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Embracing the Non-Monetary Benefits of Entrepreneurship

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


no money funI’ve shared my insight before on how fellow entrepreneurs and business owners might choose to price their services. It’s a fine balance between earning what you’re worth and remaining competitive. One of the biggest challenges comes when you’re just starting out. With little to no prior experience and only a small portfolio of work to showcase, new clients often hire you on a hope and a prayer that you’re half as good as what you promise. This situation often requires you to charge far less than market value for your time to even get your foot in the door. Even a seasoned entrepreneur can recall such a time in their career. The glitz and glamour of being a “business owner” can quickly become jaded by the lack of money, time and sleep in return for countless hours of hard work. So how do successful entrepreneurs overcome this starting hurdle? When I was first building Bennis Inc from the ground up, had I measured my success and happiness in income, I may have thrown in the towel before I ever really got going. Instead, I quickly learned that I had to embrace the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship until I reached market value. If you’ve also taken the entrepreneurial leap, focusing on these benefits can help you overcome the “I’m WAY underpaid“ blues.

Flexibility

Even when I was just making ends meet, this didn’t impact my ability to enjoy life’s no-cost luxuries. I was (and still am) able to go for a run whenever I feel like it. I can grocery shop at non-peak hours and enjoy a peacefully empty store all to myself. I can take an early weekend (say, starting on Tuesday?) or grab coffee with a friend who’s swinging through town. With my 9-5 job, I felt guilty even scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the day. Now I can get a haircut whenever it’s most convenient—completely guilt free. Of course, this type of free time and flexibility is balanced by sometimes having to work late into the evenings or on the weekends, but at least it’s at my discretion. When I have work to do, I do it and when I don’t, I’m not stuck chained to a desk. As an entrepreneur, soak this up! Your friends may have chosen a more stable, traditional career, but they likely can’t do work from a park on a sunny summer day.

Creative Freedom

You’re a business owner – that means you also own every decision that’s made. This can be a scary reality, but also an incredibly rewarding one. While you might not be raking in the “big bucks” just yet, remember that the ability to make a decision and not have it be second-guessed or turned down is a luxury most people would place a pretty big price tag on.

Building Something All Your Own

This is all you. When you’re building a business you get to take complete ownership over how every piece comes together. Do you want to steer things in a new direction? Sure! Is your goal to someday have 100+ employees? Go for it! Is your goal to work remotely and travel 10 months out of the year? It can be done! The beauty of building your own business is that you have the ability to make it unique and custom fit to your goals. I have yet to see an example of a corporate job that allows for the same.

Leadership

During my time of really embracing the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship, I found that this is truly one of life’s ultimate leadership experiences. It requires a great deal of self-confidence, trust in your instincts and quick thinking. I always felt like I had leadership qualities inside of me that would shine through when it was required, but as an entrepreneur, leadership is required every day. Some might say it’s baptism by fire, but I think one of the greatest benefits of entrepreneurship is the “leadership boot camp” it provides. You’re forced to step into this role quickly and without hesitation.

At the end of the day, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we’ve chosen the entrepreneurial path for a reason. Hopefully it wasn’t for the money (because that can take many, many years to get flowing) but rather it was for the flexibility, creative freedom, ability to create something new and unique and life’s ultimate leadership experience that is entrepreneurship. Before long, the money will follow, but if you embrace these non-monetary benefits early, the money will no longer be the ultimate goal.

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Married to an Entrepreneur: 8 Tips to Survive and Thrive

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I’m married to an entrepreneur. For many of you who can relate, you would understand how that alone can add a layer of complexity to balancing work and marriage. However, my husband can also say that he’s married to an entrepreneur. Yes, as fate would have it two entrepreneurial spirits found one another, amidst their own lives’ chaos and fell in love.

In fact, I met Scott just weeks before I took my entrepreneurial leap. He was only 5 years into running his own nonprofit organization, and knowing how risky and challenging this journey can be, still wholeheartedly welcomed me into the tumultuous seas of entrepreneurship. “Jump in! The water’s fine!”

Fortunately, taking that leap remains the most important moment in my career that has led me to now entering my seventh year as owner of Bennis Public Relations. In these seven years, I didn’t just grow my business, we also grew our family by two sweet (and very energetic) boys. Scott also ventured into two more businesses (as entrepreneurs tend to do), both startups requiring what feels like 300% of his time.

If you’re doing the math, between us that’s four businesses, two young children….and a partridge and a pear tree.

But in all seriousness, yes our schedules are sometimes crazy, yes we sometimes have challenging moments and overwhelming workloads, yes we sometimes wear many hats and have many masters to serve. But we’ve also established, and worked hard to achieve a pretty enjoyable life flow. I want to share with you how we (sometimes) do it all: grow businesses, chase after children, find time for date nights and get enough sleep to survive…sometimes.

For anyone else who can say “I’m married to an entrepreneur,” here’s my advice to you:

 1. Determine whose “day” it’s going to be. With two busy schedules, and when children are involved, you have to communicate important obligations (i.e. travel, work meetings, events) early and often. This helps to manage expectations and prevent any “Who’s going to watch the kids?” moments.

2. Never give unsolicited business advice. When I ask Scott about his day, he often shares the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s tempting to weigh in with advice on what he should do or could have done differently. While this can be appreciated at times, sometimes he or I just want to lament and have someone listen – not provide commentary. Our own ground rule is to never give unsolicited business advice. Often we solicit, but when we don’t, we try to respect this boundary.

3. Get on the same page about how you want to use your free time. It may be hard to believe, but we have many evenings or weekends where our schedules are completely open. I’ve found it so important to communicate how we each desire to use this time. Before doing so, I would often have a vastly different game plan for this time. Sometimes Scott would want to take a family day trip while I preferred to catch up on things around the house and relax. Sometimes I’d be ready to hang out while Scott needed to catch up on a quick work project. The result was frustration and disappointment. Usually over breakfast one of us brings up the question, “So what are your plans for tonight?” It’s made all the difference!

4. Don’t use each other as your sole sounding board. Similar to not giving unsolicited business advice, this tip falls more on the spouse who is the one actively seeking consultation. I’ve found that we are both able to get the support and encouragement we need when we don’t look solely to one another to provide this 100% of the time. This means seeking out friends and fellow business owners to also be a sounding board. After all, second (and third) opinions are a good thing.

5. Sacrifice for both your family and business. As a business owner, you have to make many sacrifices for your business – putting in long hours, investing your own funds and picking up the slack to name a few. What I have found to be so important is also sacrificing for your family. This might mean letting some work pile up over the weekend or silencing a phone call over dinner to maintain the peace and necessity of family time. Family (and especially spouses) can feel neglected when they see you sacrifice endlessly for your business, yet see you struggle to do the same for your family.

6. Frequently assess your “life” plan. Everyone has a bad day, stressful week or disappointing month. However, if you see this as a growing trend, it’s time to take action. I firmly believe that you need to assess your “life” plan every so often, just as you would a business plan. This is where you should also involve your spouse to gauge how they have been feeling lately about the balance between family and work.

7. If something’s not working, fix it. Once you’ve assessed your life plan and found major areas that need improvement – do something about it! Adjust schedules, reassign responsibilities, outsource work, ask for help and prioritize family time. I promise you, if you don’t do this, things will only get worse.

8. Make time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Most importantly, learn how to enjoy what you’ve worked so hard to earn. Scott and I went far too long without taking a weekend getaway, much less a real vacation together. When we finally did, wow what an experience! For so long we were used to the daily hustle, pinching every penny and using every spare moment to grow our business. If we ever got to do something together, it was often work-related for one of us. A true, work-free vacation, at least annually, is something that has brought us so much closer together and also encourages us to keep up the grind!

Whether you are married to an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur yourself or both, there are some unique challenges we face when it comes to balancing work and family. What piece of advice did you find most helpful? Do you have different advice to share?

Join in the conversation by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur (Contribution from Jock Purtle)

The following post comes to us from internet entrepreneur, Jock Purtle, who is founder of Digital Exits, a company specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. This article is based upon his entrepreneurial experience.


5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur

For many, the hardest decision you will make as an entrepreneur is the first one: the decision to go out on your own. In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, the idea of running a business can be intimidating, to say the least. But once you get over this hurdle and realize fear and hesitation are the only things standing in the way of you accomplishing your goals, you’re well on your way to entrepreneurial success.

As you likely already know, though, it’s not that simple. Getting started with your own company is like riding a roller coaster in the dark. Each up and down is intense, and it’s hard to know what’s coming next.

To try and make things a little easier, we’ve come up with a list of five decisions that every entrepreneur needs to make early on in the life of their company. By highlighting these, we hope you’ll be able to focus in a little more on what you need to be doing to make your company work so that you can weather the storm as it comes your way, worry a bit less and take one more step towards success.

The decision making will never end, and it will soon turn into your most critical task, but here are some key choices you’ll need to make right off the bat to set your company up for a healthy future.

 1. Your ideal customers

You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to clearly define their target audience. Often times, entrepreneurs are so excited about their idea that they don’t stop to think who might want to spend money on it. A good idea is a good idea, and there is likely a business to be built around it, but without clearly defining your target audience, the initial stages of your business will be a real challenge.

The important thing to remember when going through this process is to be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to just say you are hoping to target urban Millennials. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and ask yourself how your product or service might factor into their life. What need are you fulfilling? Or, how are you making their life better or more comfortable?

By answering these questions, you will have a more specific idea as to who you need to be going after and how you are going to reach them. For example, you may find that your audience is men between the ages of 20-35 who live in cities, earn above-average salaries and have an active lifestyle. This is vital information, as it will help determine your marketing and advertising strategies going forward.

Furthermore, once you make this decision, a lot of other decisions will become easier. All you need to do is ask yourself: Is this going to help me reach my target audience? If the answer is yes, proceed. If no, then keep working. Taking the time to be very clear about this part of the business right from the beginning is an essential step to ensuring the success of the company.

2. Management style and company culture

While you as the entrepreneur may be the brains behind the operation, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can pull this off on your own. You are going to need to bring in a good team to help you get off the ground, and then once you do, you are going to need a growth plan. What types of employees are you looking for? Which ones are you trying to avoid?

A big part of this is also your management style. Are you going to run things more top-down? Or do you plan to be more decentralized, delegating certain decisions to those more qualified to make them?

You’ll also want to take a look at yourself as a leader and manager and figure out how to improve. There are plenty of things we do without realizing that affect how employees view us and act towards us, and you really won’t see this until you are in a position of leadership.

Take some time to figure out what you want your company culture to be. You may think of culture as something that develops organically, and to a certain extent it is, but you can have a significant impact on the direction it goes. A lot of companies are adopting a more laid-back approach, offering their employees more and more benefits, such as unlimited vacation time and free coffee of the month subscriptions, as a way of trying to foster engagement and buy-in. This may or may not be the right approach for you, and this is something you’ll want to figure out as soon as possible.

All of these things should be figured out in the beginning because as you grow it will be harder and harder to make time for this type of planning. Spend some time as you are getting started and you’ll find yourself managing growth much better, setting your company up for success in the future.

 3. Exit strategy

When first starting out with a company, the idea of an exit strategy seems far away. But it’s actually very important to consider. Planning out your exit strategy means thinking long-term. It allows you to align resources so that you can move forward at the right time.

An exit strategy can come in the form of an initial public offering (IPO), a sale or a merger, but the thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to implement the strategy. If things are going well, you have every freedom to stay with the business. But plotting out from the beginning how you might exit gets you thinking big picture and this can only help your business.

Plus, having a clearly defined exit strategy plays very well with investors. They want to know how they are going to get their money, and demonstrating to them how this will happen increases your chances of securing the resources you need to get your company off the ground and heading towards prosperity.

 4. Marketing and branding

It’s never too early to start thinking about branding. In today’s competitive marketplace, having a strong brand is going to be what ultimately sets you apart. Much like the decisions you’ll make about company culture, choosing your branding strategy needs to be one of the first things you do.

Figure out what makes you unique, determine what you want to stand for and do some research to figure out the best way to communicate this to people. Social media is huge for building your brand, and if your target audience uses this medium, you may want to consider hiring an agency or consultant to help you.

In fact, this may be one of the best decisions you make as an entrepreneur. Successful marketing requires a full-time approach, and too many small companies try to do it on their own, only to end up wasting their precious resources without seeing results. It’s your job to do the high-level strategic thinking. Then, bring in some experts to help you execute your plan.

5. Cybersecurity

Here’s one not too many entrepreneurs think about, and it’s a real shame that they don’t. Cybercrime and hacking is the threat of the future, and small businesses are being increasingly targeted. They’re easier to get to, as they don’t always invest in the right protection, but they still possess valuable information. And the damage a hack causes to your reputation is often far too much for any small company to overcome.

Figure out how you’re at risk and what you need to do to protect yourself. Cybersecurity infrastructures can be expensive, and the last thing you want to do is to have to shut down your website or other services so that you can install new security measures. Don’t let cybersecurity become an afterthought. You’ll pay for it down the road.

Final thoughts

From the moment you decided to become an entrepreneur, you essentially converted yourself into a full-time decision maker. As the business grows, you will be faced with increasingly challenging choices, but with experience, you’ll learn what’s best for your business. However, until you reach this point, things can be a bit stressful. Consider these critical decisions every entrepreneur needs to make so that you can start your business heading in the right direction.

Join in the conversation! Among these five decisions an entrepreneur must make, which one do you feel is the most critical?

About the author: Founder of Digital Exits, Jock Purtle is an internet entrepreneur who specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He began investing in websites as a hobby when he was a teenager, but it slowly turned into his full-time job. He works with other entrepreneurs frequently and enjoys sharing his knowledge to help others find similar success working for themselves.

 

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Top 10 Blog Posts on Life and Entrepreneurship in 2017

2017 blog postsHappy New Year! I hope you woke up today inspired to tackle your goals for 2018. Whether it’s kicking a bad habit, taking better care of yourself or going after a new job, everything starts with that first step. I hope I can offer you some motivation to take your first step toward reaching your New Year’s goals and resolutions with a special blog post. I’ve compiled the top articles from 2017 on life and entrepreneurship that you, the readers, helped to show me were among your favorites.

While today is a day to look toward the future, I want you to join me on one last look back at 2017 and the topics that inspired thousands of you to possibly join me on an entrepreneurial journey!

#10 The Benefit of Business Turnover in the New Year

In the business world, it seems like when it rains it pours. Losing a few clients back-to-back can feel like the walls are caving in around you. Will you survive? The short answer is – yes. In fact, business turnover can be a prime opportunity to restructure and rebuild an even better business model that will service you well into the future.

Read the original blog here.

#9 Five Things You Can Immediately Do To Gain More Business

Speaking of rebuilding your business, did you know there are five things you can implement right now to gain more business? No gimmicks, just honest advice. Don’t overlook the low hanging fruit that could be at your fingertips right now!

Read the original blog here.

#8 How to Plan an Event That Inspires Guests

I’ve planned a lot of events throughout my career and have witnessed the stark contrast between events and events designed to inspire their guests. The difference in outcomes is substantial. Whether you’re a non-profit on mission to raise funds or a for-profit business looking to give back to the community, I share my tips for planning an event that inspires guests to act.

Read the original blog here.

#7 How to Win Over a Client in the First Meeting

In business, your first meeting is like a blind date. You and the client both arrive hoping to hit it off, but that doesn’t always happen. In most instances, you are in control to make a good first impression and win over the client in the first meeting. This blog shares how you can do that!

Read the original blog here.

#6 Five Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your Business

As much as you want to win over a client, you don’t necessarily want to work with every client who comes your way. Why? Well sometimes a client isn’t a good fit for your business. Maybe it’s their budget, their values or their attitude. Here are five signs a client is not a good fit for your business.

Read the original blog here.

#5 The Two Week Evaluation Every Entrepreneur Should Take

Are you a business owner/entrepreneur? Then you most definitely want to start the New Year with this two week evaluation. Find out if what you’re currently doing is aligned with what you hope to achieve. Are you happy? Satisfied? Balanced? I know I’ll be starting 2018 with this two week evaluation!

Read the original blog here.

#4 Low Cost and No Cost Business Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

This proved to be a very popular blog post in 2017! It seems that most business owners can relate to the topic of wanting to find low cost and no cost tools to help their business run as efficiently and lean as possible. Check out what I use and recommend!

Read the original blog here.

#3 What No One Tells You About a Career in Public Relations

I’ll be honest. When I chose a career in public relations, I really didn’t know what it was. I knew it required writing and communicating, which I love to do. However, there are some significant details about choosing a career in PR that no one told me. It’s likely they didn’t even know what this wild ride would include! So I’ve shared what I learned to hopefully educate some future passionate PR professionals.

Read the original blog here.

#2 Seven Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

While owning your own business will provide you with a lot of advantages, there are a few things I know I’ll never have as a business owner. But it’s not all bad! Take a look at what you can expect to kiss goodbye whenever you take the entrepreneurial leap.

Read the original blog here.

#1 How to Create the Job You Want

And the number one blog post from 2017 on life an entrepreneurship was “How to Create the Job You Want!” I’m not surprised. Who wouldn’t want to learn how to take control of their career by creating their dream job? Yeah that sounds glamorous and easy and I caution you that it’s not. However, I share some useful and practical advice for taking the initial steps toward creating a job that you love to wake up to each day.

Read the original blog here.

Which of these top 10 blog posts on life and entrepreneurship inspired you the most? What topics would you like to see me touch upon in 2018? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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T’was the Morning of Christmas (As Retold by a Mom and Entrepreneur)

T’was the Morning of Christmas

christmas break

(As retold by a mom and entrepreneur)

T’was the morning of Christmas, when all through the house
not one electronic was turned on, not even a mouse.
Their cords were wrapped up in the corner with care,
in hopes that I had strength to leave them there.

My babies were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of toy trains danced in their heads.
Before too long, they would clamor to the tree,
to assess what Santa brought for the family.

Would I remember how to slow down and soak up the view?
As a mom and entrepreneur, it’s something I don’t often do!
No doubt it would feel different to completely unwind,
what’s the worst that could happen, we’d have a good time?

So from now until New Years, the blog posts can wait
there are loved ones to hug and cookies to bake.
This short disconnect will help creativity to soar
and inspire me to write better than ever before!

Until then, don’t worry what to do with your time,
make your own holidays relaxing as I’ve done mine.
Here’s my final wish before the exit I make,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a short break!”

–Adapted from the holiday favorite by Stephanie Shirley
 
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Posted by on December 25, 2017 in Life

 

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Entrepreneur at Age 30: Life’s About to Get Good

30

Today is my 30th birthday. To the vast majority of people, that milestone doesn’t change any aspect about your career. But for me it does. I started my public relations consulting business, Bennis Public Relations when I was 23 years old. In those first few months of stepping out on my own, I also started the blog that you’re reading now.

The most fitting tagline I could think of at the time for my blog was “The World As Told By a Twenty-Something Entrepreneur.” I didn’t know where this leap of faith would take me, so I was hardly worried about what would happen when this tagline was no longer true of me or my business. I just wanted to survive my first year of taxes!

Six and a half years later, I’ve done more than just survive. I’ve surprised myself in more ways than I can count, and I’m fortunate to say the entrepreneurial journey is the path I’m meant to be on for the rest of my foreseeable future. However, this year presents me with a unique challenge. I need to take a step back, reflect on how far I’ve come, and embrace a new mindset that progresses beyond the twenty-something entrepreneur I was when I first started the business.

Bennis Inc Old Tagline

Sure, I could keep things simple and update the decade to “thirty-something,” but what fun is that? Rather, I want to share with you the thought behind what will become my new tagline and my new mantra for my personal and professional brand. I want to pull back the curtain and give you insight into how I’ve developed and re-developed my business model over the years, how I’ve had to pivot, pause, leap and stretch.

Will you join me as I relive a little of my entrepreneurial “dance?”

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

In the first year or so of starting my own business, I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. By that I mean I learned to live lean! I canceled cable and internet and worked out a deal with my neighbor to share his WiFi so we both saved on cost. I took on odd jobs in my spare time to help make ends meet. I tightened my budget in a lot of creative ways, all for the reward of starting my own business.

I may have been young at the time, but I was wise beyond my years for doing this. A lot of people don’t want to sacrifice the little luxuries of right now for the ability to afford far greater luxuries in the future. My business was my baby and I was willing to do whatever I had to do to help it grow.

Using “Young” to My Advantage

Throughout my twenties, I felt like I needed to constantly prove to people that my age was an advantage. I’ve witnessed many businesses who simply like the idea of hiring an older PR consultant because they feel as though age alone qualifies someone as being more experienced and knowledgeable in their field. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was strategic about calling out my age and positioning it as one of my greatest strengths. In my biography, on my website and in client meetings I made sure to align my youth with the concept of new energy, innovation, fresh ideas, cutting-edge technology and a different way of thinking. Again and again, I was able to build confidence in my clients and win their business over other consultants who were easily twice my age.

Learning that Responsiveness is Unique

As I grew my business, I felt like I really hit a tipping point when I focused on providing quality, reliable service. It sounds so simple, but it was a huge point of differentiation for me. Being responsive to my clients and delivering good, fast service helped me to substantially grow my book of business.

These satisfied clients turned into ongoing retainers and also my best form of marketing. Nearly 90% of my clients are word of mouth recommendations in some form. That’s powerful! Not only do recommendations result in very qualified leads, these businesses tend to share the same values as my existing clients who are a pleasure to work with.

The bottom line: If you are responsive, attentive and reliable, you will instantly set yourself apart from the majority of other businesses out there! It’s a disappointing truth I have used to my advantage.

Increasing My Value, Increasing My Bandwidth

About two years in, I had built up a good book of residual business and my brand was growing. In order to continue to take on more clients I needed to do one of two things. I needed to raise my prices or hire employees. I had no interest in splitting profits and managing employees, so I needed to re-evaluate my rates to determine what was fair to both me and my clients. It’s a delicate balance. If you charge too little for your time, you’ll have plenty of business but still be dissatisfied with your earnings. If you charge too much for your time, you’ll turn away good customers. And the customers who do hire you at this premium price will want the moon and the stars. So how did I manage this?

Every year my hourly rate goes up by $5. This becomes my new base rate for all new clients. For existing clients, I honor the rate I gave them when they initially signed into their contract. So long as they maintain or increase their level of services with me, they get the benefit of this rate. If they choose to pause or decrease services, their new contract will be at my current market rate. Make sense?

By implementing this new policy, I was able to give my loyal clients the benefit of great rates that aren’t arbitrarily raised on them each and every year. That’s way better than a box of chocolates at Christmas! In return, they give me the benefit of consistent business. My annual $5/hour raise covers inflation and the growing demand for my services that keeps me at market rate.

Forming Strategic Partnerships

By 2015, I found a whole new untapped potential for my business and that was strategic partnerships. Through my network, I was introduced to an advertising agency, media firm and government relations firm, all of whom are now my strategic partners on an ongoing basis. How it works is that I am often called upon to offer my public relations services to their clients as an enhancement to the services they provide. They pay me (directly) by the hour or by the project and their client in turn pays them. For some of my partners, I use their business’s email address and business cards, giving them the benefit of the appearance of a larger in-house staff. For others, they prefer me to work with all clients directly, under my name and entity. Both work for me!

Through my strategic partnerships, I am able to work with huge corporations and associations that I could never tackle alone. When we combine our resources and expertise, we provide a full menu of services that directly compete against the region’s largest agencies that have way more red tape and overhead. It’s the best of both worlds for our clients: they get everything they want under one “roof” at a highly competitive rate. And it’s the best of both worlds for my partners and me: I get a constant stream of new work at my market rate and they get to make a little off the top.

Refining My Sales Process

For many consultants, the hardest part of growing a business is refining the sales process so that it’s efficient and consistent. Personally, it was for me. I would struggle to leave a client consultation with a clear path for how to proceed. How do I structure the proposal? What if the client wants to haggle prices? It wasn’t until about the last year or so when I finally felt like I had a clear sales process that allowed me to craft quick proposals that resulted in signed contracts in a matter of a few days.

I recently outlined a lot of my tips for achieving this. Now I leave client meetings in control of the next step and with the promise to deliver a proposal to them the same-day. If you choose to embrace a similar sales process to mine, you will be amazed by how much time and energy you were putting into proposals that simply didn’t need it. If anything, all that extra “fluff” was a distraction from what you were really trying to sell them. Trust me on this one.

Planning for the Future

What does the future hold for me? I’m a PR consultant not a fortune teller, how should I know? But in all seriousness, I do have a strategic plan for my future and that’s to continue to forge more large-scale partnerships with other businesses who want to offer their clients the service of public relations and strategic communications. I plan to selectively work with fewer, but larger clients who are on annual and quarterly retainers. I plan to continue to take on one-time projects as I desire as a means to help small businesses grow. And I plan to cut back to a 3-day work week, when reasonable, and enjoy more time spent on vacation and with my family.

It’s beyond measure the amount of hard work, drive and sacrifice it’s taken to get me to this point, but at the same time I feel I was also in the right place at the right time for much of this to happen. As the philosophical saying tells us, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I suppose this quite rightly sums up my entrepreneurial journey thus far.

Having shared with you some of the most significant moments I’ve experienced in my career as a “twenty-something entrepreneur,” I now want to share with you my new blog tagline as I enter this next decade of life.

Passionately Communicating My Entrepreneurial Journey

This new tagline will suit me for the rest of my life. I’m passionate about communicating, in every form you can imagine. My blog is just one way in which I can give you a window into my entrepreneurial journey which I plan to be on for a long time.

Though it’s bittersweet to close the chapter on my twenties, a time in which I took risks, hustled hard and learned a lot about myself, I realize that I plan to keep doing exactly that in my thirties….forties….fifties…you get the idea.

Whether this is your first visit to the Bennis Inc. blog, or you’re one of my loyal subscribers, thank you for being here and stay tuned. Life’s about to get good!

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Dear New Entrepreneur…A Letter to My Younger Self

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Momsquad

Credit: Perry Media Group where I am proud to be a part of the “Mom Squad” team of fellow communication consultants.

It was July 2011 when I handed HR my two-week notice. I still have this simple letter, modeled after a template I found online when I googled “professional resignation.” I put no more effort into creating this life-changing document than I had put into what was supposed to be my “dream job” for the past 4 months.

Before taking the entrepreneurial leap to start my own Public Relations consulting business, I worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Office of Legislative Affairs. The title and the perception were the only things remotely impressive and glamorous about this job, I assure you.

My tiny cubicle, stable salary and paid time off, while a luxury for most fresh college grads, all contributed to creating a comfortable prison that just might have kept me locked away until I earned my vested retirement, had I not longed for so much more.

Blame it on my entrepreneurial spirit – or foolish confidence, but I was willing to walk away from the guarantee of a stable, but unfulfilling, career for the chance at creating something so much greater.

Nearly seven years later, I thank this young entrepreneur who wasted no time pursuing her dreams. Every day I work to make her sacrifices and uncertainties worth something by continuing to grow this business while never slipping back into the monotony of a career I don’t truly love.

Like most entrepreneurs, I wish I could somehow equip my younger self with the wisdom I’ve since gained from years of experience. Though I can’t, I can hopefully inspire other new entrepreneurs to take the leap – and maybe, just maybe – change the world…or at least their own!


Dear New Entrepreneur:

I know you’re busy, and likely skeptical about the advice I want to give you, so I will get straight to the point. You know a lot; a lot more than you might give yourself credit for right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand to learn a few things from a fellow entrepreneur who is a few years ahead of you on this journey.

I’m not trying to tell you what to do – I know that’s exactly what you’re trying to escape. But I would like to tell you that you’re on the right track, your gut is your best navigation device and the passion you feel today will continue to grow, despite what people may try and tell you. Please read on. I promise it won’t take long and it just might be that reassurance you’re so desperately looking for right now.

My advice to you, new entrepreneur is this…

Office space and employees don’t determine your success.

Right now you may be working from home as a sole proprietor just waiting for your first chance to lock into a commercial lease and hire your best friends. Stop looking for ways to tie yourself down and add to your overhead. This is everything you ran away from in corporate America. Learn to love the freedom and efficiency of working from home with no one to answer to but yourself. Hire fellow contractors only as you need them, get to know the best coffee shops to hold client meetings and enjoy keeping so much more of your salary – and sanity.

It’s okay to walk away from a “bad” client…even if you really need the money.

Go with your gut here. If a client tries to undercut your pricing or negotiate you into a corner, be willing to walk away. There will always be more, I promise. Yeah, you could really use the money…you always will be able to “really use the money.” The drawbacks to taking on a client that is a bad fit for your business will always cost you more in the long run than they’re willing to pay. Set boundaries and respect your values. You will learn to appreciate those “good” clients so much more!

You will always be surprised by those who want to see you succeed…and those who do not.

There will always be “friends” who you think will support you way more than they actually do. It will hurt and may make you question your decision to become an entrepreneur. Your decision is not what you should be second-guessing, rather it’s your friendship with this person. But don’t take it too hard; there will also be people you barely know that will rise up as your greatest cheerleaders. Appreciate these people and do the same for them in return!

Basic skills, like mail merging and stuffing envelopes, will be just as important five years from now.

When I first started out, I thought someday I might hire someone who would send my invoices, set meetings on my calendar and answer my phone calls. Five years later and the most capable person to handle these tasks is still me. These basic skills will always be important for running your business. Stay as hands on as it makes sense. Don’t outsource something just because you think you’re above it. Keep your overhead – and your ego – in check.

Make friends with your competition.

You will meet many other businesses along your journey that appear to do exactly what you do. Before you choose to secretly stalk their social media accounts and compare your client list, sit down and get to know them! Learning more about businesses I once deemed as competition has helped to create some of the best “power partnerships” I have. It’s amazing how once you really get to know about each other and the ideal client you are each hoping to find, you will realize you don’t overlap at all. Rather, you are great referrals for one another that can work together to help you both thrive.

Never make excuses

Mistakes will happen. Hopefully they are small, but they also might be big. No matter the size or scope, take ownership of any mistake and never make excuses. If something was truly a mistake or oversight, you have nothing of which to be ashamed. We are fallible humans, even us entrepreneurs. A reasonable client will understand this simple truth, as they are bound to make a few mistakes too. You will build credibility and trust if you own up to a mistake quickly and openly without blaming it on something, or someone else.

Only you can determine what you are worth

Deciding how you will price your services will be one of the hardest parts of running your business. You will have moments when you feel horribly underpaid and moments when you question whether you’re asking for too much. My best advice is to be strategic and remain consistent. This doesn’t mean you will (or should) charge the same rates for the rest of your life. Your experience will increase and so should your fees. But developing a strategy for how you will price your projects early on will save you from second-guessing, losing clients and losing income in the future.

Work toward creating a lifestyle, not just a business

In an effort to run a business, it’s easy to make the mistake of letting the business run you. Don’t recreate the same hell you fought so hard to leave to start your entrepreneurial journey. Take time off, travel, spend some money on fun things (all within reason, of course…it doesn’t take much)! Always keep in mind your goal of creating a particular lifestyle – one that affords you to be flexible and fulfilled – not just earning a certain income no matter the real costs.

Begin and end every day with affirmations

The entrepreneurial journey can be rough at times, that goes without saying. Amidst your efforts to be self-motivated and fearless, also take it easy on yourself when you need it. Promise to begin and end every day with affirmations as to all the things you’re doing well and that are going right. It’s easy to forget and take for granted life’s little blessings when you’re so focused on ironing out every wrinkle. Appreciate the small gestures, like a green light when you really need it, that are reasons to smile.

That’s all I have for you, new entrepreneur. It’s not all the advice I could give, but it’s all I feel you really need right now. Remember…after all, you’ve got this!

What piece of advice speaks to you? Do you have other words of wisdom to offer new entrepreneurs based upon your own experience? Join in the conversation by commenting below!

 
 

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Low Cost and No Cost Business Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

When I first began my Public Relations Consulting Business, now nearly six years ago, I had to find every possible low cost or no cost tool to grow my business with minimal overhead. Still to this day, I find myself continuing to use many of these same tools not just because they are cost-effective, but because they work. Take a look at the top 10 tools I recommend for every entrepreneur.

keyboard.

Email Management

gmail

Gmail – I’ve been with Gmail from the inception of my business. Though my email is @bennisinc.com, I can login just as I would for an @gmail.com account. It’s familiar, it’s user-friendly and it’s free – or about $2 per month, depending upon your plan. Through some of my clients, I’ve had the experience of using Outlook and have found no added benefit that Gmail doesn’t match and then blow out of the water. Need I say more about Gmail’s awesomeness?

Email Marketing

mail chimp

Mail Chimp – Mail Chimp has won my heart for several reasons. First, I appreciate that it keeps things simple and user friendly. If I want to send out a quick press release for a client, I can easily brand a template and have this sent within minutes. I have also seen unique and intricate templates created by my fellow designers that make a Mail Chimp email look just like some of those more “expensive guys’.”

Speaking of, I have experience using Constant Contact, Emma, MadMimi and more. I find these platforms to be far more fussy and expensive. If your contact list is less than 2,000 people and you send less than 12,000 emails per month, Mail Chimp is completely free!

Scheduling

doodle

Doodle – If you can relate to the scenario of countless “reply-all” emails with dates and times being thrown about trying to schedule a group conference call, then you need to get acquainted with Doodle. I have to schedule anywhere from 4 to 10 conference calls per month, often with ten or more people each. Doodle has been a huge time saver. I simply select a variety of dates and times that (foremost) suit my schedule, then all participants select the dates and times that also work for them. Doodle shows you what option works for the most people, so making a decision is easy!

Business Phone

google voice

Google VoiceI have never paid a dime for a dedicated business phone number and voicemail – it’s Google Voice makes this possible. My cell phone is an 814 area code, but I now operate in the 717 area code. In an effort to accurately portray my business as local, I selected a 717 business phone number via Google Voice and linked it directly to my cell phone. This means when someone calls my business line, I see “Google Voice” appear on my phone and know to answer it as a business call. My favorite feature is that I can record an alternate voice mail that people hear when they call this line, so they aren’t greeted with my personal voice mail. You can even record a specific voice mail for one specific person, if you really want to give a personal touch!

Conference Calls

free conference call

FreeConferenceCall.com – The name sounds a little shady, but this service has never done me wrong. You simply create a free account and they assign you a unique conference number to use again and again and again. If you want to pay a little more, you can add on any number of features, but for me, all I wanted was a dedicated, reliable conference line for free.

Invoicing

quickbooks

Intuit QuickBooks’ Invoicing Software – I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I managed my growing PR consulting business completely with invoices I created in Word for the first five years. Starting in 2017, I was finally introduced to Intuit QuickBooks thanks to a client. From my first use, I was hooked.

This year alone, I am currently managing 22 active client accounts, and growing. Without QuickBooks, invoicing would be a nightmare. I can see who owes what, what’s overdue and easily compile a report to see any imaginable metric of my business finances. I’m trying not to kick myself too hard for not implementing QuickBooks sooner, but really it’s a shame how unnecessarily painful I made compiling tax information for my business. Lesson learned.

Productivity

boomerang

Boomerang (for Gmail) – Boomerang is my spirit animal. It allows you to draft and schedule email messages to go out at a specific date and time in the future. This allows me to schedule meeting reminders, follow-up emails or send out a proposal several days from now when it would hit my client at a better time. I can take care of the task while it’s on my mind and not have it sit in my draft box. Boomerang is like my personal assistant that takes care of the rest! This service is free for up to 10 messages per month, which suits me just fine. For a little more money you can unlock their entire suite of features. If you feel like you’re always forgetting to send out or follow-up on emails, definitely check this one out!

Social Media Management

hoot suite

Hootsuite – I’ve explored several different types of social media management platforms and my loyalty remains with Hootsuite. I pay just about $10 per month and I’m able to accommodate the management of all of my clients’ social media accounts. The feature that sold me is the ability to schedule social media posts in advance. I still get real-time notifications if anyone likes, comments or shares a post so I can immediately react, but the day-to-day logging into each account and posting is eliminated. This gives me back at least an hour of my day, every day!

File Storage and Organization

dropbox

DropBox – I might have one or two physical file folders with paperwork, everything else is in my DropBox – and that’s 6 years’ worth of storage! DropBox makes it easy for me to share entire folders with a client, graphic designer or anyone else who may need access to these items. I also gain peace of mind knowing I can access these same files from my phone or any other computer via DropBox.com. So should anything tragic happen to my laptop, I still have all of my client files at my fingertips.

Collaboration

g suite

G Suite – We started by talking about Google as a no cost or low cost resource to entrepreneurs, so let’s end by talking about it some more. G Suite, specifically Google Docs and Google Sheets, is a great tool for collaboration. Multiple people can edit a document in real-time, eliminating the back and forth with multiple versions of the same document and not knowing which is the most up to date. In short, G Suite is a simple and free collaboration tool that most everyone is comfortable using – a huge selling point especially when working with clients who aren’t tech-savvy.

What are some of your favorite low cost or no cost business tools? Share the technologies that have helped you to grow!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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The Two Week Evaluation Every Entrepreneur Should Take

The Two Week Evaluation Every Entrepreneur Should Take.pngAs an entrepreneur, the only thing that is constant is change. There is an ebb and flow that takes some getting used to – if you can ever really get used to it at all. To make things more complicated, try throwing a family into the mix. That means other little humans rely on you for both time and money to keep them going. You begin carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after enough time, you forget how to relax and enjoy downtime.

Candidly, I’m describing my personal scenario since I became a business owner nearly six years ago and a mom nearly four years ago (and again just last year). Ever so gradual I have taken on more and more responsibilities in my day. To think back to simpler times, I wonder how I could ever feel like I was busy then. It’s true. Life can gradually add weight to the baggage you carry; you hardly notice as it happens, then all of a sudden it feels like it’s going to bury you.

What I’ve discovered to be effective for “checking” yourself every so often is a simple two-week evaluation that forces you to recognize unhealthy habits that could send you into a downward spiral of stress, anxiety and overload. It can also help you identify where you’re making progress so that you stay on the right track. Take a look at the eight questions I ask and answer every two weeks to gauge my happiness and satisfaction with my business. I highly encourage all fellow entrepreneurs (and especially hybrid moms) to do the same!

Overall, would you say most days you felt happy/positive/fulfilled or sad/negative/stressed?

This questions is so important to note trends in your mood that could signal a need for a change in your lifestyle. To live, even just two weeks of your life, where you felt sad more often than you felt happy is a waste of precious time we have here on this planet.

On average how many (waking) hours a day do you spend working?

Through this question, if you realize you have been putting in 10+ hour work days (even if not consecutive hours) for two or more weeks, your life is greatly unbalanced. This means you’re splitting the other half of your day among sleep, family, hobbies, self-care and household duties. Something is bound to get pushed out!

On average how many (waking) hours a day do you spend NOT working?

This is essentially a follow-up question to the one prior. Say you work 10 hours then sleep 8 hours in a day. It’s a shock to realize you’re giving yourself, your family and your friends just 6 hours of your day, at best. In the grand scheme of things, isn’t this where you would rather spend your majority of time?

Have you felt like you had time to pursue hobbies that weren’t work-related?

I can’t recall (seriously) the last time I read something for fun. That’s sad. In my latest two-week evaluation, I realized I really needed to carve out time for personal reading. It’s a simple fix, like putting down my phone before bed and replacing it with a book. Catching this early will help you dedicate time to your hobbies so you don’t risk losing a sense of self.

Have you dreamt, or woke in the middle of the night thinking about work responsibilities?

If the thought of work is now disrupting your sleep (especially on an ongoing basis), something needs to change. This means you’re struggling to “shut down” after works hours and you are carrying the stress of work with you wherever you go.

What costs you time, and that you don’t enjoy doing, which could be outsourced?

If there’s a responsibility on your plate that takes up a good chunk of your time, you don’t enjoy doing it and your time would better be spent elsewhere – see if it can be outsourced! For me, this was cleaning. For my husband, this was lawn work. It sounds very “real housewives” of us, but when ran the numbers of the value of our time versus employing someone who runs a business doing these tasks, it just made sense. And it might make sense for you too!

Have you let someone guilt you into taking on more responsibilities when you did not want to?

Oh how I struggle saying now! A little pro bono work here and there is to be expected, but if you’re allowing multiple people to guilt you into to lightening their load, while adding to yours – that’s not right! Not only will this cause you stress, it will negatively impact your relationship with the person long-term. Put a plan in place for standing your ground and being upfront with people when you simply don’t want to take on more work.

What is the one thing you want to improve in the next two weeks?

This question is aimed at getting you to set a short-term goal. If you wanted to improve only one thing in your life in the next two weeks, what would it be? For some of you, you might discover it’s the need to let a trouble client go. For others, it might be getting on a better exercise routine or taking up a new hobby to relieve stress. Set this goal today, and in two-weeks you’ll again have the opportunity to see if you made progress toward reaching it.

Are you up for taking this two-week evaluation? I would love to hear what you discover as a result. Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Top 10 Blog Posts on Life and Entrepreneurship in 2016

Best of... onlineHappy New Year! Hopefully you have recovered from your holiday celebrations and have started to think about how you plan to make 2017 your best year yet.

Before we completely move on from 2016, I wanted to take one final look back at some of the insight and inspiration we’ve shared on the Bennis Inc blog, specifically on topics related to life and entrepreneurship. As I read through the year’s worth of writing, I found myself particularly drawn to these 10 articles. I hope that they give you a renewed passion for pursuing your dreams in 2017!

Life Lesson: Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted?

It’s easy to find things to distract us, but it’s not quite as easy to find true satisfaction in life. So often these two feelings are confused which causes us to life a “busy” life, but not a fulfilled life. This blog helps you to identify the difference and make changes in your life to achieve satisfaction.

Read the original blog here.

Best Practices for Internal Communication During a Crisis

We never want to imagine something bad happening to our business or personal reputation, which is why so often we don’t have a plan to deal with a crisis. This blog offers best practices for internal communication – that means your staff, family, etc – when life throws you a curve ball.

Read the original blog here.

Thanking Up: Sharing gratitude with your superiors

When you want to show your boss appreciation, it can be an awkward situation. How do you properly thank a superior without it appearing condescending? This blog offers tips for how to “thank up” and show gratitude for people above you in rank.

Read the original blog here.

Parenthood: Adjusting to the Ever-Changing “New Normal”

This is a personal post that focuses on the journey of parenthood combined with entrepreneurship. Spoiler alert…it most certainly has its challenges! How have I adjusted to the “new normal” of running a business while raising a growing family? Take a look!

Read the original blog here.

What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Motivating People to Say Yes

Just about every parent can agree that a toddler’s favorite word is “No.” Each day is a new challenge to motivate my children to comply with my requests. Here’s what the experience has also taught me about motivating clients to say “Yes.”

Read the original blog here.

Declutter Your Life by Asking These 5 Questions

Whether you’re a neat freak or someone who wishes they could keep their life a bit more organized, this blog post can help you declutter by asking yourself five simple questions.

Read the original blog here.

The Power of Picking Your Focus

Some of the most successful people are those who can intensely focus on one goal and see it through completion. With the start of the New Year, this is a great article to re-read to help you prioritize your resolutions.

Read the original blog here.

How Some of the Worst Jobs Have Made My Career Better

We’re all had less than favorable career experiences, but rather than chalking it up as a failure, we can choose to learn something valuable. In this blog I recap some of my worst job experiences but how they ultimately led me to a fulfilling career.

Read the original blog here.

Can an Introvert Thrive in a Career in Public Relations?

Knowing now how much of an introvert that I am, I may have never chosen to pursue a career in PR. But that would have been a mistake! Introverts can most certainly thrive in a career in Public Relations and this blog explains how.

Read the original blog here.

5 Ways You Are Spreading Negativity Without Knowing It

No one enjoys being around a negative person. However, sometimes we spread negativity without realizing we’re doing so. Start the New Year off on a positive note by reading about the five ways we spread negatively unintentionally.

Read the original blog here.

Want to explore most blog posts from Stephanie Shirley and Bennis Inc? Be our guest! Click here to browse business and success, here to browse life and here to explore all the rest.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2017 in Business & Success, Life, Wisdom

 

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