The Bottom

When you’re in a downward spiral, as hard as it sounds, you need to hit the bottom. You can’t get the momentum you need to change direction without bouncing off something. Hitting the bottom at full speed gives you the momentum to bounce upward and start moving towards the life you want.

But if you’re fighting the downward trend, if you’re too scared to hit the bottom, how will you ever gain the momentum you need to pull yourself out?

It’s scary to be in free fall. How will you have to fall? How will you know when you’ve truly reached the bottom and not simply bouncing off the sides? Maybe you’ve hit the bottom before and it was so unpleasant, so traumatic, there’s a part of you that refuses to go there again. Or perhaps you thought you had already reached the bottom only to discover there was still further to fall.

When we’re fighting what is, when we generalize our past experience, our past traumas to our current reality, we end up in a loop, repeating the same patterns, never letting go enough to reach the bottom. And so we never experience the real shifts we need to make change happen. The wake up calls never reach us.

But when we let go, when we allow what is to be fully realized, the bottom isn’t far away at all. And in fact, when we start exploring the bottom, we discover a path out.

Why visioning is so hard

With nothing but clear blue sky overhead, creative work like visioning can at first, seem so enticing. There’s absolutely nothing standing between you and your wildest ideas.

Why then, does a blank page generate so much anxiety? It’s as if the brain locks itself behind a bullet-proof shell. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

The solution seems counterintuitive. We need constraints, boundaries, parameters. When we contain our thoughts to meeting a certain need, suddenly the ideas start to flow. Because now you have a challenge. A problem to solve. The old expression that necessity is the mother of invention has never been more apt than when it comes to creative work.

For example, instead of “…today I need to write a blog post”, you might say “today I need to write a blog post to appeal to a reader with X problem.”

“For my design to work, it must be this long, this high and have XYZ characteristics.”

“I will know when I have achieved my vision because my life will look like…”

So next time you’re struggling to get your ideas on the page, start by generating some criteria. Some boundaries for your work.

Step 1

If I told you that the annual plan you write today will be useless as soon as you complete step 1, how would you respond?

“You must write terrible plans.”

“This just confirms why plans are so pointless”

“That’s nonsense, I always follow my plans to the letter, to the very end.”

You may be thinking that I’m about to tell you why you don’t need a business plan but actually, I’m going to do quite the opposite.

You’ve probably heard Stephen R’ Covey’s quote “begin with the end in mind”. If you want to know what you need to start working on tomorrow, or next week, or what to get done by the end of the month, you are going to find it extremely hard to figure out unless you have a vision of where you will be one year from now, three years from now and 10 years from now.

Whenever I start working with a new client, we always start with their vision and if they don’t have one or it seems unclear, we make one together.

Once we both know where we’re headed, we start to work backwards to determine what they need to do to make meaningful progress towards that vision in the next three years, the next year, the next quarter.

Then and only then do we talk about how the next month is looking. Because now we have line of sight.

The thing about line of sight is, the further in front of you you try to see, the fuzzier it becomes. That’s how it’s meant to be. Business planning is not an exercise in predicting the future. It’s an exercise to help you identify what your next step should be.

Set a calendar reminder in three months to review your progress and reflect on what you’ve learned. Chances are, you’ll need to either refine or even completely revise your plan.

Then take your next step.

Your competitors are not who you think they are

If you search online for how to write a marketing plan, the essential elements of a marketing plan or how to write a business plan online I guarantee, you will always find a section devoted to analyzing your competition.

For brick-and-mortar stores and product manufacturers, it’s super important to know who else is on your street or which brands your product will sit next to on the shelf.

When shopping for a product, a customer can easily compare one list of features to the next. They can line up their options side by side and easily determine which item will best suit their needs.

But when seeking a service provider, things get more fuzzy. Services are based on experiences. It’s difficult for a client to objectively determine (even after they have paid for a service) whether it was the best option for them.

In his book Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith says service businesses have three main competitors and if you’re a massage therapist, a financial planner or an architect, two of them are certainly not who you think they are.

When searching for a service provider, clients are deciding between

1. Doing it themselves.

2. Not doing it at all.

3. Others in the same space. 

So when you’re creating your marketing plan, it pays not simply to think about what others are doing, but what barriers you can remove between you and your clients either doing the work themselves or not doing it at all.

You’re selling a relationship, an experience. Not necessarily just features and benefits.

Going deep then wide

When you are just starting out in business, it’s common to feel like getting enough customers or either going to take forever or a lot of money.

Quarter 2 is just around the corner and so I’m taking stock of my annual budget. Am I on track? Where do I need to take action to improve my cash flow?

If I want to hit this target in June, how many clients or projects or hours is that? Extrapolate that through to end of the year and it equals more clients, more projects, more hours than my brain can handle.

Where is all of this work going to come from? How am I going to reach all of these new people?

The thing is, it’s not always about going after the new. In fact, if you’re always chasing those elusive new clients, where does that leave your existing ones?

How can you go deeper with clients you have? What can you do for them next?

Stop and observe

When clients first come to us with their ideas and challenges, it’s usually easy for us to see what we think they need.

They need a plan, they need goals, they need fresh ideas, new strategies. We tell ourselves they need to take action and be strategic about it. They need our formula for growth, our tested process, to get with our program.

What would it look like if we slowed down and took the time to observe our clients before we made recommendations? If we look to answer not what they need but who they are. Behind the external goals, the missions and visions, what do they fear, where are their blocks?

Our interaction with them becomes about taking them from who they are now to who they want to become. After each action we help them take, what if we simply stopped to observe and asked ourselves is this taking them one step closer to who they want to become?

Staying the course

I'm for freedom

I'm for balance.

I'm for working only with my ideal clients. And referring on when I believe there is someone who can serve a client better.

I'm for getting everything on the table. The good, the bad, the ugly.

I'm for hypothesis. For trying new things. For making mistakes just so you can do it differently next time. 

When things are tough, it can help to remember why you started this in the first place.

Stay the course. You got this.

Be the fractal you wish to see in the world

Fractal: any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given or larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size. - Merriam Webster.

When you look at your organization, does your process or product or output reflect your own internal systems or processes?

A fractal is a self repeating pattern, a pattern that recurs whether you are viewing the object at the macro or microscopic level.

I had a realization some months ago that if I wanted my clients to believe in the systems and processes we created for them, those systems and processes needed to be reflected in my own business. Then I read adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy where talks about organizations as fractals.

And this is how the work truly began. I needed to practice what I preached and as a marketer, there was no where to hide.

To espouse the value of content, I needed to be creating my own content. To keep my clients accountable to their goals, I needed to set, revisit and take consistent action to achieve my own goals.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy or that I saw overnight results. That’s simply not the kind of business I am building and it’s not the kind of business I help my clients to build.

See the connection? Fractals.

I’ve come to realize the value of slow, incremental, gentle change. I write a blog post every day. Not only because of SEO or to build a following or to generate leads, but because the creative process itself is so generative.

Because writing helps me organize my thoughts. Because daily practices help to ground me, to bring me clarity. I can then bring this clarity to the work I do with my clients.

Making butter

If you have ever tried making your own butter, you know that before you see a yellow glob form in the jar, you must first endure a long period of shaking the cream back and forth. Back and forth. The process will fool you. You will begin to wonder how much more shaking will be needed. You will begin to wonder if this is really the way to make butter at all.

Meanwhile, your arm is starting to tire. The ache makes you switch hands. Still nothing.

‘Am I doing it wrong’? you will say to yourself.

Sure, there are certain conditions that do make the job easier. Using a large jar that provides ample space for the cream to move back and forth will help. Having a friend on hand to take over shaking the jar to give your arms a chance to recover has the added benefit of making the task more social.

Still, there will inevitably be a long period of shaking the jar when no change is evident.

The cream will give you no indication that it’s changing states until you sense a telltale glob moving from end to end in the jar. The butter will suddenly, almost miraculously, form itself in the bottom of the jar with just a trickle of watery run off remaining of what was once fluid cream.

Making butter is a repetitive process. There are no shortcuts. It involves doing the same thing over and over until you see change.

System failure

if you run a seasonal business, then you have no excuse for not serving your customers effectively, no matter when they have a need.

For example, if you’re an accountant and deal mostly with income tax for individuals, you cannot complain to your clients about how busy you are during tax season.

If you are the student services office at a university and you know your busiest time of year is the three weeks either side of the first day of semester one, you have no excuse for not serving your students during this time.

If you cannot answer the phone during your busy season, it’s not your clients’ problem. It’s your problem. Because your clients, customers and collaborators don’t have three weeks to wait for you to pick up the phone. They’ll simply call the next option on their list. As long as their call is answered, you’ve lost a customer.