(Not-so) common courtesies

I never cease to be amazed that my ordinary, everyday way of conducting business impresses my clients and team mates. It turns out not everyone operates like I do. What I take for granted–my normal–isn’t normal for everyone.

What do these things look like, you may ask? Here’s a short list.

  • Be prepared: When you show up at a client meeting or even an internal meeting, it’s so important to do you homework ahead of time. Who’s attended meetings where a fraction of the participants haven’t done their homework? {raises hand} What about a meeting where the organizer hasn’t done her homework and asks everyone to take 15 minutes to “review the material”? {raises hand} And so what are the people who actually did their homework supposed to do for those 15 minutes?! What a waste of time.
  • Show up on time: I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t shown up to a meeting on time. Time is a gift we’re all given, and it’s more precious than most of us remember. We often take it for granted. But, as they say, time is money. Next time you’re in a meeting, multiply the time spent in the meeting by each person’s hourly rate (estimate if you need to) and calculate the value in dollars of the time spent in that meeting.
  • Take notes: If you’re like me and you’re juggling multiple priorities and projects there’s no way you can remember everything. I take copious notes because the act of taking the notes actually helps me remember the material better. I also like to be able to look back and recall how and why we came to certain decisions in the meeting, so I take notes. My summary always includes my WWWs.
  • Do what I say I’ll do: One of the reasons I make notes on WWWs is so that I can remember what I said I’d do. First thing I do after a meeting is add my WWWs to my task list. I use Toodledo. First thing I do when I start working on a new project is break the project down into actionable tasks and add them to my list along with dates. It’s project management 101. But it’s more than that. When you do what you say you’re going to do, you build trust.
  • Give people a heads up: If, for any reason, I’m unable to accomplish something on time, I give my client and/or team members notice as soon as I understand there’s going to be a delay. One, it builds trust. Two, the thing I’m working on may affect their priorities, which means they may wish to reprioritize their task lists accordingly. Three, sometimes it turns out that another member of the team can either help me out or even eliminate the step altogether. Communication is always the way to go.

Keeping an open mind

One of the most important lessons I learned from working for Dr. P. Michael Conn for nearly two decades was the value of pursuing a goal while being open to opportunities outside of that goal.

Dr. Conn was a scientist who performed basic (vs. clinical research) which means he looked at science on a cellular level. He studied the literature, developed hypotheses and his lab performed experiments to test these hypotheses. Every morning he met with his primary collaborator, the woman who ran his lab, to discuss the lab’s previous day’s work and what the day’s focus would be. Every day he reviewed and analyzed information.

He told me once that many of his most significant findings were discovered after such reviews when, instead of pursuing the initial premise, he’d follow the findings as they unveiled themselves during the research process.

I always think of this when I approach client work. Often the client tells me that they need a certain service, but once I talk to the team and do a little research I discover that what they need is actually something a little different. Often the solution is much easier than they would expect. Sometimes it requires more work. But if you don’t go in with an open mind and a willingness to see everything, you can easily miss the obvious.

How do you know if your clients are happy?

imagesThe answer is pretty easy, really. Ask them.

A lot of business owners, freelancers, executives and consultants make the mistake of assuming that if they don’t hear anything to the contrary, that people they are working with are happy with the status quo. That’s not necessarily true.

People don’t speak up for many reasons:

  • Fear. What if they don’t like the answer they hear? What if {fill in the blank}.
  • Time. They are so overworked that they don’t have the time to pause and consider how they’re doing, how they feel about their work or even how effective they are or what they could do to improve.
  • Unrealistic expectations. They expect that the other person will make the first move.

Here’s what I say: Be proactive. Take the time. Ask the difficult questions. What’s the worst thing that can happen here? You get fired? O.K. so that could happen, but chances are it won’t.

Most of the time when I step up and ask, “How’s it going?” the gesture itself builds goodwill and trust, no matter the outcome.

Take a break

quitEveryone needs a break. When we do the same things day in and day out we begin to run on autopilot. Creativity and inspiration go out the window. Just getting your work done becomes more important than doing great work.

Show of hands. Who’s been there? {raises hand}

I don’t care what you’re doing. Stop it. For 24 hours. For 48 hours. For a week if you are able. When you return you’ll find that you see things with fresh eyes, that you’ll approach your work differently.

Your clients, your partner and yourself will thank you.


Find a mastermind group already

masterI take time to mastermind with a variety of people at least once a month. They work best when each member of the group has the ability to be vulnerable and is a genuine contributor to the group. Maybe you’re not all at the same level, but you bring value to the group.

Every small business owner should participate in a mastermind group. Here’s why:

  • What did Dr. Seuss say? Two heads are wiser than one.
  • It’s amazing what a fresh perspective can do for you. My friend Andy says, “You can’t see the label from inside the jar.”
  • You’ll find that what’s often most surprising is what you knew all along. Sometimes all it take is saying something out loud to work through it.

The best format I’ve used to in a mastermind meeting is one borrowed from someone else. The group maintains a Google doc where each person tracks (and then discusses the following:

  • What is inspiring them
  • What they’re working on
  • What they need help with

The advantage of the Google doc is that you can track your thoughts in between meetings, and other participants can even jot down suggestions or notes if they’d like.

Do you belong to a mastermind group? If not, why not?

There are no shortcuts to relationships

Cover of "The Slight Edge"

Cover of The Slight Edge

Over the past two weeks I’ve twice offered to connect people to individuals they could have benefitted from knowing. And who could have benefitted from knowing them. But, alas, it didn’t happen.

Let me explain why.

In both cases I offered to facilitate an introduction. I next reached out to the person with whom I was connecting them via email or Facebook message to ask permission to make the introduction. But, get this: before I had time to send the email requesting permission, the other people’s agent / hired gun marketer forged ahead and contacted my friend. And not in a gentle way. More like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

Needless to say, this didn’t go over well. Or, as the Germans say, didn’t go down well. The pushy, demanding emails were ignored and both individuals have, mostly likely, indefinitely burned bridges.

Let’s pause and consider what would have happened had I been allowed to introduce the two individuals.

Instead of a cold email, they would have been warmly introduced. The trust that I have established with my friend could have been transferred to the new relationship. Alternately, my friend could have declined an introduction and the pushy agent could have spared her client the embarrassment and blemish of a soiled reputation.

So what was the hurry? I have no idea. In both cases my request for an introduction was “scooped” by the marketer’s email in less than an hour.

The only conclusion I can draw is that, in both cases, the paid agents were protecting their perceived value above their clients’ interest. What a shame.

Last week I read Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and was reminded of those missed connections when I read these two sentences:

You plant, then you cultivate and finally you harvest. In today’s world, everyone wants to go directly from plant to harvest.

But that’s not the way it works. With plants or with people.


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Your customers are going to lie to you

There are two reasons I didn’t go out on a date until I was 20. 1. My parents wouldn’t allow it and 2. The pool of eligible men was miniscule. But make no mistake: reason number one trumped reason number two, rendering it null and void.

Of course, that didn’t stop guys from asking me out. Not many, but there were a few. And do you know what I told them? Continue reading

Coaching 101: Guidelines for working with new clients

I’ll never forget the first time I sat down at my future in-laws’ kitchen table intent on learning how to play euchre. My (future) husband launched into a monologue about a new world order in the land of playing cards where jacks, renamed bowers, were the highest-ranking cards. The “right” bower was the jack of trump. The “left” was the other jack of the same color…

And he lost me. If I am to be perfectly honest, I contemplated feigning food poisoning after the second sentence. You can change the order of cards?! The highest card changes depending on trump?! {whatever that is} So how often and when does trump change?

Not only were all of the concepts new, the terminology was the equivalent of Czech to me. And the “explanations” only added to my confusion because with them came the introduction of even more new terms. Help!

Just because a person has information doesn’t mean that he is adequately equipped to relay the information to someone else. Simply put: not everyone’s a teacher.

Here the guidelines I use when I’m coaching new clients:

  • Begin at the beginning. To borrow from The Sound of Music’s Maria, it’s a very good place to start. You have to start where the learner is and move forward from there.
  • Break it down. Define all new terms in common language.
  • Explain the goals first then the basics. People want to know where they’re going. After that they only want to know enough to get them started and get them on their way to the goal.
  • Examples are key. Most people learn from observing. I know I do. They see an example and then they’re able to transfer the information gleaned from the example to their own experiences later.
  • There’s nothing like learning by doing. Talk is cheap; most people need to get behind the steering wheel and drive.
  • Strategy and exceptions can wait. There will be plenty of time for that later. Let them play a few hands first. A good student will pick up some strategy along the way.

So what happened with me and euchre, you ask? I sat at my mother-in-law’s elbow and watched her play hand after hand. Eventually, she sat at my elbow and coached me. Eventually, we played side by side, me with the occasional question. Now I love the game and play every chance I get.

If you’d like to hire me to coach you to use content or social media to connect with your customers, give me a jingle. Or if you’re up for a game of euchre. I’m game for either.

Like C.C. Chapman, I prefer smaller groups

networkingA couple of years ago when I read C.C. Chapman’s article, Yes, I’m Going to SXSW, But Not to Your Party, I nearly jumped for joy. He wrote that he prefers small gatherings where he can get to know people. It’s O.K. to admit that? If, C.C. Chapman can put that out there, so can I, and so can you.

When I first launched my own consulting business I was told that networking events were a must, so I attended most of the local events. And how many meaningful connections did I make, you ask? One. Noland Hoshino, with whom I’d conversed on Twitter, stalked me at an event, and we hit it off, the beginning of a wonderful friendship that even led to a business collaboration, SMO Books.

But the connection started on Twitter, and I found that if I invited my local Twitter connections to coffee, I’d be in my comfort zone, and we’d be able to have meaningful conversations. So that’s what I started to do. And I met a lot of amazing people that way.

So here’s what I’m saying: No matter what your personality type, there’s a way for you to connect with likeminded people. It may not be what everyone else is doing. Make it work for you.



What do you do exceptionally well?

One thing I’ve learned over the past year is the importance of knowing what you’re good at and working in that sweet spot. Think about it. What do you do exceptionally well?

Me? I am a connector and a community builder. I understand audiences and clients. I know their pain points. I get them. An editor for most of my career, I also love, love, LOVE content and the art  of good story telling. And I know what kinds of content targeted audiences want. These are areas where I am completely kick-off-my-heels comfortable. Continue reading