Reflections of a Business Owner: Leveraging Your Competitive Advantages

Reflections of a Business Owner: Leveraging Your Competitive Advantages

I am approaching the end of my first full year as a full-time career coach and speaker. I can’t believe it! Time flew by so far. Not only was it so different than running a business part-time, I have learned exponentially more about the struggles and triumphs of business! It has been an amazing journey and I look forward to what the next year will bring.

As I reflected on what this year has taught me, I realized that much of the dialogue I was having with myself was about how to do the work more efficiently and effectively, how to identify (and pursue the right) revenue streams and how to identify and leverage my professional advantage(s) while keeping my sanity and faith in the fact that the effort I put forth is or will be paying off.

So, I experimented with my skills and deferred to the things I liked to do. So, I experimented with my skills and deferred to the things I liked to do. Small Business Week takes place April 30-May 6 and was created to highlight and celebrate the importance of small business owners. To support this cause, I have partnered up with QuickBooks whose goal is to provide easy-to-use, invoicing software to small business owners to allow them the time to focus on what matters most, their business (P.S. I use this software myself and it is a lifeline!).

Below I share two of my competitive advantages and how I leveraged them in the hopes that my reflections will give you some ideas.

Competitive Advantage #1: I LOVE to network.

Making connections is the best way to promote your brand, test out your business idea(s), gain customers/clients and find other ways to grow your business. It is imperative for me to market myself, not just do the work I want to do. I’ve accomplished a great deal by integrating into the community, but these efforts are springs that add up to a marathon. I move between making my community feel smaller to widening it as I research and learn more about what I am capable of achieving and exploring in what direction(s) my business could go so that I am ultimately successful. Business ownership certainly allows you to study yourself very closely and honoring those discoveries takes time and patience but let others be your guide. So I…

  • Researched what groups exist in your area that are related to your interests. I took note of the local Chamber events, perused MeetUp groups for young professionals and business owners, attended human resources organization mixers, Association for Talent Development events, affiliated with women’s organizations and other volunteer organizations. I then attended at least one event for each (sometimes more) to meet people. It takes time for people to recognize you in your own community. I was persistent and present. You can be too.
  • Volunteered at large-scale organization events and fundraisers. I figured that I could meet cool people, potentially find friends since not only was I new to full-0time business ownership, I was also new to the area. Secondly, I wanted to know who were the “who’s-who” in the region. Gathering information and knowledge about your community can help you feel connect but also engaged. This is important to business success but also life. to find potential friends b. to see what individuals were the Who’s Who of my area.
  • Invited individuals to meet with me for coffee. I found it valuable to reach out to some individuals one-on-one. For example, there was a company I admired and wanted to learn more about so I reviewed the staff list and identified a young professional to whom to reach out. We met at Starbucks one day and ended up talking for quite some time about business owners, freelancing and other life experiences. We remained in touch and recently decided to expand our conversations about business to other young, female business owners. What started out as a relationship based on business molded into a friendship which still serves us professionally. My outreach and ambition in this regard encouraged others with whom I met individually to introduce me to others in their networks and so my network continues to grow. I pay it forward by connecting my contacts with them as well.

 

Competition Advantage #2: I LOVE to speak.

Public speaking is a critical and necessary skill for a business owner. I market myself as a career coach and speaker so the majority of what I do revolves around educating others. My primary goal is to help mid-career professionals in their thirties and forties navigate their careers and anchor their futures. Essentially, I want to help them decide how they want to proceed professionally. I help some change careers, others secure promotions, make more money or conduct some professional planning (aka where do I want to be professionally in the next 3 years).

As such, I love talking to people in front of large groups, one-on-one, virtually or in person. So, this past year, I decided to take Angela Lussier’s Speaking School for Women while simultaneously listening to her podcast, Claim the Stage. As a result, I honed this skill, learning the business of public speaking and secured twice the number of speaking gigs and more that were paid than I had in previous years!

I share this example to reinforce the importance of professional development as a business owner. Pick a skill every quarter or every half year to improve upon; you never know what you might learn about yourself and where it might help you grow your business! Since my experience was so positive and because I care about others’ abilities to speaking up, advocate for themselves, share their stores and change the world, I became trained as a club leader to launch a Speaker Sisterhood Club this summer in the Lehigh Valley, located in eastern Pennsylvania. These clubs are places and spaces where women can share their voice in a safe space and learn public speaking best practices. Not only will this become an additional revenue stream for me but it will also allow me to support my target audience in a way that is relevant to my primary business’ goal.

To played with this skill further, I have been practicing my speaking skills by experimenting with Facebook Live. It comes easily to me to create valuable video content about topics related to professional development, share information about my life as a business owner and offer resources to my audience. It is a free way for them to know what I am doing and for what I stand. I encourage you to view one of my videos here and try it out for yourself. My friend, Sandra Costello, has tried Facebook Live too and you can see one of her videos here as well.

Lastly, I leveraged Twitter more regularly for a couple of months as an experiment to grow my number of followers. I posted resources on topics related to my business, interests and skills regularly (e.g. mid-career professionals, public speaking, women and work, productivity, business ownership, etc.). As a result, I increased my number of followers by almost 100 people and was asked to participate in several Twitter chats, gaining even more exposure. This helped me stay top of mind and expand my networks beyond my immediate community.

Disclaimer: Not everyone loves speaking but it can be helpful to practice speaking up, whether it be virtually or in person about your work and what you care about. Find a way that works for you. People connect with more deeply with you when you share your passions and, despite how intimate or public your venue is, that is how you create customers, clients, followers and even friends, especially when solopreneurship starts to really feel lonely.

I encourage you to sit down with a pen and paper and reflect on what your competitive advantages are.

  • What do you gravitate towards naturally?
  • On what have you been spending your time?
  • What activities have you been feeling less than enthusiastic about? Think about your experiences in business thus far, what has been working?
  • Have you pulled any financial reports to see where most of your money is being earned? On what activities? Have you been tracking the metrics on your social media sites?

Those are just a few questions to get you started. There will always be more but choose one or two that jumped out at you first and spend some time on them. I encourage you to experiment for as long as you can but then take some time to focus on one thing for a while and then go back out and experiment, experience and explore. This malleability is intrinsic to entrepreneurship; it keeps you honest. I know it has for me.

Photo credit: Business Betties

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Navigating the Office Dress Code

Navigating the Office Dress Code

We have all heard the advice to dress to impress. In the job hunt process, this lesser considered step in preparation can have a big impact on your professional perception.

It takes only a tenth of a second to form an impression of a complete stranger from just the appearance of their face and cues from their nonverbal behaviors. The majority of people form an opinion on others within the first minute of their introduction. In the face of a job interview this makes the process even more competitive.

Office culture and employer dress codes can often feel as though you are navigating the battlefield trenches. Have you ever stared deeply into your closet with no certainty or confidence for what you should be wearing? In many cases we wonder what actually defines business formal from business casual? For past generations of workforces this subject was not as complex, professionalism once had a uniformed appearance. Today, there are many more creative jobs, digital start-ups, internet companies, shared work spaces, and a rise of on-trend offices. All complicating the question of what attire fits most appropriately for my place of employment. Of course, dress codes will vary across locations, positions, lines of work and company cultures. Eventually you go from interviewee to proud employee and decoding the dress code comes more natural with ease. As a prospect or candidate for a desired position, crafting the perfect professional image can feel daunting. Beyond receiving an employee handbook (which often comes once we accept an offer), defining professional dress code and company culture is ambiguous. Imagine if we wasted less time worrying about what to wear and focused more of our energy on preparing to sell ourselves for a position.

The Five Most Common Office Dress Codes in Job Listings

Business Formal

Always dress Business Formal for interviews. Use your best judgement when including subtle pops of personality. Men should wear a two or three-piece suit in a neutral or dark color along with a plain (white) formal shirt, solid tie, cufflinks (or watch) and black/brown shoes (your belt should match your shoes). For the ladies, A pantsuit or skirt-suit is suggested, complimented with a button-down blouse, modest accessories (small, fine jewelry), dark tights and a closed-toe heel.

Business Professional

When dressing for any position you want to avoid dressing more than one tier above your respective office dress code, this will avoid an overdressed feeling. Dark colored suits, formal shirts and conservatively-patterned ties are acceptable options for men in a Business Professional setting. For women, conservative length skirts with solid colored blouses and neutral-tone accessories are most common.

Business Casual

Business Casual is the most commonly misconstrued dress code. Casual does not mean leggings, denim nor athleisure wear. This business setting is more versatile in terms of color, prints and pops of personality. Men can be comfortable in formal shirts in any color/pattern. Sweaters and cardigans are comfortable alternatives to a dress shirt. Ties are optional and chinos are a nice substitute for dress slacks. For women, a Business Casual environment is more inviting of statement jewelry, flat footwear and loafers.

Small Business Casual

Small Business Casual is very similar to Business Casual with a more creative flair. Differences include, the ability to wear denim (dark colored), open toe footwear (nice sandals), well-kept sneakers, as well as polo shirts or collarless shirting. Small Business Casual allows room for aspects of personal style and individual personality. Although as professionals we must remain conscious of becoming too relaxed with our image.

Creative

Creative Dress Codes are the most undefined. Specific niche dress codes will depend on the specific culture and field of the company. Trendy fashion items including layers and stylish accessories are acceptable. Although sneakers and T-shirts are also acceptable, your clothing should always be wrinkle free, appropriate in size/fit, and of course, clean.

Even the most prepared candidates who research the prospective role as well as the company background, will commonly forget to consider the office dress code. While at an office, either for a tour, to drop off a resume or for your interview rounds, be sure to get a sense for what others are wearing.  That said, no matter how formal or informal, you should prioritize comfort, fit and confidence, first impressions are powerful. Your potential employer is not only looking for candidates who fit a skill set but also seek individuals who embody a positive energy (a well-tailored outfit and a sharp pair of shoes might be the dignified suit of armor to empower you on interview day).

Quick ways to gain the insights on company dress codes prior to your interview

  • Be Observant. If you know someone already employed, use them as a resource. Take note of what others in the company are wearing on a daily basis.
  • Explore the company’s social accounts. Here you can gain a perspective for the culture and day-to-day office life. Employee headshots are often formal and don’t depict the true standards of dress for that business.
  • Visit the surroundings of the office. Watching people pass through the lobby or an employee parking lot will give you a better sense for what people are wearing.

T.M.Lewin, London-based tailors established in 1898, have been historically recognized for their invention of the “coat shirt,” the first shirt to feature buttons down the entire front of the garment. Fashions have surely changed since then; the dress shirt has cemented itself as a true staple in professionalism. The T.M.Lewin have embraced this connection and are seen to be experts in office-ready work-wear. T.M.Lewin a helpful guide to help us Crack The Office Dress Codes allowing aspiring professionals to navigate the working world with style and ease. If you happen to be in need of an impressive look for your upcoming interview or first day on the job; T.M.Lewin has a premier selection of men’s shirts and timeless blouses for the ladies.

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3 Actions + 1 Hour toward a Mid-Career Shift

3 Actions + 1 Hour toward a Mid-Career Shift

Happy New Year! As January comes to a close, I am even more ready to kickstart the goals and dreams I have for the year into gear. What about you? When most others have given up on their New Year’s resolutions, I am digging in. You, too, can dig in. 

At this time last year, I was drained, stuck and wholeheartedly in need of a professional change. I was in a job that I had outgrown but was still hanging on. I could not sit back any longer and hope for a resolution. Instead, I needed to act. So the end of January became the start of something new for me. I quit my full-time job in higher education to pursue business ownership.

I did not go it alone. I had personal and professional mentors, friends and family members empowering me in, through and beyond my decision to change careers, taking it all one step at a time.

Considering a career change yourself? Are you unhappy at work?

You, too, can take one step at a time and get unstuck. So this year, I resolve to help you take one small action today, tomorrow or even in the next hour that will move you forward and toward a more satisfying professional experience.

3 Actions in 1 Hour to Kickstart a Mid-Career Shift

Connect with a friend, family member or someone new to do one (or more) of the following:

  • Unpack what is going on in your workplace, get a neutral opinion and ideas regarding next steps to take
  • Information and tips for exploring a new industry/field, perhaps one that they know well or know that others in their network know well.
  • Learn more about someone’s career that you admire. Taking some time to step back and dream or borrow from the best practices of another field can help shape the impact you have on your company’s bottom line or for your own career goals.

Update your Resume

  • There are basic resume do’s and don’ts. Take a look at this list and implement one change over your lunch break. If you are considering a truly fresh look, take advantage of my Quick Fix Resume Review offer of $47.
  • Never wrote a summary of qualifications before? Have over 10 years’ experience? This is also a great resource for you to review.

Revisit your Budget

  • Financial concerns were high on many of mid-career professionals’ list that I interviewed earlier this winter when considering a career change. Here are 7 simple and free budgeting tools you can start using today. You might also try your credit card’s spend analyzer tool for a bird’s eye view assessment of your spending. it is important prior to a change that you assess your financial situation so you can comfortably (and realistically) meet you career dreams.
  • Visit Salary.com for information about specific position’s salaries in your industries of interest and in your target geographic locations so you can understand your earning potential both immediately and in the future.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of following a “passion” career versus a more traditional or stable career. Make a pros and cons list and then take it one step further by assigning a weight to each item or rank order in terms of importance.

Any shift or change is scary but you do not have to wait to get started nor be alone in the process. Have questions? Email me! I’m happy to chat and here to help.

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The Perfect Fit – How did I get here?

Six months ago, I started a new adventure into full-time business ownership. The first two, I spent thoughtfully contemplating who I am, who I am not and what I want for this next stage in my career. For as confident as I was about the decision to leave my full-time position in higher education and career development, I was afraid of the change that needed to be made. So how did I get here?

I knew I had taken a chance on myself. I recalled that gut feeling inside of me that wouldn’t quiet down; the one I could no longer ignore. So instead of reporting every day at a specific time to an office full of colleagues, I now spend my days with my parents and Pyrador rescue, Oliver, working on my deck or in various rooms in the house to secure and prepare speaking engagements for local companies and non-profit organizations, partner with men and women on navigating their career choices and taking on projects with large companies to serve the professional growth needs of their clients.

About a month ago, I visited a non-profit organization called the Perfect Fit for Working Women, a program of the ALLENTOWN YMCA & YWCA that supports low-income women entering the workforce by providing professional clothing for job interviews and their first week of work. The two women running the program mentioned that they were going to speak to the Women Can networking group, a diversity and inclusion initiative at Olympus, which is a medical devices and surgical products, scientific solutions, and cameras and audio products company, in the area.

I simply asked if I could go to listen to the manager tell her and the organization’s story at the event.

Fast forward to November 15…I arrived at Olympus, the building was fresh, white, and open with plenty of windows and natural light. I was stopped at the front desk to be checked in and escorted back to the event room. As I walked through the halls, employees were smiling, some were grabbing lunch at the bustling cafeteria, while others were playing ping pong or sitting in the large lounge space connecting with coworkers. It felt wonderful to be back in a space where action was happening; where it wasn’t just me thinking about my next move or if I was “doing this whole business thing right.” I noticed individual reactions to my presence.

At first, I thought it was the big visitors’ badge on my suit jacket but then I realized…I’m wearing a suit and for the first time in months!

I forgot how a suit made me feel or how much I had denied the power that it gave me from within. Since March, I have mostly been wearing yoga pants and other such athletic wear just in my home office. I noticed how differently I was treated by the employees moving out of my way in the hall to let me pass or how they allowed me to go first if we met at crossroads in the building. Not only that, but I was attending this event as a guest of the women from the Perfect Fit so the event organizers even treated me as a…confident woman in a suit.

I truly had forgotten about the polished businesswoman in me. The one others reminded me existed when I decided to make this change to business ownership and the one that I now know will come out to “play” when she is called upon as a speaker, trainer, panelist or partner at companies in the future. The one who will freely share her experience and emotional reactions to such moments for these are the ones that shape our identities, affirm the changes we make in life and remind us to stick up for those gut feelings we have about what we need most.

What’s more is that the accumulation of these experiences led me to believe that we must first give ourselves permission to change from within to grow beyond what we know we are capable of accomplishing. In order to find the “perfect fit” in just one facet of our lives, a deep dive into another may be required. Similarly, the Women Can networking group believes in the power of connecting internally, across divisions to explore and grow professionally.

I needed to uproot some of the comforts of my personal life to address my professional dissatisfaction. This shifted the dynamics of my personal life, allowing me to focus on the gains I could make professionally.

Isn’t it poignant that the exact organization to which I reached out to as a potential volunteer, whose mission is to provide women with the clothes and personal support that will set them up for professional success, also delivered me the opportunity to personally feel the emotional effect that clothing, and others’ reactions to it, can have on your confidence, professional growth and reflective practices?

So I ask you now, in what ways are you pursuing or denying yourself a “perfect fit”?

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Conduct a Job Analysis, Get the Salary you Want

Conduct a Job Analysis, Get the Salary you Want

As a trained salary negotiation facilitator, I’ve presented facts, resources and strategies to many individuals across the globe to help them enter into and walking away successfully from negotiation conversations. Today, I want to provide a tool, the job analysis, specifically for professionals who want to remain with their current organization but know in their hearts and minds that they deserve a raise or recognition for the work and results they contribute.

The job analysis is a resource I used to uncover what I wanted and needed next in my career. Between Spring 2013 and Spring 2015, my department had been through several leadership changes, the loss and subsequent increase in new staff members, and an increase in expectations not only from our senior leadership but also the media regarding best practices in our field.

Needless to say, we were under the microscope and we all needed to step back, assess what our jobs are and should be, and determine our individual investments in the future of the department. So in the Spring 2015, my company’s HR department asked that all staff in my department complete a job analysis.

What is a job analysis you ask? Well, a broad strokes definition of the two parts are:

Part I: A detailed examination of what your work requires
Part II: A detailed examination of how it is working

The 2 Parts of a Job Analysis

Part I: A detailed examination of what your work requires

In the first part of a job analysis, you give a detailed examination of the

  • tasks that make up a job,
  • the conditions under which they are performed, and
  • what the job requires in terms of potential for achievement, behavior characteristics, knowledge, skills, and the physical condition of you, the employee.

Part II: A detailed examination of how it is working

The second part of the job analysis includes:

  • determination of the most efficient methods of doing a job,
  • enhancement of the employee’s job satisfaction,
  • improvement in training methods,
  • development of performance measurement systems, and
  • matching of job-specifications with the person-specifications in employee selection.

At first I could only think about how completing this exercise would serve the institution. But later I realized that it was helping me learn more about what I need and want out of my role and, ultimately my career. In salary and raise negotiations, it is imperative that we first consider our needs. Then we consider what the market is willing to pay us. It is the combination of those two factors that give us the foundation for a productive conversation with our current or future employer.

What the Job Analysis Showed Me
I’d never had the opportunity to spend this much mindful consideration about how and where I was spending my time in my current role. It showed me that I had outgrown the work. I realized I like being part of strategic conversations, but I wasn’t able to in my current role. And at a time when the institution was reconfiguring positions, the job analysis gave me the courage to talk about what I was discovering with my supervisor. When my supervisor later reviewed the results of my job analysis, she agreed that I had outgrown the position and offered me a promotion for a position that had been written into the budget but she had waited to fill. I even had the opportunity to help her write the job description, pick my title, and advocate for the work I would do in the role!

Because the job analysis is an objective, deliberate evaluative process, the exercise productively moved me away from the negativity surrounding my professional situation. Evaluation happens for most professionals either at both the mid-year or end-of-year mark. But I highly recommend that you complete this exercise now (no better time than the present) and prior to at least one of your evaluations.

Get your step-by-step job analysis Guide
Ready to dive in?! Sign up for my newsletter and receive my step-by-step guide, Raise Your Awareness, Raise Your Salary today.

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New Community? 5 Strategies to Achieve Belonging

New Community? 5 Strategies to Achieve Belonging

Five years ago, I moved to the Western Massachusetts community (aka the Pioneer Valley) to fulfill a new role in the Career Development Center at Mount Holyoke College. I did not know anyone. Was I nervous about this fact? Sure. Did I let it stop me, no. Why? because I was up for an adventure. I wanted to live in a different state, expand my knowledge of myself and the demographics of the U.S. and figured I could take it year-by-year. It was an experiment.

Fast forward to today…and I am back in a “new” community. Why “new” in quotes? Well, even though I graduated from high school in the Lehigh Valley where I now reside, spent time after college working in the area and attended graduate school nearby, so much has changed here and so have I.

I know I can succeed building both a professional and personal community here because I did it in Massachusetts so, as I embark on a new adventure here, I wanted to share the strategies I’ve employed with you so you, too, can build a new community or dig deeper into the one in which you’ve landed.

1. Give yourself time to adjust. Being new to a place can be overwhelming. In Massachusetts, I focused first on finding a place to live (Craigslist was clutch there), second on my job (the reason I moved there), and third on learning about the community. I wanted to understand its personality, learn where young people hung out so I could make friends, and see where I might be able to make an impact as a volunteer and professional. I didn’t hit my stride in all of these areas until October, which was almost 4 months after I arrived. When I arrived in Pennsylvania, I hung out with the friends I already knew in the area because I needed time and space to bounced back my transition home. This was right for me in May when I returned and now that it is September, I am actively pursuing opportunities to engage in the community. This tiered approach worked for me, it can also work for you. Feel free to experiment with the formula.

2. Volunteer. Young professionals’ groups in your area and your alma mater(s) can be uplifting. The events they holds put you in front of like-minded professionals, locals with community history and perspective and opportunities to plan events, lead initiatives and grow professionally in ways that your full-time position may not. I’ve been serving on the Alumni Association Board of Franklin and Marshall College since the fall 2013 and led the Northampton Area Young Professionals’ Group between January 2012-July 2015. I continue with both strategic and boots on the group volunteer work in the Lehigh Valley as a community member and professional.

3. Subscribe to local organization emails. Consider your interests. In Massachusetts, I followed regional business and non-profit organizations, local entrepreneurs, and lifestyle brands. I do the same in the Lehigh Valley such as InStyle, Discover Lehigh Valley, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, and my favorite restaurants because they often have events that allow me to more fully experience the people and the treasures of the area.

4. Explore your community alone. Although it is not ideal, it can be freeing. Pursue a hobby as I have, taking pictures around the Valley (IG: #walkphotography) and allowing the day to take you where it might. I discovered nuances of the area that I had never seen before and met new people as a result. Go to meet ups, festivals, dinners at the bar by yourself. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and be applauded for your courage. That in itself is encouraging!

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