Well we come down to the last month of the year. 2009 was a hell of a year for a lot of people. Some people lost jobs, some lost businesses, some even lost homes. We ushered in a great new beginning with the swearing in of our new President Barack Obama in January and many people thought he was going to be the answer to everyone’s prayers. But as with all incoming presidents who inherit a big mess, he was hit hard by reality…WE were all hit by reality. All of the damage done will take years, decades to repair. So a lot of people will be grateful that 2009 is coming to a close.

Well, as bad as it all seems, I choose to focus on the positive. I too have had some extremely difficult times this year. But I look at everything as a learning experience that prepares me to survive the tough times. As many of you know, I’m launching Fearless Woman Magazine and an Internet TV station in January. I’m also launching Empower Me Institute as well. Regardless of how this economy is I am plugging ahead to make these launches successful. See, now is the time a lot of people would run and hide from the big bad economy. But as I told my audience on my teleconference the other week, it’s times like these that successful businesses are launched. Some of our greats (Proctor & Gamble, Sears, etc) have been launched during down economies.

See, this is not the time to run and hide. So you lost your job. Are you going to sit around and feel sorry for yourself, or worse, hold on to anger for a company that made a supposed business decision that was nothing personal? Are you diversifying your skills? A common mistake people tend to make is believe that they are so specialized they can’t be replaced. Guess what…NOT! Everyone is replaceable. I don’t care how skilled you are. No man or woman is immune. The best defense to coping with this situation is to diversify. Add new skills that are transferable and in demand now. I’m not saying go out and get a whole new degree. But you can get the skills you need to make you more marketable. Now is not the time to be complacent, afraid or paralyzed in your old ways. Things change, people change, situations change. You have to be prepared to change and flow with change.

So instead of waiting out the month of December hoping for better times in 2010, use this time to reflect. Decide what you want to accomplish and start laying the groundwork for it NOW. December should be a month of preparation. I know it may seem like the easiest thing to do may be to just sit and wait it out. Inaction is very detrimental. Don’t give up now. You’ve made it this far. Think of December as the testing ground. And in January, come out swinging.
Til next time.
Adrienne Graham

Well here we are. I just wrote about us sucking it up and getting past these tough economic times.  Some people thought it was a bit harsh while others praised and agreed with me.  Instead of reprimanding everyone and complaining about this crisis, I figured I’d give you some tips on weathering these times.  I’ve pretty much given tips for career women, but now it’s time to help out our entrepreneurial sisters.

I believe obstacles are really opportunities and God’s way of telling you to take another road. Every time I had an obstacle, I tried to rise above it or go through it. Some times I managed to do it.  But some times I couldn’t.  I learned that I needed to step back and let God guide me the right way.  Always follow God. For every obstacle you encounter, search for new opportunity because He may just be leading you to the right opportunity.

Disaster and crisis can hit at any time out of no where with no warning. It is up to you to create a disaster plan way before times of crisis so you’re not caught off guard.  Make sure you share this plan with your staff or team and make sure they understand it.  The last thing any business owners wants to to be totally immobilized during a crisis. Make sure you create a printed document and keep it onsite, online and someplace offsite that you or a staff member can get to if necessary.  Be sure to outline policies, directives for key staff members, how to handle client concerns, where to find critical data that will keep the business going, and a location for your staff to go to regroup and await direction. In addition to a written disaster or crisis plan, it is vitally important to keep data secure and accessible offsite.  For instance, I keep my data on two computers (one is used as a server) and on a few flash drives.  I also have a company that backs up my data offsite.  So I know that I can access my data should any number of crisis occur. Now a financial crisis isnt the same as a natural disaster, the ruleso engagement are different.  But it helps because you never know what can happen during a crisis.  An employee can go rogue and steal data.  People can make mistakes that are costly. Be safe rather than sorry.

I went to the Black Enterprise conference in May 2008 and the CEO of Liberty Bank & Trust, Alden McDonald shared his experience during the Katrina tragedy.  He lost several branches of his bank, which had been doing outstanding from a financial and business standpoint.  Six branches were lost under water and two were vandalized.  80% of his customer base was under water and his entire computer system was shut down.  Nobody could have ever predicted the disaster that Katrina would cause, but a lot of businesses ended up destroyed and/or closed.  What saved Mr. McDonald was not a disaster plan, but his overall treatment of his employees.  He lives by the premise that loyalty to employees gets loyalty in return.  His employees remained dedicated to the company. As an example of loyalty, Mr. McDonald guarantees a summer job for employee’s children 16 years old and older. Employees with five or more years of service are guaranteed home ownership.  He invests in trainers to make sure employees stay healthy.  So while a solid disaster plan would have made sense, the fact that he had loyalty made a bigger impact than a plan.

For people who have “been there before” understand the logistics of having no capital.  Nothing beats the experience of being poor or broke (two words I don’t allow in my home or in my presence).  You are forced to make things work on limited dollars.  So those of you who have been there before, you understand. Nothing trumps the experience of bootstrap living than actually going through it.  For those who haven’t gone through it, it may be a little tougher for you because you are not equipped in dealing with these economic times.  But I’m telling you that you can make it through.  Now is the time to think about multiple streams of income.  That insures that money will be coming in from somewhere. Now is the time to start thinking about complimentary products or services that work in tandem with your existing products or services.  For example, someone who owns a salon may look at adding products.  If you or someone on your team makes outstanding hair products, work on developing them and offering them to clients.  If you are a recruiter or own a staffing company, think about offering resume development services or training in whatever your area of expertise is.  If you are a caterer who also bakes like nobody’s business, think about adding desserts to your menu.  There are always ways to make additional money.  You just have to tap into your inner passions and expertise and bring them to fruition.  Don’t let the fact that cash flow is low deter you.  Bartering (if done responsibly and fairly) can get you over the hump of a cash crunch.  But be sure you can offer something of value in return when you barter.  But whatever you do, don’t get stuck in being broke.  Let that serve as your motivation to make money and keep cash flow going in your business.

There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there trying to get people to spend money on “Business Opportunities”.  They feed off the fear of people with cash problems by promising you can make tons of money with no money down in real estate, you can make tons of money by joining an MLM program, and my favorite are the seminars that lure you in under the guise of giving you some earth shattering secrets of becoming wealthy.  Only thing is they are the only ones who get wealthy because people think by buying these seminars, books, tapes and “coaches” that they too can become wealthy.  Not all coaches are unscrupulous.  But you must be careful.  Starting a business is not as easy as people make it seem.  Why spend money on books when you can surf the internet for free to get all the information you need.  If you’re going to start a business, I would much rather you take your money and invest it in your own business, not someone else’s.  So beware of the “call to stop being poor” by these snake oil salesmen.  Do you research and make the decisions based on your needs and gut feelings.

Don’t be afraid to trim the fat.  This is the perfect time to get rid of dead weight.  Demand that your employees step up and reach their true potential or be let go.  You are throwing good money out the window by keeping people who under perform.  They are depleting your cash and not doing anything to help improve your business.  Cut that expense loose and don’t have an ounce of remorse about it.  Remember, your business pays your bills.  You wouldn’t just give money out of your pocket to just anybody.  Protect your business.

Look for low cost ways to market your business.  You don’t need thousands of dollars to market or advertise your business.  Look for tie ins and niche mediums (websites, social networks, magazines, etc) to have a platform for your business.  Sit down and create a marketing and public relations campaign that will get you maximum exposure for the least amount of dollars.  Take advantage of You Tube and podcasts to showcase your expertise and never let an opportunity go by where you don’t mention your business.  Make your staff your campaigners.  Barack Obama has one of the most phenomenal marketing campaigns ever seen in a political race.  Fast Company Magazine featured a story about Brand Obama.   It is definitely worth reading.  He has taken to new media and social networking and created a hard hitting strategy that has worked for him.  Take a page from his book.  Whether you’re voting for him or not, the one thing you have to agree with is he has been very effective and has phenomenal momentum.  Remember, this is the age of the new generation of technology.  Embrace it and use it for your own business.

Finally, I would tell everyone keep a cool head.  Now is not the time to take big risks if you are not equipped to handle the outcome (good or bad).  Find ways to budget better and don’t spend money recklessly.  Invest in the technology and people who will help grow your business.  Treat your people right and they will stick with you through the bad times. Stay true to your clients and give them the truth coupled with exemplary service.  You stay true to them and they will reciprocate that loyalty to you.  Don’t panic and stop watching the news.  This crisis doesn’t have to be as detrimental to everyone as the media claims it is.  As long as you remain calm and use this as an opportunity to stretch your creative mind.  And most importantly, when this crisis is over, and it will be, keep this experience in mind and take the new skills you learned and keep them in practice.  That way if a crisis were to hit again, you’ll be well prepared to handle it.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

OK ladies. The pity party is over. Yes, I am well aware of this fast sinking economy, foreclosure landslide and job eliminations. I hear about it from many people, see it on every news channel, read it in every paper and magazine I encounter. I’m only 39, but haven’t we been here before? I’m pretty sure we have been, and this won’t be the last time. I too have been affected by this crisis and I’m as mad as anyone else. But I’ve decided to rise above it and take care of myself in the process. I know I will be better than OK when this is all over.

I come from a family that values long term dedication to one job, one company. The entrepreneurial bug skipped a generation obviously. I was told that my grandparents were entrepreneurial. They had to be because of the times they lived in. But my parents come from that 25+ years of service retiring with a gold watch line of thinking. But that ain’t me! Employer loyalty flew out the window a long time ago. Companies are giving people the axe left and right. Thankfully this generation is full of free spirits and entrepreneurs who look at this crisis as opportunity and not as disaster. That is who I am. I don’t wait for opportunities to find me. I evaluate the situation and start planning as soon in the game as possible. I don’t let someone’s decisions dictate my future or my fate. That mindset will get me through this crisis. And it will help you too.

There are tons of people flooding the job market through no fault of their own. We have crooked Wall Streeters and Government to thank for that. People who were secure in their cushy jobs with their plush bonuses thought the world was fabulous. But when the rug was pulled out from under them, they found themselves in tough situations they had not prepared for. Now, those who were living check to check or barely getting by were affected too. The only difference is they were used to being without. Naturally there is a huge panic (spurred on by the media no doubt) that the world is going broke and that we’ll all be on the soup line soon. Comfortable people are terrified to death. The budget conscious are cautiously guarded. So where does everyone go from here?

Well first of all, the pity party needs to end now. Stop listening to the news and the pundits. You can survive this. You should be writing down your goals, reviewing your skills and accomplishments, surveying the job market, and reaching out to contacts. There are opportunities out there, believe it or not, but they are not going to find you. You have to go out and find them or better yet create them. Anger, sadness, bitterness are all understandable emotions. You should be all of those. But don’t let them keep you in bed under the covers. You get one week maximum for that. Use those emotions to fuel your next move. Think about your idol or role model. What would they do in this instance? Once you’ve figured that out, take on that mindset yourself. Don’t let this economy fool you into believing that there are no opportunities out there. We live in the internet and information age. You can make money, start a new career and start a business with little or no money. We are a capitalist society. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. You can control your fate and keep from crashing.

Once you’ve taken inventory on what you can and like to do, and what’s available, start going for what you want. Talk to people. Tap into your network and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Listen to what people are telling you but take it with a grain of salt. If anyone wants to speak negativity in the air, cut ties with them. Now is the time for positivity and support. Align yourself with power players. If you dig deep into your network, I’m sure you can find some. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need help from time to time. Don’t let your pride or fear keep you from reaching your goals. If you’re not comfortable starting a full time business, try it as a side gig. Go to the SBA and get a mentor to guide you through start up. Once you’re comfortable going out on your own, don’t ever look back. You can take your skills, experience and contacts, and turn that into a business. But be sure you are up to the challenge of running a business. Not everyone is meant to have a business. It takes a passion and dedication to start and maintain a business. If you don’t have what it takes, don’t try it. But be honest with yourself.

If starting a business isn’t your thing, start planning your next career move. There is no law that says you have to be married to one career for all of your adult life. Start looking at how your skills transfer to another industry or career. Don’t be afraid to seek a career coach to help you put it all in perspective. I would take those career personality tests with a grain of salt. You know what your likes and dislikes are. Trust in that and stay true to your heart. Career Coaches are great allies, but be sure they are guiding you and not telling you what to do with your life. Anyone trying to push you into something doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Again, reach out to your network. Set up meetings with trusted individuals and ask about their industry and company. Research as much as you can. Ask to shadow someone to see if you would even like the new career. Look at the good and the bad. There is a very real chance that you’ll have to start from the bottom up. You must be willing to do what it takes to succeed. You have to take it all into consideration when making your decisions. Whatever you do, stick to your guns. If a new career is what you want, then go get it because it’s yours to have.

It’s easy to crawl up in bed and cry about the state of the world. But you have to decide if you want to be a part of the recovery or a victim. I choose to be part of the recovery. You learn more about yourself when you go through tough times. Money can be made, lost and made again. Don’t think of your life in terms of your paycheck or even title. Think about it as a wonderful adventure, an opportunity to learn what you’re made of. If life was meant to be easy, none of us would ever have to make decisions or think for ourselves. I say bring on the tough times because I’m prepared to beat them. Are you?

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

Let’s face it, these are tough economic times and it doesn’t look like things will be letting up any time soon. Many people on Wall Street lost a lot of jobs this year. I’m not too concerned about the fat cats, because they’ll bounce back on their fat wallets. My concern is the “little” people, the supporting players who got burned in all of this fall out. The ones who had no contingency plan because they assumed that because they worked for legacy companies, that they were safe. Now, I tell everyone they need to have a back up plan. That’s just a given. Even if they recruited you hard as if you were an NFL hopeful, that still doesn’t guarantee anything. Nothing is forever and this last couple of months proves that.

In crisis mode, it’s hard to think clearly because the panic has set in. It’s all about “I need a job NOW” and that’s a normal reaction. But in crisis mode is where we often make the most mistakes and end up cheating ourselves. Sure, it’s easy to just take the first job that comes along because you have bills to pay. Nobody wants to be unemployed, but it is what it is. In times like this, a clear head and logical thinking needs to take presidence. Employers know that this is the best time to undercut and save on salaries so they are going to low ball you every chance they get. Do you really want to work for a company that will willingly pay you less than what you’re worth? I wouldn’t want to work for that company. I know my worth and it is high.

When you find yourself in this situation, step back and breathe. Sit down somewhere (away from home) and start journaling. List all of your professional assets and the major contributions you’ve made in the last 5 years. Then list the minor accomplishments (what may be minor to you could be major to someone else). Then write down the ideal type of jobs you would love to have. Go for broke and just write what’s in your heart. Then write the jobs you are most qualified for. This will give you a beginner’s road map to getting where you want to be. Now if you’re a secretary you can’t expect to be a doctor next week (unless you have an MD). So while I say go for broke, also be realistic. Then I want you to start looking at your skills and accomplishments and determine which can be transferred to a new position and in what capacity. Finally, get on the net and start looking at comparable salaries and job titles on Salary.com orPayscale .com. You can also see who is posting salary ranges on the job boards, which is where I’m sending you next. This gives you something to compare the current going rates, with where you were, and where you want to go. That way you can prepare a compensation package range that is comfortable to you.  Seeing your total picture gives you a better understanding of your options.

Next step is finding the job leads. I won’t go into that because you should already know how to find a job. Let’s instead focus on thepre -screen. If a job doesn’t list a salary or range, don’t be afraid to inquire about it. Many experts will tell you not to talk about salary until the very end. This situation is a bit different. You are in crunch time. You cannot afford to wasteanyone’s time, especially your own. Why waste valuable time interviewing for something clearly out of your range? You could spend that time finding suitable interviews. If they cannot give you a range or set salary, give them yours. They will be able to tell you if that is in their range, and if it’s not and they want you bad enough, they’ll adjust. I’ve seen it happen many times. Now the caveat here is that it doesn’t fiteveryone’s situation. If you made $75K in your last job and this job is comparable, and you’re asking $100K I can pretty much guarantee you won’t get that. Let’s be reasonable and logical about it.

Do your research! The more knowledge you have the better position you have to negotiate. You need to walk in there knowing everything you can about the company, its products and services, the position (or its equivalent) and the going rates. Also, how badly do they want you? Now I’m not saying take advantage of this and come in thinking you are running things. No, no, no. That is the exact way to get yourself booted out of the running. You can still capitalize on the situation, but you have to be savvy about it. You know they want you, they know they want you, just be prepared to show them why you deserve your asking price. Be prepared to show and prove your past accomplishments and contributions to your last company. Make them feel more secure in their choice by showing them why you’re worth it.

Don’t rush to accept the first offer that comes your way. You are not obligated to give an answer right away. As a rule of thumb, ask for at least 48 hours to think it over. On rare occasions, I’ve seen people ask for, and get, a week to think about it. If you have no other offers on the table and none in sight, this is not the time to ask for a long thinking period. I’d ask for 48 hours, then hustle on the follow up with the companies you’ve interviewed with. It’s perfectly fine to call and ask if you are at least in the running. The answers you get will determine your actions. If you have offers on the table, take the time to mull them all over. Don’t just look at the dollars, but the entire picture. How is the commute? Will you enjoy the work? Is it something you really want to do? What is the level of responsibility? What are the additional benefits? Is there room for advancement? What about additional training and continuing education opportunities? Does the company and culture fit with your ethics? See, it’s not always just about the money. You can be offered a job that pays way more than your last, but you might be required to travel constantly and be away from your family. Or you can be offered a job at or a little less than your last job, but can work from home some times, have more professional freedom and tuition reimbursement. So make sure you weigh your options carefully and decide on what’s best for you. Even if you are in crisis mode, you still have some leverage.

Be prepared to walk away.  You’re probably saying “Are you crazy! I need a job NOW!!” and I get that.  But you need to hear something that you should never ever forget.  Everything is negotiable.  I’ll say it again, everything is negotiable.  I’m not advocating walking away after the first offer.  That’s just crazy.  Here is where your negotiating skills need to come into play.  You must be able to negotiate on your own behalf.  I’ve seen too many women (heck, people in general) simply accept the first offer.  I’m a recruiter and I amoligated to make the hiring manager’s offer, even if I think it’s too low.  And I’m telling you, almost all of my managers have said “well let’s start here and see if he/she will accept”.  They are willing to go higher, but for the sake of the budget, they’ll start low.  I try to approach candidates by asking them what range they were looking for just before I make the offer. Sometimes, they’ll ask to negotiate higher, but most times, they’ll accept the first offer.  Never accept the first offer.  If you feel you are worth more, communicate that.  Ask to negotiate a better offer.  If you have other options and they are not willing to negotiate, be ready to walk away.  What good is it to accept an offer that you know won’t support your lifestyle?  Yes, I know it’s about paying your bills.  But do you really want to accept any job at any salary and still be left wondering how you’re going to make up the difference?  Why put yourself through that stress?

So make sure you’re prepared and logical when you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.  Be consistent.  The right opportunity will come along, but you have to work for it….hard.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham