Deep Breath Time – Surviving The Recession

main1.jpgIt’s 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. You have your cup of coffee and you sit down at your computer; time to check the email. And it’s it’s warming up, it’s logging on, and it’s checking, checking… checking an-n-n-n-n-n-d, there’s nothing. You decide to check again because there’s probably something wrong with the server. ——- Still nothing.

You take a deep breath- no email isn’t that big of a deal.   You’ll spend a few moments checking job boards. Board #1-nothing. Board #2-nothing. Board #3-nothing; in fact-there’s been nothing new on this board for two months.

You begin to hyperventilate.

This has been the same scenario for two weeks now. You’re wondering if you can get your old job back. Yes, you called your boss a balding, stupid, lazy idiot-but that was a while ago, maybe he’s forgotten. Your friend is quitting her job, maybe you can leap into her space.

Stop. Take another deep breath and begin to think clearly. No one ever said working for yourself was going to be easy. All businesses face tough times but you have to be a survivor. Remember all the advice that you’ve given your clients and remember all the great work that you’ve created. It’s time to put all of your talent into yourself.

First, don’t take the set back personally. Everyone is experiencing pains right now and the lack of work has nothing to do with your capabilities.

Secondly, keep working. Whatever you do, do not give up. Do work on commissions, reduced rates or even volunteer. Anything is better than nothing. Your mind will stay active and who knows what other great leads or ideas you may stumble across.

Start reading. Read every trade magazine/journal for your expertise. You’ll ensure that you have only the most up-to-date information and these publications can be an incredible source for business leads. You’ll know who’s expanding, who’s shrinking and what new projects are on the horizon.

Touch Base with all of your old clients. Make sure they remember you and the fantastic work that you performed for them. You might hit at just the right time when they could use a little help.

Start cold-calling-become the salesman that you never wanted to be. Selling yourself can be the most daunting task but you have to become a superstar. Remember, the worst that can happen is you can be told no. We’ve all heard that word before and it’s not that bad.

Expand your skills. Use this time effectively, if you’ve never built a website, try. If you’ve never submitted to search engines, do it. If you’ve never designed a database, give it a shot. The more skills you have the more marketable you become.

Remember, this too shall pass. The economy is based on peaks and valleys and what goes down will come up. Be ready for the next upswing.

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You Can Still Start A Business in A Recession

1039-woman.jpgYes, you can start a business in a recession. 

We know the headlines are bad, and this is not downplaying the effect of the economic upheaval the U.S. is facing, but no matter what, the world is not going to stop.  You can still start a business, you can still follow your dream, your entrepreneurial fire; you just have to be a little smarter and a little original. 

Recession fears haven’t slown down the venture capitalists, they invested a 6 year high of $29.7 billion dollars in 2007 :

“The industry’s optimism stems from a belief that many of today’s hottest concepts either are recession-resistant or are developing moneysaving products that may have even more appeal during an economic downturn.

The investment areas spurring the optimistic outlook include: health care and biotech; the Internet; and technology aimed at developing alternative energy, reducing pollution and promoting conservation”

         -Yahoo News

A word of caution, I’ve mentioned it a few times already, this is not the time to head into social networking.   If you don’t already have an idea of how to completely revolutionize social networking – please don’t start now.  I believe I’ve reported on at least 6 new sites in the past month; the market is becoming clogged; this is not the time to try to squeeze in.   

Not that social networking isn’t an important aspect of any marketing/promotional campaign in 2008,  just don’t bet the whole kitty on it – don’t be another social networking site.

Look for a niche – find something new – look towards green, the environment. Just because it’s good, doesn’t mean it’s not profitable, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I wasn’t kidding about the designer grocery bags – with plastics being banned with increasing freqency, it’s going to take a special bag to stand out at the grocery store. 

Keep your eyes open, look for that opportunity to jump out, and no matter what you do,  write a business plan. Do not just take off running, this is not your college road trip.  Work it through,  there are details you haven’t even thought about thinking about yet. 

I’m putting together a detailed post on what should be included in a business plan.  In the meantime, feel free to email me for a business plan outline. 

Suzie Homemaker or Ms. Powersuit?

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Whether we like it or not, the single biggest obstacle between women and career success, is the overwhelming responsibility that most of them have on their shoulders.  Women look after their families, their households, and many are facing the reality of looking after their elderly parents (1.2 million in the U.K. alone).  Women don’t have time to shower, never mind finish payroll, put together sales proposals or travel extensively for business. 

It is amazing that after 40 years of independence, women are still being overwhelmed by their daily lives.  The question of course is why?

Our spouses, partners and families are perfectly capable of helping, so why is it still on our shoulders?  Are they shirking their duties or are we still living with a superwoman dream?  Do we still want to be Suzie Homemaker at home and Ms. Powersuit at the office?

It’s probably a combination of the two.  Our families our more then happy to be waited on, while we want to be looked upon as nothing less than the most organized and resourceful woman in the world.  This is completely unhealthy though and is destroying us on physical, mental, emotional and professional levels.  It’s time to start taking real steps to gain real control of our lives. 

Step 1:  Realize that you can’t do everything yourself. 

I realize that this is probably the hardest step to take, but it’s o.k., that’s why there’s more people on the earth besides you, so they can help out.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and it wasn’t built by one Empress.  It’s time for a family meeting, where you can tell everyone exactly what you need, to make your life easier.  This is going to be a big change for all involved, but it’s time to make it clear that things are going to change, why they’re going to change, and what everyone is going to do about it. 

Step 2: You’ll Actually Need to Verbalize the Requests

I know that we often expect the men in our lives to read out minds, but science has shown that they do not have telepathic abilities yet.  You will actually have to say: “Can you pick the kids up from soccer, I’m busy.”  Surprisingly, if you put a note in their palm pilot, they’ll usually show up at the field on time, and everyone will make it home safe, without you. 

Step 3: Realize that nobody’s house looks like Martha Stewart’s, except Martha Stewart

The world is not going to end if you leave the house and there are dishes in the sink.  Your children are not going to die of malnutrition if they eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for supper.  Stop feeling so guilty.  

I realize that our mothers and grandmothers had floors that you could eat off of – but is that really necessary?  Are you ever going to eat off the floor?  Why’d you spend $2 grand on that dining room table?   And let’s not forget the five second rule, you’re always covered by the five second rule.

Your family should be more worried as to whether or not you’ve had 15 minutes to rest in a day, then if there are clean socks for the morning.  It’s not illegal for a 12 year old boy to wear the same pair of socks for two days; in fact, he’s probably doing it anyways. 

Step 4: Realize that your children have hands. 

Did you know that children who are raised on farms, get up at 5:00 a.m. to do chores, before they go to school?  And do you know what – they actually survive!  I haven’t heard of a rush of farm children, running to the psychiatrist’s office, because they had to do some manual labour. 

I’m not saying to hire your children out as farm labourers, but I am reminding you that they are perfectly capable of folding some laundry and washing the dishes.  Realistically, helping around the house will turn them into adults who can actually look after themselves.  Their future partners will thank you.   

The Angry Customer – Learning How To Deal Effectively

You’re at work, you’re having your coffee, some casual conversation with co-workers – it’s a good day.  Then suddenly, there he is – THE ANGRY CUSTOMER.  How you decide to handle this situation can truly be a career-altering decision.  Is this customer going to leave angrier, hell bent on telling every person that he knows how incompetent your company is? or is he leaving feeling appreciated and willing to not just return to your company, but to spread good will about your customer service?   

The common theme running through every angry customer that you have to deal with will be the questions that angry customers ask: 

“How could this have possibly happened?” 

“What is going on here?” 

“Do you know what I’ve been through?!” 

“What am I supposed to do?! “

 “What are you going to do about it?!” 

Most will be shouting; some will be using offensive language; all will be incredibly frustrated.  The most important point that you must remember at this moment is that they’re not angry with you personally.  They’re angry with the situation; they may even be angry with their spouse, employer, mother, whoever, and what happened with your organization was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  

When you’re dealing with angry customers remember is to stay calm (deep breaths, good air in, bad air out ).  If you become argumentative it will only enflame the customer and the entire situation can quickly spiral out of control. This is where you have to utilize all of your listening skills and pay close attention to what your customer is saying.  Being listened to is sometimes all that they really want. and all that is really needed, to make the customer feel whole again.   

Find out exactly what went wrong, and exactly what the customer wants you to do about it.  You need to know what they feel needs to happen to resolve the situation.  If it’s impossible to correct at that moment then you have to be the one to take ownership of the problem.  Ensure the customer that you will have an answer in a short time frame and you will contact them.  Give the customer your direct line and make sure that you answer their call.   

Dealing with the angry customer will always be the most difficult aspect of your day.  Take care of it and you will be the hero.  Don’t take care of it and you can be positive that everyone your customer comes into contact that day and most likely the next, will hear about it.

Fear of Failure

1/3 of the female population would start a business if it wasn’t for the fear of failure.1 

Fear of failure?! What is this about?  Women are the most powerful creatures on earth.  Women are the creators of life!  They actually grow human beings in their bodies and then extract them through the most painful way possible and they’ve been doing this since the beginning of time!  Historically, it may have been the men that went marching off to war but it was the women holding everything together at home – and today we’ve evolved to where women march right beside men on the battlegrounds.  Women handle and control crises every single day.  Can it be possible that fear of failure is holding women back in the business arena? 

Fear is a powerful force and we have to acknowledge that the fear of failure can be crippling.    Nonetheless, one of the first things to be noticed about true leaders is their utter lack of fear – at least on the outside.  Summoning up the courage to let go of our fears must be the first real move to greatness – shedding all the pettiness that surrounds us and taking that first step forward.  When we realize that fear is the greatest dream killer known to man and when we realize that the worst that can happen is that we fail is when we will start opening doors.  Remember, failure is only failure if you accept it as such.  

The world won’t end if you don’t succeed the first time. You got up when you fell off your bike and you got another job after you were fired (because we’ve all been fired somewhere along the way) – life goes marching on so it’s time to get in the parade.  Thinking that dreams don’t come true or that great things don’t happen to normal people is just a cop out as well.  Coco Chanel spent many years in an orphanage after her parents died.  She started designing her own clothes simply because she couldn’t afford to buy any – the rest is history.  Oprah Winfrey was raised by her grandmother in a house without plumbing.  Today she has a personal fortune estimated at more than half a billion dollars.  If success can come to these women, why can’t it come to you? 

If you’re unhappy with your life, there’s only one person who can accept the blame and you look at them in the mirror every day. Choice. You choose where you are in life.  If you don’t like your job – leave.  I don’t mean walk in and flip your boss the bird but take some time, seriously analyze where you want to be in this world, how you can get there and then DO IT. Realistically, we only have 80 good years on this earth – you might as well be happy with them because the effects of stress and depression will cut 15 –20 years off of what little time we have. 

Most people look at successful people and think “that could never be me” – Why Not?    Muhammad Ali – the greatest professional boxer that ever lived – do you think that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth?  No – he had to fight the U.S. Government, and the boxing associations to realize his dream.  He had mouths to feed, he went broke but he still persevered to become one of the most beloved figures in history.  You have to realize that he started with nothing but talent and a dream and he made it work. Martha Stewart was a housewife; Oprah Winfrey a weather girl, Emeril Lagasse worked in a Portugese bakery in Massachusetts.  None of them were born wealthy and they aren’t any different then you and me – they just stayed on course, never bending and worked endlessly towards their own dreams. 

Of course there will always be bumps in the road but : “Failures are the highway to success and the mistakes help us learn how to succeed”[1] Remember – your life, your responsibility, your choice – the buck stops here.  Use these stories as a leadership lesson plan and begin to live outside your comfort zone.  Use the story of a successful restaurateur in your city and use it as a leadership lesson plan – it’s not just the famous who are successful, there is success around us everyday – learn from it.  

Getting It Together

You know that your ideal life does not include working 18 hours a day – 7 days a week. You also know that to start making the necessary changes in your life, you need to build a real support network. But you also need to make some real structural changes to how you handle your day.  You need to change the way you think. 

You might actually end up being very surprised at how much physical energy you’re going to have to exude just to put your brain waves on a slightly different path. Not because what I’m telling you is difficult, but because North Americans have been programmed that the only way to be successful is to work non-stop.  The real hard truth is that in reality, the truly successful people simply do not work every second of every day.   How could they when they’re always in the newspapers and magazines playing golf and going to parties?  They know how to set up barriers between their personal and business lives and they know how to use their down time for rejuvenation.   

Here we go though – I’m about to pull out hose two dreaded little words – you know the ones – time management.  Do not immediately scroll past this post!  I know that this phrase sends visions running through your head of yuppies with sweaters tied around their neck and releases the blocked out memories of long, boring seminars and endless piles of daytimers and colour coded calendars. 

The problem with time management though is that it became an industry onto itself that the message was lost in all of the marketing.  The message itself is important though and the implementation is actually quite simple. I’m going to  present it to you short and straight because it really isn’t difficult to master and the lessons you will learn will truly enrich your life.  

The first lesson of the day is:

Not today, not tomorrow, not next year – there is never going to be a moment when you’re going to sit down and think, “Gee, I have nothing to do”.  You own your own business and that’s just the way things are.  Finally realize that it’s o.k. if everything doesn’t get done.  What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if you don’t finish all of your invoicing today or don’t send out all of your company Christmas cards?  The world is not going to end if you don’t get everything done, because if it were, it’d all be over by now. 

So you now have a new mantra:

“It’s o.k. to leave things for tomorrow”

“It’s o.k. to leave things for tomorrow”

“It’s o.k. to leave things for tomorrow”

Good air in – bad air out

Seriously though, get used to running that thought through your head because as an expert multitasker, there’s a small drop of masochism in you that actually enjoys the drive of 16 hour days and full pots of coffee – but it’s time to let go before you have a caffeine overdose. 

Second Lesson of the Day

Remember Perfectionism does not equal profitability

Do you really need to colour code your files? 

There was a very lovely lady who ran a very clean office.  There was not a paper or paperclip out of place.  Every label for every file folder had to be typewritten and no letter was to leave the office until reviewed by her.  Every invoice was filed in triplicate and there were signs posted around the office giving instruction on how to make the coffee, how to organize the supply cabinet and how to keep the bathroom clean.  If ever a piece of paper was accidentally filed under “halo” instead of “haley”, there would be a full-blown hour long meeting reminding the staff of the importance of organization and the file clerk’s work would be monitored for at least a full week afterwards.   

Yes, you could definitely say that there had never been a more organized office in the history of offices.  This lady worked every day from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (never venturing out for lunch), as she developed new spreadsheets, new forms and new procedures for keeping the office spotless.  

The only problem was (other then driving her staff insane), that even in her world of perfection, the business wasn’t growing.  She had the same clients for years and would occasionally attract a new client from the phone book ad but even though she was excellent at maintaining the status quo, just imagine what she could have done with all of that time she spent micro managing.  She could have been circulating business cards at chamber of commerce meetings.  She could have been attending tradeshows and she could have been taking the time to research potential new markets.  Instead, she worked incredibly hard to reach a plateau and then she stayed there until she finally retired.  If her energy and dedication had of been focused on growth instead organization, she could have been huge. 

Remember that book – don’t sweat the small stuff – well this is it.  Having the most organized desk this side of New Mexico isn’t going to make you a million dollars.  Having your pens colour coordinated in their holders isn’t going to help either.

Let’s stick to what is actually important