Last week ripped me out of my protective outer Colorado coating and back into the world of SoCal. Having spent an entire month there last year (while running/hiding from recent life events), I was excited to get back. I had been invited to speak at the Entrepreneur Magazine Growth Conference on Wednesday so let’s get on with the business of a week-long recap and some key takeaways.
When businesses get it right
2011 was a year filled with businesses that got it wrong. AirBNB. Netflix. (Insert your own epic cluster here.) From turning on the evening news to the front page headlines of any major newspaper, we’re a culture (and a sad one) that focuses more on the foibles than those who are doing something right. This year marked the 4th year that The UPS Store sponsored Entrepreneur Magazine’s Growth Conference. Having been a customer on and off – more out of convenience than brand loyalty – I was interested to see what the sponsorship looked like up close.
And it looked stellar. So let’s talk about how, first, the partnership makes sense, and secondly, how the UPS Store gained a new customer out of the experience.
The Partnership: Franchising is a significant part of the entrepreneurial culture. While some might scoff at what they perceive as the inherent laziness of taking someone else’s business concept and running with it, most franchisees will differ with you all the way to the bank. It takes just as much oomph to launch, build, and sustain a successful franchise as it does to launch, build, and sustain a one-off business. And that’s the main reason that having The UPS Store as the event’s title sponsor makes sense. I wish more businesses would look at this partnership and use it as a model for how to get involved with your customers – and peers – without coming across as a our-name-is-in-big-print-so-buy-our-stuff bunch of jackasses (which are the majority of convention sponsorships I see).
- Peer-to-Peer: The event tapped into the knowledge and experience of numerous SoCal area franchisees. They shared their successes and motivations with an audience of over 850 people who were hungry for that type of information. A perfect fit.
- Class: Everything about the conference was class. The main stage, the signage, the digital displays that announced each room’s session. Pure class. For an event that’s 100% free to attendees (including a catered lunch – no sammiches here), the UPS Store and Entrepreneur Magazine did one helluva job demonstrating that neither are fly-by-night operations or business-in-a-box solutions. Whatever you thought about franchise business models, The UPS Store blew conceptions out of the water.
- No Hard Sell: Everyone pretty much knows what The UPS Store does. We get it. Shipping. They began as Mailboxes Etc. back in the day, the place we all went to ship a box, buy a box to ship something in, and when it was relevant, make a few photocopies. Instead of beating everyone at the conference over the head with who they are and what they do, they reinforced the why. They did this brilliantly through their sponsorship of not only the conference, but Entrepreneur’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” awards, celebrating three incredible businesspeople carving their own way in their respective industries.
So how did they score a new customer through the event? I’m a single woman who owns a business, which means that I have a PO box and work out of my home 70% of the time. It also means that a simple records search can tell people where I live. Which is creeptastic. Weird things show up in my mail, any yahoo could land on my doorstep. And you can’t list a PO box as a valid business address with the Colorado Secretary of State – so what’s an entrepreneur to do? Well, that’s coming to an end this week, as I’m headed to The UPS Store to get a business address – and one that’s not my home. I only heard the service alluded to once, but it was enough for me to go: yeah, I need to get that shit taken care of. So I am. And unlike my PO box, I can CALL and see if there’s mail in my box before I go. Which would – and will – save me a crapload of blank trips every year.
It was a Wednesday well-spent, and a shout out to my Wednesday evening compadres who will invariably agree with me that sangria mixes with absolutely nothing.
Sidebar: I was asked – and kindly – by the Entrepreneur Magazine staff to clean-up my presentation for this conference. I don’t have a problem doing that, and I’d been great all day about avoiding the-fbomb. Well, in my second session of the day, I let one fly. And immediately, the fire alarm in the convention center sounded. I guess that will teach me.
Back to business…
Attending, much less speaking at, conferences is rough business. It’s physically and emotionally draining and it’s a huge rally to get yourself going when one (even a day-long conference) has come to a close. The rest of my week involved business as usual as well as taking care of some housekeeping and thank yous for book #2, all the while dealing with the impending launch of book #1 and SXSW Interactive looming in the not-so-distant-distance. I headed up to Studio City to stay with my friend an co-author on book #2 and even got to catch up with one of my graphic designers, Lindsay Goldner, over a meal featuring pasta made from little baby zebras in a cream sauce. Which leads me to the business of business.
There’s a question I ask in every session I’m invited to present: Why are you in business? The answers vary and sometimes there’s someone who gets it right. The answer isn’t to live, because it’s what we love or to make money. (“To make money” is the most common answer, by the way.) The answer is because our customers let us be in business. Never forget that your customers are the reason you get to do what you love – and that’s why speaking engagements and travel are my favorite part of this gig I’ve got going on. I get to meet the people who let me do what I love everyday, from those who work for me and with me to those who just stop by this site and consider my posts to be time well-spent.
Never forget to thank your customers. And never forget that not all customers spend money. Many simply spend their time – and asset we’d all do better at appreciating as even more valuable than the almighty dollar. Which brings me to the part where my co-author on book #2 and I drive all over Los Angeles and Newport Beach to hand-deliver thank yous to the people who contributed to that book.
The part where my friend pees in the backseat on the 405 freeway
For any of you who have lived in the Los Angeles area (as I did from 2002-2005), you understand how the region redefines the epic fucktardery of traffic in general. We were blazing along the 405 — I might have been exceeding the speed limit — when my friend Wendie expresses that she has to pee. Given that we’re on the 405, exiting at 4pm on a Friday is simply nonsense. We’re 1 hour from her house – I ask if she can hold it. Fast forward to a situation where she climbs over the seat into the back and finds a Nalgene bottle holding my then-hot-now-cold tea from the morning. The car gets silent. I’m terrified of potholes (I’m sure she is as well). Within minutes, she’s back in the front seat and we’re serenaded with the gentle sloshing coming from a bottle on the floor board of the backseat all the way back to Studio City.
The lesson here? There’s a lot of shit that happens along the way from where we are to where we need to go. No one started the day planning to pee in a Nalgene bottle in the backseat of a Lexus. Shit – and in this case, pee – happens. Deal with it as best you can and get on with your business. Move forward. Because moving on is bullshit. Moving on implies that we have to forget in order to progress, when in fact, we’re probably better served by bringing our experiences with us to help shape the next ones.
And finally, coming home
Saturday evening, I landed at DIA just in time for the Broncos to blow the playoffs. Truth be told, I missed my puppycats (which is what I call my collective of 2 dogs and 2 cats). I’ve lived in Alabama, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Japan, California, Nevada, and now Colorado. No matter how long I’m gone or where I travel, I get excited about coming home to my little nondescript house in East Denver. So I was excited. I spent the evening on the sofa. I made some puree for a homemade tomato curry bisque (which turned out FUCKING AWESOME – sorry to shout). And after a whirlwind week, I slept for 10 hours.
In my bed.
In my house.
And on Sunday, I woke up excited. Because I’d built a life that gives me the gift of doing it all again very soon. See image at top of post. Remember. Apply love liberally, in all that you do. We only have one chance to own this motherfucker of a ride called life, and well, yeah. Own it.