Wednesday, October 23, 2013


My sister Cookie has decided to become an AVON representative. 

She’s an interesting character.  Highly educated (with an advanced degree in Public Administration,) compassionate (she is my 93 year-old mother’s principal caregiver) and one of the smartest people I know.    

She also has an almost religious relationship to multi-level marketing.  For those uninitiated folks out there, MLM or multi-level-marketing is simply a profit model where those involved can make money at several levels.  You are compensated when you privately make a sale, but also when others you're associated with make a sale.    

Her relationship with this model spans decades.   

She’s been involved in selling insurance policies and pots and pans.  Then of course there was the communications company that came on the heels of the cosmetic company.

I've had so many conversations with her around network marketing (which is another name for MLM) that I can hold my own when she starts discussing commissions, and bonuses, chargebacks and personal volume discounts.  I will admit however, that when we take the deep dive into the murky waters of up-lines and down lines I get a little breathless and feel the need to come up for air.

And even though she’s not found the financial success she thought was hers, she has stayed enamored with the business model.  And it seems with each company she pockets another piece of the puzzle and better understand what the success formula looks like.   

Which leads us to AVON. 

For certain, if I was a betting woman, I put my money on this newest relationship.  Not so much because it’ s AVON, one of the oldest most respected brands in the world, but because of how she is using her experience to create a different outcome. 

From the very beginning she picked AVON after first looking at several MLM companies and interviewing their representatives.  She didn't simply plunk down her payment and pick-up her samples.  Instead she developed a set of interview questions to be answered by what would be her up-line. She was looking and listening for compatibility, company longevity, business acumen, creativity and most importantly a financially successful track record with the company.   

After making her decision she made a commitment for success.  She’s now in the process of putting systems in place (including financial systems,) projecting her growth, working under marketing objectives and strategically growing her business. 

I'm impressed.  She’s excited and I'm excited for her.           
Cookie reminds me that it’s never too late to try again.  

And it’s never too late to get it right.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Developing New Products: The Critical First Step

A good first step in developing new products or services for your business is to ask your customers what they like about the old product or service. 

This seems so logical.  But many times we skip this step.  Instead of having the conversation with the customer we decide to play both parts by having the conversation with ourselves.   

This one person play is very dangerous.  And can be very costly.

Because in truth we're not as in-tune with our customer as we think we are.  We’re really not sure why they buy our handmade jewelry, our vegan cinnamon buns or our massage services.  Oftentimes we’re not even certain who we're attracting.  We think we know but do we really? 

Ask yourself a simple question.  Are most of your clients or customers, men or women? 

Most business owners would answer this question quickly, without hesitation. 

But the speed of our reply doesn't mean we're right.  Unless you're a gynecologist or the director of a sperm bank your reply is probably as reliable as that of an eyewitness.  

I suggest if your business or consultancy is small enough simply take a minute and actually segregate your clients by sex.  Or if necessary, pull a report from your database, or stand in your shop over the course of week and count men and women stopping in.   

Were you surprised by the outcome?

My advice is before you make any substantive change to your offering do your best to find out who’s buying what and why.  This is particularly important when you're creating new product or service strategies that change your core offerings. 

And the best way to find out is the old fashioned way. 



Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Say you're at a small dinner party.  You introduce yourself to your dinner companion.   She tells you she’s a doctor. 

As you chat each other up you're developing an overpowering urge to ask a personal medical question.  Before the chocolate tart is served you’re describing the itchy rash on your left arm, or if the humming in your right ear deserves medical attention.     

I’m no doctor but that scenario pretty much describes my life as a lifelong entrepreneur and micro business consultant. By the time I've graciously accepted the extra scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on my tart my dinner companion is talking about small business issues or an entrepreneurial idea. 

Not a problem; it’s a conversation I love having.  But because I have it so often I’ve for certain noticed patterns.

For instance; one is about money.  Usually it’s money versus social mission or social consciousness. 

Take last weekend. 

While listening to voicemail I hear the sweet voice of one of my really good girlfriends.  Apparently she’s had some fabulous “light bulb” of an idea and she’s simply bursting to share it with me. 

I can tell by her energy she’s not wanting “friend Penny” to return this call.  Instead, she’s dying to talk to Penny; the small business consultant.   

I return her call. She shares her idea.  As it’s explained the idea sounds totally mission-driven.  Basically it’s an idea that works to bring solution to difficulties and hardships within a population. 

So I start discussing for-profit versus nonprofit organizations.  I’m having conversation around using surplus revenue to achieve social goals rather than focusing on distributing profitability.                

I’m knee-deep in that conversation when I hear verbal bits and pieces coming from her that start sounding much more like dollar desire rather than the initial conversation focused on a people-helping-people program.

I have this conversation a lot. 

And I hate to admit it but it’s usually from women. 

For some reason we're still hesitant to admit we're as profit-driven as the next person.  And even when we are interested in assisting those in need, we want compensation for our effort. 

And the sad reality is that until we're able to own it (our money love,) we won’t be able to create it.     

Want to know the easiest way to resolve the profit/nonprofit problem and move forward on your business planning?   

Ask yourself a simple set of questions. 

If you received no financial compensation would you still do the work? 

Which comes first on a priority list; COMPENSATION or CAUSE? 

Let’s say there’s a nonprofit that already exists in your area of interest.  Could you simply volunteer your time?  Or would you still need your startup?     

If you never made a penny from your effort, would the idea still be exciting for you?    


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why Business Plans Don't Work

The easiest way to make a business plan work is by working a business plan. 

That sounds simple. 

Until we remember that the fastest way to guarantee a diet will work is by working the diet.  The easiest way to write a book is to write a book.  And the easiest way to get in physical shape is by getting in physical shape.

All this makes us remember we don't do that execution part so well.

It seems that when the excitement around growing a business (or losing weight, or writing a book) starts to wane, discipline needs to kick in.

And that’s usually the kicker.   

I've been in the business of writing business plans for a couple of years now.  About 6 to 8 months ago I noticed a disturbing trend. 

My clients would be excited as I handed over the tightly-bound body of work, along with the thumb drive, containing their strategy for growth and profitability.  They were impressed with the sheer size of the finished document and realized that all of our meetings matched to all of my research and creativity had coalesced into this personal, particular strategy. 

But my guess is that as they read the plan they realized that I’d not handed them magic.  Success was not going to manifest by clicking their heels three times.    

On the contrary, with plan in place it was now time to roll up their sleeves and start the real work of growing a business.

And it’s at this point they meet with frustration.

Because the hardest part of any journey is the first step.  

I personally think it is part self-discipline and part prioritizing that fuels the inertia. Also many of the business plans I write are for clients that have busy businesses already and are looking to expand that  business – time may be an issue as well.      

So I came up with an idea.  I now add a separate document to every business plan I write and deliver to my clients.  I call it an Implementation Timeline.   

This implementation tool is the step-by-step blueprint that executes the plan and turns those financial projections into real cash. 

It’s very much like giving your day structure by creating a prioritized “to-do” list; an implementation tool will give you daily direction. 

Not sure how to create your implementation tool?

Try starting with your marketing objectives.  Your marketing objectives represent your success path. So when the objectives are satisfied through a step-by-step plan it’s reasonable to assume you have manifested your projected revenue. 

Ask yourself a series of questions to start creating the tool.  What do I need to do (every single step.)  When do I need to do it?  Who needs to help me? What resources do I need?  Etcetera 

Creating an implementation tool is arduous work.  But if you take the time to create the tool and the discipline to work the tool you're rewarded with success.

And, after all, wasn't success the whole point of writing the business plan?