Staff Spotlight: Alanna Keefe, from Business Owner to Advisor

As an experienced business owner yourself, is there one thing you wish you had known when you started your first business?
When I think back to my first venture (a custom framing business and gallery), I wish I’d taken the time to develop a proper contract for the relationship between me and my then silent business partner. I was naïve and far too trusting of both my partner and the situation. When I came on board, the business had been in operation for about 7 years, had been losing money year-over-year, and was off-center in terms of its creative compass. I had several years experience in the framing business, plenty of contacts in the arts community, energy and enthusiasm to burn, and an unbridled drive to succeed. That’s a powerful combination if you’re in control of most of the factors influencing your potential for success; not so much if you’re not fully informed of your rights in a partnership and the importance of ironing out the specifics of partnership in advance of the rocky times or those times when sales are fast and furious.

My partner was someone known to me (an associate of a good friend) and we crafted a “gentleman’s agreement” concerning my share in the business and how we’d deal with profits and losses. Clearly, I was poorly informed and ill-prepared. When the business was soaring (growing sales and credibility in the marketplace and several solid artist openings) my silent partner sold the business out from under me, without my knowledge or consent. I had no legal recourse; I lost my livelihood and over three years of sweat equity. It was a hard lesson, well learned.

What single piece of advice do you wish more entrepreneurs would follow?
Entrepreneurs comprise many of our society’s dreamers and visionaries. We need those creative, boundary-pushing, risk-taking catalysts to keep the economy stimulated. But alongside their bravado, I’d encourage more thorough analysis of the industry being entered and the specific market they aim to serve so that there is a clear understanding of the niche they occupy and the benefits they bring with their venture. The underpinning of a good advertising and marketing campaign is really knowing your market and understanding how your product or service fits into the competitive landscape. Be very clear about what the need is and what you can deliver. Further to that, understand that the marketplace is fluid; an entrepreneur needs to respond to the shifts and changes in consumers’ appetite and interest for what’s being offered. If you stay connected and aware of your industry’s trends, you’ll be better able to respond to opportunities as they arise.

Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs who feel stuck or like they have hit a wall?
One of the aspects of my role at WECM that I enjoy the most is brainstorming with clients around issues related to flagging sales, where to take their business in terms of growth potential, how to highlight key features of their business relative to the competition, or how to connect to their market and promote their product or service more effectively. The open-ended dialogue and the free-flowing idea generation is both invigorating and inspiring. I encourage all my clients to have ongoing conversations with trusted associates (sometimes that may be with a valued employee, a long-standing client, a business mentor, or an advisor like me). Connect with other entrepreneurs both within your industry and outside of it to share ideas, approaches to difficult situations, and proven solutions. Don’t be afraid to ask for input; those shared interactions often help shape the best possible response.

Our last staff member in the spotlight, Heather, wants to know: What is your best time management strategy?
I’m a chronic list-maker. I have a “to-do” document that I keep on my desktop that I review almost daily (okay, sometimes more often than that). I consider the amount of time required for each and put the priority items ahead of those things that can spill over to the next day/week and I always put something I absolutely, positively don’t want to do on the list that I try to get to first. If I plow through the hard-to-do item first, it makes the rest of the list seem that much lighter. Oh…and I strike through the completed tasks and move them to the bottom of the list—it makes the document a lot longer but I get a REAL sense of satisfaction in actually “seeing” what’s been done! Once a month I clear all the strike-through items off and my “to-do” list feels refreshingly short once again (that part really helps keep the exercise from feeling overwhelming or impossible to achieve).

What question should we ask the next Staff Spotlight?
What do you do to stay inspired professionally?