Yes, my son’s first birthday party was sponsored. And here’s how I did it.

The Vision

It’s rare to have a wild idea you dream up in your head actually pan out the way you envisioned it.

But this month that’s exactly what happened to me.

No, I am not referring to “the local bus system employing aspiring models” idea, or “the resident DJ who plays your favorite song each morning you walk into the office” idea, or even ”the killer combination of a tanner/Chinese restaurant business in a small town” idea.

Instead I am referring to the dream of having my 1-year-old’s birthday party completely sponsored by awesome local businesses.

No offense to Mickey Mouse, Clifford, Elmo or any other “age-appropriate” parties, but my wife and I have higher expectations for our little man.

We want him to think different. To be OK with trying something and failing. To pursue crazy ideas even if everyone else around him doesn’t think the idea is possible.

The Execution

So a few weeks ago I went to work so my walk would match my talk.

This visual of a sponsor list is what I dreamed about

I made a list of all the products and corresponding businesses that could possibly line up with our vintage newspaper themed party. I focused on smaller, newer, fresher businesses that likely had a desire to gain more exposure, yet without spending thousands on advertising. In exchange for their product donations to our party, I would promote the heck out of them through every means at my disposal.

Then I started calling, e-mailing, poking, AOL Instant Messaging, and well, stalking these businesses. Don’t worry, as of press time, no restraining orders have been filed.

I know this is crazy but many people didn’t respond. Like businesses I had frequented for years. A few politely declined. Others thought about it and then claimed something called “laws” prevented them from sponsoring.

I was discouraged. My goal was five sponsors and … I had none. At that point, I considered scaling back and settling for the typical party.

A sponsored party must be too crazy, I thought.

I was a few days away from quitting.

The Success

Just when I felt lower than Donald Sterling’s publicist, I received an e-mail that turned the whole event upside down.

I had a sponsor.

The uber-talented Anne Pageau, who owns Holland-based Give Studio, agreed to donate four of her trendy, decorative flasks to help make our party look even more authentic. The flasks, which come in bright colors and even louder sayings (Giggle Juice is our favorite), retail at $28 and are ideal for a sweet gift. We paired them with our collection of old cameras for a dynamite 1-2 combo.

Give Studio of Holland

And suddenly the sponsors started appearing one after another.

My long-time client Joe Nelis, who owns Nelis’ Dutch Village and the Thirsty Dutchman Pub in Holland, provided four bottles of his private label wine.

Then Nick Gillette, a manager with Grounds for a Better World Coffee in Midland, jumped on board by donating a stellar medium roast coffee for the party. The delivery of the product may have looked like a drug deal in a Subway courtyard but I am totally OK with that.

I couldn’t believe the sponsorship idea was actually happening.

With a few small wins on the board, I was confident and starting asking for products that weren’t on my original brainstorming sheet.

Soon I lined up the only coffeehouse in Michigan that brews its own beer – Essential Bean Coffee and Pub in Caledonia – and the award-winning cider of Sietsema Orchards in Ada.

I had reached my goal of 5 sponsors but I wasn’t about to stop.  During a non-driver’s ed approved commute home, I made a cold call to the Hawk’s Nest in Hamilton and landed two hot appetizers for the party.

The icing on the cupcake was convincing the emerging Scrumptious Cupcakes and Sweetery of Grand Rapids to donate a tower of gourmet cupcakes, 30 to be exact.

7. Freaking. Sponsors.

With just a few days to go before the party, I sought out last minute help from a team of experts. The legendary Melanie Gavie designed an incredible handout complete with QR codes to each sponsor’s Web site. Marketers Erik Morsehead, Ryan Litwiller, and Kim Jimenez helped me brainstorm social media and marketing strategy. And photographer Dennis R.J. Geppert donated a box full of old cameras.

The party was finally here.

The Event

I knew it was going to be great night when my family members were, gasp, early. Start time in my family usually means get there within an hour of that time.

All kidding aside, as guests arrived, the house looked stunning. Next to each sponsor’s donated product we had a small chalkboard labeling the business as well as business cards, logos, and coupons.

The sweet Late Harvest Vignoles white wine and the sweet de Rooie Molen red wine from Nelis’ Dutch Village started flowing and soon glasses could be observed inside and out. My wife now likes de Rooie Molen better than me. Great.

Nelis’ Dutch Village of Holland

Our bartender then began to pour glasses of Essential Bean’s Silver Foam IPA, an amber colored beer with a tasty foam top. Easy to drink and much less bitter than your typical IPA. Comes in a stellar growler with a stylin’ vintage logo.

Essential Bean of Caledonia

Rounding out the incredible selection of alcohol for a 1-year-old’s birthday party was … the Lemongrass Hard Cider from Sietsema Orchards. This self-proclaimed ”summer shandy of cider” is a sweet, refreshing lemon-infused cider that makes your typical cider seem, well, pretty boring. I may or may not have drank half the bottle myself during the party.

Sietsema Orchards of Ada

And because no party is complete without caffeine, I can’t forget the warm, tasty Medium Roast we had brewing from Grounds for a Better World. My dad couldn’t keep his hands off it and, because he is retiring soon, I didn’t have the heart to say no to the guy.

Grounds for a Better World of Midland

The evening would not have been complete, however, without our two, oh-so-sweet food options. The Hawk’s Nest brought it with a pound of hot, flavor-filled Breaded Cauliflower and a pound of crunchy Onion Rings. They went so fast I barely could photograph their existence.

Hawk’s Nest of Hamilton

Finally, for dessert guests d-emolished the Funfetti with Vanilla Buttercream and the Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting cupcakes from Scrumptious. Some people said it was the best cupcake they had ever had. I personally couldn’t stop eating the frosting made from scratch.

Scrumptious Cupcakes of Grand Rapids

Scrumptious Cupcakes of Grand Rapids

The Conclusion

In the end, seven forward-thinking businesses gained incredible exposure via the actual party, through my social media posts, in a story the Midland Daily News ran about the party, and through this blog post. I applaud them for taking the chance and trusting me to deliver. Please go out and support them, you won’t be disappointed.

Equally important, I learned you never know what can happen if you simply ask people to partner with you. Prove to people you can provide value no else can. Dare to be rejected.

I saved $300 on a party. What can you do?

10 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Coffee Shops

Courtesy: Franz St. of Flickr

Courtesy: Franz St. of Flickr

BY ALEX PEJAK

When McDonald’s Australia opened their McCafé coffee shops in 2003, it was a brilliant business move. Those coffee shops drove a remarkable 50% jump in McDonald’s sales. In fact, across Australia coffee remains the country’s fastest growing beverage segment (with 28% growth since 2013) and the coffee shop industry is expected to expand 2.6% over the next five years… to 4.96 billion AUD.         (source)

If this suggests to you that coffee shops may know a thing or two about marketing, you’re correct.

Whether it’s the comfortable environment, the hip culture, or the community which coffee shops cultivate, there are plenty of things any marketer can learn from their local coffee shop. Let’s look at the top 10.

1. Be Preeminent     

Successful coffee shops are shining examples of what the super-star American marketing consultant Jay Abraham calls the “Strategy of Preeminence“. Coffee shops — at least, the ones we like to visit — do not focus on “selling” the customer. Every aspect of the coffee shop experience is about them “serving” the customer.

In other words, coffee shop owners subordinate their immediate needs to focus entirely on the “other side of the counter,” which is to say the customer. Of course they do not do this slavishly. They have a defined belief system, authoritative positioning in the market, and deep conviction in their point of view (“we are hip” or “we are modern”).

Yet everything about the successful coffee shop communicates that they would like to lead you, the customer, to greater happiness.

2. Take a Stand         

Too many marketers today are afraid to take a stand and show some personality. But great coffee shops do just that. They understand that their customers want them to be the experts — and showing what they stand for earns customers’ trust. After all, we trust the people who help us come to conclusions, whether those conclusions are about which type of roasting is best or which widget to buy.

From the perspective of the barista or shop owner, truly caring about their customers’ well-being means not allowing them to choose bad coffee — because the coffee shop’s success depends on their customers’ success.

3. Make Customers Feel Like They Belong          

People are loyal to their local coffee shop, even if it’s just another Starbucks outlet out of thousands. At “their” shop, the staff knows their favorite drink and addresses them by name. Perhaps the service is just a little bit better. No matter the precise reason, customers feel like they belong there, and now you’d be hard-pressed to persuade them to go anywhere else.

How many other marketers give their customers this sense of belonging?

4. Create a Community       

Great baristas remember their customers. In smaller coffee shops, this may be the owner. Though it may have been weeks since your last visit, they’ll ask how things are going with whatever you last mentioned to them, and they’ll have your favorite drink and snack ready. Other regular patrons will get similar treatment, and you’ll see it every day you visit.

Make your customers feel like they’re a part of the family — like you value them personally.

5. Let Every Nook and Cranny Show Who You Are And What You Stand For

Whether a given coffee shop is a good place to relax and work, or whether it’s a place to see and be seen — you can usually tell within seconds of walking through the door. Coffee shops live and die because of the environment they create. Everything from the furnishings to the wall decor to the staff helps communicate what they stand for.

6. Even If It’s Small, Have A Unique Selling Point           

Successful coffee shops understand Rosser Reeves’ “Unique Selling Point” instinctively. Yes, they will sell you your favorite cappuccino or latte, but there’s always a unique twist that makes their products a little different. Maybe they have a special line of coffees, or they roast on site, or they put apple pie filling in cinnamon rolls, or any number of other concepts.

The important part is, nobody else offers the details they do.

7. Provide an Experience, Not Just “Stuff”          

Coffee shops, like restaurants and hotels, understand that customers are not there just for the coffee. Anyone can make coffee, just as anyone can cook dinner or go home to sleep in their bed.

Instead, coffee shops understand that people patronise their establishments for the whole experience. Even if they sell their coffee beans, customers still come to sip an expertly-made cup in a great environment where they’re treated like a friend.

8. Trust Your Customers    

Not all coffee shops can do this, but the ones that are most successful at winning a base of fanatically loyal customers trust their customers as much as any restaurant. You can walk in, and they’ll bring you your order without asking — and they’ll never ask for money. Once you’re done for the day, you go up to pay the bill.

9. Don’t Be Pedantic

It’s a core part of the coffee shop experience for many. Go in, have a cup, and sit there for hours working on the free Wi-Fi. Many small business owners would have politely asked these people to keep buying food as they work — but great coffee shops just let them work. They realize these people are their best customers, and there is no cost to letting them occupy a table for a few hours. After all, that table would be empty otherwise.

10. Include Ancillary Services

Lastly, always remember the “free Wi-Fi.” For coffee shops of course this is literal. People expect to be able to walk in and get some work done as they sip, so coffee shops will have outlets at every table and Internet access at the ready. Some coffee shops also have live entertainment and community events.

Whatever the equivalent is for your business, remember it’s the little things that set you apart from the competition.

Alex Pejak is an economist currently working on a few projects in Australia. She is interested in topics related to market research and project management.

Virtual Book Tour Stop: 5 Common Traits of Remarkable Women

9781452594392_COVER.inddBY JENN AUBERT

Women entrepreneurs are a definitely a hot topic these days. It’s been amazing to see the number of articles, books, and magazine covers focused on the female entrepreneur. We are a force to be reckoned with—growing in both numbers, influence, and impact. But what exactly makes accomplished women entrepreneurs successful? Why are some remarkable and scale the heights of abundance and influence while others fizzle out under the weight of overwhelm and burnout?

I wanted to know the secrets that made these women take the plunge and keep treading in the seemingly risky waters of entrepreneurship. I also wanted to understand what motivates them, how they view the world, and what behaviors are core to their success. I figured the best way to find out was to go and ask them. I spent a year interviewing over one hundred successful women entrepreneurs to find out the common traits that make these remarkable women unique.

Five Secrets of Women Entrepreneurs:

1. Mindset: Embrace Failure

Successful women entrepreneurs have an uncanny way of viewing failure. Failure isn’t something to avoid or fear. It is part of the human condition and especially part of business. They view failing as something to embrace and learn from. They don’t necessarily love it, of course, but they take risks that can invite failure to be part of the experience.

How do you view failing? Are you open to failing a little bit every day to grow and expand?

Jenn Aubert

Jenn Aubert

2. Motivation: Define Success

In speaking with these accomplished women, the one aspect that I was surprised and delighted to learn involved their motivations. Nearly every person I spoke with was motivated by something other than the typical big three: money, power, and status. One of the main drivers that motivates most successful female entrepreneurs goes beyond themselves—it has to do with others. They are motivated to serve others with their product or service, build and nurture great teams, care for their families and children, and help their communities in a significant way. Their work impacts not only their dreams but serves others in meaningful ways. This is not to say that money is not important but it isn’t the heartfelt driving force behind what they do.

What motivates you? What drives you to pursue the risky waters of entrepreneurship?

3. Behavior: Take Consistent Action

Successful female entrepreneurs are notoriously very busy and their actions are not without purpose. They are consistently taking steps to move forward in their businesses and to create the companies they desire. Action also provides clarity in times of uncertainty. Many people spin when they are having trouble getting clear on their direction. And, in doing so, they stand still waiting for clarity to present itself. However, savvy entrepreneurs decide on taking action and will pivot and recalibrate direction when necessary.

What small action can you take today to move your business forward?

4. Connection: Ask For Help

Women are natural connectors. However, when it comes to business, many go at it alone. The one piece of advice given to me time and again during these interviews was to ask for help and to do so quickly. Successful women entrepreneurs ask for what they need. They ask for help and seek out guidance from mentors, colleagues, advisors, and others who can assist them towards their goals. They also ask for what they need at home in order to free up time to spend with their family. The path of entrepreneurship, like life, isn’t meant to be traveled alone.

What can you ask for that would help free up your time and allow you to focus on what’s most important?

5. Energy: Resist Overwhelm

Overwhelm is often worn as a badge of honor but among remarkable women entrepreneurs they know that overwhelm doesn’t really serve a useful purpose. They are surely busy, but not to the point where they no longer enjoy what they’re doing. They find ways to offload, delegate, and outsource what they don’t like doing both personally and professionally allowing more time for what’s most important in their personal and professional lives.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, what’s really causing this?

Successful women entrepreneurs may appear to have something that most of the rest of us don’t possess. But that is grossly untrue. The qualities that make them successful are most likely aspects of yourself that you can access, nurture, and improve upon. They are not lucky, gifted, or privileged. They have learned to embrace failure, they know exactly what motivates them, they consistently take action to move forward towards their dreams, they ask for help, guidance and support from others, and they resist overwhelm. These five simple qualities taken together may help propel you forward towards finding the success you desire and deserve.

About the Author

Jenn Aubert is an author and entrepreneur.  Her first book Women Entrepreneur Revolution: Ready! Set! Launch! (Balboa Press, 2014) explores the mindset, motivation and behaviors of successful female entrepreneurs and the role models in their lives who have influenced them.

She is in the midst of launching her latest venture LearnSavvy, an online education marketplace for women entrepreneurs to learn, teach and gain the skills needed to build a profitable business and a remarkable life. Personally, she adores inspirational quotes, all things French (yes, that does include wine), Deepak Chopra and a comfy pair of ballet flats. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and adorable son. You can follow her adventures at: www.jennaubert.com.

The Next Big Thing from Harvard: Q&A with LawNearMe.com Founder Samuel Shusterhoff

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Name: Samuel Shusterhoff

Age: 28

Location: New York City

Summary of Business: LawNearMe allows users to intelligently search an expanding database of local attorneys and seamlessly schedule consultations without incurring a fee of any type. While in the past, searching for an attorney consisted of consumers asking friends and family for recommendations, in today’s digital world, everything has changed. Today, the younger generations are using the Internet for everything from ordering lunch, to buying cars, to finding attorneys.

We want to help modernize law firms and help lawyers connect with a new client stream.  In the last three months alone, over 6,000 prospective clients have used LawNearMe to find a local attorney.

sam

Samuel Shusterhoff

1.  So you started LawNearMe.com at Harvard. Did Mark Zuckerberg inspire you? Or did you actually graduate, have friends and avoid moving to California?

Our developer actually created LawNearMe in a Harvard lab, I went to Indiana University…Following my graduation from Indiana University, I pursued my legal education at Widener University School of Law, where I graduated in May of 2012.  In a difficult employment market, I associated with a mid size law firm in midtown Manhattan.  Almost immediately, I realized that the legal community was out of touch with the new generations — the Internet frenzy—the “get everything you want in the touch of a button, no matter where you are” generation.  I saw a niche that needed to be filled, and felt I had the concept and the product to fill that niche. This was the genesis that led to the founding of LawNearMe.Com.

The website is not only a great tool to find local attorneys in one’s area, but it also provides real reviews from real clients, areas of specialty for each attorney, and also allows one to book an appointment instantly online.  An additional enhancement is the ability for the site to connect lawyers to the younger generations by providing mobile capabilities. Whether you are on the couch in your apartment or at the office, you can search on your computer or on your mobile device. The simple design and structure allows the website to be extremely user friendly. I like to think of it as a one-stop shop for finding an attorney.

 2. Say I accidentally found myself in a situation where I shot a few parked cars with a BB gun. People were definitely in them. How can LawNearMe.com help?

LawNearMe is an online and mobile platform that allows you to find, research, compare and connect with a local attorney. In your situation, if you either, a) are being arrested or b) just have a question about the law, you can find a local lawyer best suited for your needs and connect with them instantly. All of our attorneys provide a short phone consultation (i.e. 15 minutes) for free, which is plenty of time for you to find out if you really need a lawyer.

3. Right now when I search for an attorney the closest one is 200 some miles away. That makes me so mad I want to sue. When will LawNearMe.com be, well, near me?

We are growing rapidly and project to be in 50 states by the end of the year. We launched in New York City and Boston at the beginning of this year. We planned on targeting those areas only until we were ready to expand. Within the first couple of weeks we found there was constant traffic from all over the country, however, with no attorneys in those areas, we were losing clients. We were forced to expand as fast as possible due to client demand, a great problem to have. Currently in 16 states, we are constantly expanding and are entering new states weekly, sometimes daily.

 4. LegalZoom.com is on the radio all the time. How do you differentiate yourself from such a household name? In other words, what’s your long-term vision?

We are very different from Legalzoom. Legalzoom provides legal documents while LawNearMe provides lawyers.  There are other companies that are similar to LawNearMe.com but we are the only site to go above and beyond. We are not only a database, you can also book instantly online and we have one of the best and only mobile platforms for on-the-go connections.  We are a service, if you cannot find an attorney on our site or feel that you do not like the options you have, we will fix that. We are in the business of matching our clients to the best attorney for them.

Our goal is to become the online resource that any person needing an attorney or having a legal question goes to. We want to expand nationwide, while keeping our small business core values and customer service. In time, we want to become a household name, so much so, that when someone needs an attorney, it will be common practice for them to “LawNearMe it!”

Guest Blogger: Relationship Marketing Strategies that Actually Work

handshake isolated on business background

By Mary Ann Keeling

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others. 
African Proverb

You should never underestimate the value of a relationship, especially in business. It might feel like you’re using or taking advantage of someone if you think of your relationship with them as something that you stand to benefit from, but in reality there are many different types of relationships that can exist and they’re all mutually-beneficial to both parties. These types of relationships include the ones you have with your clients, with your suppliers, with your employees, with your bankers and just about anyone else that you come into contact with in the average business month. It’s a valuable skill to be able to recognize the value in a business relationship and to be able to foster its growth. On that same note, recognizing when a relationship is completely one-sided can also save you a lot of time and trouble.

Techniques to Build Strong Relationships with Potential Customers

There are a lot of ways for a potential customer or client to find your business online, and it’s very likely that their first impression of you will be something that you’ve released out there into the ether at some point in the past, so make sure you aren’t spreading a message online that you won’t be able to stand behind in the long-term. This is why it’s such a bad idea for a business owner or employee to get into arguments online with unsatisfied customers, because people can see those years from now and the company never comes out looking good.

Mary Ann Keeling

Mary Ann Keeling

Start by establishing yourself as an authority in your industry. This will build credibility, and let people know that you know what you are talking about. For people that already do business with you, it will re-affirm to them that they made the right choice. For prospective customers and clients, they’ll know that you are the real deal and they’ll come running with their wallets wide open.

So how do you do that? There are many ways. Keep an up-to-date blog on your website, maintain a mailing list, and join into conversations that are taking place online in your industry and provide your input and value whenever possible, and a lot more. Aside from online stuff, you can join local entrepreneurship clubs, offer your comments to reporters when your industry is in the news, and generally just putting yourself out there.

Tips for Maintaining Business Relationships with Current Customers

This really depends on your business and what field you’re in, but here are some general tips. It’s a good idea to maintain a mailing list, and to keep it segmented. For example, you may want to have a segment of the list with people who will open everything you send, one with people who rarely open anything, one with frequent buyers, one with strong prospects who haven’t pulled the trigger yet, and so on and so forth. You can tailor unique messages to each group to greatly improve your effectiveness. Make sure you don’t annoy them, though! You can also harm your business relationship with too much communication or “neediness” if you want to put it in terms of romantic relationships. Aside from a mailing list, you can stay in touch with customers via social media, blog comments, and email. Make sure you always respond to emails as quickly as possible because if you don’t, your competitors will.

Benefiting From Relationships with Other Businesses

The great thing about the entrepreneurial community is that people are often willing to help out a fellow business owner with advice and experience, which is impossible to put a price tag on. The right mentor or the right piece of advice can absolutely send you from 0 to 100 in no time. You can trim years off of your growth by getting advice from someone who has been there and done that. Even if you aren’t fully in collaboration with another business on paper, you can still get tidbits of advice in many cases. On that same note, it’s also smart to have a protege or two that look up to you for advice. You’ll learn new points of view from people who are young and still hungry. They say that everyone should have a mentor as well as an apprentice, keeping themselves in the middle and getting the best from both worlds.

Image credit: SalFalko/Flickr

Mary Ann Keeling is both a social media manager and business consultant from Brisbane, where she enjoys an active lifestyle. With a deep interest in marketing and business relationships, she is currently in the process of using Macquarie Telekom’s collaboration solutions to expand her business internationally.

Build your Confidence: How to land two dates to one formal event

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Asking a girl out was literally the scariest thing in the world for me to do in high school.

To be honest, I had a few knocks against me.

Back then I lacked GQ-worthy specs. Let’s see, any toned muscle. Orange pants. Shoes that weren’t endorsed by an NBA player.

But most importantly I lacked confidence.

That frustrating handicap resulted from a few notable fails.

There was that time I asked the cute blonde from class to the prom, the one who became an extra on Gossip Girls when she grew up. Obviously, I had a keen sense for talent. I can’t remember how it all went down but I recall she went with a drummer.

Bummer.

The next year I asked a pommer to homecoming and she said yes. We’d have to consult the security cams but I am certain I danced, I shimmied, and moonwalked like a white boy to math class after that.

However, the following day, right before math class, I was informed she changed her mind and had accepted an offer to attend homecoming with a random guy from out of town.

I hate random guys from out of town.

It stung and I basically did the Arrested Development sad walk for days.

The story would have been sad, real sad, if I stopped there and conceded I had no game and I would never have any game.

Thankfully, I had the courage to pursue the best strategy to overcoming confidence issues in a certain area.

I got back in the game.

It makes me sound super old, but whatever. I opened up the phone book and looked up the phone number of a nice girl in one of my classes. Then I waited until every last video on MTV’s TRL had played and while N’Snync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” was still ringing through my mind, I dialed her number.

I thought about hanging up. But then I set aside my worries and decided to act confident, even though I didn’t feel that way. Must. Ask. Girl. Out.

I asked her out and she accepted. We dated the rest of my senior year and then went to prom together before the relationship fizzled over the summer.

Bummer.

Ultimately, though, what I gained was a sudden burst of confidence.

I left for college and started asking girls out with less and less nerves. Each time was a bit easier.

And all of this culminated with my school newspaper’s annual banquet in 2005.

When given the opportunity, I enjoy challenging the status quo. You know, the way things have always been.

Bringing one date to the banquet was totally cool in the eyes of the staff.

But I asked a few questions and determined that as long as I paid for each ticket to the banquet, no technical limit existed to how many dates one reporter could have.

Shoot, I thought, why not two dates then? Therefore, the guy who just a few years back struggled to ask one girl out now was asking two girls to the same event.

It crossed my mind that they both could say “no way” and I would end up empty handed. But I was confident now, in my approach, in my style and in my personality so I felt like they would say yes.

And they did.

I strolled into the formal event with a beautiful lady on each side and had the time of my life. Everyone in the room was in shock. They couldn’t believe I had thought of it, let alone pulled it off.

Confidence, my friends, had paid off.

Ladies aside, do you struggle with confidence in your career? Do you have ideas that you want to experiment with but are too scared to because of past rejection? Have you thought of approaching someone to start a business, but are worried they will think your idea is stupid?

The only way to build or regain confidence is to get back in the game.

Author Jeff Goins summarized this idea so well in his June 12 podcast episode. He said sometimes you have to act like your confident, even if you don’t feel confident. When you are successful, your confidence grows and grows and soon you don’t have to act anymore. You are confident.

He compares confidence issues to dealing with a bully.

“You can control the battle within …,” Goins said. “What I have realized is that the bullies – the biggest bullies you face – are not the ones in front of you. They are the ones in your mind. Every time I faced a bully they backed down.”

What areas in your life do you lack confidence and why? Please share in the comments below.

The Future of Fundraising: Q&A with Benefit Mobile’s John Johnston

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When a company dares to challenge the Girl Scout cookie fundraising model, I am immediately interested. Even better when it’s an app based in West Michigan. Please enjoy my conversation with Benefit Mobile’s Chief Business Development Officer John Johnston.

Describe the company’s background.

The company was founded by Derik Lolli 18 months ago and two other co-founders joined him early on to develop the technology for the mobile wallet. We’re currently working from basements, kitchens and bedrooms as well as using some of our investment and tech partners offices. There’s four of us actively involved in the business currently.

What’s wrong with the current fundraising model for schools and nonprofits? Won’t people buy overpriced cookies, popcorn, chocolate and magazines forever?

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People will still continue to do the traditional fundraising schemes from time to time. What Benefit allows is for year round, frictionless fundraising that doesn’t cost the donor/ user a penny.  The Benefit mobile wallet retailers donate a portion of every transaction to the causes you choose.  Retailers contribute every time you shop and pay using Benefit.  We’re hoping we’ve developed the happier way to pay! Knowing you’re giving to a cause you love every time you pay.

So how does Benefit Mobile work? If I can remember my Apple ID, I just download the app and start spending some serious C-A-S-H?

You’re exactly right, download the app from the iTunes app store (Android will be available in the summer), set up a payment method, select your cause and then you can buy store credit at the stores you shop at.  The best thing about Benefit is that unlike traditional gift card fundraising schemes like SCRIP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrip) where you pre buy cards. with Benefit you can buy credit right at the check out.

Looking ahead, I feel like Benefit Mobile is ready for world domination. Is that in the 5-year plan? In other words, what’s next?

We’ve just finished Beta testing mode and are officially live. We have almost 7,000 organizations coming online in the next two months. We’ll be focusing heavily on schools, nonprofits, churches and colleges/ universities. We’ve had some opportunities for licensing agreements for our platform that we are also looking into.  We hope to have almost 1million users raising money through the app in the next 12-18 months.

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We recently have been invited to speak at Google’s 20/20 conference in November. So there’s lots happening but we’re focused on building a great application and service that people love to use and that raises millions of dollars for great causes.  If we can do that, hopefully everything else will take care of itself.

3 Must-Read Quotes from TEDx Founder Richard Saul Wurman

Richard Saul Wurman

Photo Credit: TEDxGR Facebook page

Critics used a mix of unflattering words to describe his speech at TEDxGR last week.

Wandering.

Random.

Pointless.

Heck, I counted about four people who walked out at the live stream I attended only 10 minutes into his talk.

Yet despite the lack of praise, I was still captivated by listening to a rare mind, a unique voice in an increasingly bland world.

You see Richard Saul Wurman, an author of 83 books, but most notably the founder of the TEDx conference, delivered unfiltered wisdom using a humorous, stream-of-consciousness style that I would label as “Grandpa Gone Wild.”

No slides. No bullet points. And definitely no videos.

What I loved is that he didn’t care what the audience thought. He ran over time. But you could tell he believed in every word he was saying.

When I reviewed my notes, I realized three gems really stuck out. Enjoy and put into practice.

1. On embracing one’s own ignorance:

“There’s so much stupid in my life to fix. It gives me something to do every day.”

How many times do we think we’ve made it? No more growing for me. I have learned everything I need to. Well, if a world-class expert feels they are inadequate, maybe you should re-evaluate that limiting mindset.

2. On being open to changing your weekly routine:

“I have a deep investment in doing good work. I will change anything if I can do better work.”

Brilliant. It’s so easy to stick with that comfortable way. Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc. What if cutting Step 2 and Step 3 produces a better outcome? Are you willing to change?

3. On why risks are worth taking:

 ”Why do what you’ve already done. Embrace the terror of the unknown.”

Wurman admitted before he came on stage, he didn’t really know what he was going to speak about. Now I am not advocating that approach to presentations, but what if you did something you’ve never done before every week?

The teacher I will never forget: Jenifer Sisco

Whenever the conversation turns to high school, whether with fellow Chemics, new friends, or total strangers in a hotel hot tub, Mrs. Jenifer Sisco’s  math class  ALWAYS comes up.

The best memory, by far, was when Mrs. Sisco gave us “way too much” homework for the weekend.

So the three senior friends I took the class with – Pat, Dan, and Stan - decided our only recourse was, obviously, a standing protest. Yes, we stood at our desks and refused to sit down. Less experienced teachers would have probably sent us to the principal’s office in a flash.

sisco

Thankfully Mrs. Sisco, who respected our First Amendment rights, simply asked us to relocate to the back of the classroom if we insisted on standing.

When we did, she continued teaching Trigonometry.

It’s been 12 years since that life-changing class and all those memories came flooding back this week when I learned Mrs. Sisco passed away last Friday. She was 40.

I still can’t believe she is gone.

You see I have never liked math. It’s not like impossible for me but math simply doesn’t come naturally. I have to work hard. And slow.

Yet for that year my disposition changed.

When Mrs. Sisco taught it somehow made more sense and if it didn’t, she was more than willing to help me with my questions.

And she kept her positive, upbeat and encouraging demeanor despite having a few immature boys sitting in the back of the room, a group known in some circles as “The Power Square.”

10_playing_cards

Did we invent our own elaborate card game that featured outbursts of “THE SPOILS OF WAR!” after we finished our homework in class? Yes. Did we wake up a sleeping Stan every day by poking him the eye? Yes. Did we take on the entire class and then taunt them when Trivial Pursuit Friday rolled around? Oh yeah.

But it didn’t faze Mrs. Sisco. She was patient. Understanding. And a few times we caught her laughing.

In today’s world, there’s tons of pressure in high school to get into a good college and then get a good job when you graduate. This leads to super serious learning and working environments. No fun allowed.

You know what? I don’t think the super serious approach works.

Sure, you have to get work done. But what if you work your butt off AND have fun in the process. Is that how true learning flourishes? Is that how innovation is sparked?

A true testament to Mrs. Sisco’s awesomeness occured at the end of the year. After a few times of us heckling her, saying the homework was as easy as winning a cake on a cakewalk – “What’s your number? 19. You won a cake!” – she let us have an actual cakewalk in class.

cakewalk

Man, were we motivated to pay attention and finish our homework.

I will never forget the impact Mrs. Sisco had on my life. I am sure she had a similar impact on the thousands of students she had after me.

It doesn’t make sense why she had to leave us so soon.

For now, I will take what she taught me and do my best to never let life become too serious.

And when I get to Heaven someday, I am heading straight to the golden cakewalk.

My crazysexycool podcast experience. Wait, minus the sexy part.

power of part time

For most of my professional life, I have interviewed the “experts.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Tommy Lasorda. That one guy in the R&D department.

All amazing experiences, expect for the R&D guy, because I did not understand a word he was saying.

Anyways, this week I FINALLY was the expert.

You see I was interviewed for the Power of Part Time TV, a growing audio and video podcast based in Chicago.

And it was awesome.

Last week I received the e-mail from the host, asking if I was interested in being featured on his podcast. He said we had too many things in common not to connect.

I responded back in, oh, 15 seconds, and said “YES!” Then I booked a time for the interview, which I thought was a 11 a.m. in the morning. It was 11 p.m.

A day or two later, I suddenly realized I was going to be interviewed on a video podcast. Uh, I have to look AND sound good. The whole you-can’t-win-an-election-if-you-look-like-a-scrub-on-TV theory was racing through my mind.

podcasts

And what would my backdrop be? All the big-time guests on TV have like Washington D.C. in the background. My options were a cornfield without corn in it yet, um, window blinds or, wait, the temporary man cave in the unfinished basement.

Temporary man cave it is.

My tech setup team had a huge challenge. Thanks to my super old laptop, which has to be plugged in at all times, and the one plug downstairs at this point, the team had to string together two outdoor extension cords just to reach my Skype interview location. Editor’s Note: I don’t have a tech setup team.

Then I ensured the background looked as trendy, vintagey as possible with old picture frames, wood boxes and Beats Audio headphones I bought in China for $20.

Finally, I navigated my metrosexual closet and found a solid combination of a white long sleeve, green skinny tie and my new oversized black glasses. All my ex-girlfriends are going to be kicking themselves when this comes out, I thought.

I logged on to Skype and bam there was the host, in his living room with a microphone. He filled me on the drill and then the interview was live.

Gulp.

It was so crazy. Someone I had never met, just across Lake Michigan, was asking all about me. I had to stop myself from asking questions. He asked about why I started Great Lakes Entrepreneur, about my blog and about my upcoming e-book.

I soaked it all up, stoked that a job wasn’t at stake with this interview. Instead I had a rare platform to share everything I think about on my commute to work, my lunch break and during extended bathroom stall visits.

Everything went pretty smooth and the host finished with the question every podcast host asks, “Where can listeners learn more about you?”

“Follow me on Twitter @greatl …. uh, @greatrep … I mean … uh , yeah that’s it.”

Twenty some minutes of good converstation and I completely forgot my Twitter handle.  Live. Thankfully, I recovered and directed listeners to this site.

Overall, though, Twitter handle aside, the exposure was incredible. It has inspired me to work even harder because my name is out there just a little more.

Take that R&D guy.

Other podcast-related posts:

http://www.greatlakesentrepreneur.com/2013/12/4-reasons-podcasts-arent-just-for-nerds/

Comments: What podcasts do you listen to?