The Road to Entrepreneurialism is Paved With… Vegetables?

The Old Farmhouse Barn Aug 27 12 adjI know. Strange title for a blog post but after you read the remainder of the story, you"™ll know why I"™ve chosen this  as the introductory line.

I suspect if you were to take a poll of 100 business owners, all of them can pinpoint the main reason why they took the plunge into entrepreneurialism. I also know that being their own "˜boss"™ would most likely rank in the top 5 answers to that question. For me, my entrepreneur ideas took root when I was 8 years old, literally and figuratively.

I was born and raised in an 18 room farmhouse situated on 200 acres (more or less) of relatively fertile ground, located in a fairly remote rural area of New Brunswick, alongside the coastline of the Northumberland Strait. My father was a self-employed business man, who held down 2 demanding jobs: that of being an owner of his own front-end loader/backhoe during the day, and in all the hours before 8:00 am and after 5:00 pm, he toiled at his true love, that of farming.

As most of the people in the area did, we too, grew our own vegetables and harvested them for winter. The trouble was my Dad thought that a ½ acre of garden simply wasn"™t enough to feed our huge family (including myself, there were only 4 of us children), so therefore a second ½ acre or more was ploughed, seeded and tended which grew only potatoes, turnip and cabbage. For those of you who"™ve never tended gardens of that size, let me assure you that it takes a LOT of hoeing, weeding, tilling etc. to maintain something of that size.

Over the years, people from nearby towns constructed cottages along the beautiful coastline and my older brother had started what we called the "˜vegetable route"™ supplying the "˜cottagers"™ with fresh vegetables once they came into season.

The summer I turned 8, my brother decided he was too old to be doing this piddly work and passed the baton down to me. My father sat me down at the end of June and said, "œI"™ll make you a deal. If you take over the cottage route, I"™ll split the money we make with you at the end of August." Well, to an 8 year old girl, in 1965, the promise of actual dollar bills seemed like a tremendous idea, so we shook hands and a deal was struck. All the monies collected were to be deposited in an old tobacco can which sat at the back of the sideboard in the kitchen and divided just before school started in September.

I still didn"™t have a bicycle yet (although I should add I"™d started nagging my parents 2 years prior for one!), so twice a week I"™d either walk the 2 mile route, knock on the cottager"™s doors, smile and ask, "œDo you need any vegetables this week?" and proceed to rattle off what offerings were available, or on the odd occasion my Mum would drive me in our family car. I"™d write down their orders in a tiny coil-bound flip-top book, move on to the next cottage and repeat the process. When the last cottage was duly asked for an order, I"™d walk back home and then my mother and I would tally up how many bunches of carrots, beets, radishes, pounds of peas, beans, or potatoes etc. we"™d need to pick, wash, and pack to deliver later that day.

I should also mention here that a "˜bunch"™ of carrots consisted of 12 firm, bright orange beauties, all nicely washed and tied with a piece of left-over baler twine, which sold for the princely sum of $.25/per bunch. (Yes, I"™m that old!)

The hazy days of summer quickly passed and the garden once again yielded a wonderful crop. I cannot tell you how many trips I made down the cottager"™s route; the tons of weeds I pulled from those rows of vegetables; the mosquito bites I received from pushing through the thorny raspberry bushes in search of the bigger, more tastier morsels, or how happy I was to hand a brown paper bag full of produce to the respective buyers and say, "œThat comes to $ 1.85 please" and run home to stash the cash into the tobacco can.

Cooler days rolled in and September 1st arrived. Dad decided that the Saturday night before Labour Day was to be the big reveal and division of funds. I could hardly wait.

With both of us sitting at the sturdy weathered farmhouse kitchen table, he dumped the contents of the tobacco can and started counting. After 20 minutes or so, we had the grand sum of"¦ $ 60.00 (give or take a few pennies). Woo hoo! I would get $ 30.00 for working the entire summer!

And that"™s when I learned my first lesson in entrepreneurship from my Dad.

He looked at me and said: "œBefore we split this money, the first $20.00 is mine because I paid for the seeds, fertilizer, and gas for the tractor and tiller." "œWhat do you mean, Dad? You"™re taking more money than me!", I defiantly said.  He smiled and replied, "œRemember, little girl. Being in business costs money, and you can"™t make money if you don"™t spend money."

Hmpf!

In the end I took my precious $20.00 or so and stashed it away in my empty Cherry Blossom candy bar box that served as my piggy bank from whence I carefully doled out a dime here or a quarter then which was spent on trips to the general store to buy penny candy on Saturday nights.

I continued to do the summer cottage vegetable route until I was 15 and got my first "˜real"™ job washing dishes and peeling produce at a new restaurant/gas bar that had opened the summer of 1972 about a mile from my home. I then passed the vegetable route on to my youngest brother who was around 8 at the time"¦ and HE had a bike! (Lucky kid!)

That meager paying, labor intensive summer job lit a spark deep inside me and I knew that at some point in my life I would become an entrepreneur. In April of 2006 I finally opened my existing wordsmith business.

No, I don"™t keep my money in an empty candy bar box today, but I do pay my bills on time and try and put aside a smidgen for "˜rainy days."™

And I still tend to a teeny vegetable garden just because:-)

Fresh tomatoes from my garden Sept. 2012

How Are You Showing Up In Your Business?

Last week while speaking with a prospective new client, towards the end of the conversation she said something that caused me to pause in the middle of my sentence. I had been explaining to her the process of how I performed editing/ghostwriting and my general business practices when she said, "œWow! It sounds as if you"™re a very honest and ethical person!"

After digesting what she"™d just said, I responded, "œWell"¦ isn"™t that the way that everyone should conduct business?" to which she responded, "œNo, unfortunately, not everyone is as upfront as you are."

Later that afternoon as I was winding down for the day, I started reflecting on the words she"™d said to me, hence the reason behind this posting.

How are YOU showing up in YOUR business?

I am a solopreneur, so I get to wear all the hats in the running of my business. Yes, I"™ve contracted out the tasks that I don"™t particularly like doing, like accounting, (thank goodness for my long-time buddy and number-cruncher, Sandra Drisdelle), and anything that has to do with the back-end working of my website, (Jef Keep, I am SO glad you"™re my best "˜virtual"™ friend), but all of the business decisions fall on my shoulders. It"™s me who must take full responsibility for securing new clients, ensuring that my existing customer workload is performed on time and correct the first time round, and generally making sure that my business continues to thrive.

I only have so many hours in a day in which to activate my three working brain cells to produce stellar copy, or magnificently manipulate syllables and syntaxes in manuscripts. I really don"™t have a lot of time to waste, so I tend to be "˜up front"™ and "˜out loud"™ as the saying goes with all my clients.

Let me explain where the honesty part comes into play with me. If a client asks me to do something that is out of my realm of expertise, I politely tell them that I"™m afraid I can"™t help them, but I do offer names of other qualified people who might be able to assist them. What do you think would happen to my reputation of being expedient if I said, "œSure, I"™ll take care of that for you!" and then had to spend 5 hours of billable time, wasting my clients money trying to figure out how to install a widget on a whatcamacallit. Imagine the "˜sticker shock"™ they"™d experience at month"™s end when they received my invoice. Can you say "œOuch?!" Can you also say "œGoodbye client?"

Let me give you another quick example. I"™m often asked to give estimates on how long it will take to edit a full manuscript. I usually ask authors to send me a sample chapter (which I edit for free) and then try to calculate how many hours it will take to whip their musings into shape. However, (here comes what I refer to as the "˜honesty +integrity cocktail"™) I always tell them upfront that I cannot guarantee the number of questimated hours as chapters often differ in a book, then I offer to give them periodic progress reports so they"™ll know how many hours of time I"™ve used at any given time. This way there are no hidden costs, I"™ve reduced my client"™s level of worry about billing, and I make doubly sure I keep in constant contact with them throughout the process. A happy client equals a very happy Marlene.

So, how do you run your business? Do you make an effort to inform new clients of exactly how you operate, or do you "˜assume"™ that they should feel privileged just to have you as a supplier or service provider and not question your business practices? Do you over-promise and under deliver instead of the other way around? Or are you still using the sales pitch mantra of the "˜70s"™, the "˜BBB"™ method? You know, the good old "˜Bulls%*t Baffles Brains"™ theory? (Good luck with that!)

I"™m known for not having much of a "˜filter"™ between what I think and what I say, and for me that works just dandy. I definitely "˜walk my talk"™ and when I make a promise, I do my utmost to keep it. I learned a long, long time ago that it"™s easier, safer, and so much less stress-inducing to be upfront about what I can or cannot do for my clients.

Ask yourself this week if there are certain new practices that you can implement into YOUR business to create winning partnerships with your clients. Try adding larges doses of honesty mixed liberally with integrity into your client relationships. Perhaps, like me, some of your favorite customers just may also become a few of your absolute best friends!

Does Your Content Match Your Market?

j0309615As a writer and editor, it"™s my job to research many different websites when preparing content for my clients. While I"™ve seen some beautifully designed and executed sites in my searches, it never ceases to amaze me that when reading some of the content, I"™m left feeling slightly puzzled and perplexed. And do you know why? It"™s because their words leave me with two major unanswered questions, namely, "œWhat do you do?" and "œWhat are you offering me as a potential consumer?"Â 

In a lot of cases, the owner, (or content writer), of the website material hasn"™t taken into consideration the actual target market or audience they need to reach in order to engage them in the buying process. I once asked a client who their target market was and they responded, "œWell, everybody!" and looked at me as if I"™d grown a second head. 

"œEverybody" is not your market. You need to separate the "˜body"™ from this word and get specific about who will want to do business with you. By answering these top 3 questions before you write your content, you"™ll be much closer to attracting the perfect clients to your business and ultimately increasing your bottom line. 

1. What is the age range of your ideal client? This may seem like an odd question to ask, but it"™s an extremely relevant one. If you"™re selling a cutting edge new trendy jewellery accessory that you know your 24 year old niece loves, then write your content accordingly. Use current "˜hip"™ wording that applies to that generation "“ something that will pique their interest and make them click further into your site to see your offerings. Using phrases such as "œOur bling will make you sing" or "œFeeling alone in the crowd? Wear Bling Things and stand your ground!" clearly states that it"™s for a younger crowd. 

2. What are your ideal client"™s habits? Where do they shop? What are they currently reading, and what programs are they watching on television? The more you know about what your prospective clients do in their spare time can definitely influence your marketing collateral and website content. If you"™re uncertain about their actual habits, consider sending out a short survey with tailored questions to people whose opinion you value before you write your content. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a stupid question, so go ahead and ask before you start writing. 

3. What does your ideal client look like? I can imagine a few of you are thinking to yourself, "œWhy should it matter what my client looks like? I don"™t care about superficial things like that!" Wrong! You do need to care about what your ideal client looks like and I"™m not referring to whether they"™re wearing a black pinstripe suit or sweat pants, (although that image certainly helps if your target market happens to be people who own clothing businesses or are CEO"™s of Fortune 500 companies!) You need to have a clear vision in your mind of the person who will want your products or services. Be precise on the demographics as possible: what type of car/house do they own; where do they work; what type of food do they like to eat; do they shop at high-end boutiques or at chain retail stores; are they employed full-time, part-time, or stay at home mothers etc. These and at least 50 other questions come to my mind that you need to answer before writing your content. 

I"™ve only listed 3 of the many questions you need to know the answers to before writing winning website content and marketing collateral, but I"™m certain you"™re now armed with enough information to decide once and for all exactly who that "˜body"™ in "˜everybody"™ is. 

Match your content to your client and you"™ll create followers and ultimately sales. Because frankly, you"™re in business to do business, aren"™t you?

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