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Life

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!

A Day in the Life of a Mompreneur

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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!

 

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!

When Should You Outsource a Task?

when to outsource

As a PR consultant, I am most often the one helping businesses outsource their PR and communication strategies to lessen their workload. For a lot of reasons, I love the concept of outsourcing and believe that in specific scenarios it works beautifully! Business owners have more time to devote on business development and operations, while they know that their PR efforts are being consistently and professionally executed, sometimes even as they sleep!

I acknowledge that there are some scenarios where outsourcing isn’t the best option and can cause a disconnection and dysfunction in a business. Often this is the result of a lack of communication and leadership. What I’ve discovered through my experience with outsourcing is that there are three simple questions I must ask myself to determine if I should complete a task in-house, or seek the help of a contractor to outsource the task.

The following three questions will help change your life – both personally and professionally. Think of some of the tasks you are procrastinating from accomplishing right now. How would you answer these three questions about those tasks?

  1. Does it bring me joy or fulfillment?

Does the act of accomplishing a certain task bring you joy or fulfillment? Don’t focus on the end result here. Usually we are all happy to knock a task off our to-do list. What this question is asking is do you enjoy the actual act or process that leads to the accomplishment?

For example, I love having a clean home, but the act of cleaning my house, especially those nitty gritty corners, does not bring me joy or fulfillment. I drudge through this task, often doing less than a stellar job just to get mediocre results. I know people who absolutely love cleaning, it’s like a religious experience for them. For this very reason, I acknowledge that cleaning is a task I may choose to outsource. And I’ll reinforce this further with my next point.

  1. Is it the best use of my time?

Expanding upon the house cleaning example, I choose to outsource this task to a phenomenal cleaning lady who comes once a month, works for 3-4 hours tackling every room in the house, and provides all her own cleaning products. Her flat rate equals one hour of my billable time. Plus I don’t have to buy virtually any cleaning supplies! For me, cleaning my home is not the best use of my time, especially because it doesn’t bring my joy or fulfillment.

You may be able to think of a variety of other examples in your own personal or professional life that would yield a similar answer. It has nothing to do with feeling you are “above” a certain task. Again, refer to question number 1. If a task doesn’t bring you fulfillment and you can earn more money in the same time it takes to outsource it, don’t guilt trip yourself. Now consider this final question carefully.

  1. Does it help others?

I strongly believe everyone should use some of their time, each and every day, to help others. This can and will look very different for each of us. For some, it’s volunteer work for a cause you care about, for others it’s offering free professional advice with no intention of trying to profit from it. For others still, it’s providing someone else with the opportunity to do better in life. This can be through charitable donations, but also by creating opportunities for people to earn a good living using their God-given skills.

To draw a final parallel to my house cleaning example, I could certainly make time to accomplish this task myself. But it would mean one less client for a fellow small business owner. Rather, I enjoy compensating someone else, a fair and competitive rate, for the skills they are using to earn a living.

Years ago, as I was working hard to incubate my business and save every penny I could, I didn’t dare dream of outsourcing anything. Even after the business was producing stable profits, I struggled to break free from this mindset. Instead, I spent years doing everything I could to keep low overhead, both personally and professionally. Only in recent years, have I learned to enjoy the fruits of my labor and create a life that is far more enjoyable with outsourcing certain tasks. I urge you to thoughtfully consider the same.

Your answers to these three questions may surprise you, and as you run the numbers, you will find that outsourcing things you do not enjoy, that are not the best use of your time and that could help someone else instead, is a viable and valuable opportunity to spend more time doing what you love!

What tasks do you outsource in your life? What are your standards to determine if you should outsource? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

Facebook’s Latest Changes Favors Person-to-Person Contact – and You Should Too!

Facebook changes

In a video announcement released by Facebook earlier this month, Mark Hull, Director of Product Management, opens by saying “People come to Facebook to connect with the people who matter to them.” The video goes on to explain that over the next year Facebook intends to implement a series of changes to alter the way we receive and interact with the content that comes across our newsfeeds.

My first reaction was that this would be some new marketing strategy to enable businesses, and maybe even individuals, to promote their content in a highly targeted and intensive way. However, it’s quite the opposite!

Rather, it appears that Facebook has done their homework and came to the same, glaring conclusions as the rest of society (whether we choose to fully acknowledge it yet or not). And that is we have become, for the most part, addicted to social media in a serious and life-changing way. At minimum, scrolling through Facebook and taking in everyone else’s highlight reel causes us to feel negative about our own lives. From there, it can quickly progress to people who weigh their entire self-worth by their social media engagements and suffer severe depression and anxiety as a result.

Social media is the drug of choice for many, and Facebook has taken responsibility for helping us rehab from this. While I see these changes as having real potential for positive change, it’s important that we, the users, understand the method for how things show up in our newsfeed so that we can (somewhat) take control of what we’re exposed to.

In light of the changes Facebook plans to implement over the coming year, here are 5 things we must learn to do differently to attain the best (and by that I mean healthiest) user experience.

Prioritize your person-to-person contact.

Sometimes I login to Facebook with the intent of seeing how my friends and family have spent their weekend and all of a sudden I’ve spent an hour watching “Tasty” videos of instructions for how to make casseroles and cheesecakes. Can you relate? Facebook has identified that most of us get sucked into viral videos and articles that have nothing to do with our personal community. While this content is fun temporarily, their research has proven that it’s harmful long-term.

This next step is going to be hard, but when scrolling through your newsfeed try to pay the most attention to your connections personal shares of photos and posts – a family selfie, photo album from a recent vacation or a call for advice on a topic. By scrolling to, and spending more time looking at this content, you will help Facebook better curate a more personal and meaningful newsfeed for you. The next step builds upon this further…

Engage with the content – if you like it, show it!

When you come to personally shared content that you enjoy, take the minimal extra effort to click the “like” button. It’s silly how challenging or awkward that feels for most of us. For example, my Facebook connections have grown quite a bit over the years from just my closest friends who I’ve spent years of my life getting to know, to people that are maybe one or two degrees removed from a friend and quite likely I’ve met them once in person, if at all.

I enjoy growing my network, but I don’t feel close enough to all my contacts to engage with their content. This shouldn’t hold me back! I’ve seen relationships grow through mainly Facebook interaction where you do start to feel like you know the other person. So long as you’re not crossing any major “stalking” boundaries, people will appreciate your likes and comments. I know I love seeing how people engage with my content, and we could all do a better job of reciprocating.

Why this is important for Facebook’s new changes is that the more you engage with your contacts, the more you will see these contacts show up in your newsfeed, and vice versa. Again back to curating your own newsfeed, you can help customize what you want to see more of by showing Facebook what you enjoy.

Put effort into your communication.

Facebook is now telling us that engaging with content through likes is good, but commenting is great. It takes maybe one whole second to react to post and throw a thumbs up or heart up there. But by taking the time to write a couple sentences in the comment section shows Facebook this is a genuine connection, someone who you feel comfortable engaging with on this level.

As a result, these interactions will be ranked higher than a mere post like. What hopefully will result is that people will be inspired to start a dialogue with one another, even if it’s through private messenger. This is way better than everyone posting photos of their “highlight reel” which, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can make people feel pretty bad about the reality of their own lives.

Don’t be a passive scroller – it’s for your own good!

All of this being said, you “passive scrollers” out there won’t be doing yourselves any favors by standing in a corner. You’ll need to jump in and engage your contacts if you want to have some control over whose content you see most often in your newsfeed.

Some of my newer friends to Facebook, who haven’t felt comfortable reaching out to request contacts beyond their own family, often complain that their newsfeed is filled with just one or two people who post “all the time.” The reality is, if you only have 30 Facebook friends and 5 of them post once or more per day, you’re going to feel like they are bombarding your newsfeed. If you really want more variety in your newsfeed, you need to grow your Facebook connections. You should still be careful with how you do this, but if you open up a bit, you’ll realize that friending a co-worker is not the same as giving them keys to your house. Be authentic in real life and on social media and you will have nothing to hide.

Login with a purpose and a time limit.

Here’s a novel idea. Get serious about limiting your exposure to social media. This is easier said than done, I know. I would likely be appalled by the number of hours I spent on Facebook that I don’t even account for.

Here’s my challenge to you, if you really want to reduce the negativity and anxiety of being dependent upon social media for entertainment. Establish a purpose for surfing Facebook and set a time limit. Your purpose doesn’t have to be “marketing my business” (and that’s a pet peeve of mine that will have to be a whole other blog series). It can still be completely social, but at least login knowing your purpose. For example, maybe you want to catch up with a friend you haven’t reached out in a while. Don’t just stalk their profile, send them a message or comment on their latest post! Or maybe you need some parenting advice or a recommendation for an HVAC company. Though still social, these purposes lead your mindset and your engagement on social media and keep you from getting lost down a Buzzfeed rabbit hole.

Through these changes, Facebook actually anticipates the time their users spend on the platform to decrease! However, they feel the time users do spend on Facebook will result in a healthier, more positive experience.

How do you feel about these changes to how Facebook shares, and favors, content? Do you think it will be an enhancement to user experience, a setback to businesses or a little of both?

Jump in the conversation!

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Better Time Management

5 New Year_s Resolutions for Better Time Management

Some of my very first blog posts have focused on the topic of time management. I’m passionate about discovering new ways to efficiently use my time so that I can have the greatest impact on my clients while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The reality is, it will always be a work in progress and sometimes I slide back into old habits that leave me feeling overwhelmed.

For 2018, I want to refresh my time management tools to make this year my most fulfilling one yet, both on the professional and personal sides of life. If you find that you’re already struggling to keep you head above water in these first few weeks of January, I urge you to join me in making five small, but impactful New Year’s resolutions. The common goal of these resolutions is to help you balance your life so you’re doing more of what you love, and being mentally present in the moment to fully enjoy it.

Take this resolution with me! In 2018, I will…

  1. Start my morning with a clear “inbox”

Several years ago (once my kids were finally on good sleep schedules), I began to wake up one hour earlier than the rest of my family. I used this time to wake up, drink a cup of coffee and clear out my inbox. By the time everyone else was waking up, I had handled many small tasks and outlined the tasks I needed to accomplish that day. I could then close my computer and enjoy those morning hours with my family.

By the time my husband and sons were off to their respective locations for the day, I could again open up shop and jump right into my core tasks. I found this single hour in the morning gave me so much more patience and peace of mind to be present with my family. While there may be some mornings I choose to hit snooze, I resolve this year to use this “power hour” at least 3 times per week, or as needed.

  1. Keep an organized to-do list for each day

I have always kept a rolling to-do list of every task on my plate at a given time. However, this year I resolve to take things up a notch and organize this a bit further. I find that by placing my to-do’s on a list on my computer, I no longer carry around the mental weight of trying to remember it all. I also love the satisfaction of deleting something from my to-do list.

This year, I plan to keep a daily to-do list where I can spread out and prioritize my work tasks over the course of the week. In doing so, I know that I merely need to accomplish what is on today’s to-do list to stay on track. One long list can be paralyzing to tackle. Rather, a list that breaks it down by day and order of importance is far more manageable.

  1. Manage other people’s expectations of my time

This is an important one! Typically I try and complete work tasks as quickly as I can for my clients, often giving them same-day service. While this has helped to build up a great book of business, adhering to this standard every single day is neither reasonable nor necessary. Rather, this year I resolve to manage people’s expectations of my time, both professionally and personally. I plan to assign a realistic deadline so everyone is on the same page and so that it works into my workflow without causing undue stress. I anticipate I will often deliver tasks in advance of the deadline, which is all the better for building a good reputation with clients! But having a deadline as my buffer will help me retrain myself that many tasks can wait while I prioritize other things in my day like relaxation and family.

  1. Block schedule my time

Another secret to getting the most out of the hours in my day is to use a block scheduling strategy. On days when I have one out-of-the-home meeting scheduled, I try to schedule a few others as well. There are a few reasons for doing this. First, I know I will already be out and about and professionally dressed (not always the case when working from home!). Second, having just one meeting during the day really breaks my concertation and work flow. If it’s going to get broken anyways, I may as well make it worth it by blocking most of that day out for other meetings.

On the flip side, days when I have no meetings or phone calls scheduled, I am very protective of this time and strategically plan nothing else on such a day. I know I can get into a deep concertation and plow through a lot of work tasks that would typically take me far more time if disrupted by anything else. I love these days just as much as I love my client meeting days. It’s all about balance – and something that I resolve to gain more of in the New Year.

  1. Decline or outsource tasks I don’t have the time or desire to take on

When you spend any part of your career as an entrepreneur, you quickly learn to say yes to any work that comes your way. However, once you’ve built a solid business, you need to remove yourself from the trap of trading your time for tasks that don’t pay your market rate or that you simply down enjoy. While I have gotten better each year, I want to make a conscious effort in 2018 to decline or outsource tasks I don’t have the time or desire to take on. This applies to work tasks as much as it applies to household tasks.

Consider what you time is worth. If you can work an extra hour or two and afford someone else to do something you don’t enjoy, like clean your home, it’s more than break even! Before you start turning down or having someone else take on work for you, get a good grip on your budget and understand your “hourly rate.” Then, gradually transition into letting other people help you get things done. After all, it’s an opportunity to someone else to make a living too!

Have you made a resolution for the New Year? Does it focus on time management or something else? Share what you hope to accomplish in 2018 by leaving a comment below!

Top 10 Blog Posts on Life and Entrepreneurship in 2017

2017 blog postsHappy New Year! I hope you woke up today inspired to tackle your goals for 2018. Whether it’s kicking a bad habit, taking better care of yourself or going after a new job, everything starts with that first step. I hope I can offer you some motivation to take your first step toward reaching your New Year’s goals and resolutions with a special blog post. I’ve compiled the top articles from 2017 on life and entrepreneurship that you, the readers, helped to show me were among your favorites.

While today is a day to look toward the future, I want you to join me on one last look back at 2017 and the topics that inspired thousands of you to possibly join me on an entrepreneurial journey!

#10 The Benefit of Business Turnover in the New Year

In the business world, it seems like when it rains it pours. Losing a few clients back-to-back can feel like the walls are caving in around you. Will you survive? The short answer is – yes. In fact, business turnover can be a prime opportunity to restructure and rebuild an even better business model that will service you well into the future.

Read the original blog here.

#9 Five Things You Can Immediately Do To Gain More Business

Speaking of rebuilding your business, did you know there are five things you can implement right now to gain more business? No gimmicks, just honest advice. Don’t overlook the low hanging fruit that could be at your fingertips right now!

Read the original blog here.

#8 How to Plan an Event That Inspires Guests

I’ve planned a lot of events throughout my career and have witnessed the stark contrast between events and events designed to inspire their guests. The difference in outcomes is substantial. Whether you’re a non-profit on mission to raise funds or a for-profit business looking to give back to the community, I share my tips for planning an event that inspires guests to act.

Read the original blog here.

#7 How to Win Over a Client in the First Meeting

In business, your first meeting is like a blind date. You and the client both arrive hoping to hit it off, but that doesn’t always happen. In most instances, you are in control to make a good first impression and win over the client in the first meeting. This blog shares how you can do that!

Read the original blog here.

#6 Five Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your Business

As much as you want to win over a client, you don’t necessarily want to work with every client who comes your way. Why? Well sometimes a client isn’t a good fit for your business. Maybe it’s their budget, their values or their attitude. Here are five signs a client is not a good fit for your business.

Read the original blog here.

#5 The Two Week Evaluation Every Entrepreneur Should Take

Are you a business owner/entrepreneur? Then you most definitely want to start the New Year with this two week evaluation. Find out if what you’re currently doing is aligned with what you hope to achieve. Are you happy? Satisfied? Balanced? I know I’ll be starting 2018 with this two week evaluation!

Read the original blog here.

#4 Low Cost and No Cost Business Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

This proved to be a very popular blog post in 2017! It seems that most business owners can relate to the topic of wanting to find low cost and no cost tools to help their business run as efficiently and lean as possible. Check out what I use and recommend!

Read the original blog here.

#3 What No One Tells You About a Career in Public Relations

I’ll be honest. When I chose a career in public relations, I really didn’t know what it was. I knew it required writing and communicating, which I love to do. However, there are some significant details about choosing a career in PR that no one told me. It’s likely they didn’t even know what this wild ride would include! So I’ve shared what I learned to hopefully educate some future passionate PR professionals.

Read the original blog here.

#2 Seven Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

While owning your own business will provide you with a lot of advantages, there are a few things I know I’ll never have as a business owner. But it’s not all bad! Take a look at what you can expect to kiss goodbye whenever you take the entrepreneurial leap.

Read the original blog here.

#1 How to Create the Job You Want

And the number one blog post from 2017 on life an entrepreneurship was “How to Create the Job You Want!” I’m not surprised. Who wouldn’t want to learn how to take control of their career by creating their dream job? Yeah that sounds glamorous and easy and I caution you that it’s not. However, I share some useful and practical advice for taking the initial steps toward creating a job that you love to wake up to each day.

Read the original blog here.

Which of these top 10 blog posts on life and entrepreneurship inspired you the most? What topics would you like to see me touch upon in 2018? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

T’was the Morning of Christmas (As Retold by a Mom and Entrepreneur)

T’was the Morning of Christmas

christmas break

(As retold by a mom and entrepreneur)

T’was the morning of Christmas, when all through the house
not one electronic was turned on, not even a mouse.
Their cords were wrapped up in the corner with care,
in hopes that I had strength to leave them there.

My babies were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of toy trains danced in their heads.
Before too long, they would clamor to the tree,
to assess what Santa brought for the family.

Would I remember how to slow down and soak up the view?
As a mom and entrepreneur, it’s something I don’t often do!
No doubt it would feel different to completely unwind,
what’s the worst that could happen, we’d have a good time?

So from now until New Years, the blog posts can wait
there are loved ones to hug and cookies to bake.
This short disconnect will help creativity to soar
and inspire me to write better than ever before!

Until then, don’t worry what to do with your time,
make your own holidays relaxing as I’ve done mine.
Here’s my final wish before the exit I make,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a short break!”

–Adapted from the holiday favorite by Stephanie Shirley

Entrepreneur at Age 30: Life’s About to Get Good

30

Today is my 30th birthday. To the vast majority of people, that milestone doesn’t change any aspect about your career. But for me it does. I started my public relations consulting business, Bennis Public Relations when I was 23 years old. In those first few months of stepping out on my own, I also started the blog that you’re reading now.

The most fitting tagline I could think of at the time for my blog was “The World As Told By a Twenty-Something Entrepreneur.” I didn’t know where this leap of faith would take me, so I was hardly worried about what would happen when this tagline was no longer true of me or my business. I just wanted to survive my first year of taxes!

Six and a half years later, I’ve done more than just survive. I’ve surprised myself in more ways than I can count, and I’m fortunate to say the entrepreneurial journey is the path I’m meant to be on for the rest of my foreseeable future. However, this year presents me with a unique challenge. I need to take a step back, reflect on how far I’ve come, and embrace a new mindset that progresses beyond the twenty-something entrepreneur I was when I first started the business.

Bennis Inc Old Tagline

Sure, I could keep things simple and update the decade to “thirty-something,” but what fun is that? Rather, I want to share with you the thought behind what will become my new tagline and my new mantra for my personal and professional brand. I want to pull back the curtain and give you insight into how I’ve developed and re-developed my business model over the years, how I’ve had to pivot, pause, leap and stretch.

Will you join me as I relive a little of my entrepreneurial “dance?”

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

In the first year or so of starting my own business, I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. By that I mean I learned to live lean! I canceled cable and internet and worked out a deal with my neighbor to share his WiFi so we both saved on cost. I took on odd jobs in my spare time to help make ends meet. I tightened my budget in a lot of creative ways, all for the reward of starting my own business.

I may have been young at the time, but I was wise beyond my years for doing this. A lot of people don’t want to sacrifice the little luxuries of right now for the ability to afford far greater luxuries in the future. My business was my baby and I was willing to do whatever I had to do to help it grow.

Using “Young” to My Advantage

Throughout my twenties, I felt like I needed to constantly prove to people that my age was an advantage. I’ve witnessed many businesses who simply like the idea of hiring an older PR consultant because they feel as though age alone qualifies someone as being more experienced and knowledgeable in their field. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was strategic about calling out my age and positioning it as one of my greatest strengths. In my biography, on my website and in client meetings I made sure to align my youth with the concept of new energy, innovation, fresh ideas, cutting-edge technology and a different way of thinking. Again and again, I was able to build confidence in my clients and win their business over other consultants who were easily twice my age.

Learning that Responsiveness is Unique

As I grew my business, I felt like I really hit a tipping point when I focused on providing quality, reliable service. It sounds so simple, but it was a huge point of differentiation for me. Being responsive to my clients and delivering good, fast service helped me to substantially grow my book of business.

These satisfied clients turned into ongoing retainers and also my best form of marketing. Nearly 90% of my clients are word of mouth recommendations in some form. That’s powerful! Not only do recommendations result in very qualified leads, these businesses tend to share the same values as my existing clients who are a pleasure to work with.

The bottom line: If you are responsive, attentive and reliable, you will instantly set yourself apart from the majority of other businesses out there! It’s a disappointing truth I have used to my advantage.

Increasing My Value, Increasing My Bandwidth

About two years in, I had built up a good book of residual business and my brand was growing. In order to continue to take on more clients I needed to do one of two things. I needed to raise my prices or hire employees. I had no interest in splitting profits and managing employees, so I needed to re-evaluate my rates to determine what was fair to both me and my clients. It’s a delicate balance. If you charge too little for your time, you’ll have plenty of business but still be dissatisfied with your earnings. If you charge too much for your time, you’ll turn away good customers. And the customers who do hire you at this premium price will want the moon and the stars. So how did I manage this?

Every year my hourly rate goes up by $5. This becomes my new base rate for all new clients. For existing clients, I honor the rate I gave them when they initially signed into their contract. So long as they maintain or increase their level of services with me, they get the benefit of this rate. If they choose to pause or decrease services, their new contract will be at my current market rate. Make sense?

By implementing this new policy, I was able to give my loyal clients the benefit of great rates that aren’t arbitrarily raised on them each and every year. That’s way better than a box of chocolates at Christmas! In return, they give me the benefit of consistent business. My annual $5/hour raise covers inflation and the growing demand for my services that keeps me at market rate.

Forming Strategic Partnerships

By 2015, I found a whole new untapped potential for my business and that was strategic partnerships. Through my network, I was introduced to an advertising agency, media firm and government relations firm, all of whom are now my strategic partners on an ongoing basis. How it works is that I am often called upon to offer my public relations services to their clients as an enhancement to the services they provide. They pay me (directly) by the hour or by the project and their client in turn pays them. For some of my partners, I use their business’s email address and business cards, giving them the benefit of the appearance of a larger in-house staff. For others, they prefer me to work with all clients directly, under my name and entity. Both work for me!

Through my strategic partnerships, I am able to work with huge corporations and associations that I could never tackle alone. When we combine our resources and expertise, we provide a full menu of services that directly compete against the region’s largest agencies that have way more red tape and overhead. It’s the best of both worlds for our clients: they get everything they want under one “roof” at a highly competitive rate. And it’s the best of both worlds for my partners and me: I get a constant stream of new work at my market rate and they get to make a little off the top.

Refining My Sales Process

For many consultants, the hardest part of growing a business is refining the sales process so that it’s efficient and consistent. Personally, it was for me. I would struggle to leave a client consultation with a clear path for how to proceed. How do I structure the proposal? What if the client wants to haggle prices? It wasn’t until about the last year or so when I finally felt like I had a clear sales process that allowed me to craft quick proposals that resulted in signed contracts in a matter of a few days.

I recently outlined a lot of my tips for achieving this. Now I leave client meetings in control of the next step and with the promise to deliver a proposal to them the same-day. If you choose to embrace a similar sales process to mine, you will be amazed by how much time and energy you were putting into proposals that simply didn’t need it. If anything, all that extra “fluff” was a distraction from what you were really trying to sell them. Trust me on this one.

Planning for the Future

What does the future hold for me? I’m a PR consultant not a fortune teller, how should I know? But in all seriousness, I do have a strategic plan for my future and that’s to continue to forge more large-scale partnerships with other businesses who want to offer their clients the service of public relations and strategic communications. I plan to selectively work with fewer, but larger clients who are on annual and quarterly retainers. I plan to continue to take on one-time projects as I desire as a means to help small businesses grow. And I plan to cut back to a 3-day work week, when reasonable, and enjoy more time spent on vacation and with my family.

It’s beyond measure the amount of hard work, drive and sacrifice it’s taken to get me to this point, but at the same time I feel I was also in the right place at the right time for much of this to happen. As the philosophical saying tells us, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I suppose this quite rightly sums up my entrepreneurial journey thus far.

Having shared with you some of the most significant moments I’ve experienced in my career as a “twenty-something entrepreneur,” I now want to share with you my new blog tagline as I enter this next decade of life.

Passionately Communicating My Entrepreneurial Journey

 

This new tagline will suit me for the rest of my life. I’m passionate about communicating, in every form you can imagine. My blog is just one way in which I can give you a window into my entrepreneurial journey which I plan to be on for a long time.

Though it’s bittersweet to close the chapter on my twenties, a time in which I took risks, hustled hard and learned a lot about myself, I realize that I plan to keep doing exactly that in my thirties….forties….fifties…you get the idea.

Whether this is your first visit to the Bennis Inc. blog, or you’re one of my loyal subscribers, thank you for being here and stay tuned. Life’s about to get good!