Asked To Tackle A Project That Uncharted Territory? Keep These Things In Mind!

Even professionals in creative fields can sometimes feel the grind of working on the same types of projects over and over again. So, atypical (even off-the-wall Yoga stretchprojects) may look appealing.

Taking on projects that are new, different, uncharted territory can help you breathe fresh air and generate new mojo when you’re feeling uninspired—but they can also leave you feeling inadequate and defeated if they don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped they would.

I recently worked on a project that was a far cry from the type of writing I typically do. It came to me as opposed to me looking for it, but I thought it sounded like fun and interesting, so I decided to accept the opportunity.

Wow, it was hard! Dang hard. But I learned a lot from the experience and I’m going to share some of what I discovered with you.

When you venture outside of your “project comfort zone,” I suggest keeping these things in mind:

You don’t know what you don’t know.

When taking on a project you’ve never done before, you won’t truly know what you’re in for until you get started. It might demand a whole new way of thinking or executing your work.

Expect to spend more time on it than you anticipate.

Because you haven’t worked on the type of project before, it will probably demand more of your time than you anticipate to get it right. In the case of my recent project, “getting it right” was subjective and dependent on my client’s perspective and preferences. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does up the level of challenge.

Expect to spend more mental energy on it than you expected.

You might find that the project pervades your thoughts in all your waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours. That’s exhausting and can draw your focus and attention from your other responsibilities.

Put on your thick skin.

You may need it. Even if you’re used to hitting a home run with your other projects, you might flounder in producing what your client wants with this one. Requests for re-dos are never fun, and they can hit the ego hard. Don’t take it personally. It’s part of the process.

All things considered, I’m glad I made the stretch to try something different. It was hard work that brought a healthy does of humility, but it’s made me appreciate how effortlessly other projects proceed for me.

Have you taken on any unique, out-of-the-norm projects lately? What have you learned from the experience?

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Advice. What We Ask For When We Already Know the Answer?—Fortune Cookie Friday

This week’s note of wisdom from takeout challenged me.Fortune Cookie Friday Small Business Advice

 

“Sometimes advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer.”

 

I usually equate asking for advice with needing guidance when I don’t know what to do or say in a particular situation. But after thinking about it a bit more, I suppose I have on occasion requested advice from other small business professionals when I pretty much knew how to proceed but needed to bolster my confidence.

 

Most times, we seek advice from people with more experience, authority, or knowledge than we have about something. So it makes sense that we could know the right action to take and still want advice.

 

Advice As Confirmation

As a solopreneur or small business owner, getting validation that we’re heading in the right direction from someone we respect and admire can…

 

  • Motivate us.
  • Drive us to accomplish.
  • Prevent us from procrastinating.

 

Consider Business Advice Carefully

When you ask other business professionals for advice, keep in mind they draw from their own frames of reference and experiences. They might very easily be able to relate to your unique circumstances, but in some instances they may not.

 

For example, if someone were to ask for my thoughts on what to tell an employee whose performance has been lackluster, I wouldn’t know how to best advise them. As a solopreneur, I don’t have any employees on payroll, and my assistant is a most capable, responsible independent contractor.

 

But that doesn’t mean you should discount advice when it doesn’t match what you were anticipating to hear. When receiving guidance that goes against what you were expecting—or hoping—to get, ask yourself these questions:

 

  • Why was I expecting something different?
  • Is it reasonable and rational?
  • What outcome can I envision by following that advice instead of what I was proposing to do?

 

Know that just because you ask for advice doesn’t mean you have to take it. Think it through. And do what you believe will ultimately be best for your small business.

 

Your turn! What types of advice do you ask for from other small business professionals? Who do you turn to for advice?

Like leftovers? Check out these other Fortune Cookie Friday posts:

Better Is The Enemy Of Good
Do You Dare
Do It With A Determined Heart

By Dawn Mentzer Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

Fortune Cookie Friday Small Business Wisdom: Do It With a Determined Heart

Another Fortune Cookie Friday, another opportunity to make practical use of those readily discarded nuggets of wisdom served as a side dish to shrimp loFortune Cookie Friday-Determined mein.

A person with a determined heart frightens problems away.

Determined, as defined my Merriam-Webster, means “having a strong feeling that you are going to do something and that you will not allow anyone or anything to stop you.”

Without a doubt, determination stands as a must-have trait for solopreneurs and small business owners.

But does it frighten problems away?

Problems don’t exactly have feelings or the capacity to think for themselves, so no; having a determined heart won’t scare them.

It won’t ward off unreasonable clients. It won’t take you from the seventh page to the first on a Google search. It won’t add more hours to the day when you don’t have enough time to get everything done. It won’t expand the reach of your Facebook page posts.

Staying determined, however, does make problems less intimidating and immobilizing.

A determined heart enables you to stand up to the many challenges you’ll face when starting, running, and growing a business. It drives you to think creatively and find ways around obstacles.

When determined, you have purpose. When you have purpose, you have your eye on the prize and won’t back down in the face of adversity.

No. Determination won’t frighten your problems away, but it will make you less afraid as you knock them out of your way.
Stay determined!

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By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

Fortune Cookie Friday Small Business Wisdom: Push Yourself

After several readers inquired, Fortune Cookie Friday posts are back!Fortune Cookie Business Wisdom

What is Fortune Cookie Friday, you ask?

It’s the day when I crack open a fortune cookie and dig deep into the hidden meaning within to glean some small business wisdom.

And then I share it with you (of course).

Here it goes…

Get your goals high and you will always move forward.

(Yeah, sometimes I get lucky. Could this one be any more business appropriate?)

My interpretation from a solopreneur’s perspective: Keep reaching to keep motivated!

Goal-setting is so very important for even the smallest of businesses. Without it, you can become complacent—and, dare I say, lazy.

We need to strive to achieve something every day. We need to take steps toward our larger, overarching objectives. We need to maintain momentum.

“Getting your goals high” doesn’t mean setting yourself up for failure by aiming for the unattainable. It means endeavoring to go beyond your comfort zone so you have to stretch a little.

• Connect with someone on LinkedIn who you’ve perceived as out of your league.
• Write a blog post and ask someone else for constructive feedback.
• Seek out a speaking engagement where you can share your expertise in your field.
• Accept a type of project that you’re capable of but haven’t done before.

Personally and professionally, I find that pushing myself keeps me motivated. As a former gym rat, I equate it to doing “just one more set” on the squat rack.

Never settle for just enough.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

 

The Takeaway for Every Small Biz Owner from the Donald Sterling Fiasco

Most of us don’t have the mass media exposure (or capital at stake) like L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but his recent private racist rant that turned public holds a lesson for all of us as business owners.

No matter what we say or do and no matter to whom we say or do it, it can affect us professionally. blurred lines

Like it or not, we too, are public figures to some degree. We’re the face of our businesses and our words and actions – even those used in our personal lives – can either draw people to or push them away from our brands.

While the mass media won’t be focused on what we do, social media can just as effectively spread the word about anything we’ve done to offend, degrade, or otherwise infuriate people.

Some might argue we should be able to speak our minds and do what we want – free country, right?

True…However, if you want your business to thrive, the reality is you need to be careful and cognizant of the risks.

In this world where anything we say and do can be held against our businesses instantly, we need to:

  • Control our tempers.
  • Think before we speak or write.
  • Be in tune with the feelings of others.
  • Act respectfully even when we don’t agree with others.

For some that comes naturally. For others, it’s a struggle.

The lines between what’s personal and professional are increasingly blurred. We can do what we want and say what we want, but we need to realize what we say and do personally could affect our businesses.

Your turn – What are your thoughts about the blurred lines between what’s “personal” and what’s “business”?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

 

Want to Make a Smart Business Move? Ask Stupid Questions.

None of us like to appear uninformed, uneducated, or ignorant. Where’s the glory in that? But none of us knows It's smart to ask stupid questions in businesseverything there is to know about business. Especially when we’re starting out and not even after years down the road. So, like it or not, there will be moments when we need to disclose our lack of knowledge about one thing or another: By asking proverbial “stupid” questions.

As they say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Of course, knowing that provides little reassurance when you’re fearing ridicule by your peers because you think you don’t know something that everyone else in the entire world already does.

We need to get over that!

The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know until we realize we don’t know it. That doesn’t make us idiots. It just means some things haven’t been introduced into our frames of reference yet. When they finally are, we often need to ask basic (a.k.a. stupid) questions to understand them.

An embarrassing blast from my past when I wished I had asked a stupid question…

Back in college, I remember taking an essay exam in a P.R. course and one of the questions involved the concept of getting quotes (bids) from companies for providing their services. I was around 19 or 20 years old at the time (and an A student, I might add), and for whatever reason, I didn’t know that  “to quote” meant to propose a price. (Amazing, I know.) Because of that, the question didn’t make complete sense to me, and I was too embarrassed to get clarification from my professor. So I fumbled through answering it the best I could. When my professor returned my graded test, he wrote a comment telling me that it was clear I hadn’t understood the question, and he wished I would have asked him about it. I got a C on that exam, when I likely would have gotten an A, if only I had put on my big girl pants and asked what seemed to be a stupid question. Seems to me, asking and getting an A would have been the smart move. Live and learn.

Not knowing something is excusable. Not asking questions to gain the knowledge you need when you realize you don’t know something is not.

And not asking questions can be downright damaging.

If you don’t ask questions (even when you think they’re stupid and believe everyone else knows the answers), here are a few of the things that could go wrong in your business…

  • You could make serious errors in your bookkeeping and accounting.
  • You could pay more than you should be for products and services.
  • You could do something unintentionally illegal in how you manage your employees or independent contractors.
  • You could be missing the mark with a product or service.
  • You could be wasting time on the wrong social media networks.
  • You could take projects in a different direction than your client envisioned.
  • You could take on the wrong clients.
  • You could take on the wrong projects.
  • You could be taken advantage of.

Moral of the story: If you don’t know, ask!

Sure, it might be embarrassing for a minute or so. But after that initial hit to the ego is over, you’re left with an answer – and empowering information you didn’t have before.

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

 

 

 

Take Control – 9 Things Every Solopreneur Has Power Over

There are so many moving parts to deal with as a solopreneur. Every aspect of your business is your direct responsibility. Yes, it’s overwhelming and you might experience days when all seems out of control either because you’re Play - Pause buttonsrunning at a break-neck pace or because your business has hit a lull. In either situation, letting the uncertainty get to your psyche and throw you from a positive trajectory will only make matters worse.

Remember:  As a solo-business owner, you have more within your control than there is beyond your control.  

It’s easy to lose sight of that when your hand is inches from pressing the panic button, so here’s a list to remind you of just how much power you have over your business destiny.

As a solopreneur you control…

  • Who you choose to work with – While you might be less particular if you’re just starting out as a solopreneur, the decision to work with someone or not work with someone rests with you. Not feeling the love and think a prospect might not make a good client? You can say “No” to the opportunity.
  • Which projects you accept or reject – Likewise, you can decline to work on projects that either won’t pay you enough, that fall outside of the specialties you want to focus on, or that you otherwise don’t have an interest in taking on.
  • How much you charge for your work – I realize your competitors’ fees, your clients’ budgets, and other factors affect how successfully you can sell at your price points, BUT ultimately you can charge whatever you want.
  • How much work you take on at any given time – If your workload from clients has put you “at capacity,” you can (provided you don’t have anything contractually in place that states to the contrary) decline additional projects that will absolutely bury you. Or you can accept them, but schedule them for a later time.
  • When you start working in the a.m. and when you close up shop for the night – When you work and how long you work is your call – and some of that may depend on the previous bullet point. Consider setting a schedule. I learned quickly as a freelancer how much structure impacts productivity. Note that a schedule doesn’t have to be 8 to 5. It can be 6:30 to 10 and 1 to 4…or noon to 8…or whatever works for you. Will you need to stray from it occasionally? Of course. But set a standard to maintain some overall consistency.
  • How much sleep you get – What does this have to do with running your business? A LOT! And you’re the boss for getting your weary @#% to bed at a reasonable hour so you’re alert and refreshed for the next work day. In my experience, I’m more creative, appreciate people more, and get more done if I’m well rested. Isn’t that the case with everyone?
  • What you eat – You have control over what you eat each and every day. If you fuel up with junk, don’t eat your veggies, and hydrate with diet soda rather than H2O, you won’t be up to your potential.
  • How much you exercise – Your business needs your brain. Your brain needs oxygen. Exercise helps direct more oxygen to your brain. As with everything else I’ve mentioned so far, the initiative to exercise or not rests with you.
  • Which networking groups you join – You’re in the driver’s seat when choosing your professional affiliations. With no shortage of groups, be particular and spend your time and money on those that will enable you to connect with the most professionals who could either be potential clients or who are in complementary lines of business and might be a good source of referrals.

You really do have a lot within your realm of control as a solopreneur. That means you have a lot of responsibility as well. You’re accountable for EVERYTHING that you do and don’t do. So exert your control – and make choices – wisely!

Your turn? What can you add to the list that might help other solo-pros take stock of what’s within their control?

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Solopreneurs Campaign Every Day: What to Consider to Win the Votes from Your Prospective Clients

Not wholly unlike presidential candidates, solopreneurs undergo a degree of scrutiny before being selected as providers of choice. Clients do research, and they put a good deal of thought into whom they choose for professional services. Although you most likely don’t run up against negative ads and spin doctoring like candidates in an election, you are judged according to comparable categories of performance and perception.

Keep these in mind as you strive to put your best foot forward and win the favor of prospective clients:

Your past record

It’s far easier to garner new business when you’ve got a body of work available for review that demonstrates your skills and expertise. A portfolio can absolutely tip the needle toward you versus someone who appears comparatively green in your industry. And by making your portfolio easily accessible online via your website, Facebook page, Pinterest, a Commonfig multi-media profile, or other web venue, you’ll gain the advantage of making an impression quickly. If you’re a new solopreneur with not a whole lot of experience or samples to share, consider practicing your craft on a pro bono basis to build up your repertoire of examples.

Your reputation

Sometimes prospects will base their buying decisions on knowing that others have something good to say about your work and your work ethic. When clients are happy with your services and their experience in working with you, ask them for brief endorsements. One easy way to accomplish gathering testimonials is via LinkedIn’s Recommendations feature. It gives your professional connections a convenient way to share their experience with you, plus it gives you a record of referral that you can copy and paste (with permission from the author of the recommendation) on your website and other marketing communications. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Nothing says credibility more than happy clients who talk up your service.

Your capabilities

While your portfolio and testimonials establish that you do what you’ve done well, you’ll also be judged by what you potentially can do for prospects. Sometimes you’ll run across opportunities to work on projects with very unique requirements. How well do your online points of presence and print marketing materials project the skills and expertise that show your potential to do more? Although you might have less (or no) experience with a particular type of endeavor, that doesn’t mean you’re not the right professional services provider for the job. When writing about your credentials, don’t miss out on highlighting the talents and skills sets that are transferable to projects beyond those that you already have in your repository of experience.

Your promises

Ultimately, people do business with people and brands they believe they can trust. As a solopreneur, you make promises to prospects when you propose services to them. Your approach, your tone, your listening skills, and your responsiveness to questions will all influence whether a prospect chooses you or your competitor. Not only do your credentials, reputation and past experience play important roles in securing clients, so does instilling confidence that you’re going to follow through on what you say you’re going to do for them. Always be realistic and rational…and NEVER overpromise on what you can deliver.

As solopreneurs, there’s no escaping our constant state of “campaign mode,” but fortunately that doesn’t mean we have to resort to hosting extravagant events and slamming our competition. By focusing on what we do best, highlighting recommendations of our services, effectively projecting our potential and by following through on what we propose to do for clients, we stand a very good chance of winning the vote.

Your turn! Any other parallels between being a solopreneur and the presidential campaign in progress? 

 

2 Things You Need To Deliver In Every Customer Experience (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!)

Communication and caring: If they’re MIA in customer interactions – especially the ones gone bad – kiss your credibility and your customer goodbye.  Lesson learned from my vacation experience with an airline that did it all wrong and an airline employee who did it all right.

Groggy, but excited to start our vacation, my family awakened at 3:30 a.m. last Saturday. We wanted to allow plenty of time to travel to the Baltimore/Washington airport, park the car, check our luggage, go through security and board our 8 a.m. flight to Texas.

Despite our punctuality, below is the situation we found upon arrival to the United Airlines check-in area.

A rocky customer experience

Worried? Sure we were. But we figured if things were going to get a little tight, eventually a United representative would call out our flight and expedite our visit to the desk so we could get on our way. So we waited.

And waited…

And waited.

The line hardly budged after an hour, and not a single United rep ventured anywhere close to our neck of the woods to pull people to the front for any soon-departing flights. Nor did anyone offer any explanation whatsoever about the problem in progress.

Getting desperate, we decided to try our luck at the curbside check –in. The line there was also long, but it had to be moving faster than the stagnant one we were standing in. It was. And even more promising was when the attendant asked for everyone in line with an 8 a.m. flight to go inside the airport. FINALLY, they were going to put us through baggage check and send us onward!

So inside we went…only to find what we did before. A long line with no official airport peeps providing any direction. We went back out to the curbside check-in attendant to politely ask what we were supposed to do.

His response, “Go to the back of the line.”

Our observation, “But we were already there, and our flight is leaving in 20 minutes.”

His response, “Not my problem.” (Truth. He really did say that!)

So there we were again…in the same line where we had originally been. Sadly, it still had not moved. In fact, it had grown longer since our first go at it.

As before, no United reps or other airport staff walked to our end of the earth to provide assistance or insight into to what was happening – or not happening as it were.

No communication (not even by email on my smart phone). No information. No alternatives.

Clearly we were going to miss our flight and had no choice but to wait with the other hundreds of people who needed to have their departure plans amended.

Eventually, after about two hours, an announcement aired over the P.A. system indicating that United had delays due to “airport conditions.” Oddly, the same BWI “airport conditions” didn’t seem to be affecting the flight schedules of the Delta passengers who we enviously allowed to cross through to get to their check-in desk. The relief on their faces was insuppressible as they realized they didn’t have to stand in our line!

After another hour, we decided to take our chances and join a few other United passengers in a separate line that we self-proclaimed as the “we missed our flight because of your ‘airport conditions’ so you need to make us a priority” section. Finally, around 10:30 a.m., we were at the desk.

Exhausted and frustrated with no high expectations for anything resembling satisfactory service, we met customer service rep Myra. Myra greeted us with a smile, compassion and a willingness to do whatever she could to get our vacation started as smoothly as possible considering the present circumstances. For two arduous hours, she scoured through the reservation system and talked us through the process as she searched to find suitable flights at BWI and nearby airports that would accommodate our party of 5. Although she surely was feeling stressed and at the end of her rope, Myra never took it out on us. No aggravated tone, no apathy. Just stellar customer service in a situation that seemed completely unsalvageable.

Despite Myra’s best attempts, we had to begin our vacation a day late and from an airport that was an additional hour away from home. Sensitive to the inconvenience we were experiencing, she secured reservations at a Washington DC hotel that was within 5 minutes of Reagan International airport and changed our return flights so that we arrived ½ hour earlier there than we would have at BWI.

Did that make it all better? No. But because of her positive attitude and hard work to make things as right as possible, Myra succeeded in diffusing much of our distress and disappointment.

Will we fly United again? Not sure that we will. But then again, I’m not sure that we won’t. And United has Myra and Myra alone to thank for us not completely wiping them from our list of carrier options. What a difference communication and caring can make – even in the most challenging situations.

Your turn! What customer experience have you had that got turned around (good or bad) by a solitary someone or something?

3 Ways You Should NEVER Treat Your Customers

Although customers aren’t always right, they are the lifeblood of your business. You need them. And though you think they need you in return, the truth is they can go somewhere else if they really want to.

Creating a customer experience that keeps them coming back can be done in many, many creative ways that suit your business and your clients. But there are a few things that solopreneurs universally should NEVER do when dealing with customers:

Take them for granted

With so many external variables (budget constraints, shifts in priorities, hiring talent in-house, etc.) that could come into play when working with a client, don’t assume they’ll be around forever – even if they’re happy with your products and services.  Always make an effort to maintain strong rapport with them, because that could prompt them to do their best to keep you on projects even when times are tough. And always think ahead about how you’ll replace the revenue from them if ever they meet unforeseen pressures and need to cut you loose.

Take advantage of them

True story: Not too terribly long ago, I trained at a martial arts studio that had a very closely-knit community of members. Eager to help the sole owner of the studio, members would freely donate their time to tasks like refilling the refrigerator with water bottles, helping with the kids’ classes, even cleaning the bathroom. Rather than show appreciation, the owner started taking members’ generosity for granted. He would get them to fill in for him when he didn’t feel like showing up to teach or when he wanted to step out for a cup of coffee. Rather than answer his own phone or greet prospective new members when they walked in the door, he instead expected his members to do it.

Bad move.

The members got fed up with it, and the vast majority left. In fact, many of them left to study martial arts at the home-based studio that two of the former members started on their own. All they had learned from essentially running the other guy’s business for him paid off. Now they are his competition.

Treat them like crap

In a bad mood? Who cares! At all times, you need to treat your clients with respect and kindness. That’s not to say you can’t ever disagree with them or share when something doesn’t seem quite equitable. But you need to do it tactfully and in a non-accusatory tone. Your words and actions matter a great deal in building and nurturing business relationships. Nothing can spoil your brand reputation faster than being a jerk – word of mouth travels fastest when it doesn’t have anything nice to say!

Remember, as a solopreneur, you are your brand. And it’s on your shoulders to make that brand one with a reputation of excellence. Always put your best foot forward when working and communicating with clients.

 

Do you have any examples of businesses that have totally missed the mark in how they treat their customers? How do you approach your client relationships to make them stronger?