Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Truth and the M word....

Ever have one of those moments that gives you great pause, stops you dead in your tracks and turns your world upside down??  Well a couple of days ago, I had one…and it goes a little something like this; “well Heather, it’s unusual for a woman your age, but you have officially entered the world of menopause.”  Uh….I’m sorry, could you say that again, because I’m only 43 and surely you must be talking about somebody else…    Nope, it was me.  I don’t know why I was so surprised to hear it out loud because up to that moment, the tell tale signs were there and I had a funny feeling that’s what was happening, but there it was, hanging out there like this big black cloud; the M word.
I want you to know that I am not sad about the monthly madness finally coming to an end, I have no issue being free of that particular aspect of my life, no that’s not it at all.  What struck me like a truckload of bricks was the sudden appearance of this ENORMOUS hour glass in my head, and the sand now moving through it way too fast for comfort.  This natural rite of passage that every other woman on the planet will eventually go through suddenly made me think about TIME and how much of my life I have spent wasting it because of nothing more than fear.   Frankly, I think it has scared the crap out of me because there are all these things I have wanted to do, ONE BIG goal I have had for myself and all this time I have done everything in my power NOT to commit to doing it for no other reason than fear.  Yet in the blink of an eye being so afraid of something instantly didn’t bother me, what really got under my skin was the sudden realization that time is moving at the speed of light and instead of pursuing MY dream, I’ve just been sitting here coming up with self-imposed excuses and putting it off for another day.

If you and I have spent any time together then you know that the one thing in the world that truly means the most to me, the one big open-ended dream I have is finishing the book I have been writing. For as far back as I can remember the label I have been dying to wear like a bright shiny badge is WRITER.   It is my heart, my passion, and what makes me happier than anything money could ever buy….the idea of being a published author! 
 I started my book  about 11 years ago, I write a few chapters, add a few illustrations and then stop because the terror that rises up in my stomach when I think about sharing it is more than I can take.  I have a pile of pages accumulated that as you can see from the photos  is literally about a foot high and even more that take up residence in my computer just waiting to be printed.  I launched a website and Facebook page as a means to share the book ( created products to support the BIG launch of the book, paid big bucks to trademark the slogan, and then I did what I always do, I walked away and stopped writing.
 Each month for as long as I can remember, my husband and I have the same conversation….”it’s time to finish the book Heather.”  “ I know Gary, I’m getting there.”  Year after year he looks at me with this combination of sadness and frustration because we both know what it means to me and yet, I just can’t move past the fear enough to get it done. 
 Then the Menopause bomb got dropped in my lap and all of a sudden I’m mad as hell at myself because it feels ridiculous to think that I have wasted ALL these years worrying about finishing something so important to me because I have been afraid.   I have gnashed my teeth, shredded full chapters, started and stopped more projects than I can even share with you all in the name of fear.  I have lost sleep thinking that if heaven forbid I share this enormously personal thing with you and you don’t like it, I will spontaneously combust and the world will come to an end.  I have beat myself up for not finishing it, been wildly depressed, unabashedly frustrated and in the end it all amounts to the same thing, precious time being wasted because of an anticipated negative outcome that may or may not even exist.

Maybe you won’t get the M word dumped in your lap, or maybe you will and it won’t matter, but for me, well,  this news  has turned everything upside down and all of a sudden I know that it’s time to take action.  I know with complete clarity that in the grand scheme of things the FEAR has been running my life and I need to CHOOSE to be done with it… Make no mistake, this new-found clear vision doesn’t mean that the terror has miraculously vanished, but I’m starting to think that maybe it’s time to take the little steps necessary in order to set it free, and perhaps THIS TIME I’m ready to show it the door and ask it to please move on to greener pastures. 
Beyond the book and this whole menopause experience, what prompts me to share all of this with you is the certain knowing that I am not alone in this fear “thing” and I don’t want you to wake up one day feeling the way I feel this week.  I’m not telling you all about this big life-changing awakening so that you’ll encourage me to keep writing or finish my book, I’m sharing this because I am hoping beyond hope that by shining a BIG spot light on my own insanity, maybe it will give you a little perspective too.  Maybe you’ll ask yourself a version of the questions I have been asking since this Menopause thing slapped me in the face; “if you face your fear Heather, really confront it head on and get this darned book out there, what is the worst that can happen and more importantly, are you willing to sacrifice your happiness just so you don’t have to find out?”

That’s the thing about BIG PERSONAL dreams my lovely friends, if they don’t scare you, then they probably aren’t big enough.  If they don’t make you a little uncomfortable, apprehensive and a bit of a basket case, then they might not matter as much as they should. But at the end of the day, what matters more than the fear is that you find a way to shut down the nay-saying voices and get to a place where living the dream matters more than what some “MAYBE” outcome might be.  Frankly, I am tired of giving fear more power than it deserves.  I’m tired of filling my days up with meaningless OTHER projects in order not to have to finish the one thing that fuels me more than anything; my book.  Maybe this whole menopause thing needed to happen at this time in my life in order for me to gain a little perspective and get out of my own way….and maybe by sharing this tiny bit of insight it will make you think about not being so afraid of YOUR dreams too.   I’m not suggesting that overnight I am a completely different person and will be locked in my house for the next month in order to get the book done, but holy cow, I sure am done whining about why I DON’T do it.
 In the end, the simple and profound truth is that we come to this planet with a limited number of days and so we have a choice; will we live from a place of fear and spend our precious time talking ourselves out of the one thing that makes us happy, or will we step to the edge of the ledge and finally make the decision to jump? 
Today I REALLY hope you’ll join me and decide to jump!

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Tale of Two Stores....

My former boutique a million years ago....

A Tale Of Two Stores….

So I promised myself that if I was ever going to launch a blog like this as a means to offer advice or insight about running a business then it would have to be a completely honest, non-sugar-coated, tell-it-like-it-is approach sort of place or not exist at all.  So, here we go….
It  stands to reason that since I have spent most of my life entrenched in the world of customer service, and have quite literally bent over backwards (not pretty) in an attempt to make my clients happy,  I tend to be a little outspoken when it comes to how I am treated while out shopping.  I won’t go so far as to tell you that I have some sort of ridiculous visions of grandeur where I walk into a store and magically a red carpet is rolled out to greet me, trumpets are sounded to announce me and somebody shows up with a glass of champagne and a puppy, but I do like to be treated as if the hard-earned money I am potentially about to spend at your boutique or store matters.
Case in point, Store Number One ( I have intentionally left out the names because frustrated though I might be, I do have a heart and would prefer that you judge a business based on your own experiences and not hear-say): 
My husband and I have been big supporters of a local antique store for years.  Most of the larger pieces of furniture and vintage accessories in our home have been purchased from this shop because we have a love of all things rusty, old and antique.  So last week, the owner of the shop posted a photo of a fabulous item that I simply knew I couldn’t live without (famous last words).  I immediately jumped in and asked for the price….since they were closed when he shared the photo, he asked me to please call the store, leave a voice mail and they would call me back with the price.  I didn’t really understand why he couldn’t just tell me the price right then and there since he was obviously posting from the store, but okay….  So, I did and after two days, I heard nothing.  I posted another message stating that I had left a voice mail two days prior and didn’t hear back.  He asked me to call during business hours and somebody would get me a price.  So again, I did.  A very kind saleswoman verbally walked me around the shop trying to find the item I was inquiring about, then placed me on hold, then came back, took my phone number and said the owner would call me back in five minutes….another two days go by.  
So, by now, I’m getting a little annoyed, and though I am never one to chase a product I want, for some reason, the tug of this particular item simply wouldn’t go away.  I send a private message to the shop owner telling him I am a bit disappointed that it’s been 4 days and all I want is a price.  I tell him about the messages, the lack of response etc. and instead of apologizing, he tells me he is not currently at the shop but the moment he gets there that morning he will get me the price.  Another entire day goes by.  Late that night I get another private message from him asking me to please call the shop the next day because he was busy and just couldn’t get back to me.  My response?  “No thank you.”  His response?  NOTHING.  Bye-bye forever antique store.

Hello Lovely Clients, Thank you so much for being here, care for a sample?

Store Number Two:

I keep seeing posts online about a wonderful women’s boutique who is constantly posting photos of their items that I think are absolutely adorable.  So, I decide its time to pay a visit to the shop and see if I can’t do a little damage to my credit card.   I walk in on a particularly ordinary day, the shop is empty besides myself and the woman behind the counter.  She is on the phone with what I am sure is a girlfriend and doesn’t bother to look up….okay, I will give her the benefit of the doubt and continue browsing.  Soon enough my arms are getting heavy from the items I have already fallen in love with and MUST try on….the woman is still on the phone… and frankly  I’m pretty sure that I could have walked right out with all those clothes and she wouldn’t have even noticed, but I’m a big believer in karma, and not a fan of the prison system, so I stay to try them on.
Now it’s important to note that I don’t do well with lousy customer service, and though I rarely ever say something about it, I’m not likely to ever visit the store again….but this time was different.  This time I was clearly being ignored and I felt like I needed to do something.  I assumed that the woman who wouldn’t hang up the phone must be a salesperson because surely a store owner, especially in a town where there are 10 other stores just like hers wouldn’t  just ignore a potential sale….or would they?
I approach the counter with my arms full of clothing and am just standing there waiting for the woman to hang up….nope…..she is laughing and having a grand ole time chatting away with her friend.  So, I put all the clothing on the counter and a bit loudly ask if by any chance the store owner is around.  The woman sighs, tells her friend to hold on and says “ I am the owner.”  WHAT???  I was speechless….and for what I know was an awkward 30 seconds, I just stared at her then finally said “nevermind” and proceeded to head for the door.  As if the experience wasn’t bad enough, the woman had the audacity to actually say out loud, “so I guess you don’t want these?”  Instead of saying what I wanted to, I smiled back at her like the lady I am, and kept on walking….
The moral of the story is simple….your clients are worth their weight in gold.  They have no obligation to purchase from you, they are doing so because they want to, because they choose to.  Your job, no matter what is going on in your personal life, no matter how good your business might be, no matter how well or NOT well dressed they may be is to treat them like royalty each and every time they stop in, call, email or whatever.  There are far too many other businesses out there who as a matter of fact, WILL roll out the red carpet and make the client you ignored the one they now celebrate. 
Not every potential client will care if you say hello, in fact some don’t even want your attention, they just want to shop and be left alone.  But on the off chance that they do and you were too busy chatting about Grey’s Anatomy or playing Angry Birds to notice them standing there, then you simply don’t get to sob into your Cheerios when they just stop coming. 
These are obviously two very extreme and truthful recent examples, but when I walk into a major art supply chain ( I love you Dick Blick) and get treated better than I do at a boutique who needs every sale it can get, then something is terribly wrong.
In the end, the message is simple but imperative…..celebrate your clients and they will do the same for you, ignore them and you might as well place a “going out of business” sign on your door because that’s where you’re headed….  Harsh?  Maybe.  An exaggeration of the truth?  Possibly, but do you really want to run the risk of finding out?  If not, then say hello when they walk in, stop texting, answer your emails in a timely fashion, thank your clients and MOST importantly, let each and every one of them know how much they matter because regardless of how amazing  your company is, at the end of the day, your business depends on it!
Have a happy Monday and go BE FABULOUS!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Celebrating Entrepeneurial Mojo!

     A  woman recently asked me why I REALLY started the Tell a Girlfriend Network….what was my true motivation for doing it and did I really think it would work?  Hmmm….well as a matter of fact, it currently IS working, and besides the amazing members of this network, it is working for a very good reason;  I love what I do.  I don’t love every single aspect of it because it comes with its challenges like everything else but for the other 99% of the time, I LOVE IT!   I take this network so personally that it has the power to fuel me and I can’t wait to see who will show up next, what I will learn and how I can continue to do it better…. that’s why I know it will continue to “work.”
I talk to a lot of business owners who when asked why they started their business,  tell me they do what they do because they needed to earn money….and then the next sentence is that  business is not very good and they don’t know why.  When I meet a potential new member for my network I do my best to try and meet them in person or at least have a lengthy conversion with them because I like to see and hear what’s happening  behind the cordial smile when I ask them about their business.  Do they light up when they talk about what they have created or are they flat-lining?  Does their voice go up a few octaves because they are so excited?  Are they visibly excited when talking about their business or does it sound like they’re rattling off a rehearsed elevator speech? Frankly, if they aren’t excited about their own company, then why should I get excited for them?  ( I guess the word of the day is EXCITED!) It might sound harsh, but the true success or demise of your business has more to do with you and your attitude than you think.  YOU ARE your business.  You are the spokesperson, the brand, the marketing maven, the buyer, the sales person, designer and ultimately, YOU are the person capable of making or breaking your company.
If you’re thinking about launching a new business or staying in your field for any other reason than you are absolutely head over heels in love with the product or service you offer then run away NOW….run far far away!  But if you’re getting ready to take a leap of faith because your new biz is something you’re passionate about, something all-consuming and so exciting to you that you can’t sleep, then sign me up for your mailing list because I will be the first one at your door to buy your products and help spread the word about you.
Of course we all want to make a living and I can't think of too many of us that don't enjoy a paycheck, but I can promise you that if you are not truly and visibly passionate about what you’re creating, then you are going to fight for every dime you make.  It’s going to be like pulling teeth to get people to walk through your doors or order your products because whether you like it or not, people can sense your nonchalant attitude a million miles away. 
I met a woman a few years back who owned a struggling candy company.  When I asked her what made her candy so special, her response was “ well, I don’t really eat candy, but my kids love it.”  WHAT?  You’re not eating your own products and yet you want me to buy them?  Does anybody see a problem with this besides me?
I know another woman who has NEVER once mentioned how much she loves her products, she talks ONLY about how much money she is NOT making and all the things that are wrong with her business.  She complains constantly about the lack of clients she has, how tired she is, how much she dreads going to her shop, the husband who doesn’t support her, the kids who make her life difficult and on and on.  I wait every time I see her for just one shred of hope or excitement about her business and three years later she is still struggling and I am still waiting.
I realize, and believe me, I know from personal experience that running a business on your own can be a daunting nightmare.  There is always life outside of your company to contend with, there are bills, marketing, competitors and a million reasons to think you are one bad day away from having to close up shop.  But then that wonderful client calls, emails or walks in.  You begin to talk about what you do and without thinking, your face naturally lights up, your heart rate quickens, and suddenly all those challenges don’t really seem so pressing because YOU are in business for yourself and you couldn’t possibly love anything more.  The enthusiasm you have for your business is contagious and suddenly your new client can’t wait to buy from you and tell every human being she knows that they need to shop from you too because she felt and LOVED your amazing energy.
People look at me a little sideways when I tell them that if I won the lottery I would continue to do what I do for free.  I would do it because when a business owner emails me and tells me she gained a new client from my network, or a woman contacts me and thanks me for introducing her to so many wonderful companies through Tell A Girlfriend my heart is suddenly full and I am in my happy place! When I am standing in a room full of business owners introducing them to one another and can feel the potential for new connections unfolding all around me, I am the happiest camper in the room.  This is what happens when you do what you do from a place of true passion. 
As a business owner, not every day is sunshine and candy, but the less than fabulous days are a bit easier to swallow when you are doing what you absolutely and intentionally love.   There will be moments when you want to slam your head into the wall, throw in the towel and hide under the bed forever, but THEN…..then you remember why you started that company to begin with and suddenly the sun shines a little brighter and the smell of Skittles is magically in the air. 
If you are anything like me and can’t wait to share your company with anybody who will listen, if you wake up almost every morning and can’t wait to create new products or ideas, if you live, breathe, sleep and unconditionally love what you are doing then YOU are already a success….you are already exactly where you need to be and the business WILL come.  When our intentions come from a place deep in our hearts, when we work our butts off from a place of love and passion then somehow with a lot of hard work and a whole lot of heart and faith, the Universe has a way of stepping in and sending the tools and the people you need to keep following that bliss.
Stay focused,
stay positive,
don’t be afraid to ask for help,
keep looking forward
and most importantly, keep that passion alive my friend….
Wishing you continued and constantly evolving entrepreneurial bliss!