Business Advice You Probably Shouldn’t Take

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image credit: nicoletaionescu

 

UPDATE: Since I first posted this, I did decide to merge my business blog with my personal blog. Since I consider the business of uncomfortable emotions part of my business, it made sense.

When I first started a personal blog back in 2008, I was nervous about putting my most private thoughts and feelings out there on the internet for anyone to read. However, I quickly discovered that, guess what? NO ONE READ MY BLOG. I was equal parts dismayed and relieved.

Years and several blog iterations later, I was waiting on the corner for my kids to get out of school when another mom I barely knew said, “I read your blog. It was really great.” I froze. This random woman now knew some really personal things about me, and I felt VERY uncomfortable.

Since that day, I’ve made peace with putting my life out there. My goal was to acknowledge the emotional struggles we all have — the ones we sweep under the rug so we can pretend everything’s hunky dory — and help people feel relief in the knowledge they’re not alone. Now, when people tell me they read my personal blog, Riding the Wave, and tell me it struck a chord in them, I’m pleased.

But how does THAT blog mesh with this business-related one? Both are under my name; I even have them linked together. Anyone I do business with can click on over there and peer into the chaotic chasm of my brain. “Uncomfortable” doesn’t do it justice.

I could discontinue my personal blog or write it under a pseudonym. I could at the very least un-link it from this one or quit splashing it all over social media. But in the name of authenticity, I just can’t do it, even if it’s a terrible business decision. Sure, there’s a place for business and a place for emotional messiness; that’s why I have two different blogs. But the emotional messiness is real, and I’m not going to force it to live in the closet. It’s exhausting trying to keep it in there; the closet’s just not big enough.

You don’t have to empty the contents of your brain onto the page the way I do in my personal blog, but maybe you can let your guard down concerning work a little. And maybe we can all strive to make it feel safer to do that than it does now — not make it the death of your respectability. We can be good at our jobs, we can be focused, efficient hard workers, AND we can have some mess in the background that roams around the house instead of keeping to the unseen storage spaces. It’s not weakness; it’s normal.

What’s Cryotherapy & Why Do I Like It?

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The cryosauna

When I discovered Champion Cryotherapy in the Trails at 620, I was curious. I knew cryotherapy had something to do with extreme cold, but I live in Central Texas precisely to avoid such arctic blasts. Why would I want to try it? Because I am both pathologically skeptical and open-minded; I couldn’t resist the intrigue, and I’m always up for new ways to feel better.

When I walked in for my appointment, I was greeted by owner Todd Pendleton. Todd has a friendly and genuine demeanor. He and his office staff make you feel welcome in that casual, Hill Country way — like you’re old friends already. They know you have no idea what cryotherapy is, and they’re happy to let you in on the details.

Whole-body cryotherapy is a research-proven cold therapy that activates the body’s natural pain and inflammation fighters. While chilling in a cold-air sauna for three minutes, the body’s restorative processes are activated to provide…

  • relief from pain and inflammation, 
  • accelerated muscle recovery, 
  • boosted energy levels, 
  • increased metabolic rate,
  • enhanced complexion.

Todd led me into the cryotherapy room. In privacy, I disrobed and donned Champion Cryotherapy’s toasty warm socks, boots and gloves. I looked down at myself: underwear, boots and gloves — not a look I usually sport, but comfy nonetheless.

I stepped into the cryosauna, which Todd had adjusted for my height so my head would stick out the top. Then, he cranked the temperature down to negative 185 degrees and began talking, prompting me to turn every so often. What does that level of cold feel like in little else but a birthday suit? Surprisingly, not bad since it’s devoid of moisture.

While I literally chilled, Todd explained what was happening to my body. The low temperature was prompting it to protect my vital organs. Blood left my extremities and cycled through my heart, becoming re-oxygenated. That blood would return to my extremities refreshed when I warmed up. He continued speaking for the duration, as much to distract me from the cold as to provide education.

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NormaTec compression massage

Feeling invigorated after the intense cold, it was then time to experience NormaTec compression massage. After re-dressing, I reclined in a comfortable chair as Todd helped me put on thigh-high boots made of durable black cloth. He hooked them up to a machine, and the chambers within the boots began filling with air. They periodically inflated and deflated, moving from my feet up my legs. It was like a massage. The lighting was low, and I was offered a cup of water or tea — instant relaxation. The NormaTec system was developed to speed muscle recovery and mobilize fluid, which is why it can also help with varicose veins.

20 minutes later, my time was up. I was sad to take the boots off, but my legs felt good. When I got home, I noticed when I bent to touch my toes, my hamstrings were relaxed — not tight like they normally are. I also noted my fingers were no longer swollen and I could get my rings off (which I haven’t been able to do in a while.)

I’d chatted with another client, Michael, while I was there. He reported sleeping better after his previous session — the biggest benefit, as far as he was concerned. After two nights of sleep, post “squeeze and freeze” (which is what they call the cryotherapy/NormaTec combo session) I agree; I fell asleep faster than normal and didn’t wake up as often.

Most notable to me, however is this: days after my treatment, I still feel unusually upbeat — centered, focused, productive, emotionally satisfied. I live with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), and one of the key symptoms is cyclical depression. Cryotherapy has been shown to produce endorphins (feel-good hormones) as well as reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. 

Cryotherapy is excellent for muscle recovery, but you don’t have to be an athlete or injured to enjoy it; it had the feel of a short but highly effective spa treatment. For me, it was better (and faster) than a massage. And with the positive effect it had on my mood and ability to focus in the days following, well, that seals it. I’m a fan.

Champion Cryotherapy is located in the Trails at 620 Shopping Center Wilson Parke Rd., right next to ARC. For more information, visit ChampionCryotherapy.net.

The Balancing Act: How to Stay Focused Working at Home

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An inviting workspace can make all the difference.

I love working from home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Officing out of the house, I don’t have to put up with morning rush hour or comply with workplace dress codes, like having to wear pants. But there are a lot of distractions at home, so I’ve developed a few techniques to keep me focused:

Set up a designated workspace.

We form associations with places. You want to associate your workspace with work, whether you have your own room for an office or a little nook off the kitchen. Take time to tidy and organize it; clutter is distracting. Decorate it with attractive objects — photos, artwork, plants — so it’s an inviting space. If you have a door to close when you need quiet, all the better. Similarly, it can be useful to avoid working in your bedroom, so you associate that space with sleep, not busy brain work.

Make a schedule.

Write it down, and stick to it, as if your boss were watching you. Working from home affords us greater flexibility, but allowing yourself to get distracted by washing dishes or going down the Facebook newsfeed rabbit hole isn’t conducive to getting things done. I put not just my work hours but individual tasks on my calendar, color-coded by task type (work, family, personal). That way, I can ensure I have a balance of each. Yes, it has to be flexible; unexpected things come up. But then I can rearrange my predetermined tasks for another time, without worrying I’ll forget something. I actually print my calendar page each day, so I can take notes on it and have it visible to me at all times. Avoid wandering into your office after hours to do “just one thing.” Write yourself a note for the next day, if you’re afraid you’ll forget it. Not working during off-hours is just as important as working when you’re supposed to.

Pick the right time.

I work most effectively while my children are at school (no surprise there). I delegate tasks that require the most focus to those hours. If I feel productive during the day, I can relax and enjoy my kiddos when they get home. On busier days, I save the tasks that require less focus for the time when the house is lively with the laughter and occasional fighting of children. Some people work best in the evening when the rest of their family is in bed. There is no one right time; the key is to pay attention and find your own most-productive hours.

Turn off your phone.

Texts are a constant distraction. Ever end up on a group text with 26 other people? Turn off your ringer, or leave it in another room when you really need to focus. Even if you aren’t checking it, hearing the constant buzzing and beeping shakes your concentration. This extends to the TV and any other distracting noises.

Working from home can be wonderfully flexible. You can more often work how, when and where it suits you. But, because you aren’t living by someone else’s rules, you have to be intentional and make your own. And, when your rules cease to work for you, the beauty is you can change them or throw them out altogether. Rules weren’t made to be broken, but they were made to bend and be reshaped from time to time.

 

Building Your Business…or Not

I originally posted this on my personal site, but it’s actually more of a business post on gaining a little perspective. This is not about working harder, but taking a step back.

IMG_2515When my children were babies and toddlers, people would often tell me, “Cherish these years. They go by too fast.” But, there were many times when I thought they couldn’t go by fast enough. From the day they were each born, I loved my kids unconditionally and with an intensity that overwhelmed me, as if my heart would explode with the hugeness of that love. But, I also struggled.

Not getting enough sleep was hard. Failing at breast feeding was devastating. Not having time to myself and being constantly “on” for my children, the first of whom never did nap regularly, was something I wrestled with constantly. I was, at times, bored with staring at an infant who’d yet to even make eye contact with me, bored with playing  trains for the eleventh hour, bored and defeated by the unimaginable loads of laundry small children produce. Ironically, in addition to needing more alone time, I also craved adult company, as evidenced by my constant chattering at Jason when he got home from work.

There were good times, though. There was the time I watched Jack run and laugh carefree through the wildflowers in the park and wished he’d stay that uninhibited forever. There was the first time he planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. There was toddler Gage, dressed in only a diaper, dancing to techno music in his bouncy way and the thrill of watching each of them take their first, unassisted steps. I’m smiling now, with the memory of these milestone events, but I am relieved children don’t stay toddlers forever.

Now Jack is nine and Gage is six. Time has started to speed up, as they both spend a good portion of their days away at school and then, afterwards, often at their friends’ houses. I promised myself when they were young, I would not tell people with babies to cherish the moment; enough people tell them that. My message to them is this: it is hard when they are little, but it gets easier.

As my kids have gotten more self-sufficient, and it’s no longer necessary for me to follow them around, making sure they don’t maim themselves on sharp corners or walk into traffic, it’s been easier to lose myself in my writing. They go off and play, and I have the time and energy to plot advances for my freelance business. This is good for me, but I have to be mindful not to swing too far the other way – get so caught up in work that I miss the kids’ ever-dwindling childhood. Jack only has two years left before we hit the dreaded middle school years, and I want to invest my time and energy into fostering a close relationship with both of them, so they’ll come to me when they need help. This is why, despite my overachieving, perfectionist brain, I have decided to be okay with taking freelance work as it comes, and not intentionally growing the business like I could. There will be time to grow business later, but I don’t get a second chance at being present for my kids in their formative years. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I regret not building a business? Maybe a little, but knowing the tradeoff was being there for Jack and Gage, my first, foremost and most important responsibility, I have no doubts my priorities are in the right place. And that makes every decision, business or otherwise, so much simpler.

Two Tools For Your Small Business: Simplicity and Intuition

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I made an exception. My personal goals for the year are to to focus on simplicity and listening to my intuition. This works in business life as well, and it’s not a huge leap to see how.

Simplicity

There are millions of tools available to help grow, maintain and organize your small business – CRMs, finance software, newsletter programs…It’s a long list. How do you know what will truly help you?  While there are a variety of useful tools out there, some will actually make your life harder and cost you money, because they are designed to be much more complex than what a sole proprietor needs. Simplification: does this app, feature, program, gizmo make your business life easier or harder?  Does it save time, or does it waste it? My father and I owned a consulting business for a number of years, and I was often dragging him, kicking and screaming towards new technology, but I learned something from working with him. Sometimes, the latest and greatest is not what you need; sometimes simpler is better. This is why I track my business expenses on an Excel spreadsheet instead of with QuickBooks (or whatever the kids are using these days.)

Intuition

Do you ever get a sense about a particular project – a bad feeling? Oftentimes, we ignore those feelings and jump in anyway, because we are programmed to ignore what we can’t immediately explain. Sometimes, when your gut feeling tells you not to accept that client or that you don’t have the bandwidth for a new project, you need to listen. One of the beauties of working for yourself is you can choose what and whom you work with. Exercise that right and try to get past your people-pleasing tendencies. Don’t be a “yes” person; if a client asks you to do something that’s outside of your expertise – something that deviates from the intent of your business – don’t do it simply as an effort not to disappoint them. People you want to work with will respect you for setting clear boundaries. And, you can develop a referral list. A lot of people ask me about social media marketing. I am a content writer, but I know a good social media consultant, and I refer people to her. That way, everyone wins. I don’t have to post to Facebook for people, my friend gets business, my clients gets what they need, and it comes back to me in the form of referrals she sends me for people who need content.IMG_7279

Simplicity and Intuition – they are two aspects of life that are hard to find under all of the information, advice and products we are exposed to, but if you trust your intuition and search out the simplest answers to your problems, business or otherwise, everything is a lot less daunting.

Do It Again: How to Cope With That Task You Hate

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I have never liked calling people on the phone. Save a couple of teenage years when the receiver was permanently affixed to my ear, I’ve always avoided phone conversations when possible. When texting became prevalent, I and a billion other introverts jumped for joy.

So, imagine my chagrin when I found myself in an occupation – one I love – that required an occasional phone conversation. Not only that, but (cue scary music) I HAD TO CALL PEOPLE I DIDN’T KNOW. I would put off these phone calls repeatedly for more important things…like picking lint off the carpet or lining up all the notebooks on my desk. And then, oh look, it’s really too late to be calling people now.

You may not fear the phone, but we all have business tasks we are required to do to get our jobs done – ones we’d pick a root canal or a fork in the eye over tackling, necessary though they may be. I’ve overcome my anxiety about calling people I don’t know with a few tactics that apply to any hated task:

Just Do It. Then, just do it again. The more you practice that task you hate, the more you’ll do it automatically without wasting energy on mental excuses. I have even called people by choice on occasion, just for the phone practice. The more the calls go well, the less I fear making them.

Do It First. I make calls in the morning, so I don’t have time to come up with avoidance tactics. It takes self discipline to do chores (whatever you view as a “chore”), and self discipline takes mental energy, which I have more of in the AM.

Break It Down. Divide the hated “to-do” item into smaller chunks and approach them one at a time, so it feels less overwhelming. For example, instead of calling a long list of people, I do a few at a time and take breaks to do more palatable tasks in between.

Reward Yourself. It worked on Pavlov’s dogs, and it works on humans, too. For example: “After I make all my calls, I’ll fix a second cup of coffee.” This way, your brain is focused on the reward and more motivated to get the task done.

Farm It Out. Hire someone else to do that thing you hate. Odds are, there’s someone out there who loves it as much as you revile it. Then, you can spend your hate energy drumming up more business for yourself.

You may never learn to love that thing you hate. I still don’t get giddy over calling people to solicit content for the magazine, but I don’t get hives over it, either. Once you get over that hurdle for the thing you avoid, you can spend more time and energy on the things you love. And, if that thing you hate is writing blog posts or content for your website or newsletter, well, you know who to call.

Woman & phone image: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15′>bowie15 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

How to Write a Business Blog

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Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

So, you set up a beautiful, fully-functional website for your business. Now, how do you get people to visit it? One of the best ways to drive traffic to your site is with free, valuable content that can be linked to on social media. That’s right – start a blog. Here are some tips for making your business blog successful:

Pick a Simple, Relevant Topic

There’s no need to go into grand detail on the technical aspects of your business. Address questions people commonly ask you, or overview-type topics. Imagine you’re talking to a curious friend who doesn’t know anything about your area of expertise. Seasonal topics also get a lot of attention; focus on the holidays, spring cleaning, or New Year’s resolutions.

Keep It Short

In the case of content blogs for businesses, less is more. Just be sure you’ve explained yourself enough to actually add value. Around 500 words is a good length.

Use List Format

Readers attend more to well-organized information. If your topic lends itself to list format, use it. Or, consider separating paragraphs into sections with bold headings.

Be Informal

A casual tone will connect more with your audience. Avoid overuse of technical words specific to your industry and explain any you do use. Again, imagine how you would explain it to a friend, verbally. Just leave out all the “ya’ know’s”  and “um’s.”

Proofread and Edit

It’s helpful to write one day and proofread a day or two later. Even better, ask someone else to correct it for you; they are more likely to see your errors and can tell you if something isn’t clear. Editing is mostly about cutting out extraneous words and phrases and eliminating inadvertent, long-winded rants. You can also download Grammarly or Ginger for automatic editing. They have both free and paid versions. Just be sure you still have a human proofread; the programs aren’t perfect.

Include a Graphic

Even if your post doesn’t lend itself to them, a picture gets people’s attention when it shows up in the thumbnail image on social media. Pick something at least loosely related to your topic, and if the photo isn’t your own, be sure to give proper credit in the caption. Wikimedia Commons and Unsplash are useful resources for free stock photos, and they provide the photo credit as well.

Avoid Shameless Plugs

This isn’t a hard, fast rule; I’ve been known to insert my own shameless plug from time to time. Blog posts, though, should be mostly educational information related to your field. Stay away from making entire posts into advertisements. An occasional link back to your main page at the end of a post, however, is useful and tasteful.

Post Regularly

This can be the hardest part — coming up with material every week. But if you want to stay in front of your target market, post at least once a week and share it on social media. Be sure to add a “follow” button to your blog, so those interested can receive a notification every time you post.

If you are consistently in front of your target audience, offering valuable information and advice, when they find themselves in need of services, they’ll call you. Don’t have time to keep up with a blog? Send me a message. I can help.

Why I Write

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The other day, someone asked me what I was qualified to write about. I thought and came up with a very long list. Sure, I have my favorites, but, because I’ve had various careers and  come from a long line of do-it-yourselfers, I have a colorful array of experience upon which to draw.  I have…changed the oil in cars, shingled a roof, taught elementary school, read plumbing plans, done presentations, built websites, made hand cream, studied gardening, used social media marketing, done taxes, changed spark plugs, made play dough, taught fitness classes,  bought and sold houses and potty trained over 30 children. I even know a little about fashion and finances.

This is part of what makes me such a good freelance writer. Business owners don’t want blog posts full of technical jargon your average person has no desire to wade through. They want articles written with the general public in mind. So the fact that I have a base knowledge of a lot of things and I’m a good researcher, means I can craft a piece that educates on a level that interests the average person. I have the advantage of having a little pro-knowledge while maintaining the perspective of the consumer.

The last piece to the puzzle is my writing talent. All that knowledge, perspective and research is no good if I can’t communicate it effectively, efficiently and eloquently. I’m naturally good at it, and I continuously study and practice to improve.

The bottom line, though, is this: I love it. I love writing, and I love doing it with purpose. When I craft a piece for a business, I don’t just take the facts and put them on the page. I look for glimpses of personality. What’s important to this business owner? How does she see herself? What’s his demeanor? That’s the really fun part – putting personality on the page and bringing it to life.