Can You See the Difference?

30 03 2010

Two PursesSomewhat stunned by the price of Sarah Davis’s purse ($600), I proudly showed her my new shiny, bright red purse that I got on special at J C Penney for only $40. It will be a long time before I forget her statement, “Yours cost you $40; mine will make me $600.” Her purse retails for $3800; she bought it for $600 and will be able to sell it for $1200.

Sarah started in 1999 as a way to pay off her law school loans. Fashionphile is now the largest pre-owned luxury handbag business in the country. 

So what does the price of purses have to do with a small business startup?

When starting your new business, you may make the mistake of not carefully considering where to spend your time and money. Rather than investing in opportunities that will earn you money, you throw away money on expenses that are not generating profit.

For example, should you buy or lease a building and equipment? Can you start small and gradually grow big?

Costume Craze operated out of their home for several years until the volume of their sales dictated moving to a 60,000 sq. ft. warehouse. During that 7-year period, their sales grew from $17,000 to $10M.

Other small businesses borrow time on expensive equipment until the volume of their orders will allow them to purchase the equipment for themselves.

Rather than hiring administrative support – paying a salary, benefits, and purchasing a desk, chair, and computer equipment – you may want to consider contracting with a Virtual Assistant for the number of hours you currently need.

The first few years could be lean ones, but hold off paying yourself and re-invest that money back into your business.

What are some of the areas where you have invested rather than spent while growing your business?

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College


Your Spouse Does What?

24 03 2010

Click below if you would rather listen to this article.

If you are like many small business owners, you try not to miss an opportunity to network with others. Did you know that some of your best referrals could come from your spouse, directly or indirectly sharing your business information with others? But if you are like Jennifer Harmon, you may need to train your spouse on what to say.

Darrell Harmon, of People Smarts, often uses examples from home in his business training sessions to explain how crucial conversations and crucial confrontations can be handled. Darrell used to say, “My wife does Pampered Chef.” Well yes, that is Jennifer’s business, and she has been a successful consultant for the past 13 years.

But here are the phrases Jennifer asked her husband to use to create an interest in her business:

“My wife goes into homes and teaches cooking skills.”
“My wife teaches women meal planning and cooking tips.”
“My wife shares with other women how to bring the family back around the table.”

The results – increased sales!

Have you been overlooking the opportunity to have your spouse or other family members network for you?

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College

Two Alternatives to the To-Do List

22 03 2010

Okay, so I’m one of those people who love to create To-Do Lists. It helps soothe me when I’m feeling overwhelmed and only think I have a million projects to complete. I love checking off when I’ve finished a task – I’ve experimented with different colored pens and debated as to whether to place a check mark in front or cross through the item.

For those of you who are looking for an alternative to the dreaded To-Do List, here are two great ideas:

The authors of Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship & Creativity as a Lifestyle recommend creating a “Loose List.” A Loose List is a series of ideas or actions that can get you moving in the direction of your goals. The ideas are not set in stone, have no specific time frame, and are not listed in any particular order. It’s meant to inspire you. So rather than: “Draft marketing section of business plan,” try “Wear the dress I designed to a party and see what everyone says.”

Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles: How to Get Where You Want to Be describes how to create a “Stop Doing List.” Make the things on your list “policies.” People will respect you more for being clear about what you won’t do.

Some of his “don’t do” policies on a personal level are:

  • We don’t schedule outside social events on Friday night. That is our family night.
  • I don’t discuss contributions over the phone. Send me something in writing.

On a business level some of his “don’t do” policies are:

  • I don’t schedule more than five talks in one month.
  • I don’t do individual counseling or coaching. There is greater leverage in working with a group.

Hmm…That gives me some ideas for two other lists I can keep: “Bev’s Loose List” and “Bev’s Stop Doing List.” One of the first items on my Stop Doing List will be to stop volunteering so often – learn to say “no.” How about you?

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College

Like Butter Scrapped Over Too Much Bread

15 03 2010

Steven Huff and I were discussing again recently other thoughts we had about Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. Steven indicated that to become an expert in his field, he should focus his research and energies in areas where he had already developed key contacts and expertise through his previous studies.

Getting sidetracked into areas where he would need a lot more “ramp up” time would be similar to one of his favorite lines from the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, “I feel thin… sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Entrepreneurs recognize that that stretched feeling comes from trying to appeal to every client rather than selecting a niche. With a targeted niche, you keep your focus and provide a specialized service that your clients want and need.  With a specialized service, you develop key skills that brand you as an expert.

So how do you obtain those expert skills? Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Those 10,000 hours of concentrated work and focus will help you achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert. 

What particular skills have you already developed some expertise in?

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College

Are You an Outlier?

11 03 2010

Virtual AssistantI was commenting to a fellow faculty member Steven Huff that I had read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell but was still struggling to figure out what my takeaway would be. At the end of the book, I was still thinking, “And???”

Steven had more carefully thought about the concept of being an outlier – men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary – and suggested that we needed to recognize that each of us has been exposed to circumstances that others were not. Those circumstances put us in a position to be able to see an opportunity and act on it.

Gladwell suggests that it is not that successful people like Bill Gates are better than the rest of us, but that they took advantage of the circumstances they were placed in. Their family, culture, and friendships each played a role in their success.

So I’ve been pondering Steven’s insights and recognize that through timing, connecting with key people, and other events, seven years ago I was able to launch the Red Deer College online Virtual Assistant Certificate, the first government accredited VA training program in Canada. Could someone else have done this?  Certainly – I just happened to be “at the right place, at the right time.” And I recognized, researched, and followed through on an opportunity.

There are millions of ideas out there that you could pursue, but not all of them will lead to a successful business opportunity. But then again, perhaps your circumstances place you in the ideal spot.

Do you have the potential to be an outlier?

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College

Simple Joys

8 03 2010

Several years ago I came across a chapter in a book that suggested writing a list of all the things that bring you joy. I quickly realized that creating a list of my simple joys is worth it.  So often in the” busyness” of starting your new business, it is difficult to carve out big or even small chunks of time just for you.

A simple joys list gives you a resource for unexpected empty moments; it gives you satisfaction and joy in hard times; it gives you a finer sense of who you are and what happiness is right at your fingertips. 

The criteria for simple joys include: 

  1. It has to be something you love to do. 
  2. It should not cost money—or very, very little. 
  3. It has to be something you can do within the area where you live or in your own home. 
  4. It can be accomplished within an hour or two. 
  5.  It is something that you can do alone (this one is optional). 

I love to read, so three of the simply joys on my list include sitting on the couch with a book, having a long bubble bath with a book, and sitting on my deck on an early summer morning with a book.

Can you come up with a list of 20 ideas for your simple joys list? Some ideas could be:  taking an early-morning walk, singing in the shower, rocking a child, a shiny clean floor, skipping pebbles in the water, and eating a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven.

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College

1-2-3 Close

1 03 2010

HandshakeWe were discussing sales closing techniques in a Basic Entrepreneur Skills class recently and were looking at the comprehensive list at

The first technique listed, 1-2-3 Close, caught my attention.

Just by listing three words/phrases that describe your product/service, or the benefits, or the perks customers will receive, you fulfill a psychological need within your customers. The 1-2-3 Close leads customers to be persuaded because the pattern resonates within them.

Example: The top three benefits to becoming a Virtual Assistant are: you choose when you work, how much you work, and who you want to work with.

Example: With the purchase of a Blendex, you will receive a life-time warranty, a free cook book, and your choice from four color options.

Your customers’ needs are fulfilled further by paying attention to cost, quality, and time – the classic business measurements.

Example: Our product is more affordable, more reliable, and faster than other similar products on the market.

If you are like me, every advertisement you look at from now on will have you checking for the 1-2-3 Close. I found it in Netfirms promotion: “Introducing Netfirms VPS S-Series. Seriously scalable, stable and sophisticated (not to mention slick, smooth and surprising).”

So the next time you are creating marketing material,  writing your elevator speech, or preparing a formal sales presentation use the 1-2-3 Close for a compelling message that will move your customers to action.

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College