We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at the Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, innovative, successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: Marsha Collier. Marsha Collier is an award-winning educator, speaker and bestselling author (she’s sold over 1 million books). She’s an expert on all things eBay and has written a series of eBay for Dummies books, as well as several on customer service. Marsha is an ecommerce expert and hosts a weekly radio show about technology.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Marsha Collier: At first, I wanted to be a nurse, so I could help people. Then when I began reading comics (Brenda Starr), I wanted to be a writer.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Collier: I jumped out of the corporate newspaper world and never looked back. I developed a Special Projects Division at the Daily News, and it was a pretty entrepreneurial department. I found new ways to build revenue. I wondered why I couldn’t do it myself, so I spoke to some prospective clients, got a business loan and opened my doors. I loved profiting from [working those] extra hours.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Collier: My business involved designing and planning marketing for regional shopping centers. A very pivotal moment occurred when a well-known real estate magnate offered me the contract for 20 centers. (I was already handling five that were extremely profitable.) All promotions in retail occur at the same time and it can be stressful. The idea of overseeing and hiring even more employees didn’t scare me; I just knew that running a multimillion-dollar agency as a single mom would have taken me away from time with my daughter. Plus the increased responsibilities would be enormous. I decided, at that point, I preferred being a small business, and enjoying a comfortable income with time for my little family. I made the right decision for me.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Collier: Stay lean. Don’t spend when it isn’t necessary. Seek out vendors who will work on your terms. Negotiate for the best price possible, even if you have to buy larger quantities. Most of all? Don’t run your business on credit. Pay the bills at the end of every month.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Collier: Before you start your business, do your homework. Understand the market and the demographics of your customer. As you grow, share the knowledge with your clients. I convinced a major chain to do a bilingual campaign for one of their centers in a predominantly Hispanic area. It worked. The numbers don’t lie. If your business is brick-and-mortar, join the local Chamber of Commerce and get involved with community activities. There’s gold in those connections.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Collier: Brands will realize that engaging with customers is more important than broadcasting to them. Promotions need to bring a smile to the customer’s face, not just a chance to win a prize.
Social media customer service will become more common. Those who are not connecting will find they are spending too much money chasing ROI. The ROR (Return On Relationship) will be finally accepted.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Collier: Atlas Shrugged.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Collier: It’s from Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.”
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