Nick Armstrong, Lead Organizer of Fort Collins Startup Week, interviewed Lucas Casarez, Founder of Level Up Financial Planning of Fort Collins, Colorado about his pivot during COVID-19 and the long-term considerations he’s emphasizing in his work.
Because of the unique structure of this particular business, hopping on a Zoom call to conduct an interview wasn’t going to be productive, so… the 21 owners and leads got together and answered some questions for you.
If you’re finding yourself with a little bit more time to read these days, it might be worth diving into one of these amazing local books by local authors (many of whom are also speakers at Fort Collins Startup Week!).
Rachael Walker, owner of Life’s a Buch Kombucha shares her COVID-19 pivot story along with some tips for small business owners to survive and thrive during this crisis.
Not everyone thinks of the public library when starting a business. Yet, it’s the radical collaboration among entrepreneurs, libraries, and community partners that helps foster local economic development.
Many people commonly associate “sales” with stepping out of their comfort zone. But, as I’ve learned, “sales” are less commonly associated with one key ingredient that actually makes sales successful.
Can you guess it?
Hint: It has to do with connection.
*drum roll please…*
Maybe this seems obvious. But let’s just get curious for a moment: How often is “authenticity” the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the next sales conversation you’re prepping for?
The idea of selling has a tendency, all too often, to feel scary, intimidating and nerve-wracking. Which is exactly why I love helping entrepreneurs actually experience sales as something fun—and not so scary.
This journey of marrying “authenticity” and “sales” in the same sentence, and living it, has been nothing short of eye-opening and diverse.
And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. One that’s taken me totally out of my wheelhouse and walking along spectacular views. And, one that began when I decided to step away from the career in HR that defined me since my freshman year of college.
Working in HR taught me a lot about communication, and how the way we show up in our communications makes a world of difference. Little did I know, the universe was setting my stage for the work I’m doing now helping clients have authentic, enjoyable and fruitful sales conversations.
When I left HR I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So I started my own business. And failed. I started again. …And failed, again. This happened again. And Again.
Four failed launches.
So I changed directions. Numerous times. I became well-acquainted with stepping out of my comfort zone:
- I was asked to be part of the opening team (as restaurant manager) for Fort Collins’ dazzling Elizabeth Hotel. What began by staring at an empty lot of concrete and steel transformed to a team collaboration that created an integral and amazing aspect of the Fort Collins community today.
- Constant Contact offered me a job. I took it and learned a wealth of information about email marketing.
- I moved to Idaho, turned around and left four weeks later—because I wasn’t afraid to get honest with myself and recognize what was truly best for me, letting go of expectations.
In hindsight, it became clear that all these seemingly disconnected experiences were actually perfectly interconnected, and leading me to a beautiful part of the journey I now find myself on: successfully owning the Proffit Coach, helping others shift their sales experience.
What did all parts of this winding, interwoven journey of mine have in common? What allowed me to successfully launch the Proffit Coach and pay my bills (plus some) during the first 3 months of launching my business? (I spent zero on marketing these first 3 months, BTW. I know, it’s nuts. And yes, you read that double “f” in Proffit right–I’m lucky enough to have ”Proffit” as my last name 😉 ).
As I’ve reflected on a common thread, this is what I’ve noticed:
- I wasn’t afraid to step out of my comfort zone and make a change (even when other people thought it was crazy). I was willing to trust myself.
- I made authenticity the tone for all of my business (and personal) communications.
- I’ve learned to be open to possibility.
Being committed to authenticity and open to possibility, and experiencing this firsthand, allows me every day to help clients apply these ideas to their own business.
What’s amazing is that sales (and most of business) isn’t just about stepping out of our comfort zone. It’s also about being committed to authenticity.
As you become more comfortable sharing your incredible gifts with the world, get curious and ask yourself:
- How do most sales conversations feel to you? Do they feel authentic, or does the conversation feel awkward?
- If you’ve experienced a truly authentic-feeling sales conversation, can you think of one important thing that made it feel so natural? (Get specific! 😉 ).
- If not, what is one thing you could do to help future sales conversations feel more natural? (Hint: check out this post for some tips).
When we communicate authentically, we have an incredible potential to transform our business engine (sales) from experiences in which we forget to breathe, to experiences that feel so natural and energizing that we detach from outcomes, and confidently receive what our journey has to give us.
This guest post is by Alison Proffit, the Proffit Coach.
Alison Proffit teaches small business owners how to become more effective in the sales aspect of their business. Her work focuses on becoming more clear on where the breakdown is, creating a sales process that resonates with them so that they can go into sales conversations more confidently and then have a plan to follow through on the connections that have been made.
Do you have friends who ask you to proofread their reports? Or maybe they want your help designing a logo or building website? Do people ask you to photograph their wedding? Perhaps you’re the go-to person for tech help among family members?
Whatever your skill set, these friendly requests could be highlighting opportunities for freelance work.
Fast Company reported that 35% of the U.S. workforce is now freelancing, around 57 million people, with income that “currently makes up almost 5% of the country’s GDP, or close to $1 trillion.”
Before you go and quit your day-job for the world of freelance work, there are few things to consider to make sure the decision to go solo is right for you.
And the Poudre River Public Library can help! In addition to having a dedicated Business Librarian and Career Librarian available to do research and work with you one-on-one, the Library has a variety of resources and materials to help you take those first steps toward freelance success.
Some quick market research will tell you whether or not your freelance business is viable in your area. Is there demand for what you’re offering? How large is your potential customer base? Who are your competitors?
The answers to these and other critical questions will determine whether becoming a freelancer is feasible.
Among the many market research services provided by our Business Librarian are industry overviews and trends, competitive analyses, demographics, lifestyle statistics, mailing lists, and more. Online reports and statistics can be accessed for free using Library eResources like Statista, First Research, Reference USA, Encyclopedia of American Businesses, and others.
2. Plan for success
Start your freelance journey off right with a plan. You probably don’t need a 25-page structured document, but spending time writing up your goals, financial needs, and plans for growth is helpful for keeping yourself accountable and for measuring success. If you’re anticipating moving from a freelancer to a solopreneur and expanding your business, then a business plan is useful
In addition to the many business planning books and eBooks, Library staff can help you navigate the Business Plans Handbook Collection. Sample plans serve as examples of how to approach, structure, and compose business plans.
3. Forming the business
Are you forming a business or just doing a side gig for extra cash? As you’re planning, you’ll need to determine the type of entity to establish and register with the CO Secretary of State: a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), or something different.
The legal and financial aspects of forming a business should be researched carefully before putting everything together. You’ll want to ensure you have any necessary licenses or permits and are appropriately set up with the CO Department of Revenue for taxes.
The Library can help you access registration forms and point you in the direction of digital resources to guide you in forming your business. One of the most useful resources is Colorado Business Resource Guide which is available at the Library and online. A frequently-used database is the Legal Information Resource Center which includes legal guides and forms for ownership structure, accounting and audits, and more.
4. Work space
Where you’ll work is a big consideration in planning your new venture. Do you have space for a home office? What about leasing co-working space?
Did you know the public libraries have available space for you to work? In addition to the open work spaces at all three Poudre Libraries, there are also collaboration and small group / study rooms that can be reserved for free at Old Town Library. These rooms are useful for connecting with clients, holding meetings, and even conducting conference calls and video calls.
If your freelance gig is marketing, then you’re probably set to promote your services to potential clients. But not everyone has marketing skills and strategies up their sleeve. The Library has a number of great books and eBooks covering marketing how-to’s including social media strategy, creating a website, and email marketing. There are also databases like First Research and Reference USA that allow you to examine demographics, consumer trends, and other useful customer data to find and target potential customers.
6. Contracts and agreements
The Legal Information Reference Center offers an entire section on consulting and contracting, including samples forms for specific services like bookkeeping, social media consulting, and others. These contracts are useful for project-based and hourly services.
There are also useful reference books like “Contracts: The Essential Business Desk Reference” that can guide you in setting up work agreements.
7. Taxes and finances
It’s always important to consult a professional in legal and financial matters. But to help you understand some of the critical concepts, you’ll find library books and eBooks on topics from basic accounting to QuickBooks how-to.
The Legal Information Reference Center will also help. It includes the eBook “Home Business Tax Deductions” and also has resources for business accounting and audits.
For other legal and financial questions, our Business Librarian can help you get in touch with local professionals and consultants, and find additional support through our partnership with the Larimer Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
This guest post is by Katie Auman of the Poudre River Public Library District.
The Poudre River Public Library District welcomes Matthew West to its team as the new Business Librarian. Matthew comes to Poudre Libraries from Loveland Public Library where he managed various library services, programs, and outreach initiatives.
“I truly appreciate the spirit of entrepreneurship throughout our community,” says Matthew West. “It’s a testament to a business ecosystem that understands and values startups and small businesses. I’m excited to be part of that system and help people successfully create and grow their businesses.”
Matthew brings a deep knowledge of data and market analysis, strategic planning, and research to his work as a Business Librarian. He is located at the Harmony Library and is available for one-on-one meetings to discuss business research and analysis and to teach methods for effectively using the many free business resources available at the libraries.
In addition to providing business services and programs at the libraries, Matthew will lend his expertise to the Larimer Small Business Development Center where he’ll work with clients interested in industry and market trends, and customer, demographic, and competition research.
To learn more about the Library District’s various business resources or to request an appointment with Matthew to discuss your small business or startup, visit the Library’s Business Center webpage: PoudreLibraries.org/business.
You can meet Matthew at Fort Collins Startup Week 2020, where he’ll be on-site for the Scale-Up Week sessions.
Professional communication is based on customs and socially agreed-upon values. When you meet someone, how do you introduce yourself? In the U.S., we shake hands to greet people we don’t know.
Imagine walking into a job interview and introducing yourself by pulling the interviewer into a bear hug. Does that seem ridiculous? Uncomfortable? Silly? If so, what you’re feeling is a cultural boundary. When we don’t know people, we have a set of behaviors that we use in order to communicate. These behaviors are culturally established, and in the U.S. that means handshakes, not hugs.
Written communication also has rules of behavior that relate to cultural boundaries. When people don’t meet our expectations for behavior, we become uncomfortable.
Consider the following email:
I have an “eye exam” appointment this morning, after that I’ll go pick up the sandwiches for the meeting at noon and bring them in. Then I have to meet Grandma at the doctor’s office at 10. I will be back in time to deliver trays to the Education Room for the noon meeting. After that, you may find me in my office sipping on a cold frosty “one”. Okay, maybe not but it sure sounds good.
This is a real message sent from one professional to the entire office. Does it make you feel as uncomfortable as hugging that interviewer? It should.
Three aspects of this message cross social boundaries:
- No greeting. Greetings establish the tone of the message. You are starting a conversation with a group of people. Face-to-face, we begin by smiling, waving, nodding, shaking hands, raising our arms for a hug, or saying hello. These behaviors establish that we are about to talk to each other. In email, the greeting does the same thing. A greeting should include a word or phrase like “Hi” or “Good morning” and the person or group’s name.
- Too personal. The writer dictates everything they are going to do. Remember, this is a message from an office worker to the rest of the office. Do all of their coworkers want to know about the doctor’s appointment and the family member? No. Most people in the office probably don’t care. Personal details are the privilege of friends.
- Too I-focused. The first three sentences begin with “I,” which signals to the reader that the writer is only concerned with the writer. Professional messages, ones that enhance our credibility, build trust, and create strong working relationships, show that we care about the reader. These messages pay more attention to what the reader needs than what the writer wants. Only two details in this message matter to the reader: 1) lunch will be in the Education Room at noon and 2) the writer will be away in the morning.
Here’s a you-focused, work-content only, revision of this message with a greeting:
Lunch will be available today, 10/12, in the Education Room at noon.
I’ll be in my office as soon as I arrive with lunch. While I am out this morning, Grant will be available to assist you.
A message like this doesn’t feel like a suffocating bear hug that you can’t get out of; it feels like a handshake. And that’s exactly how our professional messages should be.
This guest post is by Jenny Morse, Founder of Appendance, Inc. In her own words:
Words, language, communication, writing, books, poetry, brains. My background is in creative writing–poetry, non-fiction, and I’ve written a YA novel. Now I train professionals in business writing at companies around the country and at CSU. My expertise is helping people learn writing strategies that enhance their own credibility and build relationships.
Women are taking the stage and taking up their space more than ever – globally, and right here at home.
Part of the mission of Fort Collins Startup Week is to empower entrepreneurs of all stripes, backgrounds and passions to build better business through a spirit of inclusion. It is important to our team that Startup Week celebrates entrepreneurship as a primary driver of social, cultural and economic equity.
Last year’s polling data revealed that 59% of our respondents identified as female. This is hardly surprising, as our Northern Colorado communities are rife with strong and visible female leaders. To ensure we are living our values, we crunched the numbers and were delighted to find that 54% of the speakers this year are women!
Given our values of inclusion, representation, and diversity, we often find ourselves aligned with local organizations that share our mission and empower entrepreneurs of all stripes, backgrounds and passions to build better business.
Enter: She Leads.
She Leads is a community of professional women in Northern Colorado. They consider themselves the “anti” networking group, suggesting we all “ditch the elevator pitch” and get to know people for who they are – not just what they do. Designed by introverts for introverts, She Leads embodies the #Give1st mindset. The group hosts two free events each month where members practice taking up their space, being seen as leaders in the community and increase their influence through personal and professional development.
Since its inception in 2017, She Leads has blossomed into a force to be reckoned with in Northern Colorado. With over one thousand members and counting in their Meetup group, sponsorships from powerful local organizations, and a paid membership tier to help scale the business while keeping regular meetings free and accessible to women from all walks of life, this is a community with serious staying power.
Sounds like a group that should be active during Startup Week!
As it turns out…they are. Of the 81 female speakers this year, 14 of them are active with She Leads, totaling 28 presentations throughout the week.
Check out these diverse and impactful presenters speak on a variety of topics from video production and sales to self-care and human resources. She Leads is proud to collaborate and support these powerful women, including:
- Chrysta Bairre, She Leads Founder and Chief Executive Officer
- Jamila N. Bryant
- LeAndra Foster
- Karen Fournier
- Ariana Friedlander
- Sierra Frost
- Erin Hottenstein
- Ellen O’Neill
- Marissa Orchard
- Ali Owens, She Leads Chief Creative Officer
- Tami Parker, She Leads Chief Financial Officer
- Alison Proffit
- Cindy Skalicky
- Tina Todd
So as part of our 5-day celebration of entrepreneurship, we would like to celebrate She Leads for bringing such talented leaders to Startup Week. We can’t wait to see you there.
To learn more about She Leads, visit: www.meetup.com/sheleadsfc
She Leads is on Instagram: @sheleadsfc