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Archive for November, 2010

Hanging With My Right People

November 29th, 2010

Today I am driving to Atlanta to be with an amazing group of clients for two days. We’ll hang out. We’ll laugh. We’ll drink coffee. Oh – and we’ll work on business while we’re at it.

Being with my “right” people is alway such an energizer. I’m at ease, comfortable in my own skin and give my best in all my coversations.

This is also how I feel when I am here, hanging out with the tribe that is drawn to Escaping Mediocrity. At ease and at my best. Receiving as much as – no WAY more – than I am giving.

I am better for it. My business is better for it. And, selfishly, I hope the world is a little better for it.

That is the power of hanging with my right people.

And it can have the same power for you.

If the people who gather here resonate with you then they might be your right people, too. If they don’t that’s okay. The important thing is to find them. Engage with them. Support them. Immerse yourself in them as often as you can.

You will be better for it. Your business will be better for it. And I am certain that the world will be a little better for it.

Gratitude and the Entrepreneur

November 25th, 2010

It’s not even 6 am on this Thanksgiving morning and the house is quiet and still. I’m sipping on my first of many cups of coffee for the day.

And as the cobwebs that cloud my brain start to clear away, I’m left thinking about Gratitude – which makes sense because it is Thanksgiving here in the US. But I’m also thinking about how gratitude fits in the context of being an entrepreneur.

We’ve all heard the sage wisdom of showing gratitude to our clients and customers, gratitude to our support team, gratitude to our mentors, etc. But I’m wondering if, at times, expressing gratitude becomes just one more item on the check list of things we know we are supposed to do, a “strategy” rather than a heartfelt acknowledgement.

I’m also wondering if, when times can be challenging and scary and everything feels insanely busy, we even have time to feel the power of heartfelt gratitude.

I know – lots of wondering at this pre-dawn hour.

Here’s what I am not wondering about: the power gratitude can have in my business. Ew – just typing that sounds icky and it really shouldn’t. Because gratitude is not an outside tactic, something we do in order to get something. Because if that IS what we do, it isn’t gratitude at all. It’s manipulation.

Gratitude starts as an inside job. It means taking time in my already over-packed schedule to reflect on the people, places and things that make my life and my businesses taste sweeter.

And yes, I am very much aware of the fact that there are days when this is really really hard.

Let me assure you that there is no one who likes to roll around in the slop of problems more than I do. It feels so good. And I certainly do not like raising my head out of the mud long enough to come up with something to be grateful for. I often resent the suggestion that that might help.

But it does. Without fail. Every single time.

So I do it. Not for other people. For me.

Once my internal work is done, then I find a way to express my gratitude in a way that is genuine. And without any expectations of what another person will or won’t do.

This expression doesn’t have to be elaborate and time-consuming. It can be a quick DM on Twitter or an email. I use those tools a lot. But I have to say that when I write a note (and I mean with a pen, paper and a stamp) or pick up the phone or speak to someone face to face, THAT is when I feel a seismic shift inside of me.

(Truth be told, this is also when seismic shifts happen in my business. But if I go into this gratitude thing with that expectation, it never works out.)

As soon as I hit “publish” on this post, I’m going to make a list of the people who have believed in me over the past year. People who lent me strength and wisdom and courage. Then I will be about telling them how thankful I am that they are in my life.

Not as a business strategy. Not in hopes of asking a favor. Not because I think I am supposed to.

Because it is good for my heart and my spirit. And it makes me the person I want to be in this world.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. :-)

Essential Text Books for Escaping Mediocrity

November 22nd, 2010

If we’re going to save the world (and I am assuming that that is what you’ve signed on for if you’ve come back after reading last week’s post), there are some essential text books that will really cut the learning curve. Reading brilliant work is also a critical habit embraced by all the successful entrepreneurs I know.

So, here is my suggested list of  Text Books for Escaping Mediocrity (These area affiliate links. You can google the title & buy it that way if affiliate links make you uncomfortable.):

1) Atlas Shrugged
This one is a non-negotiable. If you want to read the definitive story of entrepreneurs who save the world in spite of itself and be inspired to make no apologies for who you are and what you are capable of, run to the library or to Amazon and get this book. Yes I know it is long. Don’t care. Read it anyway.

2)The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World
I always tell Chris Guillebeau that Escaping Mediocrity is all his fault. In his book he will tell you exactly what you need to do to build your own empire. Pretty awesome to have a map, no?

3) Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track–and Keeping It There
My friend Les McKeown wrote this book to give entrepreneurs the certainty they need – even when they are most uncertain. Total and necessary nuts and bolts.

4) The Alchemist
Read it. Just because I know you need to.

5) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
I’m pretty sure that 98% of you want writing to be a part of what it is you are up to to save the world. If you want to do that better (and laugh your ass off at the same time), there is no better book on writing out there.

6) The Art of War
Saving the world is a lot like war. So we’d all better understand the fundamentals.

7) Small Is the New Big and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas
And anything else Seth Godin has written.

This is by no means a definitive list. There are many many other books that I think are amazing and there are also I haven’t read yet.

So I’m asking you to do two things in the comments: 1) Commit to reading one of the above books and 2) Add your own Essential Text Book for Escaping Mediocrity (and saving the world).

Taking a Stand or Playing For All It's Worth

November 17th, 2010

I’ve been VERY pissy lately. I’ve lost my temper with the wrong people (and apologized), fallen into a pattern of complaining about what other people are doing, and generally considering getting a job flipping burgers wearing my Ipod headphones.

As I’ve been writing and planning and asking you questions about the future of Escaping Mediocrity, my attitude has gotten increasingly worse.

I was sick of being around me but couldn’t figure out what on earth was wrong.

And then it clicked today. There is something I haven’t been saying. And holding that sh*t in is the surest way to make me pissy.

So, for the sake of the mailman, my dog and the lady who runs the corner market, I’m going to say something that I’ve needed to say to myself and to you for quite some time:

Take a Stand.

Here’s what I know about that: Escaping Mediocrity is getting ready to take a much bolder, much bigger stand in the world. There is no way around it. I’m raising the stakes here and playing for all it’s worth.

Up until now, I’ve tried to make what I talk about “more palatable” and “easy to consume” because I didn’t want people to think I was asking too much or that I didn’t understand that it can be really really hard. I’ve left the focus here intentionally vague because I thought that would include a bigger group of people.

But here’s the thing: Escaping Mediocrity DOES demand a lot. And it IS really really hard sometimes. Pretending that it isn’t and talking about it in any other way doesn’t serve anyone.

And being vague just means everything here is muddy and unfocused. Which doesn’t do much to help people play for bigger stakes. Talk about bigger stakes yes. But actually go out into the world and play for them? Not so much.

I mean, we can talk about the things we talk about and we can all agree that these are good idea or challenging ideas or whatever. And we can talk about this thing or that thing that we might try differently. And then all gather round, sing Kumbaya and continue living the lives we’ve been living.

But I fiercely believe we are meant for so much more than that.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. – Henry David Thorea

And, considering the state of the world, I believe that “mass” is on the increase.

People are uncertain. People are afraid. People are lost.

And time is not standing still.

The world is looking for  – no, desperate for those who are willing to dare greatly. To light the path. To show the way. Not later, not when the timing is better, but NOW.

I believe the world is looking for YOU.

This fierce belief has created a new vision for Escaping Mediocrity and it looks something like this:

Escaping Mediocrity will equip you and inspire you to dare greatly, play for bigger stakes, be the trailblazer through murky and uncertain territory that others desperately want to follow. I want you to be bold and passionate about DOING what only you can do in this world. I’ll be talking a lot about how all this intertwines with entrepreneurship, mainly because I believe that entrepreneurs will lead the world out of it’s current mess.

(Yes, I know this isn’t a well-crafted “Vision Statement” and that it’s a bit unruly. But did you actually expect anything else?)

There is no room or time for delay, excuses, & rationalizations in all of this. Not for me. Not for you.

Time and tide wait for no man. ~Geoffrey Chaucer

Raise your stakes. Take your stand. Right now. Right where you are.

Don’t get caught up in second guessing whether it is the “right” stand. That part isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you stake your claim to doing something that changes peoples lives. Shift your focus to those who can only hear what you have to say. They are waiting for you.

Amaze them.

Lift them up.

Help them solve their problems.

And for god’s sake, quit staring at your belly button coming up with reasons why you can’t or the timing isn’t right or you don’t know how or you don’t have the money.

These are minor challenges that can be solved. Solving them may make you uncomfortable but I don’t know any world-changing leader who doesn’t live in that uncomfortable place.

I will say this again: the world needs you to be big and bold and strong. Not later, not when you’ve figured it out, not when it feels easier. NOW.

The tribe that gathers here at Escaping Mediocrity has accomplished amazing things in one short year. I believe that our greatest days are still ahead. We have the power to make a huge difference if we gather our strength and collectively decide we will lead others through these dark and tumultuous times.

If you think you aren’t up to it, you are wrong. You are already doing it in big and small ways. I know because I watch you. :-)

So today’s the day. Are you in or are you out?

If you are in (and I REALLY hope you are), I will be offering up not only motivation and ideas here, but also very practical strategies for starting and running a business that speaks to your highest calling AND speaks to others who are casting about for a leader they can pin their hopes on. In short – a business that can change the world.

It’s time. We can do this. I believe it with all that I am. And deep down, so do you.

Take Your Stand.

How to quit your job while you’re flat broke (even when your wife is scared shitless)

November 15th, 2010

(Today’s post is from my friend Chris Johnson and is quite fitting as we continue discussing taking big risks and doing the scary stuff.)

Waiting for a set amount of money before you quit your day job is as smart as waiting to beat cancer before you start chemo. Many people dream of starting a business of their own, but there is always some excuse (usually financial) keeping them from starting. The financial excuse is insignificant. This post shows how I had more security, day one, when I started my business.

I had less than Naomi Dunford’s famous “borrowed $400” when I started. I am not wired to “gradually quit” like others are. I had to leave even though I had:

  • $120k-plus in IRS debt (those “tax relief” 800-numbers are a scam).
  • Garnished wages from said debt.
  • Levied bank accounts that were overdrawn because of said debt.
  • Student loans that went sideways.
  • A post-partum, stressed-out wife looking at a bleak future, with fights each day.
  • A 3-year old and a 2-month old.

The problems in the above bullet points were the symptoms of having a day job. Not the symptoms of a failed life, but of a failed premise.

I was, for a long time, a (low) six-figure whore– one of those contemptible, arrogant schmucks who acted too good for the job he had. Because I knew that once I saved a couple bucks, I’d blow this joint and become an entrepreneur. I was delusional, living off unearned laurels.

The instant the baby was born, I left the nest. The road was bumpy. It was also free, exhilarating. I eliminated some of the problems above (2, 3, and 5) early, and I took care of 1 and 4 within a few months. My marriage got better and my life improved. Yours could, too.

Step #1: Have a cash register – be ready to take payments. I’m told this is horrific outside of the US, so get started immediately. The first thing to do is to make it as easy as possible for others to pay you. No hoops. Get a merchant account. I use Paypal‘s; it’s terrible, but they pretty much all stink. If you can’t get one, try and make arrangements with someone to take credit cards.

This will cost you $30-60 a month, but you have to do it. Sales tip: never mention a preferred method of payment. Never mention fees. Your preferred method of payment should be a credit card because it’s “now”. You should be able to say to customers, “Do you want to go ahead and give me your credit card so I can get this done for you?” Client mood changes, risk, and more are gone with a credit card. Don’t make it remotely difficult to pay you. I’d estimate that I lost $5,000 early on by not wanting to pay $60 a month.

Don’t let anyone–anyone–talk you out of a virtual terminal. Processing a credit card over the phone like a pro gives you a charge in more ways than one. And never, ever, ever let fees cross your mind. That’s scarcity thinking, and the fees always take care of themselves. Charge enough to pay the fees and be done with it.

Step #2: Have a product or service to sell – and be flexible. You might have a dream of creating a series of info-products for people; you might want to create a turnkey website service. Let your contacts and the market know what you offer. And when a job is outside of your wheelhouse but pays tomorrow, do the job. This isn’t an invitation to take bad business or allow crazy assholes to dominate you. This is business reality.

About a year ago, Johnny B. Truant subcontracted some work from me even though it wasn’t his long term “thing”. I got the benefit of a stellar and conscientious dude kicking ass on my stuff, he got money before he was making his vaunted five figures a month. Full of win all around. Be flexible.

Step 3: Know your due dates and burn rates.
In the beginning, you measure things in days: How many days ’til it hits the fan. This is the true measure of your wealth. How much you have on hand is less important than “what’s due” and “what happens.” Having $1500 in the bank and one day before it goes to hell, is worse than having $100 in the bank, but 40 days. Measure in days.

Know how much your non-negotiable personals (housing/heat/food) are, and hit them first. First. Before you upgrade your business. Before you pay your vendors. Be ruthless about building a cushion of days. You’ll go insane without it. Your wife won’t put out.

Stay a month ahead of the spider – always. Live in reality. When (and it’s a when at this point, not an if, right?) you quit your job, do it at the beginning or end of the month with the next month’s bills paid. Do it next month. Seriously. If you’re reading this and stuck whoring yourself out, you’re going to go crazy.

Step 4: Renegotiate everything you spend:
You now know your burn rate, I hope. Now lower it. Cut to the bone, and then make the bone itself anxious. Your $70 cable bill? Gone. Your Starbucks habit? Cut it. Go on an ultra-tight but still realistic budget. Do this, and you’ll be adding those things back in months. Don’t do this, and your business will fail because you had too many mochas.

How far did we go? We cut our family dog out of the budget. That’s what it takes. Our dog averaged $80 a month for food and vet bills. I love the dog, but love has limits. A nice family we knew got to love her. Negotiate EVERYTHING, because it takes intensity to escape.

We trimmed $1900 from our monthly personals, and that allowed me to make less at first–while still having some money to attack our debts.

Step 5: Sell every day. I had to find customers right away. I only had 15 days to get $1,000 when I started. I started on search.twitter.com and did what I said I did in this TwitTip post. Finding people that are bitching about WordPress is an easy way to get business.

Now: When I say sell, I mean find people who need what you have. Locate. Hunt. If there’s someone who needs what you do, ask. Use keywords like “recommend+WordPress” in social media searches.

Give first. Nobody ever buys when you have the funk of failure about you. So be kind and generous. They buy faster from that. Make as many contacts as you can with the “how can I help” ethos. Make it painless and drama-free to complete the business arrangements (see point #1).

Remember: This won’t be the final form of your business. This is what you do when you ante up and quit. This starts the euphoria and dementia cycle that we all talk about. There’s something sacred about being your own person, and doing the things you want to do.

Do you really want to start a business? If it’s something that you’ve always longed for, take the leap. Print this out, share it with your spouse. I was never any less secure than when I was broke AND working for another person. Security increases when you control your destiny.

I’ve paid my debt down to under $30,000. I’m current on my taxes. I don’t overdraw my account. I moved across the country. I have great clients and a life that’s more interesting. It’s easier to love my family because I’m so happy. There are no big fights anymore with my wife, and I know, God willing, where I’m going.

I still make mistakes, litter the Internet with anti-marketing, and I probably will in three years. But I’m free, and if I’m going down, it’s my fault. I drive the car, I run my show, and you can too (and get more security)–day one–by quitting your job. Quit. You’ll thank me soon.

When not quitting jobs, Genuine Chris Johnson specializes in small business websites at FlatRateBiz.com

Keeping The Faith

November 10th, 2010

Where to we go from here?

In talking about vulnerability, strength and courage, I am also reminded that there is SO MUCH B.S. out there that it is really hard to remember who we are.

In this online world I move in, I’ve watched terrible things happen in recent months:

- A well-known “expert” pretty much pirated one of my BFFs material and claimed it as original thought. And people bought the lie.

- Another well-know expert bought about a gajillion followers (yes, they are for sale) and then staked a claim as a “Dominant Social Media Presence.” And people bought the lie.

- Had my own material picked off by someone claiming to be a wise friend and counselor. And people bought the lie.

It truly shakes the foundation of my courage some days to know that the ethics and the integrity of the world I operate in can be so temporal.

But then – OH BUT THEN:

- A dear friend sends me an email that tells me not to stop. That I am making a difference.

- Someone I admire from afar shows up on my blog and says that I inspire her.

- The people I dearly love, and would never have known without this crazy online world I live in, send me DMs, texts and FB messages that make me laugh so hard I cry.

- My colleagues-who-are-dear-friends keep going, keep producing inspired work, keep lifting my eyes to see what is possible.

- The Escaping Mediocrity Tribe out and out tells me that they want and need to hear what I have to say about what it is really like to do what I do.(Well – actually, some people unsubscribe because they don’t want and need to hear it, but that is okay. I’m not meant to reach everyone.)

In the end, the beauty far outweighs the bullshit.

There is a reason I am walking this path. There is a reason I say things out loud. I am holding up a lamp in the dark and lighting part of the path for others so they can find their way. I no longer have energy for anything else.

Shortly (as in a few days), I will be sending out a quick survey to those who are subscribed to my newsletter so that I will know how best to serve you in this way.

If you want to be a part of shaping what is to come, you can subscribe to Escape Notes here: http://bit.ly/EscapeNotes

I would be honored if you shared how you are keeping the faith in the comments. :-)

On Vulnerability, Strength & Courage

November 8th, 2010

A whole bunch of stuff collided over the past several days that will shape my future blog posts. And, if you think it’s all gonna be upbeat, it’s not. But it will be the truth.  A quality that seems to be in rare quantities these days.

As you probably know, I launched 5 Emergency Steps to Getting Unstuck on Friday. And in my pre-launch and launch emails, I talked about feeling scared and nervous. For me, I’m always “raising the stakes” I’m playing for and if something doesn’t make me feel scared and nervous, I question whether I should do it. And part of my commitment to you is, and always will be,  to tell you the truth about what it is like to do the things I do.

But I got pushback.

Apparently, saying that I am scared and nervous – admitting it out loud in front of God and everybody, is 1) a bad marketing practice 2) makes me appear un-coach-like and 3) is off-putting. (Oh and several people sent me “editorial suggestions” for my sales page.)

This is all really fascinating feedback considering the fact that last week’s blog posts were all about living a connected life and that vulnerability is at the very core of connection.

So here is my position: I will continue to be vulnerable. I will continue to raise my stakes. I find that by doing so, I actually feel stronger and more courageous the next time around. It’s like exercise that way I guess. The more you exercise a muscle, the stronger it gets and the more it can do.

If living and working this way means that I am not cut out to be a coach, that’s fine with me. I’ll find another way to make a living. There is nothing, NOTHING, that is worth giving up my want, my desire, my freedom and my ability to be and to say exactly where I am.

What do you think? Do you think coaches should always appear a certain way? Do coaches who admit fear and vulnerability attract less business than those who put on their public happy face?

More On Living a Connected Life

November 3rd, 2010

This 20 minute video from Dr. Brene Brown is a MUST WATCH. Unless you have no interest in living a connected life. :-)

I watched it once. Then watched it again with pen and paper. Trust me, you are going to want to make notes. And please don’t “save this for later”. Later never comes.

Would love to hear your responses and thoughts about her research. :-)

On Creating a Connected Life

November 1st, 2010

Because my house, and mostly my life, is populated with those who possess the characteristics of ADD/ADHD (myself included), I’ve been reading up on the subject a bit. My latest book is Delivered from Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell.

It is an awesome book and I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who thinks they might suffer from a bit of ADD.

Lat night, though, I dove into a chapter that I found so relevant, so bright and inspiring that I just have to share it with you.

According to Dr. Hallowell, living a connected life is the secret to making life healthier and more joyful. Don’t know about you, but I want all of that I can get. :-)

Here are the 12 elements of a connected life he puts forward for our consideration:

1. Family. This is the core connection. Without a connection here, there can’t be real connection elsewhere. I do like this note of his: “If you have conflict in your family, that means it is connected. The opposite of connection is not conflict; it is indifference.”

2. Friend & community. Without meaningful relationship, our chances for experiencing a joyful life are not very high.

3. School or work. If we feel welcomed and treated with respect in these arenas, and have one or two friends, we will thrive better and if we don’t.

4. Activities. by finding & engaging in a few activities (ie NOT work) that we really love, it increases our chances of building joy, confidence, and self-esteem exponentially.

5.  The arts. Engaging with music, painting, literature, movies, dance, theatre, etc. can great a connection with deep inner. joy

6. Groups, teams, organizations. Belonging to a group of some kind with a purpose outside ourselves give us a personal sense of purpose and a feeling of being needed.

7. Pets. Pets develop our sense of empathy, love and understanding – and being understood. :-)

8. Nature. Being connected with nature feeds us strength, joy and inspiration – and gives us a wonderful playground.

9. Ideas and information. Dr. Hallowell says that this is about feeling comfortably connected in the world of ideas and information. Fear and shame are the great underminers here. There should be no fear or shame in any learning environment. Period.

10. The spiritual world. Acknowledging and connecting with whatever we believe is beyond ourselves.

11. The past. Our heritage, our traditions, the stories of our ancestors give us a clearer understanding of how and why we are right here, right now – infusing every moment with deeper meaning.

12. Ourselves. Knowing and loving who we are exactly as we are feeds our connection with ourselves and allows us to move out into connecting with the world around us.

I know some of these are stating the obvious, but I’ve never seen them pulled together in this way in support of living a rich, deep life full of meaning, joy and purpose.

So that I don’t overwhelm myself, I’m going to print out this list, then slowly and effortlessly expand my capacities in each area. I’m guessing you will hear about my progress. :-)

What say you? Do you agree with these 12 areas? Would you add any? Take away any? Are ideas leaping out at you for engaging in particular areas?

You know I am fascinated by your thoughts. :-)