Guard Your Time, Prioritize Your Creative Work

This morning I re-read a semi-famous essay written by Paul Graham, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, computer scientist, author, and founder, with his wife, Jessica Livingston, of Y Combinator.

In the essay, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule,” Graham talks about the difference between the two kinds of schedules, and how disruptive it can be if you’re a “maker” being forced to conform to a “manager’s” schedule.

Here’s how Graham describes the two schedules:

“The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.”

The first time I read Graham’s essay, it struck me that this was why I wasn’t as successful as I would have liked in my first advertising agency job many years ago.

“You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.”

As a writer/copywriter in an ad agency, you’re expected to switch tasks constantly. Maybe, not usually, but maybe, you get 3 or more solid hours to work on a single project, uninterrupted.

Even so, you’re not really uninterrupted. Your phone is ringing, and you’re expected to answer it. Your emails are coming in, and if it’s a client, you’re expected to reply. In a typical agency setting, most everyone leaves their email on in the background, most of the time. If you work in an open concept office, which describes most offices these days, other people’s phones are ringing, people are chit-chatting within your earshot, people are coming and going in and out of the office, and there’s not much you can do to avoid being privy to it all. There is no truly quiet space in which to do “deep work” for an extended period of time.

Deep work is a concept defined by author and computer science professor Cal Newport. Newport describes deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”

Better results, in less time. That’s valuable.

In an agency setting, the in-demand skill is not the ability to do deep work. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The ability to do deep work may be prized, but only if you can do it with multiple interruptions and distractions constantly swirling about you at all times.

Instead, the skill that gets privileged is the ability to switch tasks and juggle loads of projects at once, while giving equal time, effort, energy and attention to all of them. AND create amazing work – FAST.

Wanting 4-5 uninterrupted hours to create something excellent, in a quiet space, with no distractions, will most likely be seen as an unnecessary indulgence, if not a straight-up weakness in your ability to “produce.”

If you can’t do great work, calmly and unflappably, in this kind of distraction-rich setting, then you may not be cut out for the agency work environment.

When I binge watch Mad Men, the thing that strikes me most, beyond the massive day-drinking and the gross womanizing, is offices with doors that close. Managers have them, copywriters have them, even some of the art guys have them. It’s the one thing about that show that makes me salivate with envy.

But most workplaces aren’t like this, so there’s an inherent conflict – the writer, designer or other creative likely needs large chunks of time, without distraction, to do truly outstanding work. But this isn’t always possible. Which leads to a stress, anxiety, and the constant worry that you many not be doing your best work.

(To be clear, I’m not raking ad agencies over the coals. Many other kinds of workplace environments are also just like this, and I’ve worked in a few of them. And I’m not talking about all ad agencies, either. Some are much more humane and nurturing when it comes to providing a space for the creative person to do their best work.)

I’m an introvert, and a maker. Kind of a double whammy. Because of this, I still haven’t figured out how to handle interruptions to my work flow as well as I’d like.

Take client calls, for example.

Client calls are entirely necessary for the kind of work I do. I have onboarding calls with new clients, copy review calls, monthly check-in calls with retainer clients, and so on. Because I’m an introvert, even one, one-hour call means at least an hour afterwards to decompress and get my head back in the game for the next task. This would be impossible in a typical office setting.

One of the reasons I prize working for myself is that I can mostly dictate my schedule and the atmosphere in which I create. This ensures I can do quality work. My working environment is quiet. No ringing phones, no people coming in and out. No coworkers chatting all around me, no UPS/restaurant/FedEx delivery people asking where is this or that person, or can I sign for a package. No emails in the background, ever, when I’m working, and no freaking meetings.

Alas, I still haven’t figured out client calls.

I used to do this thing where if I had three calls in one week, I’d schedule them over 3-5 days, so I’d never have more than one call per day. This makes sense, because I’m trying to guard my time and prioritize the deep work necessary to produce excellent creative work.

And yet.

Just one call in a day often threw me off my game.

Take a recent Friday, when I had three client calls scheduled. For an introvert, this is a lot. But grouping them together in the same day made sense, I thought. Get them all out of the way in one day, rather than spread over several, which I find exhausting.

After each call, I need to decompress for a bit. So I can’t get much done, other than call, decompress, call, decompress, call, decompress, all day. Even though I scheduled my calls hours apart – at 11:00 am, at 2:30 pm, and at 6:00 pm – I’m still woefully unable to commit to anything requiring deep work for the day. The day is shot for that.

Now once a week is not that big a deal, in the scheme of things. But I think back to jobs I’ve had where pockets of time to do deep work was always in short supply, and that there, my friends – a day of constant calls, meetings, and other interruptions – is simply standard operating procedure in most workplaces.

And it is precisely why you may not be able to do the quality of work you’re capable of, if you’re a creative, a maker, and an introvert.

So, what to do?

For me, I no longer kid myself that I can do my best creative work in a typical office setting. I usually work best in solitude. I produce good work when I have time for deep work. I can’t schedule calls on days when I need space and quiet to complete an important project.

I also (mostly) no longer feel guilty when I turn off my email for hours at a time and put my phone in the next room while working on something that requires intense focus.  

It’s taken me many years to get here, but I’ve begun to value the way I do my best work enough to guard my time and prioritize my creative work, whether it’s a client project or my own writing.

Some days are better than others, of course. On the “bad” days, I’m pulled into the undertow of distraction, even when I’m working at home alone. One dip into mail, “just for 10 minutes,” often becomes two hours of wasted time.

So, you know, it’s a process.

But the important thing I’ve found, and the thing that’s really helped me, is letting go of the guilt I often felt for not being able to work well in a distraction-rich environment.  

It’s so important to know the circumstances under which you do your best creative work, and to prioritize that kind of work environment, without feeling a shred of guilt or remorse about it.

Starting Over: New Home, New Life, New-ish Business, All New Outlook

I recently moved into a new place – finally – after close to two years of living with various roommates and friends.

After two years of upheaval and drama and trauma and stress.

Two years of sands forever shifting beneath my feet.

Two years of just barely hanging on at times.

Two years of weepy conversations with my best girlfriends about how to get myself out of a bad situation. One I never, ever, dreamed I’d find myself in.

Two years of enormous changes, some good, some bad, some very bad.

But I’ve found stability again.

At last, hal-le-lu-yer, at long last!!

As of June 15, 2018, I’m in my own place again.

Last week, my best friend came over with a beautiful bunch of roses and a bottle of Vueve Clicquot champagne to celebrate my new digs.

Two nights ago, she came over again and set up my desk, while I was pouring us some wine.

The desk at which I can laser focus on my copywriting business again, and my vision for what I want it to become.

And where I can also focus on my vision for my writing projects outside copywriting, of which there are many.

While I can’t share all the details publicly about what went down in the last two years, I can share a few, in the form of a timeline, to give you an idea of why this peaceful, calm environment I now find myself in is so darn meaningful, and what it means for the next phase of my business.

:: Early June 2016 – Living on the coast of North Carolina in my favorite beach town. Running my copywriting business from my home office in my tiny, 600 sq. ft. apartment.

:: Mid-June 2016 – Begin feeling lonely, sad, disconnected.

:: Early-ish July 2016 – Hmm, this is beginning to feel like full-blown depression. Nah, maybe it’ll pass. I’m probably just stressed about work stuff.

:: Later July 2016: OMG, what is wrong with me? This isn’t just feeling sad and stressed. This feels bigger, scarier, and more distressing than that. I need to make some massive changes, or this will not end well. Not to be melodramatic or anything. Plus, this incessant weeping is making my face look puffy.

:: July & August 2016: Not feeling better yet, I start journaling obsessively as way to metabolize what’s happening and make a decision about what to do next. First up, I decide to do a few small things daily to make myself feel better, such as: taking a walk to the mailbox (a 15-minute round-trip), watching something funny on YouTube, calling or texting a friend, listening to Joel Osteen podcasts on repeat, writing in my journal, reading interviews with my favorite authors, brainstorming ideas for essays, books and blog posts I’ll write, and so on. These things seem to help.

:: Late August 2016: I give my 60 day move out notice to my landlord. My daily journaling has unearthed a desire to move back to the Triad area of North Carolina, where I’m from, where my brother and sister live, and where I have friends I’ve known for 30+ years. I decide to do this in late October / early November 2016. This area is four hours and 200+ miles from where I currently live on the coast, so it’s going to be more than your standard move. But I know in my bones this is exactly what I need to do.

:: September 2016: I start looking on craigs list for a roommate situation in Greensboro, NC. I want to do the roommate thing for the first 6-12 months in my new / old hometown while I get my ducks in a row. Yeehaw, I find somebody great! I visit her for a weekend and stay in what will be my bedroom. It’s a gorgeous house in a gorgeous neighborhood. We get along well. This feels right.

:: October 30, 2016: I move into my place. It turns out to be a terrible, awful, extremely ill-advised idea, which I couldn’t have known at the time. The roommate is a wonderful person, really lovely, but there are some addiction issues. Which to be fair, she told me about before I moved in. But she also said she was in recovery, and fully committed to her sobriety. Unfortunately, I was the fool who believed it.

:: November 1, 2016 – January 18, 2018: I don’t even know where to begin. Multiple hospitalizations, rehab stays, and visits to our home from EMS and the local police department, (including the time there were close to a dozen officers on our doorstep and in the front hallway, some of them armed to the fucking nines, with rifles), interspersed with periods of calm, peaceful sobriety.

From day to day, I never know what to expect. I wake up each morning, knowing that today is a total crapshoot, a spin of the roulette wheel. Maybe it will be “normal,” reliably calm, with no crazy-ass drama. And some days it is that way. Other days, just the opposite.

I can never fully relax and focus on my work, building my business, or anything else. My business suffers. Terribly. My mental health suffers. Dreadfully. I’m turning into a jumpy wreck of a person, nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers, as my dad used to say, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

I know I should probably just move out, but I really want to believe her when she says she desperately wants to get and stay sober. I believe she believes that. And I don’t want to leave her in a bind with the rent. So each time there’s a relapse, I’m willing to give it another go when she says, “Please give me another chance, I promise it’s going to be different this time.”

:: January 18, 2018: No more. I’m at my wit’s end. I’m going to lose what’s left of my remaining marbles, the gossamer strands of sanity that are miraculously still intact, if I don’t make a change, ASAP. Just back from another stint in rehab in mid-January, she relapses again just a few days later. On Thursday January 18, I decide my safety, happiness, and mental health are much more important than trying to help someone by staying in a situation that frankly, feels like a lost cause. How many times does the promise have to be broken before I wise up and move out? Geez, Kimberly.

I call a friend who agrees to come over that Saturday, January 20, to help me get moved out. I’ve already lined up a wonderful place to live with someone who is sober and drama-free. Her home is peaceful, and sane. Huge sigh of relief.

:: January 20 – March 4, 2018: I live in this pleasant situation for a little over six weeks. Then I decide that I need to bring even more stability to my life, so I set about looking for a J-O-B. I figure I’ll do something 9-5, Monday- Friday, in my field of copywriting and marketing, while I continue running my copywriting business as a “side hustle,” at least for now. Or maybe I’ll give up the copywriting business altogether, because I’m just so tired, so very, very tired and depleted from the chaos and drama of the last 18 months.

Lo and behold, I do get a job, as a Copywriter / PR Specialist at a wonderful advertising and marketing agency in the next town over, 40-ish minutes west of where I’m currently living. I move again.

:: March 5, 2018: I begin my new job, woohoo! I move in with my best friend of 30+ years, who happens to live in the town where I get the job. This living situation is temporary, until I get settled in my new job and new town, at which point, I’ll get my own place.

:: March 5 – May 18, 2018: Gosh, how I love my co-workers, the workspace itself, and even the work too, but I know 2-3 weeks in this isn’t the best fit. Have I been working for myself too long? Am I not 9-5 employee material anymore? Is there something terribly wrong with me? I wanted a full-time job, in my field, working with great people on great projects, and I got exactly that.

What in the world is my problem? But I can’t ignore the fact that I haven’t slept in the 2.5 months since starting this job, my stomach has been in knots the entire time, and I’ve been deeply unhappy and stressed.

This does not go unnoticed. Perceptive and kind people that they are, the president and VP of the agency, and my immediate boss, chat with me one Friday afternoon about the situation. They notice I don’t seem happy. They notice I seem stressed much of the time. They want me to enjoy being there; quality of life is one of their highest values. They ask what we can all do to make things better, to make it possible that we can continue working together. We all decide I’ll go to contract status, something I desperately wanted, but was afraid to ask for. Another enormous sigh of relief.

:: May 21, 2018: I’m now contract status at the ad / marketing agency, and I feel almost delirious with joy, almost instantly.

:: June 15, 2018: I move into my new apartment. More joy. New beginnings. My address, in fact, is on “New Drive.” I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Now that I FINALLY, at long last, two years on, have some peace in my life, what does it means for the next phase of my business?

  • Well, for one thing, now that I’m not a full-time employee anymore, I’m taking on copywriting, marketing, and website review clients again.
  • I’m revising a couple of my current offerings, and adding 2-3 all-new offerings (to be announced this summer).
  • I’m developing an all-new opt-in incentive, a free e-course on how to create a magnetic marketing message, so you can get more business, bookings, and sales (to be released this summer). I am soooo excited about this!
  • I’m phasing out one-off client projects, and transitioning to longer-term engagements with clients.
  • I’m creating a digital product to help creatives improve their websites and web marketing, so they can more easily call in and convert their ideal clients, to be released by the end of the year.
  • And I have a few other business things in development up my sleeve as well.
  • I’ll also be spending more time on my non-copywriting-related writing projects. Lots of stuff happening there.

That’s the short list. I won’t bore you with the long one.

Over the last two years I’ve prayed for guidance many, many times for the answer to what course of action I should take – should I get a full-time job, continue building my copywriting business, or do some combination of the two? Should I stick with copywriting and marketing, or go into a different line of work entirely? Should I stay where I am, or move to a different city? Or should I drop out of life altogether, and figure out a way to travel the world? You know, just run away from it all, far, FAR away.  

Somewhere in there, among the prayers and the doubts and the questions, I told myself, instead of trying to figure everything out to the nth degree all on my own, I’ll leave myself open to guidance – from where ever. I decided to trust, and have faith. Not an easy thing for someone who always likes to know the next step, and the next, and the next one after that.

As airy-fairy and woo woo as it sounds, I feel like I’m being lead in the direction I’m meant to go in. As if the last two years, as challenging and exceedingly difficult as they’ve been, have a profound purpose that’s meant to serve me, that I can use to serve others. I don’t yet know what that purpose is or how I will use what I’ve been through to benefit others, but all will be revealed, I believe.

Right now, I’m just taking it day by day (while of course doing some planning for the future. I mean, c’mon, I can’t change who I am entirely, right?)

I don’t know if this is the right approach for everybody, but it’s the right one for me, right now.

I’m trying my best to live by the Martin Luther King, Jr. advice: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

So, no real copywriting or marketing advice here.  But I hope that my convoluted, messed up, chaotic, drama-filled and wacky journey over the last two years, and the fact that I’m still hopeful, ready and eager to go after my goals with gusto, proves that you can withstand a crap ton of challenging BS, and still come out ready to rock your life plans.

Dumb Decisions, Smart Moves, Flaky People & Amazing New Clients: 2017 Year in Review + 2018 Business Changes

My last blog post for the year was going to be a meaty, lengthy post full of actionable advice about how to do your own website audit. Fairly simple changes you can implement on your own to increase conversions, client inquiries, customers, and closed business, all from your online presence.

I planned to share the exact step-by-step process I use when I do a site audit for my private clients – elements I review, changes I suggest, and key things to revise so the website begins to perform and convert better instantly.

Then I thought, Nooooo, why don’t I write one of those year in review posts errrrrybody seems to do this time of year? I mean sure, I despise clichés, and that kind of post falls squarely into the clichéd category, but what the H-E-double-hockeysticks? It’s what I feel like doing.

[By the way, I will be writing a post about how to do your own website in 1Q 2018.  Never fear.]

So, about 2017.

It’s no exaggeration to say this year was the most stressful, distressing, challenging and confounding year of my life, full stop. I can’t share the details publicly (I know, I know, I hate it when someone says, oh, this awful thing happened, oh, this terrible thing happened, but I can’t tell you what it was, la de dah. But it’s important to protect the privacy of the other actors, so I simply can’t).

Anyhoo . . .

Here are my 2017 highlights and lowlights.

 

A few lowlights:

:: The afore-mentioned chaos that I can’t really mention. It lasted for most of the year, and seriously compromised my ability to grow my business in any meaningful way. As an added bonus, my mental and physical health suffered too.

:: Doing far too many one-off projects for clients, and not enough larger, long-term client engagements. I loved the smaller projects I worked on in 2017, but juggling between 6-10+ projects & clients at once is simply too much. This changes in 2018. More on that below.

:: Flaky, non-serious potential clients who waste everyone’s time. These are people, for example, who reach out to inquire about working together, set up an initial call to discuss their project, then don’t show up for the call. I even had one guy flake out TWICE on this free call, then ask if he could reschedule for a third time. UM, HELL TO THE NO. No wonder the dude’s business is in the tanker. 

Side note: I love offering this free 20-30 minute “get acquainted call” to potential clients, because it helps me learn about their business, their goals, and the copywriting project they have in mind. And I have no problem if, after talking, the client decides not to work with me. That’s totally cool. But going forward in 2018, I may begin charging for this call.

:: Clients who don’t understand the fundamental difference between website copy (copy meant to inspire a particular action or set of actions and get very specific results), and airy-fairy brochure copy or other kinds of copy. Said client hires you to write their website because you’re an expert in website copy, but wants you to write hippy-dippy ineffective brochure copy for their website, that would be a total disaster on a website. And no amount of trying to explain why this won’t work, never has worked, and never will work, will change their mind. So frustrating.

:: I barely worked on my own writing in 2017 (writing that has nothing to do with my copywriting business). That changes in 2018. I have a novel, several essays, and other big-ish writing projects in progress, and in 2018 they’ll get much more attention.

A few highlights:

:: I got much clearer on my ideal clients and narrowed my niche. My focus now is less on beginners who are just starting to create a compelling online presence, and more on those who have been in business awhile. They are beyond the bootstrapping stage and ready to make a serious investment into copywriting and web marketing for their business.

:: I worked with some amazing people and businesses this year. I can’t list them all here because I haven’t asked their permission to do so, but (almost) each and every one was a total joy and a pleasure to work with.  

:: One of the most exciting projects I landed was with a group of commercial photographers in Canada. These guys are wildly talented, do incredible, cutting-edge work, and are probably the nicest guys on the planet. I’m currently writing their website, and looking forward to more projects with them once the website copy is finalized.  

:: I joined a terrific online business support group called Unf*ckwithable Girlfriends.  Created by Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project, this group is the best place online for kickass, real-world, results-getting business AND life advice. It’s unlike any other online group I’ve ever experienced.

:: I joined another excellent FB group at the tail-end of the year called The Copywriter Club, a group for copywriters and content creators only. After a couple hours spent reading through previous posts in the group, I can see the content is top-notch, and the group is full of superior quality copywriters and content creators. I’m going to love this group.

Before I get to the business changes I have planned for 2018, here are a few other highlights from my year, of the non-business-related variety.

:: Because I moved back to my hometown in late 2016, I got to spend lots more time with my family this year, and with dear friends I’ve known so long they feel like family. This was one of the true highlights of 2017.

:: I discovered the comedian Maria Bamford, and the show Lady Dynamite, on Netflix. I am obsessed with this show. I’m pretty sure it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched both seasons of the show, along with both of her comedy specials currently on Netflix, TWICE. Damn, she’s funny, and different, and quirky, and owns it.

Watch this one hilarious clip, then do yourself a solid and watch her material on Netflix if you have an opportunity. So, so good.

:: I found a great church that feels like home, and have been attending since December 2016. This is a HUGE deal for me, as I haven’t gone to church regularly since I was a little, little kid.

:: I did a 5K in December 2017 called Running of the Balls. Ok, I walked the 5K, together with a group of friends with who also walked it, but still. It was the most fun I’ve ever had outdoors on a Saturday night in 30-degree weather!

[I’m in the second row, sporting the candy-cane headwear. 🙂 ]

:: I went to some wonderful author events this year: David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and Wiley Cash. Each one was a gem.

Here’s how David Sedaris signed my book [LOVE it]:

:: I read some great books this year, among them:

Nonfiction  

The Accidental Life: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers, by Terry McDonnell

Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, by David Sedaris

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, etc., by David Sedaris

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, by Pat Conroy

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love and Writing, by Jennifer Weiner

The New Old Me, by Meredith Maran

Lust and Wonder, by Augusten Burroughs

Fiction

Siracusa, by Delia Ephron

Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

Now, onto the Business Changes

I’ll still be writing client-attracting and results-generating website copy and other persuasive marketing communications for creative business builders, and offering web marketing consulting for select clients.

But other things are going the way of the Dodo bird.

The biggest shift is that I’ll be doing far less one-off project work, and working on larger copywriting projects & longer-term client engagements.

:: This means, in effect, that I’ll no longer be available to write single pages of website copy for clients. For example, writing a single About page, or Home page, or Services page, or other single stand-alone page of website copy, etc., except under special circumstances,* has gone away forever.

(*Special circumstances being either: we’ve previously worked together, in which case you get special privileges, OR, I just happen to have an unexpected opening in my project schedule for a one-page copy project, which is rare.)

:: The other immediate change is that the investment for my Creating Better Copy Personalized Help Session increased from $97 to $197 as of January 1, 2018. This service is for you if you need a customized-for-you answer to your top copywriting challenges, and clear ideas for improving your website copy ASAP to more effectively call in and convert your ideal clients. The Creating Better Copy Personalized Help Session is You + Me + a One Hour Private Workshop to address your most pressing web copy challenges right now.

:: In 1Q 2018, I’ll be launching a beta version of my course for wedding, portrait and lifestyle photographers, 30 Days to a Magnetic Marketing Message That Sells. Based on the feedback from the beta, I’ll release an “official” version of the course later in the year.

That’s about it for now.

I’ll be launching new services in 2018, but I haven’t worked out all the details yet. I also plan to create some copywriting resources for the DIY-ers out there who want to write their own copy, and just need detailed copy templates to get going. New free downloads, including an e-course on how to determine your ideal clients and unique selling proposition, or “meaningful difference,” as I like to call it, are also in the works.

I hope you also have plans and projects you’re excited about! 🙂

Here’s to a most excellent and magical 2018, in which all your business (and other!) dreams come true!

You DO NOT Have to Do It “Their” Way to Succeed in Business (AKA, Online Business Practices That Kinda Make My Skin Crawl)

I have this annoying habit of reading certain emails, certain websites, and certain articles that I know are going to make me angry, and yet, I read them anyway. It’s almost like I actively want to feel aggrieved.

And I’m not just talking about articles on the terrible death spiral our country has been in since the 2016 election, either. Though I must admit, I read my fair share of those too.

No, I’m talking about the emails, newsletters, websites, and blogs that tell us all the things we “must” do online to succeed in business.

But Do You, Really?

I subscribe to many newsletters and read many blogs about marketing, copywriting, list-building, traffic generation, and multiple other topics about doing business online.

As someone who writes marketing copy for solopreneurs and small businesses, and advises on web marketing, I have to keep up with these things. Heck, I want to keep up with these things. I genuinely find these topics interesting. I’m a nerd like that.

But many of the things on the online business success “must do” list make my skin crawl a little. Which is to say, they would be out of integrity for me to do, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad, or that the folks who employ these tactics are “bad.” They simply don’t jibe with the way I like to do business.

(There are a couple things on that list, however, that I find straight up unethical. I’ve placed an asterisk next to any of those practices on the list below.)

What I want to stress about the following list is that you DO NOT have do any of these things to succeed online. If you want to try some of these tactics, that’s cool too. The point is, you do you. Do what feels right and comfortable for you.  

Don’t feel pressured to do what some so-called “expert” says to do, just because it worked for them. Heck, don’t feel pressured to do anything I talk about on this blog either, for that matter. Unless it makes sense and feels right for you.

(The exception to this is ethical, legit marketing, sales, or business practices that you know would move your business forward, but make you feel uncomfortable or scared, or feel like too much work. We all gotta do that stuff that makes us feel uncomfortable to make progress on our dreams.)

BUT – just because some online “guru” says you must use push notifications, or do a retargeting campaign, or buy Facebook ads, or “invest in yourself” by joining their program, or do this or that “hack,” doesn’t mean you’ll fail if you don’t.

It absolutely, positively, does not mean you’ll fail if you don’t.

Online Business Practices That Make My Skin Crawl

#1: Calling people who teach online “gurus.” In my mind, a guru is a spiritual teacher or guide (yes, I know a word can have more than one meaning, and yes, I know I used the word “guru” above.) The word has been overused to the point of becoming a giant cliché to describe those hawking their wares online, and has therefore become meaningless.

#2: Light bullying and/or shaming, disguised as a “sales technique,” i.e., when people selling their courses or programs tell you if you don’t invest in their program that you’re not committed to investing in yourself, or that when you say you can’t afford it, you really can, it’s just that you’re not prioritizing your success. Or you’re afraid of success. Or failure. Or digging in and doing the work. Or a handful of other lame BS.*

This kind of sales “tactic” always strikes me as light bullying, or at the very least, light shaming. Which it is. It’s also the height of privilege and arrogance. If you tell a single parent with $27 in their bank account and no other financial resources to draw upon that they just don’t want success bad enough, I mean, C’MON. WTF?

Sure, there are times we tell ourselves we can’t afford something when in fact it’s just not a priority us for right now. I get that fear, not affordability, sometimes keeps us from doing things that would be good for our businesses. That dynamic exists.  It’s happened to me.

On the other hand, there were times early on in my business when I wanted to invest in a course or program, yet only had enough in my bank account to pay that month’s bills. And shelling out $600 or $2200 or $3600 (all amounts I’ve paid for training and courses) would have meant I couldn’t pay for the really important things that month, like rent, or health insurance. And yet, if the copy on the course creator’s sales page is to be believed, I just didn’t care enough about my success, or believe in myself, or want it badly enough.

When I send a sales email for my own services, I say something along the lines of, “If this is right for you, great! I’d love to work with you. And if it’s not the right time, no worries.” I often say things like, “there will be no arm-twisting to get you to buy.” What I don’t do is try to make someone feel in any way “less than” if they don’t want to buy, have other priorities, or simply don’t want my thing, whatever it is.

#3: The language often used to describe potential clients and customers. For example, referring to real, live, human beings, with thoughts and feelings and wishes and hopes and dreams and fears as “leads,” “prospects,” “conversions,” or similar. Now I’ll admit, I’ve used the words “leads” and “prospects” in my blog posts and in my weekly newsletter from time to time. I wish I could say I hadn’t. But I haven’t done it with any real frequency, and not in a long time, once it started to get under my skin how dehumanizing it felt to refer to flesh and blood people that way. I typically use the term “potential clients” or similar.

What I find truly heinous though, is blog posts with titles like, “Best ways to push prospects down the marketing funnel.” Really? I don’t want to push anyone anywhere, and especially not “down the marketing funnel.”

In another example of language I find troubling, a recent email from a successful copywriter I respect and admire kind of floored me by talking about how people with “unrelenting standards” are often “easy prey for good salesmanship” due to their competitive nature. That’s more than a little distasteful.*

I don’t think of the people who might be interested in my services as “prey.” They’re either right for what I offer or not, and if not, that’s totally cool. I’m not on the “hunt” for folks who might be an easy mark, and I would hate to feel like someone became a “casualty” of my sales campaign. Goodness gracious.

I’m sure there are plenty of A-list marketers and copywriters who would laugh at my naiveté or unwillingness to go aggressive, or to use tried-and-true copywriting and sales techniques like the ones described above, but that’s ok. I do what feels right for me, and you can do the same.

#4: Push notifications on websites. Ok, ok, call me too sensitive. I know some people love to receive push notifications, but when I’m on a website and that little notice appears at the top of the site asking me if I’d like to receive “push notifications,” I instantly click no. [While thinking, “No, no, hell no, not in a million years, NOOOO!”] I think it has something to do with the word “push.” Language is powerful, my friends. If were called something less aggressive, like “updates” or similar, it wouldn’t bother me.

#5: Retargeting Campaigns, otherwise known as being stalked relentlessly, unceasingly, and annoyingly all over the internet by a marketer/website owner whose site you may have visited once, in a brief moment of curiosity, which has forever doomed you to seeing their ads all over the internets.

Here’s a more “official” definition of retargeting from Moz.com: Retargeting is “a form of marketing in which you target users who have previously visited your website with banner ads on display networks across the web.”

Let me just say there are many people online I respect and admire who use retargeting. Which is fine for them, but it’s just not my cup of tea. It feels predatory, aggressive, and a little desperate. Like a party guest you made pleasant conversation with for two minutes, who then follows you around the rest of the night at said party, butting into your conversations, invading your personal space, and otherwise attaching themselves to you like a barnacle. Maybe, even, asking for your number, though you are clearly not interested, and following you out to the parking lot when you leave. You just can’t get away from this leech.  All because you expressed the tiniest bit of attentiveness during your initial conversation. But you were just being polite. Yep, that’s what retargeting feels like when it’s being “done” to me.

#6: Overly aggressive/demanding or trying-too-hard-to-be-provocative email subject lines.  I’ll admit it, I don’t like being told what to do. So when I see a subject line that reads “Urgent, open up!,” I will not. Unless it’s from my doctor, an email with a subject line like that always gets an instant delete from me. Because your course or program or sale is going away at midnight tonight doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency; I wouldn’t even consider it “urgent.”

Ditto, subject lines like, “You’re not going to like this email.” My first thought is, “Good, I can delete it then!” And then I do.

#7: Countdown timers. Again, there are people online I adore, whose products and programs I’ve happily purchased, who use countdown timers on their sales pages and in their marketing emails. They work. Yes, I know you need to use urgency to get people who could really benefit from your program off the fence, blah, blah, blah, I know people tend to procrastinate until the last possible moment, blah, blah, blah. But they’re just not my jam. And there are other ways to communicate that an offer is going away, by, for example, saying the offer is going away.

#8: List posts. Yes, yes, yes, I know they still work to a degree. Heck, some people have even made a big name for themselves online and gotten a 6-figure book deal out of writing what boils down to list posts. All good. I’ve written what might be considered a “list post” on this blog a few times. But I’d never want to make a habit of it, as it can feel derivative and cliché.

#9: “Hacks.” Am I the only one tired to near death of “hacks?” Hack this, hack that. Marketing hacks, growth hacks, content hacks, copy hacks, conversion hacks. I’m weary just writing this sentence. Make it stop. [By the way, Paul Jarvis wrote an excellent article about the practice of growth hacking called, “I don’t wanna grow up to be a growth hacker.”]

#10: The white maleness and tropes of online marketing. Hoo boy. This is a BIG topic, and deserves a fully dedicated blog post all its own. In fact, I’ve already started writing it. So I’ll leave elaborating on this one for another day.

Filters

When it comes to online marketing and business practices, I often think of those people and businesses online I adore, respect, and admire, and how they do things. And I might use those people and businesses as a filter when considering a tactic or technique I want to try.

The top three that come to mind for me are Ash Ambirge [The Middle Finger Project], Alexandra Franzen, and Danielle LaPorte. They all have wildly successful businesses, yet none of them employ any of the practices above.  Which is one of the reasons I love ‘em so.

The bottom line is, you can do things your way, ignore all the tactics, techniques, “hacks,” and whatnot online marketing “experts” tell you you must do, and still be successful. Wildly so. And at the end of the day, still walk away with your integrity and dignity intact.

 

Some Notes on Determination

Determination.

Sometimes it kicks in at the exact moment you need it.

I surely would have given up on my business this year without it.

In fact, I almost did.

The last eighteen months around here have been wildly challenging, confronting, and just dang difficult. Most of it I can’t share publicly, but suffice it to say that I find it miraculous, given all that’s transpired, that I’m still running my solo business and haven’t voluntarily checked myself into Butner.

That series of events, combined with a recent slow business month, had me convinced I should seriously consider chucking the business altogether and go get myself a . . . gasp . . . j-o-b.

You know, consistent bi-weekly paycheck, employer paid health insurance, paid vacay, a team of colleagues to interact with, opportunities to advance, the whole nine.

Is Getting a 9-5 Really the Answer?

I thought about it and I thought about it, and finding a 9-5 job in the copywriting and digital marketing field felt like the best decision I could make under the circumstances.

I was exhausted; I felt like I simply didn’t have the energy to hustle in my business the way I wanted/needed to, and work out the stuff going in my personal life at the same time.

So I started spending 4-6 hours of my precious business time each week job searching online, researching companies, writing kick-ass cover letters, tweaking and polishing my resume, and sending said resume for jobs I thought I was a great fit for.

Lo and behold, I got an interview pretty quickly after I set this in motion. With a big, global company, for a copywriter/editor position I would have loved to have. With a nice salary, regular paycheck, and good benefits. Etc.

Can I tell you how excited I was?!?!

Wow, I thought, this could be a dream come true! The answer to my prayers! Working with a team again, instead by myself at the dining room table most days! Knowing exactly how much I’m going to earn! Direct deposits into my bank account twice a month! Relying on someone else to make all the work-related decisions!

I really, really want this, I thought. This would be absolute bliss, I thought.

You know what happened?

My car broke down on way to interview, no kidding. Still, I was only four minutes late. I called my HR contact and the person I was interviewing with, and they were both kind and understanding about it.

Alas, I must not have sold my candidacy convincingly enough, because they didn’t offer me the position.  It’s been long enough now that I know I am never hearing from them.

Initially, I was disappointed. Not devastated, but genuinely disappointed.

(And after I spent all that dough on a new haircut, highlighting my hair, new shoes for my interview outfit, and so on. Ah, well, these things happen, no?)

But This Was Good. This Was Exactly What I Needed.

After my 9-5 flirtation, and the initial sting of rejection of the big, successful, global company deciding not to hire me, I did a whole, whole lot of thinking.

And soul-searching.

And journaling.

And inspiration-seeking.

I binge-listened to podcasts. I read dozens of blog posts. I sought out my favorite business people online, and read and listened to every story they wrote or told of overcoming great odds to get where they are. If I’d ever bought a course from them, I went back through their course material.

I asked myself if giving up on my business was really the answer.

I wrote a question in my journal, “What do you really, truly want? If your business could look a different way, would you stick it out?”

After a week or two of what often felt like self-indulgent navel-gazing, I started to feel better. Motivation and inspiration began to creep back in. Just a little at first, then more as the days passed.

My determination kicked in.

I made a promise to myself to go all out this last quarter of the year, to really, truly give KDH Ink all the love, devotion, strategery, focus and commitment I can possibly muster. To work harder than I’ve ever worked, or at least smarter, if harder isn’t the answer.

To get out of my comfort zone and do things I’ve been putting off for far too long because I don’t feel “ready.” To finally release a small course or other product/program. To go after a couple of dream clients I’ve been wanting to work with. The list is long and I won’t bore you with it here, but there is a list. Because I love me some lists.

Then There Was This Wealth Mindset Book . . .

It just so happened that while I was in the navel-gazing phase around my business, I was reading Jen Sincero’s book, You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth, at the same time.

(Highly recommended, by the way, especially if you like a sense of humor and fun stories of mild debauchery served up with your wealth-attaining advice. The book is both practical and funny, and you can’t beat that combination when it comes to finance/personal development advice, which is often chock full of platitudes and greasy earnestness.)

What she has to say around determination when it comes to improving your finances also applies to business. Bigly.

I read the passage below over and over again, and decided to adopt it as my business rallying cry for 4Q 2017.

I’m going to share some Sincero’s thoughts on determination here. Just replace “desire to get rich” and other money talk with “desire to create the business you love,” and you’ll get the idea.

(If you’re sensitive around the whole idea of “getting rich” and think it’s shallow, selfish, or corrupt, you might want to skip this part.)

On page 141-143 of the book, Sincero says: “Deciding to get rich means you put that decision above all else (except doing illegal, amoral, revolting things for money, of course). You need to be ruthless with yourself because you’re not only growing a new moneymaking mindset, you’re battling a whole lot of subconscious beliefs about money that you’ve never faced before. Any chink in your armor will offer your old conditioning an opportunity to take over and steer you off course, which it will do so quickly you won’t know what hit you.”

You can’t, according to Sincero:

  • Be weird about the fact that you not only desire to get rich, but that you’re going to focus everything you’ve got on making it happen.
  • Make sure everything is perfect before starting.
  • Be precious about getting rid of all the distractions in your life.
  • Whine about how little time you have or how nobody around you is supportive or that you’re already working forty hours a week, how the hell am I supposed to do more?
  • Need to know exactly where you’re going before moving forward.
  • Get advice from people who aren’t farther along than you are.

To all that, I say, yes, yes, and YES. OMG, yes.

All very good advice to implement in your business.

I would love to wrap this up neatly with a bow and tell you my exact plan for 4Q 2017, but I’m still working that out.

What I do know is that somewhere in the last few weeks, a mighty determination came roaring back.

I’m ready to get hyper-focused on my business again and kick 4Q’s arse. 

 

How to Stop Whining and Enjoy the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks Out of Your Unexpected Downtime

(Image: Opening of new Forsyth County Central Library, Winston-Salem, NC. One of the many experiences I got to enjoy during my recent downtime.)

This week I basked in the giggly glow of spending three glorious days slap in the middle of an ordinary work week with my best friend of 30+ years.

Yep, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week was ours to do with just as we pleased.

Mind you, this mid-week downtime was not planned, not part of a staycation, and not, if I’m honest, exactly what I wanted, at least not initially.

In fact, it was creating all kinds of stress for me.

See, I did the thing you’re never, not-in-a-million-years-E-V-E-R, supposed to do as a copywriter/marketer/web strategist for hire – I didn’t market myself near enough during all those months I was up-to-my-eyeballs busy with client work.

In fact, for the last few years I’ve been blessed to have enough client inquiries from folks who found me through my website, that my project schedule has been full to the gills for a very long time.

During that time, I haven’t had to actively market or promote myself, other than sending an email to my subscribers 2-3 times a year to announce a special or a new service.

(Ah, the magical appeal of nailing your marketing message, and having a website, blog, and newsletter that conveys it. These things have served me so, so well.)

But then it happened – a client who provided 25% of my monthly income mysteriously went AWOL with no explanation (never, ever, and I mean EVER, work with a client without the benefit of a contract, no matter how honest, above-board, and ethical they seem. Because when they decide, inexplicably, that you are entirely disposable, you will be left scratching your head while nervously regarding the moths flying around in your bank account).

Then my longest”-term client, who I’ve been working with for seven years, had very little work for me in August. And to compound the problem, I was coming to the end of two big one-off copywriting projects right around the same time.

Wherefore, oh wherefore, my usual monthly income?

‘Twas my fault though, so I cannot complain. Can I?

The Silver Lining

Alas, this late August downtime, as stressful and unwanted as it initially was, allowed me to spend three glorious days and nights with my best gal pal who lives 40 minutes away in the next town over, going out to dinner, enjoying flutes of bubbly, savoring a couple of glasses of a most delicious Pinot Blanc from the Willamette Valley, and imbibing a refreshing beer or two (not all on the same night, ha ha).

Also, eating cheeseburgers two nights in a row, watching many episodes of Arrested Development while laughing our fool heads off, scarfing down Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream, and eating these luscious things called “cake bars,” from a beloved local bakery.

There were many long conversations about subjects both serious and silly, lunches out in the middle of the day (this was a revelation to me, since I usually wolf down avocado toast while working on client projects during lunch), a visit to the gorgeous, newly renovated public library in town, and dinner and a movie (“The Big Sick” – highly recommended) with popcorn, M & M’s, and real Coke, not the diet kind, on the final night of my visit.

It’s not that I never see my BFF, it’s just that normally when I’m there for a multi-day visit, I sit at her dining room table chained to my computer for 8+ hours or more. And while we spend a couple of hours together in the evening doing fun stuff, I’m always thinking ahead to the next day’s workload, deliverables, and deadlines.

But this visit wasn’t like that. It was like being on vacation. It was liberating and refreshing and full of the kind of quality time I don’t usually get to have with my dearest friend in the middle of the week. And once I let myself lean into it, instead of worrying myself silly laser-focusing on my slow-business-month woes, I relaxed and enjoyed the best three days I’ve had in a long, long time.

It was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

Now, I don’t have some grand transformation to share (of the “I’ll-never-let-my-business-get-in-the way-of-living-my-life again” variety, because I know that ain’t the case), or an inspirational meme-worthy lesson to impart, but I do know this:

This is what life is for. Experiences. Fun. Downtime. Enjoying your life when you’re busy, and when you’re not. Embracing the middle-of-the-week blessings that come your way, despite said moths flying around in your bank account.

And not whining like a baby about the slower times in business. (Ahem . . . especially when you could have done something to prevent it. Hello, consistent marketing.)

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On Setting New Year’s Resolutions

Ah, January. The time for New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t actually do resolutions, but I am a habitual goal setter.

Recently as I was cleaning out old papers and files, I found goals I’d written going back to 2011.

I’m sorry to say that many of them are still unfulfilled, all these years later.

Yes, some of the very same goals that have been on my list each year for the last five are still there, wondering when they will get the honor of being crossed off, silently mocking my inability to achieve them.

After the goal review, I had a bout of self-loathing so profound I was inconsolable for the rest of the day, unable to do anything but lounge around in my pajamas and eat Ben & Jerry’s straight out of the carton while watching re-runs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Then, as I was driving over to a New Year’s Eve party a few days later, I got to thinking about this. I thought, hmm, if I want that satisfying feeling that comes from getting to the end of the week, month, quarter and year with a whole slew of targets hit and objectives achieved, I should set goals I know I will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, achieve.

So I came up with a list of such goals. To wit:

:: I will NOT begin a regular yoga practice.

:: I will NOT lose 10 pounds.

:: I will NOT attend a writing retreat this year.

Etc.

Then I remembered a piece I once read by my favorite writer, Nora Ephron, in which she talks about not achieving her New Year’s resolutions the previous year. She figures she’s aiming too low, so she decides to set goals that are “completely out of reach.”

After all, she figures, she has as much chance of achieving the out of reach goals as she does the more “realistic” resolutions. Thus her resolutions for 2008 include things like “End the war in Iraq,” “Make sure a Democrat is elected president,” and “Start a universal health care program.” 

Brilliant, I thought, that’s exactly what I’ll do!

So I took a page out of Nora’s playbook, and came up with my own big, lofty, unattainable, yet highly desirable, goals.

My Top Five “Completely Out of Reach” Goals for 2016:

:: Get Donald Trump to apologize for all the heinous things he’s said and people he’s egregiously and wrongly insulted this year: immigrants, women, Mexicans, disabled people, journalists, Muslims, and on and on and on, AND ON, because the list is long. So.Very.Long.

:: Solve the refugee crisis. I know this is a complex problem and finding a solution won’t be easy. But if the world’s wealthiest nations come together, I think we can get it done. After all, it’s a massive humanitarian crisis that impacts the entire globe, not just our little neck of the woods, where narrow-minded fear-mongering has caused people to lose their damn minds. Amnesty International has some good ideas for how world leaders can work together to solve the crisis.

:: Stop deportation raids against women and children from Central America. Central American immigrants, many of them children, are fleeing extreme violence and poverty, and they should be treated like asylum-seekers and allowed to stay in the U.S. This isn’t about politics, it’s about treating people with basic human decency, rather than resorting to inhumane fear tactics like storming into people’s homes in wee hours to round them up and deport them.

Again, this is another complex problem. But there will always be people who attempt to escape terrible conditions in their home countries and find a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S., even if it means risking their lives to get here. And no wall, and no draconian, inhumane border patrol “tactics” will ever completely put an end to it, as long as there is poverty, violence, and lack of opportunity to escape from.

:: And, as with Nora’s 2008 resolutions, I want to get a Democrat elected this year. I’m pretty sure this will be a slam-dunk, but you never really know, do you? I mean, just a couple of months ago I was saying there was no way on Earth Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, and now he just might be, the way things are going. But I must admit, as much as it scares me for our country that any of the Republican choices still in the race could be the nominee, or even more terrifying, end up President, it sure has been an entertaining comedy freak-show on the Republican side, hasn’t it? Ah, silver linings.

:: And as a Southerner, I must confess, I’ve always wanted to learn to make the perfect biscuit. I’m a pretty decent cook, but I’ve never mastered baking. In fact, every time I’ve tried to bake, it’s been mostly disastrous. As a Southerner, what does it mean that I can’t make a proper biscuit? It’s positively shameful. It will not do. So if anyone has a newbie-friendly biscuit recipe, send it my way.

Happy New Year!

3 Things I’m Obsessed With This Week

Obsess Definition

If there’s one  low-brow, pop-culture thing I love (actually, there are so many it’s hard to choose, but . . .), its Bravo TV’s late night, interactive talk show, “Watch What Happens Live,” which comes on Sunday – Thursday at 11:00 pm. It’s wildly entertaining, silly good fun. Definitely not your standard, boring, run-of-the-mill talk show.

How could it be? It’s full of oddball games, celebrities swilling cocktails live on air (and sometimes getting visibly & hilariously inebriated), and show host Andy Cohen’s signature goofiness, all of which I happen to L-O-V-E, love.

There’s this one thing Andy does every night that I tune in for, even I don’t end up watching the rest of the show (girl needs her beauty sleep, dontcha know) called, “Three Things I’m Obsessed with Tonight.”

Inspired by his nightly list, I made my own list of three things I’m obsessed with this week: 

:: This recently released video of Missy Elliott’s new single “WTF (Where They From)is wildly creative, visually absorbing, and inexplicably mesmerizing. I’ve watched it at least three dozen times in the last two days. (I said obsessed, didn’t I?)

My favorite description of the song comes from Slant Magazine: “’WTF’ pairs Pharrell’s paint-can beats with deep, sinuous 808s, and if the track lacks an obvious hook, it makes up for it with sheer swagger. Of course, Missy doesn’t miss a beat, spitting rhymes like it’s 2005.”

:: This short film (8 minutes long), called “Arctic Swell: Surfing the Ends of the Earth,” about surfing in Antarctica, is a beautifully shot work of art, and demonstrates the lengths people will go to when they’re passionate about something, even if that something is decidedly dangerous.

:: Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I read it the first time inside a week, then immediately turned back to page one and started reading it all over again. Despite what the New York Times reviewer says (and I love the New York Times, but, c’mon, “magical mumbo jumbo?”), Gilbert’s book is well worth a read if you’re a creative person (and we all are) who struggles to do the creative thing that lights you up because of fear, self-doubt, naysayers or other irritating gremlins.

And there ya have it, three things I’m obsessed with this week.

XO,

Kimberly

P.S. Do you enjoy reading about art, creativity & the creative process, how other creatives get their work done, and other assorted (and sometimes counter-intuitive) stories of inspiration? Then you should probably sign up for Austin Kleon’s newsletter. It’s one of my favorites, and I’m on hundreds of newsletter lists. (I am not making that up.)

Feeling Down About the State of Your Business? Make an Asset List to Pull Yourself Out of the Funk

Make Your Business Asset List

If you’ve spent any time doing personal growth work, then you’ve likely heard some variation of the expression, “what you appreciate, appreciates.”

Also known as:

“Energy flows where attention goes.”

“What you focus on expands.”

“You attract what you think about.”

“Energy follows thought.”

And so on.

Practicing an “abundance mindset” or “prosperity consciousness” (or simply a positive outlook if you don’t happen to be into personal growth lingo), is very important to the success of your business.

You’ve no doubt experienced this.

When things are going well, you feel unstoppable, on top of the world, insert your favorite cliché here, and you’re more motivated than ever to do the next big thing on your business to-do list, the thing that will get you closer to your dream scenario, even if it feels huge and uncomfortable and scary.

You’ve probably noticed that when you feel positive about your business and act from that state of consciousness, more good things come your way.

But when things aren’t going so well – your last promotion launched to crickets, you made very few sales last month and your income ain’t looking too damn skippy this month either, no one is reading your blog posts or opening your emails, and you don’t have enough clients, no matter how much marketing you do – well, then, it can be a tad harder to feel motivated to keep at it.

Me, you, and everyone else we know who has a successful business doing big things in the world has experienced the above not-so-wonderful scenario. The trick is to not let yourself spiral into a negativity funk that becomes your permanent state of mind and prevents you from making progress on your business goals and big vision.

How Creating an Asset List Helped Me Transform from Cranky Pessimist Back to Cheerful Optimist

Back in August, I went through a couple of very trying weeks. It’s wasn’t any one big thing, but a long series of minor annoyances, stressors, irritations and challenges, that piled one on top of the other in rapid succession, left me feeling overwhelmed, cranky, and defeated.

And it just kept coming. From a slow business month to a minor car accident to a call-back after a routine medical test (turned out ‘twas nothing) to a few other unsavory things, and I was hitting the Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge like nobody’s business. Practically nightly.

Now, I’m generally a very positive person, but during those two weeks in August, I’m sorry to say I spent a little bit too much time dwelling on what I did not have.

In my business, I wished for more income, more clients, a bigger email list, a new website, and a best-selling book. In my personal life, I wanted more time to visit friends, time to write for myself, a lavish vacation off the grid for a couple of weeks, and a few other things I’d be too embarrassed to share in a public venue.

I felt hamstrung and stuck by what I perceived to be my “lack” of this or that thing.

But the “lack” is a big fat lie. It’s a myth.

The truth is, I have everything I need, right now in this moment, to create exactly the business and the life I want, while enjoying the really wonderful life I already have. 

When I succumb to that nasty lack mentality in my business, what pulls me out of it every time is focusing on the benefits, resources, opportunities and advantages I do have, by making an asset list.

An asset list for your business includes things like:

:: Your current clients, past clients, and clients on their way to you now, even if you can’t see them yet

:: All those people who have inquired about working with you or buying your products or services, but who haven’t become clients or customers yet. Let’s call them “potential clients.” (I dislike the terms “leads” and “prospects” to describe this category of people because of how transactional it sounds, but that’s essentially what it is.)

:: Your blog, website, Etsy shop, Shopify store, or other online venue that makes it possible for you to sell online 

:: Your email subscribers, blog readers and social media followers

:: Your products and services

:: Your body of work

:: The talents, skills, gifts and abilities you possess that allow you to do the work you do and earn an income from it

:: The sales you made this week, this month, this year

:: The ideas and inspiration you have for new products and services you can offer

:: Access to the internet and other miraculous technology that make doing business easier these days than it’s ever been before

:: Your beautiful, beautiful mind

:: And so on and so forth

Once I made my own asset list, which includes everything on the list above and more, I felt much, much better about those two terrible weeks in August, which in truth, weren’t that terrible after all.

In fact, because things were a little slow business-wise in August, I was able to go home to visit the family for a few days, focus a big chunk of time researching and outlining my book, and map out my 4Q plan, all things that wouldn’t have happened had I been booked solid with work.

And, since it’s a law of the universe that what you focus on expands, when I paid attention to the assets in my business, rather than the so-called lack, new opportunities came my way. I got six new clients, an uptick in email subscribers, an introduction to what could be a huge source of referrals for my business, and a few other pretty great opportunities that will play out over the next few months.

So if you’re feeling down about the state of your business, bemoaning all the things you think you lack, sit down and make your asset list. You’ll feel a whole lot better when you do.

And when you focus on all the good you already have, more good will come to you.

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How It Begins – An Odyssey of Distraction (thank you, Sloane Crosley)

My Workspace

{The true story of one writer’s desperate attempt to stay on task and get one, just one, 30 minute block of writing done without succumbing to the magnetic pull of YouTube videos, HuffPo articles, emails from friends, and other assorted Internet butterflies known as distraction.}

So.

You show up to the page to do your 30 minutes of daily creative writing, coffee in hand.

You’re feeling proud of yourself for making the commitment to write for yourself, outside of the copywriting projects you do for clients and the weekly blog posts and email newsletters you write to market your business.

For many weeks you’ve let your own writing practice slip by the wayside, crowded out by “work writing” and other priorities, so this feels good, it feels right, it feels “meant to be.”

Because you want to feel inspired to write for yourself every day, you’ve decided to take up the practice you read about in Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life – reading from a favorite author’s work for 10 minutes each morning to get yourself primed to write, to feel eager to get to the page. 

This is working pretty well, except sometimes the 10 minutes turns into an hour, or, like the recent Sunday when you spent practically all morning lounging in bed with half a dozen books, close to 4 solid hours.

But this day you stick to the 10 minutes. You dip into the work of a much-loved writer, get your 10 minute inspiration fix, then go directly to the page and write. Good for you!

Your 30 minutes of writing done, you’re feeling pretty good about the discipline you just exercised. You congratulate yourself for not getting waylaid by the wicked pull of the internet.

This is a minor miracle, because right about 15 minutes in, you need to research a book title you want to mention in the essay you’re working on. So you open your browser and navigate to Google. Book title found. Good. Book title added to essay. Ok.

However.

As a result the inspiration fix you dipped into this morning, Sloane Crosley’s essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake, you now find yourself wildly curious to know more about her, right this very instant.  Your fingers go twitchy over the keyboard as you think, “I’ll just Google her and leave the results page up in the background, then get right back to my writing, then once I’m done with my 30 minutes, I’ll read through the results.”

And holy of holies, you do go back to your writing and finish your 30 minutes, without getting lead down the garden path of distraction.

Score!!

You feel enormously proud of yourself for this one small thing, because there are many days when one brief dip in the Internet pool leads you far, far astray from the work at hand, not to return for hours. And sometimes never to return at all.

Next on your to-do list for this day: write a blog post.

But wait, you’ve got those Google search results about Sloane Crosley to read through. You decide you’ll give yourself half an hour to read a few interviews, half an hour, 30 very short minutes, then get back right back to work on that blog post.

So you read one interview, then another, then another after that.  One of the interviews you read links out to something that’s supposed to show her writing space. Oh my God, you want to see it so badly!

So you click on that.  But the link is dead and there is no image of her work space.  Huh. So you Google “Sloane Crosley work space.” (Is this a form of light stalking, you wonder? Or a perfectly natural form of mild curiosity about someone whose breathtaking writing skills you happen to admire?)

Somehow in this search you find a video of the time Crosley appeared on Craig Ferguson’s show (how you ended up on YouTube, you have no idea).  Because you adore Craig Ferguson and you love this writer’s work, you watch the interview. This’ll just take 3:36 minutes, after all.

Then you remember living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the second time, in 2006, when you were still in your politico days and working on the Attorney General’s race, which is when you “discovered” Craig Ferguson and his hilarious show for the first time. As you’re watching the interview with Crosley, you see down the side of the page more videos of Craig interviewing famous, accomplished, beautiful women. 

Crosley too is beautiful, and you think she must live a charmed life – a life you’ve fantasized about, if you’re honest – that of a successful New York creative, living in a lovely large apartment somewhere on the upper West Side, maybe in the low-80’s off Amsterdam or Columbus, where one room is devoted to your writing space and outfitted with floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, full to the brim with books and a nice view of the Park.

But let’s not tell anyone about that. That’s not for public consumption.  

Anyway, Sloane – what a great name, you think. She’s young, beautiful, and successful, a well-respected writer leading the New York literary life.  Aaah, how nice that must be.

You finally drag yourself away from YouTube and read a couple of print interviews with Crosley. You try again to find an image of her writing space, but, alas, no luck there.

Next, you find yourself on the Salon website, where you read a piece Crosley wrote about the Girl Scouts called Your blood turns green: Why the right can’t derail the Girl Scouts.  Edifying. Entertaining. Informative.

Then, after reading just.one.more. interview with Crosley in New York Magazine, you see a piece in the sidebar of said magazine called Six Reasons Chris Christie Is Probably Guilty, by Jonathan Chait, which you must read this instant, because you’ve been riveted by the story of the lane closures in Fort Lee, NJ known as “Bridgegate” ever since Rachel Maddow first starting reporting on it in the fall of 2013.

When you read the line, “It’s not that partisan enemies are ginning up accusations,” you laugh and think, “Ha ha, ‘ginning up’ – what a good old-timey phrase, I’ll have to find a way to work it into a piece of writing soon.” 

Somehow from here, you end up on the GQ website where you read an interview with Bill Hader of SNL.  You love Bill Hader.  

Then you remember one of your favorite SNL sketches with Hader, Tony Ruins Puppet Class,” so you Google that up and watch it.

And in this way, 2 ½ hours pass. Hours that seem like minutes. Hours which you will never get back.

But no matter, you got your 30 minutes of writing done, and that is a victory.

Good for you.