Category Archives: Managing your business

Home office: Open in case of medical emergency

SwingEven if you have fabulous office space and enjoy going in every morning to be surrounded by your crackerjack staff, it’s not a bad idea to maintain a functional home office as well. I worked from a home office for the first several years after starting Tribe, and learned this week how lucky I was that I kept it largely intact after we leased real office space.

I’ve spent this week in that home office, thanks to the swine flu. I came down with it Monday night, my fever broke Tuesday night, and I thought staying out of the office for 24 hours after my temperature returned to normal would be a gracious plenty of time to stay away.

However, my entire staff voted to keep me home for the rest of the week, and then assigned my business partner the task of talking me into that. Nobody wants to catch H1N1. We also have two pregnant employees. One of them went in for her weekly check up and when she mentioned that her boss had the swine flu, the doctor went ape. Apparently, pregnant women are at elevated risk for complications with this virus.

So I set up shop in my old home office, where the wireless still works, the printer still works, my cell phone gets a good signal and the coffee machine is just a few steps away. I opened up all the windows, let the dog settle in at my feet and then I got down to business. I’ve kept up with the constant flurry of email. I’ve worked undisturbed for long stretches. And when I needed to touch base on projects with people in the office, we did it by phone or iChat.

Yesterday was such a gorgeous sunny fall day that I spent the afternoon on the deck with my laptop. I could hear the birds singing, feel the breeze in the trees, enjoy the rich colors of the potted mums waiting to be planted. Midway through, I took a break to walk up to the school to collect our fourth grader. Sam started in on homework and I got back to my work. Later, I could see him out of the corner of my eye on his homemade bag swing, figuring out ways to use a ladder to make the swing go higher and further. Once in awhile, I’d respond to a “Mama, watch this” request.

It’s a nice way to work. I might miss my home office on Monday.

When can entrepreneurs stop worrying about winning more business?

growth“My business seems to be successful,” said the new entrepreneur, “but when do I get to quit worrying about enough work coming in?” Jo Ann is an accomplished marketer, with 20 years of experience under her belt and an MBA, not to mention gorgeous and personable. She left her post as VP/CMO at a venerable brand to start her own marketing consultancy.

“Never,” was all I could tell her. In my years of running my own companies, I’ve been able to come to a strange peace with that fact, but some days it requires a certain amount of zen not to completely freak out.

I gave her my rock climbing metaphor. When I was just starting my first ad agency, I  asked that same question of my friend Bill, a wildly successful illustrator who has run his own business for decades. Bill’s personality is about as low stress as mine is high, and I would never peg him for a worrier. (One night at some industry event, I remarked to Bill that it had been a gorgeous afternoon. He agreed, and revealed that he’d turned down a job to do a Newsweek cover that afternoon so he could go hiking instead. I was impressed, but he laughed and said, “I’m thinking I made the wrong decision.”) Bill told me the same thing I told Jo Ann: never.

Bill said he still worries all the time, but he doesn’t view worry as a negative. He suggested I try to enjoy the fear, the same way I enjoy the fear inherent to rock climbing. “Think of it as exciting,” he said. “It’s scary, but it’s kind of fun.”

Here are my four best tips for maintaining perspective:

1. Redefine worry. Worry can be useful, if it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the realization that you won’t be able to make payroll unless you collect that big receivable that’s running late. Worry can make you get up the next morning and get your client on the phone to help push that invoice through their accounting department and get you a check. Instead of telling yourself that you’re worried, maybe you’re actually just “aware.”

2. Remember how much is in your control. Although you can’t control the economy or a potential client’s budget cuts, you can control your efforts. During slow times, ramp up your networking, your outreach, your marketing. In your own business, you truly have more control over your success than you would working for a large company.

3. Give seeds time to grow. For the sort of professional services many small businesses are selling, the sales process can stretch out for years. If you don’t get a piece of business you pitch today, that doesn’t mean you won’t win some work from that client somewhere down the road. At Tribe, we got our first project from UPS a full two years after I’d sent an introductory letter to a heavyweight there. He’d kept that letter in his files until he had a need for us. Similar story with our Chick-fil-A clients. Life is long.

4. Don’t slack off in good times. When a small business is busy, it’s usually all hands on deck to get the work done. It’s very difficult to come up for air long enough to formulate any sort of marketing efforts. Just don’t let your business development machine grind to a complete halt. Keep pitching. Stay visible. Be in touch.

I’m sure some of you out there have tips to add to that list. How do you deal with the relentless need to keep drumming up business?

Sometimes the best ideas for your business come when you’re out of the office

Miraval terrace 2It’s hard for entrepreneurs to take a break. For one thing, we tend to be excited about our work, so it’s not like we hate going into the office. For another, when we’re rolling ahead with some real momentum, it’s hard to even see that we could benefit from some stillness.

But some of the best ideas come when you slow down. Even if you have to force yourself to quit moving so fast.

I’m in Arizona today, where I try to come three or four times a year to get still. It takes a few days to shift gears. At first I’m a little edgy and unsettled, but after some hiking and other outdoor exercise in the desert heat, a few massages and some time by the pool, I can feel clarity begin to settle around me. 

I wake up early and sit on my terrace with coffee to watch the sky behind the Santa Catalina mountains turn from black to blue. I scribble thoughts and notes in my spiral notebook, and suddenly I find new ideas crystallizing. Often, these ideas or realizations seem obvious in retrospect, but when I was back in the office moving a mile a minute, I just couldn’t see them.

This is where I’ve experienced some of the most pivotal moments in my business. It’s where I’ve had the  ideas for a book or two; where it’s suddenly hit me that it was time for Tribe to shift direction or even reinvent;  where I realized it was time to move from a virtual office to a real one, so we could have everyone at Tribe within the same four walls.

It’s also where I’m reminded, over and over again, that sometimes the best office is the one without four walls. 

Is free the new right price?

images-1In his new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” Chris Anderson (editor in chief of Wired and author of ‘The Long Tail”) suggests that giving stuff away, particularly information, is the price of entry in the new global economy. So, some people ask, how do you make money if your price is free?

What  he’s suggesting isn’t some crazy theory about how things might be in the future. It’s the way things are now. Gen Y and Gen X consumers, who may not even remember a time before the Internet, assume that information is free. Bloggers in an infinite number of niche markets work hard to give away their expertise every day. Door -to-door encyclopedia salesman are no doubt extinct, having been priced out of the market by Wikipedia.

The path from connection to commerce is indirect, generally long, and often a dead end. A potential buyer might stumble on a site online, find the information they want for free and never be back. Or they may engage a bit more, maybe leave a comment on a blog, possibly dig a little deeper or fall into the conversation. And eventually, it just may happen that they actually buy something.

The other day I was poking around online, submitting my blog to various directories. I landed on a site for Best Web Directories, which gave me all sorts of great listings of blog directories, notes on the strengths or weaknesses of each, tips on how to submit, a virtual education in the subject — all for free. I must have spent nearly an hour on the site, and was many pages deep, before I was confronted with the possibility of buying something. Finally, I noticed that the site, in a very low-key way, was offering a low-cost option to have them submit your blog for you, to hundreds of directories. Judging from how long it took me to submit my blog to their top 10, having them submit my blog to 100 directories for $27.95 was a steal. 

As with all trends, there is of course a counter movement, toward charging for niche expertise. The advertiser the other day for HARO, the reporters’ query listing service that Peter Shankman has turned into an inbox phenom, was an online company owned  called Membership Site Owner, owned by Tim Kerber. This guy is part of a growing industry proposing that people charge for their expertise by selling monthly memberships to their sites on niche topics. 

Sounds like a crazy idea, doesn’t it? We’ve grown so accustomed to the price of free, that the idea of paying for information begins to strike us as something people won’t want to do. It makes me think of a comment posted recently on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s online edition, in response to David Markiewicz’s very nice article in the business section of the paper on my “Start Your Own Company” deck of Starter Cards. The article was  picked up by a columnist online, who suggested the deck as a good shortcut for entrepreneurs. That garnered a response from a very cranky reader who said, “no its not. this is another fly by night scheme for those that don’t know any better. all of the stuff she puts on her cards, and more, can be found in the library or some trusted resources for free online.”

So. Maybe we ought to drop the price on the “Start Your Own Company” deck. From $24.95 to free. 

 

 

 

 

 

If David Ogilvy had Twitter, what would he tweet?

imagesGreat blog yesterday, by Pattie Sellers of Fortune, who apparently had the honor of knowing the legendary adman David Ogilvy personally. She asked Ogilvy, when he was in his 80’s, to share his best advice for building and running a business. The result , handwritten in pencil, is a list of seven principles, several of which are particularly relevant today for business owners navigating a recession, even ten years after Ogilvy’s death.  Here they are, as quoted in Sellers’ article:

“1. Remember that Abraham Lincoln spoke of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He left out the pursuit of profit.

“2. Remember the old Scottish motto: “Be happy while you’re living, for you are a long time dead.”

“3. If you have to reduce your company’s payroll, don’t fire your people until you have cut your compensation and the compensation of your big-shots.

“4. Define your corporate culture and your principles of management in writing. Don’t delegate this to a committee. Search all the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.

“5. Stop cutting the quality of your products in search of bigger margins. The consumer always notices — and punishes you.

“6. Never spend money on advertising which does not sell.

“7. Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.”

If Mr. Ogilvy had been in the position to tweet his response to Sellers, it might have gone something like this:

Ogilvy