Maria Palma (MP): Good day everyone, Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are in the world
Thank you for tuning in to Studio 747 BlogTalkRadio show, where it’s our mission to inspire you to live your best life.
I’m your host Maria Palma and today we’re going to be talking about overcoming challenges and staying inspired with your internet business.
My guest today is Monica S. Flores, who has quite a resume here. She is a principal web developer at 10K Webdesign. She’s the founder of A Successful Woman, which is, according to the website, devoted to supporting, celebrating and highlighting women’s successes. And she’s also founder of Green Business Women, which is a membership directory of green women business owners.
Monica has authored books geared towards helping women in business, including 30 Steps to Starting your Green Business, Social Networking for Women in Business, and Fifty-one Ways to Build your Community of Clients Online, which are all available at A Successful Woman.
So join in a warm welcome to Monica Flores. Hi Monica!
Monica S. Flores (MSF): Hi, how are you Maria? Thanks so much for having me.
MP: Thank you for taking some time out of your busy day to join us, talking and chatting, it’s been a while since we talked.
MSF: When you were listing that off, I was realizing, I feel like we’re always all continuously learning and growing, so I feel like that’s behind me, like what’s ahead? For all of us, it’s a constant, ongoing cycle.
Maria: I know, in the internet business world, you know, two minutes is like 30 years, you know? Everything’s constantly changing.
MP: So, we have so much to talk about in this 30 minutes so I just want to kind of get into it. To talk a little bit more about you, I know we started together at KnowMoreMedia.com, that’s where we met, which was about 5-6 years ago. Before that, what were you doing and how did you get started with your business.
MSF: Well, I was just a regular kid growing up, I’m the child of Filipino immigrants. I grew up in South Florida and San Diego, and I attended college. I studied agricultural and biological engineering and I had this idea that I would somehow go to developing countries and work on water systems and soil systems, and then I realized I wasn’t really cut out for that.
But I always have had an interest in technology, so I’ve been programming since I was 9, way back in the day with the Apple BASIC language, and when I started doing work in the workforce, I realized that I wanted to combine my skills with social justice, technology, and community-building, that’s really kind of the intersection of what I wanted to do.
So a little bit after college, I was fortunate enough to be a part of The Odyssey World Trek for Service and Education, which was an 18-month trek through about 35 different countries, so we travelled and visited with non-profit organizations, community-based organizations that are working for social change in their own communities, and we’d highlight their work. We also interviewed a number of different people, such as Rigoberta Menchu, we did her first webcast. So this was in 1999 to 2000, just when the web was just starting to become that kind of global consciousness-building place that you and I know what it is.
So after that, that was where I learned my HTML skills cause it was kind of like, I will code your website if you let me stay in your hostel for a little longer. So I started with doing HTML and when we arrived back in San Francisco, I realized I could do that for pay. That was a volunteer position then I was able to do that for pay for a few years.
Worked on the Quokka.com
NBCOlympics website, worked as a freelancer, and also did a tour through a citywide project for the Department of Children, Youth and their Families in San Francisco through a company called JMPT Consulting — and the JMPT stood for Justice Matters Policy and Technology, and it was my first exposure to people, who are geeks like me, who were working to use their skills towards social advancement and progressive change. And I was really inspired by that.
My partner and I started our own business in December 2004 because we wanted to 1) make a difference using our skills to do well by the world, but also 2) have a little more flexibility and control of our time. And since then, I then started the A Successful Woman site in 2006, the Green Business Women in 2009, and then I’ve done a couple other partnerships since then and my newest project is coming up in February 2012.
So yes, it’s an ongoing process, but I love the web. I believe that all of us are interconnected — and we see that today with all of the Occupy Movement and the way that information can spread — everything is transparent and you are — your internet business is– totally searchable.
People will know who you are, what you stand for, and they’ll either resonate with you or they won’t, in terms of potentially hiring you.
MP: Right. I remember when I started my internet business, it was around 2001 after 9/11, actually, that kind of just prompted me, like ok… You know the world is changed, and I want to be free from the corporate world, I was laid off, and I thought, well, I’d been reading about internet businesses and I thought, well I’m just going to try this out and see.
MSF: (laughs) and fast forward….
MSF: Consider there’s so many billions of people in the world, there’s so many opportunities. I always tell people: ideas are a dime a dozen, what it boils down to execution. And then I would say this idea of leverage, because with so many different types of people who you can reach, you don’t have to take a full-page ad in a magazine that’s not targeted to your interest. You could just reach out to the people on the blogs that are as passionate about the same causes as you are.
And I think that the era of cold calling, of building e-mail lists through, kind of, random aggregation… I mean, I think that era is coming to an end and we’re moving more towards things like blogs, like these radio shows, like personally-created resources, online trainings… I think there’s many different things that we’re going to start seeing in terms of the way that companies reach out to their core customers.
So in terms of an internet based business, I definitely think — and you can do it at home,
you can do it with minimal outlay, as long as you have an internet connection
and some sort of access to some sort of technology – you can do just as much as what anybody else is doing.
It’s a more level playing field, I think.
MP: And so when you started your business and started growing it, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
MSF: Yes, just looking back, I wish I had maybe not been so naive. I was, you know when we started our company, I think we were very hopeful and very optimistic.
I would say that there were three major challenges, and I want to go into each of those:
The first was about, the challenge of really being a business owner, thinking about yourself that way.
The second was the financial aspect of starting an internet business.
And the third is the opportunity to create and provide long-term leadership “big picture” thinking.
So, in terms of the first one, owning the business, so I was just a techie, you know, and to start your business you have to learn about all kinds of financial reporting. I had to learn about profit & loss statements, about balance sheets, about partnership terms. I had to learn how to account using Quickbooks, I never had done that before besides balancing my checkbook, right.
And now I’m starting to think on a progressively larger and larger scale. Because if somebody’s coming to you— in the beginning it was for, you know, a small project, let’s say a $250 project, that requires a certain level of thinking.
And then next it would be, oh, we’d like you to do a $2500 project, so that required me to think one step over, like OK – who can I delegate/how can I bring more people on board?
And then we’re talking now about $25,000 projects, so I’m like OK – one more step above, how do I think about stuff, who can I bring on board, who are my A+ people to help?
So I think part of it — and I’m hoping to go beyond, right, Maria?
So the idea is constant education, continuously self-education, I think that’s important. And it doesn’t have to be at school. I don’t have a programming degree. I don’t have education beyond my bachelor’s of science.
I do, however constantly read, constantly learn from resources that are published every year. And consider, somebody starting now has access to many resources that were not available even 2 years ago or 5 years ago.
So I think constantly educating myself has helped me kind of become a business owner, not just a worker. And the other part of that is surrounding myself with people who are better than me. Like, most definitely, I need the people in my life who are better than me in all the stuff that I just don’t know how to do or I’m not naturally suited to do. That was one challenge, was really becoming the owner of the business and stepping up to that level.
The second was the financial aspect. We went into so much debt, Maria!
I always tell new people starting a business — think about how much you think it would cost, and then double it, and then double it again. And that is probably the true cost of what you’re going into, and so…
My sense is for people, you really have to commit — if you’re doing it part-time, I think that’s fine, consider it to be a part-time job, but if you’re really wanting to make the leap, you’ll have to spend time feeding that baby, because it is like another child.
So you just gotta – we went into heavy debt. I was carrying maybe $44,000 on my credit cards at one point, I don’t recommend it for anybody. We had to do major, major restructuring. And so, for me, I feel like, however, knowing to go into that level has allowed me to accept and be comfortable with the level that I’m at today.
I don’t feel, you know what I mean — I feel like a lot of women, and particularly women, and women of color, like us, tend to not. . .
Tend to downplay our…
Tend to not give ourselves what we deserve.
And so now I feel totally comfortable asking for a certain amount for projects.
I feel totally comfortable saying no — “No, I cannot do that for you”, because it doesn’t fit and it won’t be helpful and I have dependents now and there’s other people I’m responsible for, so it’s beyond me feeling insecure or feeling like “I’m not worth it” — like, no — this is a valuable service that you’re providing, this is a valuable target market, you know you can help people.
Ask what you’re worth, plus a little more so that you can cover your margin. So yeah, that was part of it, dealing with the financial issues.
And then the other part I would say is maintaining a positive big picture. Because starting a business, you realize you’re interconnected in this web of your physical environment, you know — the types of materials and equipment you’re using, you’re a part of your local community, from the schools, to the community members, maybe your religious organizations…
We’re all part of this movement for positive social change and I think the internet’s a very minimally intensive business, you can provide a lot of information. It’s very knowledge-heavy. It’s very knowledge-rich. So we’re not digging up mines or ores out of the ground, we’re digging into our beliefs, and skills, and knowledge and turning that into tangible products.
So I think if your listeners can understand when you go into an internet business,
1) You gotta think big picture,
2) You have to learn how to read a balance sheet and forecast,
3) It is a good challenge
I think personally and professionally I’ve developed as a person — growing into my business has also helped me become a better version of what I want to be.
MP: Right, For me, I had kind of a different story, I didn’t start with very much when I started my business. Actually, I started an information-based website and, you know, I started with hosting and bought a domain and I learned some HTML and there I went, you know.
I launched the site and I put so much time in, and I think that’s one of the myths of starting and maintaining an internet business, is that in the beginning, yes, you’re going to put in a lot of time. I would stay up so late at night and early morning.
MSF: Yeah, coding! And that’s the thing, you just need to go get your domain name, and your hosting, but the content — right Maria?
You always provided high quality content to people, so that brought the visitors
which in turn brought the links,
which in turn brought the traffic,
which in turn brought the ad revenue.
But it has to start with… it couldn’t have been a machine that was doing it.
MP: Right, yeah. I’d get a little bit of advertising here and there but everything I did was just me, visiting other websites, and just networking with others online, and providing content, and working on search engine optimization. You know, there’s a lot of things that went into it, but it’s so worth it.
MSF: Yeah, definitely. In terms of the relationships you’re able to make and in terms of the opportunities and information you can provide to people. Again, from a consumer’s perspective, what other time in the world can you type into any search engine your specific, specific terms and get exactly what you’re looking for. That’s really unheard of and I’m curious to see how the youth of today take that moving forward.
I mean, remember in our day we’d have to go to the library and get the encyclopedia out to look up something.
MP: I know! Go through and research and that stuff, you know, hours and hours just to find something that’s relevant to what you’re looking for, now you can just type it in to Google or whatever search engine you use.
MSF: And that’s the thing there’s literally an ocean of information. So I highly recommend people to specify. Get into what it is that you specifically want to do. That’s you. That’s our unique gift to the world. That’s our own unique combination of skills and talents and interests. Just focus on what you can do good.
Don’t worry about what somebody else is trying to do.
Do well, excuse me.
Do what you do and do it well.
MP: And then, so if someone wants to start an internet business now, what are your top tips, what would you share with them?
MSF: OK, so (laughs)
One: Yes! Look before you leap.
So, one, I would say do as much research as possible in your specific field. So what type of internet business: are you thinking of building a membership community charging membership fees for access to information? Are you considering building a blog that gets advertising revenue? Are you considering building some sort of affiliate marketing site where you can sell other people’s products for a small commission? Just really research all of the available resources out there and understand your particular market, in terms of the internet-based business, right.
The second would be: specify, specify, specify, specify. If you want to do something very, very, very, niche, and by niche
I mean not just dogs, I mean greyhounds, I mean greyhound rescue. You can go all the way down — how about greyhound rescue in Berkeley, California — You can get all the way down into your particular niche and then dominate it, because that’s what your particular interest is, and it will keep you passionate and enthusiastic. Plus there’s people who are interested in that. How else would all the other greyhound rescue people in Berkeley find one another except through your website or your business? So specify.
I’d also say third, every hour that you spend planning saves you two hours during the actual implementation phase. So, I totally believe, Maria, that somebody has to build something in their mind, in their vision, first. Then, they build it in the real world.
So if you can just imagine as well as you can what the finished product is, then we just work backwards and start doing prioritized lists of functionality.
Maybe you’re going to start out with an informational site.
And then you’re going to add on a membership component.
Then you’re going to add on an advertising component.
Each of these things, though, you have to think about in very big detail what you want to have as the finished product.
Now, of course, a lot of it happens in process, so you do something, you iterate, you change, you change the price, you change the layout, but the big picture has to be there.
And then, I’d also say, focus on what you do best. Like, as you said, you have a unique skill and you have a unique passion, it’s up to you to uncover what that passion is. I highly recommend coaching as a service, because that can help you figure out your life path, what you’re here to do — and if you’re still alive, you still have work to do.
And so your personal mission, come up with your personal mission statement and translate it into your business.
And then I would say, just as an ongoing maintenance aspect of it, continually teach and learn in your field of interest because I’m always writing new articles from what I’ve learned, I’m always reading what other people have written, and that’s how the community expands. And then you can lay the groundwork for the next person who’s coming on board.
And then of course the importance of meeting in person. It’s not just internet, right, the bits and bytes are actual people.
So I feel like the interpersonal relationships can be started through an internet connection, email, phone, Skype, but in general, we are all much more — I don’t know — able to interact with each other in a personal basis. So I would say go to as many in-person networking events that you can such as your local Business Networking International BNI.com
, your local chamber, your local green chamber of commerce, and any other types of alumni groups or membership groups that are current to your industry.
MP: Yeah, I like that idea of networking off-line (laughs). I didn’t do that for a long time…
MSF: We’re all holed up in front of our computers all the time with an internet-based business, you want to also realize that you’re talking to real people.
And that real people are using your stuff to help
1) entertain themselves,
or 2) to make their lives better,
or 3) provide them with a really valuable service.
So at the other end of the computer screen is a real person, who’s also looking at your e-mail.
MP: Right, I forget that.
MSF: Yeah, you’re using the internet as a means to do what a regular business does.
I don’t really see the difference between an internet-based business as well as a regular business. You’re providing the same thing, services or products. You’re charging a certain amount, whatever that is, and you’re reaching a certain type of customer.
And what better way to reach a customer then actually talking and getting a sense of what people need — face-to-face, not just a webform?
MP: Right, exactly. OK, so we’ve talked about how to start a business and what that takes. But, what about maintaining your business and staying inspired? Because sometimes, I go through these little droughts where I don’t feel very — I feel very blah — do I want to do this anymore?
MSF: I know, shouldn’t I just go get a job? (laughs)
MP: Yeah, oh my gosh. Absolutely.
MSF: Well here’s the thing, I think about it in terms of the big picture. So, let’s say if you are able to do well in your internet business, perhaps you could hire an assistant, or perhaps you could get somebody employed and they could stay at home, maybe stay with their family.
I really feel like small businesses, like what we’re running, are important for the economy in America, at least. We’re having so many issues with joblessness and unemployment and layoffs and I think a lot of people feel very — again, that whole unworthiness, and it’s not true. Each person alive has something to offer. It really is a matter of combining what you have to offer with available resources and then connecting that with people who need your stuff.
I know that there are people who are unemployed, who are recently laid off due to bigger company closures… There’s nothing that says you can’t start something with your domain name for $10 and your hosting for less than $100/year, and come up with some idea that can then become a part-time business.
So, in terms of staying inspired, I definitely say, reach within.
Find what it is that . . .
“What kind of life do you choose to lead?”
“Why are you here?”
“What’s your justification for being here?”
When we came to the planet, when you were born, there was something that you had to do. It’s your mission in life and usually people can uncover it if they go way back into their childhood and they imagine what it was they wanted to be when they grew up because that often gives you insight into your unresolved business.
Definitely for me, personally, the life coaching aspect of it helps. Because I was in a rut, I didn’t know what I was doing and I was very reactive. What happens is your body starts to shut down, and then your physical environment starts to push back if you’re internally cluttered or not on target the whole — your whole aspect will reflect that.
So we were having trouble in our house, we were in a very kind of unsafe neighborhood, our cat was attacked, we had a lot of vandalism and I had physical issues, the eczema and the hay fever, and I was thinking — this is something that I need to get through and part of that is reaching back down and finding the original sort of inspiration, the breath, like what is it that is keeping me alive. So that’s one part of it.
In terms of staying inspired, I also encourage people to think about what is your vision for your life. For me, I actually have a vision board and it’s at http://tinyurl.com/monicasvisionboard
and I’ve been working on it since 2007. It’s now 112 slides and it has pictures, images that I like, it’s kind of like what people do when they cut out pictures from the magazine and place it on a board, but this is electronic. I revisit it almost constantly, Maria.
As I said, that whole thing about building stuff from the inside and then rebuilding it on your outside world. For each of the slides I talk about what it is that’s important to me and I want to have happen in that aspect of my life.
Maybe it’s my physical life: my exercise, sleeping right, getting daily meditation time and downtime.
Maybe it’s my business life: being able to really make a difference and make positive social change. So it’s interesting how that’s evolved because in the beginning it was like “I want money and I want power and I want this kind of car and this kind of house.”
It’s interesting because as it’s evolved, I realized that I actually want more than that, I feel like that’s just a symbol of it. But what it actually is is the ability to one, reach full potential — if I can do everything that I believe I can do, I think that will be kind of like my vision board has been accomplished.
And then the other part of that is the ability to make a difference. So when I read about people who are able to give back to their community through either charitable foundations, or building schools, or building wells — I think that each of us has that responsibility also to give back. I’m realizing that that whole philanthropic aspect of it is replacing some of the avarice I used to have – “I want this kind of ring, I want this kind of earring”. Now it’s like, huh — where do I want to build a school in the Philippines or what would be a good way for me to work on that?
So also, I would say the whole physical aspect of it. If we’re eating junk food or not paying attention to our body’s needs or not paying attention to what our innermost self needs, like treating ourselves with respect and care, we’re going to get that kind of — the body and the mind will fight back and just put you into this funk, that says, like pouting — you’re not taking care of me, I’m not going to take care of you!
I think constantly exercising and also removing any negative influences, and when I say that, I mean reducing exposure to toxic substances.
Just like you wouldn’t go put your finger into a toxic poison, you also don’t want to do that with people, places, or situations in your life that are draining to you or make you feel bad about yourself. Like, that’s not what you’re here to do.
So I would say for every one of those, start consciously removing yourself from that and moving toward the direction of a positive, life-giving, beneficial, mutually supportive connection. Because as you move away from that negative you’ll get out of that rut of feeling bad about yourself.
You’ll start to feel good, you’ll start to feel like: I’m important, I have exciting work to do, I’m on the right path, I’m fulfilling my mission.
And then I have two other websites that are kind of my pleasures:
One is the futureme.org
website. I would actually send myself messages into the future. So what they do is they hold your message and then they deliver it to you, especially if you have an ongoing e-mail that you always know you’ll have. I would send myself messages and so now I’m receiving messages from 5 years ago like “Hey Monica, I hope you do this and that.” I really enjoy that because I’m now sending messages to when I’m 50, or 60, or 70, FutureMe.org
And then the other is Tut.com
— that’s Mike Dooley’s site. I think I may have gotten that idea from you!
Just a little inspirational e-mail, “Thoughts from the Universe”. It’s so on target for my life. I get it once a week, and it’s just a little idea about being grateful, having respect for yourself, taking care, finding the inspiration around you, just really believing in yourself, and I love it. I get those two periodic e-mails. That’s how I keep happy and inspired.
MP: So we only have a couple minutes left, so I have one more quick question so if you could say maybe in 30 seconds: How does web design, since you are a web designer, play a role in a successful internet business?
MSF: Okay, so your website is your 24/7 open store, it’s your help desk, your technical assistance, your consulting stop, it’s your store.
All that stuff is available so you have to make it super clear. Clarity, clarity, clarity – specify, specify, specify, make it clear what you offer. Provide as much information as possible that can extend your visitor’s stay — so white papers, events, course materials, other links to people in your area, announcements, blog articles. And then always put a call to action on EVERY page: your phone number, sign up sheet, e-mail newsletter. Just always have the call to action directly on the bottom of every page.
MP: It went by so fast, didn’t it? Thanks so much for doing this interview, Monica.
MF: Love it, thank you so much, Maria.
MP: And to everybody listening, thank you for joining in today, if you want any more information about Monica you can go to ASuccessfulWoman.com
, or you can reach her at @monicadear
MP: Thanks everyone for joining in. Have a great day and until next time, take care. Bye.