Follow your dream: Four entrepreneurial lessons from a radio engineer turned winemaker

Back in August, my husband and I stumbled upon a small microwinery and tasting room in downtown Healdsburg, Calfornia, Garagiste, which is a joint venture for two wineries, Cartograph and Stark. Thinking we’d just grab a quick taste and leave, we ended up enchanted by Alan Baker, Cartograph’s wine maker and owner.

Alan’s entrepreneurial story is fabulous: He’s a public radio engineer, turned blogger/podcaster, turned winemaker. With Cartograph, he produces ultra-premium Pinot Noir sourced from grapes from the best Northern California coastal vineyards. (PS, great holiday gift idea!)  His mission is to produce wines that are true to the vineyard and vintage from which they come.

As we sat and sipped, we loved the gothic, high-end feel of the stone gray tasting room and the interaction we had with the man who’d lovingly made the wines we were enjoying. We got to talking about how he loved that wine is such an experiential brand, and for that reason, so much care was taken in architecting and decorating the tasting room. Most wine lovers know that the joy is found in the experience of wine – and that can manifest whether you are spending $20 or $200 a bottle. It’s not about price: it’s about taste and experience.

But Alan is not just savvy about branding, he has a powerful entrepreneurial story, ripe with juicy lessons about planning, moxie, and following your dream – no matter how far down the bottom of the ladder you may need to start.

THIS IS A TWO PART INTERVIEW. In Part One, Alan shares how he got started in an industry he knew little about and parlayed a loyal audience into backers for his dream. In Part Two, Alan shares important lessons on crafting an experiential brand.

Here is Part One of Alan’s story with four lessons you can take to heart in your own ventures:


1. Opportunity will knock – if you build your house in the right place (Tweet!)

My passion for great wine started with a simple $13 bottle of Riesling from Alsace. I was fascinated that such a simple thing as a pale colored glass of wine could be so incredibly complex and engaging. My obsession with learning everything I could about the wines of the world eventually led me to decide I needed to at least try to find a way to make wine the focus of my day rather than an off-hours pursuit. After years of interviewing maverick American composers like Meredith Monk and Philip Glass for my radio work, I knew that finding the right path is often a process that brings a lot of uncertainty and risk into life. They instilled in me the belief that if you focus on what you love and do best while putting yourself into a position where opportunities may present themselves, you’re sure to find creative energy and success.

2. Work with what you’ve got (Tweet!)

Once I’d decided to strike out for California from my Minnesota home, I needed a scheme to get experience. I knew I loved wine, but I wasn’t confident I would love the wine “business.” I feared that I’d end up like the cake lover who opens a bakery only to realize they hate getting up at 2 a.m. every day. So rather than spend my life savings on a degree at UC Davis, I decided to do what I already knew how to do: produce radio. I’d use my production skills to investigate where I might fit in the wine business. The plan was simple and, necessarily, vague. I would write a blog and produce an audio podcast to document my adventures as I explored the wine industry – a well-developed industry I knew very little about.

I told all my friends and family about the idea repeatedly to force myself out of my safe public radio job and into the unknown. My pitch to wineries was that if they gave me part-time work, they’d get publicity from the podcast. There was really no other reason for them to pay me to do work they could get done faster with experienced help, so the podcast was my foot in the door.

In the fall of 2005, National Public Radio picked up the podcast for their alt.npr series. This affiliation grew the audience for my content quickly and enabled me to pretty much call anybody up and schedule an interview. I used the podcast as a way to investigate all aspects of the industry from grape growers to marketing pros and wine makers I respected to see where I might fit in the wine business. I turns out that I write way too slowly to ever make a buck off the writing, so that was out. Growing grapes is a very labor-intensive activity and unless you own that chunk of dirt, it’s not a thing a 40-year-old dude is going to get by on when he has a wine budget to think about. It had also become clear that while NPR did like the content, there wasn’t a market for wine-focused media that was going to start paying the bills. So I was burning through my savings and starting to feel the pressure that comes with not knowing what’s next. However, once I got into the winery working as a cellar rat with Unti and Peterson wineries in Dry Creek Valley, I found what I’d been looking for. The winemaking process is fascinating and I fell in love with every backbreaking chore and nerdy technical detail.

3. Get creative: Leverage your community (Tweet!)

With the bank account shrinking I focused on how I might stick around to work another vintage. Plan B: move to San Francisco to do tech consulting to stash some money for the 2006 harvest. Grapes are not cheap, nor is paying for winery space to make wine. I scored some nice consulting contracts but quickly realized that I was only treading water. SF is a very expensive town and I would never save enough money to make wine. Also, I was just doing the same work as before, albeit in a very pretty city. I had a few months of living expenses left and figured I had one shot at leveraging all the work I had been doing writing the blog and producing the podcast. So after finding a very innovative winery in San Francisco called Crushpad where I could make wine, I sent out a pitch to my blog readers and podcast listeners; If they would pay in advance for a case of wine they could come help me make my first commercial wine and we’d document the whole process with a video podcast. To my great relief I sold 65 of 100 cases of wine as futures, giving me the cash to buy grapes and pay Crushpad. The archive of this project is still online.

My brand was named after the blog. Cellar Rat Cellars. Throughout this project, I was using Crushpad’s virtual winemaking website called Crushnet to manage my group of people helping with the wine. People as far away as Puerto Rico were participating, so having a tool to manage this virtual group was a necessity. After the winemaking was concluded, I was hired by Crushpad to develop Crushnet and grow the virtual community of winemakers. It was at Crushpad working on hundreds of fermentations a year where I got most of my hands-on winemaking experience and set me up to strike out on my own to launch Cartograph with my partner Serena Lourie in 2009.

4. Get friendly with uncertainty while keeping you eye on your vision (Tweet!)

I think it’s essential in any entrepreneurial operation to use the tools at hand to continually move towards a goal, even when the route is completely unknown at the start of the journey. There is always a way to use your existing skills to open new doors but you have to be willing to live with a lot of uncertainty and always be looking at alternate ways to solve a problem. Had you asked me 12 months into the events above if it was worth it, I might have said no but another six months, and a couple more forced left turns, and I was being paid well as a technologist in a ground-breaking winery. From where I sat in Minnesota I honestly couldn’t have dreamt up a better outcome.

The “persistence of vision” mantra I’d been hearing from those composers I so admired really does work.

Join us for Part Two of this interview, when Alan talks about his brand vision for Cartograph and how he brought it to life.

Connect with Cartograph Wines: ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

What A Ha! insight did you get from Alan’s story? How does it apply to your own entrepreneurial or project journey? Please share in the Comments below and get some link love back to you site!

The Art of the Deal

Negotiation. Partnership. Bartering. Often, it’s the “people management” part of business that causes the most anxiety and challenges. Last week, I was honored to moderate a CRAVESeattle panel for women entrepreneurs titled The Art of The Deal. We tackled these issues and I wanted to share some key takeaways with you.

Forging Effective Partnerships

When you’re partnering on a project or marketing activity, there are various landmines to avoid. First and foremost, clear communication is key. Discuss up front the roles and responsibilities of each party. Outline who is responsible for what.

In my view, there are 3 areas you need to ensure you map out clearly before getting into bed with each other:

  • Marketing: Who is promoting what to whom? Are we using our email lists, placing ads, posting on social media? Map out how you’re splitting this so there’s no, “I thought you were the one doing that” conversations after the fact. And clearly discuss how you split all costs and expenses so there is no ill will. Attached to this, how will you follow up and split leads after the event or activity? Make sure you are both aligned or your prospects will be left confused and caught in the middle.
  • Operations: Who’s responsible for booking the room, ordering the food or writing the copy? Who is developing the sales page and processing payments? Who’s project managing? Work out all the details before hand, list the tasks and assign an owner.
  • Financials: Money issues can turn a partnership sour faster than anything. Clearly establish your joint budget and how you will split both expenses and incoming revenue. Sometimes 50/50 may not make sense if you’re leveraging one person’s larger mailing list or brand recognition. Have the conversation upfront – trust me, it will be even more painful and awkward later if you don’t.

To Pay or Barter?

Collaboration can take many forms and two ways of bootstrapping your growing business can be either to pay for services rendered or barter. How do you decide? It depends on your budget and what you need. Only barter for things your business really needs. Otherwise, it’s not a good deal and you end up giving away products or services that could be earning you money for something you never needed anyway. Finally, be sure your expectations are clear. When you’re not paying someone for something, that means you fall to the bottom of their priority list. Are you okay with that? Is your timing flexible? If not, it may pay to pay instead.

When you’re on the other end of the barter, you also need to ensure you can commit to giving away your time. Don’t do it if you are crazy busy and it will just leave a bad taste in your mouth. You owe it to the other person to be honest and to only take on work to which you can give your very best – and give it in a way that doesn’t make you bitter or resentful.

Overall, be selective about your chosen collaborators and partners. Make sure you’re both committed to delivering on time and ensure that aligning with this business is not going to impact your brand in a negative way.

Have you effectively partnered, collaborated or bartered with someone? What words of wisdom can you share? Please share below in the Comments!

NO is not a dirty word

I think we’re programmed to see “No” as a dirty word from a young age. No candy before bedtime. No, don’t touch that outlet. No, you can’t have the car tonight. No, you absolutely cannot date that guy who’s ten years older than you and plans to pick you up on his motorcycle…

Here’s the truth: Saying No is actually a gift. Why?

It’s a gift for you because sometimes we need to say no in order to focus on what matters. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. If you say no to the wrong clients or customers and focus on serving the ones you enjoy, who will pay you what you’re worth and who will gladly spread the word about how awesome your products or services are – your business is going to be a lot more successful.

I don’t care how big or small your company is. You’ve got to treat loyal customers better than the rest. You’ve got to serve their needs first and offer then special perks, privileges or rewards.

Remember your brand strategy. Who are you talking to? Who are your “people”? Who matters to your business? Your customers and clients represent your brand to others, so choose wisely. (Tweet this!)

I’m not suggesting you act rudely toward prospects or those in your audience. Not at all. I’m talking more about managing your time, attention and budget better and invest in the right people for your business. If you are too busy dealing with the wrong people, you won’t have the bandwidth to serve the right ones.

Saying no is also a gift to those to whom you say no. You enable them the freedom to find a better fit, to find what they are looking for at a price they are comfortable paying. You also avoid becoming bitter as time goes on and just making both you and the customer unhappy in the end. If something is a bad fit from the start, it’s better to cut bait right then and there.

Also, you give them a gift because you don’t agree to something you don’t have time, energy or passion to deliver. Instead of overcommitting and making everyone unhappy, focus on quality rather than quantity. It may hurt to say no to that client, customer – or even volunteer opportunity – but remember that you do them more harm if you can’t truly deliver your best for them. Let them find someone who will invest their best.

See? No is not a dirty word and, frankly, it needs to be said with love and respect way more often.

How do you turn down work or say no when asked to volunteer? Any tips for how to do this gracefully? Please share your insight and wisdom with us in the Comments!

When you shouldn’t give 100%

We’re taught that practice makes perfect. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Give 110%.

I was a straight A student in high-school. I remember being devastated when I got my first B ever (Geometry) and I was brought to tears in college when I got the first C of my life (Microeconomics). Even when I got an A minus, I was a bit miffed. I’m not sure what I thought: did I really think anything less than an A-plus was a complete and utter failure on my part? Did I think it meant I hadn’t mastered or learned the content?

Math was especially challenging for me. I was more of a vocabulary and English gal. But I was good at memorization so many of my math classes were about nailing down the formula and replicating it – even if I didn’t understand the theory or reasoning behind it. Not the best way to learn, is it?

Sometimes that goal of perfection – of the A-plus – can hurt us. If we are such perfectionists, we may never get our newsletters out each month, or write that novel, or take a chance on that new business pitch. We may never launch that website. Waiting for perfection is an impossible task, since perfection is never possible. And that means you’ll spend your life and career planning to do things rather than making them happen.

There is a reason software companies release new versions every year. Version 1.0 is never going to be as good as 5.0 or even 10.0. They roll out something that is mostly complete, learn from their mistakes, and gather feedback, tweak and refine. Rinse. Repeat. If companies had not failed when trying to introduce tablets in the past, the iPad may never have been so successful now. If that first brick of a cell phone had never seen the market until it was “perfect”, we’d never have had generations of phones leading up the sleek, small, powerful smart phones of today.

Seth Godin always talks about the importance of shipping. Strategy and planning is vital, don’t get me wrong. But at some point, you have to tell the inner perfectionist to shut the hell up and ship your product, launch your website, open your shop or start your consulting practice.

You’ll learn. You’ll get feedback. And you’ll evolve. Recently, I spoke at the New York Times Small Business Summit on a panel called Evolve Your Brand. We spoke about the fact that, while a brand should stay true to its core values and mission, it can and should evolve. The world changes too fast for you to ever keep up with some mythical perfection standard built on shifting sands. It changes by the second.

So are you going to wait and wait and wait for 100% perfection before you do anything – and be the best-intentioned business or person who never accomplished a thing? Or are you going to put in the strategy work, get to a solid 80% and push those efforts out the door so you can keep on going, keep on improving and keep on innovating?

Doers DO. It really is that simple.

If you want to stop spinning your wheels and make your brand irresistible, ensure your messaging is clear and attract more clients or customers, then stop the excuses of being too busy and get into shape at my next Branding Bootcamp!

What is the You Economy? A chat with Tara Gentile (take the survey)

Welcome to the You Economy. PS, if you’re a “creative entrepreneur” you’re already part of the movement.

At Red Slice, one of my values is that creativity and cash flow are not mutually exclusive. We’re seeing it all around us in the New Economy: people building brands based on a social mission; billionaires supporting philanthropy and profits at the same time – and thousands of small businesses and “solopreneurs” creating positive change, healthy businesses and meaningful lives.

Tara Gentile is a crusader in this mission – with a different slant. She’s a writer, speaker and business coach leading what she terms the You Economy. What does that mean? “I’m redefining the whole business paradigm as the exchange of commerce, experience, and meaning so that my clients can earn more while making their customers’ lives richer.”

See? Passion, profits and doing good can all co-exist. Tara is living proof: “I’m an aspiring theologian turned business thinker. I’m the daughter of a creative entrepreneur – though she didn’t realize it at the time – and the mother of a daughter I can’t imagine will be anything but!”

Tara’s the author of The Art of Earning – a guide to rewriting your personal money story for the New Economy.  And if you’re a small business or solopreneur, help her spread the word about the power of microbusiness by completing the $100 Million Microbusiness Survey.

RS: Tara, welcome! Please tell us about what your do for entrepreneurs and what you see as the biggest barrier to small business success.
TG: I enable people to discover what is really valuable about what they do. We most often get into business for ourselves but our self-interested motivations don’t cut it when it comes to really developing a business that works! It’s all about seeing things through the customer’s eyes. That takes some experimentation, insight, and confidence. It’s also takes getting out of your own head and into someone else’s.

The biggest barrier to success for small business owners is themselves! Business owners get so caught up in doing things “right” that they forget to do what works best for themselves and their customers. I find there is still an immense amount of fear in doing business, as well. Fear keeps you from clearing your schedule to work on your latest & greatest idea, it keeps you from trying something new to engage your customers in a new way, it keeps you from offering the product or service that will make your business go from surviving to thriving.

RS: What is the $100 million microbusiness survey and how did it come about? What do you hope to achieve or find out?
TG: The $100 Million Microbusiness Survey is an attempt to gather data on $100 million of economic activity by microbusiness owners. Because we tend to measure our business production in terms of “salaries” and not revenue that’s streaming into the economy, we sell ourselves short.
In 2009, 95.5% of US businesses were microbusinesses. In 2008, $265 BILLION of net income was achieved through sole proprietor businesses in the United States. In 2009, $837 BILLION worth of sales were generated by non-employer businesses in the United States. Yet, we know very little about these kind of businesses.

My goal with the survey is to better understand who these business owners are, what difficulties they face, and maybe – just maybe – how we can help them to achieve their dreams through media awareness & government policy.

RS: Great stuff! PS, everyone with a microbusiness reading this should take the survey now and let their voice be heard. In your opinion, what is the future of small business success in this country – or even worldwide? Any juicy trends or predictions to share?
TG: The future of business in the United States – and around the globe – is small business. More specifically, the future is microbusiness. My “juicy trend” might seem like a downer but really it’s quite optimistic: the jobs aren’t coming back. Our economic production will continue to grow through technology, not human resources. If we want people to be earning real money in fulfilling ways, we need to plug them into real businesses.

Those businesses may represent ways in which they would have been employed in the past (think freelancers earning more with greater flexibility) or they could be in new fields, serving people in new ways. Government needs to make it much easier for us to take agency over our livelihoods. We need health solutions that work, tax solutions that work, child care solutions that work, investment solutions that work.  And we need it now. We, the microbusiness owners, will pull us out of this downward spiral. We are the New Economy.

Connect with Tara Gentile on Twitter or Facebook. And please take and share the $100 Million Microbusiness Survey today.

Have you built a business that may not have existed 50 or even 25 years ago? Does your business enable flexibility and creativity in your own life? Please share in the Comments below!

4 ways to jumpstart your business after a break

New baby. Extended sabbatical. Major health crisis. Six months abroad…heck, years abroad.

People ebb and flow out of big businesses without a peep. But when you’re a business of one – or even five – who’s left steering the brand awareness ship while you go island hopping?

I had my major health crisis just 6 months after launching my own consulting business. You know what happened? Well, for one thing, time did not implode upon itself – everything that seemed urgent faded away, as it should. While I did miss a conference call the day after my brain aneurysm ruptured (I bet the client never thought they’d hear that excuse from my husband), the world did not end. But practically speaking, the blog went cold, the networking ceased and the cacophony of market noise enveloped my absence like a black hole. In the blink of an eye, my business profile faded.

So how is it that 4+ years later, my business is thriving more than it ever has? How is it that I had the best business year financially not long after I fell into the void?

If you have to take a voluntary – or unexpected – break from your business, here are four tips that served me well in cranking up the brand awareness engine again. These are also useful if you simply need to revive your personal brand after a long absence:

  1. Rev up your blogging: When you emerge from your cocoon, one of the few things you have in your control is the ability to add useful content to the world again. And besides, perhaps your client work is dried up for now so what else have you got to do? Build out a new editorial calendar and maybe amp up your blogging for the time being. Maybe you normally blog once a week, so increase that to twice. Make your content super useful, super sexy and super keyword-rich so you can back on the web radar again. Combine this with sending out a few Tweets and Facebook updates about your latest post and you can boost your exposure efforts.
  2. Jump into the online conversation: Again, you can control your content output, so leverage all those great new blog posts in online forums or communities like Biznik, Bzzhive or Focus – or whatever industry-specific places reign supreme for you. Start commenting on relevant blogs or articles on a consistent basis to raise your profile again. Just target 3 per day at about 30 minutes each day.  Or maybe pitch a few contributed articles to media outlets like American Express Open Forum or for even more exposure and street cred.
  3. Invite key people to your welcome back party: When I returned from my hiatus, I reached out to several colleagues with phone calls or personalized emails letting them know where I’d been and that I was up to my old tricks again and ready for action. You may think people know what’s going on with you but really, they don’t. They are too busy. Reach out individually to trusted contacts via email or Linked In and take them out for coffee to let them know what business or clients you are looking for and kindly ask if they can spread the word for you. Don’t be afraid to ask “competitors” as well – they might be so busy that they are turning folks away so you can help them out, and maybe give them a referral fee in exchange. And always ask how you can help them in return. People are kinder than you think – and it’s a great way to reconnect.
  4. Get out there live and in person: Pick 2-3 key networking groups or clubs and start amping up your face time again. Attend lunches, happy hours, book signings. When I was returning to work after my health issues, this was quite a challenge for me as I was still recovering and suffering from massive fatigue – plus I could drive at the time. But I forced myself to try to go to one live event per week. And I asked gracious friends to drive me. They were only too happy to help, since they didn’t want to go alone either!

There are some people on the periphery of my professional circle who did not even realize I had been out of commission for six months – not sure if that’s good or bad! But it tells me I did a good job of trying to stay connected and present as much as I could.

When it is time to get back into things, have a plan, take action and you’ll rev things up in no time!

How you like me now? A chat with Michelle Tillis Lederman

We all say it. We want to work with people we like. But can it really be this easy to conduct business this way? Can we focus on networking with the people we like and with whom we genuinely connect versus just the “right” people? Michelle Tillis Lederman says yes – in fact, it’s better for your work and career in the long run?

Today we dish about likeability, how to be more concise and three red-hot ways to rethink networking.

Michelle is an author, speaker, trainer and communications expert. She’s a firecracker – and she’s also a blogger, animal lover and rescuer (you can see why we bonded), and a mom.

Her new book, The 11 Laws of Likability, is subtitled: Relationship Networking . . . Because People Do Business with People They Like. The book, featuring activities, self-assessment quizzes, and real-life anecdotes from professional and social settings, shows readers how to identify what’s likable in themselves and create honest, authentic interactions that become “wins” for all parties involved.

RS: Welcome Michelle! Your book is called The 11 Laws of Likability. Saving the actual laws for those that buy the book, what does this mean and how can they make your business life (and personal life) better?

MTL: What makes each of us likable is distinct to us, and to some degree it’s in the mind of the beholder. But the basic drivers of likability are the same for most of us.  It is these drivers that I refer to as the Laws of Likability.

In many cases, likability actually trumps competence and many organizations differentiate the average performers from the stars based on their ability to lead, manage, and interact effectively with others. Life is about relationships and it is those relationships that sustain us and generate results.   Likeability is everyone’s business, and people do business with people they like.

RS: One of your blog posts recently was called “Say What You Want to Say And Shut Up.” Loved it. And for all my talk on clarity, I tend to ramble when I think I’m not communicating clearly. How can we be more concise?

MTL: Start with the punchline.  Is that concise enough?  The simplest way to increase both clarity and brevity is to start with your conclusion. Often, we try to get others to follow our train of thought in order for them to agree with our opinion.  If instead we start with the conclusion, it is much easier to follow, and be persuaded by, the explanation that follows.

Another tip, ask.  Ask, “Is that clear?”  or “Would you like me to elaborate?”  Those questions prevent the rambling and allow us to be clear about what is unclear with a follow up question.

RS: What are 3 actionable tips for effective networking?

MTL: Shift the way you think about networking in 3 ways:

  1. From you to the relationship.  It really isn’t about you or what you need. It is about the relationship and adding value to create connection. Don’t network just for need.
  2. From business to anything.  We often start and stop conversations on business topics such as, “what do you do?” There is nothing wrong with that, but often we find the strongest connections come in other areas of our lives. Talk about a broad range of topics.
  3. From now to long term.  Build the relationships that you want to build, not the ones you think you should. The network that you build based on connection is the one that will be there for you when you need it. Don’t network for now, network for life.

About Michelle: Michelle Tillis Lederman, PCC, author of  The 11 Laws of Likability (AMACOM), is the founder of Executive Essentials, a training company that provides communications and leadership programs, as well as executive coaching services.  Michelle believes real relationships lead to real results and specializes in teaching people how to communicate with confidence, clarity, and connection.

PS: Affiliate links for Amazon in effect. Just to let you know.

What one aspect of networking or communication do you take away from this interview? Please share in the Comments.

How to be your own Juliet with Alexandra Franzen

Storytelling and branding (PS, same thing) are all about articulation. The sublime act of phrasing something to evoke just the right reaction at just the right time from just the right people.

No one does this better than today’s Slice of Brilliance guest, writer Alexandra Franzen.

I’m biased, because this “Promotional Wordsmith & Personal Scribe” – her words – helps me with my own brand messaging and has helped my clients. She also delivers the juiciness for heavyweights like Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo. Through her writing services she channels entrepreneurial LOVE into unforgettable language—the kind that inspires an immediate “YES.”

I don’t know how this chick replenishes her constant well of innovation but it might have to do with her choosing a different mission or manifesto every year. Her 2012 manifesto is called “DEVOTION.”

Today we dish about self-expression and how she turned her passion into profit.

RS: Alexandra, you have a gift for articulating intent, vibe and mission into powerful copy for clients. When did your love for writing develop, what inspired you to build a business around it?

AF: Hmmm…y’know, even as a kidlet, I was a writerly little thing. My mom quickly noticed that I had a knack for rewriting song lyrics, and pretty soon she started giving me little ‘assignments’. First it was, “Write a song about Great Aunt Mimi, to the tune of ‘Tiny Dancer’.” Later it became, “Write this fundraiser invitation, and make it really hilarious” and eventually “Write a Regency-era novella about your father & I, except he’s a butler in disguise and I’m an impetuous damsel!” Eventually, I had to diversify my client pool.

I wrote all through high school, college & my early ‘real-world’ career, in public broadcasting. Everything from five-minute operettas, to poetry, to one-act plays, to humor columns, to a grant-funded research paper, to snippets of copy for on-air promotional spots. But writing was always a sideline gig, a passion project, a lightly-paid hobby. I never really believed I could make a living – let alone build a business – through my wit & words, alone.

That is, until I quit my job – in the midst of the Recession. And suddenly, making money as a writer was the only option. And a fairly urgent one, at that.

It took me about a year to really hit my stride, as an entrepreneur. I struggled to find the right offerings, the right packages, and of course – the right clients. But once I found my sweet-spot – as a copywriter & promotional strategist for quirky, brilliant & truly visionary ‘preneurs – everything dovetailed together. Suddenly, my eclectic background and ability to duck & dive into numerous voices & styles was a marketable skill. Who woulda thunk it? Well, my mom, probably. She always knows everything about seven years before I do.

RS: They always do. People think of entrepreneurship or “being in business” as very analytical, but it can also be a form for artistic expression. What’s your advice on how to express ourselves through our businesses?

AF: I really believe that building a business is an act of supreme self-expression – what could be more expressive than packaging & presenting your greatest talents for the world to adore? When we hop on Twitter, when we post a blog entry, when we launch a new offering, when we speak or teach or lead a workshop, we’re expressing ourselves…expressing what we love, what we loathe, and what matters to us. And when we see a brand or identity that really strikes a heart-chord, what we’re essentially seeing is someone’s full & unapologetic self-expression. “This is who I am. This is what I do. This is why it matters. You with me, or what?”

RS: What messaging “rules” drive you crazy and how can people unlearn these rules for better impact?

AF: There’s an interview that’s furrowed into my brain, for all time – it’s a conversation with the great prima ballerina Allessandra Ferri from the American Ballet Theater. When Ferri was preparing to play Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, she said – forgive my paraphrasing – “First, I memorize the play. Then, I watch all the films. Then, I listen to the music – again, and again. And then, I forget everything. I must forget everything. Or how will I become my own Juliet?”

Messaging, marketing & positioning your business is a lot like preparing to play Juliet. YES, you should learn all the rules & techniques. YES, you should take all the courses, and invest in the templates. YES, you should work with top consultants, masters & gurus. But at some point, you’ve got to forget…to come back to the beginner’s mind, keeping only the essentials. Or how will you become your own Juliet? How will find your own voice? How will you build your own business – and not a facsimile of someone else’s entrepreneurial performance?

Every great artist, innovator & entrepreneur knows this to be true: the world is waiting for your Juliet…not a microfiche of someone else’s, no matter how marvelous. The world is waiting for you…to decide to be you.

More about Alexandra Franzen:

Promotional wordsmith & personal scribe. Soul stenographer. Strumpet nerd. Recovering socialist. Geriatric raver. Captivated by heart-shaped crystals, Finnish power metal, anything chartreuse, and Leonard Cohen. Fix me a Madagascar vanilla tea latte, and I’ll tell you all my secrets. Except that one.

Check out her website at Love it? Aw, yeah! And guess what? Alexandra’s putting her brilliance on-loan to you with two mini-products on the shelf right now. More on the way.

—a lovingly-crafted collection of tried ‘n true e-mail scripts, for baby-preneurs who are just starting out…as well as established solopreneurs who’ve hit a dry patch, or never quite mastered the Art of the Ask.

—a copy ‘n pasteable collection of snappy scripts, for entrepreneurs who want to crank up their credibility with highly-persuasive, love-drenched and 100% TRUE client reviews.

Widows, Champagne and Entrepreneurship: Learn from Veuve Clicquot

If you think small, family-owned businesses have it rough right now, step into Veuve Clicquot’s (The Widow Clicquot’s) shoes in this dynamic book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. Talk about an “entrepreness” with moxie to spare. [Read More]

Reboot and Reframe: Branding lesson for life #6: FACE THE FEAR

jump_fearBuilding a business is scary. And building a breakthrough brand is even scarier. An in other breaking news, spinach is green and red lights mean you should stop.

Everybody wishes they were Apple. They wish they could just be so hip and cool that no matter what new products they roll out, people will line up for miles just to own one. They wish their own brands would have that “hipness halo effect.” But I’ve noticed in my years of marketing and branding, that there is one common trait across many of these companies:

They don’t want to take the risks and they don’t want to do the work.

They think they can just revamp their website and update their colors and all of the sudden people will think they are “cool.” They forget the fundamentals of brand – and that they need to revamp their company, culture, innovation inside and out. And that takes balls, to be frank. You have to be willing to lead, to say “black” when all of your competitors are saying “white",” to take the road less traveled or try not to use the same old industry jargon in al of your marketing campaigns. To differentiate and stand out, you have to DIFFERENTIATE AND STAND OUT.

And that scares the bejeezus out of most risk-averse CEO’s and the people who work for them.

As I state in today’s video, sometimes you have to face the fear if you want to advance. I was scared of so much during my brain injury recovery, but I just kept at it. I “faked it until I made it.” I could choose to crawl up into a ball and hide from life – but I chose to take a deep breath and plunge myself back into my life again over and over until one day, it felt comfortable again.

It’s the same with brand.  Innovative leaders don’t get there by doing what everyone else is doing. They do it by taking chances, by standing out. They face the fear.  I’m not advocating doing this willy-nilly, but if you have a well thought out brand strategy, you can make smarter choices – and smarter risks. And part of that brand strategy should include doing things differently from the inside out.

View the juicy video for Lesson #6  here.

Which risks have you taken that have paid off in your business? Which risks are you less willing to take and why?

BACKSTORY TO THE SEVEN LESSONS: What do recovering from a  brain aneurysm and branding have in common? Quite a bit, it turns out. Recently, I got the wonderful opportunity to share my dramatic story at a Women Business Owners luncheon and I promised I’d post the lessons here for everyone. This is a seven-post series.

Lesson #1: Focus (and backstory to the series)

Lesson #2: Be Authentic

Lesson #3: Count on Your Tribe

Lesson #4: Practice Patience

Lesson #5: Learn to Say No