Your Clients Want to Love You | 5 Ways to Show Customers You Care

I am the proud owner of a purebred miniature American Eskimo dog that our entire family lovingly refers to as the “white ball of hate.” He’s old, so his hobbies are limited. Mostly, he spends his days napping or hiding behind the sofa growling and snarling at every human or blowing leaf that comes anywhere near his self-proclaimed realm of darkness.

My family and I have spent hours trying to diagnose him. We’ve wondered what could possibly make this spoiled little dog hate his life so much that he opts to spend every waking moment proclaiming his distaste for…well, everything. We’ve done ALL. THE. THINGS. to make him happy, and it’s just a state of mind he refuses to adopt. After a while, we just learned to live with the growling beast behind the sofa.

Hang in There…This Will All Make Sense

This little dog is an anomaly. The pets most of us choose to adopt and love end up loving us right back because we give them attention and affection—plus all the really good snacks. They WANT to love us…and all we have to do is show them affection and let them know we care.

Your Clients Want to Know How Important They Are

Clients need to know you’re paying attention and looking out for them. When you’re providing a product or service people need, those people WANT to love you! Existing and prospective clients are yours to either win or lose, and believe it or not, most of them aren’t already sitting behind the sofa growling at you. If they are, they’re probably not the people you’re looking for anyway.

Even though I’ve had zero luck in wooing the hateful furball behind my couch, I can impart some wisdom when it comes to connecting with clients and reassuring them you have their best interests at heart. If you want to build customer loyalty, brand recognition, and confidence in your professional abilities, check out…

5 Foolproof Ways to Show Clients How Much You Care

  1. Get to know them & build relationships. One-size-fits-all customer service went the way of Sansa belt pants and rotary phones. Take time to get to know the clients you’re trying to reach and be sure to give them information that’s relevant, timely, and in tune with their specific needs. While targeted messaging may take a little longer, it’s well worth your time (and better for business!) to get the right message to the right client at the right time.
  2. Listen & respond. Today’s customers have several ways to reach out to you, so whether it’s via email, your website, or through an online feedback forum, be sure to respond quickly. When you respond to concerns or needs in a positive manner and with proactive solutions, you’ll build trust. Even the most frustrating of situations can be resolved with effective and positive communication.
  3. Keep your word & over-deliver every time. Trust is the most valuable commodity you have, which means you should protect it at all costs. Weigh your words and your promises carefully and be sure there’s value behind what you offer to each client. Keep in mind that promises can either make or break trust between you and the client—so be sure to meet your commitments every time.
  4. Own up to your errors. Mistakes happen—not because we want them to, but because we’re all human. So, whether it’s big or small, always be willing to own your mistakes and recognize that any setback causes an inconvenience for the client. Step forward, own that mistake like it’s your very own growling hellcat behind the sofa, and do your best to make things right. You’ll go a long way toward building credibility when you accept and fix your errors.
  5. Show your appreciation. Your clients have a gazillion and one choices (a very scientific number), so don’t give them any reason to shop around. Whenever you get the opportunity to do a little something extra for them, go for it. Whether it’s a handwritten note, a small token of thanks for their business, or a discount on return services, be sure to make them feel recognized and appreciated for choosing your business.

Clients are looking for solid relationships with businesses that can anticipate their needs, make them comfortable, and give them a few unexpected surprises along the way. They are looking for every reason to love you.

Will you run into a few couch-growlers along the way? Of course! We all do. But for the most part, when you show clients that you’ll work your hardest and put forth your best effort to deliver what they need for their businesses, they’ll want you to succeed, too.

Want to learn more about how social media and blogs can keep you connected with your clients? Visit Firestorm Creative to start boosting your brand and building better relationships today.

Yoga in a Tornado: How to Ignore the Chaos & Thrive as a Writer

Yoga in a Tornado: How to Ignore the Chaos & Thrive as a Writer

My mom visited our house a while back, and she walked into a tornado. Not a mild summer breeze that barely uproots a tree. Nope, we’re talking about a full-blown storm powerful enough to swirl cows and refrigerators overhead and lift houses from their foundations.

Dogs were barking, laugh reels were screeching on the TV, kids were icing pizza rolls with leftover Christmas cookie icing, and the oven timer was going off—not because I was cooking something (who has time for that?!), but because I needed to remember to not forget to iron George Washington’s pants for the next day’s living museum presentation.

She’d stopped by in a holiday mood to drop off cookie-shaped doses of sugar for the kids, but before she left, she needed a Xanax and a stiff drink. She was there for 10 minutes, you guys. TEN minutes. In fact, she never left the doorway because the shock of the chaos paralyzed her. Our inbred dog intermittently barked at her and humped the sofa leg while I attempted to put the finishing touches on a paragraph I’d been belaboring for far too long.

Mini American Eskimos are “talking” dogs. That means they bark their little butts off day and night.

Waving her arms in the general direction of my household-in-a-blender, she said, “I don’t know how you get anything done like this.” I detected a slight twitch in her eye as she turned to go.

“Oh, you know, you just learn to tune it out.”

A Secret Potion from Wood Trolls

Very few people have access to the information I’m about to give you. So keep it on the downlow. In a dense forest, in a faraway enchanted land, there is a tiny but powerful group of woodland trolls who hold all the secrets to peaceful parenting. They alone can make a potion so strong that parents are able to do yoga in tornadoes, bake while sewing Halloween costumes, and write epic tales of adventure while packing last-minute lunches.

And if you believe that, I have an island in Arizona to sell you.

It is, however, a well-known fact that writers and other creatives have a knack for tuning things out. I’ve perfected this skill to the point that I could plop down criss-cross-applesauce in the middle of a protest and write my next chapter.

Why? How? What the What?

It’s a necessary skill. If we didn’t tune things out, we’d never get anything done. Have you ever read the same sentence in a book three or four times, only to get frustrated because distractions keep dead-ending the story?

Imagine how our work would sound if we let everyday craziness infiltrate our stories:

It was a dark and stormy night…Holy shit, what is on fire? Honey? Are the kids in the bathtub? They need to get all the suds out. No, I said no cookies for dinner…when the killer crept around the building and peered into the window…No, we had pizza for dinner last night. And yes, you still have to do your homework. She sat blissfully unaware as he peered into her window…YES, I’ll read Tickle Monster one more time, but you have to eat some vegetables. Suddenly, the storm slammed into their house, electricity blinking out…Moooommm! Something happened in the bathroom!”

That’s an encapsulated view of any given 5-minute period in a writing parent’s life, especially now that we’re all working from home.

The Solution

I’ve worked long and hard to come up with a list of ways you can tap into your talent for ignoring shit. (We all have it. It just needs to be awakened and trained…sort of like a dragon.)

5 Easy Tips to Ignore Any Shitstorm That’s Happening & Just Get Your Work Done

  1. Channel your inner teenager. You know how kids and teenagers have the ability to step over a steaming pile of dog poop, even if it’s in the middle of the living room, and then innocently claim they didn’t see it? Oh, they totally saw it, but they had better things to do. Channel this youthful slug-a-bed mentality and put off the things that aren’t emergencies if you’ve scheduled yourself to write.
  2. Play Kiss, Marry, Kill. Well, not that version (and not the original version either). But play a modified version of the game. Whenever you’re working and an “emergency” comes up, instantly decide if it’s a situation for Later, Now, or They’ll Get Over It. Use whatever categories you want…you get the idea. Get good at quickly categorizing the non-emergencies that are thrown at you daily. Spilled soda? Later. Fighting over the plastic dinosaur again? They’ll get over it. You get the picture. Train yourself to ignore the ignorable.
  3. Move. No, you can’t abandon your family, but I’ll be the first to confess I’ve been found typing in our walk-in closet. As long as everyone is safe and sound, cared for and comfy, it’s ok to let the circus run rampant without a ringleader for small periods of time. Is this ideal? Nah. Do I work like this all the time? I try not to, but life, ya know? It’s all about balance, and if the worst thing that happens is a double feature of SpongeBob while you’re creating literary genius, the world will go on.
  4. Embrace the Chaos. They say not to fight an undertow, that you have a much better chance of surviving if you go with the flow and let it roll you back up to the surface. Sure, you’ll look a little rougher for the wear, and you might have sand in some unfortunate locations, but you’ll survive. Some of my most frustrating days as a writer have happened because I tried to fight the chaos. Sometimes you just get tossed through the day until your bedraggled self gets quality time at the keyboard. The good news is you probably added a few new stories to your repertoire.
  5. Change your plan. Not forever. Just for the day. Not getting anything done? No worries. So you were gonna write that chapter. Set it aside and instead outline the next section of your book or your project. Do a little research on your protagonist’s career choice. Or even more fun, give yourself a writer playday. Do some freewriting, brainstorming, mind-mapping, whatever you like to do. Just because you didn’t get to do THE creative thing you planned doesn’t mean you lose all the opportunities.

Life is going to happen—hopefully every damn day! We can either get pulled under and lose perspective on our creative goals. Or we can go with the flow, get a little tossed around, but persevere with even bigger and better stories to show for it. Distractions are all around us. But we are creatives. We are the ultimate “no worries” crowd, so if anyone can figure out how to get it done in the middle of chaos, it’s us.

Now, stop looking for magical trolls and get back to writing.

Walmart Doesn’t Sell Writing & Don’t Buy Cheap Toilet Paper

You can get a lot of good stuff at Walmart, amiright? From dog sweaters to pre-made fruit trays to urns, you name it…it’s probably there. Walmart will even change your tires while you’re filling your cart in the store, getting ready to drop a stack of twenties like a rock star in Vegas. It’s a one-stop wonderland of frenzied shoppers—all wondering why the handles on the carts are so sticky.

Except for One Thing

You know how there are some things you’ll buy at the 34-Cent Store (or whatever low price we’ve reached now) …and then there are other things, more sacred things, you religiously buy top-shelf ONLY?

For example, I’ll buy 34-Cent Store sandwich bags all day long. That’s simple math. Lots of Kids = Lots of Bags. I could go broke on sandwich bags alone if I bought the bougie ones with space ships all the time. Those are for special occasions only.

BUT, barring a major life-altering catastrophe, I’m not skimping on toilet paper or hair color—for obvious reasons. (Things have happened…bad things).

The same goes for services that support your business, your livelihood, and your success.

Let’s unpack that. (How badly do we all hate the ‘unpacking of the things’ already?!)

Suppose you grew a tail. (I know…bear with me.) And then suppose you had to choose between a) a 34-cent drive-thru Tails-R-Us or b) the lead at a medical teaching hospital specializing in seamless tail removal and rehab. Which one would you choose?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that successfully getting rid of that tail would be a big priority for you, so it would warrant more of your resources. Sure, the expert is more expensive, but for the love of good sense, it’s a tail!

What in the Sam Hill…?

This is the point in the story where my grandpa would have scratched his head and raised a what-are-you-talking-about eyebrow.

Point is THE WORK WE DO AS WRITERS IS VALUABLE.

Pricing, Apologizing & Using Cheap Toilet Paper

I’m not going to get into how to price your word-bending brilliance today. This is about what happens after you’ve considered the types of projects you’d like to take on, determined a rate model, and set a fee schedule.

This next part might be the toughest. It’s the part where you—the professional, capable, talented writer—remain confident in the value you’ve set for your work.

Don’t apologize. You think the landscaper who sculpted Next-Door-Susan’s shrubs into pristine spirals apologized before he charged her? No, he did not. Because his time and the mastery he has of his craft are both valuable.

Cheap TP Is Out There

Rock-bottom prices are inevitable. Other pros will undercut your rates. Just like you can buy cheap toilet paper (I implore you, do not), you can also buy cheap writing. You can try to build your brand with cheap design, inexpensive materials, and low-bid marketers. And that’s cool. We all like a good bargain. There are some really, really good creatives out there, so you might get lucky.

Just be careful of the lowball quotes and the too-good-to-be-true offers. That 34-cent toilet paper may claim it’s pretty darned good, but every now and then, you’ll get a little shit on your hands.

5 Tips to Become a Kickass Writer & Karaoke Expert

If you’re here for the karaoke thing, I lied. This is for the writers who need to be nicer to themselves. The extrovert masterclass is two pages back.

You know what happens to introverts (writers and the like) when they are asked to participate in things like karaoke, improv sessions, or large group projects? They spontaneously combust.

None of that here. But we are going to talk about being a little bit nicer to ourselves.

We’re creative. We’re full of words. We’re awesome!

And we’re really, really great at beating ourselves up. Pretty prolific at that, in fact.

Time to Stop That

Our work is valuable, and negative self-talk does nothing but slow us down or completely stop us in our tracks. Do we all have to write in the same way, in the same voice, with the same tone? Gawd no. Can you imagine what a snooze-fest would be?

Writers are notorious for diminishing our work. We make our work smaller than it is for different reasons:

  • Lack of confidence.
  • Previous negative feedback (see lack of confidence).
  • Lack of experience (see lack of confidence).
  • Lack of “formal” training (see lack of confidence).
  • Intimidated by other writers (see lack of confidence).
  • Fear of rejection (see lack of confidence).

Examining this list, it’s pretty clear writers could use a healthy dose of confidence. We tend to tuck our words away in dusty desk drawers because we’re not convinced of the awesomeness in our words.

Note: What we have to say IS awesome. That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone at every time in every place. And that doesn’t mean we don’t need to polish, perfect, and put some shine on it. But never be afraid to get your fantabulous ideas out there. That’s where the genius starts!

Know This

Do you write cookbooks? Your work will pass on family traditions.

That guy over there who writes bilingual picture books? His work will shape young lives.

And the octogenarian undertaking her first memoir? Her work will be a living piece of history.

I can even do one for the people who write those sensational not-in-the-slightest-way-true stories for those tell-all magazines at the grocery store checkstand.

My grandma, who is 86, is highly entertained and energized by the colorful tales that are woven in those rags. Their work MATTERS.

Every single writer is different. But every writer has one thing in common:

YOUR WORK IS VALUABLE

Get Your Galoshes

Here’s where we step into the mirey-muckety-muck. If we talked to other people like we talk to ourselves sometimes, we would be embarrassed (I hope). We’re looking at a brand-new year, so let’s ditch the negative self-talk.

BET…we’ll all be better writers for it.

Stop saying these 5 things and just focus on writing badassery:

  1. Aspiring. This is my biggest pet peeve (next to people saying ‘pet peeve’). You know when you were an ‘aspiring’ writer? When you were FOUR! When you were trying not to write your Zs backwards and trying not to write ‘shit’ instead of ‘sit.’ Your mom was also aspiring to send your little butt to school so she could go to a yoga class and have some damn peace and quiet. And you know what? You made it! Yay, Kindergarten. NOW? Now, you’ve spent years of your life writing your ass off. You’ve learned the rules, broken the rules, written crap, written some pretty good stuff, and now your writing kicks some word-bending butt. You. Are. A. Writer.
  • Rejected. It sucks. I know. We’ve all gotten the dreaded letter (or fifty) letting us know our book just isn’t what they’re looking for. I once met a writer who kept every single ‘rejection’ letter’ she received, craftily organized in a notebook. This was perplexing until she told me that every one of them led to the final acceptance letter, and subsequent publication, of her book. She shifted her thinking and started to look at those letters from agents and publishers as learning opportunities and stepping-stones to her final destination.
  • I’m too old/young to write a book. Back in 1987, there was this dude from Japan named Teiichi Igarashi who summited the 12,385-ft. Mount Fuji (in freaking SOCKS). At the time, he was 100 years old. You are not too young. You are not too old. Sit your ass down at the keyboard and write.
  • I don’t know what I’d doing. Now that’s funny. At age 2, our youngest child ate chinchilla shit. There’s no instruction manual. We were five kids in and STILL didn’t have the gig down. He’s now 13-years-old and teaching himself guitar. Nobody knows what the hell they are doing. If you feel compelled to write a book, write your book. If you have a story in you, get it out there. You’ll write some shit. You’ll pan out the gold.
  • How did I miss that? Crap, in Chapter 1 your main character had blonde hair and in Chapter 4 it’s red? Know why that happened? Because you are slinging a mega-crap-ton of words at the page, and sometimes stuff happens. Our creative minds sometimes outrun our thinky brains. That’s exactly what proofreading, editing, re-reading, reading aloud, and all those good things are for. Don’t beat yourself up. Sling more words.

Listen, writer. You’ve worked long and hard. It’s time to do your thing. Stand tall, be proud, light that keyboard on fire.

Now, stand up. Grab that karaoke mike and belt out “My Heart Will Go On” like nobody is watching.

Yeah, you’re right. Everybody is watching. Sit back down at your desk and make sentences. You’re really good at that.

Dear 2020

This isn’t working out. It’s not me; it’s you.

It’s not really a problem with you personally. My beef if mostly about how you’ve behaved. You’ve single-handedly given us 12 months of an unpredictable shitstorm that even the best weatherman couldn’t have predicted.

I’m not saying you’re an asshole. It’s just that you’ve been acting like an asshole. Shame on you.

We’re all a little nervous about what’s ahead. Who wouldn’t be, what with this year’s highlight reel still playing so vividly in our minds? Our very favorite horror/suspense/crime writers could not have combined their creative talents to invent a year that includes:

  • Australian wildfires.
  • Harry and Meghan leaving THE fam. (WHAT even?!)
  • Kobe.
  • Covid.
  • Black Lives Matter (It seriously took this long?)
  • Biden & Kamala
  • Murder hornets & Chadwick Boseman? (Really, 2020? The Black Panther?)
  • U.S. wildfires & RBG? (I need a drink.)
  • Eddie van Halen & Alex Trebek? (This is ridiculous.)

This is no way to make friends, 2020. Honestly, next year doesn’t even need to put in much of an effort. As long as there are no catastrophic asteroids or new worldwide pandemics, 2021 should be a standout fave compared to what you’ve dropped in our laps.

Thank You Anyway

I will, however, say thanks to you, 2020, for a few important lessons you taught me. I learned a lot of these the hard way:

  1. Love yourself and give yourself a little grace. My writing partner and I were going to do NaNoWriMo this year. Guess who got Covid…in November? That’d be me. As my internal GPS would say, ‘rerouting.’ Needless to say, we’re still writing, but that book didn’t happen in November.
  • Reach out to the ones you love and focus on the important things. Work will always be here, but there have been a lot of moments in 2020 to remind me to step back and appreciate the people in my life.
  • Nobody’s perfect and no one has the perfect solution. In addition to giving myself a little grace, I’m learning to give others grace, too. Assuming positive intent and giving people the benefit of the doubt go a long way. After all, this year has been a cluster for everyone, and we’re all trying to figure it out together.
  • Working remotely is pretty darned effective. As a creative person who has spent most of my career in an office setting, I’m loving life and enjoying being able to create whenever, wherever. (I’m currently writing while camping in the woods in my PJ pants, and I feel WAY more productive than sitting behind a desk.) Different scenery is engaging to different personalities, and I’m glad more employers are recognizing this, too!
  • There’s a reason parents aren’t teachers. OMG, you guys, our kids’ teachers are heroes! Because my kids have been learning at home, I now know exactly how many times per day their teachers have to remind them to focus, get them back on track, answer questions, redirect them, and prod them when work isn’t complete. It’s my firm belief that teachers should be paid in solid gold bars, Red Bull, and Fireball shots. When things get back to normal-ish, I’m gonna send in some dry erase markers, notebooks, whatever teachers need…and a Starbucks gift card or two to say thank you a million times over for taking my children back!
  • We don’t like to be told what to do. I mean, I know I’m stubborn, but when you entered the room, 2020, I got a glimpse of an entire country of people filled with…well, different versions of that me-stubbornness. Oops. I’ve listened to debates about face masks, social distancing, occupancy limits, shutdowns, and more. And I’ve learned that most of us aren’t unkind, but many of us have forgotten how to listen and have a real conversation. I’m trying to get better at that.
  • Grocery delivery kicks ass. I never thought I’d say that, but here I am. This year taught me that I really don’t have to fondle the bananas and peppers before I bring them home. I can place that trust firmly in someone else’s hands and be ok with the outcome. And you know what, my bananas have been ripe (but not too ripe) and my peppers have been crisp. So, thanks for that, 2020.

The Breakup

It feels like you’ve overstayed your welcome, 2020…like you’ve been here for longer than your allotted 12 months. It’s like you just moved in, stopped paying rent, and are claiming squatter’s rights…with no intention of ever vacating. But it’s over. It’s time for you to move on.

You’ve taken a lot. You’ve taught us a lot. You’ve been a shithead. You are the ex-boyfriend who burns your girlfriend’s favorite jeans in the dumpster. You’re the guy who asks two different girls to the prom. You’re the dude who talks through the entire movie.

Everyone has a personal story about you, 2020. You took one of my best friends and my favorite aunt. You also swooped in and took the dad of a great friend of mine. You have wreaked havoc with accidents and illnesses, and you’re still not finished.

I know this is difficult to hear, but I’d like to spend time with other years. My time with you has definitely been exciting, but I have to tell you we are not compatible long-term. I prefer to spend my days Covid-free, with my family healthy, my job secure, and my finances stable. So 2020, if you don’t mind, it’s time for me to show you the door.

I’m glad I learned the lessons I did from you, but this is good-bye. I feel like I barely know the new guy, but at this point, I’m already head-over-heels in love with 2021.

Why Do Writers Tell Stories?

I’ve been thinking about this one. It’s not an easy answer.

Some of my stories are made up…pulled completely out of nowhere, with absolutely no tether to reality.

And some of them are so close to real life that they may as well have pulled up a chair at our dysfunctional family Thanksgiving dinner, oh say any year between 1978 and 1989. I’m sure things were equally dysfunctional after 1989; it’s just that I figured out how to block them out with college shenanigans and Styrofoam cups full of expertly bartended mixes of MadDog 20/20 and Mountain Dew. So any traumatic late-high-school/college years have now faded into a fuzzy oblivion of ‘yeah,that happened.’

I Was Normal

Just like all of you, back in the day, when I’d hear a teacher assign a term paper or a writing assignment, I would cringe. I’d shrink down in my chair, avoid making eye contact, and hope to receive the best possible topic for my 3-minute stand-up presentation. (Unless I could convince my parents to let me move and live with my great-aunt and her herd of feral cats in North Carolina, which always ended up being a big, fat “NO,” because they continuously reminded me how hard it would be to move back into polite society after committing to the cat-lady life.)

But Then a Thing Happened

A teacher told me I couldn’t do it. (Ok, she didn’t say it exactly like that, but she did say I was being lazy. Ouch.)

“The hell you say?!” That’s exactly what I said. Ok, I’m lying, but I thought it. I think I cried instead.

To be fair, I went into my senior English class with an already-on-vacation attitude. The plan was this: read the beginning, middle, and end; write what I had to; and get through the class because it had to be easier than a REAL college class, right? I could not have been more wrong.

It didn’t take long until I was called out. Big time. What was WITH that teacher? Had no one told her we were just a bunch of high school kids trying to grab four easy college credit hours? Because if so, she had a really short memory. There was nothing easy about her class.

Let me set the scene. Big bumbly teenage girl, still goofy, trying to be cool and writerly, hair still frizzy, glasses still sliding down my greasy Noxema-coated nose. There I was, hanging behind after class, talking to my friends. The teacher guarded the door, much like the three-headed dog guards the gates of hell, one by one, students filed by her desk to exit the classroom. Finally, Bumbly (that’s me) and her friends arrived at the door. My friends easily slid into the hallway, but when I made a move to exit, Mrs. Barkus put a foot out and stood between me and the road to freedom. MAJOR ROADBLOCK!

“Agghhh!” I don’t know if I actually made gurling noises, but I felt like I was drowning. I watched my friends disappear into the throng of students moving onto their next classes, and soon I was alone. I was facing one of the most feared teachers in the school.

Tiny, a foot shorter than me, Mrs. Barkus deftly stepped between the penultimate student—my lifeline—and me, effectively cutting us off.

“I have Spanis….”

“I’ll write you a pass,” she intercepted my excuse, turning toward her desk to pick up a stack of papers that, at first glance, were bleeding. After a quick assessment, however, they were merely decimated by a red pen.

Here are three things you should know:

  1. I wanted so badly to be a badass; I was not.
  2. When Mrs. Barkus called me on my shit, I almost pissed my pants.
  3. I have remembered that moment EVERY step of my professional career.

Bonus thing you should know:

Every kid needs a hero who will call them on their shit. But with kindness. Note: Can we turn that into one of those stretchy, inspirational bracelets?

CTOTSWK

I like it! It’s obscure. We’ll give them away, and then no one will remember what the acronym stands for. But we will know. We will know that it’s important to Call Them On Their Shit With Kindness.

Mrs. Barkus introduced us to the idea of minimalistic writing. This was the deal. If we (occasionally) happened to have a day when nothing came to us, we could express that—and nothing else—in our journals. (Welp. Guess who had ‘nothing’ come to her…for like, a LOT of days? Yeah, this dumbass.)

For about two weeks, I reported diligently in my daily journal about my lack of inspiration. Until the day I was stopped in my tracks with this message:

“You know you’re going to fail my class, right?”

WHAT? Huh? Who? Where…I didn’t…where was my mommy…could I have ice cream…what was happening?

I mean, I thought I was making a point by taking her up on her offer to NOT write in our journals if we had nothing on our minds. Apparently, however, she thought we had something worthwhile squirrelling around in our little brains, which was a novel concept to us…the thought that an adult would think we had something worthwhile to say.

Ok, she wants to hear what’s running through this head? It could take a minute, I plotted deviously. She gave me one more chance to write in my journal. And journal I did.

If she wanted to see what made up the angsty teenager, I would show her. I wrote. And I wrote…for hours. I was going to show her this was a dirty, muddy car race she didn’t want to see—where things were constantly slipping off the tracks and cars were flipping over at the blink of an eye. I journaled my ASS off, because I was going to SHOW HER. If she thought she could scare us with her college writing rules, she had another thing coming.

I thought it would annoy her. I sat down every night and wrote PAGE after PAGE after PAGE in my journal. I wrote about teenage angst and about visiting the Dachau concentration camp the summer before and about being an exchange student and about how it felt to be gone for a year and about ALL. THE. THINGS. A floodgate had opened. After all, I was proving a point.

But she called me on my bet. She gave me a damned A for my effort and encouraged more writing for the following week. Instead of annoying her, I’d piqued her interest! What the hell?! Talk about the most major backfire in the history of backfires!

Now, not only had I captured the interest of a teacher, I had built a daily habit of journaling—a habit that was hard to break because, in a way, my journal had become my advisor, my sounding board. To this day, I write—the good, the bad, the ugly—and I blame in on Mrs. Barkus, the first teacher who taught me to get my words onto paper so I could purge my thoughts and feelings and move onto bigger and better things. (Damn those teachers and their inspiring ways!)

That’s the story of my revenge-by-writing scheme. It backfired horrendously, and now I’m addicted to putting words on paper, getting thoughts onto the screen, and there’s only one person to blame. Thanks, Mrs. Barkus. And thank you to all the teachers, the mentors, the ones who take the time to foster the spirit of creativity in the next generation. If we want to keep reading good books, we need to keep looking toward our future writers. Thanks, Mrs. Barkus!

So why do writers tell stories? I can tell you that one of the reasons can be traced back to those pesky, yet inspiring, teachers who kept telling us we could do better. Well, we certainly showed them.

P.S. Always remember to always CTOTSWK! They’ll thank you for it in the end. (It’s sort of like telling your friend she has toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. It’s a little tough to do, but she’d rather hear it from you than anyone else!)

Company Culture Is Key to Business Success

Whether you have 50 employees—or you’re the only employee and you have 50 jobs—there’s one thing your company should focus on from day one to be successful, and that’s developing a culture that attracts customers and top-notch talent. An ongoing plan to nurture a positive professional culture is one of the things that will lead to the overall success of your business.

What’s the Big Cultural Deal?

You already have a plan. You had a vision well before you ever believed it would be possible to actually open the doors of your business (whether physically or virtually). But here you are!

As you know, though, business plans are analytical. They and full of strategies, frameworks, toolkits, and a lot of other complicated things that will make your company competitive by the numbers.

But What About the Human Side of Things?

That’s where culture comes in. And that’s where you play a big hand in the direction your business takes regarding how employees and customers feel about your brand. You get to develop your company’s mission and values—which will drive behaviors in every team member from the top down. In the end, you’ll have an energetic and engaged team that’s eager to build customer relationships.

A strong pairing of mission and values—reflected in a vibrant company culture—will serve as a beacon to employees and consumers who believe in those same values.

Defining Company Culture

Your company’s culture is like its personality. If someone were to walk in the doors (or get a bird’s-eye-view of your virtual set-up), would they see happy, thriving employees who are working toward a unified goal? Would they see content teams that are communicating and interacting effectively? Would they get the feeling that people are proud of what they do and excited to be at work? Those are all signs of a thriving company culture.

You know the signs of a culture that’s not thriving. We’ve all seen them. Grumpy team members, confusing processes and poor communication, a feeling of chaos and too much to do, frustration, tension. The list goes on, but the feeling is similar for employees who are in a not-so-great culture. Those in a negative business culture can feel dejected, uninspired, and even lazy. (Insider info: These will not be your highest performers.)

Also, ew. Who wants to work there, where’s life’s a bummer and everyone is frustrated?

(More insider info: The good talent is not working there, and the mediocre talent is working there at reduced capacity.)

Strategy + Culture = The Ultimate Combination

Peter Drucker, author, management consultant, and educator said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What did he mean? You can have the most kickass business strategy on the planet, but if you don’t build a business culture that supports that strategy, you are setting sail in a boat full of holes. You have gaps in your plan. A leak in the roof. A squeak in the door. You get it.

Without a healthy business culture that supports your strategy, you’re missing the corner piece of your puzzle. And everyone knows a puzzle that’s missing a corner piece looks like crap.

Culture is the thing that drives employees to go above and beyond Every. Single. Time.

The Big Q

Is an investment in company culture worth it? Absolutely!

Investment in Company Culture Pays Off

Culture works alongside your business strategy to keep employees engaged and energized. They’ll stick with you longer, be happier, and be the best—and loudest—advocates for your brand, ultimately helping to gain more loyal customers. Here’s what we know about employees, customers, and company culture:

  1. Employees are loyal to culture.  If it comes down to it and culture goes toe-to-toe with strategy, culture will win. When you put your employees first, they’ll reward you with their loyalty.
  2. A solid culture makes tough times better. A strong culture keeps teams encouraged and focused on company values, even when strategy is working double-time to meet goals.
  3. Culture can’t be forced. Even when companies go above and beyond, employees can’t be strong-armed into engagement. The good news is that when employees feel like part of a thriving culture, they’ll naturally go out of their way to do great work.
  4. Culture highlights your brand.  If everything else is equal, customers will make decisions based on the vibe they get from a business. Do they feel like people are happy to be there and eager to help them? Consumers notice engaged teams that are delivering excellent service, and they won’t hesitate to tell all their friends!
  5. Culture helps strategy succeed. Think about Toms shoes. It seems crazy to give away a pair of shoes every time a pair is sold, right? But the idea took off. Why? The simple answer is culture. The Toms brand communicated a need, stated their purpose to help fulfill that need, and enlisted the help of their loyal customers. And after that, everyone who wanted fashionable feet bought in.
  6. An endangered culture puts businesses at risk.  Attitudes are contagious, and a negative culture can take things downhill quickly. Negative employees or teams that aren’t working together to achieve company goals can affect those around them, and customers sense that tension. They’ll shy away from businesses without a positive culture.
  7. Culture will win in a stand-off. Culture and strategy are better off as friends than enemies. While they work swimmingly together, if pitted against each other, employees and customers will choose the positive culture. So when you’re building your business strategy, be sure to incorporate an ongoing focus on culture.
  8. A cultural mistake is worse than a strategic mistake. Think how long it takes to build trust, positive communication, and intentional behaviors. Now think how damaging it would be to have something tear that down. Strategies change every day in business; that’s the way things work. Culture is ingrained, long-standing, and hard-won, so be sure to shore it up so it can weather any storm.
  9. Every business culture is unique. Other businesses can copy your products and services. But know what they can’t get their hands on? The secret behind your business culture. They can’t replicate employee engagement, the pride you’ve built in your brand, the willingness of your team to go above and beyond. You’ve created a culture where everyone plays an important role in bringing the brand to life for customers. Copycats can’t do that.
  10. Culture is the boss of your bottom line. If nothing else about company culture hit home, this one should because it’s about moolah, scratch, dough, coinage, MONEY. With a thriving business culture, growth potential is limitless. Happy employees will push themselves to new levels, brand recognition ignites, and customers will share their good experiences with acquaintances—further accelerating your growth. It’s like a snowball rolling downhill, but this is a really, really good snowball that continues to expand your bottom line as it grows.

Culture can do all those things. What’s not to love?

Strategy + Culture = Success

A strong business culture begins with the leadership team. The most visible and impactful behaviors can always be seen in the actions of team leaders, so if they’re walking the walk and talking the talk, it will be easier to get everyone else on the same page.

Things will get sticky. And hectic. And confusing, frustrating, exciting, overwhelming, and phenomenal as your business grows. (Some days all at the same time.) Anytime you’re stuck or wondering if a move is right, just ask yourself, “Does this support our company values?” (See how values, mission, culture, all that good stuff can work together to help you solve problems?!)

Culture is the glue that will hold your business together and inspire employees to consistently perform at their highest level. And when they’re performing at their best, you’ll have happier and more loyal customers. It’s simple. Culture feeds your brand. It ensures you have employees who want to keep working where they work, and it builds customer loyalty.

Is it worth it to invest time, energy, and funds into cultivating a positive company culture? You bet your bottom dollar.

We’re All Working from Home. We’re All Listening to Our Dogs Bark.

Here’s what mine is barking at.

His name is Rudi, but we call him the white ball of hate. He’s a deceptively cute bundle of fluff with a Swiffer of a tail that airily waves back and forth as he prances around his domain. Rudi is a beautiful mini American Eskimo that we brought into our family before we discovered that the best pooches can often be found at the local shelter. Likely inbred 6x over, Rudi is from a breeder in the most rural edges of Missouri. We drove hours to get him, and my first sign that we’d potentially erred in our ways was the hours-long car ride home during which I had to continuously clean up his vomit. Rudi does not mix well with moving vehicles.

As my daughter, the veterinary technician, has informed me, the breed is a “talking breed.” Yes, indeed. You’ll want to know—and fully comprehend this—before inviting one of these little charmers into your peaceful abode. For them, it’s not enough to just give one shrill little yip; they’ll bark so much that your other previously well-behaved dogs will also develop an obsessive barking habit. Yes, siree, a talking breed.

Working from Home with Your Talking Breed

If you’re like the rest of the entire world right now and find yourself working from home, a talking breed can be a challenge, especially if you have a job that requires you to be on the phone with clients. I’ve put together this handy-dandy list of things you can look out for (and hopefully avoid) if you, too, have a bark-his-little-balls-off dog. (And nope, it’s not that. Those are well and truly gone…just a manner of speaking.)

Rudi barks at many, many things, but I’ve gotten used to the low rumble that starts just before a fit of full-blown barking kicks in. When I hear the rumble, I know it’s time to either talk him off the ledge or relocate myself.

The Dirty Dozen

Here’s a handy list of things Rudi is currently barking at—about a dozen of his favorites, to be exact. These are the things you’ll want to avoid (or be ready for) if you decide a talking breed is right for you:

  1. The car that just drove by—on the fully legal city street where cars are SUPPOSED to drive all day long.
  2. The car that MIGHT drive by. Yep, the one that’s two streets over. He can hear it, and he’s making a pre-emptive strike by barking at it.
  3. The cricket that just farted in the backyard.
  4. His own hair blowing in the breeze.
  5. The ticking of the clock.
  6. His reflection in the refrigerator.
  7. The kids on the front porch. (They LIVE here, Rudi.)
  8. The toilet flushing.
  9. The ding of someone entering a Zoom meeting (a particular favorite of mine).
  10. The sound of his own bark (an ironic, vicious cycle).
  11. The sound of the house plants growing.
  12. The sound of the other dogs barking because he TAUGHT them to bark.

It could be anything at all really. This is just a guideline, as your very own talking breed will likely want to discuss completely different topics with you. Point is, you’ll probably get that one tiny warning growl—like the tiniest of dog sighs—before Fluffy or Fifi goes from zero to I-AM-GOING-TO-EAT-SOMETHING-ALIVE. This is your cue to either evacuate or de-escalate, depending on your work situation at the time.

Even if you’re just relaxing and working on a creative piece of your own, it can be bad for your writer mojo to constantly have to go from relaxed to instant-state-of-shock. I’ve tried to talk to Rudi about this. To date, he is not amenable to any mediation, however.

I’ve laid out logical reasons for not barking. But he is not a reasonable dog. He is beautiful and fluffy and he wants to be on the front lines, protecting and defending our home from wayward sights, sounds, and smells every single day. He is a tiny, angry soldier who will not rest until he has warned all of us about potential security breaches—including wayward pigeons and leaves.

But, I’ll concede a bit. After 8 years with Rudi, we’re really pretty attached to the little noise box. All I’m saying is if you’re working from home with a talking breed, try to avoid things like wind, paper crinkling, and well, anything that involves opening or closing a door. The good news? No one is EVER gonna sneak up on you!

Happy writing!

Go Micro: Small Consumer Moments Make a Mega Impact

Welcome to 2020. The marketplace is crowded. Half of our favorite businesses have closed. Shoppers trudge into stores only when necessary, masks on, six feet apart. Essential employees share half smiles to build camaraderie. Even the grapes are brownish and the cucumbers are soft as they protest having to look cheerful under the bright grocery store lights. We’re really only there for dog food, fresh fruit, and alcohol. The rest, we’ll end up ordering from DoorDash.

With no end in sight, COVID has thrown us all for a loop. When you make eye contact with another shopper, your gazes silently say, “Yes, we’re wearing our pajamas, but we’ll never speak of this in polite company.” You quicken your shuffle, grab your bottle of chardonnay and subtly nod good-bye to your kid’s math teacher.

Consumers Need You Right Now

Your customers are struggling. We’re all struggling. You may not be able to captivate everyone and entice them to spend money during this tough time (many businesses can’t). Consumers are buckling down and spending money on what’s necessary. However, everyone can appreciate businesses that understand their plight and reach out to them with whatever they can offer as relief or distraction from the chaos that’s been going on. Here’s what you can do:

  • Let shoppers know you understand what they’re going through.
  • Deliver attention-grabbing messages—and create content that doesn’t always ask them to buy. Instead, give your followers value-driven content filled with tips, suggestions, and hints to help them through difficult or quieter times.
  • Post attention-grabbing content that will add value to what they need for their business in the here-and-now.
  • Share advice that can help them stay connected with customers, especially when we all feel disconnected. What are YOU doing? Share that with your customers so they can be successful, too!
  • Running out of ideas? Share something interesting. What’s going on in the market that your customers will be interested in? Is there something you can share that will give them a heads-up and point them in the right direction for success?
  • Get funny. Times are tough…and coronavirus is serious. It’s ok to be funny; just be sure to be tasteful, too.
  • Run across something that might be useful or meaningful to your clients? Be sure to share that with them to let them know you have their best interests at heart.

Defining Micro-Moments

A micro-moment delivers a message that inspires consumers to engage with a brand. While short in duration, micro-moments are the instant when consumers recognize a brand, connect with its message, and decide whether or not to take action. Consumers are overwhelmed; micro-moments are snapshots that quickly get to the heart of what you want to share with them so your message doesn’t get lost.

Modern shoppers want quick answers and immediate gratification, especially with the 24/7 convenience of mobile technology. Consumers make quick decisions, and in turn, they are looking for businesses that do the same, as well as respond quickly. Businesses that can provide in-the-moment consumer interactions have an edge with today’s need-it-now shoppers.

How Your Business Can Use Micro-Moments

Most of your customers have done online searches, either for inspo or specific product ideas, before they arrive. This means they already know you have what they need—they just need you to be able to deliver in the customer service realm. Now, all you need to do is create micro-moments that bolster the relationship you’re already building.

Connect with consumers on social media and reach out with quick, relevant posts that will keep them interested in what you have to offer. Here are some examples of micro-moments you can implement quickly, use again and again, and leverage to gain feedback in an organic, natural way:

  • Create surveys. Simple surveys will provide insight about shopper preferences. Create frequent surveys to keep a steady pulse on consumer sentiment.
  • 1-Q-Interview. This works well if you have a brick-and-mortar store, but even if you don’t, try tossing out a single question for feedback! It’s requires low time commitment, and it shows you want to know what they thought of their experience. It’s a great micro-moment opportunity that will give you invaluable insights.
  • How-To Video. Video is the way to go! With micro-moments, you deliver in-the-moment value to your customers. Create videos with information-rich content that will help them improve their brand presence and boost sales.
  • “Near Me” Search. Looking for a restaurant near you that serves sushi? That’s a micro-moment, and you’ll notice that specific brands have cornered the market on capturing consumer attention. Help your customers get recognized online and find shoppers that are closest to them so they can connect easily.

Those are just a few ideas. The point is to be there for consumers WHEN and WHERE they are looking for you. It may be at the moment of purchase, or it may be well before they are ready to purchase. When you are more supportive—instead of all “Hey, buy my stuff,”—you’ll end up with more long-term customers who truly trust you and want to recommend you to the people they know.

Get Online

I know. You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. And online stuff takes time. BUT now, more than ever—when people are stuck at home pretending to homeschool their kids and 2-minute-showering before they put on the same sweatpants they had on yesterday—it’s important for you to really, truly connect with your customers. What are they missing? What do they  need from you? If you can give them a laugh or a fun rabbit hole to chase online, you’ll end up being a hero.

Long story short? This is the perfect time to leverage your online platforms to get to know your consumers. Reach out. Create relationships. Build trust. And get ready for the moment when shoppers are ready to crowd into brick & mortar stores again, because when that moment comes, I’m thinking it will look a lot like a scene from The Living Dead, with a giant human hoard threatening to burst through your front doors…all of them needing an extra-hot latte, a solid clearance rack, and a shopping cart to carry all the wares they’ve been unable to purchase for the past year.

Brace yourselves, business owners. But also, be proactive and woo that hoard!

Timing Is Important

Your consumers may seem tough. Heck, they ARE tough. We have to be to get through all this COVID-19 stuff, right? But let’s get real. There are a LOT of UNKNOWNS, and all of us want this craziness to be over.

If you’re anything like me, you want to know what’s going on, what to expect, and how to prepare for it. (Which is really weird for a fly-by-the-seat creative person, but nobody ever accused us of being normal.)

Consumers actively seek micro-moments—quick, easily-accessible pieces of reliable information and inspiration—that will guide them through their shopper journeys. A solid online presence is key so you can anticipate consumer needs—and so that you’ll be the go-to resource for information and inspiration.

Discovering the Opportunities

Micro-moment opportunities abound as consumers continue to seek out brands they can trust. When you take the time to discover who your shoppers are, you’ll be better able to shape decisions by offering exactly what they’re looking for—in the moments they are looking.  Consider the following as you formulate your strategy to deliver memorable micro-moments for consumers:

  • Offer Value. Give consumers something they need. When you give them what they need, they can justify the purchase. Position yourself as a guide who will help shoppers find their brand through educated purchasing decisions.
  • Move Quickly.  Speed is the name of the game when it comes to micro-moments. When something big is happening, don’t sit on it. Be the first one on the scene—and don’t stop talking about it until the hype is over.
  • Offer Kickass Solutions.  Think ahead! Be nimble, be quick…look ahead and know what’s coming up. Keep customers updated if things are going to cause ripple effects for their business—and deliver positive solutions that can help them with their immediate needs.
  • Make it Easy. Help your clients streamline and simplify shopper solutions. Today’s shoppers are looking for quick and simple experiences that take them from Step 1 to Finished in the shortest amount of time possible. Help customers focus on speed and simplicty to improve the customer experience. Every time you can do this adds up to a micro-moment that shoppers will remember.

We all know consumers are moving fast and spending less time in stores than before—especially with COVID-19 hanging around. For businesses, this means getting proactive AND innovative in the ways they reach out and connect.

Even if they’re remote, shoppers still want immediacy, efficiency, and top-notch customer service. For your business, this means finding the best and most innovative ways to communicate, build trust, and keep shoppers apprised of new opportunities. You need to provide MORE VALUE than anywhere else your customers could shop.

Take advantage of micro-moments to engage shoppers and guide their activity toward the products and services that will enhance their lives and propel your business toward success. You have the experience. You have the ideas. And you have the innovation.

Now, you just have to reach out to your customers and let them know YOU are the business that can sustain them—through a pandemic AND after COVID-19 when things settle and everything kicks back into high gear.

Writer’s Doubt? It’s the Antagonist in Your Story

You know the antagonist you love to hate? The bad guy who always stands in the way of your favorite good guy? As an author, self-doubt is your biggest, baddest, nastiest antagonist—and it’s time to recognize it for what it is.

What’s the antagonist in your latest book trying to accomplish? What’s driving him or her to oppose the protagonist’s goals—and how is that affecting outcomes for the protagonist? Now, let’s talk about what your inner antagonist is up to and how that’s affecting your writing.

Antagonists Be Like

Antagonists play a very special role in the stories we love because they create the tension that keeps us on the edge of our seats. We furiously turn pages to see how the hero will resolve the challenges set before them.

It’s a constant push and pull—which is exactly what your inner antagonist is doing every time she gets all hey-look-at-me and gives you reasons to doubt your writing.

You’re a kickass writer. You know that. I know that. Your dog knows that. (Every writer should have a dog. They are fabulous creative companions, excellent listeners, and the very best nap buddies.) Everyone knows you’re a sharp writer.

But there’s that voice. It sneaks up and whispers the harshest of messages in your ear.

“You’re really going to submit that?”

“You’ll never be a real writer. Why are you even trying?”

“I can’t get a professional critique. I’d be too embarrassed.”

It goes on. It’s not a quiet voice.

The Antagonist You Fictionalize & the Antagonist You Fight

A good antagonist has goals—like really good ways to shake things up by adding discontent to the storyline. (That means really messing with whatever the protagonist wants.) It’s easy to strategically fit an antagonist into your book, but what happens when you think about how your inner antagonist reacts to your personal success?

What’s an Antagonist Do Anyway?

Potentially the busiest job EVER, an antagonist is responsible for diametrically opposing the protagonist at every turn, throwing up roadblocks, and generally detracting from the main goal. Here’s what you should know about your inner antagonist:

  • They present as protectors. Not necessarily evil or all-the-time negative, this antagonist appears as someone who’s “looking out for you.” They don’t want you to get hurt by putting your work out there too soon or taking a chance. Maybe it’s “not quite ready,” or maybe it needs “one more revision.” Or maybe this antagonist needs to shut the hell up and let you write your story. If you’ve done your work, done your revisions, put in the time, and it’s ready to submit, don’t let your own self-doubt be the single thing that stops you.
  • The Opposite Game. What’s your goal as a writer, an author? A professional? A wife, a mom? Whatever your goals, you can be sure your inner antagonist will find a way to oppose them. “You can’t handle all that!” “What kind of mom is gone on Valentine’s Day for a writers’ conference?” “You know your desk is in your kitchen, right?” Your antagonist uses all these thoughts to throw you off course and cast doubt on the plans you’ve made. Ignore that bitch. She has no idea how hard you’ve worked to get here.
  • Arm Wrestle. Your antagonist will go toe-to-toe with you on ANY DAY. When you think your energy is sapped and you’re at your maxed-out lowest, that’s when that sinister little villain will attempt a final coup. She’ll try to take over when you least expect it, so stay alert. Antagonists aren’t dumb; they just have different strengths, outlooks, and goals than you do. But don’t be fooled; they want to win just as badly.
  • Oh, You Again. Your antagonist has been hanging around for a while—and will probably be a fixture in your life for quite some time. You have to learn how to deal with her, because she’s a put-me-in-the-spotlight kind of gal. Figure out how to deal with her firmly, let her know you’re not interested in her negative talk, and move forward with your writing.
  • But I Did it for You. Your antagonist thinks she’s looking out for you when she tells you to skip that high-powered critique. She’s trying to protect your feelings, but what she doesn’t know is that creative writers have developed a skin akin to that of elephants. You can tell us devasting things about our writing, and we can move from transcript annihilation to civilized shrimp dinner in the space of 30 minutes. It’s an acquired skill, but we can do it. We’re much tougher than our antagonists think.

Facing the Enemy

There is one thing that will surprise your inner antagonist—and maybe even shut her up for a minute or two. Here’s the secret. When you hear her whisper in your ear, tell you that you can’t complete that project, shouldn’t submit that proposal…take a deep breath, then slowly turn to look her in the eye and say, “I’ve got this.”

Your confidence is all the fight you need. It doesn’t need to be a big blow-up. No huge confrontation.

All she needs to see is the spark in your eyes and the determination in your soul to know that she can’t possibly stand in your way, no matter how much she wants to protect you or keep you from the scrutinous eyes of readers. Square those shoulders, writer. You are a badass! Tell that antagonist to find someone else to pick on because YOU. TOTALLY. GOT. THIS.