A friend/colleague of mine recently wrote a blog where she gave advice to fellow entrepreneurs. This inspired me to share some of my own tips and experiences. You may disagree, and that’s OK. This is what has worked for me, and I hope that there is something here you can take away and apply to your own entrepreneurial pursuits.
First, never leave the house without them. You never know when you might need them or who you might meet.
Second, actually give them to people. So many entrepreneurs are shy about giving out their business cards. If you’re at a networking event, don’t wait for an invitation to give your card to someone. If you’re already talking to them, just hand it to them. Don’t make a production of it. It can be in the middle of conversation. Don’t even mention the card. If you hand someone a business card, they will take it. Every time. It’s almost a reflex. I’ve never had anyone refuse my business card.
If you’re worried someone might not keep them, do it anyway. Most business cards are extremely cheap so the loss is negligible. Even if they don’t keep them, they’ve seen it. They’ve seen your logo. You’ve made a visual connection, and if you’re just starting out and have a small or non-existent advertising budget, this may be the only exposure they have to your brand. Depending on the impact your card has visually, they may remember your logo better than they’ll remember you. I’ve had so many encounters with business people who either forgot me, or have never met me, but recognized my logo.
So many brands, logos, slogans feel the same to me. Many businesses have a brand that’s very polished and professional and pleasing to the eye, but they’re rarely memorable. It’s very common for business people to analyze what’s trendy or popular and try to emulate it somehow. The problem here is that if you build your brand in such a reactionary way, you’ll never come up with anything original. You’ll never stand out. You’ll never be top of mind. Instead of ‘What is everyone else doing?’, ask yourself, ‘What is everyone else NOT doing?’
I was on a video shoot with a fellow entrepreneur a few years back. We were approached by a stranger who was asking us what we were up to. This friend of mine clearly didn’t want to talk to the stranger. He wasn’t rude to him, but you could tell that he felt he was a nuisance and that he was disrupting our work. This is not a good attitude for an entrepreneur to have. When opportunity comes around, it often does so when you’re not expecting it. This stranger may have just been curious about what we were doing, or he could have been interested in using our services.
So many business people get so caught up in their own routine that they can rarely see beyond it. You need to develop a sort of periscopic vision for your business. If someone asks you to do something slightly different from your typical services, don’t dismiss it right away.
Actually Engage People
There’s certainly a lot of emphasis on social media these days, and I do think it’s good to have a strong social media presence, but at the same time, I’d say about 99% of my business comes from referrals and actually getting out and talking to people. I think social media is great for updates and gaining some visibility, especially if you have, again, a small or non-existent advertising budget, but it simply can’t take the place of human interaction.
I’ve found that even phone calls can still be a more effective way to engage people. Not just blind cold-calls, mind you, but very targeted calls. Identify people that would benefit from your product or service and reach out to them.
So many entrepreneurs set up shop and then wait for the world to come to them. It doesn’t work that way, especially if you’re just starting out.
Like it or not, people will judge you by your appearance. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with finding a style of dress that is appropriate, but still reflects your style and your personality.
For a networking event, I’ll typically wear a suit with no tie. I strongly dislike ties. I see them as a kind of decorative noose. I’m rarely comfortable in a tie. So unless it’s a formal occasion, I just don’t wear them. Yes, you need to look professional, but you also need to feel like yourself.
There’s also room to dress in a way that’s consistent with your brand. Wear your company colours, or even company branded clothing. I have a name tag that I had custom made for networking events. This way if someone doesn’t recognize me, they might recognize my logo. This has the secondary function of circumventing the need for me to write my name on one of those “Hello, my name is…” stickers. My handwriting is atrocious and not conducive to good impression making.
Slow but Constant Progression
When running a business, like most things in life worth having or pursuing, success doesn’t happen overnight. It can take many months, or even years. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be able to think long-term and to forget about the quick payoff.
I like to remind myself of the expression ‘easy come, easy go’. There are many examples of people and businesses who obtained great success very suddenly, but lost it just as quickly.
One of the advantages of slow and constant progression, is the ability to grow incrementally, to make mistakes, and to learn from your mistakes. Build from the ground up.
Know When to Step Back
Speaking of learning from mistakes, there have been times I wish I had known when to walk away. If you’ve had an opportunity to say your piece and explained how you can help a prospective client, and they still don’t see the value in what you’re doing, find someone who does.
This brings me to my next point (which slightly contradicts this point).
Talk to the Right People
There was a company with whom I had been trying to do business for several months. My contact was fairly unresponsive. Whenever I did get their attention, they seemed interested in what I had to offer, but never made any decisions and rarely responded to calls and emails. A few weeks ago, I happened to meet someone else in this same organization who was very excited about my proposals, and now we’re finally doing business together.
If I’ve learned anything in the last five years, it’s that there are two types of business people – those who are engaged and want to help the business and its clients, and those who are just trying to make it to five o’clock. There is a lot of value in being able to determine which of these people you’re talking to.
Be Confident in Your Price
Yes, there are many cheap alternatives on the internet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should charge less for what you do. There’s that expression, ‘If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.’
There are people who are willing to pay good money for quality products and services. You just have to find them.
Of course, I’m not saying you should charge people more than necessary. Give them a fair price, but also one that reflects the quality of what you’re offering and the time you put into it. If you’re constantly lowering your price just because there are cheaper options, no one will ever take you seriously.
Fake it ‘Til You Make it
I see a lot of new entrepreneurs who seem to be looking for some sort of validation or perhaps some sort of rite of passage before they can see themselves as legit business people. My advice to them is don’t wait. Be that person now. Be that business now.
If you have a skill or product to offer, you have value. If your business is recognized by the government, and you have exchanged your product or services for money, you ARE in business.
Don’t downplay anything you do. Don’t apologize for being a new or small business. Be what you want to be today.
Entrepreneurship Changes the Way You See Work
I often tell people that I am always working and never working at the same time.
I say that I’m always working because I no longer work nine-to-five. I start first thing in the morning, and I finish when the work is done. And when the work is done, there’s something else to do or think about or plan. The days of leaving work at work are over.
I say that I’m never working because I like what I do. Even during days or weeks that are busy or stressful, I always enjoy the work, I always look forward to seeing what the day will bring, and I always take satisfaction in the fact that it’s what I choose to do.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Easier said than done, but absolutely necessary. There have been times when business has been really slow for me, and I thought about just packing it all up and looking for a “real” job. When I find myself in this mindset, there are a few thoughts that shake me out of it.
First, I try to picture myself in that so-called “real job”, and I see a lot of things I don’t like. I see myself not in control of my own destiny and surroundings. I see myself stuck in a routine and hating it. I see myself having ideas I will never be able to use. And most importantly, I see myself willing to give anything to be my own boss.
The second one is I think of all the progress I’ve made and what a shame it would be to throw it away, or worse, start all over.
Third and most important, I think of all the people I know that get up every day and go to a job they hate. Yes, they might make more and they might have security, but you spend a big chunk of your life at work. You might as well enjoy it. I like what I do, I enjoy it every day, and it keeps growing every year.