Share Your Work With The World

This month I read Seth Godin’s book The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. I often pick up Seth Godin’s work because he’s been at this business thing for so long and I really appreciate the different perspectives and wisdom he brings to all things business. This book really focuses on getting from idea to personal project and/or passion and/or hobby to bringing your work to the masses. This is a much bigger part of our work than we often take time to think about, so I really appreciated getting perspective on it, especially as we begin this new year.

The book begins with some important reminders that the majority of our creative work is done in service of others. Seth Godin and I both agree that whatever service we offer isn’t right for everyone, that not everyone will love what we offer, and that’s OK (and is something we’re going to talk about more later). But I know that it’s a whole lot easier to be in the thick of things with creative work or with clients when I keep front and center, or at the very least in the back of my mind, that I’m helping them, that I’m providing a service that benefits them and adds value to their lives in some way.

I also really appreciated that Seth addressed two of the biggest challenges for people who do more creative work (which is a good percentage of us): the first being the struggle over being comfortable with promotion and selling to people. But he reminded that not only are we being of service by sharing with people about things that can help them, they’re often excited, glad and thankful for that information. Think about the last time you had a really happy client, or you witnessed a really happy client: for example maybe if you were out at a restaurant and heard the couple at a table near yours telling the manager how awesome their server was and how delicious the food was and how they can’t wait to come back. You can hear the excitement and happiness in their voices, and it makes you happy too. So sales and promotion aren’t all bad.

The second big challenge that Seth addresses is the whole “free” stuff topic. In the book Seth says “generous doesn’t mean free…money supports our commitment to the practice.” Seth has a free blog that anyone anywhere can read, and I agree with having free trials, blogs, or other content for people to get to know you and what you offer, so it’s not a question of if free should be removed from the business world, we agree it shouldn’t. But it’s absolutely acceptable for you to draw a line and say that you give/donate/offer x, y, or z for free and beyond that you invite people to support the work you put into the world.

Finally, Seth talks about how any business owner has to decide if they want to try to create for everyone or they want to focus on a more specific audience. We’ve already established that not everyone will love (or need) what you offer, so technically you can’t create for everyone, or please everyone, so you should focus on a smaller audience that truly appreciates what you offer. I find it a bit both ironic and fascinating that Seth is so vocal about this in the book and yet his blog has thousands of people who read his blog each day. Like most of us, Seth started small and has been able to touch countless people over the years which helped him grow this large audience. Maybe you don’t have dreams or plans of going as big as he has been able to do, and that’s OK, all you have to do is start with your small circle and the (slightly) larger group that it grows to, and do your very best to serve them.

One final thought: the book is sub titled “Shipping Creative Work” and that’s because as awesome as it is to create for yourself or your immediate family and friends, the creative gifts that we have really are meant to be shared with (shipped to) the rest of the world. What creative efforts are you sharing with the world?

It’s OK to Say “No”

I finished my business book of the month a little early (I’ll be sharing a blog post on it on Wednesday), so I decided to start the book I had chosen for next month. But I had the hardest time getting into it. As you may know I’m a big reader, I read over 150 books each year, 97% of which I finish. But every so often I get a book and it really doesn’t go in a direction it sounded like it would go, even after reading the initial chapters on an online book seller it’s just not reading like it seemed like it would, or I just can’t get into it and I put it off to read possibly sometime in the future. Well, this one just didn’t read as well as I hoped it would and I’ve decided to not put the time and effort into finishing it.

I think one of the challenges here is knowing that the topic is important and the content of the book so far was educational and helpful (at least the 40 some pages I read had some nuggets of wisdom on them). I always go into a book wanting it to be awesome and wanting to gain the knowledge or experience of reading it. I always want to support an author by taking time to read what they’ve written. But like so many other things in life, everything isn’t right for all of us. What I like you may not like, what helps you learn may not help me. And even if tons of people like something, it doesn’t mean I have to like it or pursue it. Sports is a great example: there are millions of people who love the sport of basketball, but I don’t like playing it and have next to no interest in watching it or attending a game. So I say “no.” That doesn’t mean I’m requiring, requesting, or suggesting that you or anyone else not enjoy it, just that I know it’s not right for me and my attention is better served elsewhere.

This past week I talked with a potential client, and while I always try to keep an open mind about things, it just wasn’t a good fit. It can be frustrating to say no because sometimes you need life to work and you need the opportunities, or you want to enjoy something that’s supposed to be great. But when you say “yes” to things that you should have said “no” to, it’s often like trying to put an extra large pizza in a personal sized pizza box: it doesn’t go well unless you’re OK with folded, messy pizza.

While I did say that saying “no” isn’t about or regarding anyone else, saying “no” can be helpful to others if it lets them know that what I didn’t like they may not like as well. No one likes a negative review, but if that negative review prevents a dozen more of them or unhappy customers that need refunds or helps someone else not experience something that won’t work for them, then it’s not quite as painful or hard to accept. Also, when you say “no” it can encourage others to do the same, giving them freedom and reminding them they do have a choice in what goes on in their life.

I think saying “no” is one of the most important steps to success, because you can’t be successful at everything. But at the same time, if you don’t say “yes” ever, you can’t be successful at anything, so next week we’ll be talking about saying “yes.” How has “no” been helpful in your life lately?

Hard Work Looks Different Sometimes

The other day I was building some furniture with some friends from a generation or two younger than me and the one was struggling to get the screws in (power tools weren’t necessary according to the instructions). I stepped in and started all the screws for them and they asked how I did it and my answer was something I heard a lot growing up: elbow grease. I have to say, as I get older it’s sometimes fun to throw out those phrases that were told to (used on) me as a kid when the world was a bit of a different place: there was little in the way of what we know as “technology” today, there was a lot more ‘walking through snowstorms and up hill both ways’, most of our research was done in libraries and not on computers, we didn’t have food services that brought us all the ingredients to make meals for dinner or do the food shopping for us (unless you were well-off of course), and you couldn’t coordinate getting food from one part of the state into the hands of countless needy people in other parts during a global pandemic or natural disaster quickly or easily. We also had to do a lot more hands-on learning and get our hands a lot dirtier than we seem to today. Of course, not all things that have changed are bad, I’m a big fan of many of the changes that have happened over the years.

Some people criticize how much time those under 25 spend with their technology every day, and to an extent I can agree. I do think in some ways they’re missing out on important lessons that we learned, but they’re also able to explore far more than we ever could growing up. One of the biggest complaints or beliefs is that they have no drive, that they’re just busy on their phones. And while they are frequently on their phones, I don’t agree that they don’t have drive. They do, it just shows up differently than it did for us, and we haven’t taught them how to convert the drive they have with technology to other aspects of life. Of course, the same could be said of some of us adults and how we don’t apply ourselves to technology the way we keep trying to get them to apply themselves to non-technology things.

But whether you are talking about our physical world or our digital one, the phrase I used earlier still applies in just about every situation. If we really want to get something done, if we really want to figure something out, if we really want to be successful we have to apply ourselves and use some elbow grease. Even with all of the ways the world has advanced and the tools we’ve gotten, a significant part of life still takes work, and if we really want to get the most out of life we have to apply ourselves. And maybe even more importantly, we have to teach the next generation how to apply themselves. Sometimes hard work may look a little different today, but I think we’re all glad that we don’t live in the buildings that people called home 200 years ago. So maybe it’s time to apply ourselves a little more to learning from the youngest generations and helping them understand some of the lessons we learned growing up as well. What will you teach and learn this week?

Making a Statement

When you’re a leader the statements you make are crucial to showing people who you are, how you lead, if you’re willing to stand tall, and what you stand for. Sometimes it’s important to make your own statement separate from the organization that you work for or represent, other times you don’t have to make an individual statement, but rather just show your support for the statement the organization makes. However, it’s becoming more important and expected to make some kind of statement, than to not make any statement at all.

Yesterday in the US the world watched as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the next president of the US, ushering out Donald Trump. One of the things I made note of early in Trump’s presidency was his choice to use Twitter to communicate frequently and directly with the American people. I don’t think he always said the right thing, but I did appreciate the fact that he was willing to be so personal with the people and not stay in his “castle” and be kept separate or distant from the people he was president of.

After the events that happened early in January in DC I personally debated about whether it was wise to have an inauguration or if it would just be a big violent and devastating episode and do more damage than good. But thinking about it, I decided having an inauguration or meeting or presentation was important to do, both for the presidential position as well as for when a new leader is hired or put into position in any organization. For one, it’s about first impressions and being able to set the stage for at least how you want to lead. I think it’s also important to let people know who you are if they aren’t familiar with you already. These initial moments are also important to show that the organization is supportive of the new leader and at least going to give working together a real effort.

It’s also good to periodically make a statement if you don’t regularly participate in communication efforts like social media and newsletters both as a leader and as an organization because it shows people that you want them to be knowledgeable about what’s going on with you and shows you’re making an effort to both highlight progress and be as open and honest with them as you can be, not to mention responsible to and held accountable by your stakeholders and industry standards.

We also know what happens when a leader and/or organization don’t make a statement. We’ve seen it when organizations are delayed in making a statement or taking action on failures or aren’t prepared for issues or reactions: the people aren’t very kind towards them. It’s a lot harder to regain trust with people when you’ve very clearly let them down and didn’t step up to at least show you knew what was going on and were working on it. Yes, a delayed response is better than no response, but not always enough, especially when you can go with the very basic and honest “thanks for making us aware of this, we’re looking into it and will share an update when we have one” type of comment rather than saying nothing at all.

One other thought: none of this has to be perfect. If you’re communicating regularly, people know that you’re doing your best both individually and as an organization, and that if/when things don’t go smoothly, you’ll be doing your best to address the issues or concerns and in touch with updates and news as you have it and are ready and able to share it with them.

When was the last time your organization made a progress or vision statement? When was the last time that the person or people who are in charge shared their thoughts about the organization? A new year is a great time to do so. As we work through this year and find out what the future might look like, I encourage you to give regular progress updates, just like you expect from the schools about what and how your kids are doing. When was the last time your organization or you made a statement and how often do you do so?

Your Legacy Success

When we talk about the topic of success each week we typically talk about short-term success impacts, and less about what might be a future impact of choices and decisions we’re making. It’s hard to know what your future impact might be since life changes so rapidly these days and what was either relevant or important often changes, so it’s understandable that we don’t put a whole lot of focus on the future. But some things never change, and the impact of some people, the legacy they leave us, will always be one that we appreciate, remember and celebrate. This is especially true when you think about people who made an impact on people like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and the individual we’re honoring today in the US: Martin Luther King Jr.

You may not be able to predict that your business will revolutionize the business world, that you’ll be able to invent something awesome, that legislation you work on will make a very positive impact on the country and your name will always be tied to it, that you’ll be a best-selling author that will be read for decades by countless people, or that you’ll be a world-renown speaker. But when you choose to live your life and do your work in a way that will bless or benefit others both in the present and future, you’ve got a much better chance of being honored when you die and that your impact will continue for years to come.

Martin Luther King Jr. died before he reached 40, which is young and means that had he lived longer he could have had an even bigger impact. It’s hard to imagine what a bigger impact would look like, but maybe it would mean that we wouldn’t still have as many divisions between us as we do and movements like Black Lives Matter would be here to ensure continued progress, not hold people and organizations accountable and still try to raise awareness.

You may not be able to predict what kind of success you’ll have or if all the work you’re doing will achieve the success you want it to or if you’ll be a household name some day. But by choosing to treat people right and work to make other people’s lives better, even if you don’t become a household name you’ll still be creating a legacy that will last and it feels pretty good at the end of the day to know that you made a difference.

Where Does Responsibility Start?

In recent years we’ve had a lot of discussion around both climate/environment and race. Both of these are important discussions to have because we don’t always realize the impact of our words or how we’re living on others and the damage that can be/has been caused. They’re not discussions that can be had overnight and things certainly can’t be fixed or addressed overnight, although they can be improved with each conversation we have. Yes, it is everyone’s responsibility to consider the impact that their words and lives have on others, but we sometimes put the majority of the responsibility on corporations or wealthy people or world leaders. Yes, they do hold a lot of power and therefore responsibility, but each of us are also responsible for how we live and treat each other.

While money often has a lot to do with the impact someone can make or the opportunities they’ve been given, it’s not the only thing, and if we’re waiting until we’ve got the position or finances to make an impact, it’s not likely that anything will ever get resolved. This weekend you’ll probably be hearing a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr. because Monday is the day that we honor him. He wasn’t a particularly wealthy person, and while he was well connected by the end of his life he was doing important and impactful work long before that point. (On a side note: I wish we were able to hear what he would have to say about all that’s gone on in the past year in the US!)

One of his famous quotes that you’ll probably hear a lot this weekend is “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I think it’s an important statement, and dream, because that’s where so much starts: with our children. And I don’t just mean the biological or (legally) adopted children you have, but how you act/live and the example you set in the presence of any children. As much as some issues can be addressed with money or with age and opportunity (i.e. the ability to vote or choose where/how you live), many of the issues stem or are sustained from how we were raised and/or how we’re raising our children.

While we may begin to address the issues our world has, much more of what happens next will be decided by the next generation. So if we want a different future for our children and grandchildren, we have to start with both ourselves and the children of the world today. We have to start showing them how to treat others with respect and suspended judgment. We have to show them how to care for the world even if you don’t have a lot of financial resources. We have to show them how to be considerate and make educated decisions. We have to show them how to dream and believe in possibilities. I know how hard it is to think about much of that right now with all the turmoil in the world and the US, but in many ways that makes this the perfect opportunity to do it. Why not choose this opportunity when things are being changed to choose to move forward in the best way possible?

Email Marketing Opportunities

I’ve been thinking a lot about how marketing has changed over the years and especially in the last few, partially due to the fact that we’ve arrived in a new year. One of my favorite marketing tools for both businesses and non profits that has definitely stood the test of time is email. Some of what we’re going to talk about today can definitely be applied to social media, but due to algorithms it’s a lot harder to consistently anticipate that people will actually see what you send there as opposed to through email. To give you some background, I subscribe to everything from daily rundown types of emails/newsletters (i.e. news headlines or weekly blog reviews) to 1-3 sentence inspirational/spiritual emails/newsletters, not to mention all of the promotional type messages that most people get, and just about everything else in between.

Let’s address some of the big questions. First: how often do you have to send it? I look forward to newsletters that I get every two or even four weeks and I look forward to some of those I get every day. Sometimes a business has to answer what makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to send a monthly update of what happened in the news, because at that point most of those headlines would be old news and really irrelevant. It also doesn’t make sense to send an email about a sale that happened earlier in the month or about products that are out of stock. Other than time sensitive stuff, it’s mostly up to you, but I think just about every business should have a weekly email, with an occasional extra email if relevant or helpful. Depending on your business and audience, a daily or as-frequently-as-appropriate email would be welcome.

The next question is about what are you sending and why. I put these questions together because they’re connected and sometimes one can help you answer the other. The ‘why’ always has something to do with connecting with your audience, building a relationship with them, helping them get to know you, and/or letting them know what’s going on in your organization. As far as the ‘what,’ one of the newsletters I get each day is written by a woman who occasionally wonders why people read “this fool thing” (haven’t we all wondered that from time to time about our newsletters?!). Since she’s shared on more than one occasion that over 1,000 people read it each day, evidently there’s consistently something of value in it. Maybe it’s the very straight forward and honest way she writes or the stories she shares, but I find it more interesting and relevant far more often than the emails a certain big tech company sends me each day with their featured books of the day. Every email won’t be relevant with 100% of your audience, but if you aim for at least 70% people will keep coming back.

Finally, how do you decide what to send? There’s not a straightforward answer because it’s all about what you have established with your subscribers you’ll send and what you think will help them engage with your business. I mentioned the writer earlier who thinks some people are crazy for reading her scattered thoughts and stories, but a big part of the appeal of her emails is exactly that: you never know what tidbits and fun things she’ll share. I do think every organization can include something personal as part of their newsletter, whether every one or occasionally, whether it’s a little blurb about one of the people who works there or a celebration/good deed story. Other than that it’s up to you to send educational and/or entertaining content that helps them better understand the topic you’re both interested in and what you offer to support them and gives them an opportunity to get to know you/your organization better.

I think what it comes down to is that in many ways I don’t see (all of) the emails I receive each day as marketing or spam, they’re opportunities for knowledge, to build connections, to learn more about someone or something I’m connected to and how I can support them if it’s right for me at the time or to save that information for the future. What are you building through your marketing?

Making Wise Decisions

The events of this past week in Washington DC have been a revelation for many people, and it will be something that we as a nation will have to deal with for years to come. But what I wanted to write on today was about decisions. Let’s assume things went down as people (Trump, radical leaders or whomever was helping plan it) expected for the most part: that people got into the U.S. Capitol, caused lots of chaos and damage, and made a physical statement about how the election was stolen from Trump.

There was a lot of shock over these events, even though there’s been a lot of discussion and anger over the November election, because I don’t think anyone really expected things would go this far. But my focus today is not on those events, but on what we’re seeing this week, and that’s something that we saw in big numbers over the past year with regard to the Black Lives Matter work, and that’s businesses finally saying and doing something, and in this case it’s drawing a line on the sand and refusing to support people who encourage or support this type of negative activity and violence. People who were there are being arrested and charged with serious offenses, some being fired from their jobs.

I don’t know that most of these people, both politicians and people in the crowds, thought they would be facing all the backlash and lack of support that they’re seeing. When I first started seeing all the headlines about companies dropping support, evaluating their donation and affiliation policies, and speaking out I was more than a little surprised. Maybe it’s because of how public it was, or maybe it’s because of how increasingly divisive everything has become politically over the last four years, but something has changed over the past 6-8 months and people and companies are responding much more vocally and visibly in ways that they haven’t in years past.

So what does this have to do with success? To be successful in this day and age you generally have to follow along with a crowd and hope you get lucky (i.e. be another fitness trainer or clothing designer or supplement creator along the typical lines but maybe with a little bit of uniqueness), or you have to do something new and different and hope it works. There’s a risk with doing the latter, and part of that risk has to do with how different or polarizing what you’re creating is or how narrow the niche is that you’re trying to reach, and the fact that you could end up in a lot of trouble for picking the direction you choose. I’m not saying that you have to be perfect, because there are plenty of people who have made mistakes and are now successful again. But we’ve reached a place in history that we, as the pastor I was listening to this morning said, can’t be acting stupid. Mistakes are one thing, but not considering the consequences of participating in something like the events of last Wednesday is, in a word, stupid.

As you work into this new year with, I hope, many more possibilities and awesome happenings than was in the last year, I encourage you to really think through important decisions you’re going to make, and really consider not only the impact that they may have on others, but how serious any potential negative impact on you would be. No, you can’t predict all failings or short comings, but sometimes it’s fairly obvious that a decision would be highly likely to result in a not good turn of events for you, especially if you know you’re more susceptible to getting swept away or blinded by strong emotions. I encourage you to make decisions that will help bring you to new victories and bigger successes this year.

A Clean Start to the New Year

This past week I went looking for a couple of papers that have some important lists on them and I couldn’t find them. I usually keep them in one spot and to not find them there was surprising. So I looked and looked for several days, finally fortunately finding them in the paper recycle before I took it out for the bi-weekly recycling day. The search helped me move through some of the papers and other stuff in my office and neaten it up for this new year as well as get the paperwork from last year moved out so that this year’s paperwork would have space.

The clean up was a good reminder of how good it feels to have your stuff in order, tidy and clean. I’m a fairly neat person and I do clean regularly, but life happens and over time stuff does build up. Usually we do this cleaning thing during the spring because we’re all feeling that push from nature to clear out the old and make the new, but the new year is also a good time to get it done as well.

Often for couples and families, it’s challenging to get anyone but one person to do the work around the house, whether it’s laundry or dishes or just picking up after themselves. One way to deal with this is to just assign everyone weekly or daily chores and rotate them around. It does give everyone practice at everything, and it’s not nearly as challenging to do the laundry or dishes these days with the little tabs you just have to put in the machine rather than having to measure out powder or liquid. Yes, there will be complaints, but at some point in time they’re probably going to have to deal with it themselves alone when they’re an adult, so it’s good practice.

However, you also could find out what they like best and have that be their chore or chores, in addition to having to tidy their bedroom or other space that only they really live in or use. For instance if one child really likes or doesn’t mind doing laundry, give them that chore. And if another really likes being in charge of garbage and recycling, they can do that. And if they get tired of it after several months, maybe someone else will want to trade with them.

So the point to share with them is two fold: first how good it can be to have a clean space and the difference that having a clean space makes over not having a space that’s ready for adventure and activity. The other is the importance of responsibility and contribution when you’re part of a group. It helps teach them that they do have to contribute, but sometimes they have a choice in how they contribute, and if they can contribute something they’re comfortable and/or good at, they should. Are you cleaning up as we start this new year?

Making Plans for Business in 2021

I saw a headline this morning that I think is a really great place to start our conversations about running our businesses this year: “Apple Inc. said in its annual proxy filing on Tuesday that it will modify executive cash bonuses based on progress toward the company’s social and environmental goals.”

Yes, a business must give attention to finances. If you’re not making money, then it’s a hobby and not a business. Even in the non-profit world, balance sheets are a thing, as are making sure you have funds coming in so that you can support your endeavors. But it’s about time that a company as large and well-known as Apple finally spoke up and said that not only are we as a company interested in the bottom (financial) line, those words in our vision and mission statements truly matter to us, which means that our impact is as important as our bottom line, so we’re going to reinforce all of it when it comes to bonus time.

As we learned over the last year, yes, finances are incredibly important, but there’s a whole lot more to life than just finances. Tons of people are reevaluating after last year and are more willing to make the move to a company that cares for their customers, employees, and the greater world, than sticking it out for the paycheck. This isn’t a brand new discussion, nor did it just start last year, it’s something that some businesses and leaders have been talking about and working towards for years. But last year was serious and challenging enough that businesses were forced to start paying attention and stepping up or risk losing serious customer numbers and brand power too.

What about your business? Are you too narrowly focused on one aspect of your business or are you giving your best effort and attention to all areas of your business? What priorities need to be set by you, the leader of your business as we move into whatever comes next? What will you do this year to help your business have as strong as possible of a foundation to weather future storms? What are your plans and changes for 2021?