Are You Giving Your Business Away?

I love getting a little extra. The extra shot of espresso or added whipped cream to my coffee drink, the discount for being a frequent customer, and even receiving some free expert advice – it adds up over time when I am considering how to patronize the businesses in my area. As business owners, when do you provide value (for free), and when do you ask for a commitment (by way of a financial payment)?

Being in commercial real estate, having additional experts on speed dial is a great added benefit to my clients (who are business owners) and for my own business.. A few areas of expertise that I value in my business is that of an attorney and a CPA. Reviewing complex real estate contracts, to evaluating how a business is established (or dissolved) and the profitability model are some of the areas I like to lean on my expert friends for. Over the years, I have had these experts provide a quick insight or perspective to my clients, as well as develop long standing and profitable (for both sides) relationships. When I followed up recently with one of these friends, I asked him how he determined how much advice to provide up front without the expectation of a fee?

That can be a tricky question for a lot of us. If you are in real estate, like me, your paycheck doesn’t come until the business is fully complete (and sometimes not at all if a deal falls through). For others, a payment structure is established at the beginning and an invoice is provided for payment for the time it took to complete the job – whether the outcome was good or bad. If your business sells a product, then the exchange of payment for the product usually happens at the same time (unless the product needs to be ordered, then payment is usually placed up front and the delivery of the item comes later).

As business owners, we need to carefully consider how much up front value is comfortable for each of us. Here are some things to evaluate about your business:

  1. Will up front value increase the propensity for a sale?
  2. Will up front value create a higher sale?
  3. Will up front value set you apart from your competition?
  4. Is there a cost to providing up front value?

I am asking you to think about value in a little different terms. For many years, the term “value added” was the norm. I think it was a very popular fast food restaurant to coined the phrase “do you want fries with that?” The value add proposition was born. In this day and age, value can be tangible, but value can also be perception. The expectation of value needs to be established at the start, so the buying decision can then commence.

The beauty of our businesses is that we can determine what value we can and want to provide. What you may become surprised with is what your customers actually are willing to pay for. Those “value add” offers could work in your favor if structured and marketed the right way.

The Confidence Quotient

Even the most put together, self assured person can struggle with confidence. It is intimidating to make the cold-call, give the presentation and ask for the business sometimes. How can you overcome those obstacles and feel confident?

I want you to remember that you never have to be 100% prepared for anything. Part of your internal confidence quotient is your ability to connect the dots. I used to get all up in my head about an upcoming meeting if I wasn’t 100% sure of everything. Rest assured, I bet there isn’t a single person in the room that is at 100% either!

What can you do to give yourself that confidence boost?

  1. Find out what THEIR goals are. We tend to want to share our needs first, especially when time is limited. Wait on that. The best way to boost your confidence is to give a boost of confidence to the person you want to connect with. If you can validate and understand their goals, your likelihood of setting that next meeting is high.
  2. Why would (insert name) want to meet with you in the first place? I have met a lot of salespeople over the years who, when I ask them this very question, answer it with an elevator pitch of their best product or service. That’s not what they want to hear. Here’s a secret: your potential customer wants you to identify their biggest issue, problem, or success. They want to be understood and know that you know what they want. Find those common goals and interests, and make connections outside of your product or service.
  3. Bring something of value. I bet you have a pretty good handle on your industry. What is something that you have learned that could enhance their productivity, connections or profits with no sales commitment with you? I’m not saying to give away the farm with this information, but give them a taste of your value.
  4. Offer your network to others. It is one thing to ask for a referral from others, but how about offering to use your network to refer as well? This goes right along with that value add item, and can be a pretty powerful tool.
  5. Show genuine gratitude. Even after a first meeting or connection, when I hope you are sending a “thank you” note or email, thanking others for their contributions to your business and life are essential. It isn’t just a feel good, but solidifies your presence in their life and creates connections into a greater understanding of both you and them.
  6. Slow down. When we are nervous, we go fast! It’s a physical response. Our heart beat quickens, our palms (and other areas) start to sweat, we exhibit a sense of urgency. Take a deep breath, and focus on taking it slow. When I first started public speaking, I had to mentally tell myself to speak at the pace a four-year-old could follow. Slow and articulate speech shows, and builds, confidence. It allows you to annunciate your words, and carefully consider your responses and thoughts before they leave your mouth. It also allows you to focus on listening to others, when you are not in such a hurry to respond!

Confidence building is an ongoing activity. As someone who works in commission based sales, I have had my highest highs and lowest lows in the same day! You can build strength and confidence around daily practices, so the major ups and downs won’t affect you as much.

Teaching Moments

Ok 2020. I got it. I’ve struggled, and muddled, and fought against the “new normal” long enough. This year was a teaching moment for all of us. While we are days away from putting it all behind us, as many of us like to say, I think we are on the horizon of realizing who we really are.

There has been no better environment to find out what you are made of than 2020. Who were you before you were forced into quarantine? Who were you before you thought about the air that you breathe? Who were you when you went about your everyday and thought more about the errands that needed to be completed instead of thinking about adversity?

I’ll tell you who I was. I was someone who didn’t truly appreciate my home and my community. I was someone who put off until later the value of spending the time, making the memory and enjoying the sunshine. I was someone who would doubt my own abilities because someone put a thought in my head that said I couldn’t.

This year has been a series of teaching moments, and that alone has been a blessing.

What I have learned this year has been empowering:

  • I am married to my soul mate. My heart hurts for couples who have gone through break ups this year. Choosing your life mate is probably one of most important things you will do in life, and (in my opinion) way harder than raising kids. Spending more time than usual together is definitely a test of your relationship. I knew that my husband was this person long before COVID hit, but this year has been strengthening to our relationship in ways that make me excited about the future.
  • I have a voice that is unique and powerful. I used to overthink my blog posts, podcasts, emails…you name it. Drafts and more drafts would be constructed before I would feel confident enough to publish. What I have learned this year is that my voice, ideas and messages are not meant for everyone. And that is OK. Those that feel connected to what I have to say are who I am meant to be with and work with.
  • There is no roadmap for success. While there are always lessons to be learned from those that went before us, no one has lived and experienced this year. You create your own path, and you make the rules.
  • I don’t have a place for assholes. I was amazed at how much I “put up with” from other people. Whether it was the offhand comment, to just being, well, an asshole. I realized that I can’t change the world, but I can change how I react to it. How I show up in the world makes a difference, and has given others the strength to do the same.
  • We can create change even in micro steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and people’s minds, attitudes and deep seeded systematic racism won’t change in a day. We need to take steps, even the smallest steps forward each and every day to understand, become aware, and advocate for our fellow human beings in these great communities that we call home. I want to live in a world where the color of someone’s skin, the spelling of their name, which gender they identify with, or knowing their background doesn’t even give a millisecond of pause to anyone.

I want you to make your time on this earth the best that it can be. Share your talents with us. Show forgiveness and grace. Walk away from those that don’t serve you, and be a teacher for others to learn from.

What is Your Frequency?

“Check in with yourself before you check in with the world”

– Matthew McConaughey

How do you operate most days? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you enjoy bursts of activity, or quiet spaces? Do you like to live in the moment or are constantly planning for what comes next?

The truth is, we ALL operate on various frequencies that don’t always sync up with those that are around us.

I have realized that I am a morning person. I naturally wake up early (some days earlier than others), but don’t necessarily like to have to be put together early. I like my quiet time in the morning to get a cup of coffee, check the news / emails / social media and get organized for the day. I feel the most at peace when I have some space in my morning routine and don’t feel rushed to get out the door. But when I’m ready, I go all in. I thrive on the hustle and bustle of my day. I love meetings to create strategies and solutions, and most importantly provide value to my clients. I am charged up by moving the dial a little more and a little more towards the finish line.

At the end of most work days, I am ready to crawl back into my cocoon of home and surround myself with just my immediate family.

My frequency is a mix of quiet and calm and high energy and collaboration. I find myself thriving in both, and too much of one frequency can leave me pining for the other.

Our firm hosted a guest speaker at an event we had a few years ago. She traveled to our area from out of town, and was scheduled to fly out the next morning. Her hotel was about an hour away, and at the close of the event that evening one of my colleagues who was scheduled to drive her to her hotel had to cancel due to another commitment. I offered to drive her, and she politely declined (and reserved an Uber instead) telling me that she actually would prefer to ride with a stranger, so she didn’t have to be “on.” Needless to say, I was surprised to hear that she wanted to be able to turn it off. She gave a presentation on stage, and mixed and mingled with a large group of professionals for several hours and didn’t skip a beat. I admired her ability to recognize her own frequency, and how to give it a rest.

How many times do we push our own frequencies to the limit just so we can feel included? Or not let others down?

This year, especially, has tested our own frequencies. I think many of us have realized exactly how we operate on an even deeper level that we originally thought. My motive here in writing this post is to get you to think about how in tune you are with your own frequency, and that it doesn’t have to match others.

What Defines Success?

Success is that all encompassing, top of the mountain, finish line word that tends to define us and our efforts. It can bring us unsurmountable joy, and ego shattering defeat – and sometimes at the same time. Success is a journey, and how it shows up for you isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

About ten years ago, my friend and business coach, Jay Pryor, led me through a discussion about success. They encouraged me to think back to a time in my childhood when I felt successful. Was it acing a test, scoring a goal, or getting accepted into a group or program? All of these examples show different types of skills, effort and engagement. More than likely, we aren’t successful in all areas, and sometimes our successes aren’t even large enough to get noticed by others. The purpose of this activity was to identify what success felt like to me, and what physical and emotional cues showed up when success was achieved. Was it an adrenaline rush, a sense of personal pride, an “atta girl” by others?

So why is success so important? Should we be seeking success all the time?

My answer to these questions is entirely dependent upon your personal goals, aspirations and how you want to feel when you put your head on your pillow at the end of the day. Success can be having a productive conversation with your teenager. It can look like having those around you achieve their goals, and being their strongest supporter. It could come in the form of a simple “thank you.”

I want to do a simple activity with you. Write down a few things that fit under each category below. I’ll give you some questions to get you started.

Once Was (what did your life look like 10 years ago):

  • What was your job / occupation at this time?
  • What did your home life look like?
  • How were you spending your time?
  • How did you feel physically and mentally?
  • What role did money play in your life?
  • What did success look like to you?

Is Now:

  • What is your job / occupation?
  • What does your home life look like?
  • How do you spend your time?
  • What does your physical and mental health look like?
  • What role does money play in your life?
  • What does success look like to you now?

Can Be (what will life look like for you in 10 years?):

  • What job / occupation do you want?
  • What would you like your home life to look like?
  • How would you like to spend your time?
  • How do you want your physical being and mental health to look?
  • How much money do you need to accomplish your goals?
  • What defines success?

By writing down these reflections, I think you will be surprised at how much you have accomplished. Ten years is a long enough time to see growth in yourself, and plan for growth in the future. Notice I said “growth” and not success? The goal here is to get you into a growth mindset, and the success will come naturally.

Are You Ready to Take the Leap?

I LOVE working with business owners – especially those who have an amazing idea of how to start and grow their business. For many of you, setting out on your own may be just a pipe dream. For others, the idea of taking the leap into starting or expanding your business has been rolling around in your head for quite some time. What’s stopping you?

In working with many new and growing businesses over the years, I’ve heard a lot of your concerns. Most people tend to fall into two categories when it comes to why they aren’t willing to take the leap. Those two categories are: Logistics and Head Space

If you are an analytic thinker, then these ideas will appeal to you:

  • I need to be an “expert” in all areas of my business
  • I don’t have the capital to start or grow a business
  • I don’t know what the next step should be

If you are all up in your head about starting or growing a business, I bet you are thinking:

  • Can I handle this?
  • What will others think of this new idea?
  • What will others think of me trying to tackle this new venture?
  • What if I fail?

Here is what I can tell you…if you can’t get the idea out of your head, then you need to start taking action. You will never have all of the answers to your questions (at least not all at one time). You will also never be 100% prepared. Your comfort level is unique to you.

So where do you go from here?

  1. Identify what areas of expertise are needed to support you. Is it an accountant, attorney, commercial realtor, insurance agent, financial planner or small business resource expert? There are a multitude of experts in their fields that exist to help businesses like yours.
  2. Test your fail rate strategy. Here is the reality: you will fail at something. This may not mean you fail and have to close up shop and file for bankruptcy, but that an idea, system or plan will fail and need to be reworked or scrapped altogether. Don’t be afraid of failing. It is part of doing business.
  3. Head traffic beware. I have spent many nights staring at the clock wishing for sleep when my brain just won’t shut off. Most of the time, it is due to planning new ideas that I want to incorporate into my business. The same can be said about negative head traffic. I want you to surround yourself with people who believe in your abilities. If there are people in your life who do not want to encourage you, then they do not need to have space in your head, day or even life. I realize that I may be talking about some of your very close family members, who can’t be turned out. With these relationships, you will need to decide what information is shared with them and to what extent you are willing to let their input be a relevant piece of your story.

What Can You Control?

In a time of uncontrollable outcomes, what are the elements of your life and business that you can control? For so long, we have been conditioned to create a system of inputs and outputs that provide us with some form of systematic results. Those expected outputs give us comfort, but don’t necessarily challenge us.

So, what can you control?

  1. You can control your responses. I know this is a hard one for me sometimes, too. We are flooded with plenty of responses to our messages, and just plain exposure to others messages, that make us feel triggered. Here is the key: you don’t have to respond. If you are presented with something that isn’t positive, constructive, or is just plain mean, turn it off and walk away. It is not worth a second of your time and energy.
  2. You can control your audience. This is where the power of your personal email or client database comes in. Don’t let your social media followers dictate your message or success. Bring the control back in to your own equity – and that is the audience members that you have already established and are growing.
  3. You can control your trajectory. The most important thing I have learned in life is that big goals take time. It will not happen overnight, and your success trajectory is entirely in your control. You have the ability to put in the amount of work that you feel serves you best. You have the ability to decide when and how and who. You have the ability to ask for the business, pivot your business, and make new connections that will continue to inch your way forward.
  4. You determine what success looks like. Yes – you do! Success to me may look completely different than success to you. Success does not have to mean a certain number of sales, or a certain dollar amount earned in a fiscal year. Success can mean taking back moments of time, or providing solutions to others. You need to get comfortable with what you are really going after – for you and you alone. It is easy to let others tell you what success should look like (as they are most likely sharing their version of success).

Take a deep breath my friend, and give yourself some grace and some time to realize that control is not always a concrete element.

What Would you STOP Doing?

We do lots of things – sometimes at the same time. I am going to challenge you to think about your business a little differently. Imagine that your business is profitable. Not just a hair into the black, but doing comfortably well. That may be hard to think about right now, but go with me for a minute.

What I want this exercise to do for you and your business, is to identify those areas that are true profit centers. It is easy to keep throwing out products and service offerings to your customer base to see what sticks, but in reality, we all have a small core profit base that if worked better could bring us higher profits.

What area of your business brings you the highest profit? What areas bring you the lowest profit (or none at all)? Take these two areas, and determine the percentage of time you spend on each of these. My hope is that your highest profit area gets the most of your time. If that is not the case, what do you need to STOP doing?

Business owners sometimes have the tendency to tryout new ideas – which is good! I am all for enhancing, evolving and making more efficient processes and products that continue to generate a customer base, and most importantly a profit, for your business. What I see happen over and over again, is those new ideas that stick around for a lot longer than they should. Like an houseguest who has overextended their welcome, these non-profitable and non-productive ideas have to go! Give them a little send off if you have to, but by no means see this as a failure. The best ideas are formed on the back of trying out a lot of so-so ideas.

So I ask you: What can you STOP doing today to give yourself and your business the breathing room to focus on your most profitable area?

What should I be doing to/for/at my business during COVID?

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Nobody likes the unknown.  Right now it is hard to forecast, and it is hard to know when a good decision is a safe decision.  Here is what I can tell you, and hope to provide you with some control and confidence in your business:

  1. Business ownership will always have risks.  The economy will always go up and down, and your client needs will also evolve.  I want you to embrace the fact that change and risk are part of life and definitely part of business.  Things will be hard, and then opportunities will bubble up.  You can prepare and plan for those stormy times, and have the confidence that it will get better.
  2. Take the opportunity to dig deep and evaluate how you conduct your business.  Many of us have been forced out of our normal working spaces and into a remote or home based environment.  What is working for you now?  What was a challenge, or continues to be a challenge?  I want  you think about even those basics like:  How do you use technology?  How do you use your personal office space?  What have you found that was a surprise, and you may continue using it once we are back to “normal”?  I know for our office, the ability to communicate quickly and through a variety of technologies (like: MS Teams and Zoom) will be mainstays once we return.
  3. What can you do without? Major changes, especially sudden changes like the COVID pandemic, create a scarcity mindset.  You may have found that those “must haves” are no longer even basic needs.  Can your business survive, and even thrive, without those former expenses?  Have you realized some savings in your business that you could then reallocate elsewhere?
  4. What do you need to invest in?  This is a hard one during this time, but one area I want you to carefully consider.  You need to ALWAYS be evaluating your business to make sure it is healthy.  It is too easy to get busy (and who doesn’t like a busy schedule with lots of business coming in?), and not pay attention to the foundation of where you want to go.  Being aware of upgraded technologies, making sure your security measures are up to snuff, and also ensuring your communication strategy to your client base and prospective client base is top notch.  Without it, you will quickly be behind should another economic dip occur.  If you have the means, create a strategy for investment.  Believe it or not, NOW is the time to invest in infrastructure, best practices, and strategic initiatives.  You will create a more solid, successful business if you use this time to maybe not do things the way they have always been done.

Are You a Generalist or a Specialist?

The Kansas City Chiefs have just won the SuperBowl.  Surrounding any major accomplishment like this, comes the evaluation of the skills and abilities of the players involved.  Granted, it takes a combination of individual and team strengths to get a win in a sport like football, but what areas should you specialize in and where should you focus on a more generalized approach to create success?

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs Quarterback, has been lauded for his ability to be a generalist.  His past high school sports days playing a variety of sports: baseball, basketball and also football, has provided him with unique abilities that have transferred into his football career with gusto.  His ability to pass without looking and read where he teammates were going to be came from his basketball days.  His on the move side arm throws were developed playing shortstop.  Mahomes, and his coaches, realized that he has a unique ability to capture skills and create muscle memory from plays that aren’t necessarily on the football field.

In thinking about your skill set, where does this place you?  What particular skills are you really good at (I.e. a specialist)?  You might be amazing at analyzing a financial statement and identifying areas for improvement, but maybe your delivery style of these results is sub-par to achieve buy in from your team.  I use this example in the business world, as we all tend to flock towards those skills that are easy first.  Better yet, if they are easy and also interesting to us, becoming a specialist is the path we pursue.

Becoming an effective generalist takes a more complicated approach.  You can very easily spin your wheels and waste a lot of time trying to be everything to everyone.  What I want for you to consider is what general skills can you develop to get you the results you want in a certain area?  Take my example from above with the financial analyst.  If you are not able to achieve success through your specialized approach, what generalized skills can you develop that compliment your specialty?  Is it creating connections with team members that can present your information for you in a more effective manner?  Is it seeking out opportunities to develop your own presentation skills?

One area of life that I like to encourage everyone to get engaged with is non-profit boards.  Regardless of the area of your business, seeking out volunteer opportunities in the form of board and committee work can provide you with a personally rewarding experience in an area that fills your heart.  In addition to this, board work creates a platform to learn a variety of skills that can be applied to your business.  Things like: running a meeting, due process, board member recruitment and fundraising events are all skills that can be captured through board service.  If you have the benefit of being a part of an effective board, with strong leadership and engagement, the skills that you will develop can be applied to any area of your life to be more effective.  Board service allows you to test those skills amongst individuals that have a lot to share from their own experiences, and will help you create your own set of generalist skills.