How An Unrelated Hobby Can Be A Powerful Sales And Marketing Tool

In the fall of 2010, just two years into our business, I took a comedy class, which became an unexpectedly powerful sales and marketing tool for our business.

Comedy was unrelated to anything in our business plan (except for maybe helping support my writing and creativity). But, it turned out that my comedy shows were so well-attended by my clients and prospects that my comedy side became a sales and marketing tool for us. When I reach out to my network about comedy, it often spurs business talk, including closed deals.

This doesn’t mean you should take up comedy specifically. But you probably have a seemingly unrelated hobby, interest or passion that you can incorporate into your sales and marketing. Here are three ways that comedy has helped my sales and marketing and how you might incorporate a similar strategy:

Stay front of mind

When I perform several times a year, it is another way to get in front of my network and stay front of mind. How can you use personal updates or something other than business talk to stay front of mind?

Show a multifaceted you

As a professional services provider, I consult on serious issues. My comic side is a surprise to my network and provides a whole other side to how my contacts know me. How can you surprise and delight your network?

Walk your talk

People admire well-rounded, balanced leaders who can successfully integrate the professional and personal. The personal wins you share add to your professional credibility.

So while you may not ever want to do stand-up comedy, there is probably a personal hobby, interest, or passion that can spark a different, deeper connection with your professional network. Don’t assume that you need to hide these other important parts of your life! Sharing these unrelated threads may actually bind you closer to your network.

If you want to see me perform firsthand, I am doing a set at Gotham Comedy Club next week – Tuesday, April 21, 7p. Details, including reservation number, are on our Upcoming Events page. Let me know if you’re coming so I can look for you after the show!

Resume Mistakes — How To Avoid Exaggerating Or Underselling On Your Resume

In my latest career advice post for Money and Time, I talk about resume mistakes — specifically exaggerating or underselling the subjective details on your resume. Here is the my original, unedited version:

A resume is a factual document. In fact, it can serve as the outline to a background check. Your employer may check dates of employment, titles of previous jobs, academic degrees received and dates of school attendance as you list them on your resume. So you should assume that everything that can be verified will be verified, and take special care to be 100% accurate here. One candidate I wanted to hire for a media company had listed a bachelor’s degree, which she actually didn’t receive. She had completed all of the credits but was denied the degree due to outstanding library fines. Had she listed her credits on her resume rather than the terminal degree – i.e., completed all 120 credits towards a Bachelor’s Degree – that would have matched the background check information and she would have been fine. But instead she wrote that she received the actual degree, which she did not. It cost her the job.

However, a resume is not 100% objective when it is descriptive — the scope of your responsibilities, your contribution to a result, or even the measure of a specific result (did revenues actually double or almost double, say a 90% increase?). Where there is a chance to be subjective, you might exaggerate (or undersell) your accomplishments. has produced a fascinating infographic of which areas of the resume tend to contain the most lies. Skills and responsibilities take the top two spots, and these are indeed two subjective areas where the candidate can exaggerate or undersell. The employer has to take the resume at face value and only verify later via the interview and reference check process. This doesn’t give you license to lie! You still need to represent your skills, responsibilities and other resume information accurately. Here are three guidelines to ensure you don’t exaggerate or undersell yourself on your resume:

Show clear examples

If you claim a skill, include an example of when you’ve used it. For example, if HTML programming is listed in your Skills section, include a reference to it in the job where you used it most substantively. If you claim a responsibility, such as management, specify the size of the team or the budget or the project scope that you managed. If you claim a result, such as increasing revenue or decreasing costs, include a specify percentage or dollar amount, only if you know it, and explain how you got that result. The details will give the reader context in which to evaluate your claims and will enable you to keep track of the same supporting details you’ll need in the interview process anyway.

Use specific descriptions over generic titles

I once interviewed a non-profit candidate who listed no title at her current job but listed responsibilities commensurate with a Director of Development – she led fundraising for that organization. As it turns out, she wasn’t the Director of Development, but she was the only development person there (the Director had left and she assumed the role but without the title). So she was factually correct to omit the title – had she put Director of Development and I called her HR office to verify, it would show as a mismatch. But at the same time, she was underselling herself because her lack of title (and little other experience) could lead other resume readers to gloss over her substantive accomplishments. In this case, use a very specific description in lieu of a generic title: Development team of one, in charge of $500k fundraising target; or sole Development staff for $500k fundraising goal. You steer clear of a title you don’t formally have but you still capture the responsibilities and accomplishments that you rightfully earned.

Line up your supporting references and samples

Another check and balance against resume inflation is to collect references and samples that back up your claims. If you want to list Director as your title, verify with HR that they will confirm this exact title in reference checks. If not, but you did lead a team, project, or some other substantive body of work, then line up a senior person in the department who can describe your contributions and confirm you accomplished what you said you did. If you list HTML as a skill, share a sample of your code. Your prospective employer may never verify that specific claim, but you are prepared if they do, and it keeps you from inflating your skills and experience as you create your resume.

You want your resume to promote yourself and put your skills and experience in the best light. But you also want your claims to be accurate. By preparing examples, specific descriptions and references in advance, you ensure a healthy balance of self-promotion and accuracy.


Is It Your Time To ‘Make The Donuts’ And Change Careers?

Do you remember the “time to make the donuts” Dunkin Donuts commercial?

Mark Prygocki took that suggestion literally when he transitioned from pharmaceuticals to doughnuts and employee to entrepreneur, after 21 years in corporate.

What about your next career move? Is it your time to make the donuts, or some other radical career transition? Or is your next move about staying where you are but in a different role? Or is the best next step not about career but about attending to family and friends, taking better care of yourself or getting your finances in order?

Spring is a time of renewal for nature, and it’s a great time for personal renewal. If you’ve been thinking about making a career move, we hope Mark’s story inspires and gives concrete ideas for taking the skills you already have and applying it to something new.

The first quarter of 2015 has already passed. What will you do for the next three quarters?

4 Ways To Use Rankings And Lists To Grow Your Business

Rankings and lists can help you grow your business. For example, Payscale, the salary site, recently released a ranking of undergraduate colleges by 20-year ROI. I summarized four interesting findings from the Payscale College ROI report (party schools trump sober schools!) in my latest Forbes post. But fun facts aside, rankings and lists – Fortune 500, Inc 500, Best Companies For Working Parents, Most Innovative, 40 Under 40 — are an excellent way for entrepreneurs to jump start sales, using these four strategies:

Congratulate someone in your network

If you know someone who attended Harvey Mudd (ranked #1 in the Payscale report), send an email to congratulate. It’s another way to stay front of mind or to rekindle a contact that might have drifted. You can easily find your contacts associated with a school or company via LinkedIn search, as it ranks your first connections first.

Target brand names

The Fortune 500 list is categorized geography so you can find the largest company in your area. Even if your current client is typically an individual or small business, you may want to give a talk or do consulting at a larger company. Having a big brand on your client list helps your brand.

Target fast growth companies

The Inc 500 list (and up to 5000 is available online) is categorized by geography so you can identify fast-growing companies in your area. These are companies who are probably too busy with 4-digit percentage growth to develop onerous procurement hurdles. If your business offers something that can take a chore or secondary function off their plate so they can continue to focus on their core business, you may land a new, fast-growing client.

Get inspiration (and ideas for your own story)

Some lists focus on people – 40 Under 40, Forbes Most Powerful, Inc college entrepreneurs to watch. These profiles provide great inspiration, and there might be concrete ideas from others’ journeys that give you ideas for your own. (While it’s not a list, I love Fortune’s regular column where entrepreneurs share “How I Did It.”). From these profiles, you can also get ideas for how to craft your own compelling story. If you were to write your feature, which list would you want to be on? What would it say? How would the journey unfold? What can you do now that moves you in the direction you just brainstormed?

In keeping with my own advice, I have emailed a connection from Harvey Mudd. When the Inc 500 list came out, I also emailed connections there. It is a built-in but spontaneous reminder to reconnect with people. Which strategy will you adopt to take advantage of these rankings and lists?

Career Questions Answered On Weakness Interview Answers, Staying Focused, Being Overqualified, And Overcoming A Career Blemish

In this episode of the SixFigureStart Career Coaching Radio Show, I answered questions on weakness interview answers, staying focused, being overqualified, and overcoming a career blemish:

Check Out Self Help Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with SixFigureStart on BlogTalkRadio

Interview Workshop attendee asks: What is the best way to handle what is your worst quality?

Resilience Workshop attendee asks: How do I focus in bad times when there are lots of personal distractions?

Daren asks: I’m a school teacher/coach and my last job ended when several students got together and made up several lies about me. I now have an inscribed reprimand on the face of my state teaching certificate. How can I best handle explaining this to other schools?

Yvette asks: I have a well-paid job but it is a dead-end job due to the smaller size and culture of my company.  My major challenge is that i would need to take a major paycut if i switched employers as i am paid above market.  Also,  i am viewed as either over-qualified due to my over 20 years of experience or under-qualified as i don’t have experience with larger companies.

Achieving A Goal Is Admirable, If You Picked The Right One

Sometimes we’re so focused on achieving a goal, we don’t realize we don’t want it anymore, or it wasn’t the right thing to begin with. In a recent Forbes post, I wrote about tackling that interview bugaboo, the “tell me about yourself” question. A mistake many job candidates make is to answer the literal question, rather than its underlying intent. (In the post I share four underlying intents behind that question. It’s never about talking about yourself!) Likewise with our goals, many times the end goal isn’t the goal we set but something different.

A goal to get a job may actually be to achieve career growth or more money or more autonomy. Losing weight is about getting healthy or looking better. Making more money is about feeling secure or having more freedom, like the freedom to quit your job – which in turn is about something else than just quitting!

Why are you going after what you’re going after? Connie and I launched SixFigureStart eight years ago because: 1) we wanted to be on the individual’s side of the hiring process after years on the corporate recruiting side; 2) we wanted to work together; and 3) we wanted to have more freedom in our lives. When you’re an entrepreneur, things never go as planned, of course, so when things got tense in our business, it really helped to go back to the original intentions. Our goals had become about building this business (launching it, then growing it, then maintaining it) and all manner of financial, operational and service goals. But these tactical goals don’t matter if we’re working so much we don’t have the flexibility and freedom, or we’re not working together well, or we’re not focusing on the meaningful parts of our business.

How about your goals? Are you staying true to your original intentions, or have you set off after just the tactical? If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, or worse, if you’re hitting your targets but still feeling empty, go back to the reasons why you’re trying to achieve your goals in the first place. When you reconnect with your why, you may get a second wind. Or you may realize that your current tactical goals actually won’t get you to what you really want and you need to do something else. Or maybe you’ve been so focused on getting to a goal just to say you’ve done it but you no longer care.

Take a step back and reassess the goals that you’ve been pursuing. What’s your underlying intent? Does the goal still matter? Do you need to focus on something else? Are you even more pumped up now that you’ve reconnected with your WHY? Let us know what you find!

Negotiation Strategies For Entrepreneurs: 4 Ways You Are Losing Money

In a recent Forbes post, I wrote about negotiation strategies for the underpaid employee. As an entrepreneur, you also negotiate – when you make a sale, when you decide on specifications or customizations on an offering, or when you change directions on a project. With all this negotiation practice, you would think it would get easier. But it doesn’t, and it won’t, unless you consciously work on it. Unfortunately, there are lots of sneaky ways entrepreneurs unconsciously lose money for their business by failing to negotiate persistently enough. Here are four scenarios, where the best negotiation tactic might be walking away:

Say NO to pro bono work

When you launch a business, pro bono work can get you started with referrals and testimonials. As your business grows, you may continue to do pro bono work for publicity, to test out new offerings, or as goodwill for your audience. However, if you need to grow your revenues, you will need to limit, if not cut out entirely, your pro bono work. Your time, mental bandwidth and emotional capacity are limited. This is your business inventory, and you can’t afford to give it away. Set a maximum for how many hours or how many clients will be served pro bono, and say NO to every other request.

Say NO to scope creep

Let’s say you are disciplined enough to only take paid work. That’s definitely an improvement but it’s still only profitable if you don’t give away more than what you’re charging. Some clients will tack on extra requests or change parameters forcing you to do additional work. This project “scope creep” costs you money. You need to be mindful of where this happens in your business and negotiate via payment policies or change fees that limit your downside in these cases. You might have to train your clients to take up less time with meetings or to limit their access to you. Don’t be afraid to say NO altogether and fire unprofitable clients.

Say NO to friends and family favors

Family and friends expecting freebies is a particular danger in services business. You might be a realtor so your house-hunting friend asks you run searches on the MLS. Or you’re a college admissions coach, so could you help your friend’s HS-age daughter on her essay? Remember that your time, mental bandwidth, and emotional capacity is limited. If you say yes to a friend, you say NO to another paying client. Decide in advance how many hours or requests you will accept, and refer the rest to experts they can pay for (or refer them to your website where they can register and pay)!

Say NO to bartering for food

Maybe your family and friends don’t ask outright for a freebie but couch it as a lunch invitation that ends up being a professional services session for them. So you’re not working for free, but you are bartering for food. Is this a trade you would be willing to make outright? You can’t run your business on calories, so protect your profits and your waistline and stop transacting business over lunch.

For the record, I do pro bono work, throw in extra bonuses for my clients, offer friends and family rates, and share advice over lunch (sometimes even just coffee). When I do, I do this willingly. But I also readily say NO when I’m too busy. So I’m not saying to never do this if you have the capacity and the interest. However, if you’re feeling underpaid or undervalued as a business owner, then start negotiating your pricing and offerings to everyone – non-profits, repeat clients, friends and family alike.


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