First of all, please tell us a little about yourself. What do you love to do?
Thanks for having me here. I love your mission of helping women embrace technology and become successful entrepreneurs. I am definitely a bit of a geek and I love technology for what it enables me to do in my personal and professional lives. However, I must admit that I unfortunately I don’t have a lot of patience for all the finite technical details. That’s why I have a team of people who have those skills and knowledge. I guess I could be best described as unruly and opinionated. You are looking at the black sheep of the family; the girl who didn’t want to follow the rules. To this day, I find it hard to go places where others already have been. For better or worse, I have an innate need to find a new route. That is why I pursue new ventures, new ideas, and new businesses that push the envelope. To sum it up, I become very passionate about ideas that don’t fit the mold. Good ideas excite me and that is why my favorite thing is to help my clients build great businesses from their ideas.
You had a very successful photo business – can you tell us more about that?
First, allow me to clarify that my business was not successful for a very long time. My overnight success took thirteen years. But, when I finally figured out how to run a business right, it only took me only 18 months to go from $135,000 in debt to selling my company, BeateWorks, for millions of dollars to a company owned by Bill Gates. It took me a long time to find a desirable market niche, and when I did, I knew in my heart that I was on to something big.
My photography business was a stock photography syndication that granted licenses to use images that photographers (my suppliers) gave to my company. It was our job to find buyers for the images. My company packaged and resold the photos to magazines, advertisers, and pretty much to anyone who uses images for their marketing. We specialized in high-end interior design and architectural photography. I was extremely lucky to secure contracts with some of top-notch photographers like Tim Street-Porter, the late Fernando Bengoechea, Oberto Gili, and Pieter Estersohn. These photographers work with renowned architects and interior designers who have high profile clients, including many celebrities.
What had not been part of my plan at first, but ended up being my biggest blessing was when the first images of those celebrity homes landed on my desk. Because I used to be a Photo Editor at Elle Magazine, I knew I could turn it into a golden opportunity. While I didn’t invent the celebrity at home story, I did make it a worldwide phenomenon and we eventually sold our content in 79 countries and our stories were distributed everywhere. That is what attracted Bill Gate’s company, Corbis. At that time, it was the second largest image distributor in the world and the company wanted to expand its celebrity image syndication called Outline.
Where can women entrepreneurs do better?
One of my favorite quotes comes from Maria Shriver who said, “You don’t need courage if you don’t feel fear.” Women need to be more courageous. It’s okay to be afraid. I admit that I still have fears. I am afraid to fail, or that I may not be as good as others think I am, or that something I do will eat up money and never make a profit (and that has happened…) On the flip side, I am also fierce and relentless. I still push ahead with my ventures regardless of my fears. Women need to toughen up when it comes to business and not take things so personally. Your business does not define all of who you are. In my book Happy Woman Happy World, I put a lot of emphasis on how women need to find better support and how we can support each other. We girls need to stick together and help each other succeed instead of each one of us trying to figure it out alone as along the way.
The second thing I want to encourage women to do is to plan their lives better. Many women are very reactive in business and do not take time out to set boundaries, plan, and determine a clear direction where they want to take their businesses. The result is they are forced to react to whatever happens instead of anticipating and planning for what may go wrong, or allow for adjustments. I want women to plan their path but be open to the inevitable changes every business goes through. Planning and revising helps us to determine the direction where we are going.
What tips do you have for event planners who want to build their business to be sold?
If you want to set up a business with the goal of it being acquired, you have to implement certain strategies from the very beginning. All my businesses are set up this way. The first important step is to keep your personal accounts and your business accounts entirely separate. Run your financial aspects and your books very clean. After the initial start-up phase, you have to focus on sales. In an acquisition, the first question you will be asked is, “What are your sales?” You need to know all your numbers inside out at all times.
Second, I recommend you implement systems and use technology to create repeatable processes. If you are the only person who can run your business and it only operates when you present, then you have nothing to sell. If you can step out of the picture and your systems still work and your processes can be repeated, then you have something that can be attractive to buyers.
Third, be a good leader. In The Women’s Code we talk about women’s leadership skills (Lead on C.U.E.) based on women-centric principles, which are Compassion, Uniqueness, and Empowerment. Don’t try to be tougher than a man, that is so…nineties!
We all know that photos are essential to great events. What tips do you have for people looking to capture better images?
Your photos can be your best or worst marketing tool. The extra couple hundred dollars for a better photographer or two shooters will make a huge difference. I have seen event photos that I would be ashamed to post anywhere. You have to understand photos of your event symbolize the memories of the people who attended. You need to ensure your photos flatter your clients and that everyone looks like they are having the time of their lives. The photography budget is one of the things I would never compromise. A great photographer takes great pictures. Your guests look good in great pictures. And they remember the event as a being a fabulous time, which brings you referrals and repeat business. Hiring an excellent photographer is an investment in your business and it should be considered a marketing expense.
My advice is to always hire a professional photographer. I shudder at the thought of a talented 21 year-old with no training and no knowledge of event etiquette, dressed in Chucks, snapping away. Even if the young kid has a good portfolio, taking pictures at an event requires someone with a certain skill set. Did I mention you should ALWAYS hire a professional?
What is your favorite app?
That is a tough question. I work with LinkedIn a lot and I use their app almost all the time. I also frequently use Instagram @BeateChelette. If I have extra time on a plane, I will go to classics like Angry Bird and Solitaire.
Inquiring minds want to know. What has been your biggest tech mistake?
I only get to tell you about one mistake? What comes to mind first is when I started my stock syndication business. I wanted to save money and so I found a relatively inexpensive way to have a program written for the database. The problems were that it was a student project for a University, it took twice as long as expected to be completed, and after all that, it wasn’t suitable to expand as the business grew because the students had graduated and taken other jobs. I had to scratch it entirely and redo everything within only two years.
I strongly recommend you always research the market for any existing solutions that can be customized. While the monthly fees may seem to be a lot at the beginning and you may only need a fraction of what the system offers, do it anyway. Buy technology a size too big so that you can grow into it. Use what the most successful people in your industry use. Period. No exceptions.