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Business | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Leadership Learned By Doing

'Hot Dog' photo (c) 2010, Evan Swigart - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Real leadership is learned by really doing something, start to finish,” is the abiding philosophy of Vanderburgh County’s 4-H Junior Leader program.  The Junior Leaders, in grades 8 through 12, learn those leadership skills most especially during the Vanderburgh County Fair. They plan, run, and manage a food concessions booth that succeeds or fails by the quality of their efforts.

It was explained to me once: in the real world, in a real job, if people don’t show up to work their shifts, Superman doesn’t fly through the back door to save the day for those in charge. They have to solve their own problems. In the solving, they develop their leadership skills. That’s how the Junior Leader booth works.

If the kids work hard and plan well, they will raise funds. If they make mistakes or don’t work hard, their profit margin diminishes.

Parents are not allowed to fly into the booth to save the day for the teens. Their club advisors advise but don’t save the day.

So how do the kids do? My opinion is biased; last year, my daughter was treasurer. In addition, the Junior Leaders lend their concession booth (which they personally built and financed) to 4-H Leaders so we can raise funds to lower expenses for our county’s members – we serve breakfast daily at the fair, borrowing their booth. So each year during fair week, I’ve seen these kids work hard.

Most of them bust their tails and have fun while they are working. Most are team players.  Sure, there’s teen drama just as there is in any workplace or environment full of teens during a hot summer week. And just like any food service business, there are plenty of practical problem-solving experiences each hour the concession booth is open.

As I see these teens progress, volunteering in the booth from one year to the next, I see their growing in self confidence, developing skills to assume bigger responsibilities. Many who graduate return to help new youth throughout the 4-H program. Lessons learned, ready to pass to the next generation.

Sometimes the best lessons in life are learned by closing your mouth, rolling up your sleeves, and working with others to reach a common goal, find common ground, and build something new.

And they learn some marketing as well. As my kids tell me every day of fair:

Eat at the Junior Leader booth!

Feet First

“This isn’t a fashion statement but these shoes are comfortable,” a volunteer told me as I worked with exhibit setups before the Vanderburgh County’s Fair this weekend.

“These may be flip flops but they have arch supports and cushioned soles that make them comfortable,” another volunteer noted later.

Volunteers preparing for a county fair may spend 12-18 hours in a single day putting up exhibits and more. They will most likely have to walk from one end of the fair to the other multiple times. Their setup may end up with their being on ladders hanging items to tops of pegboards or crawling the floor adjusting exhibit props.

Veterans who’ve worked multiple fairs put their feet first. Good shoes, with good support, are the must have fashion accessory. Bad shoes with blisters can ruin a fair week – slowing them down, distracting them, and giving them less flexibility to get whatever jobs need to be done.

The same thing is through for businesses and people. Make sure your base is secure and adequately supported. Then you’ll be ready to handle whatever challenges this day or week present.

  • The house, the business, and the person whose base is built upon sand will not long stand.
  • Those they build on rock are so sturdy the wind cannot knock.

How does your base look? Feet first!

Wedding Cakes and Niches

'wedding cake by mum' photo (c) 2007, Julie Pi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Twenty years ago, I took a cake decorating course and had visions of one day decorating my daughter’s wedding cake. I didn’t have a daughter -yet – but oh it would be wonderful to do that for her one day.

Then my younger sister asked me to make her wedding cake. Sure, I said eagerly. By this time, I had a 5-year-old daughter.  Then came the stress. I cried when icing didn’t look right. I cried when the largest cake split when I removed it from the pan. After 3 days of baking and decorating, I had the layers done.

Then I had to transport the cake across state lines, to the wedding. So I lined my car trunk with wet towels, drove 30 miles an hour for the 40 mile trip, and prayed a lot. The cake ended up looking well.

All my daughter remembers from the adventures in wedding cake making are my tears.

If/when she one day gets married – and it had better be a long time from now – I will find a cake decorator. Yes, I can cook.  Yes, I made my kids’ First Communion cakes and birthday cakes.  But I learned wedding cakes aren’t my niche, and my time is better spent elsewhere. Just because I can decorate a wedding cake doesn’t mean I should.

I don’t want my daughter’s memory of her wedding to be my tears of stressing the cake.

Which sounds like the business coach I spoke to 3 weeks ago who told me: narrow your focus. Do what you do best and others will know when to hire you. Today, I remembered that when I turned down a job outside my niche and referred it to a friend who would do a faster, better, job than I could.

I can teach you how to use your PC better and how to better leverage social media. My circle of friends and business colleagues includes a dream team of media players who can help you make the most of your marketing dollars. If you want a website that wins search and would like to integrate it with a phone app, blog, video, and social media, along with programming so you can directly target your market, I know some pros who do what they do best, do it very well, and grow your business in the process.

Be who you are. Do what you do best. Make it better. Find others who do the same. Great things will happen.

The Flinstone Car or the Hummer?

Hummer H3photo © 2009 Anatoli Axelrod | more info (via: Wylio)
Does your new web marketing plan look more like a Flinstone Car or a Hummer? Which will better drive business success?

The Flinstone Car can move from Point A to Point B. It’s cobbled together, with a website engine from Bedrock and a marketing chassis from Rockville. The social media steering wheel is strapped to the car with a dinosaur bone that doesn’t quite fit right but works just well enough to let the steering wheel turn the stone wheels.  The website engine is really a couple of guys running under the car, and they have trouble when they get into search engine gravel pits. Barely reaching Point B from Point A gets the job done.

The Hummer was custom designed so its parts work together. The website engine is up to whatever tasks are needed, and the Hummer glides across search engine gravel pits, beating all its competitors to the finish line. The social media steering wheel is finely tuned to help the car shift directions whenever needed. Equipped with the latest technology, the Hummer can go mobile or video whenever needed. Getting from Point A to Point B is never a problem – if you don’t watch out, the Hummer will venture to Point Z and find you business on the other side of the planet.

Will the Flinstone Car or the Hummer carry your business further?

Do you know someone who’s getting Flinstone Car quality work and paying Hummer prices for it? I do.

Maybe you know someone who knows the Flinstone Car won’t work and the Hummer is too expensive. Guess what – there’s a budget-minded smart car that can also get your business further than the Flinstone Car.

If your business marketing feels like a cobbled Flinstone car and you would like to get a smoother vehicle for the 21st century, let me know. I can refer you to a great team that can meet your needs to better drive your businesses’ marketing – with web design, smartphone apps, blogs, video, social media, and more so you can best reach your customers and grow your business.

5 Ways Young People Become Better Entrepreneurs

Money-Euro-USD-LEI_53073-480x360photo © 2010 Emilian Robert Vicol | more info (via: Wylio)
With the right experiences and opportunities to make mistakes, young people can become successful entrepreneurs. In the Financial Times, David Koeppel wrote, “When Entrepreneurs Are Too Young to Succeed,” outlining the risks young entrepreneurs face. Koeppel describes the pitfalls but misses the solution.  The more experiences young people bring to business, the more likely they are to succeed. Here’s how.

  1. Small Beginnings. It’s harder for young people to get jobs than it used to be. I ran a paper route at age 10.  Nevertheless, a snow shovel or a cookie sheet could be a stepping stone to business 101. Mowing lawns can grow to a bigger business. When my daughter was younger, she made and sold cake rolls and dinner rolls to raise money to pay her tuition for the Evansville Children’s Choir. One talented teen babysitter designed a password protected website for her clients so they could check her calendar and book her online.
  2. Nonprofit Fundraisers. Volunteer for nonprofits. Our 4-H leaders welcome young people at catering dinners. They learn customer interaction, teambuilding, and more.
  3. Youth Organizations. Smart youth development programs put teens fully in charge of their own fundraisers. Our Vanderburgh County 4-H Junior Leaders completely run a food booth at our county fair. Their success fully depends on themselves. No adults rescue them if there aren’t enough workers or they didn’t order enough food. When my daughter was their treasurer last year, she camped on the fairgrounds with another family so she could be there when they closed and be up early each morning to make food orders.
  4. College Programs. College business programs can better prepare their students. The School of Business at the University of Evansville requires all business majors to complete internships. Hands on experience is a great teacher of Office Politics 101. In addition, UE offers an entrepreneurial program where its business majors can develop a business plan and present it in a competition where the winner earns seed money to begin the business.
  5. Family Businesses. My husband and I have run The Copper Lion, Inc., for 11 years. We’re a mom and pop digital graphics shop that provides services to national ad agencies and Fortune 500 clients. Our kids have grown up with a work state of life, where our schedules revolve around client needs, with time carved out for family. For extra income, we sometimes sell books at conventions, and our kids have grown up helping us set up, sell, tear down, and inventory. They’ve seen us eat shoplifting losses and smile all day while we talk with every customer, no matter how tired we are.  They’ve seen us put up with government paperwork, such as the year we were audited by unemployment to make sure we were paying all unemployment taxes for my husband and me.

Kids who grow up in an entrepreneurial home develop a different mindset because of their experiences. I recently spent an afternoon with a nursing major who grew up with her father in a family business. She had seen him succeed despite roadblocks and too much paperwork by government bureaucrats. In the process, she honed a business sense to spot problems, see strengths, and understand what it takes to succeed in business.

Yes, it’s harder for young people to gain those experiences in a tough economy with high unemployment. Nevertheless, they can do it and gain the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in business with a lot of trying.



Star Spangled Opportunities

American Flagphoto © 2009 Tom Thai | more info (via: Wylio)
Despite the economy, Americans willing to work harder and smarter with brains and brawn can still discover the American dream.

Don’t let the Debbie Downers discourage you. My family and I have lost everything and come back, and I’ve great confidence you can do the same.

On August 11, 2001, our family’s home and business burned on a Saturday night, a year after our business opened. The structure stood, but the inside was gutted with smoke and water damage. The next Monday morning, I found our flag and hung it by our front door. Our landline phone still worked, so we strung a phone cord through what had been a kitchen door into the driveway and set my office up with a card table and folding chair.

It’s 10 years later, and our business is still standing. We fought back – with lots of hard work, sweat, and sacrifice. You can do the same.

New business opportunities exist for those who want to find them. Surround yourself with business leaders who are grabbing their own brass rings. If you don’t know any, go to Twitter, find them, and follow them. Learn from them. Don’t imitate them – just adapt what you learn to who you are and what works for you.

When our ancestors came to America, many had to reinvent themselves to survive in the New World. Guess what. It’s New Techno World in the 21st century, and you might need to do the same. Your ancestors did it, and so can you. Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy wrote a book, Branding Yourself, which can help.

Two years ago, my husband and I took our business in new directions by way of social media and set some basic goals: increase repeat business, develop new clients, and go global. Each of those goals has been met. We’ve tweaked our product mix, learned new skills, and adapted old ones.

When you set those goals and do what it takes to make them happen, you too can witness the power of Star Spangled Opportunities. With bombs bursting in air, under rockets red glare, YOUR flag can still wave.

Don’t quit. Go for the dream. You can do it in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Oh – and if you want to know how our family and our business survived that fire, buy my book, He Uses It for Good, when it’s released later this year.

Google+ Joins the Social Media Playground

playgroundphoto © 2006 Azfar Ismail | more info (via: Wylio)

What do businesses need to know and do right now with Google+?

Keep your backyard Social Media Playground flexible enough to adjust the layout when a new toy gets introduced to the market.

Early reports look good. With its invitation only roll-out, social media obsessives like me were pumping Twitter networks yesterday to angle invites from friends already there. We liked what we saw. All it took was an invite and a gmail account to get me hooked.

What do Businesses Need to Know:

I hope you didn’t fall so in love with your Facebook page that you made it the inground pool centerpiece of your social media strategy. Facebook owns the platform and loves to change its rules. Arguing with Facebook is as effective as negotiating with the Borg in Star Trek.

If you built the inground Facebook pool, get ready to make adjustments in your other backyard space. Facebook grew too confident and comfortable with its market dominance because there was no viable competitor. In recent months, and especially in recent weeks, I’ve heard varied frustrations from people sick of Facebook. Why?

  • Teens don’t want to hang out on the same block Grandma and Grandpa do.
  • Facebook games lost their luster.
  • Recent spam attacks that showed pornographic images put wavering users over the edge.
  • More people are frustrated at how difficult it is to negotiate with Facebook if they delete your account.

Real competition will force Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to all up their game. This morning, Facebook added sorting and reputation features to comments.

What do Businesses Need to Do:

  • Get an invite to Google+ for at least one person on your social media team. Start playing.
  • Vary the toys on your social media playground. If all you’ve had is the Facebook pool, it’s time to try the Twitter trampoline and the LinkedIn Playhouse.
  • Get thee to WordPress and Youtube. Go blogging with written and video channels. (The Youtube/Google+ connection could become much bigger.)
  • Go mobile. Design your website for mobile. Value added apps your customer uses can make your sales boom.
  • If you choose to stay Facebook only social media marketing, prepare yourself for the day your Facebook pool becomes as relevant as a backyard museum designed for Pet Rocks.

If you need help getting started with Twitter or LinkedIn, I can help. If you don’t know who to go to to create an app, design your website, or set up your blog so you not only win search but make more money, ask me for recommendations.

I know some super talented pros in each of those areas who can help – WordPress design, web design, blogging, video, and app development and would be glad to give you a referral.

My Clients are Heroes, Not Sheep

Sheep on bike pathphoto © 2006 Eva | more info (via: Wylio)
I recently saw a tweet where someone said his clients were dumb sheep prone to harming themselves, who needed to be sheered instead of slain.

How sad. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I’ve never had a single client or student who meets that definition.

My clients are heroes. They are incredible people, who have often met challenges and overcome them. My job is to help them leverage technology to make their lives easier and their businesses more efficient. If I didn’t believe in my clients and their potential,  how could I help them achieve greater success?

To me, the most exciting part of my job is to see a light bulb turn on in someone’s heart when they suddenly realize new possibilities or decide to try something new. Once, when I returned to a corporate client after teaching them Excel for the first time the week before, the h.r. manager met me at the door and told me,

 “Mary, you’ve awakened a sleeping giant. Everyone in last week’s class is trying new ways to make their jobs easier with spreadsheets.”

Walt Whitman must have seen the same possibilities I do when he wrote “I Hear America Singing.”

Here’s to the unsung, ordinary heroes who live extraordinary lives.

What do you do that’s extraordinary? If you aren’t sure, I would be glad to help you find it and help you show how remarkable you are by way of social media or other technology.

Your glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s full to the brim with possibilities.

Go for it!

Profit is NOT a 4-Letter Word

International Money Pile in Cash and Coinsphoto © 2011 epSos .de | more info (via: Wylio)
“I want to copy the graphics of your book series without buying them. Will you email the pictures to me so I don’t have to photocopy them?” A friend of mine who’s written a series of books was once asked that question.

“Will you send me your presentation so I can use it to give to my friends?” I was recently asked. “I can’t afford you so I just want your presentation.”

I strongly believe in helping non-profits and those with challenges. In fact, I’m so sympathetic that my husband told me that my next philanthropic endeavor is to raise money for the Biever Family College Fund.  Profit is NOT a 4-letter word.

My presentations are my work product. I share parts on Slideshare. However, I am not going to give away my full presentation for others to use. My name is on it, and it’s my brand. My time and expertise went into creating it, along with what I say with each part. If I let you use it, I dilute my brand.

I explained to my friend that a lawyer won’t give you a lease template for you to make your own. Instead, the lawyer takes the template and adjusts it to fit your needs, using time and training for which you are charged. The same applies to my work.

I don’t walk into a restaurant and ask them to give me a free meal because my budget is tight. If I don’t have money, I eat somewhere cheaper or fix my own. If I’m desperate, there are food pantries and other resources so I won’t go hungry. Doesn’t the same apply to owners of small businesses?

How to handle the flow of requests for donations of money, products, and me?

Make a donation budget. Plan, pick and choose who you help and how much to help and how much you can afford. When that amount is capped, you can explain to those asking for more that your donation budget for the year has been met and wish them well. When you focus on building your business to make it MORE profitable, then you can help others more in the future.

If you don’t value your own work product and think it’s worthy of buying, no one else will either.

The Socializer

“I can do this!” one of my clients exclaimed after I helped her create a social media schedule that would fit with her business day.

Afterwards, she told people I had “Socialized” her. That inspired this ad campaign, The Socializer. I joked about copy for the ad. Then my husband and daughter of The Copper Lion took my idea of The Socializer last night and created the graphic.

Learning to leverage technology is frustrating. What I do is help you help yourself and find how to make it work for you. We will most likely laugh along the way because a dose of laughter helps the lesson go down.

I wish I could put the theme song to The Equalizer with the graphic. Back in the day, the Equalizer helped equalize the odds of regular people facing tough challenges. I do the same today, as The Socializer.

Frustrated and want to hire some help to make social media (or Excel or Word or Outlook) easier to unravel? Give me a call! Write on my wall! Tweet me! Email me! I’ll be there, ready to help.

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