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If someone would have told me twenty-four years ago that I would still have my consulting firm I would have laughed. Yesterday, June 1st marked this anniversary and I am still loving what I do! I would like to take a brief look backwards and touch on some of the highlights and give several insights of successful entrepreneurship.
I was working for Barnett Banks in Jacksonville, Florida at the holding company as a senior marketing strategist when the announcement came that we were merging with Nations Bank. We really did not merge, they simply bought us. I did not care for the culture of Nations Bank and decided to leave. I remember the day I left as if it were yesterday. I packed up my artwork, a few papers and walked down the street to the parking lot. I loaded my car and drove to my apartment on the south side of Jacksonville. I remember crying most of the way, not sure why. I was probably crying because I was leaving what I had known for the past fifteen years and heading into the unknown. Sometimes you must be a risk taker.
I returned to my condo on the beach of Daytona Beach Shores, leaving Barnett and Jacksonville behind. I decided to open my own firm. How difficult could this be? I had no idea exactly what I was going to do. I did something that I now tell folks who wish to have their own business. First identify your strengths, weaknesses, what you like to do, and what you do not like to do. Take out a blank piece of paper and create columns for each of these four headings. Then write as many things beneath each one as you can. Put the paper aside for a day or two and return to it. Review the listings and make any adjustments. Continue until you have a solid list. This should provide you with the foundation from which to begin to identify what you want to do with your life. This will also identify areas which you will need some assistance in for those things you do not like to do (for me it is accounting).
Then the phone rang. It was Barnett Banks and they wanted me to work as a consultant doing what I had been doing. I took them up on the offer. Unfortunately, I did not know much about contracts. Soon I received a call that Nations Bank was firing me. I found out later that they fired all vendors who did not have any clauses in their contract that would have kept them. So, first lesson learned as an entrepreneur, create an effective contract.
Sitting by the pool at the condo I worked on the development of a business plan, which I still have and use to this day. A business plan helps you to stay on track and not to deviate from the vision and mission. As a consultant, I tell people who want to go down this path that one thing you will need is strong organizational skills. You will be juggling a lot of different tasks and need to manage everything successfully.
I then received a call from a consultant in Boca Raton Florida whom I knew from Barnett Banks. He offered me the opportunity to train in Canada. Again, I accepted the offer and away I went to visit clients across Canada. Seek out strategic partners with whom you share the same morals and high levels of client service. Working with strategic partners gives you opportunities and often allows for the expansion of staff so you can accept larger projects. Doing this allowed me the opportunity to work with ComCast building a client focused culture.
Another great project was in Sydney Australia. As I was flying, I thought how great this opportunity was and how fortunate I was to be traveling to Australia! It was a research project gathering information on how to create a mentor program for investment bankers. The people were outstanding, friendly, and the food delicious. I ate “bay bugs” every day once I found out what they were. I will let you look them up.
The projects focused on image and brand have been unique, challenging, and most enjoyable. I have designed, developed, and implemented so many brands, and helped implement so many desired business cultures, I can barely remember them all. One of my favorites was a regional bank whose CEO really understood “brand” and it was so much fun working with him and his team. I felt like a member of the family and was brought in on most strategic discussions. Become a required asset to your client and they will serve you well.
Training has been a main stay in my career. I have had the pleasure of training and facilitating ideas with well over 16,000 professionals. Taking a requested topic and building a customized program gives me great joy. I love themed programs and enjoy watching people benefit from the subject matter. Tailor your programs and presentations to the needs of your client.
My clients have been in just about every industry. I used this as a strength rather than a weakness. Being focused on one industry is fine but having a variety gives more insights into doing things differently. I could take something that might be foreign to one industry and adjust it to fit perfectly to another. Determine your strengths and how they fit a client’s needs and then how you will communicate them effectively.
Public speaking is one of my favorite things. Just give me a microphone! I love getting the audience involved and have found that to be one of the keys to a successful speech. After speaking at a conference in Louisville Kentucky I was sitting in the back of the room with the CEO of the company hosting the conference. I looked out over the group of women present and said that there was so much talent and areas of expertise, we should write a book. Several months later the CEO called and asked if I wanted to be one of the authors in the new book. So, I wrote my chapter on image and brand and was a published author! I was also an author in the tenth book. Today there have been hundreds of books written, translated into many languages, and copies sold around the world. Seek opportunities to expand your business into other venues of marketing.
Having my radio show dedicated to the women’s market for several years was a lot of fun. It was The Magnolia Show on an AM radio station in Orlando. Each week I had a guest speaking about a topic of interest to women. Once I rode in a parade as a “celebrity”, what a hoot! Again, look for ways to expand your business’s reach into the market.
One of the other rewarding areas of my work has been to design and implement women’s initiatives. I have implemented them in corporations, Chambers of Commerce, and non-profits. These initiatives provide opportunities for women within their industry and business to network, build relationships and friendships, gain necessary skills to achieve success.
As part of my business marketing focus, I have always gotten involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, and some industry or specific organizations. I have served as chair of many boards and committees. Getting involved in the community is one of the best ways to meet people, market, and grow your business.
One thing I practice all the time was my thirty-second commercial. That is the answer someone gives when asked, “what do you do?” Everyone has an answer; however, some catch your attention and others blend into the walls and are boring. So, make your commercial stand out. Several key components of a thirty-second commercial are:
1. An “interest generating idea” about your business, what you do, and what you sell.
2. Two key points that support the idea.
3. A “probe for a need or opportunity” if the situation allows it.
What you want from your commercial is that the person with whom you are speaking says, “that is very interesting, tell me more”. Now you can provide more details about your business. Just remember, learn about the other person as well, do not monopolize the conversations.
My goodness, twenty-four years. I still love what I do and hope to continue for many more years to come!
Thanks for sharing in my journey, and I hope you gained one nugget of insightful information.