Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Business Competition - How to Be Friendly Competitors

Guest Blog - Janet Elkins

We are competitors in the same marketplace, but Andrea Michaels of Extraordinary Events and I have something very special. We are colleagues, competitors and, most of all, friends.

We met in the mid-eighties. She had a few years of working in the event industry on me, but we were both on the bleeding edge of a fledgling industry. The Special Event had just started up. The hotel business was booming and convention centers were springing up everywhere. We always seemed to show up at the same NACE, MPI and marketing meetings, first locally in Los Angeles, and later nationally and finally internationally. Hers was the friendly face I always sought out at association meetings and conferences.

Andrea was raising her son Jon at the time and would bring him along with her to meetings and conferences. It became fun and familiar, and we were often the only ones we knew among a sea of faces. That meant we would go out to dinner and spend more and more time together. At that time, we both worked for other companies. Oddly enough, we launched our own small businesses - EventWorks and Extraordinary Events - at almost the same time in the 1988-1989 timeframe.

We had camaraderie. We were both women of similar ages, and our frame of reference for building events was the same. We weren't caterers or florists but event integrators, pulling it all together. We told the entire story - integrating all the disciplines of an event rather than one element of it. And soon, we started seeing each other at the same social functions as well as business meetings. We noted that each of us shared the philosophy that it wasn't about the work but the sheer joy of working.

We traveled to the Philippines together for a presentation, learned how to put a PowerPoint together and soon were presenting various seminars together. As we helped organize Los Angeles FAM trips, it wasn't about being competitors; it was about sharing thoughts, resources and planning together.

In those early days, we made a conscious decision to create a "code" between us. We would not hire each other's former employees and would always hold each other's confidential information strictly confidential. We don't ask each other about our clients or our event ideas. We respect the blood, sweat and tears that go into creating our events and would never impinge on each other's trade secrets! It is important to us to be responsible to our clients and have a fair playing field.

Why? For me, I'd rather have trust with the people who are my colleagues. I have no desire to take advantage of anyone to get ahead.


What Are the Benefits of Being a Friendly Competitor?

We have an open, honest communication. We share resources without reservation. We share information for employee manuals and small business information. We are trusting and collaborative. Much information exists for small businesses with 50 employees, but it is a different ballgame for those of us who have fewer team members. So we share information on labor laws, employee relations and small business problems because our companies are very personal to us, almost offshoots of family, and there is a different approach with that type of organization. Sharing those practices has been bonding and invaluable to both of us. The benefits have included:

  • Having camaraderie
  • Sharing business and employee practices
  • Enjoying a shoulder to cry on
  • Exchanging resources
  • Sharing war stories
  • Thinking about the shape of the industry. . . as we go to different trade shows and conventions, we are able to share information from what we learn
  • Having that great relationship when we are at industry meetings and conventions.
 For me, having a colleague, competitor and friend is really essential for success. It is one thing to have good clients, but you learn a lot and experience a better life by reaching out and developing relationships with colleagues, competitors and vendors. This is why trade shows are so critical for young people to become involved because that's where those relationships are built.

You can't be successful alone. You need to develop those relationships in order to learn. Andrea and I aren't the only ones out there honoring our competitors. All the savvy ones are doing it because it makes us better.


Note from Andrea

When Janet and I do compete, I am honored because I know the client is putting me in the company of the very best!

Action Item

Try it!

Janet Elkins is the President of EventWorks, a Los Angeles-based, full-service event planning and production firm. A multiple award-winning company, EventWorks and Janet Elkins are considered among the "best of the best" by clients, peers and vendors alike. Janet Elkins may be reached at

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Power of Silence

I love stories. I love allegories. I love "examples." So here's an example for you to think about that is somewhat crass but leads into deeper thoughts, so don't give up when you start reading.

Have you ever negotiated with a car salesman? Have you ever walked away from that negotiation knowing that you've "won"? That you have reached the optimal deal? Or is it an exasperating back and forth that makes you want to flee?

Many years ago, a sage associate gave me a piece of advice I'll never forget. He said, "Put your best deal forth and then shut up. Say nothing further." The salesman will keep talking and counter-offering, so say nothing. He will be uncomfortable and keep lowering his price. Say nothing until your goal is reached, and it will be if you keep quiet. Because the person who sits comfortably and stares at his or her "opponent" and says absolutely nothing holds the power in a negotiation.

Know Your Value and Keep Quiet

We are all accustomed to talking, and virtually talking ourselves into corners. We get defensive when we hear objections to our offerings. Take another example. When a client says, "You are expensive," smile and say "yes." And be comfortable with that response. You do not need to justify or defend, and you most certainly don't need to rush into lowering your price. Know your value and keep quiet.

So what happens when you don't talk? You listen. And by listening, you learn. Most of us deal with some degree of narcissism and thus keep talking, filling every empty space with the sound of our words, most of which are not needed. Business is not about monologues; it is about dialogues, and sharing information and communicating for mutual understanding. Do you agree?

How many times have you learned what your client wanted of you or what a vendor needed from you if you were talking "at" them instead of "with" them, eagerly listening to gather information?

Silence is a beautiful thing. Pay attention to it and see what benefits it reaps.

Action Item

During your next sales call, try it and let me know how it works out for you.


The Power of Silence in Business

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events and the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Clear Communications - Why Written Words Matter

Much has been written about listening, the importance of speaking face-to-face, body language and the overall necessity of communications skills. I wholeheartedly agree with their essential importance. However, this old English teacher has a few words to say about why the written word matters.

From the standpoint of written communications, what are the benefits of it in today's world? First off, it is a digital world. Everyone emails, sends texts, Tweets and communicates through some form of Social Media. Unfortunately, because of poor grammar skills and overall less-than-stellar sentence structure, word choice and incorrect word usage, much of what is communicated is misunderstood and sometimes offensive!

Having effective writing skills empowers people, provides clear direction and increases productivity. It fits right into your overall communications tool chest. I have witnessed those without it lose motivation and become angry when their messages are not understood.

Think about it. If you need to send three or four emails, text messages, or letters to clarify your intent, productivity goes way down!

What Are the Elements of Good Writing?

It Provides Clarity.
Effective writing provides clarity and direction. Clarity prevents misunderstandings that lead to arguments and frustration. When you write effectively, your messages are simple, direct and easy to understand. Do not over-complicate what you want to say.

It Conveys the Correct Tone.
Because I cannot hear your voice and you write me an abbreviated or cryptic message, several things can happen. I can misunderstand your intent and become offended OR not understand what you are telling me. If your message is short, I might get the feeling that you are being curt with me. That might offend me. It is essential to make sure that the tone of your writing is positive, upbeat and that you do not write messages such as - R U GOING WITH MY COMPANY OR NOT? Write out all the words. Never use all caps - it indicates shouting. Include all the details that I need to understand your question.

It Uses Correct Grammar.
Nothing can be more damaging to your career (except maybe stabbing someone in the back) than sending out a letter to potential customers or existing clients with misspelled words, grammatical errors and poor sentence structure. Everyone makes an occasional mistake. We all do... but when it is constant, you will be considered unprofessional.

Do not rely on spell and grammar check in your word processing programs. Read everything over carefully before sending. If you have trouble with spelling, punctuation or grammar, ask someone in the office who is a good writer to proofread your work, particularly when it is an important communication, such as a presentation or proposal. If you truly have a problem, consider taking online or college extension courses to correct it.

Why Is This Important?
  • Successful people communicate effectively. Not only with verbal and non-verbal skills but with the written word.
  • It can make the difference between getting that coveted promotion.
  • Co-workers and clients will consider you intelligent if you write well.
  • Being able to understand and be understood creates self-satisfaction. You express your feelings, thoughts and emotions in an effective way, so you satisfy the area of the human spirit that longs to be heard. You also feel satisfied because you understand other people, which leads to healthy, strong and rich relationships.
  • When you clearly communicate a goal, the steps to accomplish it and the tools needed to fulfill the steps (whether verbally or in writing), people perform their jobs more efficiently. If a breakdown occurs, effective communication skills repair the damaged interaction and keep things moving in a productive way. People know what you want, how long they have to complete the task and what it is going to take to reach the goal.

"If you don't care enough to be correct in grammar and punctuation, what are you really telling your clients to convince them that you care about them or the details of their projects?" -Andrea Michaels, president, Extraordinary Events

Helpful Videos

Action Item

Work on improving your written word! I am a professional writer, and I learn something new to improve every day!

Carol McKibben was the launching publisher of Special Events magazine and the founding director of The Special Event. Today she runs McKibben Consulting, a writing and editorial service working with other writers and businesses to accomplish their goals. She is the published author of three books. To learn more, visit