In college I was involved in student leadership, and for this one particular non-profit organization we’d have these local, regional and national conferences. At different general sessions where groups would range from 50 to a several thousand, the entire audience would at times recite the mission statement in unison. The first words were “To increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers…” In the beginning you don’t think much of it, but one year i was elected to a position that sat on a national committee and it clicked. I had just graduated college the winter before, but it was now summertime and I called a meeting with some younger members to transition them into their new leadership roles for our school chapter. During that meeting, I laid out a metaphor to them that their ultimate duty as owners of the mission statement was to “develop leaders.” Now while that alone is a routine meeting, this particular meeting took place on my birthday. And even though I could have scheduled it for another day, the first few words of that mission statement was by now ingrained in my conscience, and so by default it was of the utmost importance for me to deliver regardless of whatever other shenanigans I had planned for that day because it was my duty. The punchline in all of this is that at the time the meeting took place, the National Society of Black Engineers was the largest student run organization in the world at 11,000+ strong…and as you can see that wasn’t accidental.
Fresh out of undergrad, myself and 5 other partners were still highly motivated after spending so many years collaborating with each other in the nonprofit world, that we decided to start our own. We saw an opportunity to bring value to young and aspiring professionals, so we began having these really intense brainstorming sessions to vet out the different ideas we had. One thing about our team dynamic is that we were already like family and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so it was relatively easy for us to fall in line and own our individual roles.
Of the 6 of us, 3 lived in NJ, 2 lived in NYC and 1 lived in Boston…so when we linked up we had to be respectful of each other’s time and thorough in all of our communications. If any of you know, launching a nonprofit organization is very paperwork intensive and even more crucial, all of your ducks have to be in a row in order get approved for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. In addition to that, the nature of our programming put us in situations where we were constantly negotiating with both young professionals interested in membership, and corporate individuals considering both sponsorship and membership. The only way we were able to make it through the founding process and to our first event was by paying attention to EVERY detail, double and triple checking our work and holding each other accountable beyond that friendship stuff. Friends tend to let friends slide, but when your friend is also your business partner tied to a greater vision, real ones know how to switch gears and cut to the chase. It might make for some tense moments and a bit of “well-intentioned-raising-of-voices”, but at the end of the day we were clear on our mission and dedicated to our goals. As a matter of fact, we grinded so hard up to and through our launch event, that afterwards we decided to celebrate with a same day trip to Atlantic City that we almost didn’t make it back from (I don’t think they made 5 Hour Energy shots back then LOL).
Looking back on it, that early experience taught me patience in planning and the importance of a well focused strategy with all parties invested in the outcome. Priceless.
#7 BUILD YOUR OWNER PROFILE EARLY
As an owner you have to be able to maneuver, and sometimes at a moment’s notice. Most times you’re where the buck stops, other times you ARE the buck…pun intended. The best leaders are both dynamic and stable at the same time. They constantly learn, make moves and evolve…all while holding down the women and children at the fort. You often hear people say they are “built for this,” but what you rarely hear them say in addition to that is that you absolutely can BUILD yourself for this. It’s not easy, but it is possible if you want it bad enough.
The following is a list of items that I’ve found important for a leader with ownership aspirations to constantly address and/or maintain in good status. Some of these revelations come from my own experience, while others I’ve observed from various mentors and colleagues whom I respect. They are in no particular order.
Driver’s License – I like to refer to this as your “face card.” My mother used to always say “Son always keep your driver’s license and your credit straight”. We’ll get to credit next, but as for the driver’s license she literally meant the card that I keep in my wallet that one presents when pulled over by the law. Yes, transportation is important, but these days we also have ride-sharing and other mobility options at our fingertips. So with that said, I’m going to plot twist the narrative a bit and focus on your real life face card and ask the rhetorical question: What do people feel in their gut when they see you? Do they feel blessed in your presence or do they secretly wish you would crawl back under the rock you came from? The manner in which you manage your word and subsequent actions will determine that. Word to Al Pacino in Scarface.
Personal Credit – Nowadays, not only do they pull your credit for loans, but also in other scenarios such as insurance applications, utility activations, etc. Many times when you are getting started, you have to sign a lot of dotted lines, and your personal credit (aka credibility) will be attached to that. Always be cognizant of not only your score with each of the 3 bureaus, but also the accuracy of the items on your credit report. It will save you a lot of money in the long run in the form of interest, down payments and up front deposits.In layman’s terms, credit is often a reflection of your credibility. Set good habits, and do your absolute best to maintain them.
Business Credit – When you obtain your EIN number and launch your LLC (or other business entity), I recommend you immediately begin familiarizing yourself with Dun and Bradstreet, and also educating yourself on how to build business credit. It’s simple, there may be times where your business needs operating capital, and you will want to mitigate any type of risk from impacting your personal credit. Strong business credit can position your business for growth in ways you can’t even begin to imagine, but you HAVE to be proactive about it. If you would like to discuss credit building options, simply let us know and we’ll be happy to assist you.
Network with accountants and attorneys. These are 2 types of professionals that have the expertise to advise the affairs of your business in valuable ways and keep you on course for success. They also serve the dual purpose of advising you through complex situations where you may face the risk of financial penalties, and yes even jail time. Ignorance is never a suitable defense when the IRS and/or legal system have you in the crosshairs. Thus, they are excellent sources of information and access that you will want to keep near the top of your list of allies, teammates and even potential partners. As you meet them, spark meaningful conversation, exchange contact information and nurture the relationship…meaning don’t wait until you desperately need them to follow up. Relationships require effort.
Find a partner. No success is truly achieved in a vacuum. And partners come in all colors, shapes and sizes, as well as during different seasons. I define a partner as someone who commits to sharing the risk in exchange for a share of the reward. All relationships should not be transactional. In order for you to find the right partner, you have to first know yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your highest dollar per hour skillset? Where do you want to specialize based on your passion and interests? Once you engage yourself with that internal evaluation, I recommend you keep an open mindset while seeking out a person or entity that best compliments your strengths with their own strengths. That way, your combined effort best positions you all of achieving your shared goals. Got it? Good. And yes you might have to kick a few to the curb in the process. After all, it’s just business, never personal.
Organize your contacts from the very beginning. Remember, you have to be able to maneuver and make moves sometimes without warning. And when you do…who will you call? If they don’t work out, who do you call next? Your contacts are the lifeline of your business. Some of your first customers, potential partners, professional resources, brainstorm buddies, etc can very well be hidden in plain site within that piece of glass called a smartphone. In the beginning, the vast majority of your time is best spent focusing on sales and marketing. But if you’re not organized, you will find yourself first having to burn valuable time solving the immediate problem of “who”, before you can focus on handling your primary business of providing solutions and getting to the bag. My suggestion…invest in a CRM system that you can access while being mobile on the go. Again, a good deal of your long term success is all about managing relationships and customer experience.
#6 BE DOPE AND DOCUMENT IT
In 2004 I embarked on a journey with a couple of partners into the music industry as a startup indie label. The digital mp3 file format was fairly new, but more importantly it was in its beginning stages of disrupting the music business as we knew it. Things were rapidly crumbling in the “industry”, but from the outside looking in, some artists and forward thinking minds saw a friendly game of chess in the middle of the wild wild west. And a new generation of innovators made moves. For reference, this was pre “modern” social media, or right around the beginning of the MySpace Music.
Our aim from day one was to build our own self-sustaining music machine, retain ownership of our intellectual property, and step to any situation with an owner/partner positioning. This means we also had to “own” our marketing and branding processes among other things. Content creation and distribution hadn’t yet evolved into what it is today, however we saw the horizon approaching. Video was still a bit expensive to produce at scale, but existing right in the middle of the written blog and file sharing era, we hit the ground running and created massive amounts of music and marketing material around the clock.
What we would ultimately learn from the routine practicality of our grind, was that we were telling a story in real time…in other words building a brand all of our own. We were witnessing the best and most creative of our works create loyalty within our growing fan base, so on our smartest days we would gradually become more refined in our marketing. In other words, we stopped letting every piece of music fly, and focused our energy behind only the dopest and most original material that made sense at any given time. It directly impacted our growth and over time, opportunities began to present themselves faster than we could evaluate them. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, we developed our own form of inbound marketing before “inbound marketing” was even a term.
And that was probably my key lesson learned…be dope in your own shoes, and they will come. Now to bring all of that yester-year talk back to iShineYouShine’s perspective, our point is that what your business does when the customers and clients come knocking, well that becomes the core of your digital strategy. And our purpose is to help you build your own sales & marketing framework so you can efficiently engage your growing audience, while never losing focus on being dope. Because that’s what got you here in the first place. And we are always happy to have that conversation with you anytime.
#5 ROUND OUT YOUR EDUCATION AND KNOW-HOW
The year was 2008, and by this time the real estate industry had reached a ceiling that was rapidly showing signs of collapsing. As for me, alongside my indie label, I was also working as a loan rep in the retail office of a very large subprime mortgage lender (pre-recession). One random afternoon, an event occurred that was foretelling of what would happen across the country in the coming year; business came to a LOUD, grinding halt. A handful of the top suits were indicted for insider trading and as a result, the entire company nationwide was required to immediately stop taking loan applications. Seeing as though no new loans meant no food, in the next 15 minutes half of a 50-something person office chucked a deuce and immediately packed up their desks, hugged former co-workers and walked out of the building with a WTF cloud hanging over their heads. For those of us that could afford to remain, we would be paid based on an average of our commissions to close out the existing business in our pipelines. And being a bit of a seasoned loan rep by this time, that meant a decent cushion for me while I mapped out my next move. I rode it out for another couple months and decided since the entire real estate industry (and economy) was about to collapse I’d juice it one last time and get my real estate license just for the sake of the formalized training. You see, everything I learned about real estate for the previous 5 years was just from getting in the mix, falling on my face and figuring it out. It was risky and had its costs, but I figured between the experience working as a mortgage professional and real estate investor on the side, getting a real estate license to round out my overall understanding of the business would pay for itself in the long run. And it did…but let me not get ahead of the story.
After researching real estate schools, I decided to enroll at Weichert and try my hand as a new agent at RE/Max. They normally don’t hire brand new agents, but I found a startup office a few miles away from the crib and was able to make a good impression with the owner just prior to his grand opening. Fast forward a couple weeks, and he brings in a vendor to train all of the agents on branding and building up our book of business. He goes in on this concept of “drip mailing” people in your address book…an actual binder like the ones from grade school days, but the pages were customized where we could write in different types of information on their individual “profile” pages. And the general concept was to first review things like your business card rolodex (google the term if you need to), email contacts, little black book, etc and add such folks to it that you wanted to make aware of your new real estate profession. That list of individuals was now known as your “sphere of influence.” From that point, the game was to routinely send “drip” mail to segments of your list items such as newsletters, just sold flyers, open house invitations, birthday and holiday cards, etc. In other words, let them know you exist and that you’re on deck whenever they want to learn about or conduct business pertaining to real estate. It was branding 101 in the analog days, and serendipitously it was also during this time when I first started this very “I Shine You Shine” blog.
Now here is why I say getting my real estate license in the face of the 2008 recession would still pay for itself in the long run. The recession hits, fast forward 6 years and my first iShineYouShine client is a boutique real estate investment firm. Day in and day out, the company engaged a growing audience of real estate investors, running the gamut from novice to seasoned, in-state and out-of-state. With that said, a good portion of my service hours were spent facilitating the development of this brand in the digital space. The year is 2014, so we are now in the early days of the social media era, meaning we now have Facebook, Twitter and a young Instagram on deck for content distribution. And as part of a new mentoring platform we were developing, the owner and I decided to upgrade from a simple email list manager to a full blown CRM and a SaaS product…a complete game changer.
And the reason why, is because as the investor database continued to grow at a consistent pace, we were able to better engage the individuals and learn more about them in a systemized way. CRM is short for Customer Relationship Management platform, and in concept it took the same analog system of collecting & “drip” postal mailing one’s sphere of influence (see RE/Max years above), and uber-scaled it. We were now able to receive new prospects into our email database, organize them in real-time, and engage them with different valuable content, offers and opportunities 24/7. In addition to creating new revenue streams for the client, the amount of precious time that the team was able to recycle into other forms of productivity was the real level up.