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Chellie Mejia, B.Sc.

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5 must-have tips to becoming your own boss

Being an entrepreneur is a dream for so many people; and, it was (and is) a dream I strive to realize every single day. The idea of being your own boss and working in a field that you’re interested in and passionate about is a luxury that many don’t get to live in their 9 to 5. The truth is, though, that a lot of new businesses fail within the first three years. So, I thought I’d share some personal revelations and experiences in planning my own entrepreneurial journey.

Is being your own boss right for you?

The first thing I needed to come to terms with is that not everyone can cut it. I needed to figure out whether or not being an entrepreneur was right for me and my family. Every successful business owner I know works above and beyond the 40 hour work week and more than conventional jobs. There are, of course, benefits to being your own boss. Every day, I put my own ideas into motion, and I make decisions that define the course of my company. I enjoy the limitless potential to create higher goals to attain and to earn more money. But, before embracing those advantages, I had to take the time to think it through. Make sure you’re the kind of person who likes to give yourself challenges taking on a new project and sees possibilities where others see problems. Dreams play a role, but what counts is action, and if you’re willing to put in the work, it is absolutely possible to influence your destiny.

Let’s develop your business plan

After making sure that I was prepared for and committed to everything that comes with running your own business, it was time to develop my ideas and my business plan.  This is where the work begins.  A dynamic business plan can help you determine the path you plan to take with your company, turn ideas into a tangible constructed business, and is even necessary in securing financing from lenders and investors.  It can help in identifying weaknesses in terms of capabilities or local competition, and can communicate your vision to potential colleagues or partners. If you want to be a business owner, regardless of the industry, your first capability should be your product or service, but your second capability should always be business itself. If you don’t know what an Executive Summary or an Operational Plan is, Google it, research it, and learn! It’ll be the first of many hats you’ll have to wear as a small business owner. Trust me.

Let’s think about your brand

Then came the logistics. I had to choose a name for my business — something unique and easy to remember — and register my business with the necessary levels of government. For me, that involved applying for a Business Number, which serves as my account number for dealing with the government regarding payroll, taxes, and other activities. It’s also what I used to open a business bank account so I could start keeping my personal money away from my business money. My advice is to do this right from the start to avoid potentially devastating complications down the line.

Where will the start-up money come from?

Financing is often the most challenging aspect of starting a business, but when I started out, I found that there were so many little known resources available out there to get your business off the ground. The government provides financing to help start-up businesses, some that need to be repaid and some that don’t. There are also various private sector financing opportunities that you might be able to secure. Do your research and take advantage of the resources that exist.

Take action!

The most important part, however, is what comes every day as an entrepreneur. Put your dreams into action, and get ready to roll your sleeves up and delve right in! This is your moment to shine and to build an empire out of nothing! It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without some sleepless nights and stressful moments, but if you’re willing to put in the work, the sky’s the limit!

Good luck!

How to raise your net worth

Often when asked, it’ll take me a few seconds of thinking to remember my shoe size, my dress size, or my home phone number. Never my net worth; that’s always top of mind. Is that backwards? Considering my priorities and measure of personal success, I really don’t think it is. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t want to give off the impression that a person’s net worth is the be all and end all of how they should be valued and treated as human beings, but I do think it’s a significant qualifying factor to a person’s success in business. There are a thousand business people and entrepreneurs who can talk a good game, but at the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie.

Your net worth is basically how much money you’d be left with if you subtracted all your debts from all your assets. I put a substantial amount of thought and energy into increasing my own personal net worth, and the habits I’ve developed have proven to be beneficial, not only from a personal standpoint, but also for my business and for my family. The simplest ways to increase your net worth are to purchase assets and to pay off debts.

Purchase Assets

One of the first lessons I learned, however, was that not every asset purchase you make will actually help you build your net worth. For example, a new car, unless it’s a collector’s item or vintage automobile, will depreciate faster than almost any other asset you could purchase. Forty thousand dollars spent this year could be worth $10,000 less next year. Any assets you purchase need to at the very least remain stable or ideally increase in value over time. I prefer to increase my net worth by way of real-estate, artwork and silver bars (a bit of a gamble, but I’ve found still more stable than gold). Others may choose to purchase rare coins, and my mother is partial to handmade Persian rugs. All these things will help in building your net worth.

Pay Off Debts

Another way to build your net worth is to pay off your debts—even if you have to start off with the small ones. Pay off your car loans, your student loans and your credit cards. If you have to prioritize, start with the high-interest debt first, or any other debt where the interest is not tax deductible.

Invest

It may also be worth it to use debt to build your net worth. This is especially the case when it comes to investing in real estate, where the debt you incur with a mortgage is being used to purchase an asset that will appreciate in value. This is always a risk of course, since there’s no way to know for sure whether an asset will actually appreciate, but there are lower risks involved if you focus on assets that have a habit of increasing in value.

As a business person, your net worth is an important figure to consider in your financial goals. Decide what your net worth goal is, and then do whatever needs to be done to get there. Work hard, make the sacrifices and ultimately, you’ll reap the rewards!

Here’s the first step in getting ahead in your career

Those who know me best know that I take a decidedly flowerchild approach to the way I conduct myself in business. As focused as I may be on success and financial rewards, I try my best to create and operate within a universally free-spirited domain, and I encourage those around me to do the same. I’ve never responded well to the rigidity and formality of the mainstream corporate sphere. So, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to my little circle that one of the main contributing factors to my business success is also touted by new age, likeminded flowerchildren like myself as a means to living a successful and fulfilling life: visualization.

Visualization is powerful. In my own day-to-day experience, I find that visualizing my business goals is often a foolproof way to attract the outcome and energy that I want.  But the practice itself, at least for me, is not as free-spirited and whimsical as some might believe.  For me, it’s actually pretty practical and methodical.

Before I visualize what it is that I want, I really have to sit down and work out exactly what that is. I set concrete, specific goals for myself, and I always make sure to include timelines. Writing them out so I can refer to them whenever I need to is also really important to my whole process.

Then I just use my imagination! I put myself in the center of it all, and visualize everything as if it’s happening right now, in this very moment. I imagine what it feels like and looks like to have achieved the goals I have set for myself, and I picture everything to the tiniest detail. I know what colour my office walls are, I know what artwork I have hanging, and what plants I have on my desk. I picture myself doing work that I love, working with my ideal clients, making my ideal income, and having enough time off for my friends and family.  I think about how I’ll feel – the sense of security and confidence I’ll feel as my bank balance increases. It’s not a snapshot or a photo, but my own little mini movie that allows me to breathe in the positive feelings that I experience as I imagine my ideal life.

The result? When I take the time every once in a while to indulge in a little visualization, I often find myself more prepared, more confident, and more believing of the fact that I can achieve any goal I set for myself. I’m energized and completely ready to start my day!

Of course, the simple act of visualization is really just a starting point – actually, maybe a pre-starting point.  The real fun comes in activating that vision and turning it into reality.

Girl power is alive and kicking

Previously, I wrote an article on women holding each other back in the corporate sphere through bullying, intimidation, and underhanded tactics that seemed to come straight out of a high school clique handbook.  It didn’t sit well with me.

I know what the statistics are, and I’m not naïve to the fact that there are women in businesses across the continent that feel that the only opportunity they have to get ahead is to power their way through with a blatant disregard and insensitivity to the women around them.  It just hasn’t been my own experience, and while I’m sad that this issue still permeates so much of the 21st century business woman’s experience, I am also so grateful that it has not affected mine.

I want to acknowledge my experience, and I’d like you to acknowledge yours.  It’s easy to recall vivid details of the woman who scorned you in her self-serving efforts to achieve success.  But I refuse to believe that we don’t all have equally significant stories of women in our workplace who have held us up, pushed us forward, made us laugh, and encouraged us to fly.

So to the woman who always made me laugh, even on a stressful day, with her blunt and to the point (sometimes inappropriate!) sense of humor and conversations – thank you.

To the woman who shared my love of summertime fun and soca music, updated me on new music on our lunch breaks, and helped me find quick flights to New York City – thank you.

To the woman who all but held my hand through the process of putting together deal sheets and never once lost her patience when I made a mistake or forgot to send through the right documentation – thank you.

To the woman who would intercept me on the way to the lunchroom with candy and chocolate bars and treats that made me smile – thank you.

To the woman who enabled my obvious problem with online and catalogue shopping and didn’t judge as she delivered boxes of shoes and clothing and toys and kitchen supplies to my desk – thank you.

To the woman who has been nothing but supportive of my personal accomplishments and ventures, sharing them with her network of friends and family and being such a positive source of encouragement even in times when she didn’t know I needed it – thank you.

To the woman who spent most of the time we worked together trying to “figure me out” and who always let me know which hairstyle she liked best and where to get a good healthy lunch – thank you.

The woman who sat across from me and helped me through real estate terminology I was not yet familiar with; the editor who goes beyond her role to speak kind words and offer help and advice; the publishing team that takes the time to understand what I need to say and helps me figure out a way to say it; friends who have my back and colleagues who push me forward – THANK YOU.

Maybe I’m just blessed – but I’d like to think that perhaps we’re too busy looking for the negative experiences that we lose sight of all the little moments with the multitude of women who realize that their power does not lie in your failures or embarrassments.  Our successes are shared, there’s room for all of us.

Would it be too cliché to end this article with the words “girl power”?  Well, I just did

If my call is so important, can I get some service here?

“Press 1 for English. Press 4 if you’d like to book a flight. Press 2 if this is an international flight.”

54 minutes.

That’s what my cell phone timer read when I was finally taken off of hold to speak to someone on the phone about booking a flight. This is only after being on hold for 35 minutes before the machine hung up on me and I was forced to call back and hold for another 54 minutes. Travelling with an infant means I could not book my ticket online, so hold I did. I put on my headset, gathered the family, and we played Monopoly. I wish I was joking.

This would be okay if it was an isolated incident, but then another company, another day, another customer service nightmare. This time only 28 minutes of holding with my long distance provider before I was able to get a human on the phone to help me change my plan, all the while being taunted with the usual prompt: “Your call is important to us.  Please stay on the line while we transfer your call to the next available representative.  For faster service, please visit us online at …”

I’m definitely not naïve to the financial aspect of the decisions behind these companies’ emphasis on automated phone systems and online services. The one-time cost of set up and minimal maintenance costs pale in comparison to the annual salaries of staffing an actual call centre, but does that mean that the human aspect of customer service is virtually extinct?

But then I got to thinking, maybe it’s my fault. I do my banking online. I pay my bills online, and I would’ve handled both of these calls online this week if the option had been made available to me. I really do tend to shy away from actual human interaction these days and much prefer the cold, efficient, and impersonal speed of managing my life online, minus the chit chat. And that scares me.

So, from here on in, I think I’ll make more of an effort to walk into my bank branch and actually get to know the people behind the counter and choose my service providers based on the customer service provided by their people, not their machines. I feel like it would at the least be a more accurate representation of their business culture and integrity, and at the most a reflection of my own. I’m sad to say that I doubt my little personal mandate will change the technological takeover, but at least I’ll be doing my small part.

 

A name that counts

There are a few things that let me know that spring is officially here: sun shining, birds chirping, kids playing in the park, and an incessant barrage of telemarketing calls from companies offering to help me with my landscaping and duct cleaning.  Ahhhhh, spring!

One of the many companies that have contacted me over the past week or so has stood out from the rest, and it had nothing to do with the communication skills of their telemarketer, their price points, or their service quality.  It had everything to do with one principle that made me take notice: “If we’re not there when we say we’ll be there, we’ll do the job for free. We would never waste your time while expecting you to pay for ours.”

Now, I’ve dealt with my fair share of landscape and construction companies, and in an industry where time and energy is everything, their willingness to risk that spoke volumes for their credibility, and made me listen to everything else they had to say.

So, I started researching other companies who have risked something significant in order to build a credible name, and I learned something quite significant.  Of course, I know that credibility, especially in a service business, is paramount to success in whatever industry you’re in, but my focus has always been on providing quality service, marketing that quality service, and expecting clients and customers to do their part as well by spreading the word and building my brand. On the other hand, some of the biggest names in business have built their own credibility not only by providing a quality service or product, but by putting themselves at risk to make sure that their superior quality was immediately understood.

Amazon.com was one of the first online retailers to allow their visitors to write negative reviews on their own site, essentially giving up power and control, and simultaneously lending immediate credibility to any positive reviews written on the site.

And the most dramatic example I found?  The president of an identity-theft protection program who ran ads with his full name and social security number, to prove his own personal confidence in the service his company was offering.  Wild!  But, also so effective in building consumer confidence in what you’re doing before they’ve even tried it.

Apparently, the more you put at risk, the more credibility you build for your brand.  I’m not sure how to translate this message into something that works for me just yet, but I certainly intend to.  There’s nothing more powerful in business than a brand that people believe in.

 

My superhero alterego

Growing up, I think everyone had at least one favourite superhero, right? I, myself, grew up with a lot of male cousins, so there were always comic books lying around, Saturday morning superhero cartoons, and we watched it all. I was an X-Men girl, and I loved all things Storm. I still do, to some extent, and I think I channel that superhero energy and persona when I’m feeling particularly intimidated or anxious with anything at work.

You see, Storm, even being surrounded by the likes of Wolverine, Cyclops, and the other strong male personalities of the X-Men team, was a powerhouse in her own right. She has the foresight to remain cool in heated situations, the intelligence to devise complex plans and lead her team to victory when needed, and the power to manipulate and control the elements around her and her enemies. She’s strong, smart, beautiful, and let’s face it, she kicks major butt. She may not be a living, breathing example of a powerful business woman, but for me, she’s become a very tangible symbol of female empowerment within a male-dominated industry or team.

So when I’m in a meeting dominated by males who are speaking loudly and laughing at jokes, I think of how Storm’s voice can cut through the din in the calmest and most powerful manner, bringing the team back to focus while maintaining her aura of cool, collected control. When I’m walking into a business situation where my confidence is lacking or I don’t feel secure or superior, I walk like Storm, as if the winds follow at my heels the sun shines because I’ve told the clouds to stand at bay.

The fact is, while I stand firm behind my assertion that businesswomen must be capable, competent, and confident, the latter is not always a given. We’re human, after all, and sometimes that confidence wavers.  So, why not channel your very own superhero and borrow that strength, that power, and that killer instinct, for the task at hand?

So, my superhero is Storm.  Yours might be another comic book heroine, but it could very well be your mom, your sister, a celebrity, an old colleague, or your dearest friend.  The best part is that in 2012, there is no shortage of positive examples for female business empowerment around us, so the list is long and the choice is ours.

I’m especially excited at the prospect of the generation of business women who’ll come after me; the little girls who won’t be restricted to one of a handful of super heroines on a team predominantly led by males.  Maybe – just maybe – if I play my cards right, when it comes time for them to channel their own superhero example, they’ll choose me!

 

Marketing, socially speaking

Like most entrepreneurs, I approach social media profiles from a strictly business perspective. I advertise my articles, my listings as a real estate professional, my book, I network with other professionals, advertise events, and update with what I consider to be valuable industry information religiously. With the saturation of this type of branding though, I’ve been wondering lately if marketing like this actually works.
Nowadays, it’s become common place to see the ads strategically placed on the right hand side of my Facebook profile or the “Sponsored” trending topics on Twitter, but I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve ever clicked in to one of these advertisements, and apparently I’m not alone. According to customer satisfaction analytics experts, ForeSee Results, who surveyed 300,000 consumers on more than 180 websites across a dozen private and public sector industries, reported that fewer than 1 percent of website visits come directly from a social media URL. So, when it comes to how much money I’m willing to invest in this type of marketing, I’m a bit confused.
Granted, most social media advertising techniques cost nothing but time. Setting up a Facebook page costs nothing, and if you can build up a solid fanbase of “Likes” from relevant and possible consumers, than you have a direct line to speak to people who can influence the bottom line of your business. But as far as the paid advertisement spots on these social media sites, I’m still not convinced that this investment would result in actual money being made for my company.
Of course, there’s also the concept of brand awareness, and any entrepreneur knows the worth of a recognizable brand. Perhaps the key with social media marketing is getting your name out there enough times to enough people so that when they do require the services you provide, your name will be front of mind and, even more than that, you’ll probably be pretty easy to find.
I’m not sure what the balance is exactly between how much energy and resources to put into social media marketing and how much return to expect in terms of website traffic, brand awareness, or sales, but I have a feeling it’s just like any other channel. There’s no panacea here – just another marketing tool that we’ll all need to grasp and learn and use appropriately for our business needs.

Queen Bees aren’t just in high school anymore

This week, for the first time in my entire corporate experience, I found myself face to face with what I used to assume was the mythical workplace “Queen Bee.”

I’ve read the studies countless time that analyze the prevalence of mean girls in the office environment.  A Zogby study even indicated that 71% of workplace bullying is women harassing other women, and a study by researchers at the University of Toronto showed that women who worked with female bosses were more likely to show high levels of work-related stress.  I understood the facts but, in my personal experience, I had never encountered any woman in the workplace that fit into this bullying stereotype.

This week, however, in preparing for the last few business trips going into the year end, I had the unfortunate luck of running into who I now refer to as “that woman”.  She answered the phone “Yes?” – which immediately threw me for a loop (what happened to hello?) and for the rest of the conversation, I could almost SEE her scowling through the phone.  Meeting in person was so disconcerting that I literally felt dizzy walking away.  The thing is, there was no crisis, no issues, no problem to necessitate that level of stress, so I couldn’t imagine what energy I’d receive if there was actually a problem at hand!

I understand the concept that women in business often operate from a position of power scarcity and in an environment of constant competition, and that there may be little incentive to help who we perceive to be current or future competition.  Another reason that’s been thrown out is that acting meaner and yelling louder can often give the appearance of efficiency when leading a team.  I’d like to share my perspective

When I see a “Queen Bee” who resorts to work place bullying to lead, get her point across, or establish her status in an office, much like high school “Queen Bees”, what I actually see is a woman who is lacking in confidence, self-esteem, the ability to ask for help, the ability to listen, the ability to accept constructive criticism, and the ability to delegate effectively – all key management capabilities.  I see a show of false confidence and assume automatically that it might be overcompensating for a lack of competence.

We can lift ourselves up without breaking others down, and we can be effective team leaders without being slave-drivers.  It is absolutely possible, I know it is.  I do it every day.

Revitalize your workspace with these quick and simple changes

I used to think that I worked best in a high-stress environment. After all, with the path I’ve chosen to take in business, it’s kind of a prerequisite to success. I realized, though, that while I’m often confronted with stressful situations, my productivity is highest when my pressure to work comes from a place of passion and drive, as opposed to stress and fear.

One of the biggest changes I made that helped me to work consistently from that place of positivity was to revamp my workspace, so that I could work productively for hours without feeling like I was going out of my mind. It all came down to following a single rule: if it feels right to me, than it’s right.

I spend a considerable amount of time in my office, so for me, a sterile vision of metal and beige just won’t work. Given the amount of time that most of us will spend living in our workspaces over the course of our lifetimes, it makes sense to make our them look attractive to us.  For me, that means vibrant colors, lots of natural light, a wooden desk, and a vase of fresh flowers. When I walk into my workspace, I feel great about it.  It really is one of my favourite spaces. The emotional response you pull from your workspace should mimic the way you feel about your work. I don’t want an office environment that makes me feel bored or overwhelmed. Peaceful, focused, alive — these are feelings I get from my workspace.

If my workspace is a mess, chances are, so am I. It automatically makes me feel stressed, overwhelmed, and disorganized. That being said, an empty desk and bare shelves makes me feel uninspired and a little lost. It reminds me of an Albert Einstein quote: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?” I like having artwork on my walls and meaningful knick knacks on my desk, and real reference books that I can pull off of shelves.

I’ve been known to burn scented candles in my workspace, but by far, the best thing about my office is the smell.  Real wood and fresh flowers and books and a breeze from an open window. I’m sure if I bothered to run the numbers, I’d find that it’s improved my productivity by a factor of 10. Scents do have a measurable effect on productivity. I think I read somewhere once that lemon and lavender produced the most significant positive results, but for me, it’s the wood and the books that do it.

There may of course be the down side of working for an employer who rejects the idea of these changes to a work environment. My reaction to that was to get a new employer — namely, myself! I live by the idea that my work should support my lifestyle, not suppress it. That, of course, might not be a feasible option. But why not do what you can? Clean up, add a photo, buy a plant, and relax! Work is a necessary part of life, so it might as well be enjoyable!