Sandra Garcia, Middle Child Marketing: on Being Mentored
Sandra Garcia, owner of Middle Child Marketing Inc., started her PR business four years ago after her best friend, an artist, asked her to help with a launch party.
“That was the light bulb that went off in my head,” Sandra says. “I thought, maybe I should start freelancing and see how that goes.”
“I knew I could get another job at a PR firm,” says Sandra, “but I was a bit disillusioned by the whole corporate environment.”
Her first job out of university had been at a PR firm that specialized in the entertainment industry and did about 80% event planning. She enjoyed it at first: she gained valuable experience and was excited by the idea of meeting actors. But after awhile, she realized what she really wanted to do was hone her skills in media relations, come up with story ideas, pitch them, and see the results in the paper or on TV.
So, two years after joining the PR firm, Sandra decided it “wasn’t a good fit for me” and quit.She did some travelling, worked part-time and took courses in marketing communications through the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Then she helped her artist friend with that launch party, and discovered she liked the idea of being an entrepreneur who worked for herself.
Although she’s been running Middle Child Marketing for several years, she just recently completed a six-month mentorship program with the Women’s Enterprise Centre. WEC paired her up with mentor Cathy Kuzel, owner of The Connected Woman.
“When I started my business, I heard all over the place that you need a mentor or a business coach,” Sandra explains. “It was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t actively pursue it. I wanted to make my own mistakes, and in the early stages, I didn’t know what I wanted to work on with a mentor. It wasn’t really until 2010 that I seriously started to think about it.”
That’s when the Olympics came to Vancouver, BC and all her usual clients took a break – and business dried up.
“It was almost like starting from square one,” she says. “I had to learn about the process of getting clients and sales for myself, where previously I relied mostly on referrals.”
It’s not the first time she’s participated in a program to help her learn more about business. Just 1 1/2 years into her business, she took a government-funded, two-week consulting and contract program.
“It was intense,” she says. “I call it Business 101. It was equivalent to a first year business course you’d take in university. It was very valuable to me, someone who didn’t have a business background.”
She chose to take her mentorship program through WEC for two main reasons: its structure and length. The program is structured so you work on three main goals with your mentor, and the program is fairly short at just half a year. Other programs she looked into were up to 1 1/2 years, which she felt was too long. Sandra liked being paired with Cathy Kuzel, a general business coach, as opposed to someone in the same field.
“She’s great with business systems, which is what I needed to focus on,” Sandra says, adding one of the most useful systems she learned was how to create a sales funnel.
“I didn’t know what a sales funnel looked like, so it’s one of the things that we discussed,” she says. For example, how many people should you approach in a month and how do you keep track of it? Cathy helped her devise a paper binder system that she used for a year before recently moving to an electronic format. In addition to the initial three goals, Cathy helped her with other ideas, like sending a ‘cold’ email to a potential client.
“We went over my email template with a red pen, and I learned the difference one word can make in an email,” she says. For example, “using ‘I’ too much instead of ‘you’ because you should be focussing on the client, and what challenges they have, and the solutions you can give them.”
They also went over her business plan and conversion rates together and found ways to improve them, and Sandra changed her business card, adding a QR Code to it.
“That was Cathy’s idea,” she adds. “I’m not the first to do it, but Cathy mentioned that it may be the future.”
How did the mentoring work out?
“2011 has been my most successful year yet. It’s really due in part to this sales funnel system Cathy helped me create,” Sandra says. (Her sales increased by 377%.) They also talked about other things, like, “If someone tries to talk you down from your rate, don’t just say ‘yes’ right off the bat. See what else can be done to work with that client without sabotaging your own business as well.”
If you’re thinking of doing a mentorship, Sandra says it’s important to be honest with yourself and your mentor. The bottom line is, if it’s going well, great! Stick with it! But if you’re not benefitting from it, then end the relationship.
“Learn from who you feel will give you the best advice,” she says. “It’s your time. Always make sure you’re learning and that you can put what you learn into action.”
Sandra's Business Tips:
1. Make sure you love what you’re doing. If you’re thinking of starting a business and the thought of it is scarier than doing it, then maybe it’s not the right one for you. But if you can picture yourself in it and loving it, then it’s a sign.
2. Make sure you have some sort of education. Take courses at Small Business BC (or your local business centre), do a ‘start your own business’ program through one of the colleges, (Douglas College has a one-year long “Success Program.”) Or learn from others who have already done it. That way, you’ll know what some of the challenges are that you can expect.
3. Get out there and try it. Get a website up because it’s what people look at. Get yourself out there. Ask people to give you feedback on your website so you can test it out. If you don’t start it, you won’t know what to fix.
4. Keep learning. There’s always new technology; social media has grown so much. Subscribe to industry-related newsletters and company blogs. Keep on top of competitors and trends that your industry is adopting.
5. Know when to quit. If it’s not a good fit your you, if you’re not having fun, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, if your sales aren’t growing year-to-year, then maybe it’s time to change things up or get out of it altogether.
I Am What I Brand – a guest blog by Sandra Garcia on rebranding.
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