What an angel with one wing taught me about running a business

I recently moved house and inherited a nice garden with a little angel figure hanging from the decking, right in front of my dining-room window. I laughed when I first saw this ornament because the angel figure only had one wing. Probably broken, I thought. Will have to move it because it doesn’t fit with my idea of perfection, I thought.

But recently I got to thinking that I rather like the angel with one wing. She reminds me that however high we might soar, it’s good to keep at least one foot on the ground.
Humility is something which serves us well. Arrogance, particularly in dealings with other business people or clients does not. It’s good to have a reality-check from time to time and look at what is working in our business and what isn’t.

When we’re flying high, it really is crucial to remember how we got there in the first place and who we need to thank or appreciate.

So whatever you’re up to, remember that perfection isn’t necessary and sometimes one wing is better than two….
Love Louise

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Slow down to get faster

I recently caught some of the Formula One race in Monte Carlo on TV and something happened which stuck in my mind. The leading driver, Lewis Hamilton, got something in his eye, and this problem caused him to lose precious seconds at the head of the race, and to lose time repeatedly lap after lap. He was complaining about his discomfort via his on-board radio but he didn’t at any time slow down to remove the eyelash – or whatever it was – nor did he take a pit-stop. If he had used some time to rectify the situation, he would have got faster again (his car was the best on the track) and could then have won more comfortably in the end, instead of risking his own safety for the sake of maintaining his speed (which was counter-productive anyway).

Sometimes, you just have to slow down to get faster. Slowing down gives you time to remove the hurdles, take the jumps and produce better quality in the long-run.

Take Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, and the fascinating subject of Sten Nadolny’s book “The Discovery of Slowness”. In his book*, Nadolny portrays how a seeming disability enables Franklin to wait, because he must wait, and apply “slowness” to all things. As a consequence, he attains unimaginable victories which astonish the more ‘hurried’ multitude around him. His slowness is the secret to his success.

So, focus on the task at hand (although I’m NOT advocating perfectionism here!) and don’t multi-task, slow down in your work and see what happens – I’ll wager better quality, better nerves and a better sense of time overall.

Furthermore, if you’re building your business, take a pit-stop from time to time. You’ll find that the ‘breather’ you award yourself will pay dividends in the long run. You’ll be more refreshed and creative when you go back. This can be a short break every hour, or a full day off a week when you remove yourself completely from your work activities.

Beavering away like a power house might fit with your own perception of what it means to be a successful entrepreneur but sometimes, slowing down can be a chance to savour and enjoy the ride.

After all, life is a journey, and so is running your own business.
Have fun – and slow down!
Louise

*“The Discovery of Slowness” by Sten Nadolny: Original title die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit, translated from the German by Ralph Freedman, 1983 Viking Penguin

Three lessons we can learn from ebay…

You are all probably familiar with ebay and have done some selling on there at one time or another. However, I am pretty much an ebay novice and it was only when we moved offices recently and had to sell a lot of stuff that I ventured into the world of online selling.
This whole experience has taught me a thing or two to apply to my own business:

Lesson 1: Cultural awareness and sensitivity is key to a successful sale – on both sides Find out about your target market and adjust your sales strategy appropriately.
Hamburg is a culturally diverse city with a good mix of immigrants (myself included!) and in the last few weeks I have dealt with visitors from many different nationalities all coming to the home office and looking at what was on offer. I found that all the Eastern European and Asian people who came drove a hard bargain – they really enjoyed negotiating and took their time – whilst the German people paid the asking price, stayed only a short length of time and were highly organized and reliable regarding time and date of visit.
In our institute we teach cultural awareness and we sometimes hear students say “Isn’t this clichéd? Aren’t you over-generalizing?” Well, the answer is “not really”. If you are selling a product or a service, whether that be a coffee machine on ebay or a highly specialized software system on your company’s website, it is essential to be aware of and, where possible, adjust to the mentality of your target customers.

Lesson 2: Know the difference between price and value
I generally aim for win-win. However, in one case I had to let the interested party go because he insisted on paying way too small an amount for something. Although I felt a bit bad about this, it reminded me:
Whatever you are selling in business, don’t be afraid to name your price, know your bottom line and stick to it. This is especially true for freelancers selling their qualified services: If you sell yourself under-value, you will start to resent things sooner or later. Also, never apologize for your prices. Explain how you add value and why you are worth your price. Better not to get the sale than to compromise too much and feel resentment.

Lesson 3: Respect your own needs
In your daily business as an entrepreneur your own needs are paramount. If you feel stressed or under pressure, the negative energy you feel will work against you. It is important to voice your own needs and wishes and prioritize them.
This is something I thought I was aware of. However, when I first started selling online I literally bent over backwards for all the potential customers – letting them always choose time and date to visit and adjusting my own schedule accordingly. Surely enough, this started to backfire and people sometimes just didn’t turn up, didn’t bother to cancel and stopped answering their phones even though they’d asked for a call-back. I was most put out until I realized that I was the one responsible for creating this situation. Now I stipulate time and date to suit me first and since then I haven’t had anyone go awol on me.

Until the next time – stay profitable!
Louise

Looking after the rocks first … or mindful priority-setting

The following story is one that’s been circulating for a while. It holds a very important message regarding setting priorities in our lives – whether we are business owners or not:
A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a large glass jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was full.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They laughed and agreed that it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions.
If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

Take care of the rocks first – things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

Even if this story is not new to you, let it trigger a reminder that the rocks really do matter. You can label the glass jar “My working day”, “My business” or “My life in general” and decide on the priorities (rocks) for each one. Just like Diane Keaton had a jar of white pebbles on her desk in the film “Something’s gotta give” (appropriately named film in this case!) you can even use a real jar and real stones as an ornamental and subtle reminder to make time for what really matters in life.

Source used for re-telling the pebble story with grateful thanks:
http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=264&page=2

Why Vampires are good for books, but bad for business!

Although I do prefer to focus on the positive in my blog, I decided to devote this week’s article to one of the problem areas that new (and established) entrepreneurs may face.

Beware of ‘energy vampires’ – people who tell you things can’t be done or that you are not capable of doing something. Starting your own business is a big, courageous step to take and you may find that some people around you start projecting their own fears onto you and your venture, causing you to doubt yourself. They can show you blatant negativity, for example by saying: “You are crazy; one of my friends started their own business last year and barely made enough to live on. They had to take a part-time job just to pay the rent!”.

On the other hand ‘energy vampires’ can be very subtle:

When Robert and his business partner Karl moved their IT company into a larger office in their second year of business, they panicked and hired an administrative assistant because they thought they wouldn’t create the right impression without one. They suddenly had lovely new rooms, ringing telephones and postal deliveries to deal with and felt this warranted a third person to deal with the expansion. All went well for the first couple of weeks. Then, things started to change.

This particular P.A. would wrinkle her nose up at any suggestion Robert made that was out of the ordinary. She often gave her own opinion before tackling the task at hand and the opinion was usually that his suggestion wasn’t a good idea in her view. Imagine how destructive that can be to your motivation on a daily basis. Not to mention frustrating. Needless to say Robert and his assistant soon parted company. Robert and Karl now have a sign in their office that reads: “The one who says it can’t be done should not interrupt the person doing it”.

Robert told me: “We hired an assistant because people told us it was the right thing to do. We didn’t stop to think if we really needed one. We were feeding our ego. The fact that we hadn’t thought this through led to us attracting the wrong kind of candidate. It was a bad match for us and it poisoned the whole atmosphere for a while.”

So make sure you surround yourself with positive people. Seek out mentors and supporters who are happy and content with their lives. You will also find that ‘energy vampires’ or ‘toxic people’ disappear from your life anyway, the more you strike out affirmatively and confidently. Take decisions slowly and measure them against your personal beliefs and mission.

Remember: You don’t need anyone’s approval for your business venture, but your own.

And finally: Protect yourself from negativity in general. Watching the news on TV last thing at night or reading the newspaper in bed will have a negative impact on how you sleep. Instead, keep a notebook by your bed and write down what you are grateful for each day before you shut your eyes. Have a book of inspirational quotes handy or start compiling your own. Join a social network like “Twitter” and surround yourself with positive people who send inspiring and supportive quotations and messages on a daily, even hourly basis. Make sure your screensaver or wallpaper carries a positive image or message you can focus on throughout the day.

Good luck and leave the vampires to Hollywood…

Achtung! Are you becoming an “intro-preneur”???

When I was in Vienna last week I read an article in a local magazine and had one of those “A-ha!” moments I would like to share with you…

Anyone who has started their own business knows how it feels: the all-consuming passion and drive that fuel you in the initial phase, the adrenaline rush when your first client says “Yes!”, the sense of pride at having (finally) started doing your own thing, the pangs of fear and trepidation that sometimes strike when things don’t go to plan…

If we harness this initial passion and energy it will sustain us through the less glamorous or more arduous side of entrepreneurship such as; the relentless paperwork and bookkeeping, the cold calls that need to be made, sometimes frustrating visits to local authorities to get necessary permits sorted out, staff grumbles etc.etc.

Yes, passion and energy are great –and essential for running a business. However, if you reach a point where you are so driven to work that you do your thing 24/7, you might find yourself becoming alienated from friends (or even worse  – your partner!) , dropping your hobbies, quitting sport and basically becoming an all-round introvert (and a rather unhealthy one at that).

“Oh, that’s obvious”, I hear you say. “Work-life balance again, groan, tell us something we don’t know…”

Actually it’s not that obvious folks, that’s the point. I had to do the test in said magazine to prove to myself that things had gone too far; that I really HAD become a… (gasp!)  INTROVERT – after 5 years running my own business. I train people and I speak to them all day. On the surface I look like a pretty outgoing sort of girl…INTROVERTED is not a word I have ever used to describe myself. I thought I was an expert juggler of all what makes up my life. Then, through the answers to the test, I realized that I had become a 24/7 entrepreneur. An introvert, with no real time for friends, sport or other interests on a regular basis and this had built up over the last 5 years. This one had crept in very very slowly…

And so this blog article carries an appeal to all my hard-working fellow entrepreneurs out there. Life is not just about work. Successful entrepreneurship does not mean a 24/7 commitment. Hard work can have a beginning and an end. And I’m not talking about coming home and flopping in front of the television until you go to bed. I’m asking you to look at how much time you spend reading for pleasure, talking to friends, interacting with people outside of your business, doing something you really enjoy. Do yourself a little pie chart of the percentages. You might be shocked by the result. And start scheduling something back into your diary. You can start with one thing for now, and build it up gradually. Awareness is the first step to solving a problem.

Well that’s all from me. I’m off to phone a friend I haven’t spoken to for half a year…