Ditch The Brochure. 21 years ago, I created a glossy brochure loaded with quotes, photos, and folds. I printed a thousand copies and within months it became obsolete because of the World Wide Web. Online, the world is your oyster because you can add or delete anything at lightning speed. Even though I’m not a Millennial, I am well suited for the digital age. I love research, and as a writer it’s something that I do often. Plus, when I make spelling mistakes, I can look up a word and paste it right into a document. We live in an information age, which means our digital DNA is here to stay, but so are our endless learning opportunities. It’s mind blowing to think that I grew up with Encyclopedia Britannica where I had only one paragraph of information to research per topic
As part of my series called “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Mirza Grotts, The Golden Rules Gal, a warm and no-nonsense etiquette expert on the thorny subject of manners. Lisa dispenses pearls of wisdom to help her readers and clients deal with tricky business, social, and political situations by always putting their best foot forward. Lisa has been prominently featured in a wide range of media, including Fox News, NBC, The Today Show, BBC News, and KCBS Radio, serving as an on-air contributor and offering commentary on social graces and etiquette.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I didn’t choose this career, it chose me. As the former Director of Protocol for San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., it was my job to organize international trade missions and to provide a wide range of protocol services for the city such as red carpet ceremonies for dignitaries, including His Holiness The Dalai Lama, President Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Ambassador Pamela Harriman, and Pio Cardinal Laghi to name a few. During that time, we saw a boom in technology in California and I felt the time was right to break off on my own and focus on this demographic. After I became a Certified Etiquette Expert at a protocol school in Washington D.C., I knew that my talent would be to communicate with large groups of people to help them advance themselves and their businesses. To end up being an authority on etiquette is exciting because the subject matter is dynamic and always evolving. With Covid-19, the rules of behavior have dramatically changed the paradigm of how we act and communicate.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your company?
Covering both royal weddings and The Pandemic of 2020. Royal Weddings: As an anglophile and a member of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot in England, it was an honor to cover the British royal weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry for a San Francisco newspaper. In 2019, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth bestowed upon me membership in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, a British order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1888.
The Pandemic of2020: We fell asleep in one world and woke up in another. My first thought on March 12th was the following: the dry cleaners misplaced my favorite red dress, and I was upset, but a global pandemic…no problem…I’ve got this! It’s as though the stars aligned and everything I had worked for led me to this point. I’m energized to be a part of an emerging set of rules as they take root and as we adapt to constant change. What’s clear to me is this: the basic premise for good behavior is even more important: treat others the way you want to be treated, think before you act or speak, and be kind so you don’t have to rewind.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Christian Assyrian grandparents. They emigrated to the United States from the Middle East in 1958 and made heart-wrenching sacrifices so that my father and his siblings would enjoy success in life. Their story of hard work and dedication is the American Dream come true, and I would not be standing in my shoes without them. Looking back, my work in etiquette is foundational. With a colorful parade of family members, my life has been a series of fairy tales. I have been soaking up every tale like a sponge, and their encouragement has helped me to fulfill my potential. Someone else’s fantasy has been my real life!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be nice to people on the way up because you might need them on the way down.” It puzzles me when people don’t think before they speak. What you say and how you say it speaks volumes. Online, every word will live in infamy. For example, I recently re-hired my former publicity agency, Cross Marketing PR. They launched my travel etiquette book, A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette, and secured my position with Huffington Postas a manners blogger. We are working together once again — a perfect example of how you never want to sever ties with anyone.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the main point that your company is helping to address?
My consultancy, LisaGrotts.com, was formed in 1998 to conduct training in the areas of business, social etiquette, and entertaining. My clients were given instruction in how to “outclass their competition and make them more competitive in business and social arenas.” When it comes to etiquette, my mantra has always been that “Good Manners Are Good Business.” Diplomacy isn’t just for diplomats — it’s a must for success in life. As a Certified Etiquette Professional and a member of the International Society of Protocol and Etiquette Professionals, I wrote A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette in2009, and now serve as an on-air contributor to television, radio, and print media.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My approach to etiquette is different from my competition. To sum it up, I’m more Dear Abby than Miss Manners. I come from a place of compassion, and my delivery is relatable because I can relate to others. Is it important to know how to use a salad fork and a fish fork? You bet, but in the end how we treat others is at the core of our values. When our behavior comes from that level of kindness and respect, it can be very powerful and transformative.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
Survival, which quickly turned to ambition. I had no idea where my 5,000 dollars investment would lead me, but it’s been a 21 year adventure. As an example, I had a client who hired me to help train his sales team in business etiquette and protocol to help grow his business. At networking events the team was not engaging potential clients. Instead, they would stand around and talk to one another. I gave them tips on how to network and use social events as an opportunity to make new business contacts. Such as, the importance of a business introduction; do your research about the people who will be attending; define the objective of the event; make a game plan to meet five new people; always make good eye contact with a firm handshake; wear name tags that are visible; and circulate without getting caught up in talking to just one person. On my grandfather’s 90th birthday he told me to do what I love, and that the money would follow. He was right: the hard work paid off and my successful business is now a way of life.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
In my youth, I was bound by my first set of courteous rules: Please, May I, Thank You, I’m Sorry. Today, social behavior is even more important because there is less interpersonal communication. We can never put a price on our value system — that is my legacy. My family is my anchor, my very own Joy Luck Club, connecting my past to my future. When I give advice, it’s often the story of who I am, built on my own family values.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I recently read a quote that said, “Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.” I woke up one day last December and realized that it was time to rebrand my message. Within my field of competitors, I want to make sure that my brand is what others rely on for their advice. We live in a fast paced world that loves shortcuts. With Covid, how we communicate requires excess patience and flexibility. We have entered a new movement in manners, and I am here to help uncover and redefine etiquette as a teacher and storyteller. My aim is high: to give others the tools they need to make informed and instinctive decisions.
In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share stories or examples?
I was fortunate to have had the support of the mayor’s office behind me, and Silicon Valley was in our rearview mirror. As for the attraction, I wouldn’t say that I was attracting the right client, but that the right client was attracted to me. The people who needed my help found me.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible experience and service?
Follow your intuition and the right choice will follow. Heed the advice of others. Collaboration is key. Slow down and enjoy the protocol training. It’s ok to be curious and to ask questions. Always check your facts. We get when we give. Knowledge is power. When you’re nice to people they’re nice back. Never assume anything. Be a resource for others. Good manners don’t cost a dime, but bad ones can be very costly. Never put anything in writing that you don’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business?” Please share a story or an example for each…
Take Three Steps Back Before Moving Forward. Starting a new business requires determination, patience, and tenacity. For someone like me who has a brain like a pinball machine, it wasn’t easy. As an Aquarius, I’m a future thinking person, always in forward motion. What I came to realize is that whenever I stopped to smell the roses by taking just one small step backwards, it gave me the peace of mind to move forward without feeling overwhelmed. Tackling one task at a time has allowed me to be more productive without putting off the difficult tasks first.
Ditch The Brochure. 21 years ago, I created a glossy brochure loaded with quotes, photos, and folds. I printed a thousand copies and within months it became obsolete because of the World Wide Web. Online, the world is your oyster because you can add or delete anything at lightning speed. Even though I’m not a Millennial, I am well suited for the digital age. I love research, and as a writer it’s something that I do often. Plus, when I make spelling mistakes, I can look up a word and paste it right into a document. We live in an information age, which means our digital DNA is here to stay, but so are our endless learning opportunities. It’s mind blowing to think that I grew up with Encyclopedia Britannica where I had only one paragraph of information to research per topic.
Simplify. Because I’m dyslexic, I love structure. I’ve never considered it a disability because I know I have additional abilities that others don’t. However, it’s taken me years to realize that life is a whole lot easier when I simplify things. For example, when I have a busy day and my desk gets cluttered, I clean it up in one neat pile to trick my brain into thinking otherwise. Simplification has transformed the way I live my life and has allowed me to accomplish more than I ever dreamed possible.
Collaborate. Two is always better than one for different strengths and skill sets. In hindsight, a collaboration would have been ideal to help grow my business. Never be afraid to surround yourself with smart people, and always give them the freedom to showcase their talents.
Time is your friend, speed your enemy. I still recall this line from my friend’s father, a small business owner who offered up sage advice. When I think back to all that I have accomplished, it didn’t happen overnight. It required 24/7 hard work that didn’t stop on Friday afternoon. When there were setbacks, each one offered a new opportunity to learn something new. As we live through the Lunar New Year of the Ox, it will require even more hard work. Oxen are hardworking and honest, low-key, and never look for praise. Even though they often hide their talents, they will gain recognition for their hard work. It’s a perfect metaphor as to how we should mirror our own lives.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My pearls of wisdom are: Compassion, Consideration and Civility. Compassion to show concern for others; Consideration to be kind and thoughtful; and Civility to be courteous and polite. When we connect on these levels, that is the definition of good behavior. Let’s start that movement.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-).
His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. I am intrigued by the following that religious leaders attract, especially His Holiness. He recently tweeted the following: “Compassion is the basis of our survival, not just a religious matter. Our very life depends on the affection of others, so it’s in our interest to take their concerns into account. We must think more about inner values and cultivate compassion in our own lives.” These simple words of wisdom resonate with me and my etiquette teachings. The golden rule is about helping ourselves and our neighbors. In other words, it’s responsible to wear masks and get a Covid vaccine not only for us but also our neighbor. The way that each of us face life’s challenges says a great deal about us. The compassion that I feel in my heart urges me to do everything I can to make a positive difference in this world. As an etiquette expert, I take my work very seriously because I’m influencing human beings. My brand is good behavior. Good manners are not just knowing how to fold a napkin. They should also exhibit a concern for others. Every person we meet reflects something back at us, and how we mirror that reflection speaks volumes. You can have everything in the world, but what matters most is your behavior and how you treat people. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” — The Dalai Lama.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!