Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Counsel from a successful self-made woman: It’s better on top

Counsel from a successful self-made woman: It’s better on top

By Inga C. Ellzey,

Author of The Exchange

I am a self-made multi-millionairess. (I love that “ess” part.) I own three national companies, have over 100 employees…mostly women, and just finished my first suspense romance novel at the age of 59. I feel I am an intelligent, well educated, articulate woman with a good sense of self and humor. I am not particularly pretty but I am interesting looking (what that really means is that I don’t mind a little nipping and tucking here and there. Screw that aging graceful nonsense when there are over 8500 dermatologists out there just waiting for the phone to ring.)

I also seem to have a unique voice as people recognize my voice before they recognize me. That just made me think…perhaps I should look into that voice-over profession. I hear those people make loads of money. But money isn’t everything…or is it?

OK, let me tell you the facts. Money makes it easier to make more money, but you can still make plenty of money without having a penny when you start. That’s how I did it. I went from the bedroom to the bank without any financial help from anyone. No SBA loans, no ghost investors, no sugar daddy’s. (Well, I did have a sugar daddy once, but he didn’t help me with my businesses…he just helped me get an education. That’s another story all together.) My advice is still the same as it was back then, “It’s better on top.”

So how do you make it to the top? My ammunition for success has always been guts, tenacity, and the willingness to takes risk and accepts failure as an inevitable component of the road to success. Remember it’s a road, not a bullet train.

I made my money in a male-dominated profession…not just any profession, but one filled with Caucasian men between the ages of 35 – 60, and highly educated. I made my money working with doctors. Here I was a single mom working with individuals at the top of the food chain. That didn’t scare me one bit. It just made the game all that more interesting. I just needed to stack my deck of cards differently and pretend that I was an expert and willing to go “all-in” without hesitation. “Fake it ‘til you make it” has always worked great for me.

I remember my first big deal. In order for me to achieve some of my business goals, I needed to find a business partner; not a partner I worked for…just did business with. That’s an important distinction. Try to avoid partners if at all possible. My plan was to get in with a major pharmaceutical company. I had this great idea that no one had ever thought of before. But as a single Mom, I didn’t have the cash to pull it off. So I needed to find someone with deep pockets. Through some research (and that was in the days before the Internet), I found the name and phone number of the Vice President of a major international pharmaceutical company. I lived in Orlando and the company headquarters were in North Carolina. Through some creative pitching (that’s the term for convincing someone you have something they want), I was offered an appointment the following Tuesday. Tuesday was four days and 1400 miles away. I certainly didn’t have money for airfare, so driving was my only option. I had some fancy business cards and a great personality…nothing else. I certainly wasn’t a big enough entity to make a deal with a major company, was I?

Well, I decided to act like I was bigger than I was. So I hired a friend of mine to join me on my big interview. She was beautiful. I bought her a nice dress, accessorized her with some of my vintage jewelry, shined her scuffed high heels and gave her a pen and a pad of yellow-lined paper. Her job was to look and act as if she was my secretary and take a lot of notes. By the way, that’s not being deceitful, that’s smart marketing. Remember, it’s all about the packaging.

What I did next I believe is the smartest thing that someone trying to make it should always keep in mind. Sell yourself first, then your product. A good salesman can sell a bad product, but a bad salesman can’t sell a good one. So I sold myself. By that I don’t mean I conducted business horizontally under an executive desk. I made friends with my prospective investor by telling him about me, my goals, and my enthusiasm for my industry (and, of course, my brilliant idea). For me it wasn’t difficult because I am a very outgoing, positive, full-of-life and fun kind of gal. I am not ashamed of anything I have done in my life. I have no secrets. I’m just a human being who has had successes and failures, has faults and attributes, and who wants to make life better for myself and those around me. I never lie and I am honest to a fault.

So let me tell you about myself quickly. I have been married three times and have been in a mental hospital once for six weeks (something about Noah needing help getting all those animals on the Ark). Just kidding! The truth is I had a nervous breakdown after my first divorce. I once tried to seduce one of my college professors to get a passing grade in a course I needed to graduate from college. (That was a no-go and I scraped by that class with a D.) I got my first dildo at the age of 50 (between my second and third husbands). It was a gift from some girlfriends for my 50th birthday. It was purple and had two double A batteries. I recall buying lots of batteries that year. I married my second husband when he was 19 and I was 39. I was a mistress to a married man for sixteen years, and I have had liposuction three times. My next procedure is scheduled in two months. Why diet when you can just eat and suck?” OK, so now you know that I am not afraid to share. Don’t you like me better already? Don’t I seem more real? In short, you probably relate to me more now than you did at the beginning of my article. So, do you get the point? Be yourself. Make a friend. Create a relationship.

In short (well I guess that wasn’t so short), I got the VP from the pharmaceutical company to like me (and my product which was great), and I walked away with a $14,000.00 order. (In 1970 that was almost enough for me to live one for one year.) Mr. VP and I did business for another ten years, and that relationship allowed me to make my first million dollars. No husband to pay my way. No alimony checks to subsidize my career building. No trust fund backup. No inheritance. I make it all on my own! And boy did that feel great. It still feels great.

Selling yourself first is the key element in successful negotiations. People will do business with someone they like - even if someone else has a product that’s better. Why? Because work has to be not only profitable, but enjoyable, too. So always sell yourself first. Here are some other Ingots from Inga.

Order wine with lunch.

No I don’t mean that you must be a lush to succeed in business. My point here is to do the unexpected. Dare to be different. Take calculated risks. If everyone is ordering bottled water…Yuk), then everyone is on the same level at the power lunch. If you are the only one ordering that taboo lunch wine, then all eyes are on you. And guess what? Now you have everyone’s attention. Start off with a few comments about German wine and your trips down the Rhine River sampling wine from the various hillside vineyards. Haven’t done that, been there? Then talk about your kids. How do you segway from wine to kids? Duh! How many of you every got pregnant without alcohol? I have two kids. One is a boy, 38, (I guess I should say man) that I had when I was 21, and I also have a girl that I adopted from Romania when she was 12 and I was 50. I was 50 when I refilled my empty nest. Alcohol definitely must’ve been involved in that decision. But I love her. She beautiful, spoiled, insanely talented, and has added new dimension to my life. Most people I do business with know all about me and my kids. (So do you now.) They have a relationship with me and me with them. That’s the foundation of good business.

Remember, whether it’s a power lunch, cocktails and dinner, or a conference call, you must engage the person first by forging a relationship that makes them believe in you as a person with integrity…someone they like. The deal comes later, but only if you have established that foundation of trust and respect.

So I have a colorful past, order wine at lunch, and talk about the kids. What else has contributed to my success? What about strategic planning, paradigms or performas? Did I have formal business plans that included budgets and cost benefit analyses? Nope. Never have, never will. My approach to business has always been more spontaneous and my deals were almost always sealed with a firm hand shake, not a corporate seal. Here are some of the other things that set me apart from the rest of the herd.

Screw the business suit and black panty hose

I have never in my life owned a business suit or a blazer. I did buy black panty hose once but almost had a heart attack trying to get into those control top jobs. By the time I got the control top past my hips all circulation in my brain had been cut off and I thought I was going to faint. I couldn’t very well be successful if I was brain injured so I just said, “Bulge baby bulge!” (Now of course there are those brilliant Spanx. God Bless Sara Blakely!)

My wardrobe was made up of tops, sweaters, pants (no pant suits…just as bad a business suits!), dresses and skirts. I mixed and matched and matched and mixed. I love accessorizing. I mostly get my jewelry at thrift stores and flea markets. I largely buy vintage pieces from the 40s and 50s. They are flashy and make a statement….just like me. I am flashy and make a statement. People always remember me. Part of that also stems from my name, Inga. Having a different name really makes a difference. So if you have a common name, change it for purposes of your business. When Oprah started out in business they told her to change her name because they said no one would remember her name. She refused and well….you know the rest. Then there’s Reese, Demi, Falista…I think you get the idea. Don’t afraid to be different and stand out from the crowd. Fitting in means not being noticed. I would rather fail after being noticed, then fail because no one noticed me at all.

Next piece of advice, “Never consider your self a woman in a man’s world.” I never played that record in my head. My mantra was more, “What do I need to do, have, or create in order to achieve a particular goal?” I don’t care what the competition does or who the competition is (male or female). My philosophy has always been, “I am the competition.” Act like a winner, believe in your skills and talents, and then go for it.

©2008 Inga Ellzey

Author Bio
Inga Ellzey is a self-made multi-millionaire, the owner and president of the Inga Ellzey Practice Group, Inc. She is a leading authority on medical billing, and has written, taught and lectured extensively over the past two decades. The Exchange was written in Yorkshire, England, where she was inspired by the solitude of the remote countryside and the 16th century farmhouse she vacationed in. For Inga Ellzey, The Exchange is yet another dream come true. She lives in Winter Park, Florida.

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1 comment:

  1. I wanted to drop by and wish you an awesome Thanksgiving. :)


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