Business tips and etiquette for the NOLA entrepreneur

Image by flickr user Aidan Jones.

Image by flickr user Aidan Jones.

While New Orleans is a very entrepreneurial city with emerging industries, our business culture is very unique from that of other cities. It’s still very much a “small town,” where we socialize with the people we do business with, sometimes blurring the line between what is business and what is personal.  However, we must always distinguish the two and remember whether it’s time for professionalism or socializing.

The subtle off-white coloring and tasteful thickness of your business card might get you far in some places, but etiquette and professionalism go further in New Orleans. Below are a few tips that can help the entrepreneurial social butterfly that you are become a better leader and keep you on top professionally. Disclaimer: I am not claiming I’m an expert. These are merely tips – things I’ve picked up through observations, personal experience, and advice I’ve been given. We’d like to hear your feedback, too.

1.    Don’t take it personally; business is business

It’s very common in New Orleans to run in the same social circle as your colleagues, business partners, and clients. Sometimes, you may even be in a situation in which you are doing business with someone you had a romantic relationship with, or even have a romantic relationship with someone you have done business with.  It is always important to remember that business is business, so don’t take things too personally when merging the two relationships.  When it comes down to it, you cannot let business-related decisions affect your personal relationships or your personal relationships affect your business decisions.

2.    Work with each other instead of against each other

One of the most exciting things about living in New Orleans right now is being able to contribute to all of the bourgeoning industries, and everyone wants to be part of it.  However, don’t try to be the one to lead the revolution, and don’t try to compete with other people to get to the top. While a certain level of competition is essential to succeed, our industries are still very new and very small.  In order to make them succeed, we all need to work together to help them grow, rather than bring people down.  An industries can’t survive without sufficient businesses to support it, so help one another out without giving away your own little secret recipe to success.

3.    Common courtesy goes a long way

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can take you far in the business world, even if it’s just a please or thank you.  Acknowledging someone’s hard work, opinions, advice, and ideas make you an effective leader and a respectable businessperson. Keep an open mind to other’s opinions, always acknowledge people’s ideas, and take responsibility when necessary. The South is known for its charming and polite individuals, and that should always be applied, even in the boardroom.

4.    Treat your interns well

Even though your interns are only working for you temporarily, they will eventually be working in your industry and most probably in your city, so treat them well. They will either be your colleagues or competitors one day, so don’t underestimate the impact a one-semester internship can make. Treat them well, educate them, and be professional because you do not want to give them a reason to compete with you or give you a bad reputation later. How you treat people internally correlates to how people perceive you from the outside as well.

5.    Communicate and return emails in a timely manner

We all know how crazy the life of an entrepreneur can be. Your day can go from being an easy “catch up” day to a chaotic “wish I had more interns” kind of day in an instant. However, if you can tweet, you can certainly respond to an email. In business, timing is everything and you never know what kind of opportunity you’re missing, or who you’re holding back by putting off an email.  It’s why we all email instead of calling and live with our iPhone’s permanently attached to our hands.

6.    Talk is cheap

It’s amazing how much energy people spend talking, and not actually doing.  If you say you’re working on something, commit to helping someone, and promise a follow-up call, follow through.  No one will take you seriously if you’re not reliable.

7.    Don’t be catty

High school and the sorority house are long behind us, and so is the need to be cliquey or talk badly about people.  This town is very small, and you never know who is sitting at the table behind you or best friends with the person you’re badmouthing. And frankly, it’s unprofessional and a waste of energy. If there is something you don’t agree with, you can use it to your advantage as a new opportunity. You can either change the situation by helping the organization or person change what they are doing wrong, or learn from it and use it as a lesson for the way you do not want to act.  In the end, you will have the competitive advantage.

8.    You create your work environment

All things in life are what you make of them, including your work environment, so make it positive. If you go into the office with a bad attitude, it will spread to your colleagues, creating negative energy.  Always be mindful of how your attitude affects others.

9.    Don’t assume that all press is good press

When talking to the media, nothing is ever “off the record,” so be careful with what you say and whom you are saying it to.  Always be aware of how you word things, and be picky about what press you choose to do, because not all press is good press (I think we can learn some lessons from Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan here). While getting your business in the press is very important, sometimes your intentions might be questioned if media attention becomes your number one motive.  Just as easily as the press can help you, it can also hurt you.

10. Be open-minded to new partnerships.

If someone approaches you for a new partnership or emails you for a meeting, don’t be quick to turn it down and don’t assume that the opportunity is not good enough.  Give people a chance to speak their mind and propose a new idea, because you never really know what new opportunities can come out of a simple meeting.

11.  Networking is not about getting what you want.

If every entrepreneur had a top 10 list, I can guarantee that networking would be at the top of it. We are, by nature, social – always connecting and always finding new opportunities. However, networking can only be as successful as you make it, so besides just making a cameo at the Chamber of Commerce event or Capdeville happy hour, make an effort to follow up, follow through and connect.  Rather than figuring out what they can do for you, market yourself and find ways to help them – it’s genuine, less abrasive, and opens up more opportunities in the relationship.  Also, make an effort to remember people’s names. You may meet and speak to a lot of people throughout the day, but we’re grown-ups and and not senile yet, so there’s no excuse to forgetting someone’s name.

* Also, because networking usually involves your friends and cocktails, try to remember to keep the drinks coming in very slowly until after the schmoozing is done, and if need be give yourself a drink limit. While you might be a fun friend and the life of the party, it’s not very professional to be a lush.  And it also helps to keep the drinks to a minimum when trying to remember people’s names.

12. Don’t be passive aggressive.

Communication is key, and part of being a good leader is being direct and diplomatic.  Being passive aggressive never helps anyone, as it only creates miscommunication and tension in the office.  (This applies to the twittersphere as well.)

13. Always do your research, and never stop educating yourself.

Even though you’re done with school, the education is never quite over.  With the ever-changing technology, the way we work, communicate, and strategize is always changing. Keep learning new ways to communicate to become a better leader, always be up to date on your current events, and do your due diligence before your business development meetings. Trying to impress someone with your knowledge can go awry when you don’t have your facts straight.

14. Remain humble.

There is a thin line between being confident and being cocky.  Self-promotion and confidence in yourself and your brand is very important to succeeding.  And there is nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments.  You are an entrepreneur who has accomplished great things, and contributed to the economic development of the city.  It is definitely something to be proud of; however, no one wants to talk about how great you are. Pat yourself on the back, and don’t forget where you came from and the struggle it took to get there. Respect others no matter what profession they are in or what their opinions are. Nothing bad ever came out of humility and acknowledgment in others for their accomplishments.

15. Start your day with a hearty breakfast and end it with a nice glass of wine.