What can YOU do in minute?

I’m an avid reader of business books, magazines, blogs and anything else that provides insight to some corner of the entrepreneurship world that I have yet to explore. One of my favorite publications is Success magazine, but what I look forward to most isn’t the cover story or any one of the entertaining columns by some industry leader or titan of business.

I love the “In a minute…” feature.

It’s just a small little box found in the corner of one of the front sections, and it lists a half-dozen things you can literally do in a minute. It always brings me back to the basics; the simple things I do in a day that may not only benefit me, but benefit those around me – my team, my clients, my friends, my family…

So, in the spirit of “In a minute…” I thought I’d start my own running list of things that can be done in 60 seconds or less. Feel free to steal from it, share it or add to it!

  • Send a quick, “Hi! How ya doin’!” email to an old friend.
  • Send a small congratulatory gift to someone who has achieved a goal (I’m a fan of LittleThings.com).
  •  Give my assistant the afternoon off.
  •  Register for a yoga class.
  •  Zip an article of interest to a prospective client.
  •  Pick up the banana instead of the cookie at the snack counter. 
  • Give my dog a belly rub.
  •  Compliment someone.
  •  Upgrade my usual medium hazelnut latte to a large, just because.
  •  Apologize to someone. (Admit it…we all know someone who may be a little miffed with us!)
  •  Tip an extra $5 at the restaurant.
  •  Make a referral.
  •  Publically proclaim what excellent service I received from (fill in business) on my Facebook or LinkedIn profile.
  •  Say “No,” once in awhile.
  •  Invite my best friend out for dinner.
  •  Send a thank-you note. In an envelope. With a stamp.
  •  Order a new business book for my office library.
  •  Download a podcast.
  •  Close my eyes and visualize my next vacation.
  •  Add a new picture to my vision board.
  •  Get a little fresh air – and a fresh perspective – with a walk around the building.
  •  Giggle at a memory.
  •  Change the radio station to one I wouldn’t normally listen to.
  •  Take a candid photograph of someone.
  •  Ask the always-friendly guy at “my” convenience store what his name is (and remember it!)

These are just a few things that popped into my head in a matter of minutes. What can you do in a minute that might improve your day, or that of someone you know?

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Shoulda, coulda, woulda

Awhile back, I was fired up to be asked to be a guest on a local business radio show. It’s hosted by two very well-respected women in the business community, and every night they feature high-level executives and other community business leaders on their show.

I was, admittedly,  nervous about going on air. I’d never done radio, so my former life in print media didn’t help. At all. Not even a little bit. But, facing daily challenges big and small is par for the course for a business owner, so I chalked it up to one more thing I’d force myself to face and, eventually, overcome.  I figured it would be kind of like facing my fear of Quickbooks.

The show itself is meant to introduce listeners to a local business, an emerging industry, or a newsworthy person. As you can imagine, it’s generally not intended to be highly charged with controversy or conversation that’s too difficult. It’s friendly banter between hosts and guests, with a little education thrown in for good measure.

Imagine my surprise when the host of the show was this close to actually grilling me.

   “Why do you think you can charge so much? I don’t think I’d pay that much for an assistant.”

   “Who would pay for such a service?”

   “I don’t think I’d entrust my creative development to someone else. Where’s the confidentiality?”

   “How do you know who’s really in business? Are you incorporated as a company?”

Don’t get me wrong. These are all good, legitimate questions. In fact,  I happily discuss this stuff with people all the time. I just don’t talk about these things in 15-second sound bites, with someone sitting across from me giving frantic “Wrap it up!” “Finish your sentence!” “Stop talking RIGHT NOW!” signals.

Turns out, my natural need to think before I speak and my tendency to speak too fast when I’m nervous  makes me a crappy candidate for radio.

After the interview, I drove back to my office with the same three words screaming at me. “You shoulda said this!” “You coulda said that!” “If you woulda said this, it would have explained that! ”

Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda.

Three words I hate. By their very nature, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about shoulda, coulda, woulda. They remind us that an opportunity just passed us by. They infuriate the perfectionist in all of us. They haunt even the most confident among us. There are entire bookstore sections dedicated to avoiding the shoulda, coulda, woulda … it’s called the self-help section.

All things being equal, the interview I did actually went fine. In fact, the perceived “grilling” was probably mostly in my head and, if you were to listen to it, you’d probably think “It’s fine.”  But, that’s just it. It’s fine. Not good. Not great. Just…fine.

That’s the problem with shoulda, coulda, woulda. It results in “It’s just fine.” Greatness is not achieved with “just fine.”

In fact, I accepted another invitation to be on another business-focused radio show a few weeks later…just to see if I could overcome the shoulda, coulda, wouldas that evidently come when I do a live interview.  When the day came, I walked into the studio with  my talking points rehearsed, determined to think fast and talk slow, say what I mean in 15 words or less, and end each sentence before the “wrap it up” signal.

Nope. Still not cut out for radio. 

I once again caught myself thinking slow and talking fast, rambling on when I didn’t need to, and making the guy in the booth give me an “Any time now…” signal every few minutes. More to the point, I again wandered away thinking about all the things I should have, could have, and would have said given a second chance.

Every so often, things arise that require you to act before you think (in both our professional AND personal lives),  and shoulda, coulda, woulda sneaks up on you, taunting and torturing you. But I also think it does have its purpose … it’s an extremely effective reminder to not be afraid to grab opportunities by the horns, if for no other reason than to spite the shoulda/coulda/woulda voice in all of us. 

Next time I’m asked to do a live interview, I plan to be more preemptive.  I should be OK with the fact that I’ll never be good at them, then I could save myself from any post-interview chastising, and I would be a lot happier.

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Celebrating love … business-owner style

This month marks my second anniversary. It was just about two years ago that I closed my eyes, held my breath, and took the leap. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, except I was in love.

That’s when my business was born.

I think it’s fitting that my firm’s anniversary falls in February. As a sassy, single, 30-something, it’s not only nice to have something to celebrate on Valentine’s Day, but I get to honor a relationship that I have complete and total confidence in … the relationship between me as a person, and me as a business owner.

I’ve learned in the past few years that these are two very different people. In fact, in any other circumstance, I wonder if they’d even be friends. I’d like to think so….

One prefers to sit back and chill out, while the other is constantly chasing challenges. One needs to think before she acts, while the other doesn’t always have that luxury. One can easily live in faded jeans and hiking boots, while the other is way more comfortable in pencil skirts and high heels. One is introverted and shy, while the other can work a room at a networking event. One is happy to let someone else take the lead once in awhile, while the other wouldn’t dream of handing over the reins. To anyone. Ever.

Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. Sometimes I want to throttle myself when I’m not giving myself enough attention or feel I’m taking myself for granted. I don’t hesitate to holler in protest when I have to concentrate on what needs to happen at the firm instead of ducking out early to get a jump on the weekend. Don’t even get me started when I have to walk away at the end of the day simply because I promised me I’d be home at a decent hour for a change.

But, when push comes to shove, amazing things happen when we work together. When we score another big client, celebrate a record-breaking revenue month, or enjoy the freedom to cut out in the middle of the day to go to a nephew’s ball game or a niece’s choir concert, I know we’re in it for the long haul. I’ll never doubt that I’ve got my back, and I know every decision is in the best interest of me, myself and I.

I know quite a few small-business owners, and I think something we all have in common is the love we have for what we do. We’re absolutely nutty over the clients we serve, we’re head-over-heels crazy about the process of growing a company, and we don’t hesitate about the sacrifices we make to feed our entrepreneurial spirit. We all work hard to balance who we are with who we want to become. We’re forever stumbling, which I’m sure has some wondering if the struggles are worth it. But, ask just about any business owner, and the answer will be a resounding “Yes!”

As we get closer to Valentine’s Day, I want to give a heart-shaped shout-out to business owners both large and small. Whether you run a one-person shop out of the corner of your basement or work out of the top floor of the high-rise building you own, I celebrate you and the love you have for your business. It’s truly a relationship worth celebrating.

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What would the dog do?

Sophie

Sophie, Rescue Desk Mascot

My pup, Sophie, is the first and only dog I’ve ever had, and she’s everything I’d ever want in a dog. I rescued her from the local shelter a few years ago and, surprisingly, she came fully loaded — she’s fully trained,  fully mannered and fully loveable. She is easily the best dog ever.

She gives the same, tail-wagging reaction to both “Wanna go for a walk!?” and “Wanna go get your nails clipped?!” as long as we’re going somewhere.  She sighs with pleasure when she gets a belly scratch.  When nose-to-nose with the vet for a shot, she pulls through like a trouper without complaint. When she tags along to work with me, she’s a polite welcome wagon for visitors, calmly asking for a scratch on the head before obediently going back to her post in the corner.

I’ll probably never get her to “walk nicely” on her leash, never be able to get her attention when there’s a squirrel nearby, or never get her to stand up for herself when the cat bullies her. But, I also know she’ll stop at nothing to protect me from a suspicious stranger lurking around outside, will always give 110% trying to break the land-speed record to catch a tennis ball, and will be a loyal sidekick on any adventure.

I got to thinking about Sophie and her special dog personality, and it got me wondering. I’m pretty sure dogs provide a quiet influence on how successful their owners’ businesses are built. Hear me out on this …

Loyal
Dogs are loyal by nature. Loyalty is something we, as business owners, hold near and dear. How often do you pick up the same product brands or go to the same service stations out of loyalty? The product or service works for you and your life. As business owners and entrepreneurs, we understand this. I’m always conscious of maintaining loyalty to my clients, and I work even harder to earn and maintain their loyalty to my firm in return.

Protective
This is that innate sense that something feels off.  That inexplicable thing that gets an otherwise mellow pooch to stand at attention, tail up, knowing he may need to fight for what’s right. For us, it’s that quiet whisper in back of our heads that says a particular vendor may not be as trustworthy as he claims, or the inexplicable feeling that a prospective employee will be more trouble for your team than she’s worth. We don’t  hesitate to protect our business and our clients from injustice.

Enthusiastically friendly
With the exception of the “lurking stranger” I mentioned earlier, probably the best trait of any dog is ability to be friendly to anyone. Period. A dog doesn’t see stereotypes, net worth or job descriptions.  How often have we been a bit impatient with a salespeople doing a cold calls to our offices, when they’re just trying to do the same things we are? On the flip side, how many of us have been on the receiving end of rudeness simply because people pre-judge us or what we’re trying to do. I think we could all probably step it up a notch once in awhile in the friendly category.

Instinctual
Imagine if you could bottle the ability to completely trust your instincts without hesitation. While dogs’ instincts can undoubtedly get them into trouble sometimes, the simple ability to know — deep down — what needs to be done is enviable. Think about those times when you didn’t trust your gut and ended up burned. We all have trouble when the “Next Big Idea” for your business looks good on paper, but simply doesn’t feel right;  when instinct says “Wait!” but logic says “Go forward!”  Nine times out of ten, our instincts know how to handle the situation, but we have trouble trusting it.

Genuine
This is right up there with the best-ever doggie traits.  Dogs don’t lie. Come hell or high water, dogs remain true to themselves and their personalities; they don’t succumb to the pressure we sometimes feel to change for anyone or anything. Being genuine in business is the cornerstone to building something successful. Be genuine with your mission, your values, your team and your customers.

So, next time you’re face-to-face with a question, a challenge, or a fork in the road, it may not be too far from crazy to ask yourself, “What would the dog do?”

Where’s MY book??

Welcome back! We were on a bit of a hiatus in July, enjoying a little time away. But, we’re back with a list of things we’ll be yammering on about in The Virtual Fast Lane – from small business to virtual assistance to everything in between. So subscribe today and tag along for the (sometimes eye-rollingly irreverent) ride!

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I’m starting to get a little frustrated.Stack of books

In order to be successful in business and continue growing my virtual assistant firm, I am on a constant quest for knowledge. There have been — and always will be — people out there who are wiser, more experienced, and with advice that’ll truly make a difference in how I do what I do. For those who have wisdom to share, I am an enthusiastic student.

But, I’m also a discerning student.

In addition to having a business coach, I’m always filling in the gaps reading endless magazine articles, following expert blogs, perusing lists of books, checking RSS feeds, and sitting in on webinars and workshops.

The challenge? There’s too much. Way, way too much. How will I ever find the message that speaks to me?

I once worked with a CEO who was wildly successful following the organizational system developed by one performance expert, and I’ve talked to others who’ve been equally successful  by learning to let go of the details and trusting that the process will emerge if their vision is intact.  I’ve known others who clearly practice leadership with expert guidance, and yet others with a penchant for cultivating the leaders from lower ranks on the corporate ladder.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m certainly not looking for a business guru to blindly follow. It’s just that I’m (sometimes painfully) aware of my weaknesses as well as my strengths as a business owner. I’m convinced there has to be someone out there who shares these attributes with me; someone who has used their experience and expertise to develop a system or methodology or way of thinking that I can get on board with…right?

Well, you’d think so. But, instead, I find myself wondering…

Should I be improving my weaknesses, or strengthening my strengths?
Do I need to kick more ass, or be more compassionate?
Invest in Post-it notes, iPhone apps or a color-coded filing system?
Should I be thinking to grow rich, focusing on my 7 habits, or trying to become a manager in a minute?
Will I really win friends by influencing people?
Should I duct-tape my marketing, or kick it thought-leadership style?

Luckily I’m discovering that no matter what books or blogs I read, which podcasts I listen to, or which mentor I turn to for words of advice, most of the underlying themes are the same …. set goals, be creative, stay  driven, believe in your business, pay attention to the numbers, develop systems, have a clear vision and, most importantly, believe in yourself. 

So, until I find that way that works for me, I’ll just keep piecemealing the tidbits that make sense to me into my own little self-help/build-your-business/daily-meditation/get-thin/kick-ass/retire-early/make-new-friends pile of educational goo.

Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll publish it.

 

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Weight loss and business building

Like most people, there are days when I find myself loafing on the couch, sucked into a day-long marathon of cop-show reruns I’ve already seen a hundred times. I get up about every other commercial break to rummage through the cupboards for … well … something. Half the time I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for, so I go back to my post on the couch empty-handed. Sometimes I go back with a handful of chips to “test” and see if that’s what I am, in fact, craving. And sometimes I park it back under the blanket with a bowl overflowing with ice cream.

I inevitably hit a point where I think “Hmmmm. These jeans are feeling a bit snug.” After a sufficient amount of denial and blaming my too-tight pants on dryer-shrinkage, I eventually face facts. “Maybe I should get my arse off the couch and drop a few pounds.”

I go through this routine usually in the spring, after hibernating all winter and recognizing that it won’t be long until I pack up my bulky sweaters and pull out my shorts and t-shirts.

So, I vow to watch what I eat and walk the dog not only more regularly, but more briskly. But what I’ve always refused to do was buy a scale. I always told myself I didn’t really care much how much I weighed … I just wanted to feel a little better in my jeans. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a weight-loss goal was seeing if maybe I could fit into a size-smaller pants. Although, my declaration was sort of half-assed, and ended up being more “fleeting thought” than “goal.”

But an epiphany struck when I went through this process this spring. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m running a business, or finally wise enough to know what needs to be done.

As it turns out, my theory about buying a scale is … and always has been … a load of hooey.

In business, in order to know how you’re doing, you have to test and measure. Watch your numbers. Know what’s coming in and going out. If you don’t, you’ll have no idea if you need to focus on finding more prospects, or if you need to work on turning your current prospects into customers, or if your money is better spent on magazine advertising or a trade-show booth.  You’ll have no idea if your revenues aren’t keeping up with your spending.

You also won’t know that it’s time to paaaaahhtaaaay! when you hit your goals.

Without a scale, how am I ever going to know if I need to thinking about cutting a few more calories than usual?  Or tack an extra 10 minutes to the run/walk with the dog? Or know when it’s “safe” to go to the mall to see if maybe I can, in fact, fit into a smaller-sized pair of a jeans?

In business, I learned very early about the importance goal-setting. Sometimes they’re small goals, like sending a certain number of follow-up emails a week. Sometimes they’re bigger goals, like increasing revenues a certain percentage by a specific date. If I hit the goal, fantastic! If not, I simply go back a few steps to see where I veered off and determine how to get back on track.

I think my aversion to buying a scale or setting an actual weight-loss goal every spring stemmed from a fear of failure…I was afraid that if I wrote down, “I want to fit into pants that are one size smaller by this date,” and didn’t hit the goal, then I’d feel like I failed. My guess is that it’s that fear of failure that probably keeps quite a few people from setting goals.

But, I’ll tell you what’s happened because I’ve never written down “I want to fit into pants that are one-size smaller by this date.”

I’ve never been one size smaller.

So, what have you got to lose? You don’t set the goal, you probably won’t achieve it. You do set the goal, there’s a pretty good chance you will achieve it. And, I’m here to tell you that even if you don’t hit the goal, it’s no biggie because, chances are, you’re probably closer to it than you think. A few tweaks to the plan and you’ll be right back on track.

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What my mom has taught me about business

In the spirit of Mother’s Day this weekend, I want to take this opportunity to share a little bit about my mom. If it weren’t for her, not only would I not be where I am today, but my business wouldn’t be the success that it is.

My mom is a newspaper editor, appreciates a quick turn of phrase, and isn’t afraid to stick her neck out when the situation calls for a rational voice among a crowd of foolishness.  She has little patience for hypocrisy, close-mindedness, boorishness and, in some cases, Republicans. She’s quick to giggle at life’s little ironies, roll her eyes when my Dad proudly serves up one of his infamous kitchen concoctions,  and still bristles if my sister or I let a low-grade cuss word slip out.

My mom is a quiet, powerful force behind how I run my business. No, she doesn’t do the books, coordinate marketing initiatives, or partake in my strategic planning sessions. Her role began long, long before I launched Rescue Desk and includes the lessons she taught me that I still carry with me today.

Life is a  great equalizer
This was a big one growing up with a kid sister. Jealousy would rage when the other got a new outfit, had a bedroom redecorated, or otherwise got the bulk of the attention.  But, every time there was  a complaint that one of us got something the other didn’t, she told us to be patient and promised that everything equals out in the end. Looking back at the things my sister and I did or received individually, she was right.

Today, there are days when I want to bang my head against the wall, convinced that life is simply out to get me. But, then I remember this little nugget and how many times I’ve learned that life does, in fact, equal out.  So, I resolve to ride whatever it is out because, inevitably, things will turn my way.

Sometimes you need to spend money to make money
Our dinner table was politically divided — my mom the liberal democrat, my dad the conservative republican. I remember once trying to explain the difference to my 8-year-old sister. I assumed I was wise beyond my years at 11, and explained it this way: “Would you rather go shopping with Mom or with Dad?” We knew shopping with Mom meant spending a little more on “great quality” at the department store, and shopping with Dad meant spending less on “good enough” at the local discount store.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for both financial perspectives when running a business. Heck, bootstrapping is half the fun — it’s like a scavenger hunt for creative ideas. But, there are times when it’s OK to spend a little extra for quality because it will pay off down the road.

It’s OK to walk away
I had my share of heartbreak as a youngin’. Boyfriends broke with me, girlfriends fought with me, teachers were mean to me…  When  I was down , my mom would temporarily sympathize with my pre-teen wails of angst, then say, “Let’s go check out the sale at (insert any store).”  Sometimes we’d walk out of the store empty handed, sometimes with some little trinket. But, the point wasn’t the shopping. It was simply walking away; whatever problem was plaguing me always seemed a little less severe.

Even today, when I’m frustrated with a curve ball life throws my way, I take myself to my favorite discount store and just wander and forget about whatever is ailing me. Walking away almost always provides the perspective I  need to move forward.

Work hard, but don’t forget to appreciate the little things
My mom works hard, hard, hard. She’s responsible for a zillion processes and is the face of all the publications under her charge. She works long hours, has high standards, and doesn’t hesitate to go above and beyond.

But, she also doesn’t hesitate to relax when given the chance, she stops to appreciate and laugh at life’s weirdness, enjoys stretching her creative wings, and shares her wisdom with those who look up to her. Finding balance between the responsibilities that come with leadership and taking time to recharge and re-energize isn’t always easy. But, watching her do so with grace and kindness has taught me to appreciate life beyond the countless hours I put in building my business.

These are just a (very!) few of the countless things my mom has taught me — and continues to teach me. Because of her, I’m able to run my business with love, dedication and commitment to excellence … with, of course, a hefty dose of laughter, creativity and few pairs of great, high-quality shoes.

Now it’s your turn! What have you learned about business from YOUR mom?

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