Bank of America Six Sigma Master Black Belt Weighs In
Lisa Bell is a Six Sigma Black Belt, a retired Bank of America executive, and a small business consultant. Her favorite things are her daughters, her dogs, red wine, yoga and a business plan. Today, she joins us on Kiss U to offer up insights for photographers and business owners from her years in big business.
Kiss U: Tell us about your corporate experience with Bank of America.
Lisa Bell: I started 31 years ago as a part time relief teller. I had been looking for a job with regular hours, no weekends, expecting to stay a couple of years. 31 years later, I retired having far exceeded anything I could have dreamed of. What I found the secrets to my success were: make myself visible, take every opportunity I had to go to meetings, be in front of people, if asked to participate in focus groups, be face-forward.
Second of all, as I was offered positions that I didn’t even feel qualified for, I assumed that I could learn and do it. So, take a few risks. I figured, you can figure just about anything out in ninety days.
Kiss U: That’s exactly right.
Lisa Bell: I have experience in sales, marketing–mostly consumer banking–when I left the bank after 31 years, I was managing the technology portfolio for our 5,700 banking centers. That portfolio is approximately $40M per year. So, within the portfolio of projects, I made sure we start on time, have milestones, we understand what the risks are, we stay within budget, and we end on time. And it works. We pay attention to the customer, the associates, make sure the results are repeatable and reproducible.
Repeatable results are the results that you can get every time. You can repeat this.
Reproducible results require that you have the process documented in such a way that someone else can get those same results every time.
Kiss U: Now, Bank of America is… HUGE!
Lisa Bell: It’s the largest financial services company in the US, with the largest distribution system. And the top 5 largest financial services company in the world.
Kiss U: That’s BIG big business (In 2010, Forbes listed Bank of America as the third largest company in the world.) How does that relate to small business? You are currently a small business consultant. What did you do in the big business world that small businesses don’t – but should?
Lisa Bell: That’s a great question. My experience with big business has really helped me with small businesses. (But small businesses have really taught me a lot of patience!) What I find – I work with businesses as small as a sole proprietor to businesses with sales at $100 million a year. What I find is missing in the very small businesses is planning. They’re so busy day to day running their business, that they don’t take the time to stop, #1 Know where they are; #2 Really understand where they want to go; and #3 Put a plan in place.
I happen to be a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, which, Six Sigma is a fancy way to say a process with an infrastructure to solve problems. So, from a small business perspective, they really don’t know what they’re solving for; they don’t have a clear goal. And they don’t measure… things. They don’t have a plan–a 1-year, 2-year, 3-year plan–and there are very few metrics that they look at besides their gross sales, and maybe their bottom line.
Kiss U: That’s a great answer!
Lisa Bell: These are great questions!
Kiss U: What would you tell a brand new photographer – the one with a dream and a camera and not much else?
Lisa Bell: That sounds a little bit like my consulting business. I had an idea, and a lot of experience, but not much else. For a photographer, I’d say take a lot of pictures–get the experience. Make sure you’re comfortable with the camera. Get a good looking business card. You don’t need to use a lot of social media at first, just your own business Facebook page. But that business card should be in your back pocket every single place you go. And it’s pretty easy to start up a conversation about the fact that you’re a photographer. That’s #1 – make sure that you’re ready to market yourself in every conversation, in a casual way. #2 – find a mentor. Who does a really good job, and who do you want to be when you grow up? Find that person, ask them–they’ll probably be flattered–and be their assistant, go along with them on shoots.
So, again, back to my days at Bank of America. That’s what I did. I found a mentor–or someone I wanted to be like–asked them to mentor me, and then patterned myself after them. So I would say for a Photographer, it’s the same thing.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Book, “Outliers” says you become an expert in 10,000 hours. The bottom line is, get expert. That means that your first pictures, your first set of customers, you’re going to mess up on. It’s okay to make a mistake. There is no such thing as a mistake, there are opportunities to learn, to grow, to get better. Do it differently next time.
Kiss U: What would you tell a photographer who has been in business for a while, but perhaps doesn’t have a great structure or flow or plan in place?
Lisa Bell: I actually have a client like that. He’s a photographer, a creative, and he does great photography in multiple different areas, or segments. What he’s missing–and what a lot of photographers don’t know–is who’s your customer? And what do you do best? So, this particular photographer is great at architectural photography, he does head-shots, he does family portraits, but he doesn’t really know the volume in those different segments, and he doesn’t know where his profit margins are. So where does he make the most money?
So then, if his goal is to increase revenue… That’s my first question: what is your primary goal? Well, it’s net revenue! The next question is: Who’s your customer? What do you charge? How much time does it take? So, it’s about segmenting and stratifying the customer.
The bottom line is Have A Business Plan. Where are you now, where do you want to be in three years, who are you customers, what’s your profit margin and your expenses with those customers? And then, start to schedule your time based on your end result.
Kiss U: I like that! I’m going to do that in my own business!
Lisa Bell: Yeah, me too!
As you start to look at your customers, and your profit margins, you’ll begin to identify opportunities! Where do you want to grow? And so, that’s where your marketing plan comes in. How do I reach those customers? And how do I grow that segment of my business?
Kiss U: And part of that is going to mean knowing who to say “NO” to.
Lisa Bell: Exactly. There’s one more opportunity here, too. When you start to look at your customers, you begin to see how you can put them together. You can become a relationship builder.
Kiss U: Creative networking
Lisa Bell: Creative Networking.
Kiss U: And back-scratching.
Lisa Bell: You become a trusted advisor.
Kiss U: What are some major pitfalls that a small business owner should look out for?
Lisa Bell: The #1 reason a small business fails is they grow too fast. I know that sounds crazy, but coming from the financial services industry, I’ve seen a lot of that. One example from our local organic market. There’s a gentleman who makes salsa, and it’s GREAT Salsa! And he sells it at the market, and in small stores, well, he suddenly got the Whole Foods contract. And he’s very excited about this…but he doesn’t have the infrastructure, the kitchen, the equipment, nor the money to go and fulfill those orders. So the worst thing you can do is grow faster, farther, and have more demand than you have supply.
Kiss U: Over-extend yourself
Lisa Bell: Over-extend yourself! Then it hurts your brand! So, the #1 obstacle is growing too fast. And not planning. Really understanding what your profit margins are, what your expenses are, and especially for a photographer, how to spend your time.
Kiss U: So you are a former… What’s a non-offensive way to say you were a corporate mule? Banking executive?
Lisa Bell: You can just say that: I was a corporate mule! I worked for one of the largest companies in the world, and they told me what I was going to do next.
Kiss U: You worked for the man for many many years, and now… you are the man!
Lisa Bell: It’s a bit of an adjustment. Like, if you were to retire from the military, and they’ve been telling you what to do, where to show up, what you’re going to do. And now I’m on my own!
Kiss U: What pants am I supposed to be wearing?
Lisa Bell: Right. Or like, if I need a laptop, no one’s going to shoot me a laptop the next day. The good news is, I get to choose the clients I want to work with, and the ones I don’t want to work with. And I can work in areas that are my strong suit, and areas where I want to grow.
Kiss U: What is the one piece of advice you wish you could tell every business owner in the world at the same time? And everybody gets it.
Lisa Bell: I was about to say don’t grow too fast, but we already told them that.
Plan. Sit down and think about where you are now, and where you want to be. Really develop a business plan. Dr. Deming, who was the father of Six Sigma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming), would say (not verbatim), “Success or failure is in the first 30% of your process. And within the first 30% of your process, is your planning stage.” So, if you don’t plan well, the odds of you being successful are very low.
Kiss U: I feel like I need to stop this interview and go do some planning. You’ve said the word plan 11 times in this conversation.
Lisa Bell: At least I haven’t talked about a Failure Mode & Effects Analysis… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failure_mode_and_effects_analysis)
Kiss U: True. Thank you for that. You seem to really love a business plan – what are some tips for creating a solid business plan?
Lisa Bell: I absolutely hate to go into a group forum and create a mission statement. But, as a small business, you really have to. It can be three sentences. Why are you here? What’s your mission?
What’s your primary objective? What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to increase revenue? Over the next 1, 2 and three years?
What are your financials? Take a look at your balance sheet. Look at where your money is coming from, and where it’s going. You want a financial forecast based on historical volume. Look at your growth, and when you project that out over three years, is that enough? If not, set your goal!
Look at your customers. Who is your customer? Who do you want to be your customer in the future? Segment and stratify those customers so you understand how much money you make in each segment.
The marketing plan. Please don’t make it fancy. Please don’t put twenty tactics in there. Give me five tactics that you can do day in and day out, and it can be very easy. Maybe that’s an update to your Facebook page, maybe that’s a blog, maybe that is networking or reaching out to a potential client. The key to a good marketing plan is repeatability (you can do it again, every day) and reproducibility (you can show someone else how to do it, and they can do it again, every day).
Working capital? So as you look at those financials, you need to realize that your expenses will also grow. If you plan to grow or expand, thought needs to be given to the question of working capital and where it is going to come from. Do you need to look for potential investors, or a small business loan? Or a line of credit with your bank?
Analyze your competition. That last piece of this is you need a competitive analysis. Who are your major competitors, what do they do well, what’s your advantage, what’s their advantage? What do you have that they don’t? What do they do that you don’t? So, at least your top 3-5 competitors, and understand what your value proposition is compared to theirs.
Kiss U: Now, is one of those competitors the one who was mentoring you not long ago?
Lisa Bell: Probably not, no. That’s where you form partnerships, rather than competition. And so, that’s where you build a partnership and start giving referrals.
Kiss U: We’ve talked a lot about what people need to do: plan, plan, and also, you need to plan.
Lisa Bell: You need to think, plan, and WRITE IT DOWN. It’s great to have it in your head, but you need to be able to look back on this later. So please write it down!
Kiss U: Right – Plan, and write.
Lisa Bell: And don’t let the tail wag the dog. If you have a plan, and a strategy, and five or six tactics, how are you going to measure to see if those tactics are actually working? It’s not just looking at your bottom line. Also, consider how much you can actually produce, literally, given the number of hours you have in a day, in a week? There’s usually a finite amount that your process will produce. Put primary and secondary measurements in place, and milestones.
Kiss U: Ok, so let’s end with this one. What is one thing that small business owners need to stop doing, right now?
Lisa Bell: Busy stuff. This goes back to your plan. Focus on the Big Rocks. What are the four or five things every day, every client, every shoot, that absolutely need to get done, because they contribute to my primary objective. Anything that’s not directly correlated to your primary business objective, stop it.Or do less of it. Outsourcing is a good idea, as long as you can manage the outsourcing process.
Kiss U: And stop doing all the busy stuff.
Lisa Bell: That’s what we all want to do, we want to do the easy stuff, because it’s easy to knock off the check-list. But if it doesn’t match back to your primary objective, stop it.