coffee-networking

Network Like A Ninja Pt. 2

This blog is the second installment in a two part series that gives away my secrets to networking.  If you missed the first part, I suggest you read it first so my suggestions here make even more sense!

Farm Your LinkedIn For Coffee Dates

After I’ve connected with someone I’ve met at a networking event or through a casual encounter on LinkedIn whom I’m interested in building a relationship with, I’ll ask them to coffee.  Coffee is casual.  It is a great way to get to know someone without spending a long time with them.  I’ve had to escape from coffee meetings that weren’t going well before, but I also have had coffee meetings turn into best business friends.

I do this on a regular basis.  I have one of those crazy huge LinkedIn networks, and there is absolutely no way I see each of those connections in a year.  Many are overseas, so I only see them when I’m abroad.  But for those that are local, I will send a casual message saying that we haven’t seen each other in a while so let’s catch up over coffee.  Even if it’s a person I have no specific business with, I still want to get in front of them.  I want to remind them of who I am and renew the trust they once had in me (trust inevitably fades over time without regular interaction).

Leverage Your Network For More Connections

Sometimes your network won’t be able to help you acheive your goal — at least, not directly.  You may not know someone who has expertise in an area that you seek or works at a business you wish to strategically partner with, but I’ll bet someone in your network knows someone who does.

I’ve seen entrepreneurs just starting their first business excel because they leveraged their network in this way.  They realize a piece of knowledge is missing in their tool kit and they go out and find it, wherever it may be.

This is the gold of LinkedIn.  You can search for a given company or organization, or certain skills, and then see who in your network is connected to the resulting profiles.  It’s amazing!  All you have to do is ask the person / people you feel best connected to for an introduction.  Technology is, at times, dubious, but this is like magic compared to the way we did it before social media.

Just Ask

More than once, a friend has asked, “How did you get that opportunity / engagement?”  The honest truth is that I just asked.  I just asked to fill an open advisory role at the newly opened Incubator in town.  I just asked if a new business training center needed more instructors.  I just asked for a meeting with my favorite European app development company.

Your network is full of people who love to connect with and help others.  As your business grows, you’ll meet other like-minded business owners who want the same — the freedom of an entrepreneur who does what s/he loves.  Overwhelmingly I find that people just want to help each other succeed.

Sure, it’s possible you might hear that scary word — no — but it’s important to bear in mind that ‘no’ actually means ‘not now’.  More often than not I don’t hear back from my busy colleagues at all and have to follow up with them a bit.  They never meant to send a negative signal.

Asking for a new connection, update, meeting, or opportunity is harmless, and often is the only way to acheive what you’re hoping to do.  So be polite, frame your need in a way that benefits them, and ask!

Example:  When I reached out to the app development team about meeting while I’m in Europe, I framed it as an opportunity to talk to someone who happens to represent one of their special interest markets.  I personally want the meeting for network growth, but they’ll benefit from the meeting by having a live person in a specialty niche to learn from.  Definitely worth the ask, and no big deal if the answer was no.

What’s the first networking move you can make using this advice?

Network like a Ninja Pt. 1

For many entrepreneurs, networking is an uncomfortable but necessary evil.  To me, networking is some of the best fun I have as an entrepreneur.  I have a natural knack for people and conversation, and I want to pass what I’ve learned in my seven years of networking as an entrepreneur to you so you can take advantage of the connections that are out there without feeling quite so uncomfortable. Read more

How To Launch A Successful Kickstarter Campaign

It’s no secret that I’m in the middle of finishing a book entitled “Stories of Elders:  What the Greatest Generation Knows About Technology that You Don’t“.  What most people don’t realize is that I Kickstarted the funds to travel and conduct the interviews needed for the book.

Kickstarter is an incredible tool for developing and funding a project where other funding may not exist. Since it was founded in 2009, Kickstarter has successfully funded over 125,000 projects amounting to over $3 Billion dollars (wow!). The website is highly trafficked, offering backers cool Rewards for their dollars — like the opportunity to try a product first — and the ability to be on the front lines of what’s new in the world.

Creating a successful Kickstarter Campaign, however, is not easy. It takes a lot of work, dedication, and the ability to communicate your story affectively. With these tools by your side, you might just have the start of your next big thing.

To prepare for my Kickstarter Campaign, I met with several other successful Kickstarter Campaigners to figure out the special sauce of a successful Campaign. Now, I’m bringing the lessons I learned from them and from my personal experience to you in this awesome guide, the current Featured Workbook in the Resource Library.  Just use your password to log in and download it!

If you want the guide but you’re not a member of the free Resource Library, you can use this form to get a password.  Enjoy!

How to Google like the Boss that You Are

Google.  That is how I started my first venture — a nonprofit organization.  I used Google to find a free course taught by the state.  I then used Google to find, download, and complete the 501(c)3 tax exemption application.  I Googled to learn about building a Board of Directors, how to structure the Board, what documents my Board should sign, and to read lessons learned by those that had come before me.  Finally, I used Google to build my first volunteer / mission trip — from contracts, documents, orientation, best practices, legal issues, safety, and organizations that we could work with.

Google is the cornerstone of the savvy business owner.  The big secret to starting a business you love isn’t having an MBA and years of experience with shiny titles from the corporate world.  It’s having the passion to drive you forward, and the ability to find the answer to any question you have.  Having a Coach to help you is definitely the most comfortable way to go, but Google is always available and can help you do anything.

Just this morning at a coffee networking event, I heard someone say, “I was up late working on my project because I’m not good at Googling”.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but it reminded me that I take my ability to Google for granted.

So here’s my quick guide for getting good at Googling.

Strip It Down

The people I see struggle with Google give it too much information.  Google, like the library search system you may have learned in elementary school (am I aging myself?), doesn’t care about transitional words like “and” or “but”.  However, it loves “or” to help you compare two things.

Don’t try asking Google a question.  Just enter the keywords of what you’re searching.  The person I was instructing this morning was looking for help on coding a form which wasn’t working.  I told him to definitely include the main subject — C# (the coding language) — and the action he was having an issue with, forms.  From there, I told him to describe the issue in as few words as possible.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Use Synonyms

Using the above example in a search, I further instructed the person to start rotating words if he wasn’t finding what he was looking for.  The constants in your search are the main subjects — in his case, the coding language and the action he was having issues with.  Everything else can be swapped.

Let’s use my nonprofit as an example.  I needed to know how to file for tax exemption.  Finding the form was easy enough — I knew it was an IRS form and it was labeled “501(c)3 application”, so those where the words I entered.  But I work best by example, so the next thing I needed were other nonprofit examples of the different sections within the form, specifically for organizations specializing in my field.

This is where I started rotating words.  I didn’t care if the examples came from the IRS, so I left that word out.  I could have searched “501(c)3 application examples”, but I probably would have gotten a lot of really general examples, some good, some bad.  So I changed my wording to “501(c)3 applications disaster relief”.  It’s not an actual sentence, but just a bunch of keywords.  That’s how Google operates, and that’s the most important thing for you to learn.

If the results weren’t quite what I was looking for, I could have tried changing “disaster relief” to “relief organizations” or “humanitarian aid”.  This is where the synonyms work great.  My constant would always be “501(c)3 application” because that’s what I was working on, but the rest could swap out until I found what I was looking for.

Hack Google’s Search Options

There are several other things you can do within the search bar of Google, but Google doesn’t publicize them well.  I call them hacks, but they’re actually refinement options that make your search even more specific.  If the subject you’re researching is very narrow due to your nice, business structure, or innovation, then narrowing your search is a bad idea.  However, the internet is vast, and narrowing is usually very useful.

Here is Google’s fabulous guide for using their search refining hacks.  You can search specific sites only, exclude words that seem to come up in the options Google gives you but don’t fit your goal, and even force Google to focus on a certain word within your search.

Get Into Other’s Heads

My final tip is to try to get into other people’s heads.  This can be hard to do, but this is how I do it.  I think about the topic I’m searching, then consider every way I have ever heard it referred to by others.  That might include in-person experiences, television shows, conferences, radio, and dialectal variations.  Living in the United States means I have heard many ways to refer to everything.  In doing so, my mind doesn’t actually remember specific moments, but it pulls up a rotation of ideas and words.

I also try to dumb down my searches.  Not only am I stripping them of extra words, but I am using the simplest words and phrases.  Most web designers and copy writers suggest your online content be at a 5th Grade reading level.  If that’s the case, then the words you’re searching for are also at a 5th Grade level (because all Google is able to search are the words put online).

Does this help?  Share your experience below to help others and ensure I give you the best advice!

How to Choose Your Social Media Platform

Remember what business was like before social media?  No?  Oh…

Today, starting a business includes being online.  This is the number one way your clients and customers get to know you.  Even customers of brick and mortar stores check out their website first 80% of the time.

In addition to your website there is social media.  It’s easy to get lost in the noise.  There are so many to choose from and it can be extremely time consuming.  So often do I speak with small business owners and entrepreneurs who are driving themselves crazy managing five or seven different accounts.  Don’t do that!

I developed an awesome Workbook for people just like you:  Entrepreneurs who are growing their business and want to leverage an online presence to support that growth.  I take you step by step to help decide where your people are and what platforms to use.  The only social media platform that is universal is Facebook (yeah, sorry), but luckily it’s easy to link to others.

In addition to choosing which platforms to use, my Workbook help you streamline so you’re editing only one source.  That’s right — you don’t have to jump from Facebook to Twitter to Google Plus in order to be able to manage multiple platforms.

Love this idea?  Want to get started?  Head over to the Resource Library to download the Social Media Workbook.  Not a Resource Library member yet?  It’s free!  Just sign up below to unlock the tools to help you start your dream business.

Starting When You Have Too Many Ideas

What happens when you have too many business ideas?  This is one of the best and worst problems to have.  It’s the best because you have endless options in your career as an entrepreneur.  It’s the worst because it usually creates a stall.

I chronically have too many ideas.  That’s why I’ve introduced myself as a serial entrepreneur in the past — I wasn’t sure what else to say!  While intriguing to the person I’m meeting, it also is vague, which means my networking game was a bit off.  I needed to sort through and prioritize my ideas so I could focus on one at a time and grow into the next.

As a wise panelist said at the EntrepreneurYOU Conference put on by the Michigan Women’s Foundation last week, “Start with the idea that will generate income first.”  There’s a lot more to it, so let’s start sorting through your ideas to find the best one to launch.

 

One of my coaching clients has this very problem.  She has too many ideas, and doesn’t know where to start.  She knows she wants to be a serial entrepreneur, too, but which one is realistic as a beginning?

I started by asking her about her.  I wanted to know what her passion is.  It’s easy to see when a person lights up during a conversation, and I kept notes as she spoke.  Sometimes too many ideas confuse one’s passion — I help sort through all that.

We then talked about her work experiences.  What aligned best with what she wants to do?  Some entrepreneurial ideas are passion based but not experience based.  This is when I say they need to ‘cook a little longer’.  Potential customers, investors, and referrers will trust an entrepreneur with more experience in their chosen business area than those that don’t have it.  Thus, if you really want to start a interior design studio, but you have no experience, you’ll have an uphill battle.

I also asked her about known startup costs.  It’s hard to be 100% sure of the cost of starting until you’re deep in the research, but one typically has a general idea.  For example, a brick and mortar business automatically takes greater investment (and likely a Small Business loan) than an online company.  Cost of supplies, transportation, and marketing are also all factors.

Finally, we took a look at which business ideas are foundational to the rest of the work she hopes to do.  That is, most business ventures have a similar theme that can be built off of, but some (like my web company) are a little off base to the other proposed work (like my nonprofit).  Any business experience can be extrapolated to support another business, but the more closely tied one is to the next, the better.

That’s the formula.  Passion + experience + cost + business ties = your order of operations.  Sounds easier said than done, right?  It is, so I created a worksheet to help you.  Writing (or scribbling) out your thoughts is one of the most helpful things one can do to sort out their thoughts.  Enter your email below to gain access to my Resource Library to print the Business Pathfinder worksheet and browse several other tools!  If you’re already a Passion Posse member with access to the Resource Library, use your password to download the worksheet.

If you’re still not sure which business is best after you’ve used the worksheet, I’m only a phone call away.

 

 

How to Start a Nonprofit

A good deal of what I write about pertains to businesses.  These tips and tricks can be used just as well for nonprofit organizations, too.  What I haven’t done is help you start a nonprofit organization — something that I did back in 2010.  Since then I’ve served on three nonprofit boards and helped several people start their own nonprofit organization.  It’s about time I write a blog with instructions to help you get started.

Building a Board

This post is assuming that you will do some business planning (perhaps using a tool like the Business Model Canvas) before you get to this step.  You’ll need to be able to present a cohesive idea to potential board members — a vision they can identify with that also fits their skill sets.  After making your business plan, this is the first great leap to getting a nonprofit started.

You only need three board members to file with the state.  However, you may want more involved, depending on the size and reach of your goal.  I always went with odd numbers so a tie couldn’t happen during voting.

Make sure your board consists of many different skills, even if some overlap.  This is especially important in filling the skills you don’t have yourself.  A board will provide the support you need to get things off the ground and running smoothly before you hire your first employees.  If they don’t compliment your and each other’s skill sets, you’ll find this a tiresome process.  Nonprofits already have a high burnout rate; don’t set yourself up for failure before you even begin (like I did — doing it all by myself!).

Filing

Filing your nonprofit corporation papers with the state works much the same as filing a LLC or corporation.  The difference is the cost of filing and the structures needed in order to take this step.

In the state of Michigan you need at least three board members in order to file your papers.  When I put together my board I just asked some trustworthy friends with big hearts to be my board so I could get past this step.  Over time it became clear that, while they totally believed in me and the cause, they didn’t have the skill sets that I needed to be successful.

You may, eventually, want a lawyer involved to refine your state paperwork.  However, if you’re starting from scratch, I recommend saving the cost for the first six months until you have a proof of concept and benefactors.

Once you have the papers from the state, you can file for your EIN number just like with a for-profit business.  You need these two documents to both open a bank account (most banks offer free checking to nonprofit organizations) and file for tax exemption from the IRS.

Becoming Tax Exempt

At this stage you and your board should know what kind of 501(c) organization you wish to become.  The IRS classifies nonprofits in several groups, and it is critically important you understand the requirements for each (ie. a 501(c)3 organization cannot be involved in political affairs).  Make sure you do your research and choose accordingly.

Most states offer classes about 501(c)3 organizations.  You may wish to consider taking a class on filing for your IRS paperwork since it is a long process.  In short, the IRS application is a minimum of 40 pages.  You’ll also need to submit your organization’s bylaws, board member profiles, codes of conduct, and conflict of interest clauses.  I realize it sounds like a lot (and it is), but this is when your board members should step up to divide and conquer.

My biggest recommendation in all of this is to not do it like I did — alone.  It was a stressful time, and while I learned a lot and am stronger for it, it’s always better to have help.

Getting Ready for 2017

Last week’s Facebook Live Q&A focused on getting ready for 2017.  This can be an overwhelming time for many entrepreneurs as they close things for the year and get ready for the next.  Let’s have a look at the three major spots to hit, and simplify them so you can get them done.

1) Financial Planning

I know I just made you squeamish.  I’m sorry!  Does it make it better if I provide you with a super awesome spreadsheet that allows you to simply fill in the blanks?  Yes?  YAY!  Go to the Resource Library to download it (or, if you’re not a Resource Library Member, fill out the form below to get access).

Financial planning is simply using this year’s numbers to predict next year’s budget.  This way you can plan for savings and growth.  By savings I mean your savings so, when you hit that yearly dry spell (that everyone has), you’re not stressed.  By growth I mean hiring that new superstar to make your business dreams come true (don’t we all want one?).

Start by downloading the spreadsheet below.  You’ll see some numbers already entered in — they’re to show you how the spreadsheet works.  Delete a number and see how everything else changes.

From there, start by entering real numbers into the spreadsheet.  Start with the cash you  had on hand at the start of last year.  You’ll only need to add it in Month One — the rest will auto-generate (though you can make changes).  Begin entering monthly income as well.  Finally, enter monthly expenses near the bottom.  Watch as the numbers auto-generate to predict the flow of your year.

2)  Set Some Goals

I know everyone is telling you to set new year goals.  So is pretty much everything else in life — that’s what the new year is all about, right?  Well, I’m sorry you may feel pressured, but I’m not sorry you’ll be setting goals.  Here’s an easy way to break them down, as seen in the Passion Planner (my favorite planner… which I talk about so often I probably should buy stock).

Goals could be as simple as ‘finish that course’ or as complex as strategy for growth.  Consider partnerships and community involvement as you brainstorm.  Once you have a single goal broken down, add its milestones into your calendar for next year.  If you’re ambitious, add more than one goal and its milestones!

Check out this handy goal-setting Roadmap from Passion Planner!

3) Get Ahead

Now is the time to get ahead.  We shut down halfway through December in order to stay sane, which makes it the perfect time to work on the things I never have time for.  What could you be doing to set things straight for 2017?  Get ahead on blog posts, make those phone calls, have coffee with people you met at a networking event.  Everyone’s list is different, but I know there’s at least one thing on yours.  Take care of these things now so you can hit the ground running in January (instead of faceplanting).

2017 is just around the corner!  How are you getting ready?

How to Pivot Your Business: Part Three

This is the second installment in a three-part series to help you pivot your business.  Check out the first article on planning, the second on launching, and subscribe to get more great articles like this!

Part Three:  Marketing

Just because you made announcements and informed your customer base doesn’t mean your work is done.  In fact, there are a lot of people that probably missed your launch event, many more who will continue to think of your business in its former form, and an entire new target market that hasn’t heard of you yet.

Here are some methods for marketing your pivot.  Expect to market your pivot for at minimum of six months after launch.

Facebook Ads

Facebook is everywhere — which is why it is such a powerful marketing tool.  Even if this is not your #1 marketing platform, I still recommend using it.  Marketing on FB means you’re able to narrow down to your exact demographic, and even to those who have already liked your Page or been to your website.  This is a good way to stay in front of ‘your people’.

Business Associations

Do you have a LocalFirst association in your area?  What about a Chamber of Commerce newsletter?  If you’re a startup, what incubators or organizations might cover your pivot?  What about your Alma Matter’s graduates newsletter?  All of these are fantastic places to make an announcement of this caliber.  Lay out a calendar of organizations that will promote the pivot so you don’t use them all at once.

Email Newsletter

Don’t forget that you have a captive audience that already loves you in your email list.  At least, you should.  Even though they already have been privy to the pivot survey, pivot announcement, and launch party, not all may have gotten the message.  In fact, an average of 25% opens and views for an email campaign is considered really good.  That means at least 75% of your customer base may not even realize the pivot happened!  So remind them at the 90 day mark and the six month mark.  Frame it as a curtesy update, and invite them to get involved to check out the new system / product / etc.

Talk To Your Vendors

If you have a physical product, then you have vendors.  Or if you make a physical product for someone else (ie. brochure design), you definitely have suppliers to talk to.  Did you think to update them on your internal changes?  If not, get on it.  It’s never too late to fill in the picture.

Talk To Your Colleagues / Partners / Friends

I have a lot of entrepreneurial friends in my life.  We tend to find each other.  Guess what my biggest mistake was when I pivoted my business:  not telling my friends and colleagues.  Seriously.  Halfway through the year I had a conversation with a buddy and colleague who owns an IT company.  His business doesn’t necessarily interact with mine, but he does bump shoulders with business owners who need website support.  Except he didn’t know that we’d switched from website design to website support.  I’d lost out on the new kind of business I’d been hoping for!  That’s a lesson one only needs to learn once.

Mention It When Networking

Don’t assume that you’ve said it enough.  When you shake hands with someone at an event — old acquaintance or stranger — and they ask you what you do, or how it’s going, be sure you mention your business’ pivot.  You can be vague:  “Oh, good.  We went through a pivot three months ago, and it’s been fun.”  Their response will inevitably be a question about the pivot’s direction.  If you know you’ve mentioned the pivot to the person before, then make an update statement instead, still jogging their memory that the pivot happened.  Everyone is dealing with their own stuff, and even someone you see often may forget.  Heck, I think my partner has even forgotten.

What else has worked for you?

How To Incorporate a Business

The first and most important step to starting a business is filing papers with your State, the IRS, and opening a bank account to ensure your financial security (we don’t like to think about a threat like bankruptcy or being sued when just starting out, but separate accounts are a necessary precaution).

As someone who has been through this process many times, I can say this is the easiest part of starting a business.  Yet in talking to mentees and co-mentors, I realized that if you don’t know how to take these steps, it may seem daunting to get involved in legal forms.  So I made this guide.

Step One:  File Articles of Incorporation

This is the part in which it would be good to talk to a lawyer and / or CPA.  I have completed this stage with and without the advice of a lawyer, but it’s helpful to know some things before you start.

The most important decision here is whether or not you want to incorporate as an LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, or B-Corp.  This step also has the option of filing as a nonprofit corporation should you so choose.  I personally filed for an S-Corp because I knew the structure of my business would take advantage of its taxation structure.  If you’re planning to include altruism in your company, a B-Corp may be appropriate.  I can’t advise you on this since it’s a legal matter, but you can probably find a free resource in your city that will help (in Michigan, the SBDC and Michigan Women’s Foundation are good options).

A lawyer will also help you decide if you want to include a board of directors.  Regardless, the incorporation papers provided by your state are ‘fill in the blank’ style and easy to follow.  Michigan’s fee is $60 for filing a for-profit corporation, and you can expect to receive a validated copy in approximately one month.

Step Two:  Get Your EIN Number from the IRS

This also sounds daunting, but it’s even easier than filing your state papers!  Plus, it’s free.

Once you receive your incorporation papers back from the state, you’ll need an EIN Number from the IRS to do pretty much anything.  You can’t open a bank account without, nor can you take online payments or file taxes.  Even nonprofit corporations need an EIN, so don’t skip this step!

With your incorporation papers in front of you, head to the IRS website and begin the process of applying for an EIN Number.  The site will walk you through a series of questions you will need to answer, including your business state ID (should be at the top of your state papers).  You will receive a PDF to download at the end of the process that officially states your EIN Number and IRS status.  Print this immediately and save the file.  The IRS will also mail you a copy, but that takes a while and multiple copies is always safer.

Step Three:  Open A Bank Account

So why was I talking about bankruptcy and suing at the beginning of the article?  There’s a business best practice called “piercing the veil”.  Essentially, by keeping your personal finances and business finances separate, you not only make things easier on your CPA (which is good because s/he’ll bill you hourly) but keep your personal savings and assets safe from any business mishap.  I say this not to scare you but to start you on the right foot.  If you spoke with a lawyer at Step One, you may have been told this already.

You’ll want a bank account for other reasons, too.  It makes tracking your business’ progress much easier since it’s not mixed with anything else.  It also makes business purchases more clear and easy for tax write offs.  Finally, it makes you look official, so when someone writes you a cheque or pays you online, they get a transaction notification and receipt from your business, not you.

With your State Papers and your EIN Number documentation, go to the bank of your choice.  I find it easiest to use the same bank for everything.  It’s one number to call, one system to memorize, and some banks charge you for digital transfers outside their system.  When at your bank, wait to sit down with an official, not a teller.  They’ll walk you through the paperwork and get you set up.

One last note, here.  Please oh please do not buy personal items from the business account, or vice versa.  This would ‘pierce the veil’ and blur the lines for any legal action.  Bad.  Instead, pay yourself by making a bank transfer from the business account to your personal account and annotate the transfer as income or owner pay.  Talk to a CPA to get even more advice about this (I’m not able to provide more because I’m not legally certified and can only tell you from my personal experience).

That’s it!  If something’s missing, please let me know in the comments below so I can help.