Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

The First Rule of Consulting

Beans Up Your Nose

Jared Spool wrote about the best piece of advice he has received on managing client expectations. This is something he calls the First Rule of Consulting:

No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose.

In both the web development and IT world, I have encountered a client’s desire to bring two things together that do not belong united. This is what Jared is referring to with the combining of “beans and noses.”

Beans and noses. We have beans. We have a nose. They must be united.

Previously when I have been in a bean and noses situation, I would stubbornly try to change my client’s mind. I used logic, case-studies, statistics, research, anything to convince my client not to make what I considered to be a BIG mistake. The result was frustration, that my paid advice was falling on deaf ears.

I have to change my approach. I am not going to change anyone’s mind – I will simply have to wait. Wait, and hope that I can eventually ask:

“So, how is that working for you? Did it do everything you’d hoped?”

…and then come in and save the day.

Read the full post: Beans and Noses

Photo Credit: Catherine Scott

Email is Broken, Let’s Fix it Together Unread Image

Much like Tina Roth Eisenberg, my email inbox is a primary source of guilt. I am never am able to respond to every message I receive. With each passing day, the problem compounds until it gets to be my personal Mount Everest.

I feel terrible, but trying to keep up is a full-time job in itself. In attempts to medicate my email problem, I have implemented or at least attempted every piece of email management advice I have ever seen.

  • I only check my email a few times a day
  • I try to get my inbox down to zero
  • I use best practices when writing my own messages to help the communication flow
  • I use a project management system for website projects communication
  • I have common replies saved and use them when needed
  • When unable to respond to a critical message in an “acceptable” period of time, I respond back with when to expect my response

Thursday, I read a post by Chris Anderson calling for the formation of an Email Charter.

Chris explains the key problem with email:

The total time taken to respond to an email is often MORE than the time it took to create it.

Improving the use of email through the formation of an email charter may not get the message out to the masses. However, if just a few of us help spread the word and change/improve our own email behavior – we can begin to trickle down Chris’s message of awareness.

What do you do to deal with all of your email?

Image Credit: Libby

Moleskine Notebooks

Doane Paper Made Me Feel Special

This past week, I filled up my current “carry around” notebook. This lead to a very exciting time for this office supply junkie, choosing my next notebook. I first heard about Doane Paper from the Office Supply Geek, and have been wanting one (two or three) of their Idea Journals.

Yesterday, I went ahead and made a purchase from the Doane Paper online store. I was pleasantly surprised to receive this email about 10 minutes after my transaction took place:

An email from the business owner thanking me for my order and telling me exactly when it would ship. I felt so special!

This interaction got me thinking about how I could add a personal gracious touch like this to my business. Do you do something seemingly small that makes your customers or clients feel appreciated?

Photo Credit: Stig Andersen

8on7 office

8on7 – My Business Incubator

8on7 office

I have never won the lottery, any random contest or sweepstakes, but I am lucky. The universe often adjusts to bring me exactly what I need at the right time.

For example, several years ago my previous business was on shaky ground. My largest client had a pile of unpaid invoices, and they were avoiding my calls. I had made the rookie mistake of not building a business, instead I had a permalancership. I was working long hours and wearing out fast. The big client with the unpaid invoices called to tell me they were broke, closing their doors and filing for bankruptcy. I was panicked and stunned. However, later the same day I received an offer from another service company to buy my business. Like I said, lucky.

I started Plugged In Consulting in June of last year. I was working from home and struggling with the unstructured environment. Two respected colleagues recommended I call a guy they knew that wanted to move to a larger office space and share it with others. Skeptical, I gave Ryan Evans a call.

8 People on the 7th Floor of 1608 N. Milwaukee

The space Ryan had to share was not pretty. We have a “quiet room” for private phone calls or brainstorming sessions, and an open room with the desks and chairs of the 8 people that work here from 7 different companies. Our businesses range from accounting to cupcake delivery, however we are all supportive entrepreneurs with a common mindset.

Some of the benefits I receive from our shared office are:

  • An environment conducive to both business creativity and production
  • Sharing and advice on business ideas and problems
  • Strategic partnerships
  • Networking lunches and Starbucks runs
  • Direct access to an awesome accountant – Mike Carney
  • Direct access to a marketing whiz – Ryan Evans
  • Direct access to a project manager/37 signals junkie – Andrew Wicklander
  • Direct access to a social media maven – Mari Laungrath
  • Direct access to a branding and graphic design creative – Patrick Smith
  • Direct access to a VIOP and web application developer – Jonathan Penny
  • Work/home seperation

Business has been growing since moving in last September. I just recently hired a part-time employee, and I am excited for the near future of Plugged In Consulting.

I am not only lucky to be able to build my business in such a supportive environment, I am grateful for all of the inspiration and motivation I receive from 8on7.

Thank you for taking the gamble, Ryan Evans. 8on7 is just what I needed.

Top Five Applications To Run A Small Business Smarter

Clocks and Time

I am a (very) small business owner, so I appreciate how valuable time can be to other business owners.  For an upcoming speaking engagement I was asked to compile the top five applications I use to run my business smarter and faster.  After compiling the list, I realized that this is something I should be sharing with everyone.

Here are the top five applications I use to make my small business run smarter:

1. Google Apps - Google Apps is the generic term for Google Services for businesses. Google Apps hosts my businesses email, calendar, and contacts, allowing my business to have enterprise level functionality for free. I can use any email client I choose, and have all of my information synced on any computer or device while having a full backup copy available in the web interface. The searching function of Google Mail makes finding emails very easy. Google Calendar makes scheduling meetings and sharing your schedule with others very easy.

2. Batchbook - The one lackluster component of Google Apps is the contacts, so I had to find a CRM system that could manage my contacts. Batchbook is the application where I: consolidate all client communication, use notes to keep track where/when I met someone, tag contacts to separate them into groups, etc. Batchbook syncs with my Google Apps account and my email marketing software.

3. Google Voice - I am always on the go, and don’t have a landline phone at my desk. I also don’t want to give out my personal cell phone number to everyone. By giving out my Google Voice number, I can have that one number forwarded to any other phone number where I am reachable, and screen or play a different voicemail message depending on who is calling. My favorite feature of Google Voice is the text and email transcriptions of any voicemail messages I receive.

4. Dropbox - Gone are the days of having just one computer or just working at the office. I can put any file in my Dropbox folder and it will sync across my computers, mobile device, and the web interface. I don’t have to worry about emailing documents to myself or saving them to a flash drive. I just save the document and it is synced. Dropbox also saves revisions to files, so if you make a mistake and overwrite a document, you can restore previous versions. An often forgotten feature of Dropbox is that you can share specific folders with others, which is a great way to share large files with others.

5. Evernote - Evernote is my brain. That is where I keep all the “little things” I will need to find again. I have “notebooks” for things like: Client notes, Meeting notes, login information, timesheets, websites that inspire me, blog post ideas, restaurants I would like to visit, recipes, etc. I keep my information secure using SSL security to login, and I encrypt text in confidential notes. Evernote has web application, desktop applications for Windows and Mac, and applications for iPhone, Blackberry and Android.

Honorable mentions: Mailchimp and Backblaze

Those are mine, what are  yours?

Photo credit: Esthr

Your Business or Organization Must Have a Website

I came across a post on SCORE Women’s Blog where they give results from a recent CitiBank survey on small business usage of online tools.  There was one statistic that shocked and appalled me:

40% of small businesses don’t have a web site

Every small business or non-profit needs to have a website.  Your website makes it easier for customers, vendors, potential employees, and the media find out about your business.  Not having a website today, is equal to the faux pas of not having your business listed in the yellow pages in the past.

Your website does not have to be robust and overwhelming to start.  A simple and professional website telling about what services you offer or products you sell, while giving contact information is enough to begin.  If you are one of the 40% get started today.

What a Bad Return Policy Taught Me About Customer Service

Stack of Polo Shirts

I like wearing collared shirts. I wear them pretty much everyday. On the warmer Chicago days I like to wear polo shirts.  While the experience below occurred over 6 months ago, but it still bothers me and taught me some valuable customer service lessons.

Trying to Exchange a Shirt

Last year for my birthday, my sister bought in California a dark grey Lacoste polo shirt as my gift and shipped it to me.  When it arrived, I saw that it was just a little large for me.  No problem, the shirt had all the tags on it so after the Christmas holiday I drove to the Lacoste store in Skokie, IL and attempted to just exchange the shirt for another one size down.  This should be easy, right?

I walked up to the counter of the very small store with the shirt in a bag and told the gentlemen behind the counter of my exchange request.  He said that without a receipt he would have to look the purchase up in their computer system.  The computer system that consists of the “accurate” data given to the store by purchasers.  Information they ask for at checkout like “name”, “zipcode”, etc.

I called my sister from the store to find out which Lacoste store she purchased the shirt from, but since she paid cash she had declined to give her personal information.  Without the purchase being in the system the retail worker declined to do the exchange due to store policy.  I asked to see the store manager, but I was told that they were currently on lunch.  Frustrated and seeing that I was getting nowhere I left the store and drove home.

The next day, I wrote to Lacoste via the “contact” form on their website explaining why I thought their policy was terrible.  I was trying to exchange a gift for a different size, right after the holiday season.   THIRTY DAYS LATER I received a response that basically said that they were sorry that I didn’t agree with their policy.

Customer Service Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t upset loyal customers – If you have people that are willing to be your “brand ambassadors” don’t have policies that can cause them to abandon your brand.
  2. If someone takes the time to write to you, respond as soon as possible – Having to wait 30 days for a response from Lacoste just aggravated me more.
  3. While the customer isn’t always right, they are not always wrong either – Not all customers are right, and while some are quite unreasonable – don’t have strict policies that aren’t flexible.
  4. Don’t try to collect too much personal information from customers – While all businesses want to collect customer information for marketing purposes, trying to get too personal or trying to get too much information will get you no data at all.