May 17, 2011

Behind the Scenes – Dreamers into Doers Mentorship Talk {Plus My Best Small Business Advice Secrets}

Scroll Down For My Mentoring Advice for Small Businesses…

Several months ago, we received the most lovely and thoughtful letter from Dawn Menon of Bees Knee*s Parties.  Dawn is a member of the Dreamers into Doers Community and she was planning the Community’s Tri-State division’s monthly meeting.  For some reason, when I saw this email, this request just spoke to me and I knew I wanted to do it.  My business manager Lisa {aka Commander in Sweets} was somewhat shocked when she received an email back from me with cap letters saying “I WANT TO DO THIS!”  A few things really appealed to me. First, the get together was all about mentoring creative women who want to grow their businesses.  It was also a small and informal get together.  I love the idea of keeping it small because that allowed me to get to know each and every single one of the women there. Dawn also had an idea of surprising the ladies who were attending, which made it even more fun.  A low-key event with a surprise guest?  That is totally how I roll.  My requirement?  That we make it a round table discussion so that we can all speak to each other and learn about each other’s business models.  We were at Alice’s Tea Cup in Manhattan and it was like coffee talk with the gals, except we shared business stories, struggles of balancing family and work, etc.  The surprise was a lot of fun and when Lisa and I walked in and Dawn revealed us as the guest speakers, the ladies were pretty stoked.  I think they were especially surprised when they learned that I had looked at each and every one of their sites before the event.  It was a very rewarding experience for Lisa and me as well.

I had a few things that I really wanted to share with the crowd, so I thought I’d share the business insight with you as well.  Are you interested in hearing? If so, scroll down below the pictures…

These principles can apply to any business, so no need to feel like you have to have a similar business model.  Note that others may have different formulas, but this is what works for me.  I’ll be back this week to share the q & a that we had as well, including what my biggest obstacles have been to date.

(1) The Niche Business Model – I love the idea of the niche business model.  This has worked well for my business so I’m a real fan.  I’m not saying that broader business models don’t work.  I just think that you can get a lot more people to pay attention to what you are doing if you hone in on one product.  It also helps keep you focused and disciplined and allows for brand messaging to be straightforward.

(2) Be Original – Many people ask me how I was able to market myself well so fast.  I attribute this to a couple of small things.  First, I did something that no one else was doing. The dessert bar market didn’t exist when I started and I was keenly aware of that.  I decided to pursue this idea because I knew it would set me apart.  So whatever you do, be original.  Second, do it right (see next point about staying true to your brand).  For me, doing it right was keeping my product pristine because my clientele was high end.

(3) Stay True to Your Brand – This is a very important business principle to me.  Whatever your product is {service, tangible product, media such as blog, etc}, know what you are selling and stay true to it.  If you are selling something high end but selling less product, that is okay.  If your product is a lower end product, but you have a volume business, then that is okay as well.  Both are good business models.  But stick to that model whatever it is and don’t stray from it no matter what anyone says.

(4) Be Flexible – I know I just said stay true to your brand and this sounds a bit contradictory, but be somewhat flexible as to where your business will take you.  If you’ve read The E-Myth, then you know about the woman who wanted a pie business until she was doing it everyday and her hobby had turned into something she loathed.  If your business takes you into another direction {either because of your interests or market needs}, be mindful of those cues and be flexible.

(5) Listen to Different Perspectives – Find someone who offers a different perspective and listen to them.  It may not be exactly what you want to hear, but it is important that you listen.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go head-to-head with my husband, but having him there to play devil’s advocate has really helped me.  Now Lisa joins him and I want to go head-to-head with both of them! But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Surround yourself with people like that and it will keep you grounded.

(6) Overhead, Shmoverhead – I’m a big fan of low overhead. The truth is, if you are a small business, you can’t afford to have overhead. I can’t tell you how many times people said to me “why don’t you do this {get a huge office, open a store, create a branch in this city, etc}.  My response: are you paying for it?   It is easy for people to project their own desires on you, but only you know what is good for your situation.  As your business grows, try to keep this same discipline and take it slowly with big decisions.  The bigger overhead you have, the less optionality you have in your business.  Not to mention that you’ll have to pass higher overhead on to your clients somehow.  My humble opinion…overhead is overrated.

(7) Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin – Be acutely aware of your limits and how much you can/can’t do.  It is sometimes hard to say “no” to potential clients when you are in the early phase of your business, but if your business can’t handle it yet, then you’ll be getting yourself into trouble if you take on too much.  I’d rather turn away business if I can’t do the project right than take on the client and disappoint them.

(8) Press – It is what so many new business owners want, but it can really hurt you if you are not strategic with your press.  Each press opportunity usually involves some expending of capital.  While it can be a great boost to your ego to see articles about your business, it can also hemorrhage your bank account.  I am not saying not to take press opportunities that come your way.  The right mediums can be very powerful.  Strategically pick and choose the right media outlets for your products so you are not wasting time or resources.  That same principal goes for “the Celebrity Factor”  Yes, everyone wants a list of celebrity clients and there are many times that celebrities {not all} will want things for free.  Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes not.  Evaluate whether the opportunity will bring back the return you need {i.e. real dollars} instead of jumping in blindly.

(9) Websites and Social Network – If your business is a creative one, make sure your website reflects that you are creative.  This is important so don’t take it lightly.  Your website is your way to show customers your portfolio.  You’ll be doing your business a big disservice if your portfolio doesn’t represent your product well.  Also, if it makes sense for your business/customer base, then tweet, facebook, blog, community share, etc away!  I’m guilty of not doing enough, but I do my best.  Evaluate what your product is and whether your customers will respond to these mediums.

(10) Love What You Do – Try not to lose sight of what you love to do.  It is easy to get caught up in the fog of the everyday details of your business.  If you are like the pie lady above (#4) and are unhappy, and you can afford to alter your model, then after careful thought, trust your instincts and move in a different direction.

Come back for the q & a session this week.

PS – Seeing how these women had formed a community jazzed me up to get you guys on our community.  I’ve had this community up on my site for over a year, but I haven’t been active on the page. How many of you are members of our community?  If you are not, come join it.  Would you like to see Lisa and I play a more active role in it?

PPS – I have way more biz advice to share in the future so stay tuned….

Last but not least, a special thank you to the fantastic women at the event, including organizers Dawn of Bee*s Knees and Khaliah of The Party Muse, Lisa of Polkadot Pound Cake, Jennifer of Hudson Cakery, Vanessa of Vanessa Grant Events, Sarah of Dreamers Joy, Crista of Creations by Crista Marie, Dawn of Hydrangea Home, and Gemma of BrainFry Concepts.  We had so much fun with you ladies and learned from you as well!


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