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Parenthood: Adjusting to the Ever-Changing “New Normal”

On August 4, 2012, my definition of family changed. Newly married, my family became me, my husband and one particularly ornery cat. We worked to re-establish our daily routines as we learned each other’s habits and quirks. Our staggered steps turned into a beautiful dance and eventually I couldn’t remember what life was like before it was “us.” This was a precious, but fleeting moment in our lives as my definition of family soon changed…again.

On May 11, 2013, I held my baby boy in my arms for the first time. For most of the world, nothing had really changed. But for me, nothing would ever be the same. I mean that truly in all aspects of life. I’m not too proud to admit that parenthood was (and is) like being stripped of everything normal and familiar and launched into a new world where all the skills I had relied upon to be successful up until this point became completely irrelevant. Those first few months, I felt just as lost and overwhelmed as a newborn – oh the irony in that!

This new, little family struggled to again establish our beautiful dance around one another. Just when we overcame one hurdle (yay, he’s sleeping through the night), another popped up in its place (what child cuts fourth teeth at once). With every milestone, we established a “new normal.” Date nights turned into Friday evenings spent at the park, romantic dinners were brought home in a takeout box and bedtime was rarely after 8:30pm – for anyone in the house.

As a creature of habit, I loved every routine we have had as a family – because it was familiar and it was ours. It was never too long until we again had to pivot into a new normal. Travel schedules, illnesses, moving into a new home and changing seasons all brought about necessary change to which we adjusted.

And another big adjustment is right around the corner…

In no more than a few weeks (I’d like to think a few days), we will welcome another bundle of joy into our home and our routine. Our new normal will shift again…substantially. I waver between moments of excitement for this change in our lives and moments where I question our sanity for opting into another momentous challenge. Our family’s current routine is nice. It’s safe and it’s predictable. We have established a pretty beautiful dance – yes, a dance that includes meltdowns, potty training and comprise, but a beautiful dance indeed.

Luckily life gives us a nine months heads up that such a change is about to happen. Not many other circumstances in life afford us such preparation, nor do they promise such joy. As I struggle to fit as much as I can into every day leading up to the birth of our second son, I have found that life has a wonderful, and at times, frustrating way of slowing us down to absorb what we might otherwise miss.

The past few weekends, our little family has enjoyed more undivided time together than I can recall in recent history. I captured a picture that will forever define our current normal – as it is right now, but will never be again. As much as I never want to leave this moment, life has taught me again and again that the new normal that lies ahead is the best one yet.

Whether you are a new or veteran parent, can you relate to the ongoing struggle of adjusting to the “new normal?” Share a personal story or piece of wisdom!

Our “normal”…for now.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Learning, Life

 

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Protecting Your Pitch: How to sell the value of your expertise

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Protecting Your Pitch How to sell the value of your expertiseIn the line of consulting work, the pitching process is arguably the most important. Love it or hate it, for a business to survive, you must be good at pitching, pricing and packaging your ideas into an attractive bundle. But even after you spend hours crafting a proposal and researching the most innovative ideas to prove your value to potential clients – this is only half the battle. They could absolutely love you and your ideas, but what prevents them from simply taking your proposal and implementing it themselves? It’s an unfortunate scenario that happens time and time again in the consulting world. Some consultants have accepted this as a risk of this line of business. Others feel as though the clients who don’t do this outweigh and offset the ones who do. While I find both of these to be true, I do believe there are tactics consultants can incorporate to protect their pitch.

Don’t charge for a proposal. This may sound counter-intuitive when trying to protect your pitch, but I don’t believe in charging a potential client a fee just for you to create a proposal. If they choose not to work with you, this results in no tangible benefit for which they paid. Moreover, I think it immediately sets the tone that you’re likely to charge them for every itemized task and are stringent with your fees. Sure, there is always the risk that the time you put in to creating a proposal may never be recouped, but (good) business is about risk taking after all. It is foremost important to position yourself as a valuable asset they want as part of the team rather than an insecure and rigid score keeper. I truly believe that a pleasant and professional pitching process goes a long way in ultimately sealing a client. If they feel you’re taking advantage of them by imposing a fee for a proposal, they’re more likely to take advantage of you by incorporating your ideas themselves. Furthermore, they may feel that by paying for these ideas, they’ve gained ownership over them. EXTRA TIP: Place a larger emphasis on pre-qualifying your clients before you reach the step of creating a proposal.Try an initial meet and greet to get to know them and their business before assuming a proposal is something either of you are interested in. This step alone will save you hours of pitching to clients who don’t align with what you offer.

Make your expertise part of the package. When crafting a quality proposal, don’t undersell the value of your expertise as part of the packaged deal. Goals – and the tactics to reach these goals should comprise a large portion of the proposal, but don’t forget that your expertise in performing these tasks is ultimately what you’re being paid for. If you have a personal contact or connection that can make your strategy more effective, which is common in Public Relations, include this in the proposal. All of this helps to protect your pitch in that it sells you as part of the package. As much as tactics can be taken and implemented by someone else, your expertise cannot.

Focus on “Value Added.” Along with your expertise as a unique selling point to your pitch, your proposal should also communicate the important concept of “value added” to your potential client. The value of you implementing the proposed tactics is that it allows your client and his or her employees to continue focusing their time on doing what they do best. If their expertise is not in communications or business consulting, and it likely is not, their time is not best spent completing these tasks. There is a level of efficiency and quality that goes along with someone doing something they’re trained to do. If you can communicate this concept clearly with your client, you will show them that personally taking on the additional workload outlined in the proposal is not in their or their business’s best interest.

Provide goals and tactics, not a blueprint. You provide a proposal to give a client an outline of the work you can complete for them – not to provide them with a how-to guide to implement themselves. In your pitch you should list your work in such a way that they clearly understand the expected benefits of a given task, but not enough to cut you out of the process. Think of a list of ingredients on any food label. You know everything that went in to making the product good, but you don’t know in what amount or order each ingredient was used to achieve the desired results. This is not with the intention to be sneaky or unfair. Truly most clients would appreciate not having to read a 20+ page proposal with a painstaking step-by-step strategy. They want the big picture, the tangible benefits and to know you’re capable of getting this done. Sticking to this format will also shave hours off of your pitch writing time.

If you take nothing else from this advice, remember this key thought – Pitching to a potential client is your opportunity to prove that the value of your expertise in implementing your ideas is what they’re really paying for.

Know someone who is a consultant? I highly encourage you share this with them. Given my own failures and triumphs with the pitch writing process, I would have been ever grateful to have learned these tips in some way other than through trial and error. Cheers!

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Life Lesson: Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted?

Life Lesson Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted

Thanks to technology and society telling us it’s normal and expected to be connected 24/7, we have found more ways than ever to live life distracted. We have become accustomed to consuming multiple forms of media at a time, so much so, that watching TV is often accompanied by surfing our phones for social media updates.

I am just as guilty as the rest of the world. I have caught myself checking my phone with one hand, answering an email with another hand and fooling myself into believe I’m still paying attention to the TV show playing in the background. During these moments in life, I feel productive, entertained and comfortable. But am I mistaking these feelings for happiness?

The question I pose today is this…amidst all of the distractions we use to take our attention off of feeling undesirable emotions like boredom, loneliness, doubt and sadness, are we skirting around the hard, but paramount task of seeking out true satisfaction in our lives?

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a thought-provoking lecture that cautioned us not to mistake satisfaction for distraction. By nature, we as humans have found countless ways to distract ourselves (i.e. procrastination) from the real task at hand, often because it’s more work. But we’re not fooling anyone. The repercussions of our distracted lives can be found all around us. How many “friends” do you have on Facebook versus how many friends you talk to (I mean real, meaningful conversations) on a weekly basis?

The blinking light of a social media update should not be valued higher than your family conversation around the dinner table. The distractions around us are tempting, and sometimes warranted, but for the most part they are futile attempts to fill a void that can only be filled by seeking true satisfaction – whatever that means to you.

The life lesson I want to share is this. We can continue down this slippery slope of distracting ourselves into believing we are satisfied in life, but we will always need to find more and better distractions to make us believe we are “happy.” Or we can start today by taking a closer look at our lives and the relationships that form our happiness. And the first step is to close our laptops during the evenings and weekends, turn off our phones when spending time with loved ones and seek satisfaction before distraction.

It’s a crazy, but simple notion – so simple that unless these two words were brought my attention in stark comparison, I might never have considered how satisfaction could be mistaken for distraction (and vice versa). It really makes me think about my intentions when I’m tempted to pick up my phone at dinner or check my email during family time. If I’m desiring the feeling of distraction, maybe there’s a void I need to fill first and foremost with true satisfaction that is far more lasting.

Take a constructive look at your own happiness. Would you say you are truly satisfied or merely distracted? If you feel compelled to share your insights, I’d love to hear your personal response to this deep question!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Life

 

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If Your Business is on a Budget, Don’t Make This Deadly Mistake!

If Your Business is on a Budget, Don't Make This Deadly Mistake

During the winter months, especially here in Pennsylvania as we approach some of the coldest and darkest days, it’s natural to want to batten the hatches, pull the shades and slow everything down for hibernation.

This is the time of year when depression skyrockets and motivation plummets. It’s a dangerous combination for businesses who need to keep the fires burning to ensure these months are just as successful as the rest of the year.

When both profit and progress seem to be flowing about as fast a molasses in the winter, businesses tend to tighten their budgets and limit cash flow to only the most essential areas in order to survive the (hopefully short-lived) famine. In many instances, this is a smart and strategic reaction. But there is one deadly mistake businesses commonly make when slashing line items – and it often costs them far more in the long-run than what they stand to save.

In an effort to save money, completely halting your public relations or marketing efforts is as dangerous and counterproductive as shutting off your furnace in the dead of winter.

I’ve spoken with several businesses who have learned firsthand from this mistake. The impact is what one might compare to “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Once you’ve shut down your public relations and marketing efforts, turning things back on again is not as easy as flipping and switch – and you most certainly won’t warm right back to room temperature without dishing out some major bucks to regain this energy.

As you consider whether or not your business needs to winterize its budget now or in the future, first consider these points. The most successful businesses know to keep their public relations and marketing efforts burning, even on a low temp, to ensure their pipes don’t freeze before they are ready to turn things back on full force.

You will risk being “out of sight and out of mind” of your customers.

If you pull all of your public relations, marketing and advertising efforts, you will quite literally go “radio silent” to your customers. Relying on them to remember your brand without any prompting (and while your competitors are surely taking this opportunity to encroach on your market share) is both dangerous and foolish.

You will forfeit any pricing or packages you may be locked into.

If you are working with a consultant or outside firm, you are likely signed into a contact that will honor its pricing until you decide to change something. If you choose to take even just a few months off, many contractors will warn you that their pricing may increase should you ever wish to re-up. And, I’ll let you in a little secret, it most always does!

It takes much more effort to start from zero than to speed things up.

Think of all the energy that is lost when a large and heavy train comes to a complete stop. Now think of all the energy it requires to get that same machine up and moving again. Even if you need to slow things down for a little but, this is a far more sensible option that putting the brakes on completely.

You may not be able to rehire the same talent/team you once had.

Finally, when you tell your team of communication experts that you no longer need their services for an undetermined amount of time, they are rightfully going to find work elsewhere to make up for this void. When you’re ready to start things up again, you cannot be sure that you will be able to have the same exact team (or any of them) available for your work. Worse yet, your competition may have scooped them up!

Are you pulling in the reigns on your business’s budget right now and struggling with whether or not to put a halt on your public relations and marketing efforts? Share how you are planning to overcome this obstacle without “freezing your pipes!”

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Best Practices for Internal Communication During a Crisis

BEST PRACTICES FOR INTERNAL COMMUNICATION

We have touched upon the topic of crisis communication before, but there are many more aspects of this valuable area of PR we need to cover. While it may not be the most comfortable or pleasant topic to discuss, it’s fundamentally important to your customers, employees and ultimately your brand.

Crisis communication certainly includes how you communicate a consistent message to the media, but it also covers how you communicate and handle such matters internally. An informed and empowered staff can be among your greatest assets during this challenging time. Let’s now look at five best practices for executing an internal communication strategy should your business experience a crisis.

Keep an updated contact list of staff emails, phone numbers and addresses.

Empowering your staff with consistent messaging is one of the smartest and most helpful things you can do during a crisis. Make this process as easy as possible by keeping an up-to-date list of employee contact information. During a crisis, you will not have the time nor the resources to locate this information if it is not readily available. Plan ahead and gather this important information and commit to updating it on (at least) an annual basis.

Establish a quick and efficient means of communication.

With the updated staff information, you’ll want to prioritize how you will use it to communicate internally during a crisis. Email is likely going to be your most effective option. It’s important to stress to your staff that they should regularly check their email so this information is not overlooked.

Don’t rely on just one means of communication. Especially in a serious and time-sensitive crisis, you will want to communicate the details, and your response to the details, in several different ways. Establish a door-to-door messenger system in which someone from your staff can go to each office or cubicle and share the information via a written memo or even verbally. For extreme situations, establish protocol for a company-wide meeting. Gather in a common space for a quick briefing about what’s going on and how it will be handled. This also provides the valuable opportunity to ask you any questions or voice their concerns directly.

Set a policy for social media sharing in a crisis situation.

In our world of ever-growing technology, social media is readily available. Your staff may take to these communication channels with improper or false information should you not have a policy in place. It is recommended to make it clear to all staff that posting to social media accounts regarding sensitive business-related matters, like a crisis situation, is not allowed. Be sure to explain that this is in the best interest and safety of everyone involved. You can also empower your staff to report any social media posts that may breach this policy so they can be addressed immediately.

Share with them the news you plan to share with the media and community.

Once you’ve established your core messaging, keep your staff apprised of the statements you plan to make public. Share this via the internal communication channels we just discussed. Especially for situations that immediately impact their safety, or changes something about their normal work schedule (i.e. a closing due to an environmental crisis), this information should be communicated quickly and directly. Don’t wait for the media to do it for you!

Empower staff as your advocates by equipping them with the appropriate facts and planned-out media responses.

Again I will emphasize the importance of empowering your staff with accurate and timely information so they can help communicate these details with their networks. Let them hear from you directly before they receive the information from other, less substantiated sources. Your own staff can be some of your best and most powerful mouthpieces to the community. Make sure they have the facts they need to help you manage your crisis and maintain a positive brand!

Do you have a crisis communication plan in place? Share how you would handle your internal communications in the event of a crisis!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Life

 

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Thanking Up: Sharing gratitude with your superiors

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Thanking Up Sharing gratitude with your superiorsRecently I have talked about how the career of a consultant often brings with it the feeling of having many bosses instead of being your own. While I enjoy the variety of work and array of relationships this alternative career path has provided, I still experience moments that remind me I am my own boss and at times – I stand alone.

In past traditional work experiences, I always worked under a direct supervisor. I was fortunate to have these bosses often treat me as a peer and encourage me to share my opinions, but at the end of the day, it was their knowledge and expertise upon which all decisions were made. Though I’ve become comfortable and confident in finally being the decision maker, I can’t quite replace the other benefit a direct supervisor provided – consistent praise.

A client-consultant relationship is not the same as a boss-employee relationship, though comparable. Full time employees often receive regular performance reviews or quarterly meetings to discuss their progress and reward them with a “gold star” when appropriate. As consultants, we’re often out of sight and out of mind from the traditional work relationship. So while we may luckily bypass the formalities of performance reviews, we miss out on the regular thanks and praise for a job well done. Realizing the impact positive feedback has on my own performance and confidence led me to an even greater realization.

Bosses need praise too.

Your job title or hierarchy in a company shouldn’t determine if you receive praise or from whom. I regret to look back on all the times I didn’t thank my previous bosses for a job well done. They all had to make some tough decisions and accomplish tasks that weren’t easy – but they did successfully. Yet because they were the boss and I was the employee I didn’t see it as my place to tell them what a great job they were doing for fear of sounding like a parent praising a child. I regret more to think of all of the times I should have communicated how impressed or proud I was of a client for excelling in various ways. Again, I never wanted to be mistaken for assuming the position of a superior when I more fit the role of an employee or a peer.

Some of my clients now have several other employees working under them and are always offering words of praise to keep them motivated. They are the same people who put in even longer hours, make sacrifices and put their reputation on the line every day to keep the business afloat. On top of all of that, they are also expected to motivate others. I’d say that deserves some motivation in return!

It’s time to bring positive feedback full circle and to break through the misconception that only a superior can offer praise. It’s time we start thanking up.

I don’t think there would be one person who would be offended to receive a message saying “You’re doing an incredible job – keep up the good work!” every now and then. While such a message is appreciated and expected from a superior, imagine how much more it would mean coming from an entry-level employee or an intern who simply wanted to express how impressed he or she was with your work. Speaking from my own experiences, sometimes the most unexpected compliments are the ones that stick with you throughout the rest of your life.

Have you ever “thanked up” before? Or has someone “thanked up” to you? I’d love to hear YOUR story and how it made you feel!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Top 10 Blog Posts on Life and Entrepreneurship in 2015

Top 10 of the year (done in 3d)

I feel like I need to start by asking the obligatory question of “Where has the year gone?” But truthfully, I feel like it’s been quite a long year packed with great memories, exciting achievements and whole lot of interesting writing.

Before we close out 2015 and turn our calendars to the New Year, I wanted to take one last opportunity to revisit some of my favorite blog posts. We covered just about everything you could imagine including branding, communication, personality types, time management and of course my cat, Pinot.

Join me on this brief trip down memory lane with a list of the top 10 blog posts on life and entrepreneurship in 2015 from Bennis Inc. May 2016 be filled with just as much insight and inspiration!

How Do an Introvert and Extrovert Live Together in Peace?

Whether it’s your spouse, best friend or boss, co-existing with the opposite personality type brings a unique set of challenges. This blog explores my personal experience as an introvert living (and often working) with my husband who is an extrovert.

Read the original blog here.

How to Rebrand Your Business

This blog is the first post in a 5-part series that was inspired by my website redesign (check it out at www.bennisinc.com!) So often, businesses miss the signs that they are in need of rebranding or are overwhelmed by the task and don’t know where to begin. These posts provide a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process.

Read the original blog here.

The 4 Most Powerful Words You Can Ask Someone

In between my many articles focused on communications, public relations and marketing, I also like to insert posts that are philosophical and geared toward life in general. This is one of those posts…and one of my favorites from 2015. Find out what four words I’m talking about and why we should use them today.

Read the original blog here.

7 Ways to Use a Press Release Beyond Pitching to Media

I never like to see good content go to waste which is what inspired this particular blog post on repurposing a press release. Even if you don’t get a single media hit, you have the power to get the most out of this content with how you personally promote it across your communication channels.

Read the original blog here.

5 Tips for Running a Productive Business Meeting

I love efficiency and good time management which is why I often hate sitting in boring business meetings. This blog post received a ton of love from my readers who can relate! Take a look at how you can run a more productive business meeting in 2016.

Read the original blog here.

5 Lessons My Cat Has Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Of course my cat, Pinot, had to make an appearance at least once in 2015, so this is her post. What I’ve learned by observing her actions are usually more “what not to do,” but she inspired me with some solid advice this year as well.

Read the original blog here.

How to Professionally Fire a Client

This was among the most read and shared Bennis Inc blog posts in 2015. Breaking off a bad relationship with a client is a hard and uncomfortable topic for many business owners. In this post I offer advice on how to identify these “must-go” clients and how to remain professional when showing them the door.

Read the original blog here.

Why Technology is Killing These 11 Essential Skills

So often we read about the wonderful advancements and achievements of technology, but it’s important to also stop and examine how technology may be making our life more difficult. In this blog post I challenge the “helpful” aspects of technology by pointing out 11 essential skills it is hindering in our society.

Read the original blog here.

6 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Working from Home

I am a passionate advocate for the virtual work environment, but I am also constantly learning how to balance and manage the unique challenges that come with working from home. This blog post takes a fresh look at the lessons I’ve learned specifically in 2015 about how to be efficient and effective when working from home.

Read the original blog here.

8 Reasons Why We Never Have Enough Free Time

This is the perfect post to end my top 10 list for 2015. As we hopefully get some rest over the holidays, we can all benefit from reflecting upon why we might feel like we never have enough free time. January tends to be among the most stressful and hectic months for many business owners. Prepare yourself for a calm and collected 2016 by learning about these time management pitfalls.

Read the original blog here.

Want to explore most blog posts from Stephanie Shirley and Bennis Inc? Be our guest! Click here to browse business and success, here to browse life and here to explore all the rest.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2015 in Business & Success, Life, Wisdom

 

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