A Poem of Thanksgiving

Heavenly Father, on Thanksgiving Day

We bow our hearts to You and pray.

We give You thanks for all You’ve done

Especially for the gift of Jesus, Your Son.

For beauty in nature, Your glory we see

For joy and health, friends and family,

For daily provision, Your mercy and care

These are the blessings You graciously share.

So today we offer this response of praise

With a promise to follow You all of our days.

-Mary Fairchild

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The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – the next chapter

In the summer of 2014 I started looking at spaces to lease.  If we were successful in finding something we could afford, this would be out first time not sharing a space with other studios.  We investigated spaces to both purchase and lease, which can be a very interesting and need I say long process.

Money is always a key objective to deciding on a space.  I have seen people who choose a wonderful space, but the lease was so high they had no money for build out and renovation.  They took out loans and soon became “underwater”, which in turn lead to the business closing and they being left in major financial debt.   Those consequences are just scary and you realize that it can easy happen to you.  One bad decision here, a wrong choice there, and the ceiling drops on your head.

It was decided early on that we would be patent and find the space that met our needs at the price we could afford without taking out any loans.  We looked at a number of places that fit our needs. Some were negotiated out from under us by other leasors.  If you are wondering of that is a common occurrence, I will tell you that YES this is very common in the business world.  Keep in mind one very important thing, always go into a negotiation with your BEST offer.  It will save you time and frustration as you move through the process.

Around the end of July we found a space that fit all of the criteria that we needed.  An open space, very little build out required and in a great location.  We made our best offer and won the lease.  I wanted to up and running as quickly as we could, but was having trouble finding contractors that were immediately available.  I started some of the preliminary work, which included applying for the numerous licenses, permits and inspections that are required.  I even had some of the small demo work done.  I received a call that week from an old family friend.  He had heard that I was looking for a contractor to help with some renovations and offered his assistance.

We started on the renovations the first week in August and they were completed by the last week in August.  Here are some of the pictures of the space as we moved along with the renovations.

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The decision to move into a dedicated space has been one of the best I could have made.   I will be transitioning into operating the studio full time in January 2015.  It has taken close to ten years to realize this dream and I plan on savoring the experience.

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The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – Chapter 6

In January of 2014, I could feel that it was going to be a year of change for Positively Ballroom.   What that change would be was still yet to be discovered or understood, but the feeling was certainly there.

One of the first things that I felt needed to be revised was our class format.  In previous years we had stuck to a monthly format, teaching one dance consecutively over the course of one month.  We found that this format was great studios that had a whole week of hours to offer their clients, but it was not working for our studio, which only had one day to offer classes in a group format.  Businesses frequently poll their clients to receive feedback on service levels and to get a feeling for what their client’s want.  Our poll discovered that our clients want to experience more dances for a longer time frame.  Taking this information, we changed our format to our class series, which would include instruction in four similar dances over the course of four months.

Our second change was going to be more of a gamble – a change to the day and time we offered our group class.  For the last two years we had offered our group class on Saturday evenings. We had played it safe hoping to attract those looking for something to do on Saturday nights.  It was time to take a calculated risk to see if we could change the interest level, so we moved the class to Friday evenings.

Over the course of the next six months, we would see our changes turn into positive business growth.  We gained new clientele and our current student base remained stable.  It was around May that I realized that it may be time to make one last big change.

Check out Chapter 7 to see the next step in the History of Positively Ballroom.

The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – Chapter 5

There are certain relationships that you always cherish, and most business owners will say that they always remember their first client.  My first client came to me wanting to learn how to Swing dance for their daughter’s wedding.  Though it was a short term goal, they enjoyed dancing at the wedding so much that they ended up staying a client of mine for the next several years until they moved out of my area.   We still keep in touch, which tells you the kind of relationship we had.

The first few years in business is always the hardest.  Expect trials, tribulations and many changes to endure for both yourself and for your business.  The trick to navigating these things is to stay consistent in your service levels, maintain a positive attitude, set realistic goals and work hard.  Clients will eventually find you, but sometimes it may take longer than you planned.

I can tell you that I experienced my share of trails, but the one thing that kept me focused was confidence that I was doing what I was put on this earth to do.   I know that God has a plan for me, otherwise why would I have been given the talents that possess?  I have always done my best to keep God at the center of my business operation and in that regard I know he has blessed me.

Some businesses grow quickly, while others grow at a slower rate.  Positively Ballroom grew at a slower rate than some of its competitors, but I was always aware that it grew at a rate that I could handle.  Slower growth allowed me to make mistakes and have time to recover from them.  I know we live in the age of instant gratification, but in the world of business, it is sometimes best to move at a slow but steady pace.

Check out Chapter 6 to see the next step in the History of Positively Ballroom.

The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – Chapter 4

Advertising and marketing are true art forms.   Companies pay millions of dollars to have their brand become a household name.  So how does a business owner, who only has an initial starting budget of $300 dollars for marketing supposed to do?

In my previous previous Martial Arts business I was responsible for creating all of our print advertising.  Luckily my studio was part of a national organization who provided us with standardized logos and ad templates.  I did not have to create everything from scratch, just simply modify certain content that pertained to my area.  In my new business I had none of those things and would have to do it all myself. from scratch.

I thought that a logo would be the best starting point, so that I might draw inspiration from seeing my business represented in art form.   I have an artist friend, Marius James, that does exceptional work, so I contacted him and we sat down and brain stormed ideas about what I wanted to convey as a brand.

I wanted to have a couple dancing as our main clientele would be couples, however I did not like the stylized logos that you see represent most dance companies.  Being a Latin dance competitor for most of my dance life, I want to emote that sense of energy, but in a classy way.  Did I mention Marius was exceptional?  He took our ideas and had a rough outline for me to review in about two weeks.  I told him to run with it and within a short time my Positively Ballroom logo became a reality.

The next step was to come up with a “tag line”, something that would describe my business in just one easy sentence.  For this piece I went back to my reasons for starting a dance studio.  What were the things that I wanted to convey to clients?  First, I knew that social dancing would be something that I wanted people to relate to us.  Teaching people how to interact with others in a positive way was also important.  Lastly, I also wanted to relate how my teaching style would make the difference in the learning process.  After much though and many revisions, I came up with “The Art of Social Dancing – One Step at a Time”.

My brand was born!

 

Positively Ballroom - "The Art of Social Dancing - One Step at a Time".®

 

I have heard that some people come up with their branding very easily, while others take years to find what fits.  For me it was a two month journey of discover that helped me truly realize what I wanted this business to visually represent, to myself and to my clients.

It was time to start creating some of the advertising for my business.  Putting some of my old desktop publishing skills to use, along with a fantastic program called Microsoft Publisher, I created business cards, brochures and even a website.  After finalizing my content and layouts I went to Office Depot and had 100 color brochures printed for distribution.   I then started handing them out to friends, family and co-workers. I had learned from my previous business how to run a marketing campaign on a shoe string budget, but in today’s electronic world, I was still unsure how effective some of the old techniques would work.

There is a reason why it is strongly recommended that you focus your first bit of advertising on people that you know.   Most often you will find that they will refer you to someone else, which helps to solidify your legitimacy.  In this way a co-worker, who did not know I was a dancer or teacher, discovered me and inquired about my services.  Soon I had my first client and we were off and running.

Check out Chapter 5 to see the next step in the History of Positively Ballroom.

The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – Chapter 3

Did you know?

1)   There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US and over 22 million are self-employed with no additional payroll or employees (these are called non-employers)

2)  Over 50% of the working population (120 million individuals) works in a small business

3)   19.4 million non-employer businesses are a sole proprietorship, 1.6 million are partnerships and 1.4 million are corporations

Many people who end up going into business for themselves have not always planned to do so.  Most people start out by doing something they love, like cooking.  They prepare food for local church functions or some other type of non-revenue generating event.  Someone tastes the food and inquiries about who prepared it.   Then the idea is voice – “Would you consider catering?” and the person has their first client and a new business is born.

Due to the nature of how one may end up starting a business, it not surprising that many do not perform the proper due diligence needed to make their business legitimate.   Many industries now require service providers to adhere to certain codes to protect both provider and client.  This may require the provider to take certification classes, which may seem unnecessary to new business owners.  However these certifications are designed to provide the general public with a sense of trust that the business owner understands and operates in the same way as other businesses in the same industry.

There are a number of resources for those looking to start a business.   Check out your local Community College or The US Small Business Administration (SBA)  for fantastic resource available to those wanting to start their own businesses.

Small Business owners should investigate forming a Legal Liability Company, or LLC to protect their personal assets.  Insurance, and in some industries becoming “bonded“, should also be investigated to help legitimize your specific business.  Search Google using the phase “compare LLC to sole proprietorship” to receive a ton of fantastic references on business structure.

I already knew from previous experience that I want to do something to help protect my personal assets.  I met with a lawyer to form a LLC for my business, bought my liability insurance and was ready to go… or so I thought.   Something was missing…    ah, yes…    clients!

Check out Chapter 4 to see the next step in the History of Positively Ballroom.

The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – Chapter 2

My first order of business was to form a Business Plan.  I found this fantastic software called Business Plan Pro that was not only affordable, but was designed to help with the start-up and continued development of my business throughout its lifetime.

I remember starting the program for the first time, looking forward to seeing how it would help me figure out this process.  The program started out by offering many different types of industry templates to help get me started and provided functioning examples.  I found one for a dance studio and immediately started answering questions.

The program did a great job of providing open ended question including some basic examples that helped categorize my thoughts.  What did I want this business to offer as services, how would I provide these services and what would be my cost of operation?   These were some of the many high level questions that had to be considered as part of the process.

Answering these questions brought me to my first initial concept of how I wanted to do business.  In the end, I decided that stepping into a brick and mortar building was not going to be a viable option for many years.  It was at this point that I realized to be different, I had to think differently.  This lead me to consider offering my services in the privacy of my client’s home or place of their choosing, thus eliminating the need for a physical building.

After three weeks of working with the Business Pro software, I had my first rough draft of my Business Plan.  I had learned a lot more than I had ever planned to about starting a business.  Oddly enough, I had previously owned another business, a Martial Arts studio, but this business had been a buyout.  The hard work of starting it up was not mine to endure and I had simply taken over what was already there.  There is a lot of difference in starting up and buying out, something to consider for anyone wanting to be in business for themselves.

Check out Chapter 3 to see the next step in the History of Positively Ballroom.

The History of Positively Ballroom, LLC – Chapter 1

This blog has been silent over most of the summer.  My last entry here talked about movies and other activities that did not include dancing.  That did not mean that I was not dancing, just not writing about it.  🙂

In reality, I am never too far away from the studio or social dance event, but there has been another ongoing project that has taken quite a bit of my focus this Summer.  So sit back and enjoy a story of my journey, which I will be sharing with you over the next several blog entries.

Positively Ballroom first became a concept in 2004.  I had taught dancing at different studios in the Charlotte Metro region for a few years, but had become disillusioned with the process.  Making sales was the primary focus, while teaching the client to dance was a distant second.  I longed to find a place that did not have its primary focus on just money and cared about their students in other ways besides being just a dollar sign.

I know, call me delusional…   or maybe an idealist.    Business is about making money, right?  What other reason is there is be in business if you are not making money?  Trust me, I understand this concept, but I guess the real question for me was “How much money is truly enough for me to be successful in business?”

This was the idea that drove me to consider starting my own studio.  The goal was to find if I could indeed be successful by making the client/student the primary focus and still make enough money to make the business profitable.  This may sound like an easy task, but when it comes to running a business this is not always the case.

Starting a new business takes a lot of capital.  Most people will find that $20,000 is a good starting point.  I am not including items like leases and space build outs in this amount.   Those items are budgeted separately, at least in the way I generally approached my start-up cost.   Most people will need to take out a loan to pay for these big budget items.

My personal dilemma was that I had about $5000 on hand as start-up capital, not near enough to get things going.  I was very reluctant to take out a loan and my cash reserves were tied up in other things like a house, car and other investments that I would not be able to access for many years.    So how could I begin this process with so little start-up capital on-hand?

Check out Chapter 2 to see the next step in the History of Positively Ballroom.

Time Flies when you are having Fun

Where does the time go?

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly time passes.  One moment you are performing a dance routine, the next you look back and say, “We did this just a few weeks back”…  except it’s not a few weeks any more, it’s now a few months.

Good gosh people, it is already Summer time and I am trying to figure out what happened to the months of spring.  This may seem like I have no clue about how my time has been spent over the last several months.  Actually, I can tell you very easily exactly what I was doing…  mainly because I keep a calendar of my activities.  Yeah, I cheat, but that is beside the point, I can actually recall the activities from the last several months with some clarity.  Most of my activities involved dance, naturally, but here are a few other things that I did outside of the studio:

I watched the follow Movies – Divergent, Captain America, Heaven is for Real, Godzilla, The Amazing Spider-man 2, X-men: Days of Future Past, The Fault in our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train your Dragon 2

As a side note, until I went back to review my current movie list for 2014, I was completely unaware of the shear number of movies that are released on a weekly basis.  Most are in limited release, which never make it to the local theater.  Luckily, we have several “independent”, a.k.a. “art house” theaters that show these limited release films.

I read this Book series – Divergent, Insurgent & Allegiant

Yes, after watching the Divergent film, I was compelled to give the books a shot.  Actually, there was another series that I wanted to start and didn’t.  So I need to add the “Ender’s Game” series to my reading list.  One author that I follow is Steve Berry.  He has a series based on a character named Cotton Malone, a really great series that is very well written.  The two latest books in that series are still on my reading list, so I guess those will be my “summer books”.

Cotton Malone Series

I followed this Cable series – Game of Thrones

A small list compared to most people…  OK, who am I kidding, it’s an almost non-existent list.  I stopped watching TV back in the 1990’s due to just not having the time to plan a one hour TV show into my work schedule.  The last series I watched with any regularity was the remake of Battlestar Galactica.

Most often I watch many of my movie on cable, when they come out usually a year later.   I read books based on suggestions from friends or the occasional book review.  TV, yeah…   rarely watch even the heavily favored shows of my friends.  If you have any suggestions on books, movies, or TV shows that you like I would love to hear about them, please so please provide your comments below.

Self-made success: reality or fiction?

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine regarding people who we considered to be “self-made” men or women. It was a very lively discussion with both of us having different opinions and views, but what may have been most intriguing were our thoughts on HOW these different people obtained their self-made success. He was of the opinion that people obtained success through their own hard work and determination, most often without help from other people. My opinion was that people are very rarely successful without some type of assistance in some form or another.

After doing a little research on the topic, it was not surprising to find both views points highly debated. So for my blog, allow me to offer my thoughts on self-made success: is it reality or simply fiction?

Let’s start by defining the term “self-made”: A “self-made man” or “self-made woman” describes a person who was born poor or otherwise disadvantaged, but who achieved great economic success thanks to their own hard work and ingenuity rather than to any inherited fortune, family connections or other privilege.

In my friend’s eyes, the self-made person is a very strong reality at least from an individual’s perspective. His argument was simply that if someone is not told that they had help, i.e. a “leg up”, why would they not accept that they did it on their own? There is obviously more to his argument. I hate that I am unable to provide it to you here if for nothing more than to help you understand his thoughts fully.

In my eye’s, the self-made person is a fictional character, an urban myth created by someone’s ego.   How is it that we choose not to see how everyone that we have come in contact with has not left some sort of impression on us? Is it our pride, ego, arrogance, insecurity, or ignorance that keeps us from recognizing the contributions of others in our lives?

During our conversation I was quick to bring to light a large number of employees that he knew that had worked for me and moved on to other jobs. I asked him his opinion on how these employees were able to be promoted to better positions? He responded that it had to be through their own efforts and those efforts were recognized by the right people.

What my friend was unaware of was how much of a role I played in getting my employees promoted. A good manager not only understands what their employee is capable of doing, something called a “basic skill set”, but also their potential, sometimes referred to as a person’s “learned skill set”. Good leaders and managers will help an employee develop this learned skill set by giving them goals and projects that let them practice these skills. They mentor the employee, providing direction and insight to ensure that the learning process is not wasted. They also usually suggest education options or classes that assist with the learning process. Lastly, once the skill has been developed, it is up to the manager to highlight the employee’s success in their personal development plan also called an annual review.

Today’s “popular leadership” culture seems to encourage personal glorification above all else. It causes a very stressful working environment, trust becomes a liability and only the cut throats seem to advance. I was fortunate to learn my management skills from true leaders, my father and mother.  What they taught me was that real leaders never take credit for themselves, they give credit to others. I was taught to take complete responsibility for all my failures, shortcomings or mistakes, while taking very little credit for my own success. Virtually all of the good things that have happened to me over the years have been the result of the collaboration of people working together.

I try to surround myself with people that do not suffer from this delusion of grandeur and share my perspective. Those people, like me, understand that leadership isn’t about self-serving behaviors; it’s about service beyond self. It’s not about an individual, and when it becomes about one individual, failure is not very far away.

Historically smart leaders are those who have surrounded themselves with good people. They have easily engaged others into an effortless collaboration. They instinctively look for assistance from others, understanding that a large network of good people contribute to their success.

Mike Myatt, a contributor with Forbes offers this advice:

“If you desire to enlist others in your success, try incorporating the following 5 things into your leadership style:

  1. Don’t be a jerk: While people don’t necessarily have to like you in order to help you, it certainly doesn’t hurt. However I can promise you that if you’re perceived as a jerk people will not only go out of their way not to help you succeed, but they will do everything possible to impede your success. I have long been a believer that contrary to popular opinion, nice guys (and gals) do in fact finish first.
  2. Give credit where credit is due: Smart leaders understand there is far more to be gained by giving away credit than by retaining it. The best leaders don’t seek credit – they seek results. They understand the force multiplier that comes via a motivated team effort.
  3. Go out of your way to help others: Do unto others – what goes around comes around – you reap what you sow, and any number of other statements to that effect ring true more often than not. If you are sincerely interested in helping others, and make it a habit to go out of your way to do so, then those people will likely be inclined to reciprocate.
  4. Know what you want and focus your efforts to that end: You must develop a clear picture of what it is that you want to accomplish, and then apply laser-like focus in the pursuit of your goals.
  5. Make your goals known to those that can help you: It is not only important to communicate your vision to those in a position to help you succeed, but always make sure and ask for their help. Don’t be bashful or embarrassed, but rather confidently recruit others to become enablers and evangelists of your cause. You need to believe that one of your top priorities is team building, and consistently seek out greater numbers of people to champion your cause and scale your efforts.”

Behind every successful person are significant investments and contributions by many of the following people: family, friends, associates, protagonists, antagonists, advisors, teachers, authors, mentors, coaches, and the list continues.

You can either view yourself as part of a hierarchical world sitting at the top of the organizational chart beating your chest and puffing up your ego, or you can view yourself as the hub at the center of a large and diverse network of good people. One is certainly more profitable and enjoyable than the other. You may choose to build your career at the expense of others, or by helping others – so choose wisely.

Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments section below.