The art and science of capturing and caring for your free-range ideas

When you work for yourself, ideas are the life blood of your business. We need to keep on learning, keep on growing, and keep on aligning our work with the life we want for ourselves. A steady flow of ideas and inspiration allows all of that to happen.

We all find ourselves with inspiration and ideas popping up in weird or inconvenient places. At the grocery store, you might see a particular color combination that makes you think, “Hm. That is really vibrant…I wonder what my website would look like if I shifted from blues and grays to that…”   You might be on an online workshop and suddenly have a brilliant idea about a new thing to offer your own people. Or suddenly, on a walk, you get a blinding inspiration about a solution to a stuckness you’ve been suffering.

The tragic thing would be to just think, “That is SO amazingly great! There’s no way I’ll forget it” and not bother to capture it in some way.

What can happen if you don’t graciously capture ideas and give them a job?

Here’s the right-brain version, from Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic):

“When an idea thinks it has found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, (it) will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration.

You might miss the signal because you’re watching TV, or shopping, or brooding over how angry you are at somebody, or pondering your failures and mistakes, or just generally really busy. The idea will try to wave you down (perhaps for a few moments . . . perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.”

And here’s the left-brain version, from no-nonsense David Allen (author of the groundbreaking book Getting Things Done), who talks about the brain’s logic in these terms:

“Look, I’m only going to give you as many ideas as you can effectively use. If you’re not using them or collecting them in some trusted way, I won’t give you that many. But if you are actually doing something with them, then here, have a bunch!”

Welcome in ideas and treat them well, and they’ll keep coming. There are many possible aspects to idea care—capturing, ways to organize and store them, scheduling ‘idea dates’ to return to them, etc.—and I cover a lot of them in Week 4 of my fun workshop Organize Your Digital ‘Stuff’ Once and For All, starting up again in January 2020. But in the meantime, I wanted to share the tools I use to capture ideas.

I recommend having having two capture tools at your disposal all the time: A digital one and a manual one (your preference)

Why two?

An analog or manual way to capture ideas is handy and portable and doesn’t require electricity or a wireless signal OR the need to have your mobile device around, bleating at you 24/7. Remember a pen.

A digital way to capture them frees you from having to retype them, will probably have dictation abilities, outsmarts your (ahem) illegible handwriting, and often syncs across devices so you can reach your idea from multiple places (such as your mobile device AND Google Drive AND your laptop computer).

Whatever it is, make sure something is available to you all the time. Ideas don’t follow the rules – they show up whenever they feel like it.

Popular Tools: Analog/Manual

Manual tools are my favorite capture methods. Many people find that, when note-taking digitally, they’re engaging their logical/rational brain rather than their creative brain. If you’re like that, consider something analog:

● Your hand or arm, in a pinch
● A Moleskine or similar journal/planner with a pocket with or without
● A Bullet Journal
● A Passion Planner
● A Panda Planner (even though it’s not perfect for capturing ideas, I still think it looks groovy…there’s even an entrepreneur version)
● Grid paper or legal pads and nice pens. You deserve nice pens.
● A little portable whiteboard
● My favorite, the giant Post-It® pads 🙂
● Magic Whiteboard wall-clinging film (expensive but a roll lasts me for years)
● Brightly colored Post-It notes

(NOTE: With all manual methods, it’s important to have a system for transferring it to a mode where it can be permanently captured, be electronically searchable, and will have a chance at being implemented.)

I try never to let the week end without doing something more permanent with my paper notes. Even leaving them in a notebook may require you to go back and turn lots of pages to find them…and if it’s hard to re-find an idea, its chances of thriving are slimmer.

Favorite Tools: Simple Digital Capture

Emailing Yourself:

Don’t discount the simplest of solutions: Sending yourself an email. Most email apps on mobile devices allow voice dictation, making this a quick-and-easy thing even if you don’t have any of the following.

Talk to Yourself (Voice Capture):

Record yourself talking through your idea/thoughts and either transcribe it yourself, or if it’s long, having a Fiverr contractor transcribe it for you for as little as $5.

On Mac computers, try using the QuickTime app or iScream app or voice dictation on Microsoft Word

On Windows computers, try Voice Recorder – https://www.digitalcitizen.life/how-use-voice-recorder-windows-10-mobile

On mobile devices, the possibilities for dictation/text-to-speech apps are countless.  Try these suggestions for Android and iPhone respectively:

https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/best-android-dictation-apps/

https://www.ikream.com/2019/07/7-best-free-speech-text-transcription-apps-iphone-25610

Notepad Apps for Mobile Devices

Both iOS (Apple) and Android devices have some sort of notetaking app installed by default.  Look for Notes (Apple)  or Notepad (Android)  respectively.

If you’re curious about a certain note-taking option and want to see a comprehensive grid of options, what they’re compatible with, and what they do, check out this grid (I won’t paste it here…it’ll give us both brain damage):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_notetaking_software#Basic_features

Google Keep and Pocket

These are both little tools that help people save interesting articles, videos and more from the web for later consumption. Once saved to either one, links to the content are available on any device — phone, tablet or computer. They’re compatible with most devices and Mac/Windows.

While not technically idea capture tools, I include them here because I’ve used them to capture and annotate things on the web that I can then “riff” on or take to other creative places in my own mind.  More info:
https://keep.google.com and http://getpocket.com

Favorite Tools: More Capable Digital Capture

SimpleNote

Cost: Free
Available for: Almost every computer and mobile phone
Usefulness: Limited but good for basic notes
Best parts: Free. VERY minimalist, so almost zero learning curve.
Downsides:  Er, very minimalist. No text formatting tools, no security, no organization tools like notebooks to organize notes into.
Learn more: https://simplenote.com

Apple Notes

Cost: Free
Available for: Mac OS X and iOS (Apple) devices
Usefulness: Good
Best parts: Free. Good tools for formatting, organization, locking notes, drawing tools, synching with the cloud, and you can use Siri to tell it what to do  🙂
Learn more: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT205773

Evernote

Cost: Free for a basic version or $7.99/month for more features
Available for: Almost every computer and mobile phone
Usefulness: Excellent
Best parts: Notebooks to organize your notes, syncs to other devices, formatting, images, attachments, captures handwriting, audio recordings, reminders, more
Downsides: A bit of a learning curve because of all the features but there are good basic how-to videos online
Learn more: https://evernote.com

Microsoft OneNote

Cost: Free with OneDrive  (5GB of storage is free, then it costs)
Available for: Almost every computer and mobile phone
Usefulness: Excellent
Best parts: Notebooks to organize your notes, syncs to other devices, formatting, images, attachments, captures handwriting, audio recordings, reminders, more
Downsides: A bit of a learning curve because of all the features but there are good basic how-to videos online
Learn more: https://onenote.com

Want to compare Evernote and OneNote to see which is better for you? Here’s a comprehensive review

Special situations

At night, when camping, in a dark Alamo Drafthouse theater:

I still keep a notepad nearby, with a light-up pen. Because you never know what inspiration may come in those darker spaces…and flashing around your mobile phone during a movie is just inconsiderate.

Search “light-up pen” on Amazon.com or see these dual-color light ones

While driving:

I never try to capture anything while I’m driving a vehicle hurtling through space…even voice-to-text requires some divided concentration and I don’t recommend it. But I do keep my mobile phone handy (and my notebook) and look for the next possible opportunity to pull over and grab them.

On a hike or walk or stroll through the museum

I carry my mobile phone and use voice dictation while walking, if it’s that kind of walk. (There are also more mindful walks where I just leave it at home and carry my smallest notebook and pen.)

In the shower or tub (really!)

If you find you’re having great ideas there, don’t despair! Check out a waterproof whiteboard like this one or waterproof notepad & pencil  like this one


There is a whole system I teach in this segment of my workshop Organize Your Digital ‘Stuff’ Once and For All, and I think if you want to start 2020 fresh without all the digital clutter, it’s a fun way to do it.

But no matter what: Your ideas are so very, very important.

Begin taking more tender care of them, and you’ll be amazed at how your business grows.

Do you know the three stories crucial to successfully growing your business?

There are three stories that drive my whole business. Every part of it, from website content, to the classes I offer, all the way to organizing my computer and even remembering to do my accounting (seriously!) hinges on these three stories.

Over my 20 years of doing this, I’ve noticed that the people who’ve taken time to articulate these stories—even just in their journals—tend to steadily grow, stay on track, and suffer less frustration in their working lives. Below are these three stories, and I’ll put the most important one first.

Can you relate? (Want to practice? Email me your stories, or lack of them, because I am a story nerd and love to talk about it 🙂

The first:
Knowing the story of the person out there we’ve shown up to help…and who we’re uniquely ABLE to help.

The person who most needs what you offer has a story. S/he’s on a particular quest—whether it’s articulated like that or not—and knowing what it IS is the first step toward being able to establish a warm relationship with her.

I’ll tell you how I feel about my own, as an example to jump off from.

She’s always with me.

She’s had the guts to decide to work for herself rather than work for others. She’s not just after the benefits of self-employment: Creative expression, self-determination, autonomy, flexibility, income etc. She also craves the chance to shape her business to the needs of a higher purpose, bigger than just boosting the bottom line of a big organization with her skills and gifts.

Of course, she’s bumped up against all the obstacles we’ve faced too: It’s hard work to get started. It’s not easy getting a steady stream of clients. Marketing can be a mystery. Everyone wants to sell you some expensive miracle cure for whatever ails your business. Suddenly, 24 hours is too few to pull off the productive day you imagined you’d have. And those are just a few of the dozens of little stumbling blocks including…doing your books.

But she keeps on going.  One foot in front of the other. One helpful friend’s advice at a time. One new client at a time. One life-lesson at a time.

Her courage just blows me away, even when she can’t see it herself.
She’s my hero, and I believe in her.

Who is yours?  And what’s her story?

The second:
Knowing the story of our own work, and WHY we do what we do

This story, when written down, can be big, or it can be small, but either way it should resonate through your entire being when you consider it.

Big might include:

  • how you came to this work, and why you chose to do it
  • whose lives you hope to improve with it
  • the pains or problems or challenges you help release
  • how people are utilizing what you’ve done together to create more joy
  • the ways your work is bringing more good to a person, a community, or the world – the “more of this or less of that” hope that I talk about so often

Small might simply be revisiting an exercise like this:

I help {___description of your ideal people____}
     to  { ____do, be, change, create, etc____}
          using my {____your specific loving offerings ____}
               so they can {__how is their life better?___}.

And the third:
Knowing the good story we hope people will tell others about us

To paraphrase a recent book I read on this, you and I have never gushed to a friend or perfect stranger: “Let me tell you about this perfectly adequate experience I had recently!”

That’s obviously not going to happen, right? But what’s the opposite? What IS the story we want them to tell?

Because we all do different things, it’s hard for me to give you an example, but clues might be found by considering some of these statements (variants of thing I’ve read/heard said about my own beloved clients)  Hint: People are becoming a bit immune to “s/he (or it) ‘changed my whole life’ or similar general claims, so you’ll notice these are more specific:

  • I finally feel like I found someone who “gets” me…and doesn’t try to squeeze me into a one-size-fits-all sales funnel.
  • I only wish I hadn’t waited so long to contact her and get started—I’d like all the time back I spent spinning my wheels.
  • Future me is going to look back on this (session/project/class) and realize that a huge shift in my life started right here.
  • Do you know he sends chocolate out to everyone he works with? It’s so cool!
  • She meets with me (for a walking session, over tacos, by video from under her oak tree, any time I need her). I’ve never met anyone else who did it that way.
  • It’s funny – it feels like she’s a friend who just also happens to be my (coach, teacher, consultant, mentor, etc.) How perfect is that?
  • I never thought someone could make me actually like (your topic, action, class, etc.) But I loved it.
  • I had a lot of resistance to change. But we just sort of magically dissolved that together by (what did you do?)

This isn’t just standard testimonial fodder (though it might be nice for that purpose).  Rather, this is capturing something you do, say, or offer that’s memorable, different, and very specific. Those are the kinds of experiences and transformations that grow wings and are shared from person to person easily and swiftly.

Knowing and internalizing these three stories for your work and your business can help knit together all of those dangling parts of your work that often don’t play nice together.

Love,

Margaret

 

Postcards to yourself from Future You: Just goofy enough for me

I had called Kaiser to make a future appointment with dermatology (keeping an eye on that skin cancer stuff) and had been on hold for, literally, a half hour when I started doodling a postcard to me from my Future Me.

She told me it was a great idea I was thinking about taking better care of my body, and finally making some use of that health insurance I pay so much for every month. It was so weird…it really didn’t feel like me. But a little like me. I was “catching it” rather than writing it myself.

I liked the feeling it gave me so much that I now do this as a regular practice.

Future Me is SO much cooler, calmer, healthier, and more prosperous than Current Me, and I want to do whatever it takes to be more like her.

Below are some examples. You could do a similar thing…just sayin’. (I do it on Photoshop and it takes me about a minute to channel what she wants to say and make a postcard for myself…Canva would work too!)

 

 

 

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.