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

 

 

 

So, You Want to be a Freelancer? Make Sure You Have This One Thing First.

According to a study by Intuit in 2010, an estimated over 40% of the American workforce will be “contingent workers” Confident professional woman showing thumbs up(i.e. independent professionals including freelancers, contractors, temps and part-time employees) by 2020. Where full-time employment with companies owned by someone else has always been the norm, the trend is shifting to make freelancing/solopreneurship far more common.

As a freelancer and solopreneur, I find that exciting! With more acceptance of freelancing as a viable career path will come more information, tools and resources geared toward making solo professionals more efficient and successful. Honestly, I think the time is ripe for exploring freelancing – provided you’ve got the one thing all freelancers need to get their businesses off the ground and to sustain them.

Confidence!

“A feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something” (as Merriam-Webster defines it), confidence needs to be at the root of your freelance endeavors. It’s the realization you have skills, knowledge and talents that will render you valuable to clients. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be considering a freelance career, right?

What’s equally important to having confidence in yourself and your abilities? Your attention to projecting that self-assuredness in all you do and to everyone you meet.

Be careful, however, not to confuse projecting confidence with bragging and appearing vain. When starting your freelance business, you’ll want to share about your capabilities and unique value without sounding like you have an over-inflated ego.

How to Project Confidence With Appropriate Confidence…

  • Be real.

    Share the facts.  Your real-life professional achievements, educational background, and examples of your work in your field will speak volumes without any embellishment.

  • Share what others have said about your capabilities.

    It can be a turn off if you pat yourself on the back and tell someone how great you are, but it’s much more acceptable and palatable to others when they hear the praises someone else has sung about you and your work.

  • Be gracious.

    As you’re sharing about yourself, your expertise, and your capabilities, don’t neglect the opportunity to generate goodwill by showing an interest in the people you’re talking with. Making others feel included and important demonstrates a collaborative nature – a quality that’s essential as a freelancer!

Confidence – expect yours to be tested.

Know it’s perfectly natural to find your confidence shaken at times. Whether your work on a project isn’t going as smoothly as you had hoped, or you’re dealing with an extra-demanding client, or some other force in the freelance universe rattles you, you’ll discover self-doubt may stalk you on occasion. When it does, revisit and reflect on the foundation of your confidence as a freelancer. Your knowledge, skills, experience and talents are with you always…and will only get stronger as you venture farther down the path of freelancing.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Deck the Halls – and Your Small Biz: Add Sparkle With These 3 Professional Touches

As the holidays approach, we put an exorbitant amount of time and effort into making the season bright for all around us. It’s as it should be….but don’t forget to look ahead and think about how you can make things a little brighter for your small business in the New Year.

NOW is the time to focus on the things you can do to propel your business forward in 2014. Whether your past year was one that didn’t quite make its mark or one in which you exceeded expectations, you can always find ways to improve and add some professional polish.

Some ideas for brightening your small business in 2014

Refresh your website.

How long have you had your existing website? It might be time for a re-do. Does your site look dated? Does the navigation not serve visitors as well as it should? Is it difficult for you to change content? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you might consider an update. Tip: Unless you’re a web designer/developer, don’t attempt on your own. If you think your audience can’t tell the difference between a self-created Weebly site and one that’s professionally done, think again. This is your brand we’re talking about. Your website will be the one place all your other online spaces, marketing material,s and messaging point to, so it pays to have one that’s well done and shows you mean business.

Pose for some professional photos.

As easy it is to spot  an amateur website, it’s also easy to spot a “selfie” profile pic. I’ve found professional pics to be one of the best investments I’ve made for my business. They put that finishing touch on your website and the social networks you use professionally. And if you’re invited to speak at an event or guest blog, you won’t look like an amateur when they ask you for a high-res head shot. Not all photographers will cost you an arm and leg.  Ask around and do some research to find one who will bring out your best without costing you a bundle.

Start your blog – FINALLY!

I’m secretly laughing to myself because I know at least four people personally who at this moment are saying, “Does she mean me?” Hmmm….maybe I do. I’ll never tell! But what I will say is if you have any doubt about how important blogging is for your business, read this article by Stephanie Frasco. Twice.

No complaining or whining about not having anything of interest to write about! You have a business. Your business has customers. Your customers find some value in what you offer them, so expand on that through your blog. What breaking news in your industry will help them live healthier lives or do business better? Have you launched a new service or expanded an existing service to enable them to save time by outsourcing an annoying task? What tips can you give them to extend the life of your products? What questions do customers most frequently ask about your services? Creating and sharing your own content via a blog is a powerful way to build authority, gain trust, and turn leads into sales.

 

Go ahead; deck the halls, but don’t stop there.

As you’re hanging mistletoe and stringing lights this month, remember to think ahead about how you can make your business sparkle and shine next year. What steps big or small would sprinkle some professional pixie dust over your small business?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

 

The One Thing ALL Small Businesses Need to Communicate

As a small business owner or solopreneur, your communications skills – or lack of – can directly affect your bottom line.Lady using tablet Professionals with a flair for engaging people and getting their message across clearly have more success in building relationships and converting leads to clients. Some people seem to be born with those interpersonal gifts,  but what if they don’t come quite as naturally to you?

Don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to be an accomplished writer, polished speaker or master networker to communicate effectively.  By ensuring that one single element is at the foundation of all your business interactions, you can set the stage for people wanting to learn more about your brand – and put the odds in your favor of gaining and retaining loyal clients.

Respect!

Whether you’re interacting with prospects by phone, in person, through email, via your blog, or on social media, demonstrate respect for your audience.

Put respect at the center of all you do when interacting with your prospects, clients and colleagues…

  • Respect their time.
    Be prepared.  Think things through. Be organized and have purpose so you communicate what your audience needs to know without going on tangents that waste their precious time.
  • Respect their intellect.
    Although you might know more about something than they do, check your tone and approach so you’re not perceived as condescending. Also, ask them for their insight, opinions, and feedback whenever appropriate.
  • Respect their need to take things slow.
    Never ever be pushy about selling your wares! While hard-sell/now-or-never tactics may have worked in the past when all we knew was one-way, push marketing, they’re now annoying and a turn-off to most people. Especially as a professional services business owner, you’ll find it can take months or sometimes years to nurture relationships that turn prospects into clients. Sometimes it’s because they view your offerings as more of a luxury than a need. Sometimes it’s because they have budget constraints. Sometimes they’re just so busy running their businesses they don’t have time to really think about working with you. Be patient. And stay top of mind (social media makes this so very easy!) so when they are ready or need the services you provide, you’ll be the one they call without hesitation.

Communicate with respect…and you’ll gain respect for you as a professional and for your brand.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 Ways to Nip Nagging Tasks in the Bud

When you’re a solopreneur, you’ve pretty much got to do it all – or at least see that everything gets done one way or another. That means prioritizing projects and tasks. Most of us make sure the revenue-generating activities come first followed by “lesser” responsibilities. But sometimes left undone,  the non-revenue producing, tedious but essential tasks can nag at you – making you less productive on the assignments that are bringing home the bacon. That’s when they deserve more attention than you’ve been giving them. While they might not be as mission critical at face value, they become ever so significant when they become a distraction. If you find they’re minimizing your productivity or detract from your creativity, it’s time to approach them differently than you are now.

Nip nagging business tasks in the bud!

There are a couple of ways to do that…

Put them on a “to do” list
It works for some people. Simply get them off  your mind by putting them on paper, into a spreadsheet, or into a tool like Evernote until you can get to them.

Schedule them on your calendar
Reserve time for each tedious task (no matter how small it might be) on your calendar where you have open slots between your “meat and potatoes” projects. By putting them into your master plan, they won’t hang over your head.

Take weekend morning, afternoon, or evening to get ’em done
Bam! Take the time you need in one fell swoop to swipe them off your slate. If the tasks are relatively mindless, you might even half-watch a movie or a few TV sitcoms while you’re taking care of business. That way it won’t seem quite so much like work.

So what are some of those no fun, but need to be done tasks that might need inclusion in one of those approaches?

  • Logging vehicle mileage
  • Entering receipts into QuickBooks (or whatever you use for keeping accounting records)
  • Generating invoices or logging payments from clients
  • Cleaning up/organizing your social media contacts (ie. putting Twitter followers into lists, putting Google+ contacts into appropriate circles, unfollowing contacts who don’t provide valuable content and who otherwise it makes no sense for you to keep on the radar, etc.)
  • Accepting Linkedin invitations
  • Deleting Spam from your Twitter Direct Messages
  • Deleting unneeded files from your computer
  • Deleting email messages that you’ll no longer need
  • Deduping contacts in your Smartphone

All of them and more can interfere with your powers of concentration and taunt you if left incomplete. So, take action and put them in their place so you can give the important stuff your full attention.

How do you keep nagging tasks from sabotaging your productivity?

By Dawn Mentzer

 

6 Types of Profile Pics that are Worse than an Egg

First impressions matter – especially when you’re looking to build your brand and be recognized as a professional whoTwitter egg is worth the while to connect with. As good as your credentials may be, the very first thing people notice on your online profiles is your profile photo. If it’s an egg or a shadowy silhouette, I’ll bet you’re not making as many as connections as you could be. I’m sometimes near merciless when teasing my small biz friends and colleagues who have yet to upload their photos – particularly on Linkedin. Again, first impressions matter – especially online where you often don’t have a face-to-face opportunity to project the real you.  But as bad as eggs and shadows are as profile pics, there are (believe it or not!) worse choices!

Want to be taken seriously as a professional? Think twice before using any of the below as your profile photo…

Fido or Tiger
Lots of people ooh and ahh over dogs and cats, but using yours as your profile photo on a network you intend to use primarily to build your brand will make you look less  professional. Well, maybe not if you’re a dog groomer or pet sitter…actually, even then it’s not a good idea.

It Takes Two
Posting a couples shot as your profile pic is…well…odd. MAYBE, if the face of your business is you and your spouse, it might be appropriate on your Facebook Page or G+ page. But not on your individual Linkedin profile. That photo should be all you.

Leaving too much to the imagination
Beware of bared shoulders and low necklines on photos that when cropped give the illusion that you’re in the buff. Awkward!

Sexy and you know it
While there might be a few professions (ahem) that justify putting on pouty lips and a seductive stare when saying “cheese” for a profile pic, it’s generally not the way to go.

Don’t mess with me
Making connections online is about being approachable. Your facial expression on your profile pic can either draw people to you or push them away. Don’t post a pic that makes you look menacing, mean, angry, or otherwise stand-offish.

Comic relief
You might argue that using a cartoon or caricature as a profile photo shows creativity. But if you’re trying to build your professional network do you really want to be known as the guy or gal who used a silly drawing for your profile pic? Even if it’s in the likeness of you. It’s not you.

Remember, your profile pic makes a strong first impression, so make sure yours is projecting the image you want prospects and customers to have of you. Realize, too, that even the profile pics you use on your personal online social networks can impact how others perceive you professionally. You have more flexibility on them, but be cognizant of the appropriateness of what you post when you’ve got business colleagues and clients within your personal networks.

What professional profile pic faux pas have you seen online? 

By Dawn Mentzer

Did I Just Say That?? 4 Words that Could Destroy Your Professional Credibility

Your professionalism can make or break the deal as you communicate and collaborate as a solopreneur.  When talking – Oops gestureeither when meeting one on one or when presenting to a group – you can instantly downgrade your authority and credibility a notch or two by repeatedly making annoying speaking faux pas. Whether you use any of the below because of nervousness, uncertainty of what you want to say, or bad habit, consider making a conscious effort to limit them in your conversations.

Spoken Words that Could Make You Sound Less Professional

LikeI’m like, “Why do so many people say like?” I’m calling myself out on this one! I know many other people who use it conversationally, too. For me, it’s a bad habit I’m working to break. Occasionally using it won’t do much damage, but frequent use will make you sound like a preteen star on a Nickelodeon sitcom.

Um – We tend to use this meaningless filler when we’re gathering our thoughts and searching for what we want to say next. Used sparingly, it won’t be too distracting. But when inserted before or after every sentence it detracts from your message. You’ll sound more together by inserting a silent pause instead of an “um” as you find the right words to use next.

You knowThis is another overused phrase, you know?  If the people you’re talking with already know, why are you telling them? This, too, is usually used out of habit. Again, used minimally it won’t hurt, but overused it will make you sound less professional than you are.

Cuss words – While they sometimes have a place and purpose, often they don’t. Know your audience before you use expletives. Some people are tolerant of them, but others aren’t. Not only will you risk sounding unprofessional by using unnecessary cuss words, but you’ll also risk offending people. Before you curse, ask yourself if it really is the best way to drive home your point. Beware of using swear words gratuitously and freely to the point where they become a hard-to-break habit.

What other words or speaking habits do you think make professionals look/sound less authoritative and respect-worthy?

Image courtesy of Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Solopreneur Startup Smarts: East Coast and West Coast Solos Share What Works

No matter where you live and work, you’re going to make some really smart – and some not so smart – choices as you start out as a solopreneur. My friend, Carrie Chwierut of Carrie’s Social, and I launched our businesses at nearly the same time back in 2010. Carrie’s a west coast (California) gal and I’m near the east coast (eastern Pennsylvania), but despite our geographical differences, we have a lot in common. Both of us have learned some valuable lessons as our solo-businesses have grown and evolved over the past 4 years.

We’ve compared notes and are sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with you via a synchronized blogging exercise. Here on the Insatiable Solopreneur, I’m reflecting on what we’ve found to be among our smartest moves as new solopreneurs. On her blog, Carrie is sharing what we might have done differently had we known what we know today. So, after you read my post, please do pay a visit to Carrie’s blog to read her post!

Solopreneurial Smarts

What this East Coast Solo would do over again…Dawn Mentzer, East Coast Solopreneur, in Lancaster County Pennsylvania

• Joining the local regional chamber of commerce on Day 1 – and sticking with it!

While it didn’t pay off immediately, over time it has paid for itself many times over. Not only have I gained new clients, but I’ve been able to strengthen relationships with existing clients through my membership.

• Launching a website

Even if you don’t focus on generating leads from it, you need a place for people to go to learn more about you. Websites – particular those that are professionally-designed – give you credibility. I’m amazed at how many freelance writers don’t have websites. Depending on what type of business you have, it’s possible your competitors don’t either. Get there first. It will set you apart.

• Using Hootsuite and Buffer for posting to Twitter

Twitter is a different animal from other social channels. You can’t tweet once or twice a day to gain traction – you need to be prolific! Using Hootsuite and Buffer to schedule tweets and keep tabs on my social media activity has helped me build my online presence. That in turn has helped me build awareness of my brand and connect with some key folks who have brought some great projects my way.

• Getting personal on Linkedin

Sending personalized invitations (rather than the generic option) and responding with a personalized thank you to people who invite me to join their networks has opened to door to opportunities. By making that little bit of extra effort to connect with people, I’ve gotten face-to-face meetings and landed new projects.

• Volunteering strategically

When I transitioned from my corporate career to freelancing, I knew I needed to make more connections within the business community, learn more about being a biz owner, and build my portfolio of writing samples. I became a volunteer with SCORE and a board member of my local Main St. organization. Both experiences helped me build my network, skills and experience. Although my workload from clients is a lot more intense than it was when I first started my business, I still volunteer – only not quite so much.

Carrie Chwierut-West Coast Solopreneur-in CaliforniaThe West Coast Solo weighs in on what has worked for her…

• Launching a website

I completely agree with Dawn on this one! Creating a website was one of the first things I did. It makes you appear more professional and provides potential customers with a broader look at who you are and what your business is all about.

• Announcing it to family and friends

You have to be a little careful here. While you don’t want to bombard your family and friends with countless emails asking them to mention you to their friends, it doesn’t hurt to do a mass announcements to family, friends, past business contacts, etc. telling them that you’ve started a new business and what the services are.

• Joining a Social Media peer group

Finding the right peer group is so important when starting your business. I was lucky enough to have a group approach me about joining, and I gladly accepted. These groups give you a platform in which to vent, ask questions, and learn from the experiences of others in your field of work. The group I joined had a requirement that members share each other’s blog posts on their platforms, too, so it was a great way to support each other.

• “Honesty with clients…always” became my motto

From the start, I felt it important to be totally honest with clients. Whether it was telling them that I didn’t feel I was the best person for the job, or a constructive criticism of their current platforms (if they asked, of course!). If you’re honest with people from the start, you build trust and save yourself some potentially embarrassing and damaging situations down the road.

East, West, North, South…No matter where you’re located, you’ll discover that some of your choices will help put you on the map, while others will get you lost for a little while.

Now, check out Carrie’s post with our self-admitted solopreneurial blunders!
What decisions and actions served you well as you started your business?
Carrie’s California Image (background) courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 Myths and Misconceptions about Freelancers

Although freelancing has become a popular and socially accepted professional path, a lot of people still have misconceptionsTrue/False Compass image about what freelancers are all about. Individual freelancers do what they do for diverse reasons, and they all operate in their own unique ways. While no two are exactly alike, there are some common myths about freelancers in general that sometimes lead to misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations when working with them.

Myths and Misconceptions about Freelancers

 

Freelancers freelance because they’re between jobs or they can’t find a job.

The freelancers I know have marketable skills and talents that companies would be thrilled to have in-house. Having been approached about positions at several companies locally, I’d certainly like to think I could get a “day job” if I really wanted one. The freelancers in my circles have made an active decision to take that career path. They’re not doing it because they don’t have other options.

Freelancing is a “side job.”

While some freelancers hold other jobs and do their freelance work on the side, many are freelancers full-time. Freelancing is their business – and they treat it that way.

Freelancers will work for peanuts. 

Indeed, if you look for them on Elance or the like, you will find freelancers who work for next to nothing. Hire them and I guarantee you’ll get what you pay for. Most freelancers are professionals and know what they’re worth; they’re not going to accept less. Sure, at times we’ll meet clients in the middle if our rates and their budgets don’t match up, but we’re not desperate and won’t be intimidated or bullied into giving our time and talent away.

Freelancers have a lot of spare time. 

While that might be true of freelancers who are starting out, established freelancers have an established clientele and will probably have a full project schedule. Don’t wait until the last minute to call a freelancer about a project and expect them to turn it around the next day.

All Freelancers are introverts. 

Some are, but not all. I personally thrive on collaboration and interaction with clients and colleagues. Yes, I need my alone time to focus on projects and get my work done, but what I love most about freelancing is my limitless freedom to build relationships with others in the business community.

Freelancers are willing to work at all hours of the day and on weekends.

While working hours for freelancers can vary depending on their professional and personal situations, many of us like to have structure so we have some separation from our work to rest and refresh. Some freelancers will answer emails on evenings and weekends, some won’t. I occasionally will, but if a client starts to invade my personal time too much, I cease and desist. The best way to know what to expect with freelancers is to ask them about their working hours up front.

 

Freelancers work in their pajamas. 

OK, we all have at one time or another, but PJs aren’t the universally accepted uniform of the freelancer. Yes to comfy clothes in the home office, but working in what I slept in the night before isn’t conducive to productivity. Other freelancers have shared the same. Freelancers are hard-working professionals, not lazy loungers!

Again, all freelancers are unique and you’ll find exceptions to every rule. When or – better yet – before you work with freelancers, ask about their working style, typical project turn-around time, work hours and anything else that might impact how you collaborate and communicate. Realistic expectations and understanding are the keys to a mutually beneficial working relationship.

What other myths and misconceptions have you encountered about freelancers?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of David Castillo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net