370. Sizing Up the Competition

 

Ezra is a fierce competitor.  He loved Joe Joe my "Tackle Buddy" - and you see how that ended.

Ezra is a fierce competitor. He “loved” Joe Joe my Tackle Buddy – and you see how that ended.

 

As a player in any market you have to know your competitors and their capabilities. As a classy operator you should know how to talk about the competition appropriately. This ability stems from how you speak of others in your larger life – in general the safest rule of thumb is that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you’re selling something you don’t say how bad the other guy’s product is, you say how fantastic yours is. If you speak about rivals in your field, please do so in a way that shows that you’re a professional, not in a way that puffs you up at the expense of others.

204..  (FFT 2) Who are your Competitors and why is your offering superior?

204. (FFT part 2) Who are your Competitors and why is your offering superior?

360.  Postcards

360. Postcards

I’m writing this post bc I have been “phone-screening” candidates for Team Tanimal since I’ve been plotting how to continue my heightened AlterG usage at home. I am extremely happy with my existing members. CMD was so pleased she called Mommy upon receiving my postcard saying I’m doing my duty. I’ve started to notice more pain and some loss of control on my left side so I think it’s time to go back to acupuncture. Trainer D has been busily fabricating reasons to make me go outside since it’s now warm. I’m adamant about staying within a climate-controlled environment but if he is willing to carry my parasol we can talk. Otherwise we’ll see who wins this battle of the wills. I’m looking forward to seeing Coach R again and running on the AlterG there – I have to remember to tell him, though, that if he could just move the practice near my house and purchase a set of parallel bars that would be really great for me.

I’ve been phone-screening candidates since I see Coach R once a week but was hoping to find somewhere else (kind of) closer to home to add to my regimen. I had high hopes for one place that also does sports massage but it didn’t work out. The lady who helped me on the phone, though, was super-nice. Bonus points!! She was willing to work with me and was patient and very accommodating. My speech and hearing deficits are mild enough to often go undetected but they can make administrative phone calls a nightmare. I had to tell her I’ve had hearing loss and ask if she could just give me a Yes or No answer to one question I posed. Sigh. That’s what my life is like now.

Side note: I am not part of the target market this practice has identified as its niche. It’s a pretty safe bet that this lady was not used to interacting with brain injury survivors so her customer service skills must have stemmed from a basic level of human compassion. Sadly, I have discovered that some places with “Neuro” in the clinic’s name can employ people who seem to be surprised that they have to interact with people with brain injuries. Sorry, I’m being facetious. They’re probably not really surprised – they just act like they’re not used to interacting with people with deficits.

 

147.  Ed's Career Advice

147. Ed’s Career Advice

My interaction with her did not involve any discussion of the competition – I have just learned that the level of consideration she showed is not the norm even though I persist in hoping it is. When I called another place, though, I got an earful of unsolicited advice replete with some colorful commentary on the competition. Mm hmm. FYI I didn’t offer a detailed medical history or anything that would invite deep conversation – I was just looking to get specific questions answered. Thankfully no one has ever said anything about specific people I work with. Comments regarding places are bad enough. I DARE you to say something about a member of Team Tanimal. I will not deal with you myself. Their skills speak for themselves, but for my own amusement I will tell Boo Boo or Timmy and they will call you. Take my word for it. You do not want that to happen.

In a way I proliferated the conversation. I’m just too nice on the phone – although part of it was that I was “yessing” him to death so I could hang up ASAP. I just want to point out, however, that whether or not your opinions of the competition are valid your word choice in sharing these opinions tell me more about the level of professionalism you operate on than the skills of those you are speaking about. If I get a less than stellar impression from your presentation I will assume that the level of service you are capable of providing is similarly uninspiring. This could be a faulty assumption, but I have no desire to see you in person to verify it “live”. You just lost my business.

Not that my business is some highly sought-after thing you should prize. I’m saying that a potential customer’s business – whether you’re selling widgets or offering physical therapy – is valuable. So if you feel utterly compelled to size up the competition verbally for others, do so in a way that brings you credibility instead of depleting it – and you’d better be able to back up your assertions with mad skills of your own.

 

 

(228.) Food For Thought: When Launching a Business – 4. Customers

Food For Thought: When Launching a Business 4/4 Customers | Ann Ning Learning How

You thought I had forgotten about this series, didn’t you? Well, I didn’t. Actually, I wrote last week’s post, “Classic,” in preparation for today. I wanted to put a little context around the idea of friendship and how I operate in the “normal” world now that I have to actually concentrate on regaining ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living). I also corresponded with the Marketing Ninja, Professor Homa – the one who taught us to “Skate where the puck is going,” – and asked if I could reference him and his material in this post. He very graciously consented. Remember, if you can’t BE the ninja, KNOW the ninja.

As I rummaged around homafiles.com, though, I remembered just how limited I am in that I am unable to do all the things I would have liked to have done, and am also constricted in that I cannot influence the trajectory of my recovery to make it more marketable. I’ve said it before – this isn’t a product, it’s my life. And of course I’m doing everything I can to set the stage for a rock star recovery, but my body doesn’t always cooperate, regression happens, and it’s a pretty accepted fact that the most astounding gains happen the first year after the injury. After that…it’s. kind. of. boring.

Well, it can be kind of exciting, too, but that’s because I make the conscious decision to celebrate the small stuff – which brings me to the “customer” discussion. “Customers” are the people who will actually buy your product or service. Usually you do not want to be all things to all people because you want to be able to target your marketing – you have a limited amount you can spend on marketing, and it will be more effective this way. You want to be able to take a larger portion of a segment of the pie rather than get a few crumbs from the whole pie. So you have to decide how to segment the pie (market). There are lots of methods of segmentation, e.g. physical factors like age and psychological factors like comfort level with technology. The point is that you want to 1) be able to verbalize WHO your target market is – they should have distinct characteristics from other people and a certain kind of buying behavior you can put your finger on. 2) know if your target is winnable – do you know how to reach this target market and influence the people who will be making the actual purchase decision? You want to be able to pick a target you will actually have access to via your well-crafted marketing efforts.

This is why I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this one – I’m busy celebrating the small stuff, and I’m grateful for the people who are willing to celebrate along with me – everyone’s welcome, so I’ve kind of thrown out the idea of market segmentation. (Gasp! Did I just say that out loud? )

It comes down to what my goal is: when I was first thinking about Learning How… my brother helped me sift this matter through, and JPAS also helped ask probing questions. It took me a while to decide this but my goal is NOT to make money for myself or for a good cause – my goal is to tell as many people as possible how I found grace in the valley. I will not segment the market since the miracle of joy I’ve found is relevant to everyone and I have been delighted in the past to see how it cuts across all types of social/economic/age backgrounds etc.

I’ve continued to see how people from all walks of life want to know how to find grace in the valley – maybe it’s different here in the South (we’re not even THAT South, and the Washington, D.C. area is already considered “South” but it’s different there), but all sorts of people talk to me in public here. Yes, I have been approached in public in the DC metro area, but it happens more often here, and people say more. It’s amazing – I have enjoyed meeting people all over town, when I’m exercising, grocery shopping, lunching with my sisters – everywhere! I think people see the thing in my neck and they observe my gait as I walk down the aisle in a store or maneuver myself behind a table in a restaurant, and something resonates with them. They think of their daughters, or a young friend who had a bad injury, and it makes them want to say something. You’d be surprised to learn how many people are hurting or have loved ones who are hurting – I know I am. You never know the stories people are carrying around with them.

So since my goal is not to dominate a market (segment) the marketing roadmap for success doesn’t really apply here. Yes, I have thought about the concepts I’ve espoused in Parts 1-3 of this series (see below for links), and I think the self-illustration is hysterically funny. But I’m realizing that it might not be as funny as I think it is since people will often get kind of doe-eyed and sympathetic when I’m telling them a story that’s supposed to make them laugh. I’m like, C’mon, people toughen up!! Just kidding. I’m not really that mean – it’s just that I’ve had more time to get used to This Disabled Life, and if I don’t laugh at it, what am I going to laugh at? So please, I give you full permission – laugh with me.

Plus I’m limited physically, so I went with the easiest self-publishing option I found online – Amazon’s Createspace. So eventually, my books will be available on Amazon – which I thought was great since so many people rely on Amazon – it’s a great distribution channel. Plus, they take care of all the inventory – I never have to touch a book – technology has advanced to the point where this is a print-on-demand model – someone orders a book, they print it, and send it. Yay for me! The only drawback I’m realizing now is that my ability to fiddle with pricing (e.g. bundling, volume tiers) is limited. :/. So I’ll apologize in advance for that. But the advantages of me never having to touch a book and being available on Amazon outweigh the other stuff, and since my entire reason for writing rests on the notion that this isn’t “my story” the weight of responsibility isn’t on my shoulders so it’s easier to “let it ride“.

One last thing – yes, I had an AVM Rupture and a massive stroke, yes, I am a full-time Recovery Enthusiast now, but Recovery isn’t the only thing I write about. I write about all of my attempts to get back to “normal” life, hence all the recipes and crafts – naturally, all my efforts at functioning in the home occur with Recovery Land as the backdrop, but I’m hoping that the breadth of my interests might match some of yours, and the extreme circumstances I’ve been given feel more relatable as you witness my efforts at cooking etc. That’s what I mean about celebrating the small things – Who’s excited about coconut flour banana bread? Apparently, a lot of you are – I get several search engine referrals for this post daily.

Coconut Flour Banana Bread [Grain Free, No Sugar Added] || Ann Ning Learning How

But there are also people searching for “how to learn to walk again.” If that’s you – you’ve come to the right place. And while you’re reading about my ambulatory efforts please stick around since I don’t just write about how I’m learning to walk, I write about how I’m learning to live.

10 Tips for Learning How to Walk Again || Ann Ning Learning How

P.S. I picked the title picture because it is SO typical and makes me laugh and laugh. Remember, sharing is caring! There are sharing buttons at the bottom of every post

P.P.S. Special thanks to Professor K. E. Homa – I have drawn heavily on my recollection of 3 Business School courses with him, but of course anything I have mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg. If you want the real deal go to homafiles.com. On the right bar there’s a link to the “homafiles information site” – click on that. The original link might take you to the blog. I’ve especially found the following interesting: homafiles information site ==> Point and click Maps ==> click on “People” ==>scroll to the bottom and click on Marketing 6P’s ASQs. (ASQ = Analysis Starter Question.) (You thought there were 4P’s, didn’t you? Think again!)

Food For Thought When Launching a Business Series | Ann Ning Learning How

1) What is your Elevator Pitch?

2) Who are your competitors and why is your offering superior?

3) How are you going to approach finances?

4) Who are your customers and how are you going to reach them?

(209.) Food for Thought: When Launching a Business (Series Part 3) – Finances

Food For Thought (3) When Launching a Business - Finances | Ann Ning Learning How

Many people are artists, inventors, designers, visionaries and want to leave “bean-counting” to someone else with a fancy looking calculator and a pocket protector.  Incidentally, I endured much good-natured ribbing since I used to carry around my old high-school graphing calculator. My colleagues joked that it had nuclear code capability. I was attached to it, though, since I was used to the buttons and knew where they were without looking.  My other favorite device in B-school was my handy number pad (the USB kind you plug into your laptop).  I got made fun of for using that, too, but I stick by my assertion that it makes number entry SO much faster.

If you fall into the category of person who would be amused by my calculator and number pad the important thing for you to do in answering Question 3 (“How do I approach finances?”) is to start approaching finances somehow.  I’m not going to be picky here – just buckle down and start thinking about it.  Don’t be scared.  You HAVE to do this in order to sustain the creative activity you are made for, so just start and you’ll feel so much better – when you have addressed finances you’ll feel free to attend to your core business.

So these thoughts are just starting points to help you not feel overwhelmed if you’ve decided to get a grip on your business’s finances and are not sure where to start.  Let me break this into two goals:

  • Goal 1 (past-oriented records):  Keep your books clean so your accountant can work with them easily (I can’t help you here bc I always confuse debits and credits – accounting is not my forte).  Communicate with your accountant so you know what (s)he needs.  If you do not have a good accountant, make it a priority to get one – you need to be square with the government. Note:  If you cannot BE the ninja, KNOW the ninja.
  • Goal 2 (future-looking projections):  Get a good idea of your revenue and expenses so you know if you’re going to make money in the future or not, and what you have to do to turn a profit.
    • Expense Categories:  Decide on categories that encompass all of your expenses. This will allow you to track them accurately as you sort every dollar that goes out the door into piles, and then size the piles so you know how much it costs to keep your venture running.  Examples:  Travel & Entertainment, Continuing Education/Licensing, Materials, Office Space Rental, Office Supplies, etc.
    • Revenue Unit:  What is a good “unit” to work with?  Depending on the business it could be a burrito, a book, or the hourly rate for an evening of babysitting.
    • What are the costs attached to each unit?  What is your pricing scheme?  Per room, a % of costs, etc.?

 A note on Pricing:  Do your homework and know what the market value of your product/service.  What are your competitors charging?  If you charge above this you should be able to clearly point to the extra value your business provides – the surcharge is simply the monetization of that extra value.  If you are charging below market value you must make sure that a) this price cut is NOT perceived by your customers as a discount for a product or service of inferior quality, and b) you can make up the deficit by the increased volume of sales you’ll see because of your low price strategy.

The goal is not to break even – it’s to turn a profit.  But it might take a while for this to happen, and it would be good theoretically to know how many sales you must make to break even since it’s a good mental milestone.  You just want to make sure you’re not throwing money at a losing proposition for X years while your family goes hungry because you’re busy pursuing your dream but have counted the cost ineptly.  If your dependents are extremely supportive of your dream and are okay with making some sacrifices in order to see it become a reality, that’s wonderful – but you still want to have some sort of idea of how long they are going to have to tighten their belts so you can make an informed decision regarding whether or not to take the plunge.

49. Did she really just say that?

It’s time for me to self-illustrate, but I can’t this time because 100% of the profits from Learning How… (in any format or language) will go to a good cause.  I am not sure of the language to use – I mean to say that they will go to a government-recognized organization that is non-profit or not-for-profit.  The funds will not be going to the Charity of Me.  Although I’ve heard of many people who, when faced with unexpected illness, accept donations for their medical/living expenses – and this is a good thing since if you can’t work bc you’re injured/sick, where are you and your family supposed to get money from?  If I were in this kind of situation I’d tell you.  But I have been blessed to be in a situation that does not necessitate fundraising (at present). Instead, I’ll offer you a product (my “Memoirs”) in return for a price – it’s your decision whether or not to purchase.  As I’ve said before, there’s actually very little overlap between this blog and my “Memoirs” – I know, you’re like, Seriously?  What else could she possibly have to say?  Answer:  Many, many things.

To be clear, Ed Goes to D.C. and anything else I come up with are not part of my “Memoirs”  (right now I’ve got Volume 1 written, and am waiting for more stuff to happen so I can write Volume 2). All revenue will be categorized and recognized appropriately – don’t worry, Tanpo is going to help me.  One more thing – I mentioned different formats/languages in the paragraph above.  I have enlisted some multilingual friends who will graciously translate Learning How… into Mandarin and Spanish.  I also researched options for a low-tech audio book and figured it would be a good use for my voice if I did it myself, plus I’d love to offer an accessible option like this…but given my upcoming vocal cord intervention I’m having second thoughts.

Don’t you love how I’m referring to it as “intervention” and not “surgery”?  Aaah – the soothing use of euphemisms helps me face the reality that I’m going back to the hospital without really facing it.  But this is exactly what I’m telling you NOT to do – don’t practice avoidance like I do – just jump into the financial pool.  The shock of the water might take an adjustment but you’ll feel more comfortable once you just climb in.  Don’t just get your toes wet, either – do a cannonball.  Better you than me.  🙂

 

 

 

(204.) Food For Thought: When Launching a Business [Series part 2]

Launching a Business : (2) Competition & Positioning |  Ann Ning Learning How

Before you enter the field you want to know who’s already there and if your product/service is good enough to hold its own.  Do your homework!  The internet makes it easy to get a good start – Google, Amazon, etc. will give you an overview.  You should also go to some sites that people interested in your field congregate at and see what they’re talking about – e.g. is there a cool new product Moms are talking about on a popular Mommy blog?  Are tufted fabric headboards popular now, or do people like wooden ones?  How do men carry things when they travel without carrying a purse?  If the messenger bag is a popular solution, what kinds of options are already in the market?

If your offering is a product you could also go to the store and just look at what’s already on the shelves at local big box retailers.  Would yours be a compelling option to a consumer pushing a cart down that aisle?  (We’re suspending reality a moment and pretending you’re so amazingly fortunate as to have your product in a hard-to-break into distribution channel; seriously, though – if you can’t imagine your product being a fantastic option on that shelf you’ll have nothing to say to the stores’ merchandise buyers, so definitely ask yourself this question.

If your offering is a service make sure you know who your competitors are and why you can do the job better than they can.  There could be some debate on this point, but you probably don’t want to alienate your competitors by saying things like, “You are awful at what you do,” or telling prospective customers that everyone else is amazingly incompetent because it’s possible you could need their help in the future, or a collaboration might be in order on a project one day.  So play nice, but position yourself well so you can play hard.    You’re playing for keeps here – this is your livelihood we’re talking about, and you could have a family of people depending on you.

An easy way to visualize the playing field and your position on it is to draw a picture.  I think a concept exists for illustrating several attributes at once (a “spider chart”), but this is too intricate for me to dive into now.  For ease of use and clarity of thought, let’s look at a simple attribute chart.  Pick 2 attributes that are important and draw an x-y axis with negative space so you have quadrants.

To illustrate – let me refresh your memory on Parking 101.  This is not strictly an attribute map of a “playing field,” but I just want to show you what I mean by “negative space” and “quadrants” – sorry, I don’t know how to describe it.

Parking 101 | Ann Ning Learning How

Now put points on your attribute map representing the key players on the field and add one for yourself.  Are you alone?  Are people nearby?   Be able to explain why the attributes you’ve chosen are important, why it’s a good thing that you’re positioned where you are and why the proximity of your competitors is near or far.

Now it’s time for me to self-illustrate with Learning How...  I’m not going to use the names of any other books because I don’t want to pick on anyone and my visual issues have prevented me from doing the thorough reading/research you should do if you’re able – I’ve just skimmed the back of the books and tried to gather the information I could.  So here are my attributes:

I’m defining the field as the near-death/inspirational narrative book genre, and the two attributes I’m dealing with today are:

Attribute Map

1)  Readability:  Quality of the text is important because Learning How… is a book – people will experience it through reading.  There is a lot of good writing out there and a lot of bad writing.  Few people who have a real-life story they want to tell are equipped to write it themselves – many people often use a ghostwriter to help them tell their story since this action will result in a better quality product.  Good move, I think – it is a better decision to work with a professional who has a demonstrable command of the English language than to go it on your own and make your reader suffer through ill-thought out text.  Many people with a story to tell have amazing skills they have cultivated instead of writing, so it makes sense that they would enlist some professional help when the time came to write a book.

Have you ever read bad writing?  I have.  It’s like scraping fingernails on a chalkboard. You are bound to come up against it at work or school – the painfulness of these experiences are proof enough that you do not want to make your reader suffer.

Now I’m going to toot my own horn a bit for the purposes of this illustration:  I know how to write.  A bunch of MCPS Teachers and Professors at Georgetown (COL ’02) made sure of this and I hope that whatever I produce will be a credit to them in terms of the quality of writing.  My writing “voice” is what it sounds like if we were speaking face to face, at least that’s what I’m going for – this, plus occasional brain lapses that may or may not be related to the injury are my excuses for my grammatical errors and colloquialisms.  I told you I’d learn the grammar on Youtube on Monday before teaching it at ESL on Tuesday.  Overall, though, it’s a blessing that I can just talk/write and words come out because my impairments do not allow for a whole lot of revision.  Or any revision, really – so I’ve been told that the chapters of my “Memoirs” are kind of like blog posts.  I figure I’m okay with that since people have short attention spans and I can’t really weave together a cool structure at this point.  It is what it is.  And there’s also the problem of me being asleep for the first few chapters, so they’re necessarily short.  I have, however, addressed this issue by adding in some real-time updates written by Tanpo and Boo Boo (my sister, Ai Ai).

So there’s no ghostwriter here, and (I hope) no bad writing.  You’re getting this from the horse’s mouth.  (Not Ed, but me…it’s just an expression.)  There is no middleman – the thoughts are 100% raw from me to you.

2)  Palatability

By “palatability” I mean to what extent does a book appeal to general tastes.  The inspirational genre I’ve parked myself in often smiles on uplifting stories that make you feel good by illustrating the triumph of the human spirit.

I’m conflicted over this one.  In a way, Learning How… is extremely unpalatable – I mean how instead of sending me to the mission field God put me in a wheelchair.  (I usually do not verbalize this part of my medical history to providers since it’s rather a downer.)   But on the upside, being unpalatable puts Learning How… in a quadrant with few if any competitors.  This goes back to the “badness” concept.  In a certain way, I’m depending on people’s instinctive desire to rubberneck to drum up some interest.  So yeah – it looked really bad to me.  Before I woke up I mouthed the word “Why” a lot and for a few days I was thrashing about in my bed, clearly extremely agitated and kicking my legs since that was the only thing I could do.

That’s when Timmy told Ai Ai he thought she should go out to OR to be with me and support our parents, and she flew to PDX, expecting me to still be closed-eyed and upset.  But she was in for a SURPRISE!  Because I woke up the day before her arrival and when she walked in to my room at Vibra (2nd hospital) I was in the middle of PT and was able to give her a hug.  I was so loopy I thought I was dreaming so I just talked (very softly and laboriously) and laughed with her – business as usual!

So the part where I surprise my sister and we laugh like hyenas for 3 straight days is actually very palatable, but she had been steeling herself to be an emotional bolster for our family in a very unpalatable situation.

Upon reflection, my whole refusal to believe what happened is kind of sad (and unpalatable).  People told Mommy that they were deeply touched when Daddy wrote that email saying I had asked Mommy in the garden if we were dealing in reality and not a dream, and she told me it was for real.  In hindsight it is a little heartbreaking.  I honestly didn’t know and asked Mommy to tell me the truth.  I only half believed her, though – I decided later that if we were all in my dream of course she’d say this was reality.

So why read Learning How…?  Not to torture yourself because it’s like a wreck you can’t look away from.  Yes, this is one of those cases in which truth is stranger than fiction – but this really happened (wanna see Tanpo’s video montages?) and I’m just recording the events that unfolded.  So you’re in for the voyeurism/entertainment value occasioned by the severity of my illness and my refusal to believe what happened once I woke up and entered the Rehabilitation Process (and might have given a lot of people a (mildly) hard time).  Let me say again, this is not a feel-good story about the triumph of the human spirit.  It’s about how God took away my old life, eliminated the possibility of giving me the life I wanted, and how He gave me a heart transplant so I can look to the future with hope, not because of some promise of future good He communicated to me supernaturally before I woke up, but based on all of the publicly-available information I knew about in my old life and that was motivating me to go to Africa.

Pfewf – that was a long sentence, but I had to get that off my chest.  A few paragraphs ago I said I was “conflicted” over the attribute of “palatability.”  I’ve tried to explain above that Learning How… is, in a way, extremely unpalatable in that if you just look at what happened before Decision Day (when God answered all my questions on July 24, 2011), you’d have the script for a movie about why NOT to trust Him.  But if you follow the story a little longer you’ll understand why I think He was saying I did not forget you.  I did this on purpose.  You can trust Me. 

Still, the story is kind of…extreme.  I mean, if people read inspirational fare they want to feel good so they have more energy to face daily life– how will they relate to such a downer and such a statistically unlikely event? I’ll go into this more in a later post re. “Who are your customers?” but let me tell you why I’m taking this very unpalatable experience and saying it’s relatable: All the skills that help me cope in RecoveryLand I used daily to cope with school, work etc. in my old life.  There is no new knowledge here, nor was any “special” knowledge communicated to me in the Valley of the Shadow.  More to come!!

PS.  If you’re wondering when Learning How… will be publicly available, I’m aiming for Thanksgiving…(but that’s what I said last year, too)…I move kind of slowly now, but I’m trying, I really am.  xoxo

Part 1:  What is your elevator pitch?

Launching a Business : (1) Elevator Pitch |  Ann Ning Learning How

(200.) Food For Thought : When Launching a Business (Series Part 1)

Launching a Business : (1) Elevator Pitch |  Ann Ning Learning How

A friend of mine is coming over today to talk with me about the numbers for his business. I emailed him saying something like, Talking with me is a very low risk scenario. If anything it will give you greater confidence (and a little shove) to go talk to a real professional.

Technically, I’m a professional. Or at least I used to be. I was an English major as an undergraduate and then I got an MBA and became a financial analyst. It was a huge relief to have some sort of profession to hang my hat on. Don’t get me wrong – I loved being an English major, and the ability to write serves you well in every context and differentiates you from your peers (that’s right, stay in school, kids!) – it’s just that people knew what I meant immediately when I told them “I’m a financial analyst.” Sure, it wasn’t the most glamorous of employments, but it was a pretty sweet gig for me – I dreamed of such mundane things as a product launch and going to the cafeteria with my workmates when in the ICU. Of course I’m now a professional Supple Leopard/Stunt Artist/Rehab Junkie, so I view my former career in a rosy haze of wistfulness.

It is nice, though, to be able to be a “safe” person for people to bounce ideas off of. When I emailed my friend to ask him to come have tea with me and bring his books I reminded him that I have a huge brain injury/disability thing going on (this was to keep expectations low). As I considered what we’d talk about today I figured I’d write some questions down for more public consumption. Only one future post centers on financial issues – the rest of the questions are more general.

These are questions you should think about before venturing out on your own. Please understand, though, that anything I write is only a starting point for your thorough and well-rounded research. My impairments prevent me from rifling through my books and files, some of them are in storage, and I have about 10 more minutes before I need to stop typing so I haven’t done the Internet research you should do. These things are just on the top of my mind – and if you can’t answer these questions, please do not think you will just get by with an AMAZING idea.

There are probably success stories out there about people who have great ideas but zero business sense and manage to become millionaires anyway. Do not depend on this kind of story for your future success. If it happens to you, great – but it would be much wiser to approach your livelihood (and your family’s welfare, if applicable) armed with a cogent strategy and some snappy looking spreadsheets. Also, PowerPoint Slides – those never hurt. Seriously, though, pictograms and infographics are appealing to many people (Pinterest, anyone?) Summarizing your idea on a ppt slide is a good discipline – plus it will help you explain your venture to other people. PS. People have short attention spans and pictures are good.

So this is going to be a series – probably about a month long, if I post this sort of thing once a week.

Question 1: What is my product/service (30 second elevator pitch)?

Make sure you can define your product/service and “pitch” it within the time it would take for you to share an elevator ride with a VIP who happened to step into the lift with you. Say what sets your idea apart and be comfortable enough with it so that you can think on your feet and tailor it to different audiences.

In appreciation of how my friend was gutsy/vulnerable and shared his business details with me I’ll give you an example – Me. Myself. And I.

This might not be the perfect example, but it’s what I’ve got to work with. “Learning How…” is not a business – it’s my life. Many things I learned to do in school are only partially applicable because I cannot influence events in RecoveryLand to be more interesting or compelling – they just happen, and never on my schedule.

But they do happen at the right time, i.e. on God’s schedule, which has resulted in a story I’d find quite interesting and compelling if it weren’t my life – since it is my life I have a less removed take on the situation and summarize it as harrowing and hysterical. At least that’s how I describe it in my “Memoirs” – and since a book is a product I’ll use that as my specific example.

Learning How is the true story of how I had an AVM rupture and massive stroke at age 30 after deciding to forgo the American Dream and move to Africa as a missionary. Instead of sending me to the mission field, though, God put me in a wheelchair. When I woke up I didn’t believe what had happened to me since it sounded so outlandish and just plain bad. But then God gave me peace about this situation and this book is about how I learned to walk (literally and figuratively) and to wait for more healing.

165.  How to Get a Heart Tranplant

165. How to Get a Heart Tranplant

I could say a lot more, but this is supposed to be an elevator pitch, so I won’t. And I’m so close to this story I often forget salient details, so if you have any suggestions for my pitch, let me know. Basically, what sets me apart in this pitch is the badness of what happened. It is my fond hope that this “badness” will catch people’s attention so they stick around for the miraculous 2nd half of the story –the part where God saves me from a lifetime of anger and bitterness and plants hope where despair used to grow. There are other/critical factors that set my story apart from the near death/inspirational narrative genre on the market, but I’ll save that topic for next week. See you then!

PS. My new prayer requests are here. New things include “Vocal Cord Intervention” and “Health Insurance” decisions. I’m also officially on Summer Vacay now!! Thank you for praying ❤

P.P.S. If you’re new here I revamped the “Favorites” page for your benefit. Start here.

Where I learned what an elevator pitch is:

228. Food For Thought: When Launching a Business – 4. Customers

Food For Thought: When Launching a Business 4/4 Customers | Ann Ning Learning How

You thought I had forgotten about this series, didn’t you? Well, I didn’t. Actually, I wrote last week’s post, “Classic,” in preparation for today. I wanted to put a little context around the idea of friendship and how I operate in the “normal” world now that I have to actually concentrate on regaining ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living). I also corresponded with the Marketing Ninja, Professor Homa – the one who taught us to “Skate where the puck is going,” – and asked if I could reference him and his material in this post. He very graciously consented. Remember, if you can’t BE the ninja, KNOW the ninja.

As I rummaged around homafiles.com, though, I remembered just how limited I am in that I am unable to do all the things I would have liked to have done, and am also constricted in that I cannot influence the trajectory of my recovery to make it more marketable. I’ve said it before – this isn’t a product, it’s my life. And of course I’m doing everything I can to set the stage for a rock star recovery, but my body doesn’t always cooperate, regression happens, and it’s a pretty accepted fact that the most astounding gains happen the first year after the injury. After that…it’s. kind. of. boring.

Well, it can be kind of exciting, too, but that’s because I make the conscious decision to celebrate the small stuff – which brings me to the “customer” discussion. “Customers” are the people who will actually buy your product or service. Usually you do not want to be all things to all people because you want to be able to target your marketing – you have a limited amount you can spend on marketing, and it will be more effective this way. You want to be able to take a larger portion of a segment of the pie rather than get a few crumbs from the whole pie. So you have to decide how to segment the pie (market). There are lots of methods of segmentation, e.g. physical factors like age and psychological factors like comfort level with technology. The point is that you want to 1) be able to verbalize WHO your target market is – they should have distinct characteristics from other people and a certain kind of buying behavior you can put your finger on. 2) know if your target is winnable – do you know how to reach this target market and influence the people who will be making the actual purchase decision? You want to be able to pick a target you will actually have access to via your well-crafted marketing efforts.

This is why I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this one – I’m busy celebrating the small stuff, and I’m grateful for the people who are willing to celebrate along with me – everyone’s welcome, so I’ve kind of thrown out the idea of market segmentation. (Gasp! Did I just say that out loud? )

It comes down to what my goal is: when I was first thinking about Learning How… my brother helped me sift this matter through, and JPAS also helped ask probing questions. It took me a while to decide this but my goal is NOT to make money for myself or for a good cause – my goal is to tell as many people as possible how I found grace in the valley. I will not segment the market since the miracle of joy I’ve found is relevant to everyone and I have been delighted in the past to see how it cuts across all types of social/economic/age backgrounds etc.

I’ve continued to see how people from all walks of life want to know how to find grace in the valley – maybe it’s different here in the South (we’re not even THAT South, and the Washington, D.C. area is already considered “South” but it’s different there), but all sorts of people talk to me in public here. Yes, I have been approached in public in the DC metro area, but it happens more often here, and people say more. It’s amazing – I have enjoyed meeting people all over town, when I’m exercising, grocery shopping, lunching with my sisters – everywhere! I think people see the thing in my neck and they observe my gait as I walk down the aisle in a store or maneuver myself behind a table in a restaurant, and something resonates with them. They think of their daughters, or a young friend who had a bad injury, and it makes them want to say something. You’d be surprised to learn how many people are hurting or have loved ones who are hurting – I know I am. You never know the stories people are carrying around with them.

So since my goal is not to dominate a market (segment) the marketing roadmap for success doesn’t really apply here. Yes, I have thought about the concepts I’ve espoused in Parts 1-3 of this series (see below for links), and I think the self-illustration is hysterically funny. But I’m realizing that it might not be as funny as I think it is since people will often get kind of doe-eyed and sympathetic when I’m telling them a story that’s supposed to make them laugh. I’m like, C’mon, people toughen up!! Just kidding. I’m not really that mean – it’s just that I’ve had more time to get used to This Disabled Life, and if I don’t laugh at it, what am I going to laugh at? So please, I give you full permission – laugh with me.

Plus I’m limited physically, so I went with the easiest self-publishing option I found online – Amazon’s Createspace. So eventually, my books will be available on Amazon – which I thought was great since so many people rely on Amazon – it’s a great distribution channel. Plus, they take care of all the inventory – I never have to touch a book – technology has advanced to the point where this is a print-on-demand model – someone orders a book, they print it, and send it. Yay for me! The only drawback I’m realizing now is that my ability to fiddle with pricing (e.g. bundling, volume tiers) is limited. :/. So I’ll apologize in advance for that. But the advantages of me never having to touch a book and being available on Amazon outweigh the other stuff, and since my entire reason for writing rests on the notion that this isn’t “my story” the weight of responsibility isn’t on my shoulders so it’s easier to “let it ride“.

One last thing – yes, I had an AVM Rupture and a massive stroke, yes, I am a full-time Recovery Enthusiast now, but Recovery isn’t the only thing I write about. I write about all of my attempts to get back to “normal” life, hence all the recipes and crafts – naturally, all my efforts at functioning in the home occur with Recovery Land as the backdrop, but I’m hoping that the breadth of my interests might match some of yours, and the extreme circumstances I’ve been given feel more relatable as you witness my efforts at cooking etc. That’s what I mean about celebrating the small things – Who’s excited about coconut flour banana bread? Apparently, a lot of you are – I get several search engine referrals for this post daily.

Coconut Flour Banana Bread [Grain Free, No Sugar Added] || Ann Ning Learning How

But there are also people searching for “how to learn to walk again.” If that’s you – you’ve come to the right place. And while you’re reading about my ambulatory efforts please stick around since I don’t just write about how I’m learning to walk, I write about how I’m learning to live.

10 Tips for Learning How to Walk Again || Ann Ning Learning How

P.S. I picked the title picture because it is SO typical and makes me laugh and laugh. Remember, sharing is caring! There are sharing buttons at the bottom of every post

P.P.S. Special thanks to Professor K. E. Homa – I have drawn heavily on my recollection of 3 Business School courses with him, but of course anything I have mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg. If you want the real deal go to homafiles.com. On the right bar there’s a link to the “homafiles information site” – click on that. The original link might take you to the blog. I’ve especially found the following interesting: homafiles information site ==> Point and click Maps ==> click on “People” ==>scroll to the bottom and click on Marketing 6P’s ASQs. (ASQ = Analysis Starter Question.) (You thought there were 4P’s, didn’t you? Think again!)

Food For Thought When Launching a Business Series | Ann Ning Learning How

1) What is your Elevator Pitch?

2) Who are your competitors and why is your offering superior?

3) How are you going to approach finances?

4) Who are your customers and how are you going to reach them?

209. Food for Thought: When Launching a Business (Series Part 3) – Finances

Food For Thought (3) When Launching a Business - Finances | Ann Ning Learning How

Many people are artists, inventors, designers, visionaries and want to leave “bean-counting” to someone else with a fancy looking calculator and a pocket protector.  Incidentally, I endured much good-natured ribbing since I used to carry around my old high-school graphing calculator. My colleagues joked that it had nuclear code capability. I was attached to it, though, since I was used to the buttons and knew where they were without looking.  My other favorite device in B-school was my handy number pad (the USB kind you plug into your laptop).  I got made fun of for using that, too, but I stick by my assertion that it makes number entry SO much faster.

If you fall into the category of person who would be amused by my calculator and number pad the important thing for you to do in answering Question 3 (“How do I approach finances?”) is to start approaching finances somehow.  I’m not going to be picky here – just buckle down and start thinking about it.  Don’t be scared.  You HAVE to do this in order to sustain the creative activity you are made for, so just start and you’ll feel so much better – when you have addressed finances you’ll feel free to attend to your core business.

So these thoughts are just starting points to help you not feel overwhelmed if you’ve decided to get a grip on your business’s finances and are not sure where to start.  Let me break this into two goals:

  • Goal 1 (past-oriented records):  Keep your books clean so your accountant can work with them easily (I can’t help you here bc I always confuse debits and credits – accounting is not my forte).  Communicate with your accountant so you know what (s)he needs.  If you do not have a good accountant, make it a priority to get one – you need to be square with the government. Note:  If you cannot BE the ninja, KNOW the ninja.
  • Goal 2 (future-looking projections):  Get a good idea of your revenue and expenses so you know if you’re going to make money in the future or not, and what you have to do to turn a profit.
    • Expense Categories:  Decide on categories that encompass all of your expenses. This will allow you to track them accurately as you sort every dollar that goes out the door into piles, and then size the piles so you know how much it costs to keep your venture running.  Examples:  Travel & Entertainment, Continuing Education/Licensing, Materials, Office Space Rental, Office Supplies, etc.
    • Revenue Unit:  What is a good “unit” to work with?  Depending on the business it could be a burrito, a book, or the hourly rate for an evening of babysitting.
    • What are the costs attached to each unit?  What is your pricing scheme?  Per room, a % of costs, etc.?

 A note on Pricing:  Do your homework and know what the market value of your product/service.  What are your competitors charging?  If you charge above this you should be able to clearly point to the extra value your business provides – the surcharge is simply the monetization of that extra value.  If you are charging below market value you must make sure that a) this price cut is NOT perceived by your customers as a discount for a product or service of inferior quality, and b) you can make up the deficit by the increased volume of sales you’ll see because of your low price strategy.

The goal is not to break even – it’s to turn a profit.  But it might take a while for this to happen, and it would be good theoretically to know how many sales you must make to break even since it’s a good mental milestone.  You just want to make sure you’re not throwing money at a losing proposition for X years while your family goes hungry because you’re busy pursuing your dream but have counted the cost ineptly.  If your dependents are extremely supportive of your dream and are okay with making some sacrifices in order to see it become a reality, that’s wonderful – but you still want to have some sort of idea of how long they are going to have to tighten their belts so you can make an informed decision regarding whether or not to take the plunge.

49. Did she really just say that?

It’s time for me to self-illustrate, but I can’t this time because 100% of the profits from Learning How… (in any format or language) will go to a good cause.  I am not sure of the language to use – I mean to say that they will go to a government-recognized organization that is non-profit or not-for-profit.  The funds will not be going to the Charity of Me.  Although I’ve heard of many people who, when faced with unexpected illness, accept donations for their medical/living expenses – and this is a good thing since if you can’t work bc you’re injured/sick, where are you and your family supposed to get money from?  If I were in this kind of situation I’d tell you.  But I have been blessed to be in a situation that does not necessitate fundraising (at present). Instead, I’ll offer you a product (my “Memoirs”) in return for a price – it’s your decision whether or not to purchase.  As I’ve said before, there’s actually very little overlap between this blog and my “Memoirs” – I know, you’re like, Seriously?  What else could she possibly have to say?  Answer:  Many, many things.

To be clear, Ed Goes to D.C. and anything else I come up with are not part of my “Memoirs”  (right now I’ve got Volume 1 written, and am waiting for more stuff to happen so I can write Volume 2). All revenue will be categorized and recognized appropriately – don’t worry, Tanpo is going to help me.  One more thing – I mentioned different formats/languages in the paragraph above.  I have enlisted some multilingual friends who will graciously translate Learning How… into Mandarin and Spanish.  I also researched options for a low-tech audio book and figured it would be a good use for my voice if I did it myself, plus I’d love to offer an accessible option like this…but given my upcoming vocal cord intervention I’m having second thoughts.

Don’t you love how I’m referring to it as “intervention” and not “surgery”?  Aaah – the soothing use of euphemisms helps me face the reality that I’m going back to the hospital without really facing it.  But this is exactly what I’m telling you NOT to do – don’t practice avoidance like I do – just jump into the financial pool.  The shock of the water might take an adjustment but you’ll feel more comfortable once you just climb in.  Don’t just get your toes wet, either – do a cannonball.  Better you than me.  🙂

 

 

 

204. Food For Thought: When Launching a Business [Series part 2]

Launching a Business : (2) Competition & Positioning |  Ann Ning Learning How

Before you enter the field you want to know who’s already there and if your product/service is good enough to hold its own.  Do your homework!  The internet makes it easy to get a good start – Google, Amazon, etc. will give you an overview.  You should also go to some sites that people interested in your field congregate at and see what they’re talking about – e.g. is there a cool new product Moms are talking about on a popular Mommy blog?  Are tufted fabric headboards popular now, or do people like wooden ones?  How do men carry things when they travel without carrying a purse?  If the messenger bag is a popular solution, what kinds of options are already in the market?

If your offering is a product you could also go to the store and just look at what’s already on the shelves at local big box retailers.  Would yours be a compelling option to a consumer pushing a cart down that aisle?  (We’re suspending reality a moment and pretending you’re so amazingly fortunate as to have your product in a hard-to-break into distribution channel; seriously, though – if you can’t imagine your product being a fantastic option on that shelf you’ll have nothing to say to the stores’ merchandise buyers, so definitely ask yourself this question.

If your offering is a service make sure you know who your competitors are and why you can do the job better than they can.  There could be some debate on this point, but you probably don’t want to alienate your competitors by saying things like, “You are awful at what you do,” or telling prospective customers that everyone else is amazingly incompetent because it’s possible you could need their help in the future, or a collaboration might be in order on a project one day.  So play nice, but position yourself well so you can play hard.    You’re playing for keeps here – this is your livelihood we’re talking about, and you could have a family of people depending on you.

An easy way to visualize the playing field and your position on it is to draw a picture.  I think a concept exists for illustrating several attributes at once (a “spider chart”), but this is too intricate for me to dive into now.  For ease of use and clarity of thought, let’s look at a simple attribute chart.  Pick 2 attributes that are important and draw an x-y axis with negative space so you have quadrants.

To illustrate – let me refresh your memory on Parking 101.  This is not strictly an attribute map of a “playing field,” but I just want to show you what I mean by “negative space” and “quadrants” – sorry, I don’t know how to describe it.

Parking 101 | Ann Ning Learning How

Now put points on your attribute map representing the key players on the field and add one for yourself.  Are you alone?  Are people nearby?   Be able to explain why the attributes you’ve chosen are important, why it’s a good thing that you’re positioned where you are and why the proximity of your competitors is near or far.

Now it’s time for me to self-illustrate with Learning How...  I’m not going to use the names of any other books because I don’t want to pick on anyone and my visual issues have prevented me from doing the thorough reading/research you should do if you’re able – I’ve just skimmed the back of the books and tried to gather the information I could.  So here are my attributes:

I’m defining the field as the near-death/inspirational narrative book genre, and the two attributes I’m dealing with today are:

Attribute Map

1)  Readability:  Quality of the text is important because Learning How… is a book – people will experience it through reading.  There is a lot of good writing out there and a lot of bad writing.  Few people who have a real-life story they want to tell are equipped to write it themselves – many people often use a ghostwriter to help them tell their story since this action will result in a better quality product.  Good move, I think – it is a better decision to work with a professional who has a demonstrable command of the English language than to go it on your own and make your reader suffer through ill-thought out text.  Many people with a story to tell have amazing skills they have cultivated instead of writing, so it makes sense that they would enlist some professional help when the time came to write a book.

Have you ever read bad writing?  I have.  It’s like scraping fingernails on a chalkboard. You are bound to come up against it at work or school – the painfulness of these experiences are proof enough that you do not want to make your reader suffer.

Now I’m going to toot my own horn a bit for the purposes of this illustration:  I know how to write.  A bunch of MCPS Teachers and Professors at Georgetown (COL ’02) made sure of this and I hope that whatever I produce will be a credit to them in terms of the quality of writing.  My writing “voice” is what it sounds like if we were speaking face to face, at least that’s what I’m going for – this, plus occasional brain lapses that may or may not be related to the injury are my excuses for my grammatical errors and colloquialisms.  I told you I’d learn the grammar on Youtube on Monday before teaching it at ESL on Tuesday.  Overall, though, it’s a blessing that I can just talk/write and words come out because my impairments do not allow for a whole lot of revision.  Or any revision, really – so I’ve been told that the chapters of my “Memoirs” are kind of like blog posts.  I figure I’m okay with that since people have short attention spans and I can’t really weave together a cool structure at this point.  It is what it is.  And there’s also the problem of me being asleep for the first few chapters, so they’re necessarily short.  I have, however, addressed this issue by adding in some real-time updates written by Tanpo and Boo Boo (my sister, Ai Ai).

So there’s no ghostwriter here, and (I hope) no bad writing.  You’re getting this from the horse’s mouth.  (Not Ed, but me…it’s just an expression.)  There is no middleman – the thoughts are 100% raw from me to you.

2)  Palatability

By “palatability” I mean to what extent does a book appeal to general tastes.  The inspirational genre I’ve parked myself in often smiles on uplifting stories that make you feel good by illustrating the triumph of the human spirit.

I’m conflicted over this one.  In a way, Learning How… is extremely unpalatable – I mean how instead of sending me to the mission field God put me in a wheelchair.  (I usually do not verbalize this part of my medical history to providers since it’s rather a downer.)   But on the upside, being unpalatable puts Learning How… in a quadrant with few if any competitors.  This goes back to the “badness” concept.  In a certain way, I’m depending on people’s instinctive desire to rubberneck to drum up some interest.  So yeah – it looked really bad to me.  Before I woke up I mouthed the word “Why” a lot and for a few days I was thrashing about in my bed, clearly extremely agitated and kicking my legs since that was the only thing I could do.

That’s when Timmy told Ai Ai he thought she should go out to OR to be with me and support our parents, and she flew to PDX, expecting me to still be closed-eyed and upset.  But she was in for a SURPRISE!  Because I woke up the day before her arrival and when she walked in to my room at Vibra (2nd hospital) I was in the middle of PT and was able to give her a hug.  I was so loopy I thought I was dreaming so I just talked (very softly and laboriously) and laughed with her – business as usual!

So the part where I surprise my sister and we laugh like hyenas for 3 straight days is actually very palatable, but she had been steeling herself to be an emotional bolster for our family in a very unpalatable situation.

Upon reflection, my whole refusal to believe what happened is kind of sad (and unpalatable).  People told Mommy that they were deeply touched when Daddy wrote that email saying I had asked Mommy in the garden if we were dealing in reality and not a dream, and she told me it was for real.  In hindsight it is a little heartbreaking.  I honestly didn’t know and asked Mommy to tell me the truth.  I only half believed her, though – I decided later that if we were all in my dream of course she’d say this was reality.

So why read Learning How…?  Not to torture yourself because it’s like a wreck you can’t look away from.  Yes, this is one of those cases in which truth is stranger than fiction – but this really happened (wanna see Tanpo’s video montages?) and I’m just recording the events that unfolded.  So you’re in for the voyeurism/entertainment value occasioned by the severity of my illness and my refusal to believe what happened once I woke up and entered the Rehabilitation Process (and might have given a lot of people a (mildly) hard time).  Let me say again, this is not a feel-good story about the triumph of the human spirit.  It’s about how God took away my old life, eliminated the possibility of giving me the life I wanted, and how He gave me a heart transplant so I can look to the future with hope, not because of some promise of future good He communicated to me supernaturally before I woke up, but based on all of the publicly-available information I knew about in my old life and that was motivating me to go to Africa.

Pfewf – that was a long sentence, but I had to get that off my chest.  A few paragraphs ago I said I was “conflicted” over the attribute of “palatability.”  I’ve tried to explain above that Learning How… is, in a way, extremely unpalatable in that if you just look at what happened before Decision Day (when God answered all my questions on July 24, 2011), you’d have the script for a movie about why NOT to trust Him.  But if you follow the story a little longer you’ll understand why I think He was saying I did not forget you.  I did this on purpose.  You can trust Me. 

Still, the story is kind of…extreme.  I mean, if people read inspirational fare they want to feel good so they have more energy to face daily life– how will they relate to such a downer and such a statistically unlikely event? I’ll go into this more in a later post re. “Who are your customers?” but let me tell you why I’m taking this very unpalatable experience and saying it’s relatable: All the skills that help me cope in RecoveryLand I used daily to cope with school, work etc. in my old life.  There is no new knowledge here, nor was any “special” knowledge communicated to me in the Valley of the Shadow.  More to come!!

PS.  If you’re wondering when Learning How… will be publicly available, I’m aiming for Thanksgiving…(but that’s what I said last year, too)…I move kind of slowly now, but I’m trying, I really am.  xoxo

Part 1:  What is your elevator pitch?

Launching a Business : (1) Elevator Pitch |  Ann Ning Learning How