Understanding your Process

One of the most important things in your entire business are your working processes. And yet the majority of businesses we work with don’t seem to have them. They do of course; every single thing you do from the moment you get up in the morning is a process and whether or not you have something structured, you’re still following processes. But from the multi-hundred employee companies, to the small team businesses or entrepreneurs, a succinct set of steps that make sense – logical, effective processes – seem to be missing. This is often met with vigorous head nodding acknowledgement and a desire to have structure in place.

Your processes allow you to understand what’s currently happening, increase consistency & quality in your work, easily hand over responsibilities to staff, lower your new employee intangible training costs, align operations (that is, your day to day work) with your overall strategies, create better working cultures, outline where you can automate & use systems to improve those same processes, better deal with exceptions-to-the-rule, allow for easy visual communication of ideas & experiences, and quickly change & adapt when you need to to leverage, take an opportunity or address a new problem.

Processes can initially feel incredibly overwhelming but if you work through them in small steps you can quickly tackle one area at a time and then continue to refine.

So where do you start? Let’s walk through the areas of your business outside your client work (i.e B2B or B2C service projects) or customers (i.e users buying a product). We’ll tackle those lifecycles in a seperate post.

  1. Write down the different “departments” in your business that you run tasks in. These might include accounting & finances, administration, procurement, human resources, client inquiries etc. Keep these on a document, whiteboard or piece of paper somewhere.
  2. As you go about your day-to-day work, write down the processes you undertake in each of the departments. For example, that might be invoicing a client, reconciling accounts, starting a new team member, approving a course affiliate, providing services information, sending information on a speaking engagement, answering helpdesk or other customer queries, setting up meetings etc.
  3. Bonus points if you time your tasks with each of these items. Download Harvest or Toggl or Rescue Time and easily record your timekeeping against each activity
  4. At the end of the month you should now start to be forming a fairly accurate task listing of the work you do. Take one of the departments you’d like to focus on first and sketch out the different tasks you run through in a visual flow (you may find there are distinct processes within the department). Note down the approximate time each full process takes.
  5. Walk through where you (or the team) can do things better. What is the outcome of this process? Where are the friction points and bottle necks? Does the time of the task feel appropriate to the benefit of it? How often are you doing this? Can you automate something, move it to a system so it reduces your time, create a guide or website page to point to etc?
  6. Now do a quick cost-benefit analysis. I know we are all exceptionally busy – where’s the biggest benefit right now? Let’s just fix that one area by picking it, figuring out the solution and implementing it. Make sure it works for your customers, your staff, your company and then have a mini celebration.
  7. Once you’ve structured it, record that process formally. Either in a graphic in your well-foldered-and-labelled information system (i.e Dropbox), in your company wiki (i.e using SlimWiki), on your Intranet (i.e Igloo), in a process documentation solution (i.e Pipefy) or something that works well for you. Now you can refer back to it when you need to, easily explain it to somebody else, hand it over to somebody to work from, and go back and tweak it whenever you need to. This is a part of your business where you’re creating the best experience (internally or externally or both) as much as you can right now.

How do I decide on the system where I need one?

That’s a question I’ll attempt to cover in another post but for now I’ll assume you either know some good solutions, or can do some research, ask around and trial some solutions that best fit you, the functionalities and the requirements you have.

When we work on processes with clients, I like to create two visual graphics. One that is system/tech agnostic (i.e the task flow of the process only) and one that incorporates the systems/tech we are using as solutions in the appropriate steps (i.e the EDM provider, the project management system, the accounting solution, the API, document template etc). This allows us to also see at a glance in the future what that part of the technology is doing so if it’s causing problems or there is a more effective opportunity it can be replaced with a lot less confusion and/or disruption.

***

Here are a couple of small examples of process flows as the visuals can be more helpful in explaining the documentation process (there are many ways of visualizing processes – these are a small cross section of about 8 major ways we do it depending on the process, function and hierarchy)…

Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design brisbane Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design

Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design brisbane

The CEO Problem

Big business has a big problem. They require CEOs to make important and sometimes complex decisions. And the decisions are ultimately made to maximize shareholder wealth and the revenue of the business.

At nearly any cost. And then the CEO gets a bonus.

Long term thinking is thereby discarded in favor of short term rewards.

In the long run, the company is very likely to run into issues as CEOs make questionable choices to positively impact their immediate wealth. To change this behaviour you could instead offer some small short-term rewards and big long-term rewards. If the company achieves X in 10 years and that can be traced back to your tenure then here is Y. This of course is a lot harder to measure and requires significant more effort into structuring and accounting for variables, but policies like these would foster a company with more foresight and place responsibility on future outcomes.

In our businesses we too have the CEO problem. Easy examples are the make-money-fast, seven-figure-promise bloggers or click-bait-ad-sites. It’s quick, it’s dubious, and it can be full of brashness, ego and make believe authority. It makes relatively a lot of money in the short term and then you’re done, people stop falling for the game, or the system changes and you exit.

But it’s also the good businesses that need to make tough decisions. Do we select the more expensive material that will develop our brand reputation over the long run and swallow the cost now or choose the cheap and easy one right now? Hire staff in your area or pay equitable wages overseas or offshore to cheap labour, developing countries? Focus on people before profit first?

You can build an ethical, sustainable business with deep passion and integrity. This is of course much slower. The money doesn’t appear as quickly. It requires you to make mistakes, to fix them and to look forwards. You’re going to go through periods of challenges and wins because you’re around in the long run for them. You’re building a business through or toward a dream. It’s sometimes tough and sometimes amazing.

Two choices. Your pick?

The Inefficiency Effect

I once worked for a company that sold a gigantic amount of iron ore (please don’t hold that against me). They made billions. And then the price of iron ore started falling. Heavily. Suddenly hundreds of people were made redundant. Labor hours on site were more closely tracked. Big vendor contracts were renegotiated. Systems were merged. Procurement was managed rather than your standard friend-of-a-friend who used to magically appear. A few levels of managers were cut from the hierarchy. Processes were altered and refined to be better.

It didn’t take long but they were able to produce the same amount of iron ore if they wished. In a better way.

That’s the problem when business is doing well. When you’re making the money you’re comfortable living with, it hides all the inefficiencies. 

It’s very hard to peel the curtains past the illusion when everything appears to be working fine. You don’t need to self-correct because there isn’t a variable in the market that forces you to do so. Until there is.

That company also made some terrible decisions caused by sudden panic and instant reaction rather than thoughtful, proactive measures (including removing cookie jars and newspapers … and with it all staff morale).

And that’s why it’s even more important to assess your current status and processes and implement actions right now. In the long run, smarter decisions and operating processes will nearly always lead to better results.

Being comfortable, or finally coasting along, is an opportunity to do better without having the pressures of time and money. If you don’t make changes now, that monkey will be on your back again shortly. You just won’t see it coming.

(this also applies to our personal income and finances)

The Wrong Focus

The logo still isn’t quite-the-right-vibe but I can’t explain to you why. I don’t know what I like but these 32 don’t feel like it. It’s too small. It still doesn’t pop. Could we make another tweak to version 8 of Round 4?

If you’ve been presented with high quality logos after some customer development and research into your business, then generally this has nothing to do with the logo.

When you become so fixated on one thing, it’s nearly always procrastination. And it usually means two things.

  1. You don’t know what to do next or you’re overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done
  2. You’ve got a branding or culture problem (and these are arguably completely entwined)

The important thing is to acknowledge your logo-stination (or whatever other form it’s taken) and work out what you need to focus on.

If it’s overwhelm, get everything out of your head onto paper. Then organize the items into topics/departments. Then comb through and prioritize them. What’s truly important? If you’re completely stuck, what can you do quickest that has the biggest return? Start there.

If you’ve got a branding problem is it external (how you’re perceived by customers, readers, potential clients etc) or internal (staff churn, unhappiness, confusion over strategy or cohesive understanding of vision etc)? Or both? Talk to your team. Talk to your customers. Listen closely. Hire an expert.

It’s rarely the logo. Or the colors. Or the tagline. Or the advert.

They’re just easier resting places to stall.

Revenue isn’t the problem, you are

When I see people who appear to suddenly start running workshops or consulting sessions outside their direct business or niche/expertise, or when I notice that they’ve quite quickly launched a new service, micro business, or product not within their current framework I always cringe a little inside.

Most of us are guilty of the side business. The ‘just a couple’ of coaching or consulting sessions. The ‘one or two clients’ we take on outside our normal scope of work. The ‘some people have asked so here’s event X’.

The thing it makes me immediately think though is either;

  1. they want to make more money than they’re making right now
  2. they’re no longer satisfied with their current business and they’re not sure how to resolve that

Both of these are a problem but we’ll address the money issue here.

I spent a lot of my time in the corporate world in meeting rooms and occasionally piping up to say but guys, this is not our core business. Digging rocks out of the ground is (against my moral compass, but true to their golden handcuffs, I worked in the mining industry a lot!).

I meant; let’s focus on what we’re actually doing here and support & leverage that. Better processes, happier workers, more effective systems, finding new minerals and digging up more rocks were going to make the business better & more profitable. Not suddenly starting a service maintaining pipelines when that’s not what we did but feels like it could somehow be related.

Generally the most effective way to make more money in your established business is not to launch new products and services outside your current structure (in fact a whole heap of services even launched within your niche aren’t going to make you that much more money).

Despite what anyone says about ‘just quickly throwing up a landing page and offering X’ it’s not that easy. You still have to put in a lot of energy and time if you believe in quality and substantially more when it comes to that actual doing of it all. And that energy and time is most likely better spent in your current business.

The one you have been growing and working on. The one that probably isn’t highly leveraged and optimized.

But doesn’t the average multi-millionaire have numerous different income streams?

Yes. And often these include shares / the stock market (one stream), property (second stream) and other investments & assets (third stream) that a portfolio manager (or team of) is managing the daily grind of.

They likely didn’t start a coaching service on the side that they couldn’t dedicate too much time to because that would’ve taken them away from their core business that was already making an income.

It’s hard. This stuff is hard. You could easily write 15,000 words on it and in the end it’s your decision. But I think the decision should be accurately placed so we can all ensure we know exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing and we’re not making decisions based on distraction, frustration and shiny-objects. 

  1. Do you want to make more money?
  2. Do you want to transition into an entirely new business?
  3. Are you doing this for a clear learning purpose that has future outcome to implement the new knowledge and the ultimate goal for this project now is not to make money?
  4. Have you got your current business running really well so that you don’t have to spend too much time in it and you are willing to dedicate yourself to the new business in the aim that eventually you can run both?
  5. Are you doing this just for fun or for some other purpose I’ve not covered that doesn’t have an aim to make you much money and you absolutely adore it (in which case, can it be an awesome hobby? we all need those again!)

Knowing why exactly you’re taking this on means you can focus on it, set up the systems to do so, or discard it.

I wasted a lot of time on distractions in business. Yes I learned things in some of them but if I did it all again I would focus from the beginning (after the shenanigans of being a complete newbie with no business brain whatsoever). It takes dedicated effort to not do everything, all of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with starting new businesses, knowing the sacrifice and cost of doing so and understanding your ultimate aims and strategy.

But if you’re launching a new service outside of your current core business to make more money, there are likely many better ways to leverage what you’ve already built.

Brainstorm with some clever people and you could come up with a better business model, a more effective way of charging, automatic upsell opportunities, a change to your core service that doubles your money, optimization across your ecommerce site that brings back 3% of your abandoned carts and banks you thousands more dollars, a marketing campaign that has much better user engagement in your emails and in turn results in more sales, a CRM that actually means you stay in touch and you are valuable to your clients, a next level program, massaging your customer segment and so on.

You can think outside the box, but you should probably stay in your lane. 

Changing Companies

Ask a dedicated group of people in your company to come together to brainstorm (whether it’s 2 people or 20) and they will come up with 50 ideas on how to make the business better. Push them to dig deeper and by the time a few hours is up you’ll have upwards of 100.

Plenty of ideas worth talking about. Worth putting a priority on. Worth actioning.

Things that make staff happier, that increase productivity, that improve client relationships, craft better strategies and have a direct impact on your bottom line. Ideas that are innovative and make you a standout in your field. Ideas that make things so much easier or reveal new concepts that turn into an entirely new direction you pursue. Ideas that change the way you are internally and externally perceived.

And yet rarely does a company, or any business, ever do this. We get so wrapped up in the daily doings and the thinking that everything is on track whilst we keep adding to our to-do list, or desperately paddling to stay afloat, that we don’t do the simplest of things that could change everything.

Set your ego at the door, start jamming and filter through the immediately requiring action, the easy wins, the harder but worth-doing, the discarded and the on-the-cards.

Yes those 2 hours aren’t billable and you could be doing a million other things. But is that really more important than the company future and how you’re doing business right now? You can always get up earlier and to do the things you missed. If you still deem them important.

Your move.

Busy is not a burden

There are now thousands of articles about stopping busyness. Not being busy. Relieving yourself of the burden of busy. Telling us that busy is a disease. A bad thing you need to get rid of. Another thing you should not be.

But this is all a matter of perception.

If you’re busy with things you love, squeezing in hobbies you lose yourself in for hours, having a week full of friends & events, doing tasks that need to be done to get where you want to go, or tasks that you simply need to tick off the to-do list because life happens, isn’t that good?

Synonyms for busy include being involved in, engaged in, wrapped up, absorbed and occupied by. Gorgeous ideals.

If we were all happily immersed in the things we like doing each day (and taking rest when we need it, just like we know to go to sleep) then busy isn’t a curse.

We can talk about productivity if we want to discuss the efficiency of things we do. We can talk about the value we place on how we spend out time. We can talk about the downtrend of spending time on hobbies. We can chat about our priorities and energies. We can have deep discussions about stress and the causal factors. We can brainstorm passion and reshaping the work world. We can plan taking months worth of holidays filled with very little if your dream is to do that for a while (or forever). We can talk about all these things without entangling them into a disease of busyness.

You can have a full life living slow. You can have a full life you adore being busy. You can be busy because you spend hours in leisure time and then push out a few hours of work.

Remember how famous we made the line get busy living, or get busy dying?

Busy is just a word. The great thing is, you can choose to {re}define what it means for you.

Problems, not solutions

When I worked in the ‘big conglomerate of corporates world’, a common conversation took place that went something like this…

Project Manager/Department/Customer – “Install X” or “Negotiate a new contract with X so we can sign” or “Swap Y for X”

Us – “What do you require X for? Can you explain the problem you’re trying to solve?”

Them – “We need X”

Many meetings would take place. Frustration would eventually reach peak point. And X would happen. Not because some people wouldn’t think deeper or really attempt to pushback to find the most appropriate solution (sometimes at the cost of their future job prospects), but because the lack of boundaries between external clients, internal customers and managers with short-term (often bonus driven) vision, mostly made it a place good strategy and big picture, objective based thinking wasn’t executed (or rewarded).

In the world of our businesses a common example goes…

Client – “Please make X bold” 

Us – “Our understanding is that you’d like to emphasize X, or bring more attention to X and that’s not currently being reflected in what you’re seeing. We can achieve this in a number of different ways for the best outcome for you and your end users. We’ve created some solutions for that here. Do you feel this meets the objective?”

We’re lucky that in our own businesses we have a bit more control. Some freedom to educate, to expand ideas, to make the time to understand the core problem and devise solutions to that.

No matter what services field you’re in, you’ve likely come across a time where you’re provided with a solution rather than a problem.

But if you’re being hired as an expert (or if you’re hiring them) then you should hopefully be there for your knowledge and expertise. Which is to say we should understand the problems and present the solutions. Whether that’s your new architecture plan, technology process, interface design, new system, sales copy, marketing collateral etc – we should be creating in aim of solving/meeting an objective.

To foster this type of environment we’ve done the following ::

1. Added a why, objectives and problem statement area to our project proposals.

When we put together a project document that’s essentially our first document after we’ve had conversation to engage further that outlines the reason we’re working together (along with other items). This includes listing the objectives/goals of our work (generally 1 or 2 short/intermediate term and 1 long term) and the problem statements (i.e what problems currently exist that we’re looking to address through our work together).

This looks a little like this…

Present problem not solution - design proposal - startup corporate - objectives

2. Complete a business canvas for all clients we work with. 

We used to only use this for clients who were creating new products/services or in earlier stages to test a hypothesis first or work on customer development and now we do this for all clients. It helps us with the point above and it has a number of other purposes that make their business plan and our project really clear with something we can keep coming back to (or pivoting areas where needed). We start the canvas after chatting and send it back for review. Clients then add their additional thoughts or questions they have and we go through it. This is also a great way to make sure we’re on the same page for everything.

Using the lean canvas, we created a little one page PDF we use for this which looks something a la…
Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design brisbane

3. Added a point in our ‘providing feedback’ section of our Welcome Package to foster these types of questions.

In our section for this for design work we have a point that says…For your designs, please provide specific feedback. For example you may say ‘I/we would like to see more emphasis on X as this is important to convey due to Z’ as opposed to ‘make X bold’. There are many ways to place emphasis on an element through design – state the problem and let’s create a solution.
4. Ask more questions.

When we’re going through processes and workflows we ask a lot of questions. We need a very clear picture of what clients are doing during these phases (or their days). We also ask them to track certain things for a period of time. This often highlights problems which we can then discuss together and strategize solutions to.

During review processes (i.e for design) when we’re talking through certain elements we always try and come back to the why – why we’re doing this, what objective are we trying to meet, what do we want the user to understand or do? It doesn’t mean they’re wrong at all – they’re often totally legitimate concerns and they push the project to be better – but in reshaping the question we can understand and then solve the real problem which is the best outcome for everyone.

This is of course by no means perfect and there are many different ways to approach this, but it’s a start. After being in process for a few years it has had a significant positive impact on our clients, on their clients/customers/readers/users and on our internal team, job satisfaction & happiness levels.

This is one of the rare times where we can all happily say, let’s talk about our problems deeper. And once we understand and agree on the requirements, let’s create solutions.

You choose how deep you go

Although I’m yet to cover another half of the world’s countries, I’ve travelled fairly substantially. I’ve also moved endless times in my life and one thing has recently really struck me. No matter, where I am, I – and I alone – choose the depth I want in a community.

You can literally live in the busiest place in the world and not be engaged with that city. You take the bus to the office, you work in your building, you occasionally pop out for lunch (nearly always to the same places), you bid your colleagues a good night and transport back home to do dinner, and whatever else your evenings might entail (time with your partner, kids, work, study etc).

Or you choose to be involved. You go to meetup groups to purposefully interact with new people and establish new connections. You keep a Twitter list, Slack channel or RSS feed of a few significant sites & blogs in your town to catch the latest happenings. You find the things that interest you and you go out and discover your places and people. You hold together all of your nerves (and that anxiety of making friends as an adult), turn up at a random event and leave feeling inspired (still counts even if you curl up on the couch at home to recover from a bout of an introvert-going-out).

You look at local magazines. You trail your theatre sites. You’re on top of the new openings around the place. You stay in touch with startup spaces and one day you refer one of the launched businesses onto someone. You venture into other people’s worlds who happen to work with so-and-so who works in marketing and invites you to that thing you’re interested in. You go to a dance class. French class. Gin-making class. You join a gym that requires you to get fit in groups or partners. You attend the after work function that bring departments together and you go to that SUP yoga session your friends have been raving about. On Saturdays you head to the local markets and the stall holders eventually know you by name and invite you over for dinner one night.

And if absolutely nothing takes your fancy you start your own group, your own dinner parties, your own walking club. And you don’t give up after the first few.

You choose how deep you go.

The same applies to your business, your expertise, your studies, your hobbies, your friends, your lover, your everything. You always choose how deep you go.

(And if you’re still not entirely convinced, this guy has been studying broccoli for 20 years and writes papers titled Inflorescence identity gene alleles are poor predictors of inflorescence type in broccoli. I’ve also no idea how that’s a job, but deep it is.)

Motivation won’t get you there

A special person once said to me that when it comes to diet and exercise, vanity will only get you so far.

So too I think of what we choose to do with our lives and our businesses. Motivation will only get you so far, and often, not through the hard bits. 

Good habits coupled with constant consistency – that’s what really stretches your road.

We often get this wrong by confusing doing (the stuff that executes results) with being busy. Busyness feels like action – except generally it doesn’t produce outcomes. The ones you really want that is.

Steve Blank once had this story of his staff ::

One of Jim’s favorite phrases was, “I got the ball rolling with account x.” He thought that the activities he was doing – making calls, setting up meetings, etc. – was his job. In reality they had nothing to do with his job. His real job – the action – was to get the software moved onto our machine. Everything he had done to date was just the motion to get the process rolling. And so far the motion hadn’t accomplished anything. He was confusing “the accounting” of the effort with achieving the goal. But Jim felt that since he was doing lots of motion, “lots of stuff was happening.” In reality we hadn’t gotten any closer to our goal than the day we hired him. We had accomplished nothing – zero, zilch, nada. 

When I explained this to him, the conversation got heated. “I’ve been working my tail off for the last two months…” When he calmed down, I asked him how much had gotten accomplished. He started listing his activities again. I stopped him and reminded him that I could have hired anyone to set up meetings, but I had brought him in to get the software onto our machine. “How much progress have we made to that goal?”  “Not much,” he admitted.

At home this shows up in actually running the loads of washing, drying them and folding them away vs putting all the washing into piles in the laundry.

For looking and feeling good, that’s waking up at the alarm three days a week to go for the run not just buying the joggers, hiring the trainer and moving your schedule around to fit it all in.

In business that means going to the meeting, pitching your idea and landing the project rather than emailing 10 prospects.

For client work that’s ticking off those 5 annoying things on your to-do list that finish the project rather than replying to your emails all day.

That’s action vs the busyness of inaction. 

And no matter how much motivation you have, eventually that will cave. For a day. For a week. For a Summer or Winter or the year. Which is where your habits take over. They’re automated routine you’ve practised. Your fallback when all the other tricks don’t work.

Things that get me into the routine of result-producing-action (and I’m prone to falling off the rails!)…

  1. Scheduling in items to my calendar such as replying to communications 1x per day (i.e emails, project management etc) so the rest of the day is free for the true actions that create outcomes
  2. Holding myself to accountable routines (i.e blog post, email letter, stockist campaign on Thursday each week)
  3. Setting up practises to get me moving into the right action (i.e I boil some water, set a pot of chai, curl up in my corner and write for at least 30 minutes)

Make all of that non-negotiable. You create the habits. You set the routines. You get the outcomes and celebrate with little warm showers, dinners with friends…and eventually those big dreams.

How I eliminated 90% of my email

I know – one of those kind of titles. Except it’s true… and it’s pretty great. I used to be terrified of opening my inbox. It gave me anxiety and Sunday night blues. I’d get up and delay it as long as possible and then tentatively hope there was nothing terrible in there, nothing urgent, nothing too important, nothing that required my reply… nothing to spend the day replying to tens of emails.

And here’s the part I tell you I used to receive between 100 – 150 emails per day. Depending on who you are that’s either a lot or very little. Either way it was too much for me and took up far too much time and brain space.

If you want to be a great designer, you design all day.

If you want to be known for being an academic, you go and get degrees and do research papers.

If you want to have a birds eye view of your business, develop your company, step up culture, take new directions, expand your creativity into new zones…you don’t spend your days writing emails.

You don’t do a lot of things, so you can do those things exceptionally. 

So how do I get to that neat little inbox zero (that the OCD part in me feels like patting me joyously on the back for) most days?


Step 1. Archive

I was one of those people whose emails always stayed in their inbox. Between multiple work email accounts and personal. Read or unread. I always thought that was kind of normal. I tried email folder systems. Sometimes it worked. Often it didn’t because I just ended up searching my inbox for things. Until it started to drive me mental – the mental clutter of knowing I should clean it up, the unread email number always staring at me glaring in it’s red. So I switched over mail client to Airmail and promptly archived 12,000+ emails older than 3 weeks. Literally that means shift, highlight all, drag into archive folder. They’re all still searchable whenever I need to find something but I started at a clean slate. I went through the most recent emails, archived everything I’d actioned, and sorted everything else left.

Inbox Zero. Start again.

I promise you, it really is that simple and managing emails in folders is early always a waste of time with how we use technology now.

 

Step 2. Your Phone

Remove all email applications from your phone. You’ll stop getting distracted by them and you’ll learn to stop replying so fast and using email as your default communication method. Unless your job truly requires you as an absolute priority for you to stop what you’re doing and answer within 10 minutes.

 

Step 3. Project Management 

This and Slack have made the biggest impact on my emails. I analyzed the emails I was receiving on a daily basis and they largely fell into these categories (in order of relevance) ::

  • Client emails
  • Internal / team emails
  • Contractor & vendor emails
  • Newsletters from products bought through the company card
  • Interview & event requests, workshops, collaborations etc
  • Other

A good 70% was coming from the top 3.

After researching, working with and playing around with many of the tools, I landed on Trello for clients (and we use it for a lot of things internally too). It’s visual, it’s easy and there isn’t really a learning curve so it suits the people we work with who are already overburdened.

Creating a template board we use for each project we are then able to track all project milestones and specific items in there with checklists, comments, attachments etc. At any time we know where everyone is at and we can eliminate a huge number of emails through comments on the relevant Trello cards. It’s much quicker than email (no formalities, just jump in and say your thing), you can quickly tag anybody else, somebody else on your team can comment to answer and everything is tracked in very logical sections so each card has it’s purpose unlike emails which end up a jumble of varying items. Asana and Wrike are more robust and a brilliant options for bigger teams.

 

Step 4. Slack

I jumped on the Slack bandwagon back when it was in Beta. I didn’t quite know what I was looking for but it turned out to be a bunch of guys with a gaming start-up that didn’t work (how many love stories start that way?). I wasn’t that into it originally. I remember trying to work out how it would benefit me or anyone else and wasn’t all that convinced. Until, probably in a moment of pure frustration, I decided to really try it just for internal communications and stick with it. And it worked. A channel for the team and amongst team members – those emails were just immediately gone.

And so I decided to use it with clients – a channel per client. Anything outside of the project specific items in Trello could then be inside our Slack channel. Quick questions, a strategy jam, clarifying what the UX flow was, setting dates and checking in. All there. Now even our partners & vendors use it – our accountants are on Slack, it’s glorious.

People often ask me if that isn’t just a replacement for email, that it’s just the same? It’s not. Slack works in real time so you can just pop in, ask or reply and leave. You don’t need the formalities. You don’t need the structuring. It’s a real conversation in one logical place with everyone who needs to be involved. Somebody can reply immediately and you can converse or somebody can jump in an hour later and then somebody again 2 hours later and the conversation just keeps going and flowing. You can drop in files, work & save files in there (such as google or Slacks native notes), integrate applications (and emails even), and intelligently search. Also, brevity is sexy (this coming from the woman who was known for long emails). It’s helped to totally curb that. By being focussed and efficient, it’s cut out a huge amount of time – and all those emails. 

Slack also has an amazing phone app so if you do feel lost without your email client – here is your fix.

I use Slack for a lot more these days thanks to their bots, open community & hundreds of integrations & recipes (I’ll run through it in another post) and it’s now become an ecosystem from wherein a-lot-of-work instead becomes a-lot-easier.

Sidenote :: if you’re in a corporate, you’re in good company – teams at Samsung, Deloitte & NASA use Slack.

 

Step 5. Notify Me

All good things are still subject to our human tendencies. So schedule in your email checking times and set up your notifications properly. Unless you’re in a role where it is your sole focus to be answering emails all day (i.e that is what you’re competing on or the most important step to getting to where you want to go), then shut down your email inbox and open it at predetermined times (i.e block 1 hour of emailing in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon). It’ll help you to move communications into better areas where you can, keep your replies brief, necessary, kind and simple and not disturb your flow the rest of the day.

Same goes for notifications. You can set it up so you only get alerted when you specifically are tagged, by way of example. Or turn them off altogether and access when you purposefully make the time to.

 

Step 6. Unsubscribe

I have a seperate ‘junky’ email for things I’ve signed up to in the past (which gets a scan about once a quarter). My work emails are not the place for this but I often found once I’d purchased something for the business I’d land on newsletters. So hit that little unsubscribe on every email like that you receive (rather than simply deleting it like I did…because just like Aunt Mildred*, they keep coming back week after week) or use Unroll.me.

 

Step 7. Water your plants

These 7 thinking patterns or habits have helped me tremendously.

  • Am I getting anxious because I don’t like so many emails or because I’m not happy in that project/job/client situation? How can I change that?
  • If I stay on top of communications – often that’s just letting people know I’ll get to it at X date – then managing those expectations removes a lot of anxiety inducing communication.
  • The faster you reply, the more people expect fast replies. Set your boundaries – if it’s not changing the world, it probably doesn’t need for you to interrupt the work that actually needs to get done, right this minute.
  • In the corporate world if you leave an email for a little while you tend to get another one saying they solved the problem. Turns out it often works out the same in business.
  • Is it important or is it urgent?
  • There is war in Syria. And lots of other horrible things happening around the world. Is that email really that big a deal?
  • Plants take you outside. Away from your computer. You breathe real, oxygen filled air. It’s peaceful. And it’s not email. It’s good to step away and shut all communications for the night (plus lovers, music, food… and probably kids, require attention).

***

I could write entire posts about the benefits of each of these areas. There’s improved internal communication, no more lost files, actually effective meetings, beautiful integrations (i.e every time there is a comment on a Trello card in that specific board it can update you in the Slack channel or starring an item in Slack adds it to your Todoist list), better communications with clients, longer term relationships with clients because you’re always at hand for them right there, no more email angst, better team involvement for remote teams & initiatives for the group…and little bots that do things like process expenses, get everyone up from the desks, congratulate & check in with people, give you analytics at your whim and a ridiculous amount more. For the few emails you have left, you can even have them land in Slack and reply to them.

I now receive about 7-12 emails per day.

Occasionally email still has it’s place.

It’s just not a time consuming space.

*I don’t have an Aunt Mildred and I haven’t read Harry Potter or an old English novel lately. But it felt right to say it.

Update: as many people have asked, I do receive more emails in total in the form of unsolicited sales, media outlets or newsletters – I unsubscribe where I can and delete straightaway. 

What would you pay?

I stared at my wardrobe. All the clothes in there I never wore but kept for some reason as if to point out, hey, if you look into my closet, you’ll find a variety of options in here. I’m an equal opportunist for clothes I’d say.

Maybe I’d wear it to a fancy event one day. Maybe, in an act of fashion science, it would look good on me next time even though the last seven times I’d pulled it on, I stared in the mirror exasperated and tugged it right back off again. Maybe because I need to justify that silly impulse buy, by wearing it at least once. I know my economics I’d rationalize (happy to ignore the sunk-cost fallacy for the moment).

And so it went.

Until I lingered long enough looking at the high waisted black skirt and asked, how much would I pay for this right now to keep it?

And so it found its way crumpled into my determined hand and tossed behind me onto the bed to be gone. Onto it’s next journey. Done and out.

That’s how I decluttered my clothes all those years ago (and still continue to because golly I wonder how I bought that thing sometimes).

But recently in reading Essentialism I was posed a different question. One of those sought after, but rarely ever discovered questions that changes how you do business.

What would you pay to acquire that project or opportunity?

That payment is in time and money. That project you’re currently already working on or that opportunity that’s just been flung your way…say you already had it…what would you pay for it? To be a part of it? To commit your time, energy and money to?

Because a whole lot is flung our way constantly. That new start-up idea. That ‘quick’ consulting session for the guy you met at the event last week. The friend that wants lunch with you to discuss a business plan. The project inquiry you just received that seems like a helluva lot of work on a small budget. The meeting your client wants you to jump into tomorrow. The workshop you were just asked to run or the event to go speak at.

There is so, so much pulling us in every direction. Asking for our attention. Demanding it.

And then there’s our own work. The projects we love and the projects we start to resent.

Are any of these things part of your core focus areas? Do they get you to where you want to be going? Are they a distraction? A deflection? Are they keeping your business where it’s comfortable but where you can’t grow?

So what would you pay to acquire any of these opportunities, any of these current projects?

And with that answer you can start to direct your whole business…and probably your life. 

The science of persistence

“It is more likely that there are numerous universes…”

“Unless God put a wall behind ours”, one Brian stated.

“Or Donald Trump does”, the other Brian quickly quipped in return and the audience began laughing.

This was part of a discussion that elegantly skimmed across a whole range of ideas through string theory, quantum mechanics, relativity and the recently observed gravitational waves.

And those gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein 100 years ago – they’ve rolled themselves into our world. The world you and I orbit where certain bits of science become illuminating, fascinating and popular. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, watch this piece on the Stephen Colbert show explaining the discovery (incidentally this is one of the same Brian’s from the discussion above).

These scientists at LIGO, who understand complex theories and formulas of the fabric of space, far beyond the basic math most of us can master, discovered these waves that stretch and bend space-time…distortions of less than an atomic diameter (in human words, teeny tiny tiny).

So how did they detect them (and why do we care)?

Through lasers. Via a pair of merging black holes. And then through 40 years of persistence.

40 years of having to get funding from something they weren’t sure was going to happen.

40 years of persevering through frustration and doubt.

40 years of wondering whether the technology could actually detect something so teeny we can’t comprehend it’s smallness.

A result created from 50 times the power of all the stars in our universe (the power released by the colliding black holes) in just 20 milliseconds. Less than the time it’s taken you to read just one of these words.

And the scientists of the talk I had the privilege to sit in on, said three things about this discovery and of being a scientist, that I think apply to just about everything.

You need to persist. You need to have some luck. And you need to have the right constitution to keep with it. 

What we do in business is exactly the same. And that goes for life too. 

Across disciplines, the most knowledgeable scientists on Earth need to adhere to these principles and unlike their formulas, these things are easy for us to understand. They’re human.

And they’re something we can apply every day.

Selling what you do

“We create dashboards for managers”

“We’re solving traffic congestion for parents”

“We teach people how to sell authentically”

“I coach women through relationships”

The pitch. The elevator line. The value proposition. The ‘this is what we do’. The summary. Whatever you want to call it, these are just a few lines amongst hundreds I’ve heard over the years.

And they’re all missing a crucial element (or more).

The benefit. Actual, tangible, results. 

What’s the outcome?

It’s great that you do any one of those things but to what end? How is that benefitting the end user/economic buyer? That’s the end of the sentence you’re looking for.

We create dashboards for managers... so that they can assess cost savings and determine revenue opportunities for their clients.

It’s nearly always missing – and it’s crucial. Whether you’re putting words up on your website, presenting pitch decks to investors, trying to explain what you do so people buy from you or talking about your business internally – what’s the benefit? What do we actually get out of this? Why do we need it?

I recently listened to an absolutely eloquently presented pitch – and by the end of it I understood exactly who it was for, the problem, the partner channels, how they were going to market and sell it – but I had no idea what it actually was. None. The entire time my head was screaming to ask but what are you actually creating? How are you actually solving this problem? As technologists they’d built their product and completely forgotten to actually explain what they were making. To them of course, it was obvious.

It’s a trap we all fall into because we’re really in what we’re doing. It often takes an outsider or stepping back from your business and looking at it from a public point of view to determine if you’re bringing a clear – and sellable – offering to the table.

YOUR TURN

Think about what you do and assess if you’re able to state what your service or product is, who your customer segment is, what problem you’re solving and what benefit it’s providing.

Here’s a little script to get you started…

Our/my (product/service) _______________, helps (customer segment) _______________, that/who (problem/need) _______________, by (benefit)_______________.

or

We help (customer segment)  _______________  do (benefit)  _______________ by (product/service/solution) _______________.

 

For example ::

Our custom dashboards help managers at retail firms to stop wasting time in excel, and generate more income and clients, by analyzing for them how they can provide revenue opportunities to their clients. 

Start reading it aloud to people and remove any vagueness. 

A reasonable public person should be able to understand what you do and why, by hearing your value proposition. And they should be able to summarize it back to you (if you’re struggling, expand on what you do and ask them what you think you do – they’ll often give you language you can utilize).

What we’re creating here is actually a value proposition (and that’s something that we’ll continue to dig into) but for now remember problem, customer, solution, benefit.

Once you recognize these elements, you’ll start seeing them everywhere.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 10.51.17 AM

Everything is Possible in New York

“We can’t be part of the tradeshow.”

Why not I asked?

“Because it’s in a few months and there’s no way we can cart over all the set-up across the world and make it cost effective.”

It’s New York, I said. You can just hire it. I bet they have a solution for that already. Anything is possible in New York. 

A few minutes of googling later and there were a whole lot of options.

It’s possible in New York because it’s filled with people who are creating, and crucially, actually providing, that very thing you’re after.

Create it. Make it. Ship it.
And have your New York moment. 

Why don’t we just make it easier? (with a few hacks)

The Identity Lis Dingjan Systems for Business & Creatives

Every single month when I get my period it surprises me. That means I get surprised by that 12 times a year. Why? Because my months are so freaking jam packed and there’s so much going on in my head at any given point in time I literally never, ever remember when I last had it. Even if it was 3 days ago. Sometimes when I get a few stomach pangs I think ta-da I must be getting it! Clever me just intuitively knowing! Days later it still hasn’t arrived.

Do you know what that is other than too much information? It’s crazy. It’s crazy that I never know. It’s crazy that I’m guessing. It’s crazy that some days I don’t wear the white jeans because hey ho, today might be the day but it could also be in two weeks because who the hell knows.

You know what I could do? Write it in my freaking calendar. So I never have to give it head space again. Done.

And if you’re still with me (and I apologize, kind of), a lot of things in life and business are like that. It takes a couple of minutes of extra effort (or sometimes a few hours, days or weeks) and then like magic it’s on auto and you’re not spending extra time worrying, stressing, working more or using up vital head space.

I’ve been on a bit of an automating roll lately because it’s awesome to be busy (and I know we’re going through a phase of ‘busy isn’t an answer nor is it cool and busy business means successful so stuff you but I also want my business to be busy’) but busy also comes with it’s many hours, growth management (that can come as a sudden surprise) and a distant dream of holidays. And yeah, I have the same excuse as all of us – I don’t have the time. But at midnight some days it happens. It has to happen. It saves me hours and days of time over the course of a year for each task not to mention all that extra ‘stuff’ I just don’t have to think about it. Plus it gives me back mental room for creativity, helps my clients & makes life for everyone a lot better.

It’s about making it a priority.
It’s a little pain, and a lot of gain.

The best advice I could ever give anyone starting a business or growing one ever other than ‘start’ and ‘keep going’ is set your systems up now (and yesterday would’ve been better).

Inquiries to answer to? I’ve got a handy little zap set up that moves all my contact form inquiries through this site and creates it it’s own little card on my inquiry list on the project management board in Trello so I never miss one again (automatically with a colored label so I know where it came from).  Try Zapier or IFTTT to set up zaps!

Services inquiry to work with you? I’ve got a beautiful, easy little 18 page booklet that covers nearly everything you’d want to know before we chat further that will be sent out with a little personal email. It works in so many ways but it ensures I’m not answering similar emails constantly, it leaves a good impression, it makes me really comfortable in what we’re offering and it essentially ‘filters’ clients if we’re not a good fit (if the website hasn’t already) so it wastes nobody’s time.

Sorting out a time to schedule a call? A quick link to the booking system on this site and we’re set. In your own time zone, with reminders, appointments in everyones calendar and all that jazz. Try Acuity or Appointlet if you’re looking.

Payments to manage for projects ahead of time? Again I’ve got a zap set up for this one. For BrandBurst (a small project I run with 2 other awesome ladies) we have a payment system and we share a Google file that we consistently update to manage all our wonderful clients. But I’ve also got it set up so when we receive a payment that creates a card automatically in my ‘burst booked’ list in Trello (on a separate BrandBurst board). When the questionnaire that Lyndz & I need is completed after the session with Bec, the card gets added to the ‘questionnaire completed’ list and I know I’ll be starting on it shortly.

Questionnaires & Client Intake? The above leads me very easily into this. Either have questionnaires embedded in your site for easy submit or (especially if they’re longer) create branded PDFs (that are filleroutable) send them to your client and they can type, save and voila you’re done.

Always forgetting calls, groceries or things to do? Put it in your calendar. Now. Put it in your tasklist. Now. Try Wunderlist. It’s gorgeous and syncs across all your devices. No more attempting to remember and getting frustrated you don’t!

Creating an invoice? Use a system where you can reuse line items and don’t just guess your prices each time. Come up with a pricing system so you’re not left calculating costs (and so you know you’re actually going to make money, not work for a few dollars an hour and start to resent what you do). Try Pancake, Harvest or Solo.

Forgetting how many hours to charge or even knowing how many hours you spent doing that? Use an automatic timer! Try Toggl, Rescue Time or many of the invoicing systems (like the ones mentioned above) have it inbuilt.

Losing files or digging around for them? Set up a file structure that works for you. For example all my client projects start with an abbreviation of the client business or name and are ordered in specific folders (like invoicing, legal, website which has subfolders like graphics etc). This is all then backed up in Dropbox and once a week I do a Time Machine back up (a hard lesson after having to reconstruct an entire operating system no less than 3 times in one week).

Type the same email over and over? Create a frequently asked questions page on your site that you can point people to and/or create blog posts about it. Then copy the last email you wrote, make a bit of a template out of it and save it in your drafts folder with the subject & template. If you’re using gmail you’ve got a few other tricks up your sleeve like canned responses. Or outline it on your site on a page somewhere (like the process image we now have!). Or you can have an auto responder if you’re into that.

Always flicking back to a tab? Pin that baby! Depending on your browser, right click and hit pin. For me Gists (where I store code I’ve written) and Trello are always and forever pinned because I access them multiple times per day. Anything to save scrolling through 37 open tabs!

Developer always in FTP? Using something like Filezilla and add the sites you regularly have to access to your Site Manager. No searching around your forever inbox for usernames and passwords anymore.

Do something on your website or blog posts frequently? Ask a developer to come up with an easier solution for you! For example, if you spend 45 minutes formatting a blog post or a page in similar ways each time, get a template custom coded up so this can reduce down to 5 minutes. Or perhaps it needs a shortcode (something we build into all custom clients sites now) that you can regularly use. It costs money but if you save 5 hours a week, which is 20 a month you could either spend a helluva lot more time with friends or family, be in the bath every week day for an hour or you know…do 20 hours extra work to bring more money in!

Frequently accessing numerous apps? Create a dashboard to see it all in the once place! Try Leftronic, Geckoboard, Ducksboard or if you’re a developer and happy with the Sinatra framework create your own gorgeous dashboards with Dashing.

There are so many insanely, amazing things you can use these days to make technology actually work for you (not ensure it takes up more time than ever before).

Make it a goal to automate or streamline one or two process every week and in a few months you’ll find life is a hell of a lot smoother.

It’s an ongoing process. Things change. New stuff happens. Growth can be wonderful and wonderfully painful. But business (and life) doesn’t have to be so hard. It’s smart to set these things up. You shouldn’t be slogging through. You don’t become a more qualified entrepreneur by doing a whole heap of crap that makes you busier than you should be. 

My next on the hit list? A better team management tool so we can all be comfortable and on the same page, a custom client dashboard tool, and further down the track a whole different way of reading this blog and templates for me to make it a better experience.

It’s never going to be perfect and it’s never going to be the ‘one solution that will solve everything for life now and ever amen’. But it will help. It will streamline. It will free your time up. You will get time to exercise. And make love. It will help your clients and help you get more clients. It is worth it.

Have a system you love that’s your secret little hack or does one of the above strike your fancy?

What does it take to like yourself?

We place our self worth on a hell of a lot of external factors.

The Facebook likes and comments. The tweet replies. The Instagram loves. The stats on our daily website visitors. Blog comments. Emails from strangers. Compliments from friends. Praise from clients.

The fact that we cannot possibly go on a 2 week holiday without checking our email or phone because what the hell if someone needs us? Or what if you opened your email, facebook or text messages after that time and not one person had reached out? Not one.

In some form they all tell us how much we’re liked and in turn they affect how much we like ourselves. Our mood of the day.

The Identity Brisbane Website Design Development Lis Dingjan Self Worth Away From Facebook

But far beyond these numbers our self worth plays a game of ping pong faster than a gymnast turns off the beam in our daily lives.

  • The clients and customers you have. What are they emailing you? Do they like your work? Are you getting negative or positive feedback? Are they leaving reviews? Can you not seem to please them?
  • The boss you have. Is he down your throat a bit lately? Pushing you for more and more? Did you just lose your job?
  • When you provide a workshop or give a speech – how many people attended? How many thanked you later?
  • The person you secretly are a little bit in love with. Have you told them? And if not, which most of us hold off on, what if you told them and they didn’t say it back? What does that say about you?
  • What place you finished at that competition.
  • People admiring you for your charity works?
  • Are your friends texting, emailing, whatsapping and tagging you? Are you in their status, their orbit, their thoughts? Are they validating you with their words or have you fallen off their planet for a while?
  • Does your partner call you beautiful/handsome? Do you feel a teensy, weensy bit crappier when that passes for a few days. Do you feel fully loved and without that how do you feel about yourself?
  • The new yoga (insert any other activity) class you’re taking. Why aren’t you as good as everyone else? Who else is noticing?
  • Are you getting recognition in your industry? Awards? Do people want to partner up with you? Interviews? Requests?
  • How booked in advance are you? Clients and friends for coffee. What the hell does a day look like without commitments? Idealistically you’d like it but really truly, shouldn’t you be working (don’t people need your work) or why are you not with friends?
  • Written a blog post or facebook update and then not posted it because of how it might be received? What people might judge you on for those words.
  • Failed your last exam? What does that say about your intelligence and ability to learn?
  • Cannot for the life of you figure out how to put that damn IKEA thing together? Well thousands of others obviously can, what’s wrong with you?
  • Do people compliment you often? Can you see a few cheeky eyes-over-your-body silently letting you know you’ve got a figure worth ogling at? Does somebody want to get you naked? Are you being kissed? How long do you spend in front of the mirror? Or conversely, do you avoid it as much as possible?
  • How many degrees do you hold? When people ask about your past experience & your education how enamored are they by your answer?
  • Have you questioned your entire business or project on the back of a few words from a potential client, current client, friend, mentor or family member?
  • What about the people who judge you without evening knowing you? On your religion or atheism, on how you look, on who you’re dating/seeing and the incorrect preconceived notion of why?
  • The amount of money you make. Do some people look shocked at your rates or salary? How much does what you charge say about yourself? What if people are simply not willing to pay more for what you make/do/provide?
  • How do you feel when you take people to your house? Your car? What do you feel you’re saying about yourself with the clothes you wear? What do you think others are saying?
  • The event you turn up to alone. The date you go on. The evening with a new friend. What if it was a flop? What if you feel humiliated? Do they find you interesting? Are you boring? Do people want to talk to you? Will you ever see them again?
  • How much do you say no to yourself in order to say yes to others? In other words, how often are you people pleasing? Do you feel like you have to make others happy or try to twist yourself up to meet their needs or requests (there’s a difference between being nice and in line with your own wants/needs)?

You may not say I’m a terrible person. I suck. I’m crap. Or sometimes you may. But what do your feelings tell you? A bit of disappointment? Frustration?  Sadness? Embarrassment? Feel bad about yourself? Rejected?


What if we took absolutely everything away. What if it was just you – naked – standing at the ocean. You have nothing but yourself. No external validation. No facebook, instagram, twitter, pinterest or tumbler. No material property. No business or job. You have a couple of days of total stillness. Nobody wants you or demands your time. You don’t have one email or one like. Picture that for a moment.


How do you know how to value yourself?

We all know people who have enormous douchey egos. Often they need the absolute most external validation and are the unhappiest with themselves (but will defend this like crazy if confronted). But even if we try not to let our ego get in the way, we all have one, playing hide and seek within our hearts and minds.

In no way do I have a secret, magical answer to valuing yourself simply by being you. By removing yourself from all external factors. We all like to receive validation. Even without external sources, our efforts show us our improvements and we get addicted to the feeling of what’s next.

If I fancy a man, I could just ask them out or kiss them…couldn’t I? I could do it right now, if I attached absolutely no self worth to it or trusted that the feeling of humiliation, rejection and disappointment would quickly pass if I let it.  I don’t think I’ve ever told someone I was in love with them without hearing it from them first, or being exceptionally clear they loved me too. I talk about getting vulnerable and uncomfortable, but I’ve never let myself in that moment.

Intrinsically, buried deep, deep down and with all the facades and layers covering it I place some kind of worth on the reciprocation. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

If I knew, I was oh so sure, that I could help business ABC and I just knew deep down I could generate way more revenue for them in turn why haven’t I approached them? Is it the fear of rejection and how that makes me feel about myself in turn? Would it make me question my business?

Maybe you’re doing that too? Or perhaps you don’t tell anyone about your great ideas (or even your business) in fear of similar things?

It feels good when clients love my work or potential clients reach out with an email because of my portfolio. I like presenting an awesome workshop or having people adore the photos I take of them. I secretly like when my dad tells me he’s proud of me (despite not ever doing anything with that in mind). And I like all that for a host of reasons – work appreciation – but also as a recognition of the effort I dedicate towards those things.

But how much I value myself, my self esteem, my worth, how I feel about myself deep down, shouldn’t depend on those things and it shouldn’t change because of those things. It should be as minimally affected as possible. If I receive absolutely none of that (which was definitely the case when I started business), and zero social media interaction, I should still value and like myself. When I receive negative feedback on designs, or people don’t agree with my business decisions – that shouldn’t change how I feel about myself. So when I’m humiliated and embarrassed – which are just feelings – do I still like myself?

When all I’ve received is crappy feedback from my work do I still believe in myself?

When I go to an event by myself and I’m all awkward, feel stripped bare and lack the confidence I’d normally exude in being comfortable in my own skin, what am I feeling about myself?

When I can’t place my problems, hopes, desires, dreams, nightmares, fears and anxiety in the hands of any omnipotent being (such as one of the gods) or any crystals or other external forces, how do I feel with my struggles, my responsibility, my actions & the choices I’ve made? In that pure vulnerability, how strong am I really?

When I can’t get into any of the yoga poses, whilst everyone is holding handstands around me, do I feel embarrassed about myself? Do I think it’s worthwhile continuing on? Do I still like myself despite the frustration? Does it affect my mood the rest of the day?

Do I feel I should post this even though if I read it one more time I’ll want to delete it because people might disagree or argue? Or because I have 1,000 other conflicting thoughts on this but there’s not enough space to get them out logically. Or because in 6 months my thoughts might evolve?

When I’m not sure if he likes me, when he hasn’t kissed me, when I’m confused by how he feels – do I still think I’m worthy of that love and like myself even if he never makes a move? Would I tell him I was falling for him and be absolutely OK with how I feel about myself if he didn’t say anything back?

Do you dare to say you love yourself? Do you dare to say it aloud or to anyone else?

It’s very easy for me to sit here from my little perch. Sure I’ve lived with nothing and I purposely expose myself to those situations, but they’re never permanent. I live in this crazy world where I was born in an exceptionally lucky country who will pick me up if I truly find the deepest depths of the barrel.

If I suddenly had no work and no emails tomorrow for months, how would that affect my self esteem?

There’s also the internal battle in my mind that we are humans. We crave connections. And it’s a beautiful thing to love someone and shower them in love. And that in turn means we’re even happier in those times. But uncoupling yourself from those things and determining the distinction between that as feelings rather than validation, and that as love from others rather than love you have for yourself; therein lies how you like yourself. 

And that’s a difficult thing to do.

Feelings come and feelings go. You can feel them and just like you needn’t act on them, they needn’t determine how you feel about yourself.

It’s a constant practice.

Fact. You Just Can’t Please Everyone.

Even Kirsty and Phil can’t. And they are location, location, location specialists. A good 18 seasons in.

I’m addicted to that (and Grand Designs) and sometimes I’ll watch an episode where people desperate to buy their home just don’t like anything they’re shown. And consequently don’t buy. Even when it’s the absolute best they can get right then.

Despite the specific criteria, the one on one cafe chats, the ability to read their faces and reactions in person, in the house. Despite the fact that Kirsty and Phil have a team, are experts in their field with a lifetime of experience, know the market intimately, have worked with thousands of people, are constantly on the hunt and ahead of the eight ball. Despite all of that, sometimes they still can’t get it on the mark.

And most often? It’s not their fault.

Sometimes you just cannot please people. And more specifically, sometimes you just can’t please your clients.

You can do absolutely everything possible, way beyond scope & budget, you can drive yourself mental and they’re still not happy.

It’s just part of this shindig.

You’ve got to get to a point in your business where you’re able to ‘filter’ out the majority of these people. The ones you can never please. The ones where you’re unable to reset expectations to a realistic level. The ones that are unclear and vague. The ones that are adamant they have clarity but really? Um no.

Location, location, location makes me feel sane.

There are two rather big camps splitting the creative world. Do everything the client says (no matter how crappy or bad, or what they ask), or take the creative lead, compromise, come up with better ideas and also push back when needed and strive for their business objective and integrity of the project.

I love that Kirsty often gets to a point where she sits down with her clients and lays it out.

This is your budget. This is what you want. Not everything is possible. Where are we going to focus, what are we going to trim. Even with a million pound budgets, rarely is absolutely everything ever perfect.

I also love that they go after what their clients need, rather than what their clients think they want.

I watched the latest episode today where Phil was working with a couple who had a ‘definitely do not want’ list. On that list? New house builds.

3rd option Phil gave them? A new house build.

What did they buy? The new house build.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
–Henry Ford

Sometimes people have no idea what they truly want. You’ve got to try and see beyond the words and figure it out.

Some people know very clearly. You’ll hit the mark dead on, every time.

But others?

Don’t just ask what they want. Ask why they like certain things. Why that inspires them. What they want to feel. What their requirements are. What they understood. What they don’t understand. What they’re struggling with. What’s their pain point. Why do they want this? Who their customers are.

Listen closely. Strike a balance. Don’t let it strangle your skill to innovate and create.

And then position it in such a way your clients can understand why it’s what they wanted all along (or more).

In the majority of cases you’ll be able to give your clients exactly what they need so they’re over the moon with you. In a small fraction of cases it doesn’t matter what you do.

Learning to recognize the latter is just part of your business. Improve your processes. Tighten your client intake. And take away what you can from the experience.

But don’t beat yourself up.

Let it go.

Even Kirsty & Phil don’t always have it on the mark.

The be all isn’t Marie Forleo

As a designer, one of the most common requests I receive from women is ‘I’d like a site like Marie Forleo’.

Which these days tends to illicit this response in me..urrrrgggghhh. Marie’s site is clean and simple, absolutely. It’s a great design and it’s been well thought out. It can be a style inspiration. But everybody’s business is different and you do not want to end up with a site just like hers.

If your sole focus isn’t being a blogger, you’re better off having a few other interesting things on your home page. You might have a different call to action. You could be way more creative. Your target niche could be into a way different style. And your business is YOURS. Not Marie’s. It should be your beautiful brand.

Plus we want the internet to be super high quality, clean, creative and full of goodness and unique you-ness!

Full disclosure:: I think a number of Marie’s videos are great with some solid advice but often she also doesn’t resonate with me. I’m not her perfect client – and that’s totally fine (and doesn’t make me a bad online, female business person!). I respect her for what she’s done and where she’s risen from. It’s an incredible journey and it’s one we should all keep in mind…it didn’t just happen and it took a helluva lot of hard work, persistence and truck loads of what I’m sure were ‘I just want to cry and hide from the world’ moments and then pushing on beyond that.

But because a lot of people are comparing their beginnings or middles to Marie’s current business structure I thought I’d go back into the web archives and see where she started.

Right back to 2001 and for quite a few years after. With a website that looked like this…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

Marie Forleo - How she got started

A number of years later she changed the business to ‘The Good Life’ and had a website revamp to this (2005)…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

In 2010 we shifted gears again and went back to the Forleo brand…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

Followed by more tweaks a few months later (there are always tweaks to websites I promise!)…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

And then in early 2012 it changed to the style and big booming brand we know it to be now…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

 

So if you’ve just discovered Marie in the last 2 years you’d be thinking WOWEE this woman is on fire. And indeed she is. With a team to boot. Except she’s been going online since 2001. That’s like 12 years ago…around the time the internet started (or rather, the time Australians started cottoning onto it).

Of course website building 10 years ago was far crappier than it is today. And it looks like she had someone else do it from the start, but the point is you’ve got to start somewhere right? Building a brand takes time. A lot of it. Coupled with determination, persistence, belief in yourself and a helluva lot of hustling.

Want another example? I was recently discussing a new project with a client (I hate this word by the way, we always become brilliant friends that I can’t wait to hang out with more!) and we looked back through the history of Rough Guides. They’ve been going along since 1982 and had their first site up in the late 90’s.

1999… Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2000…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2001…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2007…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2010…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2013…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

 

There will be millions of these examples. Your brand, your website and your business are living, breathing things. They will change and evolve. You will step it up. You will invest. You may pivot directions or hone in further. Shops don’t splash a color of paint on and leave it for the next 10 years. Logos are constantly changing, branding is re imagined, style is revamping and websites – along with keeping up with technology changes – are revamped every few years in line with the business. It makes money. It makes you keep loving your business. And it makes your customers care.

If you’re easing your way into the online world and you haven’t figured out what you’re doing or where you’re going I would never recommend investing 5-20k on a website. By all means get a theme, pay someone a few hundred dollars to tweak it for your business (you don’t need to waste your time doing this) and get started. Figure it out.

Only when you’re truly clear on what the hell you’re doing and who you’re doing it for should you go custom and pro. If that’s on your first online launch – that’s great! But I highly recommend being absolutely clear on what you’re doing, the big vision that you’re determined to achieve and keeping focused.

Do I think you should custom brand and invest in your business? Abso-freaking-lutely. If your website is your primary source of income and marketing, you need to do this (there’s good reason all the ‘big players’ online are all upgrading their websites right now). You wouldn’t set up a shabby, stock standard, bland looking store in the city (that 25% of all people can’t get through the door in…yup I’m talking mobile) and expect to do demanding-my-god-we-love-you-and-keep-wanting-to-come-back business right? Oh and online you’re competing with over 345million other websites. Bet your city doesn’t have that many stores down town!

But you could set up a lemonade stand, build your foundation and move on up to that awesome store.

You get clear, get the vision and plan in place, test or have worked in the market, and invest in your idea and go pro. Or you dabble, you play, you figure out what it is you’re doing and who you’re doing it for, you make your beginning steps and you grow from there. Then one day you relaunch and turn the volume up on your brand and amplify your business. Can you do it quicker than Marie? Of course, particularly if you’re working with a business coach (like Becca at The Uncaged Life), you’ve dabbled in the online world before or worked in your market or you’re relaunching and are crystal clear on that next level (you should be able to explain it in words).

I had no idea I would start a business when I first got into the online world. On the suggestion of a friend I set up a blog rather than sending 6 page emails (ok, maybe more) of my journeys around the world. So I did. This is what it looked like.

Journeys in the Cloud - How Businesses Evolve

Not terribly great at all. Pretty crappy actually. Weeks before this I didn’t even have a photo of me because I didn’t want anyone to know. Nor an about page. Something I would convince you to have! I knew no one online. I had no idea what I was doing with a blog. I had no idea I’d suddenly see that other people had businesses outside the corporate world and I was determined to do that as well. I’d always been a creative soul and had regularly escaped the office to live my other life. I had the biggest learning curve EVER. I’ve never learned so much as I did in that first year (and I’ve studied a couple of degrees). Seriously, it went something like this.

New Business Learning Curve + Tears

These days I learn something new every day. Every new project is the opportunity to learn new things. To get better and better. Whether that be about coding, design, resources, new integrations, technology, Photoshop, illustrator, after effects, business or people I learn every single day. And I learn so much about other people’s businesses, dreams and desires and then I learn about mine more too.

I still have crazy, tear your hair out days but they’re much calmer now. I know I’ll figure it out and I know that I’m pushing myself every single project. To grow you have to keep learning and experimenting.

There’s only one way to bridge the gap between your vision and your current skill and that’s do the work and learn. And the best way to learn? Through doing. Through volume. Once you bridge that gap and grow beyond your original vision it comes down to refinement and focus.

Businesses evolve over time. Over the years. They hone, perfect, develop and grow. My own biz right here? You may have noticed it’s had a few random tweaks. Many services have disappeared. The portfolio has barely been updated all year. A few things aren’t quite right. I’ve been so, so busy with amazing projects that my site has taken a big hit. And so I can’t wait to revamp in December. To invest back into my business. So it’s way better for you, it’s better for me and so we have a kick ass 2014. But that’s just it…

You’ve just got to start and keep on going.

Wherever it is that you are, that’s an excellent place to start from.

Just start your business