Archive for the ‘The Portable Business Ezine’ Category

How to Get Yourself UN-Stuck Creatively

This is an article originally published Oct. 12, 2009, in our old ezine, The Portable Business. Hope it helps you get your mojo back if you’re feeling stuck creatively or productively!

Ever run into a roadblock where you just can’t move forward?

You’re humming along on a project and then, bam—you’re stuck. Big brick wall.

You can’t figure a problem out, you’re not sure what the next step is, or your well of creativity seems to have suddenly run dry. Yeah, happens all the time to (literally) everyone.

Finding yourself in that place can be completely frustrating and stressful, especially when you’re really excited to release the work into the world (not to mention possibly being on that impractical little thing called a deadline).

But never fear, as I always say! Here are some tricks you can pull out that will have you unstuck in no time.

1. Do something else. Take a break from the task that has you stuck and focus your attention on another project entirely, especially if it’s one you can finish without any stumbling blocks. Sometimes the satisfaction of successfully completing something is enough to get your mojo flowing again.

2. Change your scenery
. Sometimes when I get stuck, it’s because I’ve accumulated too much clutter or disarray. That kind of thing can niggle at you, taking up mental space and zapping energy. What helps is taking time out to straighten things up, bring in some fresh flowers and open the windows. Or heck, just get out of the office all together and go sit at a cafe.

3. Go for a walk. Doesn’t matter what the weather is—a jaunt with umbrella and galoshes can be just as fun and invigorating as one in the sun. The point is to get out in the fresh air and get your blood moving.

4. Get someone else’s input. Two heads are often better than one. Ask a mentor or colleague to help you brainstorm or bounce ideas around. A fresh set of eyes can help you see something in a new light or that which may have been in front of you the whole time.

5. Read something inspirational
. Are there books or magazines that never fail to get you pumped? Go hang out with them for a bit.

6. Sleep on it. Sometimes just putting the project to bed for the night does wonders. It’s amazing how often a brilliant new idea or the solution to a vexing problem will appear to you in the light of a new day. One of my little tricks is to tell myself right before shutting my eyes, “Okay, let’s think on this tonight and have a solution in the morning.” It really works!

7. Trust
. Don’t be fooled. You can’t force or rush creativity. It’s controlled by magical forces that only deign to let us harness them at their whim. So try to relax and comfort yourself with the fact your muse will return precisely when and where it is supposed to. And it will, trust me. You just need a bit of faith and patience sometimes. ;)

RESOURCE: I haven’t read it myself, but I have heard so many great things over the years about the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It offers techniques for overcoming writer’s block that thousands of devotees swear by.

How to Name Your Business for Success

Business naming is an area we’ve all struggled with. Perhaps you are in start-up stages yourself and are completely frustrated with where to even begin. So I thought I would round up some advice from a few smart experts, including myself, to give you some much-needed direction.

I love Guy Kawasaki’s down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is style (plus, I think he’s a cutie-pie to boot). In his book, The Art of the Start, he advises never to compromise on your business name–it’s that important and will make your positioning much easier. A few of his tips include:

  • Have a first initial that’s early in the alphabet.
  • Avoid numbers.
  • Pick a name with “verb potential.”
  • Sound different.
  • Sound logical.
  • Avoid the trendy (and cutesy).

All great advice. Personally, while I think choosing a name with an initial early in the alphabet can provide some advantages, they are more incidental in the scheme of things. The person who learns how to market and create her own pipelines will never suffer because her business name doesn’t start with the letter “A.”

Harry Beckwith is a marketing expert I can’t get enough of. I have read everything he’s ever written (and you should, too). In his books, Selling the Invisible and The Invisible Touch, he offers some business naming advice we’d all do well to heed:

  • Give your service a name, not a monogram. What he means by this is that people don’t remember acronyms (monograms). They have no memorability because they have “no spirit, no message, no promise, no warmth, and no humanity.”
  • Pick something that stands out. Generic names encourage generic business.
  • Never choose a name that describes something everyone expects from the service. The name will be generic, forgettable and meaningless. Example: Quality Cleaners. Duh, you wouldn’t go to a business named Crappy Cleaners. However, “quality” is such a basic expectation, you’re not saying anything distinctive or memorable by using that word. Plus, with everyone and their brother using “Quality,” you will only blend in with the crowd, which is what your business DOESN’T need to do.
  • Be distinctive and sound it. The mind best remembers names that are unique, sensory, creative and outstanding. An ordinary name implies an ordinary business.
  • Look for a name that people can see, smell, taste, feel or hear (or all four). Names with exceptional memorability are sensory and engage four of the five senses.
  • Start with your own. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with putting your own name on the business.
  • Look for a name that makes the prospect, not you, sound important.
  • Say the name out loud. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue easily or has unintended pronunciations or connotations, rethink things. It should also be easy to spell.
  • Keep it short. It should be no more than eleven letters or four syllables max.

What I will add to all this great advice:

Forget about clever/tricky spellings. It doesn’t make you distinctive. It just makes it hard for clients to find your site or look you up online because they can’t for the life of them figure out how you spelled your biz name.

2. Make it legal. That is, do your due diligence and make sure you do not choose a name (or version of a name) that another company in your industry is already using. It’s just asking for trouble and will cause ill will within your professional community. It’s a really, really, really bad idea.

And don’t argue with this advice. Whatever you think you know about the law when it comes to this, I guarantee ya, you don’t. The best thing you can do for yourself is operate under the assumption that your colleague’s business is as important to them as yours is to you. They have every right under the law to go after you, in whatever way they see fit, if you infringe upon their established trade name. That’s their livelihood after all. You wouldn’t want someone doing that to you, right? You remember what they say about “do unto others,” don’t you? ;)

So here’s what you can do, once you find a name you like, to ensure you are not infringing on anyone else in your industry:

  1. Conduct a search in your industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.
  2. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifier) in several different search engines. Use Google, MSN, Yahoo, Chrome and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later. Example: If you want to use “Dizzy Admin Support,” you should search for “Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Business Support, “Dizzy Administration, “Dizzy Administrative,” etc. If another colleague is using “Dizzy” in their name, forget about using that word.
  3. Search the USPTO.gov Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). Check to see that no one else is already using the same or similar trade name. Bear in mind that while federally registered trade names have even further protections and recourse, a name does not have to be registered there to be protected. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and/or would still create confusion.

RESOURCE: All the books and authors mentioned can be found on Amazon.com and I HIGHLY recommend you get them–today. As a business owner, it is also imperative you educate yourself about copyright and trade marks. USPTO.gov is a perfect place to start. And having a good Intellectual Property lawyer on your team of professional advisers is always a good idea.

Setting Policies for Responsive (and Manageable) Communication Flows

Everyone talks about providing clients with great service. But think about it… if you are interrupting your train of thought to jump the second the phone rings, how great is it for that client whose important work you just interrupted? So for practical purposes in figuring out how you can actually provide great service to client–smoothly and consistently–you begin to realize that you have to be more intentional about your policies and procedures for communication. These are the things that make things manageable in your business. Because if they aren’t manageable for you, then your quality of work and service to clients becomes compromised and unmanageable as well. And that’s not good business or service.

It’s true to a certain extent that you may lose some prospects by not getting back to them right away. At the same time, you’d never get any work done if you answered every call the second the phone rang. It’s crazy-making to even try. As with most things, instituting smart policies and procedures in your business will help you improve your response times and communications. Following are a few tips to make things more manageable:

  1. Establish communication policies. Set a standard for responding to inquiries (e.g., “within 24 hours”). Decide which inquiries get priority attention (e.g., clients or prospective clients).
  2. Post your office hours and response protocols. Tell folks, on your website and in your voicemails, what days your office is “open” and how soon they may expect your return email or call.
  3. Require clients to follow certain procedures. While it might seem like letting clients call you for anything and everything at any time is great service, doing so will actually create conditions in your business that lead to poor performance and quality of service. To be successful, you need to have some protocols that let you manage work and communication well in your business. Don’t be afraid to tell clients how work requests must be submitted (e.g., you might require that they be submitted in writing by email only) or that phone calls and meetings are done by appointment.
  4. Get a receptionist. If you worry that a happy, informative Voicemail message isn’t enough, but still need uninterrupted concentration time to get work done, you can hire a live Virtual Receptionist service like Ruby Receptionists.
  5. Map out a process for qualifying inquiries. There are lots of ways your website can do this work for you so you can reduce the time you spend on unnecessary calls and emails. You can design your website so that visitors are guided toward one action (e.g., submitting a form to schedule a consultation). If you prefer one method of contact over another, emphasize that method and make it the most visible and prominent. Another way to pre-qualify clients is to have them complete an online form that will help you determine if someone meets your minimum criteria for an ideal client and what your next steps should be with that person. In your Voicemail message, ask callers to be sure and visit your website (if they haven’t yet) and give them the url.

Remember, in order to give great service you have to set foundations (policies, standards, protocols, workflows) in your business that enable you to do that consistently and sustainably.

How to Set-Up an Illness-Proof Solo Practice

(This article published in The Portable Business, our weekly ACA ezine for business owners and clients. Subscribe here.)

When you are a solopreneur service provider and the craftsman in your business, illness can have a direct impact on your clients and finances. That is, it will if you don’t set your business up with intention and a bit of foresight. There are ways in which you can operate and work with clients so that the occasional sick day (or two or three) has little or no affect on your daily operations. Below are my secrets and advice for building a solo practice that is practically illness-proof.

1. Be an expert, not an assistant. There’s a HUGE difference. Stop working as if you were a telecommuting employee to clients. It’s great to get to know a client’s business really, really well. But that doesn’t require you to involve yourself in their daily operations. When you do that, you don’t leave yourself any room to get sick, which means when you do get sick (and trust me, you will), it will be that much more of a disastrous prospect.

2. Only take on work that can be scheduled. That means, only work that has some leeway by at least three days, which is my rule of thumb. You don’t want to build a practice based on providing instant assistance and same-day requests (not to be confused with providing responsive attention when customer service issues arise). As an independent professional–not an employee–you are there to provide strategic support and expertise, not daily assistance. And you’ll never be able to support anyone well if you are constantly interrupting one client’s work to deal with the next client’s last minute request or “emergency.” Sometimes the client just needs to do it themselves or wait their turn. It’s that simple.

3. Establish workflows and turn-around policies that give you plenty of space to move around in. Require clients to follow work request procedures that you devise–not them. Give yourself room to breath in your turn-around times. This will allow the occasional hiccup in work (such as when illness occurs) to be a non-issue; you simply bump things to the next day or so. And don’t work with clients who can’t operate within your protocols–they are not ideal for you.

4. Avoid anchor clients. Once you start working with a client for more than 20 or 30 hours a month, you become more like an employee than a strategic service provider or support partner. Anchor clients bog your business down to the point you have no room to grow or move around in your business, much less get sick. Stop doing that. Know when to tell clients that they need an employee. You’re doing both of you a favor. You never want all your eggs in one basket anyway, and as a general rule of thumb, each client should represent no more than 15-20% of your business. Illness has far less of an impact on any one client this way.

5. Empower clients, don’t make them dependent. You love your clients. You love helping them succeed. And it’s fantastic and commendable that you’re always seeking to improve and give them your very best. HOWEVER, as an independent service provider (and contrary to the latest ridiculous buzz word of the day), you are not part of your clients’ team. No client should be so dependent upon you that if you were to get sick or need to close up shop for any amount of time, their business falls to pieces and they can’t do anything themselves. If that’s how you are working with clients, you are setting yourselves BOTH up to fail. Work with clients in ways that empower them and keep them wanting to work with you, not feeling enslaved to you because they’ve been allowed to abdicate responsibility.

6. Work with an administrative partner. Contrary to what most people think, being solo does NOT mean being alone and doing everything yourself. It simply means you are the craftsperson who works directly with your clients. No one can do everything themselves. By partnering with an Administrative Consultant, you get someone who can help you with many of the administrative functions in your business, keep it running smoothly AND give you some breathing room should you get sick by assisting with client work or notifying clients when necessary.

7. Practice excellent self-care. You can’t take great care of others unless you take great care of YOU first. That’s what all of these tips are about. You have to have a high standard for taking great care of yourself and your own business, before you can extend that great care to others. Acknowledge that you are human; you WILL get sick or need time away on occasion. Let clients know this at the very start of the relationship and how this is handled in your business. This standard also helps you realize that when clients want what you can’t or shouldn’t provide them with, they are not ideal. It’s practicing self-care and integrity when you let those folks know that you can’t help them and what they really need instead.

8. Put together a risk management/disaster recovery/business interruption plan. We’re talking about incidental, non-serious illness in this article, but more catastrophic illnesses and events are another story. God forbid anything terrible befalls you and that your livelihood becomes as risk. Taking time to put together a disaster recovery/risk management plan will help mitigate any interruptions in your business and service to clients. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece and it’s something you can add to as you go along. Whenever you identify a risk, add it to your plan and then outline what you are doing now or would do to prevent or minimize the impact. For example, one risk for being in business is that a crazy client could say an error you made caused them a problem. One solution would be to have business insurance that would perhaps pay off these claims. Another solution for this risk would be to formalize your strategy in writing for how you would respond to unhappy clients and attempt to rectify things before it ever got to the point of a lawsuit being filed.

Policies and procedures aren’t only about instilling systems in your business. And they certainly aren’t about being inflexibly militant with clients. Ultimately, they exist because they are the very things that enable you to take fabulous care of your clients–all of them equally–consistently and reliably. In my guide Plush: Red Carpet Strategies for Providing Luxurious Client Care, one of the secrets I share with you is a workflow and turn-around policy that takes great care of clients, gives you room to breath (and get sick should that happen), and creates a practice that affords more freedom and flexibility for LIFE than you ever imagined possible.

Giving Is Good Therapy

Being in business is one of the most thrilling, self-actualizing, independance-building rides you’ll ever experience.

Being a business owner can also be one of the most stressful “jobs” you can have when success or failure is completely on your own shoulders.

Women, I believe, have it especially tough. Being the natural-born givers and nurturers that they are, they will often bargain with their value in business—giving freebies, giving discounts… giving, giving, doing and doing until they have nothing left for themselves.

Healthy giving starts with taking care of ourselves first in business. It’s especially smart to never bargain with our value by giving away the very products and services that are the lifeblood of our business existence. So what can those who have the giving gene do that won’t be detrimental to their business health? Lots!

  1. Keep your business out of it. Let’s face it, giving and doing for others just feels great! But that doesn’t mean your giving needs to be in the context of business. Respect the value of your products and services. Save your giving for non-business activities and ways that don’t have you working for free and bargaining away the value of your products and services. As Suze Orman says, “YOU are not on sale!”
  2. Success affords you more to give. Remember, the more successful your business, the more you will be able to give via those other avenues without devaluing or sacrificing the things that earn your living.
  3. Give a gift. Send someone an online gift certificate. Have a coffee or flowers delivered. For no special reason other than to make someone’s day and let them know that someone (you!) is thinking of them and appreciates them.
  4. Do a favor. Know someone who is more harried than usual? If time is something you have to give, offer to run some errands for them. Or maybe you’re a closet chef. Why not send over a home-cooked meal for their family one night?
  5. Say something nice to someone. Acknowledge a trait, talent or effort you appreciate about someone. Tell those who have helped you how much their knowledge and support mean to you. Who knows, they might just really need to hear it that day. Better yet, say it publicly if at all possible so more people can chime in. We can all use those atta-boys and atta-girls whenever and wherever we can get them!
  6. Volunteer at a charitable organization or community service agency. Many run on a shoestring and will appreciate any effort you can give.
  7. Give year-round. Don’t wait until the holidays to help those less fortunate. Your local agencies and churches will be full of ideas about ways you can give or be involved in making a real, meaningful difference in someone’s life.