Your ideal week: What does it look like?

What does your ideal week look like?  What are its elements, and how much of each?

It seems like a pie-in-the-sky thing, I know. But I began taking it seriously a few years ago when I found myself getting to the end of every week feeling vaguely disappointed with myself and what I’d been able to accomplish with my waking minutes. The lookback at the end of the week was pretty dismal.

I might have been able to push through dozens of hours of work, but my garden had weeds and my eating habits had gone to hell sans handbasket. Or I might have been able to brave networking events, but had to work into the weekend to catch up on paperwork or writing. Or maybe I’d been able to publish something I was proud of, but my clients felt ignored and neglected by my absence into my writing cave.

The end result of several consecutive weeks of that was a mental inertia, a low mood, a self-judgment that made everything feel heavy and pointless.

In desperation, I revisited author Barbara Sher’s “ideal day” exercise one night, staying up late with my journal to envision what I wanted a typical week of work/life to look like. With nothing to lose, I scratched out a map of an ideal week, from eyes open Monday to eyes closed Sunday, trying on different ways of allocating time for things like writing/creativity, service, running my business, self-care, and having a household. It felt great. I could do this!

And then I put it away until the next time I was in the same crisis.

Repeat.  Repeat.

Finally, I learned (from several teachers, in fact) that it wasn’t enough to daydream about it. I needed to bring it to life by calendaring it and protecting it, with the same fierceness with which I defend other peoples’ needs and desires.

These are the kinds of things that landed in my calendar, and which are still there to this day:

  • Staying in contact with the people who matter to me, usually via email or phone
  • Good daily habits like food, rest, hydration, and movement (I’m not kidding – I have an imposing gray block mid-day that says REST. NOW.)
  • Dedicated time for writing & joyful creation around my work
  • Meetings and trainings and working with my clients
  • Time out in the light, usually working out in the food garden in the summer or walking in the woods in the winter (helps with sleep as well)
  • Evening hours to eat well, prep food for the next day, and give a little TLC to my home
  • Weekend time over coffee to map out the coming week in a relaxed and positive frame of mind

…You get the idea, right? My weekly calendar has these things slotted in—as non-negotiables. For example, if a friend calls and asks me to go for lunch, I don’t just see “no meetings” on my calendar and whiz off for a reuben. I have to look at my calendar and honor not only prior commitments to clients, but also honor any commitments to my current self and my future self.

Recently, Laurence McCahill of the The Happy Startup School in the UK posted this regarding his own:

Myself and my co-founder Carlos have a high-level catch up every Monday morning face-to-face to help us get in sync and plan ahead (inspired by the Rocket Fuel book)

I have calls and meetings on set days and only in the afternoons (Calendly is a lifesaver for this)

I typically coach people on Fridays, where possible outdoors (if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s not to struggle alone)

I work at home on Thursdays and use this as thinking and writing time (my goal is to write a book this year)

I make time for walking my dog, pilates and swimming as these things makes me feel good and help to prevent recurring back pain (long story)

Family always comes first so I prioritise time and activities with my kids (as Steve Blank says in this timeless post “your kids are only passing through. It will seem like forever but it will be gone in a blink of an eye”)

I deliberately make room for serendipity, particularly activities that include greenery, campfires and coffee 🙂

For many, this can seem indulgent or even selfish, but from my experience you’ll be of no use to anyone if you aren’t showing up as your best self.

What’s your ideal week?

And how can you shape it and protect it…with the same tenderness and fierceness you would use to protect other people you care about?

 

 

To gain traction with your business, develop a listening rhythm

I’m often contacted by lovely people who are worried. Their small business isn’t taking off the way they’d hoped. They’ve listened to all the business gurus’ podcasts, they’ve “followed their bliss” in creating their business, they’ve taken all the right 30 day challenges and ‘free’ webinars, and still, they can’t seem to get enough clients. (Or, sometimes, any.)

My very first client came to me as a bit of good luck: She knew of me through my former employer, and at that time there were very few people who knew how to make websites.

My second, third, and fourth clients found me in sequence solely on word of mouth: “You’ve got to meet this woman.” I had what was—at the time—an unusual way of working with people. My process was to sit down with them, either in person or by phone, and let them talk about their dreams for their work, and scribble notes furiously.

Here’s what I generally observed as common to them all:

They really believed in what they were doing, and wanted good people everywhere to know about it.

They often were besieged with self-doubts but were pulling together all their courage to get through it.

They were afraid of the technology but willing to walk its path with the right someone…someone who “got” them and wouldn’t steer them wrong.

There was no magic there. I just listened. I didn’t “listen to respond,” no matter how sure I was about what they needed. I did ask some encouraging questions about what they were hoping to create, but then I let them do most of the talking. I sat on my end of the phone with a pencil and listened, putting people at ease, just by being usual my kind, funny self.

So many folks are moving into self-employment without that vital piece of the puzzle. They speak, they offer, they assume, they try to ‘solve,’ but they often don’t make opportunities to truly listen to their people. After all, if some superguru says this is what people need, then it’s GOT to be safe for us to build an entire business around it, right? The perfect offerings, “charging what we’re worth,” and clients will simply load up our schedulers to bursting. Then we’ll be successful, build that McMansion, and all will live happily ever after.

When that doesn’t happen right away, they will turn to more webinars, podcasts, incubators, worksheets, accelerators, trying to figure out what they did wrong, seeking the magic potion everyone seems to have.

One elusive magic potion to try is asking, listening, scribing the desires of the people you most want to work with. What’s missing in their world? What might help them create a new story for themselves? What are they comfortable paying for this help, and in what forms are they most comfortable accepting it? (such as a book, class, 1-to-1 session, retreat)

Building “listening structures” into every aspect of your business is critical to growth, no matter what size business we are, but especially solo practitioners like us.

So here are some opportunities—useful whether you’re just starting or have been at this for a while—to invite a conversation, listen deeply, and craft your business offerings accordingly:

1) Don’t assume you know what people need. Ask questions.

This seems so simple, right? But I’ve been shocked at how often it’s overlooked. It seems to be part of the bravado of mainstream marketing that we aren’t encouraged to simply ask, “I would love to help more people just like you…I want to create (less of/more of) (something) in the world. What kinds of things would help you the most?” Find your ideal people and ask it on Facebook, ask it in groups, ask it in local gatherings, ask it in your website’s contact page, ask it in your newsletter.

2) Stop talking until you listen.

The business heads are all about talking: Be bold! Tell people what you offer, over and over. Tell THEM what they need (if it’s you). Create offerings at one high price point, and tell them why you’re worth it. Set up a sales funnel so you can keep talking into their email until they buy. We’ve all seen it. If these are the marketing strategies you want to use, it’s not for me to criticize. But if you inform this process by asking, listening, and personally connecting with your ideal people first, you’ll be far more likely to attract people who will be loyal to you for a long time, rather than the ones who simply have a kneejerk reaction to your razor-sharp sales pitch.

3) Ask for thoughtful feedback every time you work with someone.

The key here is to create a safe space and extract a promise they’ll be 100% candid. (Hint: Email will get more response from introverts and sensitive people) What worked well? What would’ve been more helpful? Are they closer to where they wanted to be? Were they comfortable with the investment? If I were to offer X, Y, or Z as well, would that be interesting? Ask, without pressure, in a way that’s comfortable for them.

4) Be the one who cares more.

One of the very first things I do when I sit down at my desk in the morning is write a note to someone I’ve worked with (or done a free consult with), checking in on their progress, life, happiness. Note that this comes WITHOUT a sales pitch in my heart…I find that if people are interested, they will ask or go peek at my website to see for themselves. It’s part of the cycle of my business:

I care a lot about the people who choose to work with me…they matter to me, as flesh-and-blood individual humans, not as conversions.
I tell them that, and show them that.
They know there’s someone in the world who’s beaming personal, positive thoughts at them.
As a result, they’re more likely to think of me the next time they want guidance or help.

Data and products and marketing messages are plentiful these days; genuine, non-automated caring is still quite rare.

Be the one who cares.

5) Do everything–everything–from a place of love.

Yes, I do use “the ‘L’ Word” in business, and I am unafraid. When I connect with people, I do so because I love the possibility that I’m making something better, for a person or for the world. I love people who want to grow themselves. I love people who are self-aware. I love people who work for themselves and create something new and needed.

Your ‘loves’ might be different: You might love people who want to surround themselves with beauty. Or those who are struggling to make themselves better people. Or those who are trying to make relationships joyful again.

Whatever you love, place that at the center of everything you do, from accounting to promotion to service/product creation. Put a photo of them up in your office if you need a reminder of WHY you’re learning about Facebook ads, or doing your taxes, or writing an email newsletter.

6) Put daily listening activities on your calendar or reminder system

Nothing happens if you don’t make it a priority. Schedule a block of time in each day for listening, even if it’s just 15-30 minutes. Use it to write to an individual, ask for an honest review or testimonial, or survey your mailing list and ask what they’d just love to be offered.

 


 

If you are not open to breaking out of the popular sales-funnel wisdom of talk, sell, pursue, you may still succeed in business, just by virtue of the numbers game. People do all the time, and it’s just fine.

But if you want to grow a strong following of people who are loyal to you, who keep tabs on what you offer, and who want you to succeed, it’s a worthwhile experiment to build ways to listen into your day-to-day worklife.

Try it today. Pick one person—someone in your daily life, someone who’s shown interest in what you offer, someone who’s commented on a Facebook posting—and make a space to ask them what they think, what they’re going through, what their dreams are.

Then listen, and see whether you’re actually offering what they need…or what YOU need.

It’ll transform you, and transform your work.

Love,
Margaret

 

Image courtesy of congerdesign via Pixabay

The life-changing magic of working for ourselves

Most of us self-employed types are on a continuous learning path, gathering knowledge and skills and using them to create a better business. It’s a great way to live, but lately, I’ve been seeing that the path isn’t a line, but a loop: My business doesn’t just earn income and/or help people: It helps me to do a better job of living in this strange world.

There’s a great bit of Buddhist advice I see often in my circles: “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”

In my case, “whatever-you-already-are” is a person whose vocation is to help small businesses, while trying to keep my sanity and kindness in a world that seems to be getting darker by the day.

I’ve realized that, inadvertently, I’ve been using the art, science, and practice of having a business to become a better human. With each passing day, it’s teaching me to be:

Patient:

Very few of us can snap their fingers and make things happen in terms of building a business. It takes time, strategy, experimentation…and patience. Over and over again. For example, one of the best ways to get ideal-for-you clients that stick around is through word-of-mouth, one kindred spirit to another…and growing relationships that way doesn’t happen overnight.

Resilient:

Working for ourselves is the embodiment of getting back up when we fall down. When a product doesn’t sell, a promotion doesn’t interest people, a client doesn’t turn out to be the best one for us, we can find ourselves in the dumps, drinking warm gin straight out of the cat dish (thank you Anne Lamott). But we have to keep going. We “fail” at something, we regroup/rest, we try again. It’s the nature of self-employment.

Courageous:

If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be in such close contact with so many strangers every week, or that I’d be writing in public spaces completely exposed to criticism, I would’ve hidden under the bed. For, like, a year. But one tiny daring step at a time, it ceased to be so paralyzing. I’m still an introvert, but I’m capable of reaching out in ways I never thought I could.

Optimistic:

Every day, I sit down at my desk. And every day, there is a mix of good and bad. I’m exposed to the same horrific news, questionable personalities, intractable world problems as everyone else. But as a self-bosser, I had to train myself to see good news, good people, good possibilities in order to stay in a strong and possible state of mind for my clients. And anyway, who wants to work with a pessimist?

Kind:

“Kindness will prevail,” a friend likes to say. Being in the business of helping people be/do/have something better & brighter for themselves requires the ability to be compassionate, curious, and a darn good listener.

Funny:

If we’re paying attention, some pretty hilarious things happen in the process of trying to survive this self-employment thing. I was once approached to do some work for a celebrity impersonator who, in the process of proving to me what a great artist he was, went through at least a dozen impressions from Kirk Douglas to Michael Jackson. From my corner, I’m never averse to using my sense of humor as a business tool…nothing de-stresses a situation like lightening up.

I don’t set out to help my clients master Small Business 101, although there was a time early in my career when my ambition was to help people become better businesspeople. That’s changed, sinking down a few layers. I now help people become better at whatever-they-already-are.

If they’re coaches, I help them be better, wiser, saner coaches by helping them find the right-for-them mix of compassion, visibility, and a joyful kind of productivity.

If they’re authors, I help them be more successful and self-confident by helping them find readers for their work, find the right support systems, and structure their day/time to have breathing room to write.

If they’re therapists, I help them find ways to use their ample intuition and empathy to promote their business in authentic, efficient ways, so they can repurpose that brain space to help more people be healthy.

Let’s Try This:

Take a quiet moment (stop laughing, you can find one). Grab a piece of paper–electronic or paper–and let’s think about your business or practice as it exists right now.

How is it helping you be a better whatever-you-already-are, or a better what-you-would-like-to-be?

Conversely, does it feel like there are ways it’s standing in the way of that? What can you do to smooth those things out?  The key to loving your work and being peacefully productive is to not be at odds with yourself, with the “you you” and the “working you” being in a perpetual cage match.

What needs to happen to connect the learning loop of your work with the learning loop of your life?

Love,

Margaret

 

Here when you need me

I help people who choose self-employment to become more peaceful, purposeful, and profitable through my writing, teaching, tools, and individual mentoring, so they can completely love the work and life they’ve chosen. There’s something for everyone, no matter their budget, so if you could use a little boost from someone who cares, have a peek at what I offer.


Image by congerdesign via Pixabay

The myth of competition: What’s your “Only”?

Do we, as super-small businesses, actually have “competitors”? Debate still simmers over this in some circles. Let’s chat.

Traditional business-guru advice warned us for decades that we needed to strive for a clear advantage over our competitors. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, they warned (and where EVER did that expression come from btw???) and we needed to invest a lot of time, energy and brainpower into ‘beating out the competition.’

Things have changed, and we’re now seeing that competition — while still a reality if you’re mass-marketing a laundry soap with exactly the same formula, branding, and target market as another — really isn’t as much of a “thing” for thoughtful businesses like ours.

For example, say we’re offering life coaching. Sure, there are a lot of people who’ve hung out a shingle for that. That makes for a great big haystack for people to search, in which you hope they’ll find your shiny needle, right? How do you stand out in that massive crowd, and find the people who need you?

Here’s the thing: The reach of social media and online tools have given us the gift of almost limitless ability to find Our People. We don’t need to appeal to everyone. We only need to reach the people who need what we offer and—even more important—resonate with the way we work.

Unless you’re trying to become a thought leader with a million people on your mailing list, you already have the power to attract more than enough people who “click” with your style, your heart, and your combination of offerings to make your business successful. One Facebook ad can reach thousands of perfect people for $10.00.

If we take tender care of the relationships we establish with readers/clients, we can build our followers & fans one by one, each beautiful experience bearing fruit in the form of glowing reviews, repeat visits, and top-of-mind referrals in their social circles. This, in my opinion, is the best way to grow a business: One fan at a time, nurtured by your genuine caring and thoughtfulness.

So in terms of competition…even if there are 20 website designers or acupuncturists or spiritual mediums or soapmakers on your block, you can easily find ways to keep your business thriving, just by a) being kind & trustworthy, and b) being clear about what makes you different from the other 19.

Being kind and trustworthy? Yeah, sorry, that’s part of the deal. We’re afloat in the noisy, indifferent ovewhelm all around us. The things that stand out in sharp relief are when people give a damn about us, and when they keep their word to us (hello Facebook?).

As for that second part: Remember all those branding exercises we’ve been subjected to as we listened to endless podcasts and attended all those ‘free’ webinars? For those who’ve escaped that fate, it’s some variation on these pieces:

With my business/work, I help ____________________ (your ideal person)

to do/be/have _______________________ (the improvement or benefit to them)

through my ______________________ (the products & services you’ve created to help)

Is that ringing a bell?

I always have to remind my coaching clients to also add this part, though:

I’m one of the only ________________ (however you describe yourself)

who _______________________ (what makes you unique).

Examples:

“With my work, I teach Reiki practitioners to bring balance and mental/physical health to a hectic world, through my 1-to-1 coaching and workshops. I’m one of the few teachers who provides a free private Facebook group so members of my community can help and support one another.”

And more “onlys”:

“I’m the rare business coach who doesn’t resort to spammy, automated marketing to reach out and keep in touch with people.”

“I’m the only personal trainer in (your town) that also makes house calls, even offering weekend and evening sessions.”

“I’m the only executive consultant who offers ‘Coaching Walks’ to explore ideas that thrive in the fresh air of nature.”

“We’re the only bookstore around that has both new and used books AND a cozy espresso bar, serving coffee drinks made with our own freshly-ground beans.”

“I’m the only holistic health practitioner with an in-house laboratory for quicker results and faster diagnoses.”

What’s your “only”? If you don’t know what it is or don’t feel you have one of your own yet, then it’s time to create it. I’m always happy to help you discover that of course, but here are some thought-starters:

What bugs you about other practitioners and businesses who are similar to you? If it bugs customers too, think about how you can fix it and use that as your ‘only.’

Is there a specialty you have, or can envision developing, as a part (or all) of what you do? Can you specialize in helping the apprehensive, the non-technical, the ridiculously busy, the do-it-yourselfer? Grocery stores, for example, are doing a booming business with pickup orders to serve the too-busy-to-shop people.

If you can, ask people who’ll give you an honest answer why they didn’t work with you, or ask honest acquaintances to look at your services/prices and come up with at least one apprehension they might have (cost, length of a program, wait times for delivery, not enough options, other worries). Can you solve it, or can you offer other things in other price ranges/options that would allow more people to see what it’s like working with you?

Look at reviews online of similar businesses, and see where customers are wishing they’d offered more. Online reviews can be a challenge, but they can give clues to peoples’ sensitivities and wishes. Offer what others seem to be missing and tell people about it.

Can you create a narrower audience for a specific service or offering? For example, a designer might create a special package just for nonprofits that work with kids, a yoga studio might offer a class just for guys who aren’t very bendy, or a consultant might offer graduates of the local small business association’s classes a special package for new startups and become the go-to person in the community.

Is there something daring and value-added you can add to your products/services that helps people? Chocolate, a free Q&A session, a group to help them implement what they received from you?

If you have some ideas already, go to Facebook and explore whether they have a way to target the audience your offering is meant for. Those ubiquitous blue buttons encouraging you to “Boost” any post? Click one to play — be sure Cancel Ad when you’re done! — and just type a few things into the “Detailed Targeting” portion of the boost specifications (at the bottom). Start typing a few things to see if you’re able to target a specialized audience perfect for a particular offer or article or video of yours:

Give these things a try, and see if you can find an a-ha about your “Only.”

Because once you do, you most definitely have no competition, and can simply focus on doing the work you love, promoting it to the right-for-you audiences, and finding your unique and heartfelt niche from which to serve.

And the debate is over.

Love,
Margaret

Come spend an hour with me

See what it feels like to be with someone who genuinely cares about your work, and who will help you get peaceful, purposeful and profitable. I do private sessions at alarmingly reasonable rates so that I can see lots and lots of amazing people doing amazing things…it does my heart so much good in these times. See some options here.