Saturday, February 28, 2009

Are you taking advantage of the wonderful network of words?

I was an English major in college and have been a writer at heart throughout my career, so for me, and my personal brand, blogging and twittering and the like are fun. An ever-evolving way to reach my audience through the power of the written word.

But for those of you who aren't writers, there is hope. Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary and thesaurus, may be a great place to start. Blogs should have a point, and tweets should be informative, so start with a kernel - a word. In my case I entered "social" and the chart you see shows all the many links and extensions of the word in a fun, web-world way. It's the word "social"s network. (Couldn't resist.) With that one word, social, a whole network of blog posts were revealed just through the relationship of words.

Try it out next time you're stuck on a post - or just for fun. By the way, what's another word for thesaurus?

(Just a little English-major humor to brighten your day.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Turn part-time passions into a full-time gig

Have you listened to your heart lately? In the second step of the Real You Process, we explore your passions—the things that make your heart sing. Maybe you love working with children, you're an excellent writer or you have a killer voice that you haven't used in awhile. We all have passions and talents that have been pushed aside because life got in the way. But that shouldn't be an excuse.

Start living your passions. Especially in this time of economic uncertainty, you need to have a back-up plan. Something to lean on. Something that makes you smile each and every day. Use that talent, and turn it into something profitable by starting your own side business.

Here are some quick tips:

• Start simple, on the side. You're not ditching your full-time job here. Not just yet, anyway.

• Take your time and think about your business plan. What would your product/service be? Who is your target audience? What companies could you partner with? Who do you know that could help you on your way?

• Confide in those closest to you, personally and professionally, and ask their advice. Do you have a mentor? Call him/her today!

• Pick up a copy of Real You Incorporated and fill out your chart. This will guide you through the basics and help you define your new company.

Now is a great time to start thinking about how you can turn your skills and passions into the business of your dreams, all the while securing your future in this rollercoaster economy.

Have you turned your part-time passion into a successful business? Tell us about your story!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Real You: When a free gift looks cheap

One of the guilty pleasures of cosmetics shopping is the gift with purchase, which has been luring us into retail stores since the beginning of time. I remember the good old days when the gifts were amazing: real leather totes; a full assortment of real-sized cosmetics; or a simple, but classy, special compact.

And while I realize it is the time of cut-backs, the lipstick economy is stronger than ever. Attempting to tap into that small splurge mentality is Clinique, with the buy something for $5 and get the gift above. Sure, the gifts looked cool when they were all stacked up everywhere around the counter: happy purple-sided glossy boxes, an interesting design on the front panel and on the back, a glamour shot of three products included inside. Caught my eye, and created a purchase.

But. When I arrived home and opened my box, I found a plastic-wrapped assortment of Barbie-sized products and a box that, upon closer examination, had a lot of asterisk disclaimers. That's a lot of packaging for not a lot of value, and it came across as a waste, not a gift. Just stick the miniature samples in the bag next time.

The days of glitzy packaging and over-promising/underdelivering are finished. It's time to be real. Genuine. And if you're not able to give a true, transparent gift to your customers, it's better to just give them a genuine thank you.

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Pay cuts and lay-offs affecting you?

If you are one of the thousands of Americans that has been laid off due to the recession, don’t fret! Your personal brand can handle it.

You may view this as shameful, but it’s just part of life. Simply move on. Here’s how. First, don’t take it personally; this is business. Companies around the country are laying off employees, and thousands of people are having to pick up and dust themselves off. Just shake it off and start gathering as many references as possible—and take samples of your work with you. Next, stay positive and focused, and don’t waste time. Then, enter each interview with confidence, being quick and honest about your termination with potential employers.

Remember, being fired may seem like the end of the world when it happens, but it can also turn into an opportunity to move onto something bigger and better.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Real You: No Light? No Trouble?

Yesterday at lunch I was enjoying a great sandwich at Camille's Sidewalk Cafe when I looked up and saw this sign on the wall next to my booth:

Green -> Normal
Red -> Alarm
NoLight -> Trouble

It made me think. Do we too often ignore the signs right in front of us in business? I know, speaking for the real estate industry, we were in a state of greed and denial before the bust. The government's goal was to increase home ownership rates; the mortgage companies made money easy to get; the number of real estate agents had reached record numbers nationwide; and everybody who was anybody had a no-miss real estate opportunity. In February of 2006, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors released a book: Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust. The bust had started in the fourth quarter of 2005. The green light had gone out long before.

Real change does come through struggle. Don't wait for the red light to go on to make changes in your business. By then, it may be too late.

Kaira Sturdivant Rouda is a small business branding expert and president of Real Living, one of the nation's leading, privately held residential real estate firms. With web traffic increasing daily, she is certain the green light is about to turn back on in real estate.
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Sometimes, staying the same is the best survival tactic.

I noticed a trend in my tips: Most of them, and many of my examples of astounding entrepreneurs, deal with folks who have revolutionized an industry, or who have kept up with the times through change and constant improvements to their business model. But what about the success stories that abound of businesses and entrepreneurs who thrive through lack of change? Through tradition and continuity?

My 8th grade son and I had
lunch together at one such place yesterday. The diner is called Chef-O-Nette, and it's been in business since 1955. I'd link to it, but the diner doesn't have a Web site. Now located in a recently remodeled strip shopping center, the old fashioned font of the sign is the only outward expression of a timeless interior. But as soon as you walk through the doors, the Formica counter tops, naugahyde booths, laminated, hand-lettered menus with plenty of daily comfort food specials tell a story of the 1950s. It's lava lamp-shaped hanging light fixtures, lattice work and mirrored walls, swivel seats at the bar and window boxes of artificial flowers.

Shea ordered the fried-chicken
special and three vanilla milkshakes. I ordered the signature Hangover Sandwich—a cheeseburger with ham and lettuce. Our waitress was fast, and friendly. The entire experience was a step back in time. Around us were regulars, mostly grandmother and grandfather age, who smiled at Shea. When the kids were small, a regular who was there every Saturday morning as we were would give each of my four kids a dime for the gumball machine on his way out the door. Where does that happen? At a place where tradition and sameness—read security and comfort—are the main commodity.

So, to all of you entrepreneurs who are running a business based on tradition and custom, on long-standing core customers, on consistency—keep at it. We need you today, more than ever perhaps. The world is changing fast enough. It's always great to have a place you can go where everybody knows your name, and the Hangovers remain the same.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time to enter the family business?

The question of whether or not to join a family business is a tough one. You have been given an opportunity, that’s for sure, but it is smart to carefully evaluate the situation before you jump in. I recommend asking yourself the following:

  • Are you personally passionate about this business? If you’re not, it may not be right for you.
  • Do you have experience in the field? If not, are you willing to learn, and do you think you have what it takes to be successful?
  • What does the future hold? Will you be an equal decision-maker, and will you be able to grow with the company?
  • And perhaps most important, will joining the family business be at all awkward? You may feel like you have to justify your existence to outsiders down the road. Some folks deal with that better than others.

As you contemplate these points, consider who it is that will be teaching you the business. The answers to your questions will help you decide if joining the family business is the right decision. Good luck!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What is your secret sauce? Is it time to add a new ingredient?

OK, I'll admit it. I can still sing the lyrics to the McDonald's Big Mac commercial: two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. Ta da! Did I get that stuck in your head, too? For McDonald's - and the rest of the kings of fast service restaurants - the key to success is consistent, quality delivery. You get what you ordered, what you are familiar with, whether you order a Big Mac in Big Sky, Montana, or in the Big Apple. That's why, on any given day in the US, one-fifth of the population eats fast food. If your business is following a consistency model like McDonald's, now's the time for extreme quality control. No slips, no skimps and you'll keep your customers coming back for more.

But what if your business is based on unique products or specialized services? Maybe now is the perfect time to mix up that secret sauce. (Another way to say CHANGE is good.) If you're a clothing retailer and you've broadened into too many lines, cut back and refocus on your core strengths. Tap into your emotional intelligence and let go of the fear. You can do this.

If you're in a service industry - say homestaging or wardrobe consulting or running a yoga studio or financial services - it's imperative to treat each and every existing customer like she is the most important. Cut back on your advertising focused on new client attraction and spend those dollars keeping your existing customers as raving fans. What could you do for your existing customer today?
It's tough out there. It breaks my heart to see small businesses struggling, across the country. You can make it through this. Remember, hurdles are for jumping and being open to change - especially if you've lost sight of your primary business strengths or products - will make sure you're still standing when the brighter days arrive.

And, you'll be stronger than ever, as long as you remember your secret sauce!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maintaining stable employer-employee relations

In a climate where leaders have to make difficult cost-cutting decisions, employer-employee relations can often get a bit rocky. To maintain good a good rapport, it’s important for employers to communicate and get to know their employees. I mean really take the time to interact with them on a daily basis. Go beyond what’s happening at work, and show an interest in their lives. A real, genuine conversation is comforting; share a story or a laugh with your employees. A little interest goes a long way.

Still, it’s best to exercise caution. You don’t need to know the details of their personal lives, and you certainly don’t want to pry. But chances are good that by showing a little interest in what they’re all about, you’ll create an employer-employee relationship that will benefit both sides of the equation.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Is the glass ceiling still around?

As the advancement of women is pushing new boundaries, many are wondering if the “glass ceiling” still exists. While it’s true that women are breaking the glass ceiling in some careers far more than others, such as real estate for example, they have a long way to go in other fields. Women make up 46.5 percent of the workforce, but they represent only 12 percent of all corporate officers. Those are figures that can’t be ignored. However, according to an article on AOL, some of the professions where women are earning more than men include sales engineers, statisticians, legislators, aerospace engineers, advertising managers and more. As you probably know, many women are also turning to entrepreneurship as an alternative. By establishing their real brands, they’re learning that they can make it to the top on their own terms.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Want visibility? Be an expert.

You're already an expert! You just need a definition.

Here's the dictionary definition of expert:
• adept: having or showing knowledge and skill and aptitude; "adept in handicrafts"; "an adept juggler"; "an expert job"; "a good mechanic";
• a person with special knowledge or ability who performs skillfully

Now what's your own personal expertise? Here's the situation. To build your personal brand and your business brand, you need to be differentiated. Unique and authentic. If you aren't creating a new widget or service, then you're creating a new twist, a better twist hopefully, on a new widget or service. Otherwise, you're not going to be able to sustain your business in the long run in this economy. Expertise in what you do, and what you make, is crucial today. But even if you are THE best, the greatest widget maker out there, it won't matter unless you have exposure. If no one hears about how great your widget is, then it's like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Sure it made a sound, but no one heard it.

As a small business owner or an upwardly mobile career type, in order to bring visibility to your product or service, you need to become the undisputed expert in your field. Your field can be your local community; or the world. It can be your street, Main Street or Wall Street. It can be among a select few; or the masses. But you need to be known. You need visibility.

That's where opportunities await for the truly expert, and the dedicated, to define themselves. While I'm a huge believer in the power of the Internet and social networking to spread the word about you and your business, I also know television still plays a major role—and will, for at least the next decade. Just ask my digital kid. Is it enough to just watch video on YouTube? Nope. He's watching television, too. That content isn't replaceable yet, it's just streaming on more channels.

My financial advisor, Chris Schumacher, knows how to become an expert. He's a columnist for, and he's a published author. I like watching him interviewed on television. It makes me feel like he knows what he's doing. Even now. He's gone deep into his business channel—financial planning—and made significant impact vertically within the financial community media channels.

Take a look at your business space-whether it's financial planning, real estate, jewelry, flowers (geez, you better be on TV this week for Valentine's Day with tips)—and figure out your particular expertise angle. What is the one topic everyone asks your opinion about? It's your elevator pitch with a twist—it's not just about you; it's about what an audience wants to know.

Even if your business is national, getting the attention of local media with your expertise is the way to go. And shoot for television. Local news needs you and your take on the industry you serve. Take a look at what Barbara Corcoran has done with her expertise. From New York City real estate agent to THE real estate expert on The Today Show. Same with Suze Orman and Donny Deutsche in advertising.

Perfect your elevator pitch. What do you do? Next, add your unique spin. Now, tell the world your story and start on your local news!

Do you have success stories? Let us know!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buy an ad: Save a magazine (or a newspaper)

Thinking about advertising in print media? Now may be the best time ever.

I have to be honest. I have been at odds for awhile with print publications, especially daily newspapers. Yes, it’s true, there was a love-hate relationship there based on decades of control (the newspaper’s) and decades of increased cost (my real estate company’s ). Same space as last year? That’s only a 12 percent increase this year, the rep would say. Oh, wow, thank you. How about if I cut my space in half? Well, we’ll double the cost and still add on the 12 percent. Sound good?

Bleh. That was the sorry state of affairs between newspaper classified ad reps and real estate company marketing folks until the Internet was born and got mass. Newspapers’ Sunday classified sections were “the place” we all believed that consumers would always look for new homes on the market. Heck, in 1997, my company made the “radical” move of cutting all institutional newspaper advertising and investing those dollars online. We were considered renegades or worse. Now, those same folks who called us crazy consider us visionary. And they’re all gleefully leaping from your daily hometown paper’s advertising pages as I type. And the newspapers are teetering on the edge of survival because real estate wasn’t the only industry treated like this. Consumers were, too.

But magazines? Say it ain’t so. Recent reports show an 11 percent plummet in magazine newsstand sales. Some magazines are barely afloat, while more are being closed each week. Shelter publications catering to freaked out homeowners have taken the biggest hits, as have automotive magazines. But even celebrity magazines are seeing sales tank. And that’s sad. There is something purely comforting – especially in a world gone mad – curling up with a new magazine. I love the smell, the color, the feel. It’s like a new book – only more immediately vivid, if less lingeringly so. When my People magazine arrives each Saturday, I’m ecstatic. And apparently others feel that way, too, as People’s sales were up three percent. People knows what I want as a consumer and delivers it each week.

So, what’s the struggling magazine industry to do? Change. And do so quickly. The newspapers didn’t get it for the most part, and they’re suffering. The real estate industry didn’t see it coming, and we’re suffering. Every industry has a different answer; a way to emerge from the tunnel of this economy to a bright future on the other side. Models must change. Entire industries will contract, and re-emerge.

There will be great magazines born and sustained, as long as the focus is clearly on the consumer just as there will be great real estate agents delivering amazing service to their target audiences. And yes, there will be great, content-driven newspapers where editorial staff is treasured over the ad sales folks. Where publishers will understand that written words are their greatest assets - that if you write it, and well, with insight and foresight, attract consumers with originality and differentiation, those advertisers, they will come. But it just doesn’t work the other way.

Pander to advertisers, and eventually, the advertisers will catch on. And the consumers will already be long gone. Those who survive this phase of right-sizing in print will be great partners for you and your business. Print is still a great medium for the right message – and now, when you sit down with your favorite ad rep, realize you are in the cat-bird seat.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Turn your Passion into a Business

With companies being pulled in every direction and employees clinging to their jobs, it seems like women all around me are becoming entrepreneurs. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women are starting businesses at more than twice the rate of men—maybe even more. In fact, a woman starts a business every 60 seconds. They are employing one of every seven workers in the U.S., and the majority of women-owned businesses continue to grow about two times faster than other firms.

Now that I’ve wowed you with the facts, let’s talk about why this is happening. Well, for starters, women are tired of being held back. Many view entrepreneurship as the only way to break the glass ceiling because other, more traditional channels have not yielded the desired results. Also, with our changing economic times, women are taking the time to step back and evaluate their lives. Finding that they are unhappy with their current jobs, women are focusing on their passions. All around the country women are realizing they should love what they do and are turning their passions into actions: businesses! They’re approaching entrepreneurship in a way that is truly genuine—and real.

Are you doing what you love? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Now is not the time to hide!

Ok, so it's winter. And the economy is well, bleaker than the next storm headed our way. Your first instinct these days may be to just give up. Whether it's your dream of starting a business, or changing the course of your career, it can be a daunting time. And it's especially so if you allow negative self-talk to stand in your way.

BUT, if you don't have faith in your personal brand, how can anyone else? Seriously.

So now is not the time to hide - it's time to shine. If you're out there in the world, in your power, there is no stopping you. Especially now. People are drawn to authentic, unique, visible and passionate people. It's the 101 of marketing and personal branding. Read about Karin Crawford and how she builds her flower business through the power of connecting. As Karin says, a lot of business owners think they don't have time to leave their businesses and head out into the world; she knows her business wouldn't have grown without it.

So, get out of your own way and get out there. Go to that networking event, even if it's snowing or pouring down rain. Go talk to the people in the office you never talk to and leave them all with a smile.

Do it today. And, keep moving!

Connect with me on Twitter!

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to build your personal brand

Defining your personal brand can be overwhelming. We are complex individuals with so many passions and aspects to our lives. So where do you start?

Begin by taking a look in your rear-view mirror. By that I mean step back and take some time to think about where you are in your career—and where you want to be. The process of introspection is so necessary and so helpful when it comes to defining your goals and setting your course.

Next, define your passions. I like to refer to passions as the things in life that make your heart sing. My advice is to keep your list to four or five. Then, find the real people in your life. That means separating yourself from negative influencers (aka snarks). Next, follow your instincts. Use your intuition to your advantage. All of these elements working together help to build a brand that truly represents you.

And remember, don’t go it alone. This is so important because none of us can do it alone. The world is changing too quickly, and there’s no way you can be an expert in all facets of your business. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and confidence.

Want to learn more about your personal brand? Sign up for my tip of the week!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are you and your spouse keeping financial secrets?

It's happening everywhere. Stress levels are on the rise. What we know is that during times of pressure and stress, men isolate and women connect. Many men, during these stressful times, are isolating. They are putting on a brave face, even as their work worlds crumble around them. In some of the saddest cases we've seen, the distress and fear of failure, layoffs and social isolation have led to heart attacks, strokes and even suicides. Literally, the financial crisis is breaking hearts, according to

If you're like me, working in a family business, side-by-side with your spouse, it's a great time to make sure you're on the same page. On the same POSITIVE page. Have a survival plan, and take action. Together. Today's New York Times' article Resilient in Hard Times: Family Business focuses on the positive power of fighting the recession as a family team. It's not easy, but it's certainly better than having to go it alone. As the article points out, of the nation's seven million businesses employing 100 or fewer workers, 20 percent are owned and operated by more than one family member. Go team, go family!

If you don't work with your spouse in a family business, do you actually know how much stress your partner is under? Do you share the realities of your household finances? If you're a person who let's your partner "handle" all the finances, isn't it time to get involved? Educating yourself isn't just smart, it's necessary to be a team. It may not be easy, and it may not be pretty right now, but in the long run, knowing the realities of your finances is empowering.

Use the harsh realities of these financial times to grow closer and deepen your connection. Sharing your finances and creating a plan together will go a long way to helping you both feel more positive and less overwhelmed. And, healthier.

Use public relations to create buzz.

If your budget looks like mine, you’re probably cutting back on advertising and ramping up your PR efforts. A common misconception is that advertising and public relations are the same. Let me clarify. Advertising is paid placement; PR is third-party coverage, as in a reporter included you or your business in an article. This can be much more credible than advertising, but you lose the control you have when you place an ad. Keep in mind the pros and cons of both. A good PR campaign can have lasting effects, creating buzz and driving sales.

For one entrepreneur, doing her own public relations paid off—big time. Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx—footless pantyhose—debated whether to use a big PR agency or do her own publicity work in-house. “I believed so much in my dream that the idea of someone pitching it who maybe hadn’t even worn Spanx just completely freaked me out,” Sara said in a Startup Nation article. Working out of the back of her apartment, Sara hired a PR assistant and went after celebrity testimonials, receiving rave reviews from stars Renee Zellweger and Gwyneth Paltrow. She even sent a gift basket to Oprah that landed her on Oprah’s “Favorite Things” show and a nice endorsement from the media mogul. The next day her sales skyrocketed.

“With no money to advertise, I had to do things in a way that were on the edge. A lot of news editors and other people hung up on me at first when I said, ‘I’m calling from Spanx.’ But I took the most boring subject on the planet, pantyhose, and made it something people wanted to talk about,” Sara said. Sara’s strategy worked, putting her on the cover of magazines, on a top-rated reality TV show and as head of a $150 million-dollar business offering 100 different styles.

If PR isn’t your forte, consider hiring someone or working with an outside agency. Do you have publicity success stories? Let us know!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In times of transition, follow your instincts

When faced with big career choices, it is often hard to know what the right decision is. It is during these times that I always say go with your gut! It seems it’s these moments in life that allow us to identify and follow our passions. During these times, don’t compromise your dreams. If you do, you will pay for it dearly down the road in the form of frustration and lack of fulfillment.

I tell people to take some time off. Get away. Spend some time alone. Then use that time for retrospection. What did you dream about doing when you were a child? Most of us can trace our passions back to a time in our lives when we were much younger—a time before our lives were clouded with the thoughts of others. Sure, it’s great to get other people’s opinions, but don’t let those thoughts complicate—or pull you away from--what you truly want to do in life. Simply said, follow your instincts.

One of my passions is writing. What are some of yours?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Was $100K/sec investment worth it? Family weighs in on Super Bowl ads.

Usually, I do my Super Bowl ad rating, with my marketing-to-women hat on, by myself, but this time I wanted to see how effective the ads were with a variety of voters. I pulled together my own team to help with the rating of the spots: sons, ages 12, 14 and 17, and my daughter and her friend, both 15, and my husband and I. Call us the family room focus group. Each voter received three possible votes per spot: thumbs down, thumbs up or big smile. Thumbs up meant the spot was clever or amusing, but didn’t make a smile stick. For a smile to stick, that was the biggest compliment.

Was it all smiles? See the results, and let me know what you thought!