Saturday, July 29, 2006

Imago Associates Count Me In...What's Make Mine A $Million Meant?

Imago Associates has been extremely busy since my last post only a month ago. Highlights include:

A letter of congratulations from my California State Senator, Jackie Speier on being selected as one of the winners of the Make Mine A $Million business competition. She said, "Your approach in managing Imago Associates is admirable, for you are able to soundly operate a profitable business and concurrently contribute to the success of many other local businesses." I liked that and activity in July proved her point:

I purchased and immediately re-sold---flipped---several beautiful, re-useable inventories resulting in a win for all:

  • Clients had excess furniture removed from their place of business while receiving compensation for items long off their books.
  • Various local labor was utilized keeping money going through the local economy.
  • New customers received like-new products whose life was extended through continued use.
  • Imago Associates had the biggest sales week this year during the third week of a summer month! Yea!
Through my participation in the coaching process from The Coach Connection sponsored by my Make Mine A $Million award I had 3 stellar coaching sessions. I find that as an independent business person having a weekly conversation with someone specific to my business and my goals is enormously helpful. Is it that I feel accountable or that I am more focused on my stated goals I'm not sure. Is it that I am stating goals on a weekly basis? The net result is active growth in any area that we target. I feel like I have made significant progress in several areas.

We have discussed hiring, inventory management, "good debt" vs "bad debt" and development of my website thus far. In the area of hiring I've begun developing a job description for two types of individuals to assist me as my business grows. While I'm not ready to pull the trigger on a hire I know what I'm looking for so will be in a better position to proceed when I'm ready.

In thinking about hiring I've also come to the very, very clear position that I want to grow my business to the very largest it can be while utilizing contract specific employees. Not at all unheard of in my industry but largely reliant on successful design of process, proceedure and use of technology. I know, I know, nothing new there but my vision is clearer in this area than ever before. I firmly believe that the new economy not only supports but enables this type of endeavor. Recommended reading on the topic,"Go It Alone!: The Secret to Building a Successful Business on Your Own..." by Judson.

I've made great strides in inventory management. Not only have I researched and become really clear about what I have and where I have it but I've cleaned house a bit lowering my overhead costs. The additional attention given to inventory also inadvertantly pushed me towards a sale I would not likely have considered if I had not recently reviewed all my holdings. I became more focused on selling what I had in reserve (more profitable) rather than looking outside and making a acquisition to satisfy a customer requirement. Better environmental move as well. Additionally it turned up some discrepancies that would have impacted future sales. All good. As a result I am clearer and more confident, that whole "knowledge is power" thing.

My coach and I have talked endlessly about finances. My relationship with money. "Good debt" vs "Bad Debt." All interesting. All frightening. He recommended that I read, "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind" by T. Harv Eker. I found it interesting---not great literature mind you---but interesting. The most compelling piece for me was his idea that we all have a target income (often unconscious) that we believe we are capable of making. An idea based on personal history, what our parents did, industry norms, etc. But in fact, those ideas are "capping" our ability. Our own financial glass ceiling. As a result of reading the book I've raised my notion of what's feasible and am walking around with a new number firmly fixed: Make Mine A $Million or two :)

Another direct result of coaching and reading the above I've begun to think a lot about the idea of passive income or income that is generated without your active participation. That thinking opened the door to an extension of my business that had previously been untapped: I acquired some furniture that I would deem "collectible." In doing so I made a longterm investment in an area I had previously walked away from. In the past I would have ignored these items as being outside my business model. Now I view them as an extension of my business model. Pieces that after the proper planning and research will generate income on their own. I did some research (and will do more) and placed several items with a retail shop on consignment. We'll see... Now I'm actively looking at other ways to generate passive income.

The discussion of good debt vs bad debt lead me to an analysis of my website. Can I afford to re-do it or can I afford NOT to re-do it? I've settled on the latter and done some amazing research on the Internet, through friends and associates to come up with not only a new vision for it's design but, over time, wildly increased functionality. Think inventory database.

I spent some time doing research on competitors web sites. Not just local but nationally. I took notes, honing in on appearance, features, functionality, ease of use, etc. I think it's really easy as a small business just to want it to look good and to have some necessary functionality. My interest is in stretching what is feasible and designing something that will grow as my business grows. Towards that end I was referred to a web designer who I'm very excited about working with. To expedite our process they had me fill out a worksheet that was incredibly helpful in my decision-making process. I can't say enough good about it. Naturally they asked lots of typical questions about style, desired content, etc. but some of the more thought provoking questions were:

  • What is the single most imprtant idea that the site should communicate? If you could choose only one thing that the reader/viewer would remember what would that be?
One thing? What should it be?
  • Who is your target audience(s)? (Give demographic/psychographic characteristics: sex, age, job titles, social/economic conditions, employment, geographic concentration...)
I ended up writing a job description of my typical client. Most helpful.
  • What characteristics describe your company's favorite clients/customers?
Do more of what you like! I like that!
  • What exactly do you want your audience to do when they visit your site?
Not see, but DO. How will they move step by step through the site. What would make it easier, faster, more interesting. Why would they want to return?
  • What forms of marketing/communications are you currently using? How can these tools be used to complement or draw traffic to the site?
The idea that the website should link to other marketing was not new but bears repeating.

The above is just a glimpse of the questions asked. A more complete list can be obtained by contacting directly. Over the next few weeks they'll be developing my new site so I'll have additional info next month.

More Soon!


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Imago Associates and Count Me In...I'M IN!

It's been a little over a month since I received the nod from Count Me In. One of last years' winners said during the award ceremony that we had no idea just how much it would change our lives. Boy and then some!

First I cannot say how much I appreciate the remarkable women I've met through the Make Mine A $Million program. I suppose that is the most tangible piece for me. As a woman in business for over 20 years---not my own until two years ago---how many times have I sat in a room with 15-20 men and felt a bit like I was on the outside looking in? That they had a club that while I was welcome to visit (because they acknowledged I DID add value!) I could not join. Subtle but real. We were all measured on results---it was fair after all---but not a member of the club.

Count Me In has created a club for the rest of us! YEA! And it's populated by women who are smart or creative or energized or driven or entrepreneurial or ALL OF THE ABOVE. Amazing. Thank you, ladies.

Second, I've been overwhelmed by the response of friends, family and business associates. I have felt a resounding "atta girl" from all quarters. My florist hugged me! My therapist cheered!
Even my ex said, "Congratulations. You deserve it."


So how has it impacted my business you might ask?

Several of us were mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle and I got 5 calls completely out-of-the-blue. Amazing when you think folks had to read my name, understand what I do (buy and sell recycled commercial furniture), go on the Internet, search for me/Imago Associates and then get me on the telephone. As a result I made a sale to a customer I never met and who had never seen my product until the day I delivered it! When I asked him if he needed references he said, "Your name was in the paper. That's good enough for me!" And then he sent me a deposit check. Ka ching! Needless to say that had never happened before...

I was interviewd for Business Week Online. Imago Associates' first national exposure. They had not called before...

Another day, I was talking with my lawyer about Make Mine A $Million, the gracious funding from OPEN from Amercian Express and the additional opportunity for a microloan from Count Me In. He asked me why I had not sought outside funding before---duh!---and I answered that I thought with my credit history (can you spell D-I-V-O-R-C-E) that I was an unlikely candidate. Before I knew it he had called a friend, a V. P. at a very large national bank you will all know the name of (hint: headquartered in North Carolina) and 2 weeks later I had my first busines line of credit through their SBA program.

Ringing in my ears ever since has been one of the things I heard at our Make Mine A $Million orientation:

"Smart women ask for help."

Who knew?

So: I've made a sale to a stranger, been interviewed for a national business publication, received an unsolicited business line of credit and my florist hugged me. He also sent me flowers :)


I had my best sales month this year!

More soon.