September is here, which means school is back in swing and the holidays (believe it or not) are right around the corner. If you’re like me, you’ve likely been scrambling to finish projects and get your ducks in a row prior to 2018, with the hope of having a day or two to enjoy family and friends (and not work the holidays away). Recently, I realized how asinine this thinking is. I don’t need just one or two days away from my computer, email, social media, and phone — I need as much time as possible.
Normally, I’ll work here and there on projects, strategies, outreach, marketing — whatever it takes to boost my business (especially during slow times, like the beginning of the year). This year, I’m focusing on myself, my health, my family, and my happiness. Realizing that work and technology takes away from these focuses was my first step in trying to correct this problem.
When I take my tech breaks, I attempt to stay away from any and all work-based technology. Emails receive an autoreply and will remain otherwise untouched. Phone calls are courteously handled by my voicemail. Strategies are executed ahead of time, or wait until I’m back in the office. Social media sits idly, receiving minimal effort from automation programs, but otherwise disengaged. And even though I’m a bit disconnected, I don’t feel anxious at all.
With these tech breaks, I focus on regaining better sleeping habits, spending quality time with others, enjoying quiet moments without reaching for my phone to fill the time, writing and reading more, and playing with my son. I try to boost my creativity and find ways to be less distracted. Most importantly (as far as my business goes), I want to prove that nothing catastrophic will happen if I don’t plug away at it for a couple weeks, which is important for business owners to do and know.
Have you taken a tech break, or are you planning on taking one soon? As I wrote in “The Better Way to Waste Time“, we spend nearly two entire days per month on random time-wasting apps on our phones and tablets. This shows how distracted and disconnected we are from one another. Another indicator of that — every single person I spoke to this season says that they are more stressed and less happy than other holidays. Technology adds to this stress and unhappiness. The main reason you should take a tech break (especially from social media) is that your happiness depends on you and those around you — and social media is a poor reflection of a person’s true happiness. Spend quality time with others, and feel that stress melt away.
I hope that you take a break away from technology, and especially from work — you need it!
Originally posted on Start-Up with Nicole in September 2017.
I read an interesting quote:
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein
This is interesting to me — I (and many other business writers) often talk about success and what it takes to get there. When I thought about how I would actually define success, however, my definition varied from the norm. You see, many people define success based on their job title, their salary, and the perception others have of them. This seems like a pretty awful definition of success.
To me, success is the person who is constantly working toward goals and still gets up every single time they are knocked down. They are the person who knows that decisions are made with either your head, heart, or gut, and they try their hardest to pick the right tool for their decision. Success happens when you make mistakes, rebound, and try again. Success is knowing that an obstacle is not something you can’t overcome, but deciding how you are going to approach it the first, second, and possibly third (or more) time — never giving up, even when people tell you that your path won’t work. Believing in yourself, because you want to be different and make a difference.
I didn’t set out to write an inspirational piece today. Originally, I wanted to write about the consultant/client relationship. Lately, when I try to sit down and write, I’ve been a bit uninspired. I try to write from what I know and what I’m working on lately, and this is it: not letting others define what success means for me. I spent a large portion of my life and career trying to please others, and trying to take their opinions and thoughts and feelings into consideration. I’m not saying that everyone should ditch their manners and be selfish, I’m saying that we need to consider ourselves first.
When we constantly focus on others and their needs, we aren’t taking care of ourselves. When my son was in Kindergarten, he read the book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” The gist of the story is that we all have buckets, and when they are full, we feel happy and fulfilled; but when they are empty, we get tired, grumpy, and unmotivated. Too often, as adults, parents, and employees, we allow our buckets to become bone dry. We spin our wheels trying to juggle everything that society tells us we need to do to live up to our potential — but too often, this produces nothing positive. When your bucket is empty, you have nothing left to offer anyone else. When you take care of yourself first, you don’t allow that bucket to empty completely.
Other people try to tell us what will make us happier, healthier, wiser, more productive — I’m guilty of this! We focus so much on what we’re not getting done and where we are failing that we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we do get done. We fail to define success on our own terms. We fail to set the path that we want. When we focus less on becoming successful, and more on being valuable — as well as our own self-worth — we align our goals with an actual potential to achieve them.
How do YOU define success?
Last year, I received an email from a random stranger who was looking to start his own business; however, he had no idea what he wanted to do or what kind of company to start — all he knew what that after twenty years of working for someone else, he was ready for something else. Knowing that I was a startup consultant, he thought that I could help him carve a business from nothing.
Thankfully, he was right — together, we’ve done just that.
Fast forward to today, and he has a service, products, a website, and positive testimonials about his company from his target audience. He created, learned, built, networked, and funneled hours of effort in order to start his own business.
How did he get from Point A to Point B so quickly?When he contacted me, I used a newer method that I’d been working with to help him put together his business ideas: the Google Venture’s SPRINT process. Typically it takes five days to go through a sprint — day one is spent developing the idea through to day five, where you test a prototype product with live customers. Since his staff is just him, and since he had to do the work that would typically be split among a team of several experts, we split the process over five weeks instead of five days.
Week by week, we identified goals and deadlines, built skills, researched, and leaned on resources. Every step of the way, I was there to direct him, teach him, give him information, complete action items to keep him on schedule, and most importantly, hold him accountable to those goals and deadlines. Week by week, he met every one and exceeded my expectations. Together, we created something tangible from a blank space.
Within a month, he had his own business with an established online presence, a sales and marketing list, marketing and sales strategy, growth strategy into his established and secondary market, and his own reputation as an expert in his industry. After just 12 weeks of working with me, he built his dream from the ground up.
My biggest goal for him is something you’d never expect — that someday he will outgrow me. With each and every one of my clients, I filter my years of knowledge, resources, and experience into our sessions so that they can be successful — because that’s the greatest gift I can give them. For some, it comes sooner than others, but it eventually happens for each of my successful clients.
What’s keeping you from hiring a consultant to help you grow or build your business?
Late one night in December 2014, I received an email that caught my eye: “I found you through an article about investing. I’m going to be on Shark Tank in two days and wondered if you could help me” was the gist of the message — short, sweet, and quite to the point. I didn’t know that this email would cause a whirlwind two days, followed by four of the craziest, most insightful months of my career in an attempt to help this business get from filming to premiere.
If you’re unfamiliar, Shark Tank is one of the most popular reality television shows, and focuses on entrepreneurs pitching their startups to a group of “sharks,” or business investors. To date, the sharks have invested nearly $100 million to various businesses worldwide. The exposure alone helps many new and smaller businesses get found by customers and gain traction toward reaching their goals.
Want to read more? Get it here!
I know who you are.
You’re stuck working for someone else, but you really want to be a business owner. You’re miserable, day in, day out. You daydream about starting a successful business. You count down the minutes till you get to get out of the office every day. Your distaste for your job or career carries over into other parts of your life.
What’s holding you back from starting that business?
I hear this story all the time, and I always give the same advice: Just do it already. I don’t advocate quitting your job and starving your family. I do advocate taking that idea, making a plan, and jumping to it.
For a new entrepreneur, starting a business is a mix of exciting and terrifying. Exciting, because you’re finally stepping forward and doing what you’ve always dreamed of. Terrifying, because what if things don’t go right and you fail? Here are a couple doses of reality: in some aspect you will fail and starting a business never happens exactly how you imagine.
The fear of not knowing where to start stops many plans before they even begin. The “7 P’s” get you far, but only so far. Stalling because you haven’t thought something through enough is just as bad. Many entrepreneurial-minded individuals never reach their potential because of fear or over-thinking instead of acting.
So how does a person go from being frozen with uncertainty to being actively involved in a new business?
The first rule of starting a business is get used to being uncomfortable.
If you’re financially ready to leap into entrepreneurship, then go for it. Make a sound, smart exit plan from your current job, and hit the ground running. Know your business idea, and start to develop ideas or hypotheses about who your customer is and what you’re offering, and then get out and talk to them!
If you’re not financially ready, figure that out as soon as possible. Your happiness and life are waiting at the end of that number, so get your financial house in order, then go for it.
This all sounds simplistic, and it is, but the biggest hang up that people have when they want to start a business is actually doing it. Trust me when I tell you that your business won’t happen until you build it. Your ideas will just stay dreams until you act on them. Your dream of self-employment and building your own business is waiting for you to just do it already.
Here’s an open letter to anyone who may need it.
Your are constantly proving to be your own worst enemy. You set a plan, work your tail off, and just when you’re almost to the point where you start seeing results, you quit, backpedal, or blow off whatever would help you reach your goals. Be it a diet, an education, a relationship, a career — I am frustrated with you, mostly because I want you to succeed, but you keep doing things the hard way and are getting in the way of your best self.
“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.”
— Debbie Millman
You see, friend, I have been there. Time and time again, I find myself having to reach toward the final stretch and I just stop. There’s no good reason for it, but I have done it, and right now, I’m watching you do it. Sometimes, we want a sprint, not a marathon. Sometimes, we want a quick fix or a fast solution. Sometimes, we just want to go through the motions and hope that we get excited about whatever we’re aiming for. The truth is, the real problem is your mindset.
“People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals — that is, goals that do not inspire them.”
— Tony Robbins
So how do we build in better goals so that you can be inspired and achieve them? How can we move this mountain, or climb it, or overcome it in a way that will make us keep pushing forward?
Your Self-Sabotaging Friend
We all struggle with productivity. I know I sure struggle with this all the time. Despite good intentions, proper preparation, and hard work, sometimes a task comes along that you just don’t want to do. Sometimes there isn’t enough coffee in the world to motivate you, but you know it needs to be done. That task sits, nagging you in the back of your mind, reminding you that you need to just do it. Too bad that’s much easier said than done.
Times like these require a lot of willpower and a good strategy. Whenever I’m faced with something I don’t want to do in my business, or something I just won’t (not can’t) make the time to do, I follow this list of tips to pull me out of my negligence:
AccountabilityWhat level of accountability can I assign to this task? Am I the proper owner of this, or would this be better suited for someone else? If this task is solely mine, then enlisting an accountability partner may be the best way to get it done. Approach a co-worker or trusted friend and say “I am going to start working on this task. Please check in with me in (insert less time that is required — we’ll get to that in a minute!) to make sure that I have it done. Accountability works when you match a task you need to do with someone who you don’t want to disappoint holding you responsible. The reason why you want to assign the task less time has to do with Parkinson’s Law — which says that your task or goal will take the time you allow it to. If you sent a task or goal and don’t have an end date, the time it takes to complete that task will expand to take the time allowed. If you buckle down and assign less time to get it done, something in our brain triggers and it allows us to hyperfocus on the task at hand. Remember in college when you completed your thesis the morning it was due? And how you got more done in those last two hours than you had the weeks prior? This is Parkinson’s Law at work.
Put Yourself in Time OutWhenever I need to just do work, I put myself in time out. For me, this means taking everything needed for my task or project, going to the library or Starbucks, and working until it’s done. I eliminate all distractions (turn off my phone, email, and social media reminders), and then get to work. Getting away from my typical workspace also, for some reason, makes me more willing to do work. Multitasking is one of the biggest productivity myths, so only bringing the resources needed for a specific project means that I will only be able to do what I need to do. Personally, I love the feeling I have after being in “time out.” I feel refreshed and focused because I overtook the task that has been a bit daunting, or pushed off, or maybe just wasn’t very excited.
Assess the ImportanceAs a business owner, I (and many like me) feel like every task that is presented needs to be completed. Find a new software program that might solve another problem? Add it to the list. Someone called and wants to meet for coffee to pick my brain? Add it to the list. The current financial report isn’t as streamlined as it could be. Add it to the list. In many cases, however, these little tasks don’t add to the bottom line of the business, therefore, they aren’t as crucial as others that do. It’s nearly impossible to only focus on tasks that have dollar signs attached to them (actual sales) because that’s not the entire business; however, making money is an extremely important part of keeping you in business. Pushing paper or juggling unimportant tasks takes time away from billable hours, product creation, and time that could be spent engaging customers.
Delegate ItIn almost every position, in every company, everywhere, scope creep causes job boundaries to become fuzzy. This happens a lot in startups when you don’t have people taking accountability for certain areas of the business. Scope creep may mean that you do things that “aren’t your job,” which is fine and recommended when you are the best person to do it — but that’s not always the case. When a task isn’t being done and you’re not the right person for the job anyway, it hurts the company. When you don’t have the skill set needed, or if someone can get the job done quicker or more effectively, delegate it. Earlier this year, I learned that I spent part of my billable hours doing tasks that would better be done by an assistant, so I hired one. Having someone to do research projects, spreadsheets, templates, and other administrative tasks mean that I can focus on things that make my business operate, and make my business money.
Time is a precious, non-renewable resource. Incorporate these tips into those things you need to do so that you can get them done when they need to be done. Save time, energy, frustration, reputation, and your sanity — and just get stuff done.
A few years ago, my son was tasked with interviewing someone who has a “growth mindset” for a school project. He chose me, and we discussed succeeding after failure. More specifically, he learned about how I failed to recognize the power of my network, and who taught me how to put my network to use. Certain parts of networking have always come easily to me, and other parts I had to learn the hard way.
After my interview, he grabbed his pencil and a piece of paper and asked me for “tips for life” regarding networking, so I discussed the best ways to stand out. I told him how I scored interviews with companies and for positions that I was under-qualified for. I explained how I used connection skills to gain opportunities, mentors, and skills that would help me build my own business.
So how did I simplify this process to explain it to a 10-year-old?
ResearchI explained to him that one thing I did if I had a meeting, an interview, or was meeting someone new was to RESEARCH them. I would type their name into Google and look at their LinkedIn profile. I would find something interesting that they worked on, a cause they supported, or something else that would help break the ice a bit.
AskI told him to make sure to focus the conversation on the other person. Ask questions, make mental notes, and later, when you could, write down what you remembered about the person. For the past 13 years, I have written notes about people and kept them in a file so that I can “remember” important details about each person I meet.
ConnectMeeting someone is one thing, connecting with that person is another. My goal with every interaction is to find a way to truly connect with someone. I explained that finding common ground is crucial, and a lot easier than you would think. Connecting with someone is deeper than just talking, and will make you memorable.
Follow-UpI explained that without follow-up, the researching, asking, and connecting were pointless. Follow-up shows the other person that the conversation was meaningful and that they matter. Years ago, I made it a point to follow up with everyone by a handwritten note. In recent years, I used email; however, more and more I understand the importance of a personal touch, so I showed him my note card stash and networking goals and made it a personal goal to liquidate my note cards by year end.
These days, it is so easy to get caught up in the quickly-revolving door of speed-networking, but doing a little research, asking the right questions, connecting with people on a deeper level, and following up will get better results. You’ll find that you no longer have to face the business world alone — with your strong network, you can get the job you want, find the clients you want, and gain the opportunities you want, only a lot easier. People truly want to help one another, but first, you have to have a meaningful connection.
I have a confession to make: I don’t have it all together. There are days where I feel the pressure of poor planning and days where I just don’t get enough done. That said, I have learned a lot over the past several years that set me on the path of being clueless to being successful.
I’ve always been responsible, punctual, and organized. I’ve experimented with different productivity methods, time management strategies, and habit building programs, but nothing fit me and my lifestyle. It took a long time in my business of trying and failing before I figured out what worked for me. I spent a lot of time trying and talking and planning, but very little time getting things done and delivered to the audience that I wanted to reach, until one day when I realized that I was spinning my wheels and going nowhere.
As a business owner, it’s my job to make sure that everything functions and gets taken care of. I’ve done my job taking care of my client needs, but many times I would get so wrapped up in what they needed that I forgot to pay attention to what my business needed to succeed. This created a feast or famine situation for my business — times where I was so busy I could hardly get any sleep, and others where I seriously considered throwing in the towel and giving up on my company. It took a big situation before I decided it was time to take charge of my business’ needs, and that situation stirred me into action.
Over the past decade or so, I have created many business plans and marketing strategies for my clients. I have helped them build their dream company from setting up to launch to growth, all the while thinking that I was doing my job. What I failed to do was put that same attention and care into my own company, and I realized that it was time to prioritize my company, and in doing so, prioritizing my time and my value. I got incrementally better each year but wasn’t doing enough of the right things at the right times. I have a feeling that this is common — businesses focus on the clients and customers, and ignore their own human resources that make their business function. This causes many problems, and in my case, caused me to be on the verge of burnout.
Last year, I took October off from engaging new clients, which was a huge gamble. Going completely off the radar never looks good, but I knew that I needed to create the same level of structure and attention to my brand and create the kind of life I wanted to live. I realized that while I was keeping a structured schedule, I was plugging in the wrong things at the wrong time. I also realized that I need to delegate more to others who may have more interest or specialization in various aspects of my business than I have. I needed to build a business that was on the right path to bring on help, and I needed to be in front of clients in a more on-purpose, enticing way.
Since then, I have been the least-stressed than I’ve been in years, even though I’m doing more client work than ever. I feel like I finally cracked some secret code to go from clueless to successful, which is to value what you bring and work to showcase that. In doing that, you attract positive opportunities and more peace of mind. It may be too soon to say, but having my time and sanity back by structuring my business in a way that fits me has allowed me to do more to build my company and makes me approach client work in a much better way. This refresh allowed me to put the focus where it should be.
In 2014, I undertook a personal challenge: “The Year of Saying ‘Yes!’” I decided to take every opportunity that came my way, despite my actual level of interest or growth opportunity. For the first few months, I excitedly said yes to board of director positions, pro bono work, organizing multiple events, and local fundraisers. I also tried to tackle every opportunity I created for myself, including writing books, articles, and workshops for my own business and others. By December, when I was evaluating the experience, I was not only seriously burned out, I was seriously questioning my sanity. The challenge, however, taught me an extremely important lesson for 2015 and beyond; the power of “no.”
Fear of Hearing and Saying “No”For some reason, many of us have a fear of hearing and saying no. How many unasked questions and risks not taken are due to that fear? No is a simple, powerful word, but is it really better to not use it? Is giving into the fear and not taking a risk giving into failure? Is failure the ideal result? I pondered these questions and thoughts constantly during my year-long experiment. Why was I saying yes to so many things — most of which have little consequence? By saying yes to things that did not excite or interest me, I risked saying no to things that mattered.
I had to answer a scary question: “What is the worst that can happen if I hear or say ‘no?’” I learned that saying and hearing that little word allows for more focus on solving other problems. If I asked for permission and did not receive it, I gave myself permission to pursue something else. If I am approached by an opportunity that does not fit my personal interests or goals, I was allowed to put more focus on myself, my business, my family, and my priorities. Saying no is placing a value on your time and expertise. It helps you commit to projects that boost and promote growth. Burn out from over-commitment can squash your mood, self-worth, and creativity. Saying no allows us to control our time and personal well-being.
What’s the worst that could happen?When I decided to undertake this challenge, I hoped that I would gain a larger network, varied experience on different types of projects, and the ability to try new things. What I didn’t take into consideration was how often I’m asked to pitch in or help out. I also realized that the reasons I decided to do a year of yes were good, but that I was not going to achieve the results I wanted. For an entire year, I had to ignore the little voice inside my head that says “is this really worth your time?” I gave in to every request, whim, and opportunity, and it made me feel worse than if I’d said no.
We often feel that saying no creates hurt feelings. There is a huge fear of missing out or being seen as a disagreeable person when we say no to an opportunity. We also feel that if we turn something down now, we will miss out on other, future opportunities. When we are feeling negative thoughts, we need at to ask ourselves: “Am I saying yes out of passion, or guilt? Which is better for both parties involved?” By saying no, you allow yourself to only take on commitments where you can feel successful, in control of your decisions, and like you are actually contributing to a cause you believe in.
How to go from “yes” to “no?”Keeping an arsenal of proper, straightforward, and polite responses to people who want your time is key to navigating the avalanche of requests. By recommending a person who is a better fit, you not only help two individuals or entities with aligning goals collaborate, but you do not have to feel guilty for saying no. Honestly saying where you’d like to contribute to future projects allows you to bow out at a time where you cannot commit, but also keeps the door open. Sometimes the best way to say no is just that simple — no, thank you though. Show your appreciation for the request, but kindly (and firmly) decline, and do it without feeling guilty.
Ask yourself — are you the best version of yourself when you are zapped from too many yeses? I’m going to guess that that answer is a very solid, emphatic “no!” By only taking on obligations that really matter, you gain control of your time and commitments. Keeping stressful obligations at bay allows you to focus your time and energy on the things that actually matter. By saying no to things that do not fit your personal and business goals, you are saying yes to your greatest asset: your time, as well as possibilities for collaboration in things that matter. Your future sanity and opportunities for growth will thank you.