team building

Ep. 8: All the Bad Sh*t in Business

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You guys! It's episode 8! We hope you've been loving season 1 so far and if you have, would you send Kristen a DM on Instagram @kristenforgione? Don't forget to rate, review, subscribe and download! It helps us so much to know what you like, what you don't, etc. So far the most popular episodes have been Episode 5, which was with Blanche and Rach and then Episode 4 which was Attracting the Right Clients and knowing your Worth, and Episode 6 which is the Unexpected with Turning your Passion into a business are neck and neck!

We really never dreamed that 10 of you would listen to this thing or that we’d be able to connect like we all have, so thank you. It’s really such a gift you’re giving back to us, allowing us to share my experience with you and help you on your journey, personally or in business.

Anyways, let's get to it! Episode 8. All the bad sh*t in business. It's a good one - it's juicy, it's real talk and I think recounting some of my experiences will definitely help you all whether now, or in the future. Listen up and tune in now!

 The show notes

In 6 years, there’s a lot of BAD SHIT that happens, just by default. And the crazy thing is that even some of the BADDEST shit between clients, employees, whatever! surprises you in the end. Sometimes you look back and think huh, that particular thing or experience kinda wasn’t that bad and was meant to happen because now I know x, y, z. There’s something calming in all those experiences that leads to confidence and makes your fuck with rating through the roof! (Before you go googling “fuck with rating,” we define it as what happens when you have enough experience where you decide you’re not going to get fucked with anymore - ha!)

This is a highly anticipated episode and of all of the comments, messages and feedback Kristen gets, a ton of it is centered around all the bad shit in business! Stuff people don’t want to talk about because it’s uncomfortable or controversial. We want to remind you that what Kristen is sharing with you today is her real experience and how she actually handled it, NOT what would make the best podcast. Also, every person handles situations differently so while you’ll hear on the podcast the real details of the situations Kristen went through, it is her opinion and experience, and nothing more.

Okay, now that that’s all out there, where to even begin.

Let’s start with Bad Clients…

There are two main points that will get discussed when it comes to bad clients:

  1. How to avoid bad clients

  2. How to deal with them when you missed the avoid part

In the beginning, for most people, it’s very likely that you’re going to take “bad” clients and instead of beating yourself up over it, you just have to get okay with the fact that it’s a right of passage in business, no matter what industry you’re in. From interior design to accounting, everyone deals with this and you’re totally not alone! These are the types of things that you can draw from in gaining experience and knowledge, and will make you a better business person.

In order to aid and help avoid bad client situations, Kristen came up with a few basic questions, based on her non-negotiables, that she asks herself before jumping into a new client project:

  •  Is there an organic connection?

  • Are we an aesthetic match?

  • Is the client realistic and all parties are on board? In other words, are the decision makers on the same page?

  • Do we like to communicate the same way? We’ve found that emails and text messages work best for us. In our business, communication is key so we need to be on the same page when it comes to modes of communication.

  • Are your conflict resolution expectations the same? This is huge! Sometimes you’ll deal with a terrible contractor, etc and if you and your client talk about your conflict resolution expectations at the beginning, you’ll be on the same page on how to deal with that person and there wont be any surprises.

These are basic principals for Kristen and the team. It’s a good idea to figure out what your non-negotiable parameters are and go through the same type of vetting process for your own clients. The best way to avoid bad clients is to hold everyone to the same criteria, listen to your gut and watch for the red flags. Even if you go through all of this, sometimes you still come across clients that are just plain bad. Sometimes there’s drama early on, or something seems off, and what we can say to you in that situation is to trust your gut, no matter how much that project might be worth (money isn’t everything if it’s going to cost you your sanity).

moving on to Bad Employees…

Like bad clients, chances are you’ll always have bad employees here and there. It happens. Kristen got some really good advice about how to deal with bad employees from a client, actually, that we ended up parting ways with because of a bad employee. He said, “Don’t beat yourself up over it too much. No matter how great of a boss you are, how much time you have or how much you do, sometimes people are just going to go rogue. That’s just human beings by nature. Also, a lot of times there are factors in people’s lives that affect them at work, that you simply just have no idea about.”

Read that over and over again until you have it memorized, and refer back to it when you inevitably deal with an employee that turns out to be less than awesome.

Another piece of advice? Hold your employees to the same standard as your clients! Along with creating non-negotiable parameters when vetting clients, Kristen has a set of similar questions she asks herself when hiring new employees:

  • Do we have an organic connection?

  • Are your expectations realistic?

  • Do we feel like we have an aesthetic match?

  • Do we communicate the same way?

  • Are your conflict resolution criteria the same?

We discussed this in episode 7, but we need to reiterate that when you’re making hires, do. not. compromise! And don’t hire someone out of convenience! However, if the going gets tough with one of your employees, it’s a crossroads for you as a boss - it’s either a “is this person coachable?” moment, or a “do i need to let this person go?” moment. For Kristen personally, she always default to trying to coach them so she knows she gave 150%, but that’s a decision that you need to make for yourself.

When it comes to employees, put expectations in writing, give them grace, be real and compassionate, and hopefully you’ll turn out on the other side of it. Bottom line.

sometimes, people are just plain Bad

Even if you do everything in your power to avoid bad situations, they happen. And the first thing you can do to prepare yourself for when that time comes is to accept that. In knowing that something bad is bound to happen, Kristen recommends starting your own “Bad Shit in Business” fund. Start taking even 5% of your revenue, or your credit card rewards, and transfer it into an account that you can use as sort of an insurance policy (aka a “rainy day” fund).

Bad shit in business costs you money - be ahead of the game! “If I would’ve had [a “Bad Shit in Business” fund], making some of the calls I had to make might’ve been easier. In the beginning, you tend to hold onto every penny and maybe put up with things longer than you normally would. Having this kind of “insurance policy” will allow you to put your foot down and not have to just deal because you can’t afford to do otherwise,” she says.

This will help you when it comes to those bad people you come across when you have to give a design fee back, when an employee quits or for legal fees when you get sued…yes, she’s been sued. It was something totally out of left field that lasted over a year. The case is now closed, and she won, but it was awful. Kristen got served by someone who bought one of her flips, for negligence in covering foundational and wall cracks, among other claims including impersonation saying that her company wasn’t legit. “That experience as incredibly horrific and makes you so vulnerable - it’s threatening,” says Kristen. “I told my parents and my dad said - in a very dad way of saying things - ‘Congratulations, you’ve made it. If someone is threatened by your success to the point where they think they can financially profit from it, you’ve got something worth fighting for.”

She hasn’t owned any investment properties since and doesn’t know if she ever will because this experience really soured the flipping business for her. But it’s also experiences like this that teach you so much about navigating rough waters, who you are as a businessperson, what you can handle, what you’re willing and not willing to handle, and so much more. You can’t ever know when bad experiences or people will happen, but you can preemptively prepare for them in the best way you can.

If you take nothing else from this episode, remember this: in all things, try to be ethical and hold your team to the highest regard and value. And even when it’s hard and you don’t want to, take the high road.

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Ep. 7: Building Your Team

It’s episode 7- can you even believe it?! We’re on the downhill slope of this podcast season and are so beyond thankful and grateful for all of the support you, our listeners, have shown us so far. In this episode, we wanted to dive into Kristen’s experience building her current team. You know that part in our intro where it goes “it’s not all sunshine and rainbows”? Yeah. We meant it. Building a business is one thing, but building a team and refining your own skills as a leader of not only your company, but people too? That’s a whole other rodeo no one tells you about when you’re first starting out.

Ready to get ahead of the pack and take in some sound advice on this topic? Tune in and read on for the notes!

THE SHOW NOTES

When you get to the point in business where you’re ready to take the next step and start building a team, it’s generally because you’re ready to take things to the next level. What does that mean for you? This “next level” is all relative and subjective to you personally, and the goals you have both personally and professionally.

For Kristen, the next level didn’t mean happier, wealthier or busier - it meant being more organized and streamlined, having more comfort and trust, less mistakes, a better experience both internally and for clients, and better communication. Maybe those things don’t equal the next level for you, and that’s totally okay. This is an opportunity to turn inward, do some soul searching and actually qualify or quantify what you think having extra hands on board will do for you.

Maybe you’re just fine in your little one woman (or man) sailboat and you don’t need anymore hands on deck. If that’s the case for you, good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing to kick ass and take names. If you feel like you’re drowning a bit and are in need of someone to throw you a lifeline, keep on reading because we’ll get to some strategies you can implement in order to get the best employees for you.

“I think I always knew I would have employees,” says Kristen. However, she continues on to say that If you had asked her five years ago if she thought she was a good boss, she would’ve said totally! She’s reasonable, empathetic, sympathetic, honest; but she admits she was lacking at really being able to put her needs second, and put the needs of her employees as developing professionals first. Kristen reflects and says that this concept alone is the biggest key in getting quality employees and most importantly, keeping them. It’s a learned skill, for sure, but one that is invaluable to the growth of your business and the growth of yourself as an entrepreneur.

So, you’ve done some soul searching and are determined to add some amazing new hires to expand your woman show - now what? Before you do anything, get rid of the fear of failing. You can’t be so nervous about hiring that you end up not hiring anyone. Everyone has a bad hire - it’s a right of passage, but you live and you learn and you move on. Also, rid yourself from the feeling of obligation - don’t also hire someone out of pity, or that you know from the get go is not going to be a good hire for you.

Okay, now to the good stuff.

As a solo entrepreneur you’ll start to realize that you do things you hate a lot of your day. In a creative business, most of those hated things are usually totally not creative and more administrative. For Kristen, she realized that she started to feel like she was pushing papers - designing only once a week, in the field once a week, but bogged down on email and administrative tasks every other day. It was hard and she was able to realize that that’s where she had some weaknesses and needed help. Kristen recommends identifying where your weaknesses are, and hiring someone that compliments those. For her, she desperately needed help with all the administrative stuff that comes with owning a business, so her first hire was an office manager so she could clear her plate and have more time to design (the company’s money maker).

“Where I was as a designer at that point in my career was not a good place for me to groom another designer, from a design standpoint or a leadership standpoint,” Kristen says. “Along with knowing your worth, I also think it’s important to figure out what you’re good at, and what your employees are good at. Figure out, or even involve them in what you like to do, and see if there’s any crossover. You could be on separate planets task wise, and that’s totally okay. “

Kristen’s first hire was an office manager that was initially part time to help field consults, write contracts and run errands. This first hire not only helped Kristen build the business, but they also helped me to see what she could work on as a boss, and what her strengths were as a leader. Please note that these are two totally different things. They’re not synonymous and both require equal attention and focus.

After that, her next hire was going to be a second designer. At this point in time, Kristen’s mom was helping her with interviews and their goal was to find someone that could alleviate some of the pressure and take on some of her tasks, but who could also still design. “If you need help seeing how you work best with others, ask your mom - she’ll tell you!” she says. Kristen mentions that she wasn’t ready to pay a seasoned designer because she herself was still learning about who she was as a designer, and her aesthetic (it wasn’t called ODL at the time!). This person was a good fit at first, but things went sour. She then brought in a project manager which ended up being a questionable hire as well. Kristen reflects and says, “There were a good two years where the team I had was questionable, but I think it was important to go through those experiences to learn about hiring in general, who to hire that’s best for both the company and yourself - working with someone 40 hours/week is a lot of time spent with them if you’re butting heads and expectations don’t align.”

It was at that point that she took some time to be self reflective. It was very clear that she needed to pivot (there’s that word again!) because something she was doing wasn’t working. She looked at what she was doing (Was it timing? Hiring the wrong people and not understanding red flags in the beginning? Not understanding the exact needs of clients?) and got better as a boss. “While I don’t take responsibility for the things our first hires did,” she says, “I do think i could have served them more as a boss, lessons I learned only after going through the experience of hiring, firing, etc.”

You have to build your team with people around you that you trust, that trust you, and are drinking the kool-aid. They need to believe what you believe, and be working towards a common goal. Business is business, but it’s also very personal, so you should share common ground. Once you get your foundation laid and begin to find these people, then you can get the luxury of looking at hiring in a different way than maybe before. For Kristen, it was being able to look for “talent,” meaning can they not only do the tasks, but did they have everything on her list of what makes up the ideal candidate for her? Each employee you have over time is a piece of the puzzle, and then the puzzle is always growing, especially when you’re in a thriving business. Not only are your employees part of your journey, but you are part of theirs! They also chose YOU! Accept people for who they are, identify what their strengths and weaknesses are, and build around that, be okay with it and figure out how to help them, and you will go far.

Advice for new bosses

  • Timing is everything. Don’t hire someone out of convenience just because you need a warm body.

  • Talk to your employees and talk to them often. Are they happy? What do they need? Having employees that are dedicated to you is the biggest compliment on earth. “That is something that we’ve worked up to as a culture,” Kristen says. “I like to think that it’s because they feel supported in all aspects and know that with anything that happens, we will back them up on it. It doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes and there wont be training opportunities, but I always say i can fix 99% of what you do, just don’t lie to me.”

  • Delegate! One of the biggest strengths of entrepreneurs is that they’re control freaks, and this can also be one of the biggest weaknesses. You’ve gotta figure out the best way for you to channel that control freak-ness into something that’s positive and beneficial, and your employees can help you with that. Let them help you! It took Kristen a long time to get there and she can say that it all comes from confidence and personal growth. It will free up your time and mind from that “feeling like you’re drowning” feeling.

  • As a boss, figure out what your hot buttons are and figure out what you can compromise on. You have to pick your battles.

  • You have to trust the people that you hire. This doesn’t mean that you let them lead you into a black hole of death, but give them capable hands and empower them to use their own brain, reasoning, project management skills to get your company and clients to the best outcome.

  • Hiring your first employee is a big deal and affording them is also a big deal. Have at least 6 months of wages in the bank ready to go so that you aren’t worried about how you’re going to pay them.

the links



Ep. 4: Attracting the Right Clients + Knowing Your Worth

THE SHOW NOTES

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In this episode, Kristen explains how knowing your worth as a business owner (and in life!) helps attract the right clients. Each podcast episode serves to provide you, the listener, with both inspiration and insight into being a creative entrepreneur.

The topic of knowing your worth and attracting and managing clients is something that Kristen has experienced first hand. “I literally remember THE DAY that I decided I was done working with assholes. I had to figure out a way to attract better clients,” she says. “It was a turning point that I’ll remember forever. For me, I think it was an all over shift in my business from the mind set I had toward employees and hiring, to the mindset I had with clients. I didn’t know what to google or that this was even a common problem until years later. And I don’t think I could really tell it was working for months after I started.”

She’s come to learn that attracting the right clients and knowing your worth go hand in hand in so many ways. Some, you many not event realize. 

If you’re a freelancer, creative business owner (or any business owner, really), someone working in a creative business…this episode is for you! “If you are a responsible party for any relationship where there is a client and a provider, I think there is a lot of meat in this episode that can help you,” Kristen says.

In just three episodes, we’ve found that you guys like tactics! You like to hear where Kristen has been, what she did in the situations we’ve discussed so far, and for her to tell you what she did, and point you in the right direction so you can adapt and use it in your own life. 

“Remember, I can only teach my experience, especially because I don’t have a PHD, or even a Bachelor’s degree for that matter, in anything! I just know enough to be dangerous and I like to think I’ve been paying enough attention to this entrepreneur thing to learn a little bit along the way. All of these points are what lead me to having some control, not total control, but some in our business and our clients. Which ultimately is still and hopefully always will be our bread and butter,” says Kristen.

Let’s get to it!

What you’ll learn in this episode 

1. Ask yourself, “What’s your most natural way of being and working?”  

This is a rhetorical question, so take a second and think about it! If you can confidently answer that question, you will be one step closer to attracting and landing the right clients. If you don’t the answer to this question, how are you going to attract clients that know and understand that about you? Have a hard look in the mirror, figure this out about yourself and then put it in the center of everything you do in business. For Kristen, this exercise led her to one of the most buzz worthy words of the moment - authenticity. Kristen is a casual person and runs her business in that same way BUT, don’t mistake the rose and think we don’t have our shit together (lack of organization and poor business practices have no place at LCo)!

In the beginning when you’re trying to establish your business identity, it’s hard! But instead of trying to get a strike first try, just try to stay in the bumpers. Write down words and phrases that describe you. Actually putting pen to paper will really help in establishing yourself as a business and brand.

2. What’s your value add prop and why/how are you different than the rest of the market? 

This point might even be more important than #1. There HAS to be something about you that’s different and hopefully the exercises explained above will help you figure that out if you don’t already know. To get you on the right track, LCo, for example, specifically markets our “Organic Desert Living” aesthetic. Our clients know that the service we provide them will be consistent with that aesthetic, and that we work hard to be kickass and honest designers (and friends) for them! This doesn’t work for everyone, but because it goes hand in hand with what Kristen’s most natural way of being/working is, it works!

3. Establish your “non-negotiables”!

Yes, this is another buzz word in business, but it’s important! If you’re a little fuzzy on the concept, non-negotiables are basically “I will not do X for Y,” “I’m not willing to compromise this for that.” Be careful that you don’t have a list of say, 15, because at that point there won’t be anybody across the table from you to negotiate with.

Your list of non-negotiables should probably be a pretty short list, but they need to have some force behind them and you need to be 100% confident in being able to enforce. This concept is more of a checks and balances system for yourself internally.

Kristen’s List of Non-negotiables:

  1. Price

  2. Disrespect

  3. Unrealistic Expectations

4. Figure out how much you need to make.

Work backwards, if you’re a freelancer, single designer, etc. how much do you want to make per year? If you are operating a growing team, how much revenue do you need to derive per year (and count yourself as an employee)? Take that number annually and further breakdown the equation. Let’s say you want/need to make $50,000/year. Divide that by 12 months and that gives you roughly $4100/month. If you want to go even further than that, break it down into weeks. You have to put it in terms that you yourself will understand, either by where your debts fall, or based on your project calendar (if that’s the case, you need to have a rolling understanding of your project calendar so you don’t end up cash poor).

5. Understand what your largest business actions/drivers actually COST you. This is a HUGE one.

Numbers four and five work hand in hand. Let’s take this down to selling cookies. How are you going to know how much to sell your cookies for when you don’t even know how much each thing is that goes into the cookies! Be that ingredients, labor, whatever, you gotta know this as a business owner. The thing that differentiates a product based company and a service based company in this area, is simply time.

Are you making money? But most importantly, are you covering your costs? If you haven’t done this in your business, do it. It doesn’t have to be fancy with spreadsheets - unless of course you love that - just get this value assessment DONE. Especially in your largest revenue driving tasks.

The other thing this helps with is saying “no.” We’re in a very yes-man culture, but it’s so important to establish boundaries. Especially when it comes to your time and energy. This is what you do for a living! Don’t forget that!

6. Establish a cost break even, a minimum fee (meaning minimum profit) and a reach fee (meaning maximum profit).

Cost = cost + 10%. The 10% will help you with things that are unknown as a buffer.

Minimum fee = cost + minimum profit margin. If you want to run your profit margin at 20%, that would be your minimum cost + 20% in profit margin (not 20% over your cost).

Reach fee = cost + maximum profit margin. This is where you want to be most of the time, although it might not always happen - and that’s okay! This is your best case scenario.

It’s important to understand where your pricing falls within the market and how it relates to your service offering.

7. How to set up your business in a way that attracts the right people. This includes branding, social media and just generally having your shit together. 

Example time! Way back when there was an employee that left on bad terms. After this person had left, a client pulled Kristen aside and said, “Yeah. I never would have given that person a check for $100,000.” Light bulb moment. Protect your brand. Make sure every employee you hire and component of your branding, is an extension of yourself, has like-minded values, and operates to the standard put forth by your brand.

8. (or 10 or 11 if you’re Barbs) Be OK with business that walks.

In attracting the right clients, you have to be okay enforcing your non-negotiables, and being confident that the business you’re turning down is okay and worth it. You have to learn how to say no and you have to be okay with the business that walks. Be charming and kind when they do, but authentically and transparently be accepting of it, knowing that there’s a reason it didn’t work out. For some of the people that walk, some always come back - and that’s why it’s important to be graceful, patient and kind when the answer is initially “no.”

Note, when the answer is “no,” don’t internalize and beat yourself up over it. There are a lot of times where it’s not even something that you, the business owner, did. The first “no” is the hardest, but it gets easier with time.

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