Every so often a client will ask me, “What do you do when you just can’t get your brain to work?” This last week I’ve been plenty challenged by brain fog—that mired in mud feeling when my brain won’t click, a heavy curtain separates me from my intelligence, and staring at whatever is in front of me seems like the logical thing to do—and I’ve had to dig into my own strategies, as well as try some new ones I’ve found.
A bad case of brain fog can be paralyzing when you run a business, but there are strategies to bust through the fog so you can get back to work.
What causes brain fog
Brain fog isn’t just an ADHD challenge, and there are many things that can trigger it or make it worse, including:
lack of sleep
low blood sugar
and other stressors.
Things to do that can help right away
1. I get up and get moving
If you find yourself just sitting there staring at your computer screen . . . break out of it. Get up and get moving. If your work requires you to sit a lot, that’s just not good for your brain, or your overall health.
Stand up: Sometimes I just stand up and tell myself what to do out loud. I had to laugh when I read that Dr. Joan Vernikos, a former NASA physician and author, advocates standing up frequently on and off throughout the day. She says that the act of standing up is more effective than walking to counteract the ill effects of sitting. So, yay! I was on the right track with this one.
Change in activity: Changing your activity can really help. Even if you don’t sit a lot in your work, when you’re feeling foggy, change your activity. Do something different. I get out and walk my dogs, even if it’s only for ten minutes. ADHD coach Jacqui Sinfield says to do jumping jacks or run up and down the stairs. Great ideas for shaking it off.
Regular exercise: Exercise on a consistent basis can help, too. I try to do a really good hike or bike ride over the weekend, and supplement with smaller walks and rides throughout the week, and use hand weights. Some of my clients swear by a treadmill or brisk walk in the morning. The point is to get your blood moving.
Physical exercise increases endorphins and delivers more glucose and oxygen to the brain. Recent research shows that physical exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for your brain.
2. I use my timer
I use my timer a lot anyway, but it’s especially helpful when I have a bad case of brain fog. Here’s what I do: After I’ve gotten up and moving and I’m back at my desk, I’ll give myself a do-able task, and set my timer for 15 or 20 minutes. There’s something about knowing I’m being timed that makes my brain pay attention more—so it wakes up a bit. I don’t make the task too daunting, I want to make sure I’m successful. Getting through that successfully gives me a boost, so I find another task and do it again. Usually, I’m able to lengthen the time to an hour pretty soon, and I start accomplishing things.
3. I drink more water
The brain is approximately 85 percent water and brain function depends on water. Water gives the brain the electrical energy it needs for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.
Water is also needed for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. It is essential for delivering nutrients to the brain and for removing toxins. When the brain is fully hydrated, the exchange of nutrients and toxins will be more efficient, ensuring better concentration and mental alertness.
Studies have shown that if you are only 1 percent dehydrated, you will likely have a 5 percent decrease in cognitive function. If your brain drops 2 percent in body water, you may suffer from fuzzy short-term memory, experience problems with focusing, and have trouble with math computations. (Excuse me while I get a drink of water.)
I don’t know about you, but I forget to drink water during the day unless I leave and get in the car. For some reason that act triggers me to fill my water bottle, and I drink when I’m driving. But the rest of the time, at my desk—when there’s a sink and a fridge with cold water not ten feet away—hours and hours go by without me drinking a drop.
I had heard that water was good for the brain before, but it didn’t compute, really, until this last time my brain fog reared, and I was trying everything to punch my way out. So I filled my water bottle and set it on my desk. This way, I drank a lot more water, and I found I was refilling it often. (That also got me standing up more!)
4. I get my accountability buddies involved
I have accountability buddies who don’t even know they’re accountability buddies, but they act like that for me because they help me be productive. These are people I’m working on projects with, or vendors who are working for me, or anyone, really, who is involved in any way with any work I’m doing.
Here’s what I do: I’ll email or phone one of them about a specific detail of the project, and after discussing that, I’ll tell them I’ll have X to them by Y date. I call it forced accountability. They’re not really holding me accountable, it was me who initiated it, but who cares? I told this person I’d have X for them by Y date, and to me, that’s something I need to be accountable for. This act gets an “uh oh” response from my brain, who realizes it’s time to get moving—because we promised something. This works for me.
Things to do that help over time, but that you can start right away
5. I clean up my diet
Eating naturally really helps ADHD and brain fog, in my opinion. And in the opinion of many of the experts as well. Eating real food—and that means not eating food that comes in a box or a package—is essential.
Many people have allergies to some foods that can cause brain fog. The most common food allergies are to soy, diary, and gluten.
Food elements that have been shown to cause brain fog are:
Gluten(wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats),
Casein (all dairy products),
Yeast (in gluten-free breads),
Food additives like carrageenan (in rice milk, almond milk, etc.)
Good brain foods
berries, especially blueberries
green leafy vegetables (good source of amino acid l-tyrosine, needed to form neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, necessary for alertness, drive, and motivation) We need this!
6. I clean up my sleep habits
I know, you’re a night owl. Me too. I love to stay up late and, in the words of one of my clients, “hold on to the day.” Many of us think we do our best thinking as the day gets later and later.
But I’ve come to realize that since I run a business and work with clients during the day, I can’t afford to stay up till the wee hours—it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve worked hard at getting my sleep to a more “normal” routine, and when I go off of it, I get foggy.
Sleeping a full eight hours, going to bed before 11 pm, and getting up at the same time every day really helps my brain function better.
Your brain needs sleep. Lack of quality sleep will mess with your memory, creativity, judgment, and focus. And it’s terrible for brain fog.
Go to bed at a decent hour. Get up at the same time every day. Get eight hours. There are lots of places to get advice on how to do this, including ADHD coach Jacqueline Sinfield’s Untapped Brilliance website.
7. I get my allergies under control
I didn’t know I had allergies as bad as I do until I moved to Southern California. My allergies really get provoked here, and allergy meds are a must if I want to be clear headed. I don’t get a lot of other symptoms, either, like a runny nose or teary eyes. It’s mostly head congestion (a lot like brain fog) and fatigue. Treating my allergies helps my brain fog a lot.
8. I meditate and read my favorite “zen” books
Prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia, and memory loss. I read that stress can literally cause your brain to shrink, and that’s as harmful as it sounds.
Meditation is helpful in reducing stress because it gives the brain a break and distracts it from focusing on the stressful stimuli. The US Marines use meditation to help troops deal with stressful situations they face on the job. More and more corporate executives are using meditation to deal with stress and maximize brain power.
Regular meditation is said to help improve concentration, focus, creativity, and sleep.
I also like to read my favorite “zen” or calming books before sleeping, nothing exciting or too interesting to get me riled up. If you have favorite spiritual books, these would be good, too.
So that’s my list
So that’s my current list of brain fog strategies. I keep reminding myself to keep trying them because none of them are miracle cures, and you’ll need to keep trying them, too. Please leave a comment and let me know what works for you!
What makes your company different? What is your unique brilliance? There are lots of great companies to work with and many places for people to spend their money—why should your customers work with you rather than the other guy?
And you’d better not say “great customer service” because everyone says that. There’s another reason why people choose to work with you—what is it? Why you?
There are many others who do what you do
Chances are, there are many companies or individuals out there doing what you do, selling what you sell. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It shows there’s a market for what you do. But why should anyone choose to work with you and not one of the other guys?
These are reasons to not give for choosing you:
• “I give great customer service.”
• “I care about my customers.”
• “I am honest and trustworthy.”
All these things may be true, but guess what? Everyone says these things, whether or not they are true. This list could apply to many of your competitors as well—they could also give great customer service, care about their customers, and be honest and trustworthy. You need to go deeper than these surface reasons.
Five ways to uncover your unique brilliance
1.) Your experiences
Is there something you’ve gone through that helps you to relate to your customers better than anyone else? When I was coaching graphic designers, they appreciated that I had actually run a graphic design firm for over 25 years. Believe me, there were other people coaching designers who did not have that experience. Now that I’m focusing specifically on business owners with ADHD, my experience of being a successful business owner with ADHD helps me relate to my clients. In what way do you relate to your customers, and can they relate to you?
2.) Your expertise
Do you have a special expertise that others in your industry do not have? Special training, a talent, or knack for what you do, that makes you stand out? One of my clients has a maintenance-type business, but he has a professional creative background. This creative expertise helps him stand out from the other companies that don’t have visually pleasing outcomes to their projects. How does your specialized expertise help your customers?
3.) Your point of view
Do you have a unique point of view that helps your customers, while your competitors just go through the motions? One of my clients who offers personal services believes women don’t have enough sanctuary in their lives, and her approach with them oozes serenity, attention, and care. Does your point of view resonate with your customers and make them feel more comfortable with you? What is it? How can you bring it out more?
4.) Your delivery
Do you have a unique delivery, or method of service, that differs from your competition? Before I moved to California, I got my eyeglass frames from a woman who would come to your house or office, after hand choosing frames specifically for your facial structure and personality. Is there anything unique about the way you deliver your product or service?
5.) Something your customers see that you don’t
Why do your customers tell you they work with you? What do they tell you is unique about you and/or your business? There’s a reason they chose you and keep coming back—what is it? If you don’t know, ask a few of them why they work with you instead of someone else.
Use these five questions to uncover your unique brilliance and be better able to talk about why people should work with you, and start adding these elements to your conversations. You’re unique! Let people know about it.
Yep, it’s difficult to prioritize your work day when it feels like everything on your plate is screaming at you and you’re drowning in things that absolutely have to get done. It takes focus, attention, and discipline. You may not get it right every time—but if you follow these 5 steps, you’ll keep getting closer to working on what’s most important for now.
1. Clear the decks
If you’re serious about wanting to get the important things done, you’ll need to take a few minutes to plan first. You may be overwhelmed, but trying to dive in without organizing a bit will just make it worse. So splash some cold water on your face, do some jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs a few times, and then sit down with a blank screen or sheet of paper. Do it now.
2. Make a quick list of your major projects
Don’t look at your to-do list, I want you to make a new list. And don’t labor over it, do it really fast by using a timer. Which clients are screaming at you because your proposals are past due? Write them down in no special order. What projects were due yesterday? What do you absolutely have to get to the subcontractor by tomorrow? Set your timer for 60 seconds and write as many of the things that are overwhelming you as you can think of until the timer goes off. Move quickly!
3. Consolidate the list
Chances are, you wrote some things down twice, in different ways. Or two parts of the same job, so they can be put together. Group things together that may be overlapping or redundant. Does that make your list smaller? Often people find their overwhelming list of projects isn’t as big or as long as they imagined, once they get it on paper and out of their heads.
4. Transfer the individual project names to sticky notes or index cards and start arranging them
I know this sounds like extra work, but this is where the rubber hits the road.
After you have all of the projects or tasks on individual notes, pick up two of your project notes, it doesn’t matter which two. Don’t try to look at all of the notes at once! Is one more important or pressing than the other? Ask yourself, is one of these customers madder at me than the other? Is one of the projects bigger, and worth more money to my company than the other, so if I lost that customer, I’d lose more money?
Still comparing just two of the notes, if someone put a gun to your head and made you choose, which one would you choose? Even if you think they are both equal, one is always more pressing or important than the other, if only by a hair. Put that one on top, and arrange the other note below it.
Now, pick up another note, and compare it to the first note, the one on top. Ask yourself the same questions—is this new note more important than the top note? Is the new note customer madder at you than the customer you placed on top? Could you lose more money if you lost the new note customer? If you had a gun to your head, which one would you choose? If this new note project is more important than the project you put on top, arrange the new note on top of the string. If it’s not, go down the row and compare it to the one down the row, asking the same questions.
Do this with every new note, comparing it first to the note on top, then to each subsequent note, rearranging the string of notes as you consider them. Some will be very close, but you will have to decide. One is always more important, if only by a tiny bit.
Don’t labor over this. Again, you can use your timer if you need to. Quick decisions work well for this exercise, and your first decision is usually your best decision.
5. Decide how much time you will allot to each project during the day, and stick to it
Careful! This is where many people fall down. When you are overwhelmed with work, it’s tempting to just keep going on the first project and work until you get it done (or overwork it to over perfection)—don’t do this! It will take much longer than you think to get it to completion. It is often much better to get a good chunk of work done on three or four projects, even if you don’t finish any of them, than it is to start on the first one and still be chugging away at it at the end of the day. This not only makes you feel like a failure for not sticking to your plan, it backs the work up further and your customers are still going to be frustrated with you. Customers like to see progress. Being able to report progress to several customers, even if the work is not finished, is also very fulfilling for you.
Use your timer
If you set your timer for a set time, like 90 minutes (or 3 sets of 30 minutes, or whatever works for you) for each project and STOP when the allotted time is over even if you have not finished, you can update your client with your progress, which will help both of you feel the forward momentum. Then move on to the next project and do the same, and the momentum will build with that project as well. Soon you will be reporting to several clients about your progress, and your anxiety and overwhelm will subside. The timer is critical in signaling the end of your work time for that task or project. It’s time to move on!
Pretend your project work is an appointment with a customer
I like to think of it this way: my appointments with myself to work on the work are just as important as actual, in-person appointments with customers. I would certainly not keep a customer waiting just because a project with a previous customer looked like it could run over. I would instead find a way to graciously end the first meeting with plans to get back to the work (after all, I had set a time limit for that meeting, and the time limit was over), end the meeting, and move on to my next customer. I handle my appointments with myself to work on projects the same way. It’s how I’m able to move from project to project without getting stuck.
You can keep trying this, even if you mess up
Try this 5-step process to prioritize your workday and let me know how it works for you. The wonderful thing about it is, even if you get off track on some days, you can always start fresh the next day and try it again.
When I tell people I work with business owners with ADHD, some of them totally get it. Most of the time, in fact, I get a really great reaction—because someone in their family has ADHD, or they have ADHD, or they know brilliant inventors and creative entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Richard Branson have ADHD, and they can’t believe I do what I do. They get really interested and want to know more.
But sometimes—and I know similar things happen to you, I’m talking to the choir, right?—they say ridiculous things. Like, “can they even run businesses?” Huh? What planet are you from?
I’m still new enough to have righteous indignation
My colleague and friend, ADHD coach Jacqueline Sinfield, tells of people hiding her business card so no one will know they talked to her, and of people asking if her clients “are in halfway houses.” You gotta be kidding me.
Business owners with ADHD are some of the most brilliant people I know
My clients who have had the diagnosis since childhood tell me I’m fortunate not to have known about my ADHD growing up, because I didn’t get labeled. I didn’t give up on myself, thinking I was broken or flawed. Many of my ADHD clients expect people to react poorly to the fact that they have ADHD, and to not trust them to be able to run a business, because they’ve messed up so many times before in their lives. They even wonder themselves if they can do it—after all, many people have told them they can’t, and they’ve let so many people down in the past.
This really gets my goat
I’m all for diagnosis, don’t get me wrong. It’s great to know how your brain works, just like it’s good to know if you have a vision or hearing problem. You need to know so you can do something about it. But I’m wondering how many of these people would have been better off not knowing, and not being labeled as a child, when labels can cut deep into the soul.
I want you to hear me loud and clear when I say this, and I mean it with every fiber of my being: my ADHD clients are some of the most intelligent, creative, hard working, inspired people I know. And the most sincere. They do absolutely fabulous, amazing things. It is the challenges of ADHD—and the confidence they’ve lost because of those challenges—that are holding them back. Not their intelligence. Not their abilities. Not their creativity. Not their desire, or intention, or willpower. Period.
And another thing (while I’m ranting)
Because of this yucky perception ADHD has in the business world, it also affects those of you who just think you might have ADHD or ADHD tendencies, and have not been diagnosed. Who would want to admit it? Then you just have to defend yourself all over the place, like I do. If you’re smart, and you’ve been pulling it off so everything looks okay on the outside (and you know what I’m talking about), then no one will believe you anyway. But it’s so hard to keep up the charade, right? When you’re scrambling like mad to keep up, and hoping against hope the house of cards doesn’t come crashing down, you don’t have the strength or the desire to have to explain yourself to anyone. I stopped telling people (except for you guys, of course:) after an old high school buddy said to me (seriously), “Why would you want to get involved with something like that at your age?” As if ADHD is something you choose to “get involved with.” Sheesh. Do I really have to explain myself?
That’s why I still like “quirks”
So for the masses, I still just tell people I have quirks. Just like everyone else in the world, there are some things I do really, really well, and some things I am horrible at. I would rather focus on my strengths and figure out ways to work around my weaknesses (why work on my weaknesses? I’m never going to be an accountant—and I can hire one). My value to the world is in doing what I love and do well, not in focusing on my shortfalls.
What you can do today
Stop beating yourself up. Stop explaining yourself to people. Only talk about your ADHD with people who get it and are supportive. Focus on what you love and do well. And if you know a child with ADHD, tell her how brilliant she is—because she is. (And you are, too.)
And oh yeah, let me know what gets your goat. I’d like that, too!
Ah, the holiday lull. That time in your business when it seems like either your clients are crazy, brain dead, or both. You can’t get them to focus much because they’re busy wrapping up their year end, and they may be dumping a lot on you—or ignoring you altogether.
If they’re dumping work on you, that’s good for business, sure, but that doesn’t mean the clients themselves are very helpful. They don’t have time for planning or strategy because their business is crazy this time of year, and so are their lives. Everyone has end-of-year challenges and holiday stress.
If your clients have gone silent now, that’s a different problem. Maybe it’s not their year end, maybe they’re just holiday-ing. Or maybe they’re so stressed they just can’t get things off of their plates and onto yours. They could be stuck and stressed just like the rest of us. Or they could be closing down for weeks at a time because of the holidays, and you just can’t get ahold of them. Grrr.
This is a great time to take advantage of your clients’ lack of communication, and work on your own business. Just because your clients are crazy and brain dead doesn’t mean you have to be.
It’s time for my Holiday Coaching Spree!
Every year for the past five years, I’ve offered special Holiday packages on my coaching. This is the only time of year that I devote myself so thoroughly to getting into the trenches with you by doing no- and low-cost coaching.
During the month of December, I open up my time to do these three things:
1. Free Instant Insight Coaching sessions to people on my list—as many as I can fit in.
2. Low-cost Holiday Coaching to up to 8 people, as my holiday gift to you. This special 4-session package is only offered at this time of year, and only for a limited time, and there are only 8 spots available—at a ridiculously low investment.
3. A 50% discount on my full-day, in-person VIP Intensives—that means you save half when you register for a private, full-day VIP Intensive. But only for a limited time, and only to 6 people. (Pssst. These great deals would be a wonderful gift—for you! Let someone you care about know you’d like one of them.)
Here’s the fun part: Purchase your Holiday Coaching or VIP Intensive before December 8, 2014, and use the sessions any time between now and the end of February 2015! You’ll have to hurry, though, because there are limited spots. And the Holiday Spree pricing ends December 8.
If you’re wondering why you’re not making as much money as you’d like, it could be the way you’re tracking your time. Or, like so many creative business owners, it could be that you’re not tracking your time.
If I asked you how you spend your work time, could you tell me? Maybe you don’t think it’s really that important, as long as you meet your deadlines. But it is, if you want to make more money.
I’m not talking about just tracking the time you spend on client projects—I’m assuming you do that, right? Even if you don’t bill by the hour (hopefully you give clients a project price and not a cost per hour), you still need to track that time so you can tell if you’re estimating accurately and making good money on your jobs.
I’d like to also know how much of your time is spent on marketing and admin—the non-billable stuff. Can you tell me that, too?
I’ll bet you can’t tell me how you spend your time
I’m thinking there’s a good chance you can’t, and I’ll bet you have all sorts of excuses why it’s too hard to track it, too.
“I do so many different things, it would be impossible to write it all down.”
“That’s so ‘corporate.’ I didn’t start my own business to be a time Nazi.”
“I need to work when I feel creative, not to a schedule. Inspiration happens when it happens.”
“I don’t want my people spending their day tracking their time, I want to pay them to work.”
I hear you, I hear you. But I invite you to try a little test, and see if you don’t agree with me that:
Productivity = profitability
And when you own a service business, your time is your greatest productivity tool.
Try this test
For at least two weeks, or a month if you can do it, keep track of everything you do during your work day—and I mean everything. You’ll need to do at least two weeks because your day fluctuates so much, you need a good span of time to let things even out and get a good overview. Your tracking doesn’t have to be pretty or organized, you can just
carry a little spiral pad around, and every time you change functions, write down the time and what you’re doing. It might look like this:
8:30 am coffee
8:45 am organize day
9:00 am phone calls to clients
10:15 am run to post office
10:45 am write new website copy
12:15 pm lunch
Later, when the time tracking bug sticks with you, you can track it digitally—there are lots of programs to make it easy for you. (I tracked my time, and everyone who worked for me tracked their time, for the entire 25 years I owned my business, in quarter hour increments. Every day, day in and day out. I know most people don’t do this because I talk to you, but it gave us amazing controls and insight into managing the business.)
When you think you’ve gathered enough info (at least two weeks of normal work days), go back and look it over. Highlight the time you’re spending on income-producing activities—things you can either bill for or sell.
Then go through it again and highlight the time you’re spending on bringing in income-producing work—marketing your company or prospecting for new clients—this time in another color.
You can pretty much assume the rest of the time is non-income producing time, like billing, filing, internal planning, and wasting time. But I still want you to track it!
One more thing: Don’t guess, don’t fudge, and don’t wait for the end of the week, thinking you’ll remember what you did a few days ago. Track your time as closely as you can, as you go, and be truthful—or you’ll be wasting your time on this exercise.
How do you stack up?
Take the total amount of time you’ve tracked and figure your scores for:
1. % of time spent on income-producing activities (billable work)[% = # of billable hours divided by # of total hours]
2. % of time spent on generating income-producing activities (marketing, networking, proposals)[% = # of marketing hours divided by # of total hours]
3. % of time spent on non income-producing activities (billing, filing, organizing, planning for your business)[% = # of admin hours divided by # of total hours]
These 3 should total 100% of your working time
Income-producing time: Obviously, you want your income-producing time to be the highest number. This time is the only time that makes you money. When this number starts to lag, your tracking will spot it right away so you can do something about it.
Later, when you get good at this, you can break this category down into sub-categories like content creation, design, copywriting, web programming, client meetings, project management, etc., for even greater insights. But for now, just tracking the big category will be enough.
Generating income-producing time: If your income-producing time, above, is down, it could mean this category of generating income-producing time is down as well, and you haven’t been marketing or writing enough proposals or out networking, or doing whatever works best for you to bring in billable work. Putting in more hours here will help to boost the hours in the income-producing category.
Non income-producing time: Most business owners are appalled by the amount of time they spend doing non-income producing activities. This is the category you want to reduce as much as possible. Yes, you have to bill, and yes, you have to plan, but if you take a close look at this test tracking you’re doing (and you’re really honest), there’s stuff on here that can go. Right away, cut as much as you can from this category out of your day. Try to get through your email as quickly as possible or only check it two times per day. The long lunches, the haircuts—do that stuff on Saturday. Standing in line at the post office? Filing? Really, someone else should be doing that stuff.
Spend your time on “doing” and “generating” billable work
As the owner, your time should be split between doing income-producing activities and generating income-producing activities, depending on the size and type of your business. Hire a high school kid or intern to stand in line at the post office or do your filing—you can pay them 1/10 of what you can be making during that same hour, now that you have that off your plate. Are you still doing your own bookkeeping? A bookkeeper can do it in half the time you can (maybe less) for a lot less than you charge per hour. But here’s the catch: don’t just hire people to get things off your plate if you’re not going to use that time to do billable work. Get rid of the useless stuff first, before you pay anyone.
I’m not going to give you percentages to aim for in the three categories, because I don’t know you or your business (but we can do a no-cost Instant Insight session, if you like). I’m just saying you need to take a look at what you’re spending your time on. And if you want more income, you need to spend more of your time on activities that will produce it, and less of your time on activities that won’t.
Ahhh . . . letting go. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But, chances are, you can’t do it.When you run a business, your name is on the door. You are responsible. Things have to get done right, and that means you have to do everything—correct? Even if it means staying up all night four nights in a row. Even if it means missing every family function. Even if it means driving your spouse crazy because he never sees you and you feel guilty about the time you spend (or don’t) with the kids.
You can’t let go.
You know something’s not quite right with this. But you also know what I’m talking about, because you do it, don’t you? It’s hard to let go.
In the beginning of your business, this sounded exciting. Whatever it takes, right? I’m an entrepreneur! I’m running my own show, I get to decide!
And it WAS exciting, damn it. But after a few months—or a few years—you can wear yourself out. You can burn yourself out. And pretty soon, it doesn’t feel so exciting anymore. It feels difficult and draining, and you know something’s going to burst at the seams pretty soon, and you sure hope it’s not you.
Maybe you’ve tried delegating. Maybe to contractors, freelancers, or maybe to staff—maybe you have many amazing people you can hand things off to. But whether you work by yourself or have a whole slew of employees, it still comes back to the same thing—no one is in your brain.
No one is in your brain
No one can do what you do. No one will be able to satisfy your clients, and your own demanding self, the way you can, so you still end up doing monumental parts of projects yourself, and tying yourself in knots along the way. There’s no time for planning or working “on” the business because you’re constantly working “in” the business, and whether you’re scraping nickels together or whether you’re wildly successful, the problem just keeps getting worse. Uh huh.
You’re overwhelmed and overworked. You wish you could just let go, and that things would still miraculously get done in wondrous ways that clients love and (more…)
In my experience, confidence is the most important attribute you can have in business. There is nothing more important than confidence, and I’m sure you have figured this out if you present to clients to win work. Clients watch you very carefully, and they view a lack of confidence as a lack of competence.
I’m going to say that again because it’s really important: Clients view a lack of confidence as a lack of competence.
Clients think you can’t do the job if you can’t stand in front of them and grab their attention with your passion, conviction, and firm belief in the work you do. Now I’m sure you’ve seen this to be true. You’ve been in situations where you’ve bid on a job against a slick account exec or someone who shows amazing confidence in their presentation style. And maybe you know that this person’s agency isn’t right for the project or their firm just can’t pull it off as well as you can. But just because this person shows a lot of presence and confidence and they wow the client, they get the work.
(And then later on you find out they got fired or they couldn’t give the client what they needed—you knew all along you were a better fit for this client. They were ‘faking it’ but ‘making it’ didn’t work out so well.) But you didn’t show the confidence that this person/agency did, and you can’t really blame the client for choosing them. The client couldn’t tell you were the right firm for the job, because you didn’t show them. And this happens all the time.
And maybe you’ve tried this ‘faking it till you make it’ thing, like I did. And it made you feel so fakey and icky and salesy and inauthentic and awful, and it went against every creative bone in your body, so you’re not going to do that anymore, ever.
So what can you do? (more…)
This week, while on a coaching call with a client, he asked a question I’ve only been asked a handful of times before. But the answer to his question, I realized later, is the answer to so many questions about business.
And relationships. And just life in general.
Mark asked me, “What do you think is the one thing you’ve done that is responsible for your success?”
The first thing I thought of was George Clooney. (I like to think of George Clooney, but it’s not what you think.)
I recently saw an interview with a young actor. When asked a similar question about his career, the actor replied, “George Clooney gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He said, ‘Don’t ever let me see you acting.’”
“Don’t ever let me see you acting.”
“Don’t ever let me see you selling.”
“Don’t ever let me see you pushing your (more…)
I’m Marcia Hoeck, and I take the scary out of running a small business, for values-based creative business owners like you — I fill in with the stuff you didn’t learn in school. The quote above is from one of my clients. (more…)
Sometimes, as business owners, we feel icky about having to sell. We don’t like the fact that we have to sell or market or talk about what makes what we offer so wonderful.
That’s so much like bragging, and didn’t your mother tell you not to brag?
We don’t like being sold to and don’t want our clients to feel that way.
So much about selling and marketing our businesses gives us that icky feeling.
Everyone should just know, right?
They should be able to tell how wonderful we are by looking. By seeing our work. By engaging with us. And knowing how sincere and talented we are and what we are capable of, because it oozes out of every cell in our bodies.
Except it doesn’t work that way.
We all pretty much look the same to clients
It doesn’t work that way because there are so many of us. So many talented, wonderful, sincere, capable, creative business owners for clients to choose between—and they can’t tell the difference. Add to that the number of not-so-talented, not-so-wonderful, insincere, incapable business owners who can talk a good game, and you’ve got a real conundrum for clients—how to choose? I mean, can you see how difficult it is for them when we all pretty much look and sound the same?
Follow these rules to overcome your reluctance for sales:
1. Talk about the passion you have for your work. No one automatically knows anything. Not about you, your business, or what you can do for them. You have to talk about it—a lot. In person, in writing, in your marketing. Talk, talk, talk.
2. Sales pitches aren’t (more…)
I was responding to a client’s e-coaching question yesterday about setting up structure and systems in her business, and where to start.
She’s knee deep in many things, and has a lot of areas of her business that she wants to pull together.
Instead of jumping in and beginning to prioritize her list of wants, I asked her this question:
What is your most important business objective right now?
Do you know yours?
Business objectives change from time to time, so it’s important to identify what resonates with you right now, for your #1 main objective.
Here are some common business objectives:
• getting your name out there, becoming visible
• serving the clients you already have
• bringing in money to pay the bills
• creating clear and attractive offers or programs clients will want to invest in
and so on.
One is most important
Sometimes, you may know right off the bat which of these objectives is most important. Other times, they may all seem equally important. One of them is more important than the others, although at first they all may seem equally important to you.
Here’s a trick
It’s really difficult to compare a list of items and decide which is more important, but a trick to start whittling them down is (more…)
If you’re looking for a way to bring more revenue into your design or marketing communications firm, work with higher level clients, and be valued more for your work, this workshop is for you.
Join us, branding experts Marcia Hoeck and Ed Roach, for a live, in-person 2-day branding workshop.
When:January 27 & 28, 2014Where:San Diego, California, at the warm & welcoming Rancho Bernardo Inn
Register:Click here to find out more
Learn our process for making more money with branding
We will take you by the hand and lead you through our proprietary process for building brands for clients. You’ll learn details of the same process we have used, and are still using, to make $20,000 to $50,000 on branding projects, before we even start designing. We will pick up where our webinars (did you watch them? See below to catch them again) left off.
Register now, as there are only 20 total spots available for this exclusive workshop, and we are 75% sold out. And, because we don’t want to saturate the market with our process, we’re only admitting one creative firm per geographic area. Save your space now to make sure it’s you!
This is the perfect time to think seriously about the direction of your business for next year. I challenge you to think about how adding a powerful dimension like strategic and authentic branding can really boost your bottom line for 2014.
Hope to see you in San Diego next month!
P.S. Did you listen to all three branding webinars we did this fall? Here’s where you can get the recordings, in case you missed one or want to listen again:
1. “Common Mistakes Designers Make with Branding (& How to Fix Them)” HOW On-Demand Design Tutorial
2. “How to Position Yourself as a Branding Expert (Even If You’ve Never Done It Before)”HOW On-Demand Design Tutorial
3. “How to Make $20,000 to $50,000 on Your Next Branding Project, Before You Even Start Designing,” our own no-cost Video Recording
Some of the questions Ed Roach and I are asked the most by designers about our branding process revolve around actually selling branding. They ask us,
“How do you sell branding?”“What kind of pitch do you use?”“How do you find the clients who are interested and will pay what branding’s worth?” and“How do I become believable in being able to help the high end clients I want with their branding, when it’s not something I’ve been known for in the past?”Good questions! These are the same questions Ed and I grappled with when we added branding to our graphic design firms years ago.
Here are three ways you can begin selling branding right now, today.
Learn more about branding
Talk more about branding
Reframe selling and pitching
#1. Learn more about branding
When we decided we wanted to add branding to our businesses, we dug in with a vengeance. We learned as much about branding as we could. There is a lot of information about branding out there, and we read a lot. When we started, “branding” was a buzz word that was being used for a lot of things it wasn’t, so we educated ourselves about what branding really was, and how it could help our clients.
There was branding advice that resonated with us, and branding advice that struck a bad chord. We kept what we liked and discarded what we didn’t. Then we looked at it from our unique design perspective, and knew we could add to the conversation.
As we did this, we became more aware of branding opportunities around us, and felt more confident discussing it.
#2. Talk more about branding
Have you ever noticed that the more you talk about something, the clearer it becomes to you? Yeah, us too. As we learned and became more aware of branding opportunities around us, the easier it was for us to talk about branding. Not sell or pitch – just talk.
We started talking to our peers and each other about branding. We started talking to our clients about branding as we noticed the opportunities. No selling or pitching – just conversations. And they became (more…)
Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US, and I’m spending the holiday weekend with my son and his family. Right now I’m sitting in front of a warm fire, watching cartoons with my grandkids. If you celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, I hope you’re having a warm and wonderful holiday.
And, in honor of the Black Friday shopping craziness, I’m happy to announce my Holiday Coaching Spree!
This is the only time of year that I devote myself so thoroughly to getting into the trenches with my clients by doing no- and low-cost coaching.
Check out my Holiday Coaching Spree here.I only do this once a year.
For the past 4 years, during the month of December, I’ve opened up my time to give fr,ee Instant Insight Coaching sessions to people on my list — as many as I could fit in.
Three years ago, I added low-cost Holiday Coaching to up to 8 people, as my holiday gift to you. This special 4-session package is only offered at this time of year, and only for a limited time.
And at a ridiculously low investment.
Last year, I added a 50% discount on my full-day VIP Intensives — that means you save half when you register for a private, full-day VIP Intensive. But only for a limited time.
(Pssst. These great deals would be a wonderful gift — for you! Let someone you care about know you’d like one of them.)
The Coaching Spree lasts until December 6.
Here’s the fun part: Purchase your Holiday Coaching or VIP Intensive before December 6, 2013, and use the sessions any time between now and the end of February 2014!
You’ll have to hurry, though, because there are limited spots. And the Holiday Spree pricing ends December 6.
Check out the Holiday Coaching Spree here.
Wishing you only the best ideas and the best deals this holiday season,
Some of the most creative people in the world do, you know.
Successful business owners like Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Airlines; Ingvar Kamprad, Swedish Founder and Chairman of IKEA stores; David Neeleman, Founder and CEO of Jet Blue Airways; and Paul Orfalea, the Founder and Chairperson of Kinkos all have ADHD and are incredibly creative business owners.
And though some of the following people aren’t definitively proven to have ADHD, they are either widely known or are thought to have ADHD:
Frank Lloyd Wright
Vincent Van Gogh
Charlotte and Emily Bronte
Edgar Allen Poe
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Wright Brothers
Alexander Graham Bell
John F. Kennedy
So if you have ADHD or think you do, you’re in really good company.
ADHD is something I don’t talk about a lot on this blog. I usually save that for the blog I write with Jacqueline Sinfield, Working with ADHD, where Jacqui and I coach entrepreneurs with ADHD. It’s fascinating — because business owners with ADHD are (more…)
Sure. It looks good from the outside. Instead of having to scrap and claw for projects, somehow – and often you don’t know how it happens – you just have too much work.
You know you should be appreciative, and you are, but it’s also very frustrating and stressful to be so busy that you don’t have balance in your life.
• You’re cutting back on sleep.
• You feel like you’re cheating your family because you’re not spending enough time with them, and when you are, your mind is not with them.
• You’re running on adrenalin much of the time, and it’s a real possibility that important details are slipping through the cracks.
Whether you’re on your own or if you have help from staff or freelancers, the story is the same: you just have more damn work than you can handle. And you don’t want to turn down any of it.
So here’s the deal: you have 4 options
Option 1: Make a decision to grow your business by leveraging the power of other people.
Option 2: Raise your rates. (more…)
I know. You don’t like to talk about your money. And you don’t like to look at it, either. It’s so much easier to try to figure out ways to make more money than it is to peek at your business finances, to get the picture of whether or not you’re actually profitable. It’s icky, and it makes you feel bad. You might not like what you see. Besides, who has the time to dig into stuff like that?
So you don’t look. You don’t tally things up. You don’t analyze your pricing. You turn your head away and look for the next project you can bid on, the next referral you can follow up on, the next cool mailing you can do, the next networking event you can attend. Maybe one of those will pan out and you can get some new business, and keep the money coming in.
And then you won’t have to look at the money you’ve already made, and whether or not you’re actually profitable.
Following up on leads and marketing your business and all of those things are important and good and yes, you should do them. But not at the expense of looking at your money. You need to look at your money – if for no other reason than to assure yourself that you and your company are sturdy enough to be around tomorrow.
I know because I didn’t like to look at or talk about the money in my business, and I ignored my money, too — because it made me feel icky to think that I wasn’t doing it right. I didn’t like the money conversation with clients and I wasn’t at all sure that what I was doing was worth what I needed to charge for it.
Until I found a different way of looking at the money in my business. (more…)
The plan was to get up early to kayak before I started working, when the sun was just peeking over the edge of the lake. What actually happened was I woke up well past “early” to the annoyed bark of a wiener dog, finally tired of waiting sweetly for her breakfast.
“Get up already,” she said. “I have to pee and I’d sure like some dog kibble.”
I’ve got the “great sleep” part of being at the cottage down pretty darn well. The “take naps” part has sneaked up on me, too. And, surprise to me, I’m even starting to slow down and actually . . . do nothing.
I push hard
If you know me at all, you know I push myself pretty hard. I like to be productive.
I thrive on it. I get weird and anxious if I’m not. I have to be working towards something that is on my list, will build my business, or is moving me forward at all times.
So when it’s time for me to take a break, like now, when I’m spending two weeks alone at the cottage — I load myself up with lots of things to work on.
And naturally — thankfully — my efforts are foiled. (more…)
I saw a statistic this morning that the average person wastes fully one-third of their work day – one-third! And that’s before you take into consideration that the remaining two-thirds can’t be entirely billable or income producing. Once you do get focused on work, a good portion of that remaining time will be allocated to administrative tasks and marketing your business, things that don’t directly bring in revenue.
That’s why it’s so important to plan up-front and be proactive about your time and productivity, and not let it get away from you. Once you drift off into Time-Wasting-Land, those minutes go by really fast.
Just do this one thing
If you could just do one thing to get control of your time, I think this is the one I’d recommend. (And this is hard for me, because there are several things I think are absolute musts, and I want you to do allof them. But I’m being realistic, so I’ll just recommend one.) I’ve heard this one thing credited by highly effective people and management consultants as one of the most important actions successful people take.
I like it a lot, because it’s worked for me for over 30 years. And I stumbled upon it myself, before I even knew (more…)
You’re careful in your business, because you’re serious about it. You weigh things meticulously before making decisions, or maybe you even agonize over decisions, putting them off until you have just the right and perfect answer. And you probably think you’re doing the right thing.
But that caution in decision-making may be precisely what’s holding you back.
Decision-making isn’t a topic that’s talked about much, but it can have a whole lot of impact on your business.
Because business success is a continuum of decisions. It’s the only way you can (more…)
The Success Club & Mastermind program is a 6-month program specifically designed to propel you and your creative business to the level you’ve always wanted it to go, presented by Marcia Hoeck.
From the priceless gems of what works for running a values-based creative business to the latest and most effective strategies for busting through fear and working in your genius zone, from structured masterminds with like-minded peers to personal one-on-one coaching, the Success Club is about moving forward, thinking big, and making the unique difference you were put here to make — while increasing courage, confidence, and influence in your business and your life.
The Success Club is for you if you’re a business owner who is looking for:
the perfect combination of non-icky business strategies that work for your sensibilities as well as your type of creative brain (more…)
I just held two live client events in six weeks. And while both events were fabulous and wonderful and successful and invigorating and I wouldn’t change a dang thing about either of them (well, maybe next time) . . . it was not only difficult, it was absolutely crazy.
It sounded like a good idea six months ago when I started planning them. Last December, when it was cold and snowy in Michigan, I could pretend that May and June were way out in the distance. I could pretend I had lots of time to plan. I could even convince myself that while I was planning one event, I might as well plan two. Economy of scale and all that.
It seemed like it would be easy
It was okay in the early planning stages. My business partner for our ADHD business coaching and I decided to design a 5-part virtual course in the months leading up to our live event, so I decided to do a 5-part virtual course leading up to the live event for my creative business owners, too. Jacqui (my business partner) and I started marketing our virtual course first, so I started marketing my virtual course for my other business a few weeks later.
Easy peasy. I would simply implement the actions we took in the first business, after a short lag, for my second business.
No big deal. And I would learn so much!
Then things started to overlap
There was only one problem: the marketing and virtual classes started to overlap. When we started marketing the actual event for the joint ADHD business and I then followed with mine for my creatives, things got pretty confusing. There were lots of moving parts.
And things started to compound
Did I say there was only one problem? Umm, I lied. (more…)
Find something to do that you love so much you can’t tear yourself away from it. Do it all day and into the wee hours of the night. Get so excited about it that you can’t keep yourself from talking to everyone you know – and lots of people you don’t know – about it, all the time. Be fixated, fascinated, infatuated, and obsessed with it.
Step #2: Figure out where this obsession can take you and a reason to go there
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss
Look ahead, dream some dreams, have a vision and a purpose. You won’t get there if you don’t know where you’re going . . . and a reason to keep at it against all odds.
Step #3: Don’t worry about what other people think
Are you thinking, “But who am I to do this?” or “What if I don’t have the credentials? Do I need an MBA or a certain number of years in business to be credible?” Are you waiting for the Business Fairy to tap you with her magic wand and grant you the right to be what you want to be? (No kidding, I did this for a long time.)
Steve Jobs attended one semester of college before calling it quits to begin his true work.
Michael Dell had $1,000 and a dream when he dropped out of college at the age of 19 to start PC’s Limited. He is currently estimated to be worth over $15.9 billion.
Walt Disney had an idea and a cartoon mouse. People laughed (more…)
I have learned a lot during the 25 years that I owned my marketing communications firm, and during the 3 years I’ve been coaching and consulting with creative business owners.
I learned a lot about my clients, my business, and myself.
About my clients, I learned that:
• Everyone is afraid in one way or another. You may think you’re the only one, but you’re not.
• Most people are hiding. Not hiding “something,” just hiding out. Knowing they need to be visible, but secretly hoping no one will notice them — or a part of them.
• Everyone doubts themselves, whether they admit it or not. Those who admit it move forward faster.
• Creative business owners may talk big, but they don’t really mean it. They often feel small and unsure of themselves.
• Creative business owners are afraid their competitors are smarter, more talented, or (more…)
One of the biggest challenges we face as business owners is spending our time well. After you go to the trouble of learning how to create time, you want to make sure you’re making the best use of it. And you know as the captain of your own ship, how you spend your time definitely impacts the success of your business.
As well as how much money you make.
And how good you feel about yourself. Being productive gives you a sense of accomplishment, which makes you want to be more productive, which makes you more successful, and you get a good momentum going.
I’m not telling you anything new — you know this. Then how come you spend so much time doing the wrong things? I do it too, we all do. We start our weeks and days and hours with good intentions and then somehow get off course . . .
and the important things don’t get done.
One of the most useful things I do in my business is to stay on top of how I’m spending my time.
Awareness is the most important step
Maybe you, like a lot of entrepreneurs, need a way to bring what you’re actually doing into your awareness more often, so you can stop what you’re doing if it’s not productive, and get back to what you should be doing — things that will help move your business forward.
Try doing this: (more…)
This post was originally posted in my blog on March 2, 2011.
Now this is the ultimate time management system: becoming the source of your own time and making as much of it as you want. It’s something I’m working on, right now.
I can create time.
I’m actually creating time as I write this, and you’re creating time — or creating time pressure — as you read this. And yesterday, totally on purpose, I created extra time in order to meet a deadline, when there didn’t appear to be enough time. It still seems like magic.
Yesterday I woke up feeling pretty sluggish, and as the morning wore on it got worse. I had a lot on my plate, I was getting ready to teach a class for my Indestructible Business course, and I felt like I was dragging through mud.
I didn’t know how I was going to finish my prep for the class in time, especially the spreadsheets, as I seemed to be moving so s-l-o-w-l-y.
Then I remembered Einstein Time. (more…)
In 3 short days, you’ll build your business courage, confidence, and influence in an intimate, business & mindset strengthening experience with me and a small circle of creative, committed, and interesting business owners like you.
We’ll be rolling up our sleeves and developing strategies for:
building your business courage and confidence, based on the 4 Levels your confidence is based on
the best way to focus your marketing so you can stop trying to master it all and only do what works (more…)
This is something I hear sometimes from business owners when I talk about confidence challenges, or not having the right clients because of a confidence challenge: “But I love my clients! And I don’t have a problem with my confidence — I just wish they’d pay me more. I don’t seem to be able to make enough money for what I do.”
If it does, there’s something that isn’t working for you — and it very well could be your confidence.
There are several factors at work when you’re in this situation:
1. You could have the wrong pricing.
2. You could have the wrong clients (even though you have a “great” relationship with them).
3. You could have the wrong mojo (confidence, moxie, self-assurance — you know what I mean).
It could be just one of the above or a mix of all three. And it’s sometimes difficult to tell where one stops and the other starts.
Parts of this article originally ran in Parse,a blog presented by HOW magazine.There you go, walking into that business networking event, hoping to meet people you can impress, but knowing that when anyone asks what you do, you’re going to totally underwhelm them.And you’re going to say something really lame that ends the conversation before it even begins.I’ve always had an intense dislike for elevator speeches. They never came naturally to me and they rarely sound natural coming from anyone else, either. Many times, I’ve seen them repel people rather than attract.So I’ve always been on the lookout for something to replace them with, because I know I’m going to have to say something (more…)