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It All Started with a Flying Machine

As I celebrate 18 years of Garrett Public Relations, I’ve been thinking back to my very first client.

When I launched my business, I was in the Bay Area—one of THE places for entrepreneurs with great, if sometimes crazy, ideas.

As I was preparing to leave my day job to go full-time as a solopreneur, I was fortunate to be introduced to one of these entrepreneurs, an inventor. What had he invented? A flying machine. For real. It was called SoloTrek and was a vertical take-off and landing aircraft based on ducted fan technology. (The two-person model, the DuoTrek, resembled the flying car that’s been in the news this week.)

Continue reading It All Started with a Flying Machine

How awards can add up to a winning PR approach for your business

oscar-649301_1280As film buffs know, this time of year is awards season. There are the Golden Globes, various critics’ choice awards, Screen Actors Guild awards, and of course, the big one, the Academy Awards coming up at the end of February. Those in the movie biz understand the importance of awards to their success. Win an Oscar and you’re forever in an elite group.

But what about those of us in the business world? Couldn’t we benefit from some award wins, too? The answer is—yes. If you’ve never considered awards for your business, product, service or employees, maybe it’s time to start.

First, let’s look at whether winning awards really has any strategic value for your business. One study found smaller award-winning companies experienced a 63 percent increase in operating income and a 39 percent growth in sales when compared to non-winners, while large award-winning companies enjoyed a 48 percent increase in operating income and a 37 percent growth in sales when compared to non-award winners[i].

Sound good?

So, if you want to begin to investigate getting into awards for your business, where should you start? First, think about what type of award might benefit you most. It could be an award for your killer product. Perhaps you have the best CEO. Maybe your company has made a significant contribution to the community. Whatever it is, there’s likely an award that would be a fit. You may qualify for awards based on your company’s:

  • Services
  • Ethics
  • Growth
  • Community service
  • Employment excellence
  • Leadership
  • Products

Here are a few ideas of where to look for award opportunities:

  • Trade organizations: Start with your own industry to look for opportunities.
  • Publications: Try industry trade publications, as well as general business publications. The American City Business Journals, with papers cities across the country, has a number of award opportunities throughout the year. Regional and statewide magazines also provide opportunities. And, on a national level, publications like Fortune also have award opportunities.
  • Groups that support businesses: Think chambers of commerce or economic development organizations.

Once you’ve done your research and made a list of possibilities, determine which awards you’d like to enter. Some have entry fees—others don’t. Always check to make sure fees are in line with your budget.

Then, compile the information required. Some award applications will ask for more detail than others. Allow enough time to collect the information, write what you need to, and then submit by the deadline. Be sure to follow the directions and be thorough.

You’ve entered – now, you wait. If you win, of course, that’s a big deal! Make the most of it by issuing a press release, posting it on your site, and maybe even adding a badge (if they have one) to your site. You can even work it into your boilerplate. And once you’ve won, you’ll always be an “award-winning company.”

And, of course, if you don’t win this time around, there’s always next year.

[i] http://www.stevieawards.com/pubs/general/72_194_8831.cfm

 

The small business owner’s answer to, “What should I post on social media?”

Ever wondered what you as a business owner should post on social media? If you want some great examples, look no further than this article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, What Celebrities Can Teach Companies About Social Media.

It draws comparisons between how celebrities and businesses can use social media and gives real-world advice and examples as to what to post. And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a small business owner said, “But what should I post?!”–well, you know the rest!

A couple of tips that resonated:

  • Don’t post the same thing across all social media platforms: The article talks about how the NBA posts game updates on Twitter, while on Pinterest, it’s more about their merchandise.
  • Don’t post at the same frequency on all platforms: Twitter requires more frequent posting, while the article recommends posting five times per day on Pinterest and twice on Instagram. From the article: “Social-media experts acknowledge that compared with celebrities, it’s harder for companies to conjure up interesting posts and tweets. ‘When was the last time you saw someone showing off a home-insurance policy on Instagram?’ Forrester Research quipped in a June report on social-media use.”
  • Do be sure to show up–meaning post on a consistent basis: There’s nothing worse than visiting a company on Twitter or Facebook only to see that they haven’t posted anything for months…. According to the piece, “A lot of times we see brands disappear for weeks or months at a time,” Hasti Kashfia, president of Kashfia Media and stylist to Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s just like a normal relationship. You can’t disappear and expect that same warm fuzzy feeling within those relationships.”
  • Interact with your followers: For example, if someone tweets about your business, you should retweet, favorite and reply to say thank you.
  • Don’t be overly promotional: I’ve seen it before–because they don’t know what to post, companies will promote specials or deals on social media. This can be a turnoff to your followers. If you need inspiration, the piece suggests commenting on current events when it makes sense, or even taking advantage of “throwback Thursday” by posting old photos. “A company like Ford Motor Co., for instance, could use the occasion to post ads from the 1940s.”

Follow these tips to boost your social media efforts. You may find it’s easier than you think to find great content to post and grow your following.

guy typing at laptop

 

Celebrating Independence Day as an Independent!

Happy Independence Day!

To me, this holiday has a dual meaning. Yes, like many other Americans, I celebrate the 4th by attending a parade, having a picnic and enjoying fireworks with my family. But, this holiday is also a time to celebrate my independence as a businessperson.

More than 16 years ago, I “liberated” myself from the day-to-day grind of working for someone else…and started doing it MY way. When I launched my consulting practice, I believed I could:
• Find companies who needed my help
• Provide excellent counsel and execution to bring results
• Offer them services at a reasonable price
• And do it all on MY terms

What has this meant for me? Well, it’s changed my life in a number of ways:

  • I now work on a schedule that fits not only my clients’ needs, but MY needs. Sometimes, that means getting up early, staying up late or working weekends. But it’s done on MY terms. I was doing this when I worked for someone else, but it no longer feels like a sacrifice, because it stems from my passion and commitment to my clients, to what I do and to making my business successful. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re so closely invested in the success (or failure) of not only your client’s businesses, but of your business.
  • I also enjoy the collaboration with other independents. I love meeting and connecting with other consultants and then being able to offer my clients resources for the kinds of projects I don’t do (and no, I don’t try to do it all…there’s plenty of work to go around for all of us!).
  • And, I believe I’m more productive on my own. Without the meetings, the commute and the office politics, I can actually get more done. I believe that doing the actual work to get results is more enjoyable—and really what serving clients is all about. I can work anytime, anywhere productively. The whole telecommuting movement is something I tried to get my managers to agree to years ago…without much success. For some reason, they just didn’t believe that employees could work productively outside the office. After 16 years of working on my own from wherever I want, I think I’ve proven my point.
  • Not to mention the wonderful clients I get to work with. I think I’m extremely lucky to get to work with smart, talented (did I mention very nice?!) people. It’s a pleasure to work with my clients because they truly trust me and are a joy to serve.
  • Then, of course, there’s the personal pride I feel in helping my clients succeed. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting a media “hit” for a client or knowing they have new prospects or sales because of PR initiatives we undertook. It’s a true “high” that I still get whenever this happens.

So this 4th of July, I celebrate my freedom and the ability to do the work I love for clients I’m committed to serving. Happy Independence Day to all!

 

In Honor of Father’s Day: How My Dad Inspired Me to be an Entrepreneur

dad june'15 4

Today’s post is in honor of Father’s Day.

Back before being an entrepreneur was in vogue, I grew up in a household where neither parent went to work at an office every day. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, launching their own businesses.

My father was well-known in our city for having his own produce business that he ran for 40+ years. He started out selling produce door to door and eventually opened his own very successful market. The whole family, including all four of us kids, worked there. That’s where my early lessons in customer service came from (as well as my ability to add without a calculator!). In addition to working during the day at the market stocking shelves and taking care of customers, I used to love to hang out with my parents in the evenings and help with the accounting side of things, counting money and adding up checks to be deposited.

This spirit of entrepreneurship was ingrained in me without me even realizing it. Even with all the headaches that come with being one’s own boss—the technology issues, the accounting challenges, the sales and marketing outreach, the stress of trying to take a vacation—there’s just something about hanging out your own shingle. The freedom that comes with that and the pride in knowing that you are controlling your own fate are priceless. I have to thank my dad (and mom!) for teaching me these lessons. The interesting part is that I didn’t even know I was learning anything….it was just part of life at our house.

So, in honor of my dad, my first entrepreneurial inspiration, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. May you inspire your kids the way my dad inspired me.

Michelle and her dad, her first entrepreneurial role model.

Michelle and her dad, her first entrepreneurial role model.

Happy anniversary to me! Top 10 lessons I’ve learned in 16 years

Happy anniversary to me!

Happy anniversary to me! This April, I’m celebrating 16 years of having my own small business.

Hopefully, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years of having my own business. Today, I share the top 10 lessons I’ve learned—some silly, some serious:

10) Don’t neglect your marketing: Yes, I’m in PR/marketing, but many times, I tend to put my own marketing last. So, the last couple of years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a better job. Last year, my anniversary gift to myself was a new logo. This year, it’s a newly designed web site.

9) You truly can work in your PJs when you work for yourself!: Just be careful when that Skype call comes in that you’ve at least brushed your hair.

8) You can never be too connected: Make sure to build that network before you need it, so it will be there for you at all times. Because, as a self-employed person, you never know what you might need to call on your network for–help, referrals, troubleshooting, brainstorming–you learn to have your go-to resources for each of these.

7)  You wear all the hats, so be sure you’re ready for that: If you’re not a self-starter, it may not go so well. Of course, you can always hire pros to tackle the tasks you’re not so fond of. I wouldn’t trade my accountant, for example.

Creative problem solving is a must. Because you’re not surrounded by an office full of co-workers, you’ll need to be able to find solutions to a lot of your own problems—or have folks you can call on. You learn quickly how to resolve printer issues, the best way to send a package and how to cater a meeting. Believe me, it’s worth it.

6) You supply your own coffee: So buy a Keurig! (-: And join Costco/Sam’s Club to save on K-cups.

5) Be ready for the peaks—and the valleys: You can prepare for the peaks by having a list of sub-contractors at-the-ready when you need some help to handle all your client projects. You can prepare for the valleys by making sure to save some cash and not getting too sure of yourself, in that your business will definitely go through highs and lows.

4) You make your own schedule—which can be a blessing and a curse: Sure, you can take the afternoon off and have lunch with your sister or go to the school play—just make sure you plan to catch up on whatever you’ve missed by working later in the evening or on Sat. morning, for example. Don’t get so lulled into that sense of freedom to the point where you’re scrambling to meet your deadlines.

3) Clients may assume you work all hours of the day and night: Yes, this can be a hazard of working for yourself, but honestly, I’ve never found it to be a problem. And really, it’s a small price to pay for the perks of being your own boss.

More often than not, clients are respectful of your schedule. And, I truly don’t mind answering email on the weekends…I’m sort of addicted to email anyway! Just make sure to communicate when you’ll be out of the office for more than a day….most of us check messages frequently but there may be days when you really don’t want to be “on call.” If so, just let them know that. Give them a way to reach you if there’s truly an emergency, and enjoy your time off.

2) Experience matters: This is probably even more the case when you’re working on your own. When you work for yourself, you need to call on that experience often, so make sure you’ve built a solid base of work experience before flying solo.

For example, I’m steeped in a background including full-time experience at corporations, nonprofits and agencies. I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as a reporter and as a PR practitioner. I also gained experience working at a public TV and radio station before setting sail on my own. All of this has come in handy, as I work with clients from different backgrounds and industries. It doesn’t hurt your network-building, either—you can call on your former colleagues when you need to.

1) And the number one thing I’ve learned from having my own business (drumroll, please!)….I’m so glad I made the leap because I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s nothing better than loving what you do and having the opportunity to do it on your own terms.

Do I have to answer to clients? Yes. Am I slave to the media? Sure, sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I decide who to work with and have the ability to approach my work according to my philosophy. And that’s pretty priceless.

bday candles

Soloists on the Rise: 6 Qualities of the Successful Solopreneur

This excellent piece by Minda Zetlin of Inc. resonated with me (9 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solopreneurs). I’m a big fan of Zetlin’s columns and this one really struck a chord. It talks about the solopreneur (aka freelance) lifestyle and how our nation is moving in that direction.

“The self-employed will become a force to be reckoned with over the next few years, with our ranks swelling to 60 million by 2020 if Intuit’s famous prediction from 2010 holds true,” Zetlin says. Her article cites a book by Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work, which talks about how technology, marketplaces and economic trends are aligning to support the self-employed movement.

Here’s my question: Why wouldn’t EVERYONE want to be a solopreneur?

But, let’s back up. I’ve been on my own for more than 16 years now, so I may carry a bias. I wasn’t always self-employed. I held multiple “permanent” full-time jobs before I finally decided to make the leap. Some were OK, some were miserable. I knew there had to be something better.

I’d planned my escape from the corporate world in my head for years…just waiting for the right time. While I waited, I joined a group of freelancers who met monthly to discuss topics pertaining to running your own business. I talked to other soloists to find out how they handled finding clients, setting up accounting systems and organizing a home office. Most were encouraging and supportive.

When I actually launched my consulting business, I already had three clients in place, which helped immensely. From there, I never looked back. My business took off. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe I was doing what I’d always dreamed of—working with great clients on my terms.

Of course, for all solopreneurs, there are ups and downs, leaner times and busier periods. But, as Zetlin points out, there are no sure things anymore. Even for those with “permanent” positions, there’s no job security. Companies downsize and they’re out.

Even so, going it alone isn’t for everyone. So what does it take to make it as a solopreneuer? Is there a “magic” formula? What qualities do you need to succeed in the freelance lifestyle?

Here are some attributes vital to success:

1) Ability to focus: You have to be able to avoid outside distractions—or at least overlook them—to focus on client work. This can be particularly tough if you work at home. But, it can be done. I’ve worked from a home office for the entire length of my consulting career. Are there distractions? Sure. But, look at it this way: If you’re in the office, people drop by your desk to chat. Or you get pulled into meetings. Or there’s a birthday party or a baby shower or you name it…. So, I’d argue that the distractions are at least equal, if not greater, working in an office.

2) Self-motivation: If you’re not a self-motivated person, you may struggle with freelancing. You have to be able to get up in the morning and have a plan of what you’re going to accomplish that day. You have to be motivated by creating success for your business. I happen to find the idea of avoiding going back to a corporate job VERY motivating! But beyond that, I’m proud of my business and the fact that I’ve been doing it as long as I have. Are there times when soloists think about going back to the corporate world? Is it tempting when someone calls you about a full-time gig? Yes–for about an hour! Then, if you’re like me, you gut will say, “Don’t do it!” You’ll think about how much you don’t miss the commute, the meetings, the politics…. That makes it’s easy to come back to how motivating working for yourself is.

3) Ability to wear all the hats: When you’re a solopreneur, YOU do it all—you land the clients, you do the work, you bill for the work, you promote your business—you wear ALL the hats. Of course, you can hire help for some of these tasks, which I recommend, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. If you’re not OK with that, flying solo may not be a fit.

4) A strong network: When I started out, nearly all my clients came from personal referrals. That’s shifted over the years to be more of a mix of those who’ve found me online (for example, through LinkedIn or a Google search). Even so, building a strong network before you strike out on your own is incredibly important. Not only will you look to your connections for referrals, but there are times when you’ll need to refer work to others, i.e. when it falls outside your area of expertise or when you’re just too busy.

5) Appreciation for the benefits of working on your own: I’m grateful every day that I get to work on my own, and I appreciate that I set my schedule. Not having to report in to 10 bosses when you have a personal appointment is a definite upside. And, what if there’s an event at your child’s school? Well, you can just add that to your calendar. As a colleague and fellow consultant told me early on in my consulting life, “Clients don’t have to know you’re at the school play. You’re simply ‘in a meeting.’”

6) Ability to remain calm: Freelancing requires a sense of calm, even if you hit a rough patch. Don’t panic. The wise solopreneur knows there will be ups and downs…and plans for those times by socking away some reserves when the work is flowing. If you run into a snag, you can’t just walk away. Stay calm, go to your network to remind them you’re on the lookout for projects, and soon, the work will come. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to ride out the rocky times.

There’s no feeling of freedom or fulfillment like freelancing. Professionally, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes, you need all those work experiences that may have come before to prepare for being on your own and to help you appreciate the solopreneur lifestyle. But once you get a taste of freedom, trust me—you’ll never turn back.

freedom

Resolved: We Should Focus More on Connection and Collaboration in 2015

As I reflected on this past year, I’ve been thinking about competitors…those who do what we do.

I’m not big on quotes, but this happens to be one of my favorites: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Along these lines, let me tell you a story.

When I first moved back to central Ohio from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the first things I wanted to do to get my business established here was to network with others who either did what I do or did complementary work (graphic designers, web site developers, marketing agencies and so forth).

When I asked around to get some names of others I should connect with, I came up with a list and began reaching out, asking if they’d be willing to meet for coffee to connect and learn more about each other’s businesses. Many of them were very willing to do so. They took time to sit down with me, generously sharing their knowledge and advice. But, one in particular was not so willing. In fact, when I contacted her, she replied, “You’re a competitor—why would I want to meet with you?”

This simply floored me.

I had come from a world where it was common to network with others who do the same work as you. In the Bay Area, I had a strong network of other consultants and small firms who provided pretty much the same services I did. In fact, some of my favorite colleagues competed directly with me—the difference was, we never saw it that way. Our belief was that there’s enough work to go around for all of us and that not everyone specializes in everything….so it makes sense to have a robust network of other pros ready to refer work to, which we often did. My number one source of new business was referrals. I’m fairly certain that was partly because I was so open to creating connections with others.

When I moved back to central Ohio, however, I found that some had a different mentality. It was more of a territorial type of mindset. This was difficult for me to adjust to. Being an open and genuine person by nature, I didn’t know how to react to the concept that someone wouldn’t welcome me with open arms. Instead, they’d actually be rude and dismissive—not even taking the time to find a polite way to say “no, thank you” to a meeting with me.

Then, I’ve run into others who have had the attitude of not needing to build a connection with those who do anything similar to what they do. Or, they just plain have an attitude. Again, the question is why?

It’s always been my belief that people want to work with those who are genuine–and who genuinely believe in helping others. To me, connecting with others who do what I do or with those who do complementary work is a rush because I know that at some point, we may be able to work together. Or, I may be able to connect them with a client that might be a perfect fit. This, for me, is one of the joys of being independent. I can leverage my network to help my clients and colleagues. The more professionals I know, the more I can bring to the table to help others.

Regarding competition, I rarely feel as though I’m truly “competing” with others as much as I am with myself. I hold high standards and try to focus more on that than on worrying about what others are doing. In fact, it can really get you off your game if you become so focused on the competition that you’re not paying enough attention to knocking it out of the park with your own clients.

So, in the new year, I resolve to try harder than ever to make connections with others—and never to make anyone feel the way that “competitor” made me feel. For me, it’s more about collaboration than it is about competition.people-will-never-forget-how-you-made-them-feel-116