what simplifying your business really means

I talk a lot about simplifying your business. About how simplifying is the thing you can do to make your business work. About how it can lead to more growth. About how it can lessen your overwhelm. And about how it can create more freedom for you in your business, and your life.

But you might be thinking that’s nice, but what does simplifying your business actually mean? So today, I wanted to share 5 things you can do to simplify your business right now.

 

Focus on just a few projects.

It’s hard to make progress on your projects if you’re trying to tackle dozens of them at once. So instead of trying to do it all, try focusing on just one or two projects at a time; do them really well and to completion before you add anything else to your plate.

 

Keep your blinders on.

New strategies to help you grow your business pop up every day, and you could easily spend your working hours trying to learn and execute ALL of them. But that would spread you pretty thin and slow your progress too. Instead, you should weigh your options and pick a strategy or two that feel like a good fit for you. Then give yourself permission to focus solely on them and ignore the rest.

 

Start relying on systems.

Systems aren’t the sexiest thing to talk about but they can make a world of difference in your business. If you aren’t using systems yet, you should first take the time to figure out what kind of systems you need. Once you pinpoint your needs, you can set the systems up and start using them to create more flow and ease in your business and life.

 

Get support.

Simplifying your business often means doing less better so you may need to find someone to pick up the slack and tackle the tasks you don’t have time for anymore. For example, you might bring on someone to help with administrative work or start outsourcing certain tasks like graphic design or copywriting. Whatever you choose, getting support will give you the freedom to focus on the most important things in your business – the things that will help it grow.

 

Recognize what’s important.

Most creatives and entrepreneurs are juggling a lot of to-dos in their business, which can lead to overwhelm. The important thing to recognize here is that you probably don’t have to get to all those to-dos; you just need to handle the important ones. Simplifying your business means learning to prioritize those important tasks and letting any seemingly urgent busywork go.  

 

These are a few of my favorite strategies for simplifying your business but I know plenty more exist. If you have a tip or tool to share, hit reply and let me know how you’re simplifying your business right now.

With love,

Ashley

 

P.S. The tips above are great for simplifying your overall approach to growing your business. But I also love getting more specific with you by helping you simplify key elements of entrepreneurship, like your visibility game.

If ‘get featured’ is on your goal list and the whole process of pitching is feeling overwhelming and unmanageable right now, I invite you to check out The Pitch Partner. In this new 1:1 coaching partnership, you’ll learn how to simplify the pitching process so you can get featured and get visible with more confidence and greater ease.

Click here to learn more and see if The Pitch Partner is a good fit for you.

an interview on growing a business while doing social good with Julie Sullivan of Ground Up

Julie Sullivan grew up in Oregon and, after graduating college, spent two years working for a social enterprise in Northern Uganda. When she returned home, she continued to explore ways to volunteer and give back, eventually creating plans to launch a social enterprise company.

Today Julie runs Ground Up with her business partner, Carolyn Cesario; together, these two women are spreading good with a line of nut butters that tastes delicious and promotes social change too.

 

What did your path to launching Ground Up look like?

At 13, my eyes were completely opened during a service trip to the streets of San Francisco. From then on, I spent all of my energy finding ways to create opportunity for women in need of help. This ultimately led me to Uganda, where I oversaw operations for a social enterprise with a team of 160 women facing extreme poverty.

I will always remember Stella. She helped me to see firsthand the power of opportunity, as she walked through our gate with very little financially and low self-esteem. Two years later, she left the organization to confidently run her own small business. It was amazing the impact we had. She was able to save money from this job and, through the educational training, she was able to provide for her children’s education, believe in herself and know that no one in the family was going to bed hungry. It was a powerful example of the ripple effect of giving one woman an opportunity.

I saw how an employment training program worked and thought – why isn’t anyone doing this back home? So I returned to my hometown of Portland, Oregon and set out to use my experiences abroad to create a similar program here at home. 

Through local, hands-on research with non-profit organizations, I saw that there is a gap in employment for impoverished women. They have the motivation to work but may lack the skills, experience or confidence to be hired by an employer, so that’s where Ground Up comes in.

The only problem was I didn’t have a product at first. I believe that business can be a powerful tool for social change and I was set on creating a business that could sustain itself. That’s when my business partner Carolyn came into the picture.

What did Carolyn bring to the table?

Several years ago, she experienced a lot of health issues, which launched her on a journey to healing. She discovered that food truly could be medicine. It can be healing and powerful and can fuel you in a way that makes you feel great. Throughout the various doctor-mandated diets she went on, nut butter quickly become one of her favorite healthy and nutritious treats. It fueled her, tasted delicious and made her feel good.

But when a scoop of nut butter is your “guilty pleasure”, you want it to taste absolutely delicious! And that wasn’t the case for many nut butters she found on the market so she started making her own. After much experimenting, she discovered that a unique almond-cashew base provided the most creamy consistency. She played around with flavors, infusing them with cardamom, lavender and even smoked honey – combinations she wasn’t finding anywhere else on the market. 

When I met Carolyn, she had no intention of starting a nut butter business. I went to her house one day to learn how to make it, not at all with the intention of business but mostly for my own selfish desire to learn how to make nut butter. (I am also a huge nut butter fan!) 

During that time, we talked about my employment training program vision and why I hadn’t pursued it further. When the missing piece was a product, Carolyn was intrigued to hop on board. We started by making each small batch in a small food processor two jars an hour and hosted a tasting where we got great feedback from friends and family.  Before we knew it we had orders coming in and Ground Up PDX was born.

 

What drew you to entrepreneurship over going a more traditional path?

There are a number of factors. After moving home from Uganda, I found myself not fulfilled or challenged in the work I was doing. By choosing the path of entrepreneurship, every day is new and different and each day there is a new problem to solve. I also was drawn to the piece that I would get to use all of my skillsets to build and create something.

I think there is a misconception that entrepreneurship equals flexibility in your schedule.  It is true to an extent but when you are doing something you love you end up putting many un-clocked hours in to see it succeed!

 

Why did you decide to make a social impact with your for-profit company, and how did you decide which cause was the right fit for you?

I believe that business can be a powerful tool for social change and every business has the opportunity to do good and create a social impact. I could not have seen starting this business any other way. The business was birthed more from seeing the need and creating the social impact model before the product came into play. 

Through local, hands on research, I saw that there is a gap in employment for impoverished women. They have the motivation to work but may lack the skills, experience or confidence to be hired by an employer. So that’s where the vision for a 6 to 9 month employment training program came into play. Through part-time work, these women will find the skills, confidence and understanding they need to transition into sustainable full-time employment.

 

What does a day in your working life look like? And are you full time in your business or is it a side-hustle for you?

No day looks the same! It involves everything from nut butter production to labeling product to get ready to hit the shelf to email communication to working at farmer’s markets and other events where we sample our product. Other days, I’m driving around dropping off samples and meeting with potential new wholesale accounts. Or meeting with potential partners and working with our interns as we pilot the employment training program. I’m full-time in the business but have a number of different side hustles too.

 

In the early days of your business, what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?

Our biggest challenges were maintaining cash flow and figuring out how to make the shift from our small food processors to a more efficient production system. As well, we struggled to figure out where to pour our energy. We had a lot of ideas for sales channels to pursue, promoting our brand, etc. but we had to figure out how to narrow down where our energy was going. There are only so many hours in a day!

 

How have you worked to overcome your challenges?

We have secured a couple sales channels that bring us more consistent cash flow. We received money to purchase a larger food processor and move into a commercial kitchen. (We now make 30 jars an hour!) I think we are still continuing to learn how to narrow down our focus of where to spend our energy. Something that has been super helpful is having yearly, quarterly and monthly goals, and then each week set specific tasks that will help you reach your monthly goals and to-do lists. This has helped us when we have bigger ideas we want to pursue to see where they best fit in the timeline.

 

How have you learned to simplify your business and find focus when – as you so accurately described it – entrepreneurship can feel like you’re operating in a pinball machine?

Sometimes we still feel like we are operating a pinball machine. The biggest thing we have learned to simplify our business and find focus is to come back to our “why” as well as utilize our skillsets best. Carolyn and I both have different strengths that compliment each other, so really letting the person own the areas of the business where they have the skills is key. And then within those areas really setting quarterly and monthly and even weekly goals helps to keep on focus. 

 

What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to Ground Up, even when it’s hard?

It’s the vision for the impact that can be had in women’s lives here in Portland. We have had two interns from a local teen shelter work with us and they are truly what motivates me to get up each day. The reminder that we can play a part in giving someone an opportunity and helping them believe in themselves, gain confidence and discover their strengths to ultimately lead them into sustainable job opportunities. The vision for this training program is big and we have already seen huge strides in the lives of the couple girls we have worked with. I know that there is more to do and we cannot grow our employment training program without growing our sales channels, so I stay motivated. 

 

Let’s talk about failure. How have you learned to deal with failure in your life as an entrepreneur?

I’ve definitely learned to deal with failure as an entrepreneur by focusing each day and week on something positive that has happened or on a positive stride that was made. I continue to deal with failure as well, by believing that in order to succeed, failure is just a part of the game – that often failure in one way can lead to opportunity for other doors of success to open.

I don’t like to use the word failure in a negative connotation because I believe that every time there is failure, there is an opportunity to learnand grow and build strength for what’s to come ahead.

 

You mentioned you love sales. How have you made the sales process easier or more successful for you?

Yes, I view sales as a game that constantly challenges me and sometimes I win! When I lose, I try to figure out why and then I play again. I’ve also made the sales process easier and more successful by trying to focus on building relationships. This may make the process more of a long game before you sign a deal, but there is something refreshing about focusing on building a relationship and then the sales come. People are more inclined to support and buy from you if they trust and connect to you as a person. It’s worth the long game sometimes and then likely those will be longer standing sales channels.

 

What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development so far?

The best investment has been purchasing a grinder to increase the efficiency around our production. Secondly, seeking out mentors to guide our decisions. Thirdly, creating space to dream and create an actionable quarterly and yearly execution plan.

 

What is your long-term vision for Ground Up?

Our long-term vision is that we will be selling our product on a national level and become a reputable employment training program in the Portland community, where businesses looking to support and employ our graduates will feel confident in the skillsets the women have gained from our program to transition into full-time employment at their workplaces.

 

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

There are a few things. First, don’t take “no” for an answer. “No” is an opportunity for other doors to open. I’ve also been told that those who succeed in the food industry (especially in the early stages) are those that persevere through the challenges. Few persevere through all the challenges, but if this is something you truly believe in and stand behind you can make it through. Also, it’s important to make the shift from “me” to “we”, from a founder brand to a mission brand. And to understand who is on the bus and put the right people in the right seats. You may even end up having to kick a few people off because you need to bring on the right talent or team for the jobs you need done.

 

What book has made the biggest impression on you?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek. The concept in this book to figure out your why has been crucial in our business to stay focused and motivated.

 

What are you listening to right now that’s influencing your work?

The NPR How I Built This podcast has been a great way to stay motivated and learn from successful entrepreneurs who faced similar challenges in their early stages of business. Another podcast I’ve been listening to is Girlboss.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers or any requests you have of them?

I would say to readers who are in the early stages of starting a dream and have a vision not to give up. There are many days when it feels like it would be easier to just quit and get a job but I encourage you to persevere and surround yourself with others who can encourage and support you and help you to see how far you’ve come. It can become exhausting to have people telling you that you’re crazy and it’d be easier to just get a job.  But stay strong and think about who you want to share the ups and downs of starting a business with.

We’d also love for readers to try out our nut butters – and if they like it #spreadgood by spreading the good word to their friends.

 

Where can we connect with you online, and learn more about your nut butters too?

Our web site is www.grounduppdx.com and we’re on Instagram and Facebook too.

no, you do not have to blog

Back when I was a freelance writer, blogging was very much in its heyday. Everyone and anyone had one because the rapidly growing platform allowed you to build an audience and – in the biggest success stories – parlay that popularity right into a book deal or lucrative writing gig.

So you can imagine that I got a lot of raised eyebrows back then when I told people I was a writer and no, I didn’t have a blog.

Sure, I understood the appeal of blogging and even saw the potential with the platform. But after trying to blog for a hot minute, I decided that, ultimately, it wasn’t the right fit for my particular business.

I know it's not always that easy to decide whether or not to blog. In fact, many of my clients are struggling to figure out whether or not they should blog and, if so, what it should look like. They frequently ask me questions like…

 

Should I have a blog?

Do I need a blog?

Do I have to write a blog?

Is it the right time to start a blog?

 

My answer is almost always it depends because I don’t believe blogging is for everyone or that every business can benefit from having a blog. That’s why it’s important to weigh the decision before you jump right in. (The same can be said for those of you who already have a blog; if you’re not too keen on it or lack consistency with it, it pays to pause and make sure it’s still the right thing for you to keep doing.)

Here’s how I view it: Having a blog makes sense when there’s a purpose behind it and when it provides an opportunity to make progress toward your goals. If, for example, you want to grow your audience or showcase your products or provide free content to start building credibility online, blogging could help you.

But it isn’t the only way you can create and share content so you also need to determine if blogging feels like a good fit for you. Do you enjoy writing? Do you have content you’re dying to share? Does the idea of blogging feel exciting or fill you with dread?

If you can honestly say there’s a purpose behind your blog and that you also enjoy the process, then blogging is likely a good fit for you. (This is why I decided to blog in my current business; it made sense with my goals and it suited my interests and strengths as a writer and coach.)

That said, if you’re just blogging because you think you should, take a page from the playbook I used in my first business and forget about blogging. Then give yourself permission to find a better platform to share your amazing content with the world.

With love,

Ashley

How to make time for your long-term goals

Recently I was digging through some boxes of old work stuff and discovered an old notebook that I used to write down my goals in my first business. (Technology is great but when it comes to goal setting, I’ve always been a pen and paper gal.)

Back then, I would set aside a few minutes at the start of each month to create a new goal sheet for the weeks ahead. As I flipped through the pages of that book, I realized why this practice was so effective in helping me grow my business; each month, it encouraged me to make a monthly contract with myself to stay focused on the most important tasks in my business.

And it reminded me that if I wanted to achieve my goals – the very goals, I wrote down in that book each month – I had to let a lot of the seemingly urgent day-to-day tasks go.

I wanted to share this story with you today because it can help you solve a problem that many creatives and entrepreneurs struggle with.

Nearly every day, I hear women say they just can’t find time to get to the growth-oriented tasks in their business because they’re stuck handling the daily to-dos. They tell me they put off opportunities because they think they need to answer all their emails first. They say "that would be so great for my business" but never get around to doing that thing because they have a pile of administrative tasks to tend to. They tell me they have amazing ideas but zero time to act on them.

But here’s the truth: if you really want to grow your business, you have to learn to focus on what's important instead of always tending to what feels urgent. The trick is learning how to tell the difference because those urgent tasks will feel really, well, urgent. Here’s how I’ve learned to tell which is which:

Important tasks are the ones that contribute to your long-term visions and goals. They’re the ones that will propel your business forward and include things like creating new content for your community, starting to write your book proposal or putting together that presentation you want to do.

Urgent tasks are the ones that feel like you need to do them ASAP but won’t actually put you on the fast track toward your long-term goals. They include things like cleaning out your email inbox or scrolling social media to stay engaged and in the know.

I’m confident that the reason I achieved big goals in my first business (things like getting published in O magazine, reaching my financial goals and landing two book deals) is because I had a goal setting practice that helped me focus on what’s important.

That’s why I continue to use this goal-setting approach in my coaching practice each month. It’s also why I’m inviting you to try this method for the month of May.

To get you started, I’d love to know: what’s one important goal you’d like to focus on in your business this month? And what seemingly urgent task do you need to stop doing to give yourself the time and space you need to make it happen?

Drop your thoughts in the comments below.

With love,

Ashley

P.S. I know what you’re thinking: if you prioritize what’s important, when will you cross those urgent tasks off your to-do list? I talked about this very challenge in my free Facebook community, The Simplified Entrepreneur, this week. If you aren't yet a member, you can request an invitation to join and watch the replay here.

how to stop being a "yes girl"

When I first started my coaching business, I have to admit: I was a “yes girl”.

I said yes to every opportunity.

I said yes to joining every free training or challenge or webinar or networking group that crossed my path.

I said yes to every person who wanted to connect or collaborate.

And on and on.

As you might imagine, I quickly found myself feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do anything but the day to day tasks in my business.

But I did have the time. The problem was I was giving it away to all those commitments I was making. And if I wanted to grow, I knew I needed more time to dedicate to things that would propel my business forward not just help me hold steady where I was.

That’s when I realized that every time I said yes to an opportunity or training or person who wanted to connect, I was essentially saying no to myself. Because the time I’d spend on that opportunity prevented me from getting to the things I really needed to be doing to help my business grow.

So I learned to say no.

Sometimes I quantify my no to help someone understand the reasoning behind it. Sometimes I’ll say “no for now” when the timing just isn’t right. And sometimes “no” stands as a complete sentence because I’ve given myself permission to use it without explanation and without defending myself.

I’m clear that I’m saying no to give me more time for the important things in my business, and sometimes that’s reason enough.

That said, I didn’t go from being a “yes girl” to saying no with ease overnight – and I certainly don’t expect you to adopt this strategy right away. It’s a bit more nuanced than that, which is why I also want to give you a stepping stone to lean on as you start learning how and when to say no.

I talked about this stepping stone in my Facebook community, The Simplified Entrepreneur, on a Facebook Live this week. If you're already a member, you can catch the replay here.

If you aren’t yet a member, I'd love to invite you to join. Just click here to request an invitation so you can access the replay - and so much more.

With love,

Ashley

an interview with content coach and strategist Abby Herman

Desk-Smile.jpg

Abby Herman is a content strategist and content coach for small business owners, which means she helps them figure out how to get their message out to their audience in their voice and on their terms.

Abby and I talked about how she transitioned from working as an elementary school teacher to running her own business, Write Solutions, full time and about how she helps business owners move past their fears and create strategic content that makes a big impact online.

Read on to learn more about Abby and discover her best business-building tips.

When did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I honestly don’t think I “decided” to become an entrepreneur, as much as it found me. But the decision to quit my day job and grow my business came about after being completely disenchanted with public education, where I had worked for 13 years.

I was actually doing contract writing projects on the side because my salary as a teacher didn’t really pay the bills. One day, I just got fed up with all the politics involved in teaching and quit. (I gave my notice to finish out the school year, of course.) I had decided that I could have more control over my income and my life as a business owner. It was very scary and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where I could make ends meet, but it was completely worth it.

 

What drew you to entrepreneurship over going the more traditional path of working for someone else?

Whether you’re in your own business, in the corporate world or working as a public servant (and I’ve done all three), we can see how things work and don’t work in the grand scheme of things. And when you’re tied up in the bureaucracy of corporate or public service, there’s not a lot you can do to affect change. I love the fact that I can teach others about great content and marketing strategies while helping them to grow their businesses. I love that I can inspire others to follow their dreams. I absolutely think you can do that while working for someone else, but that just wasn’t the right path for me.

 

How would you describe the work you do?

I support other business owners in getting their marketing messages online. A blank computer screen seems to paralyze so many people, mostly because they think back to all those “rules” they learned in their sophomore year English class. As a coach, I help business owners move past those rules and unlearn some of them because, let’s face it, no one wants to read a five-paragraph essay on your website! As a content strategist, I help business owners decide what content they need to pour out to their audience—and where it needs to go online for the biggest impact.

 

What does a day in your working life look like?

Really, my day isn’t too exciting! I get up at 4 a.m. almost every morning (yes, even on the weekends). I get up, stretch a bit and then get dressed for my morning run. Depending on what time I’m running (I typically let my running buddy decide), I’ll usually sit down and read a business book for a bit. After my run, I shower, cook myself breakfast (yes, I cook every morning too), then sit down at my computer before 7 a.m. A bit later, I’ll take my daughter to school (an almost hour-long drive round-trip) and then plow into meetings, client work and my own business work—depending on what’s on the agenda. In the afternoon, my daughter usually has quite a bit of homework so I always have extra time to work when she gets home from school.

On the days when my daughter is at her dad’s house (one to two days a week), I end up working way too many hours. So basically, my work life involves a lot of work. I have trouble turning it off, which is something I’m always working on.

 

What makes you uniquely suited to do the work you do?

I think that being a writer requires a certain amount of introversion. I enjoy quiet time and reflection—in the comfort of my own home (and my pajamas). I love a well-written book that teaches me something or makes me think in a different way. I’m really good at reading people, which helps when I sit down to try to write something from a client’s perspective. I can grasp their voice and their words and make them flow onto paper in just the right way.

 

What support do you currently have in your business – and what has seeking that support taught you?

As far as “hired help,” I have a virtual assistant who helps me with posting my blogs and we’re moving into having her do some social media posting and guest blog management.

For non-paid help, I rely on several business friends quite a bit. I’ve met so many wonderful women in Facebook groups who have become real-life friends too. One even lives just a few miles from me, so we get together for breakfast on the weekends and have mini work retreats too.

 

In those early days of your business, what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?

My biggest challenges were and continue to be money and mindset (and money mindset). When I first went full time, I didn’t have the funds to hire anything out or even figure out how to do things the “right” way and I really struggled with imposter syndrome. I didn’t know there was a better, more efficient to do, well, anything and everything in my business.

As a single parent, money mindset is always a challenge for me. I have a fear of scarcity and that one day all my clients will pack up and leave. It’s a completely unrealistic fear, but it still sits in the back of my mind.  

 

How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?

I still struggle with these challenges in my business, but I’ve found ways to manage the mindset issues. When business was slow, I used to panic and then feel sorry for myself. Now, if I have a slow week, I use it to my advantage by spending time working on my business.

It’s also a lot easier now to remind myself that there are hills and valleys in business and in life. While I may run into a slow period, it always picks back up again. And my marketing efforts are a direct reflection on how busy and slow my business is.

What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard?

First and foremost, my daughter motivates me. She’s essentially self-sufficient now, but I think it’s the perfect time to be home with her. The teen years are challenging, and being home to support her as much as possible is a blessing to me.

Other business owners are a big motivation for me too. First, I’ve seen too many nice people have terrible experiences with other business owners. Promises they can’t keep, shoddy work, contractors disappearing. It’s a terrible way to run a business and it’s unfortunate for the good people who get wrapped up in that kind of situation. I want be able to educate and empower other business owners to grow a business they love. While I only handle the copy end, I have connections with other great resources and people I like to send my audience to when they need it.

 

Let’s talk about failure. How have you learned to deal with failure in your life as an entrepreneur?

If we don’t fail, we’re not learning. I take failure with a grain of salt. Does it hurt? Of course! But every time something doesn’t go the way I imagined—in life or in business—there’s always a takeaway or 10. I know how to shift the next launch so it’s more successful, I know how to better respond to that client, I know how to remember my boundaries, I know how to manage that relationship in a more positive way. It’s all a learning process. But if we get caught up in our mistakes and obsess about them, it holds us back from moving forward in our business.

 

What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development so far? What’s the next investment you want to make?

I’ve made two big investments in my business. One was a financial investment and one was a time investment. Coaching is, by far, the best financial investment I’ve made in my business. I’ve done both one-to-one coaching and joined paid mastermind groups. The individual coaching has been great for moving me forward in very specific areas like figuring out pricing, working on mindset, etc. And the mastermind groups have helped me build amazing relationships and communities with other business owners.

The other investment I’ve made has been time. Taking the time to connect with other business owners through masterminds, accountability groups and virtual coffee chats has done amazing things for my business and for my ability to reach out and ask for help. This is a huge piece of my success.

Moving forward, I’d like to invest in a true retreat—either with a group of business friends or solo. How amazing would it be to set up shop for a week in some tropical location? Talk about motivation!

 

What’s your long-term vision for your business?

One of the best things about my business is that it can completely be location-independent. By the time my daughter graduates from high school in 2020, I’d like my business to be able to support having a home base while I work on the road. I’ve done so little traveling in my life and I’m not ready to be an empty nester. So traveling it is!

As far as the workings of the business itself, I never see myself developing into an agency-style model. But I love to teach and would love to be the go-to source for writing development for business owners. I actually have some things in the works for this!

 

What advice do you have for women who are just getting started and are worried their business won’t amount to anything?

I think we all go through this phase in our businesses, and probably more than once or twice. Running a successful, profitable business is hard work and it’s so easy to look at what others are doing in their businesses and get discouraged. The truth is, you never know what it took someone to get to where they are. You don’t know what resources they have available to them.

I’m sure that some people have immediate success in their businesses, but that’s not the reality for the majority of us. Often, you have to do a lot of grunt work to get the experience and portfolio development that helps you get that next, bigger client. My first client paid me $9 an hour until about five years ago, when I got a raise. For someone who was the only income in her household and trying to feed a growing child, that’s below poverty level. But I gained so much experience from that one client, and I worked for that company for about eight years. It was tough at times, but the owner was willing to work around my then-full time job and give me an abundance of opportunities to learn and grow. It was worth it, and I’m forever grateful to her for the experience I gained.

 

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

I was absolutely obsessing about my website before I re-launched in back in the early days of running my business full time. My coach challenged me to just get it the heck out there and told me, “Done is better than perfect.” Now I tell everyone that. If we wait for something to be perfect, we’d never get anything accomplished!

What one word best describes how you work?

Real. I am me, and I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not. That’s how I live my life and how I run my business.

 

What book has made the biggest impression on you?

I’ve read so many books about business and mindset that this is a tough one. A book that really hit home for me recently is Essentialism by Greg McKeown. There’s a mindset today about doing it all, and I completely fall into this trap so much more than I’d like to admit. We want to do it all, have it all, experience it all. This book really puts it all in perspective and makes it okay to release some of the things and people who don’t fit into your life or business.

 

What are you listening to right now that’s influencing your work?

I am loving the Copywriter Club podcast. The hosts are Kira Hug and Rob Marsh, two big names who are relatively new to the copywriter scene. I’ve learned so much about my writing processes, working with clients and how to price my work from this podcast—and it just went live in January. I love the community they’re building for copywriters because the people I learn the most from are the people who others would call my “competition.” I don’t see it that way. We all have something different to bring to the table and we can bring the best if we work together.

 

What is one influential quote that guides you in your business?

This is a hard question because there are so many great quotes out there. One I’ve had on my wall for years, and one that I think resonates in both my personal life and in my business is this one from Calvin & Hobbes:

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

 

Thanks so much Abby for having this great conversation. Where can people connect with you online and learn more about your work?

My web site is www.abbymherman.com, and you can go there to learn more about my business, services and programs. I’m also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest if you want to connect on those platforms as well.

Photo credit: Crystal Hollman

Your creative career is totally legit

298A6038-2.jpg

Have you ever thought that the work you do isn’t a “real” job?
 
I hear this often from creatives and entrepreneurs in my community. They’ll tell me about their business and then, in the same breath, admit that it feels less serious than the traditional jobs their partners and peers have. They’ll say they’re not as legit as the people they know who have “real” professions with regular paychecks. 
 
What they don’t see is that this way of thinking is doing their business a disservice. Because the truth is that if you don’t think your work is real or important, you will always treat it like a hobby.
 
And I don’t think you’re in this to run a hobby business that just provides you with an outlet for your passions and a tiny bit of profit. I think you want to do work that fulfills you and make money that helps pay for more than your daily latte habit.
 
So let’s start treating your work like a real business by letting go of the beliefs that are holding you back.
 
In order to let your limiting beliefs go, you first need to clear them out of your head. I recommend writing down all the limiting thoughts you have about your work. (Here’s a few I’ve heard recently, for example: Artists can’t make a good living. I don’t have a real job. Creatives aren’t professionals. I’m just running a hobby business.) Don’t judge yourself for thinking any of these thoughts – just get them down on paper so you can look at them more objectively.   
 
Then, read each thought and ask yourself Is this thought really true? (And by true what I really mean is this: is the thought a fact you could prove in a court of law?)
 
Roughly 99 percent of the time, your thoughts aren’t going to be true – even if they feel true to you. That might seem confusing and frustrating at first but this is good news because it means you have a choice: you can keep buying into your limiting thoughts or you can let them go.
 
If you decide to keep believing that you don’t have a real job, that your work is just a hobby or that it’s somehow less legitimate or important than other careers, you’ll continue to hold yourself back.
 
But if you can let those limiting beliefs go, you’ll remove obstacles and start creating space to entertain some new thoughts – thoughts that will help you treat your business like a real job. Thoughts that will help you acknowledge the importance of your work. Thoughts that will make you feel like a real boss, and get serious about building your business too. 
 
The question you’re probably asking right now is how do I let those beliefs go? My honest answer is that it’s hard work because trying to argue against your own deep-rooted beliefs about your work is like trying to reason with an indignant toddler. In other words, it’s very hard to win the battle between you and your own beliefs. 
 
That’s why support is crucial here.
 
So know if you want to go at it alone, it's hard but doable with a lot of effort and time. But if you want support in this area, I’d love to connect with you and walk you through the process I use with my clients to help them let their limiting beliefs go. 
 
If you're ready to connect, just click here to pick a time for your call.

With love,

Ashley

There are a million ways to get visible BUT you just need one to start

When it comes to getting visible as a creative or entrepreneur, you have infinite options. You can blog. You can vlog. You can tweet. You can start a podcast or be a guest on someone else’s show. You can speak at a conference or join a telesummit or host a live workshop…and the list goes on and on

On one hand, it’s great to have so many choices to help you reach, serve and sell to your audience.

But that long list of options can also make the goal of “getting visible” feel like too much work. And, it can keep you from realizing a secret that successful entrepreneurs know about visibility, which is this: even though there are a million ways to get visible, you just need ONE to get started.

That Means it's Time To simplify, which Happens to be My Thing.

As a coach for creatives and entrepreneurs, I help women grow their business by simplifying their planning, goal setting, content and visibility. When it comes to the visibility game, I teach clients how to stop doing everything so they can move out of overwhelm and into action by focusing on a single goal.

Here’s how you can find a focus for your own visibility goals today: get out a piece of paper and write down all of your visibility goals from your simplest idea to your biggest dream. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of all the ways you could get visible.

This is the point where you probably get stuck in overwhelm or go into analysis paralysis. It’s the point where you might decide that getting visible is too hard or too complicated a goal. It’s the moment you might set your visibility goals aside for a “better time”.

But getting visible doesn’t have to be so complicated. All you have to do is simplify your approach by picking a single idea on your list and giving yourself permission to focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.

As you make your list, you might notice an obvious place to start. If, however, you’re looking at your list and thinking you don’t know which idea to pick (or are afraid you’ll pick the wrong one), here are three questions to help you find your focus.

 

Ask yourself:

  1. Which opportunity excites me the most?
  2. Which opportunity am I truly curious about?
  3. Which opportunity has the potential to deliver real results for my business?

 

Then use your answers to these questions to determine which idea is the best one for you right now.

Just please remember that there isn’t really a right or wrong way to get visible. A lot of it is trial and error, and starting somewhere is so much better than letting overwhelm or analysis paralysis stop you from doing anything at all.

When in doubt, simplify - and just start.

With love,

Ashley

P.S. If you want more help getting visiblE, you can download my FREE guide From Stuck to Standing Out: 5 Steps to Get Visible with More Confidence and Greater Ease.

The secret to setting "just right" goals

When it comes to goal setting, there’s a real art to picking goals that are the right fit for the place you’re at in your business right now.

If your goals are too small, you’ll probably achieve them, which is obviously a good thing. BUT, you’ll also sell yourself short by taking the easier road in your business, and you won’t experience the growth you could. (On the flipside, if you set goals that are too big and unrealistic for your available time and resources, you’ll get stuck in overwhelm.)

The secret to avoiding either extreme is to set a stretch goal. A stretch goal is a goal that pushes you to do a little more and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. But – and this is the important part of how I view a stretch goal – it’s still within the realm of possibility for you to achieve.

It’s a goal that is just right for the place you’re at in your business right now.

And it’s the kind of goal you need to set to propel your business forward this quarter. Just ask my client – we’ll call her Stephanie – who used a stretch goal to streamline her focus and more than double her income goal in her service-based business last month.

At the beginning of March, Stephanie told me that she’d run the numbers and just needed to make $500 a month to make her part-time business a viable option for her. But I knew she had the time and resources – not to mention the talents, skills and market demand – to easily achieve that goal. So I asked her why are you picking that small number for you monthly income goal?

Then I asked her how it would feel to set a stretch goal for her income that month – something that felt a little harder to achieve but that was still plausible. After a conversation about her business (and her fears around setting a bigger goal), we determined that $1,000 was a good stretch goal for the place she was at in her business and life right now.

Here’s the best part: Stephanie emailed me a week later to say she’d blown her goal out of the water. She’d already topped the $1,000 mark – and we weren’t even halfway through the month.

Setting a stretch goal helped Stephanie think bigger, work a little harder and show up differently in her business. When she was just trying to make $500 a month, she didn’t feel as much urgency to do things like promote her business or convert new leads. When she decided she was ready to make $1000 a month, both her mindset and her actions shifted to align with her new goal. She stopped playing small and started taking actions to reach that goal that very month.

The stretch goal approach also worked for Stephanie because it forced her to simplify, which is the best strategy I know of to grow your business. That’s why I’ve made simplicity my focus as a coach for creatives and entrepreneurs; whether we’re talking planning, goal setting, content or visibility, I help women learn how to grow their business by simplifying what they do and how they do it.

Goal setting is a great place to start. So this month, I encourage you to look at the goals you’ve set for your business. Then ask yourself am I playing it safe by picking small, easily achievable goals?

If you are, let’s set up a time to chat on a free discovery call to see how you could use stretch goals to create the results you really want to achieve.

With love,

Ashley

P.S. If you'd like to talk more about setting goals in your business - and uncover better ways to achieve them - I'd love to connect on a free discovery call. To set up your 45-minute session, just click HERE.

an interview with floral designer, shop owner and retreat host Lesley Frascogna

Lesley Frascogna is a floral designer, the owner of the Flora, Mississippi-based shop Tulip Floral + Goods, a retreat founder and the multi-passionate woman entrepreneur I’m featuring in my interview series this month.

Lesley and I talked about establishing yourself as an entrepreneur at a young age, about balancing motherhood and business and about how her desire to have a more established, like-minded creative community led her to launch the Nourish retreat this year.

Read
 on to learn more about Lesley and her path to owning a successful business that provides her the money and lifestyle she desires.

 

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I have always been the type of person to just figure things out on my own. I didn’t have any experience before I entered into the world of flowers at 22. I started cleaning buckets and taking orders at a local shop and, a year later, an opportunity came up to purchase a shop. I always knew I wanted my own store at some point – I just didn’t know it would be a flower shop.

At 23, I borrowed the money from my boyfriend’s mother [to finance] a portion of it and convinced the owners to finance the rest. The next thing I knew, I was a shop owner. They taught me how to run the books, how to place flower orders and what type of plants sold the best in the shop. I learned a ton on my own that first few months and the shop was thriving. I was actually good at this thing! 

A couple years later, I met my husband and, a year after that, we got married and he moved us to Mississippi, where he was from. I held on to the shop for another year before I was able to sell it. I had hopes of running it from afar and returning one day, but things played out differently for us. 

We still reside in Mississippi where Tulip was born in 2008 as a means to support us through my husband’s law school. We are still thriving almost 9 years later and have recently expanded into a new brick and mortar shop. So to really answer the question, I never really had much of a professional background, just an intense desire to create, succeed and be my own boss, which led me down the path of becoming a creative entrepreneur.   

 

What drew you to entrepreneurship over a more traditional career?

I have never done well with authority, even when I was a young girl. I always knew that I could never work for anyone else.

What’s your official job title?

Floral designer, shop owner, purchaser of unique items, mother, part-time therapist, lunch maker and maid. I don’t know if I have an “official” job title, but this pretty much sums it up.

 

What does a day in your working life look like?

I honestly spend a lot of time in the car these days. From driving to market, to clients homes, to the shop and carpool line – yep, it’s pretty much where I live. We have a sitter on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 3pm, sometime 5pm. Those are my days dedicated to off-site floral work and the shop. That can mean arranging flowers in someone’s home, meeting with clients, picking up what we need from market, running shop errands and popping in to the shop to make a mess before running out the door. Tuesday and Thursday, my older son is in school and my two-year-old goes to a program from 9am to noon. On these days, I work from home usually getting bills paid or proposals done. If I’m lucky, I can squeeze in a shower and actually dry my hair. After I pick Birdie up at noon, my day is pretty much being a mom. Then unless we have a wedding scheduled, I try not to work at all on the weekends so I can spend time with my family.

 

What are your greatest strengths as an entrepreneur, and how do they make you uniquely suited for your career?

I work really well under pressure, which also means that I am a procrastinator. It’s a double-edged sword I guess, but also one of my greatest strengths. In my line of work with florals and events, one must work extremely well under pressure. 

 

In the early days of your business, what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?

Managing money has always a struggle. I still struggle with this sometimes. Does anyone else wonder where the hell the money goes all the time? I swear – it’s a disappearing act. One second there is a lot of it and the next second you are keeping your fingers crossed that your receivables come in before that check clears. Every year, I have plans to bring a financial advisor in. Maybe this is the year!

The other thing that has been a huge struggle is comparing myself to others in my field. This has gotten better with age and experience, but with social media so being relevant in my field, it makes it harder. 

 

How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?

For me, it really boiled down to growing up, realizing who I was and finding some real self-confidence. There are, of course, still times that I struggle with these things, but it has gotten much easier the older I have gotten. 

 

What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard?

To be totally honest, money is a huge motivator for me. I like to make money and I’m just lucky I found something that I enjoy doing that can help support my family and afford us the lifestyle we like to live. Making clients happy is a bonus for me.

What does success in your business look like and feel like to you?

Drinking a full cup of coffee without having to reheat it six times – now that is success. Ha! But for real, thankfully my perception on this has changed so much over the past few years. I used to define success by how much industry recognition I received – how many magazine or blog features I could get, how many social media followers I had, how many people “liked” my post. This was SO mentally exhausting. 

I was chasing things that didn’t actually matter to my business, things that mattered more to my ego. But that nowhere near defines success. If my clients are happy, if I’m making enough money, if my kids are happy and healthy, if my marriage is in a good place and if my dogs get a walk every now and then, that is success!

 

Let’s talk about failure. What has being an entrepreneur taught you about failure?

For me, failure is not an option in the sense that I will never give up. If I fail at something, which is inevitable as a creative entrepreneur, I will figure out another way to do it.

 

What advice do you have for women who are in the early stages of business and worried they’re going to fail?

Don’t be afraid of failing and don’t let it stop you. It is part of being an entrepreneur.  If you fail, get back up and try again. You will learn so much along the way. 

 

What has being an entrepreneur made possible for you?

It has allowed me to be in control, have a creative outlet and help support my family. 

 

What’s your long-term vision for your business?

I’m really looking toward simplifying things in the upcoming year or two. I am not really sure what that means for me quite yet as I do want to continue to grow as well. I have so many moving pieces to my business right now – sometimes it just feels like too much. Maybe simplifying means eliminating some of our services. I would love to update you next year as I’m hoping to find the answers soon.

This year, you’re tackling a new challenge: retreats. Why did you decide to start hosting retreats and what can you tell us about your upcoming retreat in April?

After having two kids and running a creative business, I found it difficult to connect with other like-minded women in the same field. I wanted to create a community of creative business owners who understood the difficult dynamic of motherhood and business owner. In early 2016, I decided I was going to cultivate and host a retreat for these hardworking mamas.

Nourish is an all-inclusive restful retreat for busy “mamapreneurs” who are trying to find a work-life balance and connect with other industry mamas. The retreat is taking place this April 23rd to 26th in Watercolor, Florida. For more information you can visit www.nourishtheretreat.com

 

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have ever received was to remember that my work is unique to me and to remain authentic. Basically, you do you! This goes back to comparing ourselves to others. In a world with Instagram and Pinterest in the forefront of our industry, it is so important to remember this. Comparing your work to others can be paralyzing and overwhelming. I believe it is a huge reason why creative entrepreneurs give up or maybe never even get started to begin with.      

 

What one word best describes how you work?

Sporadically

 

What is one influential quote that guides you in your business?

“It’s not life or death…it’s just flowers.”  That’s me.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers or any requests you have of them?

Take time for yourself and try not to let your business control you.

Also, if you are a creative business owner and mother who needs to retreat to the beach for a few days, please join us at NOURISH this April – we still have a few seats available!

Also, shop small and local when you can. We rely on supportive communities!

 

Where can my readers find you and connect with you online?

You can visit both of our businesses online at www.ilovetulip.com and www.nourishtheretreat.com, and shop online on TULIP as well. You can find us on Instagram for daily inspiration and a peek into both my personal and professional world. Our handles are @tulipfloral and @nourishtheretreat. The best way to reach out to me directly is through email at lesley@ilovetulip.com


Photo credits: Lauren Kinsey and Tec Peteja

why done is better than perfect

On Friday, I spent an hour volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom where, every morning, her teacher assigns the students three tasks to complete independently. My daughter often struggles to get through task one – but not because she lacks the smarts, knowledge, skills or talent to complete the assignment.

Rather she gets stuck on task one because she spends all her time trying to perfect her work – especially the aesthetic details. And in using so much time trying to do her best work, she sacrifices progress (ahem, just like her mama used to do).

As a driven entrepreneurial woman, I bet you can relate. Because if there’s one thing I know about women like us, it’s that our tendency toward perfectionism can prevent us from getting things done.

In the past few months, for example, I have seen clients wait to finish their web site because they couldn’t find the perfect font to use. I have heard creatives say they waited weeks to launch their podcast because they couldn’t decide on their intro music. I’ve talked with women who are waiting to record live videos for their audience because they don’t have the perfect backdrop or lighting. And I have chatted with women who admitted they aren’t going to networking meetings because they don’t have their elevator pitch 100 percent nailed down.

In the moment, these kinds of things can feel so very important. To be fair, they are because you should care about the quality, look and feel of your work. It represents you, after all.

That said, there’s a difference between doing good quality work and chasing perfection. So today I’m asking you to consider if a tendency toward perfectionism is holding you back in any area of your business. If it is, I want you to go deeper and ask yourself:

What’s the cost of continuing to put perfection on a pedestal and wait to do things in my business until they feel perfect?

The truth is the cost of perfection is almost always progress. When you wait for something to feel, look or sound perfect, you miss opportunities to share your work. You pass up the chance to grow your audience or make more money or move your business forward.

If perfection is worth that cost to you, keep chasing it. But if it’s not, consider this: done is often better than perfect.

And remember that no one is saying you can’t tweak or improve upon your work down the road. For example, you can launch your web site now and update the font when you find the right fit. You can start doing live videostreams from pretty much anywhere and hang your value on the content you provide, not the lighting, until you can afford a studio space. You can start attending networking events and talk about your business using a rough elevator pitch that you refine as you go along.

You get the idea.

Now I’d love to hear from you: where are you chasing perfection in your business at the cost of making progress?

Share your thoughts in the comments below so I can reply with some personalized advice to help you free yourself from perfectionism in the name of progress.

With love,

Ashley

I think it's time for a pep talk

I see you there putting in the heart and hustle to build your brand. I see you listening to all the podcasts and reading all the business books and taking all the online courses as you search for the secret to success. I see you asking yourself if it’s worth it to put so much time and energy into your business.

And I see you in those scary moments when you wonder if this thing you’re building is actually going to help you make the money and have the time freedom you desire in your life.

I’d say it’s time for a pep talk. Because when you’re hustling with all your heart and facing fear and self-doubt, this is what you need to know:

You didn’t make a mistake when you decided to become self-employed.

You will not always feel stuck. You will find your niche, your people, your core message, your flow.

Your business is worth the time and energy you put into it because the work you do matters.

You are not failing – you are a work in progress.

It’s ok if you aren’t an overnight success. (Few people can say they were.)

You’re not a bad businesswoman – and you can learn everything you need to know to run a profitable business, even if you’re a right-brained creative.

You do have what it takes.

Finally, I want you to know that you are closer than you think you are to reaching your business goals – even if they feel impossible to you.

In fact, it’s likely that you just need to change a few things to make more money in your business and experience more time freedom in your life.

So if you feel stuck or alone or are full of doubt, know that I’m here waiting to lend you a hand. After all, I get everything you’re feeling and everything you’re going through because I’ve been right where you are. So if you want to talk, let’s find a time.

After all, a pep talk is nice but it’s no substitute for the deep conversation full of actionable advice that I would love to offer you.

With love,

Ashley

 

The Two Things You Need to Know About Your Target Market

You've heard all about creating an ideal client avatar, right? 
 
If not, I'll fill you in quickly. The ideal client (or customer avatar) exercise is all about creating a fictional character that represents your ideal prospect. Many coaches and entrepreneurs say you should create an avatar so you know who you're for (and who you're not for), which helps with everything from content creation to marketing. 
 
But I've never been totally sold that creating a fictional character will get you the results you want – and I know you might be wondering the same thing.
 
Yes, there's value in doing the ideal client exercise because it gets you thinking like your potential client. But I also see people get too focused on the minute details of this exercise. The thing I always wonder is this: will knowing things like how old your client is or what they like to eat for breakfast really help you sell to them?
 
Sometimes, the answer is yes. But often, you really only need to know two things about your prospective clients to communicate why they'd want to buy your products or services. You just need to know this:
 
What's their problem – and how do you solve it? 
 
When I work with my clients on their content, messaging, positioning and marketing, we focus on answering these questions first. Because whether you're laying the foundation for a new business or are pivoting in a more established one, the answers to these questions will help you communicate with potential clients in a way that converts. 
 
That's because your ideal client cares more about the results you can get them than they care about anything else.
 
So you don't actually need to know that your ideal client loves to travel or that they drive a Mini Cooper. You need to know what their problem is and show them how you can help solve that problem.
 
As you think about this, I want to invite you to pause for a moment. Take a break from your inbox or from crossing items off your to-do list to spend some time working through these two questions.
 
They really do matter – and I'd love to hear what you come up so please share what you discover in the comments below.

With love,

Ashley

What if You Only Needed to Focus on ONE Thing to Grow Your Business?

Raise your hand if you tried to do all the things possible to grow your business last month. (I’m talking about posting on social media, asking for referrals, adding a new revenue stream, seeking out collaborations, engaging in Facebook groups, pitching guest blog posts, attending networking events or some combination of all of the above.)

Now raise your hand if you know which one of those strategies worked best to get results.

If you don’t know which strategy is working best for you, you aren’t alone. Many busy creatives and entrepreneurs get caught up in trying all the latest strategies and never pause to determine which ones get them the best results.

Nor do they give themselves permission to stop doing all the things and instead focus solely on the actions that will truly help them grow their business.

I’m giving you permission to do just that today because you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice if you’re trying out too many strategies at once. After all, doing a mediocre job at many things is rarely as effective as focusing on one growth-oriented action at a time.

What I’m telling you here is that the secret to growth in your business is not to do more. It's Simplifying Your Strategy - Which Happens to Be My Thing as a Coach for Creatives and Entrepreneurs.

To get to a place where you can simplify, however, you first need to know what activities you should focus on. So today, take 10 minutes and look at the results you got last month. (Results to you may mean income, clients, traffic, sales, exposure…you get the idea.) Then consider all the actions you took to get those results and ask yourself which one converted best.

That one thing is what you should spend the majority of your time and energy doing this month.

To make this a little more tangible for you, let me give you an example. Let’s say Lauren, a certified yoga instructor, is doing this exercise. To grow her private practice last month, Lauren led 2 workshops at a neighborhood studio, ran an ad in a local magazine and posted daily on Instagram. She got 4 new 1:1 clients during that time, and when she looked at her results she realized that 3 of those clients came through her workshops.

To repeat her success this month – and accelerate her growth – Lauren doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. She just needs to keep doing what’s already working for her by engaging with potential 1:1 clients in group settings.

That means Lauren could focus on doing more workshops or on presenting the same workshop in new spaces. She could teach more group classes or try offering an in-office class for a local business during their lunch hour. Her goal is to spend as much face-to-face time with people as possible because that strategy converts better for her than any social media or advertising does.

Can you uncover a successful growth strategy in your business? If you can’t figure out what’s working best for you, let’s set up a time to talk on a free discovery call. Together, we will uncover which efforts lead to the biggest impact for you so you can simply your growth strategy and have even more success this month.

With love,

Ashley

You Don't Have to be an Overnight Success

You’ve heard the overnight success stories. The singer whose first song was a number one hit. The writer who went from blogging to book deal in just two months. The coach who made six figures in her first launch. The photographer whose work went viral and landed her fame and fortune in her first year of business.

It’s true that these stories exist. But they are often the exception to the rule.

The majority of business owners put in plenty of time, effort and energy before they achieve success. They go through a ton of trial and error to make their business work. And they face more failure than they thought possible before they find the sweet spot that proves their business will actually work.

I’m sharing this with you because I’ve been talking with lots of clients and colleagues who are doubting themselves after disappointing launches. These women poured their heart into their new product or service or business venture. They did their market research. They planned. They prepared. They packaged everything up in the most enticing way.

They thought they’d found their thing – you know, THE THING that would finally let them join the ranks of those successful entrepreneurs they read about every day.

But when they launched, they heard crickets. So they started wondering if their business was ever going to make it and started asking themselves if they were even cut out to own their own business in the first place.

I shared some advice with each of those women that I want to pass along to you today because I know you might also be facing a disappointing launch or that your business might be growing slower than you’d like.

If you’re nodding your head yes, you need to know the truth: for every overnight success story you hear about, there are hundreds of other stories from women who took longer to reach their version of success. You just don’t hear those tales as often because they’re not the Cinderella story that makes for good marketing or, quite frankly, inspiring conversation either.

So please remember that the road to success is a marathon, not a sprint. It may take months or it may take years for you to make it. The best thing you can do in the meantime is stay focused, consistent and committed to your work.

If you continue to do that – even when the doubt shows up – your time will come.

With love,

Ashley

An Interview with Stylist Maegan Watson of My Dear Watson

To say Maegan Watson could help you overcome your wardrobe challenges is an understatement. As the founder and CEO of the personal styling firm My Dear Watson, Maegan takes an inside out approach to building wardrobes for executive women. She styles for desired feelings, goals, expectations and life changes to create wardrobes that help clients feel the way they want to feel and love the way they look.

Read on to learn more about Maegan and her company – and to discover the unexpected investment that gave her the best return in her business and life.

 

What drew you to entrepreneurship over going the more traditional path of working for someone else?

There is part of me who always knew that entrepreneurship was the best fit for me.  I remember going to the career fair in college and thinking – this is not for me.

One of my greatest strengths is strategy and vision. It’s easy and exciting for me to come up with new ideas and solve problems creatively. As an entrepreneur, I get to exercise this strength all the time.  Most importantly, I always wanted to be a mom and have the flexibility to work and focus on my family. I have a toddler now and entrepreneurship has given me the exact work-life integration I always wanted.

 

How would you describe the work you do?

I support female leaders with image and wardrobe. I've been a stylist my entire career, even throughout college and graduate school, and I found a major flaw in the way women were getting dressed and leveraging their visibility. As women, the number one thing that keeps us from speaking up or living the brave life we deserve is appearance and body image. This topic has been researched for decades and the results are always the same: the way we feel about our appearance can create the cold rush of shame or the supportive push of self-acceptance and love. I knew I had to shift the way the world uses personal styling to empower more women to harness how brave and beautiful they are to change the world.

 

What does a day in your working life look like?

I start work around 9am by checking in, reviewing my goals and responding to emails. Most of my days are spent doing video styling sessions with clients and potential clients. We are a full-service boutique so we do all of our clients shopping and styling. That means we do a ton of online shopping and reviewing lookbooks with the team.
 

What hats do you personally wear in your business and where do you have support?

I wear two main hats: sales and service. Every lead that comes through our door talks with me. I have a team of stylists that service clients, doing the shopping, styling and supporting alongside me, but I also have my own book of clients that I work with exclusively.

I have an amazing assistant and my husband is our COO so he ensures that our systems are running smoothly. We have a phenomenal sales coach – a coach is a must! I have vowed to have one every year that we are in business. We also have 3 to 4 virtual assistants that do various things like copywriting, automation, lookbooks, email marketing and I'm sure a million other things I'm not thinking of.

What makes you uniquely suited to do the work you do?

I'm an exceptionally sensitive person. This certainly comes with its challenges but it makes me particular gifted at understanding someone at a very deep level. It also makes me sensitive to colors, patterns, textures and fits, which positively impacts the visual aspect of my work. We don't create images and plant them on our clients. We extract the core of who they are and ascribe visual attributes to the qualities that make them unique. I'm blessed to have the empathy to allow people to open up because it is a vulnerable and powerful process to experience. The end result is unlike anything I could imagine.

 

In those first few months of business (or maybe even years), what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?

The biggest challenge in the beginning was constantly questioning the efficacy of our work. As our programs evolved and eventually became 100 percent virtual, I was always worried that the program would have some fatal flaw. It took a lot of faith to go implement them anyway and allow the kinks to work out gracefully.

 

How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?

I have to be very conscious of my mindset. Working on my faith in the universe is really what gave me the space to allow things to unfold. The early months were exceptionally difficult but in retrospect they didn't need to be. If you can find a way to stop worrying, then do it. Everything is going to work out in your favor even if it’s not what you expected.

 

What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard? Put another way: what’s the motivation behind what you do?

I'm motivated to keep pushing through the hard times because I genuinely love what I do. I experience so much joy when I get to unveil a new wardrobe to a client. I get so much drive from the positive feedback and from witnessing the transformation.

I'm also motivated by the vision I have for our team. Scaling our business has been challenging but I'm proud of the culture we are trying to create, one with good pay, flexibility and [the chance to] work from home. I want to grow so I can give more people the opportunity to work with us.

The last motivation is financial freedom. It's such a gift to truly have unlimited income potential. Yes, not getting a paycheck every two weeks can be scary but there is an incredible financial upside to working for yourself.

 

Let’s talk about failure. How have you learned to deal with failure in your life as an entrepreneur?

Failure stings at first but the more times you fail, the easier and easier it gets. I've had to learn to laugh at it. I've had some major failures. I started businesses that didn't work and made decisions out of fear that derailed our progress but they all led me here. Yes, I would erase some of them if I could but I can't do that so laughing about it softens the blow. Plus as Marie Forleo says "everything is figuroutable." I can't tell you how many times a week I use that phrase to ease some tension.

 

What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development so far? What’s the next investment you want to make?

The best investment I ever made in myself was yoga teacher training. I did it for myself without the intention to teach. The best investment we've made in the business is hiring our first coach. It was an integral part in our success.

 

What is your long-term vision for your business, and life?

My long-term vision is to be a world-renowned virtual, personal styling boutique. I'd like to expand to Canada by 2018 and Europe after that. I have a vision for a 5-person leadership team that will give me the flexibility to work on a long-time passion project with my husband.

What advice do you have for women who are working hard to get their business off the ground and who fear failure?

The world needs what you have to offer. We are not given the vision for something without the skills, talent and drive to make it happen. It's truthfully so easy to make money when your intention is to serve other people. You are destined to follow your calling – and if you were called to be an entrepreneur, then stop worrying about having to get a job. It's not part of your path. Lastly, be confident in what you have to offer. There is immense power in being a woman who stops selling herself short. You got this!

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers or any requests you have of them?

My request would be to take one action step toward your goal after you read this interview. We all need support – and I need a ton of it. If your dream doesn't seem possible, then you may just need a loving nudge or a fresh set of eyes on your vision. Make a call, send an email and be open to the possibility of things working out when you enlist the support you need.

 

Where can my readers find you and connect with you online? 

The best place to find me is at www.maeganwatson.com and the best way to connect with me is via email at maegan@mydearwatson.com. I also have a complimentary gift that walks women through some of the most transformational parts of our signature program. If you're interested in having a closet full of good-to-go outfits that transforms the way the world receives your gifts, then I invite you to click here and gain access to that free gift immediately.

I Invite You To Give Your To-Do List a Makeover

Of all the conversations I have with women entrepreneurs and small business owners, the one that comes up the most often is about their to-do list – specifically how to manage the many items on it.

Most women tell me that they use their to-do lists as a dumping ground for everything from daily tasks to big projects. Their list becomes the catchall for their to-dos, their new ideas, various notes and pretty much anything else they don’t want to forget.

You can see how a list like that leads to overwhelm – and I bet you’ve even experienced it. So today, I want to help you learn to manage your to-do list by categorizing your tasks. (And yes, I know that sounds like organizational overkill but if you want to stay focused and actually cross items off your list this week, you need to try this approach.)

To get started, pull out your current to-do list, or make a new pen-and-paper list of all the tasks you have bouncing around in your head. Then organize your list into the following categories:

 

ASAP (for items that are important to get to soon, i.e. ones with fast-approaching deadlines)

Finish by Friday (for items that are important but not as critical to the success of your business or tied to a firm deadline)

When I Get To It (for items that you can put off – maybe indefinitely. Or for things that you could potentially delegate, delete or delay from your list for a period of time)

 

As you’ve probably guessed, you need to address the ASAP items on your to-do list first. Schedule time to work on them and keep going until you get those items done because they are the things that propel your business forward.

After that, prioritize your “Finish By Friday” to-dos since they’re important too, just not as urgent. Then, and only then, should you work on the “When I Get to It” tasks, which, if I’m being really honest here, are rarely as essential as you think.

I invite you to try this approach, then jump into my free Facebook community to share your results and chat about to-do list strategies with smart, inspiring women entrepreneurs like you.

With love,

Ashley

When Wearing All The Hats Hurts Your Business More Than It Helps

Years ago, when I was working as a freelancer food writer, I found myself wearing all the hats in my business. I was the creative writer, the proofreader, the recipe tester, the editor, the transcriptionist, the bookkeeper, the chief financial officer, the administrative assistant and more.

And, like most solo entrepreneurs, I thought that I had to do all the things in my business. I thought it was just the way things were for small business owners and freelancers like me. So I didn’t hire anyone to help me run the day-to-day operations in my business. Nor did I seek support from coaches or consultants who could have introduced me to the right strategies to help my business grow.

My business was stable – successful even. But it also stayed relatively the same year after year. I did the same tasks. I had the same kind of clients. I earned the same income and took on the same workload (one that often lead to overwhelm). And I did that year after year until I shut the business down to pursue coaching.

This week, I found myself reflecting on how different things look today in my second run at entrepreneurship. I realized I’ve stopped trying to do all the things; I’ve changed the way I do business – and the potential my business has to grow – by surrounding myself with great people and actively seeking support.

Here’s what support in my business looks like now….

  • I have a great online business manager who handles various tasks for me – and is constantly taking more off my plate so I can spend more time doing the thing I started this business to do: coach.
  • I received immense support from fellow entrepreneurs and a business coach during an intensive mastermind group last year.
  • I’m part of a peer-lead mastermind group and have numerous colleagues who are always available to lend a hand or share feedback on my projects.
  • I have a husband who is always willing to step up – and who now knows exactly what kind of support I need because I finally started telling him.

Admittedly, it’s been a process to become someone who asks for support. But it was worth it because learning this skill has made so many things possible for me. It’s given me the chance to make a bigger impact, generate more income and grow my business faster than I ever could alone. And, as you might imagine, that support has been a great antidote to beat overwhelm.

I’m sharing this lesson with you today in hopes it won’t take you as long as it took me to learn it. Because I see you working hard and wearing all the hats in your business. I see you thinking that the overwhelm is normal because you’re a solo entrepreneur or a small business owner who has to do it all.

But you don’t have to do it all – and it’s probably not in your best interest to keep flying solo. In fact, I’m proof that when you make the shift and start getting support in your business, there’s nowhere to go but up.

So today, as you think about getting support yourself, I’d love for you to take five minutes and answer two questions:

Where do I need more help in my business?

Where do I need to stop resisting help and accept support where it’s already been offered?

Maybe you need some support around the house or someone to help with childcare to free up more time to work. Maybe you need the support of a coach to help you with business strategy and mindset. Or maybe you need administrative help so you can stop pushing papers and start engaging your creative side.

Whatever it is, I invite you to consider what you need today.

Then dare to ask yourself what could be possible in your business – and your life – if you stopped doing it all and had some support.

With love,

Ashley

Why You Need to Just Start

It’s hard to believe it but February is already here, which means you’re probably taking a moment to reflect on what you accomplished in January – and what you didn’t.

That latter piece is what I want to talk to you about today because I know that you’re a high achieving woman who wears a lot of hats in your business. And that means you don’t always get around to the big projects you put on your goal list at the beginning of the month.

I also know that you have your reasons as to why you didn’t get to your big project – and they’re probably good ones. Maybe you didn’t have the resources ready. Maybe you got distracted by your day-to-day business tasks. Maybe your kids had a week of snow days last month and you just ran out of time. (Raising my hand here.) Or maybe your mind was playing tricks on you and told you that you just weren’t ready so you put your project on pause.

It happens to the best of us. But today I don’t want to spend time talking about why you didn’t get to that project you intended to complete last month. I’m more interested in helping you prevent a repeat performance because I don’t want March to arrive and have you say I just didn’t get to that important project again.

So today, on this first day of February, you’re going to just start. You’re going to take one step forward toward your project. You’re going to begin anywhere and, quite honestly, it doesn’t really matter where you dive in.

Here’s why I’m asking you to give this approach a try: In the abstract, big projects (also known as “key initiatives” in entrepreneur speak) can feel daunting and challenging. You might think you need to carve out an abundance of time or resources to get started on them. Or maybe you think you need more support or that you need to learn an entirely new skill to pull them off. So instead of getting started, you let fear and overwhelm take over and put the projects off for another month (or two or five).

But when you take that one small step to put your project into play, you’ll see that it isn’t, well, so big after all. You’ll see that it’s actually something you can manage if you break it down into bite-size steps. You’ll see that it’s doable – and you’ll see that you are capable of completing it this month

The action you take will be unique to your project and, again, it doesn’t really matter where you start. What matters is that you actually start somewhere. But if you’re still feeling stuck because you’re wondering what that first step of your project should be, here are a few suggestions to get you moving. You could:

  • Set up a brainstorming meeting with your team/assistant/partner/etc. about the project
  • Create a survey to send to your audience asking for feedback about the project.
  • Give the project a name.
  • Write a rough draft of the copy you’ll need for the project.
  • Select the design scheme, color palate or typography for the project.

Whatever you choose, I suggest starting with a step that excites you so you’ll feel motivated to continue working on the project. If you love design but don’t really enjoy writing, start with the visual elements of your project, not the copy. If naming things paralyzes you but you love brainstorming sessions with your team, book that team meeting today. You get the idea.

Now I’d love to hear from you. What project have you put on the backburner that you are ready to commit to this month? And what action will you take today so you can just start? Share it in the comments below and let me know – if nothing else, it will provide a little accountability boost for you this month.

With love,

Ashley

An Interview with Sara Forte of Sprouted Kitchen

In 2008, Sara Forte was feeling uninspired at her desk job when her husband Hugh gave her a rather unexpected birthday gift to help her tap into her creativity again. That gift was a food blog called Sprouted Kitchen, and they’ve been building it together ever since. Today, The Sprouted Kitchen is a well-known brand focused on healthy, wholesome foods that includes not just the site but also two related cookbooks, The Sprouted Kitchen and The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon. While Hugh focuses on the photography, Sara keeps the blog up to date, does freelance work, book events and catering jobs and raises her two babies Curran and Cleo as well.

Read on to learn more about Sprouted Kitchen and find out when and why Sara turned her side hustle into a full time career.

When did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I was working at a high-end hotel when Hugh, my photographer and husband, designed Sprouted Kitchen. For awhile, it was just a hobby, something I could do alongside my full-time job. A couple years into it, we were offered a book deal and I decided I would quit and dedicate more time towards that and waitress on the side. I was scared, but more freelance work came about due to that leap of faith.

 

What drew you to entrepreneurship over going the more traditional path of working for someone else?

To be honest, I still question if it’s for me. Both Hugh and I are self-employed and now that we have a mortgage and kids that decision bears more weight than it did when we were 25. Of course, I love the flexibility and schedule, but I miss the healthcare and consistent paycheck and 401k. There is always a trade off and greener grass depending on who you talk to and on what day. That said, the schedules we have because of this have allowed us to care for our kids nearly full time and that is important to us in this season of our lives.

 

How would you describe the work you do?

I don’t have a 50-hour work week dedicated to Sprouted Kitchen at the moment. We try to do a weekly blog post. I do freelance recipe writing jobs. I have a few brand partnerships where we do recipes, photos and marketing for both our site and the brands. I do occasional events or signings for our cookbooks and cooking classes and catering small dinner parties if it’s the right fit. I’m kind of all over the place. Which explains why I’m always a little flustered.

 

What does a day in your working life look like?

We are breakfast people so the day starts with coffee and breakfast – something sweet for Hugh and something savory for me. The kids eat a little of both. Hugh and I try to alternate days of one of us exercising in the morning. We are taking a cookbook break at the moment so do not have a big project we’re working on per se.

Right now, we try to dedicate two days to Sprouted Kitchen. I’ll have picked a recipe to share and have done the shopping the night before. I check emails just to see what’s happening, then we’ll get to the post. If we have another freelance job that day, we try to do all the cooking on one day while we’re making the mess and have all our props out. It’s kind of a messy job, though it may not look like it through the photos Hugh takes. Then he edits the photos and sends them to me for certain clients and I do all the emails to organize existing jobs or talk with potential ones.

I pick up my son from preschool and put him down for a nap so I have two more hours to throw toys at my 9 month old and write recipes and emails. I try to do something on social media though I’m not great at it. After 3ish, I’m a mom and try to just be with the kids instead of multi-tasking. Everyone is happier when I can wear one hat. We do normal family things like going to the park, seeing friends, making dinner and such. I’ll work on stuff again after the kids are in bed if I need to.

 

What hats do you personally wear in your business and where do you have support from someone else?

Because Hugh and I have done the work for the blog and cookbooks together, we have our roles. Hugh does all the photography and back end stuff. (He puts the photos in the posts and does any technical stuff, etc.). He proofreads my posts but that is sort of the blind leading the blind with grammar. He is so supportive with all things technical and also with watching the kids when I need just an hour of quiet to knock some things out. I do the writing, cooking, testing, social media, emails, cookbook logistics, events and dishes – basically everything else. We hired someone to help with the design last year and I would still love to have someone polish how it functions.

 

What makes you uniquely suited to do the work you do?

I am learning as I go, I care about eating real food and enjoy sharing what I know if it could help other people enjoy their time in the kitchen. I didn’t go to cooking school or have a big ego about being a “chef” – I just want to be the girl who perhaps has a good salad idea for your barbecue this weekend. I like to make things that are colorful and simple and healthy or maybe decadent sometimes. I hope to make people feel like they have a friend in the kitchen who is just giving them another perspective.

 

In those first few months of business (or maybe even years), what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?

We came into the blogging scene at the same time social media was taking off so it was hard to figure out who I was in all of that. It is hard to be vulnerable and relatable while also keeping some things personal or close to the chest. I don’t think I really knew how to jump in with both feet.

 

How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?

I think I found a place that feels comfortable for me, both in writing and how often I am online. I love the response and emails I get when I let people in, but also want to respect my own privacy as needed. I would still like to be better about social media stuff but with the kids around, I try to not be on my phone all the time so it’s a little tricky.

 

What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard? Put another way: what’s the motivation behind what you do?

I think people use the recipes, and that makes me feel like I am helping people. We also make money from it at this point, so of course I have to make a living. I like it and I have to do it, that’s about as concise an answer I can come up with.

 

Let’s talk about failure. How have you learned to deal with failure in your life as an entrepreneur?

I don’t know if I’d consider it a “failure” necessarily but our second book didn’t really turn out how I’d have liked. I had big ideas and then got pregnant and we bought a home that needed a lot of fixing up and I had another part time job. It was hard to keep up with it all. I want to be a ‘yes’ person and take on as much as I can, but I was stretched too thin. I think that is still the failure I struggle with – giving some things up for the sake of other successes. The quality of my work is compromised when I do too much.

 

What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development so far? What’s the next investment you want to make?

Oh man, I’m not sure how to answer that. We’ve hired lawyers to help with contracts when we didn’t understand things and invested in a pretty decent prop selection. Both of those things have been helpful. I’d love an assistant or more help with the kids so I can focus on what I’m doing.

 

What advice do you have for women who are working hard to get their business off the ground and are concerned it’s not actually going to amount to anything?

It may not amount to anything is the thing. There is a big risk in being an entrepreneur and not all of them are successful. It sounds cliché but if you really, really believe in what you’re doing and do it because it is good and worthy of other people’s time and money, then I think it usually works. I also think it’s so valuable to be encouraging and promote other entrepreneurs. We only have each other, not a staff around us, so be generous and positive.

If you are starting something just because you think you’ll make money and there is no heart in it, it’ll be tough to get the support you need because people are more empathetic than you think. They want to root for the person whose heart is in it!

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers or any requests you have of them?

It seems to me that less people are reading blogs these days as so much information is available on Instagram, etc. But in either place, comment on peoples’ work, whether it is writing or photographing, blogging or they are just an Instagram person you really like. It’s vulnerable to put yourself out there in any of these places and it’s nice to hear back from people who are following along. Feedback and affirmation is so helpful! 

Where can my community learn more about your work (and get access to your amazing recipes too)?
We are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all under @sproutedkitchen. 

Photo credits: Hugh Forte and Roger Ellsworth.