Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Women with Wine on Wednesdays

A good friend of mine, and a small business entrepreneur started an inspirational gathering called Women with Wine on Wednesdays. The goal of the WWW network is to bring an amazing group of women together for the sole purpose of inspiring each other.

The evening looks something like this: a casual, but energetic forum for women to share items that have inspired and/or motivated them personally or professionally, all while enjoying their favorite wines.

The inspiration takes many forms; a quote, a fabulous book they have read, a person, experience or a story. I’m sure the stories get more colorful as more wine is poured.

Are you looking for camaraderie and motivation? How about hosting your own WWW event with your circle of friends or neighbors? May I suggest a fine Chianti?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Drumroll Please…

For years I’ve honed my marketing and advertising skills to develop concise and effective creative briefs. Creating a logo for my business was no different than playing Account Manager for one of my clients. I needed to stay focused with singular intent. I needed to ask myself probing questions to get to the heart of what I wanted my logo to convey- emotionally and rationally. I needed to take stock of my company today, and where I want it to be 5 and 10 years in the future. Then I needed to sit back and watch the creative process unfold.

The weeks that followed were exciting and fruitful. Not only was I working with a trusted and talented designer, but for the first time I was taking stock in myself as the “client”. Was I clearly communicating my expectations? Did I respond in the timely manner that I had promised? Was I providing effective feedback? Was I trusting my designer to the design and why I hired him in the first place?

Putting yourself in your client’s shoes is a great exercise to remind you of what you respect about a good working relationship. If you’re in retail, go through the purchase process on your website a few times a year and see what your customers are seeing. Is there anything you would change to make the experience better? If you’re in a service industry, have you ask for feedback from your vendors and clients? Find out if they enjoyed working with you. Did you get the sense that they would work with you again? Ask them if there is anything that you can improve to make the relationship work better for them.

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, Clients, Potential Future Clients,… I am proud to introduce you to the SleeveShirt Consulting logo!

What is old becomes new again.

One of our childhood holiday staples: The Sears Wish Book catalog. I can remember hoarding the book away from my brothers and dog-earing pages so that I could effectively complete my list for Santa. This year Sears, in addition to issuing a printed version of the Wish Book (I didn’t get mine, did you?), issued an interactive version to allow customers to turn virtual pages online.

"For years the Sears Holiday Wish Book has brought Christmas to life for kids of all ages, and made holiday shopping easier and more fun for our customers," said Imran Jooma, senior vice president for Online at Sears Holdings. "While there is still a printed version of the Wish Book, the new interactive version puts a new twist on an old tradition and brings even more value to our customers by allowing them to easily browse and shop online at their convenience."

What took you so long Sears? Novel idea- using the internet to suppor one of your most highly anticipated tactics of the entire year.

In a surprising flip, one of the most respected online retailers of our time, (recently acquired by has mailed 750,000 copies of a printed catalog. Their goal is to re-engage with lapsed online consumers as well as to appeal to those who are more inclined to the paper medium versus a pixilated one.

“Different people respond to different media,” said Aaron Magness, director for brand marketing and business development at in Henderson, Nev. According to Mr. Magness, Zappos is planning a spring catalog for 2010 and perhaps others with themes like “weddings, in June, or housewares, around Thanksgiving.”

Sears is backing away from print, is moving towards it. How long before the two retailers find the balance and maximize marketing bang for their buck? I can’t wait to see…but first, I have to go shopping.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What are you thankful for?

This year I launched SleeveShirt Consulting. Being an entrepreneur is exciting, challenging, and scary at times. As I sit down this Thanksgiving to reflect on my business, I’d like to take time to give some thanks.

• Thank you Norman, my fabulous graphic designer, with whom I would be without the SleeveShirt logo (set to debut soon!).

• Thank you to my colleagues on LinkedIn. Not only is it great for networking, but I’ve joined some fabulous subgroups which post thought provoking and pertinent information applicable to my business.

• Thank you Small Business Association. Who knew on that frustrating day back in 2008 when I printed out the entire contents of your site that I would be putting it to good use.

• Thank you Facebook for putting me back in touch with old friends and entertaining me endlessly.

• I am also thankful for Renee at YogaFlex. You manage to kick my butt every week and make me want to come back for more.

• I’m thankful for some really great reading this year: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld , Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling, The Chic Entrepreneur by Elizabeth Gordon and Leanna Adams, and Birthing the Elephant by Karin Abarbanel.

• Thanks to my daughter Natalie who enjoys preschool as much as mommy enjoys going to work!

• Thanks to my supportive mom who encouraged my small business venture.

• Most importantly, thank you to my husband Kevin who inspires me every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Importance of Junk Mail

Junk mail. We all get it. We’ve also been taught over the years, ways to overcome loads of it in your mailbox.

• Sort immediately

• Pay the bills

• File the necessities

• Chuck the junk

In business however, junk mail is a gold mine. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate and save some fantastic pieces of “junk mail”. Maybe a cool packaging concept caught my eye. Or a great headline that made me have to tear into the envelope. These often helped me in the brainstorming process while developing direct mail campaigns for my clients.

If you are a small business owner, I hope you’ve identified your competitors. If you have, have you been on their website? Signed up for their RSS feeds? Asked to be on their mailing list?

Seeding your name is a great way to keep abreast of new trends and to keep an eye on the competition. Another tip: Sign up with a variation of your name. Ex. EN Schlesier instead of Eileen Nicole Schlesier. As you are sorting your mail you will easily be able to pick out your seeds.

Happy Sorting!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Role of the Emoticon in Business Correspondence

Consider this extra credit for the business etiquette course that you’ve enrolled in with Professor Schlesier.

When writing business correspondence, when is it appropriate to insert an emoticon?


My answer?

: <


Sources describe the emoticon as “a textual expression representing the face of a writer's mood or facial expression.”1 So I ask, what is the role of mood in business email? Does it have one? Surely we have all gotten in trouble with an email or two where “tone” was taken out of context. Upon reflection, didn’t we also realize that if we had just held a conversation instead of firing off that email, that perhaps a miscommunication may have been avoided? :-o

By now you’re thinking that I have no sense of humor and need to get a life. What do I have against the cute smiley face punctuating your email? Well, a lot. Scott E Fahlman, the inventor of the sideways smiley face describes that the emoticon was created for online bulletin boards in the 1980s to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. ;-p

Instead of short and sweet, I believe business correspondence should be short and factual. You have your personal email to be sweet. Tweet sweet nothings in your 140 character space limit until the cows come home. Email your grandma with emoticons after every sentence, besides- she still thinks they are novel. But please, forget those keystrokes when you are at work.


Monday, November 16, 2009

A view from the passenger side window

Asking for help. Not one of my fortes. In the 7th grade I recall spewing a feminist rant to Mr. Jones the teaching assistant. In his lesson he made some asinine implication that boys do things better than girls. I think he was just trying to engage the females who were otherwise bored in the class. In my case, it worked. But, to my detriment?

In my 30s I’m now trying to back off the “I can do everything myself and better than a man” mantra. Although I hate being a passenger, I pass the keys along to my husband on our weekend outings. I’ve also come to realize that although I had hoped to manage the accounting and taxes for my business on my own, that I may need to consult with a CPA and/or tax specialist.

Relinquishing control can be empowering when you realize your skill set is beneath the task at hand. After all, if you spend a few dollars paying an expert to do something really well, doesn’t it give you more time to focus on what’s important?

Enjoy the view from here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Black and White Notebook

There is a part of me that still cringes when I see a black and white notebook. You know, the classic composition notebooks from elementary school?

Back in the day, my manager at a direct marketing firm insisted that all of her underlings use and carry them around wherever we went. I always wondered if I put the notebook down when I went to the bathroom if she would pop out at me when I rounded the corner headed back to my desk. If you were so bold as to take notes on post it notes, you were taken down to the parking lot for 50 lashes (ok, I might be exaggerating here).

Although she was uber-controlling, her reasoning was simple. Pages don’t tear out easily from them which means you have a historical log of all your notes. Imagine her desk with at least 20 lined up an arms reach away in date order. I can tell you that when you fill an entire composition notebook up, there is a crisp sound when you turn a page. If I think about it, I can still hear the furious page turning to Summer 1999 where I had failed to complete an action item. She remembered. The composition notebook wouldn’t let her forget.

As she went about her business, she took copious notes. Whenever there was an actionable item, it received a check mark so it was easily recognizable amongst the sea of blue lines and handwriting scribble. Once an action item was completed the item got a cross hatch through the check. Sometimes an item was so important that it warranted a highlight. But the check mark system was the main barometer for successful completion.

I developed a minor case of carpel tunnel syndrome at this job- (probably had nothing to do with writing furiously in a composition notebook and lugging 4 filled notebooks to London to ensure I had back-up proof for any of our client meetings).

I have to admit, the system taught me a lesson in organization. It also taught me that your mind fails you but your notes don’t. You may remember a situation so clearly in your head, but then flip to your notes and realize that a different arrangement had to been agreed to. Especially in the fast paced environment that we worked in, I felt that my notebook was my own private witness. If it was written in my notebook- it was so! I would have taken it to a court of law.

A hyper-militant checklist fear stayed with me for many years. But embarrassingly, I found myself using a similar system when I went on to other employment. Had I become the new General of the B&W Notebook Battalion? Ugh, I shudder at the thought. (I am currently using a bright orange colored notebook).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Always Ride the Elevator

I’ve written before about what class I’d like to take over again if I could recapture my college days, but now I’d like to muse on what class should be taught before they hand out a business degree.

Business Etiquette 101. A pre-requisite Business Management.

I never fancied myself to be the Emily Post of the business world. But over the years, I’ve witnessed some major gaffes that had serious impacts on morale and business relationships, which in turn, ended up hurting the bottom line.

To follow, my six section course on Business Etiquette. Thank you for enrolling.

1. Always Ride the Elevator. In my most recent corporate job, focus on health was paramount. There was a fitness center on campus and we were encouraged to exercise regularly and eat healthy. Given this scenario, and if you were a manager at said-corporation, would you a) take the stairs daily, or b) ride the elevator? Answer: You should always ride the elevator. We’d like to believe that all managers are leaders, but that’s just not the case. Leaders are born. Managers, well, sometimes they are promoted because they were really good at the job they were doing at the time. A tip for all the managers out there: walk the halls and talk to your employees. It’s not a time waster. It’s a business mandatory. You are the barometer for success. You have the power to instill motivation and confidence. There is nothing worse than being inaccessible. Small talk goes a long way, so please, ride the elevator.

2. Be on Time. No matter what. No excuses. And, especially for meetings that you arranged. Period.

3. A Girls’ Gotta Eat. I steal this line shamelessly from my sister-in-law, who from time-to-time has accepted dinner dates from less than interesting suitors. Sometimes she goes when she knows there is no future. But does anyone really know on first glance? Although it has a greedy slant, doesn’t it make a lot of sense? You never know when “the one” is going to walk through the door- or when the next business partner, influencer or connector is going to walk across your professional path. And by all means, if the person who has invited you to a business meal offers to pay (and if there are no guidelines against this in your contract), let them pay! Not only are you being a gracious guest, but you may end up being able to return the favor when you realize you have a lot more in common with this person than you originally thought.

4. What Not to Wear. I’m a fan of the TLC show of the same name. Style gurus Stacy London and Clinton Kelly convert fashion-challenged folks into fashionistas. Now, I’m not saying you must be a fashionista at work. However, I am saying stretching “business casual” dress code to the limit by wearing an outfit to the office that should be reserved for walking your dog is another thing. Do you think we don't notice? We do. Even if you work from home, it’s important to put yourself in the work mindset. Don those kitten heels, sit up straight at your desk and wow them!

5. Tomato, Tomah to. Does pronunciation matter? Maybe not for tomato, but please, make every effort to learn how to pronunciate the name of your business associates. I myself have had numerous creative takes on my last name. Some quite humorous. I even built my company’s name around a nickname I had during my agency years which helped me get clients on board with how to say Schlesier (like SleeveShirt). For me, now I have a conversation starter in business situations. For you, don’t be embarrassed to ask a person for assistance with their name, especially at that all important first meeting. Everyone will be glad that you did.

6. Thank you. Gracias. Danke. Merci. Arigatô. Grazie. Manners are manners in any language. If you’ve received a great lead or some helpful information from a colleague, take it to the next level and break out a handwritten thank you note. My favorite tactful thank you is an email message to the person with a: cc to their boss. Not only are you thanking the person directly and quickly, but you are also shining a light on them which could be a favorable addition to their annual review. I bet when you do a few of these, your colleagues will return the favor. You’ll thank me.

How did you score on the final exam? If you have other business etiquette topics you feel I should add to my syllabus, feel free to submit them. I’d love to hear from you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It’s Now or Never. Start Your Businesses Bucket List Today.

The term “Bucket List” hit mainstream consciousness in the 2007 movie featuring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Two terminally ill men make a wish-list of things they’d like to do before they “kick the bucket”. These two friends go off on a truly amazing adventure and make their dreams happen- like driving a Shelby Mustang, getting a tattoo and visiting Rome.

Personally, I started my own bucket list a few years ago after watching an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. After hearing about an audience member’s life-list, Ellen surprised the young lady with a stage full of prizes that allowed her to cross items off of her own bucket-list. Not only was the young lady in shock, but she needed to start packing her bags for a trip on the Orient Express. What a great TV moment.

As we all know, in business, staying organized and keeping to-do lists are part of our survival. It’s been hammered into our brains. But does your to-do list look something like mine? Buy paper for the printer. Finish cash flow projections. Finalize end of year taxes.
These are certainly necessary to-dos, but could we take a lesson from the movies and Ellen DeGeneres and infuse a bit of lofty aspirations focused solely on our business?

Here are some examples to get you started:

1. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. And, go to Chamber events! Not only are these great networking opportunities, but the Chamber is a powerful advocate for local businesses. 

2. Make a toast at a business luncheon. (If you’re not a fan of public speaking, it’s never too late to perfect your skills. Toastmasters is a international organiuzation that helps you fine tune communication and leadership skills. And toasts are great ways to infuse a nice touch of class on a special business occasion with your clients or vendors.

3. Have a second baby. Wait, what? I thought this was business focused?! Well, it is! Make a point each year to take a step back and look at your business for new opportunities. Do you have a new product line or service that could use some more attention? Are you too focused on your current “baby” to nurture it? Take stock- see if there is something there. Who knows, you might be adding to your family, err- business before you know it.

4. Jump out of a plane. Skydiving is actually on my personal bucket list to my husband’s dismay. Think about it though. In business, isn’t it true that sometimes we get complacent? My suggestion is to do something that utterly makes your skin crawl at least once a week. Push yourself. Remind yourself that you didn’t get where you are now without taking risks. Jump.  You can do it!

There is something truly motivational about writing out your goals. Once it is in black and white it becomes much more real. You may even find yourself referring to that list in a little self-competition to see how many things you can cross off each year. I’m happy to report that not only have I crossed off 3 items on my personal life list this year, but I’m now building a bucket list for my business. After all, it’s now or never.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Back to My Future

C’mon, jump in the DeLorean with me. It was 1995 and I was attending the State University of Albany pursuing a bachelor degree in Management.

Of all my courses, Marketing Management had a huge impact on me- it made me question whether or not I was indeed cut out for business. End of Semester Final: dream up a fictitious business and write a thorough business plan using all the learning’s from the semester’s class. The professor encouraged us to think small. A good business plan could spotlight the smallest, mundane product or service as long as the plan was well thought out and focused.

The result: I failed miserably. After weeks of wracking my brain, I came up with the plan to open a coffee shop. I think back and laugh about what the plan must have looked like on the professor’s desk. Did I think about training for all those baristas? Inventory for coffee sleeves? Insurance for employees who were burned frothing milk? This class was obviously lost on an 18 year old who was unsure of how these skills applied to real business.

Back to My Future. It’s now 2009. My husband received a fantastic job offer which required us to relocate. At the time, I was at a good corporation, in a so-so position and talks of restructuring surfaced. With a little luck I managed to end employment on a Friday, (with a generous severance package), and move my entire family on Monday to our new city.

In my new life I was unemployed and adjusting to becoming a stay at home mom. I had great ties to a few displaced corporate employees who were starting their own businesses. After some pro-bono consulting for a few months things just started to fall into place.

I didn’t expect to become a marketing consultant. I came about it quite organically. Could I have found the best of both worlds? We had enrolled our daughter in preschool for a few days a week. I already had one interested client who was reviewing her cash flow to see if she could bring me on board. I also had a very supportive husband who knew I would be happiest if I could find some way to channel my need for intellectual stimulation better than playing the coupon game at the local supermarket.

This time I had 10+ years of experience under my belt. I knew what a plan looked like. Heck, I had helped a friend write one which garnered a substantial loan from her bank. I had DONE business- not just here in the U.S., but I had also had the opportunity to travel abroad and work with clients and vendors in the UK, Netherlands, France and Germany. I was a business woman.

Within one month from deciding on my new venture I started an LLC, opened a bank account, wrote a proposal for my first client and started my very own business plan. Maybe it was a little backwards. Aren’t you supposed to write a business plan first? With one client eager to do business, I had to act quickly and skip the normal order of things.

I’m in the process now of writing that draft business plan. I know it will take time and that even when I complete it- that it will evolve. Looking back now, however, I wish I could Marty McFly back to SUNY Albany and take that Marketing Management class all over again. I would pour myself a venti skim latte and drink in every word of advice on how to make this plan a masterpiece of focused intent.