Live Long and Prosper—Lessons Learned in 2015, part 1

Stuart Miles at fdp.netNo, I’m not a Trekkie, but the saying is fitting for this week’s blog…

When do you review your business analytics? Do you have a set fiscal year? Do you check analytics quarterly? Do you do a financial review with your bookkeeper or accountant? Or are your efforts haphazard and unpredictable?

When I worked in cardiac rehab, I reviewed a patient’s health progress with each visit, often 3 times per week, as well as monthly and quarterly. Each review involved a different depth of review, but kept us both informed of changes, setbacks and progress.

The same is needed for the heart of our business. As with my patients, it’s sometimes scary to review our business’s vital signs, but unless we do, we may be headed into the equivalent of an entrepreneurial cardiac event.

Even though reviewing my business creates some apprehension, I always come away with useful information. Here is a summary of the areas I will be improving and the 2016 actions I’m taking to implement these goals:

Simplicity with systems and outsourcing—hiring a virtual assistant with expertise in organization and systems. Although it is TOUGH to outsource this activity, it will save me time and headaches and ensure a more consistent, thorough completion of tasks.

Social media sharing—blogs, news, curated content, etc. Creating the content is easy; sharing it everywhere is its own full time job. I’ll share some of these tasks with my VA but will also learn Hootsuite, Zoho and other tools to help simplify the tasks.

Sales funnelKris the Scribbler took a new business direction in 2015 (Grandparents in Business and providing content services for business owners over 50), which has modified my sales funnel. Through mentors, my business coach and independent study, I’ll be implementing a new process. Here’s one of the infographics that have been helpful in developing my new plan: The Blog Sales Funnel.

Follow up—you’ve heard it: if you build it, they will come…It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t work that way with business. If your audience doesn’t know you exist, they won’t come. The task falls to you (and me) to be found. For Kris the Scribbler, that means social media sharing, podcasts, speaking and writing…and following up!

Technology fears—enough is enough. I’m smart and resourceful and I know where to go for solutions. I recognize my style of learning so this will be the year I implement it and eliminate headaches and lost opportunities.

What lessons have you learned about your business in 2015? Got questions? I’ve got hints and tips to work you through your business and content snags. Contact me to learn more.

Next week I’ll discuss the business growth and strengths that emerged from 2015.

Kristen Edens
A grandparent in business

(photo image courtesy of Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net)

Skip’s Tips: Never Go Straight; Always Move Forward

Exsodus at fdp.net

There’s a saying, ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.’ While this may apply to geographical location and high school geometry, it rarely applies to business or life.

My friend, Stan Jechura of All Safe Inspections, recently shared a variation of this lesson, taught by his father, which is applicable to business and to life.

“As children, Dad would often ask ‘how do we get home from here?’ Our answer was ‘go straight down this road’. Dad would tell us ‘no, that will just put you in a ditch. To make it home safely you must go forward.’ Dad taught us that there are unexpected twists and turns that can catch us off guard and throw us in a ditch.” Stan explains further, “This wisdom was instilled in all aspects of life and became the advice we needed to move us through any challenge we encountered.”

When you own a business, there are many ditches waiting to catch us in our journey. One such experience in ‘going straight’ was when I first started my business with the plan to write for the horticulture and medical industries. I tussled and toiled with establishing a presence because those were my dream industries. However, I kept slipping into the ditch and running into dead ends. Meanwhile, other opportunities were developing. When I decided to divert from my initial path that’s when opportunities blossomed. If I didn’t move forward at that time, I’d need a backhoe to get out of the ditch!

What do you struggle with? Finances? Personal issues? Relationships? Business growth? Health? Are you forcing yourself to go straight? Moving forward allows us to ‘go with the flow’ and to adjust with the changing winds, terrain, and obstacles, making for a less bumpy ride. Those bends in the road can lead to some amazing places that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.

What discoveries have you made as you’ve journeyed forward?

Kristen Edens
A grandparent in business

(photo courtesy of Exsodus at freedigitalphotos.net)

How to Entertain a Toddler & Business Lessons Learned

12.3.15a StL airport “Improvise, adapt, and overcome is a powerful way of thinking for any person who is faced with an obstacle or a desired objective in life…’to succeed despite the challenges we must plan, solve, recalculate, refocus, and think again. Then reinvent your plan, redirect your plan, and think again.’ Repeat this process and persevere until the goal is accomplished.”
–Roger Crawford, Think Again

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel with my granddaughter, Ziva. The plan was to spend time with family members while I took care of some business affairs out west. I was packed and prepared days in advance with plenty of activity to entertain a 3 year old for two flights, TSA security checks and a 2 hour layover.

However, ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ –Robert Burns

The first obstacle occurred when my initial flight was immediately delayed for four hours with little explanation. My only concern; how do I entertain Ziva in one location for four hours? I didn’t have time to plan or panic because her requests immediately began.

“Grandma, I’m hungry.”

“Grandma, let’s play.”

“Chase me.”

“Let’s dance.”

I was immediately reminded of the Marine mantra, ‘improvise, adapt, and overcome’, quite applicable for battle and toddlers! My goal was to keep Ziva content and entertained without stirring her wrath—which can become an act of terror.

So I found unique ways to keep her entertained—while carrying my computer and two carry-on bags:

  • We played with the soap dispensers12.3.15b StL airport
  • We colored and tickled and chased and danced
  • She packed and unpacked our carry-on bags
  • She counted airplanes, vehicles, colors, shapes, and artwork: she counted five-teen of anything she could find.
  • We visited every shop along the terminal playing ‘find the minion’.

When we arrived in Denver, there was a whole new airport to explore: the moving sidewalk and a touch-sensitive wall were our new friends. It was during this time that I could take a breather.

After we boarded our last flight. I pulled out some snacks and was gearing up to count soda cans on the flight attendant’s cart when something amazing happened:

Ziva fell asleep!

The last 2 hours were peaceful and I used that time to complete two assignments and work on the draft for this blog. We arrived at our destination rested, cheerful and tasks completed, although six hours overdue.

Whatever your task: toddlers or clients, family or self, you will encounter obstacles to your own ‘best laid plans’. Our first, and sometime preferred method of handling the obstacle may be to cuss and cry, but we learn fast that this wastes our time. Instead, be prepared to improvise, overcome and adapt. You’ll maintain your sanity with fewer frustrations, grey hair and wrinkles. It’s an effective mantra to live by!

Kristen Edens
A grandparent in business

(photos courtesy of the KtS library)

What are Your Distraction Risk Factors?

Stuart Miles 11.30.15

 

Everyone needs a break now and then but when does a break become a distraction?

When I worked in Cardiac Rehab, I would help patients identify the factors influencing the likelihood of a cardiac event and discuss options for reducing future events. These risk factors were classified into non-modifiable risks and modifiable risks.

For those of us with home-based businesses, we have a similar degree of risk factors that increase the likelihood of our breaks turning into disturbances during our work day:

Non-modifiable distraction factors

  • Self
  • Family & friends
  • Pets

These are the factors that we can’t eliminate. Well, we could, but it requires drastic measures. It’s better to put that energy into adapting:

Self: we can be our worst enemy and our greatest source of distraction—mentally and physically. Setting a schedule for ourselves and sticking to it is the strongest starting block for putting us and everyone else on track.

Family/friends: How often have you told your family ‘don’t disturb me unless it’s an emergency’? The problem is our definition of an emergency is different from what they consider an emergency.

  • Emergency: the house on fire, someone choking or bleeding
  • Non-emergency: spider on the wall, chocolate all gone, fix the remote control, a cute video on YouTube, or a need to vent

For everyone’s sanity, review and revise the rules early and often. What works this month may not work next. You have the power to adjust, adapt and train.

Pets: see Kitty Litter Crunch for more on this, but establish rules with your animal friends, too. They’re easier to train than family members.

Modifiable distraction factors

  • Schedule
  • Location
  • Clients
  • Projects

Each of these can intensify or contribute to the non-modifiable risk factors. As you establish your routine, it may be necessary to experiment with these points to maintain productivity. Some ideas may include:

  • Start earlier in the day or work later in the evening. You may find varying your daily schedule works best.
  • Spend a few days a week working at a co-working space. These are popular locations (with all the amenities and none of the noise) popping up all over the country.
  • For the budget-conscious, working one or more days per week at a library is an option. Internet, resource librarians and plenty of quiet are bonuses.

Take a moment to review this list. Which risk factors rate highest? What can be done now to reduce distractions from your work day? How do you prevent or divert distractions?

Kristen Edens
A grandparent in business

(image courtesy of Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net)

Does Body Art influence Business Impressions & Success?

forearm tattoo-art.ekstrax.comDo you have a tattoo? Are you considering a tattoo or other form of body art but wonder how you’ll be perceived professionally?

I would like to get a tattoo on my left forearm that says ‘Lefty’, but didn’t know how it would be perceived. To find out, this became my next networking question.

Jason Stroede of Clarus Wealth Management says:

“I admire anyone who has the courage to get tattooed. Skin art has less impact than one’s attire but professionalism and confidence in their appearance is most important. Large-gauge piercings would be more distracting.”

James Thomas, of James Thomas Productions adds:

“I view people with tattoos as innovative, creative and a bit of an instigator. It depends on what the tattoo depicts and what they wear. Going ‘over the top’ with full tattoos and piercings becomes too much.”

Deborah Davis of Free Concerts STL says:

“It’s distracting in a business setting but is becoming more common.”

Bruce Hoskins of BDO USA says:

“I’m a fan of tattoos even though I have none of my own. It can affect professional impressions so the best plan is to keep it inconspicuous.”

Karen Karabell of Cycling Savvy adds:

“My business interactions would not be influenced by tattoos.”

Ryan Pyles, a Medical Lab Technician offers a detailed explanation:

“There are generally 2 kinds of people with tattoos:

1- ‘The person with tattoos’ has one or two tattoos. The tattoos may or may not be in a visible place and are generally small in size.

2-‘The tattooed person’ is covered in large tattoos over most of their body that have taken years of work and thousands of dollars. (I fit this category—ten years of tattoos and thousands of dollars in payments).

Usually the ‘person with tattoos’ will show up to a job interview with their ink in full view and wonder why they have been judged for it. The ‘tattooed person’ will generally show up to an interview with all their tattoos covered and not call attention to themselves. In general, ‘the person with tattoos’ will complain about workplace policies for covering up visible tattoos. The ‘tattooed person’ will generally cover up with no complaints.

As a tattooed person I find myself judging interviewees when they choose not to cover up their tattoos. Part of the reason I suppose is that getting tattooed is a conscious choice. Tattoos aren’t widely accepted in society yet. Some work places are more lenient than others but since you can only make a first impression once, cover them up and don’t draw attention to yourself for the perceived “wrong reasons”. Once you get the job and your co-workers get to know you a little bit then it’s ok to roll up your sleeves to show your art.”

According to Ryan’s description, I classify myself as ‘a person with tattoos’ that are well hidden. I’m still debating my Lefty tattoo, but may add this to my collection in the future. Maybe.

What’s your opinion? Yay or nay on tattoos and other body art? Comment below and share with your friends.

Kris the Scribbler

(photo credit goes to art.ekstrax.com)

Does Attire influence Business Impressions & Success?

Ambro at fdp.net

I was at the farthest corner of the parking lot changing my clothes for Venture Café when this question came to mind. Prior to the event, I had been running errands that were best suited for casual, cooler clothing. Sitting in my driver’s seat, I whipped off my tank top and jean shorts and slipped into my dress slacks and button-down blouse, pondering the necessity of professional attire.

Growing up, it was a priority. My mother was a hospital administrator. My dad was a chemical engineer. There was never a day when they weren’t dressed in high professional style and expected the same of their children—all the time. That was never for me: I hated dresses, high heels and the stiff, polished style. Though I lost the dress code battle with my mother, I was always overdressed; an embarrassing situation I despised.

My attitude changed when I became a business owner. I still wasn’t going to wear any wretched high heels or panty hose and I sure wasn’t going to wear a dress, but I wanted clothing that conveyed a trustworthy, capable, and successful professional. Nancy Nix-Rice, an Image & Wardrobe Consultant entered my life at the right moment and helped me choose a wardrobe that fit my vision. When I questioned Nancy on attire, she explained, “People unconsciously dress to give cues of education and business sophistication. The level of care we give our appearance translates into other aspects of life, including business settings.” While that was enough to convince me, she added, “Unfortunately, a woman’s credibility is still based on appearance. A woman in khakis and a polo shirt will be perceived lower than a man dressed similarly.”

With Nancy’s words echoing in my head, I made sure shirt tails were tucked and buttons were aligned before entering Venture Café. This was my question for the day.

  • Travis Sheridan, organizer for Venture Café says, “Attire is important, but doesn’t define the person.” He has a rainbow of brightly colored tennis shoes he wears each week. “I’m surprised to see so many dressed formally here.” His shoes, jeans and a short-sleeved buttoned shirt form his dress code.
  • Tom Van Cleave of Data Dynamics, adds, “Attire depends on your prospecting goals, but I take my cues from Travis.” Tom has worn a suit to the Café, but now wears jeans and a buttoned shirt.
  • Gill Wagner of Gill Wagner Connections suggests, “It’s best to be neutral rather than provocative. Of second importance is to appear authentic, confident, strategic and to be consistent.” He wears a suit jacket, jeans and a buttoned shirt to the Café.
  • Carolyn Hall of CL3 Agency says, “How someone is dressed doesn’t influence a business decision of mine, but my first impression does. That first encounter must be pleasant or impressive, otherwise there is no further business to do.”uncomfy imagerymagestic

I shared my question on Kate Brockmeyer’s facebook page, Business Women Connecting and the general attitude was to ‘know your audience’ and dress for the occasion. Dressing in a polished style helps to feel more confident and conveys the message to our peers, but no one likes to be overdressed!

Interestingly, as I wrote this draft, I stumbled upon this article from the new publication The Startup Magazine out of London: The Importance of Professional Business Attire.

Do you dress for the business occasion or do you prefer casual? It may take a while before I attend events in jeans or shorts, so I may continue to hide in a parking lot corner to dress up!

To your success!
Kris the Scribbler

(photo 1 credit goes to Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net
photo 2 credit goes to imagerymagestic at freedigitialphotos.net)

Building a Team that Works with You

S. Miles of fdp.netWe love what we do otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it, right? That’s why we start a business. It’s what motivates us to keep going, too. We hear plenty of stories about those that went from zero to gazillions of dollars in a matter of months, but the reality is it takes years of nights and days to become an overnight sensation.

You’ve also heard that if you start a business you’ll be able to work the hours you want and have the free time to do whatever you want. Again, that takes a lot of days of hard work and determination to make that happen.

And it takes resources, support and belief in yourself to become a success. Do you have the team to be successful? Let’s take a look:

Who is your support team? Friends? Family? Spirituality? Whoever or whatever it is, make sure they are totally supportive of your goals. If they doubt or question your intent or plan, it can ripple through your soul just like a pebble dropped in a pond. I have interviewed several business owners and most of them owe their strength and growth to supportive family. If you lack that support then let them know their support matters but without it you will continue on. Request that they refrain from expressing doubt or fears.

Gently weed them from your life. If they don’t support you, limit contact with them. When asked ‘how is the business going?’ you have the choice to tell a little or a lot. If you know they’ll follow up with a series of doom and gloom, tell them nothing. On the other hand, those that support your pursuits are the ones to hold on to. They’ll let you cuss, cry, scream or ask for input. Whatever your needs, they’ll be there for you.

Consider peers as your support group. Business peers can be a great source of support and ideas. They’ll help work you through snags or keep you on track. They can also be a source for new clients or can come in handy to cover an emergency situation. Professional organizations and LinkedIn groups are great places to find supportive peers.

Belief in yourself. This is often the toughest because we are our own worst critics. One day we feel on top of the world and can accomplish anything. The next day we feel we’re the worst and we’ll never reach our goals. Have you ever been so low that you consider working for someone else again? BLECH! Sometimes these feelings are triggered by nay-sayers, an unhappy client or a drop in Facebook analytics. Just know that this is going to happen. Some days will be glorious; other days will be gloomy. But you love what you do and it’s enough to keep you going.

The right resources. Solopreneur does not mean alone-preneur! We often start out doing it all by ourselves, but soon discover the needed time and resources can’t be found within. It can be overwhelming when you’re a new business owner and you’re not quite sure where to turn—especially if financial resources are tight. Bit by bit, we seek out the resources that will help us accomplish our goals. In my own business pursuits, it started with Missouri SourceLink. This non-profit resource has everything you need to get started. As a branch of the U.S. SourceLink, they’ll find the resources for you wherever you live. As your business grows, you’ll create your own professional team that is dedicated to your growth and success.

There are many benefits to starting to business and as you continue on your professional path, hold on to the things that support your success. It’s a sure way to succeed.

Happy writing!
Kris the Scribbler

(photo credit goes to Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net)

Skip’s Tips for Business Success: Be Personable

Stoonn from fdp.netWhat do you do when you’ve had a tough week at work, projects fall through, a client is unhappy or family is driving you nuts? We all have our coping mechanisms and one of mine involves calling my friend Stan ‘Skip’ Jechura of All Safe Inspections in Toledo.

I recently had a week that was testing me in every way possible. After my usual mix of coping skills (chocolate and exercise), I called Stan to vent and, as always, he was a good ear. He listened. He responded when needed. He didn’t pump me full of unwanted advice. In less than thirty minutes, he had me laughing and feeling much better.

After catching up on his latest adventures, I asked him how he does it—how can he take a conversation that was full of anger and discontent and then get the person relaxed so fast. His answer was quick and serious, “I’m personable.” He explained that his father had taught him that people matter and knowing how to talk with them makes living and working with everyone much easier. “Take time to listen. Observe and learn. Then give back what you can see they need.”

Looking back all those years I’ve known Stan, it was true. Stan had always been fun and easy-going, but also shared a wild and crazy lifestyle with my brother. Even though I was the shy and obedient best friend’s sister, Stan knew how to talk to me and relate with me. “I give everyone the same level of time and attention,” he says.

Stan recalled an incident of a young mother selling a house as her four children ran around. “She was struggling to keep things clean and controlled while I inspected the house. I told her some stories about the trouble I caused as a child and despite that, I grew up to own my own business. Soon she was laughing and no longer stressed.” The result: the young mother referred two new clients to Stan.

Another story occurred when Stan visited the home of a disabled elderly man. The man was lonely and desperate to talk to someone. During the visit, Stan learned that the man was having trouble reaching into his chest freezer for food. Once the inspection was completed, Stan rearrange his chest freezer and listened to the man’s stories for another hour. The result: the elderly man contacted the realtor with a rave review. He is now the top inspector for that realtor.

“Everyone, everywhere has struggles. I do my best to keep my clients smiling while things are running rampant around them.”

How do you keep your clients smiling? Remember: you have the solutions to what keeps them up at night and a story or shared experience may be all that’s needed to make a connection.

Happy writing,
Kris the Scribbler

(photo image courtesy of Stoonn at freedigitalphotos.net)

The Grief Cycle of Content Creation

freedigitalphotos.net-sumethoDo you struggle with developing a content creation plan? Are you experimenting with a process that fits your schedule and your budget, but still get overwhelmed by the possibilities? Perhaps it’s the demand for content that has you spinning your wheels.

This is a struggle most business owners encounter early in their business growth. As I worked on a topic for this week’s blog, I was reminded of the well-known Grief Cycle developed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (On Death and Dying, Macmillan, NY, 1969). Her process is often related to people with terminal illness, but further research and adaptation has noticed that “this emotional cycle was not exclusive just to the terminally ill, but also other people who were affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change.” (changingminds.org)

After some quick research, I found the process to be similar to the emotional cycle business owners encounter as they develop their content plan. Below is my adaptation to the Grief Cycle for business owners suffering through content creation.

Denial: You have a new business and plenty of energy to make it succeed without all that content hassle and hype. You’re on your way with a plan. Watch out world!

jesadaphorn at freedigitalphotos.net

Anger: #$%#!! Your plan isn’t working. In fact, people can’t find your website, your LinkedIn profile, your Facebook page, twitter account, YouTube channel, etc. You cuss, kick, scream, vent, eat chocolate, drink a beer, or a combination of all. Still, it really irks you that you have to reduce yourself to the content hassle and hype.

Bargaining: Fine, dammit. You’ll do one thing: LinkedIn perhaps. So you learn the basics, create a quickie profile, and send everyone you meet to your LinkedIn profile. It is, after all, cheaper than a website and it’s professional. That should be enough.

(Intersperse a little Anger and Denial here)

Master isolated images at freedigpho.net

Depression: Double #&%$*!!! It still isn’t working. Okay—maybe you got a few people to connect with you, but that was it. You fall into a funk, still denying the fact that your business must step into the constant content arena. You still have big dreams of success, but something must change for that to happen. What’s worse is your business peers, business coach, and everything you read online is telling you content is king. (Insert a little more Anger and Denial)

Testing (based on new model information from the Changing Minds website): You explore different options for content creation. Which to start with? Which can you handle on your own? Which must you outsource? What can you avoid? (Expect a random repeat of stages 1 through 4 here).

zirconicusso at fdp.net

Acceptance: You can avoid it no longer. You’ve dug in your heels, gave it your best shot, but, dammit, you’ve discovered it works. *Sigh*

*Adjustment: This isn’t one of Kübler-Ross’ stages, but every business owner will continue to experiment, research, and adjust many aspects of their business. Content creation is just one of them. Be ready for it. Be aware of the cycles. Change brings it on.

Which stage are you at? How are you working through it? Share your grief stages below. If you are still stuck or are trudging through creating a plan that works for you, give me a call. I’ve been through every stage–repeatedly!

Happy writing!
Kris the Scribbler

(photo credits, in order: sumetho, jesadaphorn, Master isolated images, zirconicusso; all at freedigitalphotos.net)

Skip’s Tips: ALWAYS be On Time!

Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net (2)Another great story comes from my friend Stan (Skip) Jechura from All Safe Inspections of Toledo. Like all of us, his clients are top priority for him. Without our clients, none of us would reach our business goals.

As a home inspector, he spends a lot of time traveling to clients’ homes. His vehicle must be ready to go at a moment’s notice and his equipment is always packed in the van. Earlier this month, his good ol’ 2001 Chevy Venture Van was on its last legs. The van had been giving him problems over the years, but this time, the transmission failed on the way to an appointment. Stan explains, “I barely rolled into a used car lot 40 minutes from my appointment and had less than an hour to get there.”

Stan sputtered to a stop next to a 2007 Subaru and was immediately greeted by a salesman. Stan requested a test drive and while the salesman retrieved the keys, he loaded his equipment into the Subaru. Naturally, the salesman was curious about the equipment but Stan replied, “I need to make sure my equipment fits.”

Minutes later, Stan was on his way to the appointment and arrived with one minute to spare. The home inspection went well and he had gained another happy client. However, he returned a little over 3 hours later to a furious salesman. After explaining his situation, he offered to buy the Subaru.

Being consistently on time has been another factor that has contributed to Stan’s business success. “Whatever it takes, never be late. Don’t make excuses for tardiness and give your clients your best service,” Stan says. As a result, he gets excellent reviews and many mention his ability to keep an appointment and arrive on time. “This adds up to many referrals.”

While I don’t know if I could do the same in a similar situation, I do everything I can to be on time. I’m also thankful I haven’t encountered Stan’s situation!

Do you have an interesting story to share? What business success tips do you have? Comment below.

Happy writing!
Kris the Scribbler

photo image courtesy of Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net