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At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

10494784_10202231742782727_9108465356469470019_nOver the last two years, I’ve taken my casual relationship with running and turned it into something more dedicated and committed. I feel stronger than I ever have in my life as I embrace this newfound passion for pushing my limits and accomplishing what I had always deemed “too hard” or “too uncomfortable.”

My passion for running and fitness couldn’t have peaked at a less expected time in my life. For 9 months of the past two years, I spent pregnant with my first son. And for another 13 months, I spent recovering postpartum and juggling the schedule of a breastfeeding, cloth diapering, baby food making, Hybrid Mom. Though I had what could have been a laundry list of excuses to skip workouts, I found myself looking forward to this sacred time in my day where I could refocus and reprioritize even during life’s most challenging moments.

Fitness had always been a part of my life, but what has made this new chapter so different is that instead of working out because I hated my body, I was doing it because I loved my body. A run wasn’t something I drudged through just to check off my to-do list for the day. It was personal time that I savored for as long as I could, throwing on extra miles and pushing myself to run faster to make the most of my time pounding the pavement. I was starting to see amazing results, running consistently under 7:30 min/miles for runs of 8+ miles and feeling like I had barely tapped into my potential.

Then, just as it does every year, fall turned into winter and the bitter, icy conditions forced my outdoor running into hibernation. At first I missed it like a best friend that moved away. Then I went stir crazy. I was stuck in the house with my infant son all day with no desirable way for us both to burn off some energy. My husband was in tune to my frustration and how much my lack of physical fitness affected my mood. At first, he hinted and then strongly suggested I try at least ONE class at CrossFit Pneuma, a CrossFit gym located merely steps from where we live. It took several months (and several miserably cold road runs) to convince me that I needed another outlet to fuel my passion during the “off months.”

My first class took half the time of what I would spend running, yet I was out of breath, sore and unable to do even one more burpee (wasn’t that evil to start me off with those?). So THIS was High Intensity Interval Training?! For the past 8 months, my passion for both CrossFit and running have progressed as steadily as my performance. I’ve completed both crazy and impressive workouts and am no longer intimated by a barbell (I have the calluses on my hands to prove it). Even with the much anticipated return of warmer weather, I couldn’t imagine leaving the CrossFit community now. Running fuels my independent athleticism while CrossFit provides the element of teamwork that pushes me further than I ever would on my own.

This is only the back story of my personal passion that now leads me to a big decision I have made in the past several weeks. Staying in shape has made me a happier mother and wife and a harder working entrepreneur, but I still felt as though it was lacking an element of purpose considering all the time and effort I put into this passion on a daily basis. Do I have anything to show for it greater than myself? I struggled with this question.

Then an answer presented itself – and I now stand at the intersection of passion and purpose.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

On Saturday, August 9, right about the time the sunrises, I will join a small team of fellow inspired athletes as we partake in a GORUCK challenge. We will endure 5+ hours of PT under the direction of an experienced Special Operations Cadre as we complete “missions” across Pennsylvania’s capital city. We will walk 7-10 miles while carrying things like boulders, cement parking curbs and telephone poles. We will get wet, muddy, sandy and maybe even a little bloody. And we will do it all while wearing a backpack full of bricks. This is not a race – it’s about teamwork. It’s not about facing the limitations of what you can’t do – it’s about pushing through them to discover what you can.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

This event is a vehicle for me to take my passion for fitness and pair it with a purpose much greater than myself. Starting now and through the challenge, I will be fundraising for Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit that raises money for rare disease research. Read more about my very personal connection to this cause on my fundraising page.

Asking for donations (even for charitable giving) isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not used to not being in complete control of reaching my goals. Usually, it’s solely my hard work and efforts that earn me the prize, but for this challenge, I’m relying on you, my family, friends and acquaintances to get me to the $1,000 mark. This is all the more reason why it’s so important for me to take on this challenge. It will push me outside my comfort zone physically, mentally and emotionally. And most importantly, it will prove that my passion can have a greater purpose.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

Please take a moment to visit my fundraising page. Any donation would be a generous show of support for this challenging adventure and for the rare disease community. If you’re unable to donate, consider simply reading more about the mission of Uplifting Athletes so that you might be inspired to find a way to uplift someone around you who is fighting their own battle.

Together…WE ARE…Stronger!

-Stephanie

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2014 in Life

 

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5 Ways to Build Your Personal Brand

personal brand

Whether you’re the business owner or the intern, building a personal brand is a powerful way for employees at all levels to increase their credibility and showcase their expertise. Everyday people have become celebrities all because of how they positioned their personal brand on social media and beyond.

We each have the ability and access to all the tools we need to start building our own brand today – and it’s quite simple! Here are five essential steps for building a strong and influential personal brand.

1. Define your area expertise

First and foremost you have to be able to clearly define your personal brand. Otherwise, how can you expect anyone else to? A powerful component of your personal brand is your area of expertise. Don’t be intimidated by the word “expert.” This doesn’t mean you need to be the most knowledgeable person in the world on a subject. Rather, you simply need to identify a subject that you know a lot about and for which you have passion.

2. Adopt a tagline

Once you know the personal brand you want to build for yourself, the next step is to clearly communicate it to the world. Just as a business adopts a tagline, so should you. Having a personal tagline might sound cheesy – and it can be – but only if you choose a cheesy tagline. If the personal brand you want to create for yourself is more professional and serious, there are endless options for a tagline that will also reflect this tone.

Once you’ve established a tagline, put it to use! Incorporate it into your personal website, blog, business cards and email signature. Use it when introducing yourself at networking events or in business meetings to quickly and clearly communicate who you are. A tagline will help keep your brand consistent and make it memorable.

3. Embody your brand from head to toe

While you may get caught up in building your personal brand on your website, blog and social media, don’t forget about the most valuable brand-building asset you have with you at all times – you! Your clothes, hair and accessories all impact the image you give off to the world and this should remain consistent with your brand.

If you want to be viewed as a respected professional, you need to present yourself as one. Give careful thought to your attire before heading out to a client meeting or networking function. Whether you do this or not, I promise you people will notice either way.

4. Create opportunities for other people to experience your brand

You can create an awesome brand for yourself, but if you don’t allow others the opportunity to experience and interact with it, it will have little impact. Just as a business puts great effort into promoting their brand, you should put effort into promoting yours too.

For a personal brand, this does not require the same tactics that businesses use. Not many of us have the budget (or confidence) to put ourselves on a billboard! Instead, maximize your online presence by creating a personal website, starting a blog and maintaining a strong social media presence. These are all great ways to showcase your area of expertise and give your network an intimate experience with your personal brand. In addition to the virtual world, get out in the real world too! Take advantage of speaking engagements, networking functions and other social events to get out in your local business community and represent your personal brand.

5. Be consistent

If you do nothing else when building your personal brand, be consistent! Think of any business that has built a successful brand; they do not waver from the core values it represents. All of their internal and external communications center on strengthening it. You should embrace this same level of consistency when shaping your own brand.

With every new business opportunity, consider whether or not it aligns with your brand. If not, it’s likely not in your best interest to pursue it. Your brand represents your morals, values and character. If your actions don’t align with the image you’re trying to create for yourself, you will never achieve a strong and influential brand. Instead, keep your personal tagline top of mind and use it to guide the way you present yourself to the world – in person, online and everywhere in between!

What steps have you taken to build your personal brand? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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10 Things to Remember When Planning a Professional Event

corporate event planning

Throughout my career, I’ve played the role of “event planner” more times than I can count. Fundraisers, golf outings, press events, clay shoots, meet and greets, prayer breakfasts, networking mixers, seminars and conferences are just some of the various types of events I’ve helped to plan. For each one there’s been a different venue, audience, menu, setup and marketing strategy. It’s been a whirlwind!

This experience has helped me to create quite the “tool box” of tips and tricks for successful event planning that can only be gained from my own trial and error. Oh and there have been many errors! Now I have professional events down to a work of art. I can anticipate the unexpected and I come prepared to address every odd request you can imagine. To help you do the same, here are 10 things to always, always remember when planning a professional event.

1. Be overly specific, assume nothing

I have many real life examples of event planning follies where I assumed something simple – like there would be a chair at the registration table – only to be left scrambling at the last minute over silly details. I’ve since learned to assume nothing and specify everything. When I’m in the event planning role, I can’t afford to be torn away from more important tasks to handle these types of mishaps. I work closely with the venue to specify the essential details (without being condescending, of course). Even if I risk looking a little too Type A, it’s a small price to pay for a well-executed event and a happy client.

2. Don’t be literal with the headcount

While I advise to be very specific with the event details, I don’t advise to be specific with the headcount. Inevitably people who have RSVPed will not show up and others who did not RSVP will. It’s the ebb and flow of event planning and somehow it all works out. What I’ve learned is that so much money is wasted on overestimating headcount. Instead, I underestimate the guaranteed count by at least 5 (if not 10) people. At the event, the venue can always pull out a little more food (for which they will also charge you). And at least you know you are paying for exactly what’s being consumed, which can be a cost savings of a couple hundred dollars!

3. Anticipate people arriving early (and staying late)

When I’m running logistics for an event, I always arrive at least an hour in advance to set-up, troubleshoot and acclimate myself with the venue and staff. I also do this because I know that a handful of early birds will arrive a half hour early as well. I hate to be caught still setting up (though it would totally be understandable), so instead I beat them at their own game! I also anticipate another group staying past the end of the event to eat and chat until the staff starts vacuuming over their feet. This means I, too, also stay late to ensure a professionally executed event from start to finish.

4. Bring a “tool kit”

You will always have a need for scissors, tape, extra name tags and pens. I can’t emphasize enough how often this has saved me the time of having to ask the venue to search and bring these items to me and how it also helps me to look extra professional and prepared. Slip these items in your laptop bag, and even if you don’t need them, you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re one step ahead.

5. Be accessible

When planning an event, you will need to be accessible and on your feet to address any issues as they arise. Maybe it’s someone at registration who said they paid, but their name isn’t on the list. Or maybe a side dish needs refreshed at the buffet that a server hasn’t yet noticed. I’m all eyes, all ears – and always on my feet at events.

6. Call upon helping hands

In order to pull off tip #5 of always being accessible, you need a competent team of helpers to assist you with being in multiple places at once. When I’m putting out the big fires, I rely on others to manage the registration table and greet guests. What this also means is that I have to prepare easy to manage lists and clearly explain the process to my helpers to ensure they know what to do even when I’m not around.

7. Keep people comfortable

People with full plates and full glasses are happy people. For the most part, people won’t remember the venue or the color of the table linens, but they will remember if they were well fed. Don’t skimp on food or drink and make sure that it is out before guests arrive and is left out even after the event ends, in case people choose to mingle after hours. Also, be sure your menu matches your ticket price. If people are paying a couple hundred dollars to attend a fundraiser, don’t give them chips, pretzels and a cash bar. Show them a good time! I promise you, this is always money well spent.

8. Strategically time your (brief) remarks

Hosting an event and not taking a moment to address the crowd is a really wasted opportunity. You may not be the most confident public speaker, but you can at least put together a few sentences especially if it means promoting the purpose of the event. Timing is everything to ensure people are paying attention. Plan to take the mic (and do use a mic) about halfway through the event. This will catch both latecomers and early-departers. Your remarks also give the event closure. If people need to take off early, they can feel like they have at least stayed for the most important part of the event.

9. Take advantage of the opportunity to market your services or future events

Use your remarks and printed promotional materials to market your services or future events. Give people something (verbally and physically) to take away from the event. You’re footing the bill after all, the least you can do is gain some promotional value from it! If this is an annual event, have a date set for next year’s event and promote it. If the event is not annual, give people some other call to action like a special discount on services if they purchase that day. If nothing else, at least invite them to visit your website and connect with you on social media.

10. Remember, it’s not about you!

It’s your event, but it’s not really about you. It’s about your guests. They are the ones either paying to be there or offering themselves as your captive audience for a few hours. Respect their time and make each guest feel special by greeting them, even if only briefly. Also keep your guests in mind when selecting a venue and food choices. Some restaurant off the beaten path may by a stone’s throw from your home, but it’s a trek for your guests. And just because you like a menu of red meat and potatoes, be thoughtful about your guests who may prefer some variety.

To boil down this entire list of corporate event planning advice, I simply urge you to be hospitable and genuine. Put the extra thought into the details to make this a pleasant experience for your guests so that they remember you for hosting a fun event, not wasting their time. Both extremes leave a lasting impression and you have the power to choose the outcome!

What other things would you add to this list? Share your event experiences (good and bad) by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Life

 

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When an Introvert Takes a Family Vacation

bennis beach family vacation

The last week of June, we took a lovely family vacation to North Carolina where we enjoyed a week of fun in the sun with my parents, two sisters, their husbands and two toddlers. It was a full house! I wouldn’t trade these memories for anything in the world. However, this week was a reminder to me that I am, indeed, an introvert.

I wrote about this realization some time ago and many people who know me still find it difficult to believe that I’m not an extrovert. While my friendly personality and passion for external communications may be misleading, I am an most certainly and “I.” And when I spend a long period of time around a large group of people, like during my family vacation, I realize just how uniquely challenging this personality type can be.

The first challenge was finding alone time to recharge. As an introvert, I gain energy from being alone. In a single beach house with eight adults and two toddlers, alone time might have been the only luxury this fabulous vacation lacked. The beach was private and during the day the house was mostly empty, but the real challenge was my own internal conflict between wanting to spend every moment with family and needing to recharge with some solo time.

This relates to my second challenge of feeling guilty for not having the same desire to be as active and involved as everyone else. My husband, the living definition of extrovert, enjoyed every beach activity imaginable. From morning runs to afternoon kayaking to evening walks, he never seemed to lose energy and was always open to an invitation to do more. I still took part in many of these activities, but mostly because I felt like I should in order to fully enjoy the vacation.

The truth is everyone is allowed to make their vacation into whatever they want. No one was forcing me to live at high speed, except for me. It was a self-inflicted pressure based upon my assumption that my wants and needs should be the same as everyone else’s. Lesson learned!

The final challenge I faced was once we were finally home. Not only am I an introvert, but I am also very Type A. I savored every moment of unpacking and getting things back to their clean and organized state. After that long day of travel and an even longer week spent with so many others, I was exhausted! I needed a vacation after vacation. While most people are sad to return home (and don’t get me wrong, I still was), I was equally as happy to return to the comfort of my daily routine and highly-prioritized alone time.

Maybe the biggest struggle of all for any introvert is dispelling the misconception that our need for alone time means we don’t like spending time with the ones we love or doing the things we love. Not at all. We simply require more downtown to recharge.

As I sit here writing this reflection alone and with a fully charged inner battery, I couldn’t be more grateful for my week with family  – because it doesn’t happen nearly enough! While this ever-growing family vacation pushed me outside my comfort zone, the reward was memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Take a look…

bennis beach family vacation

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bennis beach family vacation

Whether you consider yourself to be an introvert or extrovert, what are your biggest challenges or discomforts when it comes to taking a vacation? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Life

 

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Are You Making this Deadly Marketing Mistake?

danger sign

As business owners, we’re faced with some tough decisions. In order to make ends meet we sometimes have to tighten our budget and cut out the non-essentials. What any experienced business owner will tell you is that there are certain areas of a budget that should never make their way to the chopping block – marketing being one of them.

One of the most deadly marketing mistakes you can make is to halt your efforts in an attempt to save money. Scores of great strategies have been pulled before they have begun to payoff. That’s right; you invest all this time and money into creating and implementing a marketing plan, but pull the plug before things really get going. While this may save you a few bucks right now, it will most certainly hurt your bottom line in the long run.

Here are four ways you can avoid making this deadly marketing mistake.

1. When times are tough, don’t cut your marketing.

Every business will experience its ups and downs, its busy seasons and off seasons and its times of feast and famine. One of the worst things you can do when times are tough is to cut out your marketing or public relations efforts. After you’ve spent months engaging your audience, to completely go silent would undo all of your work up until this point. Whether you can see it or not, they are there and they are listening.

Instead, you may need to narrow down your tactics to those with the greatest ROI to adhere to a tighter budget, but you should never hit the big, red stop button. After all, it’s your marketing, public relations and advertising efforts that are going to help pull in more business which is the one thing you desperately need during a dry spell.

2. Set reasonable expectations for results.

Another reason businesses panic and pull the plug on their marketing efforts is because they don’t think they’re getting results. This is a deadly mistake because in reality you likely are achieving results, they just might not be the silver bullet you were expecting.

Set reasonable expectations. Learn to embrace the necessary slow burn of business growth that directly applies to your marketing efforts. You should value the consistency and quality of your results, not the sheer speed and quantity.

3. Measure progress in all forms.

Progress is not always obvious. Be open to looking for it in unexpected places or for it to produce different results than what you might have anticipated.

For example, your Facebook posts may not be getting more then 2-3 likes, but your analytics show that several hundred people have seen the content. You can also see from your blog’s stats that 20+ people a day are being pushed to your blog from Facebook. Those are some valuable results! When you do your research you might find that you’re achieving a whole lot more than what Facebook likes could tell you alone. This is all the more reason to stay consistent with implementing your marketing tactics.

4. Repeat your winners.

Don’t be afraid of repetition. Again, don’t be afraid of repetition. Sure, we always want to be coming up with new ideas and strategies to catch our audience’s attention, but don’t shy away from repeating something you know works for you.

Advertising guru, David Ogilvy believed repetition was an essential part of growing your readership. He felt that you should repeat yourself up to five times to see the full benefits of your messaging. People don’t always catch things on the first pass (Can you name the product the last commercial you saw was trying to sell you?) and repetition is an essential way to ensure consistent and clear messaging.

The importance of repetition is all the more reason to maintain balance with your marketing and public relations tactics. If you started a monthly newsletter or a bi-weekly blog, your audience will come to expect to hear from you at these intervals. When a month or two goes by without you “touching base,” you will quickly fall out of sight and out of mind. Stay top of mind by staying consistent with both your messaging and your strategy – and avoid making this deadly mistake!

Where have you seen this deadly marketing mistake being made? Share your examples by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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The One Question Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Be Able to Answer

top three priorities

One of my favorite shows currently on TV right now is Shark Tank. It feeds my entrepreneurial spirit and ignites a lot of creative (and sometimes cooky) ideas that I could only wish to have the opportunity to present to this impressive audience of venture capitalists.

All that aside, the reason I really love watching this show is because of the pearls of wisdom these experienced entrepreneurs spout off that have inspired quite a few blog posts – this week being no exception. On an episode from a few weeks back, it was Barbara Corcoran who said “Never have I ever met a successful entrepreneur who is unable to answer this one question.”  The question?

“Tomorrow when you wake up and go into the office, what are your top three priorities?”

This question is deceivingly simple. Try answering it off the top of your head right now. When I tried to do the same, I knew I had the answers, but when put on the spot, I found it hard to quickly put these key priorities into succinct bullet points. This doesn’t mean I’m doomed to fail as an entrepreneur, but it did make me want to sit down and put some thought into my top three priorities right now. Should I ever “bump” into Barbara Corcoran, this would be my answer to her question:

1. Continue to build quality relationships with my existing clients

In the pursuit of new clients, I never want to take for granted the awesome ones I currently have. I’ve already put the effort into earning their business, building a relationship with them and becoming efficient at the tasks I do for them month after month. It is a valuable use of my time to keep these existing clients happy and on board because trying to replace them is far more costly.

2. Selectively target new clients

Once I devote the time to keeping my current clients engaged, I need to continually fill my pipeline with ideal prospective clients. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can be selective with the new clients I choose to take on. I know the size, industry and vision of companies I best serve and these are the ones in which I’ll devote my time to pursuing. Smaller clients or ones that don’t quite align with my services may still find me, and I’m happy to see how I can help, but they are not the ones that I will actively put my resources into pursuing.

3. Find ways to automate my tasks and become more efficient with my time

I’m a consultant and sole proprietor by design. This means I must carefully guard my time and find ways to be extremely efficient as I take on additional clients if I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the 80/20 Principle. It is my goal to find ways to automate my tasks or become more efficient at completing them so that as I take on new clients, I’m not working more, I’m simply filling the bandwidth my efficiency has opened up.

Whatever your top three priorities are right now says a lot of about the current state of your business/career and your entrepreneurial style. Maybe they even point out some areas where you need to refocus. They should address your immediate needs, but also plan for future growth and strategic change. Having your top three priorities locked and loaded serves a purpose far greater than simply impressing someone who asks. They give you that laser focus each and every day that is at the core of every successful entrepreneur.

Are you able to easily answer this question? Share your personal top three priorities by commenting below!

 

 

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Are You Making the Biggest Social Media Mistake?

#fail

These days, everyone is on social media. But really though. There are fan pages for cats, Twitter profiles for cartoons and Instagram accounts devoted solely to food. It’s no wonder every business wants to also have a presence on these platforms because it’s where they can reach their targeted audience with interactive content that sparks discussion and builds brand loyalty.

With everyone diving in head first, this also provides a prime opportunity for a lot of mistakes. For the most part, these are minor errors or forgivable social infractions, but sometimes these mistakes can prove to be much worse – even deadly – for business. So what is the single biggest mistake businesses make with social media? It’s NOT having it be part of a bigger communications strategy.

The danger of a disconnected social media strategy

The most effective social media cannot be done in a vacuum. Nor can it be your only effort to communicate with your target audience. The danger is two-fold. First, you risk presenting a completely different voice on social media, one that does not resonate with the rest of your brand. Second, you turn off the power to all other means of communications that could help to amplify your social media efforts.

If you pique someone’s interest with a great Facebook post, only to send them to an outdated website that makes you look inexperienced or unprofessional, even the best social media efforts in the world won’t close the sale.

How to avoid this mistake

Luckily this is an easy problem to fix. It begins with identifying the missed communications opportunities outside of social media and paying special attention to the brand you want to create so that all efforts work in unison to achieve this end result. Knowing what to do is the easy part, but actually making the time to do it is where the problem most often lies. It can be overwhelming, especially to business owners who don’t consider themselves to be communications-savvy.

It’s good to keep in mind that outsourcing is always an option and the number of firms and consultants who offer these services are ever-growing. But proceed with caution. If you’re thinking about working with a person or company that only does social media, you may want to rethink this decision. It’s okay to be specialized or particularly experienced in a certain niche, but when it comes to your business communications, everything needs to flow together. The various ways in which you communicate with your target audience need to complement one another.

Instead look for a firm or consultant who offers multi-faceted communications strategies that go beyond just social media. You want someone who can also create content for your website, blog, e-newsletter and other promotional materials. This is the best way to ensure that the voice and messaging will stay consistent.

Steps you can take today

One. List your other current communication efforts. Do you have any? Maybe there’s a brochure or business card you hand out, but it’s badly outdated. Maybe you have a website that you push your targeted audience to visit, but it’s a static web page with cheesy clip art and bright fonts. Take a critical look at ALL the messages you’re sending out in various ways. How are people finding you and what is this saying about your business?

Two. Note the areas that need some TLC. So you have social media down to an art – after all, it is kind of fun. Now, turn your attention to the messaging on your website, blog, promotional materials and e-newsletters. How can they benefit from some of the modern messaging you’re putting out on social media? Create a vision for how they can better engage your audience, just like you’re doing on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc.

Three. Dedicate time in your schedule to tackle some of these tasks in order of priority. If you know you simply don’t have the time, allocate this work to an employee or hire a communications consultant to help you keep things moving forward. While you’ll need to invest in their time, if they allow you to keep doing what you do best while they improve your comprehensive communications strategy – that is a worthy investment!

Where have you seen the biggest social media mistake being made? Join in the discussion by commenting below!

 

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