I’ve been working lately to re-invent myself a bit. As my business has evolved, it seems that personal growth and rebirth naturally are part of the evolution. Making decisions about whether or not to grow and expand my business have consumed my thoughts of late. The business has reached the point where I’ve started outsourcing parts of some projects and I’m struggling with the decision of bringing on a college intern or two.
While I relish the idea of mentoring someone, I also know that it will take time to teach and encourage him or her. And, I want to do it right. I had a great mentor when I did a post-graduation internship… she’s remained one of my best friends more than 30 years later and we often discuss various challenges we have with our businesses as we try to manage clients, business growth, family and everything else in our lives.
Recently I read something that one of my brothers had written… he’s currently walking the Way of St. James in Spain and he commented “the thing with the Camino is that it is walked east to west. To see a sunrise, you must stop and turn around because the sunrise is behind you. “ he went on to make the point that we need to take the time to “stop and reflect on what is behind us.”
I feel that lately I’m been so focused on where I’m going, personally and professionally, that I’ve forgotten to take the time to turn around and look at where I’ve been. Looking back at the amazing internship experience I had and the role that it has played in my life makes me not only appreciate the gift of a true friend in my life, but the importance of having a mentor — and being a mentor.
So, with my brother’s reminder to look back at some of the blessings in my life, and my mid-day encounter with a Luna Moth (a symbol of re-birth), I know what the next step needs to be. It’s time for me to mentor a student or two as interns with my business.
“Luna moths are attracted to the moon as a source of light. In spiritual terms, they signify rebirth and new beginnings. Because they gravitate towards light in the darkness of the night, the luna moth is seen as a symbol of spiritual transformation, of heightened awareness, and a striving towards truth." From www.maynardlifeoutdoors.com
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Many of the clients that I work with need to take “before,” “during” and “after” photos of projects — from general contractors to interior designers to recycled granite businesses, they want to show the impact of their work. Here are the basic tips that I share with them. (Be sure to download the whitepaper for easy reference).
BEFORE PHOTOS — they can (and should) look bad. Bad lighting, messy, cluttered is good. You’re trying to show a dramatic improvement and there is no better way than with a completely unstaged photo. With that being said, the images should be a file size of at least 3mb.
DURING PHOTOS — these are a little different than “before” photos. You want to show the process, but try to keep the chaos to a minimum. Once of the general contractors that I work with cleans up the job site at the end of each work day. For him, the end of the day (or first thing in the morning) are the best times to take the “during” photos. Tightly framed photos may be a good choice for you for “during” images as they can show the process withough showing the chaos. Again, minimum file size is 3mb.
AFTER PHOTOS — If you are taking the photos yourself, block more time than you think you need. But, this is when you should consider hiring a professional photographer. If you hire a photographer, make sure you own all rights to the photos.
Think about the photos you want to take and make a list so you don’t forget anything. Once you have your shot list…
It’s time to clean and prep the area you are going to photograph. Yes, dust, fingerprints and smudges all show up in high resolution photos. And while they can be digitally removed, it’s better to have clean photos — there will still be plenty of other Photoshop® work to do.
Stage the area: fluff pillows, put the toilet lid down, fold or roll towels, artfully arrange throws on beds, chairs or sofas, etc. Turn on all the lights, you may even want to consider using a shop light with a “daylight” bulb to help highlight an area.
Take lots and lots of photos. The beauty of digital photography is that you can simply delete all the bad photos.
Try shooting from different angles and see what happens. For outdoor shots, if possible, take some photos during the golden hour — that time just before sunset when everything glows. Wet down the outdoor surfaces first to get more reflection, add ambient lighting, candles and voila! Stunning photos
Be sure to download our photo tip whitepaper to keep these tips handy.
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Online forms… we all come across them on a daily basis. Some are useful and some are downright annoying — especially when a form has too many “required” fields. We know and understand that a certain amount of information needs to be required, and some answers simply make it easier for the form recipient to help us. Online forms have really become a part of our daily lives.
Recently, we worked with one of our clients to create an online form that streamlined a process they’ve been doing manually for years. The results were met with rave reviews.
This particular client is one of several non-profit organizations that I work with. For years, The Lord’s Pantry at Anna’s House (Indianapolis) has facilitated an adopt-a-family program during the holidays. With more than 200 families in the program, you can imagine trying to organize all of the adopters and matching them with the adoptees. Because the amazing staff at The Lord’s Pantry is so passionate about matching each adopter/sponsor with the type of family they would like to adopt, it can make for a lot of extra work. But imagine, if the individual, family or business were able to go online and in just a few minutes, complete an online form that would break down the exact parameters for the adoptee family.
That, is exactly what we did this year. We worked to develop an online form (using the Fast Secure Online Form plugin for WordPress) that collected the contact information for the individual, family or business/organization looking to adopt a family. But we went several steps further. We asked about the size of the family they would like to adopt, ages of children, lanugage spoken and more.
The online form allowed for quick and easy matching by the staff AND an easy way for members of the community to sign up to participate regardless of the time of day or day of the week. Because the staff didn’t have to spend as much time matching folks, they were able to spend more time on planning other holiday events as well as working on the ongoing capital campaign.
As an added bonus, the online form can also be exported as an excel spreadsheet which we can then import the appropriate fields into Constant Contact and follow up with a survey asking our volunteer participants about their experience this Christmas and how we can improve things for Christmas 2016.
Ready to Try Constant Contact? Click Here
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I’ll admit it, I was always more than a little shy. The one who would rather read a book than talk to a stranger… Several years of working as an outside sales rep helped me get over a lot of that. Having something to sell gave me talking points which helped me know what to say when words would have otherwise failed me.
When I started my marketing company nearly five years ago, I once again found myself in a sales role of sorts. I had to sell my services, and I certainly had my talking points… but I didn’t have a prospect list the way that I had when I was an account executive. Sure, I had more former clients and random businesses that I had relationships with — which was great for the first couple of years — but I needed to increase my prospect pool.
I was invited to join a networking and referral group. I quickly learned that it’s not just about being in a group, it’s about being in the right group. This group was NOT the right group. I stuck it out for the year that I paid for, then I dropped out. This time, I made sure that I spent some time finding the right group and I auditioned several groups, auditing their meetings and talking with their members. It was really worth the time and effort of finding the right group.
Getting involved with a dynamic group of folks who own small to medium sized businesses (my target) with a few sales and management level folks mixed in, has been the perfect fit for me. Not only have I built relationships with the folks who have trusted me with their marketing, but I have a great network of businesses that I feel confident recommending to others. And, for me, that’s equally important. I want to know that the businesses I recommend do business the same way I do business — because they are a reflection on my brand when I’ve recommend them.
My business has grown tremendously over the past two years — in fact, revenue has increased nearly 400% — and I credit a lot of the new opportunities to the relationships that I’ve built through the networking and referral group that I carefully selected. I’ve learned that it’s just as important to interview a networking & referral group as it is to interview prospective clients… I always view my first client meeting like a date where we are getting to know one another to see if we want to go steady and now, I view networking groups the same way.
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About 9 months ago, I approached the leader of a geographically close volunteer group about collaborating on an event. I’m a volunteer leader with the equivalent group in the area where I live. It wasn’t surprising that I would have an idea (ideation is one of my 5 strengths from “Living Your Strengths”). I have lots of ideas, and they sometimes seem a little off the wall. While no one that we could identify had done an event like what I proposed, everyone we asked thought it sounded great. I started working on the project with the fellow volunteer leader and everything seemed to be going smoothly.
We put together a survey to gauge interest in various activities, and the event began to evolve. Then, it happened. . . the key activity that the other person was interested in spearheading, didn’t have significant interest based on the survey. In hindsight, that was the moment. The moment that my fellow volunteer, the co-chair of the event, pulled away and began having less input into the planning.
Throughout the planning process, this individual, while happy to give his input never had time to do the work. And, when given a specific lists of tasks to do, dropped the ball completely on all but one and only managed to do 50 percent of that item.
I’ve often heard comments from high school and college students about how much they hate working on group/team projects for the exact same issues… there’s always at least one person who doesn’t pull their weight.
So now, I’m at that point where I’m wondering what could I have done differently… are there things I can put into place to prevent similar issues in the future or do I walk away from collaboration all together.
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I tend to over-do a lot of things. You know how some people are... over plan, over commit, classic type A personality profile things. And then, it happens, I start to resent the thing I was so passionate about volunteering for. It all seems to start innocently enough. I would find an organization that I felt strongly about. One that is doing good work, perhaps one that will help me build my business network, or one that just makes me feel like I'm making a difference. I like volunteering, I like to think that all of us have an altruistic side (though some don't let it show) and for me, giving to others just makes all the tough times seem easier. But, what does one do when giving to others starts to build resentment? when it starts to take too much time and begins to exhaust you rather than fulfill you? What does one do when giving to others becomes a drain rather than a fountain? In June, I was blessed to be attending the annual Alumni Leaders Conference at my alma mater (yes, another volunteer commitment). It's alwasy enriching and rejuvenating to be surrounded by others who are as passionate about Indiana University as I am — and who are as commited to serving our various communities through our alumni groups. I was participating in a work-life balance round table discussion being facilitated by the talented and knowledgable Caroline Dowd Higgins (footnote, if you aren't familier with Caroline, I encourage you to take a look at her work. She's an amazing career development coach and speak, author, and more!). There were folks there looking for tips on staying focused while working from home, how to manage the numerous people who approach a business looking for gratis work (often a big challenge for small business owners) and a number of other topics, especially how to take time for yourself. Taking time for yourself and managing the gratis work led me to realize that I had a problem and I realized I needed help. I had a problem with over volunteering. I want to help everyone and I have a hard time saying "no." This problem is compounded by another problem, the need to take responsibility for too many components of anything that I'm involved in. Yes, the inability to delegate... I was starting to resent the programs that I was volunteering for because they were taking too much of my time (whose fault is that) and there was no end in site. Fortunately for me, one of the individuals at the table offered to be my accountability master. And, she empowered me with three key take aways: 1. When asked to do something, I don't have to answer right away. 2. Since I have such a hard time saying "no," it's ok to say "not right now, but please ask again in the future." 3. Don't volunteer for anything that doesn't have an end date. And I realized that the one thing that I was doing that was causing me the most frustration, was the one that didn't have an end date. I've since put an exit plan in place and met with the leadership of the organization to implement that exit plan. It's time to give someone else the opportunity to be the leader...
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Lately, it seems that a lot of my work with my clients has been focused on helping them understand the importance of managing their clients’ expectations. And, what I’ve learned through this process is that a lot of the failure to manage expectations comes from their failure to educate the client on the process. Create an atmosphere of understanding. Take the time to explain the entire process to the client. Don’t skip over any steps. Don’t show them photos and expect them to understand. Ask questions. Ask probing questions to make sure that the client understands. Ask more questions. Repeat the client’s statements back to them and make sure that what they are saying is what you are hearing. e.g. When the client says “I want the sunroom to come to the edge of the pool deck.” The service provider should say “I’m hearing you say that you want the sunroom to come to the edge of the pool deck. Are you expecting the sunroom to come exactly to the edge? (wait for response… client says ‘yes’). OK, unfortunately, we can’t make it come exactly out to the pool deck (and explain why). Don’t leave that topic until the client is completely understanding of the process. Then, move on to the next item. Deliver what the client wants. If at all possible, even if it isn’t how you typically do the process/project, meet the client’s expectations. Recently, we had a concrete project done that involved hand stamping and coloring. Because I’d seen the coloring process done on various HGTV and DIY Network programs, I had a vision of what the finished product would look like. My vision did not match the company’s “normal” application process. In fact, it wasn’t close to their process. Fortunately, the disconnect was discovered in the color selection process. We talked through it and their team came together to provide a product that met my expectation and vision. Be on time. Show up when you say your going to be there. Call and return calls in a timely manner. Provide quotes in a reasonable amount of time and let the client know what that time frame is. Follow up. After completion of the project, follow up immediately. Then, follow up a few days later to make certain that everything met their expectations. Fix it. If something went wrong after you’ve gone through all of these steps, if you can, fix it. Even if it means you’ll lose money on the project, fix it. You can’t afford the potential damage to your brand and the negative word of mouth. Referrals are priceless. You can’t put a price on the value of referrals and positive feedback. Especially with the role that social media plays in the strength of a brand. Even a small negative experience, and you will be called out on Facebook to any one and every one who might listen. Provide a positive experience for your clients and you will reap the rewards! You will not only be able to feel great about the experience you’ve provided, but you may even see your business grow. It takes a little extra time to make sure all of these steps are taken, but it’s worth it.
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You're probably on Linkedin. Most business professional are. But are you also guilty of Linkedin users most common mistake? Can you guess what it is? Not using a professional looking photo? no, that's not it. Using Linkedin the same way you use Facebook? No, that's not it either. It's mis-using the professional headline!
Are you guilty? Do you make the most common mistake there is on Linkedin? Do you have your job title (or something similar) in the professional headline field? If you aren't sure where the professional headline field is, it's the field immediately following your name. OK, so it's not the end of the world... but it could be the end of showing up in the search of someone who's looking for a career professional who does what you do.
It's time to think of the professional headline differently. It is not where your job title goes — it belongs in your employment history section. Think of it this way, the professional headline is where you put a description of you that someone might search for. Try thinking of it as a Google® search box. For example, if you're an advertising sales rep for a group of regional publications, rather that putting Account Executive, try something like: Print and Digital Advertising Sales Specialist.
So, before you check your e-mail, or do your next task, take a couple of minutes to evaluate and re-write what's in your Linkedin professional headline field. You'll be glad you did!
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I recently saw an acronym for the word “real:” Relationships Environment Attitude Leadership I decided that those were the four areas that I would focus on for 2015… in my business and in my personal life. But here, I’d like to talk about business and this month I’m going to reflect on Leadership. This is the one that's going to take the bulk of my time and energy... leadership is the thing I struggle with the most. I know I'm not alone, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. Several times in my career, I've been in a management position, and everytime... without fail... I have hated it. It seems that my nurturing personality gets in the way of being a good manager. This year, I'm trying something a little different. This year, I've decided to embrace my God-given nurturing side and let that determine the type of manager that I am. I've also decided to get rid of the word manager, and replace it with mentor. I'm really good at being a mentor. Since I don't have any employees (I outsource projects as needed), you might be wondering how I'm going to apply this when it's just a one-woman show. Yes, my business is just me, but I have lots of areas where I volunteer and serve as a chairperson of a committee or a board president. I'm hoping that my new attitude of mentoring will allow me to feel more free when it comes time to delegate (another struggle of mine that I'm working on). But I think the biggest change that I'm hoping to see, is that by changing that one word "manage" to "mentor", is that it gives me permission to change my expectations. I will no longer need to expect the person that I'm working with to know how to do every part of the project. "Mentor" gives me permission to teach and to nurture. Servant Leader — Servant Mentor... that's my goal for 2015 because I've learned I don't like being the king, I want to be the king-maker.
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I recently saw an acronym for the word “real:”
Relationships Environment Attitude Leadership
I decided that those were the four areas that I would focus on for 2015… in my business and in my personal life. But here, I’d like to talk about business and this month I’m going to reflect on Attitude .
Attitude (at least an attitude of confidence) is one of the things I really struggle with — although most folks wouldn't know it. As soon as the phone rings, there's a smile in my voice. When I walk into a room, no matter how nervous I am, there's a smile on my face and a firm handshake for everyone I meet. I appear to exude confidence. But it's often a facade. While I am completely comfortable getting up in front of a room of strangers and giving a talk or a press conference, there's something about meeting people one-on-one that sometimes shakes me to the core. The worst part is, I know it's completely silly.
A few weeks ago, I went to a banquet with about 500 guests. I thought I might know a handful of people, but most of the folks there would be complete strangers. I was a nervous wreck. No matter how much I tried to go to my happy place, take deep breaths (breathe in Jesus.... breathe out junk!) it just wasn't working. Here's the thing, I also was receiving an award at the banquet so I would have to go up to the stage in front of these 500 people to accept the award and say a few words — about all of that, I was completely calm.
Attitude encompasses a lot of things. There's the outward attitude you project when you meet folks or talk to them, there's the attitude of confidence that you own and project for all things related to your business, there's the friendly, welcoming attitude you share when you meet someone for the first time, or see a long-time friend. But, my favorite attitude is compassion. Compassion is the attitude that has helped me the most in my personal life and in my business.
I came to truly embrace compassion about 12 years ago, while volunteering at a food pantry. Serving there most Saturdays became a big part of my life. And one of the things that I took away with me each week, was not only an attitude of gratitude, but an attitude of compassion. Compassion for those we were serving and for those who made it possible, through their donations, to serve. Compassion has served me well. As I've grown my business, it has infiltrated my relationships with my clients and those who provide services for my clients. Compassion has allowed me to be empathic with our clients when it is needed, but it's also allowed me to be honest and forthright — to say the things that need to be said, even when they are tough to say. All of this, I believe, is because of an attitude of compassion.
So, while I may often struggle with projecting an attitude of confidence and I have to dig down deep for the energy necessary to embrace that attitude, I've decided that the attitude that is most important to me, the one I really want to own, is an attitude of compassion.
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In two months I'll be celebrating the four year anniversary of my business... it seems fitting to think about my resolutions for my business in 2015 as well as the one's that I try to set for my business anniversary. This year, I've decided to combine them into one set of goals. And they're all about being a R.E.A.L. Success. I recently saw an acronym for the word "real:" Relationships Environment Attitude Leadership I decided that those were the four areas that I would focus on for 2015... in my business and in my personal life. But here, I'd like to talk about business and this month I'm going to reflect on Environment. A successful work environment is certainly going to look and feel unique for each person — after all, we are all unique! I've had a few pitfalls along the way, trying to create the best environment for me. When I started DFA Creative four years ago, I took over our "living room" for my office. So, the first that that had to change was the furniture. While the space was designed to be a living room, we really used it more as a quite place to read and/or listen to music, pray or meditate. It was certainly a multi-function space, and that needed to end. I'm much to easily distracted to work in a space filled with books and music... so, the comfy reading chair, and my favorite literature had to go elsewhere, and my music had to be hidden so it could be accessed when I needed it for inspiration or a mental break, but wouldn't be tempted to take a break to listen to tunes. So, now I had an empty room—that wouldn't work either. I did some online shopping to find the perfect desk that fit my workstyle and a comfortable chair and a good lamp so I would have a well-lit environment. I tried my desk in front of the window for a while, but I felt like I was in a fish bowl. So, I re-arranged my office a couple of times until I found the perfect spot... I could look up and out the window if I turned my head slightly, but I wasn't sitting right in the middle of the bay window where I had felt like I was on display. I added a small file cabinet and a couple of bookshelves with doors for storage of office supplies. My environment was really starting to come together. And it stayed that way for about two years. But then, as my business grew, I found that my environment wasn't really working for me any longer. Oh sure, my desk and the rest of my office furniture were fine. I'd upgraded to a laser printer to provide higher quality proofing capabilities for graphic design projects, but everything else was pretty much the same. What wasn't working for me was my lack of an organizational system. For the first couple of years it wasn't that big of a deal. I didn't have that many clients and I could easily remember what I needed to do for whom or make a quick to-do list of that day's projects. But now, the client base had grown and I almost had a couple of deadlines slip through the cracks. Clearly, my environment needed a change. I know that I require a project management system that is highly visible — if it isn't in front of me all the time, I will forget about it and I'm no better off than before I had a system. I settled on a pretty simple organizational tool. A laminated dry-erase board (really a laminated sheet) that attaches to the wall with columns that I can designate for various clients. I can use a dry erase pen to make notes on it and I've incorporated various colors of Post-it® notes. Everything is visible all the time, I can prioritize projects on the fly and no more missed deadlines. My environment isn't what it started out as four years ago, and I'll bet your's evolves to meet your needs as well. Re-evaluating my office environment has helped me stay organized and focused. And, there's one other thing that's been added to the office environment too... about a year ago, I added "Dance Breaks." In the middle of the afternoon, I take a 3-5 minute break from work, blast the music and dance it out! That's my solution to that mid-afternoon energy crash.
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In just a few months I'll be celebrating the four year anniversary of my business... given that it's so close to the beginning of the year, it seems fitting to think about my resolutions for my business in 2015 as well as the one's that I try to set for my business anniversary. This year, I've decided to combine them into one set of goals. And they're all about being a R.E.A.L. Success.
I recently saw an acronym for the word "real:"
I decided that those were the four areas that I would focus on for 2015... in my business and in my personal life. But here, I'd like to talk about business and this month I'm going to reflect on Relationships. When I started my business, I depended a lot on the relationships that I'd built in my three years selling print advertising for a regional magazine. A few of the businesses that had been my clients at the magazine, became my clients when I started DFA Creative. They knew me, they trusted me and they wanted to support me as I gave it a go on my own. . . I don't think I ever even pitched them, they just volunteered to come on board. It was nice to have people come on board.
But, during that first year, I fell into a trap, I got caught in my bubble and wasn't really out in the community building new relationships. About 18 months into my business, I made financial commitment to join the local Chamber of Commerce. More than that though, I made a time commitment. If I was going to pay what was a substantial amount of money to be a part of an organization, I was going to be an active, involved and engaged member of that organization. I began going to ribbon cuttings and Business After Hours and before I knew it, I was building relationships with other small business owners right in my community. Some of those relationships turned into clients and some of them turned into folks that I felt really good about referring other folks to. And a few of them became my confidants and support system — peers that I could turn to for advice or just an empathetic ear when I needed it.
After a few months of attending Chamber events, I was invited to participate in a networking/referral group and to serve on a volunteer committee of Chamber Ambassadors — a group that mentors new Chamber members. One thing was consistent, I kept building relationships. And, just like when I worked at the magazine and left to start my own business, some of the people that I built relationships with became my clients. My volunteer role with the Chamber has continued to grow, but so has the number of relationships I have with business owners, gate keepers and key influencers in the community. Not every one of those relationships has turned into a client — and I wouldn't want it to — but I've built a lot of great relationships and I know relationships are a two-way street... you give and you get. Getting a referral from someone that I've built a relationship with is great, but giving a referral to someone that I've built a relationship with and trust is an even better feeling.
I'm looking forward to building new relationships and nurturing existing ones in 2015! How about you?
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