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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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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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Twas the Week of Christmas…

Twas the Week of Christmas

(It’s become an annual blog tradition…a fun twist on a familiar favorite!)

Twas the week of Christmas, when all through the house
not a computer was turned on, not even a mouse.
Their cords were wrapped up in the corner with care,
in hopes that I had strength to leave them there.

Miss Pinot was nestled all snug in her bed,
while visions of toy mice danced in her head.
For once taking cue from my sleepy, gray cat,
I settled my brain for a short winter’s nap.

Is it possible to tune out all of the clatter,
to focus on Christmas and what truly matters?
No doubt it would feel different to completely unwind,
what’s the worst that could happen, we’d have a good time?

So from now until next week, the blog posts can wait
there are loved ones to hug and cookies to bake.
This short disconnect will help creativity to soar
and inspire me to write even better than before!

Until then, don’t worry what to do with your time,
make your own holidays as relaxing as mine.
Here’s my final wish before the exit I make,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a short break!”

Christmas Tree Card 2

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Life

 

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Stop Using These 9 Metrics to Measure Success

Stop Using These 9 Metrics to Measure Success

Having worked with many, many different clients over the years, I’ve had the benefit of learning how they each run their business and how they quantify success.

As you might expect, this is as unique as a fingerprint. However, one thing I did find to be common among the happiest and healthiest businesses was that they did not focus their measure of success on any of the following nine metrics I will soon discuss. To say the least, these metrics are false and misleading. They also create an imbalanced company culture which can snow ball into bigger problems down the road.

Take a look at the nine metrics for success that we all need to stop using right now!

How long you spend completing a task

Imagine how long it would take most of us to change the oil in our car. Just because we devoted hours of (frustrating) labor to this task, doesn’t mean we were any more successful than a skilled mechanic who can complete this same job in a fraction of the time. How long someone spends completing a task is not an indicator of success.

How early or late you’re accessible by phone or email

Our culture tells us that the longer we work, the more important we must be. Checking emails and answering phone calls from sunrise to sunset makes us feel like we are more successful than our peers who cut out at (gasp!) 6pm and let emails wait until normal office hours resume the next day. How early or late we allow ourselves to be accessible for work tasks is not correlated to success, but it is most certainly correlated to a work-life imbalance.

The size of your office

One of the biggest mistakes I see small businesses make is investing in a large office space they simply don’t need. There’s no denying my support of a virtual work environment for its efficiency and cost-savings. Yet, so often new entrepreneurs feel that their success must be validated with a commercial office space that is one more thing to manage and one more bill to pay. The size of your office is not an indicator of success. Many high-profile business owners and CEOs throughout history have worked from their home, out of a basement or garage or voluntarily took the smallest office space in their building.

The size of your staff

Similar to the size of your office, the size of your staff doesn’t indicate success any more than the size of an SUV indicates the stature of the person driving it. All of these items can be obtained by people who are barely able to pay the bills each month – all for the perception of looking “bigger” than what they are. Work to keep your overhead as low as possible and instead focus on the size of your profit margins.

Fancy stationary

One of my biggest pet peeves is working with a client who claims to have a shoestring marketing budget, but who then pays an invoice with a slew of unnecessary collateral materials that were certainly not cheap. Custom-printed checks, stationary, envelopes and embossed business cards will not be what (solely) seals the deal with your client – a good communications strategy will. Don’t mistakenly use this as a metric for success and instead smartly invest your marketing dollars elsewhere.

The number of business cards you hand out

Speaking of business cards, loading up on thousands of these paper rectangles and then tossing them out like confetti at a networking function will not build meaningful relationships with fellow professionals and may actually make a bad first impression. Handing out hundreds of business cards a day (without any strategy or follow-up) is not a useful metric for success. Anyone can do that – including small children and robots.

The clutter in your inbox

Busyness does not equate to productivity and a cluttered inbox does not equate to success. Hundreds of unread emails may look impressive at first glance, but when the majority of these messages are spam, promotions and auto-responses, you are merely trying to convince yourself you’re important. I tend to treat my inbox like my to-do list. The few messages I leave there require my attention and usually receive it within a day. All other messages are read, discarded or filed into their appropriate sub folder. To someone else looking at my inbox, I may look like I’ve had a pretty easy day. But I’m okay with that because I know that this is not an indicator of success.

The number of meetings you attend

During my time spent working in government, I experienced just how much time can be wasted in meetings. People loved to schedule meetings and conference calls to basically fill their entire work day. This would then give them the need to stay late to actually accomplish anything, perpetuating this false measurement of success. The number of meetings you attend does not equate to a successful day or your level of importance within a company. In fact, the people who often have important work to do find any excuse to get out of these meetings and get back to their computers.

Social media likes, followers and interactions

Finally, and this one may shock you, the number of interactions you receive on social media is not an indicator of success. You may say, “Well then why are we told to spend so much time and money on establishing a social media presence to build our business?” I’m not discounting the effectiveness of a strategic social media plan as part of a larger marketing effort, but I am offering a friendly reminder that you and your business are worth far more than the number of likes you have on your fan page.

Likes can be easily bought and interactions can be skewed to the point where it’s hard to tell what, if any part of your sales are a direct result of someone following you on social media. Stop making this the focus of every sales and marketing meeting!

What should be our metrics for success?

…Quality and productivity!

There is one philosophy all businesses would benefit from embracing, and that’s simply to “Get it done…right!” Quality and productivity are the two metrics that we should use to measure the success of our day and the overall success of our business. Did we deliver quality work in a productive manner? The businesses that embody this philosophy and promote this culture to its employees are the ones that are thriving.

Did you knock everything off your to-do list by 3pm? Great, see you tomorrow! Do you need to spend a few extra hours perfecting a project you know your client will love? Maybe you work a little late tonight, but you know it will pay off in the end. Stop comparing hours, square-footage, email count and boxes of business cards. Instead, “Work hard in silence and let success make the noise.”

Which of these metrics do you most commonly see misused to measure success? Share the outcomes by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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Finding Stability In Constant Change

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!


Finding Stability In Constant ChangeAsk a business owner, entrepreneur or self-employed person to describe the qualities of their chosen career path and I would be shocked to hear them use the word “stable.” Stability is a very desirable perk for any job that simply isn’t in the description of entrepreneurship. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have willingly ventured down this path. We know what we signed up for – and we also know the benefits that offset the lack of stability. But is it possible for the chaos-embracing entrepreneur to find stability amidst this constant change? Can change be turned into a constant?

I think so.

Each day is wildly different. There is little rhythm to the type of projects I work on day to day and month to month. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because so much of my work is hard to plan for or anticipate, I’ve found stability in creating a schedule for the work I do complete on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, each morning my to-do list always begins with logging on to WordPress and commenting on five other blogs. Every Friday I write my Bennis Inc blog post for the following week. Then of course there is the client work that is regular and reoccurring such as scheduling social media updates or blog writing that gain a place in my work “schedule.” By having a set time carved out in my schedule for this anticipated work, I can then dedicate my remaining time to the unanticipated – and sometimes urgent – projects that always come up. Not only is this good time management, but it gives me a feeling of stability and regularity amidst the ever-changing variety and quantity of my work.

Another way in which I’ve learned to feel stable in a career field that most certainly is not is that I’ve changed the way in which I view contracted work. Each month my work may change, but what won’t change is my ability to seek out new work as I need it. With the skill to hunt you’ll never go hungry. Even as clients come and go, I never run the same risk of having my income go to zero in one day’s time. It would be a slow and gradual process for which I could react and prepare. In other words, I don’t carry the same fear as someone who could be laid off. So while there is stability in a regular income and a bi-weekly paycheck, there is always the risk that it could all come to a halt almost instantly. As a traditional employee, the process of being interviewed, hired and placed on payroll is much longer than signing a new client. And due to contracts, I will always have at least one month’s notice of losing a client rather than only receiving a pink slip and the rest of the day to clear my desk. Realizing this unique benefit of entrepreneurship, I now know stability can be found in the confidence I have to always be able to seek out new clients and more work.

The career path of the self-emplyed is in no way predictable or certain, but if you look in the right places you will find that stability does exist. It may not make for the biggest lifeboat, but it can still help to keep you afloat until you can again find calm waters.

 
 

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