Six Ways Running A Small Business Is Like Raising A Rescue Pit Bull

I started my freelance writing business in 2010. My family and I adopted an adolescent pit bull mix from a rescue organizationYoung black and white pit bull with family on adoption day in late 2015.

 

Although the two endeavors may seem unrelated, I’ve discovered many parallels exist between being a “mom” to our pittie, Lulu, and running my business. Both have brought their fair share of challenges and triumphs. And in many ways, they’ve required a similar mindset and methodology to move things in a positive, productive direction.

What running a small business and raising a rescue pit bull have in common:

You need patience.

Building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight, and there are often setbacks along the way. Similarly, gaining the trust and respect of a rescue pup may require an extended time frame. When I transitioned from a corporate job to starting my own business, it took a couple of years before I went from “feast or famine” mode to having a consistently full plate of work from clients. After adopting Lulu one year ago (she had two homes and was in residence at a rescue twice prior to coming to us), we’re still working on some trust and behavioral issues. Patience isn’t optional when raising a dog that has been through disruption and disappointment—nor is it optional when building a business.

 

You can’t get lazy.

Starting and running a business requires your energy and attention nearly all of the time. Likewise, pit bulls are of a breed that typically needs A LOT of exercise and mental stimulation. You need to stay motivated and put forth constant effort to make things work. Lulu needs miles of brisk walks each day, bouts of play when she can go “all out” to expend pent-up energy, and training exercises to stimulate her brain. Without those things, she becomes mischievous and less obedient, akin to a naughty toddler.

 

Similarly, your business will retaliate if you ignore its basic needs. Unless you tend to every aspect of running your company, you’ll eventually lose control.

 

Bad behavior, if not corrected, could come back to bite you.

I don’t mean that literally. Pit bulls get a bad rap even though they ranked 4th among 122 different canine breeds in temperament testing by the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. But I digress.

 

With Lulu, I’ve learned that consistently reinforcing good behavior and discouraging what isn’t desirable has helped her gain more self-control and confidence in stressful or overstimulating situations. Mixed messages don’t work when training rescue dogs—and they don’t work in business either. If you pick up bad habits and don’t make the effort to follow through on what you begin, you’ll either miss—or screw up—opportunities. Exercising self-discipline and setting ground rules are the keys to accomplishing your goals.

 

You might bite off more than you can chew if you don’t do some research first.

Although I’ve always had dogs as part of my family, Lulu is my first pit bull. Because her breed is so widely misunderstood, adopting her brought with it a higher level of responsibility than if we had rescued a different type of dog. Thankfully, we took some time to educate ourselves about pit bulls before jumping in and bringing her home. Oh, we still met some surprises and challenges, but having a foundation of knowledge and understanding has definitely helped us.

Similarly, if you don’t prepare yourself with some self-education before starting and running a business, you could find yourself overwhelmed. With legal, accounting, marketing, sales, and every other responsibility to manage, you need take stock of what you know, what you don’t know, and what resources you’ll need to cover all the bases.

 

There’s no one-size-fits-all system for success.

Some training techniques that have worked for other pit bull owners have not worked for us. Some popular approaches to thwarting undesirable behavior either excite Lulu, putting her into crazy overstimulation mode, or they have no effect at all. We’ve had to go through a long process of trial and error.

 

Running a business successfully also requires experimentation. What has worked for other business owners won’t necessarily be the right M.O. for you. While it’s to your advantage to be open to advice from others, consider that your situation isn’t the same as theirs.

 

I’ve also discovered that to some degree I need to adjust my working style to accommodate individual clients’ needs and preferences. Although I have some standard rules of engagement that I’m not willing to comprise, I’ve found it’s extremely beneficial to exercise some flexibility. For example, with some clients I collaborate and exchange information predominantly via email, attaching content via Word documents. With others, I share content via Google Drive. And then others prefer using Trello. The point is, you’ll likely find your clients will have their own way of doing things, and you’ll add value and gain loyalty by accommodating them. Before you agree, however, make sure their approach will work efficiently for you and won’t add unreasonable amounts of time or cost.

 

It’s well worth the hard work.

There’s satisfaction in seeing positive results after you’ve put mind, body, and soul into an endeavor. This is true when your business is thriving and when raising a rescue dog who becomes well adjusted in your care.

 

When I think about how I went from “zero” customers and feeling as though I had to grab whatever work I could find to now having loyal, quality clients who often max-out project schedule, I’m thankful and fulfilled.

 

As for Lulu, I feel pride and a sense of great accomplishment at how far she has come in so many ways since we brought her home a little over a year ago.

 

Your Responsibility as “Leader Of The Pack”

Whether you’re running a business or raising a pit bull, to make it work you must pledge your commitment to putting forth the effort and not shying away from the challenge. You’ll have good days when the world is all belly rubs and off-leash romps. You’ll have crappy days that feel like long, long walks on a short leash.

As the pack leader, it’s on you to make the most of opportunities and overcome obstacles.

 

Your turn: If you’re a entrepreneur and pit bull (or other breed) dog mom/dad, what parallels have you drawn between running your business and raising your rescue dog?

And for those of you just considering making a pet a part of your family, remember to “adopt don’t shop”!

Avoid This Fatal Small Business Mistake

Small Business Saturday (Nov. 28) is around the corner. It’s a time for celebrating the benefits of having small businesses in the Work for itlocal community and rallying to support them. American Express’s “Shop Local” mantra is the call to support local small businesses on Small Business Saturday.

Yes, small business owners, this day is for you!

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to try.

Being a local small business doesn’t mean people are obligated to support you. You have to do your part, and you need to make customers feel appreciated.

Examples Of Doing Small Business The Wrong Way

I recently had two encounters with local small businesses that failed to recognize that. I won’t call them out by name, but I will share my experience with each.

 

  1. My husband and I were recently at a business event where a business owner of an entertainment venue complained about the community not coming out to attend performances. His tone and his attitude made me feel like he was pointing the finger at us, even though we regularly support his business. While he may not have meant it personally, that’s how I took it. In his frustration and discontent with the local community’s support, he lumped us—long-time customers—into the bunch. I left feeling like he doesn’t appreciate our business. And now I really don’t have much interest in going back any time soon.
  2. Second example is the interaction I recently had with the insurance agent and company that provided my family’s homeowners insurance. As we were working with a pitbull rescue to adopt a furry family member, I contacted our agent to see if our policy had any restrictions on the breeds of dogs we could have to maintain our policy. She responded by emailing a clause from the insurance company that indicates pit bulls couldn’t be covered. I asked her for additional information regarding our options…then radio silence. After several days of no response from her, we switched both our homeowners and auto insurance policies to State Farm—who, by the way, has stellar local customer service.

The Lesson For Small Business Owners

Being local doesn’t mean you can take your customers for granted. It doesn’t mean local people must shop at your store or select you to provide their services simply because you’re a local company.

You have to earn their business, and you have to appreciate them.

The Right Way To Earn Small Business Bragging Rights

Leadership expert Steve Gutzler wrote a post that made me pause to think about the qualities of being self-employed that I tend to Bragging guyemphasize when talking with other professionals.

 

Upon reflection, I realize I too often share about my packed project schedule or the fact that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. It’s as if being overworked or overwhelmed are valid markers on the path to success.

 

They’re not. There’s no glory in excessive stress and leading a professional life that seems to control us rather than the other way around. What’s the point of being your own boss if your business is the boss of  you?

 

Sure, we need to work hard to build sustainable businesses, BUT that’s not what should earn us bragging rights as solopreneurs and small business owners.

 

What should give us something to gloat about?

  • We can choose the types of projects we want to work on.
  • We can choose the clients we want to work with.
  • We don’t have to ask anyone permission to leave work early on a beautiful summer afternoon.
  • We can plan our work schedule around our kids’ ball games and play rehearsals.
  • We can enroll in any professional development course we want without someone telling us it’s not relevant to our position.

 

Having lifestyle flexibility is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s OK to step away from work and enjoy other things.

 

And you shouldn’t feel like less of a business professional because you have the ability to do that when others don’t.

 

Isn’t it time we wore THAT as our small business badge of honor?

 

Of course, having the ability to do more than work all the time means finding the discipline and resources to plan better and work more efficiently.

 

Accomplish that and you’ve really got something to brag about!

 

Your turn! What do you find yourself quickest to communicate when talking with others about your experience in self-employment?

 

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Better Is The Enemy Of Good”—Fortune Cookie Friday Small Biz Wisdom

Complacency to remain “status quo” as a solopreneur or freelancer can mean a shorter shelf life for your small business.Fortune Cookie Friday

 

This week’s fortune cookie reading, “Better is the enemy of good,” reminds us of that.

 

Good is…well…good. But only by getting better can our businesses achieve respect and create greater demand for our services.

 

Good might get the contract, but better is the key to keeping a client for life.

 

Lots of other businesses are good. What are you going to do to be better—to give clients a reason to work with you rather than your competition?

 

Fortunately, striving for better doesn’t always require significant effort. Tweaking minor aspects of your M.O. can make a big difference in the perceived value of your services.

 

Doing business better and adding value can mean:

 

  • Reading one article a day that can strengthen your knowledge in your field or help you hone your skills.
  • Returning emails and phone calls more quickly.
  • Responding to inquiries from your website contact form within 8 business hours.
  • Never forgetting the personal touch when communicating with clients. Show you care by starting with sentiments like, “How was your weekend?” or “I hope all is well with you.” End on a note of, “Have a wonderful day,” and “Thanks again for the opportunity to work with you.”
  • Sending customers links to blog posts and articles relevant to a particular challenge they’re facing or a topic you’ve recently discussed with them.
  • Showing clients some love on social media by connecting with them on the channels you share and liking or sharing their content regularly.
  • Proactively suggesting projects that can either save them time, money, or make them more money.

 

Now the question: If better is the enemy of good, is best the enemy of better?

 

Endeavoring to be your best (not to be confused with the unattainable goal of perfection) will always take you farther on the road to success. But take care not to thwart your efforts to better yourself by comparing yourself too closely to your competition. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, but focus on developing your own unique value.

 

Good. Better. Best. Raising the bar is the enemy of ordinary.

 

Over to you! What do you do to continually better your business and raise its value to your clients?

Pay Attention. Did You Learn Something Lately?

As you’re keeping up with your social media presence and taking care of business, you really can’t help taking away some new knowledge, tips, and insightSolopreneur learning from the people and brands you follow and interact with.

It often comes in dribs and drabs rather than in big momentous sweeps. So if you’re like me, much of what you learn gets inadvertently lost in the shuffle. Useful, yet unacknowledged and unappreciated.

Sigh. Such a waste.

That’s why I’ve decided to start taking inventory of and sharing some of the bite-sized bits and pieces of wisdom I glean. Why not give those nuggets of practical know-how the cred they deserve?

My twofold purpose:

1. To give you a few useful takeaways. I figure there’s a chance what I share will be new to you, too.
2. To become more aware of what I learn in the course of doing business from day to day so I’m more apt to apply it.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Let’s give it a try.

Tidbits, Tips and Lessons Learned

There are G+ plugins for WordPress that add Google+ comments to your blog posts.

Thanks to Denise Wakeman for talking about these plugins in a recent post. As a big fan of Google+, I dig this. With such a plugin, when someone comments on your post, it posts to that person’s G+ profile and provides a link back to your blog post.

Denise shares that it has expanded her blog’s visibility and increased the comments and shares she gets. Sweet!

The term “Dark Social Media”

Brooke Ballard of B Squared Media sheds light on Dark Social Media in a recent article on her blog. Where have I been? I hadn’t heard that term before.

According to Buffer’s Kevan Lee in his article on the topic, “It’s a term that describes the sharing that happens outside the traditional bounds of social media. For instance, people may share via email or via IM, and these interactions are seldom included in traditional share numbers.”

Good news is more people than you think see your content. Bad news is you’ve got an invisible audience you don’t know anything about.

How do you tap into the untethered potential your invisible audience brings if you have no idea what makes them tick?

I sure don’t have the answer, but check out Brooke’s post for more insight.

Macbook Pro Keyboard Shortcuts to cut and add hyperlinks

I made the move from a P.C. laptop to a Macbook Pro in early August. I love my Mac, but that doesn’t mean it has been a seamless transition. Never much a fan of keyboard shortcuts with my P.C., I’ve found they’re a necessity with a Mac.

Here are two I couldn’t live without:

1. Command + x lets you cut (to paste, use Command + v).
2. Command + k opens the “insert hyperlink” box (first Command + c to copy the URL of the page you want linked, the highlight the text you want hyperlinked, then Command + k, then Command + v to paste the URL).

What Did You Learn Lately?

Here ends my short list, but I’ve got more waiting in the wings for another day.

How about you? What tips and tricks have you learned lately? Comment here to tell us all about them.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

15 Moments When Your Business Needs Your Unconditional Love

Starting a small business is exciting. Fraught with novelty and excitement. While it would sure be great if every day from day one onward would be an awe-inspiring adventure,  not all of them will be. Eventually, the fiery honeymoon period ends and your sensible, steady love for your business and what you do will need to sustain and motivate you.

Your business needs your unconditional love!

You need to love your business even when…

  1. You feel overworked.
  2. You don’t have as much work as you’d like.
  3. Not everything is going your way.
  4. You miss out on a great opportunity.
  5. You take an opportunity that isn’t as great as you thought it might be.
  6. A client misunderstands you.
  7. You misunderstand a client.
  8. Payments arrive late.
  9. Your checkbook or credit card statement doesn’t reconcile with Quickbooks.
  10. People doubt you.
  11. You doubt yourself.
  12. You lose a good client.
  13. You gain a not so good client.
  14. Computer issues set you behind schedule.
  15. ________________________. [Insert business challenge here]

Although it’s natural to become frustrated and stressed at times, you can refrain from losing your cool by remembering what you love most about being in business for yourself. As you go about your daily routine day after day and week after week, you might have lost sight of that.

So take a deep breath, and remind yourself about how liberating it is to have the opportunity to do work that means something to you. Focus on the flexibility self-employment has provided you. Think about how running your own business has helped you grow and develop professionally – and personally.

There’s A LOT to love!

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

 

 

 

Big Influence Comes in Small Packages

As solopreneurs and small business owners, we all want to raise awareness of our businesses. We want to get noticed by the people who matter. That’s the same whether we’re networking in person or online via social media networks. Across social media, you’ll find no shortage of articles about “engaging with influencers.” We’re urged to seek them out to propel our brands to bigger and better things. Get the heavy hitters to take notice of you, and you’ll be golden, right? Maybe, but attempting to stand out in the crowd can be tough.

Caution: Don’t put all your eggs in the typical “influencer” basket.

It seems many small business owners think of influencers as the people who have tens of thousands of Twitter followers, a multitiude of Facebook fans, and gaggles of Google+ people following them. They hang on their every word, share their posts, and add their comments to the hundred or so that others left on the influencers’ status updates and blog posts. All in an attempt to get recognized by these ultimate authorities.

But how is that going to help your business? Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and out of all the thousands of other people vying to get their attention, the A-listers will follow you and single out one of your blog posts down the road. But the chances aren’t really in your favor. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. It’s not that they don’t care or that you’re not worthy; they’ve got so much interaction coming at them, they can’t possibly keep tabs and give time to everyone who engages with them.

Does that mean you shouldn’t read their blogs and share their content? I’m not implying that at all. Definitely do if you find them helpful and appropriate for your audience, but don’t put all your eggs in their baskets. There are people in your online network who have far fewer followers, but who stand to increase awareness of your brand far more than the heavy hitters.

Influence isn’t exclusively owned by the big guys.

Make it a priority to interact with professionals who have a lesser online following. Note that a lesser following doesn’t mean they aren’t influential, reputable, intelligent people. I follow a slew of less-widely-known people, marketing firms, and small brands who provide excellent content and insight. I believe it’s important – and ultimately more beneficial – for solopreneurs and small biz owners to put effort into cultivating those relationships online. Why? You won’t get lost in the shuffle.

When you interact with these people…

  • Your comments and input won’t get lost in the crowd.
  • You’ll find they’re more willing and able to reciprocate by sharing and commenting on your content.
  • You can become top of mind as an expert in your field to their followers if you’re consistent in providing value through your engagement with them.
  • You’ll have a better chance of gaining referrals because you’ve been able to escape the noise and build relationships.

Find the right mix.

So as you fine-tune your online M.O., aspire to find balance in your efforts. Follow not only the revered and famous, but also lesser know professionals who know their stuff and whom you find common ground with. By showing you’re in tune with what everyone is talking about AND demonstrating you’re capable of finding resources others may have overlooked, you’ll steadily build your own authority online.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

4 “Un” Words to Remove from your Small Business Vocabulary

Words wield power. While we pay a lot of attention to them in our marketing efforts, it’s easy to forget the words weUnnecessary - Un words to remove from small biz vocabulary (and sometimes others) use in our thoughts and when we talk about our businesses have an impact, too. Some words lead us to self-defeat. Some lead us to grandiose expectations of our capabilities. Either situation can indirectly and subconsciously cause us to sabotage our own businesses.

 

Four “Un” Words to Undo in Your Small Business

Unable
Get over it – you can do this! Especially when you’re in the early stages of starting your business, you’ll encounter people who are a constant source of dark clouds. They’ll make you doubt yourself and your abilities. Ignore the naysayers who provide no constructive criticism or suggestions. Assuming you’ve done your due diligence before starting your business, focus on the strengths you have and the opportunities available to you. Forge forward and prove you are able through your progressive success.

Unaware
While you can’t believe everything you read online, the internet hosts credible resources on every aspect of business under the sun and moon. Seriously, there’s no reason not to have a working knowledge (or find out who does) of marketing, tax responsibilities, business bookkeeping, social media, sales, productivity tools, etc. Read reputable business blogs to boost your awareness on topics, and reach out for expert assistance if you don’t have the skills or know-how to take care of certain aspects of your business on your own. With so many local experts online, you don’t need to consult someone six states away if you’d rather have a sit-down face-to-face meeting with a professional your friends and neighbors know.

Unafraid
It’s OK to sometimes feel a degree of fearfulness in business. Not paralyzing fear, but a healthy sense of concern can help keep you on your toes. Note that motivation can’t come from fear alone, but it can serve to complement your efforts to build a successful business. It can drive you to put necessary checks and balances in place to ensure your business is doing things the right way. And it can  push you to be ever vigilant about making improvements to serve customers better. Fear can make you feel grateful, not cocky, when things are going your way.

Unbeatable
Speaking of cocky…never ever get too comfortable in your position over your competition. Inflated self-confidence is the key ingredient in complacency. Complacency breeds laziness and lack of caring. Your business needs you to care no matter how much success seems to be on auto pilot. Regardless of how well things are going, you need to constantly look for ways to improve and take the initiative to do business better. Why? Because your customers deserve it…and your competition is!

What other “un” words do you think solopreneurs and small biz owners should unfasten from their business vocabulary?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

5 Action Words Every Solopreneur Needs to Act On

The only way to find success (however you define it) as a solopreneur is to take action. Being passive and hoping that potential clients happen to stumble upon you by chance won’t take you very far – if anywhere at all! Action is all about doing and here are a few action words (a.k.a. verbs) that solopreneurs and small business owners can practice every day to make sure they’re not keeping their businesses in an idle state.

Create
Let the eye rolls begin as I mention what you see and hear about 100 times each day. Content! Whether you’re in an inherently creative field or not, creating content in some way, shape or form to demonstrate your expertise in your industry is essential to expanding your reach. Producing – or not producing – your own content will differentiate you from your competitors. Your choice: create or become invisible.

Help
Every day, aim to do something to help someone else. Going the extra mile to assist a client, prospect or colleague doesn’t have to take up much of your time and it doesn’t mean you have to give your work away for free. Email an article that you know someone will find interesting or helpful, connect two professionals who seem to have synergy, refer someone looking for a service to someone you know who will deliver it well. It’s easy to help…and your good deeds will give you a reputation for being that professional who truly cares about others. That’s the type of professional I choose over others when presented with similar services – and I think most other people have that in common with me.

Interact
In this digital social world, it’s not enough to push your message; interacting is equally important. ALWAYS reply to comments on your blog posts and social media updates…even if just to say “thank you.” Also, when appropriate for your audience, reciprocate by commenting on and/or sharing others’ online content. And never let emails – particularly those from clients or prospects – go unanswered for more than 24 hours unless you’re on vacation. Social media has made it so very easy and convenient for solopreneurs to build good will, but it’s up to you to take action and harness that potential.


Reflect
In my opinion, this action is way underrated! While “reflect” seems passive, it’s anything but. As you work on building your business, take time regularly to review what is working and what is not.

  • Which social networks are providing the best exposure?
  • Which networking events and affiliations are leading you to the most prospects?
  • Which types of projects are delivering the best return?
  • What do you enjoy most and least about your work?
  • What process improvements can you make to serve clients better and use your time more effectively?

Adjust
Perhaps the most important verb all solopreneurs should put into practice is “adjust”! Clients’ needs and wants change, tools and resources change, the business climate changes…we change. To keep up and stay relevant in the dynamic world that is small business, you need to fine-tune your ability – and willingness – to evolve.

What other verbs do you think solopreneurs need to act on to be masters of their own destinies?