Monthly Archives: April 2011

Words to Work By: 4 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Follow

People love to give advice.  Sometimes it can be unwanted and quickly forgotten.  But if you’re lucky, occasionally you’ll be struck with some words that stay with you for a lifetime.  Those pearls of wisdom seem to be the ones that ring in my ears at the most challenging periods of my life.  As The Social Vista navigates the world of growing startups, certain familiar lessons keep coming back to me and should be guiding principles for every entrepreneur.

“Always remember who’s the hoss and who’s the boss.”  

Growing up, my dad concocted a small list of rules to live by.  Some stuck with me because I just could not forget them even if I tried.  “Never stand in the warm spot of a cold pool” would fall into that category.

One in particular, though, still comes back to me in difficult situations: “Always remember who’s the hoss and who’s the boss.”  I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a country girl… but I may have seen my fair share of livestock growing up.  My dad particularly loved this reference when we were horseback riding.  The second the horse I was on decided to go right while I was trying to get him to go left, I’d hear these now famous words.    It was a reminder to take charge.  Every horse was huge and powerful compared to myself – who was a little bit of nothin’.  If he got it into his mind that he was the boss, he could take off running and there really wouldn’t be much I could do about it except hold on for dear life.

With horses, this was a matter of safety, but at its core, it was always a matter of confidence. Those words, though admittedly redneck, still hold true in business.  Employees, suppliers and even clients will walk all over you if you give them the chance.  It can be uncomfortable at times, but in every situation, it is important to hold the reins tight and clearly establish yourself as the authority.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil!” 

My mom may not have coined this phrase, but she certainly said it often – usually in regards to job hunting when I was younger.  It was a constant reminder that you have to be persistent in life to get what you want out of it.  When it comes to business, that persistence will be perceived as passion and passion never goes unnoticed or unrewarded.

Potential clients rarely just stumble upon your business and ask if they can give you money.  It is your job to shout from the mountain tops about what you do, why you do it…  oh, and can I do it for you or possibly anyone you know?  Over the years I have learned that my coworkers, bosses, and potential clients are not mind-readers.  (Word of advice: this applies to spouses, too).  That potential client that you want so badly has no idea that you’re wooing them if you don’t tell them so.  It can be uncomfortable for some people to come right out and ask someone for the business, but I promise you it’s not as uncomfortable as passing the time wondering why your list of clients is so short.

“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Of the many endearing words of wisdom that my husband picked up in the Army, this is the only one suitable to publish.  In fact, even this phrase had to have a couple curse words edited out.

It almost seems silly to include this message on my list.  Shouldn’t it just be obvious?  It’s amazing how easily we can forget this simple phrase when we are swept up in the chaos of running a business and juggling a million things at once.  In my experience, this isn’t always about the big decisions.  That’s usually not where we are willing to cut corners in favor of expediency or ease.

It’s the small things, like responding to an email promptly when you have 5000 other things you could be doing.  It’s opting to take some extra time to properly vet a job candidate even though you know that the sooner you hire someone, the more clients you can sign.  It’s taking a moment to tell an employee that you recognize the contribution they’re making.  These small things are just as important in building that ever important reputation as the products and services you offer.

“Work works.  The harder you work the luckier you get.”

For those of you who have never heard the term “cold-walking,” consider yourselves very lucky.  My former boss taught me this time-honored Financial Advisor tradition.  At first, I absolutely hated walking into unfamiliar businesses, asking for the owner, awkwardly working my way through my pitch, and inevitably being shot down.  But every single day, my boss drilled the same credo into my brain over and over and over again: “Work works.” How could anyone argue with that?  It was genius in its simplicity.

These words are never more true than when you’re starting a new business.  You may not have deep pockets.  You may not have all the resources and manpower as your competition.  You may be lacking in experience.  It doesn’t matter.  Working hard and working smart are the most valuable tools in your disposal right now.

After months of cold-walking, I still got doors slammed in my face on a very regular basis.  But the more doors I knocked on, the more likely I was to find someone who was interested in talking to me.  The more people I found who were interested in talking to me, the less I cared about the ones who wouldn’t give me the time of day. I never actually got the point of what I’d call “enjoying” cold-walking, but I did learn that it was all just a numbers game.  The more people I talked to and the more things I tried, the more clients I gained.  It was as simple as that.

 

The most powerful lessons I’ve picked up along the way are not elaborate quotes coined by philosophers and high-minded figures in history.  For me, they are simple in phrase, and diverse in application.  Surround yourself with people who offer the same support and guidance and you really can’t go wrong.

Social Media: The Ugly, The Bad, and The Good

The very things I hate about Social Media are also what make it so successful.

The Ugly
A friend of mine, who will remain nameless, recently set up her very first Facebook account.  You wouldn’t believe how nervous she was to send her first status update.  Even after two other people reviewed it, she was convinced that her comment about the weather wasn’t witty enough or she wasn’t posting it properly.  Then she proceeded to check back every two minutes to see if anyone had made a comment.  Her fear of putting something out there for the whole world to see was quickly replaced with a feeling of inadequacy when no one else commented on her observation.

Personally, I think this fear of “doing it wrong” or not getting a response are the biggest factors discouraging people from posting online or really utilizing Social Media at all.  We’ve ALL heard at least one person say the following: “Oh yeah, I have a Facebook account, but I don’t really go on it that often.”  People are obviously intrigued by Social Media enough to not only check out different sites, but to actually set up an account as well.  So either they’re lying and they actually log in all the time, but mostly just to quietly stalk their exes or find out who gained the most weight since high school, or there really is something deterring them from returning to these sites.

The Bad
Social Media is rarely intuitive.  Sites like Twitter and Facebook are made up of awful labyrinths of terminology and unclear acronyms.  When I first got onto Facebook, I drove my husband crazy with incessant questions and rants about how annoyingly complicated the whole thing was: “What’s the difference between the News Feed and my Profile… and how do they affect my Wall.  Are my Wall and my Profile the same thing?  When I post a status update, where does it end up… on my Wall, my Profile, or the News Feed?  Are you SURE that if I send this message no one else will be able to see it?”

The first time you heard “Follow us on Facebook” was your first intuition to visit the page and click on the “Like” button?  Probably not.  Once I figured this out, I quickly switched over to a five minute rant (what can I say, I love a good rant) about how stupid that was: “Why not just have a button that says “Fan” or “Add to my Pages” or “Follow on Facebook”… pretty much anything BUT “Like.”  Facebook pages don’t have “Fans,” they have “Likes.”

When I joined up with Twitter, I went through the same ordeal of learning the proper Social Media etiquette, terminology, and acronyms.  I distinctly remember thinking, “What the hell is a DM?”  Then it’s a whole other world of #s and @s that came along with their own rules and protocol.  At first, I hated this!  I’m a pretty intelligent person.  I use to explain to CEO’s why their multimillion dollar 401(k) plans were not 404(c) compliant and how that could affect their fiduciary liability – and here I find myself struggling to figure out how to have or follow a conversation on Twitter.  Not only did I feel unsure of myself, but I hated asking anyone for advice because I was failing to grasp concepts that 6th graders had mastered in 3rdgrade.

The Good
Shockingly, the very things I hated so much about every new networking site that I joined are precisely why they’re so effective.  My first tweet felt much like my unnamed friend’s Facebook post.  It was uncomfortable, not witty enough, and I was pretty sure that I was doing it all wrong – and that millions of discerning strangers would see just how awful it was.  Then it disappeared into the vastness of Twitter, completely unnoticed – because let’s face it, unless your username is @CharlieSheen or @HowardStern, few really care about your first tweet.

Every time you join a new network, it’s like being hazed.  It’s an aggravating ordeal to become familiar with the terminology and etiquette – but the type of loyalty that comes from overcoming these obstacles is priceless.  In reality, The Bad and The Ugly are crucial to The Good of Social Media.  There’s some euphoric feeling that comes when the fog of mystification clears and you can navigate a social media site with ease.  The very fact that your frustration has changed to acceptance means you’ve invested enough time and energy to change your status from confused newbie to insider.  Not only can you speak the lingo, but you understand firsthand that not everyone is a part of the club – seeing as you were recently clueless.

I’m Friends with Grandma on Facebook

When I was studying for my licensing exams to become a Financial Advisor, I spent every waking moment for two months learning about complicated options strategies and every obscure investment act that could possibly come up on the six hour exam. And yet, one of the most interesting things I discovered was so simple in concept and yet so applicable to all aspects of life: The Odd Lot Theory.

Basically, a round lot is when you buy shares of stock in multiples of 100. An odd lot is when you buy in any other amount. Large institutions with loads of money and tons of expertise typically buy in round lots, which mean the majority of odd lot purchases are made by smaller, less experienced investors. Joe Schmo is more likely to buy only four or five shares of Apple stock than Goldman Sachs.

The Odd Lot Theory says that when there is an influx of round lot purchases, it’s probably a good time to buy (because that’s what savvy investors are doing), whereas when there are mostly odd lot purchases, the ship has sailed and it’s probably time to sell. It’s not that the people buying odd lots are stupid; it’s just that they’re hopping onto the investment trend at the tail end, after it’s already gained all the momentum it’s going to gain.

In other words, when something gets SO popular that even grandma is doing it, chances are it’s glory days are over and its bubble is about to burst.

The second I learned about the Odd Lot Theory, I started seeing it in action everywhere I looked. Think about it… when was the last time you heard the phrase “fo shizzle?” This charming expression met its kiss of death the second you heard either your mom or dad say it.

Is Facebook falling victim to the Odd Lot Theory? When you first joined Facebook, you hardly worried if any of your friends would take offense to your status updates or be shocked by any of your photos. Then employers started looking into job candidates on Facebook and we all got a little wiser and adjusted our privacy settings so only our friends could view our pages.

But what happens when our “Friends” get overrun with parents, coworkers, nieces, and the like. Is that a game changer? Now that half your “friends” share the same last name as you, suddenly your message isn’t just targeting your buddies, it has to be appropriate for your boss, your neighbors, and a whole slew of relatives.

Now that everyone is on Facebook, is its momentum running on fumes?

The Odd Lot Theory explains the housing bubble burst and can predict the rise and fall of skinny jeans, but it neglects one thing… when a trend becomes SO mainstream that it’s no longer a trend – it’s a necessity. When I was a sophomore in high school, my friend Christine helped me set up my very first email account on Yahoo. My original password was based on pager code. (Insert “I’m so old” comment here). I can’t remember the last time I used a pager, but I still check that same email account every single day.

Think of the billions of photos and years of status updates stored on Facebook profiles. Consider the sheer amount of time that you’ve invested into your account. How do you walk away from that?

It’s entirely possible that Facebook has become SO mainstream that it’s not even about being trendy anymore. It’s simply a necessary part of staying in contact or running a business, just like email.

Just keep your eyes peeled for a Friends Request from Grandma. It can mean only one of two things: 1) So long Facebook, It was fun while it lasted! Or 2) Congratulations, Facebook! You’ve become a permanent fixture of the online landscape.

Image courtesy of http://ow.ly/auuC4