How to Clarify Your Business Direction

Business DirectionAs I was combing through older content on the blog, I came across this blog post, Three Business Lessons Learned from a Robot. The analogy is funny but the tips where full of insight. It made me think about how important it is to have a sense of direction when it comes to your business.

I think it goes a little beyond steps to setting goals, especially for a small internet home business run by solopreneurs. Sometimes  fear, lack of clarity, limited support and having no sense of direction gets the better of us.

See, you and I were trained to fail in entrepreneurship because we weren’t given the tools to manage through the hardships, fight through the struggles and withstand the unpredictability that frequently comes with running a business.

When we were younger, we followed house rules and directives from our parents. In school, we were guided by lesson plans facilitated by our teachers. At a job, we were given a set of tasks based on a job description. So when it comes to taking risks in entrepreneurship, resistance sets in because we’re not given a “guide” to follow. Take a look at this inspirational yet informational video featuring Seth Godin - Failing Until You Succeed.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: Who’s In Charge?

Many people I’ve come across have fantasized about starting a business at one point or another. My sister, who has a business degree, has specifically admitted she is afraid of failing. My best friend has had a longtime dream of opening up a childcare center. She quit her job last December and got very close to closing a deal on a property several months ago. The deal folded and she became paralyzed by disappointment. She is she now back to working a job. Another one of my friends grew up with an entrepreneurial father. She has dreams of starting a horticulture therapeutic center but feels she is not “organized” enough to even know where to begin.

There’s nothing worse than the hopeless feeling of jumping around aimlessly and later rationalizing your “failure” to a set of circumstances you created a belief around. You either have an internal or external locus of control, meaning things happen because of you or to you. Your viewpoint can affect your success.

I’ve always been passionate about facing fears and making breakthroughs. I encourage my clients and patients to give themselves permission to be bold – it’s cliché but true. But if you don’t know where you are going, it’s much more difficult to stay focused and grounded.

Visualizing what you want

There’s a lot of research done about visualization. Some people swear by vision boards. I, for one, believe that it definitely helps to envision and image  and actually feeling what it’s like to get there. It creates this energy and momentum and keeps you zoned in, even when you are not consciously thinking about it. I use something similar where I place a description of my ultimate business vision on my bedroom night table that way I see it as soon as I wake up. Not in a Law of Attraction kind of way but I feel it helps to remind me while my brain cells are fresh of what I need to do to get one step closer.  Check out these tips I found on how to use visualization to achieve your goals.

Setting Intentions

Goals are very individualistic. There is a reason why you want to accomplish “that thing”. The tangible outcome is rarely what you are after. Not to get touchy-feely but normally it’s a search for a feeling (accomplished, loved, smart, sexy, free, etc.). Get to know yourself. Self-awareness can be fun. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together.

Heighten up your senses to what stands out for you during the course of a day. It helps you identify what’s important to you so you can factor those into your business journey. For me, it’s noticing children, happy couples, and people’s moods. I love to people watch and notice when a person looks sad. I take note of businesses that go out of business and speculate on the circumstances. I wonder, did the owners give up? You can almost always find something that will satisfy you and the needs of the people you serve.

A Measurable Contract With Yourself

In business, setting measurable goals can help your business direction and ultimately its success. Most people find business success using a combination of their interests, values, passions and skills. Write down the actions you will take and what behaviors will you change in order to get there. Make your it specific enough where you can see progress and allow you the opportunity to praise yourself for small wins that will eventually turn into larger ones. Writing it down also makes things more concrete and establishes a contract with yourself. You’ll keep growing, refining and expanding as you move along.

The Power of Masterminding

This point was brought up in Lynette Chandler’s post. She says, “Now to figure out, what or who can be the GPS for your business? I think the answer is fairly obvious. It is a good business coach or a group of like minded people like a mastermind group made up of people you can trust.” Think about the power of gaining the insights of an expert or group of experts brainstorming and networking together and gaining perspective at a much quicker pace. Plus, it’ll help you stay accountable. Here are a few I belong to Blogging Concentrated, Solo Masterminds, Lynn Terry’s Private Brainstorming Group, MyNams (some of these have free and paid memberships).

Here’s How to Get Inspired When You’re Feeling Stuck as an Entrepreneur

Welcome to Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homeprenuers a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.inspiration

Today’s Q is: 

Where do you find inspiration when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau in your business?

Helena Bowers from Your Message Amplified says:

headshot-dec-2012-100When I hit a plateau in my business the first thing I try to do is get out of my own way. I know that I have the tendency to make things harder than they have to be, so the first place I look for inspiration is outside in nature. I’ll often take my camera and head to the river for a long walk and some quiet time communing with the ducks. The stillness gives me the space I need to get out of my own head and let the ideas flow. More often than not I end up coming home with a pretty good idea of what my next step should be, as well as a fresh batch of pictures to work with!

Brenda Trott from Done4UMedia Marketing says:

BrendaFunky_me.jpgI’m not sure if I ever run out of ideas. The reason is because I get them from my clients. They come to me with new questions before I even know I have an answer.


Jessica Lee from Psychic Readings Guide says:

jessica-leeI love this question because I think it’s so important to feel inspired when working.  When I feel like I’ve hit a plateau, I know it’s because I am over thinking things and not letting the business flow organically. That signals me to step back and take a few hours off doing something enjoyable that is unrelated to business, such as taking a ride or baking.  Usually, once I get into a relaxed state, ideas will quickly start to flow again.

Another thing I do is keep inspiration boards on Pinterest.  I pin blogs that I admire and articles that I have enjoyed reading.  When I go back and reread these pieces, I remember what I loved about them, and this often gets my creative juices flowing.

I also have several book excerpts highlighted on various Kindle books.  Sometimes, one great quote or a few paragraphs from a chapter is enough to inspire me.  For me, it’s all about not fighting the current.  Trying to force things when they’re not happening naturally is not fun.  Relaxing, taking a step back, and having inspiration boards that I can refer to works really well for me.

Reba Collins from PLR One Stop says:

profile-reba100x100I find inspiration in almost everything, every person, and everywhere I go.  I try to look for the good and ignore the bad, so I watch for the little things from which I can draw ideas. Family is big in my life and there’s always someone telling of how they found a great item or need something to make their lives easier. I try to apply those conversations to my business.

Since my business is an online business, I’m a member in a lot of Facebook groups and forums with others in my niche. I go to those places every day and never fail to learn something new. Everything new thing I learn I can apply to my business, so honestly, I’m never short on inspiration. In fact, I have so many ideas; I don’t have time to handle them all. It’s rare that I hit a plateau with such great people touching my life on a daily basis. [Read more...]

Overwhelmed by Opportunity

Overwhelmed by Opportunity asks: I’ve come to a bit of a roadblock in my business. There are so many opportunities and ways to spend my time — PR, marketing, networking, partnership, events — these are all great, but I am feeling completely overwhelmed with these. How do I know what to take on and what to pass on? I don’t want to regret a missed opportunity, but I also don’t want to spread myself too thin and get burn t out . Any advice?

Dear Overwhelmed,

I hear you. I love opportunity, but I also know what it means to have more options than I know what to do with. It’s true that too much opportunity can be a detriment to success if you get bogged down in it and spread yourself too thin.

It sounds like you need to refine your focus and get really clear about what it is that you want to accomplish. Here are a few steps to get you started:

Revisit your business plan: What…you don’t have a business plan? Hmmm…that could be the root of your problems. Look a business plan doesn’t have to be some 30-page monstrosity. It can be a simple 1-pager that outlines your numbers and your goals for the next year. Having a clear plan will help you prioritize. And if you do have a business plan, now is a great time to revisit it. What have you already accomplished? What is still on your list? It’s likely that things have changed since the last time you looked, so set aside a few hours and do some strategizing.

Research what is unclear: One of the biggest reasons why entrepreneurs don’t make decisions or move forward is because they just don’t know what to do. If there is something that you find you’re avoiding, it may be time to pull that monster out from under the bed. And the best way to do that is research, reading and talking. Especially talking. Let’s say you’re considering a partnership but you don’t know how to structure it. To figure out what that entails, ask several respected entrepreneurs their thoughts or post the question online. There is power in tapping your community. The SparkplugU classes are a great way to brainstorm with other entrepreneurs who are thinking about the same things.

If you’re baffled by marketing, our own Marketing Eggspert, Susan Payton here at Sparkplugging has some quick and very focused answers in her recent post 5 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Marketing.

Focus on the immediate goals: Now that you have a plan for the next year, it’s important to start breaking that plan into manageable pieces. Write out what your immediate goals are for the next six months. It’s good to have the big picture in mind, but it does take steps to get there. Writing down what HAS to happen in the next 6 months will help you from getting distracted by all the pretty shiny things along the way.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize: Now that you have planned and strategized, it’s time to prioritize. What are the most important tasks, and what are the steps you need to do to get there? Add some dates to these and check off your accomplishments as you go.

If after you’ve focused, strategized and prioritized you still feel overwhelmed, you may want to weed some things off of your list. This is about getting things done and keeping your sanity in tact.

Follow up: Be sure to take time out once a week to see what needs to be done, but more importantly what you’ve accomplished. Allow yourself the option to make changes as you go.  Overwhelm can sometimes be inevitable and it makes it all so much more exciting.

Try as we may, we can’t do everything. We can do a lot though, and a good way to get there is to plan as best we can and to give ourselves kudos for all of our accomplishments!

To finding your focus!


10 Steps to Focus and Completion – Planning Your Plan

Is the art of focus a difficult concept for you to grasp? If you’re an entrepreneur, most likely it is. You see, entrepreneurs are typically blessed with busy, brilliant, creative minds. The downside is that it’s difficult to curb that right-brained activity for long enough to focus on completing our goals. What a dilemma! We’d be hard-pressed to succeed without those right-brained qualities, but how do we let the left-brain function take over when the right-brain wants to run the show? How can we follow through on the action steps that are necessary to make a goal or plan come to fruition? Create, create, create; that’s what we do. We’re always chasing the answers, ideas, and permission to make our wonderful ideas even better but when it comes to bringing those ideas fully to life; well that’s where the waters get murky. Sound familiar? If it does, here are some steps that may help you get from here to there with both oars in the water.

Remember, in these times, a successful businessperson must use whole mind thinking. We need to create processes, systems, and solutions in addition to being creative and utilizing our out-of-the-box thinking skills. Hopefully, these 10 steps to planning your plan will help you do just that. Use these steps to create focus so that you can get these fabulous ideas out of your mind and cashing in at the bank.

1) Tell it to three people, not a village: When you create a new concept, plan, or goal for your business discuss it with 3 people. That’s it 3 people. Perhaps your coach, a close friend, and a peer. You will drive yourself crazy if you put your idea in front of too many people; everyone will have a different opinion and enough feedback to fill a sizeable hard drive. Some will love your idea; others will think you’re a lunatic to believe it will work, and everyone will have a way to improve upon it. Remember, this business is about your clients/customers and only you know what makes them happy. It’s also about your passion and values; and only you can possibly connect to those. Let your ideas be representative of your passion and your clients needs, not the opinions of a multitude of friends, family members, and peers. You’ll soon discover that the true answers are within you, so why create stress and waste time when you already have the answers? Brainstorming with your Mastermind Group or your coach is critical at times, but no need to ask the opinion of every person you know.

2) Compare yourself only to YOU: At times it’s tempting to take a look at the competition, and that’s good and necessary. But it stops being useful when we begin to beat ourselves up for not achieving everything that the competition has achieved. When I began coaching, I would frequently go to other coach’s websites and make myself feel wholly inadequate because I wasn’t doing everything that every other coach on the face of the earth was doing. Yikes! How is that possible? Thankfully, I’ve learned to rein myself in and realize that we each have a unique offering and there is room enough in this Universe for thousands of successful coaches. There is room in this Universe for millions of successful people and your unique offerings will make you one of them. When you compare, compare your achievements to your own goals and how far you’ve come, not to the goals of others.

3) Examine it: Write down all of the reasons that you want to achieve this goal and all of its benefits. Are you doing this for the right reasons? Do you feel that it is in integrity with your values and your business model? If not, this is the time to revise the goal until it feels right, don’t wait until you’re knee deep in problems. Also, why limit yourself to logic in this phase? Use that outstanding intuition as well.

4) Analyze it: Don’t over analyze, but be diligent in examining the logic and the feasibility of your idea, and ask yourself, How will I know when I’ve successfully achieved this goal? How is it measurable? Ask, at what point is this goal complete and how will I know that I’ve succeeded? Most importantly; Is this idea a good fit in my long term vision?

5) Plan for it: Identify your end-goal and write it at the top of a piece of paper (or a Word doc). Then create the steps you will take to achieve that goal. Be very specific so that each step has one or more action steps. So, whether it’s information gathering, writing content, individual marketing steps, or creating infrastructure, each category may have a number of action steps. In other words, every large step must be broken down into bite-sized pieces so you know exactly what to do next when the time comes.

6) Challenge it: Identify any possible blocks or obstacles in your plan or goal. What might they be and how will you address them if they arise? Now, don’t go getting all pessimistic on me here. Simply take a look at technical challenges, marketing challenges, etc. and the resources that you possess to address any questions as they arise. Is your marketing plan for a new product or service strong enough? Do you need new software or hardware to implement your idea? Who do you know who could help you in these areas or others? These challenges, if you encounter them, are simply detours that you WILL maneuver successfully if you plan for them.

7) Make it friendly: Referring to step #5, where you’ve identified your bite-sized action steps, create a user-friendly document for each series of steps. For instance, if your next step is adding a shopping cart to your site, have a shopping cart document that details each step along the way. Now give yourself a timeline to complete all of these steps. I leave this document open on my desktop, and between my client sessions I refer to it to see what the next action step is and I DO IT. No thinking about how I can change it, make it better, or even how I can procrastinate on it. I am now on auto-pilot because all I have to do is read and ACT. Wow, what a difference it makes when you don’t have to decide what to do next-ahhhh.

8 ) Create the habit: Now the trick is to remember to look at your working document. Until it becomes habit, put a reminder in your Outlook calendar or sticky notes throughout your home. Referring to your task list needs to become a default setting for you so that you don’t get off track with other projects and grand ideas that can wait until another time. Stick to this project; put other ideas in a separate idea document so that your mind is free and willing to stick to this one goal until it’s complete.

9) Get the psychological edge: Sometimes, larger goals lead us to feel like we’re on a treadmill; working hard and going nowhere. I like to use the double strike through feature in Word to indicate that I’ve achieved my steps. I don’t delete them as I go. This way, when I refer to my action plan document I can see how far I’ve come. Eventually, I accept that I’m making progress and I delete the completed tasks that feels good too!

10) Celebrate along the way: The big picture is just that BIG. Get off the treadmill every now and then and celebrate all that you’ve achieved. Describe it out loud to one of your 3 people; when you do this it really sinks in and you will feel good about yourself and your goals. It’s important to feel like you’re achieving and not sinking in the quicksand of it all. This will keep your motivation strong and your vision secure.

Summing this up; it’s critical that you write down your goals, talk them through with someone who will offer solid feedback and perhaps some accountability, and create the daily habit (and time) to achieve something on your goals list. I keep my Fridays as an admin and marketing day and focus on my goals all day long every, single week – no exceptions. If you can’t take an entire day then schedule in 2-hour blocks of time at least 3 times a week. You have the time. Think about how much time is either spent doing non-entrepreneurial tasks or mentally processing and re-hashing the same information. That’s right; if you outsource and get focused you will have the time.

OK. Go create the plan, follow the 10-steps and let me know what you’ve achieved in 3-month’s time! Most importantly, have fun with it. You’re an entrepreneur because you have spirit, creativity, and passion – enjoy them!

Monday Motivation :: Showing Up Imperfectly

Monday Motivation Home Office NinjaI don’t know if it’s the warm weather, the fact we finally went boating this last weekend, or if I’m just plain tired, but I am having *the* hardest time getting myself moving today. If last Monday hadn’t been Memorial Day, I might have just skipped today. I don’t want to think about empire-building. I want to think about going camping – even yardwork sounds better than work-work. But the whole point of discipline is getting stuff done even when we don’t feel like doing them.

So I decided to show up today. Imperfect and all. :)

So here’s the Monday Motivation drill:

Step 1 – let us know what you are going to get done today (your to-do list, so to speak).

Step 2 – put it in a comment below or a post on your own site.

Step 3 - let us know what will motivate you to get it done – a reward, consequences, or whatever you need to think that will ensure you do what you say you are going to do. I’ve found that the public announcement and accountability is a particularly great motivator, but throw down consequences if you really need a kick in the pants to get stuff done! Unless, of course, you are working towards a new laptop too, in which case I think the reward is particularly motivating.

We don’t care how you get it done, we just want to support you in reaching your goals.

Today before I go to sleep I will:

  • Clean out my inbox of 387 emails
    This is probably the very last thing I want to do today. *sigh*

And before the end of the week I will:

Leverage :: If I don’t have all of this done by the end of the week, I will not allow myself onto Flickr for 7 days. Since I’ve recently rediscovered my love of photography, this would KILL me!

So what are you going to get done today??

Monday Motivation :: Planning for Distractions

Monday Motivation Home Office NinjaIt hardly feels real to say it, but summer is right around the corner. My kids have 3 weeks of school left… and then… my silent work at home haven will transform into a chaotic messy disaster for three months straight. I both look forward to and dread summer. I love getting time with the kids, taking them out to Millennium Park and the Zoo and all, but they also eat me out of house and home and make working well… challenging, to say the least.

So it’s time to start planning for summer now. Last year my 94 Ways to Keep Kids Busy for the Work at Home Parent post was so dang popular it made it to the front page of Digg. In fact, it was so popular that it was the reason I spun off Shannon’s Seasonal Kids Activities blog. She focuses on kids crafts and activities that only need materials you likely already have in your home, like her recipe for slime, making Origami balls, and some super cute spring crafts.

But for me, keeping the kids happy in the summer is only half the battle. I tend to want to go outside and play instead of work, and I admittedly have a harder time focusing with all the chaos in the background. So I’m toying with the idea of coming up with some kind of summer work schedule. I’ve resisted that kind of structure in the past, but the business is getting to the point where I don’t know how else I’ll manage everything that is going on. So, Brandie, do you have any time management suggestions for us?

Today, though, the kids are still in school. And I’m going to milk every last minute they are there. I’ll get a little ambitious this week with Monday Motivation, and here’s how it works:

Step 1 – let us know what you are going to get done today (your to-do list, so to speak).

Step 2 – put it in a comment below or a post on your own site.

Step 3 - let us know what will motivate you to get it done – a reward, consequences, or whatever you need to think that will ensure you do what you say you are going to do. I’ve found that the public announcement and accountability is a particularly great motivator, but throw down consequences if you really need a kick in the pants to get stuff done! Unless, of course, you are working towards a new laptop too, in which case I think the reward is particularly motivating.

We don’t care how you get it done, we just want to support you in reaching your goals.

Today before I go to sleep I will:

  • Set up a conference call with Lijit to get them set up on Sparkplugging
  • Create a house ad for the ProBlogger book
  • Get through the 252 emails in my inbox
  • 3 loads of laundry

And by the end of the week I will:

  • Have a project timeline in place for a new ‘Sparkplug U’ project I’ve been planning in my head for months
  • Go for two bike rides
  • Update my 10 Days to a Better Blog eCourse (which still says we’re ‘eMoms’, and still hasn’t been moved to the new domain yet!)
  • Send an update email to my mailing list
  • Make cookies for my hubby, our 10 year anniversary is this week!! :)

If I don’t have all of this done by the end of the week, I will go without coffee and tea for a week (Oh, I HATE it when I fail when I throw down that leverage!!).

So what are you going to get done today or this week?

Monday Motivation :: Spring Fever

I believe that the White Witch has finally been vanquished here in Chicagoland, which has had its snowiest winter since the infamous blizzard of 1979. I was seriously beginning to feel like we were stuck in Narnia :: always winter, never Christmas.

Yet behold, the signs of life:

Spring Flowers

Repeat after me:

I will not play hooky until my deadlines are met.

I will not play hooky until my deadlines are met.

I will not play hooky until my deadlines are met.

So, what is the Monday Motivation drill?

Step 1 – let us know what you are going to get done today (your to-do list, so to speak).

Step 2 – put it in a comment below or a post on your own site.

Step 3 - let us know what will motivate you to get it done – a reward, consequences, or whatever you need to think that will ensure you do what you say you are going to do. I’ve found that the public announcement and accountability is a particularly great motivator, but throw down consequences if you really need a kick in the pants to get stuff done! Unless, of course, you are working towards a new laptop too, in which case I think the reward is particularly motivating.

We don’t care how you get it done, we just want to support you in reaching your goals.

Today before I go to sleep I will:

  • Clean out my inbox of 462 emails
  • 3 loads of laundry
  • Finish changing WordPress settings all new blogs
  • Create thumbnails for each blog
  • Call Kelly McCausey

If I don’t get all of this done by the time I said I would, I will give a Kiva Entrepreneur another $250.

So what are you going to get done today?

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