Stuck in neutral? 4 ways to reboot your business and rekindle your fire

Ah, the first blushes of entrepreneurial love. The romance! The energy! But what happens when the passion fades and the reality of demanding customers/clients, overwhelming marketing options and painful tasks (QuickBooks, anyone?) creeps in? Suddenly, your business becomes a grind and you find yourself working harder for less reward, less return…and less joy. Your once appreciative and dreamy-eyed business starts angrily demanding more of your time and energy – but in return, rewards you with the wrong customers, a weak profit margin and just doesn’t take you salsa dancing or wine tasting anymore.

I’ve been where you are. I know what it feels like to have your business success lead you down the wrong path. How choices innocently pile up – each one seemingly rational – paving a perfect road to discontent.

So a few years ago, I took a step back. I sought the objective counsel of colleagues, a wise coach and a wondrous wordsmith and tweaked my business model and messaging – core brand elements. I started doing more of what I loved and ditched what wasn’t working. And you know what? My heart (and success) soared.

If your business (and heart) feel stuck in neutral, here are 4 ways to reboot  – and check out my big announcement at the end on how I can help…

  1. What do you hate doing? STOP IT! If your business offerings have kept piling on so you can simply cater to every single need under the sun, you need to take stock and simplify your business model. What activities bring you the most joy? Do you love teaching and strategic planning but hate detailed tactics? Then start doing more workshops or retainer projects  and don’t offer hourly project work. Do you love doing massage and energy work but hate giving facials? Then cut down your services list. This also translates into how you talk about yourself (i.e., maybe you’re no longer a “full-service spa” but a “body care studio”)
  2. Play with pricing or packaging to attract the right customers/clients: You may find that the people you are attracting pay little but demand a lot, offering little profit margin in the end. How about adding more value/quality to your offerings and increasing your prices to deter more budget-conscious folks and attract a more affluent market? Or offer a tiered set of products or services to give more cost-conscious folks a self-service option, while freeing up your time for deeper, higher-value work that you adore.
  3. Revisit your messaging: Take a good, hard look at your web copy, company descriptor or even job title. Are you saying you do everything for anybody? Are you too vague and not focused on clear, crisp benefits? Does it sound boring, even to you? This could either a) be attracting the wrong type of work or b) confusing the prospective people that you really want. Remember, when you try to create a brand that is all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one. Detail out your ideal customer or client and only focus on content, services or products – and the appropriate messaging – to attract those people. Don’t worry about pleasing (or offending) anyone else but that target. Trust me, they’ll be fine without you.
  4. Audit your visual brand: OK, this one may require an investment to make some changes. Based on the people you really, really want to attract and the kind of work you really, really want to be doing, is your visual branding way off base? Do you need to modernize your colors, select bolder fonts or change out your imagery to better appeal to those people? I once consulted with someone trying to attract high-powered Alpha-male executives – and yet her website was all pastel colors and flowery script fonts. She was beating her head against the wall and wondering why those powerful male executives were not hiring her. She needed to update her look and feel to match her new offerings and target clients. Side benefit? Updating your visual look and feel might also get your heart racing with pride again about your business and give you a new opportunity for some word of mouth buzz.

With these tips, you can shift out of neutral and into overdrive again. In a good way, of course. Don’t drive yourself crazy. OK, I’ll stop with the driving metaphors….

Photo credit: Vincent O’Keeffe, Flickr

Has business boredom ever happened to you? What actions do you recommend to reignite your business – or your own personal passion? We’d love to hear so please leave a Comment below. Your wise words could help someone else!


How to brand your brick and mortar business

If you are fortunate enough to own a sweet little boutique on Main Street or a bustling restaurant along the wharf or a funky pet store in the city’s hippest arts district, I have to admit my jealousy. Brand is just as important to service- providers that survive on a laptop as it is for physical businesses. But there are oodles of possibility for boosting your brand when you have a tangible location to decorate, staff and gather your tribe.

Here are 9 ways you can boost the brand of your brick and mortar business:

  1. Build your online community – and then gather them together for a Fans Only event: Whether you host an exclusive wine and cheese Tweet-Up or invite Instagram followers to a seasonal sale, use your space to host real-life events to not only treat your loyal fans like royalty but to create memories and connections rooted in your physical store. Nothing endears people to your brand more than remembering a good time they had making new friends that was all because of you.
  2. Decorate with intent: While many of us only have websites as our main customer storefront, you are lucky. You have a whole physical space in which to convey your brand in a way customers can see, feel, smell, hear and taste. Carry your visual identity into the store with paint colors, signage in your official fonts, and brand imagery throughout. Trying to create a fresh, airy, calm brand vibe? Lay out your store in a similar way. Stock merchandise and create a floor plan that delivers the brand promise to your community in a real, live way. Choose appropriate music and even lighting schemes and scents. If you can, choose a location that extends your brand. If you’re all about being hip and funky, can you rent renovated warehouse space with brick walls or exposed steel beams? If you’re all about adorable, frilly and cute, can you find an old Victorian and give it a fresh coat of lively colors, inside and out?
  3. Collaborate with “The Enemy:” Befriend competitors or neighboring businesses and exponentially reap more rewards for everyone. Can you host a sidewalk sale with all the businesses on your street, share expenses for some entertainment and ads, and draw more foot traffic for everyone? Can you partner with complementary businesses to offer a “crawl” of some sort that take people from place to place as one package deal, like a food tour or yarn crawl (something I recently learned small local yarn shops do). By joining forces, you can do something bigger than any of you could do alone – and not only create more category awareness as a whole but reach a heck of a lot more people. And this collaboration will only spark amazing brand goodwill in the eyes of all customers involved.
  4. Support a cause: Do you love animals? Support a local food bank? Contribute to the fight against cancer? Partner with a local non-profit and host a charitable event at your location. You can offer 10% of all net sales to the charity for the night or ask customers to bring a canned good to get $5 off their purchase. Not only is it brand magic (and good karma) to give back and align with a worthy cause (especially one that compliments your brand, like a pet store hosting a mobile animal adoption event or a women’s boutique raising money for breast cancer), it can attract new customers and perhaps garner you some killer press.
  5. Sponsor targeted events: If you’re an athletic apparel store, sponsor the city’s annual 10K Holiday Run. If you’re a pet photographer with a lovely studio, contribute a photo session package to the Humane Society’s fundraising auction. If you’re a spa, sponsor a local women business owners’ luncheon. Similar to #4, this involves going out into the community to support a worthy cause or event related to your target market, rather than bringing people to you. And you can often provide a goodie bag item or some other tchotchke that gives people a reason to visit your location when the event is over: a discount, a free sample, an exclusive invitation.
  6. Offer live classes and educational events: You’re lucky enough to have a space so use it. Just like you promote valuable educational content on your blog, you can also give people a live experience. If you’re a yarn store, offer Knitting 101 for Beginners. If you’re a pet store, conduct a seminar on proper dog and cat dental care. If you’re a book store, bring in a local business book or cookbook author to present a mini-seminar. If you’re a hair salon, ask one of your product reps to educate on the benefits and proper usage of some of their most popular products. Offer attendance incentives, serve some nice appys and beverages and keep the selling soft. Nothing endears your brand more to people than when you give them something useful. They will remember.
  7. Develop a signature touch: OK, so the Tiffany blue color is taken, but what little touch of class can you add that will become your brand signature and delight customers? A local coffee shop places a single chocolate-covered espresso bean on the lid of every drink. Totally unexpected, totally cool. A home décor store wraps your purchased items tissue paper enclosed with a delicate raffia ribbon. Felt like a gift to yourself every time. Examine your business from every customer angle: Can you do something with the packaging, check-out process or even in-store displays that can become a brand differentiator for you? Maybe all your shelves are a unique recycled wood, maybe your hangers are all purple velvet? Get creative.
  8. Hire right: With the unique ability to convey your brand in the physical world comes great responsibility. Just one negative experience in your shop with an employee will ruining your brand forever – and with social media, you don’t want to take the chance of that one unhappy person influencing thousands. Hire good brand ambassadors. Will they support your brand values and leave the right brand impression on customers each and every time? Do they treat people who don’t buy on a visit just as well as the treat the ones who do? Just one employee has the ability to make or break your brand, since that one person represents your entire business to the customer at that moment. Hire people you know will live out the brand when they pick up the phone, turn around a disappointed client or ring up the next person at checkout.
  9. Remove all barriers to purchase: This sounds obvious but I’m constantly shocked by how many times small businesses get this wrong. Make it as easy and seamless as possible for someone to buy from you. This experience will make or break your brand. This means accepting cash AND credit cards (sorry folks, cost of doing business), investing in a really great and easy-for-employees-to-use POS system to expedite checkout. Clearly labeling all items with the right SKU’s. Posting the right pricing information near the product (don’t make me guess). Making sure you staff well enough so people don’t wait forever in line and change their minds because it’s too much hassle. I hate when I’m ready to buy my stuff and the cashier has disappeared for a spell. Ensure your staff is trained well so they can truly serve the customer and are not just some hired monkeys scanning a bar code. I’m always uber-impressed with bike shops. My husband is a cyclist, so we’ve been to many and we never fail to find that any staff person we may grab is super passionate and knowledgeable about cycling. They attract the right people, invest in training and ensure there is no reason for the customer to leave without exactly what they are looking for, unless they don’t happen to carry it. And if there’s ever a wait, a staff member will always drop whatever they are doing to assist in almost every bike store I’ve seen. That’s quality.

If you have a brick and mortar business, how have you branded yourself? What has worked for you or been less successful? Do any businesses you love have a signature touch? Please share your wisdom in the Comments!

Top 5 Networking Tips from a Pro

How-to-Networking-EffectivelyNetworking. (cue groaning)

Ah, not too many words inspire such dread in a business owner. Images of fake smiles, business cards being shoved in your face and rubbery chicken lunches abound.

Yet in today’s New Economy, where so many folks are building dream businesses and personal brands, networking is a vital part of our marketing plan -and our brand. Whether face to face or screen to screen, it provides a host of benefits – and can even be, dare I say, fun?

Meet networking diva and consultant Sandy Jones-Kaminski. She’s the author of I’m at a Networking Event—Now What???, the #1 pick on the 2010 Business Book Wish List. As the principal consultant of Bella Domain Media, she shares practical advice and professional insights about LinkedIn, personal branding and effective networking via webinars, keynotes, workshops, and by facilitating in-person networking events called Pay It Forward Parties.

I adore her and her book’s a treat: very practical, actionable and even entertaining. I first met Sandy – wait for it – in the elevator on the way to a Seattle networking event. While the event itself left something to be desired, meeting Sandy drove home an important lesson: you can find great lasting connections in the most unexpected places if you are open to it.

Today, she dishes on some top networking tips, how to use social media for networking – and where to wear your nametag.

RS; Hi Sandy! Thrilled you’re here. What does “networking” really mean? Do we have to network with people we don’t like, just because of who they are or can we stick to folks with whom we make genuine connections?
SJK: Well, the definition of the word “network,” according to The Oxford Dictionary, is a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes. So, networking can be defined as the efforts to create this group and each of us can choose the people we want in our group or network. The only people worth having in your network are those with whom you would be happy to exchange ideas, resources, contacts or knowledge.

RS: What are 5 tips you have for getting the most out of a networking event, including any etiquette tips you have?

  1. Don’t take networking too seriously. It can and should be fun. Relax, take the pressure off yourself and focus on what you can offer others.
  2. Take a proactive approach and get off the couch or out from behind your screen and get out there. You eventually have to meet people to know if you’ll really connect with them, and the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find the “right” people for you. (It’s almost like dating, isn’t it?)
  3. Improve your outlook and your fortune will change. If you have a negative outlook on networking, you’re probably sabotaging your chances at truly connecting with others. Try approaching networking as an act of service within your community rather than simply expecting to find the elusive new client or opportunity.
  4. Keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum if you’re at an event where it’s being served. Being relaxed is good, but having your buzz on and then acting inappropriately is not a good way to be memorable.
  5. Be polite and considerate because good manners never go out of style or go unnoticed. And remember, nobody likes a one-upper. A networking event is a time to be non-competitive and social in a professional yet friendly way.
  6. Bonus tip: The right side is the RIGHT side to wear your nametag!

RS: How can we use social media more effectively to network in the virtual sense?
SJK: My favorite use of social media is mostly as a follow-up tool. I use social networking tools like LinkedIn to send those “It was so great to meet you and I hope we can stay connected,” messages after meeting someone at an event or presentation I’ve given. And, I also use it as a way to identify people I’d like to potentially add to my network. I find people on Twitter or via their LinkedIn or Facebook company pages to get a sense of them or their biz before making a point to meet them in person at an upcoming conference or live event.

Net-net: To build community, attract new clients and grow your business, you need to include networking in your marketing plans. And you can engage in both online and offline networking to get to success.

When it’s appropriate to lock yourself into a room: Come join me…

That calendar meeting stares at you like an accusing parent. You said you would make the time, Maria. You said you were going to clear your schedule and focus on me. And here I am again, being shoved to the following week.

Admit it. You’ve had this conversation with yourself. It’s the time you carved out of your week/month/quarter/year to focus on your brand and marketing strategy. The time you were going to devote to better articulate your benefits for stronger communications; to laser-target on your ideal customer so you could stop trying to be all things to all people and spinning your wheels; to hone that succinct and delicious elevator pitch; to focus your marketing activities on a few efforts done RIGHT rather than throwing your money away on things that don’t work.

But you get so busy in your business, the first thing to go is the time you devote to work ON your business.

Well, I’m done. Are you?

This April and May I am offering 3 Brand Strategy Retreats: San Francisco, CA: April 28; Kirkland, WA: May 18; Downtown Seattle, WA: May 25

Our motto: Make the Time. Focus on the Strategy. Execute Flawlessly. No. excuses, no distractions. For 4 hours, I will lock 12 lucky entrepreneurs into a comfy, funky conference room to get schooled in branding, positioning and marketing, doing exercises IN CLASS that I do with my full-time clients. You will have 4 delicious hours working on your brand strategy, focusing on your ideal customer, honing your elevator pitch and clarifying what makes your business unique  – all with my advice, resources and objective feedback from the group. Bring any question you have. Pick my brain.

My goal is that you leave with a brand strategy that will attract rabid fans, differentiate your company, and save you time and money on marketing activities that work.

Heck, I may even join you as I work on my own planning….

Three dates. Twelve people per location only so you gotta reserve your spot pronto. This is to keep it custom and interactive. Don’t delay….or you know you will never make the time if you don’t commit!

Check out details, dates, benefits and my video invitation to you. And you can register here as well.

Stop making excuses. Start reinventing.. If you’re serious about creating a successful business, then see you there.

Any Open Letter to restaurants: Stop tarnishing your brand at Valentine’s Day

Oh, how I wish there was a forum to send a message to every restaurant owner in the country and know it would get read.

Just like my open letter to business owners, this one goes out to any restaurant, bar, or eatery that serves us on Valentine’s Day. STOP. TARNISHING. YOUR. BRAND.

We all know Valentine’s Day is a money maker for you. And it’s so easy to say, “Let’s pack in as many people as we can and do a fixed menu so we can cycle them through faster!” I know margins suck in the restaurant business. I know it’s a tough industry in which to be successful. But do you understand what you’re sacrificing for the quick buck?

The last few Valentine’s Days, my husband and I were so annoyed at pre fixe menus. Like cattle, we were herded into what were supposed to be some of the finer dining establishments and crammed into obviously-added tables, elbow to elbow with the patrons next to us. We were given 3 entrée options that were mass produced and only allowed to select certain wines.  It sucked. Many of these restaurants were ones we were trying for the first time (hello? new potential loyal customers?!) and we were so disappointed with that experience, that even though we know it probably isn’t always like that, we have never gone back. The experience soured us on their brand.

My question is: Is ruining your brand for the long-term really worth it?

Just like I don’t understand why churches pack people into hot, sweaty, standing-room-only situations at Christmas and Easter rather than adding new masses – and in the process, making anyone coming for the first time in a while vow never to come back again – I don’t get how you can squander this opportunity to showcase your brand in it’s best light. This is a prime chance to turn first-timers into loyal customers.

We tried to avoid the chaos this year. Thinking we were smart, we went out on Saturday night instead to a place we were so excited about.  But they were crafty: they knew people would be going out over the weekend, and therefore had a pared-down Valentine’s menu (albeit with many more choices than a pre fixe) for the whole darn weekend. The food was good, but we felt we didn’t get to try some of the more traditional options we would have liked.

I know you want to make as much money as you can in one night. But at what cost? Do you really want my first impression of your place to be chaos and lack of choice? How likely am I to return? There is a great restaurant here in Seattle that we tried on Valentine’s Day last year. It gets great reviews. The regular menu looked amazing. But we won’t go back. We feel annoyed and gypped by that experience.

Is your long-term brand reputation and increase in your loyal customer base worth sacrificing for one good night of sales? I guess I would ask that questions of anyone who trades brand building for short-term gain.

Two great upcoming SBA events

Seattle folks, hope you can join me tomorrow, Thursday August 19 from 8 to 10 am at the SBA office downtown for a dynamic and interactive workshop Build Your Brand and Build the Buzz: Make Your Business Irresistible on Any Budget.  It’s through the WNET program, but men are welcome and do attend these sessions as well.

Discover the secrets of effective branding at this fast-paced workshop.  Follow some simple rules that will ensure your marketing and sales efforts are targeted and more effective than your competition.

You’ll learn how to easily create a strong brand strategy to: 

  • Inspire loyalty
  • Increase sales
  • Outrun your competition
  • Make smarter marketing investments 

Brand is more than just a pretty logo.  It impacts your bottom line.  It is your core promise, personality and the value you deliver to customers.    

Register now and join me. And coming up in September, looks like friend of Red Slice Stacey Anderson will be helping you get a handle on all the paper in work and home lives . Wasn’t technology supposed to make things easier? Sigh…I may need to attend that one…..!

Saddle Up! Brand Your Business workshop August 12 in Bellevue

Join us on Thursday, August 12 in Bellevue, WA for a spirited and practical discussion on what branding is, why it matters and how to build a great brand on any budget. I’ll be the marketing and brand speaker at this Biznik event, hosted by partner-in-crime Lynn Baldwin-Rhodes of Power Chicks and Marketing Shebang (don’t worry, men, this is a “come one, come all” event focused on building a rabid fan base for your business, so please stop by – we’re after smart, savvy business owners and entrepreneurs, no matter which gender). I’ll speak to some business boosting basics and will also have my branding book on hand if you’re interested in DIY brand strategy. Hurry! A few spots still left but you need to RSVP.

Speaking of which, I’m loving this fab review I received from Midwest Book Review:

What makes your business unique, something hat stands out from the pack? “Branding Basics For Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget” is a guide to branding and how it can literally be the deciding factor on the success of business. Brands make connections with customers, keep your product in mind, attract employees, and keep a business strong. “Branding Basics for Small Business” is a wise and recommended read, not to be missed by any small business.

If you haven’t yet taken a bite of the book that I’ve been told people can’t launch a business without, please grab your copy today!

Brand boosting brainstorm to get your marketing butt in gear

Hurry! Only 2 spots left! This might be the best $49 you spend on your business this year….

In or near by Seattle? I’m offering a Branding Brainstorm on Jan 7, 2010 from 2-4:30 pm. Maximum of 6 people, where we focus on each business, audit messaging, tweak brand strategy, throw out crazy ideas and see if they fly, and brainstorm partnership and promotional ideas for each business present. Info is at  Cost is $49, and includes a free copy of my Build Your Own Brand Strategy eBook.  Location TBD but probably near Queen Anne.

This is perfect for anyone who needs fresh ideas and tough love advice on their marketing plans, messaging or who needs to stand out from the crowd.

RSVP directly (due to the small size) to by Dec 18 to save your spot. Hurry!

Ignite Your Marketing! October 28, Seattle

Seattle-area business owners: Whitney Keyes and I are back presenting Ignite Your Marketing on Ocober 28, 2009 in Fremont from 6-9 pm. All info is here.

If you are serious about growing your business, wading through the marketing mumbo jumbo, and focusing your time and money on what will really increase sales, you need to be here. We’re presenting a fresh, dynamic look at building a brand strategy, smart marketing planning tips, how to get free (or almost free) publicity – and we’re including a robust Marketing Jump Start Kit, with tips, tools and tricks (and 2 eBooks) to help you manage the marketing maze. This Kit is a $600 value and is free to attendees.

Here’s what people said about our last joint workshop:
“Great overview to move forward with my business and our marketing”
“Great job! I really learned a lot and will benefit greatly from the advice and tips”
“Packed with info!”
“Really great class! I learned so much.”

If you like wasting hours and dollars on marketing that doesn’t get any results, please skip this. But if you want to make sense of the mayhem out there and only focus your energies (and strict budgets) on buidling a strong brand and doing things that move the needle, this practical primer and power shot of marketing education, tips, and ideas is for you. Heck, pick our brains for 3 hours with all your questions and challenges.

Space is limited, so sign up pronto. Go here for more info and to register. All systems go!