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Can Aspiring Self-Bossers Learn from Corporate Types?

It’s been 17 years since I worked for a major corporation. Since then I’ve been in the business of helping people break free of the job world to be their own boss.

So trust me when I say that no one was more surprised than me how much I both enjoyed and learned from spending two days at McDonald’s European Women’s Conference in Lisbon.

Here are four lessons you can use in your journey to self-employment.

1) Rapid communication and implementation rocks.

We all have good ideas. If you’re going to have a successful business, it’s essential that you use the tools available to you to communicate and then take action — quickly.

Case in point: On my last few out of town trips, I rented my car from Enterprise. Regardless of what city, the service was noticeably exceptional.

I know a corporate initiative when I see one so I asked the young guy helping me with my bags, “What’s happening at Enterprise?” He just smiled.

So I wasn’t surprised when one of the other outside speakers in Lisbon used Enterprise as an example of rapid implementation.

For example, the company has begun tracking how small things like how when one rental center began offering drivers a bottle of water on both ends of their trip they increased overall customer satisfaction.

Far more impressive is how they’re using technology to not only measure but then to actually communicate and implement these and other employee-driven ideas across their entire chain in as little as 48 hours.

The lesson for you as a solopreneur is to look for ways you can use technology like social media to quickly and easily get feedback from your own current or prospective customers.

Then imagine how much further along you’d be if you took steps to implemented at least one of your great ideas in the next 48 hours!

2) Get an outsider view of what’s going on.

When you’re contemplating changing course, it’s easy to get lost in your head and thus to lose perspective.

When large organizations want to get an objective view of things they bring in a team of external consultants. But do these MBA types really see things that differently?

According to Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden, General Manager of Catalyst, Europe to get a truly outside perspective Intel hired two cultural anthropologists.

Maybe you can’t hire a cultural anthropologist. But what if you got some feedback from people with a fresh eye for your idea or situation?

If you’ve been thinking of planning home funerals or starting a summer camp for over-weight teens then by all means, learn what you can from those who have already done it.

But wouldn’t it be interesting to gather some fresh insight from someone who owns a pet supply business, from a ten year old, or someone who recently immigrated from a developing county? What might they see that you don’t?

3) Keep saying “Yes.”

In 1978 Jan Fields and her military husband were just short of broke.

The new mother desperately needed to find a job so she could go to law school at night. Juggling a baby, a 9-5 job, and school was not going to be easy.

On her way to a job interview, Jan stopped at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. That’s when she says she saw a notice that the restaurant was hiring. In big letters were the words: Flexible hours.

She applied and got the job on the spot. When the manager asked if she could start the next day Jan said yes.

When a co-worker called after her first day on the job to ask her to work the closing shift, she said yes again. A month later she was offered the job of store manager.

It went that way for a few more decades.

Today Jan is president of McDonalds USA.

Not all opportunities are glamorous. Even when you aren’t sure where the path will take you, the key is to say yes and keep saying it.

4) You’re ready right now.

Far too many perfectly capable people fail to take their career or business to the next level because they believe they’re “not ready.”

It almost happened to Jan Field.

At one point in her career she’d been approached to apply for a job that would be a major step up. Even with her remarkable track record Jan was hesitant explaining to her boss and mentor that she didn’t think she was ready for it.

When she subsequently learned who had applied she realized she was more qualified than all of them. So she applied for and got the promotion.

Speaking of her experience in a interview, Jan said, “I learned an important lesson about not being your own obstacle because you’re afraid to take a risk. The irony is that the job was one of the best I’ve had over my career.”

The fact is Jan was able — and so are you.

Your perfect business could be right in front of your nose. The only thing standing between you and your dreams is your false belief that you’re not ready.

You will never feel “ready.” But make no mistake about it, you can do it.

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

What’s Luck Got to Do, Got to Do With It?

So much of luck is really about just going for it and seeing what comes of it.

Two weeks ago I gave a copy of my book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, along with a handwritten letter to Academy-award winner Kate Winslet. Kate is one of dozens of A-list actors quoted in my book on women feeling like impostors, fakes, and frauds.

She and co-start Josh Brolin are shooting a film four miles from my house so I figured what the heck. Unfortunately, I had to catch train so couldn’t wait for the actors to arrive but I did manage to get the book into the location manager’s hands.

Fast forward nine hours and I was in New York City passing along another copy with a different hand-written note for the host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart.

Jon isn’t quoted in the book. But I thought he’ll get a kick out of some of the amusing stories in there about other news people like Ted Koppel, Walter Cronkite, and Daniel Schorr and various quotes from people in government including Hilary Clinton, Dee Myers, and Margaret Thatcher.

Will Kate or Jon read the book? No idea.

If they do, will anything come of it? Still no clue.

But focusing on the outcome misses the point.

For years I’ve preached that successful people really are “luckier”– however, not totally due to serendipity. Rather, successful people routinely put themselves in situations where good things are likely to happen.

They show up in places where they’re apt to meet interesting people.

They are lifelong learners who frequently attend classes, symposiums, and conferences.

They set goals and follow through with deliberate action.

These are all things that less successful people rarely do. But because successful people do them, it effectively positions them to attract good fortune in the way of contacts, advice, assistance, and collaborators.

Of her own rise to fame, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts wrote, “I learned how to put myself in a position for good things to happen to me. Even when I felt outnumbered or afraid, I made sure I was ready to grab the ball when it came my way.”

New York is full of people who grabbed the ball. I was so inspired by the two people who were behind the restoration of High Line – the historic above-ground railroad bed turned lush walking trail that runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

This gem was close to being demolished before they stepped up to save it. It took years, but “luckily” for the rest of us, their efforts paid off.

Then there’s Fany Gerson, the enterprising entrepreneur with a passion for giving back who launched LaNewYorkina.

Today she sells her Mexican ice pops called paletas at various venues around the city. And she has a cookbook!

It was really hard to pick which exotic flavor to try but went with a very refreshing lime and cucumber. Good choice!
On the flip side, there’s a danger in viewing success solely in terms of luck. You see someone who is living your dream of writing children’s books, being a motivational speaker, hosting her own radio show, or running her own Mexican pop stand and you think, She’s so lucky.

But what you really mean is, Sure, that happened for her, but it will never happen for me.

And in this case you’re probably right. Not because you are inherently unlucky but because when you frame success as totally the luck of the draw, like the lottery, your chances of achieving it are one in millions. As famed success mindset expert Earl
Nightingale said, “Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.”

P.S. By the time you read this, I’ll be in sunny Portugal speaking to 200 people at the McDonald’s European Women’s Leadership Network. Lucky me!

Summer is the Perfect Time to Grow a Dream

Since yesterday was the first official day of summer, it seemed fitting to reprint this popular article. Have a great summer and grow those dreams!

Has the school calendar of your youth hardwired you to see September as the time for new beginnings? If you yearn for a new job, a career change or maybe even a total life makeover – summertime is by far the best time to act.

Summer is synonymous with fun. It’s possible to make a change and still have time for recreation. In fact, the word recreation literally means to “re-create.” And what better way to spend your summer than recreating your life! Here are six ways you can use the rest of the summer to grow a dream:

  1. Catch a falling star. When my best friend, Elaine, and I weren’t building forts or skipping rope, we could be found lying beneath a shady tree or a star-filled sky. These weren’t idle pursuits. We were flexing our imaginations. As the most carefree of the four seasons, summers are made for dreaming. It’s the perfect time to gaze upward, to look inward and to imagine what could be.
  2. Grow a dream garden. Look within and you may find the seeds of a dream planted long ago. Left untended though, dreams will fail to sprout. Summer is the ideal time to cultivate our dreams both old and new. Start with good soil. What is it you care deeply about? What makes you happy? What do you want your life to look like? Now get rid of the weeds – the lame excuses, apathy, self-doubt, and fear born from lack of information. Tend to your dreams and watch them grow.
  3. Take advantage of the longer days. Even though those so-called lazy days of summer have gotten a lot busier of late, the additional hours of daylight do seem to add a bit more time to our lives. Once you’ve engaged in some active reflection, use some of this “found time” to start working toward your goals. Even if it’s only 20 minutes a day, it’s all forward motion!
  4. Read a real thriller. As you’re packing for the beach leave the romance novel or who-done-it at home. Instead treat your life like the adventure that it is by picking up a real thriller like Paul and Sarah Edwards The Practical Dreamer’s Handbook or Create a Life That Tickles Your Soul by Suzanne Willis Zoglio. Maybe you already have a new direction in mind. Then take this time to read up on that exciting new career.
  5. Invest in your dream. Save both money and time by spending your vacation at home. Make it a real vacation by doing the kinds of things a tourist on a budget might do – go on a picnic, head to a museum, take a day trip. Stash the money you would have spent on a more costly vacation into a “dream fund.” Use your savings to take career-expanding classes, buy some snappy new interview outfit or even start your own business. If your dream includes relocating do hit the road by using your vacation as an exciting research expedition.
  6. Summer is the ideal time to ease into a new job. With all the overlapping vacation schedules, many organizations operate in a somewhat more relaxed mode in July and August. As a new hire, that means the trial by fire period is apt to be a little less trying. If you’ve been putting off a job move until the fall, keep in mind the slower pace makes summer a great time to learn the new job ropes before the workplace once again launches into fall overdrive.

Re-creating your life is about making choices. What choices are you willing to make to grow your dream? Whatever you decide to do, have a safe, relaxing, and inspired rest of the summer!

What Do You Love To Do?

The last few weeks in western Massachusetts can be summed up in one word – RAIN!

It’s been rain, rain, followed by more rain. Yes, it’s been dreary. But just as in life, more often than not there is a silver lining.

For starters, all that rain has made everything so lush! “Lush” is one of those fabulous sounding words that seems so perfectly suited to its meaning.

Rain also brings out the natural beauty and texture of stones. A stone you’d never notice when dry positively glistens when it’s wet.

And if you’ve been to my house you know I’m a compulsive rock hound.

For the last five years or so, I’ve been dragging home rocks of all sizes. Some are from local streams, including the brook that runs in front of my house.

Other rocks have come from as far away as Arizona, California, and Vermont. (More than one ticketing agent has said, “What do you have in this suitcase – rocks?”)

The purpose of all this collecting was to ultimately have enough to build a dry stone wall along the walkway to my front door.

I was inspired by a 2007 segment on CBS Sunday Morning about Martha’s Vineyard “stone artist” Lew French. It took him a year to build a three-story wall and one of his more ambitious jobs cost his client $300,000.

I’m not the only one fascinated by dry stone walls. Another resident of Martha’s Vineyard named Mariana Cook became so hooked that she put together a book called “Stone Walls: Personal Boundaries.”

The book combines essays by farmers, historians and an archaeologist to explore the history of dry stone walls in different countries. It’s also an inspiring example of what can come out of following a passion – in Cook’s being featured in the New York Times.

So after admiring the remarkable images in Lew’s book Stone by Design for the last five years, at long last, and with considerable help from my friend Tina, I finally got a solid running start on building my own dry stone wall.

This shot was snapped just after a heavy rain.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before I come even remotely close to the artistry of Lew French. But then I’ve got the rest of my life to perfect my wall… And for now I’m loving every minute of it.

What do you love to do?

Finally a special thanks to all of my friends and family who joined me this past week for my first book reading at Barnes & Noble in Holyoke Massachusetts. Your support means so much to me!

Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs: How Everyday Signs Can Help You Change Course or Careers

On a recent trip to nearby Northampton, Massachusetts, I saw some signs that offered invaluable lessons to anyone in the process of making a leap from having a boss to being their own boss.

From these signs I pulled three key components that can help guide you on your own career change path.

#1: Be Wonderfully Bold

This sandwich sign on the sidewalk in front of the massage practice of Patty Gate stopped me in my tracks. There’s a lot to love about this small sign.

First, it offers an irresistible offer in the form of a free massage. Obviously she’s just starting out if she’s willing to give up immediate income on the hopes that she’ll gain loyal customers that will book again and again. It also speaks volumes about Patty and the confidence she has in her work.

So the first key take away is to consider how you present yourself as a business owner. Is it as bold and confident (and therefore trustworthy) like Patty? OR as meek and hesitant (which could cause others to think twice about hiring you).

Then there’s the testimonial: “Best Massage Therapist.” At first glance, I assumed that this was a designation she received from the local newspaper called The Valley Advocate, in which every year people vote on the best restaurant, the home builder, the best place to get a hair cut, etc.

When I looked closer I realized the title is self-appointed!

Notice Patty didn’t wait around to collect a dozen quotes from customers to claim her status as Best Massage Therapist, nor is she waiting around for someone to crown her the best.

Instead, Patty took matters into her own hands and boldly crowned herself the best in the biz! Go Patty!

#2: Find a Need and Meet It

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross lies your calling.

~ Aristotle

Next check out this flyer:

Poster and flyer distribution may not be Amy’s — or anybody else’s, for that matter — “calling.” But this resourceful woman has definitely found a need that she can be paid to fill.

Years ago I put on public seminars. So I know how time consuming it was to schlep around town hanging posters in windows and in bulletin boards. Clearly this kind of business wouldn’t work well everywhere but there’s a definite need in a college town like Northampton and or nearby Amherst Massachusetts.

Plus I love the message. She lets her potential customers know that not only is she quick as a bunny but that this is a professional poster and flyer distribution!

So look around the world around you for a problem or a need. Then think about how you can solve or fill it.

Even if it’s not your full-time gig or your “dream business,” there are always interesting ways to pay the bills while you work on changing course in your career and/or to generate that extra income to fund the business that truly is your calling!

#3: Know What You Stand For

Finally, check out the stairs that lead to the side entrance of the Northampton Quaker Meeting House On each stair is a word representative of what Quakers stand for.

Starting at the bottom and moving up, they are about:

  • LOVE

Whether you already have a small venture or you’re still in the planning phase, take time to think about what your business does or will stand for.

Then use those values to guide you as you make those all important business decisions.

What are YOUR guiding values?

Take a few moments to make a list now – and then I’ll share a few of mine with you.

  1. _________________________________________________________
  2. _________________________________________________________
  3. _________________________________________________________
  4. _________________________________________________________
  5. _________________________________________________________

For me, it’s things like perseverance, hard work, integrity, compassion, customer service, curiosity, and inclusion.

The Bottom Line

Ready to change course? Guidance comes in many forms. Signs — literally and figuratively — are all around you; you just need to pay attention.

For the next few weeks I invite you to take notice of what the signs around you are telling you. Think about how they can inform your own quest to change course. Then share your thoughts and insights on my blog.

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