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Key Ideas that Will Make You Better at Creative Problem Solving

Key Ideas that Will Make You Better at Creative Problem Solving

What is the last problem you had to solve? Maybe it was so small you hardly realized you were making choices to reach a resolution. Or maybe it was so overwhelming and stressful you never want to relive that moment again. We are challenged to solve problems each and every day. The difference between whether these problems are minor speed bumps or major road blocks lies in our creative problem solving skills.

Some people have a very natural ability to solve complex problems with creative, out-of-the-box solutions. While others get stuck in the mindset that only one way is the right way. By embracing these five key ideas, anyone can benefit from becoming a better creative problem solver, and as a result make life easier, enrich relationships and effectively find compromise in the most challenging situations. Take a look!

No one will get everything they want

In order for creative problem solving to work, everyone involved must be accepting of the fact that they will not get everything they want. It’s called compromise. And with compromise, you know it’s working if everyone leaves just a little bit dissatisfied. That’s a good thing, really. It means everyone gave a little to get more what’s really important to them. With creative problem solving that uses compromise, people are more likely to be appreciative of the pieces they did receive than the pieces they did not.

You have to be willing to ask for something

The biggest hurdle for most people to cross when it comes to problem solving is the courage to ask someone for something – especially when it may not be well received. My personal struggle with problem solving is that I don’t want to inconvenience anyone else, so I’ll take on the burden of doing something or giving up something to make everything work out. The result is that I’m unhappy, frustrated and feel taken advantage. But this can be avoided. If you’re like me, we must speak up to initiate compromise, or accept the fact that we caused our own struggle.

You have to be willing to give something

In order to receive, you must also give. When searching for a solution to a problem, it’s to be expected that you’ll need to give something as well. Maybe this is to give time or money, or to give up your desired outcome. Prioritize what’s most important to you and let all the other, more minor details go. Stay focused on the fact that by compromising on lesser important items, you can still gain the things you really want.

It takes many pieces to solve a puzzle

Creative problem solving is exactly like it sounds. It takes creativity. You may need to blend and pull from a variety of possible solutions to ultimately build the best solution to your problem. Brainstorm all possibilities and ask for input. Though you may not adopt any one of these solutions exclusively, you may be inspired to use elements from each to piece together something far better than what you could have thought of on your own.

A good solution takes time

Finally, creative problem solving takes patience. It’s natural to want a clear and obvious solution to present itself overnight, but good solutions take time to develop. There are many moving parts and you want to be sure you’re carefully considering all of your options before you latch on to the first thing that sounds “good.” Now of course you should weigh this against the levity of the problem you’re trying to solve. If you can’t agree on what restaurant to get take out from for dinner, it’s really not necessary to “sleep on it.” How great is the potential impact? If it’s life-changing, give it time. If it’s merely a matter of meal preference, you’ll have another chance to choose your food in a few hours.

Have you recently had to find a creative solution to a complicated problem? Share that various elements you used to reach a resolution. Did you use some of the ones we mentioned in this article?

Are You Busy? Chances Are You’re Nowhere Near Your Full Potential

Chances Are You_re Nowhere Near Your Full Potential

If you’re like most people, your plate looks pretty full right now. You can’t imagine stacking one more client or work project on your calendar for fear it will cause your phone to catch fire. But then a new opportunity presents itself. For us consultants, this opportunity means more money, more exposure, potentially more work down the road, and more fun (because if you don’t love what you do, you’re doing it wrong). Or if you’re in a more traditional, salaried position, a new work project means the opportunity to showcase your skills, impress your boss and prove you’re worth a raise.

So, we can establish that new work opportunities should be viewed as a positive thing. However, there are moments when they still cause the sinking feeling of overwhelm. We’re already juggling a lot, will one more ball in the air cause everything to come down crashing around us? Possibly. But only if that’s the mindset you have going into it. I want to tell you that on more occasions than I can count, I’ve had a plate so full it could keep me “full” for months. Yet, I dared to take on additional work projects, and guess what?  I met all deadlines and proved to myself that I’m capable of far more than I believe.

Take a look at my best advice for adding more projects to an already full plate:

Prep your current clients for a change in your workload.

As soon as you know you’ll be adding some additional work to your schedule, communicate expectations with your current clients. Touch base with all, or even just your key clients who you know will be most impacted by a change in workflow. Give them your attention upfront and offer assurance their project deadlines will be me, possibly earlier than expected in order to accommodate some new work. An added bonus to doing this is your existing clients will see that you’re in demand and that your business is growing. Never a bad thing to communicate to reinforce you value!

Work ahead and automate tasks.

When preparing to take on a new project, you should use this time to frontload as much of your existing client work as possible. It’s likely you have projects that recur month after month. These should come easy to you. Work to get these off your to-do list so you have more room for your new project. Your existing clients will feel well taken care of getting their projects ahead of deadline. And you’ll have the peace of mind knowing you have a (nearly) clean slate to take on more work.

Put nonessential tasks on the backburner.

Up until this point of taking on new work, it’s likely you’ve filled your schedule with some nonessential tasks that are neither urgent nor important. Simply put, these tasks should go on the backburner where they surely will not “boil over” until you’re able to get back to them. It’s natural to fill our time so we feel productive, when really we’re just being busy. When you take a critical look at your existing schedule, you will surely find areas you can eliminate temporarily or even permanently to give you more time to pursue new work.

Schedule similar commitments on similar days.

As someone who works mostly from a home office, if I schedule just one meeting in my day, it’s a huge imposition and greatly reduces my efficiency. Thought it’s just one meeting that’s likely one hour of my time, I spend additional time putting on professional attire (i.e. not pajamas) and driving to and from the meeting. All-in, I lose 2+ hours of work time. Now if I schedule this same meeting on days I have other meetings, I can maximize my efficiency by meeting clients back-to-back in the same or nearby locations. I only have to put on professional attire once that week (ideally). So my advice here is, determine what days will be meeting days and what days will be work days. Avoid mixing the two and you will gain hours by block scheduling similar tasks.

Eliminate distractions.

This will likely be the hardest pieces of advice to follow for most of you and that is eliminating distractions. You know what these are. Cell phones, social media, websites unrelated to the task at hand, etc. You will lose minutes here and there that add up to an hour (or more!) over the course of your day. If you can eliminate these distractions and gain back this work time, you will surely have the bandwidth to take on a new project or two.

Be confident in your abilities.

Finally, be confident in your ability to juggle a full schedule. People do it all the time, at a much more extreme level, and they adjust to the point where they couldn’t imagine life any other way. They’re called “high performers” and you can be one too, if only you have the confidence to step outside your comfort zone, even temporarily. From my own experience ramping up my workload to a level I never imagined was possible, it’s a short squeeze of discomfort until you develop new organizational and time management skills that benefit you not only personally, but also professionally.

If you choose to follow my advice, the most valuable thing you’ll gain from the experience is the realization that you’re capable of far more than you currently imagine. This is not to encourage people to become slaves to work or take on projects to the point of exhaustion, it means moving outside your comfort zone, one step at a time. Chances are, you’re nowhere near close to working to your full potential. As you ramp up your work projects, you’ll be forced to become more organized, efficient and disciplined. Because after all, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

How do you manage the addition to new work projects? What piece of advice did you find most helpful? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

Fear or Inspiration: The Two Motivators That Makes Us Move

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


fearWe see it in the news, read it in a magazine or hear it within our networks almost every day. There’s some new start-up that’s growing exponentially and breaking all kinds of projections. They’re on the fast track to becoming the “next big thing.” It’s enough to make any small business owner or entrepreneur want to throw the old adage of “slow and steady wins the race” out the window.  Who wouldn’t want their business to skyrocket to Facebook-like fame? From my own experiences and observations, I’ve found that for any business that’s progressing and expanding at warp speed, there is most commonly one of two causes for this type of growth. The differences between these causes are paramount to the ultimate success – or implosion – of the business.

Most simply defined, the two motivators for momentum are fear and inspiration. For most businesses, it’s easy to pick out which they’re experiencing. The difference can be seen in whether their actions to accommodate this growth are proactive or reactive. Not all speeds of growth are beneficial if it comes at the risk of ruining your business or losing your sanity.  The ultimate goal for any business experiencing a period of growth should be to run like you’re crossing the finish line, not like you’re being chased.

Running Scared

Especially seen in start-ups, where one good viral marketing campaign can create an insatiable consumer demand almost overnight, the momentum of business growth can make you run like you’re being chased. You’re reactionary. There’s no time to create a sensible growth plan when you’re barely able to keep up with the current demands of the business. You’re not running the business, the business is running you – or after you, rather. Sure it’s momentum and to the outside world it appears that you’re making significant progress, but in reality you’re shooting from the hip with every decision. My political experience has provided me with far too many examples of organizations who function out of fear. Jokingly we called it organized chaos, but this reactionary behavior to everything thrown at us resulted in frequent mistakes and missed opportunities. In retrospect, these situations would have greatly benefited from even just an hour or two of critical planning. This small investment of time in the short term would have given us a more proactive plan to turn to in the long term. For any business or organization that appears to be “running scared,” it’s never too late to pump the breaks and replace this fear with strategy.

Running Toward A Goal

In contrast to the first type of motivator – fear, the motivator of inspiration produces quite a different result within a business. To the outside world movement all appears the same, but inside you can clearly tell a business that functions off of a well thought out growth strategy. Unlike running scared, running toward a goal helps you to make even big decisions with less effort. Your strategy – or finish line – helps you to see the obvious answers. You’re calm, confident and collected because your focus is on anticipating the next step not reacting to the last hurdle. The inspired movers are the business owners who are able to appreciate the growth of their business, not come to curse it. Most importantly, when you have inspiration as your motivator, not fear, you are in complete control of the direction of growth. You’re able to pick and choose the opportunities that best align with your goals. When motivated by fear, you’re more likely to take on every opportunity that comes your way regardless of whether it’s the right fit. I once had someone give me the advice, “Pile as much on your plate as you can. You can always take it off later, but you can’t put it back on.” I was hesitant when I first heard this and have since learned that it’s very bad advice. Be strategic with your opportunities and don’t give into the fear that tells you another one may never come your way – with enough talent and inspiration, they always do!

In thinking about your own business – or even your personal life – which type of growth do you most familiarize yourself with? Are you running scared or are you running toward a goal? There’s no questioning the accuracy of the term “growing pains.” Growth means change and change is often uncomfortable. What’s important to remember is that between the two motivators that make us move – fear and inspiration – one drains us while the other fulfills us.  It’s important to seek out the latter to ensure that even during the most uncomfortable periods of growth that require us to stretch our limits, we have a finish line in sight and a strategy to get there feeling like a champion.

11 Tips to Become a Better Public Speaker

11 Tips to Become a Better Public Speaker

Love it or hate it. Everyone, at some point in their life, will be faced with having to speak to a group of people. This could be a crowd of thousands, or a small group setting. But in order to be effective communicators, which is essential in both personal and professional life, we must embrace, not avoid public speaking.

Truly the best way to improve your public speaking is to do it often. Only then will you be able to assess and refine your skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean booking paid speaking gigs at large conferences. No, this simply means giving a presentation to peers, speaking up in a work meeting or telling a story to a group of friends – but doing so on a regular basis!

The good news is you likely already possess many qualities of a great public speaker, you just need to be intentional about utilizing them. No matter how you would rate your public speaking skills, there’s something to be learned from these 11 tips.

  1. Understand what motivates your audience

Your audience, no matter the size, will have some sort of shared motive. Consider the reason for them to gather together in the first place. Is it a conference? A work meeting? A social function? There is a motive for people showing up to any of these (i.e. something they hope to gain). To prepare for public speaking, give thought to the shared demographics.  Once you’ve pinpointed the shared motive of the group, be sure to speak to this in your presentation.

  1. Know your content – but don’t memorize it

It’s so important to prepare your presentation so that you appear confident and knowledgeable. However, it is absolutely possible to over-prepare to the point that you sound “rehearsed” and not in a good way. By memorizing, word-for-word, what you want to say you risk losing the emotional aspect of your delivery. It can sound cold or robotic. You also remove yourself from living in the moment and adjusting your presentation to your audience’s reaction – a huge missed opportunity! Instead, aim to use your talking points as a reference guide, but don’t rely upon them so heavily that they become your script.

  1. Have back up plans for technology

When it comes to presentations, technology follows Murphy’s Law. I’ve seen so many different hiccups in presentations from a power point presentation that wouldn’t open, to lost internet connection, to a laptop that’s not compatible to the projector – and you get the picture. If you plan to incorporate technology of any kind into your presentation, expect the unexpected. Scout out the meeting location in advance, talk to someone in charge of the room’s technology and most importantly, take matters into your own hand. With a little research, you will find that there are plenty of free resources, like Google Slides, that give you easy access to your audio/visual elements wherever and whenever you need them.

  1. Set the tone of your presentation

Do you want this to feel like a casual conversation among peers? Or do you want your presentation to be highly polished and professional. In my own public speaking, I make sure to set the tone early in my presentation. This can be done by simply opening with such a statement like “I want this to be a fun and informal discussion where you feel welcome to jump in with questions at any time.” A more formal presentation would obviously not begin with such remarks, but might start with a bold attention-getter or an introduction of your credentials to establish your expertise. Setting the tone early will give people a feel for what’s to come.

  1. Get out from behind the podium

This is highly dependent upon your setting, but I feel my speaking is far more engaging when I set away from the podium and give myself the freedom to move around as I speak. First, you feel closer to your audience and as a result you will tend to engage them more. Second, you look less like you’re giving a middle school presentation and more like a confident speaker, which brings me to my next point.

  1. Convey confidence, but be likeable

Confidence is important. So is being relatable and likeable to your audience.  Someone who comes across overly confident risks looking arrogant. As a result, you will create distance between you and your audience and it will be a lot harder to engage them. Smile, make a joke, tell a personal story or share your background/hobbies so people start to feel like they are listening to a real person, not some talking head.

  1. Asses your audience and adjust

This is where you need to understand how to read visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. This is a highly valuable indicator of whether or not your audience is engaged with what you are saying. Does your audience seem distracted? Bored? Annoyed? Their face and body can tell you this. These cues can also tell you if you’re saying things that resonate with your audience. Smiles, nodding heads and people taking notes are positive indicators that you are doing exactly that. If you’re seeing negative feedback, take note and adjust your delivery or move to a new point that you think is more interesting.

  1. Share anecdotes

Everyone loves a good story. Do you have one to share that relates to your message? Practice telling it so you can fine tune your delivery and ensure it remains concise. A story worth sharing is one that elicits emotion. Stories with a funny or happy ending or ones that teach a good lesson will not only wake up your audience, but studies show it will be one of the top things people remember about your presentation.

  1. Anticipate questions

At the end of your presentation, you’ll want to end with the option for your audience to ask questions. Depending upon your audience and the setting, there is likely to be a handful of questions to facilitate discussion. However, that may not always be the case. Even the best presentation can come to an awkward end when the speaker say, “Okay, so who has some questions for me?” and then all you hear is crickets. Rather than slink off stage in silence, step in with your own question so that you’re sure you have at least one more thing to say. I’ve had to do this once or twice and when I do, it usually inspires another question from the audience. Sometimes you just need to be your own wingman!

  1. Stick around after you’re done

So long as your schedule permits, stick around for a little while after your presentation. During the next break, members of the audience may wish to ask you a question in private, offer a thank you or provide feedback on your presentation. These are all valuable opportunities to form relationships and improve your public speaking.

  1. Actively seek more opportunities to speak!

This may be the hardest piece of advice for anyone who doesn’t enjoy public speaking and that’s to get out there and do it as often as you can. There’s no way around it. It’s the only way you’ll get better. I speak from my own personal experience when I say I used to be as nervous as anyone before stepping up in front of a crowd. Now I regularly present to a wide variety of audiences – and not only have my nerves calmed, I actually look forward to sharing my passion and putting on a good “performance.”

How do you feel about public speaking?

Moreover, how would you rate yourself as a public speaker?

Share your public speaking experience and the tips you’ve found to be most effective for improving your skills!

A Day in the Life of a Mompreneur

mompreneur 2

For many types of careers, you can quickly gather what a typical work routine might look like. While day to day tasks and interactions will continuously change, more traditional career paths have fairly predictable hours and work locations. Moreover they usually focus on serving one industry or a certain type of clientele.

What I want to share with you, in stark contrast, is the typical day of a mompreneur.

 

More than me choosing the mompreneur career path, it chose me. I began as a solo entrepreneur, prior to marriage and children. When these things eventually came along, I didn’t want to halt growing my business nor did I want to put a pause on personal life. So I buckled up for the wild ride of being a mompreneur – running my own Public Relations firm while raising two young boys, often simultaneously. The result? An utterly chaotic, but flexible, ever-changing, but rewarding lifestyle that suits me well.

How do I get it done in a day? Truly, every day is a different routine. Some days are more work intensive, some are more family intensive. What I’m about to show you is a single snap shot of a recent Monday schedule for me.

4:00am – No, this is NOT part of my normal routine. However my youngest son found his way down to our bedroom and mom duty is 24/7. So I spent the next half hour snuggling, reading, rocking, singing and coercing him back to bed because “the moon is still up…and mommy is TIRED.”

6:00am – Alarm goes off and I slowly transform from zombie to human with a large cup of coffee. I click away on my keyboard to clean up emails that came in over the weekend. I send out a statewide press release for a client and promote my weekly blog post which went live a few minutes ago. I’m wrapping up my last “early morning” work session when…

6:40am – Tiny feet come loudly stomping down the stairs. “Hi Mommy!” smiles my older son. While there is more work to be done, I close my laptop and switch into mom mode. The next hour or so is a whirlwind of making breakfast, making beds, changing two tiny bodies, breaking up fights, packing lunches and finding a moment to brush my teeth.

8:00am – Today I take both boys with me to the YMCA where they’ll hang out in the kids’ room for about 2 hours. It’s free childcare, they burn off some energy and I get some more work and personal time. At this stage in life, my YMCA membership is my ticket to sanity.

8:40am – After getting in some cardio, I take a quick break to knock off a few work tasks before heading into my workout class.

9:00am – Maybe the best hour of my day – I put aside all thoughts of work or kids and focus on re-centering myself with a really good workout.

10:00am – I have ½ hour of child care time that I use to check in on my clients’ social media postings for the day. I also have a standing client phone call every other Mondays that takes about 15 minutes. I knock this out and go pick up the kids. It takes us about 15 minutes to make it to the car, but I finally get everyone strapped in safely without forgetting anything. Mom win!

10:30am – We arrive back at home where our live-in Au Pair is now on duty. Karen starts an activity with the boys while I grab a quick shower. I have to step in to address a tantrum, caused by an Oreo cookie, before grabbing my lunch bag, kissing the boys goodbye, explaining (3 or 4 times) where I’m going and when I’ll be home, and then I jump in the car with a deep breath. I made it out of the house before 11am!

11:15am – I drive a quarter mile to Messiah College’s library where I’ve been doing a lot of my work lately. It’s free, comfortable and very close to home. Unfortunately, my home office isn’t an ideal work space when they boys are being watched in our home. Plus, it’s nice to be a new setting for a few hours.

2:30pm – I’m finally caught up on emails and tasks that have come in throughout the morning. I’ve scheduled three client meetings for later this week, booked a great deal on a Mexico vacation for later this year (we’ve earned it!), wrote a new blog post and reviewed my presentation that I’ll give at an educators’ conference in Altoona tomorrow. Coffee break!

3:00pm – I do a phone interview with a client to gain more information for a promotional article I’m writing for them. I wrap up the call and pull together the article quickly, since it’s fresh on my mind. I’m well ahead of my client task list this month, which is good because I have a few additional projects and clients I’ll be taking on later this month that will require extra time. Over the next week, I’ll also spend 3 days on the road presenting at different conferences. This is why I work hard to clear my bandwidth as quickly as possible so I can jump on extra opportunities as they present themselves.

4:00pm – I’m in a good spot to put away work for the rest of the day. Most days I head home early to spend some extra time with the boys. Or sometimes I’ll run an errand. Today I need this extra time to catch up some reading for our church group that meets tonight. This is a relaxing way to ease out of the work day.

5:30pm – I get settled back at home while our Au Pair, Karen spends time with the boys outside. I call everyone in for dinner. Before Karen, dinnertime was really stressful with kids wanting to play and mom needing to cook. Having an extra set of hands in the evenings is so helpful – and it allows me to be more present with the boys.

6:15pm – We leave as a family to go to our friends’ house where five couples from our church meet bi-monthly. The kids play with Karen and another sitter downstairs while the adults get some meaningful time to talk and discuss our current book series “Love and Respect.”

8:30pm – We are back home and it’s straight to bed for the boys. It takes a little time for them to wind down, but with enough books, songs, kisses and glasses of water, we close their doors for the night.

9:00pm – For the next hour, my husband and I spend undivided time together. Sometimes this is catching up on our favorite TV show, sometimes it’s sitting on the front porch and talking about the day, other times it’s the necessary evil of taking care of some household tasks or making decisions on things to keep everything running smoothly. No matter how we spend this hour, I’m grateful to spend it together.

10:00pm – No later than 10:00pm, we’re in bed and recharging to run a different, but equally busy schedule tomorrow. Here’s to hoping there’s no 4:00am wake up calls tonight!

Now that’s you’ve seen a glimpse into one of my many different daily routines, does it feel similar to your own or completely different? It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve had a strict 8am-5pm work schedule. Even before kids I remember it not meshing well with my personal work style. I imagine that would only be amplified now. I love the freedom and flexibility of being a mompreneur, but I accept that it comes with unique challenges, constantly changing schedules and a lot of juggling.

What routine have you found to give you the best work-life balance? Is it something you currently have or want to have? Join in the discussion by leaving a comment below!

 

Oh the Places You’ll…Work!

the places you'll work

It’s a Dr. Seuss book that has become the standard gift to give someone for graduation, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” I have my own copy stored somewhere. I truly haven’t thought much about this book since my own college graduation, but recently the words in that title have never been truer of my professional life.

Sure, since starting my own PR firm nearly seven years ago, I suppose I have gotten to go to a lot of new places. But that’s not what made me think of this book. Rather, if Dr. Seuss were to write a book about my life these last few weeks it would be called “Oh the Places You’ll…Work!”

I have always enjoyed that my career allows me to work from virtually anywhere. Most often I’m comfortable in my home office, or I’d get out to park or coffee shop to enjoy a change in scenery. However, since hiring our au pair, both of my young sons are in or around our home during the day. The convenience of this is awesome, but there’s definitely the drawback that they can and will find me – often at the most inopportune times.

Lately, I’ve had to ditch my home office and seek out workspace away from the home. What I’ve discovered is a treasure trove of free work spaces all throughout my town. What felt like a minor inconvenience, has opened my eyes to some pretty creative ways entrepreneurs – or moms who simply want to drink a cup of coffee in peace – can set up “shop” just about anywhere. Here are my favorites thus far!

College campuses – I’m fortunate to live within walking distance to a small private college, Messiah College. While I’ve walked this campus for years, I’ve never really stepped foot inside their buildings. Once I did, I found a handful of perfect co-working spaces. A college or university is a prime spot for pop-up offices. They have free wifi, plenty of quiet areas, ample outlets, and open desks/tables/chairs to suit your needs. In Messiah’s library, there are even glassed in private work spaces that are first come first serve! Usually there’s a café or coffee shop nearby too. So this has become my favorite virtual office as of late.

The gym – Sounds weird, but it’s efficient! Our local YMCA has free wifi, coffee and a comfortable lounge area in the entrance. In an effort to get out of the house as quickly as possible in the morning, I head to the gym. I usually have a few hours to kill before my preferred workout class, so I’ll pop open my laptop, drink a cup of coffee and start my day. Then I can enjoy a workout knowing my email is under control and I have a handle on my to-do list for the day.

Co-working spaces – As you might have picked up from the theme of this article, I’m just really against paying for office space. A lot of our local co-working spaces come with a monthly fee; however, I’ve learned where in other cities this is offered for free. I often find myself in State College, Pennsylvania for both work and social obligations. Here, they have an incubator/accelerators space called Launch Box. This is a free resource for students and entrepreneurs to work, get mentored and learn from other entrepreneurs. All around it’s just a fun environment! As a bonus, it’s located right down town so grabbing a quick lunch while working is very convenient.

Coffee shops – This is a pretty standard go-to work space for many entrepreneurs. I’ll usually go to a coffee shop if I have a meeting scheduled there. I’ll arrive a little early and get in some extra work time before taking the meeting. I don’t use coffee shops as my regular workspace because they tend to get loud and crowded. Also places like Panera will cut off your wifi after so many hours. All that being said, coffee shops make great workspace options while you’re on the road and unfamiliar with other options in the area.

Libraries – Libraries make for okay workspaces. I suppose it depends upon your local library. This is a great option if you really need to dig deep into a project and require silence. Libraries don’t work so well when you need to take phone calls throughout the day – or you’re like me and tend to be a loud snacker.

Client’s office – I have several clients who graciously offer me unlimited use of their office space. This is ideal when I’ll already be in the area and need some workspace in between meetings. It’s a great way to get regular facetime with your client as well. For me, I get to enjoy working a day or so a week from a very nice office space right across the street from Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. I can take meetings in the conference room or meet up with a friend for lunch. I bill this as my “social” day – which one day a week is usually enough for me!

Outside – I’ve been able to find some really nice outdoor work spaces too. They key is to find shade otherwise it becomes extremely tedious to find your mouse on a screen that has a glare from the sun. It can also get hot and uncomfortable! I like working outside for an hour or so and then heading indoors. It’s a great way to add some variety to your day and get a dose of energy during those sleepy afternoon hours.

And some pretty unusual spaces…

While these are not my “typical” nor preferred workspaces, it’s fun to reflect on some of the outrageous places I’ve been able to accomplish work. Luckily having small children has given me the ability to focus through just about anything, which is what makes this possible! Some of my unusual office spaces include: golf course, casino, carwash, grocery store, mechanic, doctor’s office, airplane, train, car, bus (pretty much every type of transportation), bar, beach and many more I can’t remember!

Do you benefit from having a virtual work environment? Share some of the best places you’ve found to work remotely outside a traditional office or home office!

 

Good, Cheap, Fast: The dilemma of providing ideal service

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


service

Just a few days ago I was in a local mechanic’s shop and amidst the shelves stacked high with dusty papers and some foreign-looking objects that were likely common knowledge auto parts, there was a simple sign hung on the window that looked into the garage. It read, “We offer three kinds of service: Good – Cheap – Fast. You can pick any two.” After my initial amusement from envisioning an old crotchety man pleased with himself as he hung this sign in his shop, I realized that is the dilemma every business owner faces when trying to offer ideal customer service. For a laundry list of reasons, my business is very different from this mechanic’s. But when it comes to customer service, this sign accurately summarizes us both.

If it’s fast and good, it won’t be cheap. “Rush” projects are common in almost every industry. From the mechanic to the Public Relations professional, sometimes some things just cannot wait. Because a rush project can save a client from a terrible inconvenience, loss of potential business or increase their revenue, I certainly accommodate them whenever possible. In fact, one of my main reasons for keeping ahead of my planned projects is to allow for the occasional rush project. Allow me to say what most other business owners think; we keep this open time for rush projects because they’re a great source of unexpected and well-paying work. People are willing to pay more to prevent a bad situation – and thus, the dilemma of rush service. A bad business owner takes advantage of this opportunity to gauge a client in a vulnerable situation (i.e. obscene rush shipping charges or overtime wages), while a good business owner charges just enough more to compensate them for the extra hours of work and the opportunity-cost of pushing their scheduled projects to the side.

If it’s good and cheap, it won’t be fast. For clients who want the highest quality of service at the best price possible, the key is to be flexible with your deadlines and to start well ahead of when you need something done. The best example I can give here is my experience with mass mailings and the postal system. If I have a large enough mailing, I can benefit from pre-sorted postage rates which are half that of a regular stamp. This is a huge cost savings when your list is in the thousands! However, the big caveat here is that you must give yourself ample lead time for the mailing to process and hit mailboxes—I’m talking about a month. The postal service offers this discount rate, but it can take up to 25 business days to be delivered, as opposed to the standard 2-3. If you want something done good and cheap, you must be more flexible on the time frame in which you wish to have it completed. A long lead time (and ample patience) can save you a lot of money in the long run if you can plan ahead for it.

If it’s fast and cheap, it won’t be good. This combination of service is the one that most good business owners would prefer to avoid entirely. When it’s all said and done, neither the customer nor the business will be happy with a final product that was done quickly and cheaply. I know this is one of the rare instances where I might need to step away from a project if I think it will poorly reflect upon me or my business. Certainly I offer every client my best services at the fairest rates; it’s only when I’m stretched beyond reason that it becomes a problem. The two other options above prove why fast and cheap service won’t be the best quality. A business either needs to charge more for a rush project that pushes all other projects to the side or needs more time and flexibility from a client to do the best work on a tight budget.

Can we ever have all three? If you’re talking in extremes, I’d say the answer is no. An award-winning web site design done in three days for under $500 is either a scam or poor business management. In the real world, one of these three factors (time, quality or cost) would need to give. In less extreme examples, I have personally benefited from rush projects, done completely to my standard and for a fair price. The key is relationships. Once you build a good relationship with a business owner or contractor, you can work with them to achieve a good balance of all three.

As for me and the mechanic, I paid well under what the dealership would have charged me, fulfilled my inspection for the year and had my car back in just a few hours. So regardless of what that sign hanging in his window said, I think I just might have gotten away with getting a little bit of all three!

5 Common Legal Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Startup (Contribution from Michael Deane)

The following post comes to us from marketing entrepreneur, Michael Deane, who is the founder three businesses and currently working on his next startup venture. Be sure to learn more about Michael in his biography at the end of this article.


legal mistakes

Alan Moore once said that ideas can change the world.

And isn’t that what all startups start out as? An idea that we hope will change the world?

While we are busy brainstorming and developing theories and ideas, coming up with the next product that will shake the ground we walk on, the business side of our business creeps up on us, and lurks there in the dark, waiting to pounce at the most opportune moment.

As a business owner, I can tell you two things: there will be about a million things you would rather do than read laws and regulations, draft contracts, do your taxes and fill out all the finger cramping paperwork needed to register a company. However – and it’s a big however – without the dull stuff, the fun stuff will not quite pay off as you hoped it might.

In order to hopefully save you some of the potential trouble down the line – here are my five legal missteps to avoid at all cost.

Not Knowing the Difference between a Corporation and an LLC

One of the most common mistakes you can make very early on is not even thinking about the different options to register a company. Naturally, the choice you make will mostly depend on where you live in the world, but the actual legal structures are quite similar, no matter what name they go by.

You can go for a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited company, a limited liability corporation, or a full blown corporation. The reason why this is important is quite simple: taxes. There’s also the issue of personal liability, which is again more important than you may initially think.

Weigh your options very carefully before you actually start this process. Some countries offer the option of registering your company online, which involves less hassle than having to walk from office to office to do it. There are also very different fees involved, and the necessary number of signatures can also vary.

As always in business, research is your friend, so do it right, do it early on, and save yourself the legal trouble later on.

Not Bothering to Protect Your Intellectual Property

When I say intellectual property, I don’t only mean secret recipes, production secrets and unique service ideas. Your intellectual property may be something as seemingly simple as a logo or a brand catchphrase. And while it may not seem too important early on, it may become a game changer in later years.

Trademarking any unique designs can protect your assets and save you from intellectual property theft. If you’ve ever seen Dream Girls, you will have heard the two versions of the “Cadillac Car” song – don’t let that happen to you.

If you have also come up with a new production system or even a new blend – patenting it can turn into a valuable asset.

Failing to Grasp the Importance of Contracts

A contract is a legal document in place to protect all of the parties signing it. When you think about it, you would never consider working with a client without one, right?

However, as you are starting out, you may feel it is easier to operate without them. Having to get a client to sit down and read through a couple of pages can be more difficult than chatting about a deal online, and shaking a firm hand.

To save yourself a lot of unnecessary headaches, draft a contract that will protect you – especially in case a client fails to pay an invoice. This happens more than you can imagine, and a contract that ensures you will get paid is a lifesaver.

While there are thousands of ready-made contracts available for download – you will be much better off if you have a template contract drafted by a professional attorney. This way, you ensure that the specifics of your business and the service or product you offer are taken into consideration, and that you are not overlooking a very obvious clause that may not have made its way into an online contract.

Googling for Help

While Google is often our best friend – it is the worst place to go for legal advice. While there are countless blogs and forums that can offer some great business tips, productivity hacks and motivational speeches – don’t ask the internet to tell you how to get out of a particular legal issue.

You will undoubtedly find an answer you will like, an answer you will find helpful and an answer that seems right – but no one can guarantee it will actually do the job.

Take everything you read online with a grain of salt (including this very article) and think things through yourself. We have become so dependent on having all the information in the world at our fingertips that we can forget to use our own common sense to solve a problem.

Being Unclear about Company Roles

Knowing who does what and is responsible for which aspect of the business is not only important from the legal standpoint. The law will need to know who the legal representative of your company is, and who is liable for what. Thinking about this early on is very important.

While there may only be a handful of employees in the company right now – that is likely to change, if the idea I mentioned at the beginning was sound. Figure out who will be the face of the company, who will be responsible for the financial side, and who will be the liable one, in case things go south. This is where the type of company structure you choose comes into play again.

I hope these five tips will help you as you set out to chase your dreams. And that 400 years from now, your idea is still changing the world!


Michael DeaneAbout the Author: Michael Deane has been working in marketing for just under a decade, and has successfully launched three of his own businesses. Today, he runs a small business blog at Qeedle, and is working on his next big venture idea.

Top Things Every College Student Needs to Do Before Graduation

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with some Penn State undergrads to mentor them on the steps they should take right now to better position themselves for a career in the field of communications.

I will tell you that the post-graduation job hunt was rough when I was in school, and it’s just as challenging, if not more so, now. Especially for students who dream of moving to a big city and working for a big name brand, the competition is fierce! I was encouraged to see how seriously these college students were taking their studies and internships and how eager they were to learn more about polishing up their personal brand to make them a desirable hire.

Whether I was talking to a freshman or fifth year senior, studying public relations or film and video, I found myself repeating the same core piece of advice. Here’s what I told my mentees, and here’s what I want to tell you to. Building your personal brand, at every stage of your career, is highly important. It’s one of the few things you can control and actively improve each and every day.

So while you furiously continue to send out those resumes and cover letters, scour the internet and refresh your inbox – here’s what you can be doing to make the most of your time spent waiting for a call-back.

Polish Your Resume

Just about every college or university has a dedicated “career services” office that offers some great advice to get you started in the right direction with building a professional resume. That being said, many of my colleagues and I have run into the issue of career services’ advice being slightly different than what we know to be current best practices.

The bottom line here is to first seek initial help from career services, but don’t stop there! Do your own research for resume advice from respected online sources. Also ask alumni or family friends who work in your field (and who will know what information and formatting the industry wants to see on your resume right now) to review your resume. You are likely to encounter differing opinions, and will need to seek balance, but use your best judgement as to who best understands your industry.

Create a Linkedin Profile

Most college students are on Linkedin. If you’re not, well start there. If you are on Linkedin already, how polished is your profile? There are countless articles on best practices for creating a professional Linkedin profile, so again, do your research!

If I had to quickly prioritize the main areas that can make or break a good Linkedin profile, they would be having a professional-looking profile picture, using your personal summary to really “tell your story,” fully and accurately listing your education and job history and prioritizing your list of skills to increase your SEO.

Treat it like any of your other college projects, giving it your attention to detail, creativity and technical know-how. After all, building your personal brand is likely the most important project you’ll ever work on!

Build (and Organize) Your Contact List

Growing your personal brand is similar to growing a business’s brand in that you need to establish a quality list of contacts (potential leads, referrals or employers). Throughout your high school and college career you have made quite a few professional contacts, whether you realize it or not.

It’s important to take the time to capture these contacts and organize them in an excel spreadsheet. Take an afternoon and list out anyone of influence that you know, or know through someone else. These could be local business owners in your hometown, contacts from a past job or internship, your professors and faculty, or friends’ parents. Don’t discount anyone! Even if they do not work in your career field, think of how many people they know. A contact two or three degrees removed from someone you know personally, just might help you land your dream job.

How you choose to use this list of contacts is up to you, but I suggest sending them a professional email, preferably through Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, announcing your upcoming graduation and highlighting your skills and education. Make a direct ask for these contacts to pass on your resume to anyone they know who may be hiring in your field. Be sure to attach your resume! By making it easy for your contacts to forward this email, you have the potential of reaching hundreds of people who just might be looking to hire someone like you!

Create a Portfolio of Your Work

Now more than ever, college students have all the tools they need to quickly and easily create an online portfolio of work. Especially if your major is one that has great visual components (graphic design, landscape architecture, art, etc.), you simply must have a professional online portfolio of work to be a top competitor in your field.

Wix, Squarespace and WordPress (and many, many more) offer free websites that you can customize and launch in a few, easy steps. Sure, it’s not going to look like a $50k+ website, but that’s not necessary! What’s necessary is showing a potential employer that you are a professional go-getter who is tech savvy and who goes the extra mile. Be sure to link out to this online portfolio from your resume and in email emails you send to potential employers/contacts.

Hone in On Your Career Objective

Does your resume include a clear objective for what you’re looking to get out of your career? If you want to stand out, it’s so important to clearly communicate your “why.” Work to define your career objective, or you can call it your professional mission statement. In about two sentences you should be able to describe your drive to work in the industry and the unique skills you bring to the table.

Best of all, with a clear objective, you will have a strong and polished answer to provide to any potential employer who asks you the common, but often challenging question of “So what do you want this job?”

Scrub Your Social Media

This is a hot topic for our current generation of college graduates. You’ve likely built a robust collection of social media posts and pictures throughout your college career. While the archive of memories are ones you don’t want to forget, they’re better saved offline. You’ll want to dedicate quite a bit of time to carefully “stalking” yourself on social media to remove anything that could even remotely be a red flag for a future employer. Look at your profile through eyes. How do you want to be represented?

Do keep in mind that simply deleting posts and images is by no means a guaranteed they won’t appear elsewhere. You’ll want to also search for your name and any other distinguishing characteristics (such as your college’s name, hometown or major) and see what comes up. If you need help scrubbing some less than desirable search results, or you simply want to move favorable search results (such as awards or honors) up in ranking, I highly recommend Brand Yourself. Seriously, check it out!

Network with Your Professors

This final piece of advice is what I feel is most overlooked by college students and that’s utilizing the network (and knowledge) of your professors. They’re the ones teaching you everything you need to know about your industry, certainly they have a highly influential network. Schedule time to really talk with them about your career goals, ask questions and express and uncertainty or frustration. Office hours are not limited to reviewing class materials.

You will never regret building a personal relationship with your professors who can continue to support you after graduation. On a similar note, be sure to utilize your alumni network. We truly care about you guys and want to see you thrive in the same industry we dedicated our college career to studying. I speak from personal experience when I say it brings us alums great joy to see the next generation succeed!

Do you have other advice to share with college students preparing for life after graduation? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

Married to an Entrepreneur: 8 Tips to Survive and Thrive

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I’m married to an entrepreneur. For many of you who can relate, you would understand how that alone can add a layer of complexity to balancing work and marriage. However, my husband can also say that he’s married to an entrepreneur, too. Yes, as fate would have it two entrepreneurial spirits found one another, amidst their own life’s chaos and fell in love.

In fact, I met Scott just weeks before I took my entrepreneurial leap. He was only 5 years into running his own nonprofit organization, and knowing how risky and challenging this journey can be, still whole-heartedly welcomed me into the tumultuous seas of entrepreneurship. “Jump in the water’s fine!”

Fortunately, taking that leap remains the most important moment in my career that has led me to now entering my seventh year as owner of Bennis Public Relations. In these seven years, I didn’t just grow my business, we also grew our family by two sweet (and very energetic) boys. Scott also ventured into two more businesses (as entrepreneurs tend to do), both startups requiring what feels like 300% of his time.

If you’re doing the math, between us that’s four businesses, two young children….and a partridge and a pear tree.

But in all seriousness, yes our schedules are sometimes crazy, yes we sometimes have challenging moments and overwhelming workloads, yes we sometimes wear many hats and have many masters to serve. But we’ve also established, and worked hard to achieve a pretty enjoyable life flow. I want to share with you how we (sometimes) do it all: grow businesses, chase after children, find time for date nights and get enough sleep to survive…sometimes.

For anyone else who can say “I’m married to an entrepreneur,” here’s my advice to you:

 1. Determine whose “day” it’s going to be. With two busy schedules, and when children are involved, you have to communicate important obligations (i.e. travel, work meetings, events) early and often. This helps to manage expectations and prevent any “Who’s going to watch the kids?” moments.

2. Never give unsolicited business advice. When I ask Scott about his day, he often shares the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s tempting to weigh in with advice on what he should do or could have done differently. While this can be appreciated at times, sometimes he or I just want to lament and have someone listen – not provide commentary. Our own ground rule is to never give unsolicited business advice. Often we solicit, but when we don’t, we try to respect this boundary.

3. Get on the same page about how you want to use your free time. It may be hard to believe, but we have many evenings or weekends where our schedules are completely open. I’ve found it so important to communicate how we each desire to use this time. Before doing so, I would often have a vastly different game plan for this time. Sometimes Scott would want to take a family day trip while I preferred to catch up on things around the house and relax. Sometimes I’d be ready to hangout while Scott needed to catch up on a quick work project. The outcome was frustration and disappointment. Usually over breakfast one of us brings up the question, “So what are your plans for tonight?” It’s made all the difference!

4. Don’t use each other as your sole sounding board. Similar to not giving unsolicited business advice, this tip falls more on the spouse who is the one actively seeking business advice. I’ve found that we are both able to get the support and encouragement we need when we don’t look solely to one another to provide this 100% of the time. This means seeking out friends and fellow business owners to also be a sounding board. After all, second (and third) opinions are a good thing.

5. Sacrifice for both your family and business. As a business owner, you have to make many sacrifices for your business – putting in long hours, investing your own funds and picking up the slack to name a few. What I have found to be so important is to also sacrifice for your family. This might mean letting some work pile up over the weekend or silencing a phone call over dinner to maintain the peace and necessity of family time. Family (and especially spouses) can feel neglected when they see you sacrifice endlessly for your business, yet see you struggle to do the same for your family.

6. Frequently assess your “life” plan. Everyone has a bad day, stressful week or disappointing month. However, if you see this as a growing trend, it’s time to take action. I firmly believe that you need to assess your “life” plan every so often, just as you would a business plan. This is where you should also involve your spouse to gauge how they have been feeling lately about the balance between family and work.

7. If something’s not working, fix it. Once you’ve assessed your life plan and found major areas that need improvement – do something about it! Adjust schedules, reassign responsibilities, outsource work, ask for help and prioritize family time. I promise you, if you don’t do this, things will only get worse.

8. Make time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Most importantly, learn how to enjoy what you’ve worked so hard to earn. Scott and I went far too long without taking a weekend getaway, much less a real vacation together. When we finally did, wow what an experience! For so long we were used to the daily hustle, pinching every penny and using every spare moment to grow our business. If we ever got to do something together, it was often work-related for one of us. A true, work-free vacation, at least annually, is something that has brought us so much closer together and also encourages us to keep up the grind!

Whether you are married to an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur yourself or both, there are some unique challenges we face when it comes to balancing work and family. What piece of advice did you find most helpful? Do you have different advice to share?

Join in the conversation by leaving a comment!