Have you put your stake in the ground?

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By Amanda Cleary Eastep

“Are you afraid to put your stake in the ground?”

Smack in the middle of my biz consultation, advisor Jackie Nagel of Synnovatia stopped me in my wandering tracks.

This was my second consultation with Jackie, and she quickly moved to the topic of strategic goal setting. (NOTE: A strategy is NOT the same thing as a task list you check stuff off of before binge watching Breaking Bad on Netflix.)

I was confused at first. Hadn’t I already “put my stake in the ground”?

In September, after three years of building my marketing writing and consulting business in the wee hours, I quit my full-time job.

But since then, I hadn’t set a hard and fast long-term goal. And I needed to strategically plan how to reach that goal.

Quitting my job had been a big leap. But really it was more akin to packing up the wagons and heading West. Since then, I had been:

…circling said wagons (i.e. completing client projects)

…surviving off the land (i.e. networking haphazardly)

…but not really staking my claim (i.e. strategically planning).

I imagined the last several months of hard work and “here’s hoping” like a scene from Bonanza:

“Thank ya, kind sir, for calling me out of the big blue yonder about your website project. Me and the youngin’s have been livin’ on rattler meat and rain water.”

Putting a stake in the ground means you have a strategy, at least a short-term one, and you start building your homestead on that.

My first short-term goal? Acquire two more “regular” clients by the end of April to help grow my business.

Sometimes you have to go back to the basics, so I filled out Jackie’s strategic goal worksheet and identified priorities and daily tasks to help me reach that goal.

Why do I share this tale? Because as a small business person, I know many of us are immersed in the roll-up-your-sleeves work of serving clients as we also carry out the roles of accountant, marketer, salesperson, coffee maker, etc.

We’re so busy trying to do it all that we lose sight of why we’re doing it in the first place.

As I sat in my living room with my coffee growing cold in my “Courage” mug and Jackie’s smiling face on the Skype screen, I heard her say, “You don’t want to be a wandering generality.”

I suddenly pictured a broken wagon wheel, tumbleweeds passing me by, and the last few drips of water falling from the canteen onto my parched lips. Yup, that’s what happens when you don’t put your stake in the ground, dang nab it.

You need to set strategic goals. And sometimes you need to seek a helping hand from a kindly neighbor who can help you succeed.

“The great majority of people are ‘wandering generalities’ rather than ‘meaningful specifics.’ The fact is that you can’t hit a target that you can’t see. If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. You have to have goals.” -Zig Ziglar

Video: Spin sucks, my chat with CEO Gini Dietrich

The first time I experienced a negative reaction to my choice of career in public relations, I was sitting in the doctor’s office awaiting my pain management test.

“So what do you do?” asked the doctor, making friendly chit-chat before hooking me up to a contraption that would test my nerve sensitivity.

“I’m in PR,” I said, more focused on my herniated disc and the machine I imagined could potentially be used in a James Bond vs. villain scene.

“I hate PR,” he said. “Full of liars.”

Great.

Should I explain that I worked in PR at the local Christian college? That my background was good, old objective journalism? That I learned my lesson about lying when I was nine and my mom made me go door to door admitting to our neighbors that, no, I hadn’t actually broken my wrist, I just decided to sport the ace bandage for attention?

I tell this story to help explain why I was immediately drawn to the blog Spin Sucks and its online community of marketing and PR folks who also valued integrity in an industry long-plagued by a bad reputation for “spin.”

The leader of this community of “crazies” as she calls them is Gini Dietrich, CEO and founder of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communication firm.

Today I had the honor–really, it is for this solopreneur–of being videotaped for her weekly “inquisition.”

Spin Sucks

If you’re a business looking for incredible expertise or you’re a fellow marketing/PR pro who wants to learn something new everyday and be part of a community that truly believe spin sucks…OR you are just curious about my answers to questions like “What industry trend are you going to try in 2016” and “Name three words used by pirates,” CHECK OUT our video meet up.

 

 

What Your Purpose Is Not

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Every night I take it to bed with me, wake up with it, and feel it breathing down my neck when I’m not giving enough attention to it.

(No, it isn’t an overly affectionate labrador.)

It’s my purpose.

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Sometimes purpose manifests itself in different ways throughout our lives and sometimes as one activity that drives us, brings us joy, and is the hardest work we do.

What is it for you? 

Maybe marketing your business or designing buildings or counseling teenagers.

For me, it  has always been writing, even in the midst of more important work, like raising my children.

Poet and scholar Francesco Petrarca expressed his relentless need to write in a letter to a friend:

This inexorable passion has such a hold upon me that pen, ink, and paper, and work prolonged far into the night, are more to my liking than repose and sleep. In short, I find myself always in a sad and languishing state when I am not writing, and, anomalous though it seems, I labour when I rest, and find my rest in labour.”

Even with the exhaustion and pain brought on by writing, Petrarca said his “tireless spirit” seemed to be “reclining upon the softest down.” 

That is how I’m feeling right now as I type. Despite the strain on mind and emotion, I sense a purposeful euphoria.

I recently took an informal survey and asked people about their sense of purpose.

The responses confirmed that purpose is deeply personal and unique to each person. But they also revealed what purpose is not.

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Purpose is NOT

Our aphrodisiac–My husband, a missionary to India for 20 years, said he and other young Christians became passionate at one point about sharing Jesus with a tribal group. Despite their passion, they never carried out their good intentions. Likewise, we may feel called to a task, but we become more enamored with the idea of it. We pour our efforts into dreaming and planning but never act. 

All about us–I recently interviewed a student for her college’s alumni magazine. She compared her college experience to a line-up of dominoes. “What I do in the place I have been set will touch the next person and the next.” Ultimately, the work we are purposed to do affects a broader community. Our responsibility is to carry out our purpose, to work hard, and to trust that it means something to someone.

About being Moses–Most of us don’t have a “burning bush” moment of biblical proportion. No hot minute in our desert when a voice comes out of a flaming shrub and proclaims, “Hey, you, I’m God and I’m sending you on this mind-blowing mission that will alter the course of humanity!” Even after this supernatural encounter, Moses doubted. I imagine that one more irritating “but Lord” from Moses, and the mission may have been passed on to the next sandaled guy. Which makes me ask myself, Have I answered the call to my purpose with a resounding Yes! or am I squeaking out a response that prompts the universe to not expect so much of me the next time?

 

A version of this post first appeared on Living Between the Lines.

Hospitality: Does Your Business Measure Up to Bea’s Standards?

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By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Our departure from our favorite restaurant is halted by the owner.

“You ate too fast,” Bea says, in her lovely Ghanaian accent that makes her sound more disappointed than scolding.

We don’t want her to think we didn’t enjoy our meal of jerk chicken, lamb shank smothered in brown gravy, buttered cabbage, steamy fruit bread…but I digress…so I toss my car keys on the table beside the styrofoam take-out containers filled with leftover oxtails and African rice.

As usual, we are the last ones in the dining room for the evening, the doors are locked because she fears the neighborhood, and we have begun our ritual long goodbye.

“Have a glass of wine with me,” she offers.

We gather around the table with it’s brightly colored cloth, sip red wine, and talk for an hour about everything from God to frying okra to the fact that people just don’t “love thy neighbor” anymore. She said the same thing is happening in Ghana. She blames TV and greed.

I blame self-absorption and fear. And TV and greed.

But whether you’re the type of person who bakes cookies for the neighbors or the neighbor who feeds the cookies to the dog “just in case,” if you’re a small business person, practicing hospitality is a necessity.

I’ll admit that not everyone “gets” Bea, the owner of a storefront African restaurant in the suburbs of Chicago. She treats you like family, i.e. “I’ll feed you the best food I can prepare and chat with you about your life, but check your attitude and muddy shoes at the door.”

But in her I recognize a sense of hospitality that springs from a deep place of culture and even a “love thy neighbor” faith tradition.

Bea’s four tenets of customer service should be ours, too

Meet more than the basic need

Bea had planned to close early until we walked in. We said ordering take-out was fine, but a minute later her daughter escorted us to a table with a “Mom said.” Bea could have done the minimum and sent us packing early with our oxtails-to-go, but she treated us like the only patrons (which we actually were at that point).

Be in-tune with the customer experience

The food tasted delicious enough to exude “mmmm” noises from us that you don’t usually make in public. Yet we didn’t linger and had ordered, eaten, and headed for the door within an hour. Although we insisted that yes, dinner was great, and no, we didn’t feel rushed, Bea perceived that our early departure signaled a less than ideal dining experience.

Treat customers like neighbors 

So she invited us to have a glass of wine with her. The table is the gathering place of family and friends, and that evening, over a $3 bottle of cabernet, that is what we became.

Run, don’t walk, the extra extra mile

Some cultures, and at their best religions, are naturally more hospitable. I have never left a Jordanian home without first enjoying a cup of spiced tea first or accepting a box of Whitman’s chocolates on the way out the door. Over the years, we have left Bea’s with not only leftovers, but a mancala game board hand carved in the shape of a crocodile and a large mango with instructions for accelerating fruit ripening.

In many ways, every business is in the hospitality industry. It comes down to that golden rule of treating others the way we would like to be treated.

Maybe that isn’t as common as it used to be in Ghana or in America or the majority of businesses around the county. But we can take a lesson from the people who do hospitality well, with generosity, genuineness, and an occasional exotic fruit.

NOTE: I do not link to the restaurant in this post due to upcoming changes.

Swiftly building trust with your virtual clients

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

I carry my three-year-old daughter into the ER. Her face swollen, her breathing rasping.

The security guard sees me, motions me to follow.

I am able to say, she can’t breathe.

In a whirlwind of white coats and tubes and fear, I watch them connect her small face to oxygen and administer epinephrine.

I provide the details of what happened just before I rushed her to the hospital as I witness the team diagnosing and treating the severe allergic reaction. In those needle points of time, I develop a swift trust in the people who hold my daughter’s life in their hands.

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My daughter quickly recovered from the episode, and all these years later the incident serves as an analogy for the swift trust that forms within virtual teams whose members must quickly develop a working relationship to accomplish a common goal.

I wasn’t as integral a part in this situation as the nurses and doctors, and in my freelance writing business, lives aren’t at stake. Yet the initial formation of trust that develops between me and a new client in my predominantly virtual workplace is similar to the evolution of trust that day.

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Although I may not have been conscious of it in the ER, I had measures for the members of that medical team that, and as I tick those off once again in my mind, I find they also apply to building trust within virtual teams:

Listening and communicating. The doctors asked concise questions that would elicit the most comprehensive answers from me under duress, then gave specific guidance for follow-up. As a writer working virtually with various marketing and sales teams, I best serve my clients when I understand their needs. Understanding begins with listening, asking the right questions, and communicating clearly and consistently.

Decisiveness. In a virtual work setting, you make decisions every day without a manager looking over your shoulder and nodding. Whether you’re a doctor, a business owner, or a freelance writer, you have to make decisions and own them. Fortunately, my decisions don’t involve life or death situations, but they can affect the health of my client’s business.

Expertise and knowledge. That white coat and stethoscope tell me the doctor has already passed through some rigorous training. Likewise, my online portfolio may speak for me if I haven’t been personally recommended. Even more so, the first project with a new client serves as the immediate testing ground for my skills and how they accomplish the job.

How they responded to each other. We quickly form judgments about a person based on how the people closest to that person interact. Not one nurse hesitated as the ER doctor diagnosed and prescribed. An important way customers initially develop a swift trust, especially with a remote vendor they may never meet face to face, is through the recommendations of people they already trust. One of my clients hired me solely based upon the recommendation of her colleague who was already my longtime client.

Immediate results. If my daughter’s condition hadn’t improved within those vital minutes, I would have been screaming for another doctor. In business, we may have a longer grace period for proving ourselves to clients. But whether through a first-time email or introductory phone call, we need to begin meeting the client’s needs in our very first interaction.

Longterm results. Because of my trust in the ER doctor, I felt confident in following his advice for my daughter’s continued care.  Similarly, while a level of trust may be established quickly depending on your actions and the actions of clients or other virtual team members, the level of sustained trust will depend on each person’s continued actions. Ideally, that means the establishment and growth of a healthy and longterm business partnership.

Caring. In that curtained section of the ER, the patient received the doctor’s undivided attention and compassion. No matter how many clients we have or how many virtual teams we become part of, we  must strive to make each client feel like the only client.

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Photo Credit: bortescristian via Compfight cc

What other ways have you discovered to build trust with your new clients? Please share your experience in the comments.