Success for Floral Designer Authors? Build a Tribe

Bill Schaffer and Kris Kratt

The husband and wife team of Bill Schaffer and Kris Kratt are the creative geniuses behind the successful Floral Design team at Schaffer Designs of Philadelphia, PA, who recently created The Stars Project, a huge floral pop-up art sculpture on the lawn of the National Constitution Center to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Constitution.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing them about this project, as well as their business and their upcoming book.

Listen now to their thoughts about creating a successful business and author platform by building a Tribe:

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I was so honored to participate in The Stars Project, and I was struck by the community nature of this project, especially in front of a building with the words “We The People” emblazoned on the face. It truly does Take a Village!

Bill Schaffer and Kris Kratt have built a very successful business by creating a Tribe. They design huge projects that they freely admit they would never be able to accomplish without the many volunteers who pitch in to make these amazing creations come to life. They have attracted a community of floral designers from around the world who are willing to drop everything to come and work with the Schaffer Designs team.

The Stars Project was a reflection of their Tribe at work. Inspired by hearing that the Constitution was “an umbrella protecting the rights of our citizens,” Bill and Kris designed a 12 foot tall and 16 foot wide steel sculptural umbrella from which they hung large spheres of red and white flowers which gently swayed in the breeze, and over 200 stars.

Each star was contributed by floral designers from almost every state in the country, plus Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom, and many were made from natural materials indigenous to the state of origin. 95 people contributed hand-crafted stars to this project, plus the students and staff at Garfield Park Academy in Willingboro, NJ.

A local artist contributed the huge steel umbrella sculpture that provided the frame for the Stars Project.

Materials were donated by 4 companies, including the foam spheres, star forms, and the flowers used in the project. And Bill and Kris of Schaffer Design donated their floral artistry design skills, their time, and their expertise to make this project a reality.

17 local people also donated their time to create this floral pop-up artwork in the early dawn hours, including local floral designers, a videographer, and two photographers (I was so honored to be one of the photographers).

You can watch The Stars Project unfold here:

Taking the Flower Show Home, by Bill Schaffer and Kris KrattBill Schaffer and Kris Kratt are bringing their Tribes business model to the publication of their first book, Taking the Flower Show Home: Award Winning Designs from Concept to Completion, which includes quotes and photos from the many people who have participated in their projects over the years.

This is a very interesting model for aspiring authors to take a look at: How can you involve your own Tribe of people in your projects? How can you create a place where people want to join you in creating something larger than yourself?

Bill and Kris always seem to create art that is so much larger than themselves, to invite some of the best floral designers in the world to work with them, and to freely acknowledge and applaud the community of people who come together to learn from each other and to create beauty in the world.

I’ve learned a lot from watching how Bill Schaffer and Kris Kratt involve their Tribe in so many of their creative projects, and this is a model that I want to use more in my own writing. How about you?

To learn more about what Bill and Kris are doing, please be sure to visit Schaffer Designs.

Lucky Old Souls Burger Truck Fail

Marketing Lessons From the Lucky Old Souls Food Truck Epic Failure

As writers we know when building our platform that a combination of a poor quality product combined with pitiful customer service is a recipe for failure. We are always striving to make our product (our writing) the best it can possibly be. And we know that our interactions with our readers are the foundation of growing our readership.

Our job is to create a base of loyal, raving fans who will help us spread our message. We know that if we let our readers down, if we disappoint them, if we produce poor quality work, they will just as avidly spread that message too. Our reputation online is our best asset. If we blow it, we may never get it back.

I had an experience this weekend with the Lucky Old Souls Burger Truck, from which I’ve drawn some important lessons, so I hope you can avoid making these critical errors in your own business. And yes, writers are in business!

Cultivate Repeat Readers

I’ve been eyeing the Lucky Old Souls food truck for the last several weekends at my local organic farmers market. But the line always seemed to be moving very slowly so I never had time to try out their grass-fed organic beef burgers. This weekend I was really hungry and wanted to sample what they had to offer, so my partner did our grocery shopping from the local farmers while I joined the rather lengthy line at Lucky Old Souls.

It should have been a red flag right from the beginning, but the rumbling of my empty stomach won over the long line that made very slow progress toward the order window. I began to chat with the others in line around me, wondering if anyone had tried the food from this truck before. Would this wait be worth it? Was the food really that good?

Amazingly, not one person in line had ever eaten from Lucky Old Souls Burger Truck before. There was no one to say “This food is great. You’ll love it.”

I found that a little surprising. Why were there no repeat customers?

If you’re a writer you don’t want people to only buy your first book, you want your first book to be so good that people will eagerly pre-order all of your following books because they already know that they love your work. You will cultivate rapport with these readers so that they will be excited to learn that you’re working on your next project. They’ll spread the word to all of their friends, they’ll leave thoughtful comments on your posts, they’ll share your work on Facebook, they’ll retweet your articles.

You know that these relationships are the foundation of your success, and you’ll work all the harder to produce your best work because you would never want to let them down.

Don’t Make it Hard for Your Readers to Buy From You

When I finally got up to the window to place my order, the young man at the window asked me what he could get for me. I got halfway through my order when he said “We’re so backed up, I have to wait to take your order. It’s going to be a while.”

What? You’re so busy you can’t even let me finish giving my order?

It would have been far better to have taken my order in its entirety than to cut me off halfway through. Because now I’m more than a little frustrated, and I shouldn’t have to jump through ridiculous hoops to order from a food truck.

Take a look at your sales process. Are you making it easy for people to buy from you? Or are they frustrated by your process and give up in despair? Are you losing them at the last minute when they were all ready to break out their wallets?

Go through every step of your process. Is it easy to find your contact information? Are people making it all the way through your process without giving up? You need to make sure you’re making it easy for people at every step of the way.

Create Efficient Systems

While I stood, as patiently as possible, waiting for the young man to finally be able to write down my order, I began to understand exactly why the line had moved so agonizingly slowly at Lucky Old Souls. Every time an order was finally prepared, this young man would find the corresponding ticket in the stack hanging above him. But each time he pulled out a ticket for food that was ready to be served, the entire stack of tickets would fall out of the hanger all over the counter.

What a mess! While I was standing there waiting, this happened about 5 times. An order would come up ready to be served. The counter guy would try to find the correct order slip, but the whole stack spilled across the counter and down on the floor. And each time, the counter kid would then have to pick them all back up and rearrange them back into that holder. It would have been funny if I wasn’t already so frustrated.

You need to make sure that you’ve created efficient systems, both for your customers as well as for you. Do you schedule your writing time every day and make it a priority? Or do you haphazardly grab whatever time you can amidst your busy day?

Do you make it easy to read your work?

Do you make it a point to present your readers with efficient pathways to interacting with you? Or are you making them frustrated with your disorganization?

Don’t Make Your Readers Wait (Especially if Your Product Sucks)

Finally! After waiting for over a half an hour in this line, I was finally able to give the young man my order, only to be told it would still “take a while” to get my food. I looked around me at the many people who had been ahead of me in line to see that every one of them was still waiting for their food. Oh well, I’m committed now. I’ve already invested so much time into this that I don’t want to give up now.

Another half hour has passed, and the people around me waiting for their food are growing quite impatient. Our grocery shopping has been finished long ago, and we are hungry and ready to move on to the rest of our day.

Finally! My name is called. I take our packages across the street to enjoy our food at a bench in a little park overlooking the market. I eagerly unwrap my burger and take a large bite. UGH! Not only is the burger raw, but the meat is tasteless and unseasoned. The so-called signature Lucky Old Souls sauce is just ketchup (albeit homemade) mixed with mayo.

I just invested over an hour of my time, spent a ridiculous amount of money for an overpriced tasteless burger, and dealt with an incompetent counter person for mediocre RAW food? Now that is a shame! And I’m not at all happy :(

To be successful as an author, as a writer, or as a business we need to devote ourselves to creating epic, high quality products, whether that is a book, a blog post, a presentation, or a conversation with one of your readers. Give every task your best effort. Do not accept mediocre. Your reputation depends on this.

Yeah, you might serve up epic products every other day of the week, but if you allow even one day of accepting mediocre, you can be sure that none of the good stuff will matter. Your disappointed customers will all be talking about the day where you let your standards slip, the day that you thought your slipshod efforts would go unnoticed. Trust me. This will come back to haunt you.

Slipshod, mediocre work looks like you don’t care. And if you don’t care about the quality of your business why should we?

You must be exceptional. You need to stand out in a crowded marketplace by being remarkable. When the reason that you’ve got people’s attention is that your customer service is appalling or your product is horrible, your business is doomed to fail. You want your customers raving about how good you are, not telling everyone they know how horrible your product is.

Accept Responsibility for Your Mistakes

I took my disappointing, RAW burger to the back door of the truck and asked the guy cooking if he could make me a burger that wasn’t raw. Instead of saying “I’m sorry, let me make you another one right away,” this guy became rude and obnoxious.

Saying “that’s not raw, we serve our burgers rare.”

And then “If you really want me to replace that, you’re going to have to wait until I’ve taken care of all of these other customers.”

What?

First you’re going to argue with me, then you’re going to try to tell me that a bloody, cold piece of meat is really a nicely cooked rare burger, and THEN you’re going to suggest that I wait another half hour at least for you to fix this?

Are you kidding me?

I was thinking to myself that the owner of this truck would be appalled at the way his employees treated their customers. I later discovered that this surly fry boy IS the owner.

A business owner who treats his customers rudely, who argues with them, and who refuses to make the matter right cannot possibly stay in business for long.

No wonder there was nobody in line to eat at Lucky Old Souls Burger truck who had ever eaten there before. No repeat customers raving about how great the food was. In essence: no raving fans. This is no way to build a sustainable business.

Learn From Your Critics

I threw my raw, tasteless, unseasoned burger in the trash and went home very disappointed. I had invested a lot of time, spent a ridiculous amount of money, and dealt with rudeness from this business. My valuable time and my money had both been treated with disrespect.

And I began to think of the business lessons that can be gleaned from this experience.

I knew that if this was my business, I would want to know that my employees were doing a poor job of creating raving fans to build my business brand. I would want to know that someone was doing something to ruin the reputation that I had worked so hard to build.

So I located the Facebook page for the Lucky Old Souls burger truck, and I left some constructive feedback about my experience. It was while I was looking around this page, that I discovered that the obnoxious fry cook was actually the owner of the business.

Not only did he delete my comment from his page, he banned me from being able to post again.

We need to learn to answer our critics as well as welcome our supporters.

When someone leaves what feels like a negative comment at something I have written, I like to take this as an opportunity to learn and to grow, and examine what I wrote to find ways that I can make it better.

Was my writing clear? Did I really say what I meant to say? Was this my best work? Or was it mediocre? Does this person have a valid point? What can I learn from this? How can I be more remarkable?

Your Thoughts?

Is your business remarkable? How are you standing out from the crowd?

Have you made any of these mistakes in your business? How did you use it as an opportunity to be exceptional? Any other lessons you can see from this experience? What are you doing to create Lifetime Clients? 

Do not follow the business model of Lucky Old Souls Burger Truck. In a very short time you will be out of business.

eBook Evolution

Why is it so hard to get an eBook done?

If you’re like me, the thought of writing an eBook may seem a daunting task, the idea of making it look good may seem insurmountable, and marketing it may seem impossible.

Kelly Kingman and Pamela Wilson have teamed up to help us overcome all three of those fears.

Listen as they tell us how to write it, how to make it look gorgeous, and how to get the word out so that people will know about it:

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What exactly is eBook Evolution?

Kelly sums it up:

eBook Evolution is your all-in-one eBook creation and launch toolkit. Pamela and I have met so many entrepreneurs that want to write and potentially sell eBooks but the current production and marketing options don’t work for them. They don’t want to use the old direct-response copywriting tricks to squeeze people into buying their eBook, but they want to sell it. They don’t have the resources to hire a great designer but want their eBook to look professional and stand out from the pack.

Creating great-looking eBooks in a snap and using relationship-based marketing to sell them? That’s eBook Evolution.

eBook Evolution helps you with:

  • eBook Creation: Pamela has used her 24+ years of publication design experience to create the eBook Evolution templates with OpenOffice Writer that anyone can use to create gorgeous eBook layouts, and she’s also putting together the Cover Recipe Book: step-by-step instructions on how to re-create 20 cover designs.
  • eBook Writing and Launch: In addition to including the Sticky eBook Formula, I’ve written the all-new eBook Evolution Launch Guide which shows you how to be successful on your own terms, without the old hard-sell approach.

So if you want to create eBooks, worksheets and manifestos without having to hire someone and you like the new marketing paradigm, you’ll want to opt-in here to get all the launch love.

 

It’s available today at a great introductory price, but don’t wait, the price is going up on Thursday.

Pamela Wilson of the Big Brand System believes that no one is more passionate about marketing a small business than the owner of that business. With some basic training, anyone can learn enough to craft effective and beautiful marketing materials that reach out and grab the attention of the market they want to sell to. Follow @pamelaiwilson on Twitter.

Listen to Pamela’s first interview about designing ebooks (2 parts)

Kelly Kingman is the author of the Sticky Ebook Formula. She thrives on working with “ideapreneurs” — coaches, consultants, bloggers, authors — who are in the process of making a big, positive impact in their respective fields. She helps them polish, shape and strengthen their ideas to make them stickier in any form they take. Follow @kellykingman on Twitter

Listen to Kelly’s interview about writing ebooks

 

 

Four Big Ways Authors Can Use Facebook

Hi.  Grandma Mary here.  Thanks so much Carole, for having me back on your lovely blog.  I’ve been cooped up on my own site for too long!  I have had the pleasure of doing a post here recently about Four Big Ways Authors Can Use Twitter.

For those of you who don’t know me, I have a social media blog over at Grandma Mary Show and I try to spice up my social media tutorials a little and make learning fun.

So now what about Facebook?  How do you reach those half a billion people on Facebook and get them to read your book?  Here are four ways you can use Facebook to promote you as an author and your work.

1.  Create a Page for you as an author

You may be using your personal profile to connect with people in Facebook.  And that’s fine too.  But you will be limited to 5000 friends.  I like using the personal profile and Page in tandem.  Reach out and friend new people that might be good connections for you but also direct people to your Page so you are building that as you go.  That way when you get up to your friend limit, you will have your community on your Page also.  Also remember, your Page is indexed in Google and will help you increase your web presence.

2.  Create a Page for your Book

Make it easy for anyone to get to know your book more.  Keep your page active by posting short exerpts from the book, linking to reviews that might be out and trying to get your community involved by asking questions.  Make sure you add the Page address to your website and signature so people can find it and connect with your book.

3.  Join Groups

There are lots of groups on Facebook that are designed for book lovers, book clubs, and authors.  Some are more active than others. And just a word of warning, don’t go in there and be spammy and say “Hey everyone, read my book!”  No one likes that.  Just join, connect and add to the conversation.  Plus you may make some connections there.

The easiest way to find these groups is go to http://www.facebook.com/search.php and click the Groups option on the left side to filter your searches to bring you only Groups results.  Then search on terms you are interested in.  You may also want to search through the Pages to see what’s out there too.  Spy on the competition!

4.  Create an Event for your Book launch

Even if you aren’t having an in-person event, you can create a “virtual” event to get the hype going on your book launch. Invite all your personal friends to attend your virtual book launch and celebrate.  When they RSVP to your book launch, they can invite their friends to help spread the word about your book.

That’s it!  Easy peasy!  This may seem overwhelming but you don’t have to do all four of these things at once.  Pick and choose how you want to spend your time because you also need to be writing, of course!  But Facebook is a very viral place to market your book and you want to spread the word.

5. Check out my new ebook: How to Use Twitter to Grow Your Business

Editor’s note: Grandma Mary is apparently too shy to tell you this, but she just wrote two ebooks to help you extend your reach and grow your author platform:

How to Use Twitter to Grow Your Business

How to Use Facebook to Grow Your Business

Go and check them out. I had the pleasure of reviewing them before they were published and Grandma Mary has done a really wonderful job in explaining just what you need to know to use these tools to sell more books. And yes, those are aff links.

How are you using Twitter to market your book? Grow your platform? Extend your Reach? Get yourself known?

When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

I know, we live in a free-for-all, let it all hang out, be transparent social media world where anonymous commenters hurl flaming arrows of ugliness across the web. It’s very easy to respond to one of these comments with your own sarcastic response to prove your prowess in this realm. Face it, we like to score points, to put people in their place.

But, as an author, your reputation is your most valuable asset. You have worked so hard to build your author platform and establish yourself at the expert in your field. You’ve built an audience on your facebook page. Your twitter followers always retweet your pearls of wisdom. Your schedule is booked for the foreseeable future with book signings, keynote addresses, and other benefits of having published your book.

Use Your Pause Button

And you can ruin it all in an unthinking response in a flash of anger. Trust me, it will not help your reputation at all if you begin to be seen as angry and vindictive. I know, sometimes it’s really hard to hit the pause button and take a moment to think before we push that reply button.

I did this myself just this week. I was working on something that should have been very easy, yet I had worked through the night struggling with software that just wasn’t doing what I thought it was supposed to do.

I was tired. And very cranky. That’s no excuse.

In a fit of pique I responded to a comment and totally trashed this product in a public forum where I’m known for being very helpful and friendly.

Did my little temper tantrum help me at all? No.

What it did do is confuse people. They did not know this raging lunatic, and they didn’t like her. I don’t blame them.

One lesson that I learned at a very young age is to not respond to people when I am angry. I’ve gotten my share of angry emails. And it would be SO easy to snap off an angry reply to show that person just how wrong they are. But I’ve learned to utilize one of my greatest tools–the pause button. To take a few minutes to breathe and compose a much calmer reply.

Sometimes this means I have to let it sit till the next day because I’m still mad. That’s OK. A thoughtful reply the next day is always better than a hasty angry retort within minutes.

Yes, my pause button was broken that day. It’s fixed now.

Consider the Consequences

I used to  follow someone on twitter who had very good marketing advice. It was good stuff that I enjoyed reading. But all of the sudden his whole focus changed and he began tweeting nothing but ugly political vindictive. It was really kind of vile. And not at all what I expected when I followed him. I  unfollowed him in a hurry. And from what I hear, many others did, too.

Unless the political arena is your niche, it may be wise to temper your statements in this area. I’m not saying to hide or censor yourself. I am saying to remember that your actions have consequences.

And the most important place to put your efforts when building your author platform is to give value to the people in your target audience. Don’t chase them away by not understanding the consequences of what you do to THEM.

Put Yourself in Their Place

It’s so easy to assume that the person on the other end of that comment is ignorant, uneducated, spiteful, jealous, or any of the other states we ascribe to such people, but maybe they just had a bad day, too.

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein writes very eloquently about this in her piece In Response to Drama, Trolls, and Inadequate Baristas. She was reminded of this lesson by her young daughter.

So what would happen if we gave these people the benefit of the doubt? Maybe a little less ugliness in the world is what I’m thinking. Let’s hope so anyway.

Are you taking the opportunity to respond usefully to your readers?

Making Friends With My Monster

You know that voice you hear that tells you to just give up your dream, that you can’t possibly be successful, that it will never work anyway?

That’s your monster.

We all have them. They are always whispering to us to give up, be quiet,  don’t rock the boat, and an endless cacophony of other other advice that is really designed to protect us, but often results in us getting nothing done with our writing, our projects, or our big dreams.

My monster has many voices, but it’s amazing how much she often sounds like my mother. She would tell me things like:

  • You’ll never be ______ like your friends (often that word was thin)
  • Girls can’t do ______. Boys can. Your brothers can. But you can’t
  • Just keep your mouth shut. Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat.
  • Nobody wants to hear anything that you have to say.
  • Why can’t you be _____ like _____? (Often this word was “act like a lady”)
  • If you can’t do something right, just don’t do it at all (Jeez, wonder where my need for perfection comes from?)
  • Why are you always such a bad girl? Go get the wooden spoon and after that you’ll stand in the corner (I proudly held the family record for the most wooden spoons that got broken on my butt because I absolutely refused to cry, and that made them angry. Small victory :)

Even after countless hours of therapy as a young adult, I still have to deal with my monster. She’s not going away. She’s not going to be quiet. She shrieks in terror when bad things happen. So what am I going to do with her?

It seems that the more I urgently need to get something finished, the more I have to listen to her chatter. Some days it’s hard to get anything done at all. The bigger I dream, the louder she talks. She won’t give up. She’s persistent.

But so am I.

So I’ve decided to make friends with her. Gary Barnes calls this monster our Little Genius. And according to Gary, she is in charge. She’s really not a monster at all. She’s just a scared little girl who thinks that the way to stay safe is not to “rock the boat.” She says: “Don’t make changes, that’s scary. Just keep things the way they are. I feel much more in control that way.”

Reasoning with her doesn’t work at all. She doesn’t understand that I’m working really hard right now to finish my book. She just wants to play.

Getting angry with her doesn’t work either. You can’t tell her to shush, shut up, be quiet or go away. Boy, is she stubborn! If she thinks I’m angry with her she will throw an all out tantrum and stamp her feet.

So I’ve created a special place for her, a safe place where she can play and do lots of fun things while I write. She gets to color or look at pretty books, and I get to write. Really, it’s a win-win. She feels safe and I feel productive. I like it. She seems to like it too.

All I have to say when I want to work, is “not now.” Just hang out a little bit with your crayons and your books, and when I am finished I will color with you. And it’s working. I am getting things done, she’s safe in her pretty blue suitcase with her books. She gets to play. I get to work. It’s a great deal!

So, I’m curious. How do you deal with your monsters?

[Many, many thanks to Willie Hewes, who drew my monster for me. She's an awesome artist with a knack for envisioning the internal. Follow her on twitter @williehewes ]

The Challenge: Published book by November

Preliminary Book Cover Design by Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System

Last week I was hired to be the keynote speaker for a large annual conference in Indiana.

Now, the really cool reason that I got this gig is because I have spent about a year building my author platform with my blog Ecosystem Gardening, my Facebook fanpage, my twitter account, and networking with other people.

One of my twitter/Facebook/blog followers suggested me as a speaker to the person who arranges those details. Yippee! That’s exactly the point of building an author platform.

So, What’s The Problem?

Well, the problem is, I’ve spent all this time building my platform and I don’t yet have my book published. And this event is the perfect place to debut it.

So, now it’s time to get to work.

There is no way to make this deadline unless I self-publish. I need to cut out as many middle people as possible and still produce a quality product that I will be proud of.

The Good News

My book is already written and edited. I intentionally wrote my thesis to be published as my book, and my editors and thesis advisory committee did an excellent job.

BUT, I have since changed the name. So a simple search and replace should solve that problem.

AND there are parts of it that I simply hate. So those need to be rewritten so I don’t hate them any more.

The Better News

I already have a book cover, or at least the start (see photo above). Pamela Wilson, of Big Brand System is my favorite designer ever! She designed this blog, the Ecosystem Gardening blog, and several upcoming sites for projects I haven’t even released yet. If you need a great designer, Pamela is your go to person!

You may remember that Pamela gave us some wonderful tips right here about how to design your book.

The Process

Now, my steps are these:

  1. Finish Rewrites
  2. Edit
  3. Edit
  4. Edit
  5. Upload to publishing site
  6. Proof
  7. Upload again
  8. Have finished product delivered to Indiana in time for my speaking gig

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Bad Design is Not Good for Your Business

Ecosystem Gardening HeaderWe’ve talked before about the importance of good design for your books, and what the elements of good design are.

These elements include not only your books, but also every element of your author platform, from your blog, your Twitter page, your Facebook page, and to your offline marketing materials as well.

When I began my first blog, Ecosystem Gardening, I was building my author platform for the release of my upcoming book of the same name.

I had content. Lots of good content.

But I was embarrassed every time somebody visited my site. Why would I possibly be embarassed?

I Had No Idea How to Design My Site

I did the best I could. I picked colors that I thought went well together. I tried to choose fonts that looked good.

I tried. I really did.

But I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no clue how to design my site so that I was presenting a cohesive message.

It was  a mess, and I was embarassed. But I didn’t have to be.

What if there was a way to get help? What if you could learn to design your own site?

There is!

I got help from Pamela Wilson at The Big Brand System. She helped me determine my message, who my audience was, and how to present my site and other materials in a way that reinforced this message.

Pamela Wilson has just opened the doors to her Big Brand System online design course, where she’ll be sharing her design and marketing expertise with us, and teaching us how to get our message across with good design.

If you’re an author, you have enough to worry about with promoting your book, building your author platform, and finding your audience.

Don’t let bad design ruin your message. It’s just too important!

Pamela has just released a free report called Five Ingredient Design Recipes, which is a treasure trove of great “recipes” to get you started.

But I’m not stopping there. I’ve enrolled in the Big Brand System course so that I won’t repeat my earlier mistakes. I want to learn how to design my message so that I’m reaching my audience in the best way possible.

But you need to act fast. Pamela is closing the doors to this great opportunity on Friday. I didn’t want to miss out, so I signed up right away. I’m hoping I’ll see you there!

[I have no affiliate relationship with the Big Brand System. I don't make any commission from telling you about this opportunity. It's a really good deal. That's why I want you to know about it.]

5 Things Trail Running Can Teach You About Focus

[Guest post by Yolanda Facio]

Okay, so you’re probably thinking what in the hell does running have to do with focus, right?  And, you’re probably wondering what trail running has to do with publishing a book! But we all need to practice good focus…

I admit I would have thought the idea of focus and running a bit of a stretch until I stretched and put my sneakers on and well, went for a run.

I live in a beautiful place if you like the desert.  We have really awesome in town parks and I’m lucky enough to live near one.  So I head over to the park, it’s been about two months since I’ve been able to hit a trail and I’m pretty psyched about it.

So I put on my gps watch, and my super fast hat and my super fast sunglasses and my super knobby running shoes…you get the picture…and I head out!

Now the thing about running trails is, well, generally you have to pay attention.  You can’t just go skipping down a wash thinking about how you should have charged more for the last project you did ‘cause it turns out the guy was a real jerk and he definitely deserves the ‘you’re a jerk so I’m gonna charge you 10% more’ fee with interest…blam…thump…thump…thump…schrishhhhh.

Damn it!

I roll over super fast and make sure I’m sitting upright, just in case anyone sees me right? Riiiight…

Alright, so now I’m bleeding from the knees and palms, my glasses are missing in action (they are quite fast and therefore fly far).  I’ve got one earbud in, the other has been torn from my ear and from the iPod…well actually I have one earbud…it is no longer attached to anything.

Hang on…looking around…okay no one’s looking…

There you have it, I wasn’t paying attention… (True story).

So before I crash into anything else, like cacti for instance, I’m going to get on with the focusing part…

1.  Rocks ‘n Roots…pay attention or you’ll fall

Well, yeah… we just covered this.

But I’ll go a little deeper; you have to pay attention to paying attention.  Really.  Most of the trails I run on are rocky and loose, so it only takes a second before I’m off, flying into the dirt.

So, I practice paying attention to paying attention.  I’m running along and if I begin to notice my mind wandering, I literally say out loud…“focus damn it”.  I force myself to pay attention to the act of focusing.

As we go along working our work we tend to fall into the habit of getting too relaxed.  We’ve done the task a million times before so why can’t we just go on auto pilot?

It’s because when we start to cruise we get lazy, and when we get lazy we miss things.  It really is that simple.

So as you go about doing your everyday tasks, remember to pay attention to the act of focusing.  It’ll help you focus better.

2.  Big Picture and Laser Focus

Here’s the thing about running on trails, you have to look around.  You need to take in the whole enchilada.  You need to get your bearings because depending on where your trail is you could get lost.

Then you need to zoom into what is right in front of you as well.  If you don’t get your feet up then you could very easily trip on a big ol’ rock that you thought you saw but then it grew, like right in front of you just grew, and it was suddenly 2 feet off the ground and no way could you clear THAT obstacle…so it’s good to pay attention…

By getting your bearings and then zooming in on the task at hand you’ll have a much better time focusing.  When we fail to take in the big picture and get right to the meat of our project we tend to have to back out several times to get info or tools.

If you are getting ready to work on your next project, whether it’s writing an outline or writing your web page text, first do the big picture tasks.  Make sure you have all the information you need, all the tools you need, a pen, some paper, the stapler, whatever it is, just make sure you’ve got it.  Then get started.  Zoom in on the first item and stick with it until it’s done, move on to the next.  If you need to keep stopping for something you’ll lose focus and have to start again.

3.  Long Stride Short Stride

Staying focused sometimes means changing your stride.  Once you’ve done your big picture, you know where you are headed, then you begin to zoom into laser focus.  You’ve got the upcoming obstacles on your radar and you are doing a good job of paying attention to the task at hand…then you glance back and see the guy with the mountain bike barreling towards you…and you simply side step to the shoulder just past the big cactus you saw earlier.  You shorten your stride because it is super rocky on the shoulder.  Then, as soon as the mountain bike guy passes, you hop back out onto the trail and lengthen your stride.  You get back into the rhythm of the run as you stare at those cute little spandex shorts…

Long strides, short strides.  The whole time you keep at the task, but you might have to make an adjustment or two as you go along.  Because you’ve already got the big picture in your mind, if you have to jump off task for a second or change direction because you have new information, none of this will discombobulate you.  It’s all in the stride.  Adjust, keep moving.

4.  Stay away from the well-travelled path

It may seem easy to go down the same road everyone else is using.  But sometimes having a bit of a struggle can reap the greatest rewards.  You might be planning a new widget and everyone else goes with standard grey.  But maybe you figure some people will be using the widget in the sunshine and it might reduce glare to use a matte black finish.  Staying focused on your customer, on your uniqueness, on your individuality can be difficult when everything else is swirling around you.  Right then you figure, I’ll just go down the easy path…right?  Wrong!

Staying focused on what is important means staying focused on what may be hard.  Look for the smooth path, the one without foot prints.  Look for the patch of snow that no one has walked in before and make your own path.

5.  Fork in the road, which way do I go?

Good question.  As I came to one today, I noticed that going left meant going downhill, good for my legs and going right meant going uphill, bad for my legs.

The thing is, sometimes the hardest choice, the one that requires more focus ends up being the easiest route.  Being focused and staying focused means getting the hard stuff out of the way first.  It also means not choosing what is easy over what is really most beneficial.  It is easier to stay focused when the task at hand is something we’ve done before or something someone else has navigated for us.

I chose left.  It went uphill alright and it was a bit steep, but then it evened out, it was flat and smooth.  It was worth the extra effort.

The Big Close

Whether you’re writing a book, newsletter, article, blog post or just doing the bookkeeping, staying focused and on-track takes a little bit of work.  You literally need to pay attention to paying attention.  Staying focused means practice, but that’s the best part!  If you stick with it you’ll get good at it and even when you start to wander off in the wrong direction, you’ll be able to corral your thoughts and get back on track.  It’s a lot better than bloody knees.

Yolanda A. Facio is an Entrepreneur and Marketer specializing customer centricity.  You can find her at www.MarketingUnhinged.com where she shows you how to “Get The Customer and Skip The Boring Stuff”.  Sign up for the free 10 Minute Marketing Motivator eNewsletter and have some marketing fun! Follow @yolandafacio

How to Find Inspiration by Looking For It

Road to Ravenna Stacey Curnow

[Guest Post by Stacey Curnow]

First action, then inspiration

~ those are the words that drive me whenever I am looking for that elusive muse called inspiration. I’ve learned that if I show up first, whether it’s at my computer, a meeting, or a workout, she will most likely show up too. After all, one of my favorite quotes is this one, attributed to German writer Goethe:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

I recommend reading that first paragraph again. (I’ll wait here for you.) Note that nowhere in there does it say, “Wait for inspiration, and then your action will come easily, and you’ll achieve your dreams before you know it.”

Act first and expect inspiration to follow

I’m pretty sure that if I believed that waiting was the way to approach inspiration, I wouldn’t have accomplished much in my life. On the other hand, acting first and expecting inspiration to follow has helped me start working toward, and then achieve, many of my dreams. This was certainly true of writing a children’s story, which began as a dream over 5 years ago.

I’ve always loved children’s picture stories and filled bookshelves with them even before I had a child, but I never imagined writing one. That changed when, in preparation for my first child, I read a book on parenting, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn. It contained the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady: I loved the story, but I was a little dismayed that it seemed to hang so much on physical beauty and romantic love.

I wanted to tell a story that focused more on friendship and freedom. I shared my dream with my husband and with my dear friend and extraordinary artist Daniel Nevins, and they were both enthusiastic about it. Daniel even agreed to create the illustrations if I ever managed to get the story written. Of course, it would have to wait, because my baby was born soon after I asked for his help.

The first two years of my son’s life passed quickly, but the story stayed with me. I knew I still wanted to write it, but there were so many other matters to attend to. Commitments to my family and my work as a nurse-midwife seemed to take up all my time. The few moments I carved out for myself seemed best spent doing mood-elevating exercise, which helped fuel me up for all of the other demands on my energy.

I felt I had no time to do anything more. And I doubted that writing the story would pay off even if I were to find the time, because then I’d either have to pay Daniel to do the illustrations or get a publishing deal that would pay for them—and both options seemed well nigh impossible. Still, the idea of the story haunted me (in a good way) and I realized there was nothing to be done but to “show up” and write the story.

Always be Writing

So I carved out the time. I sat at my computer. And I wrote. And I waited for the muse. And I wrote a little more. And sure enough, the muse arrived. I finished the story in February of 2007.

I sent it out to publishers hoping beyond hope they would love it as much as I did. I got a few positive responses, but nothing close to a publishing contract. After six months, I realized that if I was going to see this story “fully fleshed” – that is, illustrated—I was going to have to pay Daniel myself to illustrate it.  It was the most money I had ever spent on anything other than the down payment on my house, and it felt like a huge risk, but it was worth it to see my dream become a reality.

I sent the manuscript out, now with the illustrations, and (still many months later), got a publisher interested in the book. And it will be coming out later this summer! So, after perhaps the world’s longest gestation (5 years!), my baby, Ravenna, will be born. But she would have stayed a twinkle in my eye had I not been willing to take the action before inspiration struck.

Just Do It

To anyone who has ever had a dream, but felt you lacked the inspiration to see it come to reality, or doubted that anything would come from it even if you did commit to it, I can only say, do it. The boldness of acting on your dream really does have genius, power, and magic in it.

Stacey Curnow  is the founder of Midwife for Your Life, a website, blog and series of coaching programs designed to help women give birth to a life they love. You can find out more about her illustrated children’s book, Ravenna here, and order it here. Follow @StaceyCurnow

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