Raking it in without
breaking your soul

What AI Can’t Replace

My prompt: Write a definition for data visualization

ChatGPT: Data visualization is the graphical representation of information and data. It utilizes visual elements such as charts, graphs, and maps to present complex datasets in a more understandable and accessible format. The primary goal of data visualization is to communicate insights and patterns that may not be immediately apparent from raw data, enabling easier interpretation, analysis, and decision-making. It encompasses a wide range of techniques and tools, from simple bar graphs to sophisticated interactive visualizations, all aimed at conveying information effectively and efficiently.

True! So forking boring. Accurate! But a snooze fest. Correct! And forgettable.

You know what AI doesn’t have? A personality. Thank goodness you’re a person.

You have a voice. A style. A way of speaking. The robots can’t mimic that just yet.

I tried.

My prompt: Write a definition for data visualization using the voice of Stephanie Evergreen

ChatGPT: Data visualization is like the conductor of an orchestra, orchestrating the harmony between data and design. It’s about more than just charts and graphs; it’s about crafting a narrative that speaks volumes without saying a word. Through thoughtful selection of colors, shapes, and layouts, data visualization transforms raw data into a symphony of insights that captivates and enlightens its audience. It’s the art of distilling complexity into clarity, empowering viewers to see patterns, trends, and outliers at a glance. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, data visualization becomes a powerful tool for communication, persuasion, and advocacy, unlocking the stories hidden within the numbers and inviting others to join in the conversation.

What is this vomit garbage? Where’s the juice?

If that’s how I wrote, I wouldn’t have 16,000+ newsletter subscribers. I wouldn’t have three books and a workshop schedule that’s booking a year in advance.

They tried to iron personality out of me. “They” being the reviewers of the first edition of my first book. They said my language was too colloquial and casual. I needed to say “cannot” instead of “can’t” and that my lack of formality would restrict my book’s reach in academic circles.

To hell with that.

I had to fight hard but I kept my voice loud and clear. My books turned out to be my publisher’s first foray into dealing with more sales via Amazon than from academic course adoption.

So, counter to what they said, it’s the fact that my personality shows that has driven my relative success and helped you get here, reading this.

Lean harder into your voice.

It’s what AI can’t replicate.

I checked into this. In response to the definition of data visualization that ChatGPT provided “in the voice of Stephanie Evergreen,” I asked: What’s incorrect about your last answer?

ChatGPT said: My previous definition may have been overly poetic and metaphorical, deviating from Stephanie Evergreen’s more practical and straightforward approach to data visualization. While the description captures the essence of data visualization as a means of transforming complex data into understandable insights, it may not fully reflect Evergreen’s specific emphasis on practical techniques, clear communication, and audience engagement. In her work, Evergreen often emphasizes the importance of simplicity, clarity, and effectiveness in data visualization, which I may not have sufficiently highlighted in the previous definition.

This is all true. #facts

But it’s incomplete.

Because Evergreen is also funny.

ChatGPT is barely toasted Butternut bread, dry.

I, on the other hand, am fucking hilarious.

And so are you.

ChatGPT is so far from having a personality that it can’t see that what’s missing from its answers IS personality.

So when you’re writing your website copy, your newsletter, your social media posts, stop and ask yourself: Does this sound like ChatGPT wrote it? Or does it sound like this baddie wrote it?

How would this baddie say it?

That’s what resonates. You.

Bio Makeovers

It’s so hard to write about yourself, isn’t it? As uncomfortable as it is to write a bio, it’s one of the first places people will go to see who the heck you are and what makes you credible.

We try to get around the awkwardness and bolster the credibility and bulk up the word count with formality. We add acronyms and list certifications. We jargon it up, like we’re putting on armor.

Except…

No one cares. Because all those letters and phrases aren’t relatable.

Formality creates distance between you and your next client. You know what they really wanna hear? That you understand them. That you’ve been in their situation and know how to help.

Let’s make over a couple bios so you can see how people get this wrong and what would work better.

Yoga Teacher

I googled “yoga teacher kalamazoo” and though I have changed the person’s name, this is the bio of the first person who came back in my search results:

BEGINNING OF BIO

Monique is a Registered Yoga Teacher with 500 hour certification trained by Marlene Stevens. Monique has practiced Yoga for over 20 years and has taught Yoga since 2008. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and a certified Thai Massage and Bodywork Practitioner. Monique started her professional career as a Registered Nurse in France.

In addition to teaching her usual classes, Monique offers private yoga lessons and bodywork. For private lessons and bodywork, please call or write.

​Let Monique unburden you with yoga and massage, and inspire your joie de vivre!

END OF BIO

You know who understands this bio? Monique. And other trained yoga teachers. Who are very obviously NOT Monique’s ideal client, since they don’t need her services.

The rest of us are out here like “Who’s Marlene Stevens? Is that supposed to impress me? Is 500 hours a lot? A little?”

Labels like “Thai Massage” and “Bodywork Practitioner” throw me off because I don’t know what the heck any of that means.

And then she ends the bio with a phrase that may be relevant to her and her French background but I can’t pronounce, even in my head.

None of this makes my heart leap with connection.

My rewrite:

BEGINNING OF BIO

Monique knows how the body strengthens and relaxes – she started out as a registered nurse. Her medical studies and curiosity about the human body led her to yoga, where she found a practice that stretched her weary muscles and centered her soul. Monique discovered a joy of life through yoga. So she formally trained for over 500 hours under a widely-recognized expert (link to the expert’s site) to become a teacher. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can drop into her classes and shine your heart.

END OF BIO

This isn’t perfect but it’s far more relatable. Without the jargon stopping you in your tracks, this rewrite keeps you reading all the way to the end. It tells you enough about her to trust that she knows what she’s doing, minus the alienating lingo.

Therapist

Same, I just googled “therapist kalamazoo” and picked the bio of the first person who showed up. Name changed.

BEGINNING OF BIO

I am a licensed professional counselor in the state of Michigan with over 15 years of experience in working with children, adolescents, adults, families, and individuals seeking support on a variety of levels and concerns. A few of my preferred theoretical approaches include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Solutions Based Counseling. I appreciate working with clients from a holistic perspective as well. I have found that tailoring a treatment plan to the specific needs and goals of each person is important for progress and growth.

I have experience working with clients in a range of areas including but not limited to anxiety, depression, transitional life challenges, family systems, and relational concepts.

END OF BIO

Do you see some of the same issues as the yoga teacher?

We’ve got some jargon in places that are actually super critical for a potential client. “My preferred theoretical approaches…” sounds very important! This is what would tell me whether we’d be a good match. But the end of that sentence has two capitalized phrases that only people who are already in the therapy world would know.

You’ve gotta write your bio for people who are brand new to this whole thing. Your audience is potential clients.

Also, let’s get specific. People relate to details. This therapist seems to work with… absolutely anyone. “On a variety of levels and concerns.” So…. basically anything. This is so generic and vanilla that there’s nothing to grasp on to.

My rewrite:

BEGINNING OF BIO

My very favorite part of being a therapist is seeing my clients catch that critical insight, when the thinking that’s been holding them back finally gets out of the way. Getting to that beautiful place is different for everyone, so I spend time with my patients, crafting a tailored therapeutic plan.

I’m not the kind of therapist that just listens to you talk and asks you how you feel. I partner with you to develop solutions to your life’s biggest obstacles.

I specialize in working with folks who have anxiety and depression, particularly related to life changes and family struggles. But you don’t have to pinpoint your problems before you meet with me. Let’s connect and figure it out together.

END OF BIO

Which one feels like the person who’s gonna really see you, understand you, and help you? One of these bios feels like a hug.

Quick aside: Yoga teacher used 3rd person and Therapist used 1st person. Which is the better way? Write a third person version if someone else is going to read your bio out loud (like introducing you before a talk). Use a first person version on your website.

Data Visualization Specialist

Easy to judge those in other industries, so let’s take one more spin through this, now focusing on data visualization. This is the real bio for a real data viz specialist, Bridget Cogley. She volunteered herself as part of my Boost & Bloom course.

BEGINNING OF BIO

Interpreter turned analyst, Bridget Cogley brings an interdisciplinary approach to data analytics. As Chief Visualization Officer at Versalytix, her role uplifts data visualization within the org and helps shape the vision. Her dynamic, engaging presentation style is paired with thought-provoking content, including ethics and data visualization linguistics. She has a deep interest in the nuances of communication, having been an American Sign Language Interpreter for nine years. She is currently a Tableau Hall of Fame Visionary. Her work incorporates human-centric dashboard design, an anthropological take on design, ethics, and language. She extensively covers speech analytics and open text. Prior to consulting, Bridget managed an analytics department, which included vetting and selecting Tableau, creating views in the database, and building comprehensive reporting. She also has experience in training, HR, managing, and sales support.

END OF BIO

Now, if you know something about the field of data visualization, much of this bio makes sense to you. But then again, if you already know something about the field of data visualization, you aren’t likely to need to use Bridget’s services.

We gotta go Beginner Mind here, my friends.

My rewrite:

BEGINNING OF BIO

Bridget Cogley deeply understands the nuances of communication. She’s the Chief Visualization Officer at Versalytix, where she leads data development to help clients see insights and take action. Bridget used to manage an analytics department, so she knows what data-informed decision-making can do for a company. Clients love her human-centered approach and how she integrates ethics with design.

Bridget’s communication skills extend to the stage – she’s a frequent keynote and trainer. She’s been awarded as a Hall of Fame Visionary at Tableau (a data visualization software company) for her efforts to teach clear data communication. And she’s been an American Sign Language interpreter for nine years.

END OF BIO

I stripped out some of the jargon. I clarified how Bridget’s experience connects to the audience. And I introduced activities Bridget would like to do even more, like train and keynote.

Do you see the differences? Do you FEEL the differences? Write a bio that exudes confidence and relatability – that’s how you build credibility.

PS If you’re curious about my bio, you can see one here and one here.

How to Shut Down a Service

If I include the cost of my own time, I invested north of $40K into the revamp of my one-on-one coaching program. It had been called Graph Guides. And it just wasn’t making me happy.

We saw incredibly uneven enrollment patterns. Some open enrollment windows netted 28 new students. Some only enrolled 9. Which made it hard to predict the labor needed to make the program thrive.

And since this was a boutique one-on-one labor situation, predictability would be great.

That also meant profitability was all over the place.

You know what else looked like the shape of a Jeremy Bearimy? Student outcomes. Some soared. Others limped across the finish line to graduation. And we had some who ghosted after a couple months.

That last group put me in a position where I was chasing folks down and nagging them. Where are you? We miss you.

Honey, I do not nag.

So after the Spring 2022 enrollment window, I hired a consultant to audit the whole program and tell me how to fix it. Oh shoot, I forgot to add in the consultant fees to the first sentence of this post. +$4K.

Tell me if this is true for you: When I have anxiety, I feel it in my torso. Like, from my gut to my heart, the front of my body feels like it’s protruding an extra 6 inches.

That’s what I felt when I read the consultant feedback. Not sure I could do / wanted to do everything they recommended to sweeten registration and secure more graduates.

I wasn’t sure that I could do enough to increase predictability, profitability, and student outcomes.

But one thing I do know for sure is that I can trust myself to figure it out.

So I sat on the boardwalk in Copenhagen with my paper cup of red wine and my takeout pizza, made a promise to put everything I’ve got into revamping the program, and started sketching a plan.

I skipped the Fall 2022 enrollment period and spent the next 8 months renovating the program from top to bottom. One last time. This would be the do-or-die.

Girl, it died.

I’m now on the other side of the Spring 2023 enrollment, wrapping up the final graduation requirements for the last student in this year-long coaching program. I’m post morteming.

Despite a stronger curriculum, tighter coaching plans, an incredible sales page, paid advertising, a clearer articulation of the program’s value, higher prices, stunning student testimonials, a new name, and endless spreadsheet tweaking to figure out how to make it profitable… the program doesn’t work.

We didn’t get the high number of applications I was hoping for. But I did get plenty of requests for significant discounts. Which was a sign that I still hadn’t made a compelling case for the value students get out of the program. So the enrollment test was a bust.

I was still really pumped about the students we accepted. And I still focused on giving them my all for this year together.

But when it comes to the profitability test, boutique one-on-one coaching is simply expensive. It’s labor intensive. Even though I increased the cost, it still wasn’t high enough to make the program feasible (especially factoring in the investment I made into the reno). We do benefit from some economies of scale but if the enrollment numbers are low, there’s no scaling that economy.

We busted our asses for a 100% graduation rate but ended with 67% graduates. While I’ve learned this is actually quite high for the field, it isn’t high enough for me. The student outcomes test failed. I’m proud of our graduates but that isn’t enough to run a program.

When I was in the midst of the enrollment window, I was having coffee with a friend and explaining my uncertainty. She said “In my world of parks and rec, the worst weather forecast was a 30% chance of rain. Because you have to prepare for both circumstances – rain or shine.”

My 8-month program renovation was a 30% chance of rain phase.

It feels really good to have 100% clarity, even if it’s a 100% chance of rain.

A Boost & Bloom student asked me how to whittle down her three services to just one – the one she loved the most. I gave her the same advice I’m taking for myself.

If you need to shut down a service:

Know your tests. What are you using to gauge success or failure? Mine were enrollment, profitability, and student outcomes. You’ve gotta decide your tests ahead of time and stick to them ruthlessly. Because emotions are thick up in these moments. So you need some pre-determined clear parameters that’ll let you take your ego out of it.

Stop talking about it. If your tests are showing you it’s time to move on, remove the service from your website. Don’t brag about it on your socials. Make no mention that you offer the service. (Ok, I have yet to fully implement this – I’m gonna brag the hell outta this cohort of graduates.)

My Boost & Bloomer was a little spooked by that idea – she didn’t want to cut off an income stream before the service that made her heart sing was a full orchestra. I get that.

Market in the direction you want to grow. Turn your focus. Your socials should be all about your favorite service. Write up success stories of past clients in this space. Gather their testimonials and post that ish everywhere. That’ll draw you more people who are seeking out the one thing you love to do.

Thank yourself for the discernment. You gotta know when to hold em and know when to fold em. It’s a blessing to recognize that something has reached its end – that way you can let it go with grace.

Have you ever finally gotten to the point where you realized something wasn’t working for you anymore? What was it and how did you cut it off? Email me.

You Can Turn Off The Comments

It’s your blog. Your social media. You get to choose the rules.

Early in my days of content creation, I totally didn’t understand that I was in charge. My blog platform contained a comments feature that was turned on by default and I didn’t even question it.

Nor did I need to, at first. I was posting every couple weeks and you wanna know how many comments I got?

Zero.

I was praying for comments. Someone, please, let me know you’re out there.

It took a few months, but they came. Here’s the first, from someone who is still a good friend, Stuart Henderson, regarding an early checklist for reports that I published.

Feels good, right? In fact, most of those early people have become dear to me. Most comments were sweet and supportive.

Until they weren’t.

The first negative comment made my knees shake. Sweat immediately poured from my armpits. My face got hot, my brain felt dizzy, and I thought I was gonna puke.

That negative comment rolled around in my brain, obsessively, for at least three days.

I’d post it for you here but I think I deleted it. 😶 In fact, I’m pretty sure I deleted my entire post. Let’s just act like that never happened.

But after another few months, it happened again. While I hyperventilated into a paper bag, even more replies posted, in which people started arguing with each other AND me. Big names in the data viz world tapped in to the fight:

I blurred out most of it because the actual content isn’t relevant but LOOK AT THE LENGTH OF THE REPLY.

This forced to the surface a very valid question: Does posting also make you responsible for hosting a public debate about your ideas?

Is there an obligation to provide a platform for negativity? Even if they have a point? Even if they’re trolls?

The default mode on blogs and social media posts has always been Comments On. You enter the arena, you better be open to the good, the bad, and the ugly. The entire Internet is a forum for open commentary. Put on your boxing gloves and get out there.

But… says who? I mean, who established those rules? Tech is disproportionately white and male.

Who populates those forums and engages in those debates? At least in my comments, it’s mostly white men. And exclusively so when the comments go negative.

The model that brings them some sort of fulfillment doesn’t work for me. I have better, bigger things to do with my time than moderate Stephen vs Andy vs Jon vs Jeff vs me.

So I turned off the comments. To be clear, first I wrestled with what this means for democratic thought and transparency and oh what will these people think of me. For a few days. Then I just went into WordPress and clicked the button to turn off comments. It’s remarkably easy.

Same deal on LinkedIn. You can just turn off the comments if you want.

It’s your call. That’s the important part here: It’s your call. You get to decide how you’ll put your thoughts out there in the world.

Signs of Burnout

The surest sign of burnout is when your emotional reactions are disproportionate to the event itself.

The real work is in understanding how that disproportionate reaction manifests for you, so I’m gonna lay out some examples from my life in hopes that you can recognize yourself somewhere in here too.

Personally, when I’m burned out, my emotions become so fried and fragile that I cry at just about anything.

Another email from someone interested in booking a workshop with me? 😭 because I just can’t handle one more thing. When an appropriate, proportionate reaction would be to hit reply and politely decline.

I’ve also overate or overdrank. One glass of champagne to celebrate the launch of a new product makes sense. Three glasses is an attempt to drown your stress.

In 2020, I quit sleeping well. Getting 4 hours, max. Usually woken up by a pounding chest and drenched in sweat. I thought it was very early menopause. Or possibly a heart murmur. Turns out it was just stress. Your body disproportionately reacts on your behalf. (Other body clues: You get sick.)

Friends of mine have gone blank. They’re so overextended and exhausted that nothing really registers anymore. I get texts like “I don’t even remember the last three hours of my life.”

Like, the kids said they were hungry and you went through the motions of throwing together some mac and cheese while answering work emails while the preteen prattles on about what happened in Mythic Quest while….

A normal reaction would be overwhelm. You’d close your laptop. You’d focus your preteen on dumping the powdered cheese food product onto the noodles. A disproportionate reaction would be to fracture yourself into so many parts that you aren’t you anymore and therefore your brain doesn’t function.

Other forms of going blank: mindlessly binging TV or social media (this includes YouTube), playing solitaire on your phone for hours, not wanting to get out of bed.

Readers show me they’re burned out when they reply to my newsletter with an angry five-part essay about how wrong I am.

Hear me out – I’m definitely not always right.

But a point-by-point fiery dissertation? When someone starts multiple sentences with “In fact,” inside the same paragraph? Honey, you sound like you need a hug, a nap, and…

The only solution to burnout is to *permanently* cut back your responsibilities.

Some ideas:

Shrink your team.

Institute a 4 day work week.

Raise your rates and take fewer projects.

Drastically shift the distribution of household labor.

Pick a date that will be your final day at your salaried job.

For sure:

Burnout can’t be solved by sending the kids to the grandparents for the weekend.

A vacation in the Caribbean sun will be nice but it isn’t a cure because as soon as you get back on Monday you’ll be stepping directly into all the burnout-inducing chaos once again.

Tools to regulate your nervous system, like yoga and meditation, can help you bear the current stack of (too many) responsibilities but they don’t fundamentally change your circumstances.

Do you see yourself in here anywhere? What are your burnout signs? How long have you been experiencing them? What permanent changes are in store? Tell me.

To What End?

The best guidance my therapist ever gave me was through posing this question: To what end?

I musta been on a typical complaint about being stressed from work. Work I love. Work I made, since I started my own company. But still. So much of it.

She asked: To what end? Why are you working so much?

Me: So that I can save the world and help people and make a bunch of money along the way.

Her: To what end?

See, the world will never be “saved.” At least not by me. Not in this lifetime.

The number of people I could potentially help is well beyond my capacity, even if I grew a staff of 10,000. I’ll never be able to help them all.

And the money? You know it’ll only take you so far.

So… what’s the end game?

Up until that point, my loosely-defined goal was “as much as possible.” Let’s aim for infinity and make the journey fun.

Except that’s not reality. When you’re doing this:

Hungry Cbs GIF by Paramount+ - Find & Share on GIPHY

It doesn’t matter if the chocolates are worlds to save, lives to improve, or dollars in your bank account, you get sick. It’s gross.

This is how you burnout.

“To what end?” forced me to think about a better defined business goal. Because your goal ultimately shapes your day-to-day.

Thoughtful small businesses usually have one of three major end goals:

Sell.

In this model, you’ll ultimately plan to sell your company and its intellectual property to someone else. If you’re running for this goal, you’ll likely focus on creating processes you can patent, you’ll trademark things, you’ll strive to product-ize your work.

The more systems you create, the faster someone else can step in and pick up right where you left off. And the easier it will be to get a valuation and enter into buy out talks.

Your day-to-day includes innovating new things and making them replicable and marketable. You might have staff implementing your established processes, but it’s also likely that you have a lot of folks in research and development, testing new patentable ideas.

Think of any tech start up on the West Coast and you’ve probably got a company with a Sell goal.

Though my financial planner has been pressing me to think of selling upon retirement, I’ve never considered that to be my goal for Evergreen Data.

Legacy.

Entrepreneurs focused on making a legacy will spend more of their time building a reputation.

That could look like heavy engagement in thought leadership or book writing. Sure, some thing might get trademarked in the process but that thing is inherently tied to its inventor.

Or it could be more like focusing on an extremely high quality deliverable that makes you incredibly attractive and memorable.

For example, I’m thinking of a dear elder in my family who started an architectural and engineering firm that he named after himself – Byce and Associates. He trained an expert staff and eventually sold the company (Sell!) but the new owners kept the same name because the legacy and reputation were so strong.

Think about your field – those big names are probably in this Legacy category.

Lifestyle.

People running Lifestyle businesses aim to work enough to support their desired lifestyle and no more. Your workload is naturally capped by your personal ambitions.

Lifestyle entrepreneurs tend to see more balance in their day-to-day. They don’t as often work a whole weekend writing another journal article – they’re more likely to be planning their next vacation or working in their garden.

They’re still running a business of course so they’ll still have some thought leadership and some staff perhaps but scaling to a team of dozens isn’t important. They don’t feel a need to leave their mark on their industry. They want to do important work and then go to Greece.

The accountant who earns all the income he needs in the first four months of the year and then closes shop to live his life for the other 8 – that’s a Lifestyle business.

So, to what end?

These are the three primary end goals I see. Each one naturally manifests in a very different daily practice. When my therapist asked me “to what end?” I didn’t know how to answer her and that’s likely because I was trying to do all of these at the same time. It was exhausting me.

These end goals aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re more like the three corners of a triangle. You can be anywhere in between. I personally go back-and-forth between them in different seasons of my life.

Where do you think you are right now?

The Components of a Good Social Media Post

Friends, the algorithms are always changing. But as sure as the sun rises tomorrow, the algorithms always prioritize and promote posts that are structured a certain way. I’ll tell you what’s working in Spring 2024 – no guarantees this will last forever.

The other guarantee: This won’t make you viral. But it will work to get engagement and engagement is where you build your brand.

Good, solid, business-based social posts have 3 things:

Pictures

These days the platforms value pictures posted as (1) videos or (2) a swipe-able carousel of several static images.

A point

Add text please! This isn’t like the olden days of Instagram where you literally just post a photo.

A call to action

Ask your followers to do something. If you’re being business-savvy, you’ll use this as an opportunity to get them to use your services in some way.

Let’s look at a few examples of successful static posts!

Nina’s Social Media Post

Check out this LinkedIn post from my friend Nina Sabarre. She runs Intention 2 Impact.

Nina’s post includes a swipeable set of images, including this cover image, that capture her 5 hot takes from a recent conference.

Each hot take is, of course, the point of the post.

And her call to action is to invite engagement by asking followers to reply with their memorable moments from the conference.

Nina also made the smart move of tagging several others to bring this post to their attention. 5 reposts – that’s pretty good. 47 likes – cool! This is a really solid post.

Nicole’s Social Media Post

Here’s another example, this time an Instagram post from a former mentee, Nicole Rankins.

Instagram can be so image-forward that people sometimes don’t even read the accompanying text. So Nicole’s image includes a note to see more in the captions.

The first line of her caption – which is all most will see until they tap See More – is a nice hook that makes you want to keep reading. Her caption is full of points. Real insights and help.

Her caption is so long you can’t even see the call to action in this one screenshot. It is:

“And if you’re looking for questions to help you decide if you’re with the right doctor, check out my FREE class on how to make your birth plan. Head to my profile to grab it now!”

She’s giving her followers next steps to take that get even more practical useful advice from her. 94 likes – awesome! When the call to action guides followers out of the post, you can bet the like count is inaccurate because rather than tapping the heart, people are tapping into Nicole’s bio and taking the action.

You can sub out the graphics for a video, too. Just you talking to the camera. It takes less time in Canva and a wee bit more courage. Even if you have video, you’d still want a caption with a point and a call to action.

This info changes day-to-day but at the time I’m writing this post (early Spring 2024) the data is saying that the best engagement comes from captions that are 30 words or less.

If you’re worried how your new social media posts will be received, send me the link to your post and I promise, I’ll drop a comment and a heart.

Little Legal Things

I never thought I’d say this, but thank god for lawyers.

I had assumed my business was so lil and cute that I wouldn’t generally need legal advice. Until the day I did! (Isn’t this always how the story goes?) My lawyer taught me so much about the little legal things I didn’t know I 100% needed.

So now I’ll tell you.

But if you’re like me, you also want the tea on the legal sitch I was in. I’ll start there.

Someone we’ll call Jon signed up for my Data Viz Academy. After a few weeks, he wrote me to say he’d downloaded all the templates, got what he needed, and would now like a refund.

After I stopped 🤣, I replied with the statement I have posted in multiples on the website, including on the payment page: There are no refunds.

Jon f-r-e-a-k-e-d. He started emailing me many times every day.
He claimed I was taking away his vacation with his daughter.
I was causing him so much stress he couldn’t function at work and will lose his job.
He was going to report me to the Royal Bank.
He’s really very sorry about his rash responses and now that he’s calm could he please have a refund?
He has no choice but to blast me on social media.
My work is all trash and why would he want it anyway.

Not much rattles me anymore. I assumed he has some mental health struggles and that this would die down soon. But the day I got 10 emails in a 5 hour span of time I decided this was harassment and contacted a lawyer.

She helped me tighten my legal bolts.

I had been missing a few elements. There’s nothing I could have done to keep someone like Jon from being very Jon up in my inbox but I had some holes to close. Some of these legal lessons are only relevant to online courses but others likely apply to you if you have a website.

Document everything.

First order of business was to compile the timeline of actions and communications from Jon.

In my searching, I discovered that Jon had actually already done this to me years earlier, back when I did allow refunds. Same thing – signed up, downloaded a bunch of my resources, then asked for a refund. Ya busted, Buddy.

This information all went into the cease and desist letter to Jon from my lawyer.

Beef up the terms and conditions.

The terms and conditions need to include the no refund policy (mine did) with extra language that applies to European regulations. Because Jon lived in Europe. As do many of my students. And Europe has a 14-day refund period for online purchases, no questions asked. UNLESS you have something explicitly addressing it in your T & C.

This could be something to consider if you have any kind of sign up form on your website. Like, if you have a freebie people can download. Your terms and conditions would be where you’d state what people can and can’t do with your intellectual property if they download it. Would you be ok if they posted it on their website? If they printed 800 copies and distributed them at a conference without your knowledge?

We both know that no one reads the terms and conditions. But this is how you protect yourself if something comes up. And it probably won’t. Until it does.

Make agreement to the T & C a mandatory part of sign up.

To be extra legal, you can’t just say “By clicking the Submit button, you agree to the terms and conditions.” Nope. You gotta make people manually check the box – active consent – that says “By checking this box you agree blah blah blah.”

You’ve done this yourself on countless websites and it’s annoying but now you know why.

The annoying cookies notice.

Again, if you collect people’s information at all, your website / customer management system is using cookies and you’ve gotta tell people. It’s the worst, isn’t it? I tried to make mine at least slightly on brand.

This has nothing to do with The Jon Problem but my lawyers were like, while you’re in the site making changes…

Post a privacy policy.

You have to also tell people what you’ll do to protect their name and email. If you’re going to share their email whatsoever, you have to tell them. That includes sharing it from your website to your email newsletter program, for example. If you accept payments online, you have to spell out how credit card info is kept private.

Thankfully, a lot of this language is prewritten boilerplate and you can buy templates from my lawyer here. (I don’t get a kickback or anything, I just want you to feel some relief that you don’t have to invent this from scratch.)

Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer. I’m just telling you stories about the legal lessons that I learned and you know I’m legally required to tell you to get your own lawyer.

I hope you never have your own Jon Problem. But chances are, the more you grow your business, the more you’ll attract a personal Jon. Please please learn from my experience and put some protections in place.

When the Client Overruns the Schedule

Are we all in on the farce?

When you’re proposing a project and the prospective client wants deliverables attached to deadlines, does everyone know it’s pretty much bullshit?

I’m picking dates out of the clear blue sky. They’re as fictional as what the Jetsons thought the future looked like.

Because 95% of projects do not go according to plan. How could they? There are just so many unknowns.

Well, to be honest, the one thing I do know for sure is that the client will not get me feedback on the draft deliverables in a timely manner. It doesn’t matter who they are or how much I like them or how good the intentions are or how much we all want the project to succeed.

It just doesn’t happen.

I shouldn’t be so hyperbolic. I do get timely feedback once in a while – and it invariably comes with requests to undo things they previously asked me to do.

Either way, we will not meet the deadline.

Early Founder Stephanie was such a people pleaser that I’d let clients trample my boundaries and timelines and mental health. Old Me would have pulled some late nights and early mornings turning these large requests into miracles before the deadline.

Which we all knew was arbitrary in the first place.

How can we handle a schedule overrun while also maintaining our sanity?

When this happened last year, my team and I could see a schedule overrun early on.

Red Flag: If your project involves data collection. Even if that’s just a matter of scraping existing data from online sources. You will overrun the schedule.

Communicate early. I began telling the client “I need x by y date in order to stay on track for this project.”

Communicate often. Though they said they understood, they also blew past the dates I had put in place. Every single time. I changed my messaging to “We’ll do our best to get as far as possible in the time we have but I’m giving you a heads up right now that it’s likely we won’t make the deadline we stated in the contract.” I said a version of that so many times that it came as no surprise when the deadline was in the rearview mirror.

Then a wrecking ball hit our timeline: My point-of-contact took a new job. We switched horses mid-stream. New horse asked for us to undo things the last horse asked us to do. This set us back a month. My first two strategies to prevent an overrun were moot.

Communicate clearly. This is the point where my team and I could see that deadline was gonna crash into deadline and the whole project would spill over past the contract’s end date.

Option A was to stress out my team with demands to push harder and just make it happen. But who wants to live that life??

Option B was to work with the client to extend the end date on the contract and overlap the end of this project with the start of new projects we had on the horizon. In some cases, my team had, months earlier when the sky was bluer, told other clients they couldn’t begin work until another project (this one) ended and had promised start dates that were now looming. Extending this end date would still create a stressful scramble.

Ok there may be 23 more options but I chose Option C, which was “It’s no one’s fault in particular but we are unfortunately so far behind the schedule at this point that we won’t make our contract’s end date. My team and I have obligated time in our schedules through the end of the original contract period and we won’t be available after that date. We can work together to hand off the project to you to wrap up. If you still need our input, we can consult on an hourly basis starting in October.”

I mustered up my courage, did 10 jumping jacks, and hit send on that message.

They understood. They appreciated the plan for a hand-off. And they asked for an hourly contract to start in October.

Or, at least, that’s what the email said. For all I know, they were cursing my name back at their office. And it was that reaction I was actually afraid of. I didn’t want to make my clients mad at me.

Remnants of that old People Pleasing Stephanie were still kicking around.

The rational part of me knew that the clients were the ones who ignored the timeline. This wasn’t on me or my team. Yet that logic couldn’t quiet the fear of someone being mad at me. You can’t logic an emotion.

You know what worked?

When I realized that the choice was between taking the risk that my clients would be at me and being absolutely sure I would be mad at myself for allowing a stressful work culture that required multiple all nighters to make up for other people’s errors.

I’m still people pleasing. I’m just counting me and my team as people, too.

Laughable Contract Clauses

I have a short and sweet contract. It’s 1 page long. As soon as I sniff that a potential client and I are getting to the contract phase, I offer to draft one up for us. Because I hate – HATE – dealing with boilerplate contracts.

They take a hundred years of my life to read closely.

They’re full of legalese I’m sure is intended to make the average Jane feel dumb.

And they’re usually distributed without regard for the actual scope under negotiation.

Corporate and government legal departments are not writing contracts with the best interest of your small business in mind. They assume you’re so thirsty for work you’re going to sign without reading very closely.

I took one for the team and identified several ridiculous contract clauses that you shouldn’t agree to.

Laughable Contract Clause A:

I’m absolutely not looking up some arcane statute buried deep in some document that isn’t even linked to attest to my compliance.

Among many other statues in one particular contract, I had to swear to uphold one single line that linked to a set of provisions that’s 417 pages long.

Laughable Contract Clause B:

This is only 25% of the required wording they want me to print onto a flyer and post in my office. Where I work by myself. While many of these clauses don’t apply to solo enterprises, they also aren’t applicable to the modern workforce, where large teams work remote. What, are we gonna print and mail flyers that every employee has to post in their living room? No.

I had a contract that wanted me to attest I’ve done all of this under penalty of perjury.

Exhibit C:

Though I’m with you in spirit and will absolutely vote, I’m not. posting. flyers.

Exhibit D:

Can you even imagine what my office would look like with all these freakin posters?

Here’s a good one. Exhibit E:

I have to provide proof of auto insurance? For a virtual workshop?

I’ve argued with procurement departments over this one, multiple times. Cars are not involved in the execution of this work. What if people don’t even own a car?

Exhibit F:

Not even 48 business hours. Nope. Not answering emails on a Sunday.

Plus, this contract had three different places where I had to agree to provide a certification of compliance that I don’t use child labor.

I’ve reviewed a contract for a colleague new to the biz where the contract required a physical fitness test. For a virtual design gig.

Have you ever seen a laughable contract clause? Please tell me about it.

The boilerplate is so fully cooked that most procurement officers don’t even look at the scope of the work under contract to see if it’s applicable.

You might be thinking, oh screw it. If procurement isn’t looking at the contract, they surely won’t follow up and ask me for this documentation.

And that would be a very foolish move, my dear.

I have 100% been asked, within 10 minutes of emailing my signature on the contract, for every bit of documentation.

The advice is, of course, to get a lawyer on your team who can review each of your contracts and create counters when necessary.

To be totally honest, I didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer to review each piece of paper when I got started.

I also don’t need a lawyer to recognize ridiculous when I see it.

These days, though I do have a lawyer I can hit up when needed, I make the first move and red line any clauses that don’t work for me. Contracts aren’t set in stone. You have the authority to ask for adjustments or strike outs.

That also means the potential client has the authority to reject your edits and create an impasse. At which point you get to decide if getting a certification of compliance that you don’t hire children is worth the effort. And THIS, my friend, is why you don’t count the money until the ink is dry.

Your Scale and Sustain Seven

We don’t have many memoirs and resources about keeping your business rooted in your values. Pushing back against that toxic capitalism can feel lonely. People will be out there telling you it means you can’t care about social justice and also charge your worth.  

But Dr. Mindelyn Anderson is out here running Mirror Group and doing exactly that. She isn’t alone. On a panel together, Mindelyn mentioned that every entrepreneur needs a Fab Five at their side.

I’m smiling and nodding in agreement but in my head I’m thinking What’s a Fab Five and how do I get one for myself?

I knew you’d wanna know too so let me introduce you to Dr. Mindelyn Anderson.

She’s the Founder and CEO of Mirror Group, an evaluation firm that focuses on data and equity, where, as a Black woman, she’s hired a roster of staff that are almost entirely women of color.

The thing I love most about her is that she’s really good at working on the business and not just in the business. From that perspective, she can now better recognize when her team gets burned out and set the conditions and resource the support to fiercely protect their time and energy. She’s a good boss and she can be a good boss because she isn’t trying to go at it alone.

Speaking about her support system, Mindelyn said “My Fab 5 has expanded fully into a Scale and Sustain Seven!”

Here they are, how often Mindelyn meets with them, and the biggest burning question she brings to each.

Supportive Loved One

Meets Daily/Weekly

Biggest Burning Question
To My Husband Donovan: When do we get to take a vacation? A grown up, just us and not our 4 children whom we love and adore vacation. In Paris, France! 🙂

To My Sister Dana: When is “auntie and uncle camp” open again? You missed the kids’ Winter Break, but Spring Break will be here before we know it. Your nieces pieces (our 3 daughters) and nugget (our son) miss you and their Mommy and Papi would love a break.

Stephanie’s Note Ok, so Mindelyn’s supportive loved ones have a specific role of pressing pause on life’s stressors and creating a space to breathe.

Mentor

Meets Monthly/Quarterly

Biggest Burning Question
Restructuring takes a long time, and I know that is part of the rhythm of business as you told me all those years ago. I am starting to see the silver lining in all of this and I know there is more to come that you have experienced time and again. Tell me, what’s next just beyond the horizon? 

Mindelyn’s Clarification My mentors are seasoned folks who happen to be in the same field as me (evaluation, learning and strategy consulting).

These mentors provide guidance about our content area (evaluation), consulting (how we do the work) as well as leadership, and holistic work and life considerations when you are an entrepreneur/business owner with family and community obligations.

They range from 20-40 years of business experience and I remain grateful for their time and the mutual mentorship and support we have developed over time.

CPA/Tax Accountant

Meets Every 2 months or quarterly, more frequently during tax preparation and filing season

Biggest Burning Question
It’s tax filing season, so we have the usual things to do. Yes, I am gathering those documents and yes, I am placing them in the secure portal. Will we be able to profit share through the 401k again this year even though we did not meet our projected 2023 revenue goals? 

Stephanie’s Note Juicy question! Most of us only view our accountant as a bean counter but Mindelyn’s asking for strategic thought partnership here.

Lawyer

Meets Monthly or every 2 months, more frequently during an active risk management event (Stephanie’s Note OMG I want the tea on what “active risk management event” means.)

Biggest Burning Question
I adore you. You are always here for the contract reviews, risk management, mediation and more. Now that I am t-minus 5 months from fully settling into the CEO seat, is it time to start board development planning? Or am I getting too ahead of myself? 

CFO/Management Accountant

Meets Monthly or twice monthly, more frequently during budget prep and audits

Biggest Burning Question
I miss you. You were there to upgrade us from spreadsheets to an accounting system with charts of accounts. You created our first organizational budget with cost pools. You showed me how to “job cost” and ensure profitably while paying people equitably. You created that amazing workbook and always updated it and transformed it whenever I was bidding on a new project. I see we are no longer a “gazelle company” so what can we expect for our future financial trends and performance and how does that inform our FY 2024 budget?

Stephanie’s Note Reader, are you seeing patterns in Mindelyn’s questions? She’s consulting with her support system about the future. She isn’t seeking them out to reflect on past victories and mistakes. Mindelyn’s gaze is facing forward.

Business Coach

Meets Monthly, more frequently during surge periods of focused area of growth

Biggest Burning Question
I need you to help set out selection criteria for People & Culture vendors. And while we are at that, is it too much to ask you to join the vendor interview team?  

Mindelyn’s Clarification My business coach(es) came much later than my mentor. My first taste of these were as enhancements to entrepreneur cohorts that I participated in where they also provide short-term coaches.

I grew to love and really appreciate the insights that seasoned executives outside of my subject matter/content field could offer, especially regarding business operations. Many folks claim to be business coaches, but those who I work best with are entrepreneurial, have built from the ground up, scaled, and often sold more than 1 business, have not only been CEOs but also #2s to CEOs (e.g. COO, CTO, CIO, CFO).

They have the line of sight of ”been there, done that,” assurance that what I’m experiencing is a part of the journey, and a heads up for what’s likely to come next though remaining open for anything.

They have also been the most impactful to help me get out of my own way, have that mindset shift to not be in all the things, stop being the bottleneck in my business, and grow in comfort and readiness to create space for other dynamic leaders at Mirror Group.

Business Banker

Meets Quarterly, more frequently when actively assessing financing needs, seeking capital, and setting up new business banking accounts

Biggest Burning Question
Thank you for setting up that new vendor payment account for us. Accounting processes are running more smoothly and financial forecasting is more robust now that we can more easily segregate vendor expenses from employee expenses. Now, can you tell me more about contract spend-down and investment accounts?

Stephanie’s Note Mindelyn is clearly wearing the CEO hat (rather than, say, the subject matter expert hat) and focusing on sustainable growth in super strategic directions (profit sharing!) that align with her values.

And it’s really hard to do that all by yourself.

Everybody – Mindelyn, you, me – we all need a crew at our back that can advise us through our own thoughts and worries and hopes. I see too many entrepreneurs who rely on their employees or contractors for this advice. And that’s inappropriate. That’s not their role. In fact, it’s way beyond their pay grade.

You have to find an external posse, who has expertise in your particular area of need. Actually, in all 7 areas of need.

Who makes up your Scale and Sustain Seven? Do you have any gaps to fill?

Schedule a Photo Shoot

That blurry shot of you, clearly out with your friends but their faces are cropped out? Not gonna cut it. You need to schedule a photo shoot.

I underestimated how much I’d need photos until I got my first batch. Now I have a photo shoot annually.

You’ll use these shots to professionalize your website and seriously up your branding. Check out my IG grid to see what I mean. Notice how my actual face (and often my glam shoes) are in many of my posts.

My social media consultant has run the numbers on my posts (across all my platforms) and the posts with my actual face always get the most likes and engagement.

Oh, you HATE taking photos? So does everyone, Honey. Same way we hate listening to our own voice. Get over it and call a friend with a good camera.

A Photo Shoot Plan

The goal here is to get as many unique-ish photos as possible out of one appointment.

Which means you’ll need to:

1. Find a location with a variety of backdrops. Don’t take all of your photos in front of the same tree. Your photographer may have some good ideas for you. We found local spaces specifically designed for photo shoots, with plants, couches, a bed (!), a desk, and great lighting, that we could rent hourly (makes the bed even more questionable).

2. Plan for at least three outfit changes. Be sure your clothes are all in the same color family so you can make anything on your lower half match anything on your upper half. Then a quick switch of one half gets you a new outfit. Bring jackets for another quick change.

Don’t forget your underwear. True story: I needed my nude padded bra (don’t judge) but forgot it at home. I was wearing a super flattening black sports bra that you can see through some of the light-colored shirts I’d packed for that shoot.

3. Bring props and accessories. Glasses. Earrings. Your laptop. Anything with your logo on it, like a coffee mug. The combinations of these first three points will get you a ton of unique-ish photos.

I’ll also add: Bring your hair tools. And take time to restyle whenever you want. In one of my early photo shoots, I felt so rushed (people pleaser trying not to waste the photographer’s time) that I was racing through outfit changes at the expense of my hair.

4. Provide some inspo for your photographer. I sent my photographer examples of exactly what I was looking for.

This:

Became this:

This:

Inspired this:

Just search on some of your favorite people (famous, semi-famous, whatever) and paste ideas into Pinterest or even a Google Doc.

5. Ask for portrait and landscape. Landscape works great on your website but portrait is usually better for social media.

6. Get your head in the right space. I wouldn’t have believed how much mindset could make a difference until I saw it in myself, in two photo shoots just a few months apart.

At the photo shoot below, I was relaxed. We had good tunes blasting. There was a cat running around. More broadly, work was good, my family life was happy. It shows:

At the photo shoot below, I was incredibly rushed. I had just arrived at the location after a 4-hour stressful drive, which included a fight with my partner. I only had 20 minutes to network and take photos before heading to my next event. I was tense. Broadly speaking, it was just a few weeks before my divorce.

I was in a totally different headspace and it shows. (Though my jacket is still effin amazing.)

You can’t control all the variables in your life but you can prepare as much as possible to be in a good headspace leading up to your photo shoot. Make a playlist. Bring a buddy. Put joy in your heart.

Do you have a favorite headshot? I’d love to see it!

Shoulders back,
Stephanie

Quality Control

Have you ever used Frontline? It’s that flea and tick medication you put on Crackers or Captain.

Did you know that the US Food and Drug Administration can show up to the Frontline factory at any time, completely unannounced, for a surprise inspection?

Dule Hill Surprise GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Thank goodness, right? I want that level of quality control over something that impacts the health of my pets.

Quality control means there’s an internal set of standards plus an expectation that the standards are consistently met.

Do you have an internal set of standards for your work?

You might think your natural perfectionistic tendencies will ensure that your work is high quality. I promise, they will not save you here. You can’t just rely on some gut instinct about what good looks like.

Because as much as you might have perfection, you also have whims. Wild hairs.

And a fallible memory.

Plus, being a perfectionist sucks.

And don’t forget what happens when you start to hire some subcontractors.

Document what a minimum standard of care would look like. You can leave room for whims or deviations to cater to the client, if you want.

What elements are required such that you’d still be proud to put your name on it? Write that down.

Do you have a way to check that your standards are consistently met?

It isn’t enough to have thought through your standards and communicated them. That’s like writing down the driving laws and giving them to a 16 year old with the keys to a car. No, you’ve gotta teach and train and check in.

This might mean you have a subcontractor shadow you for a while until they’re independent. And then you check their work. You pop in on a workshop or rerun some of their stats or drop a paragraph into a plagiarism checker.

You don’t have to jump out of the bushes like the FDA. You should tell your team how you’ll monitor quality.

But quality control has to occur even if you don’t have subcontractors or employees.

This could look like having an editor read through your blog posts (I don’t have this, as you can probably tell ha!)

Quality control could be having an agreement with a trusted colleague to be the second set of eyes for each other’s reports.

Feedback surveys will never be a sufficient quality control measure. While they’re valuable, your clients don’t know what your internal standards look like. Feedback surveys can only tell you how it was, not how it was compared to what you planned for it to be.

Consistent high-quality work is a result of quality control measures. What do yours look like? Tell me.

👯‍♀️ Calendar + To Do List 👯‍♀️

This is simple math but incredibly hard to pull off: your calendar and your to do list have to equal each other. They have to walk in the same step. Be a symbiotic pair.

If your to do list for Wednesday looks like this:

Write a blog post
Develop proposal for ERC
Prep the workshop for VGB
Develop draft #1 of GF dashboard
Send 2 month check in email to LP
Plan next week’s social media posts
Revise the visuals for NYS workshop
Follow up with JB about potential gig
Meet with developers to review decision tree

But your Wednesday calendar looks like this:

That math ain’t mathin. More than half the to do list doesn’t have a space in the calendar where it’ll actually get done. The calendar, likewise, has no breathing room for handling the miscellanea of running a business.

So, what happens?

People cut the yoga and meditation time.
Skip the gym.
Forego the family time.
Sit back down at the computer after 8:30pm and knock out a few more hours.
Scrimp sleep and all the things that keep your mental health in check.

You can only do that for so long before you burn out.

You’ll know it’s getting bad when you get that dread in your stomach pit about a half hour after you wake up.

Or when you wake up at 3am thinking about all the things you have to do.

You work weekends (or, since you can work whenever you want, you’re working when you don’t actually want to be).

You get mad at the project manager for doing her job because she’s assigning you tasks in Asana.

The little dictator on your shoulder is both pressuring you and panicking at the same time.

At least, this is how I know burnout is at my doorstep. What are your signs? Email me.

If you’re having any of these experiences, it’s a warning light from Burnout Beacon. And the first place to look for the fix is the matchup between your calendar and your to do list.

My burnout prevention routine: On a Friday, open the calendar and to do list.

Look at the to do list and rearrange or regroup similar tasks. Like, if I need to follow up with potential clients and check in with past clients and send warm up emails for upcoming workshop participants, those are all inbox activities. So I group them together into the same day with my to do list.

I’m batching the to do list.

Then I look ahead at the coming week and put blocks in the calendar (even as small as 15 minutes, so long as that’s realistic) for everything on my to do list, starting with the most urgent activities.

Whatever remains on the to do list gets rescheduled to the following week.

In theory, this means I don’t ever get that crushing panic because I know there’s time allotted for me to deal with everything I need to do. It may still feel like a lot, but I know I have the space to handle it all.

If, after a few weeks, I notice that I’m rescheduling the same activities again and again, that’s my sign that I simply don’t have the time to do everything I’d like to do right now. I’ve probably taken on more than five projects.

I move those perpetually rescheduled activities off my to do list (seeing them turn red invites guilt) and onto a post it note titled with a future month. I can do it. Later.

If I were really good at time management, I wouldn’t be waiting until Friday to look at next week’s schedule. At that point, it’s almost too late, you know? Sometimes I’ve just overcommitted myself.

Proper time management would probably plan a quarter in advance. (Is this what Lean Six Sigmas do? I’ve never really known.)

But the reality is you can’t schedule that far ahead, even if you have current projects that will run that time. Clients are late. You need a sick day. Life happens.

So it isn’t helpful or wise to pop “plan next week’s social media posts” into a 3pm on a Thursday three months from now. Having to move it, because life came up, will be annoying.

There’s a sweet spot between overplanning and acting like your to do list and your calendar have never met.

Get them better acquainted and let me know how it goes.

My Office Set Up

While money can’t buy happiness, it does help. For example, my new office desk and chair are making me actually want to spend time at work.

I was due for a change. My old office chair was a thrift store find my cats had turned into a scratching post. And I was using two separate desks. One stand-up setup that my ex-husband constructed. Loved it, but it barely fit all the equipment I needed for an online workshop these days. And the other desk was a sit-down in the classically old wood style that had a dozen drawers and weighed 200 pounds.

This is my new desk:

It replaces both of my old desks because it’s motorized and raises and lowers itself. In fact, I can preset 3 different heights for when I want to sit, stand, or use a stool.

This variety keeps me from getting bored. Or sore.

Also, see the undershelf lighting? It comes in a bunch of different colors! Need a perk up? Switch it to yellow.

I also ditched the cat bed for an armless chair with a wide seat:

This design means I can sit with one leg tucked up under me or even fully criss-cross applesauce or a dozen other configurations that keep me actually at my desk working.

Between the desk heights, light colors, and sitting options, the combinations my physical body in better shape and make it so every hour of my work day feels fresh – and fresh keeps me inspired.

Together these may look bland but drop them onto my lime green shag rug, set against my bright yellow walls and honestly being in my office makes me so happy.

Want to take a look around?

This is the view from my fresh chair – which now sits, with the desk, in the middle of the room.

You’ll notice:

☀️ Natural light

🪴 Plants

💻 Space for all the online workshop tech

🟨 Those yellow walls

🎨 The back half is my art studio

Huberman Lab has an entire episode dedicated to the research behind optimal office setups for focus and health. Art studios aren’t in their recommended list. Plants are. Listen here.

What you can’t fully see in this video:

The stairway leading up to my office is plastered with thank you notes, postcards, and memorabilia from my work travels.

Coming or going, I’m reminded of all the amazing places and kind hearts I’ve worked with over the years and I feel profoundly grateful for my global community and that all gets me through the smaller, much more tedious moments of being an entrepreneur.

So, I spent several hundred dollars this year on new office furniture (during Prime Days on Amazon so I spent less but still, it’s Amazon, I know, don’t judge me). It drastically changed the vibe in my office, like opening the windows to let in fresh Spring air.

Even if your budget can’t manage that much, what small thing could you add that would make your heart smile? A candle? A photo?

I would love to see your favorite thing about your office. Send me a pic.

Give Yourself Two Years

To be totally transparent, I’ve thought about closing down the weekly Bearing Fruit newsletter more than once. It takes a lot of *all I’ve got* to write to you this often, especially with some kind of clarity or insight.

And I knew that if the newsletter shuts down, so goes Boost & Bloom, my course for founders.

“It’s fine,” I thought. “This isn’t a big money maker for me. I just love nurturing other people’s businesses. But I’ll get a bunch of my time back and that’s healthy.”

I announced my wavering to my students. One of them immediately wrote back with:

“I just got actual money, in my LLC account 25 minutes before I read this email.”

(It’s these victories that make my heart sing.)

She said, “You cannot scale back on this course. You are two years of snowflakes on their way to an avalanche.” 

It takes two years.

She’s right. Building something as complex as a new business (mine included!) takes about two years.

I see this in my taekwondo journey and you can probably map out something similar in your own life.

I recently passed my blue belt test.

At my dojo, that’s halfway to a black belt. If you’re consistent with your practice – meaning you come to class twice a week, practice a bit at home, and dial in your nutrition, sleep, and stress – you can be a black belt in two years.

It took me two years of homeownership to fully realize allllllll the labor it requires.

The first year I planted my garden, it was sparse – just a few flowers. The second year? Total smokeshow.

If I was watching taekwondo YouTube videos once a month, it would take me much, much longer, if not forever to gain the skills of a black belt.

In other words, two years seems to be the shortest time to evolve something new.

The shortcut comes when you have:

A coach, who can give you personal and specific feedback

A plan, showing you what to handle when

Consistency, where you show up on a regular basis week after week

Patience, so you don’t beat yourself up for taking the time it just takes

You need that amount of space to see the seasons.

The ups and downs. To get enough experience that you make mistakes you can learn from. To let word of mouth work its magic. To get comfortable with the discomfort.

It takes two years because there’s so much to build – and you also need to keep your head on your body and your soul intact. Keep breathing.

Though I have nothing but experience to back this up, I think two years is also the time to evaluate if your efforts are paying off.

Let’s say you’ve decided to launch a video series on LinkedIn. You’ve consistently produced weekly, informative videos about your specialty, as a form of content marketing to turn some viewers into clients. If you’ve been working at this for two years and you’ve gotten maybe one client and your videos are only garnering a dozen likes, it’s time to cut your losses and focus your content marketing elsewhere.

If you started a newsletter two years ago but only published twice and you’ve got just your parents on your email list, it’s time to re-evaluate. Perhaps you shut it down. Perhaps you need a coach, a plan, consistency, and patience.

If you’ve been building your business behind the scenes for two solid years before you get your first deposit into your LLC account, you should celebrate. Your hard work is working. That timing sounds about right.

I promised to protect names where requested, so this student will stay anonymous, but check out this result, almost two years after enrolling in Boost & Bloom:

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that the $2,000 class has already led to a 37% increase in my monthly profits. And I only work about 25-27 billable hours a week due to my work/life balance goals.”

(There goes my heart singing again.)

Vinu knew:

You can feel around in the dark and take forever but you’ll go further faster with a coach, a plan, consistency, and patience.

Folks with businesses already established will see results even sooner. This is what happened to Mara, after only 10 months in my course:

Took her mom on a cruise! Damn, that’s cute.

Join us in Boost & Bloom and give yourself two years to grow. Enrollment closes tomorrow.

I’ll bring the coaching and the plans. You bring the patience and consistency. We’ve got this.

Success is Lonely

Work was collaborative when I started my solo career. I co-launched products and co-presented. When I was in town, people invited me to grab coffee or beer. “Big names” in the field promoted my work.

Until my profile started to rise.

Until I started to have more influence than some of those “big names.” It’s amazing how quickly some dudes go from “I’m a feminist, look at the women I support” to absolute crickets as soon as you start to feel like a threat to their ego.

With other people, I guess/believe I became intimidating. Where people used to hit me up before a conference to see if we could catch a drink at the bar or to ask if I could chair their session, now I think I seem too busy or important to bother?

Whatever the reason, the result was the same:

The more success I saw, the more alone I felt.

You know what they say: It’s lonely at the top.

wah wah, #firstworldproblems, let me get out the world’s tiniest violin to play you and your privilege a sad tune, cry from your yacht

I know, I know.

But it’s still true.

And not just for me.

Check out this study of salaried employees, published in Fast Company. 55% of senior-level women said they’ve felt lonely at work in the past month.

60% of women said their sense of isolation increased as their career progressed.

And that’s among women who still go to an office and thus run into other people in similar roles. Imagine how this goes for those of us who are the solopreneur or the CEO of a small business.

My remedy came when I stopped looking for support from my field and started ganging up with other entrepreneurs. People who were sprinting down the same path as me, also building the plane as they fly it. Despite coming from different fields, our experiences are comfortingly similar.

They get me in a way no one else can.

We have conversations that are impossible with anyone else.

For example, my romantic partners have never had a social media presence (I guess my type is the “I’m not really on any platforms” guy). So while they’re willing to listen while I explain how the latest change in the Instagram algorithm is killing my posts, they have no freakin clue what I’m talking about.

My Fellow Founders get it. They share their research and workarounds. They commiserate and help me plot my next moves. We strategize.

My best friend loves me, but until she started her own company, she didn’t understand the low key pressure I just live with day to day. The thousands of tiny-but-big decisions I make on any given Monday.

Every entrepreneur needs Fellow Founders.

I’m not talking about a referral network where you ship each other business.

I’m not talking about collaborators you’ll propose projects with.

Though if those things happen along the way, extra special bonus points.

I’m talking about a group who’s sole purpose is moral, emotional, and logistical support. With zero financial profit or prestige on the line. No egos, just truth and love.

Where can you find your Fellow Founders?

You will undoubtedly make those connections with other students in Boost & Bloom. People connect in the Community Q & A or during Office Hours when they hear questions that resonate or answers that sing.

In fact, a student from my first cohort included this line in a recent check-in email (I’m keeping this anonymous because this wasn’t a formal testimonial):

“A.W. and I totally clicked on your B and B and have really supported each other in our journeys, which are quite similar.”

Two years after the course ended, we have Business Besties helping one another along.

This year, I’m adding a formal Fellow Founders program to Boost & Bloom.

As the course’s live portion comes to end, some time in May, I’ll connect you with 2 or 3 other founders. Past students can be a part of this too.

You’ll create a team name. Maybe a secret handshake that involves spit and a promise of confidentiality. And you’ll have each other’s backs as you continue to implement the plans you crafted during the course, scaling up your ethical empire.

If you want. No pressure. You can continue to go at it alone, like I did for many years.

I thought, therapy! A therapist will help me sort out these struggles. I started to see the very highest recommended therapist in town. In our first meeting she said “Oh, I’m not on social media.” She didn’t even own a computer. She could empathize on a general level but couldn’t really relate.

No one can relate like Fellow Founders.

Boost & Bloom opens again Winter 2025.

Now is the time to get on the VIP list, where you’ll get $100 off the course price.

This is where you join a space to learn everything you need to know about how to start and scale a thriving business while still keeping your heart beating.

Find out how to create a work life that aligns with your values.

Find your people.

How I Knew I Needed To Start My Own Business

I absolutely did not intend to be an entrepreneur. Had I done so, I would have likely pursued an MBA – which, in hindsight, woulda been a huge mistake. The strength of my business, what gives me so much appeal, is my deep subject matter knowledge. You know, the degrees I pursued instead of an MBA.

But when I was sitting in a coffee shop parking lot, texting a friend, “I think I’m going to get fired” I knew I could run a business better than my boss. This dude could write a grant (and so could I) but he had no idea how to run a company.

In hindsight, there were some clear indications that I needed to work for myself:

I was a bad employee.

Indeed, I’ve had more than one boss refer to me as “insubordinate.” Which would have hurt my feelings had I not already been called “oppositional” by many a teacher throughout my public education experience.

I can’t follow directions. I mean, technically I CAN. But if the directions lack logic or ethics or reason, if they’re unclear or a blanket punishment for one person’s miscalculation, I struggle to abide on principle.

When the head admin would comment “leaving early, are we?” because I was walking out at 3pm when I’d been in the office since 6am and worked a focus group during evening hours the night before, I knew that the concept of a 9 to 5 didn’t square with my work style.

When the hours you spend with your butt in the seat matter more than the fact you could spend those hours playing solitaire, and that makes you mad, you aren’t cut out for a corporate work ethic.

I needed support.

My independent streak might have backfired a bit. Here’s how: I was hired to fill a position that had been formed through a grant. Which meant my job would be up as soon as the grant was over. Unless more grants came in.

And I guess because I showed up eager and smart they thought I could write these grant proposals by myself?

I had not an ounce of experience. You might not be surprised to learn that my first grant proposal was rejected. And the reviewers took the extra special step of calling us up to tell us how totally off-base the proposal was. Thank goodness this was before Zoom because my face was deep red with embarrassment on that conference call.

But right behind that red embarrassment was also some anger. That I was brand new to the job and had been given zero oversight. No one even reviewed the proposal before I sent it in.

I can look back at that now and see that I needed a mentor. When you work for someone else, mentors aren’t guaranteed, even if you have multiple bosses in the org chart. When you work for yourself, you can hire a mentor.

I had ***ideas***.

Girl, let me tell you. I had dream clients to pursue. Projects I’d crafted on paper. Data visualization to invent. There was a world to change.

When I brought in guest speakers, arranged events in their honor, and connected them with local non-profits, my office cheered me on – so long as I did all of those things outside of my work hours.

When it came to anything innovative that would require the company to pay for my time, I was vetoed. And when my good ideas didn’t get heard I would become disobedient.

I began with micro-rebellions. I stopped following the sign taped to the bathroom mirror (only in the ladies bathroom don’t ask how I know that) directing us to wipe down the sink with a paper towel.

The more I felt undervalued, the less I cared about the company, to the point where my boss commented that I looked “sullen” and needed to “smile more.” >screams into the void<

Was I really just gonna phone it in for the next forty years instead of fulfilling my mission on this earth?

I had ***ideas*** for other people.

“You know what would be so cool?”

☝🏼 I say this on a daily basis.

Wanna know how this conversation ends? 👇🏼

“That’s a really good idea, thank you!” >scribbles notes<

That inventiveness is how I launched 3 successful companies. It’s how I teach other accidental entrepreneurs to scale up without breaking down. Inventing game-changing solutions is my favorite part of Boost & Bloom Office Hours.

If you’re also endlessly good at spotting inefficiencies and obstacles AND seeing your way around them, you’ll be good at being a founder too.

When you’re curious about the project’s budget and want to understand how it’s conceived and in the process you have fresh ideas about ways to lower the overhead, you might be cut out to work for yourself.

When you invent a newsletter campaign for the outreach manager because you “just love this sort of thing,” you should consider a job where marketing is one of your many responsibilities.

When you’re as comfortable in business development as you are doing The Actual Work, it’s a sign you should start your own company.  

Is this resonating? What would you add? How do you know you should work for yourself? Write me with your ideas.

Here’s to no one ever telling you your coffee break was two minutes longer than allowed.

You’ve Gotta Market 

Wouldn’t it be cool if finding clients worked more like Instagram? 

Here’s what I mean: The “chandelier” in my dining room came with the house. It looks… well let’s just say “historic” which has been fine because the house is also historic but my god it’s pretty ugly. So one day I google “chandelier” and I saw dozens of pages of mediocre results.

And then you know what happened. I opened Instagram where every third post was an advertisement for a funky chandelier. 

Of course I bought one. Of course.

Marketing works.

Marketing is how people who need you will find you

Though it might seem like Brooklin Nash is referring to a perpetual problem, you, the freelancer, aren’t helpless in this situation.

You just need to market. 

That can sound scary. Flippant, even. You “just” need to market like you “just” need to grow wings and fly to the next Beyoncé concert.

I swear, it’s much easier than you think.

Marketing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re running ads on Instagram, which can feel Big Time. (Though, honestly, I’ve been doing this for years during my Academy launches and it’s much less expensive and intimidating than I had expected.)

At the core, marketing is just telling people what you can do for them. Describe how you help solve their problems. Use examples from happy clients. 

Good marketing, if you ask me, starts by building relationships with people long before they’re actually ready to cut you a check. 

My favorite way to build relationships is through teaching what I know.

That’s how I show people how I can help them.

Wait, aren’t I just teaching them how to do the thing I want them to pay me for? Yeah, kinda. 

Let’s take a really concrete example: This newsletter. It’s a relationship-builder teaching tool first (that’s why I ask you to write back to me and, when you do, I reply). It’s a marketing channel second. 

This particular issue is about one aspect of marketing: framing the way you look at it to be less intimidating and more of a necessity to take you from where you are right now to where you can have your choice of clients. 

But this isn’t everything I know about marketing, of course. I’m not giving away all my intellectual property for free. I’ve broken out a chunk.

A chunk that’s useful enough for you to actually benefit in your real life. And in the process, trust me and my guidance that much more.

So that when Boost & Bloom opens for enrollment, my readers are in a better position to want to enroll.

See how this works?

We got pretty meta there. Let me bring this back. 

I use teaching as my main marketing tool because I like feeling helpful rather than creepy. The trick is to figure out which teaching method is the right one for you and your prospective clients. 

Any method you choose for your teaching-as-marketing will be your vehicle for announcing your services to the world. It’s how people will find you. The trick is just to put yourself out there.

Hit Publish,
Stephanie

Guerilla Marketing

Back in the early 2010s, did you play Dumb Ways to Die? This was a popular game in my household. Don’t swim with piranhas, that’s dumb.

As wildly viral as this game went, it wasn’t developed by Activision or any of the big name gaming companies. It was created as an advertisement for how the Melbourne (Australia) metro is safe.

That’s some serious undercover marketing. And most people would refer to this as guerilla marketing, an idea popularized by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book by that name.

The point is to make a buzz, leveraging your ingenuity more than your ad budget.

The term “guerilla marketing” has origins in guerilla warfare and I’ve been trying to get away from violence-related terminology so I’m switching to undercover marketing for the rest of this article.

It’s bold, but this might just be the thing you need to stand out from the competition.

Undercover marketing would look like:

An aspiring family photographer identifies a local family-friendly festival (here in Kalamazoo that would be the Do-Dah Parade) and sets up a spot nearby where she tacks up a fun backdrop and offers to take a quick photo – with a Polaroid so it doesn’t seem overly creepy – of families walking by. She drops her website on the back of the photo with a Sharpie.

A house painter creates a lawn sign that says “I will make your house so much more beautiful than this. Call me at 123-456-1789.” And puts in the front lawn of the town’s worst offenders.

A survey designer develops the world’s worst survey but masquerades it as one for LinkedIn. Once survey takers get past the second frustrating question, the next item says “Isn’t this survey the worst? I can show you how to make surveys that work. Book a call with me here.”

A taekwondo dojo handing out flyers for a free class outside of the latest Marvel movie.

Undercover marketing doesn’t seek out permission or permits.

It takes some guts. It’s obviously going to massively offend some people. But it’s also going to get a ton of eyeballs and make new people totally fall in love with you. Undercover marketing is a risk.

If you’ve been bumping around in the same circles and not sure how to expand your client list, you need to take a risk.

If your audience growth has plateaued, this is how you can shake things up.

​​​​​​​If you have no marketing money, this is how you get attention.

Do you have the courage to try some undercover marketing? Put on your strongest anti-perspirant, take a deep breath, and try. Let me know what ideas you hatch.

When Fools Rush In

Fools thinks when you start your own business you’ll just be doing that work you love full time. That isn’t how it works.

Think about it: Even in your day job, only a small portion of your time is spent doing what you love – the Actual Project Work. kat_boogaard summed it up nicely in this pie chart I’m not even mad about:

A typical project is maybe 1/2 Actual Project Work.

The other 1/2 is all the prep and communication and administrivia. So if you work in a job right now and get to spend more than 1/2 of your time doing Actual Project Work, consider yourself fortunate. This means your boss and support staff are handling all that other stuff that you love less. 

This also means that if you think you do Actual Project Work better than your boss, it’s likely true! You spend more time on Actual Project Work than she does. 

It’s naive to think that if you worked for yourself you’d just Actual Project Work 24/7. Because, my dear, when you work for yourself you also become the boss. You have to do all the things your boss and support staff used to take off your plate.

You actually have less time for Actual Project Work.

That’s the worst but most accurate chart I’ve ever made. Yes, the more accurate pie adds to more than 100%. 

So what does this mean for you if you love the work but hate your job and wish you could work for yourself? 

It means you:

Learn to love all the other parts. Ugh, what a drag. Right? Actually, it can be pretty damn cool to tackle “all that other stuff” in a way that aligns with your values. That’s how you run a business with integrity. 

In Boost & Bloom, I show exactly how to build a company that keeps your ethics at the core. I’ll walk you through alllll that other stuff so you know what to tend to. I’ll teach you the shortcuts and the tech. And I’ll provide example after example of how to reflect your values along the way. You’ll earn a ton of money and still sleep well at night. 

I only open enrollment in Boost & Bloom once a year. This is your chance to get started.

You can also hire out some of the Other Parts that you truly despise. It means your pie divides a little differently, with more time spent on managing others – so you’ve gotta figure out how to love that, too. (We’ve also got your back in Boost & Bloom as you build a small team.)

Many entrepreneurs don’t make it more than two years because they aren’t starting off with eyes wide open. I want you to be healthy and happy – even if that means you don’t start a business and instead just find a better boss. 

YOLO

At Stamped Robin – my all time favorite bar in Kalamazoo – you can order a YOLO. 

Yes, it stands for You Only Live Once.

So, what is a YOLO?

It’s an $8 (yes, correct, no typo just eight bucks) glass of wine filled all the way to the very tip top of the glass. We’re talking an Instagrammable moment of surface tension.

The bartenders are talented – Unlike the drama in this photo, I’ve never seen a spilled drop.

The hitch is that you can only pick the category: white, red, rose, or bubbles. 

Now you can trust that this won’t be a glass of dirt. It IS Stamped Robin, after all.

But YOLOs certainly attract people who are up for anything. Or at least have a tiny budget. 

YOLO has real appeal for the right customer. 

But what’s the benefit for Stamped Robin?

YOLO gives the bar a way to dispense of the about-to-go-stale bottles. The ones they’ve discontinued on the main menu. Those times when they took a chance on a new variety but didn’t love it enough to order more. Their castaways. 

Where most bars would toss the bottle (ok, let the staff drink and then toss the bottle) and write it off as an expense, Stamped Robin makes a bit of cash and delights entire tables when everyone whips out their phones to record the easy-to-please friend who ordered the YOLO. It makes Stamped Robin more memorable. It becomes a part of their brand. 

Did you catch that? They took what could have been trash and turned it into their brand.

Freakin genius.

Ok, so, what can you YOLO?

What thing did you create that didn’t end up getting much mileage – that you could now give a second life?

That quick video you recorded for a client. Can it now become a demo on your website?

That proposal that got rejected. Could it resurrect as a blog post?

The free talk you did because a friend asked – make it a mini workshop?

I bet if you review your experiences and opportunities over the past two years, you’ll identify a bunch of material that still has life left, perhaps in another format. Use it. You’ve already done the hard work to create it in the first place. Now it’s just a matter of repackaging.

You can also use a YOLO mindset when you’re staring down a part of a project that you KNOW isn’t going to get a wide audience. Personally, it’s super hard to get motivated to develop that content.

But if I have a plan to double dip and recycle the content elsewhere, I pat myself on the back for being a maximizer and get to work. 

Are you getting any ideas? Run your YOLO plan by me and let’s make this happen.

I Have an Arch Nemesis

Actually, I have a few.

Despite my therapist’s suggestions to let it go because “the only one getting hurt by resentment is me” 🤮 I keep my grudges in a box covered in sequins tucked in the back of my closet. Not in sight every day but easy to find when I need it.

Each of my nemeses used to be a work buddy who took advantage of our friendship and information I had divulged to become a competitor in our industry. They did me dirty.

Competition comes up in almost every one of my entrepreneurial circles. Mario, one of the funniest and kindest aspiring entrepreneurs I’ve met, has an industry arch nemesis who – get this – is also crushingly handsome. 😍🤬😍🤬

What do you do with an arch nemesis?

How do you handle competition?

Step 1: Watch them carefully.

You’re looking for their gaps. As much as your imagination may have puffed them up to be perfect, that’s impossible. They surely have topics they don’t cover or an angle you disagree with. That’s where you can lean in with your approach – the things that make you different. The more you can distinguish yourself, the less they’ll feel like competition.

If you can’t find something you disagree with, that’s also a clue. It means they’re so plain vanilla they don’t make waves. It’s inauthentic. You just have to be you to be better than that.

Step 2: Stop watching them.

Block and mute. This step takes you 30 seconds at most. It can be a hard psychological mountain to climb because our false people-pleasing characteristics make us think we’re supposed to be friends with everyone.

And that someone is going to see that you’ve blocked them and it’ll become a controversy. You aren’t Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. No one will notice.

Just like how I don’t buy potato chips at the grocery store because I’ll eat them all – It’s bad for me. Block and mute keeps your competition from taking up rent-free space in your head.

Put them in a tiny sequined box that you tuck away in the back of your closet. Out of sight, out of mind.

With the headspace you get back, create. Mind your own business, literally. Focus on your own work and GO.

Step 3: Pull out the tiny sequined box as needed.

I root into the back of my closet from time to time when:

– I’ve run out of ideas for my blog or social media channels. I can always take a 5 minute spin through what my arch nemeses have been posting lately and find a gap to address (without ever naming them).

– I see a friend about to make the same mistake I did with one of my arch nemeses.

– I need a reminder that I’m a bad bitch. Should imposter syndrome ever start creeping in, I’m able to review their plain vanilla asses and be reminded of what makes me, me.

Look, this isn’t the advice you’ll see in movies that say you can make that Mean Girl your friend (or frenemy). And this definitely isn’t what my therapist would advise. But it’s a way to skim the advantages you can off of the situation while preserving your mental health and your heart as much as possible.

Got an arch nemesis? You wanna tell me who did you dirty? I’m all ears and your secret is safe with me. I’m not yet at a point where I’m ready to name names but I promise that every time you see me mention “Todd” I’m talking about one of mine.

Where to Focus When You’re Getting Started

Kevin O’Leary (of Shark Tank fame) was on Erika Kullberg’s (of Erika Taught Me fame) podcast and said mentors are people who give you early lessons learned. Given how true that is, take a seat with me and let Tamara Hamai mentor you for a sec.

Tamara runs Hamai Consulting. It’s an evaluation firm that works primarily with non-profits that focus on family and child well-being. Her website is super cute, take a look. Pitch perfect branding.

Tamara’s been in the business for so long, she’s what we would call “seasoned” and she’s now a mentor.

What I admire about her is how she’s embraced formal organizational roles and shifted herself out of the day-to-day, hands-on work so she can stay focused on company growth and leadership. That’s such a difficult transition for entrepreneurs to make.

But Tamara’s so good at it, she’s even created the space to test a dozen different marketing strategies, one of which resulted in a local news crew in her living room with a microphone and a camera in her face on a hour’s notice to interview her as a subject matter expert for that evening’s newscast.

(Tamara also recorded a guest lesson in Boost & Bloom on understanding your marketing funnel.)

Are some people just born to be great marketers?

Stephanie: Tamara, did you start your business already knowing a lot about marketing?

Tamara:  I started the company because my employer at the time showed me that their values were in direct opposition to my values. I started my business so that I could do the work I wanted to do, the way that I felt it should be done. I had no background in business.

Stephanie: This sounds familiar.

Tamara: I put a lot of energy and time into learning how to run a business and how to do really good work with organizations and communities. 

I learned about how to do my own bookkeeping and taxes.

How to write a proposal. 

What insurance I needed. 

Branding and creating business cards and a website. 

I read tons of books, went to lots of workshops and classes, and dove deep into how to be a consultant.

When I wasn’t learning, I was serving my clients.

If I could have done anything differently, I would entirely change my focus from learning and client work to these two things: Being visible and building an alliance.

Stephanie: Oh this is some juicy hindsight right here. Say more about being visible.

Tamara: Marketing and selling are your most important activities every day as a start-up. 

Start being visible from day 1. I spent years working on things inside my business, but hardly anybody (including potential clients) knew that I existed.

You need to be marketing and getting out in front of people. Start building relationships even when you don’t know who you’re serving or what you’re selling. As soon as you think you have something to sell, see if anybody will buy it.

Don’t worry about anything else until you have a minimum viable business model and you have validated it through sales.

Stephanie: Sometimes it can feel like visibility means … doing everything. So what would you not waste a minute on while you focus on visibility?

Tamara: When it comes to visibility, I worked so much harder than I needed to for a lot of years. I’m still not as visible as I should be. I wouldn’t waste any time creating visibility that requires learning lots of new things or going far out of what I already know and enjoy. 

I hate social media (I have ethical issues with the data-as-an-asset business model) and a lot of other marketing activities require a lot of learning time for me. 

I’d focus on being visible in ways that are easy and enjoyable. For me, that would be attending events, gathering people, and talking to people one-on-one. I also love teaching, so doing workshops at conferences would be on this list for me, too. 

Networking, attending events, reaching out to talk to people over coffee/wine/whiskey, and doing workshops at conferences would have been the best way for me to spend 80% of my time in my start-up years. Thus, creating a strong, positive contact list and keeping in touch with them regularly.

Hi Reader.

Stephanie-as-the-writer popping in here to ask you to reflect on what Tamara just said in this part of the interview. 1. Figure out what marketing strategies feel natural to you. (They don’t have to be the same ones as Tamara.) And write to me to tell me what those are.

And 2. Get a contact list going and stay in touch with these people. I do that through newsletters (HI!) but you have options. The point is to set up a mechanism to keep in touch before you get out there wine-ing it up with folks so that you have an immediate way to stay connected.

Back to the interview.

Stephanie: So what about building an alliance? I see some new entrepreneurs who seem to have networking baked into their DNA and others who struggle with it more, like I do. How did that come about for you?

Tamara: Growing up, I had learned that success came from independent hard work and bootstrapping. But the truth is that no success that I’ve had in life was actually earned on my own, even though I worked hard for everything. None of us can do it alone. That’s where the alliance comes in.

The biggest decision you make is what you will and will not do with your time, energy, and resources. You’ll have better ideas and make better decisions when you’re working with other people. 

The alliance that I have now that I wish that I had then: People who are my biggest supporters, who are invested in my and each other’s success, and are also unafraid of challenging me or showing me what I’m missing. A group where everyone can be honest, have their voice heard and valued, and have generative friction. We co-create ideas, solutions, and decisions in a safe space. They inspire me to be bold with my vision and hold me accountable to what I say I will do.

Stephanie: Now that you have the experience to speak from, what do you look for in an alliance?

Tamara: Who is in your alliance matters. The best members to have in your alliance include:

  • People who have a diverse set of roles, perspectives, lived experience, and expertise.
  • Mentors who have already achieved the kinds of big things you want to achieve, in ways that you admire.
  • Peers one step behind, at the same level, and one step ahead of you.
  • Someone who you know deeply understands you and your values (like someone who has known you a really long time).
  • People with expertise/professional knowledge in critical areas (a lawyer, for example)

Once you have the people, you need to establish a safe and meaningful process for discussing issues and making decisions together.

Stephanie: And who would you avoid putting in your alliance? What mistakes do rookie alliance-builders make?

Tamara: Don’t just ask your friends or the people you already know for advice. You need people who will challenge you, but from a place of compassion. So, don’t waste time talking to people who are your friends who will support anything you do or anyone who thinks it’s ever helpful to “play devil’s advocate.”

Steer clear of people who tell you to do it their way, or that there is only one way to do things.

Don’t try to build your business alone while you sit in your makeshift office-dining room. 

Don’t hire the first marketing consultant you find (I’m still getting over this one…) 

Stephanie: I need to hear this story over wine.

Tamara: …or the first coach who says they can help you. 

Most people know, are friends with, or are connected to people who are similar to them in terms of perspective, attitudes, and life experiences. 

I’ve learned more by having mentors, coaches, advisors, friends, and colleagues in my alliance that are different from me and different from each other. 

The people who are going to be your strongest supports are willing to challenge you to think differently while embracing the need to test and adapt ideas through your values for the business that you want to build.

Hi Reader.

Stephanie-as-the-writer back again to ask you to think through who is in your alliance. If it’s just your closest besties, Tamara’s telling you that won’t be the best way to grow

Your alliance should make you feel challenged a bit. Slightly uncomfortable because your ideas are being pushed. Perhaps even pissed off from time to time. 

Your alliance should also make you feel fully supported. Inspired. Buoyed through the different phases of your business, even when you become as seasoned as Tamara.

So, who is in your alliance right now? Count me in. And who do you need to add? Send me your list.

40 Hours. Every Week?

Hey, quick question:

How the hell do people work 40 hours in a week?

Every week?

As I write this, I’ve just come from two entire weeks in Columbus Ohio, where I led a data viz workshop every single day.

I left my rental apartment at 8am and got back at 4:30pm. This is an 8.5 hour day, with a whole one-hour lunch in the middle.

So that’s 42.5 hours per week at their office. (You know I was bringing multiberry muffins to the security guard by the end of my second week.)

About 10 days into this experience, I was texting friends with the same question I’m asking you:

How the hell do people do this?

In order to be out the door by 8am, I was getting up at 6.

Taking 20 minutes to stretch, foregoing my usual yoga routine and meditation time, but just doing the basic maintenance all my freakin physical therapists tell me I have to do before my body parts fall off.

Making coffee and brekkie and packing lunch. Taking the supplements and drinking the green powder. Cleaning up the kitchen.

Putting on all the makeup and doing all the hair (aka getting on the Hot Girl Hamster Wheel, as it’s called on The Money with Katie Show).

And hustling down High St.

By the time I got back to the apartment at 4:30pm, I was famished, so I dove into dinner prep.

Running to the grocery store.

Spending perhaps an hour over the whole day connecting with friends and family.

Hitting up taekwondo twice a week.

Laundering and vacuuming.

Showering and grooming.

Sleeping 8 hours.

Totally unable to keep up with all the other emails in my inbox.

Entirely forgetting that I’m supposed to be researching a new car because the mechanic said mine could catch on fire.

Definitely not following up with the contractor on the bathroom repairs.

Barely noticing all these other Life Things that are just on hold for two weeks while I tread water, until I get back home to my way-less-than-40-hour schedule.

And that’s without having to raise small children or care for elders or even take a dog for a walk.

Come to think of it, the only time of my life when I was able to put in 40 hour weeks was when I was a young adult with no family or responsibilities.

Beyond that time, I think we all have to sacrifice something to keep afloat in a 40-hour work week world. We skimp on sleep.
We grab convenience foods and jeopardize our health because there’s literally no time to eat fresh.
We don’t have hobbies.
We skip exercise.
We don’t nurture our friendships.
We get sick a lot.

Something gives, because something’s gotta give.

I don’t see a way to live a healthy life and also work 40 hours a week. The math aint mathin.

Unless, of course, you have a partner who can manage your household and get your groceries and cook your meals and nurture your social relations. Unless, that is, you have a traditional wife.

Which were exactly the circumstances under which we got to a 40-hour work week. Our elders unionized to get working conditions DOWN to 40 hours. And that was a plausible scenario when people primarily lived in hetero households (even as they did whatever they wanted elsewhere) in which the husband worked and the wife did every fucking other thing under the sun.

In these modern times, a 40-hour work week simply isn’t sustainable.

We don’t need more articles teaching us about batch cooking.

We don’t need another podcast extoling the virtues of a treadmill desk.

Enough with the efficiency hacks showing us how to shoehorn even more around and within and in addition to the 40-hour work week.

We actually need some of that time back.

At Evergreen Data, a typical work week is 26-30 hours and that’s plenty.

40 hours is an outdated construct meant for a different society than the one we live in today.

Reason #4,325 why you need to start your own business. You set your schedule.

Then you go live your life.