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.

Do our clients care about us too?

How much do you genuinely care about your audience members as real, live, flesh-and-blood people? How much do they care about you?

Recently, in her delicious Friday newsletter, coach/author/friend Judith Morgan put her finger squarely on something I consider a key aspect of truly healthy, nutritious relationships with clients and customers:

I care about my clients’ dreams but here’s the important bit, they care about mine too. They care about me. It is reciprocal.

Me being the obsessive ponderer that I am, I poured another cup of coffee and margaretted out for a while on this thought.

How important is this kind of reciprocity in our relationships with the people we serve? That it goes both ways, not just one way?

To me, it’s very important, but I’m open to the possibility that Judith and I may be the exceptions rather than the rule.

First, how often does it really happen, in our work lives? Do some (most?) businesspeople consider it an absurd thing to wish for? Stranger still, to expect? And, even more outlandish, how many of us dare to make it a deciding factor in whether we choose to invest our energies in serving a particular person/company?

Like most things, it can get a little complicated when you unpack it.

I picture a self-employed woman who has a startup business selling a product – a book, for example. Her income may depend on simply selling lots of them, and to many different kinds of people. Is it important to her that the people buying the product care about her as a person, or care about her business/livelihood? Is that even possible to know or intuit that, when often we have is a receipt from an online store?

What about service providers? Most of my people are in the business of offering a service, wisdom, knowledge, help. From this high-touch angle, it seems simpler on the surface. But is it? If you offer an online workshop to 100 people, is reciprocity something we can hope for? Are we allowed to hope that all of the attendees who purchase the workshop consider, “This sounds great to me, and it’s also a person/business whose work I’d love to support”?

How important is it to you? And how possible?

I feel as though mutual respect and reciprocity are possible in almost any situation, as long as we have the audacity to show our real selves to our readers and clients.

For many years in my work, I was afraid to show too much of myself, for fear someone would find something to object to. Oh, she supports that charity. Yuck, not another treehugger. She doesn’t have an MBA?

So if people read my sanitized bio, it was difficult for them to discern what sort of person I was. They’d piece it together this way: She knows websites, so she must be a techie person, who probably likes gadgets and programming and spreadsheets and stuff. She also works with people doing good things in the world, so she’s probably honest. I don’t have much in common with geeks, but it looks like she knows her stuff, so I may as well give this Margaret person a try.

Nowadays, it’s not hard for potential clients to get a clearer picture of who I am as a human. They can see me hiking at sunrise. They can read my book. They know I have a strange little dog named Gordon, that I volunteer in my small community, and that I believe self-employed people are probably the ones who are going to save humanity.

Even bigger, though, they know that I dare use “the ‘L’ word” in my business. I do a lot more coaching and teaching now, and I do it with my feet firmly rooted in love. They see me interacting with perfect strangers with respect and kindness. They can easily see how I thoroughly (and sometimes embarrassingly) geek out on helping good things come to life.

So I attract clients who are attracted to that emphasis on community and compassion.

And I repel clients who see that all as namby-pamby new age bullshit.

And that works for me.

In most cases, I end up with clients who want something more from a coach, consultant, or even a website person. They want someone that genuinely gives a damn about them as individuals, and so will offer up his or her best energy. In the face of SO many possible service providers for all of our “stuff,” these clients also prefer to support good, caring people whenever that’s possible.

With the selling of products (or causes, or companies, or politicians) we are all witnessing a shift away from blindly supporting those who are abusive, disrespectful, or simply indifferent. That shift, I believe, is trickling down into even the smallest of businesses: All other things being equal, we want to give our dollars to people we feel are likely to care—about us, and about the world.

It’s a pragmatic, empathetic kind of reciprocity that literally changes everything, from creativity to productivity to profitability.

George Kao even defines true productivity as valuable interaction with the people your business can best serve, that inspires their reciprocity. When we’re generous in providing something valuable, when we do it genuinely and directly from the heart, readers and clients feel it. They engage with us. They read, watch, “like,” share, follow/subscribe, inquire, purchase, and refer.

We each try to help the other to succeed, by whatever tape measure “success” is being measured.

Honestly, we live in a society that’s simultaneously accelerating, darkening, and increasing the emotional distance between us. I look for any and all ways to slow down, pay attention, and remember what matters.

Here in my working world, this sort of caring reciprocity is key to my happiness, and so has become pretty non-negotiable.

How about you? Does this matter to you?

My ‘Word of the Year’ for 2019? You’re not gonna like it.

“The tiny cost of failure is dwarfed by the huge cost of not trying.”
Seth Godin, www.seths.blog, The Tiny Cost of Failure

I admit that I haven’t jumped into the “Word of the Year” movement for a couple of years now, but this year I am.

You know about that thing, right? Where we’re advised by the self-help gurus to choose a special word each year to be our mantra or rallying cry or guiding principle for the coming year?

A Word of the Year always seemed a nice idea, but never seemed to stick for me, no matter how big I wrote it on my vision board or mirror, how many times it popped up in my online calendar, or how long it stayed my laptop’s screen saver.

That didn’t keep me from choosing one anyway when I was younger. Resilience was the theme one year, I recall (must have been having some challenges that year, hm?). Self-care has shown up more than once, as has Tenacity. A bit of a seesaw there. And Kindness shows up in my journal from 2002. That was back when I was stressed and crazy and actually needed a reminder to stay kind. (Imagine that…)

For 2019, my Word of the Year is . . . Failure.

Now, stop that. Hear me out.

I’ve decided this is the year when I’ll finally stop hobbling myself with the fear of failures big and small.

You didn’t know I was? Ah, that’s because I am simply masterful at hiding my fears from others. If the meme police allowed it, I’d even call it my “superpower.”

“Feel free to avoid [failure] by doing nothing, by second guessing yourself, by being your own worst critic, always ready to describe the apocalypse waiting on just the other side of shipping.
Either that or you can risk the narrative and risk the fear and make a difference.”
Seth Godin, www.seths.blog, Failure Imagined (24 Variations)

I’ve had some time & space these past two weeks to ponder the mystery of Me. Why do I do what I do? Or even more interesting: Why don’t I do what I don’t do?

All the things I don’t finish, or the offerings & services I create but never promote, or the things I do promote but never adequately follow through? That, my friends, is fear with it’s green, scaly claw reaching for my throat, one long pointy fingernail outstretched: “Don’t bother.” 

Fear of hearing only crickets, or polite silence, or full-on disinterest. Fear of failing.

I started thinking about Failure when I read Seth Godin’s newest book This Is Marketing over my winter planning retreat. I’ve never been a superfan of Seth Godin. It’s been more of a formal nod of respect, but this book offered up some great thoughts about finding the people we most want to help, deciding how we can help them, and doing it.

Typically a night reader, I’d lie awake after the lamp clicked off, and think for a long time. How much time am I wasting by hiding away—or hiding FROM—the creations and communication that might help someone in my world? Why is my list of “new business ideas” the same at the end of the year as it was at the beginning? Am I waiting for some state of perfection and perfect safety first? How much time do I think I have left to do them, anyway?

So this year, a promise, courtesy of my Word of the Year:

I will write, a LOT, knowing that 100% of it might not ‘land’ for all readers. I will write and write and write some more.

I will offer advice and counsel, knowing that some people will say ‘I already know THAT, geez’ or ‘yeah, Seth Godin said something like that last Wednesday.’

I will offer my partnership and help, risking that people won’t need or want it, and may even mistrust my reasons for offering at first. I will offer anyway.

I will create things—programs, books, services, groups—that (I feel) will truly help somebody somewhere, and I will TELL people about them through honest and transparent marketing so that the ones who need me can find me.

I will fail at some of these things. I expect there may be some humdingers that won’t fly, won’t get a positive response, won’t help pay the rent. That’s okay. 

I will get up the next morning, put on the coffee pot, and do it all again, always reflecting, always learning, finding every possible way to support the people who matter most to me.

In this way, I will learn endless things.

So, here’s fair warning, Failure: You sure you wanna mess with me? (smile)

Welcome to 2019, everybody. Nice to be here with you. What will you embrace this year that you never thought you would?

“The rule is simple: The person who fails the most will win. If I fail more than you do, I will win. Because in order to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.
So, if you fail cataclysmically and never play again, you only fail once. But if you are always there […] putting your work into the world, creating and starting things, you will learn endless things.”
Seth Godin, What to Do When It’s Your Turn

The annual planning retreat deconstructed: Beautiful, painful, and absolutely necessary

By the time you read this, I will be back online, in the so-called “normal” world. This was written from a quieter space, one that I hope you’ll consider gifting yourself in the coming year in some way:

All solo small businesses and practices can benefit from taking a little time each year—measured in days, not hours—to quiet down, disconnect, and get clear.  For a big chunk of December and January of every year, if someone were looking for me, they could usually find me in one of these places:

Curled up in a big armchair at our local indy coffee shop with my notebook, working on the new book I’m writing. Stocking feet tucked under me. Absently sipping a tall Americano.

Putting Gordon’s coat on (and mine) for a mind-loosening walk through prehistoric rocks at South Valley Park, which we hope will be sunny and dry and coyote-free.

In my home office, clearing, cleaning, and polishing nearly every horizontal surface and rehoming every errant post-it note, paper clip, doodad, memento, reminder, handwritten list, manila folder, take out menu, bookmark, everything. Clutter has repeatedly been proven to take a toll on our minds and our productivity, and I confess to being a clutterer in recovery (there, I said it). So at this time of year, everything goes where it belongs, and I recommit to keeping it that way.

At the kitchen table, sifting through the evidence of my work from the previous year with my journal at the ready, in order to capture what my heart says about it all. Did I enjoy doing this/that? Did it make a difference? (For whom?) What made me absolutely insane and stressed? What kind of work relaxed me into a state of flow? What do I want to create more of and less of in the world?
At my desk with my laptop, I turn my many notes into something wonderful. I sweep most of my jots, scribbles, and Evernote notes into an annual MS Word document I call simply, “Great Ideas.” I speed-type all the insights and light bulb moments and a-ha ideas and ‘never agains’ into it, then I start to shape it into sections/chapters, organizing it into idea clusters with big bold orange headings like:

Articles I’ll Write
Better Ways to Help Each Other
New Book Ideas
Wouldn’t It Be Awesome to Learn How To…
Making Social Media Painless
I’d Love to Work With…
Let’s Never Do This Again

… And so forth. It’s a way to revisit my best ideas in a tactile way, and capture them all in one place. I insert page breaks. I give it all page numbering and nice formatting. And when I’m done, I have a book of my year that’s a sort of navigational map I can consult any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, untethered, or unsure where to go next.

Sofa-bound, with my laptop on my stomach, going through my Google and paper calendars for the coming year to block out no-shit, non-negotiable appointments with myself for:

  • Writing
  • Moving my body (the artist formerly known as “exercise”)
  • Active gratitude
  • Getting to zero inbox and zero desktop regularly
  • Self-care
  • Connection with the people I care about (er, that’s You)

(Starting with an empty calendar, these blocks go in first. All other commitments that I make must flow around those things, and not the other way around.)

Sitting next to the woodstove, staring into the fire, and thinking about my Future Self. Would she be pleased with what I’ve accomplished this year? What advice would she give? What would she want me to do more of/less of in the months ahead?

So.

That’s what I do for nearly two weeks out of the year, for about 75% of my waking hours. Here’s what I’m not doing:

Compulsively checking social media
Compulsively checking email
Listening intently for the squawkbuzz of my mobile phone (Oooh! Somebody needs me! 🙂
Doing anything on my mobile phone except checking my grocery list or texting good jokes to my husband
Hanging around with any person who stresses me, even if I care about them
Making a list of radical, grandiose new year’s resolutions
Tracking political developments, celebrity gossip, mainstream news outlets, partisan talking heads, or reality TV
Wearing business attire
Multitasking

For the first few years of taking this time away at year’s end, I was wracked by guilt at leaving everyone in my working life uncared-for and abandoned. As if I were Mighty Mouse, streaking across the internet singing, “Heeeeere I come to save the dayyyyyy…” When I saw that people got along perfectly well without me, things got easier.

And a treasured, nourishing ritual was born.

When I return to my regular daily routines, I have a peaceful, joyful clarity that sets the tone for the entire year.

What about you?

Do you have a way to clear space for processing and digesting all that life throws at you, or does it move so fast that it just keeps streaming along, carrying you with it?

Are you able to find—or create—an island of sanity? A place where you can truly sink into planning what you want to do with the remaining days and hours of your life?

It is would help, feel free to borrow, copy, or steal from mine. I know I’d be lost without it.

And if you’d like any new ideas, let’s definitely talk. I think you’ll enjoy tossing around possibilities.


About Me

I’m Margaret Rode, and I’m a coach/consultant and online marketing sherpa for people who choose to work for themselves (in whole or in part) and who want to be profitable from a place of authenticity, thoughtful action, and compassion. I offer quick solve-it sessions, coaching series that gently untangle an intractable set of habits, and counsel/help for painlessly making the most of your website, social media, and other tech tools. Contact me for a free, fun, no-icky-sales-pitch conversation to talk through where you are and where you’d like to be.

More of and Less of: The strange magic in knowing exactly why you do what you do

Life tosses us around sometimes, doesn’t it? Take time, for example. Sometimes we seem to have more than enough to “get it all done” and sometimes we’re struggling for 5 minutes to get our shoes on and get out the door. News, politics, and current events stress us. Family members need our help when we can’t even find the energy to help ourselves.

It’s a universal truth in self-employment: Some days, weeks, months, it’s hard to stay on track and moving ahead with our work, because we’re zigging and zagging all over the place.

To help keep focused on my destination, I have a secret weapon, a compassionate ray-gun, that I use in these times: It’s a little game I call More of/Less of, and it’s made a huge difference in my business.

You can try it too, and see if it helps you. Here’s one of my “More of/Less of” statements:

I help thoughtful self-employed people to create, cultivate and grow the work their hearts want to do. Why? Because I want to see MORE people on this planet working from a strong sense of purpose, with their own unique vision and contribution. I think it is going to save us all. (In fact, I think it may be one of the few things that can.)

I want to see LESS of the stress, powerlessness, frustration, and wasted resources that can be part of working for someone else. Less carbon monoxide from commuting, fewer fast food lunches, less office politics and misery poker (“…you won’t believe what so-and-so is doing to me…“), less social and environmental damage by big corporations.

I do it through bite-sized teaching sessions, regular coaching dates to help untangle specific issues and blockages, and hands-on help with stressors like “how do I attract clients now?” And yes, by being a tech sherpa, so all those self-employed people can stay connected and promote their work.

The exercise is deceptively simple. Just spend a couple of minutes thinking about each of these:

  1. What do you want to see more of in the world?
  2. What do you want to see less of in the world?
  3. And how do the services, products, or knowledge you offer the world contribute to those two efforts?

These three things, when fixed firmly in your mind, can do several magical things:

  • They can help pull you through the most trying of times, because they are rock-steady inside you even when the world might be shifting under your feet
  • They help you develop a radar for—and say “no” to—work, clients, or commitments that are just not right for you
  • They are an invaluable guiding star when you’re brainstorming new products and services: Is this creating more of X?  Less of Y?
  • They can help you attract new clients, readers, donors, and peers/partners who have the same values, and kindred spirits make for wonderful long-term clients
  • They help you articulate your work to others, in a way that makes it more clear and more memorable

You don’t have to be a social activist, a great visionary, or an 80-hour-week “hustle entrepreneur.”  It doesn’t really matter what kind of business you have (I’ll show you why below). This clarity game works even if you’re just starting out, or are just wanting to earn a simple living doing useful work that you love and are good at.

Here are some responses I’ve received from clients when I asked them to play:

A small bookstore owner:

I want to see more people finding solace and joy in books, real books, and give them a place where they can meet others who do too. I want more people to remember how amazing books are. I want to see fewer people stuck on the technology addiction treadmill, addicted to beeping devices and constant “feeds” and the ten-second adrenaline rush of a “Like” on Facebook. Sinking into a story is so much better for our minds and bodies…I sell books for all those reasons.

A massage therapist

I want to see more people feel good in their bodies, unhindered by stiffness, aches, pains. I want there to be more people who know how human touch can shift our energy. I want to see fewer people suffering through chronic pain. Some people sleepwalk through life unable to really enjoy any of it. I offer all kinds of healing massage and I can help so many different kinds of people, I understand now why I went into this work.

A creativity coach

I want to see more people being able to let their creativity loose, whether it’s doing some kind of art or just going to work and doing their job. I want more people to know that creativity isn’t just a special chosen few – we all have it!! I want to see less of the mindset that tells us “I’m just not creative at all.” It’s not true. We all just need to learn a few skills to tease it out of ourselves. I teach those skills, and every day I see it changing peoples’ lives.

A furniture maker

I want to see more people proudly having handmade things in their homes, and not just jewelry or stuff like that. Real functional things we use in everyday life, made by a real human and not in a factory in Asia. I want to see less money being paid to own cheap pressboard junk that doesn’t help support an actual person, a neighbor. Just knowing that something I made in my shop is out there being loved by somebody–that’s huge for me.

What do you think? Want to try it? All you need is a few minutes.

Think about the work you do, or want to be doing.

What do YOU want to see more of? Less of? And how do the specific services/products you offer help make that happen?

Let me know what you come up with – and be sure to provide a link to your page so we can learn more about 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.