Of work and gardens: How to survive and thrive in any weather

Many may not know that when I’m not at a keyboard I’m outside growing a mountain of organic food every year. When I’m not helping people with their online marketing stuff, for a big part of the year I can be found in my 30′ x 40′ patch out back, monkeying with the tomatoes and garlic and kale and pumpkins.

We have a very short growing season here at 7300 feet elevation — about 3 months in between frosts, to be precise — and so I relish every minute I get to spend out there eating snow peas fresh from the dewy vines.

From the too-hot of August, I can look back at winter with a clear head. Though I wrote the following from the deep freeze of January, I can still feel it just as strongly now.

January 16:

When you’re a gardener in northern climates, January stinks. The ground is frozen solid, with not a speck of green to be seen anywhere. I stood out there this morning, steaming mug of coffee in hand, and indulged myself in a little melancholy. What kind of person willingly does this to herself? Who grows things in a place where 3/4 of the year is spent wishing for the other fourth? Suffering hail storms and freak cold snaps and squirrels just to have the perfect Caprese Salad?

Being burdened with a brain that whips out analogies without provocation, that long-suffering person is not much different than the folks I serve with my work.

They struggle to get the word out about the wonderful work they’re doing in the world, using a medium that can be challenging at best, exasperating at its worst. They try websites, email campaigns, free giveaways, social media, YouTube videos. They write blogs so people will get to know them; they suffer through Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm that seems stacked against their posts ever being seen. They try to please Google, just to have Google change its mind every quarter about what ought to rank in its top ten. Some days, despite all the TLC in the world, their efforts seem to bear only a scrawny carrot and an undernourished bean or two.

Here are five things I’ve learned from growing food in an unpredictable place:

Give your efforts the best chance for success.

I’ve been accused of being an over-preparer. When I want something to grow, I give it deep, loose, fertile soil – sometimes two feet deep – so that it has every opportunity to grow up strong. Deep healthy roots mean a resilient plant that in turn produces delicious things for you. In the same way, investing a lot of love and time and thought into your new efforts to market yourself gives those efforts deep roots that are far-reaching, able to withstand drought and disaster.

Yeah but, you’ll say, I do put a ton of time into what I offer.

I know you do. But it goes even deeper than that. Identifying who you’re speaking to, and what they need the most, then creating something that solves a known need — this is the path to fine relationships and a fine harvest. What you offer might be incredibly soulful and beautiful and the work you were meant to do. And you should do it. But if you need to involve other people in it, or make money offering it, you have to find a way for it to be relevant to something your people are feeling acutely and specifically right now.

Sometimes you just have to trust.

Each year I grow at least three kinds of potatoes. In between spring planting and the time when I turn over the soil and find bucket of spuds underneath, I have to trust that something’s happening under there. I do the best I can to get the green plants above ground healthy, but if I go digging around twice a week to find proof that it’s paying off, I’m just wasting time.

There’s an element of trust at work in both soil and business. I can’t force it. I just have to do my best, build all the relationships I can, and trust that the payoff is coming. There is no sense panicking because you don’t see 1000 hits on your website in its first week. Things can take time to grow, to attract links and friends, and percolate through your audience. Much can be happening underground and you just can’t see it yet. Keep sharing your work and your thoughts, keep connecting with people, and it will pay off.

Remember that everything goes in cycles.

Underneath the frozen earth of one patch, I have a year’s worth of garlic for my kitchen. It was planted in the fall and will be harvested next summer. This is not its time to be green. Right now, down deep, it is slowly growing, feeling out its environment, sending out roots before shoots. It knows its proper time. I am compelled to write a book this year, but it is not time to sit down and knock out chapters yet. My coach friend wants to offer an innovative flavor of coaching, but first, she’s working with a few test clients to see if it actually benefits them. I have several clients who want a website, and are immersed in the work of gathering what they want to say and offer before rushing into that next step. Be aware of the different seasons of your work — which phase of it is best for the energy and resources you have right now?

The right tools are critical.

There’s a business owner locally who can pinch a penny until Lincoln says “ouch.” He looks for the absolute cheapest in everything, regardless of whether it will serve him best beyond next month. The place he hosts his website is free, but severely limits what he can do with his site, and it’s hard to find on the Web. He uses the cheapest printer, and the substandard materials his clients see affects how they think about him. The email provider he uses won’t send out his blog posts to subscribers automatically, so he ends up writing them twice. And so forth.

I have a shovel I purchased 22 years ago, hand-forged in England, heavy steel with a sturdy ash handle. It is still the shovel I use every day. It cost me $70.00 in 1993. If I had purchased the cheapest tool for the job, not only would I have likely had to replace it every year ($14 x 22 years) but I would have suffered the frustration of having the thing break at a bad time, or not be able to do what I needed to do.

We always advise folks to invest in the right tools and services that will move you forward, right from the beginning. Note that I don’t mean the most expensive — just the ones that truly serve your needs, and create space for you to do your best work.

Stay aware of whatever’s out there that will help free time, money, and brain damage for the work you love.

I have a tiny tool in my toolbox that looks like a horse syringe: a clear tube with a red plunger at one end, a little hole at the other. It has one job. You fill it with the teensy-weensy seeds like carrots and lettuce, ones that are so tiny it’s impossible to just plant one at a time with clumsy bare fingers. Without it, I wouldn’t die, but I would waste seeds, waste time, and spend hours later thinning the seedlings that come up in clumps, a process that always traumatizes the survivors. A $3 gadget saves time and ensures a better harvest.

There are new tools and services out there that can take the stress and adversity out of a small business owner’s life. The ones you use are 100% dependent on what you need. They might include things like

Time Etc., a virtual assistant service that offers thousands of talented potential helpers to time-stressed people for less than $30/hour….perfect when you’re trying to research the best email service, flight to Brussels, nontoxic office supplies, etc.

Taskrabbit.com is an in-person version, vetted/insured somebodies who can do things like shop for your groceries so you don’t have to live on Big Macs when you bump through an 80-hour work week.

Fiverr.com helps with tiny but important tasks, the kind that would take you hours but will take them fifteen minutes (ahem, for $10).

Postmates gets your package across town in an hour.

(I wrote about Privacy Badger, Boomerang, Acuity Scheduling, Zoom, Loom and FB Purity in this post recently – lifesavers.)

There are new and different tools every day that make life easier, free your time, or get things done that have been languishing. For most, you can give them a try with little or no investment. Seek them out; it will save time for the things that matter more to you.

Whether you are cultivating buyers for your book or roses next to your porch, may your harvest be astonishing this year.

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