New Year, New Start! February 6, 2012 No Comments

My favorite day of the year is January 1st.  Most people are surprised that my favorite day is not my birthday or Christmas, but simply the first day of a new year.  There’s something magical about January 1st.  I wake up that morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.

For me, New Year’s Day is also about reflecting on the past and planning for the future.   And, it all starts with a long list of goals.  These goals outline what I am going to accomplish in both my personal and professional life.   Like many others, most of my goals are never fully met.  I usually never lose those 15 lbs, spend less money or give up coffee.

I decided 2012 would be different.   I still had the same anxious feeling I have every New Year’s.  I was still ready to take on the world, but this time I decided to implement new strategies to keep me focused throughout the year.  I am not sure if my new strategies are infallible, but I am confident that I will meet my goals for 2012.

Below are a few steps I am taking to make 2012 a successful, goal-achieving year.

1.  I will stop setting quantitative goals and start setting quality goals.  For example, instead of stating I would lose 15 lbs, I decided, “I will increase my level of exercise and make better food choices.”

2.  I created an informal support group.  I shared my goals with a couple of friends and asked them to check on my progress.

3.   I limited myself to just three goals.   I didn’t want to overwhelm myself by having to accomplish 10 goals.  I wanted to make it simple and easy to keep track.

4.  I wrote down my goals and put them in a place where I will see them every day.

5.  I have stopped beating myself up if I don’t accomplish my goals on a given day, knowing I can start over the next day.

With these new strategies in place, I am off to a great start.  So, what are your goals for 2012?

Control Your Brand, Otherwise Others Will Define You December 13, 2011 No Comments

This year was especially important to Open Channels Group (OCG), because we embarked on a new project to define our company.  After being in business for more than five years, we realized people knew our company’s name, but were unfamiliar with the services we provided.  I decided we needed to be aggressive in defining who we are and what we do.

We started this year with a new branding and PR campaign: “We Are PR.”  Our goal for 2011 was to create a clear definition of who we are as an agency.    After hearing from our clients and prospective clients, we  discovered that a key misconception about OCG was that we did political consulting.  The truth is we have never worked on a political campaign, although I understood why we might be mis-branded as a political consulting firm.  Prior to starting OCG,   I had worked for elected officials, personally fundraised for a few and even married one!

OCG was originally formed as a public affairs firm, where  I advised clients on public policy issues and strategies to engage the public.  We then started to provide media relations and message development strategies to those same clients.  What once was a one-person shop has evolved into a team of 11 full-service public relations professionals.  Today, more than 80 percent of our work involves creating and implementing communications strategies.

After 12 months of executing our “We are PR.” campaign, OCG has experienced increased brand recognition.  In a recent survey we sent to clients and other businesses we have been reaching out to, more than 80 percent recognize that OCG is a public relations agency.  We are still working on that other 20 percent, but this is obviously a big change from just a year ago.

The moral to this story is to control your brand.   Otherwise, others will define you.

Leadership Lessons November 9, 2011 No Comments

As a kid, I was always trying to get my friends to follow me.  My best friend moved to Texas when she was 12 years old.  On her first day of school, I walked up to her and said, “You should follow me because I like you, and we will have lots of fun.”  Now, 25 years later, she and I laugh because life is not that simple.  Of course, now I know it takes more than fun to lead and inspire others.

I’ve often wondered if leaders are born or if leadership is learned through trial and error.  Many thought leaders on this subject believe every one of us has the ability to lead if put in the right position, and that passion and determination can sometimes bring out an individual’s untapped leadership skills.  While I agree someone can learn to be a great leader, I think some people are simply born to lead.  When you consider leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or John F. Kennedy, it is clear they showed extraordinary leadership skills, at young ages, in difficult circumstances.

I knew I wanted to lead change in a positive way at an early age.  I didn’t know why or what it meant to be a leader. However, I knew I had a strong desire to change my environment and wanted others to help me make those changes.   Over the last two decades, I’ve worked as a volunteer, an employee and now an entrepreneur, all roles where I’ve had an opportunity to influence change.

My primary role as a business owner is to guide my organization through good and bad times, and to inspire others to meet the high expectations I have established.

I believe there are five key traits great leaders possess, traits which I hope to exhibit in my business:

  1. Courage – It takes courage to lead others through tough times and to make unpopular decisions.  People are sometimes scared of change and will look for those who exhibit courage to lead them through change. 
  2. Strategic thinking – As a leader, you must be able to think strategically.  You must be able to analyze data and information in order to solve problems.
  3. Vision - Leaders must have a vision of where they are going and how they will get there.   You must learn to communicate your vision to your team.
  4. Creativity – Today’s leaders must come up with new and innovative ideas to stay relevant. 
  5. Passion - Followers want to see passion from their leaders.  They want to believe in something and someone.  Once they see your passion, they will do whatever it takes to reach shared goals. 

My goal is to focus on these five traits and work to exhibit them in decision-making in my business.  Doing so will enhance my leadership skills and grow our company.

My little Kindergartener September 21, 2011 No Comments

I can’t believe Adam is now a kindergartener!   It seems like just a few months ago, Marc and I were bringing Adam home from the hospital.  And now he’s in kindergarten.   I must admit both Adam and I were a little nervous about going to “the big school” because the kids are much bigger and the expectations are much higher.    On top of that, Adam has spent the last five years at a Montessori school where children are at liberty to choose and act freely within a prepared learning environment tailored to the specific characteristics of the child.  That’s fancy language for opposite of what Adam is now going to be experiencing in a more traditional learning environment in which children are expected to follow the same curriculum within the confines on their seat.

Choosing the right school for Adam wasn’t easy.  My husband and I debated over whether Adam should continue with the Montessori experience or transition into a more structured environment.   My mommy instinct told me Adam needed more structure, but daddy thought Adam was thriving in the Montessori environment and should continue his Montessori experience.     Therefore, our debate on this issue continued for at least a year and we visited eight schools throughout our city to determine the best school for Adam.   After visiting a variety of public, private, traditional, and yes more Montessori schools, we finally settled on a great public school for Adam (mommy won!).

The road to dropping Adam off at kindergarten for his first day of school was not easy.   I was so nervous about everything.  Will he adjust well?  Will the other kids be nice to him?  Is he smart enough? Is the teacher nice?  The list of questions just goes on and on…

Adam appeared to be a little overwhelmed as well especially by the size of the kids, but we would never admit that to me.

After three weeks of mommy asking a lot of questions of both Adam and his teacher, I am proud to say both mommy and Adam are doing great.   Now, it did take a few days for him to adjust to his new structure.  He is excited about learning new things and meeting new friends. I am very proud of my big boy.  I believe my husband and I did everything we could to make sure his transition was smooth.   Yea team work!

Here are a few ideas I suggest you do if you find yourself preparing for kindergarten:

  1. Spend time observing your child’s learning environment to determine the best place for them.  There are a lot of different approaches and schools in your area you can research.  
  2. Ask your child’s pre-school teacher, Sunday school teacher and/or regular babysitter their opinion of your child’s best learning environment.
  3. Visit different schools in your area to see what they have to offer and don’t be shy about asking questions.   Good schools welcome parents and want to show off their programs.
  4. Ask other parents about the schools you’re considering. 
  5. Most importantly, ask your child questions about their experience at their new school and encourage and praise them every day. 

As parents, I believe one of the most important jobs we have is to provide our kids with the necessary resources they need to become productive citizens.

Why I Decided to Turn Open Channels Group Purple! August 17, 2011 No Comments

I truly believe in the UNCF motto that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, so I’ve decided not to waste mine and go back to school!  You would think I have enough to do in my life.  I guess being a mom, wife and business owner is not enough.  It is, but I also believe knowledge is power and the more power you have the more opportunities you will receive.  I thrive in what some would consider chaos, so adding one more thing to my already long to-do list will keep me focused and make me superior in the many roles I play.

My decision to go back to school was one I’ve been thinking about for some time. I knew at an early age I wanted to be a business woman and a MBA would give me the educational background I needed to run and grow a successful business and personal brand.

I postponed the decision many times because I had other priorities that took center stage.  The main priority was raising my son, Adam with my husband.  I struggled as most working moms do with the guilt of not being home for their kids.  On top of that, I also had a new business that I was trying to nurse to life.   I realized I was putting everyone’s needs and interests above my own so I stopped making excuses.  I knew if I took care of myself, I would then be able to take care of others.  It’s like the instructions you get when flying; put your face mask on first before you put your child’s mask on.   I know that my education will open doors for my family, community and business.

Once I decided to go for it, I met with a few business leaders that I respect to get their advice on the best programs in the area.  I was torn between Texas Christian University (TCU) and University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).  Both are well respected universities in the area.  I choose TCU’s program because they focus on leadership development, ethics and strategic thinking.  I knew my company and clients would benefit more from my experience at TCU plus who can deny the purple power network.  TCU’s Neeley School of Business has received numerous awards and has been ranked as one of the top business schools by Forbes, Business Week and The Princeton Review to name a few.

My journey has not been easy, but I believe this is the most important decision I have made for the future of my business and family.  I also know this will put me one more step closer to my goal of having the largest African American owned PR firm in the nation.

If you too decide to take the leap of faith to move you closer to your dream, as always, here are a few recommendations:

  • Give yourself ample time to reorganize your life. I wrote out a plan a year before starting school which I used as my road map in preparing for school.
  • Cut back on extracurricular activities.  It took me a year to resign from boards and committees.
  • If your dream is to go back to school, schedule study time.  I blocked off study time so that I wouldn’t be tempted to replace it with other activities.
  • Ask for support. I have informed my family and friends that I love them very much, but will not be able to do a lot of family bonding for the next 16 months.  I also hired a college student to help me in the evenings with Adam.
  • Expect to be successful. I envision myself being a star student and walking across the stage.

Go Frogs!!

 

Investing In Yourself and Your Team July 14, 2011 No Comments

Professional development has always been very important to my career.  I’ve always strived to be the best businesswoman I can be by continuously seeking best practices from those I admire and respect.  Most of that knowledge has come from on-the-job and professional development training.  For me, professional development is not just attending seminars or taking a class at the junior college.  It’s also about reading books from some of the greatest business minds around like Rob Johnson, Jack Welch, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey or visiting with those I admire in my own local business community.

I quickly realized the importance of also investing in the people who I work with every day at Open Channels Group (OCG).  I remember the feeling of being appreciated when my supervisors cared enough about my professional development to send me to a conference or recommended a great book.  I wanted to make sure they got their return on their investment.  I worked harder because I felt appreciated and was invested in “our” success.

I have found that to also be true with my own staff; the more I pour into them, the more I get in return.   Two years ago, OCG started a book club which has been beneficial for our team both professionally and personally.  We have read such books as Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (yes, the guys read it too), The Speed of Trust and Crucial Conversations.    I also hired an executive coach, Paulette Turner, to assist my team and I in becoming a great company.   Hands down, both the book club and executive coach have been well worth the time and resources used.  Through our professional development program over the last two years, our OCG team has learned from some of the best in the industry on how to move from good to great.

I have spent more than 15 years growing professionally.  Throughout this journey I’ve learned a few things I would like to share with you:

  1. There’s always room for more knowledge.  Anybody who tells you they know everything – run!  I am always interested in the latest and greatest trends and practices in the business and PR arenas.
  2. Professional development is a sacrifice worth making.  It can sometimes mean additional work hours and shorter weekends, but the return on investment is worth it.
  3. The best way to show appreciation to your team is to invest in their future.

If you’re not currently spending time to invest in yourself and your team, I highly recommend you start.  It will change your future.

 

 

The Transition June 15, 2011 No Comments

As OCG continues to strive for excellence, it is important we move with change.  Just 12 months ago, I decided to spend time and resources improving OCG’s business model, as well as our brand.  I knew this would be a financial sacrifice, but I also knew that the ROI would be two-fold.   I consider this time as “the transition.”  During this transition, I have evaluated our current company policies, procedures and practices.   In the midst of my evaluation, I realized some of our processes were outdated or better yet; cutting edge.   We are now in the process of throwing out the bad and improving upon the good.  We have one goal in mind: transitioning ourselves from a good company to a great company.

I also see the transition as a time to address our identity.  How does the market define us?  How do we define ourselves?  We just recently completed a SWOT analysis of our agency with our entire team, a practice we usually perform for our clients.  The results were very useful as we continue to define OCG’s niche in the market place and evolve into great public relations agency.

I am not sure how long the transition will last.  What I do know is that I am 100 percent committed to the journey, a journey that I have enjoyed taking so far.  As always, I have to leave you with a few takeaways from my life lessons so here’s what I’ve learned during OCG’s transition:

  1. Be honest about the information you present. You must have a clear and honest picture of the state of your business.
  2. Be open to improvements.  If a staff member or best practice is no longer a good fit, you must replace it.
  3. Use outside consultants.  Hiring someone to hold you accountable will prove invaluable.
  4. Transitioning takes time.
  5. Have a strategy.

 

 

Relationships = New Business May 20, 2011 No Comments

It has taken me some time to really learn the art of business development.   After five years of struggling to build a successful business, I can now reflect on the lessons and mistakes I’ve learned during my short journey.  I know there are others who have been doing this a lot longer than I have and that’s why I’ve focused my professional development efforts on studying those who are great business developers.

The one common denominator I’ve noticed about great business developers is their dedication to bringing new business to their business.  Great business developers are 100% committed to the job.  Very little distracts them from landing the next client. They spend countless hours building relationships.  The key word is relationships.  As Stephen Covey highlights in his book, The Speed of Trust, relationships require a certain level of trust.  And trust takes time and energy.

I recently went on a pitch with my staff and the first thing that came out of the prospective client CEO’s mouth was, “Who are you? I have never heard of you.”  I knew then we had an uphill battle because people want to do business with brands and people they know.  Needless to say, even though we were well-prepared, I don’t think we’ll get a call back.  That pitch opportunity taught me a great lesson:  regardless of your capabilities, relationships are the key to business development, and those relationships can be formed by taking the time to build trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This incident got me  to thinking about how I can build trust, and ultimately relationships, with prospective clients.  I came up with a few ideas that I believe will help my readers and me to become great business developers:

  • Get out of the office.  Set a goal to visit with at least five prospects a week.   This can be a quick office visit, breakfast or a drink after work.   The  first meeting should  never be a hard sell, but an FYI of who you are or what your company does.
  • Create a target list.  Write down your hit list and put it in a place that you will see every day.
  • Directly communicate to your target list.  Implement a marketing strategy to better promote your capabilities and your brand.  A few strategies to consider include: a social media campaign, monthly newsletter, lunch and learns and targeted advertising, etc.
  • Not everyone is cut out for business development.  Some people are just meant to be worker bees or behind the scenes.  I’ve learned that I am not always the best person to go after a prospect.   Use a team approach  that accounts for the client’s background and culture.  It makes for a better connection.
  • Nurture your current clients.  Your competitors are always looking for new business.   Your goal should be to form a bond with your clients that cannot be easily broken.
  • Know what the competition is doing.  I spend countless hours researching marketing campaigns of other agencies in our business.
  • It takes money to make money.  The first five years of my business, I invested it back into the business.  A large portion of that money was spent on a marketing strategy.  My ROI was tenfold.

I know I’ve spent most of the time talking about best practices/ lessons learned.  If I had to reflect on what doesn’t work, that would be thinking you will be hired merely because of your capabilities.  I know of a lot of failed companies who had the expertise to do the job, but never got an opportunity because they couldn’t land a client.  They couldn’t land a client because they did not take the time to develop solid  relationships, which could have led to trust in their capabilities.   The lesson here is: it’s not always what you know, but who you know and who knows you.

Overcoming My Fear April 20, 2011 1 Comment

When I first started my career in public affairs, I worked for a Texas senator. As many of you may know, politicians have many speaking engagements. What I didn’t know was, so does their staff. I must admit, I am scared to death of public speaking. I recall my first speech at a local church in which I had to give remarks on behalf of the senator. I was so nervous, that I could see the congregation praying for me as I delivered my remarks. After that experience, I avoided public speaking like the plague!

Now, fast forward to several years and several jobs later, and I began to notice that the people I admired the most professionally were great public speakers. I then started to challenge myself to take on more public speaking engagements. Nothing major, just delivering a few remarks and occasionally serving as mistress of ceremony for events. I have learned that the more you practice, the more comfortable you become at public speaking. I even signed up for a couple of Toastmasters classes that I never completed; the sheer thought of public speaking still made my stomach churn.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention. I watched with esteem at her poise and intellect. I knew then I needed to get over my fear and reach my goal of being a good public speaker. Shortly after the campaign, I started to get more invitations for public speaking engagements. I guess it became popular for wives of elected officials to deliver speeches. So, I took on the challenge, getting more comfortable each time. My experience has taught me a few things that have helped to me to overcome my fear of public speaking. I’ll share what I’ve learned with you:

Tip # 1 – Practice makes perfect. Give yourself enough time to practice what you’re going to say. I will usually write my remarks three days in advance and rehearse until I am confident.

Tip # 2 – Know what you’re talking about. Research your topic. I am more confident when I speak on a subject that I am familiar with.

Tip # 3 – Know your audience. If I am speaking to a youth group, church group or business group, I speak their lingo. If what you’re saying is relatable, they will listen.

Tip # 4 – Relax prior to your speaking engagement. This is a must for me! I always find a quiet place to meditate at home or the office before arriving at the event.

Tip # 5 – Envision yourself being successful. I will usually watch a few YouTube videos of great public speakers while I am rehearsing my speech.

    I know this may seem like a lot, but I tell you, it will make you a better public speaker. Just last week, I was invited to give the keynote address to a group of businesswomen. I followed the above tips and, if I must say, I did an outstanding job! It was a complete 180 from my days with the senator. I am even thinking about signing up with a speaker’s bureau. Just kidding!

    The Best Places to Entertain Your Clients in the DFW Area and Why March 17, 2011 No Comments

    I’ve built my business on relationships.  The relationships that I have acquired have taken some time to develop.  I’ve had to nurture these relationships and gain individuals’ trust.  There’s an old saying, “He who receives his friends and gives no personal attention to the meal which is being prepared for them, is not worthy of having friends.” Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).

    I consider my clients as extended friends and family.   For those who know me, they know that I love eating and I love entertaining with my family and friends.  I believe one of the best ways to get to know someone is through a good meal.   At the core of what we do at Open Channels Group is forming relationships/partnerships with those we serve.   After five years of building relationships as a business owner, I have come up with the best places to entertain in Dallas/Fort Worth with explanations about why they made my list.

    Reata - Reata is a Fort Worth jewel located downtown.  It’s locally-owned and has a lot of Fort Worth culture.  Reata is known for its steaks and tamales. One of the private dining rooms is a great place to have a business meeting.

    • Website: http://bit.ly/h5gUvX
    • Phone: 817-336-1009
    • Address: 310 Houston St., Fort Worth, Texas 76102

    Fort Worth Club – The Fort Worth Club is a great place to be seen having a meeting.   It’s a private club and many business executives go to the club for lunch meetings.  You can order from a limited menu or you can partake in the buffet, which is always delicious.  My favorite item is the bread pudding.  The service is great and you can be in and out in an hour.

    • Website: http://bit.ly/hj5TLZ
    • Phone: 817-336-7211
    • Address: 306 West Seventh Street, Fort Worth, Texas  76102

    Michael’s – Michael’s is an old favorite.   This is another local Fort Worth restaurant just west of downtown.  It’s a great place to go for lunch or dinner.  It’s a relatively quiet place and the food is scrumptious.  My favorite is the Michael’s salad and the Mexican casserole.

    • Website: http://bit.ly/hMJ7S1
    • Phone: 817-877-3413
    • Address: 3413 West 7th St., Fort Worth, Texas 76107

    Bailey’s Prime Plus – Bailey’s is my new favorite in the West 7th development, the newest hot spot in the Fort Worth area.  They have the best lobster mac and cheese and they have the best wine selection in town.  It’s very chic! This is a great spot for lunch, dinner or chilling at the bar.

    • Website: http://bit.ly/gu9PDw
    • Phone: 817-870-1100
    • Address: 2901 Crockett Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76107

    Grace – I frequent Grace in downtown Fort Worth at least once a week.  I usually take clients there for a drink or dinner.  The bartenders are great.  They know how to pour a good drink!  The seafood dishes are also mouth-watering.

    Nick and Sam’s – Nick and Sam’s, located in uptown Dallas, may not be a great place to have a meeting, but it’s on my list because the food is to die for.  I mean, the steaks melt in your mouth! I have never had a bad dish at Nick and Sam’s.  If you want to show your client a good time and share a great meal, Nick and Sam’s is the place to go.

    Al Biernat’s – Al Biernat’s in Dallas’ Oak Lawn area is a treasure.  It’s where the local Dallas celebrities hang out.  You will definitely need a reservation.  The pasta and seafood are scrumptious.  Al Biernat’s regularly makes it on the top Dallas restaurant lists.

    • Website: http://bit.ly/i6fgAo
    • Phone: 214-219-2201
    • Address: 4217 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, Texas 75219

    Seasons 52 – This is a fresh discovery for me in every sense of the word.  Located n Plano, the menu is seasonally-inspired with the fresh appeal of the farmer’s market. Everything on the menu is less than 480 calories!  The spinach salad is my favorite.  Did I say everything is under480 calories?

    Wow, all this talking about eating is making me hungry!