Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BizBlog: Wailea Update

Today I emailed Wailea with links to my blog entries, as well as my list of demands (release from contract, refund for the non-completed portion of the program, re-purchasing of the books I still have, and the same terms extended to Lilly if she wants them). I got this reply from Sonja's husband, who runs her vanity press:

Subj: Fristlose Kündigung des Jahrescoachingprogramms

Sehr geehrte Frau Blake,
der Sokrates Verlag gibt Ihnen hiermit bekannt das Vertragsverhältnis Ihrer Teilnahme am Jahrescoachingprogramm nach § 6 unserer AGB's mit sofortiger Wirkung wegen geschäftsschädigendem Boykottaufruf zu kündigen.

Wir behalten uns ausdrücklich vor rechtliche Schritte gegen Sie einzuleiten im Wiederholungsfall und Sie wegen Schadenersatz zu verklagen. Ebenfalls erfüllen Ihre geschäftsschädigenden Aussagen und Androhungen den Straftatbestand der Verleumung.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Volker Wendel

I took down my second entry, since I hadn't run that one past a lawyer.  I got the primary thing I wanted, which was termination of my contract.  It remains to be seen whether I'll get any money back; really, I'm not holding my breath. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

BizBlog: Coaching and Selling

EDIT EX POST FACTO:  People associated with Wailea’s JCP have tried to get me to remove this post.  After consulting with legal counsel, I am convinced that my post is fully within the sort of speech protected by Article 5 of the German Basic Law (‘Everyone has the right to freely express and disseminate his opinion in speech, writing, and pictures and to freely inform himself from generally accessible sources.’), by virtue of being my opinion, and in no way libelous towards the named parties herein.  Therefore, my post will remain on my blog, and I will not remove it.

On the urging of my very convincing friend Johanna, I signed up for a Coaching Day event offered in April by Wailea GmbH, the firm of Sonja Becker.  It featured not only Sonja but Johanna’s coach, Irene Xander.  Sonja is the author of “Die Chefin” (The [Female] Boss), and apparently something of a giant in the German business coaching world (among others, she has coached Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister).

I was definitely at a very different place from all of my fellow participants, most of whom were still grappling with issues like “what do I want to do?”, “what is my bliss?”, etc.  I actually presented an overview of what I burn for doing right now, and got feedback and suggestions on how to get there.  Since it was only the day before that the DH and I found the money in our budget to supply me with 500€ in seed money, I hadn’t yet figured out how to go from there to my goal of opening a shop in a couple years.  Getting that suggestion (namely holding fashion parties, which I inevitably will refer to as FAT-shion parties), as well as all the lovely food they provided throughout the day was well worth the 150€ for the workshop.

After that, however, Irene started trying really, really hard to get me to commit to the one-month-long, 10,000€ High Performance Leadership in May.  I wasn’t keen on it at all, especially given that no way in hell do we have the money now.  I especially resented her attempts to brush off my statement that, even if I were interested, I’d need to discuss matters with Lars before committing to a sum that large. I told her that I needed to do steps A, B, and C on my own, but when I was ready for step D, I’d get in touch.  I’m still considering one of the HPLTs in New York as a way to expand into the American market, but not until I’ve already got a foothold in the German market and some online sales made overseas.

A while later, I found out that Johanna’s wife Beate (whose artistic name is Lilly Springer, of Prachtvoll Tattoo and Gallery, and my personal tattoo artist) is participating in Wailea’s Jahrescoachingprogramm (Year-long Coaching Program).  I expressed some interest, not fully understanding what it was, which eventually got back to Irene, who called me.  She invited me to come as a guest to the program the following Thursday.  I discussed the program, insofar as I knew anything about it at that point, with Lars and Christian, and I pre-secured Christian’s approval to front me the 1800€ for the program.  When I went for the guest evening, I really liked the energy I got from the group, even though I still wasn’t sure what all the program was about.  I was also concerned by how many of the other participants, when introducing themselves, described themselves as coaches or trainers.  

I decided to take the chance and sign up for the program, at which point I noticed an additional cost I hadn’t seen before: 150€ a month for 10 wholesale copies of books by Sonja Becker, which we were to sell at 30€ apiece.  Of course, should we sell only half, we break even; if we sell all of them, we make enough for the cost of the program itself.  Additionally, we can sell other Wailea coaching products, from the fairly inexpensive Coaching Day up through the exceedingly expensive HPLTs, for a 10% commission.  I wish I hadn’t signed the contract at that point, but I did, so now I’m stuck with it.  I did, at least, arrange with Irene that I could sell Sonja’s old book “Time and Money: How to Spend the Rest of Your Life” that she co-wrote with her mentor, since it’s available in English. It sounds like “Die Chefin” will be available in translation soon as well, so I’ll have that title to sell to my English-speaking networks as well.  But I’m not keen about the whole situation of having to shell out money for books I either sell or am stuck with.

Here’s the thing about me and selling.  When I believe in something and I’m passionate about it, I’m a natural salesperson.  I just talk about things I’m excited about and people get excited with me; like my plans with my designs and Body Brilliance: when I talk with women in my target market, they want to sign on and buy stuff with me.  Ever since I got my tattoos, I’ve become Lilly’s #2 word-of-mouth marketer after Johanna.  I talk up cool Google services and products all the time, even though Google doesn’t pay me anything.  My home looks like an ad for IKEA.  According to a book I’m reading now (more on that later, as I plan to start a “Book Report” category on this blog as well), this is just the nature of how women function in the market economy: we want to be viewed by our friends and loved ones as indispensible, and one of the ways we do this is by being a reliable source of good information.

If I don’t believe in something, and I’m not passionate about it, it’s like pulling teeth to get me to sell it, and I feel icky inside, like I’ve compromised my integrity.  I can’t fake a smile; it’ll reach my cheeks, but never my eyes.  I can’t fake excitement about something I’m little more than doubtful about, either.  I’m just as likely to give you a long list of my concerns and critiques as I am to give you a list of its positives, as my chronic depression engenders as a side effect a fairly pronounced pessimistic streak, in contrast to my “natural” optimism.

And when it comes to Wailea, I’m not yet a believer.  Additionally, I have a fair amount of trouble believing in “Time & Money” as well.  The book reads as if it was translated from German by a non-professional translator, it’s typeset in a way that screams “fluff” (large font, large spaces between paragraphs, etc.), and although there is some truly good soft-skill information in there, there’s also a whole lot of things that made me want to throw it across the room.  I can’t sell something I can’t stand behind, and I can’t stand behind this book!  I have yet to sell a single one; all the copies I’ve gotten rid of are ones I gave away.

After signing up for the JCP, I found out that there’s a different program I probably should have signed up for, namely their “Entrepreneur School”.  From what I’ve read about the course, it certainly sounds more like something that would be useful for me right now.  It is, however, slightly more expensive, and I sure as hell don’t want to try to do it on top of the JCP.  I plan to make inquiries as to whether I can transfer my payment from the JCP to the Entrepreneur School, but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll let me.

I really hope this doesn’t just turn out to be a costly mistake...

My Social Values as a Businesswoman

First and foremost, I will never, ever sell a product or service that I cannot stand behind.  I have a very strong personal sense of ethics and integrity, and I will never run my business in such a way that I am not in accordance with them.

1. I will never seek to have a standard of living beyond upper middle class.  The greater my income, the greater a portion of my income I will dedicate to charitable giving, social business endowment, microfinance lending, entrepreneurship grants, and scholarship endowments.  The only reason I've ever wanted wealth beyond simple financial independence would be for the purposes of becoming a philanthropist.
2. I will always give back to my customers, and encourage and assist them in giving back to their communities.
3.  I will always give back to my employees through surplus-sharing, and will encourage and assist them in giving back to their communities.
4.  The aim of my compan(y/ies) will not be maximizing profit, but maximizing empowerment of women, both locally and globally.  Any surplus not shared with employees or re-invested in the company will be dedicated to the same purposes mentioned in #1.
5.  I will operate my company with maximum fiscal transparency, so that any employee or customer who wishes to do so can ascertain that I am running my compan(y/ies) with integrity and in accordance with my principles.
6. I will never, ever sell my customers' data to a third party.  If a third party vendor wants to sell to my customers, and I find their product or service relevant to my customer base and worth selling, I will either make it available in my brick-and-mortar shop or make them a partner on my website(s).

I was particularly inspired by a book I randomly picked up from the business section at Hugendubel Bookshop, which harkened quite a lot back to my co-op days.  The book is entitled "Social Business" by Muhammed Yunus, creator of Grameen Bank and 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have chosen to espouse the principles he recommends for all businesses.
1.  I will not make this "world a riskier place than it would be without the business in it". (p.9)
2. My business "will contribute to making the planet safer than it would have been without the business". (p.10)
3.  My business "will be conducted within the framework of social and political responsibilities established by the state and local authorities". (p.10)
4.  I will never make a profit at the expense of the poor. (p.13)