What’s Your City’s Icebreaker Question?

Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you’re bound to hear it from someone.

In DC, be prepared to answer “What do you do?”

Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There’s something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you’re being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone’s occupation, but rather their activities.

Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they’re not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone’s professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.

“What do you do?”

“You know, recently I’ve been really into Salsa dancing. I’ve been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!”

“Really? I love salsa dancing. I’ve been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?”

When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of  “What do you do?” In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.

In Richmond, you’ll be asked “Are you from here?”

Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered “from here” because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn’t even born here.

I think another reason it’s a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there’s an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. “What high school did you go to?”)

If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be “So, what brought you to Richmond?” I ask this often because I’m amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.

So, what’s the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. 🙂

How to Get More Customers (Even If You Hate Selling)

www.gardenplantmarkers.comMy mother created what I think is a purple cow. An avid gardener, she was frustrated with the market’s lack of a quality garden plant marker, so she set out and created her own. Every gardener she’s shown it to flips over how great these things are – so simply showcasing the product should be enough to create a selling frenzy, right? Wrong.

“If you build it, they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner, but if you as an entrepreneur embrace this laissez faire philosophy, prepare to watch the product to which you’ve dedicated so many hours die on the vine. Selling is a simply a critical skill to success.

However, if you’re like my mother – the thought of selling is overwhelmingly intimidating. Over homemade chicken soup on Sunday she expressed how, “I’m simply not wired that way. I get nervous and the words just don’t come out right.” Sound familiar?

If so, read on for ideas on how you can pitch your product without feeling like you’ve underminded your integrity.

Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Norman Vincent Peale was right – if you can’t get excited about your product or service, who will? Do you believe you’re the best? Deep down in your gut do you know that someone’s life will be just a little better because of what you’ve created? Then let those feelings show. Passion is contagious. When you’re genuinely happy and wholeheartedly believe that your product is the best on the market, that confidence can help your conversion rate.

Action: Often when we get excited our hearts beat stronger, we talk faster, louder or softer. However, these are signs of being nervous and uncomfortable – not self-confidence. Set up a video camera to record yourself. Sit down, stare directly into the camera and answer this question – “Who is someone special in your life and what are the qualities that make you love them.” Pause. Get a glass of water. Sit down and stare again while answering this question – “What is your product/service and why should someone buy it.” Then watch the tape. Do you notice a difference in the intonation and inflection of your voice? Chances are you were more comfortable talking about your someone special than your product. Continue recording until you are equally as comfortable with your product.

Use a Net – Not a Pole
If your product is fulfilling a specific niche (which it should) blasting your message and seeing who bites may not be the most effective use of resources. Instead, go to places with a high density of potential customers. Think of catching fish in the ocean with a single pole versus catching fish in a barrel with a net. The “barrel” might be a chat room, blog, forum, conference, or event where people are saying “Help – I have this problem and need a way to fix it.” When they ask for a solution and you provide it, you’re not selling – you’re solving.

Action: Brainstorm places where your potential customers might hang out in high numbers. Think beyond the tried and true and attempt to uncover unconventional places to market your product or service. Then go there with your I’m-here-to-help-you attitude.

Sell by Referral
Form relationships with other entrepreneurs who offer a complementary product or service and cross-pollinate your prospects. For example, when I was a freelance writer, I spent a fair amount of time meeting with graphic artists and graphic designers. Why? I knew that a potential client would most likely seek out their profession first when a project arose. By educating my partners on the value I brought to the client, they happily recommended me when a client needed help with their writing.

Action: Who are your potential partners? Write down a list of products or services your customers use in addition to yours. Then, seek out places where these referral sources congregate, go there and begin to make friends. Often time these relationships take time, so be patient and give these new relationships the care they deserve.

Related Links

7 Lies that Prevent Your Great Idea from Becoming a Real Business – by Greg Go

How Sales Techniques Work – by Lee Ann Obringer

Marketing For the Deer-in-the-Headlights Crowd – by Dawn Rivers Baker

Jott and Google Calendar – A Techological Match Made in Heaven

logo_beta.gifHooray for increased efficiency! Jott.com announced today the official link of the Google Calendar Jott Link. According to an e-mail I received this morning from Jott.com,

“We’ve been working hard on the official release of the Google Calendar Jott Link, and we’re happy to announce it’s finally here. Why is this cool? Because you can now create a Google Calendar event in a single step, from anywhere, simply using your voice. Just call Jott, say “Google Calendar”, and then the time of the event and what it’s about….and you’re done. We’ll take your voice, convert it to text, and insert it into your calendar for you. “Meet Cathy at 9 am next Thursday” is no longer a to do that needs another step, it’s something that’s recorded in your Calendar.”

How cool is that?

You can check out other apps that Jott links with here.

Oh, and if you don’t know about Jott, you can check out a post I wrote in April.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Pen Maestro!

brian-and-andrea-for-blog.jpgIt’s official – my little brother’s a blogger. 🙂

You could say our family is just a bit on the entrepreneurial side. My dad owns a power cleaning company, my mom a laser engraving company, I’m a writer and my brother makes custom pens.

Earlier this weekend while we were out to dinner, Brian (my brother) talking rather passionately about his craft.

“Why don’t you blog?” I inquired.

He admitted that the thought really never crossed his mind, but upon doing some research we discovered that his niche is well searched with minimal competition (always a good combo!) and within a few hours my bro became a blogger.

Here are some reasons why I think Brian will excel at blogging:

1. Pure Passion – Brian could talk about pens for hours. He loves this stuff. And as I’ve said before – passion is the #1 ingredient to any good blog.

2. Narrative Writing Style – Brian is a natural blogger because he is able to tell stories from his own life and then extrapolate a universal lesson from his experience. Think Aesop’s fables – what’s the moral of the story?

3. Building a Community – While ulitmately Brian would like to sell more of his custom-made pens because of the blog, his real reason for the project is to create a community with others out there that share his passion. As he puts it, “I’m stuck in the workshop all day. It’s therapeutic to document all of the things I learn and find other people who can benefit from my experiences.”

Click here to visit Brian’s blog “The Pen Maestro”

Click here to visit Brian’s website and purchase some custom pens, wine bottle stoppers or letter openers for you or a friend.

Congrats, Pen Maestro!!

Write for free? I don’t think so.

Barry Gluck wrote a magnificent post about companies who try to solicit writing services for free or next to nothing. I highly suggest reading his post in its entirety by clicking here.

Barry makes the point of how,

“In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are ‘professional’ copywriters. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are seventy times as many people in the IT field.

So tell me…why do you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy of getting something for nothing (or next to nothing) when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Given that they are less rare, and therefore individually less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the ‘opportunity’ to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him a few bucks for materials. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even consider offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re obviously crazy. If you answered no, then kudos for living in the real world.”

Cheers to you, Barry for putting it out there. Copywriting is a talent – and worth compensation.