The Inspired Entrepreneur’s Guide Podcast Digs Deep Into a Discussion on Mentoring


Ruth Martin of was honored to be asked back as a guest on The Inspired Entrepreneur’s Guide podcast with host Darlene Victoria. This time Darlene wanted to dig deep into mentoring and mentoring specifically geared towards virtual assistants and entrepreneurs that are working solo.

Darlene serves up a double dose of insights and information when she approaches this topic from two perspectives: 1) interviewing Doreen Astra of Astra Virtual Assistance who is a protege that Darlene, herself, has been mentoring, and 2) interviewing Ruth Martin of Maplewood Virtual Assistance who has served as a mentor for many, many years as well as volunteers in the Mentorship Program for a leading virtual assistant industry organization. Hearing from both sides of the mentoring topic brings added knowledge and depth to this episode as well as gives guidance for anyone seeking their own mentor or anyone interested in becoming a mentor.

Listen to Episode 20, All About Mentorship – Working with One or Becoming One here:

Listen to the earlier interview with Ruth Martin, Episode 7, Inspired Interview with Ruth Martin

Resurrecting the Marketing Moment Lost

ravenYou may think marketing is timeless and an invitation extended is always opened. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Marketing is ever-changing. Take notice to changes in social media marketing in recent years. It used to be that Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn were the main gigs. Today, while these are still prominent, vying for one’s online attention is Google+, live video feed platforms such as Blab, Periscope, and Facebook Live, as well as the increasing presence of podcasting to name a few more.

Marketing takes on many forms to meet the changing needs of how people want to receive information and messages. Online marketing and changes seem to occur faster than traditional offline marketing. But, there are changes in offline marketing too.

Invitations extended to get in front of someone’s established audience have expiration dates. Think of one of the live video feed platforms, for instance. If someone invites you to join them on a live Blab session you wouldn’t accept and show up whenever you felt like it. You would agree, honor your word to participate, and be present. The same can be said for guest blogging or being a guest anywhere.

For me, it’s monumental that when you say you will join someone in front of their audience as their guest that you show up. Your word needs to count for something. If you fail to show up, how can you be trusted to show up for referral work or if your business is hired for a service? For me, there is a deep rooted connection in honoring your word and your commitments.

You may be wondering if a marketing moment lost can be resurrected? Things come up, some last minute, that can’t be helped. Upon everything, open and honest communication is key. Circumstances and timing may prevent you from saying yes today but after weeks, a month, or longer the timing may better position you to say yes. Tell the person this upfront. It’s as simple as “I can’t today but if it possible to do this in the future, would you keep me in mind and reach out or may I reach out to you as a follow up?”

Can the moment be salvaged? Perhaps…and that is a big perhaps.

2 Ways to Recover a Lost Marketing Moment:

  1. Reach out and ask. Before assuming the invitation is open do the person the courtesy of reaching out and asking. It’s arrogant and short-sighted to think the invitation is open unless it was expressed that way. Never, and I mean never, forward anything past the deadline date with the expectation that the person will market you and your business. Why should they? You let them hanging when you say yes but never came through.
  2. Offer something above and beyond to their audience. If you’ve missed honoring the commitment you made and want to salvage the marketing opportunity to get in front of someone else’s list, group, audience, etc. then you need to be prepared to bring something more to the table than an interview or your own wares to be promoted. You’ve lost face with the person and they won’t want to put you in front of their people unless the new offer is worth it to their list, audience, and connections.

Even with one of these suggestions the marketing moment may simply have passed. You didn’t act in time. When you agreed to be available and didn’t follow through you tarnished your creed with this person who may not be interested in giving you a second chance. Goodness after many months or longer, you may not even be remembered by them…especially if you hadn’t worked to build solid relationship with them to begin with.

If you really want to get in front of someone’s audience and the moment has passed it’s on you to think of something creative and pitch it to the other person. It may or may not suit. If the pitch is sweet enough for the person’s audience you may get the opportunity again. Most importantly remember it’s not about you. It’s about that person’s audience and what you can offer to them in the way of services, products, or a learning experience.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not passively written nor directed at one person in particular. If it stings in reading it then I’m guessing you’re guilty of one of these mis-steps. Learn from the suggestions and see if you can resurrect a marketing moment. Honor your word and when you agree to get slotted into someone’s marketing calendar know that decision was made with their audience’s interests in mind. It’s more about their audience than giving you and your business exposure.

Wait! Know Why Before Discounting

special“He asked me if I discounted so I figured I had to.”

“We talked about everything they needed. They chose several packages and a lot of support services with promises of needing more as they grew. Then they expected a sizable discount.”

“I felt it I didn’t discount, I couldn’t land the client.”

“I told her I didn’t want to drop my prices but she said everyone was doing it.”

“They said they were starting out and really needed my help. They wouldn’t be able to accomplish their goals if they didn’t get a discount.”

I’m guessing one, if not more, of these sound familiar. Even if you were not a part of one of these conversations you probably know of someone who was.

Wait! Before you discount your prices know why you are doing it.

  • Because someone asked isn’t enough reason. Laziness at the prospect of what seems to be an easy one-time sale can be finessed to build into repeat long-term sales – giving your business sustained income to build and grow.
  • Because you’re not confident in what you’re selling isn’t enough reason. Lack of confidence in your product/service or your ability to sell at full price can be learned, improved, and fixed.
  • Because you think price is the only thing between choosing to buy from your business and another business isn’t enough reason. Not understanding the value of the product/service or not knowing how to articulate the differences between value and benefits can be honed and learned.

Giving a discount because you are an emerging business is foolishness. These businesses will not be around for years and years. They undermine themselves every step of the way and later scratch their heads to why they struggle. Too frequently a discount is given without much thought about why it’s being given.

During the Christmas holidays I shopped a well known box store for a Star Wars Yoda plush figure that was on a family member’s wish list. The plush figure retailed for $49.99 and was on sale for $39.99 – saving $10. When I got to the checkout counter the salesperson commented that she thought the price for Yoda was excessive. I didn’t say anything because it was on sale, in my shopping budget, and the only thing this person requested for their Christmas gift. Then the salesperson said she would give me a 25% discount because paying that much was ridiculous for such an item – lowering the price to $29.99. Now, what happened?

The salesperson didn’t see the value in the product the store she worked for was selling. The salesperson cost the store profit when a customer was satisfied with the sale price and an additional reduction wasn’t necessary to gain my sale. The salesperson based her decision on her value system and applied a price that held meaning to her if she were the customer. [In misjudgments like this, it is reason enough for only supervisors to override the system to add additional discounts to an already marked down item but I’m letting my retail store manager experience speak. It also speaks to why clerks need training to be better frontend salespeople.]

Buyers are wise. While some may get excited about a sale price and expect discounts the vast majority recognize that sales are statements of what you should actually be paying. Here’s an example that is seen online frequently: sales pages with a regular price and that price is crossed out replaced with a lower special price. The lower price could be hundreds of dollars lower such as regular price $397 but reduced to a special of $197. Or another common one is: $97 reduced to $27.

I caution you to avoid selling based on price. It is a slippery slope and one hard to recover from once you get the customer in the door and later want to increase the prices to be more inline with fair market rates. Always, always, always sell on value. Value is where you differentiate your products and services from other businesses.

There are three basic reasons that a business should discount:

  1. Prepay discounts – Giving a discount when the customer pays all the cash upfront is a motivating reason to give a price break. You’ll see this in terms such as 5% 10 Net 30. This translates to take a 5% discount if the invoice is paid in 10 days otherwise the full invoice amount is due in 30 days. The incentive is to pay early and pay less.
  2. Bundled deals – An increased transaction size can be a valid reason to discount.
  3. Seasonal sales – Discounts to phase out inventory is business smart. This is inventory that needs to be taken off the books and gaining some compensation for it is better than writing it off totally.

The next time the conversation shifts and a discount is requested pause to consider why the person asking for the discount has earned the reduction before agreeing. A discount may not be in the best interest of your business.

The Secrets to Asking the Right Survey Questions

survey questionsIf you’ve ever conducted a survey you know how important it is to ask the right questions. Did you know there are actually types of questions to include and to avoid? Frequently someone will make a list of questions without giving it much thought but there is a better way which can yield more information from the participants.

The first priority with any survey is to determine the main focus for this specific survey. The survey should stay on topic. If a wide range of information is hoped for than consider conducting more than one survey or splitting the questions between two different groups of people.

Things to Avoid

  • Free surveys should be relatively short; not exceeding 10 questions. If your survey is longer consider breaking it into multiple shorter surveys or paying participants to take the survey. Generally, the person taking the survey gains nothing to help you collect data.
  • Avoid filling the survey with the same types of questions. All Yes/No responses or all open-ended questions, for example, are boring and wear on the survey taker.
  • Avoid haphazardly listing questions in no particular order. If you use one response to lead into the next question that second question has the potential to yield a more in-depth response.

What to Include and Do Better

  • Plan ahead and be strategic with which questions you really want to know more. Save your open-ended questions for these points. While the tendency may be to ask open-ended questions for each question studies have suggested that mixing the types of questions between open-ended, multiple choice, and rate this will give you a better analysis of data than asking only one type of question. Participants tire of the same types of questions. It’s been noted that surveys of all open-ended will have lengthier and more detailed responses for the first questions but as the survey continues the length and detail dwindles.
  • In place of asking a yes or no response question consider having the person use a rating.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with one being Not At All (aka No) and ten being Extremely Pleased (aka Yes) you can quickly see how the scale may reveal more depth than a mere yes or no. If there are a majority of fours that is more telling than seeing a no. A four is close enough to neutral that you could do some tweaking to the topic being asked about and perhaps a survey in a couple of months would yield more Extremely Pleased or numbers closer to this side of the rating scale.
  • When asking multiple choice questions keep the choices distinctive, descriptive, and no more than five. Again, using a range of five will give you a high, a low, and a middle response with some in-betweens to gauge how you’re doing.
  • The best surveys will be up to ten questions and mix up the types of questions being used. If you try this approach I think you’ll be pleased with how responsive the participants will be as well as appreciate the improved quality of the data collected.

I have noticed an increase in surveys around product development where the person clearly doesn’t have a direction to their questions and is grasping at trying to assess what her market wants. You may have participated in one of these surveys or even used it yourself. It’s filled with multiple choice questions similar to Which of these services would you use? Or, asks the open ended question What causes you pain or frustration in your business?

A better way for these types of survey questions to be worded is to ask someone to rate in order of importance. You will start to see some patterns developing in the answers that come in. Additionally, when you provide the list that should be rated you are centering in on your own products and services. What good does an answer do you if it is outside of your service offerings? Yes, you have new data but that data won’t directly link to something in your business offerings that you can market more. Be aware that a person may not be experiencing frustrations but should always be able to rate a list in order of importance.

Remember each survey should have a main focus and the questions should support that focus so each question builds and digs a bit deeper. Survey data is most valuable to you if it helps you gather data you can act on.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

DetourIn the past few months I’ve met numerous professionals who seem to have one thing in common. They are the block they are trying to move around. Their similar theme is expressing frustration about a project or their whole business not moving forward. When we delve deeper to discuss which roadblocks are in their way the same answer is repeated, “I want to do X but Y isn’t in place yet. I can’t do anything until Y is in place and that needs Z and Q to be in place.” The professional doesn’t know which way to move forward so remains frozen in place often throwing their hands up in frustration – sometimes for months or years.

When this happens, the best solution is forward movement with something…anything. Pick something and go! The momentum in one area is often enough to get other areas rolling along.

The first step to getting out of your own way is to regain your focus. Determine what is important. Notice I’m not saying what needs to happen first but what is important. Those can often be very different things.

Meet Jo – She has several UFOs (unfinished objects) in her business.

Jo (the frustrated business professional) is in the process of revamping her website. Jo wants to attend a trade conference for networking and meeting potential clients that is date specific. Jo wants to upgrade her membership program for her existing clients and for inducting new clients.  In talking with Jo, she wants to promote the new membership offerings and increased membership plan levels to get some increased revenue flowing into her business but feels she can’t because the website isn’t completed. Jo also wants to participate in the trade show and network but feels that she has no place to send potential clients so they can schedule a discovery consultation with her. She wants to have her website done but continues to add new things and make changes while the redesign is in progress. Because she can’t see the finish line for any of these things she remains frozen as the trade show dates get closer and months, instead of weeks, of working on the website redesign march on.

What Jo doesn’t understand is these are self-imposed roadblocks. None of these things should keep her from meeting new clients, from exchanging information with new contacts (aka networking), from directing traffic to her old exiting website which is visible at her familiar website URL, or discussing and marketing the new membership plan levels to those in her program.

Let’s help Jo plow through some roadblocks.

By importance I’m going to call this order: 1) the trade show because it is date specific, 2) the membership plans because this generates revenue, and 3) working around the new website.

The trade show: It’s crucial that Jo make these connections and exchange information to (hopefully) attract new clients (aka revenue) into her business rather than allow a year to pass before the next show. While Jo feels she needs a website to do this she actually needs a designated single web page. While her web designer puts her new website together a single web page can be used as the point of contact for show attendees and connections. As she directs traffic to this web page she should be certain the page includes an opt-in box with a freebie enticer to get the person on her mailing list for future communication and news from her business plus social media icon links to encourage connections. She can include a show special program, services package, or other product/services offering that is created specifically with this trade show person in mind. If the goal is to schedule a discovery consultation with her to further discuss their needs than the link to schedule an appointment should be on this web page. If no consultation is needed but the product or service can be purchased straight out, a Buy Now button needs to be on the page. If Jo feels it’s vital that her bio be part of the page to position her as a person of authority on this product or service that can certainly be added. See how Jo is now being proactive about getting the information together that she needs to be available and ready for the trade show traffic she hopes to attract. Where there is a will, there is a way. Sometimes the road in business dealings comes with what appears to be a roadblock so put your thinking cap on and think “detour.” If this path “seems” to be blocked than which other ways can be used get you to the outcome you want? There is frequently more than one way to reach an outcome. Knowing how to navigate past something is a skill that will open detour routes around your obstacles.

Increasing revenue via the new membership plans: One option is setting up a single web page to point members to which outlines the various plans and membership fees that can be locked in now – via Buy Now buttons. Another option is an announcement via an email blast with a link to Pay Now and reap a month’s savings while they wait until the launch date.  And thirdly, to phase in these members immediately – giving members accesses and privileges found in the new membership plans pre-launch of what the general public will get. Being a prior member in good standing does come with membership perks, right?

Working around the new website: Jo’s biggest mistake has been that she went to the website designer prematurely. Jo didn’t have a clear plan for what she wanted on the new site. She didn’t know the total pages she wanted. She didn’t have her page copy ready. While the designer has been helpful in working through these areas the projections for completion have been extended more than once. What could have been different? More discussion around pages and having everything together beforehand would have helped. If Jo didn’t know what she needed then having consultation calls prior to beginning would have been wise.

While Jo wants to wait for the website debut with all the changes completed she actually does have a website presence now. This fact shouldn’t be ignored. She does have a website. It may not match her new branding but she can have solo web pages set up with the new branding that will be a page of the updated website later on. It takes some compromise and knowing that sometimes things may not be perfect but are often acceptable. When the choice is between imperfect or nothing. Never choose nothing because your business will suffer.

If you see a bit of Jo in you and the roadblocks you encounter than I encourage you to get out of your own way. Determine what’s important. Focus on that and the outcome you’re striving to achieve then get moving. Know that imperfect is better than nothing. If you need some nudging, reach out. Together we’ll get things moving in the right direction.

The Ice Cream & Services Niche Experiment

ice-creamNeapolitan ice cream is traditionally made of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream flavors. Each are tried-and-true primary flavors recognized by the masses. Specialty ice cream flavors such as Peach, Black Raspberry, Mint Chocolate Chip, Moose Tracks, Cherry Garcia, Dreamsicle, Salted Caramel, and even Tiger Tail (a Canadian orange and licorice specialty) feel sophisticated and premium in comparison. Ice cream makers of the specialty flavors frequently turn to one of the flavors in a Neapolitan as a base for their recipe and then add in their own twists and ingredients to bring out the essence of each flavor they strive to specialize in making. Consider Fudge Ripple, the base is vanilla with with tons of velvety-smooth chocolate fudge swirls.

Recently I asked friends to tell me their favorite flavor of ice cream. I suspected the answer would be very similar to what I see happening in the virtual assistant business world. Without knowing I would be drawing some parallels more than 40 participants shared their favorites with me. While I wasn’t as concerned about which flavor came out on top – it was a combination of mint chocolate chip and chocolate mint chip coming in at 20%, by the way, the overwhelmingly strong response was that friends preferred a specialty flavor compared to one of the traditional primary flavors of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry found in a classic Neapolitan. They wanted more than a general flavor.

Let’s compare how tastes in ice cream parallel offerings in business

While you could offer general services such as general administrative support, the cravings (and demand) of the masses shifts to specializing or being an expert in a specific area.  When you look around at how many virtual assistants and virtual professionals (some refer to themselves by their specialty name) assemble their offerings to their customers the large majority hone in on less than five core services and specialize. They may specialize in specific services as copywriting, web design, bookkeeping, newsletters, transcription, or inbound marketing to name a few or they may focus on working within a certain industry where they know the ins-and-outs of that industry – supporting attorneys, real estate agents, or coaches. (More about industry-driven compared to services-driven niches in this blog post.)

The thing to remember is this: if the masses are specializing and have been in business a number of years they must be on to something. Follow the supply-and-demand because all of those people can’t be wrong. If you look at the copywriting on these veteran websites you’ll notice the writing speaks directly to their own audience, using the words and phrases that are easily recognizable to those they serve best. People recognize their own people.

It’s not to say that generalizing won’t bring in the dollars. In the ice cream survey 1% chose vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. People are buying. Most anyone who chose a specialty flavor given the choice of only vanilla or chocolate could probably make a choice…but would they be as happy choosing between vanilla and say, Moose Tracks? Probably not. Chances are that if you ask the virtual bookkeeper if she ever does admin work for any of her clients she will answer she does on occasion or she subcontracts out to a trusted colleague. The overwhelming bulk of her work happens in her field of specialty.

The starting point may be generalizing while you explore what it means to be a business or while you struggle to determine who you are marketing to (marketing woes can be fixed) and what your services mean to others.

The breakthrough point happens when you notice that certain services are in higher demand and realize that your specialty is shining brightly. It’s like a beacon calling more repeat work in this service and getting referrals for this service. Upon your discovery your marketing generally shifts to talk with these customers and you become their preferred provider. Psst – that specialty may be that you rock at working with Excel spreadsheets, formulas, and pivot tables. If this is the case then tailor your website’s copywriting to speak directly to those who need outstanding Excel support.

Rather than say, “My ideal client is any small business owner that needs help with administrative tasks that are draining them and taking time away from revenue-generating activities.” Be more specific. And if you are someone who favors one of those primary flavors – for example, vanilla – know that even inside being vanilla you can specialize so your people will recognize themselves in your marketing, your conversational language, and in your website copy. When I get a choice between vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean I will lean towards vanilla bean. My palate distinguishes flavor nuisances between vanilla bean and plain vanilla. Your clients can also pick out the differences. (Yes, I’m talking about your UVP – unique value position).

Take a second look at your marketing, your copywriting, and your overall business presence. Does it speak to your people? Will they recognize themselves and know that you truly get them and all the things that are important to them? You know what you must do if it doesn’t.