Asking for feedback isn’t a sign of weakness

asking for feedback isn't a sign of weakness

The CEO of a multi-million dollar public company asked a new entrepreneur for feedback on their software. The entrepreneur was excited to share their honest thoughts and suggested a fix to one of the features. The fix was implemented that same week.

Meanwhile, a smaller competitor was hiring employees in an attempt to expand. They reached out to candidates with the promise of a job, only to redirect them to an impersonal screening call. The recruiter recorded answers to questions without actually listening to any of the responses. The candidate ended the call by asking for feedback to better prepare for the next interview. The recruiter then shamed the candidate for demonstrating weakness, and disappeared without replying to any of the follow ups. The company struggled and ended up laying off 50% of its employees before being acquired for parts.

After experiencing the culture of each of these companies first hand, their fate doesn’t surprise me. The CEO is a reflection of a company that is successful because it values feedback and continuous improvement. On the other hand, a company that considers asking for feedback to be a weakness is bound to end up failing. True weakness is being afraid of rejection and constructive criticism that might lead to you having to change.

Ask for, and listen to, feedback.


Do you have any feedback about Hōjicha Co.? Please share your thoughts with me here.

First 100

danielle geva toronto

Hey Danielle,

Could you help me out? I’m writing an article about starting blogging.

Let’s say you were to go back to when you first started blogging. How would you get your first 100 Facebook fans?

1. Write an article

2. Post a link to the article on your Facebook page

3. ???

What’s the next step? 

Go back to when I first started blogging? Well, that was around May of 2010. How would I get my first 100 Facebook fans? I’d have to create an account first.

After disagreeing with Zuck’s views on privacy, I deleted my personal account. But then in late 2010, I had to create another account for managing clients’ pages (which I also ended up deleting).

There are hundreds of reports, which are saved somewhere in the cloud, with details of my recommendations, methods, and results for growing an audience on social networks. Thing is, most of the specific advice is outdated.

Best practices are meant to be broken, and the people who push boundaries get the furthest.

You can google the latest tactics for inspiration, but successful marketers are the ones that devise their own experiments. If you’re starting a blog today, treat it like a business. Start with a marketing plan, and then use trial and error to figure out what work best for attracting your target audience. Oh and remember to avoid making the pinball machine mistake. Getting 100 fans might be a strategy you consider to increase readership, but it shouldn’t be your high level objective.

Warning Signs

Warning Signs

In this post, I look back on all the clients I said no to and those I should’ve said no to. The thing about bad clients is that sometimes things only take a turn for the worst once you start working together. Whether you notice the warning signs from the get go, or they reveal their true colours later on, all that matter is that as soon as you do it’s time to get out.

Bad Reputation

My favourite way to acquire new clients is through referrals. There’s an instant layer of added trust on both sides. Unless of course that introduction has a hidden message when you read between the lines. Even though they don’t mention anything negative outright, you can tell this potential client is bad. Maybe it’s an introduction from another client that thinks work is work, or maybe it’s from a friend that doesn’t recognize the warning signs. Whether they have have no standards or clue, you do. Explain to them who you’re interested in working with, or stop taking referrals from these people.

Then there’s the client that seems fine, but is complained about by others. Shared contacts start mentioning how the client doesn’t deliver on promises, and that they tend to disappear for weeks. They are hoping to bond over venting, but you just politely nod as you slowly realize how blinded you were. In hindsight, things weren’t going great and it was just a matter of time before you would have a horror story of your own. Now that you see the whole picture, it’s time to leave. Don’t endure a bad client just because others choose to.

The easiest way to avoid this type of client is with proper vetting. You’ll discover if the client has a bad reputation and confirm that it’s based on fact.

Back and Forth Scheduling

When you have trouble scheduling a meeting with a potential client, it’s an indicator of future problems. Does this sound familiar?

Monday – 10am

Client: Let’s meet to chat over the details.

You: How’s Tuesday at 9am over Google Hangouts? I’m also available Tuesday between 2pm – 4pm, Thursday between 9am-11am, and all day Friday.

Client: Let’s do Wednesday at 3pm.

You: Ok, see you then.

Client: Sounds good.  

 

Wednesday – 3:15pm

You: Hey, are we still meeting?

You: Hello?

 

These people are the reason there’s a new scheduling app every six months.

This seems insignificant, but if they can’t schedule a simple meeting, how can you expect them to communicate properly when you work together? It’s unbelievable how common this is. These clients also always seem to have tech problems. If the stars align, and somehow you finally meet, their mic will suddenly be broken. Or you’ll wish it was after 5 minutes of listening to: “Can you hear me now?”

Money Over Product

As startups became mainstream, I’ve noticed new grads are turning down jobs to build their own company. As an entrepreneurship major and career-long freelancer, I loved the trend. That is of course until I met with a few of these clients. It seems they didn’t have a burning passion to change the world, they just wanted a slice of the pie. They turned down valuable learning opportunities at other startups because they thought they could make a boat load of money being the boss.

When your client is motivated by money over product, they won’t invest the resources needed to build a sustainable business. They might disguise it as optimizing for profits, but their selfish desires keep them from creating a product that actually solves a problem or adds value. There’s no future working with them, so get out before they start making excuses why your payment is late.

Late Payments

Sometimes you realize payment is going to be an issue before you even start working with the client. Because I blog about consulting, potential clients often reach out with more specific questions. I love learning about their companies and chatting about possible solutions, but some clients take advantage. These clients are typically the ones that go out of their way to reassure you that they are definitely interested in hiring you. They make it seem like they are qualifying you, but in reality they are only interested in getting free advice. If you suspect this is the case, then it’s up to you to move the conversation forward. Let them know you’d be happy to work with them to address their latest batch of questions, and then clearly state the next steps.

Then there are clients that manipulate you into starting work without any intention to pay. In the beginning of the project, both sides agree to the terms. Once you’re done the work you send over the invoice. The payment is late, but you think it’s an honest mistake. After you send a reminder, the client proudly declares that they aren’t going to pay. Whichever loophole they use to justify their awful behaviour proves that they never intended to pay. They’ll try and convince you that it’s your fault, and even suggest you continue working together. If you believe that most people are good, know that this client isn’t. Walk away, and warn others.

Despite these experiences, I try not to be hard on clients that are late with invoices. It can happen unintentionally, and I plan accordingly. The trouble isn’t with consistently late payment, it’s with increasingly late payment. The first time a bad client is late, they may profusely apologize. The more it happens, the more outlandish the excuses become. If you don’t want to wake up one day and realize you haven’t been paid for 6 months, you need to address the situation as soon as it happens. When a client stops paying, you need to stop working. It sounds logical, but it can difficult to do when you care too much about a project. However, all of your hard work won’t be appreciated because when a client doesn’t pay you it means they don’t value you.

Poor Data Quality

When a client doesn’t share the data with you, they are setting you up for failure. Remember when they bragged about their 1 million app downloads? Well, the reality is that the number is irrelevant because they only have a handful of daily active users left. It’s impossible to develop an effective strategy when it’s based on incomplete or poor data. Avoid confusion by first finding out if they are being intentionally dishonest or have trust issues. This way you’ll know if it’s worth moving forward with the client.  

Some clients are legitimately unaware of the importance of key performance indicators. They can’t figure out how to set up Google Analytics, and instead rely on their gut instinct. Try to explain to them the value of accurately measuring your progress. If the client refuses to prioritize proper tracking, then don’t be surprised when they don’t appreciate your hard work. Not only will they dismiss your success, they might also hold you accountable for any of the company’s failures.

Lack of Dedication

There’s no shame in working a day job to support your own business, but beware of clients who struggle to balance the two. If the client is constantly distracted by their demanding day job, they will end up being too burnt out to manage their company. At first they’ll take longer to respond to you, but soon you’ll have to work overtime to correct their mistakes. If the overworked client then accepts a promotion, it’s a clue that they are just happier working for someone else. They might not admit it, but you’ll know it’s time to move on.

Then there’s clients that appear to care about work-life balance, but the truth is they don’t understand the hard work needed to run a business. After you’ve spent months planning and working towards a relaunch, the client casually mentions they won’t be around. No, this isn’t because of a family emergency, or a once in a lifetime opportunity. Instead of responding to customers, fixing bugs, and celebrating milestones together, the client made plans to hang out with friends. Either they don’t have strong work ethic or they don’t care. Don’t stick around to find out which one.

Downright Abusive

The abusive client is reminiscent of a bad ex boyfriend or relative, and once again you can’t help but focus on the good and make excuses for the bad. They only humiliated you in front of their friends because you made a mistake. They only lost their temper because they have been working overtime. This is obviously a deal breaker, yet it’s hard to recognize when it happens to you. Even if you’re convinced they have good intentions, you don’t deserve to be treated this way. If you’re unsure if you’re being abused, imagine how you would react if this happened to your friend. Better yet, share the incidents with a friend to get an objective opinion. Their support will help you banish this recurring character from your life.

 

You’ve got to surround yourself with good people to thrive, so avoid bad clients by paying attention to these warning signs.


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Why you won’t get paid

Danielle Geva - Why you won’t get paid

Freelancing lessons better learned shaving someone else’s beard.

The oral contract

On legal shows, an oral contract is enough to win a case. In real life, the client knows you’re not going to sue them. A conversation about consulting terms leaves plenty of room for loopholes. The client takes advantage of you, claims it was all a big misunderstanding, and then they do it again. You blame yourself, and plan to get it in writing next time.

The follow up email

As soon as you’re done talking with the client over the phone, you send them a follow up with a recap of the terms discussed. You even get a reply with a confirmation (Exhibit A for your imaginary court case). Only your follow up email didn’t clearly specify the payment schedule. You expect payment at the end of the month. They pretend it’s understood payment is due once they decide the project is done. You blame yourself, and plan to include payment terms next time.

The invoice payment terms

At the end of the month, you send an invoice with a note at the bottom that says “payable within 10 days”. They ignore the note. You wonder if they didn’t scroll all the way down. They didn’t even open the PDF. Net 30 becomes net 60, and soon 6 months pass (eventually the statute of limitations passes). You blame yourself, and plan to send an official contract next time.

The unsigned agreement

The client sends you their standard contract, and you read every paragraph. Twice. You amend the payment terms, and ask them to remove a non-compete clause. They make the changes. You sign the final version. They never do. You read about acceptance by conduct, and wonder if you should keep working. They stop paying. You blame yourself, and plan to get their signature next time.

The profit-sharing plan

You turn the wheel while the crowd cheers: “How won’t they pay?!” The answer: a profit-sharing plan. When it’s time for payment, the client suddenly has zero profit. Or so they claim. Their engineer never built the promised internal dashboards. You don’t understand why it couldn’t be done on a spreadsheet. They never share their financials. You stop blaming yourself.

The shady client

Even when you do everything right (and learn how to better communicate), some clients are from hell. Instead of only preparing for worse case scenario, you need to work on preventing it all together. The next step isn’t charging the client before you waste your time. The next step is weeding out bad clients (which I’ll be writing about next).


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Celebrating Milestones

Why to Wake Up Anniversary Danielle Geva

Today is the one year anniversary of my first book, Why to Wake Up.

Welcome to a rare Thursday post. As much as possible, I try to post on Wednesdays. Why? I don’t even remember. It’s probably a combination of consistency and some outdated stats about readership and engagement. But today is a special day, so made up rules be damned.

Today marks the one year anniversary of Why to Wake Up. Exactly one year ago I published my first book, and this time I plan on properly celebrating the milestone.

When I first started consulting, I celebrated every achievement. Closing new clients was a big deal, as was completing projects successfully. Then as the years went by, the novelty wore off. I stopped acknowledging personal milestones, and client ones felt more like checking off boxes. When a client secured funding, I’d insist they celebrate. Then I’d ignore my own advice, and focus on the next steps.

I wish I took a moment to recognize major achievements, and even find new minor ones to be proud of.

The thing is that I’m only realizing this all now. Habits stick unless you actively work to change them, and that can only happen once you decide change is needed. Meaning the same behaviour continued even after I opened my new art shop. I missed out on truly celebrating completing my first new piece of artwork, making my first sale, and being a part of my first art show. I may have shared my appreciation on social media, but these awesome accomplishments didn’t register as deserving.

During a recent milestone birthday, it finally clicked how hard I’ve been on myself. I treated achievements as meeting the bare minimum expectations. Then I would obsess over how things could have gone better. Even now, I’m tempted to write about the millions of mistakes I’ve made. But today I’m not going to think about self-improvement, or plan the next project. Instead, I’m finally going to take the time to proudly reflect on how incredible it feels to have published my first book.

Visit the shop to order your own signed & numbered copy of Why to Wake Up.


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The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner

The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner by Danielle Geva

If you’re thinking of launching a new project, here’s how I got started with Mypodnotes.

 

The Idea

A few months ago a friend suggested I write summaries for podcasts. The idea sounded interesting since podcasting is on the rise, and there’s no way anyone could keep up with the constant stream of new episodes. The best part was that I could test the idea without dropping anything. I started Myponotes as a side project, but after deciding to think like an entrepreneur I realized that it had the potential to become a business.

How to find ideas

Side projects, businesses, and high growth startups all start with an idea and don’t go far without commitment to pursue them. Even though you need both to succeed, it doesn’t seem to matter which comes first. The idea for Mypodnotes found me, but if you’re itching to build something of your own stop thinking up solutions to problems that don’t exist, and answer the following questions:

  1. What’s a problem that many people have?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How can I help these people solve their problem?

Think of as many problems as you can from your own life, and then ask your friends about anything that bothers them or wait for them to complain about it on Twitter. In the beginning it might be difficult to come up with ideas, but after you train your mind to think in this framework you’ll spot new opportunities everywhere.

When to commit

The bar for side projects is much lower, since resources can be restricted and failure doesn’t dramatically impact your life. So if you find an idea that intrigues you, go for it. This is an opportunity to get those creative juices flowing and learn some new skills.

Starting with a side project is also a good way to validate an idea if you have grander plans. If you’re unhappy at your full-time job, you don’t have to quit to find out if you’d be happier having your customers be your boss. I’m not a lawyer, but you should probably check your contract first to make sure there’s no conflicts so that you’ll have full ownership if you decide to leave.

After chatting about Mypodnotes with friends to gauge demand and the work involved, I found many people who were interested in Cliff’s Notes for podcasts. There just isn’t enough time to listen to every single episode, and no one likes to miss out. I also relate to people who remember key insights better by reading text over listening to audio. This was enough to take the side project seriously, but I only decided to fully commit to Mypodnotes once I saw actual traction on the blog.

It will take much longer for me to figure out a business model that works, but I’m in it for the long haul. All you need for building a company is time and determination, because you only fail when you give up on your idea.

How to name your business

The name Mypodnotes came to me randomly, and is pretty straightforward because that’s what appeals to me. Ignore the pressure to spend time searching for the perfect name, because you can always change it later on. Finding a name that’s unique and playful isn’t as crucial as making sure people can pronounce properly so that it catches on. Once you come up with a name, don’t get too attached to the spelling before you secure a domain and a Twitter handle. Try adding words like “The” and “App”, switching up vowels, or experimenting with new top level domains.

The Website

If you’ve ever heard of Lean Startup Machine workshops, then you know a business can start with a single piece of paper. Remember that when it’s time to create a website for your new idea. Instead of spending the next few months learning how to code, or figuring out WordPress.org again, I decided to go with Tumblr so I could focus on growing an audience for Mypodnotes. Your site is just a means to end, and the functionality you need to test an idea is usually offered by a third party platform. You can always build a custom site later on, when it’s time to scale. As you probably figured out, this section isn’t about how to magically create something out of thin air or how to hire a web developer. I’m a bootstrapped non-technical founder, so it’s all about distribution.

Continue reading

Think like an entrepreneur

danielle geva think like an entrepreneur

Life is a journey, but I’m impatient so I spend all lots of time reading career blogs trying to figure out what I should be doing next. Recently, I read that INTJs aren’t motivated by compensation which is why freelancing isn’t ideal. I gravitated to consulting because structure is boring to me, and clients in need of startup marketing always seem to find me. But in between clients it feels weird to spend any time thinking of how can I make money over actually helping as many companies grow.

Career advice starts by telling you to find the intersection between what you’re good at, what you like doing, and what people are willing to pay for. So I end up stuck wondering if I should hop on the learn to code train because I can’t seem to check off all three. The problem with this perspective is also that it’s all about the individual, especially talented ones and I already know I’m more of an agent type of person.

Then I look over at jobs, to see which companies actually need me and where can I make the most impact. There’s a huge demand for startup marketers, and even more applicants. Interviews aren’t my forte, and the process ends up being more about the resume and how many connections you have to the hiring manager.

I’m sure I’ll always spend time over-analyzing the meaning of life and my purpose, but I want to make sure that I keep moving forward. I want to spend the next 5 years working towards some crazy awesome idea and feel like I’ve achieved something great instead of being stuck in the same cycle. I’m starting to think the only way to do is this is by thinking like an entrepreneur.

Instead of obsessing over monetizing your skills, you uncover how to add value:

  1. What’s a problem that many people have?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How can I help those people solve their problem?

Once you have a solution, it becomes all about distribution. Which I love.

This how both mypodnotes.com and whistlenow.co were born. I’ll leave the details for another post, but I’m pretty excited to start working on these and learn from some new mistakes.

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Nasty Gal is killing it on Instagram, here’s how

My last few posts have been social media audits. Each one assessed a single online channel of a well-known startup. While trying to figure out what brand to feature next, I considered Nasty Gal. The only problem being, Nasty Gal is killing it on Instagram.

Of course there’s always room for improvement, but with no major shortcomings I wondered if I should keep looking. When a brand is doing well, I think it takes skill to point out its weaknesses. More importantly, I was hoping my actionable advice was heard and helped the startups improve their online presence.

After following Nasty Gal’s Instagram account for a couple of days, I realized that even though they don’t need my unsolicited advice, other brands are bound to be inspired by their success.

I often get asked if Instagram is worth it. This depends if your customers are even using the social network. You should also know that Instagram may not drive much traffic (and in turn sales) overnight, but it’s invaluable for building a loyal community. This is partly due to the Instagram feed being one of the few that is still viewed in its entirety by many users.

Below are some actionable lessons that translate to most consumer brands, and will help you tap into Instagram’s captive audience.

Branding

Open NastyGal.com in a new tab, and soak up that feeling. Now open up another tab with the Nasty Gal Instagram account. The brand has managed to duplicate the experience, with Nasty Gal’s Instagram being as vibrant as their site, and full of attitude.

Nasty Gal
Nasty Gal’s Instagram account, managed by Isabella Behravan

The risqué tag line appears on their Twitter account, though it slightly differs from their Pinterest and Facebook bios. This might be intentional, as you should always keep in mind the type of users on each social network. However, your target audience might not change much depending on the medium. Consistent messaging can help with SEO and with conveying a stronger and more memorable image.

The only hyperlink on Instagram is the one in your bio, so be sure to use that space wisely. Nasty Gal links to their homepage. You can follow suit, or be creative and link to a landing page personalized for Instagram followers.

The Nasty Gal logo is used as a display picture for the main account, while a slightly revised image appears on their careers account. You might be tempted to switch up your display picture, but exhibiting a consistent logo helps improve brand recognition.

Sophia Amoruso is no stranger to social recruiting, and having a separate careers account allows Nasty Gal to stay true to their brand. If you plan on sourcing talent and distributing open positions on Instagram, consider that the content that appeals to your customers might differ from what you’d like to share with potential hires.

Content

The majority of Instagram users capture moments as they occur, but creating appealing content that represents the Nasty Gal brand sometimes means carefully stylized product shots and Photoshop fun. These custom images do well since they don’t go as far as pushing generic marketing messages or shooting merchandise on boring mannequins.

Even when a product shot features a model against a white background, she is fully accessorized and looks like she stepped out of a glossy fashion magazine, rather than a dimly lit warehouse. You want your brand to stand out in the feed, not look out of place.

Nasty Gal

Nasty Gal takes full advantage of Instagram’s video feature by announcing contest winners and sharing GIFs. Recently, Nasty Gal created a very short and funny ad for a new app. Understanding the sense of humour of your audience, can help you create entertaining videos that don’t offend your followers. Nasty Gal has also been promoting Sophia Amoruso’s new book #GIRLBOSS by portraying successful women. These insightful videos are well received, as they provide followers with valuable advice and inspiration.

Aside from sharing the classic Nasty Gal look, new fashion and internet trends are also incorporated into images. This goes further than acknowledging seasons and holidays. These images make Nasty Gal part of the conversation, if not an authority, on festival wear and even wildly used emoji.

Nasty Gal also understands which famous personalities resonate with their audience. Photos of them wearing the clothing brand are posted along with a custom url. Followers can then learn more the product showcased, and other favourite Nasty Gal picks.

Nasty Gal

The custom url is added both in the caption and as a ‘location’. Neither of these links are clickable, so you will likely see very little traffic if they are only used on Instagram. If you do decide to include links, always use a custom url. This way you’ll be able to test variables and improve your results. Nasty Gal’s loyal community, solid call-to-actions, and striking images are all factors contributing to increased visits as users type out the url or copy and paste the caption.

Engagement

While Nasty Gal mostly includes a url in place of a location, they do sometimes include a physical location. Adding a place increases your reach to Instagram users browsing images at that location. There have been some issues with location since Instagram replaced Foursquare with Facebook Places, so be sure to pick an accurate address.

Regardless of where the shot was taken, if the people in the photo have an Instagram account, Nasty Gal @mentions them within the caption. This makes it easy for your followers to engage with that person. Instagram also allows you to tag people in the photo itself, but you might want to get permission first since tagged photos will appear publicly in their profile. Either way, the person will get notified which encourages more activity and hopefully a repost of the photo for their own followers.

Adding hashtags to the caption can also increases likes, comments, and followers. Hashtags improve engagement by targeting users that aren’t yet following your brand. Nasty Gal could include popular, yet relevant, hashtags such as Fashion (114M+), Style (87M+), and Vintage (12M+). However, they mostly use their own branded hashtags. Event though these have been gaining momentum, the branded hashtags are likely to only be used by current followers. A balance of the two can have a significant impact on your brand awareness and engagement metrics.

Creating your own hashtags can help you build a community around a shared love for your brand. However, the above only works if that sentiment already existed among your customers. Nasty Gal was able to build a large audience, because it offers high quality products that their customers desire.

Nasty Gal

Nasty Gal has 1.2M+ Instagram followers, hundreds of comments per photo, thousands of images with their branded hashtags, and yet they still take the time to interact with fans. Initially this will be easy to do, but as your online presence grows you will have to make an effort to ensure engagement remains a priority. Nasty Gal knows the value of listening to customers on social media, and this has helped them become a stronger brand with a growing loyal community.


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The Five-Month Term

Toronto SkylineWhile checking out some local Toronto startups, I came across one that had an interesting take on the probationary period. They stated that the ‘project’ was for a five-month term, with the option to extend it indefinitely.

Outside of the startup world, it’s common to have a three-month probationary period. However, you can usually tell long before that if an employee is the right fit, especially within a small and nimble startup. After the first week, it’s pretty clear if the new hire can actually code or close. After the second week, you can usually tell whether they’re a good cultural fit.

If the startup has been burnt before by low-performing hires, then the probationary period would be shorter. Perhaps it’s based on some legal advice, or maybe the founders are simply being honest about their current resources. Instead of using the five-month term as a cop out, this might simply be a way of letting candidates know that they might be let go if the business doesn’t become profitable.

The honesty is refreshing, but it seems that some people might be turned off. Even after they realize the five-month term doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of belief in their skills, the thought that the founders are ready to give it all up in five-months isn’t very inspiring. Even if it is realistic.

Working with startups, you’re always ready for funding to run out. But you’re also ready to make compromises and eat ramen together until the vision finally becomes a reality. If you have the determination it takes to succeed, you don’t schedule an end date.

 

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