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.

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 might grumble about that all as ‘namby-pamby new age BS.’ Sometimes they leave skid marks.

And that works perfectly 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,, 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,, 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?


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

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.

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.


Ten questions for businesses that matter (or businesses that want to)

I ask myself these questions all the time. In fact, I once made a desktop screensaver for my laptop, so I’d be guaranteed to see them at least 50 times each day…how’s that for crazy? I just wanted to be sure I internalized them thoroughly, and that they’re not lost in the crush of day-to-day obligations.

Why did you choose the area of work you currently do, rather than something else?

What are you finding is the hardest thing about doing it?

What’s the one thing you’re good at that few people truly ARE good at?

What’s in short supply in our human lives, and you’d like to see more of it?

What do we have too much of all around us, and you’d like to see less of it?

Who are the human beacons you pay attention to, and who are the human beacons you want to help create?

What do you fear the most, in terms of working for yourself?

What thing do you wish you had more of?

What do you want people to say when they talk about you to their best friend or coolest colleague?

How do you answer this question? The work I do is creating (will create) more _________ in the world.

There are no rights or wrongs here. But there are sneaky clues. If you find a question hard to answer, try freewriting about it. If there’s one that makes you feel the tug of resistance inside, think about why. If there’s one you can’t answer in 1-2 sentences, there may be an opportunity there to tighten up your mission or your messaging.

In a business that matters, your “why” is just as important as your “how much.”

Feel free to take any of these and riff on it in a blog post of your own. You might be surprised where it takes you.

Happy day to all.

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

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

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

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

January 16:

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

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

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

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

Give your efforts the best chance for success.

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

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

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

Sometimes you just have to trust.

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

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

Remember that everything goes in cycles.

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

The right tools are critical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Etc., a virtual assistant service that offers thousands of talented potential helpers to time-stressed people for less than $30/hour….perfect when you’re trying to research the best email service, flight to Brussels, nontoxic office supplies, etc. is an in-person version, vetted/insured somebodies who can do things like shop for your groceries so you don’t have to live on Big Macs when you bump through an 80-hour work week. helps with tiny but important tasks, the kind that would take you hours but will take them fifteen minutes (ahem, for $10).

Postmates gets your package across town in an hour.

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

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

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

Doing small things with great love

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

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

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

And then there are small things, like

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

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

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

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

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

The unexpected joys of insomnia

I don’t get enough sleep. I know that. There are several reasons for that, none of them easily remedied, but there is one fringe benefit to it: I’m learning a lot.

Around 3:00am, my body decides it would prefer to get up, move around, drink water, and stare out at the Moon (and lately, Mars). When I can coax it into laying back down, I try to keep it entertained by listening to podcasts.

Generally, the podcasts in my playlist relate in some way to storytelling, doing work that matters, taking better care of our hard-working bodies and minds, or having a balanced and meaningful life. Good Life Project, Sounds True, The Minimalists, The Moth, Caffeine for the Soul, The Urban Monk… All have populated the pre-dawn hours of my life recently.

Here’s something fun that happens, though. My “other brain” is still listening even after I’ve fallen asleep, and it’s paying close attention.

Invariably, I’ll wake up again “for good” at 6:00 am, with one earbud still plugged into one ear, my iPod wedged in my armpit, and the podcast long finished. But I’ll remember very clearly something I heard while I was sound asleep. I stumble to my desk, grab the nearest pen-like object, and write a few words down that allow me to go back and find it again (there’s a special place in heaven for podcasts with transcripts…)  At the very least, it’s good food for thought, and at its best, it’s the answer to a perplexing question I’d been carrying in my heart.

It happened on Tuesday. And I’ve never shared this with anyone before, but I wanted to share today’s with you. It’s a little magical.

I woke and scribbled down a line from Alisoun Mackenzie’s wonderful “Give to Profit Podcast” in which she explores how to use our work and our businesses as “an opportunity to be kind.” I could remember something beautiful, so I went hunting for it and eventually found it:

“I didn’t have the time to keep my charitable giving separate from my business. So I brought my desire to make a difference in the world into the heart of my business.”


I’d been thinking about the mindset that many good people are attached to, the one that goes like this: “I need to make a lot of money with my business so I can support the causes and charities that matter to me. Once I’m bigger and have tons of cash, I’ll finally be able to give to those causes/volunteer more/change the world.”

Is that true? Do we have to wait?

Isn’t that something like, “I’ll be a nice person just as soon as my life is better”?

“I’ll stop patronizing that awful local business just as soon as a new one starts up”?

“My job tires me out too much to look for another job”?

What lies at the heart of your business? What can you be doing now with the work you already do, that doesn’t require any special income level, any special success metrics? How can you shape your business to be an engine for good – AND a livelihood that supports you?

Alisoun’s podcast is just brilliant, by the way:

Yet another blog post about morning rituals: Yeah, I know. Sorry.

Oh no! Not another blog post about having a morning routine!

Okay, I get that. But I am looking out at all of you and I see that fourteen of you don’t yet have a morning ritual of your own, seven of you have one that you never remember to do, and three more are saying, “What is she talking about?”  I’ll refer to you as the Don’t Haves, the Avoiders, and the WTH tribes.

You three in WTH? This first part’s for you:

The morning ritual is something that’s been written about in Fast Company, Inc., the Wall Street Journal, and about a trillion other publications.  It’s been popular among high achievers for centuries. Marcus Aurelius had a morning ritual. Benjamin Franklin had one.  Mark Twain contributed the often-quoted advice more than a hundred years ago, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” (translation: get the hard things out of the way first).

The theory is that, by starting your day with some sort of routine that combines contemplation, goal-setting, and various kinds of preparatory activities, you can set yourself up to have a productive, focused, and happy day—by intent, not by luck.

For you Avoiders (which is me sometimes)

There are so many reasons for avoidance. Or so I tell myself.

Leo Babauta (one of my heroes) first wrote about his morning routine in 2007 here.  His routine starts at 4:30am and takes about two hours.  Tony Robbins often talks about his “Hour of Power” and even had a podcast you could tune into if you couldn’t motivate yourself to do it alone.  Hal Elrod has a handy acronym for his version of it, S.A.V.E.R.S. – short for Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribe — which I tried for a while. It took about 30 minutes, and covered a lot of bases.

Each would last about two weeks. Then I’d find all the excuses in the world not to do it.

No matter what it says about me, I found that ALL of these were just too much of a time commitment to be sustainable.  (If that makes me an unfocused slacker, so be it.) I’m a person who does her most inspired work in the early morning within an hour of waking up, and I couldn’t seem to get myself to consistently postpone that creative window with a big block of time for some guru’s prescribed ritual.

I had to find something that was easy to stick with, felt good (not a chore), and had a measurable impact. Otherwise, I’d just be tempted to dive into the day right away.

And finally, for the Don’t Haves:

If you Google “morning ritual” you’ll find at least a gazillion different iterations of this. It might be helpful to take a chance at something like “(name of person you respect)’s morning routine” to see if something resonates. Or you can check out a newish book that catalogs the morning routines of a slew of noteworthy people called My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired by Benjamin Spall.

After failing to stick to any of the mainstream wisdom about this, rather than sink into self-flagellation, I sat with it a while.

I decided, to steal a line from The Martian, that I had to logic the sh*t out of it. So I wrote down my criteria:

Drink and breathe. My body is dry, dry, dry when I wake up, and it’s been running on decreased oxygen levels. We don’t breathe as deeply when we’re sleeping, and not all our alveoli (lung spaces) are on duty at night.  It’s a wonder any of us can think straight. Drinking water and waking my lungs and brain up with some good deep breathing gets the machine jumpstarted again.
Move. Simple. And effective. I’ve noticed that if I move my body before I sit down to write, I can actually…write well. Come up with ideas. Not stare out the window with my pen suspended above the paper. If I don’t get any movement in, my thoughts and creativity are like sludge.
Notice: What’s going right in my world? There’s plenty of time later to think about what’s not, in fact it’s hard to avoid. Making sure I check in once a day with what I’m grateful for has helped me stay sane.
Write: Capture, on real paper, what I’d like to have done prior to sitting down in this exact space again tomorrow.

And all of that has to take less than 15 minutes, or I will. Not. Do it.

A tall order, delivered

Three years ago I attended a workshop offered by local coach Katy Moses Huggins called Kick Start Your Business.  Lots of super-useful stuff eventually came out of that workshop, much of which still drive my work systems.  But the part I implemented immediately, and which has made a massive difference in my work, was her morning ritual, which takes about 10 minutes. It looks something like this for me:

3 minutes of movement.  No rules on this. It’s whatever gets breath, body, blood moving.  I usually click on the coffee pot, set a timer, and do 3 minutes of whatever movement seems to fit that morning.  Stepping up and down the carpeted step down into my family room, walking around the quiet house lifting hand weights, easy yoga positions, wrestling with the dog, or just going outside and pulling some weeds.

1 minute of deep, rhythmic breathing.  I’m a person who routinely robs her brain of oxygen when stressed, by shifting my breathing to shallow, short, barely-useful breaths.  Conscious deep breathing oxygenates my brain and gets me thinking more clearly almost immediately. I couple this with drinking two very large glasses of water; one before, one after.

3 minutes of gratitude.  I never would’ve believed this mattered if I hadn’t tried it. Even on the most stressful of mornings, I force myself to be quiet and think of the people, places, things, fateful life events, everything and anything good that has graced my life and made me what I am. Instead of leaping right into everything that’s wrong and needs to be fixed, I start with what’s right. When I don’t do this, my day plays out entirely differently, and stressors become nightmares.

3 minutes of powerful actions I can take that day to make progress toward the life I want.  I keep a special, inviting multicolored journal and pen on the coffee table to sit and do this part.  It guides my entire day.  Taking a hint from Leo Babauta, I write down my three “MITs” (most important things) that I want to be sure I complete before the end of the day.  And then anything else that my gut says would bring me to day’s end feeling complete, powerful and happy.

That’s 10 minutes.  This short amount of time works for me.  I have a very slow-dripping old coffee maker, and I find that I can usually complete the whole ritual while it’s doing its thing.  Then I can move into my day, which usually involves doing some writing first (daily writing has been one of my goals for the last few years), then working on my MITs.

I’ve never been one who could easily stick to a routine.  I’m just not wired that way.  I follow sparks of inspiration hither, thither and yon, and sometimes I get to the end of my work day and feel as though I had fun, but didn’t get anywhere near the work output I’d hoped for.

This morning ritual has been part of my life for some time now, and I can honestly say that when I DON’T make time for it, for whatever reason (insomnia, early morning crises, etc)  I feel it just as harshly as if I’d forgotten to eat, or was catching a bad cold.  I’m “off” in every way, and at the end of the day, it feels like I’ve been wandering around like a Roomba, running into limitations and turning around and around, covering the territory of my life but sooo inefficiently.

And frankly, there are too many things I want to do with my remaining days here on Earth to waste time that way.

So, yeah. The morning ritual thing has been beaten to death, and I’m sorry. But I still advise you to have one — but craft one for yourself. It’s turned me into a person I never thought I could be.