Posts filed under ‘Life Lessons’

Sage Declaration No. 2 ::: Practice

Yesterday, I asked you to think about how you are going to educate yourself.  Today, I want you to think about Practice.  All of those things we learned in our youth (walking, running, biking, swimming, reading, math) were only accomplished with a great deal of practice.  Today, we expect “now, now, now”.  I want the email now.  I want the appointment now.  I want the money now.  I want my dinner now.  But, nothing great is ever learned over night.  We must practice – and we must practice A LOT.

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Outliers.  In it, he discusses the “10,000 Hour Rule”.  His theory is that no one can achieve greatness without working VERY hard.  He believes that you must practice something for at least 10,000 hours to become an expert at it.

He explains how everyone thinks of Bill Gates as this child prodigy / phenom / college-dropout / computer mastermind.  But, the reality is that he started his computer programming education as a child.  He had the fortuitous opportunity to go to a school in Seattle that had one of the first computers in the country.  And, he began programming while in junior high.  He was a bit obsessive so he programmed at all hours.  By the time he reached college, he had years of experience unmatched by most in the country.  Naturally, he had become an expert.  Gladwell surmises that Gates had practiced his skill for 10,000+ hours before starting Microsoft.

So, I ask you:

What do you need to practice? How will you build your skill set?  How will you commit to practicing?  How will you improve and benefit from 10,000+ hours of hard work?  What will you do to achieve success?

We cannot become experts in our field or in our business without practice.  There are no short-cuts.  We cannot build an empire overnight.

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August 13, 2009 at 6:00 am 1 comment

Sage Declaration No. 1 ::: Educate Yourself

It seems like we spend most of our youth actively learning.  As a child, we learn how to walk, then run.  We learn how to ride a bike and swim.  We learn how to read and do math.  Over time, we’ve learned gazillions of complicated things.  Once we graduate from school, if we go to work for a company, we are asked to learn new things from our employer.  But, what happens when we are self-employed?  Where does that learning come from?

Today’s post is a simple one… think about:

How are you going to continue the learning process?  How are you going to build on the knowledge you have to become a stronger business owner?  What do you need to learn to be better at what you do?

If you aren’t learning something new, you are becoming stagnant.  Make a decision today to read something that educates you.  Make a decision to start surrounding yourself with people who encourage your learning process.  Make a decision to expand your mind, and learn something new.

August 12, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

Inside Out: Examine Yourself

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We’ve spent the last several months putting plans into place for your business.  We’ve written strategies, analyses, forecasts, budgets, and reports.  This week, let’s take a step out of the business and look inward.  What is it within us that will make this business happen? What is holding us back?

Last week, in working through the SWOT Analysis I wondered what it would be like to write one for myself.  What would the SWOT look like for me, the individual?  This was a really interesting exercise because in taking a look at my own personal Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats I found that there are also characteristics that do affect my business.  What happens within us affects all the facets of who we are: mother, wife, business owner, philanthropist, teacher, friend, daughter.

Your personal strengths are the things that build you up.  They are reflected in your business.  They are reflected in the relationships you have.  They are reflected in the strong decisions you make for your business.  These are the things that will make your business happen.

Your personal weaknesses hold you back.  They are the areas you know you need to work on.  They affect how “you” look in your business.  They are reflected in the decisions you make.  Identifying them can be a challenge.  But, knowing them gives you the understanding and insight to work on them.

Your personal opportunities are the prospects available to you.  These are largely out of your control, but are there for the taking if you use your personal strengths to guide you.  These life-long opportunities go beyond your business life, and much deeper into your personal life.

Your personal threats are those things that eat into at you late at night.  They feed off of your insecurity and weakness.  You want to control them, even though they are outside factors that you cannot do anything about.

Sooo…

  • How are you going to use your personal strengths to seize opportunity? (SO-Strategy)
  • How are you going to use your personal strengths to minimize threats? (ST-Strategy)
  • How are you going to minimize your personal weaknesses to make room for the opportunities (WO-Strategy)
  • How are you going to minimize your personal weaknesses to lessen the threats? (WT-Strategy)

Look inside your core.

August 11, 2009 at 8:10 am Leave a comment

Profit Lessons I’ve Learned…

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This week, I’m sharing lessons that I’ve learned during my five years as a small business owner.  On Tuesday, we discussed Productivity Lessons.  Yesterday, we talked about People Lessons.  Today, we are going to break down Profit Lessons I’ve learned.  These are the lessons I’ve learned about business finances.

1 – Find a System that Works for YOU!

A lot of people’s accounting problems stem from disorganization of paperwork.  You need to find a system for keeping receipts, invoices, and statements nice and neat.  We’ll be having a series on organization, so I won’t delve into that too much.  But, think about how you are going to keep everything in one place.  Will you use file folders labeled alphabetically? By month?  How often will you sit down to do your accounting?  Will it be weekly? Monthly?  Can you commit yourself to a day and time systematically?  What software will you use?  What is working with your current system?  What is not?  The more disciplined you are with your organization and your tracking, the easier your accounting will be.

2 – Know your Numbers

I’m going to say it again: hire an accountant for the dirty work (taxes and complicated accounting issues).  But, KNOW your numbers!  If you aren’t on top of your dollars and cents, then you aren’t on top of your business.  Take time to learn the basics of how money flows in and out of your business.  You are a business owner first and a (    fill in the blank     ) second (in my case invitation designer.)  It’s understandable that you may not feel comfortable with numbers (many people aren’t) but you can educate yourself.  That is the beauty of the world we live in!  Take a class; read a book.  Learn what the numbers are telling you.

3 – Take Care of Yourself

I’m going to share with you one of the mistakes I’ve made as a small business owner.  In my third year in business, I made the leap to move my business out of my home and into a beautiful studio in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  I LOVE my space.  In my eagerness it the beautiful office that it is, I reinvested most of my income back into the business.  After all, that’s what all small business do, don’t they?  They pour their money right back into the business so that they can grow organically, right?  Well, not necessarily.  First, they take care of themselves.  You must pay yourself, and save for a rainy day.  Then they invest in their business.  If you can’t do this, then rethink your strategy (hint: look at your numbers)

4 – Cash is King

Now, more than ever, we realize what this means.  In this economy, the businesses that have the cash are the ones that will make it through.  If your cash is tied up in making debt (credit line, business cards, loans) payments every month, then you are going to have a tough time investing in yourself and the business.  What I’ve taken from the 2009 recession is that whenever I have an opportunity to squirrel away some cash I do.  A few weeks ago, I had 4 nice contracts come in completely unexpected (they were all last minute fall weddings – yahoo!)  Since I hadn’t planned for that, that money is serving as a cushion for any unexpected slow-down in the months to come.  This recession is not over.  So, when you get those little windfalls, squirrel it away.

5 – A Tax Deduction = Business Expense = Less Income = Not Always a Good Thing

Be very careful with thinking that business expenses are a good thing.  Yes, you get a deduction from the IRS.  But, this is still a hit towards the profitability of your business.  And, if your business is not profitable you won’t be in business long.  I see too many small business owners charging dinners and networking events with the thought that “this is a tax write-off”.  The next thing I hear is that they are having problems paying their rent.  And, the government isn’t going to give you a refund big enough to make up for that.

And, with that… may you prosper!

July 23, 2009 at 6:00 am 3 comments

People Lessons I’ve Learned…

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This week I’m sharing with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned in my five years as a small business owner in the wedding industry.  Yesterday, we covered “Productivity Lessons“.  Today, we’ll discuss the “People Lessons” I’ve learned.  They are lessons about communicating with, working with, and collaborating with people.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned about People

1 – Be a Mentor, not a Manager

If you have employees and/or if you plan on having them someday, my best recommendation is to mentor them, don’t manage them.  I’ve had the same message for everyone that works for me: “You may work here until you are 92.  You may move on in 3 months.  Regardless of the length of our relationship, I want to give you life lessons that you’ll use in your career.”  With that mindset you will both have a mutual relationship of support and understanding.  Communication will be much more open.  Training will be much smoother.  When you see your role as a mentor and educator, your employees will be eager to learn and become invested in everything about your business.  And, you’ve got a better chance at them working for you until they are 92 if they are invested in what they are doing and learning.

2 – When issues arise, address them immediately

One bad apple can spoil the barrel.  If someone on your team has a poor attitude or is not bringing what he or she committed to, then it is time to face the issue.  Not doing so will sour the experience of everyone who works for you.  This will ultimately lead to a decline in your business.  Confronting a problem employee is an extremely challenging thing to do.  But, it’s an important lesson to learn… and practice makes perfect.  And, if you’ve been the mentor then your job will be made easier.

In my 12 years of managing individuals the best approach has always been one of concern: “I’ve noticed a change in XYZ. I’m concerned about ABC.  What is your perception?”  The fascinating thing is that often times it is something personal and the person is completely unaware that it is affecting their work.  By having an open line of communication and by acting as a mentor to the individual, you’ll have a lot better chance at breaking through.  I always end with asking this question, “I need to know that you are committed to ABC.  Can I count on you?”  You’ve clearly communicated the expectation and it’s time for both of you to move forward in a positive direction.

3 – Collaborate don’t Compete

I recently touched upon the magic of embracing your competition, so I’m going to take a different angle here.  Those who collaborate in this industry have a team of people to support their business.  Those who fixate on competition only have themselves.  (It really does take a village to have a successful business!)  I’ve heard horror stories of vengeful-cliquey-venemous battles between wedding vendors.  Hey – there are plenty of brides to go around for all of us!  By collaborating with your competitors you are bringing a strong unified collection of wedding professionals in your segment.  You are strengthening the industry as a whole.  Everyone has something different to offer, so find out how you can work together and how the industry as a whole can rise to the top.  If you see someone who is doing something similar to you and it makes you nervous (I’m not going to lie that this doesn’t make me nervous) find out how you can work together, not apart.

4 – Communicate!

I said it in yesterday’s post and I’ll say it again: GOOD communication is 80% of getting anything done.  (No I didn’t do a study to come up with that 80% number… it just feels right. 🙂 )  If you want to be successful in this industry communicate efficiently and effectively with everyone you have contact: vendors, clients, employees.  I am blown away when I don’t get a response to a phone inquiry or an email for a week or sometimes longer.   By returning phone calls and email promptly you are already doing what many people do not.  Let people know what you are doing every step of the way.  If someone asks you a question that you cannot answer immediately (it requires some research or additional work) let that person know that you are working on it and will give them an answer by X date.  It’s that simple.

5 – Listen

If you pay attention and listen carefully, people will express their needs to you.  This is most prevalent in a sales meeting with a potential client.  It’s natural to want to be the dominant person during a sales meeting.  After all the client has come to you for your expertise.  The danger is in jumping too soon.  By exploring and really listening to what your client has to say about his or her wedding, you’ll better be able to educate them about the best match between your business and their needs, wants, desires.  The first step is to listen.  The second step is to define a need.  The third step is to educate.  The last step is to introduce a potential match.

And with that… I leave you to go off in the wedding world with so many wonderful people!

July 22, 2009 at 6:00 am 1 comment

The Shy One – If Your Own Ambition Scares You

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve been writing for the special circumstances of small business owners.  This post is for the shy ones of you out there. This is for those of you who are eager to start a business but are held back by fear.  This is for those of you who have a small business but are constantly challenged by taking risks.

Everyone who has ever been in business can tell you that fear is a completely natural part of all of it.  In fact, the minute you stop fearing what you are doing is probably the minute you’ve stopped taking risks and stopped growing your business.  Being a business owner is like riding a roller-coaster.  It’s scary but thrilling, so we get on for more.  So, here are my tips for getting beyond the shyness, getting beyond the fear.

5 things you can do when your own ambition scares you…

1 – Find a Partner

I don’t have a business partner at mmm… paper but I often wish I did.  From working with a team of amazing and brilliant women on Get Hitched Give Hope, I can see that partnering with people is a great way to balance out the mindset and also the risk-taking.  A partner can help you achieve things you can’t on your own.

If a business partner is not right for your business (and often it is not) find an industry partner.  Find someone that you can meet with regularly and exchange ideas, talk shop, share dreams.  It’s a great way to bounce ideas of someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in your business.  (Sometimes it’s that vested interest that screws with our perspective.)  They may see an opportunity for your business that you don’t.  They may help you take a risk that is difficult to do.

2 – Join a Group

When I started my business I formed a group of friends and acquaintances that would meet once a month.  Some of us had a small growing business, others only had a desire to start a business.  Usually, we got together to talk about our dreams.  But, more importantly, we ended our meetings asking eachother for one thing with which we needed help.  This was extremely powerful.  Often it is that one thing that has us stopped in our tracks.

Another thing I did was join a networking group, Business Networking International (BNI).  This organization can be found in most cities and gets together weekly to network and pass referrals.  More valuable than the business I received from BNI were the powerful connections to people in other industries and other small businesses.  By meeting people in  completely different industries I learned different ways of marketing and selling.  By speaking about my business every week to people outside of the wedding industry, I became better at talking about my business.  I became better at sales.  And, the people in my group became extremely supportive of my business. (I nearly cried at my studio open house in 2007 when 21 of 23 people in my chapter showed up… what support!)

3 – Read

Put down that People Magazine and start reading business-y things!  I know from experience that when I am going through a risk-averse phase in my business (and life) it is because I am feeling inadequate.  I am doubting myself because I may not know this or that.  The best way to build yourself up and feel powerful is by reading and educating yourself.  No business owner knows everything.  But, most business owners are pretty resourceful at “figuring things out”.  So build up your knowledge base and read something.  Whether you choose to perfect your craft, or learn something new, reading is very empowering. (Stay tuned… in the next few weeks I’ll be covering my favorite reads.)

4 – Find a Mentor

Similar to finding a partner, having a mentor can be extremely helpful.  A mentor is someone who has experience in your field and can help you achieve your goals. He or she is that very wise person that you look up to and want to be like.  (Can you picture them?)  If you can’t envision who that is, here’s some help… MicroMentor is a nonprofit program that connects emerging entrepreneurs with volunteer business professionals in mentoring relationships. They’re dedicated to helping entrepreneurs like you access the expertise you need to build your business. The organization pairs people in need of a mentor with established business owners.

5 – Practice

Everything, everything, everything takes practice.  Start with something small and go from there.  You don’t need to accomplish every challenge in one day.  Pick one challenge, one risk, and go for it.  The more you practice risk-taking, the better you will become at taking risks.

And, with that… I’ll see you in line for the entrepreneurial roller-coaster! I can’t wait to get back on!

July 7, 2009 at 6:57 am 2 comments

The Mompreneur (or Papapreneur) – if You have Kiddos!

courtesy of Barbie Hull Photography

courtesy of Barbie Hull Photography

Let me begin this post by saying that I have been a parent for 21 months this Saturday.  I am definitely not an expert in parenting, nor am I an expert in being a mompreneur.  This is where I’m going to ask those of you that have children to chime in.  I’d love to know what you consider to be the best advice you could give another parent who is also a business owner. (Psssst… post a comment below.)

So that you know where my “tips” come from… and so that you can apply which ones work for you… I’ll preface by saying that I have had a mix of parenting/working experiences:

  • full time parent / full time business owner (no outside sitting/nannying) – we simply refer to this as “INSANITY” in our house
  • part time parent / full time business owner (my husband and I were both sharing in baby caring equally or a sitter was hired part time)
  • full time parent / part time business owner (I was at home for the first 2-3 months of Lili’s life and working less hours)

I am in the very fortunate situation that my husband is also self-employed and is an equal partner in the insane baby/work balancing act.  He is quite the pinch-hitter in times that our little team has been in need.  (I can’t believe I just made a sports analogy… did I even do that right?)

What I do have to offer in this department is some
habits that have been REALLY helpful for me in my baby/business (ad)ventures:

  • Take care of yourself
    If you are running the machine and you break down, who is going to run the machine?  You MUST take care of yourself so that your child, your family, and your business can continue to thrive.  Whatever it is you need to do for yourself (a glass of wine, 15 minutes with the newspaper, a shower, a walk around the block) do this every day so that you stay grounded.
  • Don’t forget about your spouse or partner
    It’s easy to forget about your spouse or partner when you are so busy keeping everyone else happy.  But, what about them?  They are your partner in this.  Remember that you two are the team captains and that most daily occurrences are just silliness.  If you can laugh about it with your spouse, your relationship will thrive.  (And, so will everything else.)
  • Manage your “wasted time”
    The Mompreneur blog on Entrepreneur.com has awesome resources.  I love a recent post they did on managing all the technology that ends up zapping our time.  Read here.  I’m a sucker for facebook and twitter (you probably see me there all the time)… but learn how to manage those social networking tools to work for you, not to make it another endless websurfing competition.
  • Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
    There are only so many hours in the day and you are doing the jobs of 2-7 people.  So what are you going to do first?  Is it the pile of laundry?  Is it the emails that arrived in the last hour?  Is it the phone ringing?  Or is it the order of wedding invites that needs to go out Friday?  It’s important that you prioritize most important and most urgent first.  (Hint: laundry is not urgent, email is most likely not urgent)
    It’s also important to batch your work.  If you are stopping to pick up the phone every time it rings, you will never get through the proposal you are trying to write.  Batch your proposal-writing time, email time, phone call time, appointment time.  Prioritizing and batching will make your life so much more efficient.  Lisa Druxman addresses a similar philosophy in her Mompreneur blog.
  • Don’t overbook commitments and appointments
    Set limits on how many appointments you make each week and how many networking events you attend.  It’s hard to believe, but if you can’t see a client THIS week chances are they will be OK seeing you NEXT week.  As for networking events, do what is reasonable for your business segment and for your family.  For me, I try to limit these to 1 event every 2 weeks.  I’d rather have the time with my family or just to myself or working on my business plan.  Otherwise, I’m not effective.  Wish I could do more, but it’s all about prioritizing.
  • Wake up an hour before your kids do
    Believe it or not, I started enforcing this only a couple months ago when I was writing posts about productivity.  In talking with my good friend Jean Louise Paquin Allen of Juniper Flowers she mentioned that she woke up before her son so that she could get a start on her day.  I thought she was crazy.  (I am a notorious night owl who is fueled by the darkness and detest any form of morning.)
    But, it made me realize that I was using Lili as my alarm clock which meant that I woke up when she did… and I started my day on her terms (breakfast, dress, diapers, “mama play”, tantrum, time out, read, sing, dance) instead of mine.  My day didn’t begin until all that crazy morning ritual had passed (somewhere around 10am or 11am).  By waking up an hour or two before her I get SOOOO much done.  It’s not something I do every day.  (I still LOVE to sleep in.)  But, on the days where I know I have to be a work maniac it helps to do it.  It makes me a better mom too because with some work done, I can focus on her and have fun.

Well… there you have it… a list that is by no means complete… but, probably represents my most important lessons learned and habits aquired.  Now, it’s your turn… what are your sage mompreneur and papapreneur tips?

July 2, 2009 at 6:00 am 6 comments

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