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The Number One Thing You Must Do Before You Begin Writing

pencil blank paper

There’s a widespread misconception about writing that needs to be cleared up. We read a captivating blog, spot a witty billboard or receive a thought provoking direct mail piece and assume that some very talented writer sat down, opened their mind and let the words flow onto the paper. Done! The perfect content was crafted in a moment of sheer inspiration. Unfortunately this writing fantasy rarely exists in the real world. Instead, inspiration must be paired with strategy and a great deal of pre-planning before fingers ever hit the keyboard.

Oh it’s tempting to dive right in. Feeling a rush of creativity, you figure the smartest thing you can do is to get it all out while you have it. I’ve tried this myself. Still, all I’m really left with is a disorganized doodle of words and phrases that, while they sound great independently, require as much time and editing to string together as if I were to just write a new article from scratch.

I’ve since realized there’s one thing I must always do before I begin writing. I don’t write the introduction, craft a title or pick out a piece of accompanying clip art before I’ve answered just one question…

What effect do I want to produce on my readers?

This is more specific than how it reads, so let me explain a bit further. Every great piece of writing evokes some type of emotion – hope, joy, fear, excitement, doubt, anger, trust, curiosity and the list goes on and on. After pondering this, I promise you that you will analyze what you read the rest of today more critically. And you’ll find that it’s true. Effective content centers on emotion. What you must determine before you begin writing is exactly what emotion from your readers will be of most value to you and the purpose of your writing.

One of the forefathers of professional copywriting, Robert Collier, says it like this. “Before you put pen to paper, before you ring for your stenographer, decide in your own mind what effect you want to produce on your reader — what feeling you must arouse in him.”

Create a Magnetic Headline

Once you’ve selected your desired emotion, every other component of your writing will work to emphasize it. A big one is your title. This should be carefully crafted to be emotionally charged. Aim to create a magnetic headline that readers can’t pass up. Check out the one I chose here, “The Number One Thing You Must Do Before You Begin Writing.” As the reader, this plays to my insecurity of always striving to be a better writer. I wouldn’t dare miss out on learning the one thing I “must” do before I write. It evokes an emotion that is strong enough to drive me to read on. This leads to another important point…

Select the Strongest Emotion

You want to choose the strongest (relevant) emotion that will make your readers act. My example of insecurity is a powerful emotion that identifies a reader’s weakness and leads them to seek a solution – which your writing should provide. Less influential emotions like empathy or contentment won’t create the same urgency for action. If using a negative emotion, you must make your readers feel uncomfortable enough to want to change something. If using a positive emotion, you must tempt readers with a benefit so life-changing that they can’t pass it up.

Avoid Scare Tactics

Emotions lead us to act, but if too strong, can also turn us off. What may appear to be just words on paper actually hold the power to draw us in to a new reality (talk to any Harry Potter fan), so use with care. When selecting a strong emotion, don’t overly dramatize your writing. Scare tactics and overwhelming sadness can make readers uncomfortable enough not that they’ll act to resolve the emotion, but that they’ll shut down and tune out. One classic example of this in video form is the ASPCA’s “Arms of the Angel” commercial. It’s been spoofed many times over because I don’t think anyone can watch the whole thing without turning it off or crying so hard you can’t see the phone number to call to make a donation. While it certainly evokes a strong emotion, it’s overpowering to the point of becoming less effective than some of their newer, toned-down commercials you’ll see on TV now.

Remember, when it comes to incorporating emotions in your writing, a little goes a long way. First select the strongest, most relevant emotion that will compliment and promote your message. Then, center all other aspects of your writing, like creating a magnetic headline, on this emotion. The end result will be content that is organized, creative and effective – from start to finish!

How do you determine the effect you want to produce on your reader before you begin writing? Share your thoughts and ideas by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of Time

waste of timeThe past several years spent starting my own business and living the out-of-the-box life of a young entrepreneur have provided me with as many new experiences as the 23 years prior. While “new experiences” may sound fun, exciting and even a little sexy, any business owner will tell you that there is a large range in altitude between the valleys and the peaks.

In my reflection upon these life experiences, the negative and positive, the helpful and hurtful, the uncomfortable and encouraging, I realized that I’ve developed an almost nostalgic sentiment around each one. Even the moments that could be viewed as mistakes or wastes of time have all helped to teach me something and bring me to where I am today. And I think we can all relate this back to our own lives.

Consider this thought for a moment. “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” This quote, attributed to Voltaire, challenges us to never see anything as a waste of time, but more as an opportunity to experience something new. Is this a reasonable request? I think so.

Here are four reasons why we should reframe what we’ve been dwelling on as past mistakes and wastes of time and view them simply as a new experience.  

Because something motivated you to make this decision

When you feel like something has become a negative experience or a waste of time, stop and recall what led you down this path to begin with. In many instances, passion, inspiration, hope for a better future or enjoyment guide our choices. While you may never know where the journey will lead you, it’s the best intentions with which you began that really matter.

Because you choose your experience

We are the keepers of our own happiness and only we determine how we feel about any particular situation. There are some people who have really been dealt a tough hand, yet they live a life of contentment and gratitude. Then there are people who appear to have everything going for them, yet they couldn’t be more miserable. What sets each of these types of people apart is simply how they choose to experience life. We must choose happiness in order to be happy. And if we choose to never see a situation as a mistake or waste of time, then we will live with a lot less regret.

Because there’s always a bright side

Any experience – even a negative one – contains at least a pebble of happiness, if only we’re willing to look for it. To apply this to a challenging example, let’s say the experience was that your new business failed and you had to close your doors. As Voltaire would reason, this is not something pleasant, so we must then look for the “something new” to turn this into a positive experience. The bright side would be that now you have the opportunity to restructure your business model and try again, venture into a new line of work or simply spend more time with your family. The bright side will not always cast away all of the dark shadows, but it will at least restore some of your hope and happiness.

Because dwelling is not mandatory

By nature, I dwell. I dwell on the big things, the small things and everything in between. Sometimes I’ll continue to walk around with this weight on my shoulders, unable to remember what was bothering me in the first place. This makes it very easy for setbacks or negative life experiences to take a toll on my emotions. But I’ve gotten better. I now remind myself that worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing, so instead I get active. If it’s a problem I can’t solve personally, I go for a run to clear my head or start working on another project simply to feel in control. We determine how much we allow ourselves to dwell and the sooner we take our mind off of a negative experience, the closer we are to our next positive one.

Share your thoughts! Have you found any life experience to truly be a waste of time? How much does your mindset impact how you experience life?

 

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4 Reasons Why You Don’t Know What Your Business Needs

confusedOne of the biggest challenges of any business owner is the ability to identify what your business needs. You often find yourself in the trenches and bogged down with the day to day tasks that require almost all of your time. How can you also find the time – and unbiased perspective – to address the needs of your business before they begin to hurt your bottom line? This is a great question and one I wish more business owners would stop and ask themselves.

The first step to meeting the needs of your business is to acknowledge that you might not be the most qualified person to identify them. Here are four reasons why you might be missing what your business needs and how an outside perspective can help bridge this gap.

1. You’re too emotionally involved

As a business owner, it’s common to hold your livelihood as near and dear as your own child. But this strong emotional connection can hurt your ability to make the hard decisions that might be best for your business.  You want to nurture its growth and tend to handle it with kid gloves, when a swift and strong shakeup may be what’s really in order.

An outside perspective can help to eliminate the emotional bias that often exists for the entrepreneur or business owner. This is the most accurate way to prescribe the medicine to fix the problems, even if it doesn’t taste so good. It’s okay to be emotionally connected to your business, just be sure to call upon the advice of some outside eyes to give you a more accurate assessment.

2. It’s not your area of expertise

Being a business owner doesn’t automatically make you a jack of all trades – nor should you strive to become one. There’s a steep learning curve for even some of the most basic responsibilities like taxes, payroll and healthcare. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect youself to also be a public relations/marketing expert among other things.

To put together an effective and strategic communications strategy, it’s perfectly alright to call upon outside help. Leave the experts to do what they’re most qualified to do – and this includes you! Focus on the aspects of running your business at which you excel and outsource the critical tasks that aren’t the best use of your time.

3. You don’t see the need for change

You might have a strong opinion about the communications strategy that is best for your business, but don’t let this be a reason to hide your head in the sand to other opportunities that might be more effective. I’ve personally seen many business owners who are in denial about their ineffective and outdated public relations strategy. They don’t see a problem and therefore don’t see the need for a new solution.

This is where an outside perspective can really be a valuable asset. It provides a fresh set of eyes and a higher level of expertise to identify what you’re business is missing. If you think your communications strategy is working perfectly fine, but your profits are waning month after month, this is a good indication that something needs to change, whether you see it or not.

4. You can’t take a step back to see the full picture

As a business owner, you’re often in the weeds of the day to day activities of your business. You may not have the chance to ever bring your head up to really see what’s going on from an outside perspective. This makes it very hard for you to see the full picture of how your business is functioning as a whole and where certain components may be missing.

Again, the key to seeing this bigger picture is to call upon an outside expert that can separate any bias or emotion to the business. Instead of focusing on all the little components that go into the day to day operations, an outsider will see your business as your target audience sees your business – which is one of the most valuable snapshots for really accessing the health of your business.

How well do you think you know what your business needs? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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5 Reasons We Don’t Keep the Goals We’ve Set

Do not give upThere’s a saying that a New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. I think we can all relate to that notion to some degree. Now with several weeks of the New Year under our belt, the trendy appeal of setting a New Year’s resolution has worn off and the first taste of reality has set in.

How’s it going?

Maybe you’re still hanging in there strong or maybe you’re already starting to slip. Maybe you just never bothered to make a resolution to begin with because you know the result is always the same. Regardless of the current state of your New Year’s resolution, we have all set goals and had them fail. What I want to examine a bit further is the “why” behind this common scenario. Here are 5 reasons why we don’t keep the goals we’ve set.

1. Failing to identify clear goals

One of the most common reasons we fail to keep the goals we’ve set is because we really don’t know what our goals are in the first place. Be overly specific. Quantify your goals, if possible. Be clear on what you’re achieving and why it’s important to achieve it. Finally, set real deadlines for milestones within that goal to make each step more manageable. Remember, you can always alter the parameters of your goal at any time (and you should as you make progress). What’s most important is that you are quite clear on what it is you’re trying to achieve. This leaves less room for failure due to confusion.

2. Confusing planning with progress

One of the biggest mistakes of goal setting is thinking that planning to do something is actually accomplishing anything. We’ve all been there. We have the best of intentions to reach a goal and exert a lot of effort into mapping out our road to success. We’re proud with our work, pat ourselves on the back and then forget the most important part – to turn the plans into action! Planning is one step toward progress, but even the best plans will never materialize into anything more than a dream until we put them into motion. Don’t congratulate yourself too much on great plans for success; the hardest part is yet to come.

3. Lacking accountability

Goals are much more effective and “real” when we know someone else is counting on us to reach them. Without accountability, it’s easy to fall off track. Sometimes we’re simply too easy on ourselves and lack someone or something else to make us hang in there. You can build in accountability by working alongside a partner who wants to achieve a similar goal, logging your progress into an app or spreadsheet to make your progress visual or working with a mentor – even if that’s as informal as a friend or family member. Accountability makes us answer to someone more than ourselves and gives us additional motivation to succeed.

4. Leaving failure as an option

To successfully reach your goals, you must fully, mentally commit to them. Many people think they do this, yet still allow themselves a way “out” through failure. Don’t let this be an option. Instead, always have an alternative goal in mind. For example, maybe you wanted to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, but have slipped off track. Rather than saying “Oh well!” and diving into a bucket of ice cream, adjust your goal to lose 7 pounds in 2 months. Goals change just as life changes. If you have to alter the target you were originally aiming for, there’s no shame in that – hey, maybe you’ll even make it a little more challenging overall. Just don’t stop cold, always keep progressing forward.

5. Forgetting the consequences

So often we fall off the wagon not because we forget the benefits of achieving our goal, but because we forget the consequences of failure. Sure it sounds nice to have a goal of growing your business by 50 percent; what entrepreneur wouldn’t want to do this? Seeing the benefits is the easy part. The more critical component that is often overlooked is the repercussions of not reaching your goal. Maybe this business growth is a necessary lifeline for saving jobs or putting food on your table. If you don’t achieve it, you’ll be forced to find a new job or layoff employees that you value and trust. Whatever the consequences, make them real. This will turn on your survival mode and tap into an even stronger will to succeed.

To sum it all up, the process toward reaching a goal is long and winding. Thinking that it’s going to be anything easier is the first common mistake we make. It takes planning, commitment and accountability to be truly successful. Even more importantly, it takes a strong desire from within to get across the finish line. Constant motivation and encouragement from others is not sustainable for long-term success. We must find our own fire and use it as fuel during the most trying moments.

What are some of the reasons you’ve identified for not being able to keep the goals you’ve set?

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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When In Doubt, Take the Next Small Step

small stepIn business and in life, being faced with different choices can be an overwhelming and paralyzing situation. We always want to make the “right” choice, the one that we can look back on years later and know we wouldn’t change a thing. But rarely are we afforded the benefit of hindsight. In a recent conversation with a client, I was discussing how difficult it can be to make decisions as a business owner. With the weight of the world on our shoulders, we worry that one poor choice can bring it all tumbling down. We are often forced to make decisions on limited time and limited information because if we took the time to fully outline every option, we would never move forward with anything. Therefore, one of the greatest accomplishments of any business owner is to empower yourself with the confidence to make decisions and stand behind whatever the outcome. When in doubt, take the next small step. You don’t have to act radically or nonsensically, but you must still move forward. Especially when you’re not sure of your footing, the best option is to simply take a single step in one definite direction. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever received. It’s obviously applicable to an entrepreneur, but I believe we can also apply it to all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional.  

In Business

I have written passionately about my experience as an entrepreneur and I advocate for other entrepreneurial hopefuls to “take the leap.” But with this major life decision, I must caution that you should still do it with some rationale. When I was confronted with the ultimate decision to either stay in my current job or turn my part time passion into my full time career, it was done as an initial small step that has since turned into a major life change. I began by first incorporating my business. Not only did this make my side work feel more legitimate, it was also a sound investment that has since saved me a lot of money (and headaches) on taxes. This started things rolling in the right direction. My next step was securing enough clients that I knew I could cover my bills. And the next step was the big one – resigning from my 9-5 for a life as an entrepreneur. When broken down, these were all single steps that turned into quite an amazing journey. Even now when I’m faced with wanting to make a change in my business, I pause, breath and identify the next small step. If I only looked at the big picture, I would easily overwhelm myself with how I get from point A to point B – especially when they appear oceans apart. Instead, move just one step in the direction you know you want to travel and do so with confidence!

In Life

For those of us who aren’t business owners or entrepreneurs, life is stilled filled with countless decisions we must make on a daily basis. Small choices like what to have for dinner or how to spend a free weekend are relatively easy to decide. But bigger decisions like buying a new car, building a house or going on vacation can add unwanted anxiety and unnecessary stress to our lives.  When in doubt, take the next small step. Begin by looking at your finances or researching the top options, but take one step forward! Big decisions shouldn’t be made overnight, but progress can still be made slowly and consistently to help you make a smart choice in the end. By taking small steps, you’re less likely to make a decision due to pressure, frustration or confusion and you’re more likely to enjoy the process and feel confident with the end result. Take a moment to think of a big decision you’ve been avoiding and identify one small step you can take today. It doesn’t need to be the end result, but it should at least put you one step closer!

No matter the scope or size of the decision, we have all encountered obstacles in our effort to move forward. Have you ever had difficulty making decisions? What’s the best advice you can give to become a more decisive person? Share your insight by commenting below!

 

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What is Public Relations?

PRThis is a question I’m asked quite often. Whether it’s directly or indirectly, in most initial conversations I find myself explaining – or defending – what it is I do. The challenge is that Public Relations doesn’t fit in a neat little box like when someone says “I’m a dentist” or “I’m a teacher.” Sure there are variances within those fields, but for the most part you can state that as your job title and people get the picture. With Public Relations, not so much. It’s ambiguous, abstract and ever-changing. Most challenging is that even the professionals in the field can’t agree upon a single definition for our work. As a result, I’ve created my own definition that has changed over the years along with type of services I offer my clients. In a recent conversation I was told that I have a very broad definition of PR to which my response was, “Of course, PR can be found everywhere!” And I firmly believe that. This is my personal explanation of Public Relations. While it may be broad and it may not be what you’ll find in any book, it’s coming from years of first-hand experience in the field. I’d say that makes it just as legitimate as any other definition out there!

It’s relationship management.

Foremost public relations is building and maintaining positive relationships with your audience. Technology provides us with the power to directly engage our customers unlike ever before. It’s important that businesses embrace this opportunity and carefully consider the image they’re promoting through these interactions. Some of the services I provide such as blog writing, social media management and web site content creation can be the first interaction people have with you. It’s important that your brand is intentional and polished. While many businesses successful manage their own relationships, it’s often with a good PR consultant at their side.

It’s about telling your story.

I’ve worked with quite a variety of clients and for each one I’ve been able to identify the underlying story that makes them stand out. This story is often hidden, underutilized or misrepresented – all affecting the impact it has on the target audience. You can promote your “value, service and integrity” and sound like every other business out there or you can use some Public Relations to help you craft a unique and memorable story that demonstrates these same qualities. I help tell this story and carry it across every communication channel, from web site content to marketing materials to company culture. Storytelling has become one of my specialties. I love the challenge of extracting a story upon being introduced to a new business and I love how drastic the results can be when a business proudly showcases their story to the world.

It’s common sense.

When I really want to state what I do in as few words as possible, I say Public Relations is common sense. OK, common sense to me at least. Really though I would say most people know that the basis of Public Relations – building relationships, telling your story, providing exceptional customer service – should be a core part of their business. Yet so many forget to implement it. I help clients regain this common sense by keeping them organized, staying on top of projects and deadlines so they don’t have to and overseeing the interactions between the business and its customers. Saying that Public Relations is “common sense” makes it sound easy, but it still takes someone with a specialty for PR to develop an effective strategy.

So yes, my understanding of Public Relations is basic and broad. It’s not overly technical and puffed up with jargon. Instead it’s relatable to every business. I see Public Relations opportunities everywhere and this inspires me to continue to grow my passion. What is your personal understanding of Public Relations? How has it been explained to you by others? Share your definitions so we can compare and discuss!

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Business & Success

 

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The Working Mom/Stay At Home Mom Hybrid

work-at-home-mom-cartoonThe day I started my own business, it became my first baby. I devoted my time and energy to watching it grow and take on a sustaining life of its own. But in May 2013, it was no longer my sole priority. As we welcomed our first son into the world, I knew that my life as an entrepreneur would gain one more layer of complexity. People were both curious and concerned as to how soon I planned to return to work. The honest answer is that as soon as I stepped foot out of the hospital and through our front door, I was back at work. Of course I slowed the pace considerably for a few weeks, but by June I was running at full speed.

We live in a world where people want things to fit nicely into little boxes, but my career has never packaged up so neatly. Becoming a mother didn’t make me any less of an entrepreneur. I’m sure some wondered if I would continue working or if I would just transition into a Stay At Home Mom. I had moments where I wondered the same thing. Now over 5 months in, I’m proud to raise some eyebrows when I explain that I am both a Stay At Home Mom and a Working Mom – I am part of a growing generation of Hybrid Moms. As a Hybrid Mom you truly work two full time jobs. It’s not a part time gig or a hobby on the side. It’s a full time workload and an equal source of income for your family. I’m fortunate to have the flexibility in my schedule to take on both responsibilities and to have clients who understand my commitment to also serving as the sole caretaker for my son during the work day.

Defining your career as a mother has become a hot button issue and one that I’ve seen argued from many different viewpoints. Now that I wear both hats, I’ve become emotionally invested in this topic and am discouraged to see such strong accusations and hurtful generalizations being strewn about. Many women are choosing to become Stay At Home Moms and in an effort to mainstream this career choice, have put down other women’s choice to work. I am most bothered that these choices are made to feel mutually exclusive, like you aren’t a full time mom if you choose to work. As a Hybrid Mom, I don’t get to turn off my motherly responsibilities just because I have a looming project deadline. If Holden needs me, I’m always on-call.

My mother worked a full time job while raising three kids. She didn’t have a cleaning lady, cook or personal assistant to run her family’s errands. She was all of these things, plus she worked outside the home for an additional 40 hours per week. As a child, I never felt I lacked time with my mother either. She had a home cooked meal for us each evening, helped us with our homework, was involved in our activities on the weekends and she even stayed home with us many days that we were sick from school. One argument supporting the Stay At Home Mom claims that their job is to be the CEO of the house. I don’t disagree. I only wish to make the point that my mom was every bit the CEO (and a fierce one at that) while working full time. You can do both and be both – they’re not mutually exclusive. The growing number of Hybrid Moms brings hope that we are beginning to realize this and that we have enough support to give us the confidence to make this choice if it’s right for us.

By definition, yes, I am a Stay At Home Mom. I take care of my 5-month old son full time (this also includes being his sole source of food). But I am a Working Mom too. I provide a range of Public Relations consulting services for anywhere from 8-12 different clients on a daily basis. In addition to these two full time jobs, I still have time to attend weekly networking meetings, write for fun on my blog and hit the park at least once a day. You may wonder what I sacrifice to “do it all.” It’s not mental or physical health—I run 20+ miles per week with yoga scattered in between. It’s not sleep – we all get 8+ hours per night (with our cat, Pinot getting quite a few more throughout the day). We have a clean house, fresh groceries and clean clothes. I’ve even chosen to go the route of cloth diapers and making my own baby wipes, which certainly adds a few extra steps to our daily routine. It’s quite often that I get the response, “Well you’re just not normal.” I find this to be the most offensive of all. I feel what I accomplish in any given day is very “normal” and attainable with merely organization and discipline.

My life is not perfect – there are absolutely days when I feel like this balancing act may all come tumbling down. I’m fortunate to have a husband who is supportive and involved. It’s teamwork that makes raising our little family possible. Because I’m a Hybrid Mom, I can attest that each career has its own unique challenges and rewards. I’m fortunate to do both, but I won’t say that it’s luck. It comes with hard work and determination to make it work. The best we can do for each other is to support our decision to do what is right for us and our family. For some, one career is quite enough. For others, we may enjoy balancing a bit more. Whether our title is Stay At Home Mom, Working Mom or Hybrid Mom, the most important word comes at the very end – and no matter what, that means we have the hardest but best job in the world!

park

Monday afternoon at the park with Holden

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Business & Success, Life

 

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For Better Time Management…Eat A Frog?

frogHere’s a piece of advice that will surely grab your attention, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Mark Twain is credited for this witty and wacky quote, but I can’t imagine he was advising us to actually go out and eat a frog. So what point was he trying to make with this sliver of creative wisdom? I believe Twain was alluding to one of the greatest time management principles of all time.

Tackle your most undesirable task first.

By doing this, you get the biggest road block off your to-do list. It also sets the tone for the rest of the day that anything is possible and it will boost your mood. On the surface, this seems simple and attainable. But when you’re faced with a project you don’t want to start, a phone call you don’t want to make or a house you don’t want to clean, it’s amazing the ways in which you’ll find to procrastinate. To take Mark Twain’s advice one step further, I want to give you several ways in which you can learn to eat – and enjoy – your frog every morning.

First things first

It’s important that you tackle your most undesirable task first, but it’s equally important to do so as soon as you start your day. Having something at the top of your to-do list means nothing if you don’t look at the list before 2pm. The more time we take to build up fear and anxiety over completing a challenging task, the more the molehill starts to look like a mountain. Just as you would rip off a bandage as quickly as you could to minimize the pain, tackle your most undesirable tasks quickly and promptly.

No dessert before dinner

Don’t allow yourself to do enjoyable or desirable tasks until you have gotten rid of the “frog” on your plate. It’s tempting to say, “Oh I’ll clean the house after just one more episode of my favorite show…it will motivate me.” This will only motivate you to find more excuses and to rationalize yourself out of the task altogether. Our mothers were right; dessert only spoils our supper. Instead we need to view these desirable tasks as reward for completing undesirable tasks. Plus, a good dessert at the end of dinner will help to get that frog taste out of your mouth!

Embrace your “Super Powers”

Once you knock the worst task off your to-do list, be sure to take a brief moment to embrace your “super powers.” I’ve found that when I accomplish something difficult or time consuming, I feel like I can take on the world. It’s on these days that I often go on to accomplish many more difficult tasks that I’ve also been putting off. It’s like letting the flood gates open and finally releasing all the tension I was carrying around over this work. Tackling one undesirable task helps me to realize I’m perfectly capable of doing much more. Plus the adrenaline rush from being done is energy that is worth putting to good use!

What “frogs” do you have on your plate right now? Do you agree with Mark Twain’s wisdom or is there another time management technique that has worked better for you? Share your insight!

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Advice, Business & Success, Life

 

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Moving Beyond the Time Sheet: Making Efficiency Part of Your Pricing

mowing lawnSeveral months ago I wrote about how to be smart and fair when pricing your services. This is a critical area for any business and also one which can be the most challenging. It’s hard to put a price on passion. We risk either under valuing our services or becoming too-consumed with our work and pricing ourselves too high. Even after we have developed a consistent method for setting an hourly rate and accurately predicting the hours involved for any given project, we’re still faced with the double-edge sword of efficiency. To better illustrate my points, let me offer this analogy:

Say you want to pay someone to mow your grass. Your yard provides a well-defined scope and size for a project, yet several mowing companies provide you with very different pricing. Why? The difference between each company’s tools, experience and efficiency all play a role in the variables of their rate. One mowing company may only have access to a push mower and so they have to account for an employee taking 4-6 hours to complete the work. Another company may have equipment with all the bells and whistles requiring just 20 minutes to complete the project, but they must recoup the cost of the capital for this equipment. The second mowing company may spend far less time on your yard, but they can’t (and likely won’t) charge you just for 20 minutes of work. There’s the factor of efficiency which also has a price.

As business owners we should strive to become efficient with our work, but we shouldn’t then penalize ourselves for this skill. Although our ability to complete a project in less time means technically less billing hours, we need to keep in mind that there’s much more to pricing services than just our time. Take a look at the following three pillars of pricing that move beyond the time sheet and are worth considering when pricing your services. These may also help you understand why other companies price their services the way they do:

Scope of project

The size (or scope) of a project plays a large role in pricing, but not the only role. Businesses shouldn’t price a project based upon time alone. There should always be built-in motivation to be efficient with both time and resources and to not take advantage of a time sheet. I’ve moved as far from time sheets as I can because it penalizes my efficiency while leaving clients with an unknown variable of cost for my work. I prefer to quote a project in full based upon its scope and then I stick to this price, regardless of hours spent on the project, unless the scope should substantially change. Whether this works out to be my client’s benefit or my own, it ensures I work efficiently which most often results in completing projects well before deadline.

Cost of capital

A business invests a great deal of capital into their tools, resources and talent that allow them to provide optimum service. While a particular project may take an efficient business less time to complete because of these tools, there’s a cost to that investment that also must be taken into account when pricing services. Most commonly I see this in printing services. The cost of professional printing equipment is expensive! So while it may take mere minutes to print off a 5,000 piece mailer, when before it would take hours, the bigger and better copier required an initial investment from the company. I wouldn’t expect this printing company to charge for just 20 minutes of work when resources, much more than time, were the real expense.

Paying for professionalism

Finally, there is the cost of professionalism. If you want a service done right the first time, it’s worth paying a higher price to work with a business with a great reputation and track record for producing results. Sure, it can be tempting to go for the lowest price possible, but most of us have also experienced the repercussions of such temptation. In the long-term it’s often worth investing a little more to get exactly what you want the first time. Your time is also valuable and so the less time you spend fixing errors, or micro-managing projects the more time you can invest back into growing your business. When pricing your services, the point is very similar – don’t compete on price alone. Offer clients value, professionalism and high-quality service along with a price you feel is fair.

How do you currently price your services? Do you reward yourself for efficiency or penalize yourself? This is a critical question worth giving some thought – especially because it could save you hours of work and a lot of profit in the long-term. Weigh in on this topic by leaving your comments below!

 
 

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Life Is Only As Complicated As We Make It

Is your digging making a mountain or a molehill?

Is all that digging making a mountain or a molehill?

We’ve all encountered them – people who seem to take even the most simple task or situation and smother it with complex scenarios and complicating questions. Maybe we are them. Chances are good that these people live with a lot of unnecessary stress and worry as well as spreading this stress and worry to others. How complicated we choose to make things has the power to completely change the experience we get out of life. Personal responsibilities, career goals, organizing and planning even the simplest things can become arduous, overwhelming tasks if we allow these molehills to grow into mountains. But let’s dig a little deeper. How do mountains turn into molehills if not without the help of us shoveling on piles and piles of dirt to grow (and complicate) the situation? Just as much as we hold the tools to make life complicated, we also hold the tools to make it simple. The more we value the simplicity of life, the more likely we are to apply this value toward how we live, work and interact with others.  I want to now outline just a few critical areas in which I feel like so many people choose to make life far more complicated than it needs to be – and with that, pile on stress and frustration unnecessarily. As you read on, I urge you to ask yourself how familiar these scenarios sound to you:

Mountains and mole hills

It’s a common phrase – “Making a mountain out of a molehill” – and though we know it and use it often, it never seems to stick as a life lesson we should learn to apply personally. Simply put, don’t make things more complicated than they need to be! I had a teacher first tell me about the K.I.S. principle or “Keep It Simple.” She didn’t want us to turn in a 10-page report if all the necessary information could be expressed in 3 pages. Our time was not best spent writing this nor was her time best spent grading this. Based on some of the people I encounter in both business and in life, I can tell they did not have a teacher who valued the K.I.S. principle. I fondly refer to them as “over-communicators.” They’re the people who require 2 phone calls and 3 follow-up emails to you before they feel a point has been clearly communicated. Dealing with such communicators is insulting because they don’t feel you’re capable of fully grasping a concept, just because they can’t. Furthermore it’s frustrating because they inevitably take up more of your time and energy than they’re worth. Don’t be an over-communicator and this begins with putting down the shovel and walking away while it’s still a mole hill.

Less complicated doesn’t mean less thoughtful

Believe it or not, the simple answer can be the right answer. I know we’re wired to think that if it’s too simple it must be missing some element or overlooking some critical aspect. I’ve learned this to be very flawed thinking. While some things may be “too good to be true,” I have not had the same experience with things being “too simple to be right.” In fact, the simplest answers are often the best answers, but we only land on these long after we have exhausted our far more complicated options. The most important point I can make here is to simply stop second guessing your judgment or the judgment of others you know to be capable.

Add value without adding complications

Making a situation more complicated does not mean you’re more invested in a project than someone who is trying to keep it simple. As someone who actively seeks out the most simple and straightforward answer, I often feel like sometimes this makes people think I’m looking for the easy way out. While ease can often accompany simplicity, laziness is an entirely separate motivator. The energy I save in handling a situation simply, I reallocate to another area of the project to make it even more exceptional. I don’t “get out” of any work, per se. Instead I invest it back into areas that unexpectedly require more of my time. For those who over-communicate and like to complicate matters as a way to prove their worth to a project, this is easy to identify and even easier to see through. If you’re insecure with the value you’re bringing to the table, don’t compensate by making the job harder for someone else. Both in life and in business, we’re all in this together. We certainly don’t need to start throwing dirt into each other’s piles.

In my final comments, I’ll keep it simple. Embrace that life is only as complicated as we choose to make it. We all have shovels in which we can choose to either pile dirt on our molehills or dig it away from our mountains.

 

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