Beyond First Successes

Yesterday was the official remembrance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but many people started talking about him in the days before the holiday and will continue to do so for the rest of this week. As I thought about what to share in this post today about success, there were many thoughts that came to mind. Dr. King certainly is a great example of someone who was successful, but not in the financial regard that many people automatically assign to the word success. Instead, he was one of the few who not only was successful about getting his message out there, it’s a message many people not only remember but can repeat words from, some 50 years later. All of those are incredible feats in and of themselves, but as I was thinking about what to write today I thought about the topic of legacies and about the words that most of us know from his ‘dream’ speech and the other things that I was reminded of or learned over the past few days of reading and hearing about him and his work.

While the ‘dream’ speech is certainly a legacy to be proud of, there was a ton more to this man than just one speech. He was a husband, father, minister, black man, friend of many, resident of Georgia, student, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, courageous soul, and person who stood up and said something when injustice was reigning strong. What I’ve seen these past few days is a great reminder that like success, Dr. King was more than just one thing. Yes, most of us are exceptionally good at one thing or best known for that thing. But success in that one area or through that one avenue is only part of the story. We are much more than just that one thing. Dr. King is more than just his ‘dream’ speech.

I do hope that this year is one of great success for all of us, whether that success is with health, family, work or finances, or some/all of the above. Maybe it will be like dominoes, that when you knock one down, the rest fall so perfectly in line after and it all just works out as you hoped and planned. But don’t let your focus on one thing so distract you or hold you back from the rest of your life. Don’t rest on the joy and victory of one success, continue on pursuing greatness for the rest of your days as well.

The Gift of Love

There are so many things we could pull from this time of year to talk about regarding success. Like how businesses get people to buy stuff this time of year under the guise of giving gifts and getting great deals. Or how we talk about and celebrate the holidays for a month or more before we get to the actual holiday, allowing for sufficient time for planning, gathering and gift-purchasing. Or we could talk about how the holidays encourage people to spend time in community and do good for others (and it actually happens). Or we could talk about how the holidays allow many of us to end the year on a positive note, something that may not ring true for the rest of the year.

But today I want to talk about the success of getting love and community into our lives and into the lives of others. Whether you celebrate Christmas (religious), Christmas (secular), Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year is one of celebration and gathering together. We each celebrate something a little different, but with each holiday we’re invited to turn on or light some lights and gather together to celebrate. For several thousand years we’ve been celebrating Christmas (religious) and Hanukkah, Christmas (secular) for the past several hundred, and Kwanzaa for the last 50 or so years, taking time to set aside any differences or struggles we may have, remembering the good times and making new memories together. Anything that gets people of all cultures and backgrounds to stop and be more considerate of others year in and year out is worth talking about.

I’m willing to take on all the commercialization, crowded roads, spending, and some extra stress because more people are polite, more people are helpful, and more people show how they care unlike other times of the year. The time we take to purchase exactly the right gift for someone, make someone’s favorite foods (including special cookies), and lengths we travel to be together are all evidence of the fact that we do care about each other, even if we aren’t always willing to admit it. We may wrap our love up in the activities and actions of the season, but when all the trappings and trimmings are removed, when we stop moving and eating and sit, when the gifts are all unwrapped, what it comes down to is love for each other.

With the holiday season in full gear, I encourage you to make time to think about love and let that be the best gift you give or get this holiday season.

Taking a (Holiday) Break

Success is a combination of many things. Part of it is ideas, part of it is following direction, part of it is taking initiative, part of it is reaching goals, part of it is about your team or support system, part of it is about getting things done, and there’s another part that we don’t always remember as being influential in our success journey, and that’s knowing when to stop and when to take a break.

The holiday season both adds a lot of stuff to our plates and gives us the opportunity and encouragement to take a step back and relax a little. I’ve noticed more this holiday season than ever that people aren’t sending a lot of emails and messages over the weekend, but instead are doing other things like going places with families, doing holiday things at home or just plain taking a break and watching holiday movies.

Sometimes the only thing you can do in both life and for success is keep pushing forward and keep taking action, or else you’ll end up under a pile of stuff deeper than some people’s email inboxes and you’ll never be able to get out. But it’s not healthy or sustainable or smart to live or work this way forever. Our bodies and brains aren’t designed to be “on” all day every day. They need the recharging as much as everyone around us needs us to take a step back occasionally and take time off.

Maybe you can’t get away for an extended vacation in the near future or can’t spend lots on gifts this year, but you should be able to give yourself and those in your life the gift of a break. Try to take at least almost the whole day, one day a week off, or even all or most of two days each week off and do things that aren’t work related, and especially are fun, seasonal or relaxing. You’ll find that you’re more motivated during the rest of the week to get stuff done, and more prepared to move into the new year that is almost here.

What are you doing to relax and enjoy life this holiday season?

Business, Competition and Spending

Competition is an interesting topic to consider. The world has developed to the point that there aren’t any truly unique businesses, someone else is doing the exact same thing. They may have their own story behind it or sell slightly different services/items, but if you really had to put two business in a box or two boxes, they’d be in the exact same box.

Each week we hear about a possible merger or signed merger that is going forward. Each week we hear about a business that is closing stores, letting go of employees, or closing for good. Over 8,000 businesses are started each week. Each week there’s also a report of a business that screwed up notably, either with a customer or through a marketing ad or with a product. Each week a business in an industry comes out with a better offer than the competition, which in turn drives at least some of the competition to set out their own best offer, and customers are moving around between the companies as a result.

All of this highlights the fact of how difficult it is to run a successful business today. I’m not suggesting by any means that it’s too hard to be in business and we should all give up, just pointing out the fact that you have to consider your competition, and assume that no matter how unique what you want to offer is, there’s definitely someone else out there that is offering something similar.

Where does it all lead though and how do we move forward? First, don’t do it alone. There are lots of businesses you can do partnerships with and cross promote with and do joint ventures with. Second, even though you’ve got lots to do to run the business and support your current customers, you have to consistently market, and market in more than one way. Third, take advantage of opportunities that come up that are a good fit for you and/or your customers. This includes things like selling special holiday offerings, decorating for the holidays, offering gift wrapping and extended holiday hours. Fourth, have a detailed, up-to-date and informative website that can answer as many questions as possible that your customers have and give them as much information as they may need. Finally, do highlight what you specifically bring to the table as a company, including the heart and soul of the people behind the company.

Yes, there are over 190 million companies in the world. Yes, many companies are competing for the money that people are willing to spend. But people wouldn’t start new companies and we wouldn’t hear success stories if there isn’t still success to be had. We would not have seen the record numbers for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday this year if people weren’t willing or able to spend. It just means we have to be a little smarter and more aware on many fronts than we may have been in the past. What have you learned over the past week about business, competition and spending?

Beautifully Unpredictable

I was just about to go out and run some errands the other day when it started to rain, which was unexpected and made me postpone my plans. If I know I’m going out to work with a client or if I’ve got traveling for a family event, or something else important going on, I do check the weather ahead of time, but otherwise unless my partner asks me what the weather is coming up, I generally look out the window or open the door and see what it’s like that day or before I’m going to do something. Why? Because I don’t find the weather predictions to be very reliable. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why it’s unpredictable, Mother Nature does what she does and doesn’t have to give us notice or follow an absolutely precise schedule.

This unexpected rain and thinking about the topic of unpredictability got me thinking about another topic that is typically associated with unpredictability and some of the feelings that goes along with it, and that’s the upcoming holiday season. I absolutely love the holiday season and I’m always excited when it rolls around, as an adult it’s more about the songs and decorations than the gifts, but there’s definitely still something very exciting about gifting and receiving gifts. But with all that there is to love about holidays, as an adult there’s a layer of stress and craziness that wasn’t there as a kid.

If you’re used to living a very scheduled and predictable life, or even just a very full life, the unpredictability of last minute gift finding, last minute parties and extra gatherings can be very stressful, but it’s also an opportunity to learn how to open yourself up to some of the opportunities that can come with increased freedom and flexibility. Just like there are benefits to having a schedule, being able to go with the flow, make changes as necessary and respond more often than react, also have benefits. The most successful people are able to find a balance between having a schedule and consistency in their life, and having the freedom and flexibility to accept last minute opportunities, not panic over changes and not feel pressured by the limits they’ve placed on their time.

This holiday season I would encourage you to use it as practice for finding out what the benefits can be of letting go a little and making room in your life for flexibility and freedom. No, I’m not suggesting you invite the craziness that the holidays can bring into the other ten and a half months of the year, but instead freeing up maybe even an hour a day or a couple of hours a week to not feel so rushed or finally get things off the to-do list, or maybe even be able to do something fun with the kids, or have time for yourself to read a book, get crafty, take a walk, start a business, invest in your relationship, or whatever you’ve not been free to do in quite some time. What benefits would you find if you had a little more unpredictability, freedom and flexibility in your life?

Success Secrets: Plan Ahead

If you’ve been looking around your corner of the world lately and it looks anything like mine, you’ve probably seen it. Yes, that’s right, signs of CHRISTMAS are popping up everywhere! I’m a Christmas person so I do Christmas in July and have no problem spending the month of November talking about being thankful, eating turkey and pumpkin pie, and playing Christmas music.  Seeing Christmas decorations and gifts pop up everywhere a full month before it typically would arrive got me thinking about how important it is for us to plan ahead in our businesses (all the decorations are a sign that there are lots of businesses who probably have a jump on you when it comes to holiday advertising too). I know that life and business both move and change very fast, and it’s not always wise to plan ahead in great detail because you don’t know what trends or needs might be, but there are things that happen regularly or are likely to happen, so you should always be able to make at least some kind of plan.

But this is all about a bigger and more important conversation than your next Christmas movie choice, it’s about making sure that you’re planning ahead and at least attempting to anticipate some of the things that likely will come your way in the near future, and having alternative plans for when things don’t go your way. Planning starts when you choose to go into business and is something you should be doing until the day you move on to the next adventure. It should get you through the sick days and challenging customers, help you manage changes, empower you to make decisions easier and quicker about what’s in line with your business and what’s not, and help you succeed.

Thanks to the internet even if you’re starting a new business, as soon as you’ve got some of the finer details planned out, it takes very little work and time to put up a one-page website and social accounts and an email newsletter or blog and start spreading the word about what you’re going to be offering and why people want to be part of your community. You don’t have to have all the details to start spreading the word about what you’re all about and getting people interested.  The excitement of having a new business often keeps us going, the challenge is that you don’t want to get to the point that it’s too late to market, which is why creating a plan and sticking to it can help you keep your success going.

Other ‘plan ahead’ keys include making connections and building relationships every opportunity you’re given, because you never know when you can help connect someone, or need a connection yourself. You also should always have a plan “b” (and maybe a plan “c” too) because you never know how things will change or how you’ll need to pivot your business (or your life).

Finally, plan to celebrate your business, the milestones you’ve reached and the team and customers who make it all possible. It is very possible to get wrapped up in the day-to-day running of a business, and that’s when you can lose the passion and purpose that people were attracted to in the first place. Making time for celebrations on a regular basis (like the holidays) and showing that you appreciate your people, will help you stay motivated and your people stay interested and connected.

What insights do you have about business and success planning?

Success and Peace

With yesterday being Veteran’s Day, after all of the celebration and honoring of the brave men and women who fight for our country, I got to thinking about the topic of peace. Peace is ultimately what veterans are working towards, right? Yes, sometimes they are out there protecting or trying to stop a force, or even helping after natural disasters, but even all of those are really about helping to restore or create peace. So today I thought we’d talk a little about the topic of peace and how we get there and the role it plays when it comes to success.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from our men and women in the military is that peace does take work. Maybe that’s as simple and easy as brewing your favorite hot morning beverage and sipping it while watching the sun rise. But typically, it’s a whole lot more complicated and take years of effort and investment as well. One of the big questions that has to be considered is if you’re really invested enough in peace to do the work to get there.

We also learn that peace isn’t something that will remain without consistent attention. There are many countries around the world that struggle with peace because they haven’t maintained the peace they had at one point in time or another. Peace can absolutely be a limited time thing, for example during the Olympics and other similar events, countries typically ‘play nice’ and put to the side issues that would ordinarily cause great conflict between them. But most of us don’t want singular moments of peace, we want sustained peace, which means that it’s something we have to be willing to work on consistently.

Finally, I think peace is a goal so many work towards because of the feelings of euphoria, satisfaction, fulfillment and victory that you can experience. These same emotions we can experience when we achieve a success-oriented goal we’re working on. After the victory lap for an achievement there’s also almost a feeling of peace because you did what you set out to do. I don’t know about you, but I think those are moments worth working towards.

If you want more peace in your life, you can start small and pick one thing that can give you a moment of peace each day, even if it’s as simple as that beverage in the mornings. Or you can go big and make a plan to set up more consistent experiences of peace in your life by getting a better handle on your finances, building stronger relationships with those closest to you, choosing your friends more carefully, or investing more in that which means something to you rather than jumping at random opportunities, just to name a few. What will bring you or help you create more peace in your life?

The Business of Going Green

For years there’s been a trend on going green, on reusable materials and on being environmentally friendly.   It has been a challenge for some businesses because the old ways of doing things are easy, especially if you’re not concerned about the environmental cost in the long or short term.  Some businesses give it a try or make some effort to do things right, but don’t lead with a green focus.  Other businesses have thrived in providing products and services that not only take into consideration the environment, but are products and services that are well made as well and do the job they’re being purchased to do.  Not only do businesses get brownie points for doing what’s good for the environment, but customers actively seek those businesses out because they are conscious about the impact their life and buying habits are having on the world we all share.

Customers are more willing to buy a “green” product or service that might not be quite as good in quality if they know they’re doing good for the earth. Some companies are also able to persuade customers into believing that a product is effective even if it’s not the greatest, and get away with it by talking about how green it is. But with both of those examples customers are still clearly attracted by how the product is made or service delivered as well as that it’s what they need or want.

Recently I read a headline about how a company is creating shirts out of…wait for it…unused milk.  No, that’s not a typo or misspelling or inaccurate word choice.  I didn’t read the article or choose to find anything about the company after reading the headline because I was quite frankly disgusted (and I’m not including a link here for the same reason).  I’m all for creating products that are smarter about how they use our resources, but the green movement hasn’t fully caught up with quality or demand in at least a couple of aspects.

Don’t get me wrong, this company would get a gold star for being creative, but business is about being more than just creative or saving the earth, it has to make good financial sense as well, and for good financial sense to be achieved it has to be making sales.  I don’t know about you, but I would not want to tell the world how proud I am to be wearing a shirt made from unused milk. I’m also not going to spread the word and tell my friends about this company that sells shirts made from milk.

When your customers aren’t proud of or excited by what you’re making and aren’t willing to share about their purchases with their friends, you quickly lose a great potential source of traffic and recommendations, and word of mouth is one of the reasons that many companies, especially small start-ups are successful today.  This story is a great reminder to make sure that your business is supplying something that there’s a need or demand for in the world. Have you recently confirmed that you’re still offering something people want and need?

The Success of Halloween

Halloween is this week, it’s a holiday all about the darkest corners of the world and darkest things our imaginations can think up. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my life full of dark and scary things, it’s hard enough to see the news each day with all that goes on in the world, so it got me thinking about why it’s so successful and able to bring in so much money and continue year after year.

First, let’s talk about the authentic side of Halloween, and that’s the fact that it’s been shown and believed for many years that there’s something beyond the life we live now. Whether you believe in Heaven and hell or not, or believe that there’s something in between here and the future, or you’ve had an experience with a ghost or other spiritual being, a large majority of people will say there’s more to the world than we see living on this plane with us. But while ghosts are something we talk about at Halloween, there’s so much more to the holiday and to all things spooky than just ghosts.

One of the reasons Halloween is successful is because they’ve managed to connect it with one of the legal forms of an addictive substance, and that’s candy. So many of us around the world have a sweet tooth that it makes it very easy to get us excited about anything that involves candy. You then add in pumpkin (spice) flavor to some of that candy and you’ve got a second winner. It’s also very easy to come up with alcoholic beverages/mixed drinks that are of the orange or black or neon or spooky color, not to mention all the ways you can craft food to resemble all sorts of haunted things. So Halloween is an easy win when it comes to our taste buds and stomachs, which is often all that something needs to be successful.

Then you’ve got the fun of dressing up and being someone else. This is traditionally something the kids do, but college kids and adults often will dress up and attend parties as well. There’s something magical and refreshing about being able to pick out a different costume each year and be someone else, be someone that you aren’t or can’t be in real or daily life. Dressing up is a chance to escape the responsibilities of our daily lives and try on someone else’s life for a little while, as well as hang out with friends and have fun (something else not everyone makes time for either).

It’s also successful because those who commercialized it knew to tap into the adrenaline that people experience when they’re surprised by or dealing with something scary. That rush is also an addictive feeling, which is why year after year we are willing to visit countless attractions and even sign health waivers to be allowed in and face something that might scare us.

Ultimately though, Halloween is so broadly successful because it taps into those who like the more extreme side of the holiday and getting scared out of their minds as well as those that like to make and enjoy cute little spider cookie or cupcake treats. It’s something that both children and adults and even seniors can get involved in and enjoy (some seniors find handing out Halloween candy to be one of the highlights of their year). Sometimes success is as simple as creating something that a large number of people will find fun, adding variations to make that audience even broader and making sure that there’s a reason to keep coming back year after year.

Are you into Halloween? What makes it a holiday you celebrate each year?

Your Own Steps to Success

Success is different for everyone. Yes, we can learn from others and copy their best practices, but their path to success may not work for us. It may be the exact wrong thing for us to do to get where we are hoping to get. It’s one reason why I think it’s important to evaluate the strategy or idea you’re considering implementing before just going ahead with it. It’s also a huge reminder how important it is to know yourself, your tendencies and your preferences.

For example one of the most widely shared success tips is to get up at 5 am and meditate or get your top items for the day done early. I am not a morning person. I never have been. I can get up when I have to for a client appointment in the morning, but I really don’t enjoy meeting the sun (I’m also partial to sunsets over sunrises). Another of the related oft-suggested success tips is to conquer the most important things on your to-do list in the first hour of your day, so when you first get to work or after you get the kids off to school. I saw this advice again the other day and it got me thinking about how I work and what works for me and what my brain is doing when I’m trying to do those “most important items” in the first hour.

But the more I tried to conquer those “top items,” the harder it got. Why? Because I was focused on the other things that I hadn’t done yet like the dishes in the sink or the laundry or my email or a dirty bathroom or social media or what I was going to make for dinner or groceries I needed to get or if a book was at the library for me. They may seem like insignificant things, and you may have your own list of things that goes through your head first thing, but each of those little things that aren’t technically priorities floating around my head made it take twice as long to get the true priorities done.

Instead, when I take care of those things first, when I have a clean email slate, when I respond to all the client messages, when I clean up the house first, I’m better able to get the true priorities done in the time that it should take them to get done and give them my full attention. Could I retrain myself to focus on the priorities first? Sure, but everything is getting done by the end of the day, I have a better peace of mind, I’m more focused and less distracted by everything around me.

Are you trying to adopt practices that have helped others be successful but really aren’t working for you? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate those practices and start making your own success practices and habits, and accepting what works for you instead of trying to do what works for someone else.