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.


A friendly reminder to start with your Why, not your What

We all know about the importance of starting with our “Why,” right? I’ve been talking with local businesses lately, and it’s reminded me how prevalent it still is, as we promote our work, to start with “What,” move to “How,” and buried somewhere there may be a “Why.” Here’s an unfortunate example of that: What: X has a restaurant where she serves top-quality farm-to-table food. How: She sources all of her ingredients locally and organically wherever possible, and prepares them all from scratch in an elegant setting. Why: (and this is a direct quote from her) “Because that niche is really profitable right now.” Even though she – naturally – never published that anywhere, virtually everyone who patronized that business could feel that ‘Why’ intuitively, without ever having been told in writing. The restaurant had a polished style, sky-high prices far above the responsibly-sourced standard, select table visits from the owner (depending on your status in the community), and it churned out lots of waste unnecessarily. Service was formal and stiff, portions were tiny and artfully arranged. The food was quite wonderful. Note the use of the past tense ‘was’. A real shame. A more compelling “Why”—more than just “because I can make a lot of money on it” might have built lots of grassroots support in my community, which is a thoughtful one. For you, this morning, two versions of Simon Sinek’s groundbreaking TED talk “Start with Why.” There’s a full 18-minute version, followed below by an edited version (just 5 minutes) if you’re in a hurry. Suggestion? Go ahead and turn on the longer version and let it play in the background as you go about your tasks. It’s a message that can percolate in even if not watching the video.




Don’t make your people start at the mountaintop: Diverse offerings as an act of compassion

I know many, many solo businesspeople who start out with only one product (or possibly two). It’s a workshop for $500, or consulting packages for $2000, or a multi-month coaching program for $5000, or a massive piece of art that’s even more.

It pains me sometimes to watch them waiting for people to show up to work with them. It hurts to hear about cashflow problems and hear them speculate whether they are going to have to go back and “work for the Man” again.

Yes, they may be worth every penny, and probably are. No, you should not under-charge for your offerings. But there’s another way.

You want people to meet you, learn about you, trust you, right?

If you’re on the mountaintop, people have to convince themselves to make that climb all the way up, just to find out whether they even “click” with you and the way you work.

What if you first met them down in the river valley where they live, and you had a picnic together to have a basic conversation, learn about each other?

What if your next encounter was a little higher, on a hilltop where you could look out and point out the possibilities all around, and they could see more of your strengths and vision up there, see how much you can carry with grace.

And what if you THEN offered the opportunity to go all the way to the top…now that they know and trust and admire you? After having the opportunity to get to know you, isn’t it much more likely they’ll willingly make the climb to meet you there?

That metaphor is what’s playing in my mind when I advise people to have several levels of offerings:

A free offering, such as a brief get-to-know-you session, to chat a bit and see if you have common ground, if you’re right for each other

A lower-cost product, service, or resource, like an ebook, real book or a session or webinar for under $50, which allows people a low-risk way to observe how you do things and what you know

A mid-priced offering that both requires AND instills more trust, where they can really see how amazing you are at what you do, and how life-changing working with you could be

AND a deep-dive, fully-featured full-priced offering (the beautiful mountaintop) which will more readily be purchased by these folks who’ve developed trust and respect for you

This is a compassionate, respectful way of structuring what you offer so that more people can follow a natural path to you that doesn’t feel risky.

Not only is this good for them, it’s good for you too.

You’ll have a chance to observe whether they’re the client best suited for the work you love doing. Are they open to your message? Do they respect your way of working? Are they willing to do their end of the work?

Consider it?


If you’d like to talk this through, get a whole bunch of new ideas, and get some solid guidance on where to start, get in touch with me and let’s chat. For example, I have a fun one-time WTHAID (what the hell am I doing?) session you’ll love, and it will likely pay for itself many times over.

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

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

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

So I did.

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

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

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

All of them.

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

What ARE you going on about, Margaret?

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

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

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

Times are changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Do it to go big or to go…little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do it to know who you are.

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

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

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

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


Those first small business steps–they’re not carved in stone

Oh, I know, there’s supposed to be a rigid formula you follow when you start any sort of business:

  • A concept, tested by research and proven viable
  • A set of offerings – product, services, knowledge, etc.
  • Knowing your ideal client – the person your offerings are best suited for
  • Setting up your business “stuff” and hanging out your shingle
  • Doing marketing according to all the formulas available online
  • Networking like a maniac, even if you hate networking
  • Getting your first client(s)
  • Learning from the experience and then
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

And yet I know so many great people who did it all “wrong”:

My friend Sharla dreamed up a set of services that made life easier for local business owners – things she loved doing and was good at, and it seemed like lots of people needed them. She gave away some free sessions first, and completely blew people away. Soon she had her first word-of-mouth client, learned from the experience, went back and re-tooled what she wanted to offer, did a little research, then started marketing.

A pal in California has been coaching clients for years and still doesn’t have a business. He’s making enough money, healing the world, loving life, and thinks maybe next year he’ll print some business cards. Just to see.

Matthias, a designer I met in Mexico City, has had a steady stream of design clients since 2002, when someone in a cafe saw the doodles in his journal and asked if he could please help their nonprofit make a brochure. That client told the next, who referred the next, who referred the next. He’s far too introverted to turn people down, so this steady-supply kind of business works perfectly for him . . . he doesn’t want to be swamped with requests and doesn’t want employees.

As for me, well, I got my first client before I even knew I wanted to start a business. It was a friend of a friend who needed web design help. She became the blueprint for my ideal client. Some time around my third or fourth client (many months later), I made my own logo and website. I officially developed service offerings a year later and started marketing . . . somewhere around my tenth year.

For all of these people, the keys to beginning were very different from all of the ones recommended by the big gurus. They were firmly rooted in three basic actions:

  1. Visualize a person/population who you might want to help, someone for whom you have genuine empathy and respect.
  2. Brainstorm some ways to help that someone’s life be easier, happier, healthier, more connected, or more fulfilling.
  3. Find one person who fits your focus and your product/service, and approach them with an open heart and an authentic desire to help.



Have you been waiting to really move forward with your work, or struggling to keep going? Do you keep following all the popular advice and it really doesn’t feel right? If you’re afraid you’re not following the right dance steps, not stepping in the right footprints, maybe it’s time to ditch the one-size-fits-all programs and let your heart lead you to something more authentic, more solid.

Shake it up. Do it another way—a more personal way.

You might really be surprised. And you might have fun.


Rekindle Your Fire

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Oh, those times when you’ve done your best and just can’t seem to get where your heart wants to go. You’ve read every book, followed every guru’s advice, tried every tactic. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone in your life who “gets you” and can help you unravel what’s happening, and make it all fall into place at last? Let’s talk >>


The notion of our work being a two-part harmony

Sometimes my mantra for the day comes to me early. Sometimes later. Sometimes right before bed. Today, I was fortunate to find this thought upon which to meditate almost immediately after opening my eyes in the morning.

“All business vocations should strive for greatness (excellence/quality) and goodness (heart). All business vocations should have a harmony between profit and the desire to do good work for the world. How do you do this? By pursuing both priorities all the time.”
Shawn Askinosie in Meaningful Work: A Quest To Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, And Feed Your Soul

Do I pursue both of these priorities all the time? I know that, when woven together, they make an almost unbreakable combination that can carry me through “dry” times, times of doubt, and times of excitement with grace and purpose.

Do I give them equal weight and equal space in my daily activities?

My actions are the ground on which I stand

My actions are the ground on which I stand. —Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been living in the world of words lately. As I try to grow this budding new “business” of mine (though that doesn’t seem a good description of it) I spend hours and hours writing, researching, listening to words of wisdom, and exploring.

I was talking with a client the other day who has been working on trying to build his business for some time. He has wonderful systems in place, a good vision statement, and beautiful product & service offerings designed.

And not a single client to show for it.

He’s been building the business in his head for a year. Building a website but not publicizing its existence. Building his expertise but not inviting anyone into it. His training is impeccable, his wisdom deep. But the weight of just carrying it around with no one stepping forward to say, “I want what you’re offering, here’s my money” was deepening into depression.

He asked me what to do.
I suggested he physically go out and find a client to work with.
He reminded me he didn’t know any clients.
I reminded him he knew some human beings.
He said that they weren’t interested in purchasing his coaching.
I said, who said anything about purchasing?

My advice was to close his laptop computer, get out of his home office, and ask, ideally in person, someone in his trusted circle (friends, family, cool colleagues) to be his coaching client, so he could try out what—until now—has been beautifully and productively happening only in his head and heart.

I suggested he make it someone who really believes in him and wants him to succeed, but also a) can benefit from what he’s doing, and b) is willing to be perfectly candid with him and give him good feedback.

Yes, I am a big believer in the small, bite-sized action as a powerful catalyst to jump out of torpor. Until the body moves, the brain will not get the picture.

Actions are the ground on which I stand. Thoughts and wisdom-gathering are essential.  But the action of reaching out—in real life—and working with a real human made of skin and bone and muscle and neurons is essential to get it all the click into place, like hooking the train engine up to its cars so you can finally take people on their journey.

Actions are tangible, physical, and stimulating to your brain, body, spirit, and energy in order to start attracting the right people to you.

Actions—even “free” things like the one I’ve suggested to my client—tell the universe, I am here, I am moving, I am ready. See?

In his situation, he didn’t need more learning, more online workshops, more reading, more podcasts, more website tweaks.

He needed action. (And he’s working on it. He has his first meeting next week with his former boss, who was interested in what he’s offering.)

Now that I’ve helped him, I wonder what MY action will be?


The moving walkway: How knowing our own patterns can keep us on target

Once, while sitting at Denver International Airport waiting for a crowded flight, the only empty seat to sit down was at the end of one of the many moving walkways that whisk people quickly to their gates.

The tinny little electronic voice—a pleasant woman-robot’s voice—droned on and on,

“Moving walkway is nearing its end. Please watch your step.”
“Moving walkway is nearing its end. Please watch your step.”
“Moving walkway is nearing its end. Please watch your step.”

In between each repetition, there were three seconds (ask me how I know).

I should’ve moved (standing would have been better, right?) but I couldn’t. I was mesmerized by a pattern I kept seeing.

People would step off the moving walkway with their bags, and then do a 180-degree turn and walk back the way they came, to a gate they’d passed. The gate was usually halfway back to the start of the moving walkway. Sometimes they had to run back.

It reminded me then—and still reminds me—of a pattern I’ve finally identified in myself and how I handle personal and professional growth.

I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to new things to learn. I get “shiny object syndrome” like no one I know, at least when it comes to learning. Ooh! A class on managing my calendar better!  Ooh! A webinar on “How to organize your files and photos.” Ooh! A workshop on building online courses!

That, in itself, is a GOOD thing, right?  The desire to be a lifelong learner?

It would be a good thing, except that I go through the workshop, tinker a bit with whatever subject matter it taught me, and then Ooh! A self-care-for-entrepreneurs series! I need that!  I have folders and folders full of the most exquisite knowledge: courses, recordings, ebooks, workbooks, spreadsheets, and a trillion links to things I couldn’t live without when I first learned of them.

In short, I learn, but before I can really solidify the learning into a rock-solid habit in my life, I jump to the next shiny learning object to gather more, and more, and more. Those new skills never become the breakthrough I was hoping for when I paid for them. It’s me, compulsively jumping on the moving walkway and whizzing right past my destination: A calm, profitable, fun, and efficient business that nourishes me.

(When I think I can outsmart this, I then I jump on the walkway going in the other direction with a new push for professional or personal growth, and whiz past my destination going the other way. But I do get some nifty new folders full of abandoned resources out of the deal. Sigh.)

It’s not an efficient way to do things, right?

So I’m making an agreement with myself, right here in front of you: No new educational ventures until I’ve either
a) fully absorbed the lessons and habits of the previous one, and can describe how I’ve achieved the goal of it (a noticeable improvement of some kind that moves me closer to my desired state), or
b) decided not to use that knowledge after all.

Either way, I’ve wiped the chalkboard clean and am ready for something new.

Elaborate/expensive/fun avoidance is still avoidance, no matter how pretty the packaging.

What about you?  What’s a habit you’ve noticed about yourself that’s beautiful on the outside, but perhaps not in your best interests on the inside?




On marketing’s place in the world

“Marketing should magnify the truth, not manipulate a message.
Our job isn’t to get everyone to believe us.
It’s to give the right people something to believe in.”

Bernadette Jiwa, Story Driven: You don’t need to compete when you know who you are

How’s that for something to wake up to?

I’ve long had a problem with marketing, at least marketing the way it’s largely been done over time.

Having come out of that business, I am cursed with the memories of countless little rooms where the same conversation took place over and over again: “What can we say to get people to buy this?”

Oh, there were variants, like “What can we tell people about our company so they’ll want to buy from us?” and “How can we convince people that they need this?”

Only rarely did I see a product or service that was marketed like this:
“Here’s who we are, and here’s why we created this. It helps (these people) do/feel/be (this way), so we invite you to give it a try and see what you think.”

An example that comes to mind:

When Bevel’s Tristan Walker talks about why he started a health and beauty company for people of color, he was motivated by how hard it is to grow up in a country where cosmetics and grooming products have been crafted with one ethnic group in mind. It was hard to find the right makeup colors if you were a dark-skinned woman, for example, and impossible to find shaving razors designed for men with coarse, curly facial hair that made shaving hell (think razor bumps…ingrown hairs…ouch). And that’s more than just an inconvenience.

When he was a young Wall Street intern, a fellow trader sneered at him to ‘clean up the hair on his face.’ “I remember being mortified not only by the fact that the guy was a jerk, but also that I didn’t know what to do,” Walker says. “There were just no products for me on the market. For a hundred years, we haven’t had products that have worked for us.” (Fast Company)

The marketing of their product lines on Walker & Co’s website magnifies the truth:
For people of color, it was very hard to find beauty/shaving products that helped them not be mortified.
So they started a company to solve that problem, because life shouldn’t be like that.

No screaming, no scarcity, no subtle or not-so-subtle social pressure.

The message isn’t, “You know you’ll be less attractive/less popular/less happy if you don’t buy/wear/experience our stuff.”

It’s “There wasn’t enough of this in the world, so we made it for you AND for us. We’re in this together.”

I like that.

What’s the truth of your business, your practice, your work?
What does the world have too much of, or not enough of?
What do you offer that helps tip that balance?