Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying... I Wish.

If my business plan was my final paper, the cocktail party hosted by the East Garrison developers was to be my oral examination. Now I have 4 years of competitive public speaking experience, with nothing less than blue ribbon honors below state level; public speaking is not a fear, it's my medium, but that was almost 4 years ago & this isn't a sterile stage and a captive audience, these are business owners and CEOs that I can't bullshit. So I wouldn't say I was nervous, I would say I was ready to jump out of my skin terrified.

Regardless, I made every preparation. My business concept is so solid I feel I could pluck it from the air & hand it to someone, but I feared my youth would still work against me. Can I not pepper my speach with "like" for an entire evening? Can I be confidant & witty among men & women 15-40 years my senior? How do I even initiate a conversation with these people? I knew my "look" was going to be my best way in, because my grading will most certainly begin before I open my mouth... & if I want to sell beauty, I'll be my best advertisement.

Last night I was as shiny and polished as I possibly could be. Perfect skin, highest heals, a blue corduroy blazer that showed off just enough skin. I also made sure to polish up my ring to a blinding shine, and with my hot trophy husband by my side, I was ready to go... and vomit.

As we walked up I asked Eric to break my ankle so I didn't have to go in, to which he laughed, and dragged me to the front door. Entering the cocktail party was surreal. Ryan quickly greeted us, and suddenly we were cast out into the pool of mingling bodies. It was like the first day of junior high, when everyone seems to know each other and you are officially invisible. The men were all perfect, handsome, and laughing in small groups. The women were in their 30's and 40's, plain, and looked like they had just eaten something sour. We grabbed our drinks and I began to pray for salvation, which came soon. Ryan came back, leading me by the shoulders to "the man" behind the East Garrison development, saying "this is the woman I have been telling you about, the one with the incredible salon and spa concept!" His name was Keith and the conversation came easy and smooth. I quickly learned how to "not talk business" by bringing in your business concept into similarly related conversations. He admitted to have trying spray tans as he had a brush with skin cancer, so I was able to talk about how my salon revolutionizes how we see tanning through healthier "light therapy" solutions. Soon an impressive, very Ed McMahon-like man sidled up to the group, he listened to my concept and joined the conversation with enthusiasm, and like that we had a group! Eric and I were talking and laughing and I soon forgot my fears. Eric was great, he was witty and cool and totally as handsome and impressive as any man there, letting me shine but never being lost in the glow.

We soon met the owner of the Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. coffee houses (an earthy, unfriendly woman), brushed elbows the owner or the Baja Cantina restaurants (yeah, there's more than one, didn't know that) though she was extremely unapproachable, and talked with the creator of R G Burgers, who was sooo funny, was impressed with my plan, and both Eric and I really made him laugh a lot, which was exciting.

My exam did come. Ryan pointed out Rob, and said I needed to make time to tell him my concept, he's one of the decision makers here. Fortunately I had loosened up, had this moment come right away, I would have puked on his shoes... but I had gotten some practice. I still didn't know how to initiate the conversation, but I didn't have to just then. As the night wore on Eric and I were busy in conversation with David (the Ed McMahon) and Marilyn, who "were" East Garrison, both the vision and funding. I knew I needed to impress them but didn't have to try, they were so enjoyable I forgot I was under scrutiny. David had dated Marilyn Monroe, had houses in LA, Carmel, and Maui, lived abroad for 30 years and loved talking of his life like grandfather does to his grand kids. Marilyn had vacationed with Chuck Norris, so that was a huge conversation point. We told them we wanted to name all our kids Chuck Norris, it was great.

I still kept in mind I needed to meet up with Rob, but found myself lost in conversation with David, pouring out my enthusiasm for my business concept and fire for the East Garrison project on him, which proved to be an excellent investment of my time.

Rob finally approached me, and after a quick introduction, put three questions to me: why, with the tanning industry on a decline because of health concerns, do I want to open one; why in East Garrison; and what, if any, is my experience in the industry. Staying as conversational as possible, I went through the spiel I had already given several times that night. Then, I heard from behind me, David telling Eric how impressed he was with me, and soon he interrupted. "Rob, I want them at the VIP event, sign them up, get this girl a contract... she has it, she shares our vision. Your questions are answered."

The cocktail party was a preliminary trial to see who they wanted in to "the next round" and we had passed. I wrapped up any additional questions Rob had, we discussed the importance of relationships in the community and with a "talk with Ryan, he'll get you set up, you still have a ways to go, but welcome..." Rob was gone. I was excited, and so proud of both Eric and myself, but I was still to get the biggest compliment of my life.

"I know it's not tactful to ask, but how old are you" David asked as I turned back to the group. I wasn't sure how he'd respond, but I admitted I was only 22. His look was of utterly impressed shock. It was wonderful. He said I carried and presented myself as a true professional and entrepreneur, adding "if I was to make a wager on you, I would win. Whether it's with us or elsewhere, you will be a success. Not enough young people have passion or direction, and you have both."

I'm not writing this to gloat, I just found this whole experience so encouraging! I'm following my dream. On the way home Eric and I were marveling in how if this last year hadn't happened, how much less we would be accomplishing. Eric never could be recording at the Blasting Room next month, which is his dream, and I don't have a doubt in my mind that had Dallas not left me, I would have never had the confidence to accomplish anything beyond the ordinary. It's so sad to think I would have settled for the safety of a teaching job and a mediocre husband, dying without ever knowing the meaning of true happiness. But I also know that our circumstances are mere open doors. I have an amazing man by my side and though his endless love and support mean the world to me, I know that in the end, how much I believe in myself will be the drive behind my ability to take the risks needed to know not just survival, but true success... and that will be the difference between the life and death of my dream.

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