From entreprenuers to LGBT youth, Diane Conklin is obsessed with helping people through Complete Marketing Systems, The Diane Conklin Foundation and a new business on the way. Learn the secrets to her success. In addition to sharing her knowledge with Lesbian.com, Conklin is offering a complimentary CD and consultation. Details at the end of the article.
What do you do and why?
Complete Marketing Systems is a direct response marketing company and we help small business owners and entrepreneurs grow their businesses to six and seven figures, and beyond, faster while having more fun and taking more time off.
We do consulting, coaching and have self-study systems as well as provide done-for-you services in the areas of social media, direct mail, direct response marketing, event planning and marketing and information marketing.
We specialize in working with LGBT business owners (but would never discriminate or turn away an LGBT-friendly business) and those who want to learn more about marketing to the LGBT community.
We are not an image or me-to advertising company, but if you want to know where your marketing dollars are working and where they aren’t, so you can do more of what is working, then we are your go-to source. We measure everything we do for ourselves and our clients.
This year we will be launching a new company called the LGBT Success Academy. It is my goal that we become the go to source for all things business and marketing for LGBT business owners. “Let’s grow our businesses together” is our motto.
I also run The Diane Conklin Foundation, which is a non-profit addressing the issues of LGBT youth homelessness and suicide. My goal for the foundation is to work together with already existing, like-minded organizations to provide a place for our LGBT homeless youth to go to and live while they finish school in a drug-free, sex-free environment. In addition to teaching them entrepreneurial skills so they can own their own businesses, if they wish, so they never have to worry about being discriminated against in the workplace. We will also be teaching things like mindset and give them the skills they will need to thrive in the world. This is about giving them hope and helping them excel. Whatever that means to them.
What was the inspiration for your business?
I founded and started Complete Marketing Systems because I love helping other people in ways that really matter, in ways the create a ripple effect (RIPPLE stands for Repetition In Place Produces Little Effects Somewhere) and ultimately touch thousands, even hundreds of thousands of lives. The best way for me to do that is to help people grow their businesses because that affects not only their lives and the lives of the ones they love, but also everyone they touch in their business and that ripple goes on and on and on.
I have the unique ability to see things in people’s businesses they don’t see, money-making opportunities and ways for them to grow they’ve never thought of. I can also get those ideas executed and to a point of making money very quickly.
I also started my business because I was tired of working for other people and in situations where I was misunderstood. Most people in big companies, or even smaller companies, don’t understand people with a passion for what they do, people who have an opinion and try to make massive changes for the better.
It’s not about the money for me. I know a lot of people say that, so don’t get me wrong, making money is important. I like nice things and I want to be comfortable. The real thrill for me, the thing that gets me the most fired up is when I get that note, email, card, letter or somebody takes the time to tell me I made a real difference. That’s what it’s all about for me. That’s why I started my company. That’s why I have the foundation. That’s why I’m about to launch another new company.
It’s about helping people. It’s about HOPE (Helping Other People Excel).
Did you have another career before you started your business?
Yes, I did. I have a master of science degree in exercise science. I used my degree until I started my own business. I’ve run and helped build multi-site health clubs, overseen hospital wellness centers, managed gyms, was in charge of a health club and wellness facility for the federal government and have owned my own personal training business. I also worked for a while as the wellness and sports team coordinator for one of the largest spinal cord and brain injury rehab hospitals in the United States, while I was there I was in charge of one of the largest 5K wheelchair races in the world.
In my health and wellness career, I’ve helped people lose weight, trained bodybuilders and elite athletes and everything in between.
I love the field of wellness because, it lines up with my core value for my business, which is to help people, make an impact on and in their lives that means something and that is lasting.
What obstacles did you face in establishing your company and how did you overcome them?
I’ve had a lot of obstacles put in front of me during my career and when first starting my business.
When I left my last job to venture out on my own, after giving a 60-day notice, the owner didn’t pay me my last few checks, totalling over $20,000. I started my business with no list, no products, no services, no prospects, no nothing. I started with just an idea, a dream and the dogged determination to make it succeed.
I’ve overcome all of the obstacles by working hard, never quitting, continuing to learn and get educated when I needed to learn the next thing, being tenacious, driven and not taking no as the final answer.
I just keep leaning in, not trying to jump through closed doors, but finding new ones that are at least unlocked to walk through. Instead, as I lean in, it takes the fear of having to accomplish something new and scary away.
I just keep taking action. Implementing and executing and getting things done.
Luck is where hard work meets preparation, so I keep doing those two things so I’m luckier.
When you’re willing to do whatever it takes truly whatever it takes then obstacles are just temporary setbacks you can overcome.
Like most of us, the majority of my obstacles have been controlling my thoughts and where my mind goes. We all have more going for us than we give ourselves credit for.
What’s the single most important piece of advice you received when first starting your company?
I’d say the single most important advice I received was to keep learning and to hire a great coach or mentor.
I’ve had a coach since the minute I started my business, even before I could afford one.
I also invest regularly in my continuing education, from books and seminars to audio programs to mastermind groups to high-level coaching.
It’s important to get out and be among other entrepreneurs and business people like-minded people who understand you on that level and if you can find those kinds of groups that are LGBT business owners then that sometimes just makes it that much more comfortable.
Another really important piece of advice for people starting their own business is to find a niche, instead of trying to be an everybody product or service. There truly are riches in niches. When you’re first starting out in business, you’re afraid if you niche, you’ll lose sales, but in fact when you can find a population of folks who want to know more about their particular interest area, they will spend more, buy more often and be more loyal than almost any other client. There’s too much competition in everybody products, so you quickly become a commodity, but when you niche you can take over a category and become the go-to person pretty quickly.
What aspect of business ownership came as the biggest surprise to you?
I had a pretty good understanding of the business when I started, having worked in it for a while and having worked for a year for no pay as sort of an apprentice/intern for a year so I had a fuller understanding.
That being said, I’d say the biggest thing for me to learn and the biggest surprise is that I don’t have to be an expert in everything in my business in order for it to prosper. As a matter of fact that only holds my business back from growing.
I need to concentrate on strengthening my strengths, not my weaknesses. I try to hire my weaknesses, that way everyone is a lot happier and more productive.
Delegating (and giving up control) was very difficult for me. Still to this day, I struggle with it, but I know when I stay in my areas of brilliance, in the areas I’m uniquely good at and let the rest of my team do the same, then we grow and flourish and I’m not the bottleneck in my business.
It’s actually now a relief to know that I don’t have to have all the answers, that I don’t have to know everything because that’s truly exhausting.
The other piece of this for me is when I finally realized I didn’t have to work all the time in order to be successful as I found leverage in my business I can actually work less which is the whole point of owning a business, having the freedom to set your own hours and live the lifestyle you want to live.
Having grown up on a farm I understood the concept of working hard so I did what I knew (like most business owners) until I learned a better way. Now, I enjoy all aspects of my life more.
What do you find most rewarding about owning your own business?
The most rewarding thing about owning my own business is helping other people. When I know I truly made a difference, and impact in another life, well, that’s a thrill for me.
Also, knowing that I’m contributing to another’s life. By providing jobs and fulfillment for other people, because not everyone has the desire or wants to be an entrepreneur. Thank, goodness.
I love that I can control my own destiny because I own my own business.
The part of my business I love the most is when I get an opportunity to speak. The other thing I find most rewarding is when I get to coach or mentor another business owner and they implement my suggestion and get amazing results for themselves. It’s such a thrill!
Do you use social media to engage your customers? If so, does it play a key role in your marketing efforts?
Absolutely. We use social media for all kinds of things in the business and because we measure it, like we do all of our marketing strategies (because that’s all social media is: another marketing media), we know exactly the ROI we get from it.
Social media plays an important role for us in terms of it being another method for us to stay in front of our own clients, another avenue for obtaining clients, making sales and promoting what we’re doing.
It’s also a great way to host contests and have fun with your clients and prospects in a much more interactive and informal way than other media outlets.
Social media plays a key role in our marketing, but it’s only one marketing media we use. Our marketing philosophy is to always integrate our marketing and to always be using more than one media type so we’re not too dependent on any one media at any given time.
What resources would you recommend to someone who is contemplating starting her own business?
Would it sound self-serving if I said they should check out my stuff and work with me? (just kidding)
I would say find somebody you admire and respect who has been there, done that and is still running their business. Be sure you choose somebody who truly owns a business and not a job. What I mean by that is you want to learn from someone who has set their business up so it’s not dependent on them being there every day in order to grow and thrive.
Study, learn, observe to see not only what you like and how you want to run your business but what you don’t like and how you don’t want things to be. Attend events, both in your industry and in adjunct areas as well.
Specific resources would depend on what your business is and the industry you’re in.
I would recommend a couple of books:
“Think & Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill
“The E Myth” by Michael Gerber
“The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson
These would be a good start to a list of must read business books.
Network in your local area and see if you have a gay chamber or other group like that in your area. They are a good resource for many things.
What would you say is the single most important key to sustaining a business long term?
The single most important key to sustaining your business is tenacity and not quitting when the chips are down or things get rough. Don’t make the mistake of drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying something like “if I don’t make this much money, or accomplish this, by this date, I’m quitting.”
If you stick with it and work through it, you will come out on the other side.
Just decide that you’re going to do this, then do whatever it takes to get it done. Whatever it takes.
There will be times when you don’t “feel like it,” but do it anyway. That will be the times when it makes the most difference.
Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you’d like to share with our readers?
One question I get asked a lot is about this idea of your why for your business. I’d just like to say that whatever your why is it’s perfect for you, whether you want to change the world or you want to make a lot of money. Don’t ever let anybody make you feel bad about it.
It’s also important to remember, you have to know how and you have to know what to do.
If you ever hear somebody say, if you’re why is big enough the how doesn’t matter run! The how does matter, you don’t have to know everything about it, but the how matters.
Also, I’d like to say it’s important you think strategically and not just do things in your business because somebody else is doing it in theirs. You need to know all the facts, relate them to your business and then make a decision as to whether it’s right for you or not. Your situation is almost always different than that of the person you’re trying to model and your results might be as well, if you don’t spend time thinking about your decision.
Never blindly follow anybody!
Conklin is offering Lesbian.com readers her CD “The 9 Key Building Blocks To Start, Build & Grow Your Business” free plus a complimentary 30-minute business and marketing strategy session (that’s a $495.00 value). Email Info@CompleteMarketingSystems.com with “Lesbian.com SS” in the subject line.