Category: Squalling Infant

Am I doing this right? Or, a little doubt might be fine

In yoga class the other day, my teacher posed this question: “Are you asking yourself right now, ‘Am I doing this right?'” The thought that instantly came to my mind was, “I am forever asking myself this question.”

As are we all. When did you last ask yourself:

  • Do these pants make me look fat?
  • Did I turn off the coffee maker?
  • Did I handle that conversation well?
  • Did I hire the right person?
  • Should I go ahead with this?
  • Should I have let my kid go to that sleepover?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • Did he really say what I thought he said?
  • Why did I eat that when I wasn’t even hungry?

Doubt is with us all day long. I’m not writing to tell you to get over it. Au contraire – I think a little doubt is a healthy thing. While it can be paralyzing and terrifying, it can also stop you from blazing your way down a trail that is clearly the wrong one.

When you have doubts:

  • Ask someone you trust. You may not even need an answer. Sometimes just talking about your decision can help you see if you’re on the right track.
  • Tap someone else’s experience. We’re not pioneers – perhaps there’s no need to blaze a trail, but many of us muddle through rather than seeking someone else’s expertise.
  • Do the old pro-con thing. I know it’s trite, but a list of pros and cons sometimes provides a remarkable visual of which way you should go.
  • Double-check outcomes. Do you get the results you want? If not, it’s a pretty good sign that you need to change something.

Don’t smother your doubt – embrace it. Consider it a warning sign on the trail. Even if danger isn’t imminent, it’s smart to be alert.

What questions are you asking yourself today? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them I’ll feature your business.

Are you really in the weeds?

I’ve discovered a solution to one of the most nagging tasks on my list. I’m going to take a cue from a neighbor and park a sign that says “Native Planting” in my weedy perennial bed. I think I just might pull this off. Not to brag, but my “native plants” are taller and much more impressive than his.

Just like that, one of the biggest to-do’s on my list gone. Not really a miracle – just a change in perspective.

If you find yourself in the weeds:

  • Ask yourself what someone else would see if they looked at your “garden”. Would they be looking at the detail, or would they see the big picture? And how does that big picture look?
  • Pull the big weeds first. It will improve the picture considerably. If all you pull out is the small stuff, when you stand up you’ll still be knee-deep in greenery.
  • Start in one area and work on that area until you’re done. If you’re like me, you find yourself jumping from task to task and when you step back, the impact isn’t that great because nothing is actually “done”. It’s a lot more satisfying to clean up one area and then check it off your list.
  • If you can, enjoy the disorder. I decided to let a large group of milkweed stay because it looked gorgeous. How is anyone else going to know it’s not supposed to be there? (Until now, of course.)

I confess, I do get caught up in the weeds sometimes, and this isn’t the first time I’ve taken up native landscaping. One year as I cruised through the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, I saw a rambling bed of greenery marked “Creeping Thyme”. It was the same stuff I’d been pulling up out of my garden path for days.

“If they can embrace it,” I thought, “Why can’t I?”

But in the end, I couldn’t stand it. A decade later I’m still pulling the darn stuff up.

Need to sort out the big weeds from the small ones? See my previous post on how to prioritize tasks. And while I’m on the subject, I think I’ll dig up some other tips for productivity. Stay tuned.

Playing well with others (or, choosing your partners wisely)

Maybe it’s the continual rain these last few weeks, but my boys don’t seem to be able to get along for any length of time. It’s not too surprising. Even though they generally enjoy a good partnership, they have different personalities, temperaments, and often different goals for the activities they take on. As kids, they don’t always navigate these differences (and the conflict that inevitably arises) very well.

As an adult, you assume you can use your judgement, reason and experience to bridge any gaps you may have with a business partner, but this isn’t always the case.  Partnerships typically start out well – you like each other, have similar interests, and readily see how you can combine your talents and resources to grow your business, serve a broader group of clients, or divide the labor. Sometimes partnerships are born out of a need for camaraderie. And it’s all great, as long as you don’t ignore the differences that can drive you apart later.

Some sources of potential conflict:

  • One partner needs to draw more money from the business than the other to support their family or lifestyle. This forces the other partner into an uncomfortable decision – do I accept a lower level of compensation than my partner? Or do I take out the same amount, understanding that we now must sustain a higher level of revenue to pay two higher salaries? If this is an issue for you and your potential partner, discuss it upfront and make sure you understand the financial reality for each of you (and for the business as a whole) before you enter into any partnership.
  • One partner brings more to the table than the other. Perhaps they have a higher level of investment, a larger group of clients, or a better industry reputation. This sets up an inequity than can lead to bad feelings later. One of the most obvious ways to avoid this is not to share ownership 50/50. Acknowledge upfront what each partner brings to the relationship and reflect this in the ownership percentages. Sure that means one person has more say than the other, but believe me, when the inevitable disagreements arise, someone will need to have the final say or you cannot move the business forward.
  • The partners have significantly different personalities or work styles. Sometimes personality differences can be a tremendous asset; other times, they cause conflict that you cannot breach. If you are a Type A, work-all-night kind of professional and your partner leaves at 4:30 and turns the cell phone off over the weekend there is no doubt this will breed resentment – and fast. Make sure you are compatible. Take a personality test if necessary to find out. There’s nothing quite as uncomfortable as going to work each day with someone you no longer like.
  • The partners have different definitions of success or long-term goals. It’s really awkward to sit in a strategic planning session where one partner has a 5-year plan to sell the business – and the other partner is not only completely clueless, they’re in it for the long haul. Make sure you completely understand your partner’s long-term vision. You don’t necessarily have to share the same goals, but your planning and your structure should be able to accommodate them if they differ.

And please, have a formal partnership agreement in place from the day you open your combined business! It’s easy in those early days (when you still like each other) to ignore your differences, but a partnership that doesn’t work out not only leads to feelings of disappointment, anger and betrayal, it can also financially devastate both parties. Approach this with the same caution with which you’d approach any major life decision and line out how you’ll handle any problems that arise.

My boys did not choose their partnership; it was thrust upon them by the accident of birth. Fortunately, they can usually resolve their differences and move on. If not, I’m there to intervene – and I clearly have the final say.

Any tips for terrific partnerships? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Relaxing standards – how much is too much?

My mother is a sympathetic soul. When she sees me in the midst of my frenetic life, she often offers up this sage advice: “Maybe you should relax your standards a little.” Oh, if only she knew how far my standards have fallen!

For years I’ve told my kids, “You can be clean, clothed or fed – pick any two.”

As a high-achieving sort , I hit adulthood thinking I could accomplish anything I wanted. It was the 80’s after all – wasn’t that what we were told? I hit my first brick wall with a job that required 100% travel. Life on the road definitely limited my options. There were some weekends where I felt like all I did was unpack my suitcase, do my laundry, repack it again and leave for the airport.

It hasn’t improved over the years. I am now a self-employed mother of three with a husband who frequently travels for work. Talk about relaxing your standards! There are days I arrive at appointments and check to make sure I’m completely dressed before I go in. And days where I can’t even think about the evening activities in the morning – I operate with a view to about the next 20 minutes of my day.

Like many others, I’ve spent time exploring (the myth that is) life balance. And like many others, the challenge for me continues to be letting the little things go to focus on the big things. I’m somewhat coachable, so with the help of others, I’ve worked to identify my core values and in my personal life, I do adhere pretty well to those:

  • Exercise and take care of my health
  • Feed my family good, wholesome food 90% of the time (the other 10% of the time I look the other way while they eat a hot dog at the ballpark)
  • Experience things with my kids, even if it means a whole day at a museum in the midst of a project, or a two-week driving vacation neither my husband nor I really have time to take

Oh, and I’m big on sleep. I seldom burn the midnight oil.

It’s harder in my business. I complete client work, and get the little tasks out of the way but never seem to get to the big, important ones like  revising my website or upgrading my technology. It’s not that I’m avoiding the big tasks, it’s that the little tasks seem to be all I have time for. But I have gotten better about two things – saying no and asking for help, neither of which comes very naturally.

So here I am racing toward the end of another busy week. It’s a beautiful day, I have a ton of work to do, and my house is a mess. I need to cobble together something my family can eat for a dinner on the run, iron a shirt for a piano recital, reschedule a weekend appointment, perhaps tackle a few of the items on my endless to-do list. Which standards should I relax today?

Is life balance a myth? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

The cat crushed my homework – now what?

I’m a problem solver. As soon as I  confront an obstacle my brain instantly switches into “how can I fix this” mode. That’s why I panicked only briefly when my son and I heard an ominous crunch. It was the sound of our large, “traditionally built” cat extricating an elaborate book report – a 12-sided, three-dimensional figure – from a grocery bag, and then sitting on it.

It takes a long time and a lot of tape and glue to assemble a 12-sided figure. And wouldn’t you know, he was even set to turn it in on time! We were not able to return it to its original condition but we did pop out the dents and retape the corners. It’s not perfect but it will have to do.

When you’re faced with a business problem, your first reaction might also be panic – or pain, disappointment, despair, disgust…any number of wonderful emotions. But after the initial hit, ask yourself this:

  • Can I restore this to 100%?
  • If not, how close can I get?
  • What are my options for repairing this?
  • Are there any long-term ramifications?
  • If yes, can I lessen them or head them off?
  • Who can help? What do I ask them for?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario? And is it really that bad?
  • Will I care as much about this tomorrow as I care right now?

A natural proclivity toward problem-solving isn’t always a helpful thing. After all, there are some things you can’t fix – but you sure can expend a lot of energy trying. If something is truly unrecoverable it’s best to remember one phrase. Repeat after me: “I will cut my losses and move on.” It’s not perfect, but it will have to do.

What’s the best “fix” you ever came up with? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Spring cleaning, and not just metaphorically speaking

After months of remodeling and a not-yet-over winter, my house (and my business) are badly in need of some spring cleaning and I’m starting today. My philosophy has always been to clean the house from top to bottom. I love the visual of the dust slowly settling to the floor as you move from the ceilings, to eye level, to the baseboards, finally sweeping all that accumulated dust right out the door. I don’t know if this is the most efficient method but it works for me.

Perhaps, like me, you also need to polish up your business after a long, cold winter. So start with the high ceiling corners and…

  • Clear the cobwebs – revisit your vision for the business. Has it changed? Do you need to touch up the paint a little? What are you moving towards? Away from?
  • Clean the light fixtures and the windows – let in some light. Who can help you reach your vision? What outside expertise do you need to bring in some clarity?
  • De-clutter and dust the furniture – clear the decks. You know that pile of to-do’s you have sitting there? I bet you can let go of some of them. If they aren’t relevant to where you’re going get rid of them. Then see what you can hand to someone else to do before you tackle the things you really love on your own.
  • Polish the floor – take on the high visibility tasks. What is going to give you the highest return for your investment of time?

Oversimplified? Perhaps. But you have to start somewhere, right? I’m rolling up my sleeves and grabbing a dust mop. And I think I’ll grab another cup of coffee, too, while I’m at it.

What are you doing to spring-clean your business? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Recipe, what recipe? Or how to use a lemon zester

One year a friend of mine who was helping prepare a meal asked where my lemon zester was. My response? “What’s a lemon zester?” I’m not a cook who typically follows recipes, I don’t emulate Martha Stewart, and I don’t own many kitchen tools. My friend, who does do these things, was appalled – and I now own one, thanks to her.

(By the way, when she asked me moments later where my pepper mill was I told her it was next to my lemon zester.)

Anyone who eats at my house knows you’ll eat good food, but it won’t be fancy and you may never have the same thing twice. I like to think of cooking as more art than science, adding things as I go based on whatever mood I’m in and whatever’s in the fridge. But even I know that sometimes you’ll get better results if you follow a recipe.

As small business owners, it’s tempting to treat the business as more art than science, particularly if the business data isn’t going to bear out what you want to see. I’ve reviewed many a business plan that contained no numbers at all, sometimes because laying out the numbers was scary and sometimes because the business owner wasn’t sure how to do it. I’ve seen new product plans that contained no market research or pricing analyses. And I’ve met with failing businesses that weren’t reviewing current financial results. I think they hoped that if they ignored those less-than-stellar results, they would go away.

Fact is, you can’t ignore the numbers if you want to be successful. Try baking a cake with half the baking powder sometime and see how that goes. Or add ten times the chili powder. Estimating and assuming can lead to unpleasant outcomes.

So look at the numbers. You can’t make good decisions without them and you owe yourself the reality check. If you aren’t comfortable with your own level of knowledge, get some help – there are plenty of professionals out there who analyze numbers for a living and can give you some insight. (Or for some ideas on how to do this, see the article,  Build Your Business by the Numbers.)

Oh, and that lemon zester? I finally found the perfect use for it. It’s great for shaving chocolate to top off an Irish coffee.

Have another creative use for a common  kitchen tool? (Keep it clean, please.) Send your ideas to – if I use them I’ll feature your business.

A few New Year’s resolutions for the irresolute

Well, here it is the New Year again, that magic moment when we are supposed to drop all our bad habits and institute perfect new ones. Are you a natural at this? I’m not. And frankly, by January I’m exhausted. We’ve just been through six frenzied weeks of either celebrating holidays or preparing for holidays. We’ve had guests come and go. And to top it all off, the New Year in Minnesota is dark. And cold. How do you choose the right route in that frame of mind?

Most of us from time to time will reach a point where we are unsure how to act or proceed. Not sure how to go forward? Here are my proposed resolutions for the irresolute, for those times when you just don’t know what to do. Feel free to co-opt one or all.

  1. I resolve to get some data so I can reduce the guesswork about which way to proceed.
  2. I resolve to trust my intuition – if something feels like the right course of action, I will take it.
  3. I resolve to ask my customers if I have a question about my products or services.
  4. I resolve to ask someone for help if I cannot make my decisions alone.
  5. I resolve to remember that if I make a mistake I can take actions to correct it.
  6. I resolve to forgive myself for not always having the right answer.
  7. I resolve to use hindsight as a tool to learn, not beat myself up for the decisions I’ve made.

Happy New Year, everybody. I wish you peace, prosperity, and joy.

Have a resolution (past or present) that you’d like to share?

How is a snow shovel like a warm lead?

In Minnesota where we live, it’s a sure bet that when winter arrives we will get snow, sometimes (like today, for example) lots and lots of snow. And yet every year when that beautiful white stuff starts to fall we meet with the same problem…

All the snow shovels are under the snow. Those darn kids have taken the shovels out for some mysterious and suspect reason and failed to return them to the garage. And we’re not thinking about locating the snow shovels when there is no snow to shovel.

How does this relate to generating leads for your business?

Your warmest leads are always going to be those who reached out to you the most recently and the time to follow up with them is immediately after they contact you. Even if you’re really busy!

Too often, we only follow up with prospects when we wake up one day and realize the landscape has changed.  Off we go like rescue workers after an avalanche trying to track those prospects down before they are lost forever. Sometimes we’ll be successful at digging up additional business but often the leads are too cold to survive.

Keeping the sales pipeline full is a year-round endeavor. Digging up business out of no where is a little like clearing the driveway with a teaspoon – possible, but it’s a whole lot easier if you have a shovel.

Have a terrific tip for lead follow up? Send it to – if I use it, I’ll feature your business.

When your efforts aren’t appreciated

When you’re a parent, eventually you have to accept that a vast majority of the things you do for your kids will be ignored, resented or taken for granted. It doesn’t feel fair. I kill myself day and night only to get a shrug at best, outright hostility at worst. Honestly, it’s as if my kids think I wake up in the morning thinking, “How can I make them miserable today? I know, I’ll make them wear winter coats!”

Managing employees can feel a bit like that, too. Sometimes it seems that no matter how hard you try to be fair and friendly everyone has a complaint. This is particularly true when the business is going through a change of some kind. You know how much everyone likes change!

I’ve worked with many a business owner who feels resentful, alone and frustrated when that happens. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Be friendly but know that your role is not that of a friend. You have to balance your employees’ interests with those of the business and your own. Not easy, but that’s why your name is on the building.
  • Sometimes all people need is to be heard. Listen to what they have to say and respectively disagree if you need to.
  • Stand firmly behind your decisions. Don’t waver. If you don’t seem committed to them no one else will be either.
  • If you find you’ve made a bad decision fix it and move on. Acknowledge the change but don’t apologize for it. Everyone, even the boss, makes mistakes from time to time.

I would love to write more but I’m traveling this weekend and before I go I have to complete my scheduled work, clean the house, finish the laundry, pick up some groceries, and produce  a helpful household schedule that no one will read. A good day’s work – not that anyone will appreciate it.

Feeling unloved? Share your stories with – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.