Sunday, March 29, 2009

If They know who I am... Part II

photo by Erica Marshall of www.muddyboots.org
...Will they still like me?

Here we go with the second installment of this topic.
We may laugh about the topic, but really it rings true. Who are we when we post to our blog? What side of ourselves are we showing? For consistency sake, thinking about this before you start a business blog is a very good idea.
  • How often to post?
The general rule of thumb on this one is around 3-5 times a week. I think you should post as much as you possibly can. If you are promoting your posts, you don't always have to promote the most recent one. If you have them well organized in your archive, you can pull out blog posts to send to people if they have questions about a particular point or product. Even though this is a moving log of information, it can also serve as a FAQ that you and your readers turn to for information in the future.
  • Sparking conversation
Ask questions! You don't need to have the answer, but you can gauge what you readers are thinking about by directly asking questions or by having a poll on your blog. A poll is generally a question with a yes or no answer that folks can just click on without logging in a comment. This can also be a way to get readership. If you put it out there that you have a poll that you want votes on, this can in it's own way draw new readers.
  • Photos?
Yes, yes, yes AND YES!
You know I have design background and images are important to me. Everyone is drawn to an eye-catching image. Having a "dry" blog with only text is just what it sounds like. It lacks life. Not everyone is drawn into the "magic" of your words. Chances are, it's the image that will get them to stay beyond 5 seconds.
Beyond the images, having a clean, nicely designed, uncluttered blog it pretty important. Ask people you don't know to take a look at your design before you go live. If you need help, get it. This is another area of your professional image stepping out into the world. Take that seriously.
  • Links.
Having a sidebar with links of related interest is an important element, but not an absolute. What is pretty important is to use links when you are speaking about another entity that has a site that folks can go to. Don't worry about losing them. So, if you are mentioning something about the SBA, you should have a link to the SBA!

One last thing: Once you're up and running, make sure you are using something like Statcounter so that you can see who is coming to your blog, how long they are staying, how they found you and where to go to after they visit you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

If They Know Who I Really Am... Part I

...Will They Still Like Me?
Photo by Scott Beale Laughing Squid
People, this is about blogging for business.

I just got off the phone for an interview about the use of blogs in business, and these are some of the topics we covered:
  • Can a blog take the place of a website?
Yes, if you're not selling product. If you are selling product, you can link to that place, but a blog is a journal. When you post something new, the last post moves down below it. Looking at a blog is looking at a snapshot in time, unless you look at past posts. This is the up-side of blogs: They show you moving and shaking! It proves that you are doing things on a daily basis to move forward with your business and that creates trust from the consumer.

There is a way to have some elements of your blog remain stable as your posts drift on by. So, you would want a profile that is always there that talks about who you and what you do. You would also want to have your contact information there as well.
  • What kind of personality to you need?
I think this is a pretty interesting question. On one hand, we read many different types of books and listen to many different types of music based on the mood we're in, but this is a business blog. This is a place for your customers and potential customers to come and find out who you are and what you're up to. You can be a shy type and you might find is as a safe way to come out of your shell a bit. Anyone can show a "different" side of their personality and therefore reach more new folks who might not 'normally' be drawn to you.

Be yourself. I mean, a perfectly edited version of yourself. Yeah.
  • What to leave out?
It can become natural for a lot of people to not know what the boundaries should be on a business blog. It's become very fuzzy on the web in general. I think a good rule of thumb would be: If you wouldn't say it or show it to a potential customer, don't do or say it on your blog!!!

So, this would mean, keep the pictures of the kids off, and personal distaste for pretty much anything. (You never know who you might offend.)
  • What do folks want to read about?
If you have a retail business, your audience wants to see the "backside" of what you do. But, make sure it doesn't look like a backside. Bad pun. Let's say, Back Office! Your readers want to know what's new, what's on the way, what are you buying for next season, what's entered into your shop and what you think next cool thing is.

If you have a service based company, you are educating your reader quite a bit more but still linking them to trends in the marketplace and to what you see going on in your little piece of the world. Keep it upbeat. Keep it on an informative level.

I'm going to leave the next part of this conversation for another post.
  • How often to post?
  • Sparking conversation
  • Photos?
  • Links.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If You Start it Will They Come?


photo by Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org

The short answer is: Only if they know you exist!

Isn't that the truth. Such noise out there!
  • Do you shout above the rest?
  • Do you find only the people who you think you want to talk to?
  • Do you take the attitude that the right people will "somehow" find you?

In as much as Social Media is restating the questions, I think the answers are coming up surprisingly the same. Finding your target market and keeping them engaged it the only way to make a business successful.

How to get someone's attention may be the flavor of the day, and human behavior as experienced on the internet may be a moving target, but there are some things you can count on:
  • People are always buying more than a product.
  • If the product you have isn't selling, don't assume the product is wrong.
  • If the product you have is selling and then NOT, don't assume it's your marketing.

We live in a very "reactive" culture. One minute you're up, next minute you're down. We've been making movies and jokes about this for decades, but it's funny because it's true. So yes, if you start it they may come, but will they buy? Will they tell their friends? Will they come and buy again?

This brings us back to a more "scientific" notion about business plans and experiments. We don't want to waste our time on either without a pretty good notion of what's going to happen. But, if things don't play out the way you hypothesized, re-evaluating with a professional is the next best step.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Be a Smarter Computer User


Photo by Erica Marhshall- Muddyboots.org
Today, we have Guest Blogger Sam Kleinman giving us the in's and out's of how to do better what we do on computers. Something we can all use a little help with!

Desktop computing, and (relatively) economical technology (not to mention high speed Internet connections) are ubiquitous in the world today. But if computers themselves are a given, how we use them is less of a given. In this post, I hope to go through a few (hopefully non-obvious) things you can do to be a more efficient and effective computer user.

Learn short-cut keys if you don't already know them
While we've been using pointing devices (mice) with our computers for 25 years, the truth is that, keyboard based interfaces are more efficient and ergonomic, and most programs provide a host of key bindings that you can learn as you work, so that you don't have to reach for the mouse. Control-C and (command-c on OS X) control-v (command-v) to paste. Alt-Tab (command-tab on OS X) to cycle between open applications, and so forth. There are even desktop environments and editors that avoid the use the mouse very minimally, if you find you like this kind of interface.

Command Lines
An evolution of the above point, but there are an increasing number of text-based interfaces for communicating with your software. The address bar in Firefox, programs like Launchy, Quicksilver (OS X), and traditional console environments give you a powerful text-based interaction method that can save you time.

Develop a Backup Strategy
Whatever you're doing on your computer is important, and the fact is that computer storage methods aren't permanent. Drives fail for many different reasons (electrical, mechanical, age, etc.) and data can be lost. Backup strategies should include provisions for a few contingencies. Basic backup logic recommends protecting against drive failure (with disk arrays, multiple copies, etc.) and catastrophic environmental situations (earthquake, flood, and theft) with off-site backups. In any case, your backup strategy should be tailored to the kind of data and how you use this data.

Use Open Computing Practices
When possible use open systems, and open data storage techniques so that your data will be accessible and useful in the long term. While I enjoy GNU/Linux systems and would love to recommend that you give it a try, what I mean here is that you should save your data in formats, and use software that is freely available. In addition to plain text (.txt) Try Open Office, but also use plain text derived formats like "rich text format" (RTF) for textual documents, and CSV (comma separated values) for tabular (spreadsheet) data. These formats are universal, and will be readable on nearly any system with nearly any software.

Outsource When Possible

Your time is valuable. There are some computing tasks that are defiantly worth paying someone else to for their skill and knowledge. Graphic design work, is almost always worth paying a pro for: the software is highly technical, and amateurish work always looks it. Similarly, I think most networking tasks (setting up networks, wiring, etc.) is worth letting someone else figure out.

Less is More: Hardware

The "netbook" phenomena (very small,moderately/low powered laptops) has shown us that for most of our computing tasks we don't need very powerful computers. While there are some hardware that will greatly improve performance (RAM, display quality/size), most features in computers these days aren't the kind of thing that you're likely to need in daily use. Get an extra gigabyte of ram (or two), and a bigger display because these are features that will matter to you moving forward, but the chances are you won't really benefit from the second processor-core, and beyond a certain point additional storage shouldn't be located in your machine anyway (see above, regarding backups).

Less is More: Software

There are thousands of very cool, very problem/task specific applications out there, and many of them won't help you work more effectively. Try new software, and experiment, but be skeptical of new programs: they add complexity and take system resources. Make sure that any benefit that a new program offers is worth the cost. Also, consider regularly auditing the software you use, and don't keep around software that you no longer use.

Less is More: Organization
I, and I suspect many other people, am tempted to name files creatively, and organize them into complicated hierarchies of folders/directories. This is an unproductive impulse as it makes things hard to find later. To combat this: name files so you can tell exactly what's in the file by the title. File names should include: draft information, title, file type (notes, draft, references, part information). File names should also (generally) include only lowercase characters and either hyphens `-` or underscores `_` rather than spaces, and information should be arranged from least to greatest specificity. Similarly, once you establish folders/directories for a series of "domains" or projects (eg. marketing, blogging, correspondence, references, etc.) don't create sub-folders below this level.

Think about the Future.
If you're naming files, or buying a new system, my general advice is that you think about the future in the longer term. Consider if your file organization is going suit your needs in six months, a year, or five years. Think about the developing needs of your organization and what kind of technical projects you currently have and are likely to have when you're by a computer. Support all technological practices with experiments: keep records of how you've used computers, of places where you need something that you don't have, times when you've lost, or been unable to find data, so that when you adapt your computer usage later, you'll be ready.

---

Sam Kleinman is a technologist and "open source futurist," who thinks and consults on issues of information management, human/computer (cyborg) interaction, and strategies in cyber-cultures and spaces. He writes as *tycho garen,* and maintains the blog tychoish.com where you can find more of his ideas about technology, open source software, and other minutia. He is also a science fiction writer, knitter, and Morris Dancer.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Not Lost in Translation

I've been doing this "thing" for years and years and it has been through a couple of conversations that I realized I needed to define "it" for my audience here.

The "thing" I do in my business consulting/mentoring for creative professionals is this:
I translate Business-Speak into Art-Speak.

I bridge the gap between these two worlds to help creative people figure out how the heck to navigate the business world. This gal was born lucky with both the right and left sides of her brain pretty equally developed. It took me a while to see this in myself, but I can take a creative person and "spoon feed" them the business information they need to make their dream happen.

Now for the back story:
When I was in my twenties, I was a custom clothing designer and I realized soon enough that my language for form and color did not necessarily match the language of my clients. Did an accountant know how to tell me what they wanted to wear? No. Mostly not.

I started pulling pages from magazines, mostly fashion, and asked my clients to tell me about the person in each picture. From this Q&A I was able to glean some crucial information about that person's language of color and design. From there I asked them some questions about how they wished to be perceived in the world (in really specific circumstances, like a job interview, first date, etc.)

By asking these questions I was able to figure out what my client wanted to wear and then I could create it for them. All these years later, what this exercise in communication styles and perception styles taught me was the way various personalities learn and perceive. What I didn't know back then, is where it would take me to, so many years later.

Today I take many of these same skills (plus some) to see where my client wants to go in their life and career. From there, I create a plan and most importantly, at each step, I am communicating with them in a language that they understand, about what's going to happen and how they are going to get there.

Many of my first forays into this was when I went with my clients to visit their accountant or lawyer and acted as a translator. I was able to make sense of the legal and accounting terms bantered about and helped them make some really crucial business decisions. Suddenly their stress level went down and they no longer walked out of the door, not really understanding what just happened and what they paid this person for. Now they knew! Now they had the power of information in a way they could properly digest. I still get excited every time this happens!

In this age of "do it yourself", there are many things that new entrepreneurs try to do and fail. At that point, many just give it up. They truly think that they are not capable of "dealing" with the business world. It's like going to Japan, not understanding the language and feeling like it's your fault that you ordered Vanilla ice cream and you got Chocolate. It's not your fault!

I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do this kind of work and I truly hope I get the chance to share it with some of you, beyond this blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is it a New Business or The Old Business in New Clothes?

And why does that matter?
Old, new, revamped, re-branded.
How do I know when I have a new business?

For a change, I'm going to answer that one first from an accounting perspective:
  • Does it have it's own expenses?
  • Does it use different staff?
  • Does it have a different client base?

So let's say that you answered "yes" to the questions above. Next comes:
  • Do I have enough time for another business?
  • Am I already doing this but not considering it another business?
  • Will it be more complex if I pull this thing out into another business?
  • Can it wear "training wheels" for a while longer so I can figure all the other questions out?
In most ways I could say yes and no to the above questions. All of them will depend on what else you have going on. I've seen folks add another business that was as high-powered as the one they started with and it was always a fight for attention. I've seen folks that have that split in a really comfortable way. I've also seen the first business completely fade after the second one is started and vice verse.

The bottom line is "Do not attempt this without professional help".
You will need legal and accounting help for sure to figure out where all the lines are and how to play safely within them for each entity. You will want to know how to organize the entities, and like with a doctor's opinion, feel free to get a second one.

Just like a relationship, your idea may be the next fabulous thing for your life, or it could be a distraction from making your primary business really work. If your first business is not functional, why would your second one? Yeah, a little tough love is needed here for the short-attention-span-impaired amongst you. Starting a new one when you're not in love with the old one anymore should done after a lot of soul-searching.

Don't let me steal your thunder though. This new business may be exactly what you need, and what happens as a result will be a surprise to us all! Look at the questions above and when you're ready, reach out for some help answering them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Let's Do it


Photo by Erica Marshall www.MuddyBoots.org

I've just spent four posts talking about why you need a mentor.
Now I'm going to go back and tell you again, (or more) HOW I do what I do.
Give away the store?? Not really.
You're doing the work. What do I do?
  • Conduct an overview of where you are right now
  • Determine the true cost/benefit of what you're doing now
  • Decide with you where you want to go
  • Create a plan for a certain amount of time, say 6 months to get it all done
  • Walk you through the steps, weekly to get it done
This post is short for a reason. I wax on and on about the details of lots of stuff, but really, this is what it all comes down to: You need to try this process and then commit to it to see results. If you really want to do "this", it can be done and I am committing to doing it with you.
Let's make some cool things happen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Do I Need a Mentor? Part IV

Align Center
Photo by Erica Marshall /MuddyBoots.org

You may have issues with prioritizing your time and don't know how to start over to fix it.

I don't think you need to start over to fix it. What you do need to do is call a time-out.
That time-out could be an afternoon with the cellphone turned off, out of the office with a mentor or it could mean pulling your "group" together in a mini retreat with a mentor.

That brings us back to why you're going to need help with this, and really, it's the most common reason people hire me: You're working as hard as you can and everything is not getting done and you fear your head may explode.

If you're at this point, there is no way YOUR customers are not feeling it. If that's not incentive, I don't know what is. If there are people who you are not getting back to in a timely fashion, if things as slipping through the cracks, it's time to take a serious look at what's going on.

Even if you've gotten all your ducks in a row with your processes, if you're being pulled this way and that by whatever hits your desk or phone or computer next, you're not going to be affective. How that all gets fixed is Magic. The Magic is in another set of eyes. The Magic is in someone else giving you permission to change things you're afraid to change. The Magic is in asking my favorite question: "Is the house burning down?"

It's so hard to prioritize when you're surrounding with today's technology. It's so
easy to be drawn to attend to the next message coming at you. If the big picture of what you need to take care of is dealt with, of course you can have some flexibility in how you deal with social media or other minute by minute communications. If the big picture is not under control, you may have to take some serious measures to get them under control.

A mentor will give you tasks weekly and see if you complete them. If you don't complete them, then you'll have to look at what's going on. It could be your home life, some other interests, a difficult customer or your tendency to procrastinate.

A Mentor is not a bully, They're your new best friend who won't let you get away with sh*t.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Business Website


photo by Erica Marshall/Muddyboots.org


The following post was written by a very smart woman (not me) and although it's long, I beg you to read it, bookmark it and pass it along. It will save you and your company lots of money and your sanity. With that, I give you Sadelle Wiltshire:


People usually end up in my office because of word of mouth, and because it's well known we're reliable. responsible web people who explain things in plain language. Often times folks come to us with a broken site... or they've lost access to their site and don't know what to do. I can't tell you how many times we've gotten a new client who came to us because their web developer/designer "disappeared" and left them with a either a broken or un-updated website.
Melissa brought up the topic of the web-developer-gone-missing on Twitter recently so I thought I'd write up some words of advice for business people, hard-learned from helping out clients who were abandoned by their former webmasters.

1. Who set up your Web and Domain accounts?: Make sure YOU are the admin contact on both your DOMAIN REGISTRATION and your WEB HOSTING ACCT. If the admin contact, registrant for your domain is your web developer... get it fixed NOW. Be insistent. Know WHO both your Domain Registrar and Web Hosting company are!

2. A Consistent Email address that you use and check: Make sure you know WHICH EMAIL ADDRESS your domain and your webhosting were registered with. If it's an old email address... CHANGE IT TO ONE YOU RELIABLY CHECK. (So many folks have lost their domain name because they never updated their account to their new email, or never checked their email, or didn't know WHO their registrar or host was and threw it out. If you miss your renewal, the domain name becomes fair game and often these days is snapped up by unscrupulous domain brokers, ready to sell it back to you for thousands of dollars.)

3. Passwords: This really ties into tips #1 and 2 Make sure you know, and have recorded somewhere safely: ALL USERNAMES and PASSWORDS associated with your website. This includes:

  • Domain Registrar account username and password
  • Web hosting account username and password
  • Web Control panel username and password if different from the first.
  • FTP webhost, username and password if different from above, and directory name where your web files are stored.
  • Any database names and passwords associated with your account.
  • All email account usernames and passwords associated with your account.
  • Blog (if your webmaster set this up for you) Admin Username and Password.
  • Shopping cart usernames and passwords, if more than one.
  • Online merchant gateway usernames and passwords. (See tip #2 and make sure your email address is up to date with your shopping cart and blog too!)
  • Google Local, Adwords, Analytics, etc accounts sign in email address and password.
  • Any other SEO service that the may have signed you up for.

4. Domain Names: Do you know ALL the domain names you've registered? When they expire? And if you registered them w/ different registrars or hosts.. where they are? And of course, refer to points 1. 2 & 3 for all of these!!

5. Custom Programming: You might have had custom programming or scripts done for your site. Ask your webmaster to detail the programming done to make your site function, and if they used an outside programmer, make sure you have their contact info as well. If the script breaks, and the webmaster isn't around, you can go directly to the programmer.

{Be aware that more programmers fly the coop than even webmasters. So check the reliability of the programmer your web designer works with. That's a good tip for web designers too!}

6. Do you know who your web developer IS?: This might seem silly, but when you contract to work with a web designer, GET THEIR FULL CONTACT INFO. Yes, that means you know where to find them: their address, their phone number, their IM or Twitter id. Ask if they're on LInkedIn and connect with them. Have multiple ways to find them if you need to!

7. Web Files: Ask who owns the files if you end your business relationship with your webmaster. Make sure you get a full copy of your website on cd. Some designers are picky about what they'll give you.

8. Copyright: Be in the know. If you don't provide your webmaster with photos for your site, find out what the source of the photos they use are, and make sure they prove to you that no copyright laws have been broken.

9. Safekeep your original photos and logo art: Make sure you have hi res versions of any logo or photo on the site that you might need to use for print purposes in the future. You never know when you'll need it.

10. Search Engines: Do not assume that your webmaster knows about optimizing your website for search engines. Most webmasters don't have the time to do full-on SEM (Search Engine Marketing) work, however they should at least be familiar with the basics of "Organic Search Engine Optimization". Depending on your site, and how much competition you have, you may have to dip in and get your hands/mind dirty a bit and read up on SEO stuff. Or find a firm/consultant to work with that you can afford. And if ANYONE promises you #1 rankings, run away quickly and do not hand over any money. Getting good search engine rankings will take a lot of hard work, and over time.
Get a book on the subject and do a little reading. Or read Jill Whalen's newsletters: http://www.highrankings.com
Just one more thing! My favorite site for reading about search engine doings is http://www.searchengineguide.com

Sadelle Anne Wiltshire, (@sadiavt on Twitter) currently of Bennington, VT, is a Web designer, developer, web manager, social media consultant (specializing in the arts), web and software instructor , tech teacher, fiber artist, spinner, knitter, and folk music lover who was dragged into the world of web authoring 15 years ago thanks to her textile art and jewelry. She landed a full-time web management and design job in 1998 with Spectrum Design when she told her soon to be boss how 'evil' frames were, and the rest was history.

She can be found via her arts website and blog, www.pumpkinspun.com/musings/ and at Spectrum Design http://www.spectrumwebworks.com


Why Do I Need a Mentor? Part III


photo by www.Imageabstraction.com
You may not have "branded" your business in a way that gives you enough exposure to the right clients.

You may have lived with your professional identity for a long time. Time does not equal effectiveness and accuracy of statement. You could really be missing out on a lot of business because folks can't find you or just aren't drawn to you. This makes me think of people naming their babies and how it affects that child's life forever. It's no wonder a lot of people change their names at some point to greater reflect who they are. That's actually a lot harder to do as a person than as a business.

Even if your business identity isn't something you actively think about, it still needs reevaluation. It's another "forest for the trees" situation. I find that folks can act pretty defensive on this one by mistaking their identity with their product's identity. Yes, they can be very linked. I can definitely think of several cases where my client was the product in many ways. Even if we share a name with that product, as I do with mine, it's still not me. It's what I do. I provide and stand behind my consulting practice of course, but if I change it's name, that doesn't mean it ceases to me mine. Owning vs. Being.

On a less esoteric note:

Who can afford to change their brand? Pretty much everyone. I would say though, you should really choose carefully and not do this more than once. If your business changes so much that you need another identity again, perhaps you need a new business. I'll cover that in another post. Bottom line, with the right steps taken, your "old" people will find you and new people will find you in an effective re-branding.

Things that need to all be on the same page
  • All collateral, marketing, etc.
  • All PR done in your name
  • All interactions
So where does a mentor come in? One of the big things is brainstorming new ideas with you about your new image. I do my homework and then come back to you with a bucketful of stuff and we hash through it. I'll tell you what I think will or will not work. Then we hook up with a designer and I run interference for you to get this new ball rolling. When we have cohesive imagines for you to look at, I show them to you, we tweek them a little and then have one more go round. That's generally what it looks like.

This can be really fun stuff. Just don't take it lightly or you're likely to wake up with something like a tattoo that you regret after a big night out.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why Do I Need a Mentor? II

Photo by Erica Marshall

There may be big issues with the way your system works that is making things WAY harder for you than they should.

Does this look like your desk?

This is
not going to be fixed with another cup of coffee. But, go ahead and have one if you want. The thing is, Just like anything, we can't see the details as clearly when we're standing too close. That's why editors exist. That's actually a really great metaphor for what a Mentor does in this particular situation. They "edit" your systems by looking at every letter, every sentence, every page to see that it all works as a book. That's the point too, you can't edit your own book. So many times folks don't ask for help because they feel "guilt"around what's become of their business organization. A writer has no "guilt" about having their books edited. Some fear perhaps but they know it's something that someone else has to do. They cannot possibly see clearly in this way about their own business.

Here's what the process looks like with me:

When I'm able to actually work on-site with a client, I interview everyone in their company about what they do and how they do it. I create a sort of map for the way things work as a whole. Then I see what links I don't have, see if there's something I've missed.
Then comes the part where I figure out how to connect the missed links and smooth the rough edges into a well oiled machine. With people inside it...doing the real work...uh, I'll stop now with that metaphor.

So, when I work via phone it's generally regarding a one or two person operation. I spend time once again, learning what their processes are for doing what they do. Even though they may come to me with one "ailment", like a good Dr. I still try to get the whole picture. Often the thing that's not working for them has something to do with the way it integrates with another process.

An example of this would be
: They are having trouble fulfilling orders and complain that their computer system isn't working very well and are thinking that they should perhaps go another route. On further examination, it ends up having to do with the way they are getting or (not getting) their information from their business partner. Instead of jumping to: "Let's look at new computer software because you say this one is not working for you", I'll start with: "How exactly does this all get done now? Let's connect the dots."



"Connecting the dots" is very much of what I do as a Mentor. We liked it as kids. Let's learn to have patience with the process as adults.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why do I Need a Mentor?

Photo by ImageAbstraction.com
Here's the part where I tell you all the fabulous reasons why you should not only read this blog but also hire someone (like me) to help you.

I could have a picture of two hands meeting in a handshake, or two business people sitting down to chat. Oh no. I've chosen something a little "edgier." Broken glass. 'Cause ya know, that's just what you may be feeling like you're walking on. (Hmmm...a song coming on?).

People generally come to me when they are starting a new business, contemplating change, in the middle of change or in a crisis.

We're going to take some points here:
  • There may be big issues with the way your system works that is making things WAY harder for you than they should
  • You may not have "branded" your business in a way that gives you enough exposure to the right clients
  • You may have issues with prioritizing your time and don't know how to start over to fix it.
  • You feel like you need to clone yourself (see above).
  • You're thinking about starting an entirely new business.
  • You don't know if you're in the "right" business for you.
  • When you come across either a roadblock or a new opportunity, you ask the person sitting right next to you what they think.
I'm going to start with that last one because it's really the heart of the matter as far as I'm concerned:

When you come across either a roadblock or a new opportunity, you ask the person sitting right next to you what they think.


This is about getting advice, playing ideas of of another person, venting and looking for solutions. Depending on your personality type, you may go to another person to seek help or you may just ask yourself these questions and lose sleep. Even if that other person is your business partner, you may still need another ear. It's like a marriage where the two of you are used to a certain dynamic and you may need a third person to shake it up and point things out to you that you may be too close to see.

Personally, I know that if I ask my circle of friends and colleagues about something, I know what angle they're going to come at it from. In the back of my mind, I know what their approach is going to be. "Jane" who is a retailer will be talking about it from a retailers perspective, etc. The perspective of a business mentor is way more balanced. We work in many different industries and see some issues as industry specific and some as "you" specific. We get to know your way of doing things, see where you want to go and then find a way to get you there.

The more I look at the image I've chosen for this post, the more I do see how it directly relates to this topic. Glass ceilings, pushing out the windows, pushing beyond our confinement to get to the place where we want to be. Meanwhile, there's a bit of broken glass between here and there.

I'm not saying it won't be a little painful at times, but allow me to lay my cloak down for you...here...walk over here....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Working At Home Part IV


photo by Erica Marshall of Muddyboots.org
I'm not a Doctor, I just play one on my blog.

Yes, this whole topic makes me feel like a shrink, and if you'd ask my clients, they'd say that's pretty much right on. A lot of business issues have an emotional component, but the way our relationships revolve around our work lives is especially touchy. It comes up nearly every day for folks. I, personally have been on both sides of this one. For now, I'm going to keep out the third element which would be kids.

I'm going to take this from two sides of this equation:
The issues of the person working at home:
  • I get interrupted all the time by my Partner (Significant other).
  • I experience most noise as a distraction.
  • I need more flexibility to attend to so many tasks.
  • I need a room of my own.
And now we have the Partner's issues:
  • NO time is a good time for questions.
  • I don't know when they're working or "playing" on the computer.
  • When we are due to be somewhere, I feel like I'm "nagging" to bring it up when we're running late.
  • Partner talks loudly on the phone and walks from room to room.
And then we have both people working at home: Take list A and B and mash them together willy-nilly. Yeah. Pretty.

There is no way around a kind of "couple therapy"approach. Sorry. Both people need to find "rules of engagement" and stick to them. The interruption one is rough for both people. No matter which side you're on, this is going to drive you nuts and create problems elsewhere in your relationship.

The question: "Are you working now?" is not a threat, not a nag, it is simply a way to determine if you can be communicated with at any given moment. Take a breath and say either "Yes" or "No" and then whether it's an okay time to take a question. Just saying: "What??" doesn't work very well. It does not answer the initial question. Neither does muttering under your breath.

Find a language that works for both of you and triggers neither. There are no shortcuts on that one. If you create these channels and rules, you are much less likely to feel nagged and interrupted. That is not to say that big stuff doesn't happen and you'll just have to deal with it. Just like in an office, a call will come in that you really need to deal with and it won't be in the schedule. Your kid or dog needs medical care or the plumbing blows up....life.

If things do come up during the day that are not working for either of you, wait until the work day is over and have a special talk to figure them out. Do not attempt to discuss in the middle of it. Cool down.

That brings me to: Does the work day ever end???

For some people that answer is no. They work with multiple time zones and who knows when it's going to be done for the day. That said, that person also needs how impossible it can be to maintain a relationship in that environment. It's going to require even MORE communication. It's going to mean going to your Partner and saying something like:

Hon, I know we were going to watch this movie together, but I have an urgent call with London. It will take less than an hour. I'd like you to wait for me because I'd still like to spend that time with you. If you don't want to wait, I'll get back to you as soon as this call is over.

Less effective would be:
Hey, I've got this call suddenly, don't know when it'll be over. Sorry.

Less is not more. MORE is more.

It's completely possible to have a great life working at home. It just means that if you don't live alone, you've got to consider the other person or neither of you will be happy. I know I didn't touch on space considerations, but it also comes down to trying different things out. Move around for a while to figure out what will work.

Last word: Just don't remodel your home in the middle of this. Seriously.