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.

Show me your process, not just your perfection

“Show us your process, not just your perfection.”
—CJ Casciotta

This mandate hitting my ears was just one of dozens of eyes-wide moments at last week’s STORY 2018 conference in Nashville—an annual conference that’s been called “TED for Creatives.”

It will take me a while to type up the pages and pages of notes I brought home from this immersive, two-day gathering for artists, creators, and storytellers. I brought colored pencils and markers with me and used them to circle, star, underline, and annotate, in a feeble attempt to somehow capture the wild energy of the event. (It was that kind of conference…the kind where the colors just fly.)

The title quote, in particular, stuck with me (it’s bright green in my journal). What does it mean?

Every day we’re assailed by images and videos and books and articles and ads that are evidence of something that’s reached perfection—or at least as close to it as is possible for the creator. Completed, polished, effective.

We’re not interested, or so they say, in seeing the path the creator had to take to get there. We’re taught in myriad ways that the only thing of real value is the finished product. I take issue with that more than I can explain.

What happens if the ONLY images we ever see in life are of things in a state of perfect completion, or perfect beauty, or perfect symmetry and balance? Is that natural? How does it make us feel?

By “us,” I’m especially referring to those of us who are neck-deep struggling with our own creations.

We’re writing our book, seeking out our ideal clients, building our business/practice, developing offerings that people may support us by buying. And all with that inner clock ticking expectantly: Perfection. Now. Perfection. Now. Perfection. Now. Faster.

On the days when the words just won’t fall on the paper, when new clients just seem to be deaf to what we offer, when things just won’t take shape, I sometimes feel as though if I see one more perfectly-coiffed mega-guru telling me about her latest wildly successful $5000 coaching package – that has, by the way, only 3 spots left, so hurry hurry hurry – I am going to scream.

On those days, more than anything, I want to talk to others who are still in their process too. I want to know where people are stuck, because I too might be stuck, and perhaps (like freeing each other from a mire) we can help each other get un-stuck.

I want to know that someone ELSE is frustrated that their promotional efforts aren’t hitting the mark yet, and they’re not sure what to adjust.

I want to see the rough drafts of a new article, the flawed prototype of a new product offering or even just the first notes scribbled in a frenzy on the back of a flattened-out Starbucks coffee sleeve. I want to smash the illusion that successful ideas are supposed to burst forth from our heads, fully-formed and perfect and with no effort whatsoever.

I want to see the process and the perfection, not just the airbrushed final product.

Do you?

An INFP entrepreneur? How on earth would THAT work?

I’ve long been fascinated by the personality typing, especially the Myers-Briggs® personality types. The first time I was introduced to that system of grouping and naming our individual preferences was a massive breakthrough for me. Most people wander the world forever thinking that humanity is divided into dyads like “nice guys or jerks” or “free spirits or anal retentives” or “artists or accountants.” But Myers-Briggs groupings finally untangled one big mystery for me: Why didn’t I ever seem to meet people who saw the world—and interacted with it—like I did? What kind of freak was I?

In the first time through with it, I learned I’m an INFP, representing roughly 2-4% of the population. So what a revelation that was for me: I wasn’t a freak, I was just an unusual personality type in the big scheme of things, not likely to meet anyone who thinks the way I do. Not weird; just different.

For those who don’t know anything about INFPs, I’ve heard them described as the “determined dreamers.” Here’s the rundown on some of our general preferences as a group, to illustrate why that is:

  • Idealistic/altruistic
  • Love freedom to pursue our vision or follow our sense of purpose
  • Guided by our principles/integrity rather than rewards, punishment, or “the way things are”
  • Intuitive communicators and tend to listen more than talk
  • Often imaginative/creative/outside-the-box thinkers
  • Reserved but mostly kind and empathetic, comfortable withdrawing into solitude/deep thought
  • Detest superficiality, bureaucracy, and tedium
  • Averse to criticism or harshness

I once asked a psychology nerd friend what kind of an entrepreneur an INFP would make. He laughed, “Well, as long as people are willing to come find you, do all the talking, and fit into your vision of an ideal world, you’ll do fine.”

He’d be happily surprised to learn that I’ve done fine, but unsurprised to see that my version of self-employment is quite a bit different from most other people I know. I match many of the preferences listed above and had to either leverage them or reshape them to be beneficial tools for me.

Since many of you are also INFPs (it’s been wonderful to learn that) I wanted to share a little bit about that. Even if you’re another type, it really helps to explore how your own strengths are either propelling you forward or slowing you down…consider looking yourself up and seeing what you learn!

We Can Be Idealistic/Altruistic

Of course, I think this is wonderful. It’s my default setting, right? But it can lead to two challenges for INFP business owners: The idealist in us can morph into a kind of perfectionism that never lets us get our work “out there.” And the altruistic part of us can lead us to focus on others’ needs more than our own, and internal others’ pain a bit too much. If you’re always mindful of the risks, though, these traits are honorable and rare these days.

Our Sense of Purpose Drives Us

I can often identify the INFPs in my circles just by asking them, “Why do you do what you do? How do you see it as making the world better?” (Other types will look at me blankly like I’ve just sprouted antlers. Purpose who?) The ability to choose the course of our work based on our own principles? Priceless. There is no downside to this as an entrepreneur, in my book. Having a strong sense of purpose is a powerful ally which will carry us through many bumps and bruises on the road to a successful business.

Principles and Integrity Have Benefits

Everyone in every type will say that they have principles that form the backbone of their business. But many INFPs are almost obsessed with integrity, to a rare degree. Shady marketing, making promises they’re not sure they can keep, impersonal selling tactics…these would weigh heavily on the conscience of most INFPs I know. Being trustworthy and honest can be a beautiful trait, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It may take longer to grow an audience when you’re not using fakey, formulaic, scarcity-based offerings (“only 2 spots left!! don’t miss out!!”) but the audience you grow will be rock solid.

Intuitive and Deep Communication – Essential

Clear, thoughtful, and empathetic communication is the foundation of every good business. The ability to communicate well, say what you mean, describe things succinctly and clearly…this is all incredibly powerful in terms of making strong connections with people—by understanding their needs and explaining what you offer that can help. Lacking this ability, many people who have beautiful services and products to offer may never succeed in the way they wish. Rock on, INFPs.

Ability to Work Both Inside AND Outside the Box

This is the Swiss Army Knife of business management. The ability to draw into ourselves and find answers. The ability to generate ideas (sometimes TOO many!) The ability to see all sides of issues, many different possibilities. The ability to see (or create) a path forward during slow times. These are all positives.

Quiet but Empathetic Deep Thinkers

This can be a double-edged (but very beautiful) sword. We loathe to shoot our mouths off, or even risk dominating a conversation in most situations. We’re often the quiet friend that people know they can trust to be on their side, or at least the one who takes the time to understand their side of things. There is such a thing as being TOO quiet, especially when it comes to self-promotion, so INFPs have to always keep an eye on this trait. The world needs what you offer; be sure they know about it!

Bureaucracy- and Tedium-Averse, Me?

It was a big shock to me when I discovered that leaving the corporate world didn’t mean I’d never again have to deal with bureaucracy. You may not work IN it, but with your clients and client organizations, you’ll still have to work WITH it. In addition, there are times when the mundane parts of running a business can just get you down. Endless tiny details. Billing that doesn’t balance (or doesn’t pay the bills). Technology that breaks. Little seemingly-superficial tasks that need to be handled. We have to find a way to deal with both the inspirational AND the tedious parts of working for ourselves. I suggest George Kao’s swell book Joyful Productivity: A Solopreneur’s Guide To Creativity & Well-Being for a ton of tips on pulling this off.

Criticism, Anyone?

There will be well-meaning fellow businesspeople who look at the way we do things and feel the need to tell us we’re doing it wrong. Try to take criticism/advice with grace, put it in your pocket, and take the time to analyze it quietly, later on, to determine if it has merit or not. I have some friends on the Thinking side of Myers-Briggs (the “T” as opposed to the “F” for Feeling) I tap into when I need a second opinion on that.

We are an unusual type. We lead with our hearts and our consciences, we aren’t afraid to be alone or be quiet, we communicate in a unique, personal style, and we need time and space to build our businesses at our own pace.

It’s “our business, our way” for us, and the result can be beautiful, solid, AND profitable.

Just speak to me as a friend

“Forget about the microphone. Just speak to me. As a friend.”
—Lionel Logue to King George VI, The King’s Speech

I have any number of strange mathematical fantasies waltzing through my head at any given time.

Here’s just one of them:

I would like to have a special bank into which I could somehow locate, harvest, and deposit all the wasted time in the world. (I know. But it doesn’t have to make sense.)

For example, I think about the volumes of time we spend, as people working for ourselves, trying on different voices and approaches and pitches and complex strategies in the attempt to attract new clients. I’ve literally watched some of my people spend half of their working hours wringing their hands over “how can I say this in a way that gets attention?” or “will this impress a potential client?”

The overall question seems to be, “Which Me is the most likely to gain their confidence and get them to purchase what I’m offering?”

I’ve been there too. Oh heck yes. In bumpy times I find myself slipping into it again, and have to get quiet inside and re-gather all that makes me Me.

I can’t speak for everyone, but the Me that has helped me attract the very best people for my work has been the Me that sees them all as friends.

They’re friends who are confused or discouraged. Friends who are trying to figure something out. Friends who see learning a new skill as the key to more time/income/confidence. Friends who are feeling isolated, disconnected and a little lost in this increasingly tangled and confusing world. Friends who just want a little more peace, or a little more beauty in their lives.

When I speak to people (in person, on the phone, in writing) as friends, with an open mind, open heart, and genuine care for their well-being, all kinds of good things happen in my business.

So back to that time bank. Imagine if we could gather all that time we spend trying to be someone else. That time spent trying to be the Selves that “achieve” rather than the genuine Selves that we are at heart.

Oh, the things we could do with it.

How about summer camp for grownup entrepreneurs? That extra day in the week we’re always feeling we’d like to have to get things done? Time for some spectacular no-holds-barred self-care?

Or maybe just…time to joyfully, thoughtfully seek out more of the people we want most to attract to our work.

 

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.

Building a small business that matters: 3 ways to be a force for good AND be profitable

Last year I wrote a book called Storytelling for Small Business: Creating and Growing an Authentic Business Through the Power of Story. (It’s a cool little bite-sized book, or so they tell me. Check it out if you’re interested in that topic.)

What most folks who’ve read it don’t know is that the subtitle of the book was originally slated to be Building a Business That Matters Through the Power of Story. But someone in my trusted circles raised a red flag. “To me, that sounds like I have to have an ‘I’m-changing-the-world’ mentality in order to benefit from the book. There are lots of good people who just don’t think of themselves like that…I’d advise you to change that if you want people to read it.”

So I did.

Hey, now, cut me some slack. It was an introvert’s first book. I’d been sleepless about the whole process already, and that advice sounded reasonable enough. Of course I wanted people to read it. So I changed the name.

And, of course, I regretted it the minute I punched the publish button on Amazon.

Because here’s the awful truth about me: With every tiny cell in my body, I think our businesses should matter. And what’s more, our businesses can matter.

All of them.

The art of “doing well by doing good” isn’t just for the behemoths with a whole floor devoted to their department of Corporate Social Responsibility.  From an artist painting in her garage after her day job, to brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants, to the biggest brands we can name, every one of us has the ability to shape our livelihood into a force for good. Let me show you.

What ARE you going on about, Margaret?

What does it mean to have a “business that matters”? It may mean different things to different people, but for me it means looking at what my business creates and shares—products, services, artwork, knowledge—and seeing it through the wide-angle lens of what I want to be able to show for the 80-odd years I get to spend on this planet. 

  • What do I stand for/against? What matters to me? If that’s a tough question for you, look around your life, your social media, or your record of charitable contributions. Whatever it is that riles you up—or chokes you up—should give you a clue about what you stand for.
  • What am I doing to put legs on the things I care about, over and above “likes” on Facebook or the occasional donation?
  • Given all the hours and energy I spend doing my “work,” how can this time support something that matters to me so that my head, heart, and feet are all pointed in the same direction?

There’s always some grumbling about the idea of altruism in business. In addition to the hardliners who prefer keeping work and purpose separate, many will dismiss the idea of weaving them together because it sounds hard, futile, and expensive. It doesn’t have to be any of those things. In fact, I’m seeing more examples every day of small businesses who’ve connected with a bigger purpose and suddenly gained the traction and the following that had eluded them before. Why is that?

Times are changing.

Buyers care more about who they buy things from. Mission matters. People will keep buying cars from Tesla (regardless of deliverability woes) because their vision is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” rather than “be the industry leader in blah blah blah.”

People are willing (and often able) to pay more for something created by a business that has a heart and a conscious (in other words, by businesses that matter). It often comes with the bonus of it simply feeling great to support someone we like and admire.

Employees want to work for businesses that are run by good people. They want to work for people they like and admire, and want to feel like part of something bigger and more important than just keeping shareholders happy.

The face of business startups is shifting. As the social world gets more difficult to navigate, there’s a rising wave of self-employed people who are guided by the “triple bottom line” (profit, people, and planet) and not just dollars in, dollars out.

If that last one is you, well, welcome to the clubhouse. I’m glad you’re here.

And I’d invite you to consider these three ways to build a bigger “why” into the work you do.

1) Do it to add a little soul to what you already offer: Go beyond trading a good product or service for money

Ever think about what your work/business is already creating MORE of or LESS of in the world?  More peace of mind. Less poison in our cosmetics. More independence from the broken medical establishment. Less isolation and loneliness. More beauty to make our home feel like home. Less factory-made food. My point? If you’re looking for ways to make money while making a difference, you may already be halfway there.

Even if you find yourself teetering toward bummer, I’m not one of those types, know this: it’s not something reserved for artists and coaches and activists and nonprofits. You can add a thoughtful, soulful element of connection to any business. You just may need to find the right road to it.

A cafe or restaurant can choose to cooperate with other businesses in town to help solve a local problem.

A real estate broker can educate young couples or even college students on saving to buy a first home, or special loans/programs available to help them.

A small farm can set up a day for “gleaning” (picking whatever is left after a big harvest) to support local hunger efforts.

A private trash collection company can host a workshop (or give away an ebook) on how easy it is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

A bookstore can set aside a corner of the shop with comfy chairs for purposes like job help, tutoring, or teaching ESL.

A hardware store can help teach people to be more frugal and self-sufficient by holding a class on easy fixes around the house or helping tools last longer through proper care of them.

An accountant can set up a payment button on her website that allows people to donate small amounts to a fund that helps older people/nonprofits afford her financial advice and guidance.

Anyone who offers a healing service/product of some kind can offer different price tiers so that more people can at least experience a taste of the goodness you offer.

All of these things matter. They make something better in addition to satisfying the need to turn a profit. And, in fact, they often help you turn a profit.

2) Do it to go big or to go…little.

You know why I like Patagonia? Well, there are a hundred reasons. But the main one is probably that they pledge at least 1% of sales or 10% of their pre-tax profits—whichever is more—to grassroots environmental groups often overlooked or rejected by other corporate donors.

You know why I like the small eco-friendly burger chain Larkburger ? Because they wrapped an entire business around responsibly-sourced/scratch-made food and recyclable/compostable everything, and profitably model what every restaurant in the world should be like. It’s hard to find a quick place to eat that lets me be zero waste (We’ll go a dozen miles out of our way to patronize their businesses.)

You don’t have to be Patagonia, or even Larkburger. But maybe you could be like Steamers Coffeehouse in Arvada, Colorado, which trains and employs developmentally disabled people to staff its restaurant, prep kitchen, and jam businesses. Or like my friend Michael, a psychologist in New York who volunteers as a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Worker. Or our little local saloon that reduces and recycles everything, including recycling fryer oil (they donate the rebate check for that to children’s charities in Africa). This isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Even if you’re tiny, or still trying to get traction financially, you can matter. Some ways:

  • Joining an affiliate program offered by a vendor you use often, with proceeds going to a cause
  • A donate button to support a charity
  • Explaining yourself on your About page, include your reason for doing this
  • Giving a certain percentage each year to a particular organization or movement
  • Taking a day off each month to volunteer (and blogging about it to shine a light on that cause)
  • If you sell knowledge—think practical, hands-on, marketable skills—consider gifting a local women’s shelter, job assistance center, or charity to help elevate their clients.
  • Rather than using Fiverr for subcontractors, investigate the local community college’s intern program or job board.

Just pick something that matters to you, and find a way to support it with your business. Not for the press or the marketing bump, but because it’s who you are.

Do it to know who you are.

In Bernadette Jiwa’s great little book Story Driven: You Don’t Need to Compete When You Know Who You Are, she defined a great company this way: “…They don’t try to matter by winning. They win by mattering. The people who build them know what they stand for and act on those beliefs.”

It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself a small business or a solopreneur or a freelancer or just someone who works for yourself. If your work matters, you are part of pushing us toward something better, or at least helping arrest our slide into something worse.

To me, building a business that has the guts to stand for something isn’t just one of the best ways to spend a life. It’s also one of the best ways to stand out in the noisy world of mainstream marketing, and make a good living that makes a difference.

Here’s to working on something that matters to you, and growing a business that matters to everyone.

Love,
Margaret

Doing small things with great love

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa (paraphrased by many)

When we work for ourselves, we can be doing big things or small things.

Big things might include creating an offering that reaches and enhances the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. Starting a foundation. Quitting your job and devoting your life to building schools in Africa. Beautiful stuff.

And then there are small things, like

being 100% honest with your marketing on every level so you don’t contribute to the disillusionment and hardening being caused by common marketingspeak

responding to all people with patience and civility, even if they are unskilled in how they phrase their “ask”

running your business in a way that doesn’t add to the mountains of paper, plastic, and toxic waste that will sit in a landfill for a thousand years

just being kind and clear in your day-to-day contact with the world

Remember that doing the small things with great love can have a positive ripple effect in the world that matches that of the big things. And it creates a You that makes life feel better on every level. It can make us feel more at peace with ourselves, de-stress us, lower our blood pressure, and generally help us tune into the “…the current of poetry that runs through all things” (actually written by J.D. Salinger).