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How to Be Present for Your Business

The ability, some might say attempt, to multitask is a curse of sorts. While working on ten things at once may seem efficient, each of those things gets roughly 10% of our greatness while we’re doing it.

That may actually be fine for, say, deleting emails, but is that enough for writing a note to a client, creating an action plan for a product launch or determining the fee you plan to charge for a project? Probably not.

Attention is one of our scarcest resources these days and guarding it in a way that allows us to work with intention requires the ability to remain present and mindful in the midst of the storm raging all around us. (Otherwise known as your business)

In fact, it not only requires us to be as present as possible for the daily tasks we tackle, it also requires us to be continually mindful of where we are going and why we are going there and that requires a process of its own.

Planned Mindfulness

It’s one thing to conduct annual strategic planning sessions and quite another to live the intention of those sessions after the white boards are erased.

I believe that you need to create a daily routine that involves revisiting your greatest goals and objectives and developing what I’ve come to call a passion mantra that upon seeing, hearing or reading energizes you and snaps you back into a state of mindfulness.

Creating your passion mantra may require time sitting and writing about what matters most to you, what drives you, what motivates you, what scares you and what excites you, but if you can create a simple statement that helps hold you accountable for what you intend to do, you’ll have a tool that consistently inspires right action and keeps you out of the act of wallowing in self-pity and doubt.

I’ve shared my own personal passion mantra before and I’ll share it here, but know that these are merely words and their real power if the feeling I attach to them.

My mantra is: My life is an amazing adventure; my business is an amazing adventure.

Witness Your Thoughts

Another habit that you may need to form in order to work steadily towards the intention of your business is to actually start to pay attention to your thoughts and reactions throughout the day.

Frankly, this can be exhausting work, but if you can begin to step back and analyze how your mind unconsciously processes everything that happens throughout the day, you might start to get a glimpse into some of the negative and limiting ways we view things as either good or bad.

The problem with most of reactions to things is they don’t always serve our overall objectives. If your intention is to be a business that provides incredible value by helping your customers achieve their goals, you’ll find that giving more than you take is the surest path to success. However, if your first thought in most relationships is what’s in it for me, or I’ve got to watch my back, you’ve got some powerful forces working against you.

How we view things is simply a choice, but that choice can become so ingrained that we no longer even make it, it simply occurs out of habit. When we start to slow down and observe these choices as they are happening, we gain the power to make or not make them in accordance with our driving intention.

Present Actfullness

Our intentions drive our thoughts and our thoughts form our actions. That’s what makes planning, goal setting and mindful thinking so powerful. However, there are armies lined up and waiting to derail you from your path to success – some come in the form of your own thoughts and others come in the form of an evil printer that won’t work as advertised.

In addition to witnessing how your thoughts create and form your reality, you must develop habits that help you change your physical state and bring it intentionally into being present along with your thoughts.

This is the easy part. Develop routines that require you to stop your work hourly and do ten pushups or take a lap around your office building. Fill up a jug of water and empty it hourly. Take a fifteen-minute afternoon nap. Write a handwritten thank you note several times a day.

What you do physically isn’t as important as the act of stopping and bringing your awareness back into the room by removing your attention from all the tasking at hand. I find that the simplest of planned physical mindfulness, even intentional breathing has the power to center me.

Present for Customers

So, really the point of all of this mindfulness is to help you build a better business that delivers value to world and less stress to you in the process, but the practical side is that it will allow you to be present for your customers and that will pay off immediately.

We all like to think we have our customers needs and desires in mind at all times, but quite often we get caught up in attempts to appear to have all the answers, in stating our case rather than listening, or in feigning care when our real motivation is the sale.

You can’t be fully present in every client interaction, but occasionally, maybe systematically, you need to look your clients in the eye, in a way that lets them feel you are listening, and ask them how you could help them more – and then shut up and listen without judgment. My guess is you will find this incredibly rewarding.

Present for Staff

In the midst of the day-to-day rush of projects, tasks, questions and actions the real development of the people that work all around you can get lost.

Meetings are scheduled and conducted with to dos and takeaways in mind and are often seen mostly as something in the way of getting your real work done.

Again, you can’t be fully mindful in every interaction with your staff, but in order to create an environment where your people can participate in the fulfillment of the organization’s objectives, you must provide a way for them to be heard as well.

Once a week, put 30 minutes on your calendar with everyone that reports to you and make them own the agenda. There may be times when several agenda items revolve around projects, but there will be times when you simply listen to what they really want out of life and how you can help them get there – and I believe that may be one of the most rewarding gifts you can participate in giving.

So, this being present stuff isn’t for the timid, but if you’ve ever come home and night and couldn’t really tell your spouse what you did all day that made you so busy, there’s a pretty good bet you need to dig into this a bit.

Image credit: SirPecanGum via Flickr CC

Stop Looking Down At Your Feet

In all my years of owning a business there’s one thing I’ve witnessed to be true – that which gets my focus gets done or another way to say it is – my intention gets my attention.

Daniel Morris via Flickr

Of course, as with so many things that are true about business, this is equally true about life in general. The things we think about create our actions and our actions create our present reality.

The reason I wander into this territory is that I’ve also discovered that if you acknowledge this phenomenon you must also accept that you have the ability to change what you focus on and change any aspect of your business or life.

Change your point of view and you can change your life.

For most business owners the real problem is the lack of a compelling future vision or any long-term view at all. I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s one of those once a day kind of notions. Creating a compelling picture of where you need to be in three years from now is not something your stop and do in a planning workshop, it’s something you think about in the shower and you take to work every day.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment of running a business that we get pushed and pulled into one course correction after another. Unless you have a view of where you are headed and catch a hint of that vision every day you’ll trudge through each step along the way.

I had a running coach once that gave me the best advice I’ve ever received. The advice had nothing to do with footfall, turnover or arm swing. He simply told me that if I wanted to be a better runner I needed to change what I looked at.

Instead of looking down at my feet or a few strides of pavement forward, as many runners do, he suggested that I look as far ahead as I could see and let that far off horizon pull me forward. I can tell you that this little piece of advice changes my physiology and literally yanks me forward.

I think the same is so true for business owners and here are the questions that may help you change your point of view.

  • Have your framed your far off horizon?
  • Is it a big enough vision to pull your towards it?
  • How can you develop the habit of keeping your head up and fixed on your bigger vision?
  • How will your new intention impact what gets your day to day attention?

7 Reasons Why Your Business Is Stuck

Ever feel like you’re in a rut. Or worse, that you keep pushing that boulder up the hill, all Sisyphus like, only to watch it roll back down, feeling that you are destined to repeat this throughout eternity.

David Ensor via Flickr

Okay, citing Greek and Roman mythology may be a bit dramatic, but I see it every day and work with small business owners every day that tell me they desperately want to take their business to the next level, but can’t seem to get unstuck.

In working through this same phenomenon in my own business I offer these seven reasons why we struggle to move past where we are and hopefully some advice on breaking free.

You don’t have a compelling enough vision

The thing that moves people to act beyond what they are currently doing is a vision to do something so compelling that it forces them to change their behaviors in ways that would make it so.

The problem with most business owners is that they are only looking towards next week or next month. What if you looked at making your business and your life multiple times bigger and better than it is right now?

What would that force you to change? What would that force you to stop doing? Where would that compel you to take massive action first?

Your habits aren’t serving you

The fact is that most humans are simply the sum of their habits, good and bad. In order to create change, you don’t need to work harder or try to be more productive; you simply need to replace some of your habits with ones that better serve your vision.

That may mean adding exercise to your daily routine, learning how to say no once in a while, creating workflow that doesn’t include so much time checking email and conversing on Facebook. Maybe you need to start reading and writing. Maybe you need to learn programming or how to present to a large group of prospects from a stage.

Pick one habit that you know isn’t serving your vision and replace it with one that your know will move your forward and commit to practicing that new habit for at least a month. Then, do it again every month for the next twelve and you’ll transform your life.

Your relationships are Twitter thin

The age of friend, follow and fan has changed the dynamics of relationships. I’m not saying those tools are bad things, they have lots to offer, but I am saying it’s easy to sit back and conclude that since you’re chatting with someone on Twitter that you’re building the kinds of relationships you need in order to take your business to higher levels.

We can only manage so many relationships with any amount of depth. That number may vary from person to person to person, but I guarantee you it’s not 500 or 1000.

Pick three people this year that you believe could help you drastically improve your business and your life and focus on building a deep relationship with them. Here’s the catch however, do it by focusing all your attention on how you can help them.

You’re not focused on value

What if the stuff you gave away as part of your marketing was better than most people’s paid product or service? What if you spent as much time measuring the results your clients received as you did on trying to sell more stuff?

Your clients don’t really want your stuff; they want what they or you have convinced them they will get from your stuff. Simply look for ways to be a greater opportunity for them to get what they want and you’ll represent value in the best sense.

You’re worried about your weaknesses

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase – I’m just no good at marketing – then of course it’s followed with, but I love to talk to people and help them get what they need, which of course may be one of the tidier explanations of what marketing really is.

Stop trying to get good at your weaknesses or shoring up areas that everyone says you need to get good at and start mastering the things you do really well, the things that bring you joy, the things that create value for you and for others and growth will flourish.

You’re filling your time

Ever feel like no matter how many hours there were in a day it wouldn’t be enough? Ever come to the end of a day and think, I don’t know what I did today, but I sure was busy?

The plague of work is that we are so completely capable of expanding it to fill whatever time we have available, whether that work is productive or not.

One of the things I truly believe you must embrace in order to take your business to the next level is to plan your time off first. I don’t mean vacation plans, I mean make a part of your compelling vision for the future the precise amount of time you will take to work on your vision and recharge your energy.

What if you planned backwards? What if, instead of taking a little time here and there when it occurred, you did something bold like decided to take every Friday away from the business or an entire week every quarter as a planned renewal period?

Now, you may not see how you could do that at this point, but unless you start to think bigger in this way, you’ll never get above where you are right now.

You’re managing the wrong things

Business is lot like soup. From the diner’s perspective it’s simply good or bad tasting. From the cook’s perspective it’s the precise compilation of broth, vegetables and seasoning that make it good or bad tasting.

I think we often approach our business more like the diner than the cook; we manage the soup rather than combination of the proper ingredients.

I’ve written about the three things we must manage before, but I believe one of the things that holds businesses back is a failure to view their business as a precise blend of purpose, projects and process – maintaining a focus on managing those three things at all times is how you take your business towards your vision.

Give Yourself Permission to Suck

When I was growing up I decided I wanted to play the guitar. I loved music, appreciated songwriting and wanted to be able to play and sing. As anyone who has ever tried to learn an instrument or anyone that’s lived with someone trying to learn a musical instrument can attest, at first you’re going to be really, really bad.

jeffmcneill via Flickr

But, if your desire to play is significant and you push through with practice, eventually, something magical can occur. Now, I never practiced enough to expect to rise very high in my musical career, but I did advance to the point where I could earn money, tips and drinks by playing in the bars in the town where I attended college.

The point is, if you want to achieve any level of success in your business one of the things you must do is give yourself permission to be bad at the things you don’t know how to do.

I encounter business owners frequently that tell me they are bad at this thing or that thing, or they fear they can’t master this important skill. The thing about holding back or caving in to fear is that it zaps your passion and kills your art.

There are so many things you must do in order to build a business and with most of these things you’ll have no idea how to do them properly and no experience to draw upon other than what you witness around you.

If you succeed in business at all at times it’s because you push through, fall down, and get back up to assess what you’ve learned.

The thing is though, many business owners just flat ignore some of the steps they must take in order to move their business forward with momentum because they don’t think they know enough about how to do something, or they don’t think they like that kind of work, or someone told them they’re no good at something.

If you’ve ever felt like your business is stuck and you keep bumping up against some unseen force that won’t let you move forward, look no further than yourself. The enemy is you and your unwillingness to do the things you must even though you’re afraid you’ll fail.

I’m not really trying to give you a pep talk here, this is straight on practical advice. You’re going to suck at many of things you need to do and that’s okay, that’s how you get to where you’re going.

There’s a chapter in the wonderful book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott titled Shitty First Drafts. Lamott describes a process of writing that involves getting something down on paper, without analysis, knowing that it won’t be very good, but also knowing that it’s the only way to get to the second and final draft. Unless you’re willing to write something very bad, you’ll never get to something beautiful.

When I realized that in order to build the business I wanted to build I would have to write every day, I just started to write. I had never really written this way and I was very bad at it. I didn’t want to be bad at it, but I gave myself permission to because it was the only way I was going to get somewhere I wanted to go. (Your ego has way of helping sometimes because I probably didn’t think some of my first works were as bad as they really were.)

When I realized that in order to build the business I wanted to build I would to have to get up in front of audiences and speak, I just started to do it. I had never done it before and I was very bad at it. I didn’t want to be bad at it, but I gave myself permission to because it was the only way I was going to get somewhere I wanted to go.

I’m by no means a great writer or a great speaker, but I’ve stuck with both long enough to get to the point where they are essential elements of my business and brand because I knew they had to be.

So far no one has been injured or killed by my doing either and that’s the point. Give yourself permission to be bad at doing the things you want and need to do and you might find that your art flows more easily.

So, by this point you might be saying, “But I don’t know how to get started with . . . ” – blogging, accounting, analysis, speaking, selling, hiring, SEO, or any other of a myriad of necessary activities I’m no good at.

That’s part two – How to be really, really good at everything you do.

Purpose as Brand

There was a time when I mentioned the word brand to small business and they would shrug their shoulders at the idea. We don’t have a brand, that’s big company we stuff. We have a business and we busy ourselves trying to build some name recognition, sure, but we don’t really worry much about branding.

small business culture

Image Infusionsoft via flickr

I suppose with the advent of social media small businesses have come to realize they do indeed have a brand – it’s not that anything has really changed – it’s that it has become much easier to hear it. The days when the collective perception around a brand was kept to the neighborly chat across the fence have given way to mentions that can be tracked, filtered, scored and aggregated to create a very vivid picture of the existence of a brand. Even the smallest of companies can now turn to Twitter, for instance, and turn up mentions and conversations about their brand from prospects, customers, competitors and journalists alike, all in real time.

This fact, combined with our market’s ability to freely publish and distribute content, comments, ratings and reviews, both good and bad, about any product or service they like, has given new life, meaning and importance to this word brand for businesses both large and small.

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Accentuate the Negative

Glass half full

Image andrew_j_w via flickr

I’m one of those folks that is squarely in the camp of the glass is not just half full, it’s mostly full, so this post may seem a tad uncharacteristically, well, negative.

But here’s the deal, I’ve worked with thousands of business owners over the years and I’ve learned that the rosy point of view isn’t always the first place that people go when they think about their world.

But that’s OK, because, despite what Harold Alden and Johnny Mercer wrote and Bing crooned, you can learn a lot when you accentuate the negative. People can often tell you what they don’t want more vividly than what they do want and that can be a great place to start to get real.

I was reminded of this by a post that came across my RSS reader this week from Business Week called The Stop-Doing List.

I think it can be very useful to get the negative, what you don’t want, out so you can finally see more clearly what you obviously do want.

If this idea resonates at all, and maybe even if it doesn’t quite yet, I would like to suggest you plow through the following list and throw open the window to the negative so that you can shine a light on what’s left. Get a pad and paper and get to work on this today.

  • What don’t you want in your life?
  • Who don’t you want as a customer?
  • What don’t you want as elements of your brand?
  • What don’t you want as a part of you daily routine?
  • Who or what don’t you want as a member of your staff
  • What don’t you want to let go of in your business?
  • What don’t you to have to do to grow your business?
  • What aren’t you willing to give up in order to have what you want?
  • What aren’t you willing to compromise for your vision?
  • What aren’t you prepared to sacrifice to get a sale?
  • What aren’t you sure of when it comes to your business?
  • What aren’t you doing that your customers need you to do?
  • What aren’t you making a priority?

Um, that should keep you busy – clear the decks by getting this stuff down. Take an afternoon and hole up in the back corner of a public library and make these lists. The very fact that you give what you don’t want, what you aren’t willing to do, some undivided attention will free you to actually see what must be, what you must keep and hold in order to have what you do indeed want more than anything else in the world.

What Kind of Business Should I Start?

The title to this post is a question I receive often. So many people want to start their own business these days but, are at a loss as to what to do.

It’s a tough question really and one that needs to be approached as many things in life – from a strategic standpoint first.

See a lot of folks just want to jump right into tactics – what’s hot, what can I make money doing, what are my skills, what’s my background – but that’s only part of the equation.

The first thing you must answer is this – What do I want out of life?

I know, I know, it’s only the biggest, scariest, hardest question on the planet and that’s why so many people just skip it.

Here’s how that applies to your business though.

There are two kinds of businesses, generally, from a strategic standpoint – the business of passion and purpose and the business of profit and practicality.

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5 Questions That Will Change How You View Your Business

thinkingAs we go through the days, weeks and months running a business it’s pretty easy to lose sight of the underlying reasons that make owning a business such a fulfilling experience.

Between the phone ringing, the network going down, and the shipment arriving late there’s the tiniest gap that we must stay connected to in order to build a business that serves our lives while providing a place for customers and staff to experience something remarkable.

I find that the following questions help me reconnect with that gap when it gets a little hard to see, feel, and hear.

1) Why are we doing this?

I wrote about doing work that serves a higher purpose last week and I think this is the question that helps stay connected to the greater reason for doing what you do. This can have a very practical branding application as well because if your business is driven by something very authentic – the manifestation of that can produce some very real branding elements. A business driven to serve, rather than simply sell a service, can wrap many messages and flourishes in that reason to serve.

2) What are we here to give?

I think this is the greatest question anyone who sells a product, service or idea can adopt. By placing your point of view on giving rather than getting, you will be more prepared to produce value for the customer and spot opportunities to produce innovations that could allow you to create even greater value. This ability to adapt to create value is one of the greatest natural advantages small businesses possess.

3) What do we want people to experience?

The rush to social media is really about the evolving trend towards greater customer engagement. Prospects and customers are growing to expect much more in terms of engagement. Organizations that spend as much time on creating a better, more engaging, customer experience as they do on generating new leads will soon find that all of their best leads are coming from existing customers. The key is to look at every aspect of your business from the eyes of a customer and intentionally design the exact experience, perception, or brand you plan for them to encounter.

4) What are we supposed to learn from this?

This one comes courtesy of the parent in me. When we meet challenges, some might call them failures, in business it’s quite natural for some to get caught up in what went wrong. The much more positive approach is to look at every turn in the road as a lesson. If you can start to wonder what you are to learn or determine how to make meaning from set backs you can drop the stress over things going bad and you just might get a glimpse of what you were really put here to do.

5) Who could do this better?

This last question always vexes me. I think I do a lot of things well. In fact, one the greatest skills and consequently weaknesses of many small business owners is the ability to adapt, figure things out on their own, and charge ahead. While we have many skills and talents there are usually only a handful of those skills and talents that can be leveraged to move the organization ahead and produce the greatest profit.

When you come to understand the work you should be focused on and start looking for partners, employees and collaborators who can do the other important, but not in your zone, work your business will change dramatically. Once again, from a practical standpoint you can often buy services far greater than you can actually do them half-baked yourself.

What questions drive you deeper into understanding how to build your business?

Image credit: wadem