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Realistic Optimism

28 Dec

By: Larry Roy

Realistic OptimismAs 2010 winds down, I can’t help but reflect on the year’s events, both good and bad. As a business owner, this year has certainly presented its share of challenges. It’s also brought about opportunities. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. My experience is that it’s purely a matter of perspective. There are always cycles in business, as in life, and those cycles are mostly out of our control. What we can control is how we deal with them.

Flash back to 1987. Our business had been booming for several years and of course we expected that it would continue that way. Silly us. The economy changed and, like many other businesses at the time, ours started to tank. As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” We had grown to 2 locations and more than 50 employees. It became clear that our revenue streams were drying up, and something had to give. We continued forward with blind optimism for a short time, leaning on our reserves and hoping to weather the storm. But that wasn’t going to fly any longer. So we had to make some hard choices—the hardest being to lay off fifteen people just before the holidays.

There is nothing more difficult in business than having to let people go for reasons other than their own bad behavior. This economic downturn wasn’t their fault, but they were the victims.  I remember thinking at the time that this just isn’t fair! But as my father so eloquently pointed out, if we didn’t take these steps, we were going to find ourselves selling pencils on the street corner. That didn’t sound like fun. Pencils weren’t in great demand at the time.

So we did what we had to, and survived the crisis. That wasn’t any fun either, but it was a huge learning period for me. Crisis management is truly a test of one’s character and resolve. We ultimately found new opportunities, new ways to generate revenue, and better ways to manage what we had. Through it all, we found a way to maintain our sense of humor, keep our focus and trust that we could find our way back to the “promise land.”

I know that for many, 2010 has been tremendously difficult year, and I feel for them. However, what I admire most is the optimism I hear in the voices of other business owners. Yes, times are tough, but they are committed to fighting through it and getting back to the business of doing business. To me it’s not blind optimism, it’s about accepting the things we can’t control, having the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Yes, there’s a prayer in there somewhere.

So I for one will enter 2011 with a renewed conviction to grow and prosper; to seize opportunities, to face whatever challenges come our way, and to remember to find joy through it all.  Otherwise, what’s the point? Pencil anyone?


Rallying Around the Claus

9 Dec

Santa Claus

by: Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, 1-1-1881

by: Larry Roy

For most of us, this is the time of year when we tend to draw closer to those around us, to be less intense and more forgiving. Do you buy that? Truth is, I don’t know if that’s true for most of us or not. I can only speak for myself, and simply hope that’s the case for everyone else. It does feel good, however, to believe in the ideal of a more connected, less cruel society, even if only once a year.

Why is it that we draw closer? For many, it’s about faith and what the Christmas holiday represents. For others, it’s simply about the joy of giving (and receiving). Still others want to believe in Santa Claus—or at least the idea of Santa Claus, a jolly old chap who brings gifts to all the world. For me, it’s all of these things. Whatever one believes, the holiday season should be comforting, inspiring, joyous. I hope it is for you.

Sadly, this is also a season where many find themselves more hurried and frantic, or more depressed. Perhaps it’s the weight of another year of unfulfilled wishes coming to a close. Maybe it’s rooted in a magnified sense of loneliness or distance from friends and family. Whatever the cause, it is my hope that those who feel this find some connection to the world, to the season and all its wonder.

There’s that word again—hope.  Ben Franklin said, “He that lives upon hope shall die fasting.” Perhaps he was right. Simply hoping for the best for others doesn’t make it so. That requires action. So for those of us who find ourselves in a giving spirit, let’s make the effort in some small way to touch those who are struggling through the season. It may be no more than a smile to a stranger, a cup of coffee and a conversation, a donation of time, money, clothing or toys. Just do something. The action is its own reward.

Now where was I before my plea to you to be charitable? Oh yes, that inescapable yearning for connection to one another during the holiday season. I think much of it is fueled by the pervasiveness of the season. It becomes the center of attention—in the news, in advertising, in our own little worlds of holiday parties and mall traffic. It reminds us that we’re all in this together. We all rally around a cause or event that affects us as a whole. That’s why movies about alien invasions are so inspiring to me. They unite the world against a common enemy. It’s why there is such a pouring out of help and support when natural disasters strike anywhere in the world. We realize that the event is bigger than any of us.

So whether you believe in Santa Claus or not, I implore you to believe in what he represents. Don’t dismiss the power of the myth of a jolly, white-bearded chap being whisked across the sky by tiny reindeer just because you’re a grownup. Let that giving spirit and sense of unity draw you closer to those you know, and those you don’t. Be a kid. I promise it doesn’t hurt. Just ask a kid. They’ll tell you.

Accessorize Your Personality

24 Nov

By: Sheilah Griggs


Earrings by Susan Surdi

This last week in NYC the city seemed so much more friendly, so much more welcoming than I even remember from when I called it home. I connected with so many new people, and strangers started conversations everywhere my feet took me. I started realizing that there was one common thread that made busy New Yorkers actually stop and speak to me, so I thought I’d share the secret. Not that it is revolutionary but to my surprise it was measurably effective. However, it did require me to step out of my comfort zone, and of course, I had to do my part to continue the conversation and turn the chance meetings into relationships.

My friend, Sue, a jewelry designer, sent me to New York City with a box of treasures while making me promise to give my traditional diamond studs and pearls a break. I was not living up to my accessory potential in her assessment and needed to kick it up a bit. Well, okay, a lot. So, I trusted her and promised to wear something different everyday. And everyday I would stand in the mirror wondering if I could really pull it off… and guess what? I could!! People consistently commented everywhere I went.

I had ZERO clue that one promise to Sue would be the catalyst to cultivate new relationships and open up a world of opportunity. Seriously, it was the jewelry that made NYC more friendly, more engaging, less scary. If it can work in NYC, it can work anywhere. Take the leap, wear something unique and see what happens. But be ready for the conversation that follows and make it count! Smile, be friendly, engage and say thank-you. Return the compliment and go from there with witty banter…. it will work.

If you want to see some of what I wore to make new friends, check out:

So, You Want to Boost Business……..

5 Nov

By: Sheilah Griggs

In working with literally 100’s of entrepreneurs over the years, there are several common attributes I find in successful people. First of all, most started their business based on something they loved to do or enjoyed being around. It’s hard to do the mundane duties of running a business if you are not passionate about your product or service. You need to believe that what you are doing is worth it, that it will make a difference and that it matters, if only to you. Never underestimate the influential power that comes from a person with passion. People seem to easily “catch” their message and they don’t seem belabored with trying to “teach” their vision. They are inspiring and all of a sudden people will begin to buy their product and build their brand for them. So don’t be afraid to show your passionate side – people like it!

Other successful individuals see a void, or need, in their own life and have their “ah-ha” moment about how to fill it. For example, let’s look at the successful international company, Spanx. If you don’t own some, your mother, sister or girlfriend does. One day, a 20 something young lady named Sara Blakely wanted to look better in her white pants so she cut off the feet of her nylons. Later, as she was walking around the city feeling svelte, she thought, hmmmm… I bet other women would like this too. And, she was right. She saw a need and she filled it…. and she’s kept on filling it with over 200 product lines.


Courtesy of

Now, what if Sara Blakely had her “ah-ha” moment and started absorbing all of the negative energy that began coming her way? You know, the thoughts like, “Well, maybe it’s a stupid idea” or “But, I’ve only got $5,000.00 in my savings” or “My best friends boyfriend rolled his eyes at me.”…. you get the idea. If she had decided to dwell in the negative she would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. She would still be selling fax machines (no joke), she wouldn’t have had the ability to fund foundations that help women entrepreneurs and we all would look much worse in our cocktail dresses. Tragedy really. So, another highly important attribute is staying positive. People want to be around positive people. People want to buy from positive people.

You’re probably thinking, okay Sheilah, how do I stay positive even in such dreary times? The answer is to surround yourself with like-minded people – build your community. Start by talking to that one person that always makes you feel great – you may not even know him or her that well, but you always walk away feeling energized. Positive people draw positive people. Negative people draw downers. Start noticing what badge someone is wearing and hang out with your crowd. Watch the words coming out of your mouth so you will draw the kind of people you want, and at the same time you’ll make someone’s day with your energy.

Bottom Line: Start dreaming with passion, be around positive people and stick to one rule – no negativity. Just go for it. If you’re like Sara, you’ll boost your bottom line in more ways than one.

How I Learned to Network

1 Oct

By: Taylor Vick

I grew up in a suburban white community. It was all about the politics – think Real Wives of Dallas. The women who knew how to network the best were the ones who were always featured in the society section, their kids always got the lead roles in the musicals, and their husbands were always invited to the top men’s business associations in town. A powerful networker truly cannot be stopped.

Highland Park, TXI was first introduced to the real power of networking by my Grandmother. She had an author friend in town and I happened to stop by her house for a visit. This woman talked herself into getting me in touch with the National Debutante Cotillion, since she was so impressed with me. (I really only smiled and nodded as any shy 17 year old would do). A few months later, I received a call to join Washington D.C.’s finest for a week of Debutante parties. I was honestly in shock.

[Side note – anyone who knew me at 17 knew I was a total tomboy who only wore jeans, Dr. Marten’s and baggy shirts. Not exactly the “Debutante” or “Sorority” type].

Debutantes to me equaled white dresses, and a parent’s excuse to throw a mini-wedding celebration for the honor of getting a mention in the newspaper. Not my thing at all. I couldn’t have been any more wrong.

The Washington D.C. Debutante Cotillion was about the fabulous dress, but it was also about learning how to network. By watching the other guests, I determined three things: talk to everyone regardless of station, don’t be shy, and start a conversation because no one else will do it for you. Talk about the embodiment of Carpe Diem! This wasn’t your typical event. It was a bunch of politicians, original USA families who could trace their origins back to a founding father, military officials, and me. What did I have to offer?

National Debutante Cotillion

Taylor (in blue)

I blossomed into the best conversationalist I could be. I asked my conversation partner questions about what they did, their interests, their ideas. Never once did I offer a story about myself unless specifically asked. By listening intently, I instantly elevated my position as more than a Debutante. I was a powerhouse of networking!

I knew exactly who to connect to whom. I was able to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and important stories or dates in that person’s life. After the parties were over and life had settled down, I was able to write thank you notes, send birthday cards and otherwise let my new friends know that I was thinking about them.

The result of all of this is that I have a place to stay in most metropolitan areas in the USA, as well as in many European countries. Not only that, but I have a wide variety of connections I can tap for business recommendations, political influence, business ideas, and (my favorite part) friends I can count on for travel.

The biggest lesson I learned for networking is: the more you practice, the better you become at it. Practice really listening and remembering facts, dates, ideas, etc. Practice making social situations about everyone else other than yourself. Be gracious. Don’t interrupt. And more than anything: be there to have fun!