We are in this together

One of the greatest benefits of entrepreneurship is the feeling of being completely in charge of your own destiny. You get to make the decisions. You are responsible for your business’ success. This feeling is great, as long as things go according to plan. But when have things ever gone according to plan? Employees might get stuck in traffic, or not show. Suppliers might go out of business leaving you scrambling to find an alternate. Customers might decide at the last minute that they would be better of going with the competition. Then, being in charge is stressful. It is up to you to make sure your company does what it promises it will do, delivers what and when it says it will.

Together we can do this

image from wikipedia

For that reason, I was okay when the hubby announced he was going to have to work late, hoping to close a deal more than two years in the making. We are a team. I would solo parent for the evening so that he could do what he had to do. It was no problem. Except for one thing. I had completely forgotten about it, and was then utterly mentally unprepared.

I collected the boys as I typically do. 6 has recently discovered Pixar’s Wall-E and decided that the balance of the car ride home was the perfect opportunity to hone his robot impression. He’s pretty good, but I feel he really nailed it on the second try. He certainly didn’t need the twenty something follow-up attempts. Why mess with perfection?

When I arrived at day care to pick up 3 (yes, 3 – we are finally out of the terrible twos!), I was informed that my son hadn’t been feeling like his chipper self that day. He was complaining of a tummy ache. My gut clenched up. I have a number of meetings with visitors in my office this week. Of course he would be coming down with something.

I saw the empty spot where my husband parks. Oh no. That was tonight?! Suddenly I felt very much alone.

6 decided he didn’t feel like bringing in his school things. 3 didn’t feel like eating. 6 insisted on playing with a loud helicopter toy next to the phone while I attempted to talk to their dad. 3 didn’t want to go upstairs for his bath, wear the pajamas I had picked out, or pretty much anything at all that he hadn’t first instigated (oh that’s right… we are in the trying threes).

The next morning, the hubby needed to sleep in. He hadn’t gotten home until well into the morning hours. I was going to be on my own… again. I rushed around the house trying to get both boys ready as quietly, but as quickly as possible. We are going to miss the bus! ¡Ándale! Mach Schnell! (English wasn’t getting through to my boys – I had to mix it up). Ugh, I thought, no time to pack a lunch for myself. I was going to be late. What a way to start my day…

As I frantically herded them through the door, 6 asked me, ‘Mom? Why are you so mad?’

The question stopped me in my tracks. Was I stressed? Absolutely. Did I need to be? Absolutely not. If I would have stopped focusing on all the reasons I should be stressed I might have noticed that 6 had helped pack his bag that morning. 3 had willingly worn everything I brought him and had tip-toed so as not to wake daddy. Both had helped put their dishes in the machine after breakfast. They were pitching in as they were able. They reminded me that while I might be the only parent awake, I wasn’t alone. We were in this together.

So what if I was a few minutes late, or didn’t have a packed lunch? We’d somehow survive, but I might never get this moment back.

The past and the future can be equally blinding. When you fixate on either, you risk failing to see what you need to do in the present. I stopped. I took a breath. I told my boys I wasn’t mad along with a thank you. They might think I was thanking them for their help, but I was really thanking them for the reminder to be mindful of the present. When I told them I loved them, they smiled and hugged me back. For that moment, it was enough.

mindfulness

image from flickr

 

Once stung, twice equipped with repellent

Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!)

Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!) (Photo credit: rimblas)

When I was a teenager, I was attacked by a swarm of ground hornets while hiking with a group of friends. I never even saw their nest. Someone ahead of me must have inadvertently stepped where he or she shouldn’t have and by the time they had flown to the surface in a rage I was the closest target.

A very short time later, areas of my body had swollen up like baseballs. I found my way on an express route to the emergency room.

I have a healthy respect for stinging insects of all kinds. I don’t squish them just for the crime of being bugs. I understand that the outdoors is their world. I try to remain calm and motionless when they are near, or avoid them altogether if I see them in the distance. I don’t bother them if they don’t bother me.

But when they try to build a nest in my porch, or more recently, move in underneath my children’s sandbox, I have to do something about it. I am no longer passive or kind. I don’t want to find out the hard way that my allergy has been passed on to my children. Or worse, that their reaction might be more than moderate.

At that point I have to make it clear to those insects that their continued presence will not be tolerated. Those that survive the lesson should move on to more welcoming ground.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.” – Al Capone.

I self published my first novel, and have been debating whether or not this was a path I would like to take again for my second. I’ve been reading about how little new authors can expect from large publishers and how aspiring authors are now asked to provide some potential publishers with a business plan and marketing plan in addition to the manuscript. I recently read an article entitled Publishing 3.0 detailing the rise of the authorpreneur. While the term authorpreneur may sound like one of those celebrity mash-up names, I find that it is completely appropriate in this instance. To be a successful self published or indie author, you do have to have an understanding as to what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Like writing professionally, entrepreneurship is hard work. It too requires sacrifice and long hours, but with different results. Purchase orders are rarely aesthetically pleasing. But for an entrepreneur that first order is a work of art, one as beautiful to behold as a published novel with its glossy cover. It gets framed and permanently mounted on the wall for all the world to see.

Entrepreneurship can be at times a wonderful thing. There is something deeply satisfying about watching the business that you helped start grow and thrive. Whether you are your only employee or have a larger staff, it is both rewarding and terrifying to know that their ability to care for their families is because of what you’ve put in place.

But unfortunately, an entrepreneur is still not entirely in control of his/her own destiny. There are always going to be people out there who look upon your success with envy. They either want what you have, or are afraid that you have the ability to take something away from them. They will attack in ways you never saw coming, especially if they believe you aren’t paying attention.

During this time you have to keep in mind that these attacks are actually compliments. They are a testament to your ability and your achievements. They are recognition that what you have done has been noticed. You have to be the bigger person. Stay true to your values and out of their domain. Walk away if you can. Ignore them if you can’t.

That is until you have been stung one too many times and they mistake your kindness as weakness, your willingness to turn the other cheek as acceptance, and they threaten your baby’s life.

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Wise Man’s Fear

At that point, let them keep their compliments. It is time to hire the exterminator and bring out the bug spray.

Staying on the lookout for the win

I recently came across a discussion topic regarding a woman’s recent decision to join the entrepreneur set. She wanted to know what others felt was the most important element to consider with regards to going into business for one’s self. I answered, you have to be careful to surround yourself with the right people.

Caution sign for an open pit

Caution sign for an open pit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my household we know only too well what can go wrong for your business when you hire the wrong person for the job. I’ve recently posted about how I want to remain positive. This has been a pretty large challenge at times, particularly over the last few days.

I have been attending communication/presentation speaking training and this week we were tasked with giving a speech on something we felt passionate about. It could be any topic. The goal was to have high energy and require use of loads of gestures. I am passionate about a number of things, but in my recent state of mind, I didn’t think any of my topics or particularly gestures associated with the topic would be considered work appropriate.

Luckily I didn’t have to go first.

One of colleagues went to the front of the room and gave a speech on how it is important to find the win every day. She provided a number of examples. Getting through multiple green lights in a row was a win. Issuing a quote to a new customer was a win. Making contact with a hard to reach client was a win. Hearing an unexpected thank you for a job well done was a win.

The definition of the day’s win wasn’t important. All that matters is that an achievable win exists every day. The win should be something that makes the day special. Something small that made the day worth experiencing.

She reminded me in that quick speech that there is always something you can cling to even on your worst days provided you open your mind enough to recognize the win for what it is. Her speech helped break me out of my own internal stress cycle, recognize that the past was done and it was time to return my focus to the present.

Various doughnuts

Various doughnuts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While she gave this speech I happened to notice the box of doughnuts the instructor had brought as a means of getting our energy level up. I had managed to skip on the delicious treats because I had a weigh-in that afternoon as part of my company’s wellness program. If I had managed to keep my body fat in check I would be eligible for preferred premiums. I love food, deserts in general, so passing on those pastries was an extreme test of will. A test I am happy to say I passed.

Later that day, I had my check in and the combination of better eating as well as improved exercise was enough to place me in the next fitness category. I achieved my win and was able to return home victorious! The employee situation at my husband’s work is going to take at least a few more days to resolve, but at least I can now face it with improved blood sugar.

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Separating Business from Hobby

Hirst's Shark Tank by the Little Artists

Hirst’s Shark Tank by the Little Artists (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What separates a business from a hobby? My husband and I watch a fair bit of the show, Shark Tank, and often one of the investors will explain the difference to wannabe entrepreneurs. It is one thing to have an idea, and I am in no way diminishing the importance of that crucial element, but there is more to building a business than just having something to sell.

In order to transform a hobby into a business yes, you need a product or service. But you also need a path to market, a sales strategy, a plan for what to do with revenue once it is received, a plan for what to do when the money doesn’t flow as it should, and a plan for what to do when faced with an outright threat. There is so much to do that having the actual innovative spark is almost more window dressing than requirement. That is a minimum of five parts plan to one part innovation!

While at my day job, I usually deal with established companies releasing their next big product offering, but occasionally I get the opportunity to meet with the independent idea person. Typically these are people fresh from one of the nearby university technology incubators. These people a fun to meet with because they are so incredibly passionate about their product, but really have no idea how much they don’t know about the challenges of bringing an invention out of their garage.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest mistakes they make in their plan is forgetting that though they might have a great rapport with the person at the other side of the table, at the end of the day, “its nothing personal, just business.” I have to watch as they are forced to question their own faith in their product and their existing partners. For example, patents are only as good as they are enforceable and established companies usually have much deeper pockets along with capable supply chains and effective sales channels.

The reaction varies. Sometimes the innovator’s ego doesn’t allow him or her to accept these questions. They get angry and defensive. Of course their product will sell itself and they will become overnight millionaires. They are such geniuses that no one could possibly find a way to build it cheaper, quicker, or in a way that gets around their patent. The public will never accept a lower quality solution at a cheaper price – they will demand the real thing. All of their suppliers will deliver and all their customers will pay on time just because they have put some words together on a piece of paper and called it a contract.

Some throw their hands up in despair. They give up on their dream the moment they are asked to answer tough questions. Others listen with open minds. They are humble enough to realize that they don’t know all the answers and that their product may not be ready for the mass market. Perhaps it is not in their best interest today to accept that large purchase order with all its many zeros. These are the people who will buckle down and return to pitch their idea another day. They leave even more committed, but with their eyes wide open.

English: Figure 10: SWOT-Analysis of the organ...

English: Figure 10: SWOT-Analysis of the organic business idea. Belongs to The Organic Business Guide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As much as my novels are the children of my imagination, I have to treat my writing as a business, and books as its product. While so far I have found there to be quite a bit of cross over, I recognize that I am new to this industry. I recognize that I can’t rely entirely on instinct alone. What I believe is my best strategy may well be wrong.

In fact as I near the final weeks of writing the first draft, there are a number of things that I intend to do differently this second time around. I enjoyed the speed to market that self publishing offered, but I do think that this time I am going to at least query a few other channels. Yes, I will likely get rejected, as that seems to be a recurring pattern in the industry, but I’ll never know for sure that I picked the course best suited for my own business needs and personal style if I don’t at least ask for other opinions from time to time.

 

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Help Wanted – Embracing Outsourcing

Good Housekeeping is one of several periodical...

Good Housekeeping is one of several periodicals related to homemaking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve recently suffered a terrible loss. My part-time housekeeper has found a better opportunity elsewhere. While this is great news for her (and I wish her all the best), it is awful news for me. I am going to have to somehow figure out how to insert deep cleaning back into my already full schedule. Cue the nervous tics.

She wasn’t coming by weekly, and I have never completely abdicated my responsibility in keeping the house habitable in between cleanings, but I am probably not going to have my house featured in Good Housekeeping Magazine based on my efforts alone anytime soon.

The days she did arrive were near magical. I would open the door and all the surfaces were polished to a high shine. The kids could be shouting or running around like maniacs and I could sit back and enjoy them rather than feel the stress of needing to straighten everything up pile up on top of the stress from the work day.

I get asked all the time how I manage to work a full-time job, raise two kids, and write. I’ll let you in on my little secret – I now outsource whenever possible. But I wasn’t always so willing to let go.

I spent the first several years of my career with the idea that the only way to prove myself as an effective team player and overall value to the organization was to do everything myself. I rarely turned a task down. Obviously a person asking me for my help was doing so because they knew I could take care of it effectively and on time. Saying no would be admitting to a weakness or other failing. Saying yes to such a request was the easiest way to accept their high praise of my work. Right?

A few years later a position in management opened up. I thought to myself, I’ve shown everyone how great I can be, I know I am going to get asked to fill the position. I am the clear choice.

Only then did I realize that I had made some major tactical errors:

  1. I had made myself too valuable in my current position
  2. I had not shown that I could delegate or push back on tasks effectively
  3. I had assumed the position was mine for the taking

Luckily I was able to identify a quick fix solution for the first two errors. I would train my peers making my replacement easier to find. I did this by delegating tasks, because hands on experience works best. Additionally I learned how prioritize and how to say no. I needed to focus my time on only the most important tasks.

Up until this point I had a great relationship with my boss. He was well aware of my career aspirations. Unfortunately his departure from the company was the reason for the open management position. I did not have nearly the same relationship with the remaining hiring manager. He would not know I was interested in the position if I did not have the confidence and courage to ask for it outright.

I wrote a whole essay on why I deserved the position in the most basic persuasive format: intro, reason 1, 2, 3, summary close with action statement. It must have gotten my point across.

I was offered the position, and could have easily reverted back to the friendly co-worker who said yes to everything. Sure, I would have been liked by everyone, but I would have been positively buried by work. My first year in management might have been my last. I either would become burnt out, or so ineffective at the job I was hired to do that my boss would have had no choice but to replace me.

Saying yes to happiness means learning to say ...

Saying yes to happiness means learning to say no to things and people that stress you out. -Thema Davis (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

Sure, I like to think that I can take on any task my company throws my way, but I’ve learned to recognize that so could a number of other people, especially if given a little bit more practice. If I want to develop my staff to their fullest potential then I owe it to them to delegate more from time to time.

Additionally while no one likes to be told no all the time, the occasional “no” can be liberating. I may not be able to say I have it all, but truth be told I don’t want it all. I don’t want to spend every waking hour during the week working, or my weekends cleaning. I don’t want a life full of stress.  I’d rather spend my time with my family or the working on the tasks I enjoy such as writing my next project.

Unfortunately until I find my next great hire, it would appear that I need to become re-acquainted with my vacuum.

 

 

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