Growing your business is a lot like training!

Do you swing between feeling good and challenged in your business? Here’s how to keep them both in balance.

Lift.  Relax.  Lift.  Relax.

If you spend any time in a gym, you’ll have seen how weightlifters train. It’s a gradual, conscious process of slowly building up strength through challenge and release.

It’s that combination that allows the muscle to regenerate and grow stronger.

However, if you over-challenge that muscle before it’s ready, it gives up. If you attempt an Olympic weight when you’ve just lifted your first 20kg, you’ll risk long-term injury.

Running your own business is the same.

No achievement comes without stretch. But if we stretch ourselves too far and too fast, we put our businesses at risk by relying on something that’s not safe or sustainable.

Understand your personality to know your risks

We all have natural preferences for how we get things done. Your personality and the sum of all your experiences make some tasks much easier for you than others.

So here’s the tension.

Working with your natural strengths allows you to maximize your energy. It’s often more fun. It’s what you set up your business for.

But without stretch, nothing happens.

How to balance stretch and release

A key personality factor in getting things done is understanding whether your natural strength is thinking or doing.

We’ve all grown up learning how to do some of both, and of course we need to. But we’re naturally better at one than the other – meaning that we do it more automatically, and with less stress.

The difference between Thinking and Doing personalities

If you’re a Thinker by preference, you’ll be energized by ideas, connections, purpose or visions. You’re likely to enjoy working with concepts or which have a strong fundamental purpose.

However, when a Thinker is under pressure, tired or stressed, you’ll find it challenging to get things started, or to stick with something that involves lots of implementation. Too much of that, and a Thinker ends up with a pile of ideas, and business that doesn’t move.

A Doer, by contrast, loves to get stuck in and keep things moving. If you’re a Doer, you’ll want to make practical progress you can see, right now.

On the other hand, when you’re under stress, you’ll resist having to take a step back to evaluate what’s going on. That means that a stressed Doer risks haring off in the wrong direction, wasting even more time and energy.

Why your preferences shape your success

When you’re well rested and energised, you can easily compensate for your weaknesses. You can use your weaker muscle because it’s had enough rest.

But working in the way that isn’t natural takes more effort.

That means that as you get more stressed, you’ll revert even more to your preferred way of working. So a Thinker finds it harder and harder to take effective action, while a Doer buries themselves deeper and deeper in mindless busyness.

And the problem you’re facing? It’s just got worse.

How to work with your weaker muscles

Firstly, work out whether you’re a Thinker or a Doer by nature. It may be clear to you, or take the free Vitally Productive online assessment to help you.

Look for circumstances where you’re likely to need your ‘weaker muscle’ for an extended period. Thinkers are likely to be challenged by a big practical project, while Doers will be stretched by a period of extended analysis or thinking.

Your goals is to use your natural muscles as much as you can, while managing the amount of stress you place on your weaker ones.

Firstly, consider how you can maximise your existing strengths in that project. Just asking yourself that question often brings up new ideas and ways you could approach it.

So, here are the 5 keys

  • Build up your weaker muscle before you need it. That could be learning a new skill you’ll need, doing research and planning in advance or creating habits around doing routine jobs that are challenging.
  • Consider what systems you can put in place now to make your life easier when the pressure builds. Automate as much as you can, especially for things that you tend to delay doing or that take more effort for you.
  • Bring in help that supports your area of weakness, ideally before you need it. Once you hit stress, you’ll be much less able to think clearly and take action to outsource or delegate.
  • Spread the load by starting work on challenging areas before you need to. You’ll almost certainly have a tendency to want to put it off by telling yourself it will be fine. It might be, but at a cost.
  • Schedule challenging work for times when you’re well rested. If you find mundane tasks massively difficult, you may need to do them first thing in the morning, no matter what conventional time management tells you.
  • Balance out your challenges by doing work that plays to your natural preferences. Whether that’s over the course of a day or a week, make sure you give yourself time to recover. Lift. Relax. Lift. Relax. What’s one thing can you do in your business today to use your natural strength and build your weaker muscle deliberately?

Let me know in the comments!

photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

 

You’re a people-pleaser! Here’s how to celebrate it

People pleasers get a bad press in business circles. ‘Stop it!’ you’re told. ‘Think of yourself instead’.

Nonsense, I say.

Celebrate it. Make the most of it. But do it on your own terms.

If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, here’s why.

While I was creating my effectiveness assessment tool, Vitally Productive, it became very clear that for many people, the idea of delighting others isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s a deeply powerful motivation.

And yet they’re continually being told that it shouldn’t be.

The danger with people pleasing is that you can find yourself dominated by someone else’s needs, wants or values. That’s unquestionably damaging. If those values aren’t the same as yours, it creates tension between your inner world and what you feel obliged to do.

People pleasing is harmful when it leads to pressure, compromise of your personal values, or running your life according to someone else’s expectations.

But if you can understand how it works, you can use it to your advantage.

In the Vitally Productive system, people are motivated more strongly by their inner world or their outer world. Inner Worlders like autonomy, while Outer Worlders love connection. It’s nothing to do with sociability – plenty of Inner Worlders are extroverts, and Outer Worlders are introverts. However, for Outer Worlders, the idea of connection, recognition or feedback from other people is motivating in its own right.

Outer Worlders actively look for feedback, connection, or understanding first hand the impact of their actions. Those things – and even the idea of them – provide a real boost of motivation when they’re struggling.

If you’re an Outer Worlder, the problem comes when you don’t achieve that connection in supportive places. Because it’s such a strong need, you’ll turn to groups or people that don’t help you, or whose values or expectations run counter to what you want or need. Failing that, you’ll try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need other people, and find yourself frustrated and demotivated as a result.

A sensitivity to other people is a wonderful gift to have.

Here are 5 essential things to do, to use it to your advantage.

5 ways to make the most of being a people pleaser

1. Visualise pleasing on your terms

When you set yourself an objective or goal, work out very clearly exactly who will benefit from it. Understand how they’ll find it valuable. Visualise that result in as much detail as you can, and return to it whenever you’re feeling unmotivated.

2. Build real relationships into your work

Set up opportunities to make connections face to face. If you want to get feedback on a service or product, don’t just do an online survey, but set up an informal focus group or individual conversations. If sharing motivates you, volunteer to speak at local groups.

3. Build a positive network

Actively build up a network of supportive people who you talk to regularly about your work or life. Positive input from enough people who understand what you’re about will help meet your desire for approval or acceptance, and you’ll be less affected by negative expectations. Even one or two strong positive relationships can make all the difference.

4. Develop your early warning system for energy vampires

There are plenty of people who want to take advantage of your good nature, and you need heightened self-awareness to avoid being sucked into situations that exploit and drain you. If you offer help, notice whether support is quickly reciprocated in some way, or whether expectations of it soon starts to escalate. Create a script, if necessary, to help you get quickly out of situations that look as though they’ll be one-way only.

5. Stand firm on your values

Clearly identify the values and principles that are important to you. It’s easier to turn down a chance to ‘help’ when you have a clear positive reason for doing so. For instance, if you give away too much time for free, consider whether you can reframe it in terms of prioritising that time for your family. If you’re encountering pressure to do something differently, keep clearly in mind why your way is important to you.

And don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!

photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Listen up! The number one reason you’re not getting face-to-face sales

No one wants what you sell. Honestly.

No one truly wants a coach, an interior designer or a VA. No one wants a yoga teacher, a photographer or a lawyer.

If you’ve been in business a while, you’ll have been told plenty of times that you should be selling a dream or a vision.

You don’t sell an interior design, you sell a dream of a home. You don’t sell legal contracts, you sell peace of mind.

But why is it so hard to do?

It’s because everyones dream is different.

It’s about understanding what someone’s dream is.

It’s about listening. Listening intently, actively, listening so that you can understand exactly what your client is telling you, even when they’re not using words.

And this is why it’s so hard.

Why listening is the no 1 skill you have to learn – and why your brain doesn’t like it

When you’re in a face-to-face sales meeting, it’s natural that you want to help someone understand how fantastic your service or product is, and how much it could solve their problem.

You might already have some great questions ready to help get the other person on your side. You might have some tried-and-tested images and visions to share. Maybe you’re already fantastic at presenting a dream solution.

But here’s where your brain is out to sabotage you. It’s almost impossible to have two focuses: presenting and listening.

And unless you know that what you’re saying is right for the other person, presenting your solution, no matter how well, is a stab in the dark.

Instead, if you want to know what the other person is really dreaming of, you have to find a way of giving them your real, genuine, total attention.

You need to be able to immerse yourself in what they’re saying to you.

You need to forget, for a time, what you want from them.

Why true, active listening, is an extraordinarily powerful tool in face-to-face selling

Firstly, it gives you access to someone’s inner world: what motivates them, what they truly want from a situation, what the dream solution would be that they’d pay almost anything for. And that gives you an enormous opportunity to tailor your services or products to that person and bring them on board as a passionate, loyal fan.

Secondly, it allows you to weed out the clients who will be nothing but trouble. It can be tempting to take on a client because they’re offering to pay you, even if you’re not fully comfortable with it. Those relationships are often the ones that go wrong, causing stress and tension further down the line. However, if you’ve listened intently, you’ll have heard and understood whether this person is going to want things, that ‘you can’t’ or ‘don’t want’ to provide. And that means you can say ‘no’, from a place of inner confidence.

Thirdly, it creates a unique rapport. For most people, being fully listened to is a rare and powerful experience. We highly value people who work in that way, whether they’re professionals or friends: consider how we respond to a doctor or a lawyer who really listens to us before providing advice, or a friend who takes the time to understand. If you can do the same thing, you’re immediately elevated to someone who is trustworthy and credible.

5 ways to make your listening skills the killer tool in your sales kit

Active listening isn’t just about the words someone else is saying. It’s about being aware of all the different messages that someone else is giving you, and being able to respond to them appropriately and authentically.

It’s not straightforward, especially when you’re nervous. But listening is a skill that you can get better at, in a very deliberate way.

Not sure where to start? Here are 5 ways to make your listening skills the thing that differentiates you from everyone else in your field – and that means more sales for you.

1. Write things down as you go

Take notes as someone is talking to you. It keeps you focused on them, and off your own agenda. Your notes will also be massively helpful if you’re going back to someone with a proposal at a later date. I’ve closed big deals a year after a first meeting, because my original detailed notes meant I could create an offer that I knew met someone’s practical and emotional objectives.

2. Observe someone’s energy

Most people aren’t aware of the way their own energy fluctuates with their emotional engagement, but it’s a very powerful clue once you start to notice it.

Watch how someone talks about what they want. They might be very articulate about what they need from a service or product, but if they don’t have any emotional engagement with it, you’ll see it in their body language, their tone of voice, and in low or average energy. But as soon as you hit an emotional resonance, everything changes. They’ll sit up more, their face and voice become more animated, they might talk faster or louder. Once you see that, you’ll know there’s something there to pick up on. No matter how insignificant the point might seem, it’s an area where you’re going to get real engagement. Pick up on it, explore what it means, and consider how your product or service could either support that emotion (if it’s a positive one), or help someone overcome a negative emotion.

3. Listen for analogies and images

Using someone’s own language creates a short-cut to engaging them fully. Listen closely for the exact words the other person is using. Do they want to ‘beat our competition’, perhaps using lots of sporting or military vocabulary, or to ‘shine in our industry’, maybe with images of light and positivity? If you can use those same ideas in talking about how you can help them, you’ll create a sense of familiarity and trust for the other person.

Metaphors can be another helpful clue to how they relate to the world. If someone starts comparing their problems to a particular football team, historical situation or even a simple picture, encourage them to go further with it; perhaps to explain the kind of dream solution they’re looking for. Even if you don’t understand the details, you’ll almost certainly get a better idea of what it is they’re really after, simply because they’re using an image that makes sense to them.

4. Be bold in clarifying what you’re hearing

A great way of actively listening, is to summarise back what you think you’re observing. You might say, ‘I’m picking up that what you’d really love is a solution that does this…am I right’?

If you’re right, you’re confirming to the other person that you’ve listened and understood. If you’ve misunderstood something, it gives them a chance to clarify things, which means that you improve your understanding, and you’re not relying on a wrong assumption.

This is a great discipline for keeping you focused on the other person, as you’re continually challenging yourself to summarise what you’ve understood.

5. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is an increased awareness of being in the present moment. It’s a skill that helps you to reduce or eliminate all the distractions in your brain, that keep you from focusing totally on what’s happening. In a sales meeting, that’s often the mental ‘chat’ or anxiety of your own sales message at a time when you should be focusing on what the other person is saying.

Learning to be mindful can take lots of forms. Meditation is a well-known approach (try a service such as www.headspace.com); but you can practice it through cooking, walking, exercise; anything where you practice being fully in the moment and not distracted. A few times a day, try taking a few minutes to notice intently everything around you: what you can see, feel or hear. The more frequently you do it, the more easily you’ll be able to use the skill in pressurised situations like sales meetings.

What you can do now to make active listening a habit

Although lots of sales skills are hard to practice outside a sales conversation, listening is one that you can develop easily.

To get started, simply choose one of the ideas above. Try to use it in all the conversations you have, no matter who they’re with. Keep doing it for several days, maybe a week, until it starts becoming easier, or even automatic. Then add another approach. If you find that’s too much, then reduce it to just one skill again, and keep doing that one for a bit longer.

Over a few weeks you should start finding that you’re listening more actively in all your conversations.

That means that next time you go into a sales conversation, you’ll no longer be selling what you do. Instead, you’ll be understanding what your client really wants, and authentically and convincingly letting them know how you can help them achieve it.

And that’s going to make you the person they choose to work with.

How could you apply this in your business? Is ‘listening well’ in your sales toolkit? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

You can find more great posts by Joanna here…

Photo Credit: Deathtostockphotos.com

5 reasons you’re not growing your business

To expand your business you need help. There’s only so much you can do on your own, and only so far your own skills will take you. What’s more, moving to a new level often means taking a big step: starting a new project, changing how you operate or opening up a new market. That means you have to bring in support, whether it’s the occasional freelancer or full-time staff. And that’s a huge block for many entrepreneurs and can stop you from growing your business. Learning how to find, delegate to and trust other people isn’t easy, but there’s no alternative if you want to beat your own limitations of time, knowledge or skills.

The first step to getting help is to realising why it’s so hard. If you’re struggling with finding ways to expand, you’re probably stuck because of at least one of the following five reasons. Change is all about altering your habits and your mindset, so here are some next steps to grow your business to match the size of your vision.

1: You don’t know what you want.

The first rule of getting in help is to know what you want from it. If your goal is ‘someone to do marketing’, or ‘help to get more sales’, you’re never going to succeed. You need absolute clarity.

What to do: focus on the outcome

Articulate the outcome you want. That might be: ‘I want to find a venue for my workshop’, or ‘I want 20 new clients in the education sector’. That means that you can then start to work out, very specifically, what you need to do to get that. When you’re hiring someone, you both understand exactly what you want them to achieve.  That’s much more motivating for anyone, and gives them a greater chance of success from the beginning.

Don’t worry about being restricted by your goal. You can always change it as you go along, but if you don’t have a clear goal, any path you take will be fuzzy.

2: You can’t let go

Entrepreneurs succeed by being fussy about the detail, but there’s a point when it gets in the way. You’ll never find the time to grow if you want to be hands-on about everything. Letting go doesn’t mean releasing all control of something, but it means focusing on the outcome, and learning to find the right people to manage the processes.

What to do: start small and practice

You need to build up your own confidence and delegation skills, and so you need to practice. Start with a small, low-risk task. That might be entering 50 business cards into a database or creating a banner for your website. Write down exactly what you want someone to do and find someone to do it. If it works, repeat it with something a little bigger. If you don’t get what you want, ask yourself how you could have made your brief clearer, or been more specific about choosing someone. The key is to see this as a learning experience for yourself. Each time you bring in help, you’re improving your ability to do it, so eventually you’ll have the skills and confidence to outsource and manage big projects.

3: You don’t value experts

Now, you probably say you do. You respect your web designer, or accountant. But entrepreneurs tend to think they can, honestly, do everything themselves, unless they know it’s totally beyond them. This is great while you’re in a bootstrapping phase. However, if you’re going to get bigger, you’ll be competing with people and companies who probably have a lot more specialist experience. The other downside with doing everything yourself is that you’re probably taking a lot longer to do things than a specialist would. It’s amazing how quickly someone can work when it’s something they’re great at.

You might feel that you need to understand everything your business does, but if you’re going to grow, you will need to bring in people with different skills and learn to trust them.

What to do: prove yourself wrong

Again, start with something small, and something you know you’re not great at, or something that you don’t enjoy. That might be research, copy writing or admin – it doesn’t matter. If you know the text on your website is clunky and long, find a copywriter to improve it. If your marketing is stalled, book a session with a marketing consultant. Again, be clear about the outcome, brief as thoroughly as you can, and keep it low risk. You’ll probably be quickly astonished at what a difference it makes to have a specialist contributing.

4: You don’t know how to make big decisions

Business owners often get dazzled by opportunities, and hate to turn their back on what they feel are possibilities. But you need focus to succeed. Doing one thing really well will always beat doing several things half-heartedly (or not at all).

In reality, few opportunities are as straightforward as they seem once you’ve examined them. The fear of that reality too often stops entrepreneurs doing the hard analysis they should. Launching into something on a rush of enthusiasm is the reason why so many businesses get stuck in a frustrating, unsuccessful rut.

Great entrepreneurs make big, hard, rational decisions. Frustrated small business owners don’t. Which do you want to be?

What to do: work out the information you need

Write down an idea which has various options in it. Say it’s getting established in a new market, but you’ve got three different ones in mind. You need to decide which of those three markets gives you the best chance of success.

Consider what information you need to decide. That might be, for instance, the current size of the market, who the customers are, who your main competitors would be, what channels you would need to use, what new skills you’re likely to need, what it would mean for production or servicing that market, any regulations in that sector, and what connections you currently have. Focus on top-line information early on. You can narrow down your options as you get more in-depth.

If you don’t have the time or the skills, this might be a good chance to start commissioning an expert to do some of it. You don’t need a top-level business consultant: you might even find a good business student to work for you. Again, start small so you limit your risks and can keep an eye on it.

If analysing the information and making the decision is the challenge, consider taking on a mentor to help you work out the most suitable path.

5: You can’t break your vision down into practical steps

So you’ve got a great vision. You know exactly what your goal is. But it still doesn’t mean you know how to do it.

Maybe you know that writing and publishing a book will push you to the next level, but unless you know exactly what you need to do to make it happen, it’s not going to. Maybe you want to launch a new product range, or series of webinars: the same things apply.

What to do: create a road-map

Work out what you already know, and what you don’t. For a book, you’ll need to work out how you’re going to find time to research and write, how to find a publisher or self-publish, how you’ll get it edited and proofread, and how to promote and sell it. And how you’re going to fund all that.

Create a road-map of the project: a list of things you need to do, and when. You don’t need all the answers before you start, and it doesn’t mean you won’t change it. However, it means you can focus on the next step without worrying that something is going to be forgotten.

With the book, for instance, you should probably be trying to build up your own mailing list well in advance. If you’re aware of that, you can plan it into your workload and work on it gradually (or get help) so that it’s ready when you need it.

You might decide that in order to find time, you need to find someone else to help with your current workload: maybe your client admin, or updating your website. Maybe you could to commission someone to research how to self-publish, or track relevant blogs for important updates.

Buying in help is an essential way of allowing you to focus on what you do best and grow your business. If you’ve invested money in buying in help, it also provides you with an additional incentive to make something happen. Start small, start now, and watch the results as you learn how to make it work for you and your business.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

3 ways to escape the overwhelm vortex

You’ve got soooo much on… you can’t see how you’re going to get through the next day, never mind the next month… you’re being pulled further and further down into your own whirling, swirling world…

Stop there, superwoman!

I’m going to throw you the rope to grab onto, and a way to pull yourself out.

But let’s get one thing straight. It is almost impossible pull yourself out of a vortex. You need someone else to help you. Thankfully,  the world is full of people with amazing skills, ready and waiting to be on the end of that rope.

So grab that to-do list. It’s time to break free.

Vortex-buster #1: Buy in some time

What jobs do you have that DON’T need your unique skills and experience? Put together a to do list and search for one-off, contained tasks that someone else could do.

Who you look for, depends on how much skill is needed. If it’s administration that’s stealing your time, consider booking a VA for a few hours.

The more experienced they are, the more they should be able to take over tasks quickly and efficiently. If it’s something very practical – packing up parcels, or preparing event packs – ask around for someone local to work for a few hours. Look at  freelance sites such as PeoplePerHour and Elance can be great starting points for work that can be done remotely or talk to your network, look around LinkedIn, or put the work out on social media.

As as well as one-off jobs, you’ve probably also got a lot of tasks that you do regularly. While, you may know how to do them standing on your head,  it can be frustrating to hand them over to someone who may not be as efficient as you at first.

However, these are jobs that probably really getting in the way of you growing your business, or having the work-life balance you want. They don’t need your skills, and they take up time and energy that you could be using better.  And, as long as you hold onto them, you’re unlikely to escape that relentless pull of overwhelm. Even if you don’t save as much time as you’d like on the first occasion, it doesn’t take very long before you should be seeing real benefits.

If you’re handing over jobs you do frequently, it’s worth investing a bit of time to create ‘how-to’ guides. You could create a process list, slides, or mini-manual. Video can be particularly effective; try Jing, free screen-capture/video software to talk someone through what needs to be done. YouTube is also a great resource of done-for-you training on standard systems.

Vortex-buster #2 Hire some skills

What jobs do you know you’re not very good at? You’re looking for tasks that you probably dread, because you just don’t have the necessary skills. Do you need to update your website, and know that it takes you hours because you don’t know your way around WordPress well enough? Are you planning to design a flier for your new workshop? What about formatting presentation slides, sorting out accounts, creating images for social media in that new programme you’ve been meaning to try, editing videos or transcribing audios? It’s time to get someone who knows what they’re doing, and can do it in half the time.

You might already know someone who specialises in what you need to be done. Otherwise, if it’s a defined job you need done that can be done remotely, such as creating a flier, look at ‘hourlies’ on PeoplePerHour or, for rock-bottom prices, Fiverr, where everything starts at $5. If it’s a bit less contained, create a description of what you need to be done and post it on PeoplePerHour or Elance. Both sites are full of freelancers offering their services. Look for good reviews relevant to the work you want done, as well as a portfolio. If you need skills locally, ask around your network, or try Google for local searches.

Vortex-buster #3: Buy in expertise

This is where to go when you’ve got jobs that are going to cause you serious energy waste because you don’t have the knowledge. Here you’re looking for tasks where before you can make progress you’re going to have to figure something out, do research, read tutorials, or figure out some kind of make-do solution.

For a really quick fix, it can be worth hiring an expert for an hour or so to give you some personal training. You won’t be an expert yourself, but it might just give you enough to get you over the next hurdle.

It also needn’t be ruinously expensive, particularly if it’s something where you can work remotely, such as over Skype. Again, you could advertise for someone on Elance or PeoplePerHour, or ask around. A cheaper option might be to buy a ready-made masterclass or course. However, you need to be sure you’ll find time to work through it, and it might also cover a lot of stuff you don’t need.

If you’ve got a bit more time and budget, hire someone to advise you in more detail, or do something for you. Typical projects my include revamping your mailing list strategy, or mapping out your new website. An expert will usually have tools to help work out a strategy for for you, and may be able to help you put it into practice.

It could also mean looking at taking on an expert as a regular consultant. This would involve taking on an agent to help get your product into more shops, or working with someone to give you ongoing marketing advice.

It’s not uncommon for solo consultants to offer a short free first session so you can get a sense of their style and whether it would work for you.

Hiring an expert might mean paying more for something than you’d originally planned, particularly if you’d been planning to do the research and thinking, and to hire someone purely to implement it. Before you discount it, though, consider the value of getting something done sooner versus waiting until you find the time, and of getting an expert view from the start.

Out of the vortex and into the land of opportunities

Bringing in other people to your business is the only way to grow your business successfully and get the quality of life you want. And yet it’s often uncomfortable, especially if you pride yourself on being an all-round, determined, superheroine.

But think of that vortex. It’s not going to let you go. So instead, choose to shout and get help. You’ll discover what amazing things start to happen in your life and your business when you trust other people with the rope to pull you upwards.

Joanna Pieters works with small business owners with big visions, to give them clarity, focus and an action plan to succeed. Her online programme Brilliant Hiring begins on 28 April, taking you from overwhelm to hiring confidence in just 6 weeks.

Photo credit: Mary Ann Enriques

Danger! Inspiration is a drug and here’s why

Inspiration is a wonderful thing! It makes us feel as though anything is possible, and impossible is nothing. It gives us rich, colourful dreams and visions of how we can break down barriers, beat our demons and take on the world.

But it’s also very dangerous. Here’s why.

Danger 1: Inspiration is a drug

Inspiration releases a massive burst of energy in your brain. We start making new connections and having new insights, and that process makes us feel amazing. The problem is that our brain perceives that feeling as an end in itself. Surely, our brain reasons, something that makes us feel that great must be worthwhile. And since we often look for inspiration in areas that are important to us, it’s very easy to justify going after that ‘fix’.
That means that when we have a bad day, our brain looks for something to make it feel better. And that’s why we find ourselves turning to the latest TED talk, or blogs from our favourite business guru. Our brain doesn’t really care whether it will actually be useful to us, but it knows that it will make it feel better again. And that leads onto the second danger.

Danger 2: Inspiration makes us forget that we haven’t taken action

When our brain feels so good, it stops sending out anxiety messages. So if we’re worried about our to-do list, a good dose of feel-good helps blind us to the fact that we haven’t actually done anything about it. Think of it like numbing the pain, in fact, in a horribly effective way.

Danger 3: Inspiration vanishes as quickly as it comes

The energy produced by our brain is short-lived. Think about when you’ve had a fantastic, inspiring conversation, or heard an uplifting talk, or read a book that you’ve felt really motivated by. How long did that energy last? Be honest: within a short time – maybe hours or even minutes – it had probably lost most of its power. But that brings us back to point 1: we then start searching out more inspiration, as our brain knows it’s a quick, reliable fix of mood-boost.

Aagh! But surely inspiration has some uses? Of course!

  1. Inspiration releases our thinking to break through problems, create new ideas and visions, and it energises us to achieve amazing things. It’s behind major works of science, art and business.
  2. Think of it like lightning. Immediate and dangerous, but if you could capture that energy, it could power you through weeks or months ahead.
  3. The challenge is to tap that energy and turn it into real power. It’s about capturing the lightning, and turning it into the energy that will charge your business through the next weeks, or months.
  4. Next time you’re inspired, here’s what you need to do to turn that energy into lasting strength.

Capture the power 1: Pin it down – now

Get a pen and notebook or even your phone – whatever is to hand. Write down what you’ve been ‘inspired’ about. The important thing is to do it immediately, while your brain is still buzzing. You’ll probably feel that you’ll remember everything later, or tomorrow. You won’t.

Have you just had a great idea about something you could do, or a realisation of what’s holding you back? Be as detailed as you can. If it’s a vision of what you could do, write down as much as you can: what are you doing in the vision? What can you feel, hear, see?

Capture the power 2. Maximise your energy by brainstorming your options

Spend 10 minutes brainstorming everything you could do to build on what you’ve just learnt. What would you need to do to get that new idea off the ground? How could you make that new routine work? How could you get everyone on board to make that new project happen? The energy of inspiration means you can often come up with ideas you wouldn’t normally think of, so think as big and as freely as you can, and keep going as long as you’re still coming up with new ideas.

Capture the power 3: Commit to your next steps

Look at your brainstorm and consider what ideas most grabbed you. Write down 3 things that you need to do as your next steps. Again, be as specific as you can about what exactly it is you need to do, and when. Then put them in your diary, along with any notes about what you need to do to make them happen.

Doing these steps means you take the ideas and insights that flash across your brain and turn them into plans. When your energy flags, you’ll have a reminder of the vision to return to, without relying on your brain to hold onto it. You’ll also have a list of things you could do, and you’ll have started making steps towards real action.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

You can read more great articles by Joanna here

21 Secrets of making great decisions

You’ve got far too much on, but you’ve got to decide about your new logo, your next ebook topic, where to take your client for dinner, who to distribute your product… and that’s just this morning. And by lunchtime, you’ve decided on… none of them.

When we’re overrun, it’s hard to make quick, powerful decisions. But setting clear directions is a skill that nearly all successful business leaders have learnt. Because they identify quickly what they and their team need to do at any one time, everyone can get on with it.

For next time you’re stuck, here’s you go-to list of 21 reminders, tricks and tools to help you make that decision quickly and effectively. That means you can use your energy on getting things done, not worrying about them.

  1. Work out the end result. Decide what you want the eventual outcome to be, and measure all options against that. If you have several important results to reach, then list them and rate each of your options against the list.
  2. It’s all about the next action. Every journey is completed one step at a time, with or without a map. If you’re bogged down, decide on the next thing to do, and simply concentrate on getting that completed.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Ask yourself: is the impact of this decision big enough for me to spend valuable time and energy on? If not, do it quickly or put it aside.
  4. Release the pressure to be right. Everything changes with time, including your perspective, and most things can be altered or refined later.
  5. Simply making a decision changes the landscape. You don’t know what opportunities will open up on the other side of a fork in the road. See it as the thrill of a journey, not trepidation about a destination.
  6. Feel the fear, but ask what it’s telling you. Our brains are programmed to be more sensitive to possible threats than possible rewards. If fear is holding you back, find a mentor, coach, colleague or friend to help you calmly work through whether your nervousness is justified.
  7. A for/against list still rocks. Sometimes the old ideas are still the best: writing down a list of pros and cons remains a great tool for working out what’s at stake.
  8. Draw up likely wins and losses over time. Create a four-square grid, and label the boxes: ‘Short-term gains, short-term losses, long-term gains, long-term losses’, before filling them in. You may well discover that immediate pain is blocking a long-term gain, or a short-term gain is skewing your big-picture priorities.
  9. Prioritise decisions that release bottlenecks. These are decisions that enable, or hold back, lots of other actions. Try to avoid creating them at all costs, and if you spot one, focus on making that decision as quickly as possible. Even if that decision is ‘wrong’, not making it may well be an even more damaging option.
  10. No-one cares like you do. Even though a decision might seem massive to you, to other people, including your customers, team or family, it may well have much less long-term impact on them than you think.
  11. Know what question you need to answer. Once you’re clear about this, you’ll find it way easier to find the information you need.
  12. If you need expert advice, go to an expert. When you need knowledge you don’t have in order to make a decision, get it as quickly as possible from the best place you can find or afford. Many experts, including lawyers and other professionals, offer free initial consultations.
  13. Look around you. Consider whether there’s some easy research you can do to answer your question. Calling 10 of your clients to ask them about how they use your product, sending a short survey to your mailing list or spending a morning observing shoppers can be powerful and effective.
  14. Avoid Google. You might want to go to specialist websites to answer specific questions, but do anything to avoid the lure of the online mass of contradictory but compelling opinion and advice.
  15. Look for a third way. Two options are usually easy to find. But if neither of the two options are what you want, look for an entirely different way of doing it.
  16. Commit to making decisions when you’re fresh. Making decisions is hard work for the brain. For complicated or long-standing issues, schedule time into your diary when you’ll have plenty of energy, and commit to reaching a conclusion.
  17. Understand the impact of not making a decision. If doing nothing will have little impact, maybe it’s not worth your time. If the implications are large, use that knowledge to motivate you into action.
  18. Take a deep breath. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or emotional, just few minutes of taking deep, slow breaths can calm down your brain chemistry and re-engage the part of the brain that manages rational thinking.
  19. Without risk, you can’t achieve anything at all. Understand how much risk you’re comfortable with, and push it very slightly.
  20. Our brains need a small amount of stress to function at their best. It’s normal to find decision-making tiring, but that’s because it engages our brain very powerfully. Consider a small amount of stress a stimulant to help you make the right decision.
  21. Delegate as many decisions as you can. Empowering other people to make appropriate decisions is a great motivator. It also reduces everyone’s dependency on you, saves you time and allows you to focus just on the things that really make a difference.

And here’s a bonus…

Celebrate that you have choices. A famous study of residents in an old people’s home found that being able to make even small choices about their lives had a significant impact on their life expectancy. Enjoy it!

The biggest reason you’ll fail in 2014

How does it feel to be back at work? Are you full of energy and enthusiasm for what you’re going to achieve, or already downhearted about last year’s problems still being there? No matter how you’re feeling, there’s one thing that’s going to make the difference between success and more-of-the-same in the next year.

And it’s the thing that most people fail to do when they’re deciding what they want to achieve. Whether you call it a New Year’s resolution, a goal, or a vision, the problem is the same.

They don’t make actual changes to make it happen. Instead, they just say they’d like something to happen, and hope for the best.

But here’s the thing. If you keep doing things in the same way, you’ll keep getting the same results. If you keep undercharging your clients, you’ll keep struggling to make enough money. If you continually struggle to organise your day, you’ll never become more productive. If you always turn to jelly at the thought of speaking at an event, you’ll never pluck up the courage to put yourself forwards. That is unless you take deliberate action; action to change what you do or the way that you do it, as well as the way you think about it.

Why change is hard

Our brains don’t like to use more energy than necessary. They’re hard-wired with ways to do things with minimal effort. That means when we fail to organise our day, it’s often because it takes less mental work to simply launch into something. When we persist with doing jobs we’re bad at, rather than outsourcing them, our brain is telling us that it’s easier to continue with something we’re used to doing rather than face the risk of the unknown.

When we avoid situations, or handle them in a way where we don’t get the result we want, we’re often taking what our brain sees as an easy way out. It realises that something will be uncomfortable, so it prompts us to make the ‘easy’ decision to avoid discomfort. That might mean we give a client a discount, because we’re afraid of being seen as too ‘greedy’, or continually put off the analysis of our website, because we fear it’s going to be too much effort for our skills and energy, and might give us difficult results to deal with.

The good news about change

To break that habit, we need to change our mental patterns. The difficult thing is overriding the part of our brain that continually wants to take the familiar option, no matter how unhelpful it is.

The great thing about this, however, is that once you’ve truly changed the way you think about something, or the way you do it, it becomes a part of you. The change becomes permanent, and doing it no longer feels challenging in the same way. Think of someone who’s given up smoking, and talks to anyone who’ll listen about how wonderful life is without it, or someone who conquered their fear to build a thriving business.

Why getting help to make change makes all the difference

When the chips are down, when you’re tired, or over-stretched, or under pressure, your existing hard-wiring is almost certain to kick in. You find yourself responding in the same way to a demanding client, or backing off from a challenging situation. It’s easy to quickly become demoralised, lose confidence, and before you know it, you’re back in your old ways.

However, if you’re got help at hand, your brain doesn’t have to fight itself all the time. If you’ve got someone else to support you, to motivate you, to hold you accountable and help you deal with difficult situations, it can make all the difference between giving up and sticking with a change for long enough for it to become a habit.

Your support team can be anything that helps you make and stick to the changes you need. Having your own coach is very powerful, or you might go for a mentor, a mastermind or accountability group. You might find getting help with a specific skill useful: enrolling on a blogging course, working with a marketing expert, or taking on a fitness coach, for instance. Making a commitment to another person can be another powerful way of making change stick: if managing overload is your challenge, consider taking on a regular freelancer and agreeing a certain number of hours of work each week. You don’t even need to pay someone: you could agree with a friend or another business owner that you’ll talk regularly to keep each other accountable.

Five steps to achieving your goals in 2014

If you’re determined to take action and make 2014 your best year yet, grab some paper and a pen, and start on these questions.

  1. Ask yourself: what do I want to achieve this year? Write it down as clearly as you can, and add how you’ll know when you’ve achieved it.
  2. Consider what progress you made in this area in 2013. What were the successful things you did?
  3. Ask yourself what you need to do differently this year. What changes do you want to make so that you approach your goal in a new way? Imagine yourself at the end of a successful year, and ask yourself what you’ve changed to make it happen. Write down at least three things to do or think differently.
  4. Write down what help you need to make those changes. Is it practical, educational, physical, emotional or mental? What do you need to help you either get over your current barriers, or provide you with support when you’re having a bad day? Think big! What support would you put in place if money was no object?
  5. Ask yourself where you can find the right help, information or support. Your professional network, Google, local business groups, friends or family, social networks? If you don’t know, start asking around. Once you have an idea what you need, it’s much easier to find the right person, information or help. If you can’t afford exactly what you want, work out the core of what it is you need, and go for that instead.

Then go for it! The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll find you’ve made real changes in your life and work. And that means that 2014 will be the year that’s truly extraordinary for you.

What changes are you going to make for 2014 to the way you work, or the way you think? Do let me know in the comments box below, along with any questions or thoughts about the best way of getting there.

* You can read other great posts by Joanna to help you achieve your business dreams here!

Delegate and change your life for £30

Are you overwhelmed, exhausted, or permanently spending your time on things that drain you? If so, it’s time to let go. Delegation is the one skill that most healthy and happy business owners have mastered. They know that they succeed by putting their time and energy where it matters most while finding other people to do the other things.

However, handing things over to someone else is often very hard. Our brains are hardwired to resist letting go of the control and certainty of doing everything ourselves. But try asking yourself: are you really getting certainty and control? How often have you not got round to doing something, or done it badly, because you were determined to do it yourself?

One justification we often use for not delegating is that we can’t afford it. In reality, no matter how little your business is making, there are almost certainly things you can get help with.

Can you really change your life for £30? Not permanently, but all these low-cost or free ideas will get you started. If you think of delegation as a habit, the important thing is to get as much practice as you can. You’ll start to train your brain not only that other people can do things for you faster and better, but that your life and your business will get better when you focus on doing the things you love.

Try something new with Peopleperhour and Elance

No matter what you want doing, you’re likely to be able to find it on one of these sites, which are full of freelancers from Manchester to Manilla offering their time for hire. You can buy a fixed-rate package, agree a number of hours, or advertise a project and invite applications. With your £30 you easily could get a sales letter written, get a website bug fixed, have a powerpoint presentation designed or invest in VA admin services. A great way to try it out for the first time is to do something that would be nice to have if it went well, but isn’t critical to your business. Freelancers are user-rated, so look for several 5-star reviews, as well as a high ratio of reviews to jobs completed. peopleperhour.com, elance.com

Get creative for $5

If you’re having a bad day, head for Fiverr. This is another freelance site, but where everything costs $5 – currently around £3.30. There’s an extraordinary range of services available, including web banners and flyers, personalised illustrations, voice-overs, software fixes, blogging, translation and bespoke song writing. The only downside is the amount of time you might spend tempted by services you’ve never even considered.

Go overseas for low-cost virtual assistant work

There are a growing number of overseas virtual assistant agencies, particularly based in India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Work typically costs a third to a quarter of a similar service in the UK or US, so it can be very cost-effective for a small business. You can buy a fixed numbers of hours, agree a fixed project, or commit to having a regular assistant. To dip your toe into the remote water, take a look at two companies that offer a fixed number of tasks for a fixed fee: Efficise will do 30 business or personal tasks of 15-30 minutes each for just $45 (around £28), or My Tasker’s Lifestyle Plan covers 30 tasks of 15-20 minutes for $39. These are a good way of getting yourself into the mindset of handing over tasks, and learning how to brief someone well so you get the result you want.

Get an immediate turnaround with Fancy Hands

If you have lots of small jobs that need fast action, but you’d like a native English speaker, try Fancy Hands, a 24/7 US-based service who, for $45, will do up to 15 small tasks a month (or 5 for $25). If you have a long list of appointments, research, phone calls, ordering or similar tasks, this might be a great time saver for you. Again, treat the early days as a learning curve, just as you would with a new member of your team in your office.

Find someone local for your routine in-person work

There are likely to be plenty of people in your local community who’d be happy to help out with a routine task for a few hours. With your £30 you could save yourself a few hours by getting someone else to stand in the post office queue for you, clean your kitchen, or even wrap your Christmas presents.

Swap your skills with someone you know

Find someone who wants what you do, and who does what you want, and agree to barter. That might be for time, skills or products, or a combination. The important thing here, is to be clear and agree what you’re each going to do for the other. It doesn’t have to be an exchange of exactly equal nominal value, provided it works for you and the other person. Think broadly, and focus on improving the quality of your life. Even if it doesn’t save you time, if you can spend the same amount of time doing something you enjoy, rather than struggling with something you resent, it may well be worth it.

Finally – make it a habit

Even though letting go of things can take a lot of willpower in the early days, once you get into the habit of delegating, you’ll find it makes such a huge difference to your life that it becomes easier and easier to continue.

So here’s a challenge. Take one of these ideas, and try it out. See how it goes. Let me know in the comments below or by email – I’d love to hear how you get on.

10 revealing questions to ask an expert before you hire them

Congratulations! You’ve decided to get some expert help in your business, either to do something you can’t do yourself, or something you don’t want to.

Now you just need to decide who to work with. However, if you don’t have specialist knowledge in a field yourself, it can be a challenge to know whether someone is really up to the job.

The good news is that you don’t need to learn their skills first. Instead, the key is to ask insightful, open, questions that will uncover their ways of working and experience.

Whether you’re looking for a web designer, a marketing consultant, a mailing house or someone to edit your podcasts, here are 10 powerful questions to get to the heart of how someone works and whether they’re going to be right for you.

1. This is the outcome I want. What problems or challenges might you anticipate in achieving it?

It’s important to be very clear about the final result you want from someone. Once you’ve decided that, asking them about possible challenges will help you see whether they’ve understood what you want, whether you need to clarify it further, or whether they simply aren’t expert enough to understand whether what you want is realistic or not.

2. What are the things most likely to go wrong along the way?

Be wary of anyone who pretends that everything always goes swimmingly. Expect someone to be able to explain the biggest risks, or the best things to do to avoid them. For instance, a mailing company may have experienced that getting a corrupted data file from a client is a common problem, or that a lot of people being involved in making a decision can delay things. You can develop the conversation by asking how to avoid those situations, or what you would both need to do if those things happened. A lack of detail may well indicate a shortage of experience.

3. What would success look like to you?

This is normally a question a good supplier might ask you. But it can be worth turning it round to reveal their motivations and understanding. A web developer saying, ‘building you a website that you can update easily, and that doubles your mailing list’ would show that they’d listened to you, and be far more convincing than someone answering, ‘building you a website that you like’. It also shows what’s important to them. If someone highlights quick, effective communication as an element of success, but you’re invariably slow at answering messages, you may not be right for each other.

4. What do I need to do to make the process run smoothly?

Any expert needs to have your involvement. A good collaborator will be able to explain how you can help to make things run well. This is invaluable information for you, as the last thing you want is to be responsible for things going wrong because you weren’t aware what you needed to do.

5. What time commitment will you need from me to make this work as well as possible?

A mismatch of expectations is a recipe for unhappiness on both sides. A printer might need you to be present (overnight, and at the other end of the country) for the first print run of your new catalogue but just want regular short phone calls after that, while a coach may advise that you need to plan in two hours a week for the next three months for the best results. Getting things clear upfront will help you understand if it’s right for you.

6. What should I do if I’m unhappy with the way things are going?

It happens. Things go wrong. You want to work with someone who seems genuinely comfortable with the idea of potentially difficult conversations. If they’re comfortable with the question, it’s a good sign they’ll be comfortable dealing with the situation.

7. What isn’t included in your package?

You’ll probably ask what is included, but it’s always asking what isn’t. Will extra phone calls between meetings be charged for? What about travel? Reversing the question can help them remember things they may not have thought to mention.

8. What happens if we need to change my brief?

Projects change and evolve all the time, but if it changes the amount of work, it’s likely to change your bill. Agree how many changes, revisions or extras are included in the cost, and what happens if things go beyond the brief. Do they tell you as you go along, or do you only find out when you get the invoice? You’ll also get a sense of their approach: will changes be a hassle, or a normal part of the process?

9. How do you think you can make a real difference to my business?

This is a good way of checking whether they understand what your business is, and whether what they want to do is the same as what you want. If they don’t get it, it might suggest that you haven’t communicated it well enough, or you might have an uphill struggle to work with them. Look for enough specific information in their answer to show that they understand what they need to do, and how they will go about it.

10. What do you look for in a great client?

You’ll get the best work from people who really want to work with you. Most people want clients who share their values and approach. See if what they say resonates with you. If their answer sets off alarm bells, it probably means you’re not the right fit.

Have some other great questions? Let me know in the comments!