Let me tell you a story about someone I knew.
She was a single mother with four kids in daycare, an out-of-work partner, a very tenuous job situation, a boss that hated her and she didn’t have the money for a week in summer camp for one kid let alone a down payment for the house she wanted to purchase. Those were her weaknesses.
Those were my weaknesses. That person was me.
What were my strengths? I was making a good salary and had an aggressive loan broker recommended by a colleague. She said she only “claimed” $25,000 a year in income and that if he could get her a $1,000,000 house in Los Angeles then he could get anyone a loan, even me with a zero down payment. And he did! I got a first and a second for the down payment. In hindsight, I suppose I was one of those “sub-prime borrowers” that ultimately contributed to the crash of the economy. But I’m happy to say it worked out well for me (and my bank).
My weakness: not having money for a down payment. My strengths: my network of colleagues, the loan broker, my high-paying job. What I achieved: I bought my house.
This is Part 2 of my original article, “You Should Know How To Do A S.W.O.T. Analysis,” published in Medium, October 3rd. As a part of that article, you might remember that to do your S.W.O.T. Analysis, you should start with what you want to achieve. I want to sell 100,001 books in one year’s time. Last month I covered the O.T. part of S.W.O.T., Opportunities and Strengths. This article focuses on S.W. or Strengths and Weaknesses.
As I continue on in my career journey, I am reminded more and more how much of my success is based on just believing in myself and not taking no for an answer. And isn’t that really about recognizing my shortcomings and figuring out how to fix them, go around them, over them or through them? Or looking at my strengths, owning them, and using them to achieve what I want to achieve?
Let’s start with owning your strengths. If someone asked me if I was a good writer a year ago, I probably would have said no. Wait. I am a published author of five books with Random House Children’s Books. Of course I’m a good writer. In my defense, maybe I denied that because I was turned down a million times. Okay, not really a million, but it felt that way.
One of the things we did in our first meeting of our Masterminds (see Part 1 of my S.W.O.T. Analysis article), was to write down fifty things we do well… your strengths. If you’ve never done that, it’s a worthwhile exercise and can be quite revealing. It’s based on a business school idea that if you want to come up with a winning vision strategy, you should start with something you do well, because you will probably enjoy doing that. Furthermore, why start from ground zero? If you are focusing on something you already do well, you will come up to speed much more quickly and therefore reach a level of success much faster.
It has to be at least fifty. Why? Because anything less just isn’t enough. You have to trust me on this.
The interesting thing about this assignment is that initially people protest that there is no way they can come up with fifty things. I always have to reassure them that they can and if they come up short they can always put down that they are a good parent or child or sibling. People usually think of skills and don’t really think about personality strengths. Are you optimistic? Outgoing? Empathetic? Organized? Those are all strengths. I had more than one younger woman list that they were a good dishwasher loader. Okay, it’s the small victories. Go ahead and list them.
Finally, narrow down your strengths to those that are relevant to what you are trying to achieve. For me, it was to sell 100,001 books.
1. I am a good writer
2. I am disciplined
3. I am not afraid to ask for what I want
4. I am an extrovert
5. I am good at technology
6. I am relentless
7. I have a good network of friends and family
8. I already have a licensee I’m working with who manufactures my gardening products
9. I like to travel and I am in a position to do so
How do I leverage my strengths:
1. Keep writing. Keep creating content. Use this in marketing.
2. Come up with goals and work at them diligently every day.
3. Ask my publisher for help. Ask my followers for help. Ask friends for introductions.
4. Plan and go on a book tour.
5. Launch my website, develop email marketing campaigns, social media, little videos, etc., to increase my engagement.
It is important to recognize our weaknesses because if we’re going to improve, we need to overcome or work around them. Paradoxically, I think that weaknesses are easier for people to list. Most of us are hard on ourselves. However, some of us are in denial or simply haven’t yet recognized what our weaknesses are. Many of us, myself included, aren’t adept at honestly evaluating ourselves. Here are some helpful suggestions:
1. Talk to someone who knows you well, whose opinion you trust. Ask them what they think your weaknesses are. Buy them a cup of coffee and tell them you’re doing a S.W.O.T. analysis. Ask your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, mother or mentor. I asked my daughter. That was the motherload (pun intended) of information. It amazes me that most people have never asked their own children how they are doing or how they did.
When whoever you’re asking tells you, don’t be defensive. Listen. Take notes. Remember, they’re taking time out of their day to help you. You may not agree with everything they say, but if everyone is saying the same thing, then you’ve probably got a legitimate weakness on your hands.
2. Another thing I recommend is evaluating what part of your job or daily routine you don’t like. What tasks drain you? Those are probably your weaknesses.
3. Take a test. There are many personality tests out there. Myers Briggs is well-known. They can tell you what your weaknesses are.
4. Self-evaluate. Identify negative patterns in your life and ascribe what weaknesses may be contributing them. You’re don’t finish what you start. Why do you think you do that?
5. Therapy. Find a good licensed therapist.
After making notes, observations and evaluations sit down and make a list of your weaknesses. Edit it to reflect the things that have relevancy to the goal you are trying to achieve.
Ultimately, more important than the specific ways to overcome your weaknesses is the idea that you CAN overcome or work around any weakness you acknowledge. This is not an exercise that is meant to bring you down. Everyone has weaknesses. It shows strength that you are able to look honestly at your situation and then think of ways to improve upon it.
What are the best ways to overcome your weaknesses? Education, research, practice, affirmations, trying anyway, using a partner who already possesses the skill, hiring someone, subcontracting tasks to outsiders. There’s always a way. Always.
In regards to my goal, (selling 100.001 books) these are my weaknesses as I see them:
1. I get easily distracted.
2. I am impatient.
3. I don’t have a lot of followers.
4. I am not good at prioritizing.
5. These are my first books — I don’t have a track record or a reputation.
6. I am uncomfortable in front of the camera.
7. I don’t consider myself good at marketing.
8. I don’t have the time to do everything I need to do.
Overcoming my weaknesses:
1. Daily to-do lists. Pick the top six things I need to do every day to move me closer to my goal of selling 100,001 books. This helps me to keep focused and to prioritize.
2. Build followers. Spend more time on social media. Have contests. BECOME RELEVANT.
3. Utilize influencers to help me get the word out about my books. Offer them a tradeoff (I will market their products or services). Give them free books.
4. Set up affiliates with the Amazon affiliate program.
5. Get more reviews on all the websites that are carrying my books and other sites such as Goodreads.
6. Get more press: television, magazines, newspapers. Practice talking and filming myself. Make sure I am comfortable in front of the camera. Practice good posture.
7. Work with regional booksellers to book school events. Make a parent brochure to send home with the children. Work on my presentation. Make it great!
8. Establish myself as a thought leader in healthy living for children — speak at relevant symposiums and conferences.
9. Continue to read marketing books to educate myself.
10. Utilize outside experts in marketing and subcontract time-consuming tasks when possible.
11. Continue to learn about the business of publishing. Reach out to other successful authors. Talk to booksellers.
In closing, my most recent S.W.O.T. analysis was incredibly helpful to me. I have already incorporated many of these ideas and tasks. I started with the goal of selling 10,001 books and accomplished that within three months. I therefore increased my goal to 100,001 books.
Do your S.W.O.T. Analysis! I look forward to hearing back from you on your progress toward your goal. I will keep you posted on mine. Follow me on Medium or my RSS feed here for updates.
A couple weeks ago, I read with dismay a new report from the U.K. that showed child obesity rates continue to rise there. Likewise in the U.S., obesity rates amongst children remain stubbornly high and perhaps even more disturbing is that 13.9% of preschoolers are considered obese. While the levels of overweight children have plateaued, and even fallen a bit in some areas, the prevalence of extremely obese children continues to rise.
This, of course, has enormous implications for healthcare systems in all of the developed world because obesity is associated with many kinds of health problems: higher levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, not to mention expensive health conditions such as knee and hip replacements, and other morbidity and mortality issues. And the bad news is, once a child or adult is overweight, it has proven to be extremely difficult to lose the weight and maintain the loss. According to the American Heart Association, obese kids have an eighty percent chance of staying obese their entire lives.
This begs the question: what is going to happen to these children when they become adults? As an economist, I ask, who is going to pay for their health care costs?
As stewards of our children and therefore, our future adults, we must be vigilant about really helping them to be healthier eaters. And here is the simple truth I refer to in my title:
We have to start when they are young.
We must help our children to not become overweight, because if they do, it is going to be a battle they will have to fight their entire lives and usually with little success.
Let me make a distinction, I am not talking about baby fat here, I’m talking about obesity. If you have a question about this, look at the Body Mass Index (BMI) charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We must be vigilant to help our children and here’s the thing — it’s a lot easier to do when they are young, because of course we control the type and amount of food that we buy and prepare for them.
My life’s work is about teaching and inspiring children to lead a healthy lifestyle. As a part of that mission, I help parents understand ways that they can encourage their children to be healthier. One of the main ways to start a child off on a good foundation, is to help them to eat more vegetables. Nine out of ten children, after all, still don’t eat enough.
Because I’m a geek and I’ve done a lot of research on this, it might help you to know that human beings are hard-wired to not like vegetables. Way back when humans were in the hunter/gatherer stage, sweet foods such as fruits, were much less likely to be poisonous than savory foods.
That makes it hard to succeed in getting our kids to eat more vegetables. I get it. That’s where I come in. There are many tips and suggestions I give to help you along. But, as a broad stroke, we have to start thinking as a society and culture how to improve our children’s relationship with vegetables and fruits and other healthy foods, and to use the science that already exists to help us do that.
One of my favorite books that I’ve mentioned before is “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything,” by Kerry Grenny, Joseph Maxfield, David McMillan, Ron Switzler, and Al Patterson. They make the point that to change anyone including yourself, you should start by looking at what works. Find someone who has done and succeeded at the thing you want to do, and then study their methods.
The book makes a case that usually only two or three things account for success and therefore focus on just a couple things. This tidbit of information makes any task seems much less daunting. I mean, who can’t change two or three things? (They have tips for how to change behavior too.)
And here’s the cool thing about researching and finding successful methods: in this day and age, chances are someone has already studied what works and written about it. (By the way, this is an excellent book to read whether you’re running a corporation or a household, trying to change a reluctant customer’s mind or a recalcitrant teenager’s behavior.)
Back to our kids. Here are three already researched and proven methods to get your child to eat more vegetables:
1. A 2007 study suggests that persevering in offering children a particular vegetable can help them develop a taste for it. In a study with young children, it was explored if kids would accept a vegetable into their diet if they did not previously like it. What was found is that toddlers can be made to like a new food by introducing it five to ten times. It might take a little longer with preschoolers, up to fifteen times, but you can still help them develop a taste for it. Eventually more than 70% of the young children liked the tested vegetable. The cool thing is that nine months later, 63% of the originally tested group, still liked it.
When I am doing book readings at schools, I tell the kids that they have to taste a vegetable seven times, and if they do, they will like the vegetable. They always love this. It’s as if I have given them some kind of valuable secret (which I have), and a way to removing the nagging and actually enjoy their meal.
2. Researchers at Texas A&M University, looking for patterns in food consumption among elementary school children, found an interesting quirk about when and why kids choose to eat their vegetables. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, it seems there’s at least one variable that tends to affect whether kids eat their broccoli, spinach or green beans more than anything: what else is on the plate. In short, kids are much more likely to eat their vegetable portion when it’s paired with a food that isn’t so delicious it gets all the attention.
Try this: put a vegetable on your child’s plate (make sure you do a good job cooking it for Pete’s sake), put the plate in front of the child who is waiting for his dinner and tell them that they can get started and the main dish is almost ready. That way the vegetable is not competing with the chicken nuggets or french fries. Or try pairing it with liver or baked fish.
3. My company, Bloomers Island, has found that over 90% of the thousands of kids we’ve worked with will eat a vegetable if they’ve grown (or are growing) it. This is based on our own metrics. So we set about to make growing a vegetable as fun for kids and as easy for grownups as possible.
Growing is a long process that also improves children’s delayed gratification skills, but in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the vegetable to grow and ripen, you can take your child to the grocery store and tell them that this is what they’re growing. You can buy it, ask them to help you find a recipe they might like, and then help you cook it. These are all important steps to establishing a healthy vegetable relationship.
There are other scientific ways discussed in the studies linked above, that work. You can read about them and try your own interpretations based on the research, but remember to try only two or three methods at once.
I’m not saying that if kids eat more vegetables they will not have to worry about being overweight or that childhood obesity will be cured, but … it is a good first step.
What successful methods have you used to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Please share in the comment section below.
Today we went to Newtown and for me, it was the first time. I’ve done a lot of firsts and gone to a lot of places for the first time during my 100,001 Book Tour. Dennis had a meeting at the Cyrenius H. Booth Public Library. I was along for the ride, as he is so often with me. I planned to donate a book to the library. That’s not out of the ordinary, because I have done it with many libraries touring around the USA this year.
Newtown is a Norman Rockwell town. Yet, a pall had been cast — no fault of the residents, but nevertheless one that they had to contend with for the rest of their lives. You would think that a town where an unspeakable horror happened would be shadowy and foreboding and unwelcoming with cheerless streets. Not so. Like much of Connecticut, I found myself marveling over the perfect porches on the perfect homes on the perfect streets as we drove into town. Pumpkins sat next to cornstalks on the front stoops. Fall leaves lay on the grass lawns patiently waiting to be raked. I compared it to the messy streets of my hometown of Los Angeles with its gum-stained sidewalks strewn with tell-tale signs of the homeless interspersed with street art, cigarette butts and food wrappers, the detritus of streets well-lived in or on, as it were, but at least in L.A. what you see is what you get.
We went to the library and had our meeting in a private room made available to Newtown residents. It was 12:30 when we finished so we agreed to meet at a local coffee shop to have a coffee and a bite to eat. On the way out, I signed and donated my first book, “Bloomers Island The Great Garden Party,” to the library, and we made a big deal out of it as I took a photo with the librarian downstairs in the children’s book area, surrounded by the innocence of, “Goodnight Moon,” and “Oh The Places You’ll Go,” and “Where The Wild Things Are.” My book would be in good company. I was grateful for that.
Leaving the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, like so many old buildings in Connecticut, Dennis dropped his backpack on the crunchy leaves and we snapped a photo of us on the front steps before driving off. In the safety of our car, I mentioned that every house we passed caused me to think, maybe a child was lost there and a child lost there and a child lost there? We were both thinking that in the quiet of the car ride.
I was reminded of my mom’s long-term partner, Ed, whose son had died in a bicycle accident as a young boy. His wife had passed away from early onset Alzheimer’s, and he was diagnosed with it, too, also at a relatively young age. I always thought that maybe they had just checked out mentally. Life had become too painful for them and so they moved on. Who could blame them? The folks who had lost their precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, were irretrievably changed and their lives permanently altered as well and there was no coming back from that. These thoughts ran through my mind as I looked out the window at the beautiful Connecticut countryside.
I have a confession. Although Ed was a wonderful guy who loved my mom deeply, I started resenting him. I felt like his deteriorating condition was too burdensome on my mom. She was somewhat frail herself and she had to do everything for him: drive him to all his appointments, make sure he took his medicine, make all his meals and clean up after him. He couldn’t do anything for himself anymore, not even get dressed in the morning. It was a slow, sad, form of decline, and during our prior visit, we had helped her make plans for him to leave.
After arriving to the coffee shop, we sat down with our soy lattes and Caprese sandwiches and the man who we had met for our original meeting sat down next to me. His name is David, a handsome young guy with close-cropped hair, piercing eyes and full lips. He told me that he was married and had two young children. He wanted to remind me that a tragedy had happened in the town. Did I remember? I admitted that I was well aware. He told me that he was in town when the shooter had driven through on his way to Sandy Hook Elementary School. He remembered him because he ran a red light — so intent was he on his murderous mission — and no one ever ran a red light in Newtown. A short while later, this young father was with a group of friends in nearby Danbury when the word started coming out. There were whispers, like the swirling leaves in the Autumn wind. Did you hear what happened? Did you hear about that school? The school in Newtown? Sandy Hook?
David confided that thankfully his child was not in school yet, a year too young at age four, but he knew many of the children in the small community. He also told me that there was a tremendous outpouring of love and help and healing that descended upon the town thereafter. He was concerned that not much was said about it. The media didn’t report it. He told me an example of someone who gave $5,000 to a local restaurant and anyone who came in had their meal paid for. Surely I had heard about Ben’s Bells? I had not. It was an organization started by a woman from Tucson, Arizona who had lost her own son many years before. Its mission was to spread intentional kindness in a community. She came into Newtown and many of the townsfolk made bells out of clay and string and brass and hung them on trees, hidden in plain sight. The idea was whoever found one would take it and keep it, and it would represent good luck, a memory, a kindness, an angel.
He had gone with his family and they too had made bells, placed them around the town, a process of grieving, of letting go. Our friend Amy, the fourth in our little meeting said that one day, David found a bell hanging on a tree. He then dug into his pocket and pulled out a bell strung with colorful ceramic balls, twine and in the middle was a pink flower cut out of clay and fired hard and bright in a kiln. He handed it to me. “Here. Now you have found one.”
David then stood up and announced that he had to go. Our meeting had taken longer than he had expected. We left shortly thereafter, but many miles down the road we had to turn back around and return to Newtown. It would be my second time. Dennis realized he had left his backpack on the lawn in front of the library when we had stopped to take pictures. His wallet was inside. I called the library to see if it was still there. It had been over an hour since he had accidentally left it there, and the librarian said that no one had moved it. They just made a note of it at the front desk: “Backpack left on the lawn at 12:15.” They did not pick it up. No one had touched it. No one from the library. No passersby.
The country’s safest town, I thought with great irony.
It was also a town on the mend, a town being healed by a brand new school and bells and angels. There is a celebration of lives, of light that outshines the darkness. Survivors wanted to talk about it. We later told each other about the profound affect and change the visit to Newtown had on us. Dennis’ change was a commitment to speak about the children to other children in an upcoming project. They cannot be forgotten. And my change? I would have more empathy for loss. I would come back to visit, to work with the schools in Newtown. There is healing in planting a seed and watching it grow. That is something I could pass along.
I am an original founder of a mastermind group started over a decade ago. The idea is to apply business principles to our personal lives. I noticed that a lot of people don’t know how to properly construct and use business principles — things like vision strategies, legacy statements, marketing plans and financial projections — things that would really help them in their personal lives. Our mastermind group consists of five women (some have come and gone but it consistently remains five) who meet once a month and hold each other accountable as we work our way through our life planning. Part of this blog post is excerpted from the exercises that we are documenting.
One of my favorite exercises we have done is a standard business application called a S.W.O.T. analysis. It is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The formula I came up with to do a SWOT analysis is to first, decide what you want to achieve or evaluate, and then break your analysis down into two basic categories.
1. Evaluate the opportunities and threats that exist for what you want to achieve. Think of these as external factors.
2. Honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. Think of these as internal factors.
The difference between the two categories, internal and external is huge because you can personally work on internal issues in order to improve. External issues are harder because you can’t change them. For that reason they are often the cause of worry which is fruitless and the nemesis of many of us. However, you can leverage external situations to your advantage or hedge against them to protect yourself.
Remember to start with what you want to achieve. My present goal is to sell 100,001 books in one year’s time.
Opportunities and Threats
What are my opportunities? I am with a major publishing house. My books are good. I know this because I read it to children all the time. They are engaged. It is being sold at almost all the major booksellers, and if they don’t have it in stock, they can easily order it. Penguin Random House has an entire structure set up for these types of logistics. Other products I’ve invented, such as my Bloomers Island VeggiePOPS and Growing Kits are currently being sold in major retailers. I can leverage my relationships there.
I can employ these things to my advantage. On my website and in all my sales sheets and brochures, I make sure that I mention Random House Children’s Books because it gives me legitimacy, after all they are the number one publisher in the world, for which I’m humbly grateful to be a part of. My licensee is calling on our current retailers and pitching them on including a book with one of our VeggiePOPS.
What are my threats? The economy can crash. Booksellers can and do go out of business. People read less books now. They buy eBooks which are cheaper and don’t make as much money.
How can I hedge against these threats? Help booksellers increase their sales with things like my influencer’s shop, Bloomers Island, on Amazon, and school events done in conjunction with book stores. Package the book with existing products that I am already selling in major retailers to substantially increase sales.
These are just some examples. There is a lot I can do to both leverage and hedge.
One of my esteemed advisors, John Michael Morris, used to tell me to make a list of twenty things whenever I was confronted with a worrisome or uncertain issue. I listed twenty ways I could protect myself and exploit opportunities to reach my goal. You might think coming up with twenty things is hard, but once you get started, it’s easier than you think. Start with five. You’ll get to twenty. Use your most powerful weapon, your brain. It also forces you to dig deeper (pun intended), and get really creative with solutions. You can do it.
Your Homework: Come up with your threats and opportunities related to your goal, and then twenty ways you can take advantage of the opportunities and protect yourself against the threats. Please share your methodology and your list and next week I’ll tackle strengths and weaknesses. Happy digging.
Let me tell you about a good teacher.
Good teachers can make a world of difference and I believe that many don't properly realize it. Being a children’s book author and doing school events across the country to promote my Bloomers Island book series, got me thinking about my favorite class in high school: Organic Chemistry. Upon reflection, I realized that Organic Chemistry was my favorite class not necessarily because of the subject, which I mastered well, but because of my teacher, Mr. Crawford. Without a doubt, he was the reason why I mastered the subject as well as I did. He was a shining example of the difference a good teacher can make for a relatively difficult subject matter and sometimes, that time, in the life of a student.
Another example that clearly backs up my argument, was my calculus teacher my freshman year in college. He was a recent immigrant from another country and didn't speak a word of English. I'm not exaggerating. Not one word. I was failing the class and had to drop it. My parents were not happy. I took the same class the next semester and aced it. I can measure the slope of a line like there's no tomorrow.
Back to Mr. Crawford. I was going through a particularly difficult time my senior year in high school. I was weathering some significant family and health issues. Mr. Crawford made me feel special. He made me feel smart. He was engaging and funny - traits you might not typically associate with a chemistry teacher.
He called me Cinderella.
When I started composing this blog I decided to Google Mr. Crawford. I didn't even know his first name! So I Googled: “mr crawford chemistry teacher seneca valley high school,” and up came his obituary notice from our local newspaper, “The Butler Eagle.”
Tears came to my eyes, but why was I surprised? I'm not going to go into the math (even though I aced Calculus), because I would then have to divulge my age, but suffice it to say that he died fifteen years ago at the age of 85.
His first name was Roy.
I learned that he was from Denver. He taught at Seneca Valley School District for 35 years. He served in the Army during World War II. He had a son and a daughter, two sisters, and a wife, Jane, who predeceased him. He had four grandchildren.
I'm not sure Mr. Crawford even knew that he was my favorite teacher. Or that he was one of the reasons I went to college and got a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture. Or that when I was in his class I was able to focus on how molecules are put together and forgot about why some families are put together in the dysfunctional way that they are.
Why don't a lot of teachers realize it when they make a huge difference in our lives? Maybe it is because so many of us don't go back and tell them.
I have a challenge for you. Share your story about a teacher that made a difference in your life and how, and then go tell them if you still can.
I’m lucky that I knew Mr. Crawford. He was a good man. He was a good teacher.
Being a Startup Founder Sometimes Feels Like Being Alone in a Cave and Looking Out.
I am a founding member of an active startup founders group. We started with a dozen or so entrepreneurs and I appreciated it because being a startup founder without a partner can be a lonely endeavor. I’ve seen a lot of fellow entrepreneurs walk in and out of the doors over many years. I can now tell if someone is going to “make it” after about three meetings. Here are my observations of why they eventually don’t succeed:
1. They don’t show up. If you want to be successful, you have to show up. I mean that literally and figuratively. You have to show up on a consistent and regular basis. Even if you are tired and can’t seem to find your customers, you are not booking sales, you are getting rejected and you know deep inside your gut that you probably have to pivot your plan, even though you are exhausted. You must keep going — putting one foot in front of the other, executing the marketing plan, calling on customers, pivoting if necessary — you just keep at it. Do they show up on time? If you can’t show up at our meetings on time, what about their business meetings? What if you have a meeting with a venture capitalist? Are you going to be late? Are you going to flake and not show up? Because you and your husband had a fight? Being a C.E.O. of your own startup company is being a self-starter in the truest sense. If you aren’t 100% committed to this, you just won’t make it.
2. They aren’t willing to sacrifice. There is a lot of inherent sacrifice in starting a company. Generally, you have to work long hours, drain your savings, if you’re lucky enough to have some, borrow from friends and family to get started, if you’re lucky enough to have some, give up the money you would make in another job which is called “opportunity cost” and give up time with your family and loved ones. Whenever I see that members aren’t willing to make sacrifices, I know that they are finished. And it has happened with regularity. Usually they will take a job and not come back. Prepare yourself for a lot of sacrifice and if you’re not willing to accept that, you won’t make it.
3. They don’t accept the fact that it’s most likely going to take a long time. This is closely related to sacrifice, but it’s more than that. There is a perseverance factor to it and a necessity of faith. A major problem that I’ve noticed is what I call, “The Spouse Factor.” It’s when the spouses, usually women because most founders are men, I’m sorry to say, think it’s taking too long and give up on their husband’s dream. It is sometimes accompanied by ultimatums and all kinds of bad behavior that I won’t go into here. And it’s sad, really. Because you have this person who is putting it on the line every day working as hard as they can. They are trying to have faith in themselves. Some spouses won’t even get a job. Sometimes the lack of support is breathtaking. My advice is to talk to your spouse before you start a company and make sure they are completely on board. For a long time. And make sure you are, too. The myth of starting a company and selling it to Facebook in three years is just that. It’s a myth. If you don’t know this going into it, you won’t make it.
4. They can’t, or won’t sell what they are making. My first job out of college (Penn State) was selling encyclopedias. I generated my own warm leads by doing magic shows at pre-schools and elementary schools. Yes, I became sort of a magician, and I was good. My low point in the job of selling encyclopedias was going into apartments, in the Housing Projects in Washington D.C., where the rats were as big as possums and the cockroaches ran along the kitchen walls with impunity like it was the Capital Beltway - at a time when my potential customers and I were sitting there talking with the lights on! That year, in between undergrad and grad school, I made over $40,000.00 (almost $119,000.00 in today’s dollars) and I was able to start paying for my first year of grad school at Georgetown University. Moreover, I learned how to sell. Steve Blank, the famed Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University professor says, “you will find no answers inside your office”. You have to “get out of the building and knock on doors”. I believe that is something very few people are comfortable with, but one that every entrepreneur must learn. I don’t care what you end up doing in life, and I don’t care how you do it, but learn to sell. If you don’t, you won’t make it.
5. They don’t take advice. In our group, members present the most pressing issue that they are dealing with that month, and we have a methodology to “process” that issue. It includes a lot of questions and a lot of feedback. When someone is taking the time to give you advice, especially if it is in a group and collective intelligence is at work, you should listen. Try not to be defensive. And you should take action on that advice. After every processing session, that person is given a Call to Action, or CTA. If they come back without seeing their CTA through, that does not bode well for them. As a startup founder, you are going to need advice from other people because there is no way you can know everything you need to know to do this. I’m not saying you have to listen to everything everyone tells you, but I am saying that if you have smart advisors, or paid professionals, you need to be able to evaluate their advice and act on it. If you can’t, you won’t make it.
6. They aren’t willing to change. Are they so entrenched in their vision that they can’t accept that the world doesn’t want their exact product or service, or that there is something wrong with their product, service, or business model and it needs to be changed? Almost every startup business has to pivot. What is a pivot? It’s when you change your business model in some way because your current model isn’t working. In my latest business, Bloomers Island, I’ve pivoted four times. I know it can be exhausting after your first try and it’s difficult to start over. If that’s the case, take a couple weeks off. I got so burned out after my first couple of years and first couple of pivots, that I went to South America for six months. It was the best thing I ever did. At the end of the day, if you’re not willing to make changes, you won’t make it.
7. They aren’t comfortable crunching numbers. I have seen many people start a business without knowing how to construct a basic income statement let alone a balance sheet. They try to make decisions based on imperfect information. In our group meeting, if a member is presenting an issue to the rest of us, looking for us to help them decide between two alternatives, I always ask: “What are the numbers?” I’m not saying you have to be a CPA, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a basic financial course, or sit down with a friend who knows numbers and cook them a dinner to show you how to construct a set of financial projections. If you look at the numbers — the cost of doing one thing with a projected outcome versus the cost of doing another with that projected outcome (otherwise known as a Cost Benefit Analysis), the answer usually becomes clear: crystal clear. The truth is in the numbers. Get comfortable with numbers or you won’t make it.
8. They are overly emotional. My favorite line in the motion picture “The Godfather” is when Sonny, Michael and Tom are talking about killing the bad cop. That is when Michael says, “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business.” Of course, Sonny was made vulnerable because he was too emotional. His enemies knew that and they were able to kill him. Don’t be overly emotional. In A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks’ character says, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Well, that applies to business, too. You’re going to get rejected and criticized and insulted. Save your crying for the shower. Take solace in the fact that the more you are rejected, the easier it gets. Develop a tough skin. If you don’t, you just won’t make it.
What is an honest appraisal of my weaknesses? Number three and number six. I was unrealistic about how long it would take. I was too invested in what I wanted to do and took too long and wasted too much time and money before pivoting. I kept going though, because I do the other things really well. Now, it is finally paying off.
I’m a big believer in the Tortoise. Most of my accomplishments have been achieved by plodding. Plodding has an almost negative connotation but I like to think of it as working diligently on things and being content to achieve them in smaller increments. To me, that is the secret to success… setting and achieving small goals to work toward a larger goal.
Living in Los Angeles and being exposed to the entertainment industry, I am well acquainted with people that have the hare mentality. You may already know the type. They are always looking for the big hit, the big win, instead of working on a series of small wins that will eventually add up. As a result, they are almost never successful at reaching their goals and if they are – they eventually lose everything.
In the book “What They Don't Teach You in the Harvard Business School,” author Mark McCormack tells of a study conducted on students in the 1979 Harvard MBA program. In that year, the students were asked, "Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?" Only three percent of the graduates had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; and a whopping 84 percent had no specific goals at all.
Ten years later, the members of the class were interviewed again, and the findings, while somewhat predictable, were nonetheless astonishing. The 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. And what about the three percent who had clear, written goals? They were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.
What was I able to take away from this?
I was reminded to set goals for myself. Simple but not easy. What kind of goals? There are a hundred different ways to set goals. Ultimately, I guessed that the best goal setting method is the one that works for you. Here’s what worked for me.
The first thing I did was to set the BIG GOAL. The BIG GOAL was to sell 10,001 books before the end of the year. I even created a hashtag: #10001booktour.
I then came up with hundreds of other little goals to make the BIG GOAL happen. Every day I made a list that covered a page. Every morning I went through my list and I highlighted the top six things I needed to do every day to make the biggest impact on moving my BIG GOAL forward. It’s worked pretty miraculously. I’m plodding and I’m comfortable with that.
As I have been marketing and selling my books, something that has become incredibly helpful to me is a quote by Stephen Covey, “The main thing, is to keep the main thing the main thing.” It is not just a question of coming up with my goals, it is to stay focused on them!!!! And the main thing is my BIG GOAL.
Lastly, I did a thorough S.W.O.T. analysis which is extremely helpful to use as a bridge for setting goals. That is the subject of my next post where I will list all my little goals that have helped me sell books.
In the meantime, as of my last quarterly report, I’ve sold 9,169 books so I’m close to selling my 10,001. I increased my BIG GOAL to 100,001.
What is your BIG GOAL right now? Do you have one?
There is this D.J. who is getting quite the attention lately. People clamor to see him and hear his unique mixes and signature synth-pop. He regularly performs for venues full of fans in places like New York, Miami’s South Beach and the Bahamas. He has thousands of followers, is on a record label and streams on Spotify. My boyfriend discovered him and played one of his songs for me last night and I was blown away. His goes by DJ D-Sol and here’s the thing, he’s also the President of the world's most revered investment bank, Goldman Sachs.
I did an interview with an online news station and was all prepared to talk about how I started Bloomers, my product development process and my background growing up in the country. The interviewer sat down and asked me basically one question: “How did you get your books published by a major publishing house?”
After a few moments to collect my thoughts, I gave her the answer: I built a brand first.
As any marketer will tell you, building a brand is a difficult undertaking that takes enormous amounts of time and effort and money and knowhow and luck. I thought about all the things I’ve had to do to build my brand. In some ways, that I’ve been able to accomplish what I have, has been miraculous. How did it come together?
There’s been a lot written about the 10,000 hours, first popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Outliers.” The concept is that you have to do something for 10,000 hours to really become an expert, and common wisdom states that you have to become an expert at something to really make a go of it as a career or business. But here’s the thing I always struggled with, if I am focusing all my time on that one thing, how do I do the other things I love doing? I have actually felt guilty talking about the myriad of skills and talents and different careers I have had because I thought people would think I was a dilettante or worse, a braggart. I was also concerned that they wouldn’t take me seriously in my chosen field. I’ve wrung my hands thinking that I’m not focused enough. Then I found an article about being a polymath and I immediately knew that that is what I am. A Polymath is a person that is good at many things and more and more research is coming out that shows being a polymath can actually help you in your career.
Here’s the thing, I’ve done a lot of cool stuff and I’ve been really successful at it. My fields of study have included agriculture, sociology, economics, computer programming, music, foreign languages, animation, editing, computer design, graphic design, writing and painting. My jobs have included, door-to-door saleswoman, horse trainer, investment banker, adjunct professor (economics and statistics), product designer, real estate investor, Chief Financial Officer, financial consultant, typist, researcher, entrepreneur, artist with both group and solo art shows and installations, C.E.O. and perhaps most importantly, a mom.
Back to the D.J. I’m sure his music and his performances helped him in his job at Goldman Sachs. There is much evidence that supports the positive effects of music on one's ability to do math, a necessary skill in investment banking. And if nothing else, I’ve got to think that performing in front of thousands of screaming fans probably helped him in the boardroom.
How did all my diverse talents and skills help me in my career?
I don’t think I could have started Bloomers without all my talents, and as I mentioned, starting Bloomers first and designing and securing distribution of really cool products is how I got my publishing deal. My advice to myself is don’t hide and apologize for my diverse talents. They don’t detract from my success. They add to it.
My advice to you is, don’t hold back. If you want to paint, paint. If you want to D.J., then D.J. You never know what skill is going to come in handy when you’re starting your business or building your career. Maybe one of the skills that you love will be your career.
Bloomers Island is a brand that promotes a healthy lifestyle in children. I am in the lucky position of promoting a message that every parent can agree on. Who doesn’t want healthier kids? I’m still always careful however, as the social media marketer in my company, not to upset any group.
A friend of mine on social media recently shared a meme posted by their local Farmers’ Market condemning pollution from the oil industry and promoting clean water. Again, I think we can all agree that clean water is a good thing, but this friend and this Farmers’ Market was in a state in the heart of the oil and gas industry. I imagined that a lot of their customers were employed either directly or indirectly by oil and gas companies. The comments on my friend’s post supported this, with grousing about the tone deafness of the meme, and saying that they were not going to go to the market anymore. I’m not sure if I would have taken that General Custer’s stand that the Farmers’ Market took, but I admired their guts. It brought to mind that old saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
What am I taking a “stand” on?
When my first book came out, “Bloomers Island, The Great Garden Party,” it was turned down by a major supplier of school book fairs. I was told something to the effect that kids weren’t interested in being healthy or gardening and therefore would be less likely to buy my book at the book fairs (where the decision was mostly theirs and not their parents). I was disappointed because that meant I would miss out on a huge market segment. My CMO and I went back and forth about the notion of not bringing up the concept of gardening at all and just talking about my characters, the Bloomers.
It is understandable that some think gardening might not be particularly popular with kids who haven’t tried it or the grownups in their lives because they are intimidated by it. If I had a nickel for every time an adult says to me that everything they try to grow dies, I would be a rich woman. There is so much more to my brand anyway, like the Bloomers characters. They are adorable and struggle with the same issues that real-life children do. They live on Bloomers Island a place far away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that no boy or girl has ever seen. Evolution took a different turn on Bloomers Island and plants became the intelligent species. The Bloomers go to boarding school in a tree house! They sleep in flowerbeds, have leaves for hands and roots for feet. They are plants and flowers and trees.
My argument remained that the whole reason of my brand, its raison d’etre, was to encourage kids to garden and eat vegetables. If I was not going to put that concept front and center, what was the point? Besides, I know that kids love digging in the dirt and planting seeds and watching things grow. I’ve seen their enthusiasm over and over, working with thousands of children. I just have to keep pushing that message out there, reminding parents of this fact.
Back to my “stand.” I decided that what I am taking a stand on is to stay true to my mission even if it’s not as popular as dinosaurs or space travel or princesses. While I can certainly place an emphasis on the Bloomers characters, I cannot ignore the main mission of my brand. Otherwise, before I know it, I will be selling GMO seeds, printing my catalogs on paper that hasn’t been recycled, and I don’t know, praising the virtues of chemical fertilizers. If I don’t stand for this something, I may just fall for anything.
P.S. I found another bookseller that sells at school fairs, and they are happy to include the Bloomers Island books. Yay!
What do you stand for?
Misty Hill Farms
I watched the royal wedding this weekend of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. I had never before watched any of the royal weddings – even of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. I most appreciated the commitment that they made to each other, spoken with honor and integrity and gratitude. The festivities were beautiful and I even shed a few tears, but I felt sorry for her that her father did not walk her down the aisle. Due to family drama, neither he nor her half-siblings attended.
It got me to thinking about something I appreciate so very much – the lack of drama in my family. I have been back east staying on the family farm for the last few weeks. Part of the reason is to do events as a part of the 10,001 Book Tour here in Pennsylvania and in nearby Connecticut, Ohio, and Kentucky, and partly to help my mom organize her will and estate.
Two of my three brothers and I met with the estate planning attorney along with my mom and we went through the best options and it was just so easy. No drama. I never fight with my brothers nor my mom. Everyone in my family, including my nieces and nephews, now grown up, have an abundance of common sense, good will, and similar values and work ethic. It occurred to me that it is the farmer in all of us.
Farmers are hard workers, full of common sense and grounded in the dirt they till. When we moved into our current farmhouse, there was nary a bush or flower around the house. There were a couple trees for shade and grass that grew right up to the brick walls. This arrangement provided less work for the prior inhabitants, farmers who made their living from the dairy cows they raised. It was a husband and wife who had never had kids. It was a simple life. No frills. No nonsense. It gave them more time to milk the cows. A spare house, in a sparse field.
How lucky am I with my family? We never made a living from our farm, but it became an important part of our lives, our identity. My family worked the farm. Our fields did not sit fallow.
Back to the estate planning. We decided to keep the farm intact. Two of my brothers have already built houses here. The third is planning his house now. Two of my nephews live here. I plan on building a house one day, I dream about it actually. In the meantime, I stay with my mom. The lawyer implied to my mom that maybe she didn’t even need to worry about all this pesky estate planning stuff and that she looked great! She replied that one day she wouldn’t. We all laughed, but it wasn’t really funny.
I won’t lie to you, this farm is special. It’s special beyond the land and the rolling fields and the pastures. We are all here. We all get along. We hold similar values. The same sense of common sense. We hold dear the land. The earth. Keeping all this intact, like some rural American version of a kibbutz or commune would be special. How many places out there are like this? In the end, it is a commitment to keep it together. We agreed to do that. We’ve made a commitment with honor and integrity and gratitude. I am proud of that.
That’s the way I look at my company, Bloomers Island. I have a mission and a vision and a passion and an intention. I have a commitment to myself, my team, my investors and my customers. It is a commitment that I intend to keep.