Here, savvy women entrepreneurs share practical tips and advice.
How to Avoid Cereal Syndrome Selling
“One of the common errors I see entrepreneurs make is what I call Cereal Syndrome,” says award-winning sales expert and author Kim Duke, principal of The Sales Divas Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org), who specializes in helping women entrepreneurs and small business owners increase sales in a fun, easy and stress-free way. “Entrepreneurs often meet with a potential client or an existing client and proceed to tell them ALL the things the customer could purchase from them. WE do this … and WE have that. You're basically offering Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Fruit Loops!”
According to Kim, offering clients A, B and C packages is not selling.
As an entrepreneur, you need to position yourself as an expert. After discussing the client's needs and wants - you should make a recommendation to them, based upon what you've learned. Here are a few reasons to avoid falling into the Cereal Syndrome:
- You don't need to tell a customer about every single product you sell. They only care about what is relevant to them.
- When you provide a list of options and price points, you haven't discovered your customer’s budget requirements.
- You are subconsciously telling the customer you don’t know the best solution for them.
- When presented with a list of options, customers will tend to choose the cheapest package and they will have the expectations of the most expensive package. What you have created is an environment for objections to grow.
So remember - avoid Cereal Syndrome by making a recommendation - just as your hairstylist should. Otherwise, he or she would be offering you a beehive, a bob or blue hair. Would you trust them to cut your hair then?
Honing the Brand Called You
Everything you, as an entrepreneur, do and choose not to do communicates the value and character of your brand - including phone conversations, e-mail messages, signature line, and all outbound materials. And the most important element to any brand is its creator: you. "Entrepreneurs are implicit brands," says marketing communications expert Nora Camps, principal of DUO Strategy and Design, Inc. (email@example.com). "You plus your achievements equals your brand."
An implicit brand is everything that makes you exceptional: your beliefs, causes, things that inspire you, according to Nora. And your brand is all of you - personal and professional characteristics - and is 100% emotion, she emphasizes.
Here are some tips on implicit branding that Nora presented to participants of the Step Ahead One-on-One Mentoring Program
- When creating the brand called you, the most important person to know is you. Who are you? What is your passion? Ask yourself: What do you want to be known for? What do you want others to say about you?
- Listen to thought leaders and share knowledge. Peruse all media around you, even things beyond your interest, to expose yourself to new ideas and to learn constantly.
- Be conscious and steadfast in implementing your brand. Start with a story and work with a designer to create something creative.
- Implement a style that matches you. It's important to integrate who you are into your brand.
- Be fresh and bold. There is something about your business that is exceptional. Define it and assert yourself.
"Anyone can claim to have a great brand," explains Nora. "But it's your market that will tell you if you do."
Technology and Small Business - Getting Productivity without Breaking the Bank!
Jennifer Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org), President of Sequentia Communications - a marketing communications firm focusing on online and technology that made PROFIT magazine's HOT 50 company list in 2005 - has these tips and technology tool recommendations to help you tackle those tough technological challenges and improve productivity cost-effectively:
- With broadband very competitive now, high-speed connectivity to the Web via DSL and cable is efficient and inexpensive, with dial-up going the way of the dinosaur. Cable is better than DSL if you have a lot of graphics applications. Wireless is now easy to do in homes as well; you just need a wireless router and either a wireless card or a wireless enabled computer such as Centrino.
- When it comes to tech support, think about outsourcing. Companies like Hired Guns (tel: 647-430-8190; e-mail: email@example.com) that provide everything from trouble shooting to network expansion advice can be very helpful for small businesses.
- It's critical to back up your data regularly to ensure fast data recovery after a disaster or loss. One option is provided by Data Deposit Box which has online data backup solution that works without requiring you to do anything! (tel: 416-203-2406 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Keeping Track and Communicating
- A key question is whether to buy or build. There is a move away from Excel and Outlook to the use of contact management systems (of which there are many available) that allow you to store, manage and leverage contacts far more powerfully. For a modest monthly fee, there are services like those provided by Salesforce.com for both contact management and sales force management.
- If you send out regular e-newsletters, consider a marketing automation tools and service provided by, for example, GOT (tel: 514-282-0595; email: email@example.com) which will even track readership and highly-trafficked areas so that you can better tailor future content.
- Look at content management software for updating your Web site with ease. You can do a Google search to see the options available and access free trials.
- Remember, never open suspicious e-mails. Consider anti-virus software mission critical and common sense! Firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs) and extranets are further up the food chain and can be used as necessary.
- With spam increasingly difficult to control, you may want to consider an outsourced e-mail provider to manage spam, such as Ceryx, which maintains a running list of all spam triggers and filters your mail accordingly (tel: 1 800 663-6245; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Great Technology Tools
- Groove (collaboration) - very cost-effective and good for file sharing, messaging and sending photos particularly if you have multiple or remote offices (tel: 978-720-2000)
- Timesolv (billing) - very intuitive and good for hourly billings (tel: 323-642-5200)
- Budget Conferencing - dedicated conference lines for your use at any time
- VOIP - Global telephony services like those provided by Vonage (tel: 1-866-243-4357) and Packet-Tel (tel: 1-800-898-4326) can cut your communication and long-distance costs
- Google desktop search - a great way to catalogue everything on your desktop. It's free and can be downloaded from Google's site.
Tips for Developing a Media Profile
The old saying that "bad publicity is better than no publicity at all" recognizes that media exposure can be a powerful way to get attention. And good press can be far more effective - and certainly less expensive - than other forms of marketing.
But creating a profile with the media doesn't typically happen overnight. It requires patience…and a clear, targeted approach. Here are some tips to help you pitch a story to the media and develop a lasting top-of-mind presence with busy reporters.
Deliver what the media wants. Before preparing anything - whether it's a full media relations plan or a single news release or article - keep in mind what appeals to media. Even if it's not 100% about you, be willing to communicate anyway. Remember, the goal is to build relationships. Journalists look for:
- Drama and relevance: News is something that affects people. A dry statistic can come alive if accompanied by a dramatic statement about what that stat means to the reporter's audience.
- Unusualness: Is there something unexpected, surprising or unique about the story you're telling.
- Local angle: Don't dismiss a media outlet or a story to tell because it isn't of national interest. A success story about a local company that appears in a smaller-market daily or weekly newspaper is read by many people.
- Hot or timely topic: If you sell a food product, develop and send seasonal or holiday recipes that use it. If you operate an accounting service, submit a story about RRSP investment options at tax time.
- Build a media list. Look at all the options, not just daily newspapers, TV and radio. Community papers and trade publications often welcome contributed articles from experts. Be sure to add journalists to your list who have reported on topics relevant to your field. Gather names from your industry publications and check out media directories such as Bowdens and CCNMatthews.
- Develop a media kit. A good kit can serve as an introduction to a targeted media list or as an immediate info package ready to respond to a reporter's query. Your kit should include a company backgrounder, your profile (including a good photograph), fact sheet, recent news releases, customer testimonials and samples of past media coverage. Post the kit in the "media" or "press room" of your web site. If you have a limited budget…use it to develop a good kit. Reporters are inundated with information and will quickly reject poorly-written or unprofessional material. And be ready punch up your kit by customizing it to suit the needs of the reporter receiving it.
- Make the story pitch count. Whether your pitch is verbal or written (for example, in a news release or article), you need to capture the media's attention in the first sentence. Try to include a surprising stat or powerful fact that will be of interest to their readers/listeners/viewers. And remember that reporters have tight deadlines. If you're not available, they will move on to someone who is. If you don't deliver what they need, they won't call back.
- Hone your message. It's easy to become flustered or be led off-track when questioned or interviewed by reporters. Prepare and rehearse brief, clear messages about your company and your expertise. Remember that marketing your company is not the reporter's agenda. You may have a dozen messages you want to impart, but choose your top three depending on the topic, audience and interview circumstances. If you deliver those three, you've done well.
- Keep the ball rolling. Media exposure can enhance the reputation of both you and your company and can help give your marketing results a real boost, but it takes time to build. Your biggest goal is to be a reporter's trusted go-to expert in your field. You can't expect to land on a reporter's rolodex because you sent a single news release. Demonstrate your expertise with reliable communication over time. One caveat: don't pester. If you shower the media with a series of fluffy, superficial and self-serving pitches, they will just tune you out.
Hone Your Interview Skills
One of the best skills you can learn in life is good, effective interviewing skills. "Whether your business is small or large, these skills are important - even when dealing with a new business associate, partner or supplier," says Dianne Ramster, Hunt Personnel (www.hunt.ca). She offers these strategies to help you select the best candidate:
PRIOR TO THE INTERVIEW:
- Prepare Ahead - Save Headaches Later
Identify Market Competition For Candidates
- Identify your corporate structure (team or independent)
- Assess the training and support that your company will provide - consider a buddy system (mentor) - document a process
- Identify the management style of the supervisor as well as the history of staff turnover and its causes
- Identify potential for change in the job
- Identify the need for urgency in the job
- Identify the amount of structure provided
- Identify the skills, experience and education required for that job - if they are musts, eliminate resumes that don't match
- Determine the requirement for contact with customers (inside or outside)
- Determine the fit of the job within the organization
- Identify why someone would want to work for your company, for instance: your company profile in your industry, training and career opportunities provided, benefits etc.
- Write out the job description
- Identify performance criteria (what good performance will look like)
- Be fluent in Human Rights legislation and labour laws - you cannot contract your way out of them
- Be aware of how Revenue Canada interprets the employee-employer relationship
- Review the resume and make note of areas that need to be clarified
- Have a list of questions that you ask all candidates for that position
- Know the basics of different communications styles so you can be objective
- Manage "wrongful hiring" risk - when a candidate is currently employed, when the job or the company is misrepresented (in the perception of the employee) or if other employees conclude that you have not used due diligence in checking a person's background before you hire them
- Be aware that resumes are often professionally written to put the candidate in the best possible light and that they may be "fudging" .
- Perfect your listening skills (instead of thinking about the next question you want to ask)
- Before hiring, consider: streamlining, automating, eliminating tasks, cross-training other employees, promoting from within
Consider the Options You Have to Give You the Time You Need to Recruit Effectively
- Identify the salary range for the position and how it compares to what other companies are paying for that skill set in the same business area
- Job sharing, temporary help, contract help.
Prepare to Test Skills
- Search web sources
- Network and get referrals, consider the potential risk of referrals from family, friends or employees
- Receive responses by e-mail, fax and/or phone
- Telephone screen applicants for their experience and commitment - assess potential to stay or leave
- Book appointments
- Assess the ability to perform tasks on various software applications; test organizational skills; test arithmetic, spelling, filing, data entry, letter composition, typing speed and accuracy - whatever skills are needed on the job
- Profile their work and communication style, customer contact skills
- What To Do / Ask
How To Do It
- Do a phone interview first
- Make summary notes after the interview, identifying why you might not hire that person
- Identify the reasons for leaving previous jobs, income history, problems or challenges on previous jobs, preferred work style, hours and location, vacation needs, time off.
- Identify if bondable, legally entitled to work in Canada, details of work history not volunteered on the resume
- Identify gaps in employment, previous manager names and numbers, details of type of company and environment in previous jobs
- Identify additional skills, projects or tasks completed, things they wish to avoid, income and benefit expectations, job location and hours preferred, availability short and long term, career goals, what other jobs they are looking at, how they will respond to a counter offer by current employer or other job interviews
- Have someone else do a second interview
- Use the process and criteria that apply to that specific job - for example, interviewing sales people would be different from interviewing accounting clerks or receptionists
- Instead of interviewing from your personal comfort with that person's communication style, do so from the style best suited to the tasks
- Behave well - word gets around
- Begin by describing the process - gather information first, then sell the job/company
- Make notes during the interview
- Set the stage to relax the person - this starts at the reception desk and carries through to housekeeping
- Use the 10/90 rule in the information gathering stage of the interview. Ask open-ended questions and stop talking. If you are speaking more than 10% of the time, you will not do an effective interview
- Don't give away the answer to a question by the way you ask it
- Make the question asking process sound risk free so that you get closer to real answers instead of ones they think you want to hear. You will always be told what it is they think you should hear - it is normal for people to give answers considered to be "socially acceptable"
- Don't believe what people say. This doesn't mean that you dis-believe them, it just means that you do not accept what they say unconditionally - doing so stops you from validating their experience (relative to your needs) and lets you make judgments that are probably invalid but certainly premature
- Their reality is different from yours, what they see and what you see are different - example: asking them if they found the job to be busy doesn't help much if their definition of busy is different from yours - and it will be. Their life experiences and therefore their interpretation of events is different from yours. Their interpretation of stress, teams, appropriate behaviour, etc. will be different from yours
- Listen to what is not said
- Rate the candidate immediately after the interview, against the job description and the ideal candidate profile, on a scale of 1-10. Make notes to explain your rating so you can adjust the rating later in comparison to other candidates. Make a list of additional questions to ask in a second interview
- Identify their history of effort - consistent ongoing application of energy focused on results and process
- Do objective, validated, competency profiling
- Ask questions that force them to describe how they handled a specific situation, challenge or problem. Listen for transferable (to your company or client's) experiences and demonstrated skills. Make sure you validate this story when you do reference checks. Take into account the environment in which they were successful and how the environment compares to yours
- Ask them to describe what they think are their most significant contributions that they can bring to the job - revalidate by asking them to visualize them being in the job for a year - what would their list of achievements be in the job
- Make no assumptions
- Keep asking questions until you run out of questions, then think of more questions
AFTER THE INTERVIEW:
- Check References
Provide Risk Management Support
- Contact previous employer managers to validate information gathered in interview as detailed above
- Do reference checks specific to what you need for the job and qualify the reference giver in terms of their experience and management level
- Assess performance, reliability, attendance, ability to get along with others, history of success in different tasks and situations, learning style, leadership effectiveness, proactive or reactive, sense of urgency, willingness to learn and change. Would they rehire, confirm job description, title, dates of employment, income, achievements, performance issues
- Validate necessary professional or educational qualifications
To the hiring manager: provide information on hiring, orientation of new employees, training, coaching, managing transition, team dynamics, performance assessment and performance management.
Take Control of Clutter
It takes patience and a positive attitude to improve the functionality and energy level of your work environment and your life, according to Lisa O'Connell of Positive Place Design (email@example.com). But even the worst clutter bug can bring functional control and harmony to their work space. And the effort is worth it.
Here is Lisa's recommended "7 Steps to Getting Organized" to help you take control of your environment:
Pick one area that needs organizing and focus on that spot.
What you need to do first is sit down and evaluate what you are not happy with in your space and within yourself. By evaluating your feelings and emotions as well as the state of your space, you can find out where you are now. What negative emotions or feelings is the disorganization of your space causing? What positive feelings are you missing because of your clutter? What is the problem area? What isn't working or flowing right in your environment? Do you have too much stuff, not enough space or storage?
- Set Goals
This is where you write down first what you want to accomplish, what you want to get rid of, change or improve. What are your aspirations, your goals, the final result you are looking for in your space?
- Identify Roadblocks and Motivators
What roadblocks stop you from starting or continuing with your decision to get organized? What motivators will inspire and encourage you to stay on course and achieve your goals? What excuses do you use to avoid starting these projects? Do you say that you don't have time? Do you feel that you are lazy or do you just hate cleaning or organizing?
- Determine Action Plans
Next, it is time to define what action steps need to be taken and in what order. What is the best way to reach your goals? Make a time schedule and pace yourself. Divide the area you want to focus on into smaller, more manageable parts and do not "zigzag" organize.
Categorize into the four following groups - 1. Keep 2. Store 3. Don't know 4. Eliminate (donate or garbage). This is a very crucial step in this program. You must go through each area and decide what everything means to you and what you want to do with it.
Once you have eliminated what you don't need, you must organize it so that everything has a home.
- Commit to Maintenance
Some consider this the hardest part of all. How do you maintain all these elements when there is so much going on and time is a luxury? Once you make this a priority, and realize and believe that maintaining a positive environment is vitally important to the quality of your future, you will change your perspective and actually look forward to organizing your environment.
Fighting the Spam Battle
Afraid to open e-mail? Do you peek through your fingers, waiting for the onslaught of unsolicited messages, knowing that you will lose precious time sorting through the junk? The average person receives 197 e-mails per week - over one-third of which are spam! You need an action plan - because 75% of the spam you receive you unintentionally signed up for. Become "spam savvy" and protect your Internet identity. Here are a few do's and don'ts from Paula Jubinville, President of AQUEOUS Limited (firstname.lastname@example.org):
- Use the "Block Sender" function in your e-mail program whenever practical.
- Always keep your virus software current by downloading the automatic updates and patches provided by the manufacturer. Install a good firewall and mail checkers; it may slow down your computer a little, but it is well worth it.
- Use an e-mail set-up that allows you to "pull" mail from the server rather than have it automatically downloaded or "pushed" to you. You can then delete spam without even having it reach your computer and without opening it.
- Never give your business e-mail address out over the phone or on a web site (see next tip).
- Use free, web-based e-mail accounts such as "Hotmail" for receiving newsletters or other types of promotional e-mail. The service provider has heavy-duty spam filters so that only the items you subscribe to will get through.
- Never respond to e-mails asking you to be taken off a list. This only confirms that your e-mail address is valid.
- Don't pass on information related to hoaxes. This only aids and abets the spammers. If you are concerned, check a reputable site first (www.symantec.com) to confirm the legitimacy of any virus notice you receive by e-mail regardless of whether you know the sender or not. E-mail spammers can disguise messages to appear to come from reputable sources and people you know.
Make no mistake; the war on spam is a perpetual battle, but understanding spam fundamentals can give you a fighting chance against cyber-opportunists.
How to Increase Your Visibility
Pamela Jeffery, President & CEO, The Jeffery Group (tel: 416-361-1475) knows well the power of networking and shares
with us the details of how to find the resources and support you need to help
your business grow. Although she started her own business as a reluctant entrepreneur
- pushed into it by personal circumstances - she embraced the attitude of "What's
the worst thing that could happen?" (If it does, simply pick yourself up,
dust yourself off, and move forward, she advises). The next thing she did was
to rent office space. This way, she says, you are forced to focus your efforts
on business development - you have to pay rent! Next, was increasing her visibility
in the marketplace. Here are her four keys to success:
- Find a mentor. Mentors provide inspiration and can teach you the
intricacies of networking. And, they are a lot easier to find than you may
- Join community boards. By contributing to a not-for-profit organization,
you meet people you otherwise would not and develop a different set of skills.
Be sure you have passion for the cause. And, remember, one Board appointment
will lead to another.
- Plan. Schedule your work week so that you attend at least one event
per week. Pamela makes a lunch date every day with clients or potential clients.
- Network. Women are natural networkers, and having passion for your
business makes it even easier. Don't think of networking as something you
have to do, but rather, as an opportunity to connect with others. Try golf
- it's a great networking tool and an ideal way to strengthen your existing
relationships and gather new business.
Extracted from a presentation at the Joint Business Forum co-hosted in May
2003 by Women Entrepreneurs of Canada (WEC) and the
National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), in celebration of the
World Day for Women Entrepreneurs. For more information on WEC, visit www.wec.ca. For more information on WXN, the Women's Executive Network that Pamela runs, visit www.wxnetwork.com
Tackling Information Overload
With it being so easy to send and receive e-mail messages, to bookmark favourites from the Web and to keep must-read material in hard and digital formats, organizing and keeping track of all this information has become one of life's major challenges. Specializing in helping businesses transform that deluge into usable knowledge for business growth is Eiko Shaul, principal of Shaul InfoResearch (tel: 416-544-0208, e-mail: email@example.com). Here are some time-saving tips from Eiko and tools to tackle information overload:
- Create various folders to sort your e-mails, reducing the number of messages in your In Box. (How-to instructions vary depending on which program and software version you use - but you can always go to the "Help" menu to find out more information). To create a new folder:
- Highlight "Personal Folders" then go to "File"
- Choose "New"
- Choose "Folder" from the menu
- Name the folder and click OK
- Set up incoming messages so that they are automatically placed in appropriate folders of your choice:
- Choose a folder or create a new folder under "Personal Folders"
- Copy the address of the group/person whose message you want to sort into a new folder
- Go to "Tools" and choose "Rules Wizard"
- Choose "New ..."
- Go to "Rule description" box
- Choose an option
- Paste the address in "From ->" box
- Click OK (back to "Rules Wizard" menu box)
- In "Rule description box," click "specified"
- Choose a folder that you want messages to go to and click OK
- Click "Finish"
- Check the rules you applied - if satisfied, click OK.
- Mark important messages that require a follow up:
- Choose the message you want to follow up.
- Go to "Actions" on task bar - pull down menu opens
- Click "Follow Up" - a flag will appear to the left of the message you choose
- When you have finished following up, go to "Actions" and click "Clear flag"
- To avoid sending message accidentally when you are not ready to send them, choose "Work offline" in "File" pull down menu. This mode places all the new messages in "Outbox" until you click the "Send/Receive" button.
- Clean up messages. As hard as it is, sometimes we have to be ruthless about cleaning up messages to maintain organized mailboxes, thereby maintaining our sanity. Delete obviously unwanted messages immediately. With others, prioritize and review them for relevance and delete those not needed any longer. Tip: to delete a number of e-mail messages all at once, click on the first or last item you wish to delete, hold down the "Ctrl" button and click on the last/first item on the list. This will select all messages between your selections. Now click "delete" and all are gone.
- Minimize the use of "CC", "Reply to all" and "Forward". Do you receive too many unwanted messages this way? Think twice before you click those buttons and try not to add to the deluge of messages in others' mailboxes.
Dealing with Spam -The Unwanted Information:
- One way to minimize, if not totally obliterate, the unwanted spam that bombards In Boxes on a daily basis is to use a tool that comes with your e-mail program. For example, MS Outlook allows you to set up a filter to send spam to a special folder using the tool described above for setting up rules for incoming messages. Follow the steps described above:
- Go to "Tools", choose "Rules Wizard" menu
- Choose "New ..."
- Choose options such as "Move new message from someone" and "Move messages based on content" from the menu, and
- Follow through with the remaining steps. With this method, the onus is on you to update any new conditions.
- Another option in getting rid of spam is to take advantage of products offered by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that prevent spam from reaching your mailbox in the first place. Check with your ISP on whether or not it offers the service. This way the ISP takes care of tracking and updating filtering rules. But remember that, while most of the unwanted messages will be barred from your Inbox, the system is not fool-proof: some words (thus spam) can still sneak in.
- Stay focused and avoid getting side-tracked into other areas or topics by starting your search with a solid strategy in mind. Resist the temptation of following those intriguing URLs to a new world of discoveries!
- The Google search engine offers time-saving features such as directories, a news section, the ability to search in specific languages or countries and the ability to translate text found on a European Web page.
- Installing a Google tool bar (visit http://toolbar.google.com/ for more information) allows you to perform a new search without having to go back to the Google home page and offers handy features that allow more efficient searching.
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