2-Warren Buffet.jpg

In our Referral Marketing Master Course, we have an entire module devoted to your Circle of Influence and how it relates to the success (or lack of success) in your personal life. We also hammer away over and over the importance of goals setting and execution. Today I realized I left out a crucial part of that scenario: How your Circle of Influence relates to your Brand, which is your business. 

Moving your clientele or customer base is never an easy task, but creative entrepreneurs, or even passionate ones for that matter, need to shake things up every now and then. Cities change and with them the potential to be caught working within an environment that may no longer be able to support your business model for how you like to handle, well, your business.

CASE STUDY: I had decided to move to a ‘popular’ part of town. I am old enough to know better than to make business decisions based on emotion, but we aren’t perfect, are we? Poor decisions and the growth that I have enjoyed because of them are exactly why I started The Zelinka Agency. To help others make better more informed decisions so that they can thrive in a career they are passionate about. The burn-out rate is high for creative entrepreneurs, and the more talented business-minded people we can cultivate the higher the industry standard for all of us who make it out alive.

Although the ‘popular’ part of town I mentioned earlier was great for a thriving restaurant scene, it wasn’t so great for my behind the chair beauty business. The salon was gorgeous - old beams from a building having been built in the 20’s, a great wide open space for plenty of energy to fill it, and even boasted parking which was nearly impossible to find on this newly popular street. I was ecstatic and excited to move across town. Except that all that energy I thought would fill the space never materialized. The thriving downtown scene that I delighted working in for so many years wasn’t found in my new neighborhood. I started chatting up the boutique owner across the street and we shared some of the same feelings. So what was the deal?

I went home and lamented about it to my analytical left-brain man and he quickly got to work in spreadsheet-land, a place where I don’t care to visit too often. Typically I will make a decision or conjecture with my intuition, he drums up the numbers - and we both come to the same conclusion - each driving down our own avenues to get there. Neither is wrong, but what we miss a lot as right-brained entrepreneurs are the few times where numbers, spreadsheets, and analytical thinking need to be added to the equation if we are seeking the most successful outcome possible.

I’m not a mediocre person, yet my current job situation had me feeling that way. Something had to be changed.

Upon further analysis, it turns out this popular street didn’t actually have the demographics required for not only my profession but my price point. Those expensive trendy restaurants were most likely thriving because the folks from the suburbs brought their big paychecks across town and ate there. The salon I chose to move to was at the confluence of four different zip codes, and not one of them had the required personal care spend OR median household income needed to support salons in the area, and we aren’t even getting into the number of salons competing for clients. There weren't enough clients, or money, to sustain any of us. 

A die-hard referral marketing master, I did a zip code analysis of my top referrers and found a salon within walking distance to them much further away from my current location. The zip codes my top referrers resided in not only had ABOVE the national average for personal care spending but also well above the national median household income - in fact, it was double what it was at my current space. I was sold on moving, even though it would be to the suburbs.

There’s a myriad of tricky things about the salon industry, though. As smart as I felt for doing an analytically charged analysis of my business and found what I thought was the perfect fit for a salon location (as luck would have it it was actually owned by a woman I had known professionally for years - double win) the highs would quickly be replaced with deep lows. An owner not new to the industry, but new to salon ownership, she struggled to keep many of the promises she had made when I signed up to work there. The salon would only stay regularly cleaned long enough to get a few stylists in the door to pay her rent. It was in a highly desired location, but without any front desk support or a system in place to handle the initial burst of walk-ins, they, like the professionalism of the salon, subsided.

I would go on to win an award for being the top stylist in my town, yet I worked in a space that was beautiful but broken. So broken, in fact, that late one night while I tended to my last client, the owner pulled my co-worker into the back room and ‘fired’ her. (‘Firing’ a lease stylist is not legal - it isn’t even a thing. A lease stylist is a business owner within a business, and at least in that particular state I was working in a 30-day notice is required to end the contract in place.) It was uncomfortable. My co-worker was heard yelling from the backroom (I understood her frustration) while I finished my client. It was incredibly unprofessional and incredibly disrespectful to all involved.

I was stunned. I am an accomplished business owner, a talented award-winning hairstylist who has spent twenty years developing and maintaining a reputation for myself only to have it gut-punched with one horrific night. The implications of what the owner would continue to do would have lasting effects on me, my business, the salon, and the business of my co-worker that she 'kicked out'. I moved to a location where I had picked up several top referrers, yet they all now knew what kind of business-owner I was working for, which now reflected poorly on me.

That’s the thing with doing a good job with your networking and referrals - everybody eventually knows everybody. A lesson the new salon owner would soon find out the hard way.

In retrospect, I knew better. I made two poor career decisions because I wasn’t entirely sure what my behind-the-chair career goals were at the time. (I was working full-time on The Zelinka Agency and had stepped back to working behind the chair part-time.) Goal setting is also something we focus on in our classes, and I had failed myself, my clients, and my reputation as a smart hairstylist.  It’s my own fault for not having a clear direction for where my career was headed on that front, which caused me to make decisions that I wouldn’t have otherwise made.

1- I would never have worked at a salon that didn’t have a successful reputation and wasn’t established.
2- I broke my own Tuesday rule: Go to a salon and see how busy it is - that’s where the juice is. If a salon is booked solid on a non-traditional busy day then that is a sign of a thriving salon.

Neither spaces had either of those in place. Neither had established Yelp presences. Neither had developed their brand identity and without any of those how was I, someone with ALL of those things, going to thrive in a less-than space.

It’s so easy to make emotional decisions when our goals aren’t clearly defined, and it’s equally bad for your brand when you hang around poor decision makers in your personal life, as well as your business life because eventually, it will reflect poorly on you. Especially since as a small business owner, you are your brand.

The sad thing is that we shouldn’t have to make such deep analysis to ready ourselves for an impending move, but this isn't a perfect world. If we all collectively educated ourselves and upped the standards of our industries we are considering working in and upped the standards with which we conduct ourselves when in them, we could more freely be able to find working situations that are thriving environments. Salons that don’t revel in illegal knee-jerk emotionally driven decision making.

After all, women who dominate don't have time for petty pissing matches or poorly executed haircuts.

Mandy Zelinka is the former Digital Marketing Manager for KEVIN.MURPHY International and owned one of the largest award-winning salons in Portland, Oregon. She was also Voted Best Hairstylist in Portland in 2016 by The Portland Fashion + Style Awards. 

But she’s best known for tobogganing down the Great Wall of China as a United States Diplomat and First Lady of a City.