Beach Reads for a Business Owner

In one week, I’ll be at the beach. My out of the office message will be set on my e-mail, but like many business owners, my mind will be still very much focused on my passion — building my business. So in addition to sunscreen and sandals, I’ll be packing a stack of books that I’m hoping will inspire me. Here’s what I’ve picked, and why. Have tips for others? Leave them in the comments below. Happy reading!

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

No venture capital. That’s how 37Signals has built their business, and it’s how we plan on building ours. We’re already avid readers of the 37Signals blog, and use this humbled-beginnings software company as a beacon for where we want to go.


Do More Great Work.
by Michael Bungay Stanier

This was a recommendation when I purchased Rework, but the subtitle got me — “Stop the busywork, and start the work that matters.” Having just come back from my corporate-world stint, I haven’t quite shaken the busywork bug. I feel compelled to be doing something all the time, almost like I have  a looming mid-year review over my shoulder. I’m hoping this book will give me ideas of taking control over my own schedule, and to, well, do more great work.


Making Ideas Happen
by Scott Belsky

When I freelanced, it was simple. If something needed to get done, I did it. In corporate, the team was so big that I knew my myopic role and did just that. But now, we have a small team, and a long list of things we want to do. I’ll be looking to this book for ways to get our ideas off of our index cards and into the hands of our customers.


The Official Scrabble® Brand Word-Finder
by Robert Schachner

One of the first things I do every morning is play a game of Scrabble on my iPhone. I find it’s a great way for me to wean in the day (I’m naturally a night-owl). Lately, I can beat the Normal setting without a challenge, but I’m stuck when it comes to Hard. I plan on using this study guide to beef up my Scrabble skills not only for my own enjoyment, but to ensure that I win at family game night (I have a slight competitive side, too.)


Ladies First: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners, and Mavericks
by Lynn Santa Lucia

Stories of others who have risen to a challenge are most inspiring. So what better fodder for dreams than a collection of women who have changed the course of history. From Christine de Pisan, Europe’s first professional female writer, to Dorothy Levitt, the first woman to compete in a motor race in 1903, I can’t wait to read the seventeen mini-biographies and maybe find a piece of myself among them.


Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

Mindful living has had a profound impact on my life. It helps me make better decisions in both business and in life. One aspect of mindfulness is around how we consume our food. Too often, I find myself gobbling down a breakfast bar because I’m running to a meeting. This book, written by one of the world’s preeminent Buddhist authors, shows how you can maintain a healthy weight and attitude simply by paying attention to your food.

Taking the leap…again.

b&w photo of girl diving into a lake

Next Tuesday is my last day at Capital One. It’s been a great ride. I’ve made lots of friends and learned a ton, but I never quite shook the own-your-own-business bug.

I’m thinking it’s genetic. My brother’s an entrepreneur, too. And when you look at our childhood, it’s not hard to see why.

When I was five (1986) my father left his job as an IT big-wig, bought a Macintosh computer, and started a graphics design company with my artistically inclined mother. I asked him “Why?” for a project in 6th grade. His reply? “So I could see you get off the school bus every day.”

I grew up stapling blank invoices to manila folders for a penny a piece.

In middle school, I started running my own business doing “over printing.” This was before digital printing came along. My parents would create a shell brochure for companies with multiple offices. My brother and I would collect orders from individual offices and carefully feed the glossy paper through a bubble-jet printer, set it on the floor to dry, run it through a folding machine, and ship it out. My father and I still laugh about my mishaps with the (really finicky!) folding machine.

By early high school, my parents had merged their business with a pre-press and printing company. I came up with the name and tagline — Proximus; Next generation printing — by opening my Latin dictionary. That was my first foray into copywriting and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my idea scattered all over signs and stationary.

At the age of 24, I quit my job in sales because of an ethical belief. When I became frustrated in the job search, my parents bought me a laptop, desk, and a copy of Quickbooks. Within a month I had landed three clients. For three years I finessed my skills and made my living as a freelance copywriter. I started a blog. Capital One read it, a recruiter called me out-of-the-blue and asked me to come write for them.

That was two and a half years ago.

For a while, I really enjoyed the steady paycheck, vacation pay, sick days, and 40-hour work weeks. These were luxuries I never had when I worked on commission or freelanced. The first week, my manager would have to remind me to go home at 5:00. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Compared to the 14-hour days I was used to, I essentially felt like I was leaving at lunchtime.

I got a bonus and flew to Australia. I won the 3-legged race at the Brand Olympics. I went to some kick-ass conferences. But I also stopped blogging, watched my inspiration slowly fizzle, and became daunted by corporate politics.

Then, last September, I bumped into one of my best friends from high-school at our 10-year reunion. He owned a software company and needed marketing help.  The next day we sat by the pool and dreamed about offering copywriting and coding services to designers. In November, I became a Partner in Corgibytes. Two weeks later, we had our first client. In March, he proposed — at the same spot where we dreamed up our business plan (I said yes). Today we’re living that dream.

I suppose for some people, the itch to be an entrepreneur is just inherent. You do it because you don’t want to do anything else. Because you’d rather work for yourself 14 hours a day than work for somebody else for 8. And because life seems more fun after you dove in than it ever did watching from the dock.

Ditch the Pitch

phone.jpgWhen I was 16 my dad gave me a gift. Our neighbor had just opened an insurance office down the street and my father got me a job as a telemarketer. Granted, I wanted a new car. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the thought of calling people during dinner to solicit auto insurance quotes. But as I look back, this part-time job shaped my entire career. It’s where I learned that if I wanted to be successful in sales, I needed to ditch the pitch.

My first day of work our neighbor sat me down at my desk, gave me a stack of cards filled with names, addresses & phone numbers, showed me how to dial 9 for an outside line and gave me a pink piece of paper with “the pitch.” My job was simple. Call people and get them to agree to getting an auto insurance quote.

The “pitch” proved to be worthless. This sorry excuse for a script was probably written by some sort of insurance monkey at the corporate office who didn’t know a lick about sales. Here were my first 30 calls:

Andrea: Hi, Mrs. So-and-so. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mrs. So-and-So: <hang up expediently>

or

Andrea: Hi, Mr. Someone. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mr. Someone: Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? <hang up>

Andrea: (mumbling under breath so her new boss doesn’t hear) Of course I do. I’m sixteen and could be out partying with my friends.

People don’t want to talk to insurance agents. I was seen as a big fat waste of time. So I decided to try things my own way.

I tried all sorts of things, like:

  • Talking in a (very fake, but I tried so hard) British accent

and

  • Being blunt by saying “Hi, I know I probably just interrupted your dinner and I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job. would you like an auto insurance quote?”

After all sorts of trials and errors, I stumbled upon a method that actually worked.

First a little back story; I grew up in Ashland, VA which is a town so small we actually had a town song that we would all get together and sing at the town talent show each spring (true story). Think “The Music Man” meets “Leave it to Beaver” and you’re close.

So being from a small town I noticed that I personally knew half the people on the list – or at least their children.

I changed my sales pitch to something like this:

Andrea: Hi, Ms. Smith. This is Andrea – I go to school with your daughter Amy.

Ms. Smith: Hi, Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Ms. Smith: Pretty well, thanks. Did you want to talk to Amy?

Andrea: Actually, I was calling to talk to you. See, I have a new job working at Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company. I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m just collecting information so we can send you a quote, followed up by a nice hand-written thank you card and then you can decide if you want to do anything with it.

Ms. Smith: (slightly taken aback) Oh. (usually a pause) How long will it take me to fill out?

Andrea: About 3 minutes.

Ms. Smith: Well, OK. Go ahead.

Yep, it was that simple. Eventually I outsold everyone in the office (and made darn good money).

So why did this method work when everything else failed?

  1. Establishing a personal connection. Once it’s established that you and your prospect have something in common – it takes your chances of closing to a whole new level.
  2. Removing the pressure. No one wants to be “sold.” When is the last time you went to a sketchy used car lot seeking the thrill of being pressured into something you don’t want to buy? Saying “you can decide what you do with it” signaled to my prospects that I respected their time and wasn’t going to pressure them into something they didn’t want.
  3. Cutting ties quickly. Occasionally I’d get the “No, thank you.” My reply was always, “Thanks for your time. Have a great day.” The way I saw it, it was much easier to dial more numbers than it was to convince someone that they really did want a quote. In the end, if a customer is sold because of pressure, the likelihood of them being a loyal customer is greatly diminished.
  4. Sincerely believing in my product. Most of the people who stuck it out to get a quote ended up saving money. I thought this was a good thing, so I felt like I was providing a great value. Later in life, I sold advertising in a low-quality and very expensive print publication. I knew the ads were a bad investment and learned quickly that you can’t “fake” belief in your product. And if you don’t believe in it – you can’t sell it.

Before & After

andrea-before.jpgandrea-at-ocean-city.jpgI’ve lost 95 pounds this year. Really – here are the pics to prove it. Size 20 to a size 6. But this post isn’t about me – it’s about your marketing.

See, marketing is a lot like weight loss. Everyone’s looking for the “magic pill” to make you thin or rich. And there are a lot of people who make a lot of money pushing the latest fad. Sometimes these fads work in the short term, but more often than not, they’re ineffective in the long run.

What does work are the fundamentals. For losing weight – it’s eating healthy and exercise. It’s simple. Yet, there is a multi-billion dollar industry out there to try to distract you. Yes, there are tools to help make that process easier (like joining a gym or attending Weight Watchers meetings). But in large part, your success will be whether or not you can master the fundamentals.

Same with marketing. If you don’t have:

1) a product or service that offers people some kind of real value (the ratio between price and quality)

2) a clear message that moves your audience into action

3) a channel to communicate that message to your audience when they are receptive to it

then the rest doesn’t matter.

100 Things to Do Before I Die (um, make that 63).

life-list.jpgA couple of months ago my friend Jen Sterling and I were having dinner discussing how we always wanted to get together and write our “life list.” We were inspired by Ted Leonsis who survived a plane crash in 1983. Upon walking away with a new found appreciation for life, he wrote a life list of the 101 things he wanted to do before he died. He put things like “own a yacht” and “win an Oscar/Emmy/Tony award” – he dared to dream big. Thing is, he’s now crossed off 71 items off his list.

So last night Jen and I sat down with our other friend Kristen to write our own “life list”. Turns out it’s harder than you may think. After a couple hours (and dry martinis) I came up with 63. We decided to take a break and reconvene for round two in about a month.

Here’s what I have so far. I’d love to hear some of your ideas so maybe I can get inspired and actually make it to 100. 🙂

1. Write a book and get it published
2. Run a marathon
3. Donate $1 million dollars anonymously
4. Earn $10,000 for an hours worth of work
5. Start a foundation/organization/association
6. Go sky diving
7. Visit all 50 States
8. Backpack through Europe
9. Scuba dive along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
10. Eat sushi in Japan.
11. Go to Carnival in Rio
12. Take a safari in Africa
13. Get interviewed by Oprah
14. Be on the cover of a magazine
15. Land a Fortune 500 client
16. Work for the Martin Agency
17. Own an island
18. Sing on Broadway
19. License a product or idea
20. Become conversational in French
21. Become conversational in Spanish
22. Invent something and bring it to market
23. Start a band
24. Own a sports team
25. Live in Manhattan for one year
26. Live in San Francisco for one year
27. Get married on a beach
28. Have children
29. Have a net worth of $10 million (after taxes)
30. Go to the Olympics
31. Leave a $5000 tip to someone who deserves it
32. Visit the White House on a private tour
33. Have a syndicated column in a national magazine
34. Create an idea that earns $1,000,000
35. Be a mentor
36. Learn calligraphy
37. Own a Matisse
38. Own a successful restaurant
39. Pass the sommelier exam
40. Own a villa in Tuscany (vineyard optional)
41. Get a tattoo
42. Speak to an audience of more than 5000 people
43. Own a townhouse in Old Town Alexandria
44. Be invited to an A-List party
45. Take a 2 week vacation by myself
46. Own something that is haute couture
47. Donate my hair to locks of love
48. Have lunch with Seth Godin
49. Take a photography class
50. Visit Sedona
51. Learn how to tango
52. Take a helicoptor tour of Hawaii
53. Drive a motorcycle
54. Swim on a master’s swim team
55. Sell one of my paintings for over $500
56. Write a song and perform it in public
57. Take care of my parents
58. Win a “best in business” type of award
59. Become an aerobics instructor
60. Visit Sedona The Grand Canyon
61. Earn my Master’s degree
62. Own a convertible car
63. Fly an airplane

So that’s what I’ve got so far. What would you do?

Update: I must really want to go to Sedona – I put it on my list twice originally. 🙂

Yikes! Getting What You Wish For

visionboard.jpgI’m about to share something that is intensely personal.

About a year ago I watched a movie called The Secret. Part of me thought it was a hokey, over-simplified way to state the complex state of the universe. But overall, I bought into the underlying theme of the Law of Attraction.

In the movie, they discuss the idea of a vision board – where you collect images of what your “ideal life” would be like and then by looking at these images every day you begin to attract these things into your life. Intrigued, I started my own vision board – and it’s starting to work (yep, that pic is of my vision board).

I’ve been so swamped with new work from amazing clients that I have barely had time to post on my blog. I’ve also shed some relationships that I thought were rock-solid in order to make room for new people that more closely match my “vibration” (or whatever it’s called.)

I guess that’s the dilemma – the classic struggle of so many plotlines (like Aladdin or Bedazzled). What happens when you get what you wish for? How do adjust? What if what you thought you wanted ends up not really being what you want?

They say change is the only true constant in your life – and I believe it. There’s a strange feeling of comfort in change; a welcomed knowing that you are in control of your destiny (although the way it materializes is downright bizzare sometimes).

Cranking Out Quick Copy

pictures-for-blog.jpgI’m lucky. I’ve been inundated with projects over the past week (which explains the slump in my posting schedule).

But yesterday I found myself taking way more time than usual to get my ideas out of my head and into the computer. I was stressing, feeling the pressure of an impending deadline compounded with the need to be absolutely brilliant. At the end of the day, I felt drained – knowing that I wasn’t nearly as productive as I needed to be and seeing deadlines piling up for the next day.

Today I awoke determined to make it a better day. I remembered a post I wrote a few months ago about covering your computer screen when you feel writer’s block. I debated in my mind as to whether or not I actually had the time to brainstorm ideas today. With the deadlines piling up – I was still feeling the time crunch.

So I made the decision to take 5 minutes to color a black piece of paper with the words “Just Think” in big letters. Then I scattered inspiring phrases around the page:

  • You’re an excellent communicator!
  • Just type it.
  • There are no bad ideas.
  • Edit later.
  • Just get it down.
  • You’re brilliant!
  • Don’t overthink.
  • It’s already there.
  • You can do it!
  • Listen to your muse.
  • Write like you talk.

The result? I’m caught up. After allowing about 10 minutes of pure brainstorming, a phrase jumped out that inspired me.

I’m not sure why I stopped this practice in the first place, but I’ve learned my lesson – brainstorming time is essential to cranking out quick, quality copy.