You could say I’m a professional “joiner.”  My friends have enough stories about me joining groups and serving on committees to write a book.  It’s not that I have a curiosity bug and don’t want to miss anything.  I’ve just always liked being around thinking people who are doing something positive and productive.  I love brainstorming with them, sharing ideas, and getting inside their heads.  I like learning what makes people tick, especially the doers of this world.  As much as I thrive on the solitary life of writing, I equally have a thing for creative collaboration and influencers outside myself.

This brings me to my infomercial on www.meetup.com.  In the years since I discovered it existed, I have enjoyed recreational outings with groups and met all kinds of interesting people.  Now I must formally thank Meetup for being there for me when I needed them most.  My background is communications and writing.  Throughout my career I have dabbled in marketing, but I am not exactly versed in marketing lingo.  I don’t have a marketing industry standards badge either. So when I asked myself the question two weeks ago, how am I supposed to market my Christian lifestyle brand, all of a sudden the sun broke through the clouds and this deep voice spoke to me from out of the mist and…okay, maybe none of that happened.  But I did get an email from Meetup about a new group that formed in my area.  It was all about reinventing yourself, making a life transition and all that self-help biz.

I joined the group and went to the first meeting all fired up and ready to find out how to take some more concrete steps in starting my business.  I mean, I had my company name now, my brand identity, my logo design, my motivators, a company profile…what could I do next on my zero-dollar budget?  The group was an absolute bust for me.  But on the bright side, it got me thinking that maybe I needed to be around other entrepreneurs who were heading in the same direction I am.  I logged back onto Meetup and found the Maryland Small Business Marketing Group.   I read the fine print and immediately joined.  Marketing was an area I wanted to know more about.  The fact that the group planned to meet at my local library ten minutes from my house was icing, chocolate icing on a yellow cake—my favorite.  Twenty-five other people had signed up to attend and there was waiting list of ten people.

The organizer, Yazmin Razaq of RelyLocal (www.relylocal.com), a marketing company was there when I arrived.  She and I got into a wonderful conversation right away.   Slowly people trickled in until there were about seven of us.  For some reason people never show up when they say they will.  But it was truly their loss.  We introduced ourselves and our businesses, and I cannot describe how good it felt to be in a room with other entrepreneurs talking shop.  People liked my business idea and told me I was further along than other startups because I had taken the time to establish my brand identity.  It was like Business Marketing 101 in there.  Yazmin really knows her stuff.  She talked about how to build your herd (your customer base) and how to build your funnel (upselling and building a relationship with customers).  I came away from the two-hour meeting armed with practical social media tips, solid free and affordable ideas to apply to my business, and a great new network of people headed in the direction of success.  I learned things like, put your blog on the first page of your website to keep the site fresh.

I found out there is a cheap labor website www.fiverr.com that lists services people provide for $5.  I learned where to find trustworthy freelance help (www.elance.com and www.guru.com) I also found out that there are many other business groups in my area full of new entrepreneurs just like me.  For the first time in weeks I felt like I wasn’t alone.  There were real people that understood my challenges and my triumphs because they too are in the same foxhole.  People brought their business problems, ideas were exchanged, and practical ways of doing business were discussed.  It was an exhilarating experience and it didn’t cost me a penny.  Thanks, Yazmin.  Thanks, Meetup.

This week’s takeaway:  find yourself a good school of fish to join and swim

The more you surround yourself with people who are doing the same thing you are trying to accomplish, the more you will be energized to keep doing it.  Where’s your school of fish?

 

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It’s tricky staying motivated to build a business on a zero-dollar budget.  There were days this week I found myself fighting the urge to just drop kick the whole beautiful idea of creating a Christian lifestyle brand.   Yeah, I had my logo design.  But I thought to myself, now what am I supposed to do on a dime?  I considered how good it would feel to defer my dream and watch reality television or take a power nap.  Only thing is Denzel Washington wouldn’t let me.

I recently saw his latest action flick, “Unstoppable.”  In it Denzel played a train engineer who had to figure out how to stop a runaway train.  Man, that train was almost like another actor in the movie.  No matter what anybody tried, that thing just plain kept going full speed ahead.  While watching the movie, I asked myself a question: how can I take on the persona of that  train to sustain my forward thrust in building my business? That was when I got a revelation.  The train wasn’t moving by itself.  It was motivated by fuel and the gear shift that was set at full throttle.  At that moment I suddenly realized that in order for me to stay motivated, I needed some motivators.

Everybody is so busy talking about haters, not many try to identify their motivators.  But once I got to looking around for some I realized I have four:

Motivator #1: A good life coach

Having a life coach can really help you stay on
track.  The minute I remembered I had a
paid session left with my life coach I immediately scheduled some time with
her.  Our phone meeting helped me crystallize
feasible action items, and her positive attitude toward my business ideas gave
me a huge boost. Once we defined my deliverables, we agreed to meet again the
first week of August to discuss.

Motivator #2: “Gettable” goals

“Gettable” goals are realistic, attainable goals
that have the power to make you feel a sense of achievement because you have something
tangible to show for your efforts. My life coach and I figured out that I could
get my company profile finished and get ideas for at least three concepts
for my e-book covers for the graphic designer to work on by August 3.

Motivator #3: The company I keep

There are two
types of people I have surrounded myself with: people that believe in my dream
and business owners. My friends and family are some of my biggest
cheerleaders.  To find a group of
entrepreneurs, I joined a small business group on Meetup.com that educates
small business owners.  I also have a free
mentor from SCORE and access to their low-fee classes.

Motivator #4: My passion

My passion for this business drives me everyday.  No matter how much I think I want to give up
sometimes I know I won’t.  For one thing
I have to write as much as I need to breathe.
More than that, my Christian lifestyle and the inspirational message I
want to share are way too important to me to just allow them to sit on the shelf.

This week’s takeaway:  Find your motivators and hold onto them for dear life

 
What are your motivators and how can you use them to keep you going while you get your dream off the ground?

The other day I read a blog by a successful businessman who attends my church.  He wrote about how he started his computer business with no money.  All the odds were stacked against him.  He was computer illiterate.  He had no help.  He had the same mounting bills and fears many of us face.  I thought to myself, hmmm…I’m in the same boat.  I want to start a business.  I have a viable idea and strong products.  I’m so deep in debt I can’t even pay attention.  Maybe I could make my dream a reality too.  I kept reading to find out how he did it.  But after finishing his blog posting I found myself wanting to release a frustrated, primal scream.  It wasn’t the first time I’d read somebody’s success story of how they used a paperclip and old chewing gum to build a million-dollar business.  As usual I had the same question I always had when I saw these testimonials of self-made men and women.  How did they do it?  I wasn’t looking for success secrets.  Thinking there’s a formula for getting ahead is right up there with Leprechauns and tooth fairies.  I wanted real live, concrete strategies and struggles.  What worked, what didn’t…and why.  Nobody hardly ever tells you the fine details of exactly what the journey looked like–the fears, the hopelessness, the false starts, the failed tries, the blood, sweat and tears along with the triumphs.  All you ever see is where they came from and where they are now, and I personally am usually left wondering, what about the middle?

Enter me and this blog.  To me the middle is the most important part of the learning and growing process.  It should be documented. People need to see that part so that maybe they can know how to approach their own uphill climb.  So here I am at “point A” of an amazing journey about to dip my big toe into the strange, scary world of business and make something out of nothing.  I have no money.  I’ve been unemployed for over a year.  The $410 a week I get from the unemployment office is usually spent before I even get it because obviously bills are like roaches: they multiply.  I can’t seem to buy a job.  I have no business training.  No help.  All I have is God and a dream to build a Christian lifestyle brand comprised of my books, fashion, and a virtual toolbox housing a blog, event news, advice, prayer requests, praise reports, and an online Christian dating platform.  A huge dream, I know.  But a girl with God and a dream can do anything!  Plus I realized it didn’t cost me a dime to name my company.  So I did that.  Mission accomplished.  Step one on my to-do list, check.  It also didn’t cost me to research my industry or to write my company profile.

And already, I’ve cleared a major hurdle.  I found an excellent graphic designer on my zero dollar budget.  It was a tricky find.  It started with me being asked a question:  aside from money, what do you need to start your business?  My answer was that I should get a graphic designer to help me conceptualize and develop a brand identity.  I would then need my e-books designed and a website done.   Having worked with designers in my past life, I knew what a good one cost.  I wracked my brain for ways around the traditional search and seizure of a designer and finally decided to turn to one of my dearest friends…Craigslist.  I posted an ad and prayed.  My first thought was maybe I would find a student or a newbie trying to build their client list or someone that would accept an unpaid internship.  The students and newbies that responded to my ad were all under par.  About 50 email responses later, I still hadn’t found the right fit.  There were the designers that charged more than it costs for a kidney transplant.  The cheap ones with blah portfolio work that they tried to convince me were hot.  Then there were the designers who had passable work but were not formally trained.

I went right back to my boyfriend, Craig and cruised the ads in the computer services section.  All of a sudden, bingo!  I found an ad posted by Whitford Designs.  Brad Whitford had a rocking website and a high-quality portfolio.  His ad included the word “affordable” and I thought to myself, this might be my guy.  After a great phone conversation he emailed me an estimate breakdown.  Other than the web design quote that almost made me choke, the other services  I needed seemed reasonably priced.  I just wasn’t sure how I would pay for anything short of getting a cup and standing out on a corner.  But at least my design guy said he’d work with me on payment arrangements.  We agreed the logical next step would be to start with the logo design.  That would cost $348.  It took a week and a half for the design options to be completed, but when they were, I was impressed.  The consensus of friends and family was that design option 2 was the one–my favorite.  Brad said don’t rush on the payment but I believe people should be compensated for their work.  So I sucked it up and paid $150 through Paypal.  When my unemployment check arrived two days later, I paid $198.  It was brutal.  Something will suffer.  A bill will get paid late or I may have to skimp on a meal for my family.  But here I sit, a broke CEO, the proud owner of jpeg and eps formats of my company logo.  And that, my friends, is how I chewed and swallowed the first bite of the elephant I’m eating.  Brad and I begin work on the e-book cover designs in two weeks–another $300 I may have to rob Peter to pay Paul for.  Pray for me.  My ground zero takeaways?

1. Whatever you can do toward establishing your business, do that first.  Things like naming your business and doing research are free.

2. Figure out what you need other than money and come up with creative ways to get it.

3.  Don’t settle for working with mediocre vendors…keep looking until you find what works for you.

4. Don’t be afraid to tell your vendor you have a zero dollar budget and ask if they are willing to make payment arrangements

5.  Good things come to those who use Craigslist

I’ll see you at the next toll on this fun, bumpy road!