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Welcome to the Business Counterculture

by Theresa Ceniccola

 

You know, you really should be blogging. Forget that! Blogging is out….you should be podcasting. And if you don’t have a Facebook Page for your business, you are going to fail. But if you really want to attract customers, you need to be on Instagram. And Pinterest. And Periscope. Oh, and did you know you need to host a live event? And create a passive revenue stream? And monetize your blog? And raise your rates? And hire an assistant? And publish a book? And get a high-paying speaking gig?

WHAT?! If you really listened to all the well-intentioned business advice out there on the Interwebs, you would drive yourself crazy! And drive your customers away. More importantly, you would be an emotional disaster—wondering why “everyone else” is able to keep up with the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship and you can’t seem to figure out how to sync your calendar on your iPhone.

I’m a huge believer in lifelong learning, and whenever I want to make a change, I always look to others who have gone before me. But—and I say this with gobs of respect and appreciation for my many mentors—sometimes you have to do your own thing. There comes a point when all the advice, predictions, guidance, and instruction become counterproductive. Like we tell our children, just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s right—at least, not for everyone.

You’ve probably been there before. You get so immersed in what other people think you should do that you lose sight of your own goals and plans and dreams. You spend all your time trying to “figure stuff out,” and you don’t actually make any meaningful progress.

What if you followed your own instincts? What if you talked with one trusted mentor and soaked up the advice and then made decisions based on what you feel is right for your business? What if you stood up for what you believe is right and said NO to what everyone else is doing? It would be liberating! And probably more successful than the constant struggle to keep up with the confusing and evolving  “expert” recommendations.

That’s what my client Beth did when she decided not to open a Facebook page for her business despite warnings of doom. And it’s what Jim Mischel of Electric Mirror did when he insisted on manufacturing in the United States. And that’s what I did years ago when I made the conscious decision to keep my business “small” so that I could spend more time with my family.

It takes courage and conviction to go against the norm in business. But as Malcom Gladwell points out, it’s necessary:

“Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings, we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention."
—Malcom Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

 If you run your own business, blog, or ministry, then you have the ability to make decisions that are in alignment with your beliefs. You have an obligation to yourself and your clients to challenge convention—and chose the direction you feel is best at the moment. So . . . what are you doing in your business that might be considered countercultural? How are you rising up against society’s pressures when it comes to your business or ministry?

 

theresacTheresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a Mentor to Moms Who are Running a Business that Supports Faith and Family. She empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace through the Christian Mompreneur Mastermind program and her professional Marketing services, which include copywriting, marketing, and strategy consulting and private coaching.

How and Why to Use a Swipe File

by Theresa Ceniccola

filetheresa

If imitation is a form a flattery, then there are plenty of people I’ve flattered since I started blogging more than five years ago. Like most people, I created my first website and launched a blog with no real training or experience. I was already a professional writer, so I figured I’d learn the rest on the job. And part of the learning process for me is studying what works well for others. That’s where my swipe files comes in handy.

A swipe file is a tool I learned about in my early career in public relations and marketing communications. I collected articles, headlines, direct mail postcards, advertisements, proposals, and other materials for inspiration. It was kinda like Pinterest for writers. Only, when I first started using a swipe file, it was a paper accordion style folder with actual printed samples torn from newspapers and magazines.

I’d save anything I found interesting or compelling—even if it had nothing to do with my industry or current projects. Then, when it came time to work on a new piece, I’d flip through my swipe files for ideas. I’d find formulas for great headlines, templates for sales letters, and even some clever photo captions that would trigger an idea.

I eventually went digital with my swipe file, and now I use it to kick start my creativity on all sorts of new projects. Even if you’re not a writer, chances are you do a fair amount of writing for your business or ministry. So, why not make your job a little bit easier and start a swipe file of your own? Collect anything you find interesting or effective so you can refer to it later. Start with a simple file folder on your desktop, or try using Evernote to store your swipe file items. Evernote lets you bookmark webpages, add images or screenshots, and tag your notes for easy sorting and retrieval. You can even share your swipe file with someone on Evernote.

Not sure what to collect? Here are a few ideas to get you started!

Seven Things to Add to Your Swipe File

1. Sales pages. Have you ever made a spontaneous online purchase? You may have stumbled across a compelling sales page and found yourself hitting the “buy now” button without even thinking about it. When that happens, take a screenshot of the sales page and file it for future reference. There is probably some language in there that will come in handy!

2. Facebook ads. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably clicked on an ad in your newsfeed at some point. There are definitely tricks and tips to Facebook advertising, so capture screen shots of your favorite ads and study them to see what works well for others. When it comes time to do your own Facebook advertising, you’ll have a head start.

3. Bios. I always get a kick out of short, clever bios I read online. Not the ones that are stuffed full of credentials and accomplishments. But the ones that reveal addictions to Sharpie markers or a lifelong struggle to successfully grow a tomato plant. I’ve been swiping memorable bios for years and vowing to make my own humdrum narrative a little more intriguing. One. Of. These. Days.

4. Freebies (Compelling Free Offers). If you’ve got a website, then you probably have a freebie or compelling free offer that you use to help build a list of prospects. It could be an ebook, whitepaper, printables, video training series, audio recording, or a simple checklist (something like my free ebook called the Ten Commandments of a Mompreneur). If you don’t already have a freebie, start collecting samples of interesting freebies you’ve signed up for yourself. And even if you have a freebie, you’ll probably change it every couple of years, so keep your eye out for inspiration!

5. Blog posts. Have you ever read a blog post and thought, “I should totally write something similar on my blog!” Maybe you read a post about the Top Ten Reasons to Go Vegan (Even if Your Family Loves Burgers) and decided you should write a post about the Top Ten Reasons to Homeschool Your Children (Even if You Think You’re Not Qualified). Swipe that blog post and tag it in your file so you’re ready with an idea when it’s time to write!

6. Book covers. The most important text in any book appears on the book jacket—on the front and back covers. Even in the era of digital books and e-readers, the jacket copy is essential for converting casual browsers into paying customers. So, even if you never plan to write your own book, take note of the extraordinary book covers you read and use them for inspiration on other projects.

7. Solicitation letters/emails. Asking for money takes a special kind of skill. There is a great deal to learn from exceptional development (advancement) professionals. They know how to tell a story. And they know how to make you part with your money and feel good about it. That’s why I save those seven-page letters from non-profit organizations and capital campaigns. And it’s why I take note of the occasional solicitation email that makes it past my spam filter.

What else? Have I left off anything you would add to a swipe file?

 

TGC photoTheresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a Mentor to Moms Who are Running a Business that Supports Faith and Family. She empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace through the Christian Mompreneur Mastermind program and her professional Marketing services, which include copywriting, marketing, and strategy consulting and private coaching.

The When, What, and How of Making Your First Hire

by Theresa Ceniccola

 

I love the thrill of starting something new! Hanging out a shingle and embracing the adventure of opening a new business. It’s just like bungee jumping—exciting and overwhelmingly terrifying at the same time! I was only 25 years old when I made that decision, so it helped that I was naïve and fearless. But I was also filled with determination and optimism. And in no time at all, I was booming with business.

So, I did what most small business owners do—I learned to do everything that needed to be done. I was in charge of customer service, sales and marketing, finances, and operations. Then, I had three babies in five years and was trying to stay on top of everything at home as well. Eventually, the one-woman show ran its course, and I realized I needed help.

If you’re overwhelmed with tasks in your business or at home, I know you can feel my pain. And you probably know you need help. But where do you start? Well, I’m not a human resources professional, but I can tell you what has worked for me over the past 20 years in making decisions to hire help.

When to Hire Help: Well, if you’re wondering if you need help, then you probably should have already hired someone. I say that because most of us moms wait until we’re completely overloaded before we even recognize that we need help. But sometimes it’s difficult to determine if we really need help—or if we just have a problem setting boundaries.

When you own your own business, you have to realize that there will always be more work to do. You will never be completely finished. (Kind of like laundry!) So, I think the best litmus test for deciding if you need help is to ask yourself, “What would happen if I took a week’s vacation and didn’t do ANYTHING in the business at all?” If the business or ministry would shut down, then you probably need some help.

What to Outsource: So, what do you let go of when you are ready to hire? The answer is different for everyone. But I’d start by making a list of all your tasks and responsibilities in the office and at home (because this little exercise might help you decide if it’s time to hire a babysitter or a cleaning service!). Highlight the things you enjoy doing and that you are good at. Those are things you want to keep doing. Put a star next to the things you don’t enjoy doing and you’re not very good at. For me, that’s bookkeeping and anything involving html coding! Those are the things you want to outsource.

I don’t remember where I learned this, but I’ve been told to “Do the things that ONLY you can do.”  For me, that means writing and strategy in the business. And it means a lot of different things at home. It has helped me to think about where I’m needed most—and to realize that it’s okay to hire someone to do the things God isn’t calling me specifically to do. Things like sit and watch every soccer practice or run errands or organize my kids’ closets. It helps me make decisions on what I can delegate to a babysitter or ask a friend to help with.

How to Find Qualified Help: I’m going to sound old-fashioned, but I believe the best way to find good help is through word of mouth. Everyone who works with me in the business and at home came to me through a mutual friend. With all the tools and technology that’s available today, it may be antiquated to rely on personal referrals, but in my experience, they tend to work out better. (As long as you do your due diligence and hire people based on their qualifications, not a sense of obligation to your mutual friend!)

For example, every time I’ve used an online service to find a babysitter, I’m disappointed. I get decent candidates, and I’ve hired a few, but they don’t compare to the three or four girls who were referred by friends over the years and are now a part of the family even though they’re grown with children of their own.

I have also had success with hiring strangers for projects using an online service like Odesk or eLance, but the core team at the International Christian Mompreneur Network came to me through a friend or colleague.

 

So, I’m curious—have you hired anyone to help you in your business or ministry? I’d love to hear how you make hiring decisions.

 

TGC photoTheresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a Mentor to Moms Who are Running a Business that Supports Faith and Family. She empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace through the Christian Mompreneur Mastermind program and her professional Marketing services, which include copywriting, marketing, and strategy consulting and private coaching.

 

Five Free Tools I Love So Much I Would Pay for Them (but I’m Glad I Don’t Have To!)

 

1237558_10204329439027521_3195523639635670557_nI have yet to discover the secret to success, but I do know that being organized helps. When you’re a full-time mom running a full-time (or part-time) business, you have to be productive during your limited window of opportunity to work. That’s easier said than done when you have a thousand ideas running through your head, a million things on your to-do list, and a love-hate relationship with technology.

I’m not exactly an early adopter when it comes to tools and technology. It takes me a while to try something new, and even then, I spend too much time testing and playing with tools I end up abandoning. However, there are several tools that have stood the test of time for me, and I’d like to share them with you.

Here are five of my favorite tools that I use every single day. I love them so much that I would pay for them. But I don‘t have too, because they’re free (yeah!). Your business is probably very different from mine, but I suspect you’ll fall in love with at least one of these tools!

 

Dropbox: This is the best tool I’ve found for sharing files with clients, team members, and colleagues. When I send files back and forth via email, I can never find the most recent version, and I can’t seem to keep them organized. Dropbox allows you to create shared folders so you can collaborate virtually with anyone you choose. The “drop and drag” functionality makes it easy to use, and the folders help you organize files that you share with others—just as you would on your own computer.

Evernote: This tool is my go-to resource for capturing all my tasks, lists, random thoughts, and fabulous ideas (and the crazy ones, too). Evernote allows you to create lists and notes and put them in folders to organize all the brilliance that comes out of your mind so you don’t lose it. Unlike sticky notes and “to-do” lists, Evernote is a searchable database of all your thoughts—and it syncs between your computer and phone. So, you can easily find a note months or years after you create it simply by searching a keyword. Once you get started with Evernote, you’ll quickly discover you can do so much more than capture notes—you’ll learn to forward emails, attach screenshots, scan documents, share notes, import your Kindle highlights, and bookmark websites…but start with the basics and see how it works for you.

Buffer: If you want a simple free tool to schedule your social media updates, check out Bufferapp.com. Not only does this tool help me save time, but it also allows me to share content across my favorite social media channels at the time of my choosing. Let’s say you are browsing the web and you find the perfect story or video to share with your audience…but you don’t want to share it now, because it’s 3 a.m. and you’re probably the only one awake at the moment. So, you add the story to your queue and Buffer will send it out at a more reasonable time. You can also load a bunch of posts in one sitting and ask Buffer to send it out over the next few weeks.

Canva: When I discovered Canva, I couldn’t believe it was free. Canva is the solution to your problem if you’ve ever spent an entire day trying to design a simple graphic on your own. It’s the easiest, quickest, cheapest way to create a professional looking image you can use on your website and social media. You can also create invitations, flyers, business cards, and more. You will even find premade templates for customizing your header banners on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. What I love most about Canva is the free tutorials—even though it’s a super easy tool, I love having someone show me exactly how to use it. And did I mention it’s free?

Feedly: Overwhelmed trying to keep up with your favorite blogs? At one point, I was following about 50 different blogs—everything from business and marketing to fitness and nutrition to parenting and faith. I was having all of these blog posts delivered via email, cluttering up my inbox every single day. Eventually, I discovered RSS feed readers like Feedly, so I can read all of my blogs in one place and organize them according to categories and topics I create.  Now I reserve my email inbox for newsletters and other subscriptions, but I keep the daily blog reading separate.

 

So, there you have it…my secrets to small success. What’s your favorite tool to help you get organized and save you time in the office?

(Note: Some of the links in the above post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I may receive a small affiliate commission to help offset the costs of running this site. However, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Please know the views and opinions expressed on this blog are solely mine and the content you find here is designed to benefit my readers.)
 

TGC photoTheresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a Mentor to Moms Who are Running a Business that Supports Faith and Family. She empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace through the Christian Mompreneur Mastermind program and her professional Marketing services, which include copywriting, marketing, and strategy consulting and private coaching.

 

The One Thing That’s Wrong With Your To-Do List

 

todoI flopped into bed, exhausted and emotionally wiped out. It had been another one of those days that seemed to go in a wildly different direction than what I had planned. A late school bus threw us off schedule, and everything else followed suit—forgotten lunchboxes, car batteries that died, dinner that was overcooked, a troubling phone call from a friend, and soccer practice that was moved to another location 30 minutes before it started.

As I melted into my cozy mattress, I began to mentally list the things I had not accomplished—the long list of To-Do’s that didn’t get done. There’s a pile of dirty dishes still in the sink…a load of laundry never made it into the dryer and will certainly need to be rewashed… a looming client deadline that will now require me to pull some late nights… and several errands that simply have to wait until tomorrow.

I felt like another day was lost. I was so discouraged that I was now “behind schedule” once again. Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we obsess with tackling our list and feel like a failure when we don’t get things done?

We measure our success based on how much we accomplish. How many miles did I run this morning? How quickly did I shower, make lunch, and get the kids off to school? How many tasks did I cross off the list at work? How many phone calls did I return? How many bills did I pay? How well did I get that orange juice stain out of the carpet? And how much did I save with coupons at the grocery store?

I don’t know about you, but when I rock these tasks (heck, even when I simply complete them haphazardly), I feel like a huge success! I go to bed at night feeling accomplished. Validated. Feeling like a great mom! These are all good things to accomplish—as long as they don’t come at the expense of truly being a great mom (or wife…or friend…or sister…or daughter).

The wise and wonderful Colleen O’Grady from Power Your Parenting posted this message on Facebook earlier this week, and it was just the whisper I needed to hear: “Moms, remember—what you do for your family isn't what blesses them. YOU ARE THE BLESSING!“

Don’t get me wrongI’m still a huge fan of checklists and productivity. I’ve always been organized (okay, so maybe a tad bit Type A). And that quality serves me well. It helps me stay on top of the many responsibilities God entrusts me with, but sometimes I get caught up in the tyranny of my To-Do’s. I get hyper-focused on doing everything that needs to get done.

What I fail to see is that the more I accomplish, the less available I am—to my family, friends, and to God. What I fail to realize is that some of my most important tasks never make it on the list. What I fail to understand is that I should concentrate more on what I am called to BE and less on what I am called to DO. Wow—talk about a shift in direction!

So, from now on, while I cross things off my To-Do List, I’m also going to work on my To-Be List. Here’s what my To-Be List looks like right now:

My To-Be List

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Wise
  • Joyful
  • Peaceful
  • Grateful
  • Loving
  • Faithful
  • Generous
  • Compassionate
  • Encouraging
  • Strong
  • Hopeful
  • Understanding

Tonight, when I collapse into bed, I will try not to think about the things I did or did not accomplish today. Instead, I will recall the type of person I was today. And I’ll pray that God gives me the resolve to focus less on what I am called to DO and more on what I am called to BE.

What about you? What’s on your To-Be List?

TGC photoTheresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a Mentor to Moms Who are Running a Business that Supports Faith and Family. She empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace through the Christian Mompreneur Mastermind program and her professional Marketing services, which include copywriting, marketing, and strategy consulting and private coaching.