The Updraft Podcast
Episode 54 - Reopening Your Business Right

Episode 54 - Reopening Your Business Right

June 18, 2020

When this episode goes live, I will be exactly 1 day away from officially reopening my studio post Covid. Can I just say, I am RIDICULOUSLY excited about this?! Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the time off… I got to spend more time with my kids than ever before in their lives, I got to relax, clean the house, reorganize, got a ton of work done on my photography business course that I have been building AND we got to spend so much time outside in the beautiful weather being active…

But let’s be real – I have missed my work, and when they announced earlier in the week that my region was moving to phase 2 and I could reopen my business I totally squealed like a little girl. It feels like Christmas. In June. The best. Its going to be a bit different, I need to figure out how to balance working with being a full time Mom to 4 with no school or daycare which I have literally never done – but I’m excited and willing to take it on!

I’m hoping that lots of you are either open again, or opening really soon and I wanted to go over a game plan on how you can do that safely, smoothly and successfully. Now as usual this will be geared a bit more towards photographers because that is the area that I know really really well, but for the most part it all transfers over to any small business – so just apply it to your own business.

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Ok so if you have the go ahead for reopening and have a date in site you are going to want to start with some prep work. First, and oh so important is to learn what the health and safety guidelines are for your area and figure out what it is going to take to comply with them, AND how it’s going to affect your business.

For many businesses they are going to have way less volume, more labour for cleaning, more overhead to supply PPE to employees, clients or both, more overhead for sanitization, etc. So it is entirely possible that you are going to need to do a price increase to make up the difference and stay profitable. Its fine. Raise your prices. Prices are going to be going up on a lot of things, you will be in good company, and there is zero point in running a business that isn’t profitable. It also isn’t possible – you are going to end up putting yourself out of business if you do not do what you need to in order to stay profitable. So before anything else you need to sit down and do a realistic rework of your cost of doing business, and volume and then figure out what your new prices need to be. For some of us, we are fine at the price point we already had – but MANY MANY businesses are going to need to adjust and that’s ok!

Next is the logistics – can you even GET the PPE and sanitization supplies that you will need to run your business?  Finding Lysol wipes was no easy feat guys… there is a massive increase in demand on these products and the suppliers are really struggling to keep up. Make sure that you can find the things you need to use in order to keep yourself and your clients safe BEFORE you open and are stressing trying to figure it out.

How are you going to manage traffic and volume? How are you going to manage physical distancing in your business and if you run a business where physical distancing isn’t possible then what other precautions are you putting in place? How are you screening people that you are working with? You need to have the answers to all of these questions figured out so that you can responsibly and safely reopen – AND so that you can confidently answer and reassure any clients or potential clients who ask. Having this information posted at your physical business location and on your website is also a great idea to help people feel more confident in working with you.

A lot of the photography groups that I am in have been buzzing as the photographers try to figure out the best approach to this new normal. Many of us were debating what to do about newborn sessions where we typically hold and pose brand new babies and are at close proximity. It has been really interesting to see all of the different takes and comfort levels. For me personally I have decided to offer two types of newborn sessions to my clients – physically distant sessions where I demonstrate with a doll for them on how to hold the baby, wrap the baby, and create much more baby led, relaxed poses or they can have a traditional posed session where I will hold and handle baby with a mask on, a clean shirt and regularly sanitized hands and arms. That way they can chose their own personal comfort level. Thankfully, due to the fact that I work with tiny humans who are more vulnerable to viruses I am well versed in having to be extra careful to make sure all surfaces are clean and sanitized, so there isn’t AS much for me to change.

Another pre opening step is to evaluate any financial damage and make a game plan moving forward. It is SUPER tempting in times like this to want to stick our heads in the sand and ignore out finances but trust me when I say that isn’t going to help. Take a good look at your business finances, make a plan for how long you think it will take to get rolling again and then decide if you are going to need a loan to bridge the gap, or if you can make it work until you are going full speed again. If you are considering a loan I also urge you to make sure that the loan WILL be enough to salvage the business. Be realistic because it would be heartbreaking to take on a loan when the business is already over the edge and won’t be saved. No one wants to be stuck trying to figure out how to pay back money on a business that they don’t even own anymore. Look into any grants, or other offers that are being made by your local government or other organizations too – there are tons of people still looking out for us small businesses so there might be help available to you!

The next thing I want to say and this might seem like the most obvious point ever, but I have legitimately seen businesses fail to do this – Tell your customers that you are reopening! Shout it from the rooftop guys. Post on your social media. Email your list. Announce on your website. Make sure your hours on your google and Facebook pages are up to date. Spread the word and tell EVERYONE. Don’t just say it once either – a lot of our social media accounts are notorious for having poor reach so you may want to do a few posts that talk about the reopening to make sure you are hitting as many people as possible. Do not leave them wondering and then find out later that some of your best customers went elsewhere because they just didn’t realize you were open!

Hopefully you have been active, or at least somewhat active on your social media, blogs, etc. during the time off so you are still serving and connected to your target audience –if so keep the momentum up and if not, then it’s time to gear up again! I will admit that I wasn’t as active as I could have been – I was definitely still posting occasionally and offered up a couple of resources, but there was also a lot of silence, so now I am gearing back up again. If you don’t have new content to post then either try to create some, share some entertaining and relevant posts from other businesses that are different but related to yours, or go back and re share some of your popular content from the past. This is a REALLY important time to stay top of mind for your people. You want to make sure that when the time comes for them to hire or buy, you are the first person they think of.

This is also an excellent time to ramp your marketing back up. I turned my Facebook ads on the day after I found out that we were reopening. Honestly, I think it was one of the most exciting things I have done all week, I am such a nerd for marketing and I seriously enjoyed clicked that button to turn them all on again. I drafted a couple of new ads announcing the reopening with the date that will run for a couple of weeks until everyone gets the memo, as well as turning on all of the best performing ads from before the shutdown. Facebook and google ads are amazing in that you can reach a very specific, well targeted audience without paying a ton of money, and the better your ads perform the cheaper they are to run. I didn’t need a huge budget to get started running my ads again – and I’m already seeing the pay off with my first week back to work booked solid. Get those ads running guys, and don’t forget that on Facebook you are NOT boosting posts, that will typically just waste your money, you are creating an actual ad through the ads manager with a targeted audience, budget, and carefully crafted copy. Get those pixels running again too so you can be marketing to the people who have already shown an interest! A warm audience usually converts really well!

If you are wanting or needing to get the ball rolling quickly you could also plan a new offering, or promotion. That might look like a sale. It might look like a new product. You might be able to find a hole in the market that was created by the shut down and now needs to be filled. For example, I have a little girl graduating from kindergarten this year. I have cheesy but adorable graduation photos for all of the other kids that were done through the school, but she missed out because of the lockdown – so I’m now looking for someone that can either create similar photos of her, or has a cap and gown that I can borrow to create the images in my studio. She also missed her end of year dance recital and the adorable pictures they normally do of the kids in their costumes a few weeks before the recital. That one was easy – I have a white backdrop just like they normally use so I gussied her up, brought her to the studio and created her dance photos. I can now use those images to advertise to other parents who also missed out on the end of year dance photos and not only will they be thrilled to have one less thing that they lost out on due to COVID, but I will bring in some extra business as well. There are tons of holes right now that need to be filled, and problem that need to be solved, so if you want to make sure that you are coming back in with a bang then take a look around your own community and see where you can help out.

Now is also a great time to network with other small businesses with similar audiences. See if you can trade social media posts where they share about you and your business with their audience and you share them with yours. See if they would be interested in sending out a certificate or discount code to their email list, or hand them out in their stores. Ask if you can write an expert article for a blog post that serves the same ideal client. Reach out and see if there is something you can do to HELP a local business or an online business that you love – it doesn’t even have to always be a trade. Think of what entrepreneurs you know and love, the ones you would hate to see disappear and make an effort to support them – either through purchasing their products or services, giving them a shout out on your social media or leaving them a positive review on Facebook or google. Every bit helps.  We have an incredible opportunity right now to rally together with the small businesses in our communities and make sure that as many of them as possible are able to survive this – including our own.

Another thing that I am working really hard to keep in the back of my mind, and think that as business owners we all should – is that there could be another wave. We may get shut down again. So recover as quickly as you can, and then start setting aside some cash to keep your expenses covered if we get hit again, by the pandemic or something else.. I am really, truly hoping that COVID doesn’t come back at us seasonally and that we can keep the curve flat, but there is always the chance that we are going to be heading into another shut down in a few months, so I am going to make sure that this time around my family and business are better prepared to weather that storm. Keep brainstorming ideas on how you could diversify your offerings so that you can still maintain income if we get shut down again.

If you are reopening soon or have reopened I want to hear all about your successes! Tag me on Instagram or send me a message and share your reopening story, and I will happily shout out your small business on my Instagram too! Happy reopening everyone – see you next week!

Episode 53 - Should You Close Your Business?

Episode 53 - Should You Close Your Business?

June 11, 2020

All over the photography groups, the business groups and the internet right now I am seeing people shutting down their businesses, or talking about shutting down their businesses and getting a more “reliable” job.

COVID 19 has been INCREDIBLY hard on many, many small businesses. I see that, and I understand that. I also understand that in some cases it will be necessary to close due to financial hardship – there are businesses that won’t be able recover from this shutdown – which breaks my heart, and I truly hope the owners of those businesses are able to get something new up and running eventually.

The questions and conversations I am seeing though, the ones I am talking about, are not from those businesses. They are from people who are contemplating or planning to jump ship out of fear, panic and anxiety. And that is something we need to have a chat about.

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I am a huge fan of entrepreneurship. Huge fan. It allows for flexibility, it allows for unlimited potential, growth and creativity. It allows people to accomplish what they want, look around and then start reaching for the next level. It allows people like me 8 years ago, to support their kids as a single Mom without having to miss their children’s entire lives. For me, entrepreneurship is a huge gift and I don’t want to see anyone bailing on themselves, their family or their dreams because of this pandemic and the fear that it created.

So… if you are out there contemplating if you should be closing the doors on your own small business I want you to think about a few things to make sure that you are making the RIGHT decision in closing your business, and not just having a knee jerk reaction to massive amounts of anxiety.

First, what is the biggest reason that you think you should close? Is it because you are completely dreading going back to work and just want to be a stay at home Mom? Is it because you feel your business might not have any customers when you reopen? Is it because you feel it won’t be profitable with the new restrictions that you are required to follow due to COVID19? Is it because you feel having employment would have been “safer” from an income protection perspective? Or that you heard someone else say that small businesses are going to die out?

There is only 1 reason on that list that would make me actually consider closing my business. The only reason on that list that would be valid for me personally is if I DECIDED I didn’t WANT to run my business anymore. If I decided that this no longer gave me joy, was no longer something I wanted to participate in – then I would consider closing and either staying home with the kids, or looking for employment elsewhere.

Every other reason is based in fear, and anxiety and likely has little basis in truth.

I have been hearing over and over from photographers that they feel like they need to cut their prices in half after this for a variety of reasons including the idea that people will be unwilling to come in for photos and risk exposure, that people won’t have money to spend on a luxury service like a photo shoot, or because they need to book so many sessions to make up for the lost revenues In the weeks or months that they were closed that they will need low prices to make the competitive.

I can tell you, very confidently, that the moment my studio’s doors open I will have a list of people waiting to book their photoshoot. I know this because I have already had people calling, willing to hand over their 10 day old baby to have their portraits done. If your customers trust you, then they know that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe and minimize risk. If you follow careful protocol and do an excellent job with what you do then people will trust you, and they will return or send their friends. There are people who are stuck in fear and there are people who are chomping at the bit to get back to their lives. Don’t let your own personal perspective cloud your judgement on how other people are feeling.

While many of us who own small businesses have taken a massive financial hit, we have to keep perspective in that there are TONS of people out there who have not seen any change in their finances throughout this pandemic. Some businesses have seen an increase. My husband owns a logistics company and has been run off of his feet, seeing his revenues double, because suddenly everyone wants everything under the sun delivered to their door so that they don’t have to leave the house and risk exposure. There will still be people out there who are ready and willing to purchase your product or service.

And on that note – if you need to raise your prices to remain profitable then do it. There will be many businesses that have to operate at a reduced capacity in order to comply with their city’s safety guidelines. Additional equipment or cleaning supplies may be required, increasing the bottom line for each transaction. Higher costs and less volume means less profit, which may mean you need to raise prices and that is ok! Prices will be going up on all kinds of things and the businesses that are willing to raise their prices to stay profitable have a far better chance at surviving than those who try to operate at a price point that doesn’t allow them to generate a profit.  I have seen posts about businesses charging a “covid” fee, which personally I would recommend staying away from as people don’t like to be penalized for things out of their control, but it is totally fine to build the additional costs associated with the new regulations into your prices.

Some people are jumping ship on entrepreneurship because they think they might have faired better if they were employed by a larger company, or in a different field. This could be true in some cases, but I would urge you to look up statistics on how many people were laid off from their quote unquote “safe” jobs throughout the pandemic.

A year ago I would have thought that working as a pilot was a pretty safe job, there are always people and cargo that need moving - but there are a LOT of pilots who are suddenly unemployed.

On top of the fact that this was a once in a life time thing, that no one would have been able to predict – you have to weigh out the cost of giving up doing something you love vs. feeling more secure in a job that you don’t. No one else can answer for you whether or not it is going to be worth it, but before you make a quick or panicked decision and start selling off your equipment or supplies I would ask you to really consider what you are giving up and if it is actually worth it long term.

To me entrepreneurship has always been somewhat of a known risk, but it comes with such a high potential for reward that is was worth it.

I could have very easily gotten a job in a corporate office and climbed the ladder. At a restaurant that I worked in I was hired and promoted twice within a year. I worked hard, I took initiative, and I was always offering up creative new strategies – I’m sure that I could have been very successful in any field that I applied myself to. But, I also would have lost a ton of freedom.

As entrepreneurs we carry some risk in that we are responsible for generating our own income, creating our own safety net, and often times we take on the responsibility or creating income for other people as well – be it our contract workers or employees. There is a good amount of pressure that can come along with that responsibility.

We also have the opportunity to create an UNLIMITED amount of income. Working for a restaurant I was paid a set amount – first hourly and then on salary. I would be eligible for raises each time I got a promotion or at an annual review, but the amount would be kept within a certain boundary. There was a ceiling.

Within my own company there is no one that can tell me what the ceiling is. That is up to us. How hard are you willing to work? What are people willing to pay you? What are you willing to charge? It is all up to us.

When working for another company there are typically set hours – usually determined by someone else in the company.

Within your own company it is entirely up to you to create your own schedule, and lifestyle. If you want to work when the baby sleeps then that is up to you. If you want to work a 3 hour work week then that is your choice. If you want to work your butt off for 4 weeks so that you can take 2 off – go for it. You have all of the flexibility in the world.  For me, this one right here is worth all of the risk in the world.

Remember all of the reasons you opened your business in the first place. What was it that drew you to the field that you chose? What were your dreams? Spend some time revisiting those dreams and see if they still hold true before choosing to end this journey.

There are also added bonuses like being able to make a real change or impact in the world, having control over your company’s culture, being able to change the lives of your customers and clients or employees and being able to get up every day and work on something that you truly believe in.

That isn’t to say that you couldn’t find a company with an amazing culture or a mission that you believe in – but you have no control over it. If the management or ownership changes and the mission changes along with it then you are along for the ride, but when it is a business or your own then you have full control to make as big or as small of an impact as you wish – in any given area.

For most of this, these were the reasons that we decided to open our businesses in the first place. For some, they may not hold the same weight anymore – priorities and passions change and that is ok. If it isn’t for you anymore then by all means, close up shop and move on to something that DOES excite and light you up. But if you are only contemplating a closure because you are filled with doubt and fear then I urge you to remember the determination and grit that you had when you started this journey, and summon it up again. Make a new business plan, develop a marketing plan for reopening. Reevaluate your current pricing and costs and see what adjustments need to be made to stay profitable. Reach out to your customers and community and see how you can serve them in this time to stay top of mind, as well as find out what they will be looking for when the time comes to reopen. Make the necessary adjustments and you can hit the ground running, make up for lost time and revenue and build your business to be better and stronger than before. If you have taken a hit then you may need to consider cutting back hours, downsizing, moving to a less expensive location or taking on part time work to help with the recovery – but its temporary. Remember, I run a 6 figure photography business out of my Mom’s basement – you don’t necessarily need all of the bells and whistles to run a successful business.  You can build this thing back up to where it was over time, but for now focus on survival.

You’ve got this and if this is your dream, your passion, or your ticket to freedom, then don’t let anything take it from you. the choice to keep going or not is YOURS and yours alone. And if you truly want it – then it is yours to take so go out and get it.

Episode 52 - For My White Friends

Episode 52 - For My White Friends

June 4, 2020

I had an episode planned for this week, and thought about continuing that plan. I considered putting myself on Mute, and saying nothing this week in support of the blackout for Black Lives Matters. Then I saw a friend’s post, where she said that instead of muting ourselves (as in, we white people) entirely, we should just be pausing our content and using our platforms to educate our white friends about systemic racism and how we can HELP our friends in the black community.

I don’t think anyone could be at this point, but if you are unaware of what is happening currently in the United States… yet ANOTHER black man has been killed in by the police.  A man named George Floyd was murdered senselessly in the streets of Minneapolis, while 3 other police stood by, stopped anyone from interfering or saving his life. The officer kneeled on his neck, until life left his body, and then offered no medical treatment. This man’s quote unquote “crime” was paying for his purchase at a local grocery store with a counterfeit $20 bill.  He leaves behind many friends and family, and a little girl named Gianna who is all of 6 years old.

This is horrifying, and should be shocking but at this point it has happened SO MANY TIMES that it didn’t shock me at all. And it shouldn’t shock you either.

Protests have cropped up not only all over America, but all over the world to show support and solidarity, and many of us are left feeling helpless or wondering what on earth we CAN do to make an impact and drive change. I want to talk about some of the ways we can do this, and I am hoping for real change.

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As a white woman, I want to start out by saying I may not get this right – but I am going to try my best. In the past I have made mistakes – thinking that something I was saying or doing was helpful to POC only to find out that I was wrong. I’m going to do my best to share the information I have gathered through reading, watching and listening and I am going to keep working to do better in future – there is always room for improvement.

In the past few days my husband, my black husband for the record, has actually gotten calls from white friends asking what the right thing to say or do is, because they feel like no matter what they do they are getting it wrong and someone is getting mad. His answer was basically “there is no right thing. Just be yourself, and do your best” This can be tough to swallow, because we always want to get things right and live in a fairly perfectionistic society - but it is pretty accurate. People process trauma differently, and right now the black community is experiencing and reliving YEARS, GENERATIONS, of trauma. What one person might find helpful or supportive might be offensive to others – and they are all entitled to process in their own way.

As a white person who is genuinely trying to help it can feel really awful when you are told you are doing it wrong. It can make you want to stop trying, to stop stepping up. It can make you feel like you just shouldn’t say anything at all – but then of course you get called out for silence. It’s hard. But right now isn’t about us – it is about supporting another community who is suffering. So let’s try our very best to be open to criticism, critique and to learning new methods. Let’s be open to the opinions of the people we are trying to help and hear them when they express what they need. Addressing our privilege can be uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.

So here are some of the things that I have learned and want to pass along to help anyone out there who is trying to learn, to listen and to support:

First…  The fact that you have been friends with, work with, dated, are married to or have children with a black person does not give you an automatic pass as a non-racist.  

I once accidentally blew up my entire Mommy group getting into it with a racist woman who had NO IDEA that she was in fact racist, and used the fact that her ex was black to defend herself. She believed that this gave her a pass, and that it automatically meant she couldn’t be racist.

It is possible to like or even love a person of colour, and still be racist. In fact many, many racist people have a person of colour in their life that they exclude from their racism. Probably because they got to know them well enough that the differences between them no longer mattered. Now if we could just get them to realize that this would apply to all of the people in the world then we would really be on to something.

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When you say “all lives matter” you are MISSING THE POINT. Of course all lives matter. No one is saying they don’t. But if someone calls the fire department because their house in on fire then the fire department is going to focus on THAT house. The burning one. Does that mean all the other families’ homes don’t matter? Nope. Does that mean that they wouldn’t fight it if the other house caught fire? Nope. It means that the house that is on fire is the one that needs attention and so that is where they are going to put their attention.

Right now, the black community in America is ON FIRE. Instead of being mad that we were left out of the statement “black lives matter” let’s work on being grateful that we didn’t need to be included.

Use your privilege to protect, help and shine light on the accomplishments of people of colour.

If you see a black person (or a person of any race for that matter) being harassed in the streets, pay attention and see if you can use your whiteness to help.

A woman on twitter recently shared how she had intervened to help a black man who was being harassed by police, despite the fact that he had done nothing wrong. She had been in the area, had seen the direction from which he came from and could hear the police arguing that he fit the description of someone that had committed a crime in the opposite direction.  While they wouldn’t listen to him, she was able to walk over and calmly but firmly insert herself into the situation in his defense. She took their badge numbers and sent them to her Mother as documentation. She was well versed in her rights, as well as those of the man being harassed. She confirmed for the police that he had come from the opposite direction to the one that the crime was committed and wasn’t bothering him, and then he was released.

But the most important take away I got from that post and what I want to make sure everyone out there knows it that is it is NOT YOUR PLACE TO GET ANGRY. Your job is to stay calm, while using your white privilege to defend the person being harassed. It is not to get in anyone’s face and start screaming. If that situation escalates, chances are it is not you that will feel the weight of it, it is the person of colour – so it is your job to make sure you do not participate in any escalation. Do not make it worse for them.

Be careful here – do not be a hero. If they are being harassed, whether by police or civilians, online or in person and they are doing a great job of articulating themselves, and appear to be in no danger then please do not start talking over them. The black community has many strong and beautiful voices that are more than capable of speaking up. Only intervene and use your whiteness when someone actually needs your help – do not do it so that you can look or feel good as some white hero. (and this one is tough – you need to be really aware of your own ego here, because it is VERY easy to forget and start talking over someone who didn’t need you)

If you have a platform – be inclusive. Showcase the work and talents of people from all walks of life, not just those similar to your own. People of colour are severely underrepresented in so many spheres, and anyone with a platform has an opportunity to change that.  Likewise, you can support with your dollars. Patronize businesses owned by people of races other than your own. Buy their books and learn from a new perspective. Add a podcast of a person of colour to your playlist. Watch tv shows and movies about people from other races.

On that same topic – educate YOURSELF. Learn about black history. Not the white washed version that is taught in schools for one month out of the year, but the actual history and stories or the people who lived it. Learn about how the systems in so many countries are designed to oppress. Learn about how this affects their children growing up, and their upward mobility. Read books. Watch movies. See the documentaries like 13th on Netflix. Read articles on how to be an ally. Ignorance can be SO comfortable, but trust me when I say this is something we should all be acutely aware of.

These resources are not hard to find at all. A quick google search will bring up fantastic options. Please do not expect your black friends to educate you. They might be willing, and if they offer – awesome, have the conversation and be grateful for it. Please don’t expect it though. It is not their job to teach you why they should be entitled to the same opportunities, privileges and treatment as you are. It is not their job to relieve the horrors of their own life or that of their ancestors in order to educate you. It is not their job to share their experience of racism to prove that it still exists.

If you can’t honestly say that you would be 100% ok with yourself and your children trading skin colours with a black person, then you can safely assume that racism is alive and well and that we are NOT all being treated equally.

I made the mistake as I was getting an education in black history and racism of wanting to TELL my husband all about my discoveries, and all of the injustices I was learning about. I was shocked, horrified and ANGRY all at the same time and I wanted to share with him that I understood or at least I understood as much as a white person could. My intentions were good, but it was emotionally exhausting for him to have to go through it all over again with me. None of this was news to him, and the stories that he hadn’t heard, he didn’t need or WANT to hear. It was just more anger, sadness and trauma for him to process. My husband handles all of this really well by the way. He is not quick to jump to discrimination, and he generally assumes the best in people – but even for HIM this was hard. So my advice is to find a white friend to be enraged with instead. Your black friends are already well aware and are trying to move past, so share it with your white people and you can be freshly mad together.

And that brings me to another point which is: as an ally it is your JOB to be anti-racist. You need to take some of the burden off educating the white people around you about how wrong this all is off the shoulders of the black community and start stepping up yourself. Sometimes this is uncomfortable because it means telling your uncle that his comments or actions are inappropriate and unwelcome. You love your uncle, you know he means no harm and so it’s tempting to let it slide – but as an ally, I’m sorry, you can’t. You need to try to educate those around you.

Educate your children too. Teach them about and expose them to other races and cultures. Have books in the house with children of all colours, and stories from different places around the world. Don’t just purchase dolls and action figures that look like your child, but get them a variety or skin tones to love. So much of the time our anger comes from fear, or misconception – and a lot of that can be prevented through simple familiarity and understanding.

And finally, PAY ATTENTION. Start watching for injustices and inequalities and call them out. Look at the the disproportionate representation in magazines, advertising, toy aisles and children’s books. Look at the way your black friends are treated while shopping, dining out, or in the street. Notice if your black colleague has to work twice as hard for their accomplishments and accolades. Look for the way things are worded – example “It’s a shame that another black man was killed, but this looting and rioting has got to stop” vs. “It’s a shame that there is looting and rioting, but the killing of black men has got to stop”. Can you hear the difference there, in where the emphasis falls? Don’t ask either, what the person did when they are gunned down in the streets by police, or some vigilante citizen with a gun. If you think about it, it doesn’t actually MATTER what they did – that person had no right to take the life of another human. The victim never got a trial, they never got a conviction or a sentence. They were NOT assumed innocent until proven guilty. Asking what they did, or suggesting that they had illegal drugs in their possession or any other attempt to slander their character by the media, or by us, is akin to asking if the woman was drunk or dressed provocatively when she was raped. It. Is. Irrevelant.

Racism isn’t always in your face, it can be very quiet and subtle, almost imperceptible. And while I have never experienced it myself, I would imagine that the quiet systemic racism that slowly drags you down day after day could be even more dangerous that someone spitting in your face – because how do you fight an enemy that you can’t see, that you can’t pin down?

This conversation is happening everywhere right now, the world is watching and the internet is on fire. There is a TON of opportunity to learn and I have hope that the people in THIS community are ready and willing to do so. Yes, some people are tired of this being all over their news feed all day every day and are emotionally exhausted from it – but just imagine how tired THEY are.

Let’s work to do better. Let’s make this the generation that FINALLY addresses the pain and loss of the black community, and brings true equality.

Episode 51 - Trigger Proof with Dr. Nima Rahmany

Episode 51 - Trigger Proof with Dr. Nima Rahmany

May 28, 2020

Listen in on my interview with Dr. Nima, Chiropractor turned Edutainer. He is on a mission to teach business executives, entrepreneurs, and teenagers about how to dissolve the ROOT CAUSE of stress.

Dr. Nima has helped countless people in his 20+ years of practice as a chiropractor and helps people who are stuck in toxic relationships, career limbo and emotional trauma to overcome their anxiety and create powerfully aligned relationships by deepening their intimate relationship with the most important person of all – themselves.

Connect with Dr. Nima
Instagram
Website
Online Training (Promo code "triggerproof") 

Connect with Annya
Website
Instagram
Email - hello@annyamiller.com

Episode 50 - 10 Things You Need to Know About Customer Service

Episode 50 - 10 Things You Need to Know About Customer Service

May 21, 2020

So the first thing on my list is “if you go the extra mile for them, they will go the extra mile for you” and to be honest I did know this, sort of, but I didn’t realize just HOW true it was. I get that happy clients tell their friends and all of that, but what I didn’t realize is how MUCH they will rave when you are willing to put in the extra work.

That can come in a lot of forms. It can come in the form of a special little extra or add in that they didn’t know was included, it can come in the form of a surprise call or note to let them know that you were thinking of them – like for a birthday or anniversary. It can come in the form of offering extra support, extra time, kind words – pretty much anything that goes above and beyond what is set out by your job description and packages will get their attention and help them to form a lasting and positive impression of you and your business.

Maybe it’s even that something went WRONG but they way you handled it was so impressive that they were blown away by your customer service. Sometimes it isn’t even the clients that had a super smooth and perfect experience that have been the most impressed, sometimes it is the ones where things went wrong but the effort put into rectifying the situation was so amazing that they left delighted and thrilled. It can be easy to get our backs up, to be defensive or to start laying blame because we are nervous – but honestly, most of the time it is worth sucking it up and doing whatever you can to make the client happy and turn them into loyal customers and raving fans.

#2
Word of mouth is THE most powerful form of marketing. I love marketing. I love facebook ads, google ads, running events and promos on social media and email lists. I seriously love all things digital marketing – but I have to let you in on this – there is nothing, and I mean nothing more powerful than word of mouth marketing. People trust their friends. They want what their friends have. So when Jenn shows her bestie the gorgeous photos that I did of her kids, and raves about how comfortable and fun the experience was, how much the kids loved it and how happy she was with the end result? There is an incredibly high chance that that friend is going to book in for a session of her own.

Even better is when you have been creating tons of happy, raving fans and then you start getting someone who hears from you not only from one friend, but another, and another. I remember the first time this happened to me. A client came in and told me that while she was pregnant she had asked on facebook who she should use for baby photos. 2 friends that didn’t know each other both recommended me, then her hair dresser mentioned me while she was at the salon and then the cherry on top was when her neighbor said she used me as well. Honestly – with positive recommendations from all of those people why woudn’t she hire me?! Word of mouth is HUGE my friends, absolutely huge. Start making connections, get your name out there and make sure you are going above and beyond with every client.

#3
The Customer is always right – except for when they aren’t. I started my journey into customer service working in retail and then in restaurants where the saying goes “the customer is always right”. I learned quickly that as a customer service representative there is a very large portion of your job that involves biting you tongue, swallowing your pride and doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy. This is a really good strategy, and it served me well most of the time, but it also created a situation where people could walk all over me because I would just keep bending, and bending… and bending.

So. The customer is always right – except for when they aren’t. You need to be willing to go above and beyond. You need to be willing to fix your mistakes when you inevitably screw up. You need to be willing to provide top notch service – but – you also need to be willing to stand your ground occasionally when someone is being over the top in their requests. My experience has taught me that most people are amazing to work with. Many of them even become friends. There is going to be the odd sour apple though, and you need to be ok with standing up for yourself when you come across them.

I remember when I was pregnant with my son and working crazy hours. I had done a Groupon – not wisely, either – before I found myself pregnant and those Groupons expired just 2 weeks before I was due to deliver. I had an insane amount of sessions to get through and they were all super cheap and not especially (ok let be real, at all) profitable. I actually have some incredible, long term clients that came through doing that promo, but most of the people that purchased were NOT my ideal client. I had one woman who came in for her session with her family, showed up late, was a bit pushy and went WAY over on time allowed. She was NOT taking my subtle hints that the session was over, but I was afraid to appear rude or as if I was rushing them so I let it happen. After the session I found out that she had purchased multiple vouchers despite the 1 per family rule, and again I was nervous to say anything. Then the editing requests started. Could I change the colour of this, photoshop the phone out of her kids hands (spoiler alert, I couldn’t), remove the pattern from their socks, get the images done before the schedule due date because she needed them for an event, add in extra images because she was really unhappy with how her older son behaved – and on and on and on. She was not right. That customer was not right. That particular customer was being a wee bit nutty and I was on the receiving end and I honestly wish that I had known then that sometimes it is ok to recognize that the customer is not ALWAYS right.

Which brings me to lessons 4 and 5 - No matter how good you are you can’t please every client – and you shouldn’t try and It’s ok to let a client go.

There are cases where no amount of bending and flexibility and effort is going to make the person happy. There are cases where the more you bend the more they will push, until you feel like you might snap. In those cases you need to push back before you DO snap which will really look bad, or let the client know that you are not a good fit and can’t work with them anymore.

Recognizing when you are not a good fit for someone is a really important skill to develop and it benefits you as well as them. Ideally it doesn’t happen. Usually it doesn’t happen often (and if it does it may be time to reevaluate how you are running your business and what your own expectations are for the client). In over 10 years of owning my photography business I could count the number of clients I have had to fire on one hand – but it would have saved me SO much time and stress if I had known right out of the gate that it would happen, and it was ok to admit defeat when it just isn’t a good match.

There is no one size fits all for most businesses – especially small businesses. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try. We need to focus in on who our ideal client is and then concentrate on serving and OVER serving them to create those raving fans that we talked about earlier.

And on that note #6 – you don’t need to have a package or product for every budget. When I was first starting out I wanted to make sure that anyone and everyone could work with me and that I was offering something for every budget. At one point I was even offering free newborn sessions (honestly, for way longer than I even want to admit) where they could choose how many and which photos they wanted AFTER the session and with zero commitment. For a lot of people it went well for both of us. For lots of other people they bought 1 or 2 images meaning I was making pennies per hour, and some lovely folks just took a screen shot of the images in their gallery despite being watermarked and walked away with a completely free set of images – and didn’t seem to care that it had Proof and my name stamped across it. This is NOT the way to do business! Again we want to focus on our target market and then create packages that will appeal to THEM and fit in THEIR budget. There are lots of other products and businesses to serve other price ranges – you just stay in your lane and focus on your people. Chanel and Louis Vuitton do not care that not everyone can afford them – in fact they like it and use it to market to the people that can.

Scarcity and exclusivity are a thing and while you don’t have to use those in your own marketing plan  you also shouldn’t feel bad if you do. This brings us to #7 – you don’t have to offer a discount just because someone asks. When I first started my business I was the queen of giving out discounts to people that asked, simply because I just didn’t know how or felt to bad/awkward/whatever to say no. Sometimes people would give me a story on how hard things had been for them, sometimes people said that someone else was offering the same things cheaper and sometimes they just flat out asked without a reason. This one was hard for me. I’m kind of a bleeding heart. I love my job and wanted to book the sessions. I still questioned my work and value as a photographer and so I often said yes, or met them in the middle. I also took days to respond because my stomach was in knots and I was so stressed out about how to respond because I didn’t WANT to give the discount but felt this weird obligation. (Maybe a bit more of that “the customer is always right” attitude?).

Eventually I realized that it was actually bad business to give out random discounts and came up with this simple statement that I use to respond to virtually every request for a discount. “In fairness to myself, my family and my other clients my prices are non negotiable”. That’s it. That’s the response, and I no longer feel at all bad about it because that statement is 100% true. The session will still take the same amount of time. It will still take me away from my children and husband and why should my loyal clients who didn’t ask for or expect a discount pay more than this person? There may be the odd time when I surprise someone with a little something extra, or apply a discount at my own discretion – but it is ALWAYS at my discretion at this point and never because someone asked, pressured or guilted me into it.

Ok, so #8 - People are willing to pay for the combination or speed and quality – 1 is great, both is gold. People want quality. They are really good at seeing through poor service or a lousy product – but we also live in this super fast paced, instant gratification world so they also want speed.

If you can find a way to offer a quality product or service, at a faster than normal speed – you will have no issue getting people to pay for it (or getting them to rave about you to their friends for that matter).

I always did my best to produce really beautiful, high quality images for my clients. Obviously over the years I have improved but I really did give it my very best from the beginning and invested in whatever training I could find to improve. It was a slow process though. It took me a long time to get through editing each and every image. For quite a few years I tossed around the idea of having someone take over the editing for me so that I could get people their images faster but I was convinced that people would want ME to be the one editing, that I couldn’t risk the quality and that they were happy to wait to make sure it was perfect.

Wrong. I outsourced my editing, cut my turnaround time in less than half and my sales went through the roof. People were shocked and THRILLED to get their images back SO quickly and the quality didn’t suffer at all. They sent referral after referral and I actually got bookings specifically based on how fast I had gotten other people’s images back to them.

If it is at all possible – find a way to give them quality AND speed. Its gold.

#9 Clients want to know you. They need you to focus on them, but they also want to know who you are.
As a business owner, entrepreneur or basically anyone that wants to sell anything to another person – we need to remember to focus on our clients. Be interested in them, care about their families, learn their name, use their names and let them do most of the talking BUT don’t forget that they want to know about you too. Let them have a little peek into who you are. Don’t be so focused on them that it feels like an interview or interrogation, or so professional that they don’t get to see a bit of your silly side, sense or humor or personality.

Those are the things that will help them trust you. Learning about your family, your hobbies or your quirks will let them connect with you and that connection will help them like you, remember you, and refer you to their friends.

In the beginning of my business, and honestly for quite a while, I maintained a VERY serious level of professionalism. It was a very buttoned up version of me that probably wasn’t especially likeable or memorable. Eventually I started letting myself out, telling little stories about my life, my kids, laughing and swapping jokes or just being a bit playful. The number of clients that became repeat clients must have doubled, as did the number of referrals. People that like you will come back. People that like you will send their friends. In order for them to like you, you HAVE to let them get to know you – which brings me to #10 relax and have fun!

When you relax, they will relax. When you have fun, they will too. Honestly as I was typing that I was thinking, well there are some professions where that might not be the case, like a lawyer probably doesn’t have much room to be fun – and then I remembered our experience with a lawyer not that long ago and she WAS likeable and funny and fun. She did seem relaxed, and put us at ease. Obviously she doesn’t have as much wiggle room for personality and creating a fun environment as a lawyer as I do as a baby photographer – but she still pulled it off wherever she could and it did make us trust her. So regardless of your job, don’t be afraid to relax (at least a bit) and infuse some fun wherever possible!

Fingers crossed that my experience and lessons learned will save you at least a few headaches and help you out in your journey. I will see you next week!

Episode 49 - I Swear I Love My Kids with Allison Braasch

Episode 49 - I Swear I Love My Kids with Allison Braasch

May 14, 2020

Allison is the Founder of I Swear I Love My Kids. She is passionate about helping empower moms who love to work AND love their kids (most of the time) with sanity-saving strategies and self-care programs like morning routines. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her 3-year-old daughter Julia who thinks Doc McStuffins is her bff, her 8-year-old Sebastian whose love language is ninja fighting, and her husband of 10 years, Kevin. She is a high school counselor full-time.

Today we are talking all things parenting - life as a working Mom, Mom guilt, self care, morning routines and how the heck we are supposed to balance raising a family while working from home amidst a pandemic! 

Connect with Allison 

Website
Instagram
Facebook Group
Free Download, "I Need to Keep My Kids Busy" with 40 unique, age-specific activities 

Connect with Annya

Website
Updraft Insiders Facebook Group
Beyond the Photos Group

Episode 48 - The Key to Success in Business

Episode 48 - The Key to Success in Business

May 7, 2020

 

How many times have you looked around and wondered if you are running your business right? How many times have you looked at a competitor in your industry and questioned if their method works better – or even tried to copy it?

Recently I got into a little mini tiff, debate, I don’t know what to call it – let’s just say a polite disagreement with another photographer online. This person was trying to argue that the way I do business is unrealistic and basically that I was wrong.

There is some controversy in our industry surrounding different business models. There are people that offer cheap sessions where they show up, take pictures, put the pictures directly onto a flash drive, disk, etc. and give them to the client – this is called “shoot and burn”. There are photographers who do IPS or In Person Sales which is typically a higher ticket session where they pay a session fee and then have an in person (or these days over skype) meeting and choose prints, products and occasionally digital files that they want from their session. And then there is something of a hybrid in the middle which is where I fall. I offer predetermined packages that include the session as well as a set number of digital files (which are fully edited) and then they have the option to purchase more. There is typically no sales meeting, definitely no pressure on the client to purchase anything additional and it is a mid-range price. There are a million different ways that photographers organize their businesses but it usually falls into one of those 3 categories.

Anyway, this person was trying to tell me that my business model wasn’t sustainable, that clients wouldn’t be happy because I was skipping out on the full service aspect of designing the art collections for their walls for them, and that I would be completely burned out because I’m doing too many sessions per year. That may all be true for them and their clients but it is clearly not true for me because I have been doing it happily and successfully with a huge number of repeat clients for YEARS, so I wanted to jump on today and remind you that you should ALWAYS being doing what works for YOU. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing – do what works for YOU!

 

Here’s the thing… when you are starting out or when you are struggling, it is really tempting to look around and start following exactly what the first successful person you see is doing. It might even work. Maybe. If you are similar people, with a similar ideal client, with similar strengths and similar weaknesses. You get the picture. It also might fail horribly because they are REALLY good at sales and you are still struggling in that area. Or they are fantastic on the phone, but you really prefer writing it in an email.

Now if you were to take the time to really look around, instead of panicking and jumping on the first bandwagon that you see, you would see that there are lots of really successful people that are running their businesses in completely different ways. They will all have some things in common, like excellent customer service and a quality product, but there will be tons of things that are done completely different. The one thing that they will all have in common though is that they are doing what works for them and their business.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking inspiration from the way other people are doing things, in fact is it a great way to learn. I teach my students how I do things all the time. My advertising methods, my workflows, my customer service processes – all of it, I try to lay it out in a blue print that they can copy so that they can have the same success that I have – but I ALWAYS tell them that they need to take what works for them and throw out the rest. If something feels unnatural and isn’t working, then see if you can find an equally effective way to accomplish the same thing.

Take a minute and think about your business and the areas that you have success vs the areas that you are struggling. What are the areas that are hard for you? What is making it so hard? Is there a way that the same goal could be accomplished in a way that feels more natural or true to you?

When I first started out one of the areas that was a huge struggle for me was calling clients, or calling other businesses or people in my area to network. I was super shy, I had major phone anxiety and it never seemed to work anyway.  A) I would procrastinate all day or for multiple days and leave it way too long before I finally picked up the phone and b) when I did get on the phone I was nervous, and awkward. It didn’t make people trust me as a phone call should, it probably made them think I was lacking confidence in my own work or wasn’t trustworthy.

And yet, you hear from people in business ALL THE TIME that you need to get your clients on the phone! Get them on the phone and start building a relationship before you ever talk pricing. Get them on the phone to build the “know like and trust factor”. Just get them on the phone and you will make the sale!

For lots of people this is 100% true and good solid advice – in fact if you are not a phone person then I would suggest trying to get more comfortable speaking with people in real time. But to say that this is the only way to be successful in business, or the best way to communicate with clients? Not the case for people who are anxious and nervous on the phone. I say it all the time – people’s BS meters are SO high now, they see right through it, and in a case where you are just having anxiety over the phone call itself it can trigger that meter to make them think that something is off even though it’s really just that you are nervous. On top of it – if you really, really hate doing something then you are more likely to keep pushing it back and putting it off. Not great customer service when it is taking you longer than it should to return a phone call. People want quick responses, they want to know that you are attentive to your clients – and if you are in a saturated market then there is also a good chance that in the time it takes you to work up the nerve to call them back, they will already have hired someone else.

So what did I do? I worked around it. Yes, I still had to make calls some of the time – but I also made it REALLY quick and easy for people to email me through the website instead. I also mentioned email as being an option on my answering machine and suggested that they contact me that way for the quickest response time. If I needed to network I would reach out via email, showing them that it was my preferred method of contact. When is felt appropriate I might also apologize when I stumbled over my words and just let them know straight up that I get a bit anxious on the phone. You might be surprised at how nice people are when you are willing to be honest and a bit vulnerable – and it would let them know WHY they might be picking up a strange vibe, instead of leaving them to assume that I was untrustworthy or didn’t know what I was doing.

I also practiced getting on the phone and talking to people. I wrote scripts for myself so that when I panicked or my mind went blank I could refer to them and read the answers to their questions. Because while I truly believe that you should do what works for you, I also believe that we should work on our weaknesses. Now I am completely fine with jumping on a call with a client, and chatting with them. I still prefer email – I like being able to refer back to what was said, and it is easier when there are kids running around, but with time I was able to work through the anxiety and by using what worked for me I was able to continue building my business successfully in the meantime.

So what are the areas in your business that you struggle with? Is there something you could use as a work around until you can strengthen that weakness? Or maybe there is just a better way of doing it for you and your clients?

Are you struggling to hit deadlines? Maybe you were following a higher volume business model but what you really need to do is take on less work at a higher price point. Are you terrible at sales? What if you created a streamlined process that took the actual selling out of your hands? Struggling to meet people and network? What about trying social media instead? There’s always more than one way to tackle a job – find the one that works for you.

I am confident that if I WANTED to do fewer sessions for a high ticket price as this other person was suggesting that I could do so successfully – but the beauty of being in business for yourself is that you get to CHOOSE. I ENJOY seeing many clients per month. I love snuggling their babies, I like chatting with people. I love doing mini sessions and having a weekend that is just packed with kids getting to see their familiar faces a few times year. I LOVE my business.

I am willing to bet that this other person could say the same. She probably gets a thrill from seeing how high the sale goes, from planning out wall collections from her clients and working with only a few people a month which allows her to free up more time for other things, or to have a really intimate experience with her clients.

I am also willing to bet that we are both successful as a result of the enjoyment we get from our own business and the way we do things. People are attracted to success and happiness. People are attracted to confidence. When you feel good about the way you are doing business, and confident in your methods and business model it shows, and it will draw people to you.

Be authentic in your business. Enjoy running your business. Think about the needs of your clients and how you can really and truly fill those needs, and serve that client. These are the things that will help you build a business that thrives. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing – just make sure that you are doing what works for you, your family and your business. Make sure you are profitable, make sure that the workload isn’t too much and do your thing. As a bonus, doing it your way will also set you apart in a saturated market. If we are all running around copying what the other people in our industry are doing then all of the businesses are going to look identical. Where does that leave the client when trying to choose who to work with? Honestly, if they are all identical then it’s going to come down to price – and that’s not an area I want to have to compete in.

This applies to creation as well – not just the everyday management of the business or customer service and sales. When I first started out it was very trendy to be a natural light photographer. People were using their “natural light” studios as a selling feature in their advertising. It was so tempting to jump on that bandwagon, regardless of the fact that my studio was in a darkish basement and I far prefer working with predictable lights and soft boxes. These other photographers appeared to be doing really well for themselves, I was seeing this marketing everywhere about how great natural light was and for a second I almost jumped on the bandwagon. I’m glad that I didn’t. I would have hated working with natural light indoors. I would have been super stressed every time it was overcast or cloudy and I would have loathed the inconsistency in my images as the light changed from session to session based on the time of day or weather. My work also would have looked just like everyone else’s instead of staying true to the style that I had developed – the style that my clients hire me for an expect.

The same thing happened when the editing style changed – everyone was adding these colour tints or filters to their images, giving them a moody, dark sort of feel. I was seeing it all over social media and started questioning if I should be following suit instead of sticking to my classic, light, airy, natural style. Again – that classic, light and airy, natural style is WHY my clients hire me. Why change it? If they wanted dark and moody, or coloured filters they would be going to a photographer that offered that, instead of coming to me. If I had followed suit then what would be setting me a part from those other photographers?

The same goes for any industry. Find what works for you and stick with it. If we want McDonald’s fries we go to McDonald’s. If we are craving New York Fries then that’s where we go. I don’t know about you but if I went to McDonald’s to get fries and suddenly they were serving thick fries with the skin on I would be confused, and quite frankly annoyed.

Find your style. Find ways of doing business that work for you. Go above and beyond to serve your clients. It will set you apart, it will help your business thrive, and it will leave you feeling great while doing it.

Episode 47 - Leaping into Entrepreneurship with Jackie Schagen

Episode 47 - Leaping into Entrepreneurship with Jackie Schagen

April 30, 2020

Today I am interviewing Jackie of Jackie Shagen Design. An entrepreneur with over 15 years experience in Kitchen and Bath design, Jackie helps clients plan their home renovation projects.  As home renovations are often the biggest purchases you'll make, she'll help you make the best decisions for your home, your family and your budget. I actually had the opportunity to meet Jackie last year to create her headshots, and I’m so excited to chat with her and have her share some of her journey in starting her business!

Episode 46 - Meet My Sister, Natalie Miller

Episode 46 - Meet My Sister, Natalie Miller

April 23, 2020

Today I got to have a blast interviewing my sister, Natalie Miller. She is a talented maker, and the owner of Fledgling Studios. Nat makes beautiful mugs, planters, and other pottery which she ships to collectors all over the world. I personally own a few of her mugs and honestly they are the only thing I want to drink out of anymore! Today we are chatting about some of the struggles she had while trying to get her business going, how she grew her impressive Instagram following and more!

Connect with Natalie 

Website
Instagram
Email - Nat@fledglingstudios.ca

Connect with Annya 

Episode 45 - How are You Using Your Gift?

Episode 45 - How are You Using Your Gift?

April 16, 2020

Every person on the planet has been given some form of a gift. We all have something about us that make us unique, or special. The range is huge. For some people their gifts are obvious, and easily put into practice. For some people if feels like everything they touch turns to gold, and everything comes easily to them. For others we need to dig a little bit deeper to see what specific areas they have been blessed in, what talents lie beneath the surface, but I promise you – we all have a gift. We have all been given an edge in some area of life – be it brains, beauty, empathy, compassion, skills, heightened senses or perception – there is always something.

To me this is a given. What isn’t a given is our ability to first recognize it, and second to make a decision to use it. Are you able to see what areas you are blessed in? Or are you feeling ordinary? Do you spend all of your time trying to cover up the things that make you special? Or are you willing to shine a light on them and use them to your advantage? The gift was just that – a gift. What you do with it is ENTIRELY up to you.

If you have been listening to the show for a while then you might know that when I was in high school I was super nervous, socially anxious, did anything to avoid being seen kind of girl. I had friends, but I was lost without them. I wasn’t teased or bothered for the most part – in hind sight I think most people probably thought I was nice and a few guys even tried to ask me out, but I was too shy for them to be able to form any connection with. I was clueless about my own gifts, and the ones that I did recognize terrified me so I tried my best to cover them.

The anxiety eventually came to a point where I wasn’t sleeping, I was exhausted ALL the time. I would wake up in the mornings when my alarm went off and then find myself in bed again hours later, haven fallen asleep and having no recollection of going back to bed. I was missing classes left, right and center – both from not being able to get out of bed and from not being able to force myself to walk into a class of my peers on the days when I did make it to school. If my friends weren’t going to be there – there was no chance I was showing up. If I had to do any form of public speaking – not happening. I would pick up homework, show up for tests (I have always been the odd one out that loves taking tests) and I would drop off assignments, but the social aspect of high school was a complete deal breaker for me.

Eventually the school kicked me out for poor attendance. The Vice Principal told me that “I was making the other kids feel bad” because they never saw me in class but always saw my picture on the honor role. It was setting a bad example and instead of them trying to address the root cause they decided to kick me out until I could maintain better attendance. That’s when I started doing correspondence and homeschooling myself, which honestly was a WAY better fit.

The following year I caught wind that the school’s musical theatre class was going to be doing Les Mis and I HAD to be in it. I talked to the school about doing just 2 classes in school and continuing the rest through the online program I was currently using. This would mean that I could be a part of the musical, and because the arts programs for our high school took place in an entirely different building – my social interaction with the school’s general population would be pretty limited. Win win. I was also a year older, in the 12th grade (so the oldest in the school) and had gained a touch of confidence in the year I’d been off.

I don’t 100% remember what brought the conversation about, but my music teacher, who was doing the casting for the play, told me that when we have been given a gift like the ability to use our voice to bring joy into the world, and into people’s lives it is a responsibility to use our gift, to spread joy and to not be so concerned with what other people think that we selfishly hide our gifts away. She probably doesn’t remember saying this. She might not even remember me – but that conversation has come back to me time and time again over the years, helping me to completely reframe the way I think about myself and my strengths.

I STILL don’t love singing for people on demand. I know I can carry a tune, I can project my voice and fill a room with the best of them – but I’m also no Whitney or Mariah. I’m decent but I don’t want to give the impression that I am some hidden talent that was never discovered – trust me, that’s not the case, its more of a sooth your kids to bed at night type gift –  nor is my voice the point of the story. I still feel shy and uncomfortable if someone randomly asks me to sing – but I did walk in, nail that audition and secure my part as Eponine in our school’s rendition of Les Mis. I fought through the fear and anxiety and I remember very vividly standing on stage, about to sing with my fellow cast members for the first time and seeing the look of annoyance and confusion on their faces. Completely understanding why they would feel that way – not one of them had heard me sing. Most of them had no clue who I was, or if they did they probably thought of me as the strange kid that avoided eye contact and didn’t speak. Why the heck did the music teacher cast HER in this part that SO MANY of the girls wanted? That the star of last year’s play had requested. I remember standing there, about to open my mouth and sing, desperately wanting to tell her she made a mistake and that she should choose someone else, and seeing her give me this knowing smile and nod – so I let it all go and gave her exactly what she was looking for, and then watched in shock as every mouth in the theatre stopped moving, every voice stopped singing and they all turned to look at me. After that people stopped questioning her decision, and many of the other kids in the class came and told me they were excited that I had been placed in that role.

The play was so much fun. I still look back and don’t quite understand why I was able to get on stage night after night, for audiences of close to a thousand people and yet I couldn’t bring myself to classroom full of kids. The only explanation I can come up with is that I wasn’t walking out on stage as myself – just as a character that I was playing. But it doesn’t really matter why – what matters is that I did, and it allowed me to grow, it allowed me to claim one of my gifts, it allowed me to gain a bit more experience and a bit more confidence. It also allowed me to share my gift with others, instead of keeping it hidden – and that is the real point.

With everything going on in the world I have seen so many people saying that now is not the time – its not the time to market, its not the time to advertise and its not the time to strategize. I want to tell you the exact opposite.

I want each and every one of us to be looking around right now and seeing where our gifts can help. There are so many problems being created, so many people struggling and so many solutions required. How is it not the time to provide solutions?! If not now, when people desperately need them then when?  This is the PERFECT time to be applying your unique strengths, perspectives or skills and whether you choose to do that as a service to your current audience, or to build a new one – you should feel zero guilt in offering your help and solutions as long as you know that you are truly helping.

Women have this strange guilt surrounding accepting. We struggle to accept help. We struggle to accept money. We struggle to accept praise.  There is NOTHING WRONG WITH ACCEPTING ANY OF THESE THINGS. There is nothing wrong with offering a valid solution in exchange for money, or publicity, or to grow the audience for your service, product, business.

Imagine if someone created a tool that would automatically clean your house from top to bottom each day. You don’t even need to get out of bed – it just cleans the house while you sleep and you wake up to clean folded laundry, washed dishes, clean floors and counters and a hot breakfast. How amazing would that be? How much time would you save? How much money could you make with that time? It would be the best right? Now let’s say that the inventor of this item felt too guilty charging for it to be able to create them. She has this amazing tool that will change lives but thinks to herself, ugh I just can’t, I feel too guilty taking money from hardworking families, I wish I could just give it to them for free because I just feel too bad to charge for it. Since she isn’t willing to charge for it, she can’t afford to make them, so it never happens. Stupid right? Yep. It sure is.

Now what if there was a woman who had an incredible perspective and understanding of the way children’s minds worked. She has come up with a routine, a way of parenting that makes for completely drama free days. Her kids are happy, she is happy, the chores are done, they get ready for bed without a fight and all is well – but… she doesn’t want to look like a know it all, and she is worried that what she is doing might now be good enough – so instead of sharing it with the rest of us, or better yet packaging it into a course so we can all learn from her – she keeps it to herself, and tries to commiserate with how hard parenting is whenever her friends complain. Personally I would want to throttle her for not helping me out! I am totally fine with her coming across as a know it all if that means that mine and my families lives will be improved!

But this is what thousands of women around the world are doing on a daily basis. They are denying the rest of us a product, service or idea that they could have created with their gift – either because they are afraid, they are trying to be humble and don’t want to show off or draw attention to themselves or they are too afraid to charge the money that they would need to charge in order for it to be viable!

 

I want each of us to be looking honestly at what are gifts ARE. Are you even aware of all the amazing talents you were blessed with? If you are sitting there shaking your head and thinking you’ve got nothing then I want you to get on the phone with friends, family members, anyone you feel knows you reasonably well and ask THEM. Because I guarantee they will have seen your gifts even if you can’t. You could even post it on social media – ask them what they think of when they see your name or face. Ask them what they think of you as an expert in. When you can’t see your own gifts you might need to look to those who are close to you to get their opinions, because their view won’t be clouded with the same self doubt and fear that you possess.

Think about the different skills you have developed over the years, or the things you have had to research and learn about. All of this will help you recognize what you have to offer. And then, once you are aware of your gifts, your talents, your skills – don’t be selfish with them.

Maybe you can use it within your current business – to further support, serve and nurture your clients. Maybe it will help you start a side hustle that eventually blooms in to a new business. Maybe it helps you to help out the people in your community, to create connection and growth. Whatever it is – you have a responsibility to figure out how you can use these talents and gifts that were given to you, because I promise you weren’t given this gift just so you could hide it away from the world.

There is a big difference between being a self-absorbed know it all, and a confident, open person that is willing to help the people around them to learn, grow and rise. Don’t let fear stop you from becoming the latter.

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