It’s about you: On being fiercely yourself on your website

According to the oracle that is Google Analytics, one of the most popular places on my professional website is my About page. GA tells me how many people visit that page in a given month, and how many minutes they spend there, and whether they then leave the site, or move on to somewhere else.

I recently wrote about the importance of this page, and how its job is to give people the information they need to decide, “Yesss. That’s the right person for me.”

What Analytics reminded me, and what I neglected to mention in that post, was the importance of the opposite side of the equation, as in, “Nope. That’s not the person for me.” In many ways, “No” is even more important than “Yes.” Confused?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Yes. But the flip side of the coin is this: No saves me time, energy, and other scarce resources. I don’t have minutes or passion to spare to start a conversation with people who—for a variety of reasons—are intrinsically a bad fit for me, and I for them. In other words, it doesn’t bother me that some people get to my About page, spend a couple of minutes, then leave the site.  I trust that they know what’s best for them, and that they’ll move on and find their perfect partner.

Very early in my work with Websites for Good, I took on projects that my intuition told me were going to make me deeply unhappy. In an effort to keep my newborn business afloat, I turned a blind eye to the fact that they were doing work that I didn’t respect (like a business coach whose tactics included verbal abuse), or had values that curled my toenails (like the agent for nightclub entertainers who boasted about paying them as little as possible), or, most common of all, who had no respect whatsoever for my time or the need to be compensated for my work.

I wish I could say that one day the sun rose particularly bright, leading me to march into the office and kick all such comers to the curb. But truthfully, I was a slow learner, a chronic people-pleaser, and more than a little afraid of having to say, “Ummm, I don’t want to work with you.”

Almost by accident, I stumbled over a tool that, over time, has largely eliminated the need to say that: My About page.

In that space, I am (as my lovely coach teaches all in her flock) unashamedly myself, and no one else.
I give my background.
I state how I came to this work and who I love working with, and why.
I show people beyond a shadow of a doubt what sort of person I am.
I speak exactly the way I speak in real life.
I don’t hide the fact that I have feelings and opinions. They need to know me in order to make their best decision.

Alongside each of those risky areas, there may as well be big glowing Exit signs that allow people to “opt-out” before ever contacting me.  They might think,

Jeez, she sounds like some kind of idealistic hippie.
She’s a dreamer. She’ll never make money just working with those kinds of snowflakes.
She seems like one of those granola-crunching outdoorsy types. Ick.
She seems irritatingly happy. That would drive me batty.

A person like this wouldn’t like working with me. They know it, and I know it. If I chose to be more timid about showing the world just who & what I am, such people would be forced to waste time (theirs and mine) figuring that out the long way round, after a half-dozen emails, a marathon phone consultation, or even a face-to-face meeting.

But of course there are also people who read my About page and resonate with me—with my mission/vision, my energy, the fact that I have a garden and a dog, or that I’m frugal or have a slightly quirky sense of humor.  Whatever makes a connection.  More than enough of them finish reading and then contact me, a pre-filtered population of folks with whom I “click,” and thus feel like I can do my best work and stay mentally focused and healthy.  (For a great explanation of this, see Sarah Swanton’s swell blog post ‘Why Having A Niche Is Good For Your Mental Health‘)

Are you being You on your website? Or are you being the persona you think will cast the biggest net and catch the most prospects? Do you find yourself having the throw a lot of them back in the water?  Or maybe you don’t say “no” to them, and some have turned out to really not be good for your business or your peace of mind.

I’m happy to help you craft your About page and other aspects of your website so it feels like you AND attracts the people you really want in your working life…that allow you to be your best, grow your work, and love waking up in the morning.

Drop me a line through my Contact page and let me know if I can be of help.

 

 

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The Morning Routine: Ten Minutes That Change Everything

It seems like I was a latecomer to the “early morning routine” trend.  I didn’t really trip over that concept until 2014, when suddenly (to me) it seemed to be everywhere I looked.  Leo Babauta had written about it long before on his great blog ZenHabits.net.  Tony Robbins has been talking about it for ages.  Hal Elrod wrote a whole book about the “miracle morning” in 2012. But somehow I’d missed all of that until two years ago, and then it took until the second half of 2015 to finally find a way of doing it that changed my life.

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 a routine that combines contemplation, goal-setting, and various kinds of activities, you can set yourself up to have a productive, focused, and happy day—by intent, not by luck.

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.  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 a ritual.

In August of 2015, though, I attended a workshop offered by local entrepreneur Katy Moses Huggins called Kick Start Your Business.  Lots of super-useful stuff came out of that workshop, much of which still inhabit my work systems.  But the part I implemented immediately, and which has made a monumental difference in my work in the world, was her morning ritual, which takes about 10 minutes. It looks something like this for me:

3 minutes of movement.  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 lifting hand weights, easy yoga positions or stretching, standing crunches, whatever feels right.

1 minute of deep, rhythmic breathing.  I am a person who routinely robs her brain of oxygen when stressed, by shifting my breathing to shallow, short breaths.  Conscious deep breathing oxygenates my brain and gets me thinking more clearly almost immediately.

3 minutes of gratitude.  Even on the most stressful of mornings, I force myself to be quiet and think of all 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 diving right into everything that’s wrong and needs to be fixed, I start with what’s right.

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 coffee machine, 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 being 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 since last summer, 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 acutely as I would feel forgetting to eat, or having 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.

Do you have a morning ritual?  What does it look like?  I’d love it if you’d share it with us below.

 

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What is Your End-of-the-Year Ritual?

You can tell what season it is just by looking around my office.  There is a crispy new box of manila folders, new Sharpies, a new blank journal, and a new whiteboard and markers.  There is a mini-mountain of books on topics like mastering habits, gratitude practices, and ninja scheduling techniques, as well as all the books my client have written that I’ve yet to find time to read.  On my topmost legal pad are scribbled the names of several podcasts I’ll be downloading.  And a new pillow on the daybed.

yearendbooks

Book stack. Ahem, ONE of the book stacks.

Yep. It’s getting on time for my year-end retreat, and it’s my favey fave time of the year.

Taking a cue from many of our clients’ businesses, I decided a few years ago to take the last few days of the year for rest and reflection. (Overcoming my abject terror at taking ANY time off.)  This year the business will be closed from December 21st through January 1st so that I can use the time exclusively for reflecting, journaling, organizing, dreaming, planning, and a deep rest. Business email will be held until I return.  The phones go to voicemail.  And a quiet settles over the office, so that I can hear the small, still voice of inspiration that is usually buried in beeps, clicks, doorbells, ringtones, and all the rest.

It’s been a delightfully busy, sometimes hectic 2015. I’ve had the chance to work with many folks I’ve known for years, feeling the pleasure of seeing the evolution of their work in the world. I’ve also enjoyed the company of a new collection of people and organizations that are nothing short of amazing. Altogether, it keeps me in the flow of all the good that’s happening in the world, all the hard work done for people and for the planet — an antidote to the steady IV drip of anger, pain, and superficiality we’re fed by mass media. I get to see the other side every day, all day.  I wake up grateful, spend the day grateful, and go to sleep grateful.

Can’t ask for much more than that.

As much as I enjoy the busy-ness, I look forward to this quieter time to regather the frayed threads of my vision for my life, and get back in touch with why I do what I do, and what I’d like to do better in the coming year.

Ike

Ike and his bestie. Photo by http://katymosesphotography.com.

I have to admit that I miss the contact with my clients during this time.  And that’s as it should be, I imagine. But in the space held by that missing, I will be:

  • Finishing up projects to start the new year afresh
  • Tidying up my year-end accounting (my weak spot)
  • Making massive pots of soups and loaves of hot bread
  • Writing (blog posts, articles, and social media bits)
  • Brainstorming new things I’d like to offer people next year…I have a couple of doozies
  • Hanging out with my geriatric puppy Ike (above)
  • Journaling in the village coffee shop, which serves a fantastic latte in a giant mug
  • Sending notes to friends, colleagues and clients to reconnect
  • Going over another year’s notes of conversations with my fabulous coach, Judith Morgan
  • And all of those self-care things that get nudged aside by long, busy work weeks – like a haircut, exercise, good books and catching up on sleep

What About You?

Some of our clients take the time and completely remove themselves from their familiar environment, choosing to spend it holed up in a cozy cabin or cabana.  Others take long walks, play board games with family, and write gratitude notes by the fireside.  Still others work right through it, enjoying the relatively quiet work hours.

What do YOU do at the end of your year?  Do you take some blocks of time away from your regular daily routine, or just the actual holiday days?  How do you reflect on the past year, and get ready for the new?   Do you read more?  Less?   Turn off the computer and phone for a week?  Draw/paint?  Fill up your new year’s Daytimer?  Go to a place with palm trees and drinks with paper umbrellas?

ashleighbrilliantI’m always looking for new ideas to deepen and enjoy this ritual.  If you’re willing share your year-end with me, drop me a note at retreat@websitesforgood.com and tell me what you do; I’d love to know.

Thanks for being out there, and enjoy this time however you spend it.

See you in the new year!

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Small Businesses, Freedom, and the “Independent” Entrepreneur

Have you even felt like sometimes — just sometimes — the freedom of operating your own small business isn’t so free after all?

As I write this post, it’s the Fourth of July here in the United States (though I am offline, see below for more on that). This holiday, to me, has always been more than just an excuse to take a day away from the office, char some meat, and blow things up. Cliché as it sounds, it’s a day of revisiting the topic of freedom. Every year I ponder the places in my life where I’ve managed to create some freedom for myself, remind myself to feel grateful for it, and think about all the implications that word carries with it.

Until 17 years ago I never thought of myself as wildly independent. The safety of a large organization wrapped around me was comforting for most of my working life. But in 1998, a long string of sleepless nights made it clear that it no longer felt right. It was confining, like a too-tight coat that won’t allow you to swing your arms. I started to get visions of what I could do to be a bigger force for good in the world, and it required me to break free and march to the beat of my own didgeridoo. Thus my small business was born. (And I got back to sleep.) (Mostly.)

Fast forward to now, typing with eyes closed, listening to the far-off sound of firecrackers. Independence was frightening and exhilarating back then, like being on the bowsprit of a boat: I’m free! I can now craft my days any way I choose! Yahoo! Wait…what’s that huge wave coming at me?

Freedom from someone else’s dreams, someone else’s vision, was all well and good. But a new kind of diligence was needed: To remain free of things that weren’t good for me. And as a solo businessperson, the responsibility for that rests squarely in my lap.

So this morning’s meditation was on divesting myself of stuff that no longer works for me. And what’s more, I see small business owners all around me doing the same.

Here are some of the things my peer group has said they’re breaking free of this year:

1) Thinking that because our organizations are small, we have to do it all.

I held onto this belief for a long time, and I still see entrepreneurs doing it. Heck, I still do it. But I’m getting better. Nowadays there are a hundred different ways to outsource things, freeing ourselves to do the work we came here to do. This week I sent two small, tedious clerical projects to TimeEtc., a company that’s bent on making it easy and safe to hire a virtual assistant. It cost me almost nothing, and in the pocket of time it created I was able to earn money — more than I spent! — doing what I love.

How much time do you spend doing things that make you crazy, convincing yourself you can’t afford to hire it out? What could you do with the time you might save? Send out a newsletter and make a new client? Join a Facebook or LinkedIn group and start offering your gifts to others? (some of whom may become clients or donors) Research new places to find kindred spirits to work with?

2) The isolation of so-called Independence.

My friend Lise is an introvert, and doing graphic design for long stretches in relative isolation comes naturally to her. But she decided this year to make the effort to push out of that comfort zone and bring some fresh thoughts into her creative process. She started participating in extremely targeted Facebook and LinkedIn groups, as well as face-to-face mastermind groups, in order to be around others running their own small businesses. We have a unique perspective on life that many of our friends and families don’t grok, and Lise is finding it a big relief to be able to hang with her own tribe.

She convinced me to give it a try too, and it has been making a huge difference in my happiness and my energy levels. Working with others on projects, exploring ways to enter in joint ventures, taking workshops to shore up my skills….even booking a desk at the local Coworking space has resulted in some great new interrelationships that are good for me both personally and professionally. It’s a leap of faith; my gut often keeps me tethered to my desk, convincing me I have to keep my head down and nose to the grindstone. My heart says otherwise, and I’m playing hooky more and more often now. And I’m seeing big rewards – not just new clients, but more peace of mind, clarity, and creative juice.

3) Working with people who are the wrong fit for us.

I think we all try to serve people who are a good match for what we’re offering. But many entrepreneurs I know — for reasons of income or ego — tend to try to be all things to all people.  Even when they get a sneaking suspicion that a client or colleague isn’t quite right for them, and it’ll be an uphill battle, they still say yes. There’s a certain leaden feeling in my stomach when my intuition is trying to tell me something and I’m ignoring it.  When I’m not “playing the tape all the way through” and paying attention to my instincts.

Conversely, my energy levels go supernova when I’m interacting with someone whose work I’m really passionate about, and when there is mutual respect between us. The process and the finished product make me downright gleeful – a living, breathing example of Kahlil’s Gibran’s wise assessment that “Work is love made visible.” The right fit keeps the current of joy running through our lives. Do you ever take on clients who don’t quite match your profile of the ideal client? Does it feel different?

4) Procrastinating getting life in balance until it’s too late.

Like many of you, my business takes up an ever-expanding amount of time, as I continue to shape it into what I want it to be. In the process, I blow off exercise because I’m “too busy today.”  I reschedule writing dates because my mind is cluttered with obligations.  I postpone personal interactions because of “just one more thing” syndrome, e.g. “If I just do one more thing here in the office, I’ll be able to (insert fun or enriching activity). For me, a cancer scare last year had a way of putting things back into perspective with a bang, but there’s still a great temptation to fall into old bad habits.

One of the things that’s helping me is reserving the first part of the day for a morning routine that helps me settle my thoughts and focus. There are a lot of these out there; the one I use currently is the Life S.A.V.E.R.S. routine from The Miracle Morning – silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, scribing (writing). It helps me to keep my small business in the proper perspective, and keep my distributions of life energy healthy and balanced.

Do you have a routine that helps keep you in balance? Care to share it?

5) Being chained to technology 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The problem with Facebook and social media is that, for most of us, it becomes the noise that blocks out the still, small voice (that guides us). We forget how to listen. We become battered, driven by the noise around us, the noise that at first has so much to offer, the noise that speaks to the wounded parts of us. So we join in, we shout a little louder. We lose sight of the fact that suddenly all we’re doing is screaming to the world…about ourselves.”

http://shawnsmucker.com/2015/07/the-real-reason-im-leaving-facebook-and-twitter/

I know fellow entrepreneurs who are living in a state of tech exhaustion, their electronic devices going around the clock, binging and bonging with Facebook messages, texts, junk email, telemarketer calls on their mobile phones, and a gang of other interruptions. (I was one of them earlier this year.) But I’ve been watching carefully as at least a half-dozen of them have gone through various kinds of “digital detox” to try to find the right place for it in their lives, somewhere on the dial between All In and All Out.

I took several days in June and turned all of my devices off. No cell phone, no laptop, no social media, no Kindle, not even an iPod. I read (are you ready?) real paper books, wrote a gazillion pages in my journal, explored a beautiful landscape… I spent time with my terrific husband and had great conversations with strangers at coffee shops and bakeries. At first it was surreal, like there was something terribly wrong without being pummeled by rapid-fire contacts from online connections. But as I settled down into my days, I found myself connecting to real people and to real life in a way that had gotten lost under the weight of constant digital pressure.

Read the story of my few days: http://thegreenhedonist.com/2015/06/the-luxury-of-just-being-right-here-right-now/

In this world, most of us can’t completely turn our backs on technology. But it’s something to be monitored and managed in order to be the best we can be. For example, I now enforce a tech sabbath on myself on Saturdays and most Sundays — no social media, no surfing the web, no email — and when I return to work I feel fresh, light-hearted, and not in the least bit interested in spending an hour going down the Facebook rabbit hole for an hour.

What’s your relationship with technology? Do you feel like you drive it, or does it drive you?

– – – – –

These are not things I would’ve guessed would become a problem 17 years ago. But I like to think I’m more self-observant, more self-protective, maybe even wiser now, and much more willing to say “no” to things that just don’t serve me. The journey of a small business owner is one twisty path indeed, right?  But it’s ours to take, rather than follow the wagon train to someone else’s dream. I wouldn’t trade the freedom of it all for anything. But it requires a gentle and loving kind of diligence to stay in a place of contentment and balance.

What’s not working for YOU any more, and needs to be let go? Is there anything you’re trying to declare your independence from this year? How are you doing with that?

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