Tag Archives | Entrepreneurs

Busted


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We were talking about a subject he’s wrestled with throughout the time we’ve worked together, and it’s been two steps forward, one step back. (Sometimes one step forward, two steps back.)

“What is it that keeps you from asking your customers for testimonials, from telling people about what you can do for them?”

“It makes me feel Slick Salesman-y.”

We’ve had this conversation before.

Hmm, I thought.

“You got great feedback in your customer surveys – He’s a great guy. He came to my house and talked to me. He saved me money. He helped me with a tough situation. True?”

“Yeah.”

“And I know you are all about service. You want to be an advocate for your customers. True?”

“Yeah.”

“So, while you do have the goal of making a decent living for yourself and your family, what would happen if you held the intention when you talk to people of creating a win-win situation? Would it feel different if, when you asked for an appointment, you thought about those success stories, and all the people you’ve helped?”

“Maybe,” he said.

“Give it a try. Practice on me.” So he did. First he was quiet, and then he started practicing, while holding in his mind all the people he has helped – while earning a living. He tried a few phrases, and started to get some momentum. Suddenly he burst out,

“I CAN HELP YOU, DAMMIT!”

“Yeah!” I cried. “Now you’re getting somewhere!” We started riffing on that, and I joked it could be a great tag line for giveaways – T-shirts, travel mugs, all labeled with the name of his company, and I can help you, dammit!

His eyes lit up, and he started to laugh, and shouted, “DAMMIT, YOU NEED ME!”

Suddenly he sobered and looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “That would be a great motto for Susan T. Blake Consulting, too,” he said.

*cuethesoundofbrakessquealing*

I…er…um…well. Yeah.

Busted.

Damn it! Caught learning again.

So we practiced saying it to each other.

“I can help you, dammit!”

“I can help you, dammit!”

“That does feel different, doesn’t it?” I wondered out loud.

“Empowering,” he said.

Yeah.


Hi, I’m Susan T. Blake,
Professional Encourager and Lifelong Learner, and
I can help you, dammit!
Contact me at http://susanTblake.com/contact-me/

Now let me hear you say it – leave a comment, below!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sound Mass


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Hey!

Hello!

There’s been a lot going on around here lately, which is why this blog has been quiet for a few weeks. That’s no excuse for being out of communication, though. I’m embarrassed to admit it took a friend leaving me a voicemail asking if I was OK and noting that it had been a LONG TIME since she’d gotten a blog post from me to remind me how long it has been!

When I was in college, hanging out with the Music majors (they were way more fun than my fellow Psych majors), I learned about the concept of a “sound mass.” But while Wikipedia quotes Edwards’ comment that sound-mass “obscures the boundary between sound and noise,” there hasn’t been much noise around here lately. Instead, there has been so much going on that it’s like a giant chord with so many notes that it is like a wall of sound with a few themes that have managed to rise to the top like cream. (I know, that’s a mixed metaphor. But I like it.)

So here’s my attempt to share the sound mass with you in a completely different medium, with some of the recurring themes that are weaving themselves together. Lately I’ve been…

  • Working on a big project for a client, requiring a lot of concentrated effort, learning the dialect of that business. I am very grateful for the steady work and an income stream that will help fund the next couple of months.
  • “Vendorized” to work with clients of the state Department of Rehabilitation, coaching them through successfully settling into new jobs and working with my first such client.
  • Talking to an increasing number of people who are comfortable… but uncomfortable. Itchy. They’re thinking, “There must be More… but how do I find it?” There is lots of forming new habits, exploring, guiding, questioning. I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Consulting with several small businesses, providing coaching and consulting. It is awesome fun as they have breakthroughs and golden “Aha!” moments and lots of incremental progress. We’re working on a variety of initiatives, ranging from building new habits to delegating to attracting new customers to articulating core values for guiding the business to building a new framework for employee reviews. Good stuff, and again I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Helping two different friends with big garage/moving sales, paying attention to the dynamics of Letting Go of Things, enjoying the interactions and circus atmosphere of the sales, and enjoying the little community that springs up around a sale and falling in love with people and their stories and blessing them and the money they exchanged for new treasures, feeling gratitude for the friends, the wealth, the fun, the exhausted sense of accomplishment.
  • Wrapping up my tenure as the US Country Facilitator for Sedaa’s Global Brain Trust, a wonderful online community for Organization Development (OD) professionals. I have loved the time I have spent working with the founders and the Global Operations team, and it is time to bring in fresh energies while I focus on building my own practice.
  • Participating in kindred spirit Andrea Lewicki’s launch of her new website, where she explores thoughts about curiosity and its applications. Andrea, like me, believes curiosity can change the world! The Grand Opening was a two day event, with interviews with some of Andrea’s favorite curious people – including me! You can view the recordings for a while longer at Andrea’s site.
  • Launching a Facebook page for Susan T. Blake Consulting, which I’ve put off doing until just recently. But now I have a place I can post short things that don’t quite fit here, and have conversations with people. Come on by and check it out!
  • Working with my friend and mentor, Michael F. Broom, and a small team of cohorts, to create, launch and promote a new series of webinars on managing team conflict. We are looking for someone to take over promoting Michael’s Center for Human Systems via social media on a volunteer or internship basis, so if you know anyone…
  • Noticing recurring themes of balancing friendship and business. Accepting help as well as giving it. Noticing my relationship with money. Noticing what I procrastinate about.
  • Wishing for more time to work on projects I procrastinated on before and have less time for now, chuckling over “Be careful what you ask for.” Wondering, is my procrastination because my priorities aren’t my priorities after all, or am I letting fear get in the way? Fear of what?

And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about abundance, about gratitude, about creating the kind of life I want to live. As I work to grow my practice, trying to make a living and support my clients and the small businesses around me, I count my blessings during these times and abundance is more and more on my mind.

You can see the threads of it throughout my life over the last few years. I talk about the importance being grateful in “Remember to Look Up;” I have been practicing Amy Oscar’s “More of This, Please” for a number of months; I have been reminding myself and others that Everything Is Going to Be All Right. (That’s another story, which I haven’t written yet – stay tuned.) And I have been thinking a lot about the work I really want to do as a consultant and coach, and what I am willing to do to make this little business fly. Thinking about what I really want. How many people really know what they want?

So when Birdy and Mike Diamond invited me to contribute to a program they wanted to develop about living abundantly, because of the synergy between my focus on curiosity and one of the steps in their program (Hint: It’s all about asking the right question), I of course said Yes. And for the last couple of months I have been pondering and practicing and exploring and noticing and writing. We are practicing and exploring not only our material but the practical aspects of teamwork, collaboration, and distribution of duties. Noticing coincidences and synchronicities and being open. Practicing gratitude. Pondering how to invite abundance into my life, developing material with Birdy and Mike and our partner, Nathara, and writing about it over at the Awesome Audacious Abundance website.

It’s perfect, really. Curiosity is fundamental to abundance. There is always more to learn, always more to do. And in our experience, living an abundant life is an interactive, participatory thing as well as a positive mindset. And Curiosity IS an abundant mindset.

So I invite you to pop over to http://www.a2abundance.com/ and peruse the blog posts we’ve been contributing about everything from Time to Money to Courage to Perfection to Magic Carpets and more. If you like what you see, sign up in the right sidebar to receive new posts (or arrange an RSS feed if you prefer). We are in the process of developing a variety of offerings to help people live more abundantly, and you can learn more about those offerings by signing up for the Explorer’s Club at the bottom of any blog post. At the same time, I laugh and am reminded of the proverb, “We teach what we most need to learn.” Come learn with us!

Meanwhile, I’m back at work in the world of Curiosity, and happy to be here! I am looking for more contributors to the next round of Captains Curious posts, so if you are interested please drop me a line at susan @ susantblake . com.

What’s happening in your life? Do any of these themes resonate for you? Please leave me a note below!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You Are Not a Charity


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Two significant things happened in the last week that have shifted the way I think, and I’d like to share them with you. Maybe you will find them useful, too.

An Experiment

I recently offered to try an experiment with my cohorts in one of my Master Mind groups, and it worked so well that one of them suggested I offer it as a service. I let that percolate for a few days. Then she came back and asked me to do it again – and said she wanted to pay me.

So we embarked on a process of figuring out what was an appropriate price from both of our perspectives. Now, that is really all negotiation is, but it is something that gives a lot of entrepreneurs a stomach ache, especially in service-oriented and creativity-oriented businesses. Negotiating with clients wasn’t that difficult for me when I worked for someone else because I was given pricing guidelines with upper and lower boundaries. Period.

But this was different. I was not only negotiating over my own products and services, but it was for something brand new that I wasn’t really sure how to price.

As we worked through the process, I got an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling like I was accepting charity. Luckily, I noticed right away and held it up to look at it, rather than brushing it off and stuffing it.

Why would that feel like Charity?

In holding it up to look at it, I asked myself, Why would letting a friend pay me for my services feel like charity? Not because I don’t think my time is worth it; I charge a healthy (though flexible) rate for my services. Was it because she is my friend? Was it because I knew she was trying to help me grow my business and develop a new service?

Well, yes. And yes.

And I realized very quickly I needed to reframe it. That she wanted to pay me is a sign of respect and that she values my contribution. (And the process gave me the opportunity to really explore what she found valuable.) For that I feel a different kind of gratitude, and I immediately stopped feeling like a Charity Case.

I also realized that perhaps she didn’t want to feel like a Charity Case either, or a User, and so by negotiating a payment that worked for both of us, we became equal partners in the deal.

That was very cool.

A Challenge

At the same time, I was mulling over a challenge put out by one of my cohorts in my other Master Mind group. The challenge: To spend some time thinking about our Priorities. She commented that she is more of a visual than a linear thinker, so lists don’t always work. It turns out that several of us are very visual, so we all talked about ways to explore this in a visual way. I committed on Tuesday to map out my priorities via a Mind Map…

…Which I finally sat down to do on Sunday.

And something interesting happened.

But first, a note about being an Entrepreneur (or Solopreneur, as the case may be). Unlike working for A Company where it is easy to take stability and a steady paycheck for granted, the price of being an Entrepreneur is the trade-off between stability and a steady paycheck for freedom and creativity. In other words, Stability? Steady Paycheck? Ha!

Will the real Priorities please stand up?

So I sat down on Sunday morning to spend some time thinking about my priorities. Since building my business is on my mind at the moment, the first two priorities that popped out were Develop Consulting Clients and Develop Coaching Clients.

But as I kept doodling and listing other priorities, such as Be of Service, Grow, Make Connections, and Have Fun, I realized that those first two weren’t my top priorities. But they kept showing up as off-shoots of my other priorities, such as Earn My Keep, Be of Service, Have Fun ->Doing Work I Enjoy, and Have Fun->Working with People I Enjoy. So they were clearly important.

Hmmm.

Last week’s post about letting some things flow out of my life came out while all of this was percolating. So I realized that one of my priorities is to Let Go of Some Things I am doing so that other, higher priority, things can come in. So Let Go went on the mind map as a priority, too.

Profound Impact

This has all had a profound impact on how I look at my business. It affects the way I create my to-do list, which is now shaped around my priorities. It affects the way I talk about what I do. It affects the things I say Yes to or No to. It affects the choices I make about what I want do, who I want to do it with, and what needs to happen next.

I feel a bit vulnerable sharing this thought process with you, in case you held the image of me as a brilliantly wise Consultant Who Is the Fount of Wisdom. Um, no.

I don’t really want to be the Fount of Wisdom* or a Smarty Pants Know-It-All Consultant.

What I am is a wilderness guide who is blazing trails through the woods of business and life and is happy to share those trails with you.

The Lesson

And this week’s trail-blazing lesson is this: I am neither a charity nor a charity case, and neither are you.

If you are a small business person, do any of these things ring true for you?

* Well, OK. Being a Fount of Wisdom wouldn’t be all bad. 😉


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Intentional Overflow


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This morning I was on a weekly conference call with a handful of friends who are also entrepreneurs in helping professions. As always, it was a rich conversation. Today we touched on many interrelated topics, including priorities, questioning how we define “productivity,” setting boundaries, keeping commitments to ourselves, and fun.

In other words, a typical conversation!

During the conversation I was reminded of an exercise I had gone through with another group of friends. We had gathered for a monthly potluck dinner, and each of us had been asked to bring our favorite cup or mug. The hostess had prepared a large punch-bowl full of water, and she led us through a meditation in which she poured water into our cups until they were overflowing. She asked us to consider this question:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Hmmm.

So, today I asked myself these questions:

What activities am I willing to stop doing to make time (or energy) for different activities?

What commitments, relationships, or partnerships no longer serve their purpose or do not serve both sides equally?

What beliefs do I hold that keep me from moving forward, that I can release to make room for beliefs that make progress possible?

Hmmm.

I am willing to stop breaking commitments to myself and protect my time for writing.

I am willing to release certain partnerships that have run their course to make more time and energy available for personal growth and projects in other areas.

I am willing let go of the belief that people want to pay me for my services out of charity, just to help me build my business, and make room for the belief that what I do is really valuable to them.

Letting go can be hard, but when the time is right it can be very easy.

What about you? Please tell me in the comments:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Image: Darren Robertson / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Testing Ground


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In Nova’s “Car of the Future,” which I watched recently on PBS, one of the technologies profiled was hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are being tested in Iceland.

Iceland prides itself on helping to improve this technology by testing it every day. Says Jon Björn Skúlason of Icelandic New Energy, Ltd., “You go to a small society like Iceland, where a lot of things are simpler than in a big society like the US or Europe, you can actually test things out here. That’s actually how we think we can help the world (emphasis mine).”

Hmm. That made me wonder: If that’s true of a small society like Iceland, is the same thing true for small organizations? How can small organizations help the world by testing ideas, processes and technologies?

Please tell me what you think!

Low Hanging Fruit – Part II


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My spontaneous post on Low Hanging Fruit has spurred all kinds of additional thoughts, and the committee in my head has jumped into the debate. Warning: They have no fear of mixed metaphors or clichés. (Luckily no monsters have shown up. Yet.) So pull up a chair and enjoy some Humble Pie and Resistance Crumble.

Why do I overlook Low Hanging Fruit? Is it because it is almost too easy, and I love a good challenge? After all, that looks so easy, somebody else must have done it already. Or, maybe it looks so easy because it is and no one else will find it interesting?

Or, maybe it only looks easy to you because of your unique superpowers that you take for granted?

Maybe I overlook that Low Hanging Fruit because I can see it up close and I can see the spots and worm holes. But that beautiful shining apple way up at the top of the tree looks perfect from down here.

Yes, and haven’t you learned from experience yet that once you get close to it, That Apple Up There has just as many spots, if not more? The apple is always greener. (Wait, that’s a mixed metaphor.) You know what I mean. Anyway, you can wash off the spots and eat around the worm hole on the apple down here, right now.

Maybe what makes this Low Hanging Fruit hang so low is that it is a little heavier from the weight of needing some resources (as in, help from other people). And being a good Taurus who stubbornly thinks I have to do everything myself, I would rather, well, be stubborn. About Doing. It. Myself.

But wait, this person has already given you some great feedback, and that person has offered to be your proofreader, and that person is really excited about doing the graphic design. What makes you think you’re doing this alone? Or that you have to?

Besides, you’re going to need help building a ladder to get to the top of the tree to reach that supposedly perfect apple way up there. Why not accept the help now?

I’m afraid that what makes that Low Hanging Fruit spotted and wormy is that it is so personal. What if I pick that fruit and hand it to someone and they say, “Eew!”?

Your apples are beautiful and organic and the spots are part of their charm. People want your apples because they are personal. And that’s what makes them different from everyone else’s.

Oh, and one more thing. If you insist on leaving that Low Hanging Fruit, you’re Leaving Money On The Table and someone else is going to Eat Your Lunch! Don’t Throw Out the Baby With The Bath Water! Get picking!

Sigh. I hate it when you’re right.

This slice of Humble Pie was brought to you by the Low Hanging Fruit Pickers Association.

Low Hanging Fruit


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I recently had a very interesting coaching session with a young man who has taken on a new role with a growing organization. He is new to the organization, and the role is new as well.

This is an exciting spot to be in, but it is challenging as well. I once worked for someone who used to say, “There is nothing more challenging than putting a brand new person in a brand new role.” It is challenging because it is difficult to tell whether issues that arise are related to the design of the role or the skills of the person. As any scientist will tell you, a well-constructed experiment only has one variable at a time.

So, he is in a challenging situation. He was telling me about his ideas for initiatives to be undertaken, and he has great ideas! But they are very grand. And all the bright and shiny opportunities are making it difficult to prioritize.

I asked him if he was familiar with the term, “Low Hanging Fruit.” “No,” he replied.

So I explained that an apple tree has fruit all over it, but we don’t have a ladder. We can either build a ladder now, which will take time, or we can pick the Low Hanging Fruit first. We can reach it now, and it is ripe. We’re hungry now, I said. “Yes!” he said, “Hungry and thirsty!”

“Then start with the Low Hanging Fruit,” I suggested. “What are the projects you can start with first and get some momentum, while building a ladder to get to the top of the tree?” And we began talking about the projects he can undertake immediately.

It occurs to me this morning that the same is true for developing products.

I am in a “mastermind” or “success team” group that meets, virtually, every week. Our mission is to support and hold each other accountable while we are building our businesses. As part of that, each of us is working on a Product of some kind. We are having some interesting conversations and some exciting breakthroughs!

And we face some interesting challenges, some of which are of our own making.

I wonder, to what extent are we – am I – forgetting to pick the Low Hanging Fruit, overlooking it because it is almost too easy?

Hmmm.

My late husband used to look at me sometimes and say, “I hate it when you’re right.”

This time I have to say, “Gah, I hate it when I’m right.”

What is the Low Hanging Fruit you are overlooking?

You Want to Start Your Own Business? Are You Crazy?


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Whether you want to have more control over your own life, or you have a great idea that no one could implement quite like you, or because you’re fed up with job hunting, if you’re considering starting your own business you are not alone. But there are a lot of people out there who will tell you you’re crazy. Some of those voices may be in your own head!

Marcia Wieder, a coach, author and trainer, speaks eloquently about the importance of listening to, not silencing, your inner Doubter. But you have to learn to recognize whether that whisper of doubt is simply an obstacle that requires a strategy, or a belief (“I’m not creative,” “I could never do that,”) that just needs to be questioned.

Another resource I have found tremendously helpful is Naomi Dunford’s IttyBiz website. Naomi specializes in helping small businesses with marketing themselves. She writes eloquently and hilariously about the bliss and the terror that many of us with an “IttyBiz” feel. (Warning: Naomi has a potty mouth, and she’s proud of it. Please don’t let it deter you.) I tripped over her website through a link on another website, and I got hooked. And I have now purchased several of her products. Not only because they’re great, but because she’s been there. Here. Where we are. Where you might be.

Starting your own business is not, by definition, crazy. “Crazy like a fox,” maybe. Here’s the thing: Sometimes you have to know when to listen to others, and sometimes you have to know when NOT to listen to others. (Have you read my ebook? We talk about that, among other things.) And learn to be Crazy Like a Fox.

Stay tuned . . .

I’d Love to Start My Own Business, But…


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How many times have you said those words to yourself, or to someone else? If the answer is at least once, you’re not alone. But why do so few people take the plunge?

There are a lot of answers. One answer is security: Despite the common pitfalls of working for someone else, or for a big company, there is a great deal of appeal in knowing where your next paycheck comes from, in not having to go out and find your own health insurance, in not having to Sell (that’s a Four Letter Word). In not having to think much, really, about anything except the work itself. Is that a good enough reason to not take the plunge?

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone should go into business for themselves. For a lot of reasons. Only you can decide which are the right reasons to go into business or continue working for someone else.

But people do go into business for themselves all of the time. (And a lot of people are doing it right now.) Some are successful, some are not. Many are not successful the first time, but they keep trying. Others go back to The Corporate World.

If you are seriously thinking about launching your own business, there are a number of issues you will have to wrestle with, including being clear about why you want to do something this crazy, formulating your idea, coping with fear and uncertainty, dealing with isolation, accepting the fact that yes, you will have to Sell, balancing planning with action, and thinking about the type of business you want to run. (Hint: I don’t just mean your line of business or your niche. What kind of soul do you want your business to have?) Not to mention all of the traditional business issues like dealing with taxes, licenses, insurance, financial planning, and so on.

That list may be enough to make you thank your lucky stars for the boss you hate and the paycheck that’s too small and the benefits that are too expensive. Or make you call a recruiter instead of a CPA. But if you’ve thought that you might have a great idea for a business, or at least you’ve got a solid platform of experience that you could use in your own business, and you are willing to wrestle with this stuff, stay tuned. We’ll talk more in the coming days and weeks about these issues and about some of the other things to keep in mind as you consider taking the plunge, and I’ll share some of the things I’ve found helpful as I have gone down that path myself.

Stay tuned…

When Time Slows Down


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I was talking to someone recently and she made a comment about how her kids had such a different sense of time – that asking them to wait five minutes was really difficult, that the idea of something happening next week was a really long time, and that waiting for a future event that was a month or a year away was like an eternity.

We wondered: Is this because they have such a short time frame for reference? A year to a 9-year-old is 1/9th of her life. Or is it just because they are so in-the-present?

This conversation reminded me of the time after my husband died five years ago. The idea of living the rest of my life without him was too huge and too horrible to contemplate, so I focused on today. Right now. Putting one foot in front of the other. These 24 hours. One day at a time. I can do Now, I thought. And I did. I could think about tomorrow, but the coming weekend was a stretch. When my mother asked in the autumn if I was coming to Seattle for Christmas, I had to explain that I literally could not think that far in the future.

Did I become child-like for that period?

As I healed, I was conscious of times when I was able to schedule something for the weekend, plan a pot-luck a month in advance, think about a trip to Seattle for my newest nephew’s christening.

In his terrific essay, “What Startups Are Really Like,” Paul Graham (www.paulgraham.com) writes about what founders of startups reported that most surprised them about the process. In Surprise #2, “Startups Take Over Your Life,” one writes, “I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how one’s perspective on time shifts. Working on our startup, I remember time seeming to stretch out, so that a month was a huge interval.” Paul attributes this to the fast pace of life in a startup, “which makes it seem like time slows down.”

As we move faster, does time slow down? The theory of relativity tells us that the closer to the speed of light an object travels, the more time slows down for it so that an astronaut who returns to earth after a long trip at the speed of light will have aged more slowly than his twin brother who remained on Earth.

Does life seem fast-paced to children? Is that why time moves so slowly for them? Do we move more slowly as we age, so that it seems to pass more quickly?

Are entrepreneurs like children? Non-entrepreneurs might glibly say Yes, but I’m serious here. Is there a child-like quality that entrepreneurs share with children related to how they perceive life?

When people are faced with changes that they have to get used to, and there is newness, and the world shifts, how does this affect how they perceive time? Are they dropped back to a child-like state until they can grow into the change? Does consciously fostering a child-like sense of wonder make coping with change any easier?

These make for interesting considerations for those of us who are change agents – considerations about how those impacted by changes perceive time and about how they react. What do you think?

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