Are you an Empathy Hijacker?

“We can relate to people without hijacking the conversation” Communication expert Sharon Steed.

Sharon and I connected recently as we were both on an empathy panel together. I’m in love with her work transforming company culture with empathy. She has a great LinkedIn course about communicating with more empathy as well, and that’s where I got this insightful quote.

People often assume that sharing similar experiences with someone is empathy. Not quite. Empathy is more about listening and sitting with someone to see things from their point of view. Unless asked, it’s not about you hijacking the conversation and making it about you. 

You know you’re doing this if you ever tell someone: “I know how you feel, when this happened to me, I…..”

I say this with love, because I think we all (myself included) do this in an effort to show people we understand them. It’s our way of active listening and our intention is to make others not feel so alone. So I get it.

During my long recovery from a ruptured brain aneurysm, and even today, as I struggle with life-long cognitive impairments as a result, well-intentioned people do this all the time:

“You have to write everything down? Oh my gosh, I forget things all the time, too. You’re just getting older like the rest of us!”

“Wow, now you know how I feel, not remembering dates and faces.”

“I have bad short-term memory too – it must just be mommy brain!”

All of these are well-intentioned attempts to connect. But all this does is diminish another person’s pain and experience. For me, when someone says this, it negates everything I went through, all the therapy, education, and struggle, as if it’s no big deal. 

Somewhere along the line, we mistakenly learned that sharing your own similar experience was empathy. It’s not. (Tweet This!)

Empathy is about perspective taking, information gathering, and actively listening. It’s about acknowledging another person’s experience. Yes, where appropriate one can share lessons learned or how they got through something, but the initial sharing is not the time. Just be patient. Give the person room to process and share first before you dive in with wisdom or advice.

Your response is about you, not the other person. You want to feel more comfortable, or “fix” things for the other person. That is not what they need. They need to feel heard.

You can understand someone without hijacking the conversation.

Sharon also shared this gem in her LinkedIn course: “Patience means slowing down your response to judgement. Without patience, there is no empathy” (Tweet This!)

When someone is sharing their experiences, here are 4 things you can say instead:

  1. Tell me more…
  2. Wow, that must have been a lot to go through. How does it make you feel?
  3. What I hear you saying is… that right or do you want to share more? I’d love to understand more.
  4. How can I help?/What support do you think you might need?

Got more? Tweet me @redslice or DM me on Instagram @redslicemaria

Photo Credit: Jude Beck via Unsplash

How to Set Boundaries…and Break Them.

We’re always talking about boundaries.

How to set them.

How to think outside of them.

How to break them.

So which is it? Set them or smash them?

It’s both.

Setting boundaries is key to getting more done. When you know who you are, and what needs doing, you can focus. And that means saying no to the wrong opportunities, clients, relationships that don’t serve your purpose.

Setting boundaries enables you to go after the life you want.

But….we also can’t let boundaries box us in!

Setting a boundary that cars can’t cross the double yellow lines in traffic saves lives.

But, setting a boundary that you can’t go talk to that VP you really admire because that’s just not the way we do things around here helps no one.

To make change, invent, or ignite, we have to question certain boundaries. We have to cross them and see what’s on the other side. It could be better. If boundaries exist around people, or your work, or heck, your dreams – you owe it to yourself to step through. 

How do we reconcile setting boundaries with smashing them?

We must ask: Is it a healthy boundary? If I set my schedule to get offline at 4 pm so I can pick up my son from school and spend time with him, that serves me. That is something that energizes me, gives me quality family time, and enables me to come back stronger and recharhed for my clients the next day.

But if I put up a boundary around becoming friends with my clients, who does that serve? I want to work with people I enjoy, and people I enjoy often become friends. You can dance the line between work and personal if you’re just open and honest. This also is true for corporate types. Some say, “Keep your personal life out of your work.” Which is true, to some extent, but it doesn’t  mean we have to keep your humanity out of your work! You don’t park it at the door.

Get to know your work colleagues. Understand their lives. Check in. Then, when it comes time to collaborate, innovate, or invent, there is trust there. There is mutual understanding of each other’s lives outside of work. You can understand where someone is coming from, and build from there. It doesn’t serve you to set this boundary because it stops you from collaborating and  effectively with and trusting each other. 

When I was in corporate, I did my best work with a team of people I was close to. People I would work with all day and then go out for drinks with at night. We trusted each other. We could brainstorm crazy ideas without fear and create amazing marketing campaigns. We could adapt quickly when things went wrong during a global roadshow and trust each other to get someone to the airport on a moment’s notice. We had each other’s backs. We got each other through and delivered amazing work.

When you are pulled into creating a boundary, be sure it’s one that serves you. (Tweet This!)

That makes you and your work better, not worse.

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Traffic or Referrals?

Heavy city traffic - Do you invest in traffic or referrals?

When it comes to the primary method for attracting new clients or customers, small businesses and entrepreneurs fall into two camps:

  1. They rely on website traffic.
  2. They rely on referrals.

Neither strategy is right or wrong. You just need to be clear on what is your strategy so you can invest your time and money into the right activities.

Online shops, of course, rely on website traffic. They need as many of the right people knowing about and coming to their site as possible to make their sales. But this strategy also benefits coaches or consultants with online courses or speakers and authors needing to build a platform. These are the folks you also see investing heavily in social media ads. (Sidenote: while I was never someone who bought from online or social media ads, I have to admit that Instagram ads finally got me. I regularly buy from brands I’ve never heard of before after seeing just one compelling video ad!)

Certain consultants and B2B marketers, however, rely more upon referrals. I’m one of those people. People may not buy such high-touch, high-priced offerings from their site, so they double-down on referral efforts. This includes actively reaching out to their networks or existing fan base, consistently asking for client testimonials and spending their time providing compelling content for those audiences to constantly stay top of mine.

You must understand your primary sales lead channel in order to invest in the right marketing. (TWEET THIS!)

Some resources for you:

If you’re focused on driving online traffic, I highly recommend you check out Devani Freeman for Facebook and Instagram presence-building and campaigns. Amy Landino for video marketing strategy to build a YouTube presence and drive traffic, or Diamond and Branch Digital Marketing for all things SEO, digital content strategy and more traffic driving.

Articles you may love:
How to make Facebook and Instagram ads work for your business
5un-ignorable reasons why your business needs a blog
How to do SEO in 5 minutes (really)

The 5 best ways to drive traffic to your website If you’re focused on referrals, I highly recommend you check out relationship and networking and connection expert Michelle Tillis Lederman (she has a new book coming out soon called THE CONNECTOR’S ADVANTAGE – so good!) and LinkedIn guru Sandy Jones-Kaminski of Bella Domain. I also highly recommend Leah Neaderthal’s course SIGNED to help you create a lead generation process and really work your referral base (If you’re interested in an intro to Leah AND a special discount code for this course, contact me!)

Articles you may love:
6 ways to spread the word about your business
Top 5 networking tips from a pro
How to attract quality clients and customers
25 ways to ask for a referral without looking desperate

3 Ways to Leverage Your Contacts for Leads

3 Ways to Leverage Your Contacts - photo of person drawing social media circles on chalkboard

You may think you don’t have enough reach, a big enough email list or enough leads.

But you are actually sitting on a goldmine. And you might be ignoring it.

Recently, I learned the importance of clearly reaching out and communicating your work to people you know. Yes, just took me more than 11 years in business to learn how to be proactive on this! #latebloomer

All of us have networks of former colleagues or clients. All of us have some quantity of people on our email lists, be that 100 or 10,000. All of us are connected to people through social media, especially LinkedIn. You might think some of them can’t help you get more clients and customers, but they can.

This is your lead and referral base. Time to start nurturing it!

Here are 3 ways to leverage your existing network, client base or email list for more leads and revenue opportunities.

  1. Reach Out: This year, I’ve committed to reaching out to 5 contacts. Just a short, sweet note of connection. These could be folks from my corporate life, colleagues I’ve met at business networking events, former clients. People who may or may not need my services right now – but may know someone who does. I’m letting them know what is going on with me and inviting them to coffee or a Zoom call so we can connect and help each other. This is not just about you being selfish: Reconnecting with your network is a great way for you practice generosity and see how you might be of service to them. Remind them that you exist and you may just unlock new business or yourself…or for them.
  2. Tag Emails and Posts with a CTA: This is a technique that works so well for sales coach Leah Neaderthal of Smart Gets Paid. You may have noticed in recent emails or social media posts, I’ll occasionally mention “3 ways I can help” and remind fans about my 90-minute Brand Booster sessions, free private Facebook community they can join for entrepreneurial advice (MOMENTUM for Savvy Entrepreneurs) or DIY digital course for marketing success, MOMENTUM Pro. This has helped kick start folks into action. We are all busy. No one remembers everything you do, so it’s on you to continually remind them! As my good friend and colleague conversion copywriter Betsy Talbot always says, “You have to tell your clients how to buy from you!”
  3. Love Your List: I don’t care how big your email list is. You need to love on them! Quality beats quantity any day.  These are your biggest fans, so make them feel special. Offer exclusive content, provide free trainings, heck, send them an inspiring playlist! Not sure how to love on them? Grab some templates and ideas from CLIENT LOVE, so you can love the fans you’ve got and attract even more. When you love your existing tribe rather than always striving to “collect” new subscribers to clients, you turn them into brand evangelists!

People are busy. They forget about you or what you do. They don’t keep up with every new launch, rebrand or product you have to offer.

Don’t waste your existing network, fans or client base: Remind them you are there and how you can help.

Proactive generosity and connection will always bring you success. (TWEET THIS!)

What Happens When You Don’t Match Your Brand

match BLOG

A friend recently passed along this story about branding gone bad. I thought it was so moving it warranted a blog post.

Last year, this friend-of-a-friend found herself sniffling into a kleenex at the first of many therapy sessions, pouring her heart out on topics like identity and authenticity. This, in and of itself, isn’t particularly noteworthy; many of us have found ourselves on a therapist’s couch.

But her friend was in therapy because of her brand.

See, her funny, ballsy, brassy friend spent almost a decade building a demure, buttoned-up brand. For ten years, her products were featured by Martha Stewart and Oprah and sweater set-types bought her pieces in bulk. She’d attend networking events and people would swarm her, asking for advice about breaking into the industry she didn’t even like. Left to her own devices, she’d live in Levis and t-shirts, eating only buffalo wings and beer.

Instead, she felt she needed to wear heels and dresses, drink $13 cocktails and schmooze with wedding planners. She needed to reign in her swearing and act like she cared about manicures.

When I heard this story, I realized many of you may go through this and it is a recipe for disaster. Her company was successful but she was unstable and unhappy. Every single day, she felt like a fraud.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Her friend went through a year of therapy, eventually shuttered her company, and got a 9-to-5 at a creative agency. These days, she’s living the jeans-wearing, wing-eating dream.

This is a real, life and blood example of what can happen if you build a brand that runs counter to who you are.

And it could happen to any of us! We get caught up following business advice that – while solid – just isn’t right for us. Or we work with a super-talented, slightly pushy designer and end up with a gorgeous website that’s perfect … for someone else.

This can also happen if you work for a company whose values and brand image run counter to what you believe, who you are and what you stand for. And if you own the company? This could be happening to employees you’ve hired who were never the right cultural fit to begin with – and that’s when it starts impacting their productivity and work.

So before you find yourself in a pile of tear-filled Kleenexes or on the therapist’s couch, here are four questions to ask yourself as you brand.

These will help you create or work for a brand that’s true to you.(Tweet this!)

When I look at my site, does it feel like me?

Are the colors ones I wear or use in real life? Do my headshots really look like me? Does my copy include words that I use in my daily life?

If you’re not a particularly buttoned up, corporate person, you needn’t convince the internet that you are. And if you’re a sweet, modest person, don’t let your site paint you as a gregarious extravert.

Just because you work in a traditional industry, doesn’t mean you’re traditional and it doesn’t mean your brand needs to be. Laura Simms is a successful career coach who shares photos of her pet rabbit on Instagram. Danielle LaPorte runs a million dollar business while showcasing her tattoos and dropping the F-bomb. We feel like we know, like, and trust these women because they’re showing us who they really are.

Do the people who know me best think it looks and feels like me?

We all suffer from forest-for-the-trees syndrome from time to time. Ask your partner, your best friend, and maybe your mom to take a look at your online space. What do they think? Does it ring true for them? Or are you nearly unrecognizable?

Of course, you should take every opinion with a grain of salt, but if everyone in your life is confused by your blazer-wearing headshot and your jargon-filled Twitter bio, it might be time to reconsider.

Do I really, actually like providing these services?

There’s a lot of wisdom in creating a scaleable business and leading large workshops – but if you’re an introvert, leading a group might feel like an ill-fitting suit. Likewise, if you don’t like big, on-going projects you might not want to have clients on retainer.

It’s possible to like doing something – writing, design, coding, marketing – but not really enjoy the way you’re delivering those services. Think about how you thrive and how you like to arrange your day and then design offerings accordingly.

Do I feel like I can be myself with my clients, on social media, on my blog?

Do you feel like you can talk about your love of wine? Or crossfit? Or share funny photos of your dog? Can you make a Walking Dead reference or drop the occasional curse word? It’s important that you show and tell your clients who you really are. There’s a 99% chance they’ll love you!

Have you ever struggled with a brand/self disconnect? How did you get past it? Tell me how you dealt with it in the comments!

P.S. Need help fine tuning your brand? I can help with that!

photo by =Nahemoth= // cc

Ouch! 7 ways to deal with criticism

As many of you know, this summer I’m on sabbatical as I take a 5-week summer acting congress with San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), one of the most renowned theaters and actor training/MFA programs in the country. Alumni include Annette Bening,, Denzel Washington, Elizabeth Banks, Anika Noni Rose and countless other working actors whose faces you’ve seen but whose names you may not know. Even Blaine from Glee is a Youth Conservatory graduate.

We are now in our last week and it’s been an amazing experience: creative, intense, exhausting, lively, moving. I have 15 other people in my “company” and we are like a band of brothers, spending sun-up to sundown together, exposing our most vulnerable selves and exploring expression via our voice, bodies and minds as we work to become better storytellers.

Invited to completely let go and try everything out in order to get closer to the true art of acting, we are also naked and exposed. Failures happen. Frustrations mount. And inevitably, we are forced to confront criticism.

Thankfully, our instructors are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. They’ve worked with some of the greats and I take everything they say to heart. Plus, I am the sort  who craves feedback like a sugar addict on a juice cleanse. But sometimes, negative criticism can sting. Especially when you completely put yourself out there – as you do with your business, your art or your work.

So how can you respond? Here are 7 ways you can cope with criticism:

Breathe deeply, open your ears and listen:

Easier said than done, but put aside your indignation for a second, take a deep breath and actively listen to the feedback.  When you feel yourself slipping into your inner monologue of anger and despair – while the person is still talking – focus your mind on the words they are saying. Taking notes while you get this feedback can help you slow down and really hear the feedback so you can improve things for next time around.

Have a good cry:

I don’t recommend doing this while you are actually receiving the criticism for three reasons: One, it prevents you from practicing Tip #1. Two, if they are a nasty person, you don’t want to give them the satisfaction. Three, if this is a professional situation, it can make the critic very uncomfortable and no matter what he or she says, they will always remember you as The Crier. If you must cry (and we’ve all been there), wait until you are alone and let the tears flow. I know this can be hard, especially when you feel wronged or misunderstood, but try. And then once you’re alone, enjoy the cathartic release. Once you clear the pain physically from your body, unclench your muscles and sniffle away the last of the sobs, your mind will be clear enough to play back the feedback and find the gold.

Argue your case:

I don’t recommend this one…and this is coming from someone who has tried on several occasions. First, the person criticizing you may not give a fig what you think and so you are just wasting your breath. Second, getting defensive means you are not taking in what the person is saying to gain any sort of benefit out of it. And third, the person could be a boss, valuable client or a VIP decision maker who can make or break your career and it’s best not to burn bridges. Of course, if someone is stating outright lies, you should defend yourself but do it with facts and have an adult discussion, not a tantrum. Or better yet, as I have done in the past, go away for a bit, consider the criticism and draft a “reply” of sorts, walking the person through your thinking. You may not change their mind, but they (and others who hear about it) will respect you far more for playing it cool. Nothing good happens when you let your temper get the best of you in the moment – trust an Italian redhead on this one, please.

Consider the context:

For all of us in this summer acting program, we understand we are here to learn and the teachers are here to teach. That’s what we’re paying for. If we can’t take criticism along with praise, then what the hell are we all doing? The point of the program is to attempt, finesse and improve, and no one can do this in a vacuum. Same goes if you get negative customer, client or audience feedback. Appreciate that someone is taking the time to tell you how you can make things better and also acknowledge the relationship – you are there to serve them. They have a right to tell you how they think you did. Learn from it and improve for the next time.

Understand the agenda:

Often people criticize in a very blunt and hurtful way and it can be anything but constructive. It just feels like they personally hate you and want to watch you die. This stings the most, especially when you’re not expecting it. But as with the tip above, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture. What’s this person’s angle? Are you a threat? Does keeping you down elevate them? Or maybe this person uses fear and negativity as way to exert power, as a previous manager of mine did. At first she made me so angry, I’d cry (not in front of her – see  #2) When I realized this, I started to take her critiques with a grain of salt, throwing out the crap I thought was her own baggage and taking in what made sense. It actually helped our relationship. Or perhaps the critic has a certain communication style born out of personal tragedy or hurt. Whatever the case, consider the critique’s source and make sure you understand what’s in it for them before you take everything to heart.

Don’t dwell on one bad review:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen great online reviews and received kind emails about my books, but then I let the one Negative Nellie nag at my soul. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it’s JUST ONE OPINION. Instead, look at the aggregate, not the extremes, and see if there are nuggets you can find for delighting people even further next time. Even the casting director we’re working with, who is pretty damn direct with feedback, always adds that this is just her personal aesthetic, and that doesn’t mean other casting directors would have a problem with a piece being performed a certain way. At least we know with her there is absolutely zero B.S. which is powerful and useful to us. If it helps, create a Feel Good folder and put all praise and compliments in that folder. When you find yourself dwelling on that one low presentation score or bad online review, start reading those Feel Good items and snap yourself out of it.

Do something:

If the critique is useful and you’ve considered the source and the context to be valid, I don’t recommend you do nothing with it. Denying all feedback and continuing to do things the same old way is not a recipe for growth. Many people feel most comfortable wrapping themselves up in their cocoon of self-delusion, but try to find the takeaway in what critics offer up. You may find that something you intended did not come across as you’d hoped so you need to be clearer. Or that you overlooked a minor detail that you now understand makes a big difference. In my acting program, I’m learning that the emotions in my head are not always translating into clear viewable actions for the audience. So now I know I have some work to do. See how you can Implement the valid criticism you get into real action steps and make your work/art shine even brighter.

No matter what the situation, always view negative feedback as a chance to improve and grow. Never use it as an excuse to quit. (Tweet!)

I invite you to try one of these the next time you’re slapped with the criticism stick and see what transpires.

Have you ever received negative criticism? How did you react to it? Any good tips or tricks for how you made it work for you? Please share in the Comments…you never know when your experience can help someone else!

The upside of making mistakes….no, really, there is one

Today, a wonderful post from the vivacious Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades, founder of Power Chicks, a networking community for heart-centered women entrepreneurs and rockstars. I loved the lessons in this post so much, I asked her if we could share it. Enjoy!

Mistakes hurt.

Make one, and you get that yucky pit in your stomach. Often, it comes with a smack upside the noggin and a super-sized side of self-doubt.

Weird thing, though. Let those ouchy errors teach you and, amazingly, glitches become guidance. (Tweet this!)


When I expanded Power Chicks from a grassroots group to a business, I hired a consulting company to help me create a profit plan. Theirs was a “we decide the business model, you implement it” approach rather than a collaborative venture pairing their experience with my style.

This match unfortunately (yet logically) mirrored one of my crabbiest, most persistent inner critic’s voice: Other people know what to do better than you do.

Suckered in by Crabby Pants, I began to implement a business plan heaped with hard work, void of what felt easy and good (i.e., my natural talents and skills) and exhausting albeit in an exhilarating way. Pain was gain in my quest for success and the millions of dollars I would soon be making.

After many months of this, I was tired. Really tired. Exhilaration was out. Exhaustion was in.

Without being guided by my own inner strength and intuition, I had lost my way. Not only was the direction for my business one that bored me to tears, I was miserable.


Before I became an entrepreneur, I commuted 3 hours a day to a Fortune 500 company housed in a building called The Tower where I was cloistered in a gray cubical with a beige computer surrounded by pallid yellow walls. (Whew.) I left to create a life I loved.

This was not it.

With angst over thousands of wasted dollars seemingly burned in a bonfire quenched only by buckets of tears (oh, the drama!), I ended the consulting relationship.  With it, I scraped a year’s worth of work.

It took two months of radical self-care and many conversations with colleagues to begin to heal. But with that time came a fresh perspective on what I needed my business to look like.

Sustainable. Wholeheartedly sustainable. That meant money-wise, yes, of course. But viable in a much holistic way: a business congruent with who I am as a powerful woman with my own unique gifts, talents and desires. A business congruent with my energy on all levels — emotionally, mentally, even soulfully. A business congruent with strengths arising from the core of my being.

BAM. What a relief!

I saw where I’d gone wrong — I’d neglected myself to build something based on external input rather than allowing own values and wisdom to support my direction.

Fast forward to today.

Since then, I’ve found mentors who value collaborative planning as I move toward financial sustainability. This is a process, for sure! Yet this pathway is vastly more effective than disconnecting from myself. And when I step out of what deeply matters? Thanks to a commitment to myself and trusted allies to whom I turn again and again, I find my way back to center.

When someone recently asked on Facebook, “How do you stay so completely wholehearted and authentic in business?” my answer came lickety-split.

By making a mistake. (Tweet this!)


Photo credit: Peter Lindberg, Flikr

Do you agree? What is one big (or small) mistake you’ve made with your business, book or project that taught you more than you could ever imagine? Please share in the Comments!

4 powerful business lessons from James Bond and Skyfall

James Bond…entrepreneurial guru?

I recently saw Skyfall,, the latest installment in the Bond franchise and it was incredible. Not normally a Bond fan, I loved Casino Royale, wiped the awful Quantum of Solace from my memory, but thoroughly enjoyed this latest turn. The characters were complex and flawed, the performances brilliant, the pace lively and Daniel Craig does wonders for an expensive suit. I left the theatre like I’d just gotten off a roller coaster. My husband – a native Scotsman – even dared admit, “I have to say that Daniel Craig can now be crowned the best Bond, even better than Connery.” Blasphemy! But very true.

That said, our favorite Secret Agent can also teach us some powerful business lessons. So strap on your Rolex submariner, put on your X-ray sunglasses and climb inside your tricked-out Aston Martin as we review Bond’s best advice:

  1. Stick to the basics: We’ve grown accustomed to Q loading Bond up with spectacular gadgets before each mission. In Skyfall, we watch with delight as Bond confronts his age by meeting the newest Q, a young techie hipster that wouldn’t look out of place at Apple’s Genius Bar.  One assumes Bond will get some sort of iPod mets Kinect device or some Google-developed driverless car. But no: Q simply hands Bond a Walther PPK, which is a small automatic pistol, and a  tiny tracking radio. Even Bond is surprised but it turns out that’s all he needs when in a pinch and Q mocks him by saying something like, “What? Were you expecting another exploding pen?” In our age of the next new shiny object coming out every 5 minutes, it’s easy for entrepreneurs and business owners to forget the basics and get lost in the glitz. But often, it’s the old, simple secrets that make the best weapons for your business success: building your brand strategy before throwing away money on tactics, delighting customers, collaborating in person over coffee, providing quality products/services, delivering what you promise.
  2. There’s always a way through: Many scenes in Skyfall leave viewers thinking, “Oh, he’ll never find a way out of this one!” And then, of course, Bond continues to chase the bad guy onto a moving train, escape an island run by a madman and outsmart an evil mastermind and all his henchmen with just his wits, resourcefulness and resolve. No matter how bleak it seems, no matter how much you think you’d stop running or surrender, Bond shows us that ingenuity can help you see every problem in a fresh way. If you are facing business challenges, step back and look at the issue from another angle. If sales are down, should you offer a new product or service, or adjust your prices? If no one is reading your blog, can you clarify your brand value or find other avenues to promote each post? If prospects don’t know who you are, can you partner with someone else for more exposure? There’s a million ways to look at a problem and a million levers you can pull before you throw in the towel.
  3. Stay calm under pressure: There’s an awesomely sexy scene in Skyfall where Bond crashes into the passenger car of a speeding train. As the surprised onlookers gawk, he maintains his balance, straightens up, adjusts the cuffs on his impeccable suit and proceeds to walk through the train car calmly as he continues chasing his man. That’s grace under pressure.  When things hurtle out of control, customers demand attention and you are juggling 637 things at once, how do you respond? Do you handle everything calmly and get the job done, or do you freak out or run and hide? It’s up to you to tame the chaos and say no to things that prove distracting.
  4. Control the conversation: Towards the film’s climax, Bond realizes he’s constantly one step behind his nemesis. Bond is reacting to, rather than controlling, the conversation. He sets a trap and then lures the baddie to his turf where he can now proactively make the moves he wants to make and keep his enemy off-balance, rather than vice versa. Sometimes, in business, we react to the everyday fires and demands that others are making on us, rather than keeping our eye on the ball and charting a clear course to our mission. We end up slaves to a to-do list, rather than making time to achieve our long-term vision. We need boundaries: not checking email every second, or making sure people know we only return phone calls between 3 and 4 pm, or whatever system works for you. Get your strategy sorted first and work towards that before you let the seemingly urgent but ultimately less important demands on your time take over. Change the conversation to the one you want to have.

Any other business lessons that Bond (or other movie heroes) have taught you? Please share in the Comments below and get some link love back to your site!

Avoid the strong-arm: 3 tips for smarter small business marketing

I’ve been hearing some disturbing stories about Yelp‘s aggressive (and sometimes intidimdating) sales tactics to purchase paid advertising – and recently got to experience it on the phone firsthand on behalf of a local nail salon owner friend. I’m still gathering info about this to approach a WSJ reporter who could investigate these claims further and fairly get Yelp’s side of the story. (PS, if you have a story to share, please email me) Makes me not want to use them anymore, and I used to love them.

One small business owner I know claimed that when she turned the ad sales rep down, he said, “Well, this will destroy your business, you know.” Another story I heard was that someone had signed a year long contract with them – and claims it was the worst mistake he ever made and wished he could get out of the contract.

But since this is all circumstantial, and this is a blog of my own perspectives and opinions (and not an investigative journalism outfit), I wanted to instead share three must-do tips to avoid being strong-armed into making poor marketing choices:

  1. Know your audience: Sounds obvious, but be crystal clear on your target ideal customers. Not just “women” but what age, income? Where are they and what do they do for a living? What do they care about? What are their hobbies and interests? Build this character profile and you stand a much better chance of asking the right questions of advertisers to ensure you’re not wasting your money. (Tweet this!) For example, if your business appeals more to high-income working moms in urban areas, you can avoid spending money on advertising to stay-at-home moms or young teen women, let’s say.
  2. Ask about the ROI:  Ask for references, proof points or statistics. If they say their website traffic is “really good” ask to see a breakdown of unique visitors and where they are coming from.  If they say their other advertisers are seeing great results, ask for case studies or if they will let you speak to at least 3 of them as a reference check. Ask if there is any guarantee on performance or credit given if things underperform – do they provide performance statistics for you? Don’t be afraid to ask an advertiser to prove their claims. (Tweet this!) And make sure if you invest that you do so for a test period and track your sales and visits accordingly. Recently, I placed an ad with HARO and they have not responded to requests to provide click through data on the ad. Lesson learned: I should have done a better job of tracking that myself!
  3. Talk to others: Don’t be afraid to reach out to other local small businesses or others in your field and ask about what they are hearing regarding the outlet. Collaborate with others and don’t pretend you know all the answers. (Tweet this!) This will save your butt and avoid mistakes. For example, if you are part of the local SBA, merchants association or a networking group (even one online), ask others if they’ve invested in what you are considering and what their success has been. One small business owner I talked to shared that a business which could have been perceived as competitive shared his negative Yelp advertising experience with other similar businesses in the area, just to help them avoid the same mistakes. There’s enough to go around, and wee’re all in this together so ask about and share these lessons.

Now, I want to hear from you: Have any other hard-earned tips? And do you have a negative experience to share about Yelp or some other similar outlet? If so, please leave a Comment below (or shoot me an email at if you prefer).

5 quick tips to boost sales around the holidays

The Bermuda Triangle of holidays is almost upon us: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. It can feel like a vortex into which you get sucked against your will and you can’t control the velocity with which you spin widly out of control – until you get unceremoniously spit out the other end on January 2. Often with jetlag, a hangover and an eye-popping credit card bill.

But the holidays can also be a great time to bolster your brand and connect with your customers and clients. Here are 5 quick tips on how you can leverage the festivities to increase sales and delight your audience.

  1. Give Thanks by Giving Back: Donate a portion of sales during Thanksgiving week to a local charity. Collect coats and gloves for a local shelter. Or gather canned goods to give to your local food bank. This increases traffic to your site, encourages a concentrated week of sales, and presents your brand in a fabulous light – not to mention the amazing good it does for your charitable recipient and your Karma. Approach a charity you love and ask them to partner with you by spreading the word to their mailing list or via social media. And heck, pitch the local paper or news about your event for the Community Events calendar.
  2. Turkey Day Dinner Giveaway: Offer a full-on Thanksgiving Day dinner, with all the trimmings, for 8 people as a prize. People can automatically enter if they buy from you within a certain period of time. Of course, this is for catered fixins….unless you really, REALLY like to cook! You can even partner with a local grocery or specialty food store to increase exposure AND get the items donated.
  3. Give Peace a Chance: Create a wine-tasting event or movie night for your customers and prospects by partnering with a competitor or two. Put aside your competitive spirit and exponentially increase exposure for all your audiences. You can even make this event a charitable giving exercise by asking people to bring a donated item or charge a fee that goes 100% to a cause you both support. You can market this really creatively around “Calling a Truce for the Holidays” or something fun like that.  Make T-shirts or giveaways that say “Team Red Slice” or “Team Whatever” and offer games and prizes for some friendly competition.
  4. Countdown to Christmas: Celebrate the 12 days of Christmas by offering a special promotion each day leading up to it. If you’re a store, highlight one special sale item each day, or offer something unique with purchase. If you’re a service business or big on social media, craft a new holiday-themed inspirational quote or trivia contest to share with your audience. This will delight them and encourage people to keep checking back with you  – in your store, on your blog, or on your Facebook page – to see what you’ve got cooking next.
  5. Glitter and Sparkle: If you own a store, throw in giftwrapping for free. If you sell online, offer free shipping for the month of December. If you’re B2B, incent people to sign contracts for work starting in 2013 prior to December 31, 2012 at a special rate so you can stock your sales pipeline for a very happy new year.

What other holiday or seasonal promotions do you recommend? Any you’d like to promote this year? Please Share in the Comments!