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QA_Demo_Diva_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

As president and owner of Demo Diva, New Orleans native Simone Bruni is a case study in resilience. After Hurricane Katrina decimated her community, Bruni quickly sprang into action. Having been laid off from her job as a corporate event planner as a result of the disaster's fallout, Bruni observed firsthand the destruction of so many homes and lives around her. Without any insider knowledge or resources to tap into, she launched a residential demolition business in June 2006. The idea was not only to generate income but give back to her beloved city. Now, as Demo Diva enters its eighth year, Bruni presides over a full-time staff of five and a thriving business that has expanded from straight demolition to specialized services such as site prep work. Recently, Bruni took a break from her busy schedule to talk with business writer Iris Dorbian about her unlikely career trajectory.

ID: What prompted you to launch Demo Diva?

SB: I saw the National Guard was here after Katrina and then all these people from around the country came in with bulldozers, excavators, and bobcats. I started to see that demolition was going to be that first step to getting everyone [who had been displaced by the hurricane] home.

ID: You had no prior construction experience and yet you started a demolition company. What resources did you used to educate yourself in this sector?


SB: I was in the hospitality industry and I was the marketing person. Those were two critical skills. I took those two skills over to an industry that needed hospitality. Demolition is associated with men and at this point when I started [in New Orleans], it was a disaster zone. People needed comfort. That is one of the secrets of demolition: Behind every demolition is an emotion. Whether you're tearing down a hospital or imploding a historic building, there is an emotion associated with it.


Marketing was the catalyst that set me apart. I didn't want to operate the machinery. Instead I said, ‘Let's get our name out there. We’re here to listen.’ So I started with $250. That was basically for the yard signs, the magnets for my car, and business cards. Then I went out to where a demolition was taking place. So that's really how I began.

ID: Since its launch what has your business evolved into?

SB: Now I do site prep, which is when you put in underground utilities. Say a fast-food restaurant is going to demolish the whole area and then they're going to build a new one. We would go in and clear the site to prepare for a parking lot or drainage.

ID: How else did you market your business?

SB: We did some TV commercials after Katrina. We would buy an inexpensive spot on cable. A lot of people thought my company was owned by a man using a female gimmick. But [that changed] with my commercial. Also, I have 50 dumpsters all over the city and they're painted hot pink. We've got a 12-foot welded billboard on either side of the dumpster. So I invested in the signage. Now my dumpsters are mobile billboards.

QAMarkDevine_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


The Navy SEALs have a well-deserved reputation for executing flawless missions in some of the world's hot spots. Those tough enough to survive the rigors of SEAL training come away with superior leadership skills, intense focus, and unbridled determination to succeed. For eight years, Mark Divine was an active duty SEAL before founding a string of multimillion dollar business ventures. In The Way of the SEAL, Divine lays out eight key principles drawn from his military background to help business owners become better leaders. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Divine about what businesspeople can learn from these proficient fighters.


RL: You've described The Way of the SEAL as a self-mastery book for leaders based upon warrior principles embodied by the Navy SEALs. How so?

MD: When times get tough, warriors step into the breach to help solve the intractable problems because they have developed the character where they're not afraid to take risks. They're not afraid to do the right thing, even though it's going to cause some pain to themselves or to others. And they're not afraid of any pushback because they've got skin about a mile thick. The principles that I teach in the book are to develop that type of character. It's nothing new to talk about character-based leadership, but it's new to present it from the context of American's Spartan warriors and from someone who is also a business leader who comes out of that community.


RL: One principle that you teach is about establishing one's set point. How would you define that and how does it apply to business leaders?

MD: The idea of a set point involves developing a deep self-awareness about your own life—what fires you up, what makes you feel purposeful—and then to align your professional life with that passion and purpose. If you can find a way to align your business interest and business style with those things that are radically important in your life, then you will be much more fulfilled. You'll have more power in terms of your productivity and focus, and you'll achieve results so much faster and more meaningfully. It's like saying: in order to know where you want to go in life, you've got to know where you stand right now. Not many people take the time to uncover those passions or that purpose that are going to guide them into the future.


QAMarkDevine_PQ.jpgRL: You're also a strong believer in the power of visualization, of seeing the result you want before you take action. Why?

MD: I was working as a CPA in Manhattan and finishing up my MBA when I decided I wanted to shift and become a Navy SEAL officer. I remembered how powerful visualization was to me as a swimmer at Colgate University. I began to visualize myself as a SEAL and literally began to feel internally as if I was already a SEAL. I did this for almost nine months straight. What happened was, I felt a growing sense of certainty. I call it winning in your mind first before you step foot on the battlefield. You literally see the win so clearly. I'm not talking about once, but about living it and reliving it in your mind's eye over and over again well in advance of you taking the actions necessary to win in the real world.


RL: Clearly communicating the purpose of any military mission is critical. You say it's just as important in business. What are some ways that a small business owner can communicate the company's mission to employees or customers?

MD: First is the KISS method—Keep It Simple, Smarty. A great example is Google's vision of organizing the world's information. It's very easy for their employees, their stakeholders, and their customers to wrap their heads around that. Second, to articulate it in a manner that is very visually stunning—meaning something you can get a picture of right away. To use visual words and action words, like verbs. Google's use of "organize" is an active, powerful moving kind of mental imagery. Your rational mind thinks with words, but your emotions and the rest of your body is moved with imagery. That's why visualization is so powerful.


RL: Another principle you teach refers to bulletproofing your mission. Explain that, especially as it applies to business leaders.

MD: In the business world, we go after the wrong target a lot of the time. It's important to have simple planning tools that get you moving forward fast. So we use these mental models for both rapid planning and rapid feedback: essentially, to take a look at your priorities, the realities of the situation, the options you have, and then selecting the best plan to execute. This process leads to what I call a "fail forward fast" mentality, which leads to great momentum. One reason why SEALs are so successful where others fail is because they're willing to move fast, take risks, learn on the fly, and fail forward fast. Those are the skills that are going to allow business leaders—particularly small business leaders and entrepreneurs—to really crush it in this new business environment.


RL: You also say to think offense all the time and to stack the deck in your favor. What skills do small business owners need for this?

MD: They need what I call the Big Four Skills of Mental Toughness. First, take physiological and psychological control through conscious deep breathing. It greatly reduces stress and allows you to be more present and to make better decisions.


RL: Second?

MD: To see the win, to see yourself achieving, to see yourself as dominating, to see yourself as the type of person who can and will achieve victory. That's a type of visualization I call a "future me" visualization. Instead of me visualizing my goal, I'm also simultaneously visualizing the type of person that I need to be who can operate with agility, move fast, and be a good planner and a good leader.


RL: What are skills three and four?

MD: To always maintain a positive mindset, even when the chips are down and things are set against you. You have to be emotionally resilient and optimistic and always be checking your attitude so that you're in a positive territory and you're positively driving forward, because that's going to attract the right type of people and energy. And lastly, set small goals tied to your target. I call them micro goals. If you chop things up into little bite-size chunks, you keep an awareness of and a momentum towards the overall target—but you execute with your hair on fire toward that micro goal. This allows you to accelerate your momentum because you're knocking down these small goals. Before you know it, you've tackled the big goal. Psychologically, you develop confidence and a forward leaning approach or attitude.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

QAedmaier_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Ed and Fred Maier are a father and son duo that represents the fifth and sixth generations of a Pennsylvania brewing family. The pair recently restarted the bottling business with their Susquehanna Brewing Company. Ed, 63, and Fred, 35, launched the Wilkes-Barre-based startup in June 2012, some 150-plus years after their German ancestor poured his first lager in America and founded Stegmaier, a brewing company that stayed in the family until the 1970s. Writer Erin McDermott recently spoke with the Maiers about the resurgence of U.S. brewing, learning from previous generations’ mistakes, and the secret of working with family.


EMcD: You got out of the distribution side of beer in September 2010. How did you decide to get back into the brewery business?

EM: It actually kind of started in 1998. I had a partner and we were coming to the end of our partnership, and we were ready for sale. Fred was still attending college. To return to brewing at that point, I thought maybe a brewpub was the way to go. Fred and I traveled around New England in the summer of 1998 and went to a dozen or so brewpubs. Our goal was to come back to Wilkes-Barre and use our history and open one of our own. About two weeks after we took that trip, my business partner passed away and that opened up more avenues, including buying up his shares and continuing to sell wholesale. That went on for another 10 years. Wholesaling ended up being extremely profitable. But then Miller and Coors formed a joint venture. The new company—MillerCoors—wanted one wholesaler in every market to sell all their products, and since we were only a Miller distributor that became an opportunity for us to sell. We brought in a few people to bid on us and the price went up and up. Eventually we said “Done.”


EMcD: The last time you were in the brewery business, you were in your early twenties. Is there anything that hasn’t changed since then?

EM: No, the industry has absolutely turned around 180 degrees since then. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, a few national breweries stormed across the country and ate up local and regional breweries like Stegmaier and the rest of them. When we closed Stegmaier in 1974, there were 42 brewing companies left. Today, there are 2,300. Back in the 1970s, if beer came from Milwaukee or St. Louis, it had to be better than if it came from your hometown. As an industry, it seems we’re heading back to where we were in 1900—when there were 2,000 breweries. The American public has just drastically changed. They want flavor, variety, they want local and small, and they don’t want to be advertised to. It’s astonishing. From sitting at the dinner table with my father in the 1960s to now, the business has just completely turned around, and it’s a real opportunity for us small guys to say ‘Hey, I’ve got something to offer.’


QAedmaier_PQ.jpgEMcD: You basically unearthed a family brand that dates back to the 1890s. Were there ancestral documents or some family wisdom that you’ve found yourself tapping into?

EM:  You know, every craft beer has a story and we’re no different. We have roots going back 160 years. Charles Stegmaier came here from Germany in 1857 to brew the first lager in the area. But sometimes we sit here and debate about what good that story has done us. You can go out and do a sampling and people have never heard of you.

FM: For us, it’s dinner-table knowledge. I talk to my dad; he talked to his dad. And when your history is that long, you get to see the mistakes that were made, too. You learn what not to do.

EM: That’s really true. The reason that Stegmaier fell apart goes back to the 1940s, with bad beer. So we are focused here on quality and never taking a chance on anything that isn’t good enough.


EMcD: You launched this business in the heart of the recession. Was there any benefit to launching at that time?

EM: We just hoped that we weren’t crazy to do it in the middle of a recession. We didn’t have the luxury to pick the time. 


EMcD: What’s the secret to working successfully with family?

EM: There has to be a common passion. And there is in this case. If Fred didn’t have the passion for it, I certainly wouldn’t have dragged him into it. I probably would have taken the cash from the sale and just retired. I don’t think I would have enjoyed that, but if I didn’t have a son who wanted to do it, I don’t think I would have said ‘Let’s start this.’

FM: It’s funny, though. In those 10 years when we were wholesalers, I said I worked for him. Now I say I work with him.


EMcD: Fred, for you this is a huge step into running a small business. What’s surprised you so far?

FM: How fast time flies. Before this, I walked into a business that was going for 20 years, and you don’t get to see all of the pains and trials that go into getting it going. It may feel slow at the time, but it just goes by really fast.


EMcD: What are each of you telling the seventh generation? How are they reacting?

FM: My joke with my 7-year-old, Eddie, is that if he studies really hard and goes to school, maybe he can work on the bottling line. And he thinks that’s just great!

EM: I don’t think I ever pushed Fred into the business—probably the opposite. If his kids or his sister’s kids wanted to become doctors or lawyers, I certainly wouldn’t talk them out of it. If Fred ever showed a desire to be something else, I never would have talked him out of it. Small business is really tentative—you never really know, it could be here one year and gone the next. I thought Stegmaier would have been around forever, but it wasn’t.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In my last article, I began looking at how entrepreneurs can best spend their time at the end of the year. What I suggested was that you
take the downtime that comes with the holidays and use it to your advantage. And in this regard, one of the best things you can do is to perform a year in review. Analyze what in your business went right and wrong, and come up with some strategies for how to improve things.


In that previous article, I suggested a number of different areas to review: operations, the competition, sales strategies, marketing techniques, and so on. The value of this sort of analysis is that it gives you a very clear idea of where you have been. Here in Part II, you will use that same information to figure out where you want your business to go.


So where do you want to go? Let’s find out:


Budget: We need to begin with money because that is the bottom line. The problem is that many small business owners don’t like making budgets; they find them intimidating. But what about making a “plan”? Coming up with a plan for your business seems simple enough, doesn’t it? So let’s do that instead. Let’s come up with a financial plan for the year ahead:


  • Make a list of everything you have spent money on in the past six months in your business.
  • Review it, and decide if there are better ways to spend that money.
  • If so, create a new list of what you want to spend it on instead in 2014.


Hey, wait a minute – you just created a yearly budget!


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


Brainstorm: Based on your budget, you will also have a pretty good idea about what your priorities are for the upcoming year should be. But the thing here is to get the buy-in of your team, and in order to do that, you need to include them in the process. Lucky you. As they say, two heads are better than one.


After you hear your team’s ideas, from the brilliant to the bizarre, your job is to then pare them down and figure out which have the best chances of success. Incorporate those into a strategic plan and all of a sudden, you have a blueprint for how to build the next wing of your business.


Use the 80-20 rule:
In my last post, I suggested that you use the 80-20 rule to really hone in on:


  • Who are your best customers?
  • What are your best webpages?
  • What are your best products?,
  • Which services make you the most money?
  • Which 20 percent yield the best results?


This week the trick is to use that same analysis to extrapolate for the upcoming year. You can use the 80-20 rule to figure out how you can best
grow your business. Here’s how: Let’s take the 80-20 rule with regard to your customers as an example. Determine who your top 20 percent customer is. Look at what they have in common and what traits they share. This will help you create a “best customer” template, which can be
used to find other, similar potential 20 percenters.  


Pull Quote.pngDo the same thing with products. Figure out what your best sellers are and double down on those. Which web pages do best? Create similar


Marketing: All of this plotting and planning will do you little good if no one hears about your business. Sure, your current customers know and love you, but the lifecycle of any business has three types of customers at any given moment: Current customers, customers who are leaving, and new customers coming in to replace the departing.


You have to plan for all three. Current customers are taken care of by your customer service. Departing customers are just that. And the way to replenish the stockpile, the way to get new customers, is to market your business, and then market it some more, and then market it some more. So your strategy session needs to address new marketing ideas.


At the end of all of this, what you should have is a plan of action to carry your business forward into the new year. Then, don’t just set it on a shelf and let it gather dust. Keep it close by. Refer to it often. Update it when necessary. It is your roadmap for success.


And here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. Thank you for stopping by, for being a member of our community, and for
reading my articles. You are my valuable 20 percent and I thank you for letting me get to do what I love to do.


If I do my job right, yours just got easier.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.


You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here


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