WOW 12, Part 2


As we explored in the previous blog post, WOW 12, Part 1, many people struggle when it comes time to talk ABOUT money in personal and professional settings. In this 99WOWs Blog post, we’ll dig deeper into this powerful topic, look at an insightful case study and explore six strong money-centric questions that can help entrepreneurs learn more about a client’s budget even with the most tight-lipped client. Not all of these questions work in every situation, but having such questions in your entrepreneur’s toolkit will help when such opportunities arise. This post is an expansion of a WOW from 99 Creative WOWs—Words of Wisdom for Business, a recently released quick-read book for thriving and striving entrepreneurs, biz whiz professionals, recent grads and creative wizards of all sorts. The book is available at

Converse well about money to negotiate fairly for all.

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In the last post, we explored why people shy away from money conversations. Businesses also tend to “leave out” this key data point when attempting to secure proposals, too. To help ensure competitive bids are apples-to-apples, clients know they must share information consistently across all bidders. Competitive bids are only as useful as the information upon which they have been built. Why do clients typically provide endless minutia in RPFs while withholding all information about money so often?

Conversely, even if clients withhold this information, why do suppliers, entrepreneurs and others preparing proposal also avoid this pesky topic? Here are a few popular reasons—

  1. Many companies have corporate policies that prohibit executives and managers from disclosing financial information.
  2. Even when executives are not restricted, they often choose not to share the budget because on some level many business professionals have been coached to believe that by communicating their budget, that’s exactly where the bids will come in. This can be the start of an adversarial relationship and can be interpreted as a lack of trust.
  3. Other professionals have been coached that by sharing their numbers, they could be over-spending. This is a manifestation of the “party who names the first number loses” approach.

When budgets are low, a common occurrence in tight economies, it makes even less sense to keep the budget number under wraps. In Plan A, the Case Study below illustrates what can happen when a client with too low a budget does not share financial information and what can possibly happen when a client does provide this key data point.


Serita is a pharmaceutical executive. She has only 3 months and $25,000 to deliver a highly important 16-page marketing brochure for a trade show that is 4 months away. She’s asking for a 3-week turn to have time to ship the brochures to the event and allow for emergencies with printers. She is soliciting bids from 3 proven marketing vendors she trusts. In reality, to meet the specs and deliver strong results, Serita knows that neither her 3-month timeframe nor her $25,000 budget is really sufficient. Let’s compare two possible outcomes that Serita could encounter by not sharing and then sharing her budget.

Plan A: Blind Budget RFP Approach

Instead of “coming clean” with these trusted suppliers that she has less time and money than anyone would like, in Plan A of this scenario, Serita released the blind budget RFP, hoping one of the three would somehow magically hit her number. Because she shared the timeframe, every supplier expressed concern about the schedule, stating that they needed four months minimum to write, design, produce, print and deliver the brochures. Because of the tight schedule and complete lack of budget information, all three suppliers not only came in over her budget as she expected, they all added fees for the compressed RUSH schedule.

This RFP process took three weeks: One week for Serita to prepare her RFP, a week for the suppliers to prepare and submit their proposals, and a final week for Serita to fret about what to do next since none of the bids worked as submitted.

At the end of week 3, Serita ultimately decided to call the supplier she’d thought all along would be the best fit for the work. After burning three weeks, she confessed her budget and asked the supplier for ideas about how they might figure this out together. Had Serita considered sharing the budget from the start, she would not have burned almost 25% of her work schedule securing bids that didn’t work.

Plan B: Disclosed Budget RFP Approach

In Plan B of this scenario, Serita not only shared the date, she also openly acknowledged that she’s short on both time and budget for this plum assignment. She further disclosed to all three suppliers that everyone’s competing against proven bidders so that what she really needs is help figuring out how to do a great brochure in 3 months for $25,000 all-in. This time, she asked for their input and ideas and she stressed that the supplier who truly demonstrated that the work could get done for this time and budget would win the assignment.

Two suppliers offered up suggestions on how to save time and another offered two ways to simplify the workflow. This same supplier also suggested that money could be saved with some value engineering ideas if Serita would be willing to consider them. This supplier suggested a change in paper stock, a digital print process to save four days and a plan to use imagery that was less expensive. This supplier submitted a schedule that showed how the work would get done and even capped every aspect of the design and writing fees to help allow for a printing surprise. Serita was so impressed with this team’s willingness to think out of the box that she awarded them the assignment with a stronger sense of confidence that she had found the right partner for this work.

When suppliers have all the information, problem solving and value engineering works. When major variables like budget are missing, suppliers are flying blind, which ultimately limits the effectiveness of competitive bids. When both time and money are tight, no one can afford to waste 3 weeks on poor RFP results.

While clients often withhold budget information, just imagine the same secrecy with a schedule: By keeping the required delivery date a secret, would clients ever think that competitive bidders might complete the work sooner than needed? “Gee, if I don’t state I need these in the warehouse by June 1, maybe I’ll get them even earlier?” But less is always more when it comes to money in a competitive bidding stance.

So, as an entrepreneur, how might you more effectively navigate these murky money waters?


You may not always get an answer, you may occasionally get a false answer or an answer you don’t like, but you stand a much better chance of getting some valuable information you can work with by asking.

Six Strong Money Questions

Here are six direct questions entrepreneurs can ask of potential clients. Granted it may seem easier to pose these questions to clients with whom they have established relationships, but new potential clients can just as reasonably reply to these questions.

First, ask the most obvious question:

  1. Will you share the budget you have to work with? If you do not ask, you will never know.
  2. If clients will not share their number overtly, try a less-direct approach: I’m sure that just as you have clear specs for the rest of this assignment, you must also have a set pre-approved budget for this work. Would you share a range with all potential bidders in order to ensure you receive estimates within that range? When clients resist, and they might, you’ll be ready to follow up with the value of corralling the estimating process by helping to ensure that many weeks of bidding time are not wasted.
  3. What are the top three factors you will consider when making your final decision? I’m sure budget is in there; will you please rank these three. This answer will give you a sense of the client’s true priorities.
  4. While you’ve said you cannot share your budget with all bidders, based on your experience with this type of assignment, is the budget sufficient enough to deliver everything in the RFP as it is described? If you sense hesitation or even when receiveing a direct response, ask if it would be helpful for your client to also receive some value engineering recommendations. When the answer is yes to this question, you have shown your awareness of the challenges they face, offered to add value to this process, and potentially differentiated your proposal from the others.Even if your client takes you up on your offer to make cost-saving recommendations and then shares this request with the other bidders to keep the playing field level, you’ve still set your company part: you’ll be associated with this strategy going forward. Be sure to follow up on this question by asking the client to identify a few areas where value engineering is most reasonable to explore. As examples, if your client has extra time in the schedule, perhaps a different staffing strategy could lower prices; if a component could be cut or adjusted, or if materials could be modified or functionality could be modified, these kinds of questions not only give you a sense of where to focus, they also allow your knowledge to shine through.
  5. It will be extremely helpful for us to understand how you prefer to work when it comes to money. Without sharing specifics, would you share a few best and worst past experiences you’ve had with vendors about money? We want to be sure we can adapt our direct financial strategies to the experiences you’ve had up to now. Even when clients cannot share specifics about their current budget, they’ll often share past stories. By listening carefully to past experiences, you’ll understand your client’s hot buttons—to avoid them and provide a positive experience.
  6. Lastly, entrepreneurs can often glean information about money by NOT making money the focus of their question. If all three bidders came in at exactly the same dollar amount, how would you choose the right supplier for this project? If this answer does not align with question 2 above, you’ll know a bit more about the client’s current clarity about the work, the bidders, and the budget.

Try practicing these questions. The more comfortable you are incorporating them into your business conversations and business language repertoire, the easier it will become to actually ask them!

Do you have questions to add to this list or experiences to share about how you manage challenging money talks? Post your comments below.



WOW 12, Part 1


Even though people often quip that “Money talks,” many people have a very difficult time talking ABOUT money in personal and professional settings. In the next two 99WOWs Blog posts, we’ll explore some of the factors that may be behind even the savviest entrepreneur’s resistance to facing money conversations head-on. These two articles are an expansion of a WOW from 99 Creative WOWs—Words of Wisdom for Business, a recently released quick-read book for thriving and striving entrepreneurs, biz whiz professionals, recent grads and creative wizards of all sorts. Because money conversations are as stressful as they are critical to ongoing success, in this first article post, we’ll demystify a few complexities about this key business tool.

Converse well about money to negotiate fairly for all.

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You may not believe how many otherwise gutsy and fiercely competitive entrepreneurs are actually afraid to talk about money. To an even greater degree, other business professionals are often more reticent to discuss this fundamental aspect of conducting business effectively. And yet, money matters so much to all parties, why is this so? Why are even gregarious, confident entrepreneurs often willing to ask for more information about a host of other project aspects, but suddenly fall silent when it comes to asking direct questions about money? Is this behavior a conscious choice or does it possibly spring from a more emotional place?

It’s likely that past outcomes are driving current unwillingness to risk raising awkward money discussions. When entrepreneurs have risked asking money questions in the past only to get shut down, silenced, or even looked at askance, it makes sense that going forward, even the boldest entrepreneurs often shy away from asking direct questions about money. Those past risks didn’t serve them well. Why go there again? The answer is simple: because, to do business well and negotiate fairly for all, entrepreneurs must be able to converse about money wisely.

Entrepreneurs tend to be quick learners, sometimes too quick for our own good. When an entrepreneur gets stonewalled, or worse yet, criticized for taking a particular risk with no positive outcome or response, entrepreneurs often rapidly regroup and correct their courses on the spot. Because money discussions can be difficult for everyone, it makes sense that this would be a topic where entrepreneurs have met a lot of resistance and hence, opt “not to go there anymore.”

Entrepreneurs don’t want to risk irritating clients or prospective clients. The ROR (Return on Risk), that of getting back valuable information, can be low when it comes to money so many entrepreneurs simply avoid the issue, deciding not to go back into that particular lion’s den again. This strategy, however, may reduce tension for both clients and entrepreneurs, but the decision not to explore money early on in any business relationship usually comes with a high price tag for all parties.

Why are money discussions so difficult?

Money is shrouded in secrecy. To be privy to budgets and other financial matters, one often needs a certain level of status or clearance in an organization. Money is also interesting to many, though often relevant to only a few. For example, while team members might be highly curious about the salaries of those around them, unless they are directly responsible for payroll and benefits, they don’t require this financial information to do their jobs, but many spend a lot of energy seeking out this financial information nonetheless.

Money is often perceived as the ultimate measure of worth. To discover one’s earning less or more than a colleague can impact performance, commitment and ego. It’s tough for many people to ask for a raise, stand firm when pressed to lower a price or to even broach the topic of “how much”?” in many different personal and professional situations.

In addition to the impact of past experiences and the low ROR described above, another possible reason that business professionals hesitate to jump into money talks relates to tipping one’s hand. Many business leaders fear that the party who names first number loses. This belief may well explain why in a negotiation or a project assignment, clients are so willing to share every other absolute.

“We need x units for y markets and we need them delivered onsite live no later than midnight on z date.”

These demands are clear and concise—though one key variable is notably absent. Requests for Proposals in competitive bidding situations often spell out myriad specifications and project requirements in infinite detail. Clients are typically extremely specific about every want and need associated with a potential assignment, save one: HOW MUCH MONEY they have to spend. WHY is this so often the case in so many industries?

By the time clients have gotten internal approval to solicit RFPs, they typically have a very clear understanding of—

WHAT they need to create,

WHEN they need it delivered,

WHERE the deliverables must be sent,

WHO the users will be,

WHY they need this particular assignment at this time,

HOW it must be produced and in what final form it must ultimately be submitted.

In order to receive competitive bids that are apples-to-apples, clients know they must share all of this information consistently across all bidders. In addition to these critical bid parameters, clients rarely secure internal approval to proceed with RFPs without also knowing HOW MUCH they are approved to spend on the assignment. While it is true that sometimes clients float out an early pre-approval RFP to get a sense of the probable cost in order to create a budget, when it comes time for an actual competitive RFP process to begin, most clients already know HOW MUCH money is in their budget. Why then do clients typically withhold information about money so often?

Conversely, even if clients withhold this information, why do suppliers, entrepreneurs and others preparing proposal also avoid this topic? Because it is often so uncomfortable to discuss money, many entrepreneurs hide behind the unspoken “I’m not telling you anyway” caveat: THEY DON’T EVEN ASK. Why?

I’ve asked this question of clients, peers, colleagues and mentors—the answers are similar:

  1. Some companies have corporate policies that prohibit executives and managers from disclosing financial information.
  2. Even when executives are not restricted, they often choose not to share the budget because on some level many business professionals believe that by communicating their budget, that’s exactly where the bids will come in. This is often dubbed “setting the table” of expectations.
  3. Other professionals have been coached that by sharing their numbers, they could be over-spending. This is a manifestation of the “party who names the first number loses” approach.

In the next article, we’ll dig deeper into this “money-conundrum” and look at a case study and focus on six money-centric questions entrepreneurs can ask clients about this highly sensitive subject.

Do you have insights to share about why money talks are so challenging for so many? Post your comments below.

A closer look at WOW 9 from 99 Creative WOWs—Words of Wisdom for Business


To succeed, entrepreneurs MUST directly or indirectly make business happen. In this 99WOWs Blog post, we’ll explore how and why entrepreneurs directly make it “rain” and “pour” when it comes to bringing in new business. This WOW is an expansion of 99 Creative WOWs—Words of Wisdom for Business, a newly published book for thriving and striving entrepreneurs, biz whiz professionals and creative wizards as well as recent grads ready to make their mark on the world.

Rainmakers dance between raindrops—without umbrellas.

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Entrepreneurs are often called rainmakers—the people who consistently and tenaciously must make results happen in order that their businesses grow and succeed. These results might be acquiring sales, discovering new opportunities, creating new products, winning new projects or forging new client relationships. To be a rainmaker, an entrepreneur has to have the drive and focus to push forward—no matter how difficult or myriad the obstacles.

As an entrepreneur, I know a lot about being a rainmaker. It’s my job—every single day. I am the person who not only closes sales—I open them as well. Over the years I’ve tried an array of different business development strategies in attempts to share the sales burden. All attempts aside, as is the case with many entrepreneurs, this process still rests squarely on my shoulders.

It’s not for lack of trying. Over the years, I’ve hired a range of people. Many had strong track records and bulging contact lists and others supposedly knew “everybody.” For many reasons, those approaches didn’t work. While these individuals did understand our business and they did have existing relationships with the decision-makers in our client companies—these strengths often eclipsed other weaknesses, like a reticence to take risks or a lack of follow-up skills and disorganization.

I realized that by hiring such executives I was only deferring the new business hunt; in reality, it was not happening—without me. In fact, this extra layer slowed our sales process with only the illusion of true progress. I was so busy trying to give others time to “get up to speed” that I spent my time worrying and sitting on my hands instead of seeking out and closing deals myself. These individuals may have truly wanted to develop business, but they lacked some key ingredients.

I didn’t give up there though. I forced my own pendulum to swing the other way. While I’d resigned myself to needing to close every sale, I became hopeful others could assist in the front-end lead generation. I explored data-driven lead generators, sales clouds, follow up reminders and more. That, too, was a distraction. It created many weak leads that only moved so far without my direct involvement and ultimately languished into nothing while I served as a low-level bottleneck. This was also another expensive approach that didn’t work.

Both strategies taught me a great deal, however. Regardless of the specific tactical concerns one or another of these options may have displayed, they all lacked one core ingredient for success: they didn’t have the entrepreneurial gene.

This entrepreneurial DNA begins with a deep-seated drive to make results happen. An entrepreneur must see opportunities and understand clients’ needs to connect both to the value their business will add. An entrepreneur HAS TO possess this “connective tissue” because when all is said and done, it is the entrepreneur who must take the right actions to keep open the company’s doors. If the company’s lead entrepreneur does not make it rain, the ensuing drought can destroy the company. The entrepreneur knows this in a way that business development executives can rarely fathom and sales data platforms are not designed to support. When you must sign the bank loans and guarantee the lines of credit, your entrepreneurial urgency tends to skyrocket. This entrepreneurial hunger and urgency is what ultimately helps fuel rainmaking.

An entrepreneur who took the risk to launch a business is also typically passionate about the product or service offerings they champion. This passion, when coupled with the DNA and drive, leads many entrepreneurs to CHOOSE to be their company’s chief rainmaker.

I’ve learned that most entrepreneurs prefer it this way. We’re in the best position to pinpoint the smartest leads for our companies and conversely decline those opportunities that are poor fits. We also typically serve as the best closers because we have a powerful and innate knack for balancing out the options, strategies and outcomes. Wise, confident and informed entrepreneurs can also negotiate quickly without having to go back and re-crunch numbers. Because we hold all the pieces to our business puzzles, we can make more informed decisions more quickly.

Many entrepreneurs are also quite astute negotiators who clearly grasp the need for all parties to benefit from every negotiation. We tend to do this well and this type of risk-taking comes easily to us. This is why many entrepreneurs simply dance through the raindrops while making it rain! We don’t need umbrellas because we know that armed with our DNA, we will move deftly, quickly and wisely to navigate these business waters with confidence and success. In fact, we often eagerly put on our bright red rain boots and jump feet first into the puddles, splashing our way happily back to the office!


WOW 1: Family first. ALWAYS.



Family first. ALWAYS.


In my world, nothing comes before family. Ever. While we typically introduce and even define ourselves in the context of the work we do, our lives are composed of far more than work. Each of us is a whole person—engaged in the lives of other people who are hopefully extremely important to us. Long before I define myself as a creative starter and driver of businesses, I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, board member and volunteer—with and for my core and extended family. We each have our own custom labels that simultaneously define our connections. Hopefully they also define how we make choices.

Some business leaders claim that business is business and no place for emotion, personal issues or other spillover from the rest of our lives. I disagree. I am a whole person and I hire whole people. The highest achievers on our teams are consistently those who live rich, full, messy and even complicated lives. These people “show up” and squeeze the most into each day in order to get the most out of every moment.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve always worked hard to make room for the whole-life obligations and demands of those with whom I work because it feels right—and it is right. At twelve, I learned firsthand that not to do so feels wrong—for everyone. My mother, an amazingly gifted early-childhood teacher, was an only child. At one point, she worked for someone who “charged a high price” when anyone needed to miss even a few hours of work. Because money was always tight, my mother felt she could not risk her job. Even if it meant going to work with food poisoning, so long as she was not contagious, my mother worked. She would choose to put herself through practically anything to avoid asking for time off—even when she should have.

I was 12 when both of my grandparents were in critical condition in the ICUs of two different hospitals while my dad was at a third hospital, undergoing a tricky cardiac test. To avoid her supervisor’s wrath, my mother went to work that day, staying until the last extended day child was picked up after six. That afternoon after school, my brother and I rode the bus to the hospitals to bounce between waiting rooms until she could get there. We were too young to be allowed into the ICUs, but we could listen, watch and use the pay phone if need be. We stood watch in my mother’s stead.

Even then I knew something had to be wrong with this pressure we all had accepted; it felt so wrong. She needed to be with her family, yet she felt so unable to do that. We understood that Mom never left work because she couldn’t. This was just one of many times I watched my mother struggle to choose work first, no matter what.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve found that putting everyone’s family first is always the right priority. People who are committed to family and work rarely take advantage of either; instead, when faced with tough life demands, these capable individuals somehow juggle it all to be present for the most important happenings, even when many issues compete for center stage. Expecting team members to put their family first removes the need for anyone to struggle to make this choice. There is also innate transparency in this model. It removes anyone’s ability to hide behind real or fictitious work obligations as a reason not to show up for family.

As the entrepreneur in charge, I set the tone. Each individual makes his/her own family decisions. In today’s world, there are many different ways to make a family. As a result, to be effective, a family-first model must be free of judgment or comparison. When someone on our team received an urgent text during a complex client call, he popped his ear buds on and seamlessly continued the call from his car as he dashed off to pick up Eddy. A very busy terrier pup, Eddy had gotten so many pink slips from doggie day care that immediate expulsion was the only logical next step after his latest doggie-playground infraction. Eddy’s inconvenient antics are as important a family matter as another team member’s need to move her grandfather from rehab to assisted living and back again, only on a weekday between the hours of 11 and 3. Pipes burst, kids get sick, and sometimes we get blizzards in April. Life brings us all sorts of family emergencies.

Not every issue is an emergency. Some are just plain important and require daylight. While new products and marketing plans can be reviewed on a laptop at night, the preschool Mother’s Day parade cannot be moved to a more convenient time slot.

Once, someone on our team made a big deal about being too “slammed” at work to attend his son’s first kindergarten play. His little boy was playing a tree for hardly more than 14 seconds at precisely 2:20 in the afternoon and yet this manager couldn’t figure out how to be there for his family and get his work done? I heard about this after the fact and I knew he didn’t have a long future with us. It was not because he didn’t make his child a priority; that was his business; claiming to be too busy at work was ours and signaled deeper performance issues. He couldn’t manage his time or his work well enough to get to his own son’s pageant. How could he possibly make effective choices for the clients who hire us? He couldn’t and left us shortly thereafter.

As an entrepreneur, if you think that there is a time when family should not come first, think again. Chances are, you didn’t ask enough questions to get to the heart of the matter, which is where, of course—you will find family. First.