How to Hire Someone With the Right Talents - Part II (Writing the Application)

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When we last met, I shared the low-down on why I love talent-based hiring, and exactly how to define your ideal candidate and write a killer job description to lure them right to you. We built the foundation for the hiring process you can use again and again and again. Because that’s what we Process Mentors do.

Oh, but there’s more. So very much more.

So this time, we’ll dive into the next step in the process: Creating a killer job application that gives the right person a chance to shine and sends the wrong person packing.

But before we even start, I want you to take a minute to ask yourself what this application is for in the first place. As Seth Godin asks, “It may very well be that this programmer or that cleaning person or this animator is absolutely terrible at the things that make it easy to get hired. Is there anything wrong with that?”

Well, is there?

Our goal here is not to make a generic application that has candidates jumping through the typical BS hiring-hoops to prove they’ve mastered the skill of...filling out a job application. Instead, we’re trying to assess their ability to actually do the job well and love it. That “why” should inform absolutely every choice you make as you build your hiring process. Give yourself permission to make your application read nothing like any you’ve ever read before.

OK...Let’s not waste anymore time...here we go!

How to Write a Job Application that Actually Results in Useful Information

In Part I of this series, you did a lot of hard work to identify the core values of your organization and the talents (Remember...not just the skills!) that would be required to do the job. You also used those two nuggets of information to write a breathtaking job description that strategically used those core values and talents to entice those who fit the bill and hopefully scare away ones who don’t. Cool.

Next comes the application. What many managers do at this point is request a resume and use the application as a place to torture the candidate by making them basically re-type their entire resume all over again in application form. Not cool.

Instead, the application phase is an opportunity to save yourself precious time by eliminating people who “look good on paper” or are great at selling themselves, but are actually a poor fit for your organization or role.

But you have to be strategic about it. Here’s how…

Step 1: Filter for Deal-breakers

Remember back in the job description phase when we added the true non-negotiables to the “minimum requirements” section? You should have a “yes/no” question to correspond with each of those non-negotiables at the very top of your application. For example, if you have to be a Montana-certified biology teacher to get the gig, one of the first questions on the application should be, “Do you have a current Montana biology teacher certificate? (Yes/No).” Since this is an actual requirement for the job, anyone who says no is an automatic bye-bye. Some software will even automatically disqualify people who don’t answer certain questions “correctly.” This can save you a ton of time doing initial screenings.

You’ll also want to make sure to ask for a resume, so you can check up on the details of the candidate’s job history and check for any other deal-breakers you might see.

Step 2: Get Them “Real-Talking”

Most job applications are boring and an exercise for applicants to see who can be the most generic-yet-professional in their response. And this tells a hiring manager exactly nothing useful, because everyone’s just saying the words they think the hiring manager wants to read. We can’t do that, because we’re trying to uncover the actual core values and talents of this applicant. So we’ve got to get them talking. Real talking. That is, you want them to write like they actually talk and to reveal a bit about their personality through their responses.

The best way to generate some real-talk-inspiring application questions is to brainstorm a list of questions you’d ask someone if you were first getting to know them at a party.

Questions like…

What’s your story?

What do you love doing most?

Who inspires you?

Who/what drives you most crazy?

Who is your hero? Why?

What was the last book you read? What did you think?

What do you most enjoy doing on vacation? Why?

What’s weird about you?

I recommend including at least two “real-talk” style questions that don’t explicitly have anything to do with the candidate’s work history in the application, but that will generate some interesting and potentially polarizing responses. As long as the question itself is aligned with your core values, feel free to ask it. Nobody said job applications had to be fancy.  

Step 3: Ask them to Brag

Since you’re screening for just a handful of talents for this position, it’s essential that you get laser-focused on plucking out the candidates who show strong evidence of them. So you need to ask them, straight-out, what they’re awesome at. You can get at this answer in an endless number of ways, so the only thing that’s important is that your question sounds like you and your company.

Here are just a few ways you can get someone to declare their talents…

What would your last boss say about you?

What do your friends love most about you? Give an example.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

What kind of non-work projects have you enjoyed and been most successful at?

What kind of advice do you usually get asked for? Can you give an example of some advice you’ve given?

Notice that each of these examples gets the person to reveal their talents in the context of a real-world situation, instead of just saying, “What are your strengths?” They’re reflecting on how they show up in the world in real-life and how that looks to others around them. And you’re fishing for specific evidence of said things. This is important.

Step 4: Give Some Scenarios

You’re going to want to get a glimpse into how your candidates will think and make decisions on-the-job and there’s no better way to do that on an application than to give scenario-based questions.

A simple way to do this is to ask your team for a list of the problems they’ve solved in the last 48 hours that this new-hire might encounter. Find a few simple-yet-compelling ones, and turn them into scenario-based questions.

For example, if this person would be handling customer service requests, perhaps you would write a question like this one:

A customer has sent an angry message requesting a refund for a course they've purchased because they can't log in. How would you respond? (Please include the email you would write in the space below.)

This provides an opportunity to assess their decision-making, empathy, writing style, formality, attention to detail, and probably about six other things. Like, do they write like a human or a robot? It’s a simple task. It doesn’t take long. But it has the potential to reveal a whole lot about the talents and skills of your potential new-hire. As an added benefit, it also gives the candidate a taste of what they’ll do day-to-day.

I’d include at least one, but no more than four scenario-based questions in your application.

You Might Not Get it Right the First Time

If you follow the steps above to generate your application, you’ll definitely have a unique application that stands out from the crowd and will likely deter any slackers who prefer the resume cut/paste style of application they’ve grown accustomed too. However, I will tell you a bit of bad news.

It might not be perfect. (gasp!)

The hiring process is an iterative one and you have to constantly reflect on what’s working and what’s not and tweak the process for the next go-round. This knowledge gives you tremendous freedom because you can let go of trying to make your job description or application perfect. You already know it’s not going to be! Instead, come up with some interesting questions you’d actually like to know the answers to if you were getting to know another human and see what happens. You might even enjoy it.

So to recap, when designing a job application…

  1. Filter out people who don’t go against your “deal-breaker” criteria by asking some simple yes/no questions.

  2. Ask some fun/personal questions that you might ask someone at a party to snap people out of the “business-speak” and get them sharing a bit of their personality.

  3. Try to make people brag about what they’re most proud of.

  4. Provide examples of real-life scenarios they’ll deal with on-the-job and ask how they’d handle them.

  5. Don’t be a perfectionist! Experiment with different questions and see what happens...you can always adjust them as you get better at this.

In Part III, I’ll show you exactly how to evaluate the responses you’ll get from your application, so you’ll have a deep understanding of whether or not your questions are “working” so you can adjust them for next time.

Until then, it’s time to write that imperfect application and get it posted! Just promise me you won’t start calling or emailing candidates until you read the next post in the series. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it…

How to Hire Someone With the Right Talents - Part I

Hiring the right people is a complicated process.

And a high-stakes one.

After all, you’re deciding who you’ll entrust to help make the vision for your business a reality. No big deal, right?

It’s not something to take lightly, yet I find that many managers rely on uninspiring job descriptions, generic interview questions and gut-based decisions to bring new team members into their organization. Best Case Scenario: They’ve identified specific job responsibilities and have a well-thought-out process for how they’ll interview candidates (Which may or may not be working). Worst case scenario: They schedule interviews with people that “seem qualified on paper,” ask a bunch of questions off the top of their heads, and go with their gut on who to choose.

And I’ve SO been there.

No one teaches you how to hire the right people…you’re just expected to know, once you’re a manager. I personally started out by reverse-engineering what I had experienced as a candidate and then Googling for ALL the templates.

But every time I needed to hire someone, the process felt like a crap-shoot.

It all came to a head when I was charged with making an important strategic hire for my team. Miraculously, I found a candidate who had worked for our biggest competitor in the exact capacity as my position for several years. Furthermore, this person was charming, funny, kind, and had a positive attitude. I was thrilled! How could I have such luck to have met this experienced-yet-available person who knew just what our competitor did to solve our problems?!

I happily hired him.

And then I found out I had made a big mistake.

Although he was experienced and charming and funny and kind and positive, he did not possess the specific talents this job required. Even worse, the situation was taking its toll on my team. I felt awful, but I had to let him go after only a few short weeks.

I knew I had failed him and my team by hiring without a plan.

And I vowed to never let it happen again.

I needed to get hiring right, so I dove into learning everything I could about the subject. Through my failures, I systematically developed a tried-and-true hiring process that, since implementing, has yet to fail me in finding the right fit. In fact, it’s brought me some of the best team members I’ve ever worked with.

My hiring system is based on combination of strategies: One from a book by Marcus Buckingham called, First, Break All the Rules, another by Tom Rath, called StrengthsFinder 2.0, and finally, a dash of some good-ol’-fashioned instructional design techniques. The basis of the system is sometimes referred to as talent-based hiring.

Here’s the truth…

When you approach hiring the way I did, without a plan and without a clearly-articulated vision for the type of person you want to join your team, you are putting your team and your business at risk. A bad hire, even a kind and well-intentioned one, damages your team and your culture and erodes your team’s trust in you as their leader. If you’re thinking you don’t have time to spend on all these details, I hear you. However, the time (and energy and money) you’ll spend to un-do your next bad hire will far surpass the time you spend up-front to get it right.

I invite you to give this step-by-step process a try. Even if you don’t use every piece, I think you’ll find that going through the process will be enlightening to you and your team as you discover what you’re really looking for in your new team member.

In this first post of a multi-part series, I’ll give the low-down on what talent-based hiring is, why it’s awesome, and how to write your very first talent-based job description.

Talent-Based Hiring: The Philosophy

Before we jump into how to do talent-based hiring, it’s important that we get on the same page with what it’s all about.

The American analytics and advisory company, Gallup, defines talent as “a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that is productively applied.” The emphasis for me is on the “naturally recurring” part. I’m sure there are patterns of thought, feeling or behavior you have now that have always showed up for you - even if you look all the way back to childhood. For me, my drive to organize and optimize things was evident back to age 7 or 8, when I used to organize our kitchen cabinets “for fun.” It’s just always been part of me. These things that have always been true for us are talents.

Now, just because we have a talent for something, doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve fully developed it into a “strength.” That takes practice and hard work to achieve. Rath uses the example of someone being born with the potential for large biceps - if you don’t actually put in the work to build those biceps, they won’t develop. Similarly, those who don’t work on their natural talents, won’t see them develop into full strengths. So the recipe is to take your talent, invest time and energy in developing the related skills and knowledge to develop that talent into a strength. In Strengthsfinder 2.0, Rath writes it this way:

Talent x Investment = Strength

So, since we do have natural talents, it makes sense to hire employees who will mostly be doing tasks that fit within their areas of talent, because they’re already naturally-inclined to do these things well and enjoy them. Ideally, they’ve already developed those talents into strengths, but if not, at least they have the capacity to get there through investing time and energy in their development.

In Contrast: Skills-Based Hiring

Now compare the talent-based hiring philosophy to what many managers do: Focus on job-related skills and knowledge. They concern themselves with making sure the candidate has had experience doing the exact thing they’re hiring for, using the software they’ll need to use, or being able to rattle off a list of “the right steps” for the tasks they’ll need to complete.

Yes, it’s wonderful when candidates come into a new job knowing just what to do. And you should definitely assess for skills and knowledge, especially if you won’t be able to develop them in those areas. But it’s not enough to stop at skills and knowledge. Because what if the candidate has spent his entire career in a series of jobs he hates? He got the wrong degree, felt like he needed to stay in the field because he’d already invested all that time and money, and now he feels like it’s the only job he’s qualified to do. Sure, he can talk the talk and tell you everything you want to hear in an interview, but his talents aren’t aligned to his skills and knowledge. So he’ll eventually become disengaged with your awesome job, because the tasks don’t fit within his naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

If you’re not explicitly screening for talents, you won’t find out you have the wrong fit until it’s too late.

How to Write a Talent-Based Job Description

Now that you’re on-board with why hiring based on talents is so important, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to do it.

Step 1 - Define Your Core Values

If you haven’t already clearly-defined your company’s core values, this is an absolutely required step before you do anything else. If you want to ensure your culture stays strong and vibrant for years to come, every single new-hire must be evaluated to make sure they are aligned to your core values. If you need some inspiration to craft yours, here’s an awesome list of core values to get your juices flowing.

Step 2 - Identify the Tasks and Responsibilities for the Position

The best way to show that you are a caring and thoughtful manager is to have clearly thought through (and documented!) the specifics of what you want your new-hire to do. If you can’t write it down, it’s not a thing.

You might be thinking, “But I need help from them to figure out how to do xyz!” Cool. Then “Define xyz process” just became part of their job responsibilities. Write it down.

Make your exhaustive list of responsibilities and then show it to some team members you trust to get their feedback. You’ve probably forgotten something.

Step 3 - Identify the Necessary Talents

Now that you are clear on your core values and the tasks and responsibilities of this position, it’s time to consider the talents this person will need to possess in order to be successful. Remember, talents are those “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior” that can be applied to your position.

I love Rath’s 34 themes from Strengthsfinder 2.0 for helping me define talents for new positions, but even filling in the blank for the question “The new-hire must be naturally _________________” will usually get you what you need.

Start out by listing every natural-born talent that seems essential, and then share it with some trusted colleagues and ask for their feedback. Together, try to narrow your list down to no more than six talents that are absolutely essential for this position, given the core values and job responsibilities.

Step 4 - Write the Job Description

You’ve already done some great foundational work, so this job description should flow pretty easily. There are two keys to writing effective job descriptions:

1 - Match the writing tone and voice to your company culture and core values. For example, if you are a very formal organization, it should be written very formally. If you’re a bit edgy, the job description should be too.

2 - Your job description should attract the right people and repel the wrong ones. Your job description is not the time to make your company and job sound like Disneyland. Be real about the demands and challenges they’ll face. Someone who has the right set of talents will be excited by it and someone who doesn’t will run for the hills. That’s a good thing.

As far as job description structure goes, here’s how I do mine (in order):

  • Company Summary - Start with a paragraph that summarizes your company and core values.

  • Job Summary - An introductory paragraph that cuts to the chase of what this job is about and what you’re looking for.

  • Key Responsibilities - You already made this list! Just add it here.

  • Knowledge & Skills - It might seem funny that we’re emphasizing talents over skills in this approach, and then explicitly asking for skills instead of talents in the job description. Well, what we don’t want is for candidates to just parrot back what we tell them we want, from a talent standpoint. We’ll assess for those things during the application and interview phase indirectly, but we don’t want to come right out and tell them the answers to the test. So in this section, we’ll list any knowledge and skills that would be valuable for this person to have as they come into the position. Think technical skills and other knowledge one would acquire after doing a similar type of position. So if you’re hiring for a web designer, ability to create custom Wordpress templates might be an important skill. Or if you’re hiring a 5th grade teacher, you might want someone who knows how to differentiate instruction. Or maybe there’s a particular methodology you love to use…you can list it here. Remember, these may not all be dealbreakers, since you might be willing to train the right person on-the-job, but they’re skills the person will either come in with at the start or will need to acquire on-the-job.

  • Minimum Requirements - If there are any non-negotiables, such as required certifications, degrees, etc., put them here. But be sure to make sure it really is a non-negotiable…can you think of a scenario where someone without this requirement could be a good fit? You might rightly want someone with experience in a particular role if you don’t have someone to train them and need them to get up to speed quickly. Or you might want to give an opportunity to someone inexperienced, but with the right talents to grow into the position. Consider those factors carefully when defining your minimum requirements.

  • Summary - I like to wrap up my job descriptions with a bit of personality and an invitation to apply if they feel like the post resonated.

Step 5 - Flavor your Job Description with Your Core Values and Desired Talents

Remember what I said earlier about how this job description’s job is to attract your ideal candidate and repel people who aren’t a fit? Well, it’s time to take one last pass at your job description to overly insert elements of your core values or the desired talents you’ve identified for this job. For example, if you’ve identified one of your core values is “Always have a sense of humor,” you’d want to insert touches of humor throughout the post. If you have identified one of the key talents as “Takes charge,” think about what someone who would naturally “take charge” would love to hear in a job post and add that in. That might be something as simple as, “This is a new position, and we won’t be able to tell you how to do most of your tasks. We’re counting on you to figure out the best way to get xyz done.” Someone who likes to have step-by-step directions for tasks would likely be scared away by such a statement, which is exactly what you want in this situation. This last step in the process is all about making sure you’re scaring away the wrong people.

Stay Tuned for the Next Steps…

Congratulations! You’ve written a compelling, talent-based job description. The time you’ve spent putting the extra thought and effort into this description will shine through to the high-quality candidates you’re trying to attract and will likely intimidate anyone who’s not up to the challenge.

In the upcoming posts in this series, you’ll learn how to come up with a comprehensive application, how to decide who to talk to, how to conduct interviews, how to build a valuable sample task, and how to narrow down your candidate pool and ultimately choose your new team member. Be sure to subscribe to my posts so you’ll get the next installment straight to your inbox!

Happy hiring!









The Hot Mess Business Podcast #2 - Get Rid of Business Overwhelm by Seeking Help

It’s time for the March episode of The Hot Mess Business Podcast! I’ve decided that a monthly publish schedule is a good fit for the moment, but I hope to increase frequency later in the year!

In This Episode…

I talk with La'Vista Jones from 31 Marketplace about all things business efficiency, including...

  • How she got bullied into starting her own business

  • The predictable "crossroads" when many business owners begin to feel overwhelmed

  • The power of a "Brain Dump Session" to get the mess of your business out of your mind

  • Why partnering with operationally-minded people might be the key to scaling your business

  • How she regularly uses "quiet time" to find a path forward

  • Employing a "business bully" to hold you accountable to your business goals

  • Seeking help in whatever way you can

La'Vista Jones - Headshot 2.jpg

About My Guest

La'Vista Jones, CLBC is a certified coach and business strategist. She's also an author, speaker and community builder. She uses her former corporate experience and acumen to support other entrepreneurs in the marketplace. Her desire is to help business owners merge setting foundations for sustainability and growth with prioritizing their own self-care.

La'Vista's unique magic is bringing order to the overwhelm that many solopreneurs experience in life and business. Her work focuses on streamlining processes and identifying operational gaps as well as outsourcing opportunities. La'Vista's creative approach to business analysis and implementation saves her clients valuable time that they can then spend on their own self-care routines.

An Ohio native, La'Vista currently resides in Arizona with her husband, their son, ‘The Cub’ and fur baby, Bull Dozer.

You can find out more about her at thirtyonemarketplace.com and on Instagram @lavistajones

La'Vista knows her stuff and I hope her simple, actionable strategies inspire you to take the first step in getting help with your feelings of overwhelm.

Hey Managers, Stop Blaming the Trainer

I'm currently working with a client on designing a training program for their new managers right now. They’re growing like mad and this program is going to be so so awesome. My client is hyper-focused on making sure these new leaders feel cared for and well-equipped to do their jobs from day one, and they saw this training program as a important part of doing that.

And of course I agree…great training is essential. But I think they've been surprised to see how much time we've spent talking about things that will happen outside of the training itself. Namely, we’ve been focusing a lot on the systems they'll use to manage their team after the training is finished. (Some of which don't currently exist.)

This is normal, normal normal.

We often talk about training like it's the magic pill for fixing all the things. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard a well-intentioned business leader say in frustration, "But they were trained on that!"

Here's the truth: Training doesn't work unless you manage to the training outcomes AFTER the training is over. Period.

But those are annoying, jargony words. Let me give you a practical example of what I'm talking about.

(Cue “dream harp” sound from the cartoons)

A “Typical” Business Training Scenario

Let's pretend I run a web design company and have realized that we need to start being more organized about how we manage client projects. As the number of clients we support has grown, we’re increasingly making silly errors and it feels like there are a lot of redundancies in the way we do things. So I go out and purchase a license for the world's greatest project management software (“WGPMS”, for short). I even buy a training package from the vendor so my team will know exactly how to use this new software. I'm so excited. The company gives an amazing training - my team is engaged and leaves the training knowing the ins and outs of how to use the new software. Hooray! I sit back and get ready for my business to improve.

(Fast-forward 6 weeks later.)

The good news: My superstar team members have totally adopted the software and love it!

The bad news: Several of my team members seem to have completely forgotten about this new software. Also, I sorrrrrt of have no idea if I've gotten any measurable value from implementing the software because adoption is all over the place.

Does this scenario sound familiar? How many times have you planned or participated in a training where the new amazing thing or concept was supposed to change everything but just never quite took hold in your business?

So how could I have done this better?

Time for a Re-Do

In my little dream, we get unlimited do-overs, so that’s just what we’re going to do here. What would my wiser self do? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Step 1 - Write Down What’s Going to Change (Be Specific)

First, I would've started the training process by writing down exactly what my desired BUSINESS outcome was for the training. A simple way to get to the business outcome is to ask yourself, “What is the behavior I want to change in the day-to-day work-life of my team?” Bonus points if you can explain WHY that change is important to your business. It’s about defining how your team members will do things when they’re back at their desks…not what they can do during the training.

Important Note: If you can't come up with a write-down-able business outcome for conducting a training, please PLEASE don’t conduct said training. If your team doesn’t see how the training relates to their real-life work, they'll do the training and then go right back to business-as-usual.

Maybe I’d choose something like, "At the end of the training, participants will consistently use “WGPMS” for ALL client project-related tracking and communication." The point of the training isn't to teach the team how to click the buttons within the software. The point is to get them to adopt the software as part of their daily "way" of working. Of course, teaching them which buttons to click will be essential as part of that training, but it's not the point of it all. The point is to get them to adopt.

Adopt, adopt, adopt.

But we get so happy about making our nice little training outline with all the bullet points of “topics we’re going to cover,” don’t we?

Step 2 - Figure Out How to Know if the Change Happened in Real Life

Once I knew what change I wanted to see in my team, I would've figured out how to measure whether that change had taken place once they got back to their jobs. Since our example outcome was about adoption of the software and since true adoption can't be measured overnight, I would’ve had to put in place some longer-term check-ins to monitor and assess the situation over time.

It might’ve been a good idea to set up a recurring weekly "project update" meeting for the next two months where we open up the project plan together, and everyone has to give an update on their progress as documented in the WGPMS.

This type of assessment does two lovely things:

  1. It sends a message that adopting this software is actually important and they'll be accountable for doing so.

  2. It gives them plenty of time before the meeting to tinker around in the software, seek help on things they're not sure about so they can co into the meeting prepared.

  3. It forces the team to work together to define the process in the in-between time so that everyone is rowing as one.

Smart, right?

Please notice that this step is all about management, not training. Without the participation and buy-in of the managers who are to lead such a meeting, the training outcome will never fully be reached. Thus, managers must be deeply involved in all training initiatives from the start.

Which brings me to my next step…

Step 3 - Figure Out Who Will Manage It

Once I knew what I needed to do to measure whether that change had taken hold in my business, I would’ve clearly identified who would own making sure that the measurement consistently happened.

Ownership is key.

Important Note: If you don’t have someone who will take ownership of managing the change that is to happen after the training, please do not conduct the training. It’s a waste of time.

Step 4 - Design the Training to Make the Change Happen

Only then, after figuring out all of that, would I begin to design and develop the training. Because training has to be designed with business outcomes in mind. If that trainer thinks they're coming in to teach your team how to click buttons, they won't have what they need.

So yes, I would’ve given them directions on how to do the technical parts, but also…

  1. An overview of the business process (Or the essential requirements, if I were expecting the team to define the process themselves.)

  2. Expectations for how to do this thing on a day-to-day basis

  3. A heads-up about how I’d be managing things (In this case, the answer would’ve been the weekly meetings.)

Do you see how if I left out any of that, my team wouldn't have been equipped to do what they needed to do? And do you also see how, without any one of those things, I could’ve never guaranteed that this new awesome software would actually change a darned thing?

Training Starts with You

It’s time for business leaders to take responsibility for their failed trainings. If you didn’t start with how you would manage the change and then finish with actually managing the change, the problem wasn’t the training.

And listen. I’m not advocating for micro-management of your team about every little thing. I’m simply saying that your team already has a ton on their plate and the best way to signal to them that they should prioritize one thing over another is to measure it consistently and repeatedly. It’s like a glowing red sign saying, “Look over here! This is important!”

Sure, it takes more time to figure out a system to support your team in reaching your desired outcomes, but if you’re not willing to do that, why bother spending time and resources on providing training in the first place?

Isn’t the whole point of training to create a lasting change in your business?

I Podcast.

You guys! My Podcast has finally been launched! Before I dive into my celebration, I wanted to update you on the mess that has been editing and producing this thing. There were LOTS of lessons to be learned.

The Podcast Production Process: My Personal Hell

For those of you that haven’t been following me as I bumble along figuring out how to make a podcast, you can get caught up here and here and here. It’s definitely been an imperfect journey, but it hadn’t been particularly painful until this last step: Production.

And I must’ve known it was going to be rough because I put it off for as looooong as I could. But this past weekend, I finally decided to focus on getting it done and dove, head-first, into editing.

The Production Steps I Took:

In case you’re interested, I’ll start by walking you through the steps I took to produce my very first podcast. I may eventually outsource this task to a professional, but I wanted to learn how to do it and try my hand at it a few times so I can use that info to inform the way I record my interviews in the first place. So far, this has been a good move. I will definitely record my next episode differently!

  1. Record interview

  2. Record my intro “blurb” (I don’t know what it’s actually called.)

  3. Remove the Micro SD card from my microphone, (I happened to use this one ) and add the digital files from the Micro SD card to my computer’s hard drive

  4. Fire up the Garage Band app on my computer and drag my audio files in, along with the music file for my intro/outro

  5. Try not to throw my computer out the window as I split, rearrange, cut, fade the different pieces of audio

  6. Hate myself for starting a podcast in the first place

  7. Take a deep breath and press on with the editing

  8. Export the completed podcast as an MP3 file

  9. Load my MP3 file into Libsyn and populate all of the show/episode description info

  10. Publish the episode in Libsyn!

  11. Apply to add the podcast to iTunes

  12. Apply to add the podcast to Stitcher

  13. Wait

  14. Freak out a little when I see my podcast show up on my ACTUAL Podcast feed!,

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That list made it seem so simple, didn’t it? Well, not everything went perfectly. Here are a few more lessons I learned while producing this baby…

Lesson #1 - If you’re going to make a 30-ish minute podcast, don’t record 90 minutes of audio.

Remember back when I told you how laid-back I was going to be about how I structured my first interview? And remember how that didn’t really work? Well, it doubly didn’t work because my easy-breeziness meant that my guest and I just chatted casually for 90 minutes. In my head I thought, “This is great! I’ll definitely be able to edit this down to pull out only the best parts.” Doesn’t that sound SO LOGICAL? It really did to me.

What I didn’t properly respect was that editing is Time Consuming. Yes, with capital letters. And what seems like a tiny snippet of an idea you want to capture can take hours to stitch together juuuust right. And then double that if you haven’t touched Garage Band since circa 2002. So yeah, it was a long 2 days of editing. You read that right, two full days to pull together a 30-minute podcast. Ugh. I’ll never get that slice of my life back.

Lesson #2 - Yes, you need a mic stand or tripod.

Ughhhhh, there are so many rustles and crinkles and barumphs in my first episode. And it’s fine. It’s supposed to be a hot mess right now. But still, I wish I would’ve fully understood the importance of a stable mic. Thankfully, my husband gave me one he’d had just lying around, so I’m set for next time!

Lesson #3 - Be conscious of your pitch.

This might be one that’s specific to me, but there were lots of times in the conversation where I went into some weird baritone range of my voice. I think I do this naturally in conversation, but it doesn’t play well on a recording. I recall that during the interview, I was kind of leaning back on the sofa as I talked because I’m so comfortable with this particular guest. Next time, I’ll pay attention to sitting up straight and keeping an upbeat energy throughout so my voice stays in an optimal pitch range.

Lesson #4 - When it comes to audio, garbage in/garbage out.

Similar to Lesson #1 above, I had this idea when I was recording that it didn’t reallllly matter how perfect the mysterious “levels” and room acoustics were when I recorded. I could fix it during editing. But that’s not really how it works. While it’s true that you can “turn things up” and “turn things down,” there’s no substitute for doing it right the first time.

Furthermore, I’m realizing that the fewer separate voice recordings, the better. I ended up with very different volume levels and energy-in-my-voice levels from my podcast intro, episode intro, and the interview itself. In retrospect, it sounds pretty bad, so please hang in there with me…I’ll get better with this audio stuff!

The Celebration

But besides how long and tedious it was to edit, it really did go smoothly. And now that I’ve learned Lesson #1 above, this process should go a lot more smoothly next time (I hope!). I have to tell you, the first time I saw my little podcast appear on iTunes it felt so surreal. Apparently I podcast now.

I hope you’ll check out my very first episode with one of my favorite humans, Inga Varney.

Inga Varney of Wine Star Services

Inga is a Wine-geek, a fellow process nerd, a lover of organized digital and physical spaces, while almost always having thousands of messages in her inbox and large stacks of paper all over her desk and surfaces. She is currently a part-time employee working full-time hours while dabbling in her wine business and hanging out with her darling 3-year-old and lovely husband. (And me sometimes.) You’ll love her.

We talk about…

  • Learning by jumping into the mess

  • The value of being “the new girl/guy"

  • How even the most organized people have trouble prioritizing their day

  • How to get on track when your current systems are no longer working

  • How to follow the pain to figure out where to start systematizing, and

  • How to use constraints to make decisions more easily

It’s a pretty fun conversation!

(Side Note: The ridiculously nerdy (and amazing!) tool we discuss is the Timeular tracker.)

I hope you’ll subscribe! (It can only get better from here!) And just so you know, I had previously identified a certain pair of zebra-print shoes as my reward for finally publishing.

So if you see me in them, you’ll know I’m wearing my “Hot Mess Shoes.”


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You can subscribe to The Hot Mess Business Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher!



Four Lessons for Making Your First Podcast Interview Not Suck

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Well, I did it. I conducted my first podcast interview this week. I cleverly signed up someone very near and dear to me to be my first guest. (More on her later) Which kind of felt like cheating, but I'm fine with it.

This friend of mine definitely fits the bill for an efficiency expert - she masterfully organizes really important things every day and then acts like it's no big deal. It's in her blood. So I knew we'd be able to have a fruitful conversation on the topic of making businesses work better.

The Interview

We met one afternoon in my home and set up a cozy nook in my living room to have our chat. I got out my new little audio recorder, adjusted my levels in pure amateur fashion using cheap earbuds, and we set out to do this thing.

As soon as I hit record, I realized I had no idea how I wanted to kick off the interview (Face-palm). So I channeled my inner Tim Ferris and did my best to ramble off an introduction that did my guest justice. (Learning #1: Define how you'll introduce your guest ahead of time.) I think it turned out ok, but I'll find out later this week when I start editing.

The conversation itself also started off a little bumpy, because I'd decided ahead of time that I just wanted to "have a conversation and let it flow" instead of being tethered to the questions I'd come up with. (I’m so chill, aren’t I?) But the conversation has to start somewhere. And it's helpful to figure out, ahead of time, where that somewhere should be. (Learning #2: Define your initial question ahead of time.) I ended up asking her to share a bit about how she came to be the process nerd she is today. Which, again, was fine, but could've been better because it felt too abrupt.  

But I started feeling more at home as the conversation continued. Questions came to me as we talked, as I knew they would, and I did my best to point out insights and connect with her story throughout. I think we both enjoyed the conversation and got something out of it. It didn't feel 100% natural, but I'm sure that's something that will come in time as I get more practice in having these conversations.

In retrospect, though, I lost sight of my "why" for this podcast. And that’s a pretty big deal. She and I were just sort of geeking out about processes, but I wasn't keeping it focused on what my listener wants. This podcast is supposed to be for business owners who feel like their business is an operational Hot Mess, in some way. They don't enjoy geeking out about processes - they enjoy some other aspect of their business: Sales, marketing, strategy…whatever. They need help with the operational part, not further confirmation that they are not wired the same way these weirdos are. I'm supposed to be helping them to feel less alone and giving them strategies for making things work better. I let my listener down.

As I reflected, I recalled something Rob Lawrence taught me at the podcast workshop I attended a few months ago. He said we should think of our audience as a single person who is right there with us while we record. It's our job to keep drawing them into the conversation, just like any good host would do at a real party.

Think about what they're interested in.

Keep connecting to things they'll find relevant.

It's about them. That visual is really helpful for me and I intend to use it next time. I'm also planning to start each podcast by restating what it's all about in the first place. (Learning #3: Keep returning to "who it's for" and "what it's for” throughout.)

Finally, when we got to the end, I encountered a similar problem from the start…I hadn't really worked out how to wrap things up (Face-palm again). I ended up coming up with what I think was a pretty decent question on-the-fly, but this will definitely be something I'll sort out beforehand next time. (Learning #4: Define how you'll wrap up your interview ahead of time.) I love when podcasts start and end in a consistent way each time. It’s a thread that connects each episode to the next. I want to do that.

So, to sum up…

All-in-all, it went…decently. And as much as the perfectionist in me wants to re-interview her to apply all my learnings, I'm not going to do that. First, because there were some valuable gems tucked in throughout our conversation that I think my listener will appreciate and enjoy. But also, because I want to be a living example of shipping before it's perfect. I'm going to do my very best to edit this episode down to make it as valuable and high-quality as possible. And at the same time, I want to look back a year from now and cringe at it because I've come so far. I can't do that unless I get this one out the door.

Deep breath…next comes learning how to edit a podcast.

To keep following along with my podcast journey, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter!

Local Woman Tries to Make a Podcast

Awhile back, I told you about my plans to create a podcast and I told you I'd share my journey to making it happen with all of you. I promise I didn't forget about it, but other priorities took center stage for a minute.

Now, in the new year, I've been focusing on getting this baby out the door, so I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve been up to. Warning: This will be a bit of a window into the way I think and plan things, so bear with me as I get a bit…procedural.

The Basics

As I shared in an earlier post, I had taken a 3-day Podcast Workshop to kick this whole thing off, so I'm going into the project feeling like I have a pretty clear idea of what steps need to get done and in what order. Which is a relief. Coming out of that workshop, I already had…

A podcast name: Hot Mess Podcast  (HT to Pam Slim!)

A list of potential guests: Top Secret

A description of my listener (So I know who I’m talking to): A small business owner who feels overwhelmed with the "back-end" elements of running their business. They have a profitable business and don't have a problem with acquiring and retaining customers/clients, but feel like they spend too much time in reaction-mode and dealing with administrative tasks instead of proactively working on growing their business.

Also, they are fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.

A description of my purpose : To inspire business leaders that they actually can make things run better by sharing the stories of those who have done it and providing practical strategies.

A description of my general "show flow": 1-on-1 interview format with business efficiency experts and those who aren't experts but who have managed to put strategies in place to make things work better. I originally planned to have a 50/50 split of experts and non-experts to give some variety and balance to the content, but that vision has changed a bit since I first got started. (More on this later) That said, I’m planning to move forward with my original plan for the first few episodes so that my desire to get things juuuuust right doesn’t slow down my progress to ship this project.

I will learn and adjust as I go.

What’s Happened in the Last Few Weeks

So when I dug back into this project a couple weeks ago, it was time to start crossing off the preparatory logistical steps. Let me share a bit about how this all went down…

I scheduled my first few guests for interviews

I'm going to keep you in suspense about the identities of my guests, but I do want to share a bit about the process of getting them booked. 

I did this step first because I knew it would cause a ripple effect that would force me to keep moving forward. Once the interviews are booked, there's no turning back. This is a strategy I finally started intentionally putting to use in the last couple of years: When you create some kind of external accountability and deadline for the project, it pushes you to get it done. You can't save it for another day…someone is counting on you to come through NOW.

So I took a deep breath and drafted four emails to four amazingly efficient and beautiful humans, each one very unique and full of such great insights for my listener.

Send. And Wait.

Within a day, all of them had generously agreed to be a guest and I smiled, knowing this thing was actually going to be a thing. By the end of this week, I'll have recorded my first two episodes. (I'll let you know how that goes.) I’m so excited.

I designed some artwork

I put the call out to a designer, but in the meantime, I decided to use Canva to create a placeholder logo for the podcast. And do you know what? I kind of like it!

In my unending quest to mend my perfectionist ways, I'm thinking it might actually be a good idea to just go with this one for now.

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I chose intro/outro music

Again, I'd planned on having this professionally done, but in the meantime, I found a good-enough track on Pond5 that makes me smile and fits with the vibe I'm trying to have. Perfectionism be damned.

Here's a sample version of it.

I created a pre-interview questionnaire

Now that my first few guests were on-board, it was time to start thinking about content. When I was recently a guest on Kc Rossi's podcast, Women Developing Brilliance, she sent me a questionnaire ahead of time to help her prepare a bit for our conversation. I liked that idea a lot, so I "stole like an artist."

Below is the pre-interview survey I came up with for now.  (I'm sure it will change as I figure all of this out, but feel free to steal from me too!)

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I came up with some interview questions

The thing about great conversations is you can never really plan them out in advance. BUT, I did think it was necessary to put together a general list of questions I could use as anchors for the kind of conversation I want to have with my guests. My intention is to stay present and curious during the interview and be flexible about going wherever it takes us. I know these will change as I get better at this.

It never hurts to have a plan.

Here are just a few of the questions I have in mind for now (Also inspired by Kc Rossi):

  1. Tell us more about who you are and how you got started in your business?

  2. What are some of the signs and symptoms that a business needs help with making things work better?

  3. Tell me about a time when you felt like a hot mess in your business.

  4. What are some strategies you can recommend to the business owner who feels like they’re drowning in all the wrong kinds of work?

  5. What about your work excites you or brings you joy?

Next Steps

So that's where I've landed so far. This week, I'll be setting up my podcast hosting platform and conducting my first two interviews. It’s getting real.

I’ll have lots more to share as I figure all of this out, and I’ll continue to keep you posted as I do!

To keep following along with my podcast journey, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter!




 


 

Confessions of a Business Owner Without an MBA

It's so easy to look at the pretty websites and polished blog posts of the small business owners around us and assume they have it all figured out. If you've been following along with my posts thinking the same about me, well…I'm about to burst your bubble.

The truth is, I feel like a fraud at least once a day. Usually more like six.

Photo credit: YTW Photography

Photo credit: YTW Photography

Let me share just a few of my stunning non-qualifications for running a business:

  1. I have zero formal business training.

  2. I have always been allergic to sales.

  3. I have a couple of tiny people in my house who constantly steer me off-track.

  4. I'm not a big risk-taker.

  5. I never even wanted to be a business owner in the first place!

There are so many reasons why I shouldn't be cut out for this. And yet here I am.

My Imperfect Story (So Far)

A year ago, when I first got started, the list of things that needed to be figured out about how to run a business was never-ending. Yet I knew I had a valuable (and somewhat unusual) skill set for synthesizing and optimizing the way things worked and that I could use that skill set to help business owners who didn’t have a process-nerd like me on their team. And I knew that if I could do that kind of work day-in and day-out it would be my dream job. So I kept going.

The problem was, because I didn't have all of the things figured out, I was afraid to talk about my business. What if someone realized that I had no idea what the hell I was doing? Would the word get out? Would I be reported to the Better Business Bureau? No thanks.

So instead, I threw myself into the handful of projects I had. I’d figure out how to market my business once I “figured it all out.” Life was good when I was working with my clients because helping them brought me joy and gave me some much-needed confidence. You see, doing the actual work is my comfort zone, because it's the part I know so well. My default is to live in that "doing" space…to be the craftswoman.

But as I later found out, one also needs to handle a couple more things to make a business work: Minor topics like actually talking to people about your business and managing cash-flow. No big deal.

So about six months in, I realized something had to change. I began investing heavily in learning the parts I didn't know and getting support to prioritize my actions in those areas. For me, that meant hiring a business coach, joining a mastermind group, and using articles and online videos to teach myself how to do all the technical aspects of content marketing.

I’m still a work in progress, but little-by-little, inch-by-inch, I'm figuring out all the businessy pieces as I go along. Miraculously, I've so far managed to stretch to juuuust the right amount of knowledge to get me through to the next level. That’s all you really need to know, you know...enough to get you to the next thing. And while that feeling of not being an expert used to be terrifying (Because my happy place is being an expert). I'm starting to settle in with my new normal of being constantly unsure and moving forward anyway. I'm learning to trust myself to figure the rest out later.

And so, for me, the best part of building my business has been the way it's building my own resilience and ability to leap in the face of uncertainty. I look back at who I was a mere year ago and I can't believe how much I've learned and changed. (And how much I’ve enjoyed this messy process.)

Why Am I Telling You All of This?

I share all of this not to tell the story of a woman who's figured everything out about how to run her own business...because I haven’t. My hope is that by reading about how clueless I am was, you’ll feel a bit less alone in this world of small business owners who seem to have it all figured out. The more I share my own vulnerabilities, the more I realize that it’s not just me. Just about everyone who is trying to figure out how to run a business feels this way. But since we don’t often talk about it, it’s easy to assume we’re the dum-dum in the room.

So I’m committing to being more transparent with my own journey. Of course, I want to share the things I DO have expertise in...to help people level up in their own businesses. But I also think it’s just as helpful to share some of what I don’t know and to invite others into my journey as I grow. For the record, I’m not suggesting that everyone lay to bare every little business-related insecurity and mess they have...that’s what coaches and mastermind groups are brilliant for. But I do believe it’s time for the “culture” of business-to-business marketing to shift to one that’s more focused on connecting and keeping it real.

So here’s my challenge to you: What’s something in your business that you’re NOT an expert in? How can you share a bit of that with your own audience? Maybe you can even share your journey to tackle it?

Think of it as an experiment in vulnerability. What’s the worst that could happen?


If you’d like to follow along with my highly imperfect journey, subscribe to my newsletter!

The Pomodoro Method: The dumbest thing you should start doing today

When I hear the word, "method," it makes me think of very important and fancily complex procedures.  World-altering methods like the Scientific Method and Socratic methods come to mind. Strategies that take months or years to truly master.

Big stuff.

So when I first heard about the productivity wonderland that is The Pomodoro Method (so Italian!), I braced myself for a steep learning curve. I was in for a pleasant surprise.  

You guys, it's literally just timing yourself while you work.

It's so silly in fact, that I can't believe they had the audacity to call it a method. And yet it totally works. So even though it's insanely simple, I'm going to take the time to break it down for you here, because sometimes the simplest things in life can be the most transformational. And I believe the Pomodoro Method is one of those things. Get ready to be dazzled…

Step 1 - Pick a Task

Before you can start the Pomodoro Method, you need to figure out what task it is you want to accomplish. It doesn't work if you skip this step. Ideally, it should be something that you estimate will take about 60-90 minutes to accomplish.

Step 2 - Clear Away Distractions

Next, go to your happy productive working location away from distractions like Twitter, Amazon, and your 2-year-old. I try to work in the same place every day and the first thing I do is put in my headphones and turn on my favorite music channel on focusatwill.com. Now I'm ready to be a productivity master.

Step 3 - Start Your First Pomodoro

A "Pomodoro" is a stretch of 25 consecutive minutes. No interruptions. No potty breaks. No "quick email checks." (Like those exist.)

During a Pomodoro, you may only work on your single, designated task for 25 straight minutes. Set a timer on your phone, use an egg timer, use a Pomodoro app…whatever works best for you. The most important thing is that you hit that timer and start.

You can do anything for 25 minutes.

During your first Pomodoro, you will be tempted by the evil distractions that usually sidetrack you, but do not give in. You’re armed with a METHOD this time! It'll be all over in 25 minutes. If you catch yourself doing something other than your designated task, you're technically supposed to start the Pomodoro over, but I'm not usually that harsh. I just notice the distraction and get back to it. It gets easier with time, I promise.

Step 4 - Take a Short Break

After the 25 minutes are up, you've earned a well-deserved break. Set your timer for five minutes. You get five whole minutes to surf the internet, check your Facebook feed, refill your coffee, or do nothing at all. And because you've worked so hard to get to this point, you will actually ENJOY this slacking off, as opposed to the typical self-loathing that accompanies most Facebooking during work hours. (Side note: Tim Urban has a whole amazing riff about this concept where he refers to this unfulfilling "fun" as the "Dark Playground". But don’t worry about that, because this break was 100% earned, baby. Enjoy it.)

Step 5 - Pomodoro a Second Time

Take a deep breath…it's time to Pomodoro again. (Did you remember to hit the bathroom?) Now you've experienced the joy of making some forward progress on your task and you've recharged during your break, so this Pomodoro will be even better than the first one was! Set your timer for 25 minutes. GO GO GO!

Step 6 - Take Another Short Break

WOO! You did it again! Time to rest your mind for 5 minutes again so you can recharge for your last Pomodoro in the cycle. (Don't forget to set your timer though…it's easy to forget to come back after the break.)

Step 7 - Finish Strong with a Final Pomodoro

This is the last Pomodoro of this "cycle," and it's time to push hard to get it done. After this, you get to take a longer break, so you can use that as fuel to help you stay on task for 25 more minutes. It's going to feel so satisfying to see all you've accomplished at the end.

Step 8 - Take a LONG Break

After three Pomodoros, you've earned a nice long break! Sometimes I take 15 minutes, and other times, I take a lunch break. Either way, I make sure I give myself enough down-time to eat something, drink something, hit the restroom, and move around a bit. Maybe I even go for a quick walk or stretch a bit. The goal is to finish up this break segment feeling completely rested and ready to start a new cycle.

That's it!

Yep. That's the Pomodoro Method. I told you it was dumb. But also, it works.

You can repeat as many Pomodoros as you need to knock out the tasks you have scheduled for the day. I usually shoot for at least six 25-minute Pomodoros each day - more on days when I don't have many meetings. (I’m doing one right now as I type this!)

I'm a firm believer in experimenting with different ways of working and seeing what works. Keep what you like and toss the rest, but I'm willing to bet you'll find some little glimmer of value in giving this "method" a try.

Happy working!

There's No Trophy For Building Your Business Without Help

I just realized that this business of mine is having a birthday this week.

It’s been one whole year.

And how is that even possible, when it must have been at least 5, given everything I’ve learned and everyone I’ve met since starting this business?

A Little Background

Despite beginning my consulting career long before Process Mentors was officially a “thing,” the creation of this brand was the mark of a huge shift in the way I worked. Most obviously, it marked my pivot from focusing on curriculum development to process improvement, but the more important shift was something only I knew about: I had finally decided to make this one a “real” business. No more half-assedly dabbling - it was time to fully invest in making this happen. I reallllly wish I’d have written more back then so I’d have more evidence of what was going on for me back then. But alas - the importance of writing was also part of my learnings.

The first three weeks of my business were spent doing the usual website-prepping and trying to figure out exactly what to call the services I offered. I knew I needed to get something up and live…even if it was “wrong,” because I was about to start Seth Godin’s altMBA in January and I wanted to get the absolute most out of the opportunity. I didn’t want to spend 4 weeks figuring out what to call it and what it was…I wanted to go in with a plan and then see what kind of response I got. it seemed more productive. And terrifying. (I won’t do an explanation of this program justice, so please do check out the link above.)

I was right about the terrifying part, but I could’ve never guessed how much the altMBA would’ve changed me and my business forever. I could write a whole other post just on that, but my point in bringing it up here is that it flung me, head-first, into other people.

I am a Puzzler

I love puzzles and problems. I love to figure hard things out quietly and on my own. It’s one of the things I love most about running my own business. And that was exactly how I had been running my curriculum consulting business prior to Process Mentors. But during altMBA, I was forced to share not just my “brilliant solutions” to the puzzles of my business, but all the messy stuff that happened behind the scenes.

And these brilliant people were telling me I really had something with this business. But also…

Some of it didn’t make sense.

And maybe I was hiding or avoiding something.

And sometimes I’d missed the point altogether.

No one in my life had ever pushed me so hard. They were in it with me; helping me tear my ideas apart and put them back together again. Or sometimes just holding space for me to tear them apart and put them back together on my own. This was no longer a puzzle for me to go away and solve on my own. I could ask for help. I could give valuable help to others. Lo and behold, it worked better than my old “solo” way. As in, a lot better.

And so I leaned way into those connections I made during those 4 weeks and into every connection since then. Nothing has ever been the same.

Please Stop Trying to Do it Alone

This post is dedicated to the freelancer or entrepreneur who’s trying to build their business alone. May you also find the joy and magic of inviting others into your problems.

Maybe you think you need to figure everything out on your own for it to “count.”

Maybe you feel like asking for feedback will make you look weak or incapable.

Maybe you don’t have anyone you trust.

Whatever’s holding you back from collaborating with others to grow your business, I’m begging you…throw out the excuses. Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) has been more valuable to my business than the authentic connections I’ve made with other people. No one can do this stuff alone…not really.

Start simply: Call someone from your past whose opinions you respect. Ask for 30 minutes to help you solve a specific problem or answer a specific question about your business. Find out if there are ways you can serve them too. See what happens. As long as your focus is to learn and to give back, you pretty much can’t go wrong.