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What Do You Need to Be an Entrepreneur?

Written by Patricia Vaccarino, Founder, Xanthus Communications LLC on 31 July 2009.

To be an entrepreneur in today’s business climate, you must build a strong brand identity for you and for your business. You must invest in yourself. You must invest in your own public relations campaign. Some people feel shy about self-promotion and believe that it self-aggrandizing or even narcissistic. You must get over any reticence that tells you that by promoting yourself you are being immodest. This is business, not child’s play. In order to succeed in today’s business environment, you must aggressively promote yourself and your business. You must embrace the fact that public relations or self-promotion is simply a business development tool and is necessary to grow your business and to increase revenue. You may not have a spectacular budget to work with, but do have to have a budget. Your budget is what will dictate exactly how you can create your own fully integrated promotion and establish metrics to assess whether or not you did indeed get your return on your investment.

What did inspire you to start your business?
Back in the late 1990s, I had the pleasure to work with an Internet company called PublishingOnline. While I was there, I worked with individual authors who wanted to be published on the internet. I quickly learned there was a real need for professionals to market themselves the same as any company in a way that was cost effective and got results. So when I started my own PR firm, I decided that I wanted to do PRforPeople.

How did you finance it?
I have bootstrapped my business. From the onset, my company has consistently sustained profitability. Since it is a service-oriented business, I maintain very little overhead and keep my costs low. I don’t believe in incurring debt unless there is a strategic reason for doing so. I also curb my costs in small ways by outsourcing IT services to developers in India, and by working with highly experienced senior-level independent contractors who want to maintain their “freelance” autonomy and do not want permanent employment.

Being Hispanic…Does it have any influence on your business?
On the west coast, I am more influenced by the Mexican-American culture whereas on the east coast, there was greater influence from Cuban Americans, Puerto Rican Americans and Dominican Americans. Many of my Spanish-speaking clients have strong expertise in branding and PR and know how it works. Two fine examples are Fashion Designer Nick Verreos of Bravo TV’s Project Runway and Alicia Silva President of Synergy Design Studios who specializes in sustainable architecture and green living.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
You simply put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
To be successful in today’s complex market place, you must be able to break through the clutter. It does not matter if you are an artist or an actor or an accountant or an attorney, you must have the ability to be seen and heard above the din. Breaking through the clutter requires dedication, persistence and hard work. I face the same economic challenges and uncertainties that all of my clients are currently facing. We are all in this together. We must all stay the course and persevere.

If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
I would expand more rapidly on a global scale.

What was your childhood ambition?
When I was in the 4th grade, my teacher saw that I had a gift for writing so she worked with me to help me cultivate the craft of “storytelling” that grew to be very sophisticated and far beyond my chronological years. So for the rest of my life, I had great confidence in my writing and the ability to use this talent to serve my clients-- to tell their “stories” to the media.

Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire?
Diane von Fursteneberg--for her ruthless focus and her ability to reinvent her own brand.
Estee Lauder for her persistence and brilliance at promoting her own brand.
Melinda Gates--for putting a new brand face on what it means to be a social philanthropist.

For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Breakfast meetings are excellent for light fare and intense, focused conversation. At the end of the day, dinner is an excellent way to relax and have a long, complex conversation. I am not a fan of lunch, mainly due to my fitness regimen--lunch invites too much food that weighs down the afternoon just when you need to put the pedal to the metal and accelerate.

What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success?
I say no to a lot of social events and to spending time with friends. In the last week alone, I have declined several parties, two book club gatherings, four dinners, two lunches and delayed a trip to my vacation home on the Oregon coast. I cannot take the time to travel right now. Leaving the country isn’t even a remote possibility. My priorities are my business and my family. Some people tell me that I work too much and that I don’t have enough fun, but to me building a business and making my dreams come true is much more fun and satisfying than anything else in the world!

What is your favorite quote?
“Good PR is establishing the greatest number of high quality relationships that reach across industries and sectors to get you a return on investment.” –Patricia Vaccarino

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
To attract the right people, clients, customers and partners, you must repel the other people who would never be your clients and partners. You must take a stand and speak the truth about who you are. If you choose the middle road and describe yourself in an average way to avoid offending someone, know and understand that you have doomed your personal brand to mediocrity. By trying to offend no one, you have showed the world that you have nothing to offer to anyone. Staying safely in the middle will waste your time and get you nowhere. Get rid of the wrong people. Define your brand. Refine it further. Make it sharp. Don’t be afraid of standing out. Exceptional people always frighten the weak and mediocre.

Biggest mistake made?
One of my strengths is the ability to persevere against all odds. One of the hardest decisions is knowing when to pull the plug on a project, a campaign or a client. If you have reached a fork in the road, it is often hard to assess whether you should press on and persevere or pull the plug to minimize your losses. If I had known back then, what I know now, I would have walked away from a lot of people and situations sooner instead of persevering and hoping that things would get better. Experience has taught me much greater precision and clarity in knowing when to strategically change direction.

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I am the most innovative when I work with my clients. I always advise my clients to think outside the box. How you define your brand persona should be precise, creative and memorable. You are not a celebrity. You are a professional with a job and a career or you are an entrepreneur with a business. Or maybe you are an up-and-coming actor, artist or singer—a creative talent—who wants fame. No matter what your occupation is, you must find a way to stand out from the crowd. I have a client who is a Rabbi and is uniquely positioned as a youth and culture expert. I have a client who is a plastic surgeon who is not just a plastic surgeon, but expert in the psychological aspects of cosmetic surgery. I have a beauty expert who knows everything there is to know about the conditioning and growth of naturally long eyelashes. And while you must find a way to distinguish yourself from all the other professionals who share your same occupation, there is also a time when you must think inside the box. There is a time to simply say I am a rabbi, a physician or a beauty expert. Don’t forget to think inside the box. But always remember when to shove that box aside and explode with an original or innovative idea that will get noticed!

About the Company
Founded by Patricia Vaccarino in 2003, Xanthus Communications LLC is a boutique PR firm with large firm capabilities that is based in Seattle and in New York City. Xanthus offers the full range of traditional public relations services as well as technologically sophisticated channels of communication. Xanthus Communications LLC specializes in doing PR for People and offers PR programs designed specifically for individuals. Our mission is to help you to build brand equity in your name by using the media to increase the number of your clients or business partners. For more information, please scan http://www.xanthuscom.com. In 2007, Xanthus launched a second website to house its individual clients who are all professionals in their respective fields.
Please see http://www.prforpeople.com.

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