It’s always about listening. Always.

I received a phone call the other day from a local woman who’d heard of me and wanted to work with me. Because I offer a free initial consultation to anyone who’d like to talk about online marketing possibilities, this is a normal occurrence.

The call started at 1:22pm, and ended at 2:51pm. During that time, I was allowed to say about 30 to 40 words in total (and this is not a literary exaggeration).

During that time, she told me what she wanted, what she didn’t want, why she was an expert and others weren’t, what she knew others must think of her, what she wanted them to think about her, and a long list of the interpersonal injustices she’d suffered. She moved on eventually to how awful clients could be, what technology had ruined for her, what had disappointed her about working with “people like me” in the past, and a lengthy treatise on her High Expectations of both people she hired and people she served. I’m sure she took time to inhale in there somewhere.

This is not a normal occurrence.

Did I mention she was a small business consultant hoping to work with women?

Most of my 30 to 40 words were interjected in an attempt to ask questions, but none were allowed to get past the “sentence fragment” stage before being interrupted. I wrote down notes, other questions I’d never get the chance to ask. At some point in the conversation, I muted my phone for a moment so she wouldn’t hear the sound of the ibuprofen bottle rattling.

She asked me exactly one question, at the very end – did I feel I was up to the challenge of supporting her vision?

In a world of short-answer quizzes, my response would’ve been the second-shortest one possible.

Oh, how glad I am to come back to you, my community.

In the book I’m writing, Tell Me a Story: The Power of Storytelling in Building a Small Business That Matters, I encourage people to cultivate the art of story. It’s the single most powerful way to create relationships with new clients, new colleagues, new employees . . . with anyone, really. Story connects more powerfully and more deeply than all the facts and figures you can come up with. What this woman had told me was, basically, a long and rambling version of her story.  But there’s one big caveat:

You have to listen, not just speak.

Even the best storytellers are watching, listening, paying attention. You can’t just endlessly tell your story to clients/partners/the public and expect that people will want to be a part of it. You have to exchange stories with them. That’s the only way to find the common ground where you’ll see how the stories complement one another, and can talk about how you might—together—create a new story that improves both of your lives.

The world doesn’t need any more consultants who only want to talk about their own worldview, and prescribe one-size-fits-all marketing guru advice (at the highest price the market will bear).

The world needs people who want to make a genuine connection. Who genuinely give a damn. Who genuinely want to put their shoulder against the whole bundle of energy that comprises the world, and nudge it up the meter toward Better in some way every day.

This is not hard to do. When was the last time you reached out to the people you serve in the world, and asked them what their current story is? This can take the form of choosing three at random and making a phone date, sending a personal email, or even mailing a handwritten note. (Note: Make it clear you’re not selling anything; you just like making sure you don’t lose touch with a relationship that’s important to you.)

Ask them how things are going for them.
Ask what’s changed since beginning to work with you.
Ask what is working for them right now—what’s feeling right on target.
Ask what their biggest frustration is right now—what’s still out there to be solved.
Ask them to describe a better situation, what improvement(s) look like in their mind’s eye.

Don’t ask what you can do to help just yet.
Don’t try to sell them on anything.
For now, just ask. Just listen. (and take notes)

If you get a response and get the gift of connecting with them, schedule some time to ponder the story they tell you. Is it what you expected? Did you learn anything?

Do this at regular intervals in your work life, and the benefits will be many, including:

  • You will become a clear and compassionate presence in the lives of your clients.
  • You will get a sense of the kinds of products, programs, and offerings they need the most, and can shape your business accordingly.
  • You will feel even more connected to your work, why you do it, and how it adds purpose and beauty to your time here on Earth.

All from just stepping off the to-do list treadmill and taking time to listen intently and purposefully.

If you’d like to know the kinds of things I ask my people, drop me a note any time.


Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m also on Facebook at and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

Let me know if I can be of help.


Tools for tiny businesses: I heart you, Boomerang

The email tool for “inbox Zero” at the end of my day. No, really, it works.

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,  Cal Newport talks about his end-of-day “shutdown ritual,” and the importance he puts on clearing his mind of lingering distractions from projects-in-progress and from unanswered or unread email.  His advice is that we do everything we can to “…ensure . . . every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.”  For me, part of that is the holy grail of “inbox Zero.”

Are you overwhelmed with email sometimes?  I know I am, regardless of my attempts to stay off junkmail lists and direct my subscriptions to a separate email address just for them. That just means I’m inundated with email that I actually WANT to read, which is arguably even harder to cope with.  I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Boomerang.

Boomerang lets you schedule the redelivery of emails back to you, schedule outbound emails, set reminders for yourself to respond to an email or look for a reply, attach notes to yourself to an email, pause your inbox for a while, and a lot more.

This is what is looks like in action:  I open my inbox in the morning to my bazillion emails, am immediately overwhelmed, and go back to bed.  No, not really. I just check the checkbox next to the ones that don’t need an immediate response (notifications, for example) then click “Boomerang” and choose whether I want them to be redelivered to me in an hour, or four hours, or four weeks.

That brings up a pane of possibilities for times (and conditions) to return the email to your inbox…


…and they are out of my hard-working brain until I need to address them. You can even write yourself a note or a reminder about some aspect of the email:


On the sending side of things, Boomerang lets you schedule outbound emails, so if you need to write someone first thing tomorrow morning and are worried you’ll forget, you can simply schedule it. Note the groovy new red SEND LATER button for setting a time and date you want the email to go out:

….as well as the ability to ‘boomerang’ the email back to the top of your inbox if a particularly important email doesn’t receive a reply:


There is also a “Pause Inbox” feature that lets you stop emails from arriving in your inbox for a set period of time so you can focus better, and a new feature called Respondable that helps you write better emails—emails that are more likely to get a good response—by scoring the language you use on factors like positivity, politeness,  and more.

For years I thought that whole “inbox Zero” aspiration would always be out of my reach.  But by managing the function of my poor tormented email inbox, I’m looking at a clean slate almost every night, and am able to enjoy the brain-mending rest of turning off my computer/mobile and taking some joyful downtime. This is the most indispensable $5 I spend all month.

Anyway, I’ve gushed enough. If you think might help you focus and get more mental rest too, you can learn more and get your own Boomerang here:


Your three words: What’s the personality of your business?

I was doing some professional reading the other day, and in the middle of a blog post on productivity this phrase cropped up: “joyful and compassionate tenacity.”

Wow. Ever have one of those ears-perked-up moments? I grabbed up a marker and scribbled it on my dry-erase wall (these are among my favorite creativity toys)

It’s October, and traditionally—through some strange biochemical magic that comes with the change of seasons—it’s the month where I do my deepest thinking about my work, why I do it, and how to do it better. For more typical Octoberish thinking, see my post, Everyone Has a Story: Tell Yours, Ask Theirs, and Everything Changes.

I’ve been test-driving new productivity tools, new ways of structuring my work day, and even new eating schedules to maximize my energy at the right times of day. The world is full of experimentation and possibility in the autumn. I’m focused on learning and growing 24/7   (and that’s almost literal….I often fall asleep while listening to podcasts).

Part of this time has been spent re-shaping the story I want to tell with my business materials, in order to reach and be in conversation with more of the people who need me. And in that regard, the phrase that caught my ear couldn’t be more perfect. It does, after all, have three of my favorite words in it:

I decided a long time ago that my life wasn’t going to be a slog through an endless string of mediocre days. Doing good work, hooking up with others doing good work, and being of service in these weird times—this all puts the fire behind my eyes. So even in the times when I’m exhausted, or the nightly news crushes me like a bug, or things aren’t so picture-perfect in my life, the memory of that fiery joy keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I care a lot about the people in my lives, both personal and professional. I want amazing, happiness-inducing things to happen to them, and for them, because they deserve it. My life is based on kindness and on creating more and more ways to help people know that I see them, I hear them, and I have their back.

When I was in my 20s, I was about as tenacious as a strand of overcooked linguine. As a self-employed person, though, I had no choice but to start exercising my atrophied tenacity muscle. It was a trudge for a while. I strengthened it bit by bit, resisting the temptation to let a momentary failure, a rough day, or an unexpected obstacle send me to bed early with a steaming mug of self-pity. (By the way, one of the usage examples for ‘tenacity’ in an online dictionary made me laugh out loud: “the sheer tenacity of the limpet.” I’ve never pictured myself as having the willpower of a crustacean…)

Putting them all together in my mind’s eye, I see most of the clients I’ve ever worked with: They believe in what they do, and so they do it with joy. They care deeply about their work and also care about who they do it for. They’ve experienced all the usual bumps and bruises of starting a small business or a nonprofit, but they slap on a bandage and keep on going, because what they do matters so much.

This isn’t just me playing with words (again).  It’s me exploring the story of my own business – the story of why I do what I do.

Are you joyful, compassionate, and tenacious in your work too?
Or are you focused, inquisitive, and creative?
Kind, firm, and solutions-oriented?
Loving, fierce and outgoing?
The words with which you resonate often form the backbone of your story, and the ability to tell your story is one of the most important tools you own.

Want to explore the story of your business, or what you’d like it to be? Drop me a note and let’s talk.

Everyone has a story: Tell yours, ask theirs, and everything changes.

For years, I’ve been asking my clients the same questions as we begin to work together:

What do you do? What are you offering?
Why do you do it? What’s the story that brought you to this spot?
Who do you help by doing it? What’s the story you want to change for the better for that person?

So many people have been through this exercise with me that I’ve long since lost count. But the other day, someone turned the tables on me by leaning forward and asking, “What about you? What’s your story?”  (Well played, madam.)


Picture a cutaway dollhouse view of an average suburban home in the United States. In the kitchen there’s a plate of food on the counter, untouched and cooling. In the living room, you see a computer case, some size 7 heels, and a navy J. Crew blazer on the floor, just shy of the sofa. In the dim hallway light, you see a woman curled up in the fetal position, eyes and fists squeezed tightly shut.

I was that woman on a crisp autumn night in 1998, suffering from acute pancreatitis. As it happens I’d  lay there for another hour, unable to uncurl my body. Eventually, I was able to crawl to the phone and ask my neighbor if she could drive me to the urgent care clinic. Please.

That moment in time was the unlikely genesis of Websites for Good.

Long hours, chronic stress, deep unhappiness with my advertising job, persistent migraines and the over-the-counter medications to deal with them . . . all had conspired to create a perfect storm of pain that night, after weeks of ignoring the warning signs. The young doctor on duty did his due diligence with a battery of tests and a barrage of questions about my health history. He put down his pen, laced his fingers together on the desk and said, “You have to find ways to dial back the stress in your life, or the next time this happens you’ll be seeing me as a diabetic. It’s your choice, really. But I hope you’re willing to do that.”

The next morning, I dropped heavily into my chair, looked around my office and saw it with new eyes. The people I served with my labor barely knew me, let alone my story. The glamorous aspirations I’d followed in order to be in that job couldn’t make up for the fact that it was shortening my life. I didn’t belong there. Life had never intended that for me, at least not for long. So I typed up a letter of resignation, and while I waited for the printer to spit it out, I started concocting a way to make a living that would heal me.


In the two decades since then, I’ve talked with hundreds of people—the majority of them women—with the same story. They’ve exited the once-promising but now soul-corroding escalator of corporate life to build a business closer to their hearts. Something that allows life balance.  Something that matters. I’ve helped them to shape their businesses, taught them about online marketing tools, and created websites to get the word out about what they offer the world.  Mostly though, I’ve taught them how to tell their story, and how to gather the stories of the people they serve.


What’s your story?  Being able to articulate why we do what we do is a powerful tool to build a bigger and more engaged audience. Through story—sharing yours, asking for theirs, and creating a new one together—we can begin a long-lasting conversation with people whose values are resonant with ours. They become the ones who follow you and support you . . . who listen to what you have to say, and tell their friends about you.

Because they know your story, and you help articulate theirs, the roots of your connection sink far deeper than any charts & graphs, search engine tactics, or fancy lead generation pages.

Stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead as I explore how you might use story in your online marketing. Most of us are just barely tapping its power, and I’m on a mission to change that.

By the way…

If you’d like to talk about how story might be helpful in growing your business, including some easy retrofits for existing websites, I offer a free 30-minute non-geeky, no-icky-sales-pitch-whatsoever consultation. Request yours through my contact page.