In praise of reverse resolutions: Tracking back, not squinting forward

I’m just SO not a fan of the New Year’s resolution thing, and I know I’m not alone. Most of the people in my circle seem to be reinventing themselves in some way every month, even every week, and so it’s laughable when the rest of the world seizes on January 1 as THE day to change something up and try to stick with it for the rest of the year.

It’s a time of year when I don’t look ahead as much as I look back. I think of it as a “reverse resolution”—looking backward, not peering forward. And it’s not the oft-recommended lists of “all the things I accomplished and am proud of” I’m referring to (though that’s a great list to make). Instead, I’m interested in this scenario:

Thing 1:  What parts of life and business are going exactly right at the moment? What are the parts that are successful, helping me connect with good people, improving the health of my business, and making me feel alive?  What’s going well? First, I list those. Now, the fun part:

Thing 2: For every good thing, there was a time when this was not the case. For each thing on my list, I track back and follow the breadcrumb trail back to its origins: What small thing happened in the past—either with great intent or just out of the blue—that started me in the direction of this thing I’m now so proud of? It could be an event that only lasted a single second, or an hour, or a day. It could’ve been something ridiculous, or a complete accident! But whatever it was, somewhere there was a spark that led to another, to another, to another, and created this new happy outcome. I find it really helpful to catalog what those sparks were.

Why? If I know what they look like, I can optimize my chances of recognizing similar happy happenstances when I stumble across them in the future. So my “resolution” isn’t to promise myself something new that might be had; it’s to pay attention to each present moment for the spark it might already carry.

Here’s just a random example, one that doesn’t happen to be about business:

Spark: I was standing at our local library’s “What’s New” shelf and chose to pick up a book called The DNA Restart. It’s about the relationship between our own personal genome and the paths we all take to try to stay healthy. In particular, it talks about how all the food advice we get might be utterly useless because our individual genetic markers are all different. It’s not one-size-fits-all: Our bodies are individual, and actually need individualized strategies.

Time: 2 minutes to peruse, 1 minute to check the book out

Chain reaction: I ended up reading the book over coffee each morning for a week. (It’s super-interesting.)  It led to me dig up more about genetics and food.
…Which gave me a huge amount of self-knowledge about my own body’s possible genetic makeup and how it reacts to different things I put into it
…Which changed my diet
…Which finally gave me a clue about the connection between What/How I ate yesterday and Why I feel like a failure or can’t seem to get focused today, so I could do the right things instead
…Which made me so energized I started getting up earlier to write and daydream about good things to do
…Which turned me into a juggernaut of positivity, creative experimentation, and connection (which has been either beautiful or annoying to everyone in my tribe…)
…Which is good. And so it is.

Like that.

Some other sparks I tracked back to, and the chain reactions they created:

After the presidential election, I had an overwhelming, almost insane desire to write. I started a private blog with no readers and no fanfare on January 1, with the idea of writing every day (1 hour to set up). I put down all my fears and stressors and then could let it go for the day. I made the choice to stop that particular blog after a few months, but it morphed seamlessly into daily writing on topics that made my heart feel bigger. That is still my habit.

I dropped a shampoo bottle on my foot and suddenly, unreasonably, decided I hated plastic bottles. A lot. I went online and ordered a bar of shampoo instead (3 minutes). No waste, compostable paper wrapper and shipping box, nontoxic ingredients, and lasts as long as a bottle of hair washing chemicals. So there were (are) no more bottles in my shower. Which made me want to have fewer plastic containers everywhere else in my life. Which has — I would guess — saved me from exposure to a ton of carcinogens, in addition to feeling better about the waste stream from our household.

I had a migraine that lasted two days. In a moment of irritation, I decided to stop doing techie, left-brain work in the mornings (a split second to decide, then 10 minutes to re-shape my Google Calendar). Morning is the time when my right (intuitive/creative) brain is strongest. So I do creative work in the morning. Which made my migraine go away. Which means I’m able to more fluidly write and create nice new ideas for my circle of clients. Which has helped me magically attract more of the perfect clients. Which makes me extremely happy every day of my life.

I joined an online mastermind group for the first time in my life (1 hour to study and decide). Even as an introvert, it has provided me with a small, supportive community of super-smart, super-compassionate businesspeople to talk to. Which shows me it’s possible to bring your heart into your business and still be successful. Which gives me a lot of audacious hope that business will continue to shift that way, away from the impersonal and the deceptive.

And so forth.

It’s hard to trace things back to their original spark (if you’ve ever seen James Burke’s BBC series Connections you may find it easier to visualize). The easiest way for me to do this was to take a moment, breathe, and try to bring to mind one thing that’s a reality right now in my life that makes me happy, and that didn’t exist a year ago. And then start tracking backward, breadcrumb by breadcrumb. How did I end up with this good thing in my life…if I follow the thread back, where is the start of it? And is that something I can do again?

Anyway, it’s a lot more fulfilling than calculating how many calories I need to burn between now and December 31, 2018.

Happy new year,
Margaret

 

Ten bite-sized things to do now that will reap benefits in 2018

Like many of my clients, my office will take a break this year for rest and reflection. I’ll be away from December 22 to January 3 for my annual year-end retreat. Most emails will wait until I return (apologies in advance for that annoying holiday autoresponder). The phone will go to voicemail. I’ll get more than six hours of sleep per night. And I’ll sink into planning What Comes Next.

It’s a great time of year to make sure our online marketing stuff is working and tidy and ready for a new year. Here are a few things you might consider doing now. If you would like instructions or direction on any of these things, drop me a line and I’ll happily guide you.

1. Make an offline backup copy of your website and store it somewhere safe to be ready in case of emergency. Most sites built by us will have the plugin Updraft Plus Backups installed which makes this a one-click job. Email me if you need to know where to find that.

2. Update your website’s guts (WordPress and all the bits and bobs that make your website ‘go’) to be sure they’re up-to-date and healthy. Those who have a maintenance agreement with us don’t need to worry about this–we will do that for you. For others, when you go into your site’s dashboard, you’ll see the left column littered with red dots indicating what’s out of date. Be sure to back everything up (see 1 above) first.

3. Run a malware scan on your home page. Just go to this link and plug in your domain name: https://sitecheck.sucuri.net/

4. Type up a new page with all of your online marketing details on it. This would include the logins & passwords for your website, for the company where your domain name is registered, for your website hosting company, and for your social media logins. Keep a printed copy and give another copy to someone you trust.

5. Change your website’s password (the one you use to get into it to edit). Make sure it registers as “strong” when you type it in…you’ll see what I mean when you do that. Hacking is a huge problem these days, but simple things like this can help avoid 90% of the problems.

6. See how fast–or not–your home page is. Google is getting very touchy about slow home pages, so knowing where you stand is a good start. Visit https://tools.pingdom.com/ and plunk in your domain name. Let it run, then click “Share Result” to share it with your own email address. If you have concerns, forward it to me and we’ll make plans to help it in 2018.

7. Have a friend visit your contact page to send you an email as though they were a client/prospect. If you have a form, have them use that, or just use an email link. Make sure that no glitchy things are keeping people from being able to reach you!

8. Find a few new photos or illustrations: Visit one of the free photography banks like unsplash.com or pixabay.com to find some fresh imagery that better represents where your business is now. This blog post on finding images without pain & suffering might be handy.

9. Revisit who you’re trying to reach with your business. I know that my definition of the perfect client for me has changed significantly since I started my business. Take a few minutes and a piece of paper and sketch out in words the traits of the person most likely to benefit from working with you—and vice versa.

10. Read your home page out loud. Yep, I said that. The best way to make sure your website doesn’t have the personality of a glossy online brochure is to be sure it sounds like you: Human, welcoming, helpful. Reading it out loud (bonus points if you record yourself reading it, then play it back) helps identify where your language is too formal, too stiff, too impersonal.

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a small 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 on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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 for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

 

X-Ray vision: Seeing through online marketing, making peace with it, and doing better

(groovy image by Golan Levin)

I’ve taken a few days off writing this month, and instead have been reading. A few years ago, writer/speaker/creative Charlie Gilkey wrote a blog post called “Create, Connect, and Consume: Balance Them To Get Your Best Work Done.” Well, I’ve been living in the “connect” and “consume” phases of that cycle for a few days, and I’m both a) glad I did, and b) glad to be back. Hi.

My more typical pattern is to spend a few minutes each day trying to ingest other peoples’ wisdom, usually right between checking in with my business circles, and feeding the dog his breakfast. It’s a hurry-up kind of thing, and in those eleven-and-a-half minutes I try to take notes, Boomerang some things back to myself later, and/or convince myself I’m for SURE going to remember what I read this time.

Spending more time reading has a strange effect on me, though, and it’s not always pleasant. In that strange method in which my memories have filed themselves, I keep thinking of a sci-fi film from the 60s called “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.” In it, Ray Milland plays a scientist who develops a technology that allows him to see through things. At first, it’s fascinating to him, then disturbing, then it drives him insane. Although I don’t plan on going crazy, I have started seeing through things to their core, and it’s a weird feeling.

I’ll explain: I was invited to a ‘free’ online summit this week, in which many luminaries in coaching and creativity would be giving webinars over the course of several months. There was a time when I would have seriously geeked out about this. But rather than just enjoying the thrill of finding it, I saw it for what it was: A learning experience, yes, but mostly it’s a structured opportunity for each of these speakers to build their subscriber lists, by offering their material in exchange for your email address.

Sifting through Facebook, I see why some very good-hearted people and pages ask, “What’s your favorite poet?” or even more directly, “In the comments, post a moving GIF to show me how you’re feeling this morning.” It isn’t that they really care that I love Rumi and I feel overcaffeinated. They know that engagement on Facebook—likes, comments, and shares, especially with pictures and video—gains them brownie points with the FB gods so their deliverability increases.

Even when people send me a contact request on LinkedIn, I find myself wondering whether it’s happened because they’re about to announce a new product or service, and want to widen their audience as much as possible first.

Before you think I’ve become a new age negative nancy, hold the bus. I do see through these things, but they don’t depress me. They just…are. This is how these particular people are choosing to build their businesses and make a living. It is their choice to market this way, and it doesn’t make them bad people. In fact, in many cases it means they are hoping/able to do more good things in the world. It’s okay. It’s a personal choice I have no right or desire to criticize. But there’s a “lost innocence” quality in it for me, now that I see motives rather than just enjoying it all.

On the upside, it makes me super-sensitive to the opposite of these tactics, which is authenticity.

Here’s an example of THAT: I subscribed to Louis Grenier’s mailing list the other day because I wanted the promised free download called “How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers.” The download was fine, but the emails I received made me smile. The first email was just a basic thank-you and download link. Great. But the second one said, “I’ve set this email up to be sent to you 2 days after the last one.” Sounds simple, right? But think about it: How many carefully-crafted automated emails have you received that tried so hard to masquerade as “It’s really me, writing just to you Mrs. Firstname! Please keep opening my emails…” I was surprised and happy with the transparency of “Hey, it’s not really me – but I thought this tool was the best way to get useful stuff to you, and so I’m showing you the innards of it.” The emails continued in that honest, open vibe.

And another: Writer/coach/creator Tad Hargrave has something called an “Are You Sure?” page that he sets up so it pops up AFTER someone clicks a Buy Now button, but BEFORE they pay for the item. It slows them down, explains the program they’re buying, distilling it down to a very clear, crisp description so they can be certain it’s going to be of value. Does that mean that some people might change their minds and not buy? Of course. But if you’re really interested in making sure that people who aren’t a fit for your programs never sign up for your programs—avoiding possible bad feelings for you and for them—it’s the ultimate in openness, bravery, and genius.

On the same day I re-noticed “Are You Sure?,” I saw that Mark Silver of Heart of Business was offering a free (with no signup!)  PDF book about ethical pricing in coaching, “Don’t Buy Now” that I found bracing and cool.  Judith Morgan, one of my favey-fave coaches for small businesses like ours, offers a PWYW (pay what you want) model. Authentic business coach George Kao offers a megaton of gorgeous free content on his website – it would take days to enjoy it all (ask me how I know…)

I mean, this kind of stuff is all around us. All over. Every day, people are coming over from business-as-usual to a place that is more ethical, more transparent, and more authentic. I’m overwhelmed sometimes with the sheer number of people crossing my path who are choosing to ditch the industry-standard sales pitch and come back to something real and human.

So I owe a debt of thanks to more mainstream marketers. Thanks for bringing honest marketing back into focus for me.

What can you do when you’re under the weather but feel under the gun?

I know a lot of superhero self-employed folks. To paraphrase the US postal service motto, neither circumstance nor snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. They keep on chugging along, no matter what life throws at them. I imagine there are some in my community who think I fit that category.

If that’s you, I’m apologizing in advance. I hope you still love me.

I take pride in perseverance and in dedication to my work in the world. But on some days, like today, exhaustion and insomnia has rendered my brain a soft, spongy gray mass of tofu. No amount of caffeine has been able to coax even a tiny green tendril of creative thought from my head this morning—the morning that I have promised myself to publish a blog post.

Have you had days like that? I am guessing most of us do. We’ve made a promise—to ourselves or to others—to “show up,” but while the spirit is willing, the physiology is most assuredly not. So what do entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed types do in these situations? That’s what I’m asking myself this morning.

Here’s what I’m doing to sort it out. First, a self-examination to assess what is and isn’t working for me today:

  • Physical body: Good. Tired, but perfectly capable of most motor functions. Can hold pen and hold coffee cup. And refill coffee cup. And refill again.
  • Level of safety. Good.
  • Overall mental acuity: Compromised. Have put full carton of milk into the cupboard with the glassware. Am wearing inside-out T-shirt.
  • Left brain (logical thought) is at about a 7 out of 10, but most days I’m required to operate at at least a 9 in order to do website-related work. I can re-read emails 2 to 3 times and get the gist. I can form simple sentences. I’m making judicious use of spell-check.
  • Right brain (creative/intuitive thought, which I most need today) sits at about a 3 out of 10. Not good for writing a book chapter, also on my agenda this morning and something I am very committed to.

What can you do with those tools?  I’ve found a yellow writing pad (took 7 minutes) and am scratching out a list of what I can accomplish today, where I am, with what I have:

  1. First, follow George Kao’s advice and take some creative rest. It’s the kind thing to do, and may help get a few more neurons to fire.
  2. Check in with my support network, my touchstone, to reassure myself that I’m still me and still in here, and to gain clarity: The world is not going to come crumbling down around me, and in fact will be fine without me until tomorrow.
  3. Shape my day slowly and carefully, doing what I can and must. I can cautiously respond to emails and calls, reschedule the tasks that can be shifted, and be measured and deliberate about all of the left-brain actions that can’t wait. I can also employ that brain hemisphere (the more ‘together’ of the two) in creating rational actions to help give a hand up to the other hemisphere.
  4. Be gentle with my right brain, which doesn’t respond to threats and whip-cracking. I can’t force it, but I can try to lure it from its slumber. For example, I found a series of talks early this morning on the website DO: The Encouragement Network, a space for makers, thinkers, and creators of all kinds. I can set their podcast on autoplay, and listen to enlightening, encouraging stories from people like us. I’ll have a notebook and pen at hand. Just in case. At some point, I’m hoping that part of my mind will start getting itchy to rejoin the world and start creating something juicy of its own.
  5. Properly feed and hydrate my body and brain, so tomorrow will be better. Simple, healthy food. Lots of pure water. Vitamins, sunshine, and gentle, frequent movement. My work is important, but not life-or-death. There is time to get back into the best possible mindset before undertaking new tasks.

Your tactics may look different when you find yourself under the weather, but the basic framework can be the same: Assess what your resources and abilities are. Trust that the world will be okay. Do what you can, using the tools that still work. And know that, as my friend and coach Judith Morgan reminds her self-employed flock, sometimes when we allow a little space for healing, we can come back with new realizations and perhaps even genius ideas that we couldn’t have accessed the day before.

So, now that I’ve rambled, consumed 1.5 cups of coffee, and bent your ear for a few minutes, I’m going to put in my earbuds and make some progress on my day. Even if it’s not the day I thought I’d be having, it’s still going to be a good day. I hope yours is too.

Love to everybody. Take care of yourselves, and to my friends in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

 

It’s a conversation, courtesy of your website (and her friends)

My clients know I often talk about websites like they’re people. To me, they have a personality, a job, a goal, and a life story. If they were interns or employees, their job descriptions would be very clear. They also embody a sort of living conversation with people who come to visit them. Let me give you an example.

I recently stopped by a new bookstore in my town. I was curious about what they offered (being only the second book retailer here in this small place).

Unusually for me, I wasn’t looking for anything specific at the time. I knew vaguely that I’d like something business-related, because I was in a bit of an “Inspiration Funk” and thought some fresh reading might help shake loose some original thought.

Here’s how the conversation with the proprietors went:

(Me) “Hi guys. Welcome to the neighborhood. We love having a new bookstore within walking distance!” (handshake)

(Owner) “So glad you stopped by. We’ve got some fresh coffee brewing in the corner by those big armchairs. Make yourself at home. Can I help you find what you’re looking for?”

“I’m not looking for anything in particular, but do you have a business book section?”

“Absolutely – come right over here. What do you do? What sort of thing interests you?”

“I’d just like to browse what you’ve got for some new ideas. I have my own business too, and lately I’ve been looking for creative ways to freshen it up.”

“Excellent. I love talking to other self-employed folks. You know what? We just got in this new book about marketing that sounded really different from all the rest of them…let me find it for you.”

“Awesome. Thanks.”

I sipped coffee while browsing, and painlessly bought my new book using their handy iPad checkout. At their suggestion, I joined their mailing list, and decided to go home and “Follow” the store on Facebook to stay aware of their sales and community events like readings and workshops.

Pretty standard retail stuff, right?

But let’s tease apart that whole story. Here’s how the conversation flows, from their point of view:

1) Well, hi there. I’m glad you’re here. Make yourself comfortable.
2) What’s your story? Let’s talk about why you’ve come, even if you’re not entirely sure yourself.
3) Ahhh, I see. I think I may have something helpful. Let me show you.
4) Here’s how to get what you’ve decided on; we’ve made it easy.
5) You know, we should keep in touch, if you don’t mind. Here’s how.

A good website—one that’s human and helpful—says and does all of this too:

  • With your home page, you set the tone, with words and with imagery, so people feel an immediate sense of having arrived at a comfortable and helpful place.
  • That page also makes a connection with the reader right away by beginning a conversation with them: What’s going on with you right now? What did you come here to look for? How can I help? It’s not always clear who they are. Sometimes, since you have a specific audience in mind but don’t know for certain s/he’s the one reading, you have to make assumptions: “So many people are struggling with (X) right now – as many as a million people nationwide…”
  • Only then do you describe your main offerings in detail (products, services, help, wisdom). The bookstore dude didn’t meet me at the door waving a copy of Atlas Shrugged, trying to convince me I needed to re-read it right now. He asked questions. Listened. Suggested.
  • Provide super-streamlined ways to purchase the thing(s) I’ve now decided I most need. Note the shop owner didn’t walk me around and block my way by trying to sell me an Ironman DVD, a bookmark, and a copy of Where the Wild Things Are (fun fact: I already have two copies). You can have them displayed in your offerings; but pop it up in my face as an impulse buy or a upsell, and you’ve become “that guy.”
  • Whether they purchase or not, offer visitors ways to continue the conversation. This can be through the site, through an email signup , or through social media.

What you can do next:

Take a look at your own home page and website.

What’s the conversation that’s taking place, even if it might currently be one-sided? What’s missing?

As usual, you can always contact me for inspiration and help. Have a great week!

 


 

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 on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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 for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

 

I am not just a prospect: Keeping it personal with our small businesses

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for a free phone chat with a well-known coach. I had cleared that slot on my calendar, prepared my questions, and, because I hadn’t been given any details on how to reach him, I clarified via several emails that I was to phone him, and was given the number to call. At T-minus five minutes, I’d even treated myself by pressing a fresh, hot cup of coffee and pulling out a new yellow legal pad.

At the appointed time I phoned, and listened to it ring. And ring. And ring. I sent an inquiring email. I drank my coffee and doodled clouds all over my yellow pad in blue Sharpie.

30 minutes past our time, he phoned me from another number, with coffee shop noise in the background, to tell my voicemail that he was running late, and suggested I try again in a few minutes.

That little phone event would have been incredibly annoying to me if I didn’t have a frame of reference. In the automated followup email sequence, for several days I received a series of pitches for products and ‘opportunities that wouldn’t be offered again.’ I knew exactly the part I was playing in his story. I was in his “sales funnel,” and I was a prospect, not a person.

Yesterday morning, I was watching a social media webinar. Over the course of its 45 minutes I counted the term “user” spoken dozens and dozens of times by the discussion panel members. The word “person”? Not once.

Several years ago, when I’d had to undergo surgery, I awoke in that awful post-anesthesia brain-soup. Nurses and aides of were murmuring to each other. I realized that I was in motion, being wheeled into Recovery on a gurney.

From above my head, I heard the gurney-pushing aide call across the room, “Where do you want this?”

I craned my neck back to look up at her, and rasped as clearly as I could manage, “I’m not a this, thanks.”

It makes me smile to note that the people reading this newsletter are more likely to shy away from the impersonal and the indifferent. Marketing gurus use language like “cold prospect” and “conversion” and “tripwire,” and advocate for an “ethical bribe” (freebie) in exchange for subscribing to a newsletter. Did you know you, as a consumer, have a Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), i.e. a dollar amount you’re “worth” to a business? (Oh, do have fun with this marketing jargon generator. I know I did.)

Yes, you might say I’m touchy about the subject. But there actually IS a bigger point to all my crankiness: We can be better than that.

I am not just a prospect.
I am not just a “user.”
I am not just a “this.”

Neither are you. And neither are the members of your audience.

In our smaller, more soulful businesses, we have the power to be genuine and compassionate with “our people.”

We can give them all the details they need about working with us, without forcing them to chase us down.

We can treat their time as honorably as we treat our own—or better, if you aren’t good at that.

We can speak to them in our marketing materials the way we’d speak to them if they were standing in front of us.

We can show respect and regard to individuals AS individuals. We can listen to their unique needs and stories, rather than trying to make them fit some universal formula.

We can be trustworthy in a world that’s craving someone to trust.

We can be authentic in our work.

Let’s.
Okay?

 


 

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 on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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 for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

The Story Hour: The surprising joys of creating an oasis of time for your ‘why’

Some of you know that I’ve been working on a book this Fall about storytelling for small, conscious businesses like ours (tentative title: Storytelling for Small Business: Growing Your Business Authentically Through the Power of Story). Having put so much emphasis on story for years with my clients, the act of gathering and sharing a useful body of information about it seemed a natural and pleasing next step. It’s also been an eye-opening experience, in more ways than one.

Two important new habits have emerged from the process of writing this book (and I DO so love a new good habit, almost as much as I love shedding an old bad one).

  1. Gently coercing myself into making time for creativity. I’ve been rousing myself early in order to create more time for creative work. Creating—whether it’s pondering my mission, writing for my own online outreach, brainstorming new ideas—has always been the redheaded stepchild of my work day. You know, the things that you’ll do, but “maybe later when I have time.”I’ve never been very good at early rising, especially as the sun rises later and later, so I had to train myself gradually. I haven’t used an alarm of any sort for many years, but I set my mobile phone to gently ping me at earlier and earlier increments: 6:45, then 6:40, then 6:35…and so on.It was very hard at first, so I reward the soft animal of my body for getting out of bed at my new set point, 5:30am (gosh, even writing that is hard).

    I lavish gifts on it like a good curl-up in my most comfortable chair with nice light, a silky soft blanket, a hot and delicious caffeinated beverage next to me, and time and space for something I loved doing: Writing, reading, sketching, or just listening to guided meditations or creativity podcasts.

  2. Reconnecting with my own story, and the stories of the people in my world (like you). Because I’m always immersed in different stories during this time, I’ve come to call that time of day my Story Hour.I re-tether myself to my own story, the “how” and the “why” I came to this work.I gather all of you around me (in the form of reading your current writing on your websites, newsletters, social media, etc.) and reconnect with YOUR stories. I see who you’re trying to help, what you’re offering, what’s happening in your world.I write something new every day to share with you all, be it a blog post, the beginnings of an article, something on social media, etc. That reconnects my story with yours, and plugs me into the larger world of what I’m here to do. It’s the energetic equivalent of plugging myself into a soul charger and refilling my batteries ’til they blink green again.

It’s no wonder I don’t need the alarm any more—our bodies do work on the reward system, after all. So, to recap: Comfy chair and lighting, steamy hot cafe au lait, warm wooby, quiet time to create something new, and the joyfully energizing act of spending time on my bigger vision as I stay connected with people and causes that matter.

Can’t think your way out of a paper bag early in the morning? Not a problem. The time of day isn’t as important as creating a habit that’s compelling to you.  If you’re more of a night person and find yourself shuddering at the thought of all this, know that the same routine can apply for your preferred daypart, though I’d skip the caffeine part at midnight if you have trouble sleeping. If you do your best creative thinking at mid-day, find a way to set aside a piece of that time for this ritual, no matter what it takes.

The idea is to carve out a new niche of time and make it non-negotiable, sacrosanct, and intensely habit-forming. The rewards are immense.

Do you have a ritual or habit that keeps you connected with your big Why? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

 


 

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 on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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 for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

Why I keep doing this even when the world seems so dark

Another day in America, and another mass shooting. Collectively we recoil once again from the news, the suffering, the fear. We again look over our shoulders into the faces of strangers. We wonder again about the wisdom of going to that concert or that big public gathering next week. We argue. We propose tidy solutions. We pray. And in our worst moments, we sit in despair and wonder how—and why—we keep putting one foot in front of the other, if things are just going to end up like this.

I had one of those days yesterday, as the weight of it pressed down on me. Why bother? I can’t solve this. Even good laws can’t keep this from happening. If humans are choosing to solve their pain by causing pain to others, why am I bothering to devote my life to serving them?

It was a long, long day.

For a word geek like me, there’s a special little thrill that comes with learning a new-to-me word which seems to capture something heretofore uncapturable. This week’s word was “brutiful.”

It’s a word originally coined – I think – by author and speaker Glennon Doyle:

“Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, (you) reject the beauty.”
(Meet Glennon, momastery.com)

I think approximately two gazillion people learned this word before I did, but that doesn’t take away from my delight at finding it. What better way to describe today’s world? What better amulet to wear into battle as a member of the Love Army?

By any yardstick, what’s happening in the world right now is brutal. Just plain brutal. Not just in terms of violence and mayhem, but also in terms of things like what types of people are being idolized, what kinds of lies are being ignored, and how we’re being controlled and dehumanized by different forces.

What’s happening in RESPONSE to this, however, is breathtakingly beautiful. People who’ve never spoken out against injustice are marching, shouting, writing. People who don’t consider themselves the least bit courageous are putting their bodies on the line to protect people who are suffering. People who have never volunteered in their lives are out in the community, boots on the ground, showing their love and support to those who need it most.

It’s…beautiful.

And it’s a beauty we may never have seen, if not for the brutal turn the world seems to be taking in response to its fears.

There’s no guarantee that the beauty will “win,” whatever that means. For me, that’s really not the point. What matters is that the minds, hearts, hands, and feet of good people everywhere are all pointing in the same direction…toward compassion, toward connection, toward creative solutions.

It’s happening in our personal lives and also in our businesses. On any given day, I am in contact with a dozen people whose work in the world is designed with the specific purpose of making something better. Small businesses, I’ve said, are going to save the world.

We have to have a plan to deal with tragedy, however, because it isn’t going to go away any time soon, and we can’t afford to be immobilized by it. Everyone has his/her own way, but mine roughly follows this timeline:

Learn the facts, then step away. I resist the temptation to learn every detail, or to compulsively watch the news updates.

Grieve. I don’t stuff it down or deep-dive into distractions. We are human beings, and we have a basic goodness within us. I don’t deny myself the time to feel the sadness I feel. But then…

Find out how to help, and do one thing to contribute to the healing process. This page, for example, lists some ways to help the people of Sutherland Springs, where the latest mass shooting took place. I donated to the fund to help the church, and also wrote a letter to the church expressing my love and support (First Baptist Church, 216 4th St, Sutherland Springs, TX 78161)

Turn your gaze back to your own life, and pump up your own efforts to do good in the world. It won’t stop all people from choosing ugly acts, but it will push back against it with the power of good.

Even if things continue to go hell sans handbasket, it’s the love and the trying and the courage that will be with me when I leave this earth, rather than the fear and the cowardice that I might’ve let keep me in fear and denial.

I will not turn my eyes from the brutal. But I will throw in my lot—and my work in the world—with those who are fighting back with love, in a million beautiful ways.

 


 

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 on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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 for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

How I use Facebook to stay happy, calm, and productive in my small business

I still have many clients who avoid Facebook, even though they know it may have many benefits for their work and their business. They have an impression of it as a squawking coop full of unfettered narcissists, over-sharers, and attention seekers. The land of the angry, the bigoted, and That Guy Who Loves the Sound of His Own Voice.

I’m not here to argue any of that. But since there are some very strong business reasons to use Facebook, and because I’ve managed to make it into a place that actually helps me to stay happy, productive, and connected, I wanted to share how I do it.

In order to have a Facebook business page, you need to have a primary/personal page first. That, more than anything, is the place where things can go off the rails and get very problematic. Consider this post to be a guide to managing that part of things so you can enjoy and benefit from your business presence.

Set it up right to begin with, for maximum security and quiet

So many people jump into the potential bedlam of Facebook and don’t bother changing its default settings. So their world is a pandemonium of “friend” requests, private messages pinging day and night, and other people posting on their own personal space. There are also privacy issues, with all the annoyance and even danger of people sharing what you’ve put up there.

Facebook itself has tools to help you through all the settings you can tweak to control who shows up, who can see your stuff, who can contact you etc. Time magazine also published a useful guide to this last year: http://time.com/4166749/facebook-privacy-settings-guide/

One of the most critical ones for me is not permitting anyone but my closest friends/family to private message me, by the way.

Filter out what makes you crazy with FB Purity

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without FB Purity. It’s a little extension (software thing) that you can install, which then automatically filters out a huge percentage of what makes me insane about Facebook. You get it going, and it does the rest.

Don’t want to see the word “Trump” (pro or con) in your news feed any more? Set it up in a filter and all the rants are gone.

Hate that “Trending” thing in the right column that tempts you down the rabbit hole of mindless clicking? Gone.

Bothered by those oh-so-helpful interjections by Facebook guessing at things I’ll like, memories from ten years ago, games, even some ads? Gone.

A list of all that FB Purity does is here: http://fbpurity.com

I encourage you in no uncertain terms to use this, starting now.

Be ruthless about decluttering your so-called “friends”

I know some people who are collectors of “friends” on Facebook. As a result, they are bombarded day and night with the collective sharing by near-strangers of hundreds of baby pictures, funny dog stories, pithy quotes, gripes about jobs or life in general, off-color jokes, stream-of-consciousness questions, sports teams, and worse.

In what way is this a useful way to spend our life’s minutes?

For those who are considering joining Facebook, and those who are already in the soup, I want to ask you to be ruthless in paring down that number to 150 or (preferably) less. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who studies social networks, said that any grouping of people larger than 150 starts to strain the capacity of the human brain. We can’t effectively manage relationships with many hundreds of people—real or digital—and it creates cognitive stress that we may not even be aware of. Hands up: Who out there needs more cognitive stress in this era? Anybody? I didn’t think so.

The idea of being able to keep tabs on endless schoolmates, childhood friends, real-life acquaintances, old next-door neighbors may have sounded nice to begin with. Facebook “sold” the product to us and gave us the tools to build, build, build, convincing us that the more people we “friend,” the better.  But it’s just not helping, and in fact it’s hurting.

Go to your “Friends” list. Scroll down the list. Hide or (preferably) unfriend: The negative, the loudmouths, the insulting, the ones you have to tiptoe around, the ones you haven’t spoken to in years and don’t miss them. Get rid of the ones who frequently have meltdowns, the people you didn’t care to hang out with in school anyway, the ones that – if they showed up in your neighborhood – you WOULDN’T want to go have a cup of coffee with. Be cold. This is your peace of mind and your focus at stake.

Get down to a list of no more than 150 people that:

  • you’ve actually met and love, or with whom you’ve consistently had meaningful and mutually beneficial one-to-one exchanges; AND
  • you know are often positive or optimistic or otherwise good for your peace of mind; AND
  • are good human beings who it makes you happy to have conversations with (those colleagues, clients, and community members who add to your life)

Root out any trace of FOMO (your fear of missing out on news of something happening to someone somewhere) and be merciless in your decluttering. Your real friends will know where to find you.

If you’re already on Facebook and receive lots of postings from news outlets, public figures, and celebrities, purge them accordingly as. You’re making space for what matters. (Get your news somewhere else, by the way…DON’T have it shoved in your face automatically every day/hour/minute. That’s a recipe for extreme agitation and stress, and the world needs you calm and clear-headed.) 

Start building or rebuilding your Facebook page as a positive space

Now that your feed is no longer cluttered with ads, games, rants, selfies, red carpet photos, etc., you can start filling your account with ONLY the positive, the beautiful, the hopeful, the educational. This will vary wildly from individual to individual, but below are some of the things I’ve loaded mine up with, giving me a solid stream of encouragement, love, and good news all day every day (search for them in the search box at the top of your page, or search for “good news”):

Good News Network
Good Good Good/Goodnewspaper
Tiny Buddha
Center for a New American Dream
Greater Good Science Center
Sweatpants and Coffee
DailyOM
Preemptive Love Coalition
The Daily Flame (Inner Pilot Light)
BBC World Hacks
Elephant Journal
The funny local sign whose puns make me groan (right)

There is literally not much room left for the negative news and inflammatory rhetoric to squeeze in, and if it does, I filter it out systematically so it can’t come back. And that’s the whole point: Craft the space to be the world you’d rather be living in: Good, generous, helpful, intelligent people all around us. Many of us actually ARE living in that world.

Become part of communities that help you, and that you can help

The best parts of Facebook are the opportunities that present themselves to be part of a community. There are thousands of groups on Facebook covering every topic from community gardening to graphic design to meditation to … surviving owning your own business!

If a group is active and has more than just a couple of people in it, it’s an absolutely fantastic way to make some new connections in the world with people who “get” you. You’ll meet kindred spirits, learn a ton of new things, have a place to share your knowledge with others, and grow as a person and as a professional.

Look in Facebook’s left column for the word Explore, then Groups. At that page, you can click the word “Discover” at the top to search for something in your areas of interest. I get an enormous amount of benefit from the groups I’m part of. If you aren’t yet part of any groups, I’d encourage you to give one a try…or start your own!

Tend a business page that helps people

There are lots of resources on the web to help set up and properly use a Facebook business page. I can only say that my page has been, for me:

  • A place to write and share things that help the people I care about most
  • A way to reach a wider audience with the things I offer the world
  • A learning experience, as people share what they want and need from me

Once the personal side of Facebook has been tamed and isn’t obtrusive any more, your business page can be a place to really dip into your zone of genius and connect with those you’re most trying to help.

Oh, and turn off all intrusive push notifications. Right now.

Make sure your mobile devices aren’t receiving notifications of every damn thing that happens on your Facebook feed. The only things I get on my mobile are the occasional private messages from friends (who are almost always real-life friends and colleagues) I’ve set to be allowed to do that. If you are addicted to the invitation to distraction, the binging and bonging of constant notifications—”They like me! They really like me!”—call that out and take steps to get it out of your life. There are far too many people who permit themselves to completely shred their limited waking hours in this way, and then wail that “there’s never enough time!” (I was one of those.) Life really is too short for that.


Do you have questions, concerns or fears around using Facebook for your business without going mad or being overwhelmed? Drop me a line and let do this sanely together. I’m far from an expert, but I have experimented with many different ways of using that particular tool, and can share what I know and what has worked.

You might also enjoy my blog post, Social Media for the Sensitive Entrepreneur, which has other helpful tips for using these tools well and wisely.


 

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 on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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.

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 https://facebook.com/websitesforgood 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.