Ten Business Lessons from Twenty Years in Business

After establishing and running my business now for almost twenty years, I have struggled, observed and made many discoveries. Here are the most important lessons I have learned:

1. Do what you love. Have passion for your vision, no matter how big or small.

Donna Dilley in 1994 2. Have the heart of a servant. If you do not enjoy serving others, there is no reason to own your own business.

3. Be thankful each morning for the opportunity to labor doing something you love. It is a great privilege that many never experience.

4. Surround yourself with a circle of people you trust. Solicit opinions, feedback and bounce ideas around with the individuals in your circle.

5. Be flexible and know that those who aren't will get bent out of shape. In other words, be willing to adapt; adjust procedures, offerings and marketing approaches to correspond with the always changing times.

6. Take care of your physical health. Starting and running a business is a bit like having a baby - all-consuming. Neglecting to carve out a niche for your personal well-being will lead to added stress and burn-out.

7. Avoid negative people that do not value your contributions and who diminish your confidence in your abilities. Running a business is not meant for the faint-hearted and you need all the courage and confidence that you can muster to stick with it.

8. Trust your intuition. When in doubt, don't!

9. Put everything in writing.

10. Be willing to admit your errors and apologize when you are wrong.

Donna Dilley has been a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia since 1994.  You're invited to read more from Donna Dilley on Handshake 2.0.

The Business Etiquette of Holiday Greeting Cards

A post for Handshake 2.0 by Donna Dilley.

Question:  Should business owners include a business card within their holiday greeting cards to business associates?

Answer:  A business holiday greeting card is meant to enhance existing relationships as well as show appreciation to supportive clients. 

Season's Greetings from Handshake 2.0 Rather than enclosing a business card which becomes separated from the holiday greeting card when opened, the sender will create a better impression by having the business name imprinted in the card.  The business name imprinted alone will not suffice.  The card should include the sender's original signature along with a brief, sincere message tailored to the recipient. 

Although sending business holiday greetings is meant to be a goodwill gesture, many etiquette blunders loom with this activity.  Astute business owners know to avoid messages or wording that could potentially offend clients.  Being sensitive to the religious and cultural traditions of recipients is one way of showing respect, appreciation and consideration.  If unfamiliar with a recipient's religious background, stick with generic messages such as "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays."

Avoid using computer-generated labels. Hand address the outside envelope, taking care to use the courtesy title along with the correct spelling of the recipient's name.  If your penmanship skills are lacking, assign or hire someone with impressive handwriting to address the cards for you. Mail the card to the business address of the recipient unless you have been introduced to the spouse or partner of the recipient. 

Purchase cards of a fine quality paper stock and with an image suitable to your business or company.  Use a first class holiday postage stamp rather than a postage meter strip or a regular stamp.  Mail the cards in a timely manner and avoid the holiday "e-mail" card trend.  

These links may prove of further interest:

The 8 Rules of Business Greeting Card Etiquette
Holiday Greeting Card Etiquette
Greeting Card Etiquette

Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

Roanoke, Virginia – The Star City of the South

Where can you find a world class art museum, a museum of transportation and the oldest continually operated farmer's market in the Commonwealth of Virginia all within walking distance of one another? The answer: Downtown Roanoke, Virginia.

Roanoke is nicknamed the "Star City or the South" for the city's most visible attraction, a 100-foot-high illuminated steel star, a beacon at the top of Mill Mountain for over 40 years.  Please click the image for a larger view of the gorgeous photo by Dan Smith, editor of Valley Business FRONT

Mill Mountain Star, Roanoke, Virginia photo by Dan Smith The Valley continues to shine brightly as reflected in the 2010 lists below.

From Blue Ridge Outdoors, January 2010…

Best Urban Park, Carvins Cove Reserve, Roanoke, VA

Best Outdoor Festival, Floyd Fest

Favorite Section of the Appalachian Trail, Dragons Tooth, Catawba, VA

Favorite Section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter

And from…

Kiplinger’s Best Cities 167 out of 367, May 2010

National Association of Counties, Top Digital Counties

Forbes.com, Best Cities for Business and Careers #39; April 2010

Roanoke's Forbes.com ranking comes as no surprise considering that nearly 90,000 undergraduate students are studying at 21 institutions of higher education.  That's more undergrads per capita than the San Francisco bay area, the Research Triangle, and the Boston-Cambridge area.

The Roanoke Valley is a scenic jewel in the southern Appalachian mountains and attracts all types of outdoor enthusiasts. The Appalachian Trail and America's favorite byway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, provide breathtaking views on foot or by car. In 2010, the region premiered the Blue Ridge Parkway Marathon for extreme athletes with over 900 participants.

The neighboring City of Salem is called Virginia's Championship City for the NCAA championship events that it hosts and is also home to the minor league baseball team, the Salem Red Sox.

Cultural arts enthusiasts, retirees, medical researchers and entrepreneurs alike call the Roanoke Valley home. With an average commute of just 20 minutes, this metro area is one that richly deserves its star.


Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

MEDCottage: A Revolution in Caring

Donna Dilley shares a handshake with Kenneth Dupin, founder of the MEDCottageWith the fervor of an evangelist, a revolution in caring for loved ones was introduced by Kenneth Dupin, CEO of N2Care at the Roanoke Civic Center, Roanoke, Virginia, on July 19, 2010.  Dupin unveiled the MEDCottage, a portable, modular, high-tech medical home designed to make it possible for families to take care of loved ones on their property as an alternative to long-term care facilities.

Inspiration for the MEDCottage came to Dupin from observing families across the globe caring for the aged in their own homes. Costing $2000.00 per month to lease, the MEDCottage could be a real solution to lower U.S. health care costs and bring families closer together.

"This is the house that sacrifice built," Dupin said.  Many local Virginians contributed to the N2Care vision becoming a reality, according to Dupin, as he had no money to bring his concept to fruition. Dupin credits the Virginia Tech College of Engineering for their ingenuity and innovation with many of the smart technologies that the cottage possesses. He credits Cardinal Manufacturing for construction of the prototype and the work of local Virginia Assembly Delegate Morgan Griffith for the political effort that it took to pass HB 1307 "Zoning Provisions for Temporary Family Healthcare Structures" into law. The MedCottage is designed to comply with local zoning ordinances throughout the nation.

While the budding venture has positive supporters, naysayers are around. Fairfax county supervisor, Jeff McKay unaffectionately called the MedCottage "the granny pod" in a recent article in the Washington Post. But according to a poll of readers of the Washington Post, seventy percent of the readers would buy or lease the MEDCottage. That's great news as angel investors are needed to provide 3 to 5 million dollars to bring the MEDCottage to market.

MEDCottage shared its invitation to the prototype unveiling on Handshake 2.0.  You're invited to view photos of the MEDCottage unveiling by Donna Dilley on Handshake 2.0's Facebook page.

Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

N2Care is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.

SNAP to It and Read This Helpful Book Before Your Competitors Do

Jill Konrath's latest book, SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today's Frazzled Customers, is an indispensable resource that instructs readers on how to be successful with today's "frazzled" decision makers.  Packed full of straightforward and simple concepts, this timely and relevant book provides superior sales advice helping to shorten the sales cycle.

Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling The title is based upon the acronym SNAP which reminds us that our interactions with our prospects need to be Simple, iNvaluable, Aligned and Prioritized.  

  • Simple, as we have a vital role to play in helping our prospects deal with the complexities that surround the decision-making process 
  • iNvaluable, due to a fast-paced world where it’s difficult for prospects to differentiate vendor offerings 
  • Aligned, because we should remain focused on the things that really matter to our prospects, and 
  • Prioritized, because if we’re not dealing with issues that are urgent, we’re irrelevant to our prospect.  

The four factors listed above are important throughout three key phases of the prospect's decision-making process.  Konrath describes the three phases as follows:

  1. The first decision is to allow us access, during which our prospect moves from oblivious (no interest in connecting) to curious (agreeing to a conversation).
  2. The second decision is to initiate change,  helping the prospect move from complacent (will listen to ideas) to committed (they have concluded that the status quo is unacceptable).
  3. The third decision is to select resources, which will help our prospect move from open (they are considering their options) to certain (they have made their choice).  

Konrath's concluding advice is to "realize that you are the biggest differentiator of all.  Become an expert. Know your customer's business and marketplace trends as well as they do.  Constantly be thinking about how to help customers reach their goals.  Competitors can create copycat products and services overnight, but no one can replicate you and your brain.  Your ability to provide a continuous stream of fresh ideas, insights and information to corporate buyers will make you irresistible, invaluable, and ultimately, indispensable."

Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

Handshake 2.0 thanks Nick Owen of Portfolio / Penguin for the gift of a review copy of Snap Selling.

Business Gems Found in Black and White Strike Gold

Black and White Strike Gold is a mine overflowing with solid business advice from Sandi Webster and Peggy McHale. After being laid off from American Express in the aftermath of September 11, Webster and McHale, racially-mixed female business partners, launched Consultants 2 Go, a multi-million dollar consulting firm providing marketing and professional services to Fortune 500 and mid-size companies.

Black and White Strike Gold by Sandi Webster and Peggy McHale While these two budding entrepreneurs were building their company, they had the keen foresight to keep track of their mistakes and triumphs. They share these nuggets of wisdom with engaging voices so that those wishing to expand their businesses or launch new ones can do so without suffering the boredom that typically comes with reading a traditional book on business management and marketing.
A top ten list of nuggets (selected from a list of 51)  for every business owner and potential entrepreneur from Black and White Strike Gold are shared below:

  1. Follow your passion! Create a business that you enjoy.
  2. Choose partners wisely. A partner with a different skill set will enrich your business and personal life.
  3. Be nice to people. Choosing to treat all people with dignity and respect will come back to you.
  4. Beware of naysayers. Avoid negative people who are not supportive of your business.
  5. Put it in writing! Have a written contract for everything you do, regardless of the size.
  6. Have a board of trusted advisors, one of which should be a CPA and one of which should be an attorney.
  7. Hire slow, fire fast.
  8. PR is mandatory!
  9. Harness the power of social media. Have an open mind to this way of marketing.
  10. The only constant is change. Be able to embrace change in order to move forward.


Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.


Handshake 2.0 thanks Wendy Roberts of Orca Communications for the gift of a review copy of Black and White Strike Gold.

When Does the Woman Pick Up the Tab?

More than 10 million women own businesses in the United States.  According to a study from the Center for Women's Business Research, women business owners contribute nearly $3 trillion to the U.S. national economy and create or maintain 23 million jobs.

With those kinds of numbers, many more women are hosting clients for business meals.

Handshake 2.0 asked business etiquette expert Donna Dilley:

"When a businesswoman asks a businessman to a restaurant to discuss business, who pays?"

Donna Dilley kindly replied:

At a business meal, who picks up the tab? The woman should expect to pick up the tab if she initiates the invitation to a business meal.  By communicating her intent to pay to her guest she will avoid confusion or argument at the end of the meal.  To prevent further discussion, she may also advise the restaurant of her intent to pick up the tab when making the reservation and give the host or maître d' a credit card in advance. Communication with restaurant staff  prior to the meal about handling the tab demonstrates attention to detail and eliminates any awkwardness for the guest.

To dine with ease, women can familiarize themselves with the technical aspects of proper table etiquette when hosting a guest for a business meal. Some of the most common dining blunders that business women commit are:

  • Leaving a lipstick trail on stemware and flatware.  Use a tissue to blot before a meal.
  • Touching or fiddling with hair frequently during the meal.  This gesture indicates nervousness and/or insecurity.
  • Placing a purse or briefcase on the table during or after the meal.
  • Leaving a cell phone, PDA or other electronic device on during a business meal.
  • Re-applying lipstick, make-up or other personal grooming at the table.

A business woman is equally able to invite and pay for a guest's meal as is a businessman.  Whoever asks pays, man or woman.  A business woman shares this mutual power and responsibility with men.


Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

A Wonderful Handshake

I see friends shaking hands, saying, "How do you do?"  They're really saying, "I love you."
– Louis Armstrong, "What a Wonderful World"

The purpose of a handshake is to convey trust, and to connect and share our common humanity with one another.

Reports of Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband's recent handshake at an affair at Buckingham Palace made the headlines.  In some settings, various styles of handshakes may be appropriate but in traditional business and formal settings, a proper business handshake is a formality not to be neglected. The handshake has existed since before recorded history and has been observed as a form of greeting in primates other than humans such as chimpanzees.

From the bone-crusher to the dead-fish, the business handshake may tell volumes about the character of an individual.  To avoid handshake blunders, important factors to consider are business rank as well as proper body posturing.

Suggestions for an effective business handshake:

During an initial introduction, a handshake should always be performed standing, accompanied by eye contact, a smile and speaking the individual's name.   In an office setting, the individual initiating a handshake should come out from behind his or her desk so nothing is between the two greeting one another.   In a confined setting where it is impossible to stand,  the gesture of rising should be accompanied with the handshake.  

According to current estimates, more than 48 million Americans suffer from arthritis,  4 to 10 million from carpal tunnel syndrome, and 250,000 from spinal cord injuries and other medical conditions – all of which may hinder handshaking ability.    While it may be easy to assume an individual in a wheelchair may have a disability with shaking hands, others with arthritis, fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome may not be so apparent.  

Considering these factors may make your handshake – or lack of one, replaced with a respectful nod or short bow  – a newsworthy, wonderful greeting.


Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

Slang at Work Doesn’t Work

Play nice with words at work An old Chinese proverb states that good words are like a string of pearls. Using slang and profanity in spoken and written communications can unintentionally create an emotionally charged atmosphere for colleagues and clients. 

In the United Kingdom, the elevating problem of slang in speech is beginning to be addressed within the school system.  Educators realized that the inability to speak articulately was disadvantageous to students as they transitioned from the classroom to the world of work.  When slang was banned from one school in Manchester, according to the BBC, exam results soared as a consequence. 

With the everyday use of slang in all media outlets and popular music, many may be desensitized to the offensiveness of their language to others.  While words do have the power to edify and promote an atmosphere of civility, they also have the power to destroy and demoralize. A few common slang phrases that might offend or be misinterpreted are:

  • "That sucks."
  • "She/he is so lame."
  • "This is so sick."
  • "He's such a brown-noser."
  • "That's so hot!"

According to a recent Reuters report, the list is long of jargon that commonly annoys workers.

Many people erroneously think that their profanity or usage of slang is not problematic.  While it may be rare for someone to publicly criticize another for bad language, this is not a sign of acceptance.  Word usage chosen by an individual creates an impression and neither slang nor profanities contribute to a positive one. 

Our world is one that thrives on negative news.  Our language has the ability to transcend the negativity that abounds.  Words matter.  We can use them carefully and thoughtfully for the benefit of others from all backgrounds and perspectives.


Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.