Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Core values: why Earthlink is a big fat liar

For over two months I have been utterly frustrated and infuriated by Earthlink. Back in December I finally gave in and signed up for their Internet phone service after repeatedly being hounded by telemarketers to open an account. But as soon as I tried to get help hooking up the device they sent me, that's when the trouble started. Getting through to technical support was like Mission: Impossible. I tried various times and ended up waiting on hold forever only to be disconnected at the end. Wow, if this was how it was going to be, I thought to myself, I better not switch. So I called them and was able to reach a live person who had no problem canceling my service. Phew! I felt relieved that I had averted that problem so easily.

A couple of days later, I tried making a call. Dead silence at the other end. I check the handset, the the wires, I try again. Nothing. No phone service. Aargh!! When I call Earthlink they inform me that my old carrier disconnected me because I failed to notify them that I wasn't going to switch. What?? No one told me that I had to contact my old carrier!! Then they said I'd get my service back quicker if I rejoined with Earthlink, so I agreed to go back. Whatever it takes to get my phone working! It actually ended up taking 10 days to get hooked up again...Double aarrgh!!!

A month goes by. I bump into a friend who said she'd been trying to call me that morning but got a recording saying that my number had been disconnected. Oh-oh... When I got home I quickly tested my phone. Nothing. I won't bore you with the unpleasant details but what followed was pure hell. I called customer support and tried to get help for three days, until I realized that with Earthlink, YOU need to be the technician. You can't just report the problem and have someone come fix it, like the old days. No, you need to wait forever on hold and then get transferred to a zillion places and then follow instructions from a person with a very thick accent that will make you fix the problem. It took almost three weeks to get my phone to work. Needless to say, I am in the process of switching to yet another carrier.

Why do companies push you into buying their products and services, then fail to deliver? Since I've been working on my own mission statement, I was curious to see what Earthlink's was. It says in their website: "We deliver a reliable and personalized experience our customers trust." Uh-huh. Right. Under "Core Values" they say: "We make commitments with care, and then live up to them. In all things, we do what we say we are going to do. " Liars! Big fat liars!

When I was putting together a list of core values for my business plan last week, I came up with these: integrity, honesty, quality, achievement, perseverance, flexibility, tolerance, respect, trust. These are the things I want my company to stand for, and having had this recent experience made me realize how important it is to keep those values alive always, and to not allow greed or fear of failure to cause me to use deceptive practices with current or prospective clients. No way, no how. So Earthlink taught me a great business lesson: what not to do. Here's another reason companies stray from the mission: Tony Bennett POV.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Existential angst

Who would have thought that defining our dreams would be so gut wrenching? My throat tightened as I recited my proposed mission statement at our second meeting. The words “what I want to do is…” brought up so much fear and dread in the pit of my stomach! It’s that voice inside my head that says, “Who do you think you are? You can’t do that!” Luckily my fellow Mogulettes set me straight with fabulous encouragement and support.

We were still not 100% clear about what our missions were by the end of the session, so I suggested that we each come up with 10 ways we can bring in income, without judging or striking out anything that seems too wacky or far fetched. I later found another suggestion from “The Girl’s Guide to Starting your Own Business”, which recommends making a list of values for your company, narrowing them down to a few core values and then formulating your mission from that.

Here’s a sampling of mission statements I gathered from various websites:
Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.
The Gap:
Gap Inc. is a brand-builder. We create emotional connections with customers around the world through inspiring product design, unique store experiences and compelling marketing.
To connect people to their passions, their communities and the world’s knowledge.

More mission statements from Man on a Mission .

The whole process of thinking about my business brings up many more questions than the Mogulettes can answer, so another assignment we’re going to work on for next time is to find a mentor -a man or a woman that's successful in our particular field of interest and who might be willing to guide us. Related articles at StartupNation.com: How to find Business Mentor and Businessweek: Why You Need a Mentor.

-List 10 things you can do to bring in income
-Look for a mentor
-Polish up your mission statement

Here are some more questions from the SBA website that we need to ask ourselves regarding our particular niche: (see full text here)

-Is my idea practical and will it fill a need?
-What is my competition?
-What is my business advantage over existing firms?
-Can I deliver a better quality service?
-Can I create a demand for my business?

The final step before developing our plan is the pre-business checklist:

-What business am I interested in starting?
-What services or products will I sell? Where will I be located?
-What skills and experience do I bring to the business?
-What will be my legal structure?
-What will I name my business?
-What equipment or supplies will I need?
-What insurance coverage will be needed?
-What financing will I need?
-What are my resources?
-How will I compensate myself?

"If you’re not following your heart, you’re living someone else’s dream."
Lyn Christian

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mission statements

Since we'll be focusing on mission statements at our next Mogulettes meeting, I did a little research and found this definition on the SBA site (see full text here) to be very helpful:


Mission Statement

The first step in the strategic planning process is an assessment of the
market. Businesses depend on consumers for their existence. If you are facing a rapidly growing consumer base, you probably will plan differently than if your clientele is stable or shrinking. If you are lucky enough to be in a business where brand loyalty still prevails, you may take risks that others cannot afford to take. Before you begin to assess the market, it is important that you complete a careful assessment of your own business and its goals.

The outcome of this self-assessment process is known as the mission statement. According to Glueck and Jauch (1984, p. 51), the mission can be seen as a link between performing some social function and the more specific targets or objectives of the organization. Another definition states that the mission statement is a term that refers to identifying an organization's current and future business. It is viewed as the primary objective of the organization (Rue and Byars 1983, p. 99). Because these authors are writing for an audience of managers or would-be managers of larger businesses, their definitions may sound a bit lofty. If, however, you go back to the earlier example of a successful small business, you can see it started with a aclear direction - what was to be achieved and, in a broad sense, how best to achieve it. While your own goal may be to survive, make a profit, be your own boss or even be rich, your business must first perform a social function, i.e., it must serve someone. Given this you must determine (1) the ultimate purpose and (2) the specific targets or objectives of your business.

Defining Your Business

A primary concern in defining a mission statement is addressing the question: What business are you in? Answering this may seem fairly easy: however, it can be a complex task. Determining the nature of your business should not be strictly tied to the specific product or service you currently produce. Rather, it must be tied to the result of your output -- your social function -- and the competencies you have developed in producing that output.

Management theorist Peter Drucker suggests that if the railroad companies of the early 1900s or the wagonmakers of the 1800s had defined their business purpose as that of developing a firm position in the transportation business, rather than limiting themselves strictly to the rail or wagon business, they might still enjoy the market positions they once did (Rue and Byars 1983, p. 101). The obvious concern here is to ensure that you do not define your business too narrowly, leaving yourself open to economic changes or competitive challenges that make you vulnerable. For example, an entrepreneur developed a device to provide greater security for homes and vehicles. But, by focusing on the product rather than the service it was meant to provide, he failed to consider other services that already provided essentially the same level of protection at lower costs.

The Mogulettes are born

It's official. The Mogulettes-in-the-making had their first ever meeting on February 9th! After much back and forth about possible dates and times we finally got together to share our hopes and dreams for our businesses. How did this come about, you ask? Back on Jan. 23rd I attended a business plan workshop organized by the Freelancers Union (they offer all sorts of great help and support to independent contractors like myself). I got great advice on how to get started on my business plan but I felt I couldn't do it alone (and I'm not the only one who feels that way! See Leah Maclean's blog: Research Says Working Women Need Company). I quickly convinced 3 fellow freelancers to join me in an experiment: what if we met regularly to give each other updates on our progress with our business plans, and also get feedback on our "crazy" ideas (to me the whole idea of working for myself is still "crazy"!!)??

Well I'm pleased to say that two and a half weeks later we found ourselves at the lobby of Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan telling each other what we wanted to do with our lives. Lesley is an expert knitter and weaver that would like to launch a line of hand made clothing and accessories (check out her handiwork here). Martha is an accomplished photographer that wants sell her photographic services to the public (find samples of her photos here). Julie is a talented dance instructor that would like to expand her dance school. And me? I'm a freelance writer that would like to offer seminars on personal finance and small business topics and eventually write a book. Time flies when you're having fun! Introducing our business ideas to one another took up the whole meeting but I felt we accomplished so much. I left exhilarated by the thought that with the help of my fellow mogulettes I could finally make my dreams come true!

We decided to meet weekly and keep the sessions to one hour, more or less.

what I learned:
The feedback I got from the Mogulettes made me realize that I have to narrow down my idea. What customers do I want to target? What area do I want to focus on?

What social service will I be providing? We will tackle that topic at our next meeting, which will be all about Mission Statements.

Friday, February 16, 2007