Only the Needful

Only the most needful things got done today.
And I wish that I would have given myself permission to do that and that only at the beginning of the day. Perhaps, because it is Saturday and before me stretched a full day of hours without other pressing engagements, I felt compelled to “use the time wisely” and catch up on what feels like an overwhelming amount of work.

Yet, over the past seven days, I have driven 1,500 miles, met with dozens of people, been engaged, dynamic, and active listener and participant… and today my brain rebelled and said, “Nope. Not having it. Not even an hour of it.”

So, I meditated. I breathed. I meditated some more. I ate good food. Engaged with the family. Walked outside. Collected shells found on the shoreline. Washed dishes. Decluttered the minutest of items. Took children on a short outing. Waited for the mail. Sang my current favorite song out loud on repeat in the car. Repeatedly.

But could I concentrate on deep work? No. It was like a bolt cutter and disengaged my brain and the act of turning on the computer just caused me to go numb.

So, I set the timer: 15 minutes. What do you absolutely, positively HAVE to do before the day ends, before a new week starts in the morning? And I did that. And only that. And now, sweet friends, I’m going to bed. I have hit my limit. Hard.

~e

Lessons Learned: 2018 in Review

It’s that time of year when we naturally turn to both personal and professional self-reflection. As we draw 2018 to a close, I sit here at my newly created office and am doing exactly that. Here are the things I’ve learned from my small business in 2018.

  1. I am filled with good ideas and they are worthy. Whether it be noticing trends or paying attention to subtleties, this year has taught me that the ideas I see have merit. For me, part of the key to this year’s success has been paying attention to them and carrying them out for both my clients and myself.
  2. My work is serious and I treat it like the business it is. Though I tend to weave humor into my work, I do respect it and treat it as the vital, critically important business that it is. My family would not survive if Robinson Studio did not do well. I am grateful for the opportunities 2018 has provided to reach higher and treat Robinson Studio with dignity.
  3. It’s all about relationships. Whether client, partner or mentor, my business is all about relationships and nuturing those. This year, I had two very painful lessons with new clients refusing to pay for work rendered. To learn from this experience, I have to firmly understand my part in this misadventure so that I do not repeat it. For me, in both instances (which happened within a month of each other) were the result of several similarities including no clearly written expectations (i.e. a contract in place) and also no regular (weekly, bi-weekly) contact with these new clients to make certain that I was meeting my part of the obligations. Finally, in both these situations I did not send out a regular invoice and so when my cumulative invoice came it was a big chunk for a fellow small business owner and thence it was rejected…and I had no leg to stand on, legally or otherwise. I’ve learned from these painful lessons and can guarantee you that I won’t repeat those same mistakes.
  4. Budgets have limits. There’s nothing like having a budget, using it up and having to work for free to complete a project. It again was another painful lesson, this one primarily in time and money management. I left the days of minimum wage long ago. Minding my budget (and my client’s) and the time division is critical for not only my business’ success but my mental well being.
  5. Limit pro-bono to one project or activity a year. While some business’ may need to do giveaways or donations as a way of building an audience or exposure, 2018 for me reaffirmed that I need to stay focused and not scatter my efforts in too many directions. My time is limited and needs to be shared with family and other work obligations, if I overcommit, no matter how good my intentions, I will end up hurting the ones I love, including myself. Boundaries matter. Be generous. Above all, be wise.

Whether you are reading this on NYE or at some later date, consider taking some time to reflect on the past 12 months and the lessons learned. Write them down. See if there is a pattern or an overarching theme. And above all: keep at it!

 

Lesson #2: Communication

Learn the lesson or you will repeat it.

Today, I got thoroughly schooled in the mistake of not communicating regularly with a client.

Friends, it was an expensive class.

What hurts most is that my client decided not only to not pay for my work, but to literally trash my work. As an artist that hurts like a sucker punch. As a hard worker that just is appalling. That someone would treat my work with such disrespect must mean they are suffering from a level of anger that is manifesting itself in a deep, self-destructive way.

A lot of what I do involves ghostwriting for small businesses social media pages. There is a lot of thought and effort and actual out-of-my-pocket cash that goes into making a social media page vibrant and successful.

This I had done for this client like all the others, but I had failed to communicate. More importantly, I had failed to communicate regularly. So all the rest of the good I did, or the good I intended, doesn’t really matter.

Their solution to the problem (paying their invoice) was to simply delete the work without a conversation. So, again, we face the problem of more lack of communication. Perhaps, they think that solves their need to pay. Possibly they think that I did not record screenshots of my work. Based on their actions, we might be able to assume that they do not realize that I have dated invoices from my vendors, along with stats, to prove that I did indeed not only perform the services we agreed upon, but got proof-positive results as well.

This situation could devolve into the Real Ugly PDQ.  What purpose would that gain? Would this person still wish to work with me? We both know that answer. For the first time in my knowledge, I’ve lost a client through my own negligence and that is a very painful, could-have-been-avoided lesson. So instead of “get even” or “get what’s due me,” and create more stink on an already soured situation, I’ll let the Universe teach him his lesson, and I’ll learn mine. My hope is by sharing this with you there will be “bonus points” added and you’ll learn from my mistake as well without having to actually go through this patch of Hell yourself. That way, the bottom line cost for my mistake goes down significantly. It’s like you paying for a $35/mo car wash service only use it once over a six-month stretch. Well, Sweetheart, that is one expensive car wash! However, if you get your car washed four times in one month and 24 times over the course of six months: Hey! Bonus Points! So, please learn from me, Friends. Like I said, this was an expensive class. By reading this abridged notes version, you can skip the class entirely. Win-win!

So what is the lesson?
Communicate!
Over communicate.
Get it in writing.
Or you will get schooled.
It won’t be pretty.

In the meantime, I’ll use my former “it didn’t happen, ’cause it doesn’t exist” client’s business card as a bookmark, to remind me of the costly mistake I made. My other clients, both current and future, will gain the benefits of my hard-earned knowledge. Ultimately, so will I.

Hopefully, you will as well.

 

(note: this article took more than six seconds to read… if you got to here, you officially are not a goldfish!)

 

What went wrong…

I worked and worked hard and gave good effort and it was well-received until the invoice came and then, suddenly, they didn’t want to pay.

Now, in a weird twist of irony, they want to keep my work, but don’t want to pay for it. And since I had only word of mouth and am a small business, it seems they have the upper hand in the situation.

Except, I get to learn from this, if I choose. I can make certain this doesn’t happen to me again. And by telling you about it; hopefully, make certain it doesn’t happen to you either.

Facing Dragons

Recently, I had to face some dragons. My belief before the last 48 hours had passed was that the dragons in my line of sight were the fire-breathing sort that were more than likely going to turn me into the proverbial #burntToast.

So, I spent weeks mentally preparing myself. Looking into alternate plans and routes and tactics. The future seemed shrouded in mist.

Literal months moving piles of paper around on my desk: organizing and breaking them down six ways crosswise. My head was full of numbers and rationales… and procrastination:

  • Do I have to face this now?
  • Is there an alternative?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • The long-term effects on all parties involved

Forty-eight hours later, I have faced my dragons. They turned out to be the stone dragons. Intimidating in appearance, but upon close inspection (and action) unable to harm. I wondered how many had turned back from the path when seeing them in the distance? How close was I from running away in fear and terror of the possibility of failure.

Like fire drills and tornado warnings, it is a good, safe practice to have plans in place and to practice walking those plans out “in the event of”. These past few hours have been that for me from a business perspective. But it was, in truth, not a drill.

Be prepared to face fire. Do not be afraid to do what needs to be done. What you need is on the other side of what frightens you.

Partners vs Clients

When you have a partner, you are far more concerned with their success than if they were merely a client. A client is someone that hires you to perform a service, but a partner is someone you work alongside with to achieve the greatest possible good.

Its a situation where the ultimate successful outcome is a win-win, with usually a couple of tertiary side wins as well (such as the community or the environment).

The negative fall out is the flip of that. Everybody loses, including the side players… the school, the event, the public, the town’s economy.

So, let’s work to build partnerships. We all thrive in those working conditions.

But I should be doing more, right?

Not necessarily. Today, for example, I’ve done all the required tasks for the day, but am feeling guilty, like I should be doing more. Getting ahead or doing research.

Friends, my brain is tired. My body is tired as well. I have done enough for today. Yes, there is more that I could do, but to be the better me that you need to help your business reflect the best you, I have got to pause, slow down, and incorporate rest and restore into my business model.

Stamina is perhaps the most needed trait in a small business owner. And to have good stamina, you must have balance. Otherwise, you’re not going to make it past Thursday.

Write It Down

Today, for my work in self-improvement and therefore my business improvement, I’ve been listening to a bunch of TEDx talks by folks like David Allen and Jeff Sutherland and somebody whose name I’ve already forgotten.

That’s the point. I’ve already forgotten.

Our brains, as amazing as they are, simply can not hold all the information we need to stuff into them. Because it’s not meant to do that. It’s meant to come up with ideas. But we still try to stuff it full of things that have little to do with primal survival. Still, it tries. It’s very good at holding about four different important things at once, but if your “to do” list is longer than that (especially if you are juggling multiple projects), then you are going to drop things, no matter how well-intentioned.

So, here’s some things I’ve learned today that I will share with you (and save you a couple of hours of your valuable time in the process):

  1. Write it down. Just get it out of your head and onto either paper or a digital format that you can consistently use. You don’t have to do anything about it, but be writing it down, you’ve let your brain know that it has done its job and can move on to more creative thinking. So, put it down.
  2. Decide what to do with it. Sometimes, it may just need to sit there. Sometimes, it can be dealt with in 2 minutes. If it can be dealt with in 2 minutes… do it. Immediately. Now, that is done, you can mark it off your list and move on to the next thing. Other things may take a little time or a long amount of time. Beside each thing, decide whether you want to invest the time needed to do “the thing”.
  3. Ideas. Now you are going to come up with a bunch of ideas on how to solve the problem. Some of these will be good ideas. Some bad ideas. Every idea gets a place down on the page. Take just 2 minutes to write down all the ideas that spring to mind on how to solve the problem/task. From this a loose structure gets formed.
  4. Action steps. Based on what you just spent 2 minutes blasting out of your brain, what is the next, single, immediate thing that you can do to move towards progress. Do it. And then the next. Repeat. Repeat.

And that’s all I can remember at this moment, and proved my point. I’ve spent all morning listening to these things, taking notes, being diligent. You’d think it’d stay in my brain longer. After all, I am not a dummy.

So let’s start with what I do remember:

Write it down. We can get stuff done.

Bonus: this is the planner that I am using and am finding a useful tool. I was called a nerd yesterday when I showed it to a friend. I laughed. Yeah, I’ll take that. I’ll be a successful nerd. No problem.

Note: this is what a note written on my phone looks like with my pudgy fingers: seriously ridiculous, but I guess it’s better than trying to remember it. 😉