Posted on

February 2018 Goals

We’re a week into February, so I’m right on time (ha) with my February goals.

Let’s start with a quick check-in on my year-end 2018 goals.

2018 Goals Check-in

1. Alana Le brand – publish first two books in series of practical, encouraging books for entrepreneurs

Scratch that! I realized at the end of January that this goal was unnecessarily ambitious. 😉 Eating some humble pie and changing this goal to writing the outline only for this series. I am the poster child for biting off more than you can chew. Hoping to learn from my past mistakes and work smarter this year.

2. Genre fiction brand – publish four novels and three novellas (finish the series I launched in 2017)

On track! More on that goal below. Feeling good about this one.

3. The Six Box – grow to the point where my co-founder and I can pay ourselves monthly salaries of [REDACTED]

On track.

4. Health – lift 3+ days per week throughout the whole year

Hit a speed bump in January, but I’m back on track now.

5. Family – keep a family diary to track what’s working and what’s not (especially when it comes to toddler routines and behavior)

On track.

6. Faith – 15+ minutes of Bible and prayer time each day

On track.

As you can see, so far – one month in – things are going well! For the most part. I’ll share more details below, but suffice it to say, I am pleased with my 2018 goals and happy with my progress. They’re definitely stretch goals, but in a fun and exciting, not stressful, way.

January 2018 Goals Recap

1. Alana Le brand – Set timer and spend 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week, advancing my 2018 big goals.

According to my weekly miracle sheets, I did this 11 out of 27 days (excluding Sundays) in January. Ouch. Not great! But to be honest, my blog is my lowest priority right now, and things were pretty crazy in January, so it was to be expected.

2. Genre fiction brand – Send Book 3 to my editor.

DONE. Not only that, I already got it back from my editor! So excited to publish it in the next couple of weeks. Formatting, proofreading, and cover designs take longer than you’d think…

3. The Six Box – Set timer and spend 30 minutes per day on 2018 goals.

This one was better! I did a Six Box power session 16 out of 27 work days in January. Okay, not great. But not terrible, given what we had going on. More below. (By the way, in case you are curious, some of my power sessions last more like 90 minutes – but a minimum of 30 straight minutes is my goal.)

4. Health – Lift weights 5 times per week, do two short HIIT runs per week, and hit my target calories & macros each day, with one “untracked” day per week (for the sake of my sanity!).

This one was mixed. I hit my target calories/macros 22 out of 27 days in January. Pretty good. Unfortunately, after only 6 lifting sessions and 2 HIIT runs, I ended up getting injured. Super frustrating! The injury is completely unrelated to lifting and running, but I had to stop all those activities and start going to physical therapy. Thankfully, it has improved enough that I can do a few lifts, so I am back in the [garage] gym this month. Definitely no running on the schedule, though. (Not very sad about that, TBH.)

5. Family – Write at least one daily entry in our family diary.

I only added 9 entries last month, but even just keeping this diary has been incredibly helpful!

6. Faith – Have 15+ minutes of Bible and prayer time each day.

Crushed this one. I spent 15+ minutes in “quiet time” 29 out of 31 days in January. No, it’s not a perfect 100%, but close enough! I was thankful for more time in the Word and prayer last month, because I definitely needed it. My daughter was very sick partway through January. It was scary for all of us. This is part of the reason why I haven’t been logging a ton of consistent time on my blog or my e-commerce business.

Done with the recap, on to the fun stuff – this month’s goals!

My February 2018 Goals

1. Blog – 30+ minute power session 6 days a week

Same goal as last month, but hopefully I’ll hit it a little harder this time.

2. Genre fiction brand – Finish the first draft of Book 4 by writing 2,000 words per day, 6 days per week

I’m following a new approach I read about in this book – writing a “lean” first draft about 60% of my target length, so 48,000 words (out of my 80,000 word goal). The idea, which I LOVE, is to focus only on getting the story on the page in the first draft. Think action, dialogue, plot – no worldbuilding, characterization, description, etc. This might sound horrible, but when I was editing my third novel, I ended up throwing away the entire first draft (50,000 words) and 20,000 words of the second draft because of plot holes. It was heartbreaking and frustrating, because I am not a full time author. I had sacrificed a lot to create those words, and wasting them felt tragic. This time, I am hoping to deal with the plot holes before I spend extra time on descriptions, etc., which I will then add in during my editing in March and April, when I will flesh out the first draft and bring it up to my target length. That’s the plan, anyway…

3. The Six Box – 30+ minute power session 6 days each week, plus launch our super secret special project (yay!). 

Can’t wait to show off our special project at the end of this month! I’ll link it in my next goals blog post…

4. Health – maintain weight without tracking macros, and lift 3 days per week.

I’m taking a diet break this month. I’m below my pre-pregnancy weight (YES!!) and pretty tired of shredded chicken breast, egg whites, and oatmeal. (Just kidding! I ate plenty of yummy food to get here, I promise.) My goal is to maintain my weight this month without weighing my food, then work on losing a bit more fat later this year.

5. Family – tidy up the house before dinner. 

You know when you have company for dinner, and you run around like a crazy person tidying up, making yummy food, and getting the lighting just so? Oh, maybe that’s just me. Well, I love that feeling right before company comes over, when you look around your home and think, “Wow, it looks so pretty.” Then it hit me. We’re the ones who live here – why don’t we ever do that just for ourselves?! Maybe because we have a 2.5 year old and a 3 month old. Ha. But anyway, I’d like to find a way to enjoy our home each evening, and I think do a quick clean-up before dinner each evening might help.

6. Faith – 20+ minutes of Bible and prayer time each day

Adding 5 minutes to last month’s goal. Maybe this sounds legalistic, but setting a time goal (rather than a number of chapters to read) has helped me to do more of the things that build my faith – worship music, memory verses, journaling, more prayer time, etc.

So, those are my February 2018 goals. We’ll see how this month goes…more to come in March!

Posted on

January 2018 Goals

I recently shared some of my big goals for 2018, and I’m planning to post monthly updates on them throughout this year. Why?

  1. I need the accountability 😉
  2. I want to share my journey with you. I think it’s fun to peek behind the curtain and find out how other entrepreneurs approach their goals, so this year, I’m going to attempt to do the same.

Here are my big picture 2018 goals (just a quick recap of this blog post):

1. Alana Le brand – publish first two books in series of practical, encouraging books for entrepreneurs

2. Genre fiction brand – publish four novels and three novellas (finish the series I launched in 2017)

3. The Six Box – grow to the point where my co-founder and I can pay ourselves monthly salaries of [REDACTED]

4. Health – lift 3+ days per week throughout the whole year

5. Family – keep a family diary to track what’s working and what’s not (especially when it comes to toddler routines and behavior)

6. Faith – 15+ minutes of Bible and prayer time each day

Goals, habits, or milestones?

You’ll notice that some of these goals are habits/systems, and others are milestones. Normally, I would try to choose a single, measurable, milestone goal for each area, but some areas—like faith, family, and good health—are difficult to measure. For those, if I just incorporate the habits above into my life, I know I’ll make progress, and that is good enough for me right now.

When it comes to monthly goals, however, I’m focusing on habits and systems instead of milestones. This is new for me, but I like it!

According to James Clear,

I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress. [emphasis mine]

Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.

I like this concept, and it’s something that my own personal life experience definitely supports. As much as I’d love to daydream constantly about accomplishing a big goal, the real progress in my life and work seems to come from small, consistent, daily steps.

When I decided to write four books in 2017, I didn’t think I’d ever accomplish that goal, and if I’d spent a lot of time obsessing about that goal, I would have gotten discouraged because of how much work it represented.

But I knew I could write or edit around 1,000 words per day, even on a bad day, so that’s pretty much what I did. Some days it was 800 words, some days it was 3,000, and some days it was zero. I worked my way forward word by word, and guess what? By Christmas 2017, I had published three books under my fiction pen name, one under my Six Box brand, and had just finished the manuscript for a fourth fiction book.

For my January 2018 plan, I’ve tried to continue that mindset by “setting” systems instead of setting month-end goals (for the most part). I’ll let you know next month how it goes…

Here are my January 2018 systems (plus one goal):

1. Alana Le brand

Set timer and spend 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week, advancing my 2018 big goals.

I have two little ones at home now – a 2.5 year old and a 3 month old. As I’m sure you can imagine, this has had a MASSIVE impact on the amount of uninterrupted time I have available to work. There are some days when there is only an hour (or less) when they are both asleep but I’m awake. Since I can’t count on my old rhythm of working in the early morning, during my toddler’s midday nap, and after she goes to bed, I’ve had to get more creative. One of the tricks I’m using right now is to seize a moment when they are both content (baby napping, toddler playing or watching a show), then set a timer for 15-30 minutes and work to get as much done as possible in that time frame. I’m using this approach to make sure I make a little progress on my big 2018 goals every day (except my day off!).

2. Genre fiction brand

Send Book 3 to my editor.

This one is a milestone goal, not a habit – because it really needs to happen this month in order to stick to my 2018 timeline. Next month, when I’m working on the manuscript for book 4, I’ll probably set a daily word count goal instead.

3. The Six Box

Set timer and spend 30 minutes per day on 2018 goals.

See 1. for explanation. I’m taking the same approach with The Six Box to make sure I keep pushing things forward, even on chaotic, busy days.

4. Health

I have three goals for this month: Lift weights 5 times per week, do two short HIIT runs per week, and hit my target calories & macros each day, with one “untracked” day per week (for the sake of my sanity!).

Breaking the ONE thing rule, I know! Sorry. I’m in my last few weeks of “cutting” before I plan to take a break and focus on maintaining my weight for a little while. Planning to push hard this month and hopefully finish strong.

5. Family

Write at least one daily entry in our family diary.

Rather than make a big pretty journal (which is what I really want to do), I’m keeping it simple by just updating a note on my phone when I can. My goal is to make a new entry in the note every day this month.

6. Faith

Have 15+ minutes of Bible and prayer time each day.

To hold myself accountable, I’m setting a timer for this one, too. iPhone clock app FTW this month!

Next: View my January recap and February 2018 goals.

Posted on

2017 Recap & 2018 Goals

Update

Follow along with my 2018 journey – check out my monthly goal updates!

It all started with a book.

(That’s how pretty much everything starts for me.)

In The ONE Thing, Gary Keller encourages goal-setters to ask a question:

What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

This simple, unassuming question changed my life.

The ONE thing question takes the Pareto Principle (aka the 80/20 rule) to the extreme. It asks not just what 20% of efforts generate the majority of results, but what one specific thing, when achieved, will drive the greatest benefit for everything else you do?

One year ago, I wrote my 2017 goals based on that question.

Of all the things needed in each of my main “areas” of life, what ONE thing could I do in each area that would make everything else easier or unnecessary?

Here’s what I came up with:

My 2017 Goals

1. Alana Le brand

Goal: Get website and email automation set up in “maintenance mode” so it can continue to grow without daily focus.

I began the process of closing my consulting business and converting this blog to an entrepreneurship-focused brand/shop instead. I knew I wouldn’t have any extra time and effort to devote to it after the baby arrived, so I wanted it to be as self-sustaining as possible.

2. Genre fiction brand

Goal: Publish four books.

I decided to launch a new fiction brand (under a pen name) in YA fantasy in 2017. This was a big, scary goal for me in January 2017 – so big, I was embarrassed to even talk about it even with my closest friends. I’d read in countless sources that the best way for a new author to build up sales on Amazon was to release a new book every 3-4 months, and I wanted to see if I could do it right out of the gate. What can I say – I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of girl! (Sometimes. Other times, I’m a just-stay-home-and-go-at-a-glacial-pace kind of girl…)

3. The Six Box

Goal: Ship [REDACTED] care packages per month.  😉

The Six Box is the e-commerce company I run with my friend and fellow military spouse (now veteran spouse) Megan. We send “reverse” care packages to military wives going through a hard season of life like deployment. We picked a number that we felt would challenge us to improve our marketing & operations systems and put us in a good place to grow in 2018.

4. Health

Goal: Gain no more than 22 lbs during pregnancy.

I struggled to lose the baby weight after my first, and while I could set a lot of health goals for the year, I thought if I just achieved that ONE thing – limiting weight gain during my second pregnancy – everything else would have to follow.

So, those were some ambitious goals. For me, at least! To help me avoid distractions, I also picked a word for the year: PLANT. I told myself that I would spend 2017 planting the seeds that would one day grow into a future where I and my family would be thriving and healthy. If that meant less income in the short term, or saying “no” to more things for now, I would do that, in order to plant the right seeds for the future.

Here’s how my 2017 goals played out in real life:

1. Alana Le brand – get website and email automation set up in “maintenance mode” so it can continue to grow without daily focus.

This sooo did not happen. My poor blog got zero love in 2017. Working on fixing that this month!

2. Genre fiction brand – Publish four books.

Almost! I was so close. I published three books in this brand, and finished writing the fourth book just before Christmas. It should come out in March 2018. I ended up releasing one book in August, one in October, and one in December.

3. The Six Box – Ship [REDACTED] care packages per month.

Missed this one too. Megan and I both had babies in 2017, among other adventures, so it wasn’t too surprising. We did ship a lot of care packages to amazing military spouses, so we still call that a win! We also published a book under the Six Box brand called Got Your Six: A 12-Month Journal for Military Spouses. If I consider that one my fourth book, I can cross off goal #2… 😉

4. Health – Gain no more than 22 lbs during pregnancy.

Crushed this goal! YAY! I ended up gaining exactly 22 lbs, then returned to my pre-pregnancy weight just 2 weeks postpartum. Today, less than 3 months after giving birth, I’m within 4 pounds of my goal weight. Hallelujah! After two and a half years of frustration, it feels good to be making progress in this area. I managed this goal by counting macros, lifting weights, and going on tons of stroller walks throughout my pregnancy. Thankfully, I had a good birth experience and recovery and was able to start up again a few weeks after giving birth.

Energized by my solid progress in 2017, I’ve set some pretty ambitious goals for 2018. But first, I came up with a new word for the year:

2018 Word for the Year: Deep

Rather than reaching up for a broad, nebulous idea of well-rounded “perfection,” I want to go deep in just a few areas that are most important to me, and seek to do them as well as they can possibly be done. Here are the areas I picked:

  1. Knowing God
  2. Nurturing my family
  3. Writing
  4. Strength training

I see these four areas as a foundation for everything else I do. If I can make solid progress in each one, my other goals will become much easier.

Based on that focus (going deep instead of staying broad) and the ONE thing question, here’s what I came up with for my 2018 goals:

My 2018 Goals

1. Alana Le brand

Goal: Publish two “self-help” books for entrepreneurs.

I’m working on a series of encouraging, practical books for entrepreneurs. This year, I want to publish a short, promotional freebie and the first full book in the series. I have several other big goals for my blog, but if I can publish those two books, everything else will fall in line as part of that goal, so it covers a ton of work from now until then.

2. Genre fiction brand

Goal: Publish four books and six companion short stories (complete the series I launched in 2017).

Part of this goal is to keep hitting the “publish every 3-4 months” recommendation, and part of it is to create a good reader experience – a binge-worthy series of stories that readers can go through quickly, immersing themselves in the world and characters all at once. For the most part, I’m holding off on marketing my pen name’s books until the series is complete.

3. The Six Box

Goal: Grow to the point where we can pay ourselves monthly salaries of [REDACTED].

So much needs to happen to hit that goal! That’s the beauty of the ONE thing question – a single goal encapsulates everything we need to do this year.

4. Health

Goal: Lift heavy weights 3+ days per week.

I’ve been lifting inconsistently for the past 3 years, and more consistently for the past 12 months or so. Strength training motivates me to stay on track with nutrition, makes me feel good, and makes everything else in life easier (especially toddler wrangling and car seat lifting). If I can consistently lift throughout this year, everything else in the health arena will come easier.

5. Family

Goal: Keep a daily family diary.

Why does it take 45 minutes to get my toddler out the door to the park? Why did she sleep well one night and wake three times the next? WHO KNOWS?! 😉 I’ve realized that much of the chaos in our family could be lessened by simply being more intentional and strategic – identifying what’s working and what isn’t, tweaking things, paying attention to results, etc. But if I don’t keep track of what is happening, I forget lessons learned and go back to passively reacting to the daily toddler insanity. Writing a daily entry in our family diary will be my way of figuring out what’s working and what needs to change.

6. Faith

Goal: Spend 15+ minutes with the Bible and prayer each day.

I’ve found that I can spend ten minutes reading the Bible easily enough, but it’s harder for me to include extra time dedicated to responding to God in prayer after reading. Fifteen minutes may not seem like much, but if I can consistently do it daily throughout this year, I know it will make a big difference in my faith.

This blog post terrifies me…

I wrote this post three days ago and have been waiting to hit publish this whole time because I don’t want to go public with my 2018 goals! How’s that for fear of failure?! Here’s a good reminder, for me and for anyone else who struggles with perfectionism: if I don’t achieve all of my 2018 goals (or any of them), it is not the end of the world. I’ll learn. I’ll grow. And I’ll set ambitious 2019 goals too. 😉

Posted on

What Kind of Future Are You Planting?

What Kind of Future Are You Planting? | Alana Le

One year ago, I sat down with my journal and began to plan and dream for 2017.

Our family had just experienced a loss. I was hurting, and though I wanted to escape the pain by throwing myself into work, I was forced to confront a painful truth: 

Life is short, and there are no guarantees that it will go the way you want it to.

Isn’t it so much easier to be optimistic when you’re young? Even when you’re broke, inexperienced, and clueless, the future stretches out before you like a beautiful landscape, and the world is your oyster. It has to be. You worked so hard for those good grades, that scholarship, that internship. Surely, it will all turn out well, won’t it?

But as the years go by and you survive one crashing wave after another, reality prevails. You realize life is more about sacrifice than celebration, and it’s exhausting.

I’m in a crazy, stressful season right now – a season full of toddlers and infants, looming military trips, worry, loneliness, and uncertainty. Before I can catch my breath on Monday, Friday arrives, and then I blink and it’s Monday morning again. Another coffee, another to-do list, and the whirlwind repeats. What’s that, babe? You’ve got another trip next week? Adjust, reorient, reschedule, pour out my life a little bit more.

Hardships come. Challenges overwhelm. Disappointments, failures, and frustrations abound.

I’m learning that real life is made up of hours of unseen sacrifice and service. Picture-perfect moments and relaxing coffee shop dates? Not so much.

And when I have nothing left to give, life knocks again and asks for more.

What does it mean to live an ambitious, entrepreneurial life in light of this difficult reality? Is there a way for work to still be beautiful and life to still be balanced, when all you see are sacrifices on every side?

I sure don’t have all the answers, but I’ve got two ideas that I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year.

Put relationships first.

No bank account balance, no business success, no milestone will ever be as important as the real, live people in your life. Put them first, because you don’t know what the future holds in this challenging, unpredictable world.

One thing stood out to me loud and clear as I reviewed the past year in my journal that December: the only way to grow my consulting business, as it currently stood, would be to spend less time with my family and more time at work. That’s simply the nature of a client-based business. If I wanted to progress, I would need more daycare hours, more early mornings, more late nights, more weekends.

An image of a field came to mind.

With every choice I’d made that year, I’d planted a seed for the future. Now I would have to cultivate that field and, eventually, the seeds I’d planted would grow. My business would expand. I’d have more of everything – more traffic, more clients, more billable hours, more income. And along with that, I’d have to spend a lot more of my time.

That’s when it hit me.

I’d planted seeds for a future I didn’t actually want.

I’d planted the seeds I was “supposed” to plant, without ever considering whether they were the right seeds for my life – for my family, for myself, for my own unique needs and gifts.

And if I wanted to build toward a future where my family and I would actually thrive, I would need to start planting very different seeds.

Life is short – too short to waste with regret. Are you focusing on the people and things that matter most to you, or letting outside pressure dictate how you spend your time?

Which brings me to my second answer to the questions above:

Find work that makes you come alive.

That December, I opened my journal to a fresh page and began to brainstorm goals for the next year. As my pen poured out onto the page, hopes and dreams took shape – visions of a different future, pulled together from the wildest corners of my imagination. A future where I was thriving and strong, not exhausted and stretched thin.

A pattern began to emerge.

There was one thing I kept returning to as I wrote – one thing I dreamed of spending my time on. “Everything else” had become not only a distraction, but a burdensome chore. 

What was my one thing?

Creating.

I. Love. To. Create.

Stories, art, experiences. For me, creating is energizing.

Administration, task management, networking, sales … these all drain me. (Yes, I know they are good and necessary things. But they still drain me!) Creative work, on the other hand, makes me come alive. 

As I tapped my pen on the page, I stopped writing and began to daydream. What would life be like if I devoted 90% of my working hours to creating? How much more joy would I find in my work? How much more energy would I have to pour into my family and friends?

This question began a seismic shift in my life that continued throughout the following year as I redesigned my entire working life and started planting seeds for a future I wanted to live in. And I planted a lot of new seeds.

Here are some of the new seeds I started planting in 2017:

I began building a passive income rather than depending on consulting hours.

I devoted the majority of my time to creative work.

I used the Pareto Principle to focus on the few things that got the best, most profitable results.

I spent far more time doing creative writing, instead of my usual “marketing” writing.

I launched a new pen name brand in genre fiction (YA fantasy) dedicated to telling the kinds of stories I’ve always wanted to read.

I stopped taking on corporate content ghostwriting clients, and redesigned my blog and shop to entrepreneurship in general, with only some parts devoted to content marketing.

I spent more time on my ecommerce business, creating fun and encouraging care packages for military spouses going through deployments.

The year was a roller coaster of pregnancy complications, toddler antics, hard seasons of solo parenting, and more. But I stuck to that image of a field and continued plant the seeds of my dream future. 

Whenever I had a bit of free time, I focus on creating, even if it meant letting other good things slide. 

In July, I released my first book – a novelette prequel (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella) to my new fiction series. In August, I released my first full length novel. In September, I released its sequel. And in November, I released my fourth book, a journal for military spouses that I co-wrote with my friends, neighbor, and business partner Megan Casper. 

Oh, and in October, I had a baby.

(What a year!! Whew.)

All that creating ended up being time well-spent: My first novel spent a week in the top 1,000 books on Amazon’s Kindle store, and my books now consistently bring in a 4-figure passive income each month. The week after I had my baby was a week of record sales, even though I did absolutely no promotion and didn’t even crack my laptop open the whole week. I’m sure you can imagine that it felt amazing to be making record sales while snuggling my newborn!

Sound like a crazy year? It was. But trust me, I am not a workaholic. I did a lot of work, but I also spent a good amount of time napping on the couch and snacking, if I’m honest. But there were a lot of things I didn’t do.

Here are just some of the things I didn’t do – some of the seeds I stopped planting in 2017:

I didn’t post on social media (AT ALL). I even deleted social media apps from my phone in order to give myself more time to write, think, and get organized. 

I didn’t write any blog posts. I didn’t send out any marketing emails. In fact, I did basically no marketing at all.

I didn’t do any networking. I did the bare minimum of business administration to keep my business afloat.

Let’s not even talk about the limited social life, or the dishes and laundry situation most of the time.

I maintained a relentless, tunnel vision focus on planting seeds for my dream future. I devote all my extra energy to creating, and it was glorious.

Is everything perfect now? Not even close.

I have a lot more work to do to build that future I dreamed up. It’s going to be years and years before I get there, if I ever do, and each year I plan to readjust my focus, so that I’m always working on planting exactly the right seeds for the season. Some years, it may mean more creative work; others, more admin and marketing; others, simply focusing on helping my family thrive.

But at least now I’m actively trying to plant the right seeds – the ones I actually want to cultivate, the ones I want to see grow up into something real in my life.

What seeds are you planting? Will they grow into the kind of life where you’ll flourish? Or do you need to plant something different next year?

Posted on

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

Posted on

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:

Posted on

5 Things My Husband’s Deployment Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

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.

“Staying busy,” while it may be a good idea, will not actually make that deployment go by faster.

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. Thankfully, I’ve found those days will contain lessons that you will need when you reach the next level of success.

When I look back on the last few years of entrepreneurship, 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. 

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 afterward?

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. These days, nearly every job 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 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 hardest 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 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 crying about how much you hate the military or break down 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’s hard 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. That I was successful? That I was kind and generous? That I worked hard?

I’d love for all those things to be true.

But I’ll be okay if there’s only one thing they can say about me: That I never gave up. 

Posted on

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Moms

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.

Posted on

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.