The Common Denominator Between Marketing & Seed Ticks

Do you know what a seed tick is? If the answer is “no,” count yourself lucky. If you do know what a seed tick is, you are going to understand how uncomfortable I have been for the last week or so.

I live in an area where there are lots of uninhabited, heavily wooded acres. Hiking and trail running are two of my favorite activities. Last week a friend and I went for a hike. We didn’t really have a destination, and the trail we were on ended at the power lines – where there is a wide right-of-way, and the trees are regularly cut down. It’s about a hundred yards wide, and covered in grass and scrub. There is a path along the power lines right-of-way and we followed it, eventually coming to a road. The whole walk took just over an hour.

When we got home we jokingly called the part of the path under the power lines a “hike through death valley” because it was a good 10-15 degrees hotter, and there were some steep hills. That part of the walk wasn’t much fun, but we felt pretty good about doing it. We had been home for probably 20 minutes or so when I noticed what looked like a piece of dust moving along my arm. SEED TICK!!!

Seed ticks are so small that they are hard to see. They are actually tick larvae, and they congregate in groups of hundreds or thousands, usually in grass. When you brush by the grass, they all jump onto you, hoping you provide enough of a meal that they can progress to the nymph stage. Ugh. Gross. If you see them right away, before they start crawling like crazy, you can grab some tape and press it to your skin, and the ticks will stick to

I’m fairly certain I got the ticks while walking through death valley, so they were on my body for no less than 40 minutes before I saw that first one. When they first get on you, they are in a big group, but they spread out – quick. The sooner you can get to them with the tape, the better your chances of getting them all. I got the tape and started sticking it to those ticks. (hah!) After about an hour, I figured I’d gotten as many as I was going to find, and sat down on the couch. And found about 10 more. Later, when I showered, I found even more. The situation was not looking good.the tape. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking they can wash the tiny demons off in the shower, but that doesn’t work. They dig into your skin and stay there.

That night, I woke up scratching my ankle. The next day I was covered, toe to head, in tiny tick bites. There’s not much you can do about it – I kept a bottle of rubbing alcohol handy and wiped the bites with it. Stinging is better than itching in my book.

Six days later, the bites were healing up, and not itching nearly so intensely. I decided to go for a run, and didn’t want to go back in the woods. I went to my grandfather’s farm and ran along the driveway – it’s a 1/3 of a mile loop, so makes a great place to track time and distance. Since no one lives there now, the mowing is not done quite as regularly as it maybe should be…You know where this is going, don’t you?

More  *^!@!! seed ticks. Not nearly so many this time, but my poor feet are covered in scabs and bites. It’s really horrible – and it reminds me of marketing.

If I have ONE itchy bite, it’s not so awful, just like sending out one marketing query or making one cold call is not so terrible. But 400 (that is not an exaggeration) itchy bites is physical torture in the way that the prospect of having to make 400 cold calls or send out 400 queries is mental torture. Unhappily, there is no way to prevent a seed tick infestation other than staying out of the woods (or dowsing yourself in poison, but I don’t like to do that). But, you can avoid marketing overwhelm fairly easily.

Schedule in a minimum number of calls or emails a day. It really is that easy. Just don’t go to bed until you’ve hit your marketing target. That’s my simple system, and most of the time, it works. Do you have a system to keep you from avoiding the tiny tasks that quickly pile up in your business? Even if you don’t have to do marketing, you probably have some similar thing that can quickly overtake your whole world if you don’t handle it.

Oh, and the common denominator between seed ticks and marketing? They both suck. (I itch everywhere. Forgive my bad joke.)

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How To Keep Working When Tragedy Touches You

Have you seen the documentary Alone in the Wilderness? Sometimes, I wish that I had the skills and knowledge to live like Dick Proenneke. Living completely alone would eliminate so much of the angst and pain that we are faced with almost everyday. Of course, it would eliminate the joys that we can offer one another, too. Being a member of society, or even just a member of a family, means experiencing moments of the most amazing elation, but also the darkest despair. Recently my life was touched by a tragedy. It’s not my story to tell, so I will not share the details here, but I will say that it has been one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever faced.

People get sick. People get hurt. People die. Spouses leave, children suffer, and all manner of other awful things happen. When presented with something terrible, huge, and life-altering we have to figure out how to keep doing the mundane, day-to-day things. When simply remembering to eat becomes a challenge, then doing something as complex as running a business or fulfilling the necessary duties of your job become Herculean tasks.

Yet, the bills must still get paid.

How do you keep working when you cannot concentrate on anything? How do you continue to function in a professional manner when you don’t even want to bathe?

First, it’s important to be prepared for a bad situation before it happens. Like having a small savings account, putting a few safeguards in place can save your business if you are faced with the worst. I’m not talking so much about money, as about processes and systems. When your mind is scattered, it is easier to lose things, or forget to do things. If you have solid systems in place, you have a little less to remember. Taking a just a bit of time when things are normal to get some automated systems set up really pays off when your world turns upside down.

Last tax season, my wonderful accountant recommended Wave Accounting. It’s a free service, and it’s great – unlike many free services, even the support is good. Although I’m sure I’m not using it exactly correctly, Wave sure has made my invoicing and income and expenditure tracking processes easier. My Wave account links to my business checking account, which simplifies things even more.

Knowing that I didn’t need to worry about accounting during the last three weeks has been good. That kind of stuff is too sensitive to do when you know your mind isn’t working quite right.

Another thing that I learned through this recent bad time was that you should carefully choose who you talk to about your personal stuff. When you are overwhelmed by tragedy, it’s hard to not tell people what is happening. It fills you up and dominates everything. Most of my clients are quite close – I probably take the whole “relationship marketing” thing too far. It definitely would have been hard to avoid telling at least a couple of them what was happening because they would have sensed some weirdness, or maybe even perceived me as being rude.

Interestingly, I found that it was uncomfortable, and I wished that I had not shared. Talking to the people who did not know was a relief. There was no need to discuss it, and so those conversations provided some respite. After the first terrible few days, I found that sitting down and doing research actually helped calm my mind and served as a sort of mini-mental-vacation. If I had very pressing deadlines, though, I don’t think that would have been the case. I try to work mostly with clients who are not rushed, and that was a huge benefit in dealing with personal upheaval.

Enormous events impact every part of your life. During the last two-three weeks, I didn’t work consistently, eat properly, or exercise. The house got messy and the garden was neglected. In other words the things that keep my life (and my personality) balanced and sane didn’t happen.  Making yourself do normal things is a good reminder that, no matter what bad things are happening, the world is still there, and time is still passing. Depending on your situation, it may feel as if the world has shifted and things shouldn’t be as they always have been. Sometimes it feels like there should have been some sort of fundamental change, like the pull of gravity has doubled or like the sun’s rays have diminished in intensity.

Knowing that is not the case can be either comforting or stunning, depending on the bent of your personality, or the extent of your tragedy. For me, finding some semblance of routine was comforting, and I suspect that is the case for lots of people. Remembering that each of us is one of many and that all of us face unbelievably difficult personal trials can bring a clearer, easier-to-handle perspective. Yesterday was the first day that I forced myself to do some of the things that help me feel okay about the world – and doing them did, indeed, help me feel better.

The enormous importance of kindness is most obvious during times tribulation. There is no kind act that is too small, and no kind word that is unimportant. If you feel the urge to express some sort of goodwill to a fellow human, please do so. You never know what it might mean to someone experiencing difficulty. I don’t often throw out quotes, but these three seem to fit:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”   —Plato

“Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”   —George Sand

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”   —Mother Teresa

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Locking Up the Ice: A Tale of Grumpiness & Customer Alienation

Living in a small community means you often know things about strangers’ lives: who he’s related to, where she works, who her kids hang out with, where else he has worked, and a myriad other odd details. At the same time, you might not really know that person – around here people say, “I know of him.”

My family knew of one man who was a Dollar General cashier. He had another job as well. All four of us had a positive impression of him. He was always friendly and particularly polite. We even know that he lives on our street because we see his truck at a house about a mile away from ours. When we heard that he was fired from his second job for being rude, we were really surprised. We felt it was probably unfair. After awhile, he didn’t work at the Dollar General anymore, but showed up in the convenient store across the street. Again, we felt bad for the guy. He was clearly a hard worker, and willing to do whatever he needed to in order to have a job. Third shift in a convenient store can be a tough gig.

Then, one night, we were headed out of town and needed a bag of ice. We stopped at the store and the friendly cashier was working.

There was a group of teenage boys in line in front of my husband, who really just needed the key to the ice chest (really? people steal ice? geez.). My husband asked for the key. The nice man we thought so well of suddenly turned rude. He refused to give my husband the key, and acted like we were going to steal the ice.

Maybe he was afraid he would get in trouble for just handing over the key. Maybe he was worried about the group of teenagers stealing something. Regardless, he didn’t have to be rude. But he was. It ended up taking over 15 minutes for us to buy a $2 bag of ice, and we felt like suspects or something.

That one interaction changed everything we thought about this person. Now instead of saying “the nice cashier who lives down the street,” we say “that weird guy who used to work at the Dollar Store.” After hundreds of positive encounters, this ONE ugly one wiped away our good feelings toward this man. It didn’t have anything to do with customer service, although it was a bad experience on that level, too. What I’m talking about is much more personal.

Now when we run into this guy, or he is our cashier, we feel wary. We don’t know what to expect. Will he be nice? Will he imply we are thieves? How is he feeling that day?

It amazes me that one bad experience can outweigh hundreds of good ones. But, since the night we bought ice, I’ve observed the same sort of thing with other people – you think you have a comfortable – if shallow – relationship with them, then all of a sudden, things aren’t so comfortable.

As the owner of a small business, I’m finding an especially important lesson in these observations. Everyone has “off” days when we are maybe snippier than we realize. It’s scary to think that on one of those not-so-fabulous days I might unwittingly change how a long-term client views me and my business. Some client relationships take months or even years to build, and while I hope that after that much time, both parties would be a little more lenient with judgement, you never know.

Of course, I work hard to make sure my relationships with clients go a little deeper than my relationships with cashiers who work at stores nearby. But in one way it doesn’t really matter. A bad interaction can color the relationship, making it so that either party is looking for the negatives – and that is bad for a service provider who bases her prices partly on providing outstanding overall service.

I’m not sure there is a way to guard against coming across rougher than you intend to once in a while. The best we can do is try to understand when someone else does so in the hopes others will do the same for us. I’m going to try to think of the “weird guy” as a “nice guy” again, and just imagine that he was having a bad day and that he didn’t really think we would steal the ice.

Have you ever had one incident change the nature of a sales or customer oriented relationship?

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Doing It Anyway, Dammit

Yesterday, I decided to go for a run. The weather was perfect, I had a handy-dandy, new pedometer to measure distance and an excuse to be down town, near the river park, which is perfect for running. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Things went badly from the start.

 

First, I am currently covered in hives. If you’ve never had hives, add that to your list of shit you’re grateful for. Because, whether you know it or not, you are glad you’ve never had hives. The hives began appearing last Thursday or Friday, in their normal spot on my chin. I wasn’t worried until one of them began to grow and showed no signs of letting up. It would have been smart to start taking Benedryl at this point, but noooooo….. The nasty little blisters spread up my face next. I thought it was just a slightly worse case of the itchies than usual. Silly dava.

 

Next they spread down the other side of my face, behind my ears, on my scalp and down my chest. Then one of my eyes started itching and I started to worry. A hive in the eye? No, thanks! By Sunday night, I was scratching like crazy woman, and FINALLY decided it would be prudent to take some Benedryl. Duh.

 

The hives are part of an allergic reaction. I have no idea to what, but usually they appear in May and I think either privet or Bradford pear blooms are the culprit. This is the first time they have shown up in the fall. Besides hives, I also get an upset stomach, the shakes, endless headaches and mild heart “flutters” as my grandfather (who has the same sort of problems) says.

 

Deciding to go for a run wasn’t an earth shaking decision, but I did have to think about it. I had no idea if sweat would make the hives worse or if I would get all shaky and sick somewhere in the middle. Besides being hivey, I was overdressed. I live on a mountain and it was much cooler at home than in the valley. Then, my brand-spanking-new pedometer didn’t work. It said I had only gone 2 miles after an hour, less than half my normal pace. Just to top it off, my shoes made blisters at the base of my big toe on both feet.

 

It was miserable. By the time I got home, all I wanted was another dose of Benedryl to stop the headache.

 

Still, I was glad I went. It’s so easy to just not do something when you have an excuse like hives or headaches. But then, after you don’t do whatever it is, you feel bad about it, like a slacker. Feeling like a slacker in addition to itching all over really is the definition of misery! Regardless of the goal, doing something to get closer to it helps, even if you aren’t in the mood at that moment.

 

You might not feel better about it immediately, but you will later. You’ll look back and think, “Wow. I’m glad I made those 50 cold calls! I wouldn’t have these 4 new clients if I hadn’t.”

 

Have you ever done something you needed to do, even if the circumstances were less than ideal? Were you eventually glad you did, or did it backfire for you? 

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A Lost Dog Story

Several months ago, my daughter’s beloved Dachshund  died. Her name was Babe and she and my daughter were best friends. Babe was supposed to have been my dog, but it was love at first sight for Babe and Stevie. We were never sure exactly how old Babe was because she was given to us by a friend, who got her from someone else, who’d gotten her from an old lady, who’d gotten her from the pound.

 

Babe was always a stinky dog, and she got stinkier with age. It took me years to house train her, and even then she hated to go outside if it was cold or rainy. In other words, she was quite a lot of work. She was worth it though, because she was loyal and sweet. Babe lived with us for about 12 years.

 

Stevie, of course, was devastated. She almost immediately started reading ads on craigslist, saying that she didn’t really want another dog, but liked reading the ads and looking at the pictures. Her younger sister, Jodi, was sure that Stevie needed another dog right away, so she also started reading classifieds and breed descriptions and thinking about what kind of dog Stevie should have.

 

Eventually, of course, they read an ad they couldn’t resist because they are soft-hearted teenage girls. It was an ad for a poodle that had been rescued. They decided to just “go check it out.” Right. They came home with the funniest looking poodle I have ever seen. She was mostly blond, with a black tail, black ears and just enough black on her nose to make it look huge. The rescuer had been calling her Dawn and Stevie promptly renamed her Sparkles, which she answered to immediately.

 

Sparkles didn’t have any teeth, and had apparently never had too much affection. I petted her a little and she became very attached – like wouldn’t get more than about a foot away from me. At first, I tried to ignore her, in the hopes she would become attached to Stevie, but Stevie is rarely home and left for Bonnaroo a week after bringing Sparkles home.

 

So Sparkles became my dog. I’ve had lots of dogs, but never one who was quite so attached as Sparkles. She cried when I left the house and slept by the door until I came back home. She slept under my desk all day and sat with me in the evenings. One day, she got covered in grass trimmings and was completely green because she followed me while I was weed-eating. When she went out she usually walked to the driveway, did her business and came back to the door. She didn’t seem to have any desire to run around and explore.

 

Yesterday, my husband came home for lunch and let her out, (I didn’t realize she was outside) and we haven’t seen her since. I’m sure that she wandered down the driveway, then got lost and confused. I’ve walked up and down the road looking for her and have asked a couple of neighbors if they saw here, and still have some hope that we will find her. She couldn’t have gotten too far. We will post lost dog signs this afternoon and ask the rest of the neighbors if they have seen her.

 

Thinking about Sparkles wandering around in the world lost got me to thinking about being lost – and finding your way – in all sorts of situations. Whether you are lost in life, lost for a minute, or you’ve lost direction professionally, just the sensation of not knowing the way is scary. (Poor Sparkles!)

 

If you are feeling lost in your business it is especially scary because (usually) your business is your livelihood. Plus, you want to appear confident to your clients, customers and competitors, right? You don’t want the world to know you’re lost. So, you try to hold your head up with a bright, happy smile and at least try to appearto know where you are going.

 

Sometimes projecting confidence is all it takes to get you headed in the right direction. Sometimes you need a map – a to do list or a business plan or an evaluation by a professional – to help you find your way. The important thing is to acknowledge your lost feeling, then do something about it. If you let yourself get too far off track, you might not find your way back.

 

I find that constant evaluation works best for me. Setting up a plan, then revisiting every month or quarter simply doesn’t work. I need to look at it everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, and ask myself, “Is what you are doing right now part of the plan? Are you getting closer to your goals?” Other people are able to head in the general right direction and get where they want to be without such rigid adherence to a written plan.

 

I need to go now, and make some signs that might help Sparkles find her way home, but I’d love to know: What do you do when you feel lost? Are you a go-with-the-flow kind of person or do you need a set of accurate directions?

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Showing Up, Even If You Don’t Want To

When I was teaching, we went on professional development retreats each year. These events weren’t lavish or luxurious, but we did go to a hotel in a park in a beautiful setting and have professional speakers come talk to us about various topics. It meant a weekend away from home, at the very end of summer, and I hated them.

 

I hated leaving my family for a weekend. I hated having to be my professional self (I always called “teacher dava” Mrs. Stewart and thought of her as an entirely different person that “regular dava”) for a whole weekend. I hated the idea of how much such a retreat must have cost, especially when compared to my annual salary.

 

But usually, the reality of the retreat wasn’t so bad. The speakers were always interesting and it was good to get excited about getting back in the classroom. It was useful to learn more about my profession. Getting to know my co-workers a little better created better understanding and made working together a little more comfortable. It wasn’t so bad.

 

The experience of having been a teacher helps me to be a better business owner. Just like I showed up on those retreats even though I didn’t want to, I sit down at my desk everyday and write for my clients, even when I don’t want to. It goes beyond simply having a good work ethic. One of the biggest complaints the teachers made about the retreat was that they felt the time would be better spent creating lesson plans or painting classrooms. Working wasn’t the problem. Showing up to do something we didn’t want to do was the problem.

 

There are parts of every job that are less fun or less interesting, but that still must be done. The odd thing is that we dread some of them so much, but then end up enjoying doing them. One task that writers often feel this way about is invoicing. Personally, I dread it and put it off until we are facing certain financial doom unless I do it, but then feel so happy and efficient when it’s done.

 

Today I am issuing a challenge: choose one task that you have absolutely been dreading – maybe some marketing, making a call you aren’t looking forward to, paying a bill, whatever – and do it. Then notice how you feel about it and let us know in the comments. (I’m going to feel like an idiot if no one does this so please, save me some embarrassment and make something up if you must.)

 

The task I was dreading? It was writing this post. I’ve been putting it off all week because writing here, in a personal way, as dava, is becoming increasingly difficult. Sometimes it feels like the more I write for others, the harder it is to identify my own voice and my own style. Now I feel better, though, just for showing up, even when I didn’t feel like it.

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