FROM THE DESK OF JODI HERSH
Essential ideas about branding, marketing and growing a small business
Subscribe to Fresh Squeezed, essential ideas on branding, marketing and growing a small business.
Subscribe to Fresh Squeezed, essential ideas on branding, marketing and growing a small business.
Starting a business can be a little bit like falling in love. You are excited about the possibilities, you can’t wait to get started, and you are completely committed to making it work.
Then the honeymoon period fades away…
This is when the trouble starts. The feelings of love fade away and they may disappear altogether. You may find yourself working all the time. You may feel exhausted and like you’ve made a lot of sacrifices. You may even begin to resent your customers. I did. What started as a passion now feels like an awful job. You might even feel trapped. Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? It is. I’ve been there.
Just as keeping the passion alive in any relationship takes work, your relationship with your business is no different. With some conscious effort, you can rekindle that flame and fall back in (and stay in) love with your business.
After almost 29 years (this coming June) being a self-employed creative solopreneur, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a real balancing act to stay connected to your WHY (the fulfilling part) while managing “all the things.” You’re trying to brand it, market it, deliver it, grow it, and simply keep up with everything. It can be easy to forget why you are doing all of it in the first place!
There have been a few times I was so burned out that I contemplated chucking it, selling my house and everything I owned to downsize, and calling it a day. But who was I kidding? The thing that drives me, that fulfills me — autonomy, mastery, and purpose — is making things and helping people. I was just doing it all wrong. I’d gotten so focused on following traditional advice about how to grow a small business that I had trapped myself in a business I hated. I had hired people to do the creative work and found myself in the roles of sales, proposals, and managing others, rather than in my genius zone of creativity. I was also burning the candle at both ends.
My friend Nick and I used to joke around about becoming the ice cream man because everyone is happy to see the ice cream truck coming. (Compared to being a web developer when someone is hysterical because their site is broken or worse because something somewhere on the internet is amiss). Nick actually did it — he became the ice cream man! Me? I stuck with it and learned how to fall back in (and stay in) love with what I am doing.
Step back and get some perspective
Painting something really big requires that you step back to see the whole. I had to take a step back to get some clarity. I was doing too much and putting others before myself. I had been doing essentially the same thing for years. I started my business to be able to have more time and money to pursue my own creative interests. Ironically, I became so busy with clients that I had even less time and energy for my own stuff than ever before.
Remember your why
Chances are, you probably started your business because it was something that mattered to you. It was a calling or a passion that drove you forward into starting this new venture. But now that you are knee-deep in the everyday work it’s easy to forget why you started doing this in the first place. I know I did.
Transformational Leadership coach Rashmir Balasubramanian says: “To love our businesses, we must know and love ourselves, do work we love and serve a larger purpose and ourselves. When these elements come together, it’s pure magic.” She also has this great line in her email sig that says “Joy is the best indicator for whether you are on purpose and in flow.” She’s right.
In my year-end review post I talked about creating positive change by asking the right questions. These questions in particular helped me to rekindle my passion for my work: What is working for you? What isn’t? Where would you like to recommit your focus?
Reconnect with your purpose, and from there you can begin to unravel things and find your way back to being in love with your work.
If you want to dive a little deeper into your why, I highly recommend this talk about intrinsic motivation — it’s about doing things because they matter, because we like it, they’re interesting, or part of something important.
It doesn’t have to be so hard
Rashmir also says “There’s this misnomer that work must be hard. Must it? Who says so? Reconnect to what you love doing and to what enlivens you and then your work will become play. There may be times when we have to work hard and overcome challenges, but these times needn’t be hard. These times will grow our capabilities and capacities to keep doing more of what we love if we let them while creating a life that works for us.”
I strive to provide elegant solutions to complex problems, but man, I am a master at complicating things that could/should be simple. Inspired by Tim Ferris, I have learned to ask myself and others “what would it look like if it were easy?” Try it sometime!
Don’t let your tank reach empty!
Keep stoking the flame so you don’t reach the point of burnout in the first place.
It’s important to stay inspired. When we’re not inspired, we lose the motivating factor to keep going. We can become bogged down by the day-to-day tasks and lose sight of our larger goals. This can lead to frustration and a sense of hopelessness, which are key signs of burnout.
Inspiration is all around us. Surround yourself with interesting, positive, smart, inspiring people. If you’re on my Fresh Squeezed email newsletter list, you may have noticed I share a lot of inspirational stuff. These are the things that I read, watch, listen to… to keep me going. To fuel my tank. In these short messages, I am sharing my process, my thoughts, my challenges as I move along.
Create and protect white space
White space is necessary for our brains to function at their best. When we’re constantly bombarded with stimuli, our brains can’t take in new information or come up with new ideas. When it comes to avoiding burnout, white space is essential. It gives us time to relax and rejuvenate, so we can come back to our work refreshed and inspired. It’s also a time for us to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and brainstorm ways to move forward.
So make sure you set aside some time each day (or week) for yourself, without any distractions. Turn off your phone, computer, and TV, and just relax. Allow your mind to wander, work on a hobby, or do whatever you need to do.
If this isn’t possible in your life right now because of the demands of running a business, then try setting aside time at least once per week for some white space. Treat it just like an appointment with yourself that you can’t break.
Despite my efforts to follow routines and stay inspired, there are still times when things get crazy busy that I feel stressed and on empty. I’ll find myself so sick of it that I avoid calls and emails, and procrastinate — ultimately making everything worse. For a long time my solution was just to work as much as I could since I loved what I do. But it doesn’t work in the end — it is not sustainable. Now I find I can be more productive and inspired working less. Which, ironically, is also more profitable. Here are some things that work for me:
- Morning routine: I used to rush to my office with my first cup of coffee each morning. Not anymore. Now I enjoy it for 30-60min while reading before heading to my desk.
- Schedule intentionally and realistically: I have experimented with a bazillion methods and have found what works best for me is to schedule 90 min blocks with 15 min buffers in between. During the buffer breaks, I walk around, go outside, etc.
- Set working hours that play to your strengths: When it comes to creating and problem-solving, I am best in the morning. I schedule 4 uninterrupted hours each morning to do the deep work for the day. After that, I schedule meetings and less intensive work.
- Go for a walk: My ideas usually come while driving or walking, probably because I turn off the music and the phone to disconnect, leaving my mind free to wander. Quiet, empty headspace gets things flowing again.
- Say NO: I say no to a LOT of things… introvert, white space, recovery… these are solo activities for me. I love my friends and doing things with them… but the way I recharge is solo.
- Vacation, all I ever wanted… My friend and colleague Mary Anne Melear of Creative Force Consulting says “Enjoy your vacation. Yes! Every time I go – even if it’s a driveaway destination with Pandemic restrictions, I come back refreshed, rejuvenated, and very grateful, I can schedule and enjoy time away from my work. Sometimes it’s trickier to schedule time off than other times, but remember you have the power to make it happen. Setting boundaries with the business will keep you from falling out of love…The toughest thing to remember is that doing the things that make us happy outside the “office” are central to long-lasting success.”
Weeding — the art of essentialism
A garden will become overrun by weeds if you don’t stay on top of it. The same is true for other areas of our lives, especially our businesses.
It is very easy to get so caught up in the minutiae of business that we lose sight of what matters most. Take time to create a list of all the things that matter most to you right now, then eliminate everything else until you are left with only those things.
I was drawn to essentialism because I was overwhelmed with work yet unwilling to give up any of the things I really wanted to pursue. Essentialism is not minimalism. It is a conscious approach to living more purposefully so that your time isn’t wasted on anything but what matters most to you now. (autonomy, mastery, purpose)
- Freedom to work on what I want, when I want, with whom I choose…
- Work less, get paid well
- Make things, help others
As a result:
- I let go of clients that were no longer a good fit;
- I dropped services I didn’t enjoy;
- I developed a few filters for determining what projects and clients I say yes to. It’s not a perfect science, but here’s what I look for: Is it interesting to me? Do I like the people? Is there a reasonable budget?
- I stopped working excessive hours – nights/weekends – on client work
- I make time for my own creative pursuits
When it comes to marketing, I only do what is essential. To me, that is thought-leadership and referrals. I focus on delivering the best experience and creative work that I can. I try to make a difference to the people I work with. This is not only a win-win, but a win-win-WIN. 1) It satisfies my intrinsic motivation (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) 2) my client is happy with their experience and gets results and 3) good, happy clients refer others like them.
When a client refers someone they know, those people visit my website and google me. This is where published thought-leadership reinforces that referral to position me as the clear and obvious choice.
Lighten up, Francis
When asked for their advice on how to fall back in love with your business again, LAITHOS C3Os Tracey, Jen, and Mary Ellen offered:
“We all hit roadblocks at one time or another. It helps to surround yourself with people who care as much as you do. Then, revisit why you started the business in the first place. Identify what you value in both your business and life, and integrate them in a way that works for you. And most importantly, find ways to have fun!”
There are always going to be stressful times in your business, but it is important to find ways to relax and enjoy yourself. Make time for things that make you happy, and don’t be afraid to take a break now and then. You will be more productive when you come back refreshed and rejuvenated.
The process of growing a small business has the potential to be exhausting emotionally and physically, but it is also an incredible journey filled with excitement, challenges, growth and learning that can lead to great personal change. It is easy to forget why you started this journey in the first place, but finding ways to fall back in love with your business can help you through those tough times.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Go buy your boss some flowers. You deserve it!