Here’s to You, Mrs. Karen Robinson!

KarenRobinson2016.jpegBack in 2006, shortly after opening my doors for business, I was invited to attend a networking event sponsored by the Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) Westmorland Albert, located in Shediac, NB. The hostess of that event was their Executive Director, a vibrant lady by the name of Karen Robinson. I, being the shy and retiring type of gal I am (NOT!) struck up a conversation with her where she asked me tons of questions about what a “Virtual Assistant” was and the type of services I had to offer to the public.

I was still fine-tuning my offerings as it were, and happened to mention to her that I loved to help other entrepreneurs promote their businesses by writing articles for them to include in their newsletters/ezines, or for publication on the web. Before she walked away, she told me that she’d give me a ring in a couple of weeks as she had an idea in mind of how she’d like to promote the CBDC and thought I might be able to help her out.

Sure enough. Shortly after our first meeting, Karen called me and invited me to come out to the CBDCs office to get together with her and some of her staff to brainstorm some ideas.

And so began an almost ten year work relationship between myself, Karen, and the team of wonderful people at CBDC Westmorland Albert.

Over the years, that initial meeting between Karen and me has morphed into a combination of part business and part friendship, with healthy doses of laughter always included in our conversations and dealings. I’ve watched this dynamo of a lady work tirelessly championing causes for rural entrepreneurs, always believing in that every business owner is capable of success if they have the right tools and training.

Today, July 29th, 2016, at 4:30 pm, Karen is “hanging up her hat” as the saying goes and retiring from her position at the CBDC. I hesitated typing that word “retiring” as that is not a word anyone would associate with this lady.

I’d like to tell her to relax, read some good books at the beach, and enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but something tells me she’s not quite finished with her desire to help others. I highly doubt she’s going to quietly fade into the sunset, never to be heard from again as that’s just not her style.

I do, however, know I’m going to miss her ongoing presence in my life, as will so many others.

So….

“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey.”*

Enjoy your “time off” Mrs. Karen. You deserve it!

*Lyrics from the song, Mrs. Robinson, copyright 1967, “Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1BCAgu2I8

Why Money Should Never Be Your Motivator

Yesterday I watched a short clip that a friend had posted on Facebook entitled “What If Money Was   No Object?” and it was so good that I shared it on my own wall. It made me stop and realize that for a good part of my life, money was my motivator – the driving force behind 90% of every decision I made.

For a lot of people, their life’s equation looks like this: work + money = success. Yet at what cost to human creativity? I wonder how many of us reach a certain age, stop and look back over our lives and wonder, “What if I’d done something different. How would I feel today?” Even worse, there are far too many people who lay on their deathbed and think, “I wish I’d followed my true passion of …” you fill in the blank.

Yes, money is important, to the extent that we need a certain amount of it to live a reasonably comfortable life. We all need a dry roof over our heads, clothes on our back, and food on our table. These are the basic necessities of life and in order to enjoy them, we need to earn money to pay for them doing some type of work. However, where is it written that we have to stifle our dreams and desires for doing what we truly love to do in order to be considered a success? Who, exactly, dictates that we need to work at a 9 to 5 J.O.B. that we detest simply because “That’s what everybody does!?”

I wonder if people like Monet or Rembrandt thought, “Well, I’ll never be rich and famous because I’m ‘just’ a painter” or if writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or so many other literary giants decided, “I’m going to write because I’ll achieve critical acclaim and be revered for my work when I die.” I suspect they, along with thousands of others who have followed their passion, did what they did because they paid attention to their innate intuition to follow what made their heart sing – to do what fulfilled them and made them want to get up in the morning, EVERY day of their life, and do it all over again.

The title of this piece is “Why Money Should Never Be Your Motivator” and here’s why I believe this statement to be true. If you base your sense of self-worth and self-esteem on the size of your bank account, you run the risk of having a zero balance – in both your wallet AND in your life. Finances have a way of ebbing and flowing, much like the tides of the ocean are governed by the moon. If your moral character is based on hard currency, then what happens if you lose all your wealth? What do you have in your ‘internal’ safety deposit box to fall back on to get you through such a hardship? Probably zilch.

I have no children of my own, but I do have nieces and one nephew whom I adore, as well as an extended family of great-nieces and great-nephews. If I were allowed to share with them only one piece of business advice, it would be this: Choose your career path by that which makes you feel happy. For if you follow your instincts and take the path that fills your soul with satisfaction, the money will eventually come. And when it does, you will most likely be more appreciative of those dollars and cents, and share your wealth (and joy) with others in the world.

Pay attention to your dreams as they will provide you with a lifetime of joy.

PS: By the way, here’s the link to the video clip should you like to watch it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siu6JYqOZ0g

How Are You Showing Up In Your Business?

Last week while speaking with a prospective new client, towards the end of the conversation she said something that caused me to pause in the middle of my sentence. I had been explaining to her the process of how I performed editing/ghostwriting and my general business practices when she said, “Wow! It sounds as if you’re a very honest and ethical person!”

After digesting what she’d just said, I responded, “Well… isn’t that the way that everyone should conduct business?” to which she responded, “No, unfortunately, not everyone is as upfront as you are.”

Later that afternoon as I was winding down for the day, I started reflecting on the words she’d said to me, hence the reason behind this posting.

How are YOU showing up in YOUR business?

I am a solopreneur, so I get to wear all the hats in the running of my business. Yes, I’ve contracted out the tasks that I don’t particularly like doing, like accounting, (thank goodness for my long-time buddy and number-cruncher, Sandra Drisdelle), and anything that has to do with the back-end working of my website, (Jef Keep, I am SO glad you’re my best ‘virtual’ friend), but all of the business decisions fall on my shoulders. It’s me who must take full responsibility for securing new clients, ensuring that my existing customer workload is performed on time and correct the first time round, and generally making sure that my business continues to thrive.

I only have so many hours in a day in which to activate my three working brain cells to produce stellar copy, or magnificently manipulate syllables and syntaxes in manuscripts. I really don’t have a lot of time to waste, so I tend to be ‘up front’ and ‘out loud’ as the saying goes with all my clients.

Let me explain where the honesty part comes into play with me. If a client asks me to do something that is out of my realm of expertise, I politely tell them that I’m afraid I can’t help them, but I do offer names of other qualified people who might be able to assist them. What do you think would happen to my reputation of being expedient if I said, “Sure, I’ll take care of that for you!” and then had to spend 5 hours of billable time, wasting my clients money trying to figure out how to install a widget on a whatcamacallit. Imagine the ‘sticker shock’ they’d experience at month’s end when they received my invoice. Can you say “Ouch?!” Can you also say “Goodbye client?”

Let me give you another quick example. I’m often asked to give estimates on how long it will take to edit a full manuscript. I usually ask authors to send me a sample chapter (which I edit for free) and then try to calculate how many hours it will take to whip their musings into shape. However, (here comes what I refer to as the ‘honesty +integrity cocktail’) I always tell them upfront that I cannot guarantee the number of questimated hours as chapters often differ in a book, then I offer to give them periodic progress reports so they’ll know how many hours of time I’ve used at any given time. This way there are no hidden costs, I’ve reduced my client’s level of worry about billing, and I make doubly sure I keep in constant contact with them throughout the process. A happy client equals a very happy Marlene.

So, how do you run your business? Do you make an effort to inform new clients of exactly how you operate, or do you ‘assume’ that they should feel privileged just to have you as a supplier or service provider and not question your business practices? Do you over-promise and under deliver instead of the other way around? Or are you still using the sales pitch mantra of the ‘70s’, the ‘BBB’ method? You know, the good old ‘Bulls%*t Baffles Brains’ theory? (Good luck with that!)

I’m known for not having much of a ‘filter’ between what I think and what I say, and for me that works just dandy. I definitely ‘walk my talk’ and when I make a promise, I do my utmost to keep it. I learned a long, long time ago that it’s easier, safer, and so much less stress-inducing to be upfront about what I can or cannot do for my clients.

Ask yourself this week if there are certain new practices that you can implement into YOUR business to create winning partnerships with your clients. Try adding larges doses of honesty mixed liberally with integrity into your client relationships. Perhaps, like me, some of your favorite customers just may also become a few of your absolute best friends!

Is ‘Hugh Muir’ A Part of Your Life?

I know that this is a very strange title for a musing and probably has quite a few of you wondering, “Who the heck is Hugh Muir, and why do I need him in my life?” Keep reading and you’ll see why.

I’m a solopreneur. For those of you who’ve not heard that term before, it simply means that I’m self-employed and have no other employees in my business. It’s just me, myself, and my overactive imagination, the latter of which does come in handy since I’m a writer and editor.

Some days I’m crazy busy, and others I’ll have a few hours where there is nothing in my inbox for me to work on. It’s those ‘others’ that sometimes gets me into trouble.

A few years ago I developed an online buddy support system with another virtual assistant who is self-employed as well. He resides in another province so we communicate mainly through instant messaging and occasional phone calls (on his dime I might add, as I’m too frugal to purchase a ‘real’ long distance plan. Hey, VoIP works for me and is inexpensive! What can I say.)

Two days ago we were kvetching through instant messenger and got chatting about how some people have absolutely no sense of humour, especially irate clients who expect everything to have been completed yesterday when they’ve only sent you the work to be done an hour earlier. Since both of us have clientele from the US and Canada, we frequently switch back and forth between the two different spelling formats of each country. In his haste to type the word ‘humour’ in the IM box, he pecked out ‘humer’, then ‘humor’, followed by ‘humour.’ By this time I was snickering and since I was having one of my non-busy days, I responded, “Don’t you mean ‘Hugh Muir?’ That did it for me. I started laughing and couldn’t stop until I had tears running down my face and a stitch in my side.

It suddenly occurred to me that this one trait, my whacky, off-the-wall, slightly warped sense of humour, is what has gotten me through all the rough patches and obstacles I’ve faced in growing of my business. For example, when I first opened my doors for business and noticed nobody seemed to be beating a path to them, I got very scared. Then one day I simply decided that while I was waiting for those unknown clients to line up, I’d plant beautiful flowers along the front of my walkway. This way, I reasoned, at least they’d have something nice to smell when they arrived.

I firmly believe that if you can cultivate the ability to be able to laugh at adversity, or find something funny in a down situation, then you’ve developed an admirable trait. I know for a fact that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters in your body, plus it just plain feels good. Another benefit of laughter is that when you’re with other people and one of you starts chuckling, it sort of becomes this contagious ‘smiling’ disease. The next thing you notice is that most of your group is laughing as well.

Laughter is also a terrific ice breaker when trying to engage new clients in conversation. I’m not suggesting that you try to be a comedian and crack them up with witty one-liners every 2 minutes, but I’ve yet to see a book on business building where they strongly suggest that you NEVER smile or say something funny. In fact I warn all my new clients that I don’t have a very good filter on my mouth and to be prepared for the unexpected when talking with me.

So, the next time you’re feeling frustrated because your client list isn’t as big as you’d like, or your bank account isn’t even close to what Madonna pays her personal trainer, (I couldn’t find an accurate estimate here or I’d have shared it with you!), go ahead – laugh. It’s free; it feels good; you won’t gain a pound from it, or have to go to confession because of guilt. And you just might find that your day and disposition will improve.

Invite ‘Hugh Muir’ into your life. I can guarantee you he’ll be a very nice addition to your household and life.

PS – To all the actual real life ‘Hugh Muir’s’ out there, I do apologize for borrowing your name for this article. I’m certain that you’re very nice gentlemen and most definitely have developed your own sense of humour… or humor… or however you spell it where you live.

“Ground Black People?” – Best Gaff of the Week

j0178843Call me sick, call me totally whacko, but I thought I’d crack up laughing this morning when I read an AP posting entitled, “Cookbook pulped over ‘ground black people’ typo.” First off, I wondered why the writer had inserted the word ‘pulped’ into the title of the column. Were they trying to be cutesy and use a play on words, or did the actual headline include a typo as well? Had they meant to say, “Cookbook PULLED over ‘ground black people’ typo?” 

Then I went on to read the article itself and that’s when I started silently snickering. Apparently the “Pasta Bible” recipe for spelt tagliatelle, (a hardy wheat type of pasta, and yes, I had to look that up!), with sardines and prosciutto, was supposed to call for black pepper, not ‘ground black people.’    

Aha! Now ground pepper makes much more sense to me than the appalling bad typo ingredient. 

This story reminded me of a bad cooking experience I had about 20 years ago. One Christmas I decided I’d make my Dad’s favourite dessert, namely my Mom’s recipe for Suet Pudding. (Don’t start gagging here folks – stick with me on this!) It was a fairly complicated pudding; I was in a hurry; and when I’d originally copied down the recipe from my Mom’s original tattered and batter-stained recipe card, I missed one crucial ingredient: baking powder. 

Anyhow, this lovely concoction was steaming gently away, balanced precariously on a smaller pot inserted into a larger one filled with boiling water while I served the Christmas main course to the crowd. Now came the time to serve the piece de resistance, the Suet Pudding. (I’d also made apple pies for those of you who still have your face screwed up over the thought of eating suet.) 

I removed the wonderfully aromatic pudding from the pot and instantly my eye’s register that something is really amiss: the pudding is still only about 2” thick instead of the lovely light and airy 6” version by Mom used to serve. My Dad gamely polished off a large portion of what I called, “Steamed brick on a plate,” but later that night after the hubbub of the day had ended, I had to figure out what I’d done wrong. Going back over the recipe, I couldn’t see any baking powder in the list, and I know that without that one tiny ingredient, you’ll always have pancake flat, ‘looks like lead’ cakes.

Moral of the story? Read everything you write at least THREE times before you publish it or try to cook from it! 

Oh… and here’s the link to the ‘ground black people’ gaff if you’d like to read the rest of the article:  http://bit.ly/9B73rB

Does Your Content Match Your Market?

j0309615As a writer and editor, it’s my job to research many different websites when preparing content for my clients. While I’ve seen some beautifully designed and executed sites in my searches, it never ceases to amaze me that when reading some of the content, I’m left feeling slightly puzzled and perplexed. And do you know why? It’s because their words leave me with two major unanswered questions, namely, “What do you do?” and “What are you offering me as a potential consumer?” 

In a lot of cases, the owner, (or content writer), of the website material hasn’t taken into consideration the actual target market or audience they need to reach in order to engage them in the buying process. I once asked a client who their target market was and they responded, “Well, everybody!” and looked at me as if I’d grown a second head. 

“Everybody” is not your market. You need to separate the ‘body’ from this word and get specific about who will want to do business with you. By answering these top 3 questions before you write your content, you’ll be much closer to attracting the perfect clients to your business and ultimately increasing your bottom line. 

1. What is the age range of your ideal client? This may seem like an odd question to ask, but it’s an extremely relevant one. If you’re selling a cutting edge new trendy jewellery accessory that you know your 24 year old niece loves, then write your content accordingly. Use current ‘hip’ wording that applies to that generation – something that will pique their interest and make them click further into your site to see your offerings. Using phrases such as “Our bling will make you sing” or “Feeling alone in the crowd? Wear Bling Things and stand your ground!” clearly states that it’s for a younger crowd. 

2. What are your ideal client’s habits? Where do they shop? What are they currently reading, and what programs are they watching on television? The more you know about what your prospective clients do in their spare time can definitely influence your marketing collateral and website content. If you’re uncertain about their actual habits, consider sending out a short survey with tailored questions to people whose opinion you value before you write your content. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a stupid question, so go ahead and ask before you start writing. 

3. What does your ideal client look like? I can imagine a few of you are thinking to yourself, “Why should it matter what my client looks like? I don’t care about superficial things like that!” Wrong! You do need to care about what your ideal client looks like and I’m not referring to whether they’re wearing a black pinstripe suit or sweat pants, (although that image certainly helps if your target market happens to be people who own clothing businesses or are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies!) You need to have a clear vision in your mind of the person who will want your products or services. Be precise on the demographics as possible: what type of car/house do they own; where do they work; what type of food do they like to eat; do they shop at high-end boutiques or at chain retail stores; are they employed full-time, part-time, or stay at home mothers etc. These and at least 50 other questions come to my mind that you need to answer before writing your content. 

I’ve only listed 3 of the many questions you need to know the answers to before writing winning website content and marketing collateral, but I’m certain you’re now armed with enough information to decide once and for all exactly who that ‘body’ in ‘everybody’ is. 

Match your content to your client and you’ll create followers and ultimately sales. Because frankly, you’re in business to do business, aren’t you?

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