Thursday, May 22, 2008

20 Tips for the New Entrepreneur

Dear Readers,

Last summer, as I was all 'gang busters' starting my own company, many friends and acquaintances were asking me how I kept focused at my desk and not focused on the beautiful weather outside. The thing about entrepreneurs is that they are determined people - people who have an idea and do whatever they can to develop it. Nevertheless, it's easy to come undone and unfocused. So I began sharing my ideas in the form of a list to help keep my network on target with their goals: Auntie Melanie Notkin’s 20 Secret Weapons for Entrepreneurs to Stay Motivated, Inspired and On Course.

I have used these tools throughout my career.
Some are timeless tips, and some came about with new technology. Some are original thoughts and some are borrowed from others. For the latter, I’ll let you decide which ones are which because frankly, they have become such a part of my life, I really don’t remember where they came from anymore!

1. Every night before you go to sleep, write down your To-Do list for the next day. I recommend adding as your personalized internet homepage. Not only can you manage your to-do lists, but you can get all your daily news and blog reading done in one place. (see item #7)

2. Do the most challenging items on your To-Do list before 11AM, if possible. Accomplishing the most difficult items on the list empowers you for the rest of the day. Holding on to that difficult action item might exhaust you and you’ll get nothing done! Reward yourself for getting through the hardest action item each day. (see item #3)

3. Getting stuck at your desk is not healthy! You need air! Go out and treat yourself to a $10 reward every day. It can be a manicure, grandé latte with whip, a paperback novel, etc., but get out of the office!

4. Take a long walk. Taking a walk has proven to be a time to gather thoughts and think most creatively. But bring your business notebook with you – you don’t want to forget your next big idea! (see item # 15)

5. Have lunch! And not alone! Circle yourself with a strong network and meet with different members of your network at least 2-3 times a week. And try to add at least 3 people to your network monthly. A good way to add to and keep track of your network is through LinkedIn. You’ll connect with people who know people who know people... Facebook is more than a great social network. You may find an old college classmate who is working in the same industry you want to go into, or become better acquainted with new people in your network. On Facebook, I found an old friend who is all-knowing when it comes to Internet Privacy and he became a member of my Advisory Board. And finally, there is Twitter, where you’ll find a community of like-minded people who can give you the support and resources you need.

6. Say “Thank You.” Keep an appreciation book at your desk and after you complete your To-Do list at night, write down everything you are thankful for that day. Once a week, go back over your entries. You’ll have A LOT to be grateful for. What a nice way to go to sleep!

7. Read. Some of my favorite and inspiring business writers include: Seth Godin, Al Ries, Paco Underhill, Guy Kawasaki, David Meerman Scott, Andy Sernovitz, Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff, David Vinjamuri, Ken Blanchard, Philip Kotler, Harry Beckwith, Malcom Gladwell and Stephen Covey, among others. Even if you don’t read all their books, some of these experts have blogs you can subscribe to for daily inspiration. Also, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Business Week, New York Times/SmallBusiness and WSJ are all good for inspiration. Some online publications have daily inspiration emails you can receive in the AM to help get your day started. There are also plenty of blogs about entrepreneurship (aside from this one). You can find some of the best ones at

8. Look around and think about how every great marketing idea might apply to you. For example, look at Point-Of-Purchase promotions as a marketer, not a consumer. Think about what attracts you to a book cover or a product at a retailer. Read your direct mail! Stop that DVR and watch commercials! Click on banner ads! It’s a free marketing education.

9. Keep an Inspiration binder or bulletin board. Read a great article? See an image you like? Find a color palette that you are attracted to? Print or swipe it and add it to your collection.

10. Ask God or the Universe (or whatever you believe in) for what you want. Ok Ok, it sounds hokey, but believe me, you get what you want. Always.

11. If someone does something nice for you, ask them how you can help them – even if it sounds silly to you. If you meet a CEO who says she can help you, it may feel weird to ask how you can help her, but CEOs and other powerful people are people too, and more than anything, people want to feel appreciated. Offering to help is a better way to say thank you than sending a Thank You note. But do that too ;-) And thank them with something that communicates your brand. I sent a children’s book to a CEO for his twin daughters, and signed the note, Auntie Melanie Approved! Trust me, it’ll be a lot easier to ask for help the next time you need it!

12. Get business cards! Ok, you may not have a business yet, but you are still the President of your career. So get temporary business cards that say who you are, even if you’re not there yet. Before I had my branding, I got business cards that read: Auntie Melanie Notkin. Trust me, it will get people asking about your business, and eventually, it will be a reality. You can even get 250 free business cards at Vistaprint to start.

13. Write down your talents. Don’t be modest. Think about the most challenging accomplishments in your career. How did you succeed? Write down all those steps and you’ll realize you know more than you realized! And every day, write one of your talents on a virtual sticky Webnote on your Netvibes homepage!

14. Talk to people who inspire you. Don’t talk to people who don’t.

15. Keep a notebook just for your business notes. Read it once a week. It will be inspiring to see how far you go week by week.

16. Listen to music. Find artists who inspire you to believe in yourself. What music inspires you?

17. Read stories about entrepreneurs. For women, Beth Schoenfeldt and Victoria Colligan’s: Ladies Who Launch is great. Accidental Branding - How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands by David Vinjamuri is also inspiring. And don’t forget, people like Howard Schultz (Starbucks) was an entrepreneur at one point too. Everybody starts somewhere.

18. Talk to other entrepreneurs and help them in any way you can. Offer to write an article for their Website, promote their products to your friends, send them encouraging emails, etc. Karma is a Boomerang.

19. Ask for help. Even from a perfect stranger. Believe it or not, people love to help. And you need all the help you can get.

20. Inspire others! That Karma/Boomerang thing again... You can start by forwarding this blog post to a friend who might benefit from it.

I hope at least some of these tips have helped. Please feel free to add your tips below in the Comments section. I would love to hear about the things that keep YOU motivated, inspired and on course - as would the rest of my Dear Readers. Thank you!

Auntie Melanie

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Designing the Company of My Dreams

Dear Readers,

I spent the better part of July and August researching the best people to design not only, but the branding too. There are so many options when deciding on who will manage your design work. I looked at everyone from talented freelancers to small agencies I had come to know during my career as an interactive marketer. In the end, I decided to work with Syrup. Syrup is a boutique agency located in Tribeca, New York. I had first met Rob Holzer and Jakob Daschek, the founders of Syrup, when I worked in the beauty industry, and together we went on to win numerous awards together, including a Webby Award nomination and a Print Magazine award. I knew from the moment I agreed to meet with them just a few weeks on the job in interactive communications, that Syrup was very special. Very special indeed.

Syrup hires the most incredible talent. I have never worked with a team of more highly trained and most talented designers and Internet and brand experts in my career. I am not sure I ever will again. What's more is that Syrup is full of integrity. If they see something could be better, they will make it better. No questions asked. If I come to them with a challenge, they solve it. No questions asked. It's the integrity they have for their work that makes them unique in an industry that often looks at the clock, not the work-at-hand, to gauge commitment. When launches (very soon!) you will see the incredible passion and talent that went into the SavvyAuntie brand and Community. I am incredibly fortunate.

When I had a conversation with Rob in late August about working together, he believed in the project from the first minute. And I knew he was sincere. Rob knows the industry and has pretty impressive clients to prove it. Luckily for me, from the moment we agreed to work together, the Syrup team not only took on the project like it was part of the family, they took it on like it was another one of their top-shelf clients. I was not treated any differently than the massive media companies and conglomerates they work with. Savvy Auntie was their little engine that could.

When your agency believes in you and in your project, you're already ahead of the game. It also helped that I believe in Syrup. Our mutual support is probably one of the main reasons why we have a chance at success.

My rule of thumb about hiring agencies and consultants is to hire people smarter that myself. Sure, I bring many years of talent, skill and experience to the table. But I could not do, nor dream of doing, what the Syrup team has done for my company. Over the last eight months, we've worked incredibly closely together, creating, designing, solving and moving the needle forward. Syrup is part of the heart that beats inside my company and my dream. Rob, Jakob, Omino, Dana, Joerg, Paul, Amy, Erik, Krissy, Nate, Shannon and everyone else who has touched this project: Thank you.

On September 12, 2007, the Syrup Team - rather the Team - and I drank champagne to celebrate the kick-off of Savvy Auntie. It was truly one of the most amazing days of my life.

My carpet ride was about to take me on my way to designing the company of my dreams. Literally. Did I mention how lucky I was?

Auntie Melanie

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 is Not a Four-Letter Word.

Dear Readers,

Once you've lived with a name for your company for the better part of a year, it just feels right. But of course, most people have never heard of the name of your company and often wonder why you chose it. The name of my company, as you know, is Here's the simple story of how it all came to be:

Last summer, as I was starting this company, the Internet was being 'plagued' by four-letter domain names. Hulu, Bebo and Ning were just three destinations being buzzed about. At the time, it seemed like in order to be a 'hot' Internet company, you had to have a four-letter domain name.

I wasn't going to go that route. First of all, whatever is hot today, is not tomorrow. Secondly, I wanted a domain name that no one would forget because it sounded like every other four-letter domain name (I was confused by the names myself since they tell very little about what the sites do and who they are for). Thirdly, I wanted the word Aunt or Auntie to be a part of it so they understood the community was for them.

I decided to create a URL that meant something to Aunts. Seems simple, but I was going to be married to this name forever more. It had to be something I really believed in. And something Aunties could believe in too. That name, whatever it would be, would need to be powerful.

I'm an Auntie. My late mother grew up in England and all of my Great Aunts are called Auntie (Awntie). So I knew I wanted to go with Auntie, not Aunt. Plus, last summer, Gap had come out with a cute t-shirt for little girls that read: I [heart] my Auntie. If "Auntie" was right for the Gap consumer, it was popular enough a term for my niche.

I chose "Savvy" as a qualifier for a very specific reason. PANKs are very savvy in just about everything they do: their job; their social life; fashion and beauty; finances; nesting, etc. But when it comes to kids, they are not as savvy. How could they be, without kids of their own and without sandbox talk - the stuff moms learn about 'on the job?' There is no "instruction manual" for Aunts and until now, Auntie has had to rely on Mom to learn about kids. is like a 'parenting site for non-parents.' It's a "safe" place where Aunts can get lots of great knowledge from our Savvy Auntie Experts and other members, as well as
share their own expertise with others - without ever having to feel un-savvy. That's pretty powerful stuff.

Just like Mom, Auntie has questions. And now, just like Mom, Auntie has answers. She's a Savvy Auntie. And it just feels right.

Auntie Melanie

Friday, May 9, 2008

Look Auntie, No Hands!

Dear Readers,

At about two weeks into starting my own business, I knew I needed to get the data right. Sure, it's good to know in your gut that you have a good idea, but being able to articulate it through data makes it even better. So I needed quantifiable data. I also needed to check the pulse of other Aunts. I did not have the funds for a major research study nor a focus group, so I looked on the internet for data and invited some of the girls over for a dessert reception I dubbed my AuntFarm.

Finding data online was not as easy as I had hoped. There were no reports on Aunts per say, nor on non-moms, my main focus. (Please note: Mommy Aunties are a very welcome and important part of the Community. Several Mommy Aunties have written in making sure they are included. They love being Aunts too, and we can't blame them!) I spent the first couple of weeks looking for as much data as I could find to support the fact that I had a market and the 2004 US Census Fertility Report was the only resource I could find. But with it, I hit the jackpot.

So here are the facts: 45% of women up to the age of 44 do not have children. 37% of women who do not have children are in their 20-40s. There is no data for women without kids over the age of 44 - but one can assume, based on the data point of 45% of childless women under the age of 45, that at least 5% of the total population of women over 44 do not have kids. In the end, I estimate the NonMom segment to be 50% of the adult female population. That's about 60 million women. That is a pretty huge segment full of Aunts by Relation (ABR), Aunts by Choice (ABC), godmothers, great aunts, and other women who adore kids. And the most interesting fact is that this segment is growing. In 2003, it was reported that 44% of women under 45 were not moms. In 2001, that number was at 43%. Add in the Mommy Aunties, and the "Aunt Market" is pretty big.

Around the time I was looking for data, my friend Bobby Zuckman was in town from Atlanta. He's an entrepreneur and very supportive. He's also a brilliant marketer and sales guy, so when he suggested that I create an acronym to define this special segment of women, I agreed. And PANK (Professional Aunts, No Kids) was born. Thanks, Bobby.

So I had the data to quantify the segment. I had a name for the segment. Now I needed to test it on some real women. On June 28th, about two weeks after I woke up an entrepreneur, I invited about 20 Aunts to my home for the AuntFarm focus group. I told them about the data I had discovered. I told them about PANKs.
I reminded them about our spending power. And throughout it all, I asked them for their thoughts.

What I learned from the AuntFarm was invaluable:

I learned that some women don't care to be called Aunt. Or Auntie. Or anything other than their first name. This is especially true of Aunts who became Aunts in their teens or early twenties. However, some Aunts who are in fact called by their first name, really prefer to be called Auntie. They yearn for the familial connection the name implies.

Aunts with over a dozen nieces and nephews don't spend as much as they used to on the kids when there were fewer of them, but they sure do spend a lot traveling to see them all.

Aunts spend a lot of money and time on their nieces and nephews, and are very happy to do so. Even the Mommy Aunties in the room still indulged their nieces and nephews at birthday time and the holidays.

All of the Aunts mentioned how much they love their nieces and nephews. Some brought pictures of them to pass around. Some told stories. There was a certain warmth and brightness to the room when the Aunts talked about their nieces and nephews. And everyone could feel it.

Some Aunts love being Aunts, but also want to be Mommies one day.
Aunthood was just the beginning for them, even though they were getting closer to the end of the age of fertility. They optimistically see Aunthood as "training wheels" for raising their own kids one day.

There was a lot of information and advice (and support!) that night. It was slightly overwhelming. Now remember, I was just a couple of weeks into this process. I was still not sure how this idea would be executed, how it would be promoted, and if anyone other than my 20 Auntie friends would listen. Especially if dessert was not included. But I was laying down a strong foundation. And that, no one could argue with.

I was now ready to take off my "training wheels." A week later, on July 9, 2007, I began the trademark process and the incorporation process. Don't worry. I was wearing a helmet; I knew that there was always a chance I would fall flat on my face. You just never know until you let go.

Weeeeeeeee...... So far, not a bruise.

Auntie Melanie

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

And Then, I Was in Business.

Dear Readers,

In the last post, I spoke about how I was lucky enough to connect with a number of entrepreneurs who welcomed me into a community of entrepreneurship. These were people who were years ahead of me in starting up their own business. And it was inspirational.

But I also needed to connect with people who were just starting out; people just like me. This was part of doing whatever I could to keep moving forward with starting my own company. So within the first week, I was seeking all the ways I could invest in this company that was still in a very early period of conception. Very early.

I got business cards. Not the freebies you can get on the internet either. I paid good money for really nice, modern, fresh looking business cards. Even though I didn't yet have a real business. Or a name for the business. Or anything that might look like I was in business. But I got cards. They said: "Auntie Melanie Notkin" on them. To anyone I gave the card, I was in business.

I also went to a SCORE seminar. SCORE is a great national organization that supports young entrepreneurs by offering seminars and one-on-one counseling by retired experts. There were other people there just for the 'stick-to-it-ness' it offered. I wasn't the only one. I wasn't the only one!

And then I joined a Ladies Who Launch Incubator program and met about ten women, just like me. Or at least like me in that they were starting their own company. Or thinking about starting their own company. Or thinking about thinking about starting their own company. Or just needed moral support for changing their life in some way. And with all my buttoned-up senior-level corporate experience, all the books I had read over the past decade or two, and a really good, solid idea, I needed moral support too. Boy, did I need it.

I also needed to solidify the fact that I was in business. And the more I repeated that exact phrase when introducing myself, the more I repeated it when offering my business card, the more I repeated it by registering for a program, the more I believed it. I was in business.

I was three weeks in. I was in business. And everyone and anyone who would listen, knew it. There was no backing out now. Because there were people out there who were three weeks behind me. They needed my moral support. They needed my advice. I told them to get business cards. And then they were in business too. And just like that, they were exactly like me.

Auntie Melanie

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Community. Remember That Point.

Dear Readers,

On the same day that I decided to start my company, which I knew would serve the modern, cosmopolitan aunt, I made lists. Lists are a good thing to create when you know you need to do something, but aren't sure what.

First, I created a list of things the company would do. Or be. Gosh it was so amorphous at this point. It would be a Website. There would be tips for being the best Auntie possible. There would be things to do - Aunties need ideas for what she could do with kids. And of course,
there would be products and gift ideas. And community. In my very first day as an entrepreneur, on the list of things I wrote down of what needed to be included in my company, I included: Community. Aunties need to be able to connect with each other in order to learn from each other. Community. Remember that point. It's important.

The second list I made were of men and women, friends and acquaintances, I knew who were entrepreneurs. Right off the bat, I had a list of ten people. Without blinking, I knew ten people who could give me advice on entrepreneurship. Wow. That seemed like a lot at the time.

I spoke with them all in the two weeks following my list making. We met for coffee. At the gym. For lunch. For dinner. On the phone. On a street corner. At the bookstore. At their office. No matter where, what or how, each one made time for me. And they all had great advice. I learned something from each one of them. One thing I have learned is that entrepreneurs believe deeply in karma. They know that by sharing what they have learned from others - and on their own - with a newbie, something good will come back to them. These entrepreneurs should expect a lot of great things coming back to them.

I have all the notes. I kept them all in one book. They include brainstorms for names of the company (I went with another name in the end). Names of attorneys. Accountants. Graphic designers. Names of people these people were connected with.
Lots of fantastic ideas. And not one negative word. Not one hint that I might have a challenge I could not overcome.

I not only got great advice and qualitative information,
I also got tremendous support. Each smile, hug, "tell me more!," "let me know how else I can help," "I'll put you in touch with...," all of that meant I could wake up the next day feeling like I would one day be like them. One day, I would be a successful entrepreneur.

On both lists I made that day, I had listed Community. One was to serve Aunts. The other was a list of ten people in my life who became my community of entrepreneurs. Less than a year later, that list has grown to dozens more. Entrepreneurs introduced me to entrepreneurs. I found entrepreneurs on Facebook. On Twitter. Through networks like Ladies Who Launch and the Jeff Pulver Social Media Breakfasts. Sometimes I "met" entrepreneurs in books and magazines. And a few I just stumbled upon along the way.

What I have learned from these people is invaluable. I will try to repeat their lessons in this Blog as the posts move forward. And I'll add a few tips of my own.

I am much smarter and will be more successful because of the community of entrepreneurs who have helped and continue to help me every day. If you want to be an entrepreneur, ask another one for help. Some of you have even begun emailing me for advice (I laugh in humble irony). I am here to help. We are all part of a community. And that's what community does.

Remember that point. It's important.

Auntie Melanie

Friday, May 2, 2008

Dear Madison Avenue, Please Don't Wish Me a Happy Mother's Day.

(Dear Readers, I am sorry but I must interrupt my usual letters to you so that I can address something to the fine people in the Advertising and Marketing world.)

Dear Madison Avenue,

Please don't wish me a Happy Mother's Day.

It's not that I don't appreciate the wishes. And I don't mean to be the "Ebenezer Scrooge" of Mother's Day. It's a perfectly lovely holiday.

But I am not a mother.

And it's not that I don't want to be. I personally do. But for now, I am not a mother.

So when I walk into your store, or open your e-newsletter, or receive your direct mail, please don't wish me a Happy Mother's Day.

Don't get me wrong. I love mothers. I admire the work and energy it takes to be a mother.
In fact, some of my best friends are mothers. But some are not. In fact, some of your girlfriends are probably not mothers either. Stop. Look around. Chances are about 50% of the women you know are not mothers. Especially since you live in a big city like New York.

Madison, or Ms Avenue if you prefer, just look at the US census report on fertility. In 2004 (the latest report) 45% of women up to the age of 44 were counted as "childless." (The number of women over the age of 44 who are non-moms is not recorded.) That's up from 44% in 2003. And 43% in 2001. So the numbers are growing. Year after year. After year.

For every Mom out there, there is a Non-Mom. Some by choice. Some yet to be. Some who just can't. None of these women want your Happy Mother's Day wishes. In fact, you are probably hurting some feelings along the way.

But Madison, you're a smart marketer. You can step away from the decades-old idea that moms are the most powerful spenders in the US. Perhaps at education and kids' necessities like diapers and milk they are. Sure. But women in general are the most lucrative consumers for marketers. And we've come a long way, baby. 85% of women make or influence the purchasing decisions in their household. The household, by the way, may be a family of four, or a single abode for one. For the first time, more women than men are buying cars, consumer electronics, homes and doing home renovations. And you might be surprised to hear that 50% of single women own their own homes.

Since the 1960's, when women were finally opening bank accounts in their own names, you have been focusing your marketing strategies on Mom since that is how you have traditionally identified "Woman." But it's 2008 and times have changed. Today, non-moms actually have greater purchasing power because they are not supporting children, because a greater portion of non-moms than moms are still in the workforce, and because they have more time for leisure and travel.

Which doesn't mean that non-moms don't love children. Non-moms have nieces and nephews, by relation or by choice, and other children in their lives that they love and embrace (and spoil!).

Madison, since you are a woman who works in advertising and marketing, you may have heard that I call this segment of women: PANKs (Professional Aunts, No Kids.) PANK is the New PINK. We are the fastest growing segment of affluent women in America - the women you should be focusing some really smart attention on.

So don't turn us off. Don't keep assuming all women are moms. Do better targeting and segmenting. Find the women who spend their discretionary income and time on the kids in their lives - and on themselves. We're here. We're listening. And we're ready to buy.

In the meantime, go ahead with your Mother's Day plans. I too wish all moms a beautiful day full of all the love and joy that motherhood brings.

But please, don't wish the rest of us a Happy Mother's Day.

Because the thing is, we're not moms.

Auntie Melanie Notkin