What I Wish I Had Known Before I Started My First Business

what-i-wish-i-had-known-before-i-started-my-first-businessI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

If you could go back and give yourself business advice when you first started your business, what would you tell yourself?

I started my first business, Doodads Promotional Products, when I was 19.  I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.  I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur” because I never set out to own or start a business and this just landed in my lap.  I won’t bore you with the story except to say that I’m so glad I took that leap.  It hasn’t always been easy, but I Iove my lifestyle and all that Doodads has taught me.  I’ll be forever grateful for the startup bug that was planted in me.  I’ve started, sold and grown 8 other businesses since then.

That said, if I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self a few things about business this is what I would say: (Otherwise known as powerful things I learned the hard way…)

First, Business-to-business marketing (and business operations, for that matter) is very different from business-to-consumer marketing.  The sooner you figure that out the more money you’ll make.

Second, Just because your 19-year-old brain likes the font Tiki Surf doesn’t mean that it’s a good font for a legitimate business (just sayin’).  All that stuff that you read about branding and understanding your target market before you design the most important part of your brand, is true.  If you don’t know about branding, read a book or seek the advice of a professional before you pay for a logo.  You’ll end up redoing it later.

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Third, Track all of your marketing activities and expenditures and calculate your return on investment.  Don’t continue to pay for yellow page ads (remember this was the 90s!) when networking at the Chamber of Commerce lunches brings you more business.  In my business I learned that that people aren’t buying an imprinted pen, they are buying ME.  It’s about the customer service experience and the expertise you provide as a value added resource.  When I learned that I could be an extension of their marketing team and provide advice above and beyond promotional items, my business boomed.

Fourth, Build a powerful support team.  Every entrepreneur needs three levels of support.

Foundational Support – The people who work with you (employees, virtual assistants, contractors) that handle the tasks in your business that keep you from focusing on revenue-generating activities.

Friend Support – Find cheerleaders.  Some friends will be nay-sayers or will overwhelm you with not-so-helpful advice.  Build a friend network that is sitting at the front row of your events, promoting your company in an organic way and who support you in your efforts in life and business.

Mentor Support – Get coaches.  Learn from people who have gone before you.  Be moldable.  Take advice you’re given from the experts that land in your path.  Find trailblazers that will teach you how to “get there faster”.

Fifth, Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t know it all.  Like number four, remember that though you are a smart 19-year-old, there are a lot of things you don’t know and understand.

Sixth, Marketing is like the laundry – the job is never done.  Marketing isn’t a project or to-do list item.  It’s a regular activity in your business that should be part of your daily, weekly and monthly focus.  Fill your pipeline and keep it flowing.  Evolve.  Times change.  Technology changes.  Try to stay ahead of the curve and think like a client.  How can you anticipate their needs?

Seventh, You will make mistakes.  Say “I’m sorry” a lot.  Own up to when you drop the ball.  People like honesty more than they like your excuses and blame.  Be real.  They are human, too.  Get back up, brush yourself off and don’t let pride hold you back.

I would love to hear, what would you go back and tell yourself before you started your first business?

Also, take a look at the information below.  Are entrepreneurs passionate?

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on September 23, 2013

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When A Dream Becomes Reality

How "The Make It Happen Blueprint" Came To Be

17218638_10212525526323245_6703310731430754718_oOn the left, I’m pictured with David Hancock of Morgan James Publishing.

I met him at Experts Academy 5 years ago. Back then I didn’t know what my book would be about, or what it was titled or what would be in it. But I had a feeling Morgan James was part of that. So I stood in line where everyone else was pitching their books and I sheepishly said, “I don’t know what my book is yet, but when I have it, I’ll send it to you. I want you to stand here and pretend to hold a book and someday we’ll fill that space.” He said, “Awesome,” and handed me his card (not readily being handed out) and then added, “Send me that picture when you get home.” I did.

I kept in touch with him over social media. I self published my first book (The Time Blueprint for Entrepreneurs) and then I wrote “Make It Happen” a book on success & peak performance applicable for a wider audience. I initially self published that one, too, but I sent it to David with our picture and said, “I’ve already self published this one, but would you take a look at my writing and let me know if you’d be interested in my next book?” He responded within 24 hours and said, “I want this one, but I want you to add 15,000 more words.”

I added more content, rewrote other sections, sent it to three rounds of editing and then when they got the final manuscript, they gave me a publication date more than 10 months into the future.

It’s been a long process, but I’m so grateful for this journey. The picture on the left has been on my vision board since the first day we met 5 years ago.

This week, I got the picture on the right. I still don’t have a physical book yet, (as you can tell that’s just a color print).

But this is happening and I waffle between tears of joy & gratitude to being metaphorically in the fetal position. 😂

Some people ask me why my first published book wasn’t a marketing book. I’ve produced Marketing Mastery, a 4 disk audio & The Social Media Blueprint, also a 4 disk audio (in it’s 3rd revision). There’s a marketing book in me for sure. But my journey started first with understanding, implementing & creating new success practices. Without my own “Make It Happen Blueprint” I couldn’t be a marketing strategist or social media speaker.

While I’m sure this won’t be the end of the story, this brings you to the present.

 

I hope you’ll be part of this story.  I hope that you’ll purchase and read “The Make It Happen Blueprint” and that you’ll be sending me YOUR Make It Happen Moments. Whether they take 5 days, 5 months, 5 years or MORE to come to fruition your goals CAN be realized.

 

Create your dream, make a plan and make it happen!

 

– Michelle


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The Three Levels of Support Every Entrepreneur Needs – Excerpt From Make It Happen Blueprint

Read a portion of Michelle's book for free!

the-three-levels-of-support-every-entrepreneur-needs-excerpt-from-make-it-happenThe following summarized blog post is the chapter “Power Team” in my latest book “Make It Happen Blueprint“.  For the whole chapter and to read the rest of the book go to your favorite bookseller.  This book is available online and in brick and mortar stores near you.

Enjoy!

Practice – POWER TEAM

THE THREE LEVELS OF SUPPORT

Choosing your power team is just as important as choosing how to spend your time. You need the right people in the right place at the right time in your life. I like to think of the power team in terms of a pyramid with three levels. Each level serves its own purpose, and each is critical in its own way. Odds are that you already have people who support you on the various levels. As we discuss each one, think of who in your life fits in that category, and who else you could include to expand your power team and operate at your desired peak performance level. You may even want to write names down as they come to you. And remember, just as you need people on your team, peak performers are part of other people’s power teams as well.

1. Foundational Support

Every pyramid needs a strong base, and your power team is no different. The foundational support level is comprised of people who assist and can have responsibilities delegated to them. Since peak performers know their strengths and delegate the rest, they rely on the people in the foundational support level to help them get things done.

Lower Level Tasks

There are two types of tasks that are typically delegated. The first, is lower level tasks. These are things that should be handled by an assistant, a contractor, or someone at a lower pay level. That doesn’t mean the tasks, or the people doing them, are of lower value. Delegation is simply a way of dispersing tasks to the appropriate level of expertise.

I love Ken Blanchard’s book The One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey. In it, Blanchard talks about the concept that “All monkeys must be handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare.” This single principle has guided my professional life for the last 14 years.

Hire and train the right employees, contractors and vendors to help you do admin activities so you can focus on your core strengths.

Skill Based and Upper Level Tasks

The second type of task that can be delegated involves things that are either above your level of expertise or require skills that you don’t have. These are called skill based or upper level tasks.

For example, I have a client who is a graphic designer. After going through a delegation activity with her, I noticed she was spending one to two hours a week, sometimes more, on bookkeeping. As a creative person, she should spend most of her time creating art, graphics, and marketing materials. Instead, she was crunching numbers and tracking payments. Not only did she hate doing it, she really wasn’t good at it—no offense, of course.

Because she hated this task, she ended up dreading it every single week. Sometimes it got pushed into another week and then pushed into another week. By the time she got around to it she had to spend an entire afternoon, or even a full day bookkeeping and invoicing just so she could get paid. For her, bookkeeping was something she needed to delegate to someone else.

When I pointed this out, she said, “But Michelle, I can’t afford it.” So I asked her, “Well, how much do you make an hour?” She replied, “It depends on the project, but about $75 to $100 an hour.” To that I said, “Okay, so for the $150 to $200 a week you are spending on bookkeeping you could afford to hire a professional to do it for you.” Light bulbs went on, and I think she may have done a dance on the spot. The point is, as an entrepreneur you do not have to do everything yourself!

Take a look at your current to-do list. Better yet, look at some completed lists or back lists. If something is not in your area of expertise, and if it is not something you really want to be doing, you should be delegating it out to a professional who can do it better. Or, you might even consider finding an assistant (temporary or long-term) who can do it faster or for less money than it would cost for you to do it.

I learned this lesson early on when I started my first business, a promotional products company. I would spend a lot of time putting stickers on catalogs, writing the addresses, and mailing them out, before I realized I could have a neighborhood teenager do those things for significantly cheaper. Delegating the tasks freed up my time so I could focus on marketing and getting new customers. What was even better was the fact that I had some happy neighbor kids who were getting paid to do something other than flip burgers. They liked the money, they were learning to work, and I had time for more important activities.

If you’re an entrepreneur and could use additional help in this department, two chapters in my book The Time Blueprint For Entrepreneurs are all about the hows and whys of delegating.

If you’re not an entrepreneur, get creative about the ways you can utilize others strengths and resources to get the “monkeys” off your back and build the foundational level of your power team.

2. Core Friend Support

The middle level of the support pyramid is for our friends and family members. These people are our cheerleaders—sometimes, quite literally. They are the ones who are sitting on the front row at our events, by our sides during key moments in life, and celebrating every victory with us. They also have their arms around us when we lose. We can trust and rely on them.

Typically, this level is where people naturally have the most support. However, if you find yourself lacking in this category, I have a couple of suggestions to help you build a stronger power team of friends.

Connect with like-minded individuals. Networking events and social groups are a great way to seek out like-minded individuals. There are so many options! Professionally, consider chambers of commerce and other groups with potential to strengthen your business associates and friends. Personally, consider sports teams, clubs, and organizations surrounding interests or hobbies you enjoy.

Consider what kind of friend you are in return. With some honesty and transparency, some of my clients have discovered the reason they are weak on this power team level is because they haven’t been supportive of others, and now there’s a social void in their own life. Never fear, because it’s never too late to repair what might seem broken, or make connections with new people with similar interests.

One thing to note about this level is that the people in it often change over time. I’ve noticed in my life how friends change as my lifestyle and my circumstances change. With a handful of exceptions, the friends I had in junior high school are different than the friends I have now. I would assume that’s the case for you as well.

Also note that there are a lot of friends that I love but I don’t take their business advice.  They are  good sounding boards, but beware of advice you take from a friend.

3. Mentor Support

Mentor or coach support is the top level of support I picture mentors and coaches as being above me. In other words, they are the people who know what I want to know, and they have blazed a trail for me to follow. I want and need their support to help me get to my destination faster.

Mentors come in many forms. They can be a friends with knowledge or skill sets you want to learn. They can be business associates that teach and train you. Whatever form they come it, they are knowledge givers, coaches, and consultants.

I worked at a television station while I was in college. My boss was a nice, smart man who to this day is one of the most organized and polished people I know. He even had a specific system for ironing his shirts so the creases would be just so. He never had a hair on his head out of place, and all of his folder tabs faced in one direction.

I remember being surprised when he told me one day that he had hired a life coach. Honestly, I had to try really hard not to laugh out loud. I couldn’t believe Mr. Perfection needed help achieving more in his life. I critically thought, “If you can’t figure out how to handle your own life, you might have bigger problems.”

The irony is that I’m a coach now. I get it. Even though I am a coach and work with clients across the country and in various parts of the world, I still pay coaches to help keep me on my A-game. I find coaches with a skill or expertise that I want and then I learn from them. Coaches help me “get there faster” in my life and business, and I see my coaches as prime examples of the mentor support I’ve had to help me be a peak performer.

Though I have paid people to coach me, I have also used the help of free mentors, mastermind groups and accountability partners who I consider to be an important part of my power team.

The people you spend your time with can effect your projects and dreams in big ways. They can cheer you on, support you and help you grow, but they can also discourage you or be negative with their “let’s be realistic” comments. Be careful about who you include on your power team, and the time and energy investment you make in people who are raining on your parade.

I feel very blessed to have amazing people in my life at every level. I couldn’t accomplish what I do without employees, friends, family members and coaches who show up in powerful ways to help me be a peak performer.

Take some time to nurture your own relationships and help your power team understand what their support, at any level, means to you! Gratitude can be a great currency for strong relationships.

Who is on your Power Team?  Who has helped you on your entrepreneurial journey?

Get your own copy of the Make It Happen Blueprint PLUS see who’s on MY power team in this amazing High Performance Bundle offered until March 21st.

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on September 17, 2013

Why I Love My Ideal Life Vision

A Powerful Visioning Tool To Help You Reach Your Goals

This video was from an event we hosted with Danielle LaPorte four years ago. Now, years later I still love my Ideal Life Vision.
This is one of the visioning and possibility tools I use and talk about in my book “The Make It Happen Blueprint“.
Part of creating a success practice is not just thinking about your goals, but using tools that will help you make It Happen. It takes your dreams from “someday” to reality.
Want to try Ann Webb’s amazing success tool? Go to www.ideallifevision.com

Life in 22 Minutes

Podcast Interview with Scott & Becky Macintosh

Include the picture found at this link.

I feel so blessed to have amazing people in life and Scott and Becky are no exception. When they asked me to be on their show, I literally dropped everything and went.

Cool people.
Awesome mission.
Great podcast.

I’m delighted to be part of this.

Have a listen on iTunes or download the link here: http://www.lifein22minutes.com/podcast/029?download=true

Loving Money – Book Review Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup

loving-money-book-review-money-a-love-story-by-kate-northrupMoney.

Is your relationship with money helping you make more of it, or are you barely making it from paycheck to paycheck?

Enter Kate Northrup author of Money: a Love Story. Whether you’re relationship with money is solid or broken, Kate has great advice for having a healthy love affair with money.

Kate is an entrepreneur so her insights are unique to women like us who are in the trenches trying to create our own paychecks, and yet her advice is just as sound for those professionals working for other companies or organizations.

Kate is spot on and addresses what most other money books are missing: the mindset of money.  So many of us are carrying our mental baggage money from our childhood, our financial failures and so much more.  Kate offers simple solutions for kicking that baggage “to the curb”.

You’ll also love her quiz to test your current money paralysis (or your money strength!) Get you quiz for free here.

Her book is released today! Get it on amazon.

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Kate Northrup is a professional freedom seeker and creative entrepreneur. She created financial freedom for herself at the age of 28 through building a team of more than 3,000 wellness entrepreneurs in the network marketing industry. Her philosophy is that if you free yourself financially you can be fully present to your purpose on the planet. She’s committed to empowering as many people as possible to have the ultimate luxury in life: choice. Kate has spoken to audiences of thousands with Hay House, Wanderlust, USANA Health Sciences, and more. She’s also the author of Money: A Love Story, Untangle Your Financial Woes and Create the Life You Really Want (Hay House, September 2013). She continues to mentor entrepreneurs through her network marketing team, The Freedom Family. Find out more and take her free quiz to find out what your relationship with money says about you at katenorthrup.com.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate on Make It Happen Radio.  Download and listen here.  BONUS: In the second half of the show, I also share the four tips for getting unstuck in life or business.

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com September 10, 2013

The Make It Happen Blueprint is Available WORLDWIDE

It’s here! I can finally say my book is available THIS MONTH! (Insert celebratory music!)

When I first self published this book three and a half years ago, I dreamed of this day when I’d have a publisher and full nationwide distribution.  I’m honored to be included on the following websites and retailers.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what others have to say about The Make It Happen Blueprint:

“I do love this book. McCullough is real and relate-able. I was only in the first chapter when I felt hopeful and empowered. While some of her golden advice is aimed mostly to those working in the field of Business (which I am not), there is more than enough real-life help that a Homemaker can use too. She doesn’t create, yet another, list of things “I should be doing”, but attainable solutions to MAKE TIME for the other things I really DO need to do. These recommendations are easy to do. I am so thankful for McCullough’s inspiration and passion to share this knowledge; my life was immediately changed and improved for the goals her book motivated.” – Kristin Call; London, ENGLAND

“I used to be SO good about planning and doing, but over the past few years, I have become unfocused and thus, unproductive. As a mom of three and an entrepreneur, my two biggest time traps have been multi-tasking and compulsively checking email + social media. Michelle’s productivity action tips have been a powerful refresher course for me! I love how she simplifies things with steps that set you up for foolproof success.”  – Heather Allard, founder heatherallard.com; Rhode Island, USA

“Michelle McCullough has one of those minds you love to be around! She shares fresh ideas, content, and strategies for creating a life and a business that you love. Reading this book will elevate your life!” – Tiffany Peterson, Professional Speaker, www.TiffanySpeaks.com; Utah, USA

“As entrepreneurs we often feel alone. McCullough’s book Make It Happen reminds us that we are all in this together. She manages to rekindle your purpose as well as provide pertinent ideas and strategies to help you preform at your best. I love the way she provides a section at the end of each chapter to help you implement the things you read and learn in Make It Happen. Every purposeful entrepreneur should have this book on their nightstand!” – Nicole Carpenter, CEO of MOMentity.com and bestselling author of 52 Weeks to Fortify Your Family: 5-minute messages; Utah USA

“Michelle’s chapter “Raising Peak Performers” is great! I especially loved the story about her family theme and her son remembering it as he hopped out of the car on the first day of school. Michelle’s suggestions and principles really resonated with me and I believe they would absolutely help parents to raise children who thrive!”  – Tara Kennedy Klein, Author of “Stop Raising Einstein; Pennsylvania, USA

“The beauty of Michelle’s book & writing is that it is a lucid, unadorned reminder that we periodically need. It reinforces powerful practices which we often brush past and only remember when we fail to “make it happen”. I love her earnest voice and really personal examples.” – Vilasi Venkatachalam; INDIA

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Creating Your Corporate Culture – Even as a Small Business

creating-your-corporate-culture-even-as-a-small-businessI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Do you have a corporate culture?

The answer is yes.  Even if it’s not a planned corporate culture, everything you do in your business supports a corporate culture.

Some people think of a corporate culture in terms of a brand.  A corporate culture goes beyond branding – though your brand is PART of your overall corporate culture.

Take Google for example.  What words do you think of when you think of Google’s corporate culture?

Playful

Fun

Friendly

Connected

Customer Focused

Everything Google does upholds their corporate culture, from their logo (which is also part of their branding), to changing their homepage on holidays, and even to their campus in Silicon Valley.  Inside Google’s offices you’ll find indoor slides, pool tables, and free food.  Their employee cafeteria has a dozen choices to fit your mood and culture and you don’t pay a dime.

Is Google upholding their corporate culture from start to finish?  You bet!

So let me ask you this question: What is your corporate culture?  What words do you want people to think and feel about your business when they interact with you?

Does your branding uphold your corporate culture?

Do your customer service practices uphold your corporate culture?

Does your office uphold your corporate culture (even if you work from home)?

This line of questioning can be hard, especially for small business owners and solopreneurs, but I promise they will be helpful in creating a corporate culture that you’re proud of.

Even more than pride, I hope you create a corporate culture that helps you strive to provide the kind of experience that your customers crave and ultimately helps customers and prospects choose YOU over the competition.

Here are five tips to creating a corporate culture you love:

Brainstorm five words that you want to describe your corporate culture.  Depending on the business it might be fun, playful, attainable, connected, comfortable (like Google).  You also might have a list that looks something like this: professional, knowledgeable, classy, high-end, international.  See the difference?  Though it IS possible to want some words from both categories to ultimately create your corporate culture.  Look at your current product/service suite, look at your branding, but ultimately DON’T make the choices based on what you currently see.  Make your choices based on what you want it to be in the future.

After you have your five words, compare your five words to your current branding. Do your logo, website and promotional materials embody the words you selected?  If not, what needs to change?  How can you uplevel your brand to be in alignment with your corporate culture?

Case Study: Doodads Promotional Products

I started my promotional products company when I was 19.  At the time, I was working at an advertising agency and my BFF was a graphic designer.  She made a logo for me out of my favorite font at the time.  I was young and my business and lifestyle embodied that logo.

As I grew a little and when I made a geographic change in my life and my business, I looked at my logo and realized that it did not uphold the words I wanted to exemplify.  I still wanted to be fun and infuse that into my business, but I wanted people to think “professional and classy” first before “fun” so that they would know that I could take care of their marketing in a professional manner.  My logo change was a necessary uplevel to embody my corporate culture.

Compare your five words to your customer service strategy and practices.  Do your interactions on the phone, online and via mail uphold your corporate culture?  If not, what needs to change?

Compare your five words to your product/service offerings.  Do your products uphold the words you selected?  Are there products/services that are missing from your suite that need to be added?  Are there products or services you should eliminate to better uphold your corporate culture?

Check out your workspace, office and online store.  Does your work environment embody your 5 words?  Even if you work in a small space in the corner of your bedroom, what can you add to your work environment that will help you maintain the corporate culture you desire? You can still work in your jammies, if that’s what helps you, but sometimes I put heels on while I’m on my radio show to remind me of my corporate culture.  The space we are in truly does affect how we interact with our business.

Share with us!  What five words best describe your corporate culture?  Or what things have you done in your business to maintain a corporate culture, even as a solopreneur or small business?

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on August 15, 2013

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Regret Feels Worse Than Failure

Why I Wrote The Make It Happen Blueprint

Success is not a destination, it’s a practice. Are you practicing at staying the same or are you practicing at progress? Sometimes we let fear hold us back from what we really want, but the truth is regret feels worse than failure. At least you can learn from failure and try again. When you look back a year from now will you wish you had actually done the things that you said you wanted to do? Missed opportunities and wasted time feel much worse – nothing can be changed because you didn’t take the chance. Sure going outside your comfort zone, expanding your vision and your business takes work and pushing past fear, but you can do it! Make it happen!

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What are you putting off out of fear?

 

The Make It Happen Blueprint by Michelle McCullough is available for pre-order at Target.com, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  Release date March 21, 2017.