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    There’s been a ton of virtual ink spilled in discussions over this article, The Busy Trap.  Essentially, it’s the phenomenon in America (and other parts of the world, but largely the US) where everyone is “too busy” to do anything, yet we aren’t really accomplishing that much more with our full schedules.

    This is me more often than not. I’m running around like a crazy lady because I don’t know how to live any other way. I’ve got to keep 20 plates spinning in the air, otherwise, I’m a failure. This is stupid. Who really needs 20 plates spinning to be fulfilled? I’m started to feel overwhelmed by all the activities, dreams, and obligations I’ve packed into my life. You know it’s a bad sign when your husband tells you that you’re not mentally present and your mom tells you that she hopes you won’t continue at this pace for much longer.

    I’ve taken their words to heart… sort of. This will inevitably be another failed challenge to myself: to slow down a bit. I just don’t know any other speed besides “fast”. It’s interesting, because I look at the Olympians and think that I’ve failed because I didn’t win medals at 16, or look at the latest pop stars and think I’m a failure because I didn’t top the charts at 20, or look at the tech billionaires and think I’m a failure because I didn’t found Google before 25. The thing is, all of those people have on singular pursuit that consumes them. Yes, they stay busy, and yes, they have a ton of activities filling up their days. But mentally, they’re running toward a singular goal, and the busyness is just a set of tactics to reach the goal. Technically, there’s an end in sight!

    I’m going to do my best to relax and re-charge during my 2-week summer break, but I’ll probably be so busy trying to relax that I’ll fail completely. Anyone else fall into the “busy trap”?

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    As you’ve probably noticed, my posting has been quite infrequent lately, as I’m too busy with school, work, and personal commitments to dedicate a lot of time to the blog right now. That, and I’m doing a ton of writing for two of MBA courses, so the creative energy and general flow of ideas is being funneled elsewhere. So, I’ll leave you with a few snippets of song lyrics that have been playing in my head over the last few weeks for a little inspiration:

     

    “Even the best fall down sometimes. Even the wrong words seem to rhyme.” – Howie Day, “Collide”

     

    “Until the referee rings the bell, until both your eyes start to swell, until the crowd goes home, what we gonna do y’all? Give ‘em hell… this one’s a fighter.” – Gym Class Heroes, “Fighter”

     

    “I’m bullet proof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away, ricochet, you take your aim, fire away, fire away. You shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium.” – David Guetta with Sia, “Titanium”

     

    “It’s time to try defying gravity. I think I’ll try defying gravity, and you can’t pull me down.” – Wicked, “Defying Gravity” (especially as sung by the original cast or me belting it out in my car, around the house, and walking randomly in a parking lot)

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    A while back, I had an obsession with words and naming, and it’s been revived by the term, “seasonal vegetables.” You ever notice that the seasonal vegetables are always broccoli? I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a restaurant that offers something other than broccoli when the menu says, “served with seasonal vegetables”! Why can’t they just call it like it is? The entree is served with broccoli!

    It’s because broccoli has this terrible reputation for being a yucky food, the kind that kids turn their nose up at while parents watch them like hawks to make sure they aren’t feeding the broccoli to the family dog under the dinner table. Which, dropping broccoli for the dog is a pretty futile endeavor, since even the dogs know that broccoli is yucky. Restaurants know they won’t sell broccoli, but they will sell seasonal vegetables.

    This doesn’t make sense! Simply changing the name will make people eat the food in front of them? I’m a survey of one, but it’s true for me. I would never order broccoli for myself, would never purchase broccoli at the grocery store, and if asked, would reply that I don’t like broccoli. And yet, when my “seasonal vegetables” turn out to be broccoli, I eat every last bite! When my husband insists on throwing a few bits of broccoli into the stir fry, I eat them along with the rest of the items in the dish. In short, I eat broccoli. Essentially, you’ve either got a misnomer for broccoli or diners lying to themselves, because in the end, the broccoli is purchased, prepared, and consumed regularly enough that the grocery stores carry it in abundance, and the restaurants keep serving it as a default side dish. This is one of those times that the “evil marketers” have actually done something good. They’ve convinced the consumers to eat something healthy by calling it something else. If you don’t think a name has power, just look at the broccoli phenomenon! (Granted, some marketers use their power to sell us over-processed, sugary “health” food, but we’re not addressing that in this post!)

    So, can we all stop with the euphemism for broccoli? Can we agree that we’ll order “seasonal vegetables” with our eyes wide open?

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    Hand-decorated theme cookies from Moon Glitz Delicioso

    I’m excited to welcome a very talented guest blogger today, my mother-in-law, Brenda Faus. She’s the owner of Moon Glitz Delicioso, a small business that specializes in hand-decorated theme cookies. Brenda donates most of her proceeds to the non-profit organization, World Vision, and she’s got a few thoughts on her journey from hobbyist to small business owner!

    “These are so good. You should sell them.”  That is such a nice compliment, and you may have even heard it about something you make, but could it be a reality?  I began to ask myself that question a couple of years ago.  My family loves eating my cookies, I enjoy making them, but would they sell?  Could I make a profit?  What are the legal boundaries?
    The most complicated aspects of creating a small business from a food product are the health regulations.  When the state where I live began legislation for a Cottage Food Bill I saw my opportunity.  I began to investigate the guidelines and how they applied to the custom designed cookies that I enjoy creating.  This could work.  The next step—a visit to the county courthouse. I paid for my license and I was on my way.
    The licensing process was actually fairly simple, but then the real work began.  After the Limited Liability Corporation fee was paid, I realized I had to get serious about earning a profit.  I had now made an investment and needed to see some return.  That first year was consumed by a lot of free cookie gifts and photos of cookies posted on every social network I could find.  There were times I wondered if I was becoming somewhat obnoxious to my friends and family.  Little by little I began to get orders, so my efforts must have been heading in the right direction.  I kept my prices low and sometimes felt discouraged by the money I made for the hours of work I put in.
    Those long and discouraging nights have now grown into productive and profitable weeks.  I have gradually increased my prices and have amazingly seen my orders increase as well.  My goal was to attain a price for my product that is in line with current market value for a boutique type cookie.  I am now fairly close to that goal.  Word of the quality and uniqueness of my product has spread through customer referrals, social media, and simple advertising efforts.
    My next goal is to expand my product line.  I recently added a cookie gift box that comes in two sizes and is packed in a quality, clear-lid box.  I would like to add more similar items, possibly some cookie bouquets, and expand my selection of cookie favors.  I have found it helpful to be a secret shopper on other cookie websites and see what large corporations offer.  After my research, I create a sample to use for a product photo on my website.  I often use this sample product for a contest prize or some kind of give-away to create interest in my business.  Who wouldn’t want to win a beautiful and delicioso cookie?
    Heavy social media advertisement, competition investigation, and contests for product giveaways have all been keys to my success. If I were to share a final word of advice for creating a business from a hobby it would be to consider product selection and pricing carefully.  Just because you love doing something or you can create a beautiful product doesn’t mean you can make an easy profit when selling it.  For example, I have learned that a cookie made to look like an antique car with chrome bumpers, a windshield, and a gum paste hood ornament may look amazing.  It also takes much longer to create than my average cookie. If I post a photo of it on Facebook, everyone tells me how amazing it is.  However, nobody would pay the $10 or more I would need to charge for it in order to make up for labor and other overhead while still making a profit.  Because of my inability to make a profit on this specific cookie in any reasonable sense, I would have to view it as merely a marketing tool or discontinue it as a product.  And these are the kinds of decisions that make the difference between a business and a hobby.
    Thanks for sharing, Brenda! If you’re interested in ordering some of her delicioso cookies, please check out her website. She ships anywhere in the world, and the cookies arrive fresh, beautiful, and unbroken (I can personally vouch for this!)
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    Well, readers, July has been, and will continue to be, a crazy month! Between school, work, friends, and family, I’ve been running at breakneck speed for several weeks. I’m squeezing quite a few business trips in this month, which means a little less time for writing, and a lot more time spent in airports, cars, and hotels. So, I thought I’d talk about how to keep fit on the road, since I’ll be doing exercising outside of my usual boot camp classes for a few weeks!

    I love free weights, but sometimes you’re stuck with just your body weight. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck without a workout, and it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with just cardio options! On a recent trip, I decided not to bring my tennis shoes and extra workout clothes, since I needed to save space in my luggage, and I had no idea what time I would arrive at the hotel. I figured I could always do something if I got back to my room in time. Here’s what I did:

    - set of 25 lunges on each leg (you want a 90 degree angle on both the front and back legs, and you should feel the burn in the quads and gluts)

    - set of 15 push-ups (make sure you’ve got a straight line from the head to the ankles, no butts in the air or hips dipping to the floor! The whole body has to move up and down at once!)

    - set of 50 crunches (I alternate between a regular crunch, side crunch, and twisting crunch in each set)

    I did this rotation 3 times, and then moved into the next rotation with some interesting “weights”:

    - set of 15 squats with no weights

    - set of 10 shoulder raises with my purse (hey, that thing may only be 5 lbs., but it’s better than nothing!)

    - set of 12 bicep curls with my backpack full of books (again, you’re looking at ~10-12 lbs. of weight for each rep)

    I did this rotation 3 times, and moved into the final set of exercises:

    - boxing combo of jab, cross, hook, upper cut

    - holding field on the right and left side (basically “fast feet” and fast, continuous punching to the side)

    - boxing combo of jab and cross

    - continuous hooks

    - set of 50 crunches

    - set of 25 hip raises (lay on your back with your shoulders pressed into the floor and feet flat on the ground, raise your hips up using your hamstrings, gluts, and abs only)

    I did this set twice before I did a round of stretching.

    My exercises took about 30 minutes to complete, and I did them while simultaneously watching a lecture for one of my online classes. You don’t need fancy weights, or even fancy footwear, to get a workout in on the road! Got any tips for staying fit during travel?

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    Alright, readers, time for another professional secret post! I recently read through a thread on Corporette about a lawyer that was frustrated with her summer associate because she didn’t take notes at a hearing. There are several arguments that, “she should know better”, a few arguments for, “notes are stupid if you don’t need them”, and a few others for, “just tell her she needs to take notes next time, no need to freak out!” Many of these personal preferences were stated as plain and simple facts, so you can see how it might be confusing for the summer associate. This thread made me think back to my days as an intern, and one particularly stupid thing I did.

    We were running a contest that involved posting videos from contestants and having people vote on the videos. The scores were calculated using a combination of daily posts + vote tally. The contestants could post unlimited videos each day, but we didn’t want duplicate videos on the site for people to vote on. At the time, our software wasn’t smart enough to recognize duplicate videos, so we needed a human to delete the duplicates. Guess who got that all-important job? That’s right, the intern, aka me! I was also tasked with deleting inappropriate content. Add the fact that the system would randomly freeze every hour or so, and you’ve got one mindless, tedious task!

    So, I’d been checking the boxes on duplicate videos for about a week for several hours per day. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click…. click. Delete. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click…. click. Delete. Bored yet? Yeah, try doing that for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, and you’ll probably understand why I did what I did. My life was pretty crazy at the time, so I decided to call my mom for some advice. I was sitting in a cube, clicking away at those videos, talking to my mom about my crazy life. Sure, everyone takes a quick personal call once every so often during the work day, but nope, not me… I stayed on the phone with her for a full hour and a half. In my mind, I was still working, clicking away at those darn duplicate videos!

    A couple of days later, my supervisor mentioned that if I needed to take a personal call, I could do so in the lobby downstairs. At that point, I realized that I was THAT intern. The one that supervisors write stories about on websites and lament the fact that my college professors and career center hadn’t taught me better, and how could that intern not know that taking a phone call in a cubical in the middle of the day was a poor choice? This is further compounded by the fact that I thought I was a star intern, super professional and prepared!

    Here’s the thing: interns make mistakes. Heck, bosses with 20 years of experience make mistakes! We’re human, and we can’t play by the rules perfectly all the time. Particularly in an internship, you’re there to learn, and get most of those stupid “you should know better” mistakes out of the way, before you enter the real world! So, I have to say to the supervisors, please cut your interns a little slack. Let them know that their behavior isn’t professional, but don’t embarrass or berate them if it’s a first offense or clearly a one-time mistake. And, I have to say to the interns, think about your actions before you perform them! I had the thought that chatting with my mom was probably not the smartest choice, but I didn’t listen to my own thoughts. If you think something might be stupid or unprofessional, either ask, or don’t do it! By the time you land an internship, you should at least know enough about the corporate environment to ask if something is acceptable before jumping right in.

    I’m pretty professional these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that I was THAT intern! Did you ever make a stupid choice during an internship?

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    Today’s discussion is about dimensions of a brand, which I’ve discussed before. In particular, we’re going to talk about dimensions of my personal brand. Well, technically it’s the “personal” brand that I have at the office, but it’s really, “Who is business Ashley?”

    I feel like I portray a brand that balances an efficient, serious, ambitious person with that of an adventurous, creative, energetic person. I think all of these elements are crucial to my success at the office and my sanity as a human, but a recent conversation had me wondering if I really do show all the facets of my brand in the office. A co-worker asked about my plans for July 4th, and I mentioned that my husband and I would be heading to the lake to grill, swim, and watch the fireworks. My co-worker looked a little surprised, and said, “Oh, you’re going to swim in the lake?” I of course, looked confused as to why I WOULDN’T swim in the lake, which elicited a reply, “Wow, so you’re not one of those girls! That’s cool!” Apparently, I don’t seem like the outdoorsy type, and I must be afraid of the dirty, murky lake water! This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, and I’m not sure how this aspect of my life as has escaped the knowledge of my co-worker. I backpack and drink out of streams, for cryin’ out loud (and I think this post showcases the many facets of my brand as it relates to being outdoors and being a corporate marketer)! I feel like I make the aspects of my brand known to all, but clearly, I’ve missed the mark.

    This happens to individual and corporate brands all the time, and it’s worth looking at. How do you convey all the properties of your brand, without looking like you’re trying to be everything to everyone? How do you make sure your message is heard, without obnoxiously blaring out the message in bold print? I think you have to bring it up in casual conversation, and occasionally do something unexpected. Corporate brands do this with billboards and commercials, and then occasionally form an odd partnership to showcase a new aspect of their brand. Are you showing all the depth of your personal brand, or just sticking to a predictable message? What are you “known” for, and is that what you WANT to be known for?

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    I’ve been reading a lot of negotiation blogs on Forbes after my negotiation class last semester, and anchoring is one of those funny human psyche things that I find interesting. Anchoring is basically throwing out a number to set the expectations in a negotiation. The trick is to find a number on the high end, but not so high that it’s too ridiculous to even consider. This is true in a non-negotiating context as well, and the situation on gas prices got me thinking about the anchoring phenomenon.

    Gas prices have been falling lately (YES!), down to the low, low price of ~$3.10/gallon in Texas. You all actually think that price is low, don’t you? I do… and at least one Facebook friend does too! Her status update read, “Gas for $3.05? Yes, please!” I was in California over the weekend, where gas was ~$3.90/gallon, so the $3.10 actually does seem pretty cheap. Notice what I did there? I told you the “low, low” price, and gave a reference point considerably higher. My language and examples, combined with your own experience with high gas prices from 2009-2009 (we’re talking nearly $4/gallon in Texas, that’s RIDICULOUS!), and you think $3.10 is pretty stinkin’ reasonable.

    But what if I told you how much gas cost when I first starting driving? When I was 16, I managed to get gas for .89 cents… EIGHTY-NINE CENTS per gallon. On average, I could fill up my Honda Civic for .99 cents/gallon, for a total of $16 per tank. Now how do you feel about that $3.10/gallon gas price?

    It’s interesting, because I fought the, “less than $3 gas is cheap” mentality for a long time, holding on to my .99 cent price-point far longer than I should have. I had anchored myself at less than a dollar, and I wasn’t having any laughable numbers above that price. The problem is, I’m a price-taker when it comes to gas, so digging in my heels about paying more than a dollar… or two… or three, was useless. I’ve finally re-set my anchor point around the $3.50 mark, so I’m actually quite happy to pay $3.10.

    As a marketer, you have to understand and manipulate this anchoring principle. Times change, perceptions change, and margins change, but humans still hold on to some kind of anchor about price. This is why pricing a product or service during a a launch is so critical. Too high, and you’ve priced yourself out of the market, but too low, and people might think the quality is cheap. Too high, and you’re stuck giving discount after discount until you reach the true market value of the item, but then you’ve trained your customers not to buy at full price (see my reluctance to purchase at JC Penney with their new pricing scheme). But, too low, and your margins are shot, but raising the price makes customers feel like you’re just being greedy, even if they would have been happy to pay the price originally.

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    I went to an event for Salesforce yesterday to do some research on implementing it as our CRM solution, and I met a consulting company that works on integration and implementation of the Salesforce platform. The rep mentioned a blog post on the Clear Task blog about “self-implementationitis”. The author gave the symptoms and solutions for curing the ills that come with self-implementation of a system.

    We’ve been dealing with our CRM for nearly a year, and from what I understand, the aviation industry as a whole is plagued with CRM failure and stalling. Our biggest need is the ability to “fly the fleet”, which effectively uses a combination of logic and algebra to spit out an alert to contact the customer just prior to their timeframe for making a purchase. The problem is, it’s really hard to get accurate information to plug into the logic and algebra formulas! So, the first DIY vs. consultant question: Do we hire someone to make phone calls and download lists to get this information, or do we hire a consulting company in the industry that claims to already have this data? Do we try to build our own database of this information, or pay to upgrade an industry database that supposedly has all of this kept up-to-date?

    In addition to the information problem, we’ve also got a resource problem. We simply don’t have enough programmers to support our open-source CRM. We’ve done a lot of customization already, but the CRM is still glitchy, which means that it’s difficult for us to run reports and update accounts. The consulting company at the Salesforce event says that since they’ve implemented hundreds of systems, they can streamline our implementation, and help us with the customization. Essentially, they can take a few months to make our system a well-oiled machine. So, the second DIY vs. consulting question: Do we block out time for our current IT resources to dedicate to the CRM? Hire someone to come in and support the CRM long-term? Or, do we hire a consulting company for an up-front investment in implementation? Do we put a consulting company on a yearly maintenance contract?

    Finally, we’ve got a tech savvy problem! I was nerding out at the marketing implications of the latest product releases for Salesforce (that will probably turn into a topic for next week!), but at the end of the day, I’m not going to be the main user of the system. Our less-than-tech-savvy sales and management team will be the main users! And, the aviation industry is slow to come around to newer technology, particularly the social aspect of today’s platforms (remember those issues with a privacy threshold?). Thus, we can have a system with tons of bells and whistles, data overload, and tons of screens and fields. We’ve added fields to the current CRM system, which means you have to scroll for quite a while to get to the green “save” button at the bottom. You either have to go to a different screen, or scroll forever to add new engines and aircraft into the system, which makes it difficult for parse quickly. So, the last DIY vs. consulting question: Do we go back to the drawing board internally to figure out more specific requirements, or hire a consulting company that knows the aviation industry to tell us what our requirements should be? Do we fiddle with the system until we happen on a great UI, or bring in a professional that understands the human-computer interaction from a few decades back?

    I thought the Clear Task article was very helpful, but it made me question our current course of action. What do you think? DIY or hire a consultant?

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    We’re evaluating some new CRM options, and several people have recommended Salesforce. I had a chat with a sales rep from the company, and man, he was a GOOD sales person. We’ve also brought in some consultants for sales training, and after the initial phone call, I told our management team, “We just need to get our sales reps to do exactly what that guy just did. He’s a GREAT sales rep.” So, what are these people doing to be such good sales people?

    Mutual benefit. A lot of sales reps just blather on about how great their product is, how much money/time/whatever they can save you, and how many more dollars you could earn if you just purchase their product. They never stop to ask whether we’d be a good customer for them. Do our needs actually align with what they’re offering? I know they haven’t thought about this because they’re so focused on “selling” me something! Both of the reps that I liked have asked questions that indicate that they want to work with companies that also meet their needs. Are we going to be a time suck? Will their product fail to meet our needs, resulting in unhappy customers with bad reviews? It’s not just about selling me a product, it’s about creating a win-win situation for BOTH parties.

    Ask probing questions. Both of these reps asked a lot of open-ended questions, and they drilled down to the very root of the issue. Everyone wants to save time or make more money, so if I tell you that’s our goal, it’s not helping. What problems, EXACTLY, are causing you to lose time? Which areas, EXACTLY, do you think you could earn more? They didn’t feed me answers to lead me to their product, but just probed and probed until they hit on a problem they could solve. Plus, they gained a ton of insight into my business, my pain points, and my ability/timeline for making a decision.

    Follow up nicely. Remember this rep that drove me nuts because he just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer? Both of my likeable reps asked if they could follow up, and asked about my preferred method of communication. If they weren’t available, they gave me alternate contact information for someone who was also helping with our account. Most of all, they didn’t badger me! This was partly because of the mutual fit and probing questions mentioned above. They already knew that if they had to chase me that hard for the business, it probably wasn’t a fit. Their questions revealed my timeline, key decision-makers, and milestones that had to happen prior to purchase. They’d send a “checking in” email every few weeks, and eventually, we made the choice to move ahead or move on.

    Know me, know my business. I’m always amazed at good sales reps’ ability to pick up names and businesses at lightning speed. But in reality, that’s part of their job! The consultants made a point to learn all the reps’ names, and call them by name any chance they had. The Salesforce rep started using the same industry jargon that I explained almost immediately. In short, these guys made my business their business. This goes back to the mutual benefit… it’s not a one-off product sale to them, it’s a profitable partnership. If they can figure out a way to help me, they in turn help themselves.

    I’ve dealt with a lot of reps in my career, and these two stand out as pleasant and effective. Which kind of rep are you?

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