important it is to be a good steward of time. For most of us, we start our careers working for other people who have a schedule they want us to adhere too. Even though I lived in the world of sales where there is certainly more flexibility than in your typical 8-5 “go to the office” routine, there was still structure to the day. People expected things of me at specific times. It made it easier to say no to the other stuff. After all, it might not be wise to risk the paycheck. Why then do we develop amnesia in this area when we become independent business owners?

Entrepreneur = Rainmaker

Guess what? You won’t initially have much of a salary, if any, when you first start out. Unless of course you are one of the lucky ones whose company received a million dollar cash infusion from the local venture capitalist down the street. For most of us though, WE ARE the paycheck. Every moment of our time is either billable or not. And not isn’t a good thing. You need to remember that your corporate brethren aren’t thinking this way, because if they waste time here and there - they still get their paycheck. You, however, do not.

Saying NO is hard to do.

Though it was fairly easy when I was on the corporate clock to say no to requests that would interfere with my other business obligations, what is so different now? The answer will vary depending on the person, but here are 5 reasons why I think we stumble.

  1. Ego. It’s nice to feel in demand. When you are out on your own, it’s easy to feel a little disconnected and unrecognized.
  2. We feel obligated. After all, someone else introduced us and suggested that the two of us meet. It is even tougher if the connector is your paying client.
  3. People won’t like us. In our desire to “be nice”, we are driven to accommodate the wants of others forgetting that our own goals and priorities need to take center stage.
  4. Activity is confused with effectiveness. Lots of activity doesn’t magically lead to revenue. It is the right kind of activity that does.
  5. We aren’t thinking like real business owners yet. Real business owners know that their time really is money!

After the lunch meeting today that wasn’t, I was once more reminded of how important it is to think thoughtfully about what gets locked in on your calendar. An hour of my day was wasted waiting to meet someone who never called, sent a text message or an email to say he couldn’t meet with me after all. The eventual response to the email I’d sent while waiting in the restaurant was…”My apologies. I had a packed morning and did not check my calendar. Thank you for your understanding.” Maybe my response needs to be…”Here’s the bill for my time today. Thank YOU for understanding.”

A Is For Attitude

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, became the first man to break therogerbannister four-minute mile barrier. His final time was 3mins 59.4 seconds. Up until that time not only had it never been done, but no one believed that it could be done. Until Roger that is.

Bannister had a serious running setback at the 1952 Olympics, and as a result he spent two months contemplating whether he should continue to run at all. Ultimately he decided on a new goal instead - to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. Doing what no one believed could be done, Bannister believed in himself and visualized the possibilities, thus turning his belief into a tangible reality. And once Bannister broke the record and proved it was possible…runner after runner started following in his footsteps.

Moral of the Story

Roger Bannister reflected on his wins and his losses. Once he firmly commited himself to breaking the four minute mile, he got honest with himself about his strengths and weaknesses. With that knowledge, he put a solid plan in place to achieve his goal.

Whether you own the business or work for someone who does, Roger’s story applies to YOU. Your sales skills must be top notch because the clutter in the marketplace is deafening. If sales aren’t quite where they need to be, maybe it’s time to take an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Until you know what is getting in your way, it’s going to be hard to turn it around.

To Sell or Not to Sell in the Online World

Discussion about how to “build relationships” in the online world and what’s acceptable in terms of “how to sell your stuff” seems to be on the rise lately. That’s to be expected I suppose, especially when you see some fairly obvious multi-level marketing tactics being displayed. It is a quandary I guess, isn’t it?

The whole idea of using social media/social networking from a sales point of view is to build relationships that lead to sales. Done right, I totally believe using social media helps you to better qualify leads and shrink the sales process. That’s all good and helps you to build your business. But notice that I said “done right”. What a conundrum. If you “sell from the podium” you risk trashing your brand. And if you don’t, what’s the point of being online if you can’t convert your activity into sales?

Good questions. I don’t know if I have the “right” answers…I just have my perspective.

In over 25 years of professional selling, I can honestly say that blatant self promotion has never been in vogue. Ever. Done in the online space, it’s worse.

What leads to people to…

  • Ask questions that they then answer by talking about how great they are? We are not fooled!
  • Answer questions and not actually contribute to the dialog, but just yak, yak, yak about themselves and their products?
  • Provide answers to questions that are clearly a push to their affiliate site? At least be honest about what you are doing.  Are you really that desperate?
  • Pretend they are trying to provide value, but then they manage to “sneak in” their own stuff. Please - do you think we can’t tell?
  • Not even answer the question at all, but instead sell their product instead. For example, in a recent LinkedIn group the question was “we are evaluating Achieve Global. Have you used their programs and what do you think?” This wasn’t a request for people to “pitch” their competitive product, but out of the first 5 responses - 4 did exactly that. Disgraceful!

I don’t know. Is it really that tough to just want to be in service to others knowing that you’ll get your just desserts at some other point? My belief is in the “do unto others” model…I don’t pollute the dialog with my sales pitch…maybe you could refrain from yours.

Are Your Sales People Tapping Their Secret Weapon?

During these challenging economic times, I’ve more than once heard a business owner or sales person tell me that they didn’t connect with their current customers, because “they probably weren’t going to buy anyway.” Not only might their assumption be wrong, since when did the customer relationship become only about today’s sale?

The social web has changed the way that your customers purchase products and services! If you aren’t visible to them, you put yourself at significant risk of losing sales opportunities. Buyers these days are proactive. They educate themselves about what is available, which means that the sales process has been transformed into a “buying process.” Unfortunately, many sales people fail to realize that things have changed. Smart sales people will take advantage of the opportunities that the social web offers by being visible, staying on top of trends, looking into the future and finding ways to position themselves as a well-educated navigator who is an open influencer instead of a convincer. Become a “trusted adviser” who stays connected regardless of the economic situation.

Three 3 Tips for Reconnecting

  1. Evaluate your communication process with your current customers. When is the last time you talked to them? Are they aware of all that you have to offer? Don’t assume they know. Ask yourself what you can do for them…can you make a connection for them or share a valuable piece of business information that helps them seal a deal?
  2. Use tools like LinkedIn to expand your reach in an account. Who else in the company has a LinkedIn profile that you can get to know? If your current contact has moved on to other things, you can use the LinkedIn “Companies” feature to search out new connections within the account.
  3. Create newsletters using email marketing products like Constant Contact. Share relevant business content to keep your customers informed about industry trends, market opportunities and the newest in what you have to offer.

Remember that your existing customer base is a gold mine of opportunity; a competitive advantage that is often overlooked. Stop randomly chasing new opportunities when “acres of diamonds” are sitting right in front of you!

When A Team Pulls Together

Today I’m thinking about innovation, service and teamwork. As I write, I’m flying back from Washington, DC where I attended the national ASTD conference. Here I am sitting on an airplane 35,000 feet in the air able to use my itty bitty EEE PC to write my blog post. Marvelous!

Travel for me - business travel anyway - has lost a lot of its luster in the years since 9/11. In addition to all the other challenges of air flight these days - like being practically stripped down to walk through the security gates - airlines have now begun to charge us for the “privilege” of checking our bags leading many people, including myself to carry on more than we used too. Of course that typically leads to longer boarding and deplaning times, but I guess that doesn’t matter much to these airlines who often treat us more like cattle than human beings. On top of pricey airline tickets, huge penalties for making changes if your plans change, now we have to pay $15 a bag each direction if we don’t want to hassle dragging all of our bags on board. I wonder, what’s next? Is expecting great customer service just too much to ask? I am a bit cynical on this topic, so I would normally say yes. Today was a rather unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable surprise.

A Lesson in Professionalism and Teamwork

I’m traveling on the noon Delta flight #1965. As I discovered after arriving at the airport, the flight just before mine had been cancelled. That led to the usual challenges for people who had connecting flights that were now impossible to make. And it meant that my flight, which wasn’t full when I changed my travel plan this morning, now, had to accommodate those people impacted by the change. It could have been a disastrous, frustrating situation for everyone. It wasn’t!

The attendants manning this flight have to some degree restored my faith that great teamwork and stellar service do exist. Gate attendants quickly and expertly re-booked tickets and soothed frazzled feelings. Onboarding happened about as quickly as I have ever seen. This flight crew totally had it going on! They helped people get bags in the overhead bins quickly and organized them in ways that accommodated all passengers. Everyone co-operated (passengers included) and we took off right on time. Awesome!

During the early part of the flight, the air conditioning was working over time. We’re talking serious meat locker here, and as soon as attendants noticed they worked to correct the issue to ensure everyone’s comfort.

Professional, courteous, kind, efficient, friendly - what more can you ask for? This Delta team worked together like a well oiled machine, and it is obvious that they care about doing great work. Hats off to the flight crew on Delta #1965! You made my noon flight from DC to Atlanta one that was truly more pleasure than pain. Thank you! Your peers and management should take note!