October 24, 2014 by Christina Hamlett
It’s 5:00 on a Friday. What kind of work week did you just have? If you’re employed by someone else and you’re not particularly keen about your job duties, your coworkers, your boss or your commute, your thoughts have probably wandered more than a few times to the fantasy of starting your own business. Maybe you’ve even entertained ideas about being a “solopreneur” and working from home. Unfortunately, many people not only rush into a new enterprise without a solid plan but also fail to take into account how they’re going to achieve an appropriate balance between a thriving company and having a personal life that fulfills their soul. Jennifer Martin, a successful business consultant, motivational trainer and Founder of Zest Business Consulting, shares insider tips on how to keep your work from overwhelming your mind and body.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Let’s start with some background on your own academic/professional journey and what inspired you to want to help entrepreneurs achieve – and sustain – their business dreams.
A: I grew up in Los Angeles and had my first sales job at 9 years old. From that very first sale I was hooked on closing deals and making money. In my twenties I worked in sales and real estate until landing a job negotiating contracts with a company now owned by Clear Channel Communications. After 11 years of negotiating multi-million dollar contracts and having exposure to a variety of different aspects of business I ventured out into my first Consulting business in 1999. Then a few years later I purchased a dying business intent on reviving it. In less than 4 months I was able to grow business more than 400% going on to sell the business 18 months later at a profit.
After spending a few years training with EMyth and working for them as Business Coach I found myself at a crossroads again in January of 2013. I had lived through every mistake a business owner could make. I understood personally what it felt like to work 70+ hours a week and barely get by. I also knew the recipe for how to make money and keep more of the money you make. I was driven to help other small business owners avoid overwhelm and not only earn a living doing what they love, but understanding how to live a balanced life in the process. That’s what Zest is all about. Having it all: a Thriving Business AND a Soul-satisfying and meaningful, balanced life.
Q: What’s something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I have moved on a whim to four different cities in my life because when I visited it felt like home.
Q: There’s no question that we’re in a rapidly downward spiraling economy that has not only made people wary of taking risks but also constantly stressed about the financial health of their brick-and-mortar or online companies. In your experience, what are some of the most common places that small business owners lose money…and what should be doing to reverse those mistakes?
A: There are a number of different places where money can leak which change a bit depending on the size and the type of business as well as the industry. Here’s a short list of where a business owner might be able to patch the holes and keep a little more of the money they make.
Insurance (review and get quotes once or twice a year).
Inventory. Having too much on hand isn’t always a smart move. Keep what you would normally use + a small buffer for seasonal sales on hand, no more. This includes everything you use including office supplies.
Payables. If you offer terms or credit have a good consistent system in place and Stick to it! A lot of money is lost each year due to businesses not collecting fees due to them.
Time. This might seem like an unusual thing to mention but time is very valuable to a business. Ideally you want to make sure that each person on staff (including the executive team or ownership group) is using their time wisely and doing the work they are being paid to do.
Q: What if a business owner finds himself/herself in a frozen state of “overwhelm” brought on by circumstances seemingly beyond personal control? Are there effective techniques they can use to de-stress regroup and successfully get them back on track?
A: Absolutely! I have a free download through my website to help people get out of overwhelm. Here’s one of my favorite tips: Work in a “Therapist’s hours”
One of the best ways to help people stay productive and feel more in balance is to work a little then rest a little. Try working in 50 minute segments. Set a timer if you need to and then during your 10 minute breaks, actually take a break! Physically move around. Get up and move away from your work-space. Go outside if you can. Give your brain a rest and give your body some time to stretch.
No matter how much there is for you to get done you will be more productive, sharper, and have more energy if you stop to refuel before plowing ahead.
Q: How much of a role does self-motivation play in keeping the owner of a home-based business enthused and engaged? Without a boss looking over your shoulder, for instance, isn’t it all too tempting to watch cat videos, play computer games or kick back a day or two and just go to the beach?
A: I would say that self-motivation is 100% tied to business success. Generally most people are great at being accountable to others and not always diligent to being accountable to their selves. If you find that distraction is keeping you from getting things done, try working with an accountability buddy and limit the time you allow yourself to spend on different websites. Some great free downloadable apps to help you are SelfControl & Stay Focused.
SelfControl for MAC users
StayFocused for PC users
Q: One of the things that home-based business owners discover is that they not only put in much longer hours working for themselves than they ever did working for someone else but that they’re also often uncomfortable taking breaks, planning vacations or even staying in bed when they’re under the weather. How, then, do you ensure an appropriate work/life balance when what you do for a living is always under the same roof as you and your family?
A: Well for starters you need to establish some regular working hours and some ground rules for everyone else in the family when you are officially “on the clock”. For families with kids I recommend posting a sign on your office door for when you are “in session” aka working so everyone else in the home understands when you aren’t to be bothered. Having a clear idea of when it’s working time and when it’s personal time is very important, too. If you say you are done at 6:00 pm that means you aren’t looking at e-mails at 9:00 pm to see if any orders came in. If you have an office door try closing the door for the day or even installing a lock on the door and closing work for the day when you are done. Alternatively you can cover your workstation with a tablecloth, towel, or blanket so you won’t be as tempted to “just get one more thing done”.
Q: From a sole proprietor perspective, what’s the difference between being lonely and being alone?
A: For some people being alone and feeling lonely can be one and the same. I know for myself I love working alone, primarily from my home office. I know I also crave the company of others and I need to have a social life where I get to interact outside of coaching.
Alone time can offer you a great way to recharge, relax, and find your balance again. If you are feeling lonely, then it’s probably time to have some sort of human exchange again.
Q: You have successfully grown revenues in several of your own businesses and helped your clients do the same. What is the number 1 tip you can share with our readers about becoming a client magnet?
A: Being Open for Business every working day. I know that sounds simple enough but I suggest that we look at this commitment from a personal perspective rather than a physical perspective. If you want to connect with more clients you need to be in the right mindset to be open and ready to make that connection. I recommend starting each day with your own Open for Business Ritual. Recommit yourself everyday day to being open and ready for your ideal clients to find you. Just make sure you have a quick closed for the day ritual too as no one really wants to get a call at 9:00 pm. This one can be pretty simple. Most of my clients pretend they are turning off a light switch.
Q: We live in an “instant now” society where I think there’s an expectation that a new venture will take off overnight. (This is especially true of fledgling authors who expect their debut novels to make the bestseller list the first week.) Is there a secret to breaking even as quickly as possible and growing a business by leaps and bounds or it more a case of “slow and steady wins the race”?
A: The key to breaking even as quickly as possible is keeping your overhead low, starting without loans or debt, and staying focused on growing business consistently until you hit your break-even point. I tell people that the only thing they should be doing if they aren’t actually working with a client is spending a very small amount of time on billing and the rest on marketing and sales. For most new businesses this means that 80-90% of their time should be spent on showing up where their potential customers will be and introducing themselves and their product or service. Knowing which marketing strategies are going to actually help you get traction helps too.
Q: Money is oftentimes in short supply when a business first opens its doors. How, then, can an owner attract clients and make a media splash without spending a lot of cash?
A: Thank you so much for asking this question! I LOVE helping small business owners grown their businesses without spending a lot of money. Here are 10 things any small business owner can do to get some notice.
- Establish your Free Facebook page, LinkedIn Page, and Google+ page. If you have a physical address, also apply for a yelp listing.
- If you have a service based business (think Life Coach, Chiropractor, Professional Organizer, SAT Tutor, etc.) get listed for free with sites like Thumbtack or Houzz so you’ll receive a lead when someone who is looking for your specialty puts a query out online.
- Search for what you do (lawn care, house-cleaning, etc.) online and get yourself listed with the free resources.
- Give free presentations in places where you could connect with your clients
- Post your business cards on every local bulletin board.
- Start a meet up group or join a meet up group where you can connect with your clients
- Offer related professionals (who may also be working with your next clients) an affiliate marketing opportunity. Give them an agreed upon gift of some sort when they send clients your way.
- If you have a physical space, invite everyone you know and all your business neighbors for a grand opening party.
- Get out and meet 20 people a day to share with them what you are doing (selling, etc.)
- Use coupon or discount sites to build a buzz (make sure you set the rates appropriately so you can afford to accept the deal). It doesn’t cost you a dime upfront.
Q: Which do you feel is a harder enterprise to launch – one that sells products or one that sells services?
A: There are going to be nuances for each business depending on the product they sell, where they sell it and how they sell it, so it’s hard to make a blanket statement. With that said generally a new product launch costs more since you’ll need a great deal more advertising and promotional materials on average to get the word out. Also, retail stores will generally have higher overhead than a business that sells a service, plus there’s bound to be employee costs, whereas a service based business may not have employees right off the bat.
Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any famous person in history, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?
A: I think I would speak with Abraham Lincoln. He experienced a steady stream of adversity and he persevered. He was a trail blazer and managed to get things done against the odds. I would ask him what has been the greatest source of motivation for you throughout the years.
Q: What advice would you give a student in high school who told you, “I want to own my own business”?
A: For starters I would probably be so excited I’d be jumping up and down clapping my hands to applaud them. I LOVE hearing about people who want to control their own destinies doing what they are called to do. Then when I calmed myself down I would tell them that they should do some research to make sure that there is a need for what they want to offer and that the amount of profit that they want to earn is viable in their industry. If they have never owned a business before I’d recommend finding a mentor and make sure that you have enough money to live on for at least 6 months because it’s not uncommon for it to take a while before the income exceeds the expenses. In other words, do your homework before you take that leap of faith.
Q: What’s your best or most memorable success story in the years you have been a consultant?
A: My clients amaze me all the time so it’s hard to pick just one story. I recall working with a new client some years back who was working 7 days a week on average for 10-12 hours a day when we first met. He hated everyone who worked for him and he was uncomfortable delegating even the smallest detail to anyone else. He was probably the angriest person I had ever connected with and had a lot of trust issues. His whole staff was afraid of him.
A lot of the work I did with him at the onset was about setting boundaries and communicating. I taught him how to be a true leader worthy of respect and consideration. He was one of the bravest men I have ever met. He learned how to treat people with respect and he learned how to communicate in respectful and empowering ways. By the end of our 9 months of working together he had hired a bookkeeper and an office manager, along with a general manager who could take over half the day to day duties. He started building trust amongst his team and learned how to relax and trust. Now he spends his weekends with his family and he works 4-5 Six hours days taking time off for himself to enjoy life on his terms. This guy did a total 180. He learned how to make connections with his team and now he’s reaping the rewards every day.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with Biz Buzz readers?
A: Only thank you for including me here.
Editorial Note: Readers can learn more about Zest Business Consulting by visiting:
Jennifer is also one of 30+ experts who contributed chapter content to Office For One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide, now available in paperback from Amazon.