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What Stands In The Way Becomes The Way

The other day I stumbled across a reference to Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is The Way, which is a bestseller based on this famous quote from Marcus Aurelius:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I’m working with a friend on a big project that we are hoping to launch this summer, and a few days after reading that Marcus Aurelius quote, I was telling her how much easier our lives would be if we had started working on it before we both had babies (our daughters were born around the same time).

Then I realized something: while we might have had more free time and more energy for the project before we became moms, we have better insights into this project now that we are moms.

Because our project requires us to have a lot of insight into the lives of women going through hard life seasons, the fact that we’re each in the trenches right now too is not just an obstacle – it’s an asset. We are also more decisive and efficient now that we have so little extra time in the margins to waste on unnecessary or low priority work. That means we’ve made far more progress on our project than we would have expected had we started a few years ago. So yes, it’s harder now that we’re moms – but also better because we’re moms.

The very thing that makes it hard for us to do what we want to do also makes us better at what we want to do. 

I have found myself thinking about this concept constantly over the past several weeks.

What else have I missed?

Where else do I have secret assets hidden in the obstacles that abound in my life and work?

Where else have I been stumped when I could have used the very thing that stumped me to become stronger, cleverer, more competitive?

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with since that conversation with my friend:

  • Challenging work projects have forced me to learn more and be more humble than if everything had gone smoothly
  • Being constantly pressed for time has given me insight into the need for more marketing resources out there that remove extra work instead of adding it
  • Not living in a major metropolitan area the way I used to has given me an outsider perspective that helps me see clearly into short term trends vs long term market changes

As Holiday puts it in his book, this isn’t a glass-half-full mentality – it’s a complete flip, from seeing only the obstacle to seeing only the benefit within the obstacle.

This is a simple concept, but it’s a game changer for entrepreneurs. We are constantly feeling like we fall short, don’t measure up, don’t meet our own standards. But at the same time we are searching for competitive advantages that help us stand out in the crowd. What if we could kill two birds with one stone? What if the very things that we think hold us back actually make us more unique, push us to work harder, or give us opportunities and insights that those who have it easy will miss?

Just for fun, I made a typography print with this quote for my workspace. Click the image to download it and use it for yourself. Hope it brings you inspiration and encouragement when you need it most!

What stands in the way becomes the way | Quote typography download | Alana Le

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How To Survive A Hard Season When You’re An Entrepreneur

The other day I was looking over my Google Analytics and checking out which of my blog posts have been read the most in the past 6 months. This one about my 21 day blogging challenge ranked #1, but this one about my husband’s recent deployment was a close #2.

In that post I talked about some hard lessons I learned during that deployment, our second since getting married (and my husband’s fourth), and some of the ways that it actually paralleled my experience as a business owner and taught me how to be a better entrepreneur.

You may not be a military spouse like me. Maybe your a vet with your own deployment experiences, or maybe you’re firmly in the civilian world with no experience with military life at all.

No matter who you are, I think that post really resonated with people for one big reason: we can all relate to deployment-like difficult experiences and the challenges we face when trying to survive as entrepreneurs in the midst of suffering. 

Because the truth is that as hard as it is to be a new mom with a deployed husband, there are other seasons of life that are really hard too.

Maybe it’s the death or illness of a loved one, or a long term relationship turning into heartbreak, or a personal illness or injury that makes it hard to function every day.

These rough seasons happen when you’re single and they happen when you’re married; they happen to millennials and they happen to baby boomers. No matter what season of life you are in, hard stuff happens to you, and you have to find a way to survive it without losing the business you’ve worked so hard to get off the ground. 

Of course there are some hard seasons that are TOO hard, and you need to step back from business completely. That might be the right decision for you; in that case, ignore this post and take care of yourself – no judgment here. But if you do think you can continue to run your business at this time, I have a few tips.

I wanted to write this post and share some of the things I’ve learned about surviving hard seasons as an entrepreneur; not to say that I’m an expert my any means, but I have gone through some crazy times the past few years and I’ve learned a few things the hard way.

So here you go – for the new moms and the deployed spouses and the grieving and the hurting entrepreneurs – and for those who are still waiting for their hard season to come – this post is for you.

10 Ways To Survive A Hard Life Season When You’re Running A Business

Prioritize ruthlessly

Say no to everything that is not essential to the survival of your business. Networking event? No. Volunteer role? No. New client who wants a project that goes outside your focus? No. New investment that won’t generate a return for a while? No. New social media network that “everyone” has to be on? Nope, nope, nope.

Be ruthless. Take care of your paying clients and customers, and then say no to everything else you possibly can. Now is not the time to be taking on distracting and exhausting new projects.

Don’t apologize

I used to apologize pretty much any time I sent an email. If it had been more than a few hours between when I received it and when I replied, I would apologize. But then I thought about it: when I apologize, what exactly am I apologizing for?

Am I sorry that my baby got sick and I had to take her to the hospital? Am I sorry that I woke up to soothe her 8 times last night and didn’t have the energy to tackle emails first thing in the morning? Am I sorry that my paying clients are my top priority and everyone else’s emails come second? No, I’m not really sorry about any of those things, so why was I apologizing?

During a hard season as an entrepreneur, you have to do what it takes to survive. Be firm and don’t apologize that you’re in survival mode. You don’t need anyone’s approval or affirmation. Just do what you have to do.

 Bonus download: Enter your email to get this list in printable format to put up near your work space.

Do small, concrete tasks

When you’re overwhelmed with all the things you need to do, it’s easy to just give up or get stuck. Don’t give into the temptation to tackle your biggest, hairiest project just because you “should”. Focus on taking care of the smaller tasks that can be done quickly and end cleanly, such as writing a short blog post instead of a long tutorial or batch processing some images instead of designing a complex infographic. That way you can build your momentum and see real progress without getting discouraged and overwhelmed.

Plan the night before

This is probably the last thing you feel like doing at the end of an exhausting day, but it will really help. End your day right before bed by making a list of all your tasks for tomorrow and planning out your schedule as best as you can. This will help you sleep better at night because your brain won’t be racing to remember all the things you need to be doing, and it will make your day more productive and strategic – you will begin your morning by doing the most important things, instead of by reacting to the latest “urgent” email or aimlessly reading through new blog posts.

Decrease your frequency

It’s easy to go into hermit mode when you’re hurting or overwhelmed with other things, but this will definitely not help your marketing. People need to know you’re alive and kicking, even if you’re busy. So decreasing your frequency is a good way to find that balance. If you normally post on social media a few times a day, decrease that to once a day or even 2-3 times a week. If you usually post in your Facebook groups daily, decrease that to once weekly. If you usually blog once a week, switch to every other week. You get the idea. Many entrepreneurs have an all-or-nothing mentality – “If I can’t do it all, it’s just not worth trying.” Let’s all acknowledge this is pretty foolish! We just need to keep trying, and if in this season you need to spend a little less time, that’s fine. Still better than nothing.

Outsource if you can

Entrepreneurs love to be lone rangers. We love to say we “did it ourselves” when it comes to pretty much anything; we love saving money and gaming the system and finding “hacks” to do things cheaper and better than everyone else.

But if you’re going through a hard season, now is not the time to push yourself to pinch pennies and do everything on your own. If you spent hours this week trying to solve WordPress problems or stuck with writers block, you know what I mean. Outsource where you can and give yourself a break. You can always find ways to save money later on.

Get some sleep

Easier said than done, I know. But lack of sleep really affects your emotional state, your ability to problem-solve, and your ability to handle stress. So if you’re going through a tough life season, make sleep a top priority and do whatever it takes. Be warned, for some of you that might mean laying off alcohol and caffeine, which both affect sleep quality, as well as keeping your phone out of your bedroom and going to bed at an embarrassingly early hour.

Eat real food

Along those lines, taking care of your diet is one of the best ways I know to make sure I have the energy to survive a rough day. This is hard when you’re busy, so you might have to get creative – one of my tricks is to cook once a week, separate everything into preset meals, and throw them in the freezer so I can focus on work and life without worrying about where my next meal is coming from every day.

Just try to avoid getting trapped in the caffeine/sugar loop, where you forget to eat breakfast, get desperate for coffee and sugar at around 10am, forget to eat lunch, and then go on another sugar binge at 2pm! This will make you feel sick and stressed. Fill up on real food instead and you will notice a difference.

Write it all down

When you are running your own business and going through a tough life season, there are moments when you are so overwhelmed by everything that it’s all you can do to stay standing. I’ve been there too. Here is a trick that really, actually helps: write it all down. Every last crazy thought in your head goes onto paper, and suddenly, you can think a lot clearer and maybe even come up with some solutions. Make a top ten list – 10 reasons why I’m frustrated right now – or a big dreams list – 10 things incredibly unlikely things that I really want to happen. Get it out of your head and onto paper and you will feel better pretty much every time.

Don’t give up

Here’s a thought – if you make it through this season and come out the other side, and your business is a disaster and so is your health and your personal life, you will still be able to say one thing: I never gave up. And I really think that is all you need to ask of yourself sometimes.

Keep trying, don’t give up, and one day, you will get through this.

Bonus: Get This List To Print & Put Up On Your Wall

Are you a visual person like me? Or do you read things and notice they go in one ear and out the other (also like me)? I made a printable for this list so you can put it up near your work space and help yourself stay focused on what matters. Enter your email here to download a printable one page version of this list:

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5 Things My Husband’s Deployment Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

5 Things My Husband's Deployment Taught Me About Entrepreneurship | Alana Le | Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

My husband deployed earlier this year. It was the second one we’ve been through since we got married two years ago, so that meant by the time he got home, a few days before our 2nd anniversary, he had been gone for well over half of our marriage.

It wasn’t a fun deployment. But I survived it, and so did he, and so did we. As I take some time off with him over the holidays I’ve been reflecting on what a tough but wonderful year we’ve had, and I realized that I’ve actually become a better business owner because of it. That’s right – this deployment taught me some things I hope I’ll never forget, and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

Here are some things my husband’s recent deployment taught me about running a business:

There are no shortcuts to your destination

Deployments suck.

Really, they just do.

Working out and losing weight to surprise him when he gets home will not make it go by faster.

“Staying busy” will not make that deployment go by faster, not matter how many well-intentioned non-military friends tell you that.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the allotted days of that deployment will go by exactly as they are. You can’t press a magic button to speed through to the end or experience a single day less of that separation and loneliness.

And you know what? Since I was building my business during the deployment, I realized the two things actually have that in common.

There is absolutely not a shortcut to business success.

There’s no magic switch to flip.

I don’t know when you’re going to break even, or be able to afford another employee, or open that new branch, or take that vacation you’ve been saving up for.

But I do know that there will be a certain number of days between now and then – and not a single day less.

You’re just going to have to get through it. And the cool thing is that those days will contain lessons that you will need when you reach the next level of success. If you compared my business today with the same business 2 years ago, you would be amazed. I am doing so much better today.

When I look back, sometimes I’m overwhelmed with all the things I wish I had done differently.

But I never would have known to do those things in the moment, because I learned them all the hard way. And that is how most of entrepreneurship goes.

You can read all the blogs, business books, and articles you want, but some lessons you are going to have to learn the hard way. All you can do is keep an open mind, try to learn from your mistakes, and keep on taking new risks, even when you’re still stinging from the last one. 

Communication is a survival skill

When you are separated from your spouse for months at a time, the only thing connecting the two of you is your communication. Suddenly, the quality (and quantity) of your communication is brought into stark focus. What do you have to talk about? What updates do you share? What opinions do you discuss? How do you handle disagreement when you can’t kiss and makeup when the latest screaming fight is over?

Communication is a survival skill during a deployment, and it’s the same in business.

I used to think that only English majors needed to care about their writing skills. How wrong I was. Nearly every job in today’s economy requires writing, even if it’s just exchanging emails with customers. You don’t have to be a poet. But you do need to be able to communicate clearly, respectfully, and frequently, or your business isn’t going to make it very far.

Routine helps mitigate the chaos

While my husband was on this last trip I was also taking care of our newborn daughter. I was nursing every 2 hours, dealing with her night wakings, sleep regressions, colds, gas, and more. On a good day, our lives felt a bit chaotic; on a bad day, completely and utterly out of control.

But against all odds, I incorporated a few routines into my life and they made a huge difference. Yes, you can have routines when you have a newborn – you just need to find the right balance between being flexible and being consistent.

I started every morning with coffee, breakfast and “quiet time” with my bible and prayer. I ended every evening on the couch with a good book or something funny like Parks and Rec or The Mindy Project on TV. I started and ended my day with two things I absolutely loved, which meant I always had something to look forward to. This helped me avoid burning out, made the lonely evenings without my husband a little more bearable, and made me feel at least a little less out of control.

I believe routines are just as helpful when you’re running a small business. After all, our lives as entrepreneurs often feel out of control. But we have to do what we can to stay organized and on the ball even when things seem to be falling down around our ears.

A simple routine – like starting every morning by writing a new blog post or replying to emails for an hour every day after lunch – could go a long way toward making you feel a bit more under control when the tough things hit.

You don’t have to be strong

“You’re so strong. I could never do what you do.”

Every military spouse who has gone through a deployment has heard this phrase, I guarantee you. I think it’s meant as a compliment. But we milspouses know it’s one of the most unpleasant things to hear. Why? Because we know we’re not strong. We know we would never choose to have our spouse deployed if we had a choice in the matter. We know every day drags on in slow motion and every night alone in bed is cold and lonely. But when people tell us how strong we are, we just give yet another tight smile and keep our mouths shut.

The truth is you don’t have to be strong during a deployment. It’s okay to call your best friend cussing about how much you hate the military or break down in tears when you see a couple holding hands.

And when you are running a business that seems like it’s always two inches away from utter failure, it’s okay to admit that you’re really stressed out. It’s okay to cry when you lose a major customer or screw up something really important. You don’t have to always be strong.

But you do have to keep trying

The biggest thing I learned during the last deployment was to persevere. Never, ever, ever give up. Don’t give in to bitterness. Don’t resign yourself to having a distant marriage or having to do everything on your own, forever. Yes, it sucks in the moment, but, God willing, the moment won’t last forever. You have to make it to the end and welcome him home with joy in your heart and willingness to get reacquainted all over again. It isn’t easy, it won’t be perfect, but the only thing you can do is keep going. Just. Keep. Trying. As many times as it takes.

And when you’re feeling like a failure in your business, it’s okay to admit that you’re not strong. It’s okay to fall down once, twice, or a hundred times. But you have to keep getting back up.

Sometimes I wonder what people will say about me at the end of my life. “Alana Le was a nice person,” or “Alana worked really hard” or “She was successful”. But I’ve realized that all I really want is for people to say one thing: “Alana Le never gave up.”

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Why You Need To Be Ahead Of Schedule

Why You Need To Be Ahead Of Schedule | Alana Le | Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

This year has been crazy busy for me.

I had a pretty rough pregnancy with several complications.

Then I had my baby and my husband deployed shortly after her birth.

I had to go back to work not long after that (because when you run your own business, the buck stops with you).

For a good chunk of 2015, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water.

I was exhausted and stressed out.

My time was so devoted to client work that I didn’t have any to spare for my own marketing, which left me feeling insecure and frustrated about my brand.

My constant refrain was “There’s never enough time” and when I ever did have some “me time”, I was usually too drained to do anything productive with it.

But eventually, thankfully, things started to slowly and steadily get back under control. By September, I was feeling pretty good about work. By October, I had reached a pretty amazing new milestone in my business: I was actually ahead of schedule on all of my work.

I’ve worked my booty off since then to maintain my lead, and while I haven’t always been successful, I’ve managed to stay ahead of schedule the majority of the time.

And now I think every small business owner I know should try and do the same thing.

Here’s why you need to be ahead of schedule, even if you think it’s impossible:

Hard, unexpected challenges will always come up

If there’s one thing you can count on when you run a small business, it’s this: nothing will ever go as planned.

That disaster you never thought would happen to you? Oh, it’ll happen to you.

That perfect client who you thought would be yours forever? They’ll jump ship, too.

That bank account you thought was just fine? Hello, huge overdraft fees.

The only thing you can truly expect is the unexpected.

That’s why being ahead of schedule on everything else you’re doing is literally a game-changer. Those unexpected disasters will still strike, but you’ll be able to deal with them without derailing everything else you were supposed to be working on that day / week / month.

You will be able to work more and get more done

I used to have the naive idea that if I was really efficient, organized, and productive, and was ahead of schedule, I would ultimately have to do less work. Wrong. If you’re ahead of schedule, you’ll have to work more, because you won’t have the excuse of unexpected things coming up to make you spend less time on other less-crazy aspects of your business, because you’ll already have done the non-crazy work.

No, getting ahead of schedule won’t help you work less, but it will help you get more done. Let’s call that a win, shall we?

Ultimately, you need to get ahead of schedule so you will be able to roll with the punches (instead of getting knocked out cold).

Here are some tips – learned the hard way by yours truly – on getting ahead of schedule in your business:

Schedule your social media posts

Business pages on Facebook have a built in scheduling function. Depending on your target frequency, you could probably schedule a month’s worth of posts in about an hour.

You can also try social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Buffer.

Schedule your blog posts

If you want to blog on a certain frequency, such as daily, twice a week, once a week, etc., you need to be doing this. There will always be something that comes up when you need to write that day’s blog post. Instead of writing and publishing same day, change the publish day/time and hit “Schedule” instead. Try to get at least a day (or week) ahead of schedule so even if something comes up, you will still be able to maintain your frequency.

Create a blog editorial calendar

Even better, plan ahead and come up with everything you’ll be posting for the next few months. I’m currently working on posting every day for 30 straight days, and I started by writing 30 blog post titles that I knew I’d be able to write about. It has really helped me work quickly and stay on schedule.

Outline your blog posts in a journal

You won’t always be in front of your laptop with WordPress open when inspiration strikes. Keep a journal handy and jot down a quick outline of a blog post or other marketing or writing project you’ll need to do soon whenever you have a minute, whether you’re in the middle of watching Netflix or drinking your morning coffee. You’ll be glad you did this when it comes time to do the writing and you already have a good place to start.

Prep phone call and meeting agendas in advance

Never, ever, ever go into a meeting or a business phone call without an agenda of what you want to cover. That’s just common sense for getting things done efficiently. But to really enjoy the benefits of being ahead of schedule, write down the agenda a few days or at least a day in advance. You’ll have time to think about it more and if you suddenly have to talk sooner or cut your meeting short, you’ll know what you need to cover before saying goodbye.

Draft emails in notes when inspiration strikes

We spend insane amounts of time writing long emails. I’m not going to dredge up the statistics because they are so depressing. The important thing to note is this: time spent writing emails is NOT time spent getting work done. To try and cut out some of this time, write shorter emails. 🙂 But seriously, give drafting them ahead of time a try. Similar to drafting blog posts in a journal, whenever you remember someone you need to email or reply to, write down their name and a few bullet points of what you need to say, either in your notebook or in a notes app on your phone. It will make the whole process so much faster and easier.

Set your phone to Do Not Disturb

To actually get and stay ahead of schedule, you will definitely have to ignore some things that seem urgent in the moment. So I’m giving you permission to break the unspoken “always available” rule we have accidentally adopted and put your phone on Do Not Disturb, or even Airplane Mode. Focus on future work and let the present be for a little while. You can return that phone call / text / email after you’ve invested a little more in your future. After all, no one is going to invest in your future for you – that’s on you. 

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My Picks for Christmas 2015: 4 Perfect Gifts For Entrepreneurs

My Picks for Christmas 2015: 4 Perfect Gifts For Entrepreneurs | Alana Le, Content Marketing Consultant

I have worked for entrepreneurs for a long time, and I started my own business a little over 3 years ago.

After all this time, and a lot of trial and error, I’m beginning to realize that no matter how badly you want to save money as an entrepreneur, there are some things you just shouldn’t skimp on.

If there is an entrepreneur in your life, one of these items would make a perfect Christmas gift. If you’re an entrepreneur, maybe you should gift them to yourself…

Here are 4 perfect gifts for entrepreneurs:

4 Perfect Gifts For Entrepreneurs | Alana Le, Content Marketing Consultant

Adobe Creative Cloud

I don’t think every single entrepreneur needs a Mac, hipster glasses, and mad design skills.

But if you can’t do anything at all to edit the design files you need for your branding, marketing, contracts, etc, you’re going to be very frustrated on a regular basis.

Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are the most widely used design tools for small businesses, and I think every serious entrepreneur should be able to use them without having to go through a designer every single time.

Adobe Creative Cloud costs $49.99 a month for unlimited access to ALL Adobe creative software. In my opinion, this is totally worth it and would make an absolutely amazing gift for any entrepreneur, especially someone who wants their marketing to look great but isn’t sure how to get there.

A really good laptop

You simply cannot run a business without a well functioning laptop. You’ll just go crazy every time your computer has another issue. Don’t cut corners here. Don’t try to make your old college laptop work, and don’t go cheap and by a supposedly-good-for-work tablet.

If you invest in nothing else, invest in your computer. I highly recommend the ASUS Zenbooks like this one. FYI you really don’t want a disk drive because 1) you really don’t need one and 2) not having one will make your laptop much lighter and slimmer. My current laptop weighs 3 lbs and fits easily into any of my purses, but I never have issues with speed or functionality.

A great organizer or day planner

Entrepreneurs wear tons of hats and have what feels like a million things to get done every single day. I wouldn’t survive without my day planner from Emily Ley and I recommend it to everyone. I’ve also heard a lot of people rave about the Erin Condren life planners.

Why not just use your smartphone as a planner? First, there’s no substitute for physically writing things down if you want to remember more, focus stronger, and think better. Second, a paper day planner is still the only way to cram everything you need to do in a day, week, or month and see it all on one page, which is incredibly useful. Even the best calendar apps take much more time and effort to use than a paper planner.

A high quality blank notebook

When you’ve got a lot on your mind, it can be so hard to focus and work efficiently. Simply writing things down – goals, ideas, lessons learned, etc. – can be a surprisingly effective way to combat that stress. According to Lifehack.org, writing things down can change your life – it helps you with higher-level thinking, processing emotions, thinking big, and more.

I go through notebooks quickly because I’m constantly filling up the pages with blog posts, goals, evaluations, and lists, and I’d bet any entrepreneurs in your life do the same thing. My favorite work notebook is a simple black unlined Moleskine and it would make the perfect elegant yet practical gift for an entrepreneur.

 

 

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My Favorite Inspirational Quotes About Courage

My Favorite Inspirational Quotes About Courage | Alana Le, Content Marketing Consultant

I believe fear is the number one enemy of entrepreneurs.

Fear holds us back.

Fear stops us from taking the risks inherent in building a new business.

If left unchecked, fear will completely derail a business.

As my friend once said to me, “fear steals fun.”

Courage, not fear of risk, is what we business owners really need to survive.

But it is hard to manufacture courage when times are tough, and even harder when you don’t have anyone supporting and encouraging you. When even your friends and family don’t think you’re going to make it, that’s a tough place to find courage.

That’s why I’m all about learning from those who have gone before us.

After all, our fear is nothing new. Every triumphant person of past generations experienced the same fear of risk, failure, and hardship that we feel today. That’s why I love reading these quotes about courage. I hope they inspire you to keep trying, never give up, and keep taking risks to build your business, no matter what.

Here are my favorite quotes about courage:

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” ― Coco Chanel

“Everyone has talent. What’s rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads.” ― Erica Jong

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ― Winston S. Churchill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ― Winston S. Churchill

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear; The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.” ― Meg Cabot

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” ― Peter F. Drucker

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

It’s easy to cry that you’re beaten — and die;
It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope’s out of sight —
Why, that’s the best game of them all!
And though you come out of each gruelling bout,
All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try — it’s dead easy to die,
It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.

― Robert Service

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What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Moms

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Moms | Alana Le | Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

Did you know that moms make great entrepreneurs? Not only that, entrepreneurship is an increasingly popular career option for moms who want more flexibility in their work.

But this isn’t just something to encourage moms who are also business owners.

There’s a lot that every single entrepreneur – parent or not – could learn from those deep in the trenches of parenting.

Here are 5 things business owners can learn from moms:

Silence is probably bad

Every mom knows – or quickly learns the hard way – that complete silence in the house is a terrifying thing. It means the kid is most definitely up to something very bad. In my house, it means baby girl has found another lamp cord to chew on…

There is a strong temptation in business to assume that no news is good news. If people aren’t complaining to us, we assume we’re probably doing things right. But that kind of silence is no good, because it could mean that people are so resigned to issues with your product or service that they aren’t even bothering to tell you. It could mean that you’ve lost the respect or trust of your customers and fans. At the very least, it means that even your happiest customers are too apathetic to tell you they like what you’re doing.

Smart entrepreneurs can pick up this mom skill and react immediately when they realize that things are getting a little too quiet.

Give choices (but not too many)

Giving choices is one of the most talked-about parenting tactics out there, especially for parents of toddlers. Here’s what the website Aha Parenting has to say about choices:

Why does this little trick work so effectively? Because it’s a win-win solution. You’re offering only choices that are okay with you, so you’re happy. She gets to pick one that’s okay with her, so she’s happy. You sidestep the power struggle, because you aren’t making her do something; she is choosing. The child is in charge, within your parameters. No one likes to be forced to do something. Here, because she chooses, she cooperates. (source)

Entrepreneurs can adapt this trick for business too. No customer wants to be forced into a choice because they have no other options, but at the same time of course you can’t let customers do whatever they want because your business has to survive. Offer a few choices that all work for you, and give the customer control with the rest.

This is an important tip in sales too. Rather than pressuring a customer to accept a proposal you’ve made, offer a very small number of choices within a range that you’re okay with. For example, offer 3 options: less scope, less cost; less scope, faster delivery; greater scope, greater cost. That way your customer will feel respected and in control but they won’t be overwhelmed with too many considerations.

I always recommend that business owners make a specific proposal to leads rather than waiting for their potential customer to say what they want. It’s much easier for your clients to decide what to do if they already know what the options are.

Set boundaries and be consistent

Boundaries and healthy limits are an important part of keeping kids safe and helping them learn things like self control and respect for others. But according to Psychology Today, being consistent with those boundaries is crucial:

The challenge here isn’t figuring out what boundaries are appropriate to set. It’s setting those boundaries consistently. Because when you set them inconsistently, you create not only a more difficult child but also a more confused one. How can you justify to a child, who after a certain age not only understands fairness but demands it, why he can play a game on a smartphone at one meal but not at another? (source)

I think this is important for small businesses too. Good business owners figure out what they stand for – values, priorities, customer service policies, etc. – and stick to those principles even when tested by customers pushing the limits. This is important for building trust and respect with a child, and it’s also needed to build trust and respect with businesses and customers. After all, if your customers can’t trust you to do what you say you’re going to do, what is your word even worth?

Make life a little easier

According to The Honest Toddler, black stretch pants are a government issued uniform for moms (read the link, it’s hilarious). Of course not every mom wears nothing but black stretch pants, but I bet you every mom has something they compromise on to make their life a lot easier. It could be super comfortable pants or meal prepping instead of cooking every day, or grocery delivery or online shopping. The point is that moms live with very little extra margin in the day, and they’ve learned to be open to compromise so that not every single thing has to be such a struggle.

Why don’t more small business owners compromise on a few things to make their lives a bit easier? I think we all feel so pressured to live up to a certain public image of a successful business owner, and it’s such a shame. Find something that isn’t too important to you and either eliminate it or go ahead and cut that corner. Make your life easier where you can, because the hard things are just going to keep coming.

Persevere

No matter how bad labor feels, no mom gives up on having a baby when those pains hit. Moms know that one way or another, regardless of what happens, that baby is coming out. And it’s not just labor and childbirth that require perseverance. Raising kids is a long term project, there’s no doubt. Just getting through the newborn months alone requires a degree of perseverance – of grit-your-teeth-and-just-make-it-through spirit – that most people don’t think they’d be able to handle (until they’re going through it themselves). My husband compares caring for a newborn to a certain extremely difficult military training experience he has gone through – except longer and with more sleep deprivation!

Entrepreneurs would be so smart to learn from moms in this area. There are no easy routes to sudden business success. Like having a baby, starting a business is a long term project and there will be plenty of really hard times, especially in those early years.

Don’t give up when things get dark. Of course, learn from mistakes and change where you need to. But don’t give up. If you give up in the hard times, you’ll never get to experience the joyful ones.

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3 Reasons To Always Assume The Best

When you get what appears to be an angry, snarky, or disrespectful email from a client, boss, or colleague, I’ve learned that you should always try to assume the best.

That means assuming that they are not angry, everything’s fine, and you shouldn’t freak out. Instead, reply calmly and respectfully addressing any questions and offering solutions without getting emotional.

But what if they really are mad or being rude to you? They might be, but don’t start there.

Here are 3 reasons why you should always assume the best when it comes to email communication:

Your gut is probably wrong

Insecurity shouts; confidence whispers.

The things we are worried people think about us sound like thunder in our ears and somehow we are so quick to forget the value we offer and the reasons our clients consistently love our work.

If your “gut” is telling you that so-and-so is really mad at you or unhappy with your work, start by assuming that your gut is wrong, because it probably is.

They’ve already cooled off

People speak / write / press send without thinking, and regret it almost as soon as the moment is over.

Most likely, that’s what happened in this case too.

Don’t continue the vicious cycle by replying with another angry, emotional, soon-to-be-regretted email.

Instead, stop the cycle by replying with calmness and respect.

It’s the perfect chance to take the high road

Now is the perfect time to set an example of professionalism and respect. Eventually most people will follow your lead, even if they’re not on board right at the moment.

If you sink to their level now, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be able to get your communication back into a healthy, friendly tone.

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10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

The other day I wrote up a few trends I expect to see in small business content marketing in 2016; one of them was “brutally honest blogging”. I think it is so important for small business owners to be open and transparent with their customers and to stand for something more than just profit (profit is important too, don’t get me wrong). And in the spirit of being real, I wanted to share a little bit more about myself in this blog post. So you an be sure that I am not a content marketing robot:

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

I’m a huge bookworm

I read a lot. I mean, a LOT. I read the news several times a day and read a few books a week, sometimes one or two a day. I don’t spend all my time reading (I have to work and take care of a baby after all) but I’d rather read than watch TV or do other leisure activities. And I read really fast. Not sure why – I don’t know any speed reading techniques – but reading fast is something I’ve always done.

I write down literally everything

This has been necessary ever since I first got pregnant (can I get an amen?!). I keep post-it’s, multiple notebooks, day planners, and notes on my phone and they contain everything I ever did or will do. Seriously, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen or won’t happen. You’ve been warned.

I’m a morning person

Don’t hate me! I start my day at 5:30am and am for the most part happy to get up because it means I get to sit in my favorite chair by the fire, drink coffee, and read. However, I’ve also been known to fall asleep on the couch at 7:30pm and wake up in a puddle of drool…

I got my start in Asia

I moved to Beijing at age 21, 3 weeks after graduating from college, without a job, apartment, or really any friends. And by the miraculous grace of God I managed to build a legitimate career as an expat over the next 6 years.

I know how to live off of ramen

I managed to build a career eventually, but I did have to live off of dumplings and ramen noodles for a while. I used to huddle around a mug of hot water to save money on my heating bill. (That trick really does work, by the way.) But I don’t miss those days!

I studied abroad for the first time at age 15

Thank you so much to my awesome parents who let me give it a try. I wonder if they knew I would get the travel but and move abroad years later. I think everyone should try living in a different country, somewhere in your teens and twenties, because it really helped me get a big picture view of the world and the problems that need to be solved, which made my every-day decisions a lot more intentional.

Americano with cream, every time

My coffee drink of choice in coffee shops (aka, my office) is always an Americano with heavy cream. Because it’s both the cheapest and most delicious drink, of course.

I’ll do whatever I can for small businesses

I’ll drive miles out of my way to support a small business instead of a huge chain. It’s self-serving though, because I’ve learned through experience that you get much better customer service at independent local businesses.

I love good communication (and hate bad communication)

I’m a talker and a writer. I say what I think and at least attempt to say it respectfully and tactfully. On the flip side, I can’t keep a secret to save my life. So it drives me crazy when TV, movie, or book plot lines are driven by poor communication instead of actual plot twists. Of course I can’t stand that in real life either. Just stop keeping secrets, people! Your life will be so much easier!!

I don’t do podcasts

I’m a visual person and I learn by doing – trial and error is just normal (even fun) for me. On the other hand, listening to a lecture or podcast in order to learn something new is one of the hardest things in the world for me, which is why most of what I know is self-taught.

I hope you enjoyed getting a little peek behind the curtain! I’m not a consultobot – I’m just a coffee-loving, book-devouring morning person. Nice to meet you. 🙂

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The One Mistake I’m Glad I Made

At the beginning of 2015, I created a vision for the end of the year.

I wrote down how I wanted a typical day to go – the type of work I would do, the people I would help, the time I would spend with my family and on things that I love.

I knew that in order for my business to grow sustainably, I would need to make this vision a reality or risk getting burned out or missing out on real growth opportunities.

But the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months. Before I knew it, 2015 was almost over and while much of my vision was becoming a reality, a big part of it still hadn’t happened.

Why?

Not because of outside market forces, or lack of demand…simply because I didn’t try hard enough to make the change.

I needed to adjust a portion of my service offerings, but it seemed easier to keep doing the same thing for client after client because that’s what they had come to expect.

I was facing a choice: go with convenience and short term profit – maintain the status quo – or make a change that will be more inconvenient and cost me some projects in the short term, but will set me up for greater long term growth.

And because there were many things happening this year, including rapid business growth, a deployed husband, and a new baby, I just kept pushing back this change over and over. And suddenly, the year was almost over.

At that point I took on one last project in my supposedly phased-out service line, and guess what? It was a disaster. It cost me more money than I made. It caused extra amounts of stress disastrously timed with my baby getting sick. It was a nightmare, and the worst part was I went through it all knowing that if I had just stuck to my vision from the beginning of 2015, it never would have happened.

But you know what? I’m glad I made that mistake. As painful as it was, the lesson learned was one I know I’ll never forget.

My lesson was simple: I need to start listening – really listening – to myself. I need to trust my gut; but more than that, I need to cultivate the courage to pursue my business vision as time goes on, not giving in to what other people think I should do but really focusing on what I know to myself to be true.

After all, no one in my circles knows small business content marketing the way I do. And no one knows how I work, the things I truly love to do, the things that I find satisfying, and the things that drive me crazy.

I’m glad I learned that lesson once and for all, because it provided the motivation I needed to overhaul my business and make changes that were hard but good.

And I’m glad that I will be that much more attentive to my 2016 business vision, and beyond, because I know that it’s time to start trusting my gut.

Do you have a vision for your business at the end of 2016? I hope this post encourages you to hold onto it and not let it go. There will be so much pressure to give up, and distractions that will take you off track. But you’ve got to stick to your guns and keep on trying.