Take Control Of Your Future And Reap The Rewards

Self-published authors have a pretty steep learning curve if they want to joint the ranks of the bestsellers. And I’m not talking about the Amazon bestsellers, I’m talking about the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers. Not an easy feat. It also doesn’t happen for everyone. Authors can bust their tails for years and years, writing book after book and never make it.

So is it possible to make their dreams become a reality?

Absolutely – through education and execution.

I watched a video tonight, hosted by Nick Stephenson, bestselling fiction author and entrepreneur. His book, Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, is flipping fantastic!! He provides invaluable insight about self-publishing and how to launch a successful author career on his website, Your First 10K Readers. But what I want to point out to you here is a really great point made in the video… one that’s not only applicable to self-pubbed authors but also to aspiring entrepreneurs.

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Here’s the gist. Authors have a choice. They can endlessly spin their wheels, trying to figure out how the publishing industry works while using trial and error to test new ways of gaining traction and visibility for their work.

OR…

They can make an investment in their careers and pay for that knowledge. Learning from someone else’s missteps can save a tremendous amount of time and money. It can also preserve their sanity. =)

Then, they can apply their newfound knowledge and execute their success strategy.

Business training group organization concept. Team of students learning from mentor sharing common vision for education success as gears and cogs shaped as human head on gray background.

Business training group organization concept. Team of students learning from mentor sharing common vision for education success as gears and cogs shaped as human head on gray background.

This advice definitely hits home for me as an author as well as an entrepreneur. What Nick is saying makes so much sense. If you’re looking to build a business – whether it be in publishing or another industry – spend time up front to figure out how to avoid common pitfalls. The intelligence you can gather is worth the investment and it will help guide your decision-making processes. Save the time for doing what you love and apply the tried-and-true methods of building your success. Leverage lessons learned and reap the rewards earlier.

Why put off until tomorrow what you could definitely achieve TODAY?

Startup Spotlight: Let’s Go Du+ch!

Sharing experiences, creating memories, engaging with like-minded people, enjoying a richer life… this is the concept behind going “du+ch.” The company was born of longtime friends Vincent Paradiso and Debora McCleary, who partnered to create a social network for travel and entertainment. Both entrepreneurs in their previous lives, Vincent and Debora created a unique way for people to connect with others who would share the cost of excursions they may not otherwise have been able to experience due to excessive costs. Their efforts established a marketplace for sharing life’s adventures, big or small and I had the pleasure of catching up with Vincent to chat about some of his hopes, challenges, and goals for the future. I was also excited to gather a few sound bytes from Deb, who founded the premier New York beauty directory, The Debb Report. And you all know I’m a sucker for all things beauty and fashion… =)

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Vincent, prior to co-founding du+ch, you had a very successful professional career in ballet. What made you decide to delve into the world of entrepreneurship? 

I’ve always been bit of an entrepreneur. I love ballet, but I always knew I would do more. I’d always had an interest in real estate so I formed Paradiso Properties. My goal was to have multiple investment homes that I rent and manage, along with a real estate license to sell homes. But I quickly grew bored with my new career choice. I made money, but it wasn’t my passion. I started contemplating new ideas. I thought of all the amazing things I did with colleagues while on tour with NYCB, and how we would split the bill. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy as much had we not shared the cost. I knew I had something but wasn’t ready to dive in. One night out with my girlfriend, I wanted to book bottle service at a club but didn’t want to pay $1,500. Our friends couldn’t join, so we skipped out and the idea for du+ch was born.

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Deb, what differences have you experienced between building du+ch and building the Debb Report? What unique challenges have you faced with each endeavor and how have you addressed them?

The first challenge with the Debb Report was having my partner drop out. I ended up funding the entire site on my own, and found a few friends to help me write all the salon bios that are (almost all) now in place. Updating my site is still a challenge, because aside from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram updates, I have to be on top of so much information. I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own, especially with the time du+ch now needs. I recently hired a wonderful beauty/fashion blogger to help create original content to help grow my site and SEO. Having a partner who is fully engaged and committed is a necessity. Vincent and I definitely have a give and take when it comes to growing du+ch. We complement one another very well and have complete trust in each other, which is invaluable.  Because du+ch is an e-commerce site, it is a much more involved endeavor than my directory so Vincent and I are having to learn as we go. We constantly seek expertise from those who have done this before and people have been very generous with their time and knowledge.

Choosing the right partner is so important when founding a brand-new venture. How do you work through differences in opinion and what qualities do you each bring to the table?

(Vincent) Deb is a long time friend. We have great chemistry. When I approached her with du+ch, she was immediately ready to jump onboard. The key for us is making sure we always keep open lines of communication. She helps ground me and work through new ideas. As I’d mentioned earlier, the ideas don’t stop. You can’t attack all of them at once, you have to stay focused. du+ch would be nothing if I’d built it, then decided to go out and work on another idea. Being able to keep everything organized helps a lot. We have yet to have any major disagreements, but I believe we both are the types of people who will listen. We will acknowledge each others’ points, let them sink in, and compromise on a solution.

(Deb) Vincent and I agree on most things day-to-day, but when we disagree, we have a real ability to listen to one another and come to a joint agreement fairly easily.  Luckily we are both sane, thoughtful and committed to making du+ch a success, no matter how long it takes us.

What is the best part about running your own business?  

Exactly that, it’s mine. I’m directly responsible for its success and/or failure. I take great pride in bringing an idea to life. It’s challenging work, but when you know your hands are involved in every working aspect, it is so rewarding. I look forward to each and every day. I am constantly learning about every aspect of my business.

Du+ch is such a unique concept. Do you have plans to expand beyond more elite and trendy events? Do you see a market for couples, families, businesses?

Absolutely! We’re now in all of those markets. The beauty of du+ch is that everything on the site is user-generated. The same way you can sell anything on eBay, you can share anything on du+ch. It is a marketplace that puts the power of the sharing economy in the hands of the masses. You no longer have to build an app to enter this space, you can use our platform to share anything you want. Every user, individual or corporate, can host and search for anything they want to share. The look of our brand is luxurious, but users can share free events, basic group packages, or even ultra luxe experiences. We take the social element of Facebook events, the payment features of Eventbrite, and combine them into one site. The greatest thing is you can reach more than just your current circle. The point is, friends cannot always join in the fun. With du+ch, you can find those who can, get to know one another, and pool your funds to make anything within reach. The great thing about du*ch, and what separates us from a Groupon/Eventbrite, is our social transparency. Every user has a profile with reviews and verifications, so you can meet new people and feel comfortable sharing with them.

If you knew then what you know now, how might you have advised yourselves before launching du+ch? Any big aha! moments?

I would have been a lot more specific in the design and build of the website. I had it in my head, but translating it to developers was difficult. They needed every single specification and I didn’t anticipate providing them that level of detail. I would have also done more research on payment processors. When we create the app, I am going to document every last detailed requirement for the developers. I won’t leave any stone unturned.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur? 

Discipline, focus and creativity. It is so important to stay disciplined. There are too many distractions surrounding us everyday – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. You have to resist the temptation and prioritize. You also have to focus on your goals, plan your short- and long-term strategies and then execute your plans to achieve them. That said, you have to remain creative, think out of the box and fill a perceived need. Always strive to disrupt the status quo.

What have been some of your failures since launching du+ch, and what have you learned from them?

I assumed once the site was built, the audience would come. I thought people would just find it, sign up and leverage the network, which wasn’t the case. I also focused too much energy on creating the perfect user experience. Marc Cuban once said, “Perfection is the enemy of profitability, you can try to make everything perfect, but you’re losing opportunity somewhere else.” What may seem perfect and simple to one may not be the same for others. I also mistakenly assumed that upon launch, I would play a support role. I didn’t realize I was going to have get out there and sell. That is the biggest challenge. Once you fill the need, you need to let the world know you’ve filled it. You have to make your own opportunities.

To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?

Taking the lessons I’ve learned from the ballet and applying them to the business world. For both, you need to exhibit the discipline, focus, and creativity mentioned earlier, but you also have to be willing to fail, deal with rejection, perform, and not let anyone define you. We failed all the time while dancing. If a step wasn’t executed as expected, you didn’t give up. Instead, you figured out what went wrong, fixed it, repeated it, and tried to perfect it.  We dealt with rejection on a regular basis. In business, you have to do the same. Not everyone will love you or embrace your vision and that’s okay. So many of my most rewarding experiences came from taking a leap. Never be afraid of failure.

How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Getting the word out is our biggest challenge, especially on a shoestring budget. I have seen a big jump in traffic when I advertise and share available listings on Facebook, but it hasn’t converted much yet. One experience that did convert was dinner with a private chef. The price was extremely reasonable and users wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. We are working on lining up fun yet cost-effective experiences. Giving corporate partners a chance to list group deals as they would with Groupon, but without the heavy fees, will help line up some great offerings. I also notice that when I do interviews like this, we get a major boost. I think it helps so much to get the word out. This interview engages a new audience and helps us connect with them. Some readers may skim our story, some may read the whole thing, some will love it, some will hate it, but either way I just grabbed the attention of a potential user and was able to get my entire message across. It is the best way to acquire new users and highlight interest in our brand.

Follow du+ch: Website  Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube Instagram

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What Would You Do To Win A $50 Amazon Gift Card???

Maybe you’d sign up for my super-awesome exclusive reader list???

If you’re reading this and have already signed up, FANTASTIC! Thank you!!! But for all of you who are still not convinced, give me a chance to make you a fan!!! I think I’m a lot of fun! And you may find we have a lot in common!!

You’d get a monthly email with great giveaways, the inside scoop on book updates, new releases, my favorite beauty and fashion finds, contests, and cool posts from my entrepreneur blog, The Idea Mama.

So, for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card, all you need to do is sign up by clicking this link!

The giveaway will be open until August 5 at midnight EST. Don’t miss out!

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Got Funding??

Part of the issue with running a startup is figuring out how to keep up your monthly expenses while waiting for your sales to explode. After all, if you can’t pay the bills, you won’t be able to sustain and grow. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what you will need at various points and a lot is dependent on how quickly your offering explodes in the marketplace. That’s both good AND bad…good because you have a lot more incoming funds to line your bank account and bad because you need to maintain momentum while meeting increased customer demand. Sales may fluctuate from month to month as well and you need to have enough cash on hand to keep the lights on, even during the lulls.

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falling dollar bills from money tree

This is where working capital comes into play. In layperson’s terms, it’s basically the money you need to pay your operating expenses – the things you have to pay aside from your development or manufacturing costs. These expenses include administrative, legal, insurance, office overhead, salaries, payroll, taxes, transportation…the monthly bills that recur without fail, independent of how many widgets you produce or sell.

Some newbie CEOs fund their businesses using credit cards. I might have been one of those at one point…let me give you a bit of advice. DON’T. DO. IT. 0% offers look like loans with attractive terms but they expire. It’s tempting to use those blank checks, I know. But there are better ways to manage your finances.

Small business loans? Um, okay, if you want to pay back insanely high interest rates. They are also extremely difficult to secure AND you practically have to hand over your firstborn as collateral. Just a little more added stress to deal with. No thank you!

You may also have the discretionary funding available for personal investment purposes. If that’s the case, good for you! Not everyone has that luxury. But don’t get too discouraged. There are other options available.

A revolving line of credit is actually a really good way to mitigate some of the risk related to keeping your business solvent. You use what you need when you need the cushion and pay back only what you’ve spent with flexible terms, without having to worry about high fees or high interest rates. You can pay the money back as a lump sum or broken out into monthly payments at a set rate. You may want to create your own unique repayment schedule. You may only need funds at crunch time while you’re waiting on receivables from slower-paying customers. A revolving line of credit gives you steady access to cash when you need it most.

Kabbage is a company that helps put small business owners in touch with the funding they need. Low interest rates and flexible repayment options? Yes please!! The application is quick and simple – you can get approval in minutes and the funds are generally available to you upon approval. Besides all that, they have a really cool logo. And you should know by now I’m a sucker for a good logo. =)

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What Kind Of Mindset Should An Entrepreneur Have??

I love Quora. It’s a really cool knowledge-sharing site. You register and build up your profile with topics of interest. Then you can apply your own experience and answer users’ questions about said topics. As you build up your credibility on the site, people then come to you to answer their questions.

I’ve gotten some cool questions but just answered this one today and thought I’d share. =)

What Kind Of A Mindset Should An Entrepreneur Have?

Passion Is A MUST! – Starting a business and trying to gain traction can be extremely disheartening at times so the more you believe in your offering and your ability to sell, the more effective your pitch (and outlook) will become.

Listen To The Naysayers! – Don’t delude yourself into thinking your offering is the end-all, be-all.  You need a thick skin if you’re going to succeed as an entrepreneur. People will slam your ideas. Get used to it. Graciously accept criticisms and feedback then figure out how to respond to objections. Figure out what your key differentiating points are and highlight those to everyone and anyone.

Never Be Complacent! – You’ll have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before to create momentum and then work even harder to KEEP it. I heard a really cool quote this weekend that totally applies. I was at a writing conference and a number of bestselling authors were presenting on sales strategies. They all said market yourself like you’re nobody EVEN IF you’re somebody. This applies to ALL business endeavors.

Be Restless! – Let your creativity flow! Don’t be complacent and accept the status-quo. Dig deep and figure out to disrupt. It’s okay to incorporate new ideas into your offering. Make it as compelling as possible and if at first you don’t succeed….well, you know the rest. 🙂

You Will Never Know Your Limits Unless You Push Yourself To Them

Think Twice Before Joining The Style High Club

Hubby recently joined the Five Four Club. For $60 per month, he was promised an entirely new and fashionable wardrobe. Upon registering, he completed a detailed questionnaire so the company could gauge his style and taste and send him items according to his preferences.

Sounds simple enough, right?

The first shipment came the other day. I had to include pics because not only were the styles completely off, but the quality is extremely sub-par. The jacket is some kind of flimsy nylon material and the shirt is just a plain black t-shirt with a couple of buttons. Neither one of us was impressed and Hubby decided to cancel the membership.

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After keeping him on hold for about twenty minutes, Hubby found out he couldn’t return the clothing items for a refund. That’s part of the program, not one they widely publicized, by the way. He was definitely cancelling after hearing that.

But then the customer service rep said if he’d like to continue the membership, they would send him higher quality items the following month. Hmm.

Can you say swindled???

That first month tells this company a lot about their subscribers. If customers let it go without complaining about the crappy items they’d received, the company continues to send them shoddy items, saving themselves wads of cash because they’re able to keep costs down and send the lower quality merchandise.

For the subscribers that may not be happy with the quality, they may not want to sit on hold for eons so they’ll just suck it up, take the clothes and not wear them (at least they won’t if they have wives like yours truly).

Only a few will be disgusted enough to call, sit on hold and complain to customer service. These are the ones who they still have a shot at retaining. Offer them better quality to keep them happy. It’ll cost the company a little more, but they’re already making money hand over fist with the others who are just accepting what was sent.

Then there are the dissenters…the ones whom they can’t convince to stay. These are probably few and far between and not the true target for this company anyway, so better to let them go. Not cost to the company since they don’t give refunds. They still sucker them for $60 a pop (even if it was only ONE pop).

The Five Four team is not really embracing the concept of customer loyalty. Or maybe they just don’t care. Seems like a scam to me. Buyer beware. Big time.

Be Loyal To Your Royals

Customer is king…or in my case, queen. =)

But words are cheap. You need to create an experience so a customer truly feels that patronizing your product offering is worth their time and money. You need to make them feel special and valued to inspire loyalty.

I’m going to tell you a little story. A few years ago, I asked Hubby to buy me a wok. As always, he did plenty of research to make sure I had the best and biggest, large enough to stir-fry myself if I so chose. I’m exaggerating a slight bit but my youngest can fit into it comfortably. Yeah, he’s four…and no, I haven’t coated him in soy sauce or anything like that. But it takes up two burners!!!!!

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Anyway, I was so excited when my wok finally arrived. But that’s not all. It came with a set of hand-crafted bamboo cooking tools and a cookbook as well. Everything was wrapped nicely and there were printed instructions about how to prepare my wok for the first use. It was a truly PRICELESS experience.

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Guess what? The Wok Shop in San Francisco made me a fan for life.

Customer loyalty is critical for success in business. You may be intrigued by my experience with The Wok Shop so maybe you’ll go to their website and check out their products. Perhaps you’ll make a purchase and tell a friend about your positive experience. Word of mouth can have an incredible impact on your sales. Conversely, it can really destroy your business if you don’t place the appropriate amount of focus on your customers. That leads to a lot of angry Tweets and you definitely don’t want those floating around in cyberspace.