Archive for June, 2011

Don’t talk about your goals.

I just returned home from a weekend in Laguna Beach. Like every resort town (or any town, for that matter!), Laguna oozes with its own distinct character. The local businesses and people comprise the town’s culture, and there was one aspect in particular that I noticed about the people: they all speak in the future tense.

“I’m going to … [fill in something great here]”

Personally, I prefer speaking in the past tense. Notice the difference:

“I’m going to start a business.”

“I started a business.”

Which narrator would you prefer to be? The latter? Me too. So, how do you get to the point where you can talk about your accomplishments vs. your goals? Don’t talk about your goals.

The human mind works on a rewards system. You create a goal, and you work toward that goal for the reward aspect. Maybe you want to lose weight. Why do you want to lose weight? To fit into a new summer bikini, or to stay fit enough to partake in a sport or recreation you enjoy? The weight loss is the goal, but the bikini and sport are the rewards. The same is true regarding business goals. Let’s say you want to grow your business 15 percent in the next six months. Why? Maybe it’s for a more secure financial position; maybe it’s because you value having a reputation as a savvy business person. Whatever it is, you’re working toward the goal (growing your business) so that you can enjoy the rewards (financial security and social value).

Well, when you talk about those goals, and you receive positive feedback, your brain processes that feedback as a reward. So if you’re already experiencing the pleasure of the reward associated with a goal before actually achieving said goal, there is far less motivation for bothering with the goal in the first place. Perception is reality, as the adage goes, and it’s particularly true in the case of goals.

Think about the last time you set a new goal. Now think about a time you when you were talking about that goal with someone and how excited you got and how… accomplished you felt. Strange, isn’t it? By talking about the goal, you created the perception that you were actively working toward it, even though you were merely talking about it. Your brain processed that perception as a reality, and you got a little taste of the reward before taking your first step.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the more you talk about a goal, the less likely it is that you will accomplish that goal.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that you never share your goals with loved ones or close friends — you need a sounding board to bounce around new ideas! But the next time you’re at a networking event or a coffee shop with an aquaintance and get the itch to start gabbing about that book you’re writing (you haven’t typed a word yet), shut it. Won’t it feel better to be able to tell them about your new book once it’s on the shelves at Barnes & Noble?

I’m not a psychologist, but Ramit Sethi is, and he talked a bit about this concept on a podcast I found. I’ve found it an incredible mental exercise, and — guess what? — I’ve accomplished more goals in the last month than I have in a year.

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

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Marketing Makeover Lesson 3: Learn the Capewalk.

The first time I ever heard of the Capewalk, it was in a very different context than business: it was a tip to help guys pick up women.

The Capewalk is all about confidence. And just as confidence is that intangible “it” factor that can be the make-or-break element in asking for a date, it’s also the make-or-break in business. It’s a great exercise that immediately creates non-verbal signals of competence and leadership. It goes something like this:

When you walk into a room (or toward an executive for a handshake), imagine that you’re wearing a cape. Seriously. Think about how Superman (or Superwoman!) would walk into whatever situation you’re facing: in such a way that that cape would flow elegantly behind him or her. Superheroes never look silly with a cape because they own their capes. So then, should you.

So let’s break that down a little. If you’re wearing a cape — and you don’t want your cape to lay limply at your back; remember, this is an accessory! — there are rules to how you stand, walk, even sit. Shoulders back, but not too back. Chest puffed out just enough so that your cape can flutter. And capes need to drape, so no slumping!

If I told you all that breakdown as individual things to remember, it’d be overwhelming. But tell you to walk like you’re wearing a cape, and bam! You’re a superhero.

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

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Marketing Makeover Lesson 2: Invest in a logo.

You may be a great graphic designer. You may have designed dozens of logos. When it comes to your own, however, get a fresh mind involved. And if you’re not a designer, it’s even more important to get a professional involved.

I am not a graphic designer. I design page lay-outs and can play with already-created images, but what takes a graphic designer 20 minutes to draw from scratch takes me two hours. To save money and time, I bought a stock image of a quill from istockphoto.com and created a logo-esque design for my company from there. I consider that a rookie mistake, and it’s one that a lot of entrepreneurs make.

Tempting as it may be, do not use clipart or a stock image as the graphical element of your logo. You — and more importantly, your company — deserve better. Your logo should be as unique as you company and should last just as long. When deciding on a logo, you want to imagine your business 10 years from now. Will that logo still be impactful? If not, ditch the logo idea. Keep tweaking a concept until it is just right. As you invest in building a brand for yourself, you don’t want to sabatoge that brand by having a second-rate logo that you’re going to have to change down the road. Because as all the blue-chip megacompanies out there can attest, even as you change your logo, you only do so subtly over long periods of time. That way, you keep your logo (and your brand) fresh and timely without compromising your image.

And so, in my mission to follow my own marketing advice, I’m currently working with my graphic designers to develop a new logo for The Write People LLC. A few things to keep in mind when deciding on a logo that represents your company:

  1. Color. Psychologists and designers know that different colors evoke different emotional reactions in people. So choose the colors carefully. You can learn about the meaning of colors with some brief research. Here, a quick guide:
    • Red: Energy, power, passion.
    • Orange: Youthfulness, fun, warmth.
    • Yellow: Cheer and energy. A word of caution, however: While a bright yellow evokes a happy, positive feeling, darker yellows can evoke associations with filth and grime.
    • Green: Growth, health, wealth.
    • Blue: Wisdom, loyalty. A very calming color. Warning: Blue suppresses appetite, so this is not a good color for a company involved in food services at any level!
    • Purple: Luxury, power, royalty.
    • Black: Elegance, class.
    • White: Purity, cleanliness.
  2. Font. It says a lot about your company. If you want a clean look, go for a sans seriff. If you’re wanting a more corporate look, go with a seriff. And for a more fun look, well, the options are limitless, but make sure you choose something readable and well spaced. Remember, your logo needs to be adaptable, as it will be displayed on everything from your website to your business card. You need a font that will look just as good at 8-point as it does at 36-point.
  3. Graphical element. Remember that not every logo requires a graphical element. Sometimes just the name of your company in a font and color that conveys the image that you want associated with your brand is perfectly sufficient. Others need a graphical element to really make it stand out. Choose what works for you, but heed my earlier warning about investing in a unqiue image that you can trademark: a clipart or stock image won’t cut it. And even if you are a designer yourself, sometimes it’s tough to see the forest through the trees with your baby. An outside professional will give you priceless unbiased perspective.

There are thousands of logo designers out there. Regardless of your budget, there is a designer that is a good fit for your needs. There are a few designers out there willing to work for $50 per logo, and there are a few designers that charge $1,000 per logo. For those looking to find something in the middle of the cost spectrum, expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a professional logo. You should have full rights to your logo — it does not belong to the designer. And you should have high-resolution images in multiple formats to maximize versatility. Anything less is unprofessional and not worthy of your business.

Do you have a story about your own logo experience? Share it; don’t be shy!

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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Entrepreneur Spotlight: Kim Jordan

“If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.” Those aren’t Kim Jordan’s words — they belong to Guy Dauncey — but they are words she lives by. And they are words that embody the principles she’s created for her company, New Belgium Brewery.

Take the company’s logo: a graphic of a bicycle. Sure, it was originally supposed to be iconic of Jordan’s husband’s bicycle trip through Europe, where he first fell in love with beer culture. But since then, it has come to embody those two cornerstones of the company’s philosophy: fun and sustainability. And to prove that the company walks the walk, it gives a bicycle to each of its employees.

That’s not all that New Belgium employees get. They also get equity in the company. Jordan never refers to her 395 employees as anything but co-workers. Those co-workers own 41 percent of New Belgium Brewery; management owns 14 percent; and Jordan and her family claim “the balance.”

When Jordan and her now late husband originally decided to start the brewery, they went on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to discuss what, exactly, the yet-to-be-born company was going to be about. Their informal business plan included just three goals:

1. Make world-class beer.

2. Promote beer culture.

3. Have fun.

You’ll notice, Jordan points out, that there was no discussion of customers or employees then because, well, they didn’t have any. “Entrepreneurship is something that sneaks up on you,” she says. Everything must be done in stages. So when the company did have employees, she decided that part of having fun was going to be creating community. She read a book about open-book management and decided it was a management style that was right for New Belgium. “But open-book management without equity is like inviting someone to smell the dinner without letting them taste anything,” she says. And let’s face it: part of the fun of running a brewery is the tasting part.

Her decision to share equity in the company with her co-workers demonstrated a valuable business lesson: in order to command any credibility, you have to make decisions that are consistent with what you’ve said is important, Jordan says. That lesson is still relevant when pursuing her other goals regarding sustainability. New Belgium utilizes solar-ray technology on its packaging farm, gets its energy from wind farms in Wyoming (even in 1998!) and reuses energy via heat transfers in its brewing process (Jordan and her husband used an aluminum trash can as a DIY heat transfer in their basement home brewery; the commercial heat transfer is considerably more advanced now). But the journey toward sustainability is far from over.

To better lay out plans to lessen New Belgium’s environmental impact even more, Jordan and her team decided to publish the company’s sustainability report, warts and all. It was a tough decision. On the one hand, the company prides itself on its environemntal policies. On the other hand, nobody’s perfect, and New Belgium’s carbon footprint, while commendably smaller than many counterparts in the industry, still exists. “It was really freeing, actually,” Jordan says now. “It was really freeing to say, ‘here’s where we’re doing well and here’s where we’re still working.'”

And New Belgium is in fact still working on its sustainability initiatives. Jordan has become a face of the social entrepreneurship movement, and her company has adopted something it calls advercacy, a mixology of advertising and advocacy, as a marketing plan.

So what percent of New Belgium’s success can be attributed to its tasty suds versus its sustainability initiatives?

“Whenever we don’t know the answer at New Belgium, we say seven,” Jordan says.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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Marketing Makeover Lesson 1: Don’t go it alone.

You’ve heard all the trite answers.

Question: Why do you want to start your own business?

Trite Answer #1: I want to be my own boss.

Trite Answer #2: I want to work from home.

Trite Answer #3: I want to make my own schedule.

While, at some level, all of these answers are legitimate benefits of having a business, they certainly shouldn’t be the first reason that pops into an entrepreneur’s head (what about the passion to share an innovative product or idea with an emerging or underserved market?). And while all these answers speak to self empowerment, don’t they also sound a bit lonely? Working in your slippers instead of your dress shoes is more comfortable, but how much human interaction are you getting in your closet home office? Probably not much. I should know!

As I’m undergoing my “Marketing Makeover” for my own business, I’ve realized that the best way to stay energized is to engage with other people as excited about entrepreneurship as I am. Without giving away too much too soon (I know you’re on the edge of your seats), the most fun part of remaking my marketing plan is reaching out to the people behind the expert opinions I’ve been researching. Not only am I finding valuable sources to inform the feature articles I’m working on for local business publications, but I’m also tapping into an entire community of like-minded people that, frankly, know a lot more than I do. What more could I ask for?

Starting a business has a bit of a rap for being a one- or two-person activity. Don’t fall into this trap! As you perform your market research, make sure you are doing as much primary research as secondary. It’s important to look at quantitative data, but putting together the stories behind the numbers is more interesting. And meeting the characters that comprise the stories is more rewarding still. No matter what your niche, there is a network in your area literally at your fingertips. Next time you read an article relevant to your industry, take note of the names of the sources in that article. If you read a quote that sticks with you, jot down the name of the speaker. Then, next time you’re on Google, type in the name of that speaker. Chances are, you’ll find an e-mail address or a website on the first page of hits. Your next step? Reach out! The worst thing that can happen is that you never hear anything back, but at least you worked up your nerve to try to establish a human connection. The best thing that can happen is that you connect with someone to establish a lasting relationship.

This is a lesson that every journalist is taught in learning to scope out possible sources. It’s a lesson I had to remember as a business owner looking to scope out the mentors and peers that create communities. What are you waiting for?

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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The snow has melted. Spring is here. Time for spring cleaning and new beginnings.

Being a ski instructor is a great job: it’s personally rewarding, it keeps me in physical shape and I get to do what I love, all day long. The only downside? I don’t get to do it all year long.

As my season came to a close, I realized that it was time to get serious about my business. Until now, I’ve mostly relied on word-of-mouth advertising here in Aspen and letting clients come to me. I also realized that my old website, while functional for my start-up purposes, no longer accurately reflected my services. I had a great winter season, but it was time for some spring cleaning.

So I completely redesigned my website. I deleted the services that hadn’t proven marketable and added services that, while not in my original business plan, cater to a need expressed by most of my clients. Out with the old, and in with the new.

At first I was concerned about this total revamp. I had worked hard to create an image for my company, or so I thought. But had I, really? Sure, I had a website and business cards. And I was constantly attending webinars and local business seminars to be an even more informed source for my clients. But was I taking my own advice? Not really.

So here it is, the advice package that I didn’t follow during the ski season. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving updates on the progress of my Marketing Makeover so you can follow along. You’ll get the inside scoop on what works and what you should skip. And of course, I’d love to swap stories and hear about your own successes.

  • Have a written marketing plan. I’m always happy to write business and marketing plans for others, but somehow always had an excuse for why I didn’t have time to write my own. Big mistake. I’m not finished with it yet, but having a written marketing plan has already demonstrated its value. It has forced me to sit down and really get to know my ideal client, which in turn has helped me figure out the best way to reach out to him or her. It’s also gotten the creative juices flowing for social networking opportunities and future events. By writing it all down in a timetable, I’ve created not only a plan, but a domino effect: even as I write the details for one idea, it usually inspires another.
  • Nail down the geographics. It’s easy for business owners to say that they want to expand their businesses, but to where, exactly? Creating a physical map pinpointing where you want to do business now and later is a crucial step in making that expansion a reality. Once you can look at your future expansion, it will motivate you to learn all you can about those places: the demographics of the people living there, the local culture, the local media… everything!
  • Get your books in order. All of these new plans you’ve been making are far more likely to succeed because they are well researched and written down. But they’re all going to cost money, which means you’re going to have to have a realistic budget. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of launching a marketing stunt only to realize that you’re going to run out of funds before pulling it off. If the financial side of running a business makes you squeamish, outsource it. Get your EIN (employee identification number) if you don’t have one and hire an accountant. Or check out my favorite resource, Corporate Tax Network. Instead of having just one financial adviser, I have access to an entire network of them, 365 days a year.
  • Identify potential partners. No matter how good you are, marketing is not a one-person job. It relies on your ability tonetwork with others. So decide with whom you want to network, what you want from the relationship and what you can offer in that relationship.

So that’s it. Seemingly simple. Now for the final ingredient to ensure a Marketing Makeover: follow through. I’ll unveil my makeover incrementally over the next few weeks. It’s scary undergoing a makeover — feedback helps!

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

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What the State of the Union means for business… and why now is the time to go global.

President Barack Obama gave the American people exactly what they need right now in his State of the Union address. And he gave the small business community some much-needed recognition and plan for “winning the future.”

For those that didn’t tune into the speech, Obama spent a bulk of his speech addressing the the Big 3 for staying competitive in a global economy: innovation, education and infrastructure. And on all three accounts, the role of small business was a mainstay.

The mood of the president’s speech can best be felt in this section:

“…yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.”

Increasing American exports is one of the president’s goals for fortressing our economy. In fact, he wants to double American exports by 2014. Steven McGee points out that small businesses comprise more than 97 percent of exporters, accounting for almost 29 percent of export value. Not too shabby.

So for the small businesses out there looking to contribute to the new goal and expanding your company’s reach in the global economy: What’s the first step?

Well, first, you have to take a hard look in the mirror. Are you ready to do some homework? Exporting opens up new channels to new markets, new customers, new currencies for that matter. It’s a great way to take your business to the next level and can be incredibly rewarding. But like almost every other aspect of starting and running a business, it takes work.

If you’re looking in the mirror and you think you see a business owner with international markets, great! And there’s better news still: The U.S. Small Business Administration has a plethora of resources designed to help make this reflection a reality. So step away from the mirror, head over to your computer, and go to www.export.gov/begin.

The first thing you’ll do here is answer a quick, yes-or-no questionnaire about your business. This will — hopefully — reaffirm what you saw in the mirror. When you get your results back (the SBA has a rating scale to gauge your “readiness” to export from a logistical perspective), you’ll find links to more information regarding financing, production capacity, shipping, dealing with international inquiries, international market research… the list goes on.

If your head is spinning, that’s OK! In fact, I’d recommend reconsidering your decision to export if it wasn’t. Exporting is a business in and of itself, so it makes sense to find an industry expert. If you’re willing to relinquish some control of the process in exchange for learning from a specialist, investigate export management companies (EMCs in the biz). The Federation of International Trade Associations is a great resource for finding a good EMC match, as are trade associations and publications.

The world is getting smaller, which means gaining access to it is easier than ever. And the Obama administration is, as was made clear in the State of the Union, a business-friendly one. So if you want to move into exporting, remember to focus on the Big 3: innovation (not a problem for business owners!), education (the information is out there — now go get it!) and infrastructure (building the means necessary to making your export plans a reality). Once you’ve done your homework, write a separate export business plan. Having a written plan with incremental milestones will make the process less daunting.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett


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Have an issue that you want addressed? Leave me a comment with your suggestion, and we’ll tackle it on my next blog entry!

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