The Blessing of Surprises

This weekend I was thinking about the topic of surprise as I was working on my newsletters. Some of us are good with surprises but others of us hate them. I’m kind of in the middle, I like having and knowing plans and things, but at the same time it can be fun to get a surprise free gift with an order or be surprised by what a restaurant has for specials that day. If we really think about it just about every day has at least one surprise in it, there’s almost no way we can fully predict our day from start to finish. Sometimes those surprises are good, and other times they’re challenges to us or become obstacles in our days.

One of my favorite surprises to have in my life are kids and animals. Both can bring some pretty crazy antics to the table, and while they do have some predictability, you never really know what they’re going to say or how they’re going to play or the things they’ll get into. I think having these types of simple but active and life-affirming surprises in our lives are an important aspect of keeping us young, adventurous, curious and healthy.

Getting old is a fact of life, but just because our age says we’re older, it doesn’t mean that we have to feel and look older. There are some very active senior citizens in the world who experience more joy and freedom in their lives than adults do because they’ve got things going on in their lives that keep them active physically, but just as important, and maybe more importantly, keep them active mentally.

When was the last time you let a little surprise into your life? I know it can be challenging, especially for the control freaks out there to let go and let a surprise into their life, but there comes a time in all our lives that things are out of our control, no matter how hard we try or what we do. So I encourage you to open yourself up to a little down time each day to let things happen as they will. You may find that they’re the best and most rewarding moments of your day.

Free to Just Be

Today I want to encourage you to stop and just be. Stop signing your kids up for every program under the sun, stop trying to get so much done each day that you’re completely exhausted by the time you get home and have zero energy for your kids or partner, stop wandering aimlessly in your life, stop rushing period. You, your kids and your partner all need downtime more than they need another commitment, regardless of whether you or they are an introvert or extrovert.

I get that there are important things in your life that need to be done to live or things you’ve already committed to that need to be followed through on, but there comes a time when you really just have to put your foot down and say that you’ve had enough. Hopefully you’ll feel encouraged to do that before you work yourself into an early grave or isolate you from all the people you love, or burn yourself out so badly that you have to take significant time off to even function again.

I believe it’s important to fill your life with things you love and to make time for the responsibilities you need to see to as a significant other, parent, sibling, son/daughter, worker and community member. It’s good to be involved and do things and enjoy the life you have and people you love. But it’s also important to take time to relax, to reflect, to be thankful and to just be. We aren’t designed to go 24/7, we’re meant to sleep and meditate and eat to enjoy and listen.

There’s no reason to feel guilty for taking a day off (including a mental health day), or admitting that you’re struggling, or taking a break to refocus. If you’re able to take that break with your kids or partner, great. Sometimes those moments when you’re just being quiet together can be the best part of your day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Will you make time for down time this week?

Start Smart(er)

Today I’m thinking about a topic that may not feel relevant for some of you, because you’re already past this point, but I’ve got some good insights for you as well, so don’t check out yet. Today I want to talk about starting a business. It sounds silly to revisit it if you’ve already started the business, I know but I often read articles about starting a business because everyone does it a little different, and it’s a very different story to start a business today than it was even 10 years ago. Let’s take a look at a few different aspects of starting a business.

Why?
This is one of the most important questions: why are you starting it? I think you can start a business for the money (you’ve got greater potential for increasing your income with a business than with a traditional job), but I don’t think that can be your only reason. I think there needs to be a reason that you chose to start a business walking dogs or marketing or making pastries, and I don’t think it should just be related to the amount of money you can make doing it. Why? Because those who will be buying from you are people with a personal stake in whatever you’re selling.

A Business Plan?
Do I think you have to write a 30 page business plan before you start? No, but I do think you need to research your potential business industry and customers and have a written plan for how you’re going to make money, care for customers etc. As your business grows this is something you should revisit on a regular basis (at least yearly) to make sure that you’re on task or even when you’re planning a course revision.

How will you make an impact?
This goes back to the first question in many respects, but has more to do with the results of what you’re offering. What are you making people feel and think when they buy your products or services? What do they feel or think when they see your marketing or your logo, or think about using your product or think about meeting with you in the future? If you really want to make an impact with your business you need to make an impact that people like.

Of course, once you’ve got these 3 things taken care of you should create a website, even if it’s a simple one for starters, as well as join at least one social media site. You should also look for opportunities to share about what you do and invest in your local community, even if you only offer services or sell online. And the research never should stop once you’ve started your business, there are tons of great resources online to further your business education and help you understand and tap into the newest trends and technologies, and determine if they’re right for your business and customers.

If you have an existing business I’d love to hear what have you learned in starting your business and what was important to you as you started your journey so we can all learn from your experiences as well.

Words of Freedom

Today I’m sharing a few quotes on our topic of the month, freedom.  Quite a few people have some great insight into this topic and I think it’s worth taking a look at their perspectives. 

“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” Kevyn Aucoin

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” Jim Morrison

“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?” Soledad O’Brien

“Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.” Stephen Covey

“Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.” Drew Houston

“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”  Jim Morrison

“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.” Barack Obama

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Albert Camus

“True independence and freedom can only exist in doing what’s right.” Brigham Young

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Soren Kierkegaard

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” Nelson Mandela

“We gain freedom when we have paid the full price.” Rabindranath Tagore

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” Rosa Parks

What wisdom have you heard about freedom?

Seeing Things Differently

Recently I read an interesting article about Dr. Sanjay Gupta meditating with the Dalai Lama. It was interesting for many reasons, but one of them, and the one I want to talk about today, was the fact that sometimes His Holiness struggles with meditation too. Just so we’re clear, meditating is something that His Holiness (and other Buddhists as well as countless others of various faiths and practices) does on a regular basis. The interesting part wasn’t just that he struggles, but how he often overcomes that struggle. Rather than using meditation as a time to be without thought, he uses it to focus on something specific and work through it or work on understanding it from a myriad of perspectives. So yes, you’re being quiet still during meditation, but it doesn’t have to be about being blank or empty.

I wanted to share about this with you today because so often in our families and relationships we approach something in one way (meditation is for being blank and empty) when there’s countless other ways that it could be approached. The challenge is not only being open to those other approaches and being able to see them, but also working on not just reacting in the way you always have or just going with your default actions/opinions/beliefs.

Part of the challenge in applying other perspectives to your life, or to your kids, is that there’s a lot of the world that isn’t open to other perspectives, for example in traditional learning environments, aka schools. Yes, you can send your kids to schools that offer other things or teach differently, but often they cost a lot of money, money that not all families have. So in this case you could do supplemental education on the weekends or afterschool, and during the summer. You may also have to work on getting your partner to see the validity of your point or why you want to do things differently. This isn’t always a bad thing because it does mean you have to think things out and really have good reasons for doing things differently.

My challenge to you this week is to start looking for other perspectives, approaches or opportunities with the things that challenge you most or you struggle with most. Take the time to see if there are alternatives or options, like His Holiness presented to Dr. Gupta about meditation, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or get someone else’s perspective.

Freeing Your Business From Indecision

Today as we think more about freedom I want to talk about one of the things that challenges that freedom, indecision. As a business owner you’ve got a lot coming at you that you have to make decisions about on a daily basis, and as a result some business owners go into overwhelm and the business may fall apart. You’ve seen some of these businesses on TV shows like Tabitha’s Salon Takeover and Bar Rescue, they’re suffering and not successful, and often that’s a result of overwhelm or indecision and lack of direction from the owner(s) and/or manager(s). Of course, we can’t forget or ignore the indecision that customers struggle with either. So let’s take a look at 3 key players in our businesses and their relationship with indecision.

Owners: I get the importance of doing your research and taking the time to evaluate your options. As a side note I talk with too many people who don’t take the 5-10 minutes to do the research before they make a decision, with all the information on the internet and contactability through social media there’s no excuse. However, as the person in charge you have to make a decision at some point in time and put action behind it. Your indecision not only affects you, but it also impacts your employees and your customers. There are people out there waiting for the solutions you could be offering but because you’re waiting to decide on a web layout or waiting for the discount to do an ad or putting off the renovations to your store, those potential customers are not getting the best from you.

Employees: As a business owner you need to 1) empower your employees to be able to make decisions for your customers, 2) encourage your employees to make decisions, and 3) motivate your employees to make decisions that are best for both your business and your customers. Employees who are happy in their jobs and believe in what the business is selling and in the brand the business is growing, will typically make good decisions for your business, but they can’t if you haven’t educated them on the principles of working with customers as you want done in your business and you haven’t told them they’re allowed to make decisions that will bring customers back in the future even if they have an issue currently.

Customers: You won’t sell to every person that interacts with your business, that’s just the way it is. You should not want to sell to every person either, because not every person is a good fit for what you offer. However, I’ve never met a business that wasn’t missing out on converting some of the potential customers. Customers have indecision for several reasons including: they don’t know what you’re selling, they don’t know what people think of what you’re selling, they don’t know what the price is of what you’re selling, they have questions about what you’re selling, and they’re concerned about liking what you’re selling after buying. If these issues are present for them when they consider your offer, you’re giving your potential customers the excuse they were looking for to run instead of buying. Do your part in giving them fewer excuses to try someone else.

If you’ve been struggling with indecision on something, I encourage you to accept this reminder today and take action. Don’t make your business, your employees or your customers wait any longer, and do what you can to remove the dreaded gray area. What decisions will you make today?

What About Your Freedoms?

This month as we talk about freedom you’re probably aware that a big part of the conversation around freedom is about helping others have the freedoms we’re blessed with, or about being part of a movement to get freedoms. Part of the blessing of technology today is that even if you can’t physically go or monetarily contribute or do the research to find a cure, you can always sign a petition or share a link on social media. But there’s a part of freedom that’s important to consider as well, one that we often skip over because there are so many people in the world, and our own individual worlds, that need our help. It’s something that can be criticized and to be the most effective does need to be balanced in your life. What is it? It’s taking care of yourself and your freedoms first.

Why is it important to take care of yourself first? Because, as the old story goes, you can’t save anyone if you don’t put on your own oxygen mask first. Taking care of yourself is important whether we’re talking about your physical or mental health, your career, your future or your freedom. If you’re not rested, fulfilled, inspired, cared for or loved, you won’t be as capable of giving to others. Can you still care for others or help them in getting to their goals? Of course, but there comes a time when you’re so drained that you don’t have any more to give. It’s better to take a step back and rejuvenate on a regular basis than give your all all of the time and never take time for yourself. Taking care of yourself and putting yourself first isn’t about being selfish or not caring for anyone else, it’s about making sure that you’re taking the time to care for yourself, not just everyone else.

So as you enjoy your freedoms with your family this summer and do take some time to do some pampering or take some time off, I encourage you to make it a regular part of your life all year long.

Summer of Change

Summer is a great time to work on change with your kids and family. Why? Because most of us have lighter schedules that allow for taking a little time off to do those big projects, weather that allows both indoor and outdoor activities and plans to be done, less things on the schedule and more opportunities to put in a little time each day to work on those changes, and an abundance of people home from college who can watch the kids if you and your partner need to work independently of the kids on something. It’s not always easy to work on change, but having the abundant resources that the summer provides to work on changes does make it a little easier and remove many of the excuses you’ve been using to hold yourself back.

Why work on changes? Because whether it’s the mile-long to-do list that you’ve been adding to for too long, or the stuff that’s just sticking around bothering you or holding you back, neither is good for your family or you personally. If you’re familiar with the concepts of Feng Shui, the law of attraction and the laws of abundance, they also speak to the importance of having a space that allows you to think, grow, love, create and prosper, which aren’t things you can do if you’re feeling pressured by that to-do list or all the stuff just hanging around.

Also, if it’s on your to-do list it must be there for a reason. Sometimes we do put things on there that we think we’re supposed to put there, but most often it’s stuff that really does need to be there, even if we end up doing the lower priority stuff first because it’s less intimidating, or less of a commitment, or less of a change.

So what are the big changes you might work on this summer? Organizing clothes, organizing the kitchen, organizing the garage/shed, cleaning up the outdoor areas, organizing the office, changing diets/eating habits, increasing exercise consistency, setting aside consistent time for personal development, making more consistent time for your partner and/or kids, reducing your bad habits (including overspending, too much TV, too much junk food, not enough sleep etc.) or even job searching (or starting a business), just to name a few.

What will you (finally) work on this summer?

What’s Your Social Snapshot?

This week I’ve been thinking about a phrase I read in an article about using social media for business: “social snapshot.” It got me thinking about social media and business, how we’re using social media in business, how our customers are using social media and what social media is all about and I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts with you today.

As you’ve probably heard me say before social media is all about being social. The entire point of social media is to share with friends, family, associates etc. what’s going on in your life, what matters to you, things you’re enjoying, what’s frustrating/concerning you in the world etc. So as a business it’s important to do more than just promote your offerings, because that’s not what people are interested in experiencing when they interact with you on social media. Should you include sharing about your offerings? Yes, but it has to be mixed with more social content like advice, experiences, interviews, and fun. As an aside, a big part of that social experience is to be talking with others, so make sure you’re responding to everything people are putting on your page (and if it’s negative either respond appropriately or delete, block and make a note about your preferred page experience).

When you’re using social media as a business you want to put up content that your customers, fans, potential customers and potential fans would find fun, interesting, helpful or share-worthy. Share-worthy can include things that are scary/worrisome/shocking as well as positive/feel-good, and usually has a story behind it. So when you’re considering your social strategy and content plan it’s important to take into consideration not only what you’re selling but what matters to your fans around what you’re selling. For example, don’t just think about the hammer you’re trying to sell, think about the picture that they’re trying to hang with your hammer.

Finally, going back to the phrase for today “social snapshot” I want to talk a tiny bit about how most social networks technically function and what that means for your business. First of all, most people aren’t going to your page/account on the social network, they’re getting your content in their newsfeed so they’re only seeing a tiny portion of who you are and what you’re all about at a given time. If you’re not familiar with social media for most of the social sites they use an algorithm to determine what content is seen by people. What this primarily means is that not all content is seen. It also means that content isn’t seen in order of publishing, things from 3 days ago might be the first things you see when you sign in because the algorithms have determined it to be more important that what’s been published in the 3 days since then. What it means for you as a business is that at any point in time your fans may be seeing content from your page and it might not be your most recent post. This isn’t a suggestion to go back and delete posts, but rather to be very conscious about what you’re posting and make sure that it always presents your brand in the way you want it presented. If you have to choose putting your best foot forward and creating less content but content that’s better created, or creating so much (partially decent) content you’re everywhere and you blow up the internet, because people only see a small portion of your business through the social network it’s better to go with less but better content.

The second thing to consider when talking about your “social snapshot” is the importance of completely filling out your account on the social network. This means having a nice photo for your account that shows up next to your posts, a helpful description in the about section or on the about page (take advantage of the space you’re given, if you can provide more information you should), and a helpful and descriptive picture for the header/cover section if that’s an option. If you get lucky enough that people do come back to your little piece of real estate on a social network, you want to provide the best experience possible to your visitors. It’s much like how you want to make your physical store or website to look inviting and how you want them to get all they can out of connecting with you. This may sound like a silly or overly obvious thing to do, but more often than not one or all 3 of these things aren’t what they could or should be on the social accounts I see.

Have you tried social media for your business? If so what are the things you’ve learned and what have your customers responded to best?

Freedom to be Different

This month one of the topics we’ll be taking a look at is the topic of freedom. Part of that freedom that everyone wants to embrace is the freedom to be who they are, to be themselves, and to not be ridiculed or rejected because they’re different. It’s not always easy to give others that freedom because we don’t understand them or their differences, or think that their differences make them wrong/bad. Part of that struggle is a conversation issue, but it might not be the one you’re thinking it is, because there are lots of people around the world having great conversations and lots of opportunities throughout social media and tons of other forums, which is good news.  But most of those conversations are happening between people that who share the same differences (for example between survivors of a particular trauma or people who have a medical condition or people with a passion for bratwurst).

I think a big part of the conversation issue is that some people aren’t willing to listen to others share about their differences, and part of that unwillingness has to do with fears. Fears about the other person’s story actually making a lot of sense, being able to identify with them, or even finding out that maybe the differences aren’t so different after all. If any of those things happen we have to readjust what we know and especially how we interact with them, and that can be really scary or intimidating. It also leads into the possibility that we were wrong about the type of person they are, or wrong about how wrong/bad/weird their difference is, and that’s not easy to swallow either.

I’m not suggesting that we should sit down with terrorists and try to understand or accept our differences, that’s a completely different conversation for another day. What I’m talking about here is two people (or a group of people) talking long before things would ever escalate to war/genocide/massacre level, or even to protest level. I’m talking about regular citizens having conversations with cops, people of different cultures talking, or the older generations talking with the younger ones.

I don’t believe that we’ll all love each other and everything will be perfect if we have these conversations, but I think that we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier if we were a little more open to each of us being different and that difference being OK. Yes, it will mean that we’ll have to suspend our judgment, be open to seeing the world in a new way and maybe even be wrong about what we knew before, not to mention become better communicators. But if we really want a better world for the next generation, I think it’s important that we take the conversations out of our individual groups and start talking among ourselves.  Will you join me in being open to being different, and maybe even someday to celebrating our differences?