Monday, March 24, 2014

Fashion and Finance

This weekend, I attended Vancouver Fashion Week to watch my daughter's debut as a Canadian Designer.  It was a most amazing experience, and I am so happy that I was able to see her hard work being recognized by her peers.

For the remainder of the time, I spent easily 20 hours working with my accountant unfurling a mess that had been created over a period of time by other accountants.

I find this frustrating because I paid for services that were either not done or done badly.  It turns out you have to be an accountant to hold the accountant accountable.

Accounting is a business and it requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Since I am not an accountant, I hired in good faith and on good recommendation.  This is my third accounting company since starting my business in 2011, and I learned more about business in 20 hours than I did in the last 20 years, because quite honestly, the ball had been dropped, and I didn't know how badly because I didn't know what questions to ask, or how to hold them accountable to me.

This is a big problem for business of all sizes, but in a right sized business it can be the fine line between success and failure, between giving up or not.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Worst Thing You Can Do

The worst thing you can do is ignore me.  I am your customer.  I need your help. I trust you, otherwise I wouldn't be working with you. 

You are the person who understands my business and me. You get it.  So when I call or email, answer me please. When I walk into your shop, talk to me. Acknowledge me. It's that simple. I am your customer.

It doesn't have to be a big thing. I get that you are busy and have a hundred other priorities, because you have other customers - people who think you are as amazing as I do.

Talk to me in sentences and use words that make sense to me.  I get that you are brilliant at what you do, and that's one of the reasons I love working with you. But bring me into your world by using words that make sense in my world.  I am not an accountant, a techie, an engineer, an investor, a banker or an astronaut.  So if you talk to me as if I am, I have no idea what you are talking about.  And I am your customer, so that's a problem. We have a problem.

Talk to me in voice or in person so that you have my undivided attention. Emails can be great as a follow up, or just to say hello, but if you have technical information to share, please call me.  When I am working on a deadline and I get a technical email out of the blue asking me to do something, I feel like I've just been torpedoed. Seriously, my concentration has just been obliterated, and now I am reading your email with disdain, and by association thinking of you with disdain. Sorry, but you and your communication style are a package deal.

I love you, but I have needs too.  In the entrepreneurial world, I rely on the expertise of others to help me to be successful.  The thing is, I need what I need when I need it.  I am your customer, and I am loyal to you, but loyalty is a two-way street.  You might after a time realize that I am not around. That's because I had to move on.  

So if you are too busy, just send me a note or a smile and let me know that you see me and hear me.  That's really all I need.  I am your customer. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

How I made $800 in a year.

Helping people get somewhere inspires me. I love to write.  I love to see a plan come together. In 2011, I incorporated the vision that I carried with me since 1996. Lynear Thinking Strategy and Communications Ltd. was created  and I officially entered the world of the entrepreneur. My mission -to connect people with purpose and help them get somewhere.

Working with purpose for purpose has been my focus since the early part of my career.  I decided to fill my life exclusively with what I love to do. My mantra is to do good things so that good things happen.  I believe in the importance of integrity, good business practices and quality.  

Behind great businesses are great people who live and work with passion.  Now, three years later, I am in the business of helping people grow though strategy, communications, publishing and consulting services.  In my first year of business I made $800.00, falling just $90,200 short of my goal.

There were two reasons for this.

1.  I worked for free because I didn't  know how to ask for payment.
2.  My goal of $100,000 for my first year of business was nothing short of ridiculous.

The Entrepreneur's Reality 

I am going to just come out and say it. Private enterprise is not romantic.  It is about working harder than you've ever worked in your life for the least amount of money you have ever made. At least for a while.   This misconception is actually harmful because it hides the truth and therefore the solutions.

Private enterprise is about money - trying to make money and not lose too much at once. If it's not, it's called philanthropy.  In private business, you get to decide how. Easier said than done. Some people start with what they love and turn it into a business; others start from what they are good at and try and turn it into a business; others do something completely foreign and find experts. Who is to say? I think it depends on a lot of factors.

Beyond the product or service, you must become the marketer, the operations manager, the book keeper, the accountant, the service person, the sales person and even the janitor. If and when we hire employees to generate growth (why else?), there is a cost. People like pay cheques, benefits, vacations and the occasional day off.  All of that costs money.

In business, we have the freedom to make mistakes and make decisions. Yes, there is freedom to stay in bed. Yes there is freedom to take a bath in the middle of the day, or go to a yoga class, or maybe even take a trip. And that freedom lasts as long as the revenues are rolling in, or your investments are exhausted.

Private enterprise is about taking risk and managing risk.  Risks are dangers. They are not fears, but they are real.  Like Will Smith 's character said in "After Earth", roughly paraphrased', 'fear is not real, but danger is very real.'  The same can be said in business.  How you react to fear is a choice. But danger is very real. To be in business, it's all about balancing time and money and finding a way to optimize both. 

Lessons learned

1. Business plans must be lived first, then written.  

When I created Lynear Thinking, my intention was to offer my expertise in strategic planning, governance and communications to the private sector.

I did what we do when we start a business. I researched the needs of the market to determine how I could serve the market. I discovered that the number one reason for small business failure, according to Industry Canada, is lack of strategy and planning, and failure to access the expertise to support the business.  I could see that.  Entrepreneurs tend to be in business because they like to call their own shots and we are not very good at asking for, or wanting to pay for the expertise we need.

So I created a business plan that was focused on creating a shared services group of companies who would work together to offer an array of products and services to other businesses. We would offer  strategy, communications, marketing, human resources, financial and legal services.  The concept was based on a corporate shared services model that I had worked with in my previous life. 

There were problems with that corporate services model, such as our internal clients did not want to pay for our services.  In fact they pushed back on every single penny and hour. It became very difficult to be successful when the only measurable was how much did you spend and why did you spend so much.

It turns out the same problem exists in the private sector entrepreneurial shared services model.  First, how would it be capitalized, second, how would it make money, third, how would it share the profit, and fourth, would the market want it.

To date, this shared services model has been tucked away in the PowerPoint world of best intentions for now.

2. Working for free is not cool. 

No.  Don't do it.  Doing work for free does not serve anyone because it's not gratifying to do something for nothing, nor is it gratifying to receive something of no value.  In my first year of business, I did a lot of work for free.  I have a file cabinet full of elaborately written proposals that I submitted to win contracts.  Each one of them were fastidiously created as I had in my corporate life.   From a time alone perspective, each one was worth at least $500.00 - $1,500.00.  Despite my attention to detail I did not get the contracts. I was successful, however, in giving them a clearly laid out plan that they could follow themselves, or give to another consultant.

OK, I am an over achiever.  I was reminded of something one of my duck bosses used to say to me.  "Did give it all away upfront. Make them come back and ask for more." Clever.  I realized that if I wasn't going to get the gig, there was no point in giving it all away.  If I could pique their curiosity, maybe they would come back to me and eventually hire me.

3.  Reach out to people you trust.

There is a saying in the world of work. It;s not what you know but who you know that counts.  That’s true. In my consulting practice, I was hell bent on leaving my home to work, with the hopes of finding a new home elsewhere. I other words, I was looking to fly outta here and find a new place to live and work.  One of my mentors had moved to another province, and she was working with a major consulting firm that does all the things that I had envisioned in mine, with the exception of strategy and communications. Eventually, I was recommended for a consulting position which I was successful in attaining.

4.  Be remarkable, in a good way.

It's easy to be good, but can you be good enough for people to remark about it.  Being remarkable means delivering consistently on the promise. I means putting the client first and caring about their business or their story like it’s my own.  Being remarkable means taking care of business. Being remarkable means taking a stand when it matters and never compromising integrity.  Remarkable people are those who know that trust is earned every single day with each and every single interaction.  Remarkable people act from their heart and not their wallet.  Remarkable people do the right thing.  As an entrepreneur, my clients are the most important people in my life.

5. Do good things that feel good doing. 

It feels good to make a difference in someone’s life.  In my corporate life, promoting and facilitating corporate social responsibility was an area of special interest for me.  When I became an entrepreneur, I pledged that I would dedicate a portion of my resources to helping the community.  I am a Board member of a charitable organization.  I also dedicate a portion of each issue of SKY Magazine charitable organizations. I also sponsor my clients who are raising funds for charitable purposes.