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20 Fun Facts About Bennis Public Relations

20 fun factsI love sharing insights into the business I started more than seven years ago, Bennis Public Relations. At just 23 years old, I was well aware I didn’t have everything figured out. Actually I was pretty certain I knew nothing about the entrepreneurial journey I was about to embark upon, but I was certain I was passionate about following this calling and would do whatever it took to make this a successful career.

On a fun and light-hearted note, I want to share some of the little known facts about Bennis Public Relations, and me personally. Entrepreneurs are quarky people, and I am no exception. So as I draw back the curtain a little further, I hope you’ll get a kick out of these facts that are fun, interesting and maybe even a bit strange.

1. My business is named after my maiden name, and my son is also named Bennis. I love that when he gets a little older he’ll realize the business I started from ground up and poured a lot of passion into, also shares his name. Hey, maybe he’ll take it over someday?

2. Less than 2 months after I started this blog on WordPress (as a trial for my own blog building services) I was featured on WordPress’s homepage and as a result I got almost 7,000 views in 1 day. August 24, 2011 still holds my record for most views.

3. My only overhead expenses are $10 a month to Hootsuite and $40 per year to the PA Public Relations Society. Almost unbelievable I know, but it’s true. I don’t pay any other subscriptions, memberships, fees, payroll, rent, etc. (Taxes are a whole other story, of course). I love running a lean business!

4. I have no desire to have employees. I continue to grow every year without having to hire employees by raising my hourly rates, taking on new clients and finding ways to be more efficient with my time. It’s just me (and my network of vendors) and that’s how I like it.

5. One of my titles is the Executive Director of the Carwash Association of Pennsylvania. That’s right, CAP has been my client for several years and for the particular services I provide to them, I serve as the E.D.

6. I rarely work more than 6 hours per day. Again, I LOVE efficiency and I love that with my business model, the more efficient I am, the more time I have to devote to other passions and projects. Some days/weeks I work well over that! But I know those long hours every so often afford me short work days most every other day.

7. When I first started my business, I had just enough clients to pay the rent. I hadn’t figured out how to pay for other expenses or even taxes when I made the entrepreneurial leap to quit my former job. But I hustled hard and went into survival mode. That work ethic had afforded me what I have today.

8. I have successfully turned nearly all “competition” into partnerships and collaboration opportunities. I love meeting with other PR professionals because nearly every time I do I’m able to identify our unique differences and turn them into collaboration opportunities.

9. I started doing freelance public relations work when I was still in college. During my senior year at Penn State University, I met a professional speaker and best-selling author through one of the events I planned through an internship and he and I started doing work together that last for about 5 years. He’s how I bought my first car!

10. My husband is a serial entrepreneur too. Between the two of us, we run four businesses. His current and largest venture right now is a tech startup that provides performance-based fundraising – and it’s changing the world! Read the stories at www.pledgeit.org and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating.

11. Throughout running my business, we grew our family by two sons. As an entrepreneur, I can’t really take a maternity leave, so I literally never missed a day of work, even if it meant answering emails from the hospital (yes I packed my laptop in my hospital bag). It’s one of the hard truths of running our own business, but the payback is so worth it!

12. My dad is part owner of Bennis Public Relations. He gave me the money I needed to fully incorporate Bennis Inc. in 2011. He jokes that Jeff Bezos’s dad was the first to invest in Amazon. I don’t know if I’ll afford him quite that payback!

13. My cat, Pinot, has been the closest thing I’ve had to a colleague. She’s been with me since day 1 of starting Bennis Public Relations and lays by my side just about every time I open my lap top to write. She’s also been my most popular blog topic by far!

14. Most of my friends and family have no idea what I do. I’m not offended! Unless you’ve studied it or work in the industry, public relations doesn’t really fit in a standard “box” especially with how it’s evolved thanks to technology. I usually just say I do a lot of writing, and leave it at that.

15. As far as I am aware, I’ve never run into a roadblock for my gender. In the day and age when everyone is shouting “the future is female,” I’ve never found I needed to apologize or compensate for being a female business owner. I simply let my work ethic speak for itself. In fact, I’ve beat many male businesses for different jobs, not based on gender, but based on the ideas and follow-through I bring to the table.

16. A lot of people confuse me with a publicist. Frankly, I think I’d make an awful publicist. While I have worked with people to enhance their personal brand, I most commonly work to enhance the communications and branding for businesses and organizations.

17. In high school I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” I thought it was silly at the time – and my mom thought it was pretentious and borderline offensive. Now looking back, I think that title may have subliminally inspired me. And though I didn’t get “Best Dressed,” I think this one has served me a lot better.

18. Though I have a dedicated home office (behind a hidden door to boot) and several office locations in downtown Harrisburg I can use as I wish, I prefer to work from our home living room. I’m a creature of habit!

19. I still have my very first client on retainer – that’s been 7 years now! The work has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I love being able to say I have the consistency of working with clients for many years, some even from the start.

20. And for #20 the fun fact I want to end with is that I’m proud to say I have had the privileged to serve 100+ clients from coast to coast in just seven short years. It may sound crazy, but I serve 25 different client accounts monthly, with many more one-time projects scattered throughout. Entrepreneurship has been a crazy one, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

So now that you know a little but more about what shapes me, and as a result by public relations business, what fact do you find more interesting? Or maybe you’d like to share your own quarky and random fact.

Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

Pinching Pennies When Time Is Money

The saying ‘time is money’ is somewhat of a cliche. Though you may have used this in half-hearted attempts to improve office efficiency, it’s one of those sayings most of us don’t think about.

In truth though, time literally is money in business. In the office, every second has its costs. Even when you’re paying a salary, staff presence is an expense out of your business account. Even your presence has a cost. And, that expense can either turn into profit or leak down the time-wasting drain.

If you and your staff aren’t reaching your full potential every moment in the office, you’re a drain the company could do without. Wasted time can lead to severe issues and failing profits. Yet, if you break down the office day, there’s a good chance up to an hour goes to waste.

With profits in mind, you could do with pinching those time-based pennies. Here are a few ways you can do it.

Implement goals and rewards

Things like coffee breaks and brief conversations are the main culprits for wasted time. The trouble is, coming down hard on these means going up against an unhappy workforce. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t regain some control over an overly social work atmosphere that causes inefficiencies. All you need to do is get into the habit of setting daily goals and aligning them with rewards. Motivate staff by allowing them an earned day off with pay or to leave work earlier if they get all the tasks done ahead of schedule. This is a simple step, but with the motivation of paid time off out of the office, employees will be reaching for their phones and computers instead of the fifth cup of coffee.

Soar over setbacks

Not all time wasting is staff-based. Things like crashed computers or lack of supplies can also cause trouble. If a staff computer crashes, lack of prep could even see them unable to work for an afternoon or more. Yet, you still have to pay them! To make sure this doesn’t leave you out of pocket, put plans in place now. Something as simple as having managed IT services on hand could be all it takes to save the workday. That way, computer crashes can be corrected in no time at all. Equally, you should keep stationary and the like stocked so that staff never have to waste working time going to a store for their necessary items!

Spot the holes

If you have holes in your purse, you lose money. Similarly, if you have holes in your time management, you also lose money. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to spot where those holes are! Simple things, like the distance between offices, can lead to lost time. If staff have to go up and down flights of stairs multiple times a day to communicate with one another, for instance, you’re looking at lost profit. Equally, a long distance to the break room could spell trouble. All you need to do is spot holes and fill them. Something as simple as rearranging the office or providing several mini break stations or copy stations around the office could be enough to put a stop to wasted time. And, that may well be all it takes to welcome more profits!

If you work in a traditional office environment, what are some of the biggest culprits of inefficiency and wasted time? Share your thoughts – and solutions by leaving a comment below!

5 Tips for Taking Control of Your Monday Routine

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Mondays have such a bad reputation! I wish I could say it was completely unfounded, yet I too found myself fatigued and overwhelmed by the start of the new work week. That was until I noticed that by making a small series of changes to my workday, particularly my Mondays, I was able to regain control of my time and workflow and break through the mental barrier of Monday’s insurmountable task list.

Take a look at my five tried and true tips for taking control of your Monday routine so that you can dominate – not dread the start of your work week. Here they are!

  1. Wake Up Early

This doesn’t sound fun and frankly it’s not, at least for the first several times you try it as part of your new routine. So often we allow ourselves to come off the weekend feeling groggy and unfocused. Monday morning hits hard and it’s tempting to want to hit snooze up until the last minute. All this does is start you on a crazy cycle – a cycle where you’re waking up already feeling behind, and not really any more rested than if you hadn’t slept that extra hour.

My first tip is to commit to waking up one hour earlier than you normally do on Monday (and eventually every work day). The reason is that starting your day one hour earlier will help you stay ahead of your task list the rest of the day, and also better react to those unexpected and emergency tasks that might pile onto your schedule. In one hour you can take care of a ton of “little” tasks that can weigh on your mind. You’ll then be able to dig into your bigger tasks with a clear focus and less stress.

  1. Take Care of the Easy/Little Tasks

Inevitably there will be a list of little tasks and emails that have piled up over the weekend. Start your day by getting these off your plate. Answer the emails that only take a minute or two to address. Knock off those tasks that require less than 10 minutes of your time. Check your voice mail and respond to phone calls. This may take an hour or two of your morning, but you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished so much. This encouragement will fuel you to carry on with other, bigger tasks.

  1. Prioritize Your Big Tasks

Speaking of the “big” tasks that are on your to-do list, it’s so important to be realistic about what you can accomplish in one day, especially on Monday. You simply can’t do it all, nor should you have to. Instead focus on the most urgent and important tasks, particularly ones that help move other tasks forward for you. Even if this is just one thing, or one section of a larger project, a clearly defined to-do list for the day will help you to manage your own expectations. Additionally, it keeps you accountable to at least accomplishing at least one task. You can no longer fall back on the excuse of “I had so much to do I didn’t know where to start.” Give yourself a starting point, and an ending point for the day and aim for those bench marks.

  1. Do Something for You

Finally and most importantly, be sure that you do at least one thing just for yourself on Monday. For me, this is getting to the gym for an exercise class I really enjoy. When my task list piles up for the day, I don’t allow myself to make an excuse for not going. The result isn’t that I necessarily get any more work done. Rather, I just feel cranky the whole day and like I’m working, working, working with no reward. That class is my reward and I try to never deprive myself of it! I can move other tasks, meetings and phone calls around this one piece of my day – and I’m always grateful I do! It’s my motivation to work hard and get my tasks done the rest of the day so I can accommodate this hour for myself.

Do you dread – or dominate Mondays? Do you plan to use these 5 tips for taking control of your day today? Or share some other tips that you’ve found helpful for time management, especially on Mondays!

 

Bennis Public Relations Turns 7 Years Old – The Best Gifts Its Given to Me

Bennis Public Relations Turns 7 Years Old – The Best Gifts Its Given to Me

Last month was the seventh anniversary of a pivotal moment in my career. However, July 15 came and went without celebration or even reflection – but for good reason. July 15, 2011 is the day I officially became the fulltime owner of my firm, Bennis Public Relations. This was the day I took a major leap, without so much as looking back, and have since forged ahead with a drive and dedication unlike anything I had applied to my life leading up to this moment.

Now seven years as my own boss, I realized there are still a lot of people in my life, new acquaintances as well as close connections, that don’t know much about what I do or how I’ve grown to this point. For so long I’ve fully embraced the mindset I learned in college which was “There’s no ego in Public Relations. If you want a byline study journalism.” And while I still believe that to be true, I do think it’s important to stop and reflect on some of the joys this journey has brought me.

Ironically, over the last seven “birthdays” my business has had, it’s been me who has really received the gifts. In sharing what they are, I hope I can inspire a few others to take the path less traveled and to also understand what it means to be a true business owner.

Gift 1: I answer to me.

My schedule is my own. It’s on me to manage my time to get everything done on my task list in a given day. I’m responsible for organizing the matrix that is my Google calendar and making sure nothing slips through the cracks – or it’s on me.

While I thoroughly enjoy having no set work hours, no restrictions on where I have to be at any particular time, and not having to report to a set office with higher-ups to answer to, this also comes with certain tradeoffs. I have to balance project delivery for all current clients with finding time for new business development to keep things growing. I have to determine how I want to price and package my services so that they are competitive but also profitable. It requires a beautiful dance to make it all work – and I’m fortunate that after seven years, it’s a dance I’ve learned to do well.

Best of all, and what really defines being a true entrepreneur and business owner, is having complete control over the services I offer, how they’re priced and packaged and the direction I want to take my business. There is no corporate office that determines this for me – no one pushing out new services or products and telling me what to sell, no one changing prices without me having a say, and no one messing with my profit margins – except me.

Gift 2: I can pivot and grow how and when I desire.

Throughout the last seven years, I’ve extensively grown the scope of services I can offer clients. I’m not limited to one niche, or even one industry really! I can help businesses with anything that falls under the broad umbrella of “external communications,” which is fancy speak for “How we communicate with our audiences.”

Additionally, I’ve identified the services that best answer specific problems within a business and can make educated recommendations to clients based upon what they need, and help them eliminate what they do not. I’m not limited to selling a specific set of services to a niche demographic. If I want to branch into something entirely new, I can – and I have.

Gift 3: I’ve learned – and conquered – the real headaches of business ownership.

I commend anyone who takes an entrepreneurial leap and lands in the role of blazing their own trail. However, I want to be clear there there’s a significant difference between building your own business from the ground up and being a part of a franchise or MLM. At age 23 I used what little savings I had to incorporate my business and structure myself for future success – and protection from over-taxation! I spent hours educating myself on the type of business insurances I need to buy and the potential repercussion of copyright laws and other similar issues that could at any point impact my business – even if by an innocent misstep. I had to put policies and procedures in place to protect myself from people walking off with my intellectual property, making late payments – or no payments at all, and breaking contracts without cause.

I’m grateful to say that by planning for the worst, I have avoided many of the headaches and hardships other business owners often experience along their entrepreneurial journey. In a day and age where everyone wants to call themselves a business owner, CEO or #bossbabe, I wonder how many have had to navigate the real challenges of being a true entrepreneur, versus how many just stepped into the role of a sales rep for another company that really calls the shots in that relationship. There’s a difference, and one I’ll admit I’m a bit sensitive toward because of how much sweat equity and risk goes into the former compared to the latter.

Gift 4: I can forge partnerships at my discretion.

Another gift my business has given to me is the ability to structure partnerships with others businesses that has allowed me to really take things to the next level – and without having to compromise my independence or give up any of my profits.

My current partnerships expand into the industries of Government Relations, Web Design, Advertising, Media and more. It’s quite a beautiful business model. My partner businesses feed me all their clients who need strategic communication services, I complete the work and charge my fees, and they bundle this into their clients’ total packages. We all get what we want out of the deal, and at really fair rates compared to what big agencies have to charge to cover the overhead of in-house staff.

Gift 5: I don’t have to solicit family or friends to “join” my business.

If you’re a true business owner, not just a sales rep for a larger corporation, your business model should not heavily rely on soliciting family and friends to purchase your services/products or join your business.

When you’re just getting started it may be appropriate or helpful to ask personal contacts to keep you in mind or help spread the word about your business, but that’s not a real business owner’s long-term method for marketing. The growth and development of my business is a lot more strategic than shooting out a bunch of social media posts about “how lucky I am to be my own boss – and it’s a huge missed opportunity if you don’t jump aboard my ship.” Rather, I become a member of networking groups, align myself with industry associations and join boards as a way to gain influence and to get my name out there.

I’m happy to mentor people who come to me for entrepreneurial advice, but I never feel the need to force someone on this journey with me. And because I don’t get a “kickback” for someone starting their own business, my encouragement to a fellow entrepreneur comes with no personal agenda.

Gift 6: I’ve enjoyed 7 years of passive growth.

More to the point of not liking having to hard sell my services, I’m grateful to have not spent a dime on direct marketing or advertising. I simply treat clients well, deliver quality service and most importantly am responsive. Consistency is the best marketing tool you will ever have!

All of my clients have come from word of mouth recommendations and referrals. What I’ve found is this produces highly vetted, highly motivated clients who are ready to get started. This also produces loyal clients. I’m proud to say that my very first client still has me on a monthly retainer.

Passive growth has by no means made me complacent. It’s made me smart. I know that I gain the highest quality leads when I invest in relationships, so that’s where I focus my efforts.

Gift 7: There is no one else that can provide exactly what I do.

Forging friendships with other businesses that could be seen as my “competition” has been one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. These relationships have turned into some of my most lucrative partnerships and source of residual leads. Why would “competition” send me business, you might ask? Because when I put the time into getting to know some of these fellow communication professionals, I quickly learned that we serve very different markets and possess very different strengths.

Furthermore, there’s more than enough business to go around! So much so that I’m grateful to know some other people who can fill in the gaps in a pinch when I have a client who needs something that I don’t have the bandwidth to take on. In my experience, this goodwill has always come back full circle.

And one to grow on…

There’s a quote I stumbled upon early in my entrepreneurial journey, attributed to Frank Ocean that says, “Work hard in silence, let success make the noise.” This puts into words how I’ve always felt about promoting my professional accomplishments. I don’t need to bang my own gong. In fact, I’ve found that many of those who do – such as what likely inundates your newsfeed on social media – are those who are trying to compensate for insecurities about the true success of their business – or whose business model demands it out of necessity.

To that end, I’ve also discovered many people, even those closest to me, don’t fully grasp how far I’ve driven my business in seven years, because I work hard in silence. So to my first baby, the one that made me an entrepreneur, I wanted to give you a little moment to shine and say thank you for the highs and the lows, the risk and reward, and the challenges that turned in triumph. I’m grateful for this journey and to have the experience to truly own my own business!

The Number One Solution to All Communication Problems

The Number One Solution to All Communication Problems

At the root of all communication problems, there is essentially one thing that goes wrong that snowballs into every scenario you may have encountered. Whether you’re trying to communicate with a toddler or a CEO, someone of a different culture or someone of a different political viewpoint, effective communication hinges upon one thing.

And that is for parties to listen to and understand one another.

Throughout your life you may have heard people in authority say to you, “You don’t have to like me, but you have to respect me.” While I can see why a parent, teacher or boss might want to say this, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. As adults, there will be people we must interact with or who have authority over us that we don’t like. For any number of reasons they may irritate us or rub us the wrong way. Beyond merely showing respect to this person, we must foremost be sure we have taken every effort to listen to and understand them when they communicate with us.

It’s true. We won’t like everyone we meet in life, nor do we have to. But if you want to be an effective communicator who gets more of what you want, you must, must, must learn to listen – attentively, openly and willingly.

Not quite sold on this idea yet? Think back to the last communication problem you’ve dealt with. This may have been at home, or the office or with a friend. In hindsight, how did a lack of listening to one another play into the problem? I’m willing to guess a great deal. A lack of listening leads to a whole host of problems including misaligned expectations, unnecessary conflict, hurt feelings and frustration.

Not listening to one another the first time around usually leads to a lot more time spent trying to work through the miscommunication and repair the relationship. Simply put, investing in fully listening to one another in the very beginning of the conversation, and asking for clarity as often as needed, will save you from a lot of wasted time, headaches and strained relationships in the future.

I imagine I have your attention now. Great! But what does it really look like to be an effective listener? And how can you identify and address someone who may not be listening to you? Those are great questions that I intend to answer in the four points to follow.

  1. Treat listening like your job.

Listening is a critical skill for achieving success in every part of your life. Why then do we phone it in sometimes? I urge you to take listening seriously; treat it like you job. Challenge yourself to be able to repeat back, accurately, what the other person is saying to you. Take notes if you must. Recap what’s being said and put it into words. Which brings me to…

  1. Repeat back what you’re hearing.

In mediation, we learn to use the “I feel…” statements. This carries over into all forms of effective communication. When you’re having a critical discussion, instead of “I feel…” you should say “What I’m hearing you say is…” Then repeat back in your own words what you feel the other person is expressing. When they hear it repeated back they have the opportunity to confirm that is indeed accurate, or re-communicate a message that may have been lost in translation. Think of it like “proof-reading” each other’s thoughts before you hit “publish” and make decisions based upon this understanding.

  1. Ask to hear what they think you’re saying in their own words.

In return, you should ask the other people (or people) to express back to you, in their own words, what they feel you are saying to them. Again, you will have the opportunity to re-communicate or clarify something that might be getting misconstrued. Though the reaffirming what you’re hearing someone else say is an added step to the process, it is one that will save you an extreme about of time and frustration over your lifespan.

  1. Diffuse and table a conversation if you feel there are distractions.

While you may feel you are being an attentive and open listener in the conversation, you might pick up on some cues that this is not being returned by the other person. If you notice they seem distracted either by the environment, their thoughts or their emotions, it’s worth putting a pause on the conversation and coming back to it in a day or so when everyone can be fully present. Be sure to schedule a time and don’t let too many hours or days pass before re-addressing the conversation and putting it to bed. Most importantly, end the conversation on respectful terms and with the understanding that your intent is to re-enter the conversation when everyone has collected their thoughts (and their cool).

Do you agree that all effective communication is built on the foundation of listening and understanding one another? What other key components do you feel contribute to effective communication?

Start a conversation by leaving a comment below!

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?

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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!