Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lessons from spring break

It's great to take a break, especially a spring break with your kids. I'm blessed that all four of mine were together this year, for our last family spring break. I say the last, because my oldest is headed to college next year and the breaks don't line up. To say that having him around for 17 spring breaks and then thinking about his impending absence put an added poignancy to this break, would be an understatement. I have found myself sighing a lot more than usual, that's for sure.

His future is exciting. The roots we've provided have given him the wings he needs to select a university across the country from home. And that's what parents give their children - roots and wings.

In business, it's much the same. We nurture our employees and their dreams, and when they decide to move on, we applaud. We nurture our services and products and then release them to the world. The future success of our businesses - and the true happiness in our lives - comes from our ability to let go in order to grow.

And it's much the same with our children. It's not easy, but when they are ready it becomes our time to let go and watch them grow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Branding Your Work Space

Whether others see your office or not, I always recommend that your office be a reflection of you and your personal brand. It should be comfy, functional and stimulating. If you are a messy person by nature, that’s OK; just don’t let the mess overwhelm you.

To begin, have a sense and direction of your personal brand, and then begin thinking how you will translate that into the décor of your room. Use the five senses.

Start by painting the walls. Display some of your favorite things on the shelves and walls that surround you. These items will inspire you. And that will make you more productive and energized. Then, work with smell. What would you like your office and brand to smell like? Fresh linen, raspberries, spice? Choose a smell that will stimulate the senses and awaken your imagination. Keep moving through the five senses until you have created a room that suits you.

Remember, your home office is part of your environment, which in turn is part of your brand. Consequently, determining the look and feel of your physical office space is critical. Now, get creative and make it happen!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My day started with a call from a "private" number . . .

I almost ignored the call, as I'd just dropped off the kids and hurrying to get ready for work.
"Is this K-eye-rah?" asked a deep, male voice.
Accustomed to the name-slaughter, telephone soliciter, I almost hung up but answered warily, "Yah."
"I'm with Huntington Bank and I'm calling to check a charge billed to your debit card. Can you give me your last four digits of your Social Security number to verify your identity?"
Really? Didn't he just call me?
I'm a smart alec, so I said: "How do I know you're really Huntington Bank?"
He wasn't amused, so I told him my numbers and he told me The Bank is worried about a charge of $7 for Hearst Magazines, a charge made last night. Hmm. I tell him, I love magazines, but I didn't subscribe to any in the middle of the night last night.
Ah, that's what we thought, he deadpanned, and said he was going to transfer me to customer service.
Really? After being on hold for a couple of minutes, and getting increasingly antsy stuck on a non-portable phone at my house, finally a woman came on the line and said we'd have to file a something or other, and I would need to go to the closest branch immediately with I.D. and take the case number she was going to spit out for me.
This seemed to be a lot of scrambling for $7, so I asked what was going on.
"Well, were you one of our customers who received the green notification slip in with a new card?" she asked.
"Yep," I said. "I didn't read it closely but something about you would be watching my card and here was a new one for my protection. That was nice." I figured I'd shopped online someplace not secure and, at the time, felt guilty and glad they sent me the new card.
"Well, ma'am, a company our bank does business with had their security compromised, and oh, look here, someone has just tried to charge a $4,000.00 hotel room in France to your card," she said. "They start small and move up. Just good we caught this for you."
Now, I was getting mad. "Hundreds of people are affected by this?"
"Oh, at least," she answered.
"But all you did was send me a new card, and imply it was my fault," I said. "And now, my number is in France, and buying magazines, and I have to go to the branch immediately?"
"Crazy isn't it," she agreed, or something like that. "Here is your case number, you'll need to take it with you. You should probably go on over today, as soon as possible really."

Call me crazy, but shouldn't my bank take responsibility for this mess? Instead of sending an elusive green bill stuffer slip inside a new credit card implying my security compromise had been my fault, and stating don't worry, we're watching, shouldn't The Bank simply say: It's our fault. We picked a new vendor. Here's a new card. If anything happens, we'll handle it.

I'd already had to update all of my auto-pay, and type accounts with my new debit card number last week, and now, today I spent another hour after the call on this at the branch and back - of course it was a 3 page form, that I had to have the Case Number, my Card Number, my former card number to complete. Oh, and I had to show I.D.

In times like these, you need to be thankful for every customer you have. Treat them openly and value the relationship. In this case, transparency was only one-way - my bank was seeing into my life, watching me, knew it had screwed up, and was waiting for the other shoe to fall. It did this morning. But me? I was clueless and sent scrambling. Perhaps a stronger letter to me? An offer to update my online accounts with the new number? A warning on the website about a security breach may have scared folks not affected, but more than a bill stuffer should have been employed.

This just isn't a great way to make a customer feel.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Get your Daily Dose of Laughter

As a mother of four and full-time business woman, I understand the pressures moms face. Unfortunately, many women have accepted that stress has become part of their daily lives and are finding it harder and harder to relax.

Prolonged and increased levels of stress not only affect our home lives, they also affect our health. Our bodies are well adapted to dealing with short-term stress, but prolonged stress can cause serious health problems. Your stress levels can affect your nervous, respiratory, reproductive and immune systems.

To help reduce your stress and make life more enjoyable for everyone in your home, I recommend laughter. We all can benefit from a healthy daily dose. Research shows that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones, stimulates the immune system and helps you connect with others. What a perk!

Best of all, if you have kids, they should keep you laughing on a daily basis. Kids are masters at this, as they haven’t yet been infected with adulthood. My advice is to loosen up, try to lighten your daily load by enlisting the help of your husband, kids and others. No one—not even you—can do it alone.

So to help start you on your way, here is a video clip that always makes me laugh.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Too many business ideas? Find it within.

Are you a dreamer? Do you dream of owning your a business one day, but don’t know what type of business to start? Or do you have too many business ideas?

My advice is to follow your passions. What are the things in your life that make you wake up in the morning and smile? If you’re not sure what they are, or if you’re having trouble fitting the passion with the business, take some time for introspection. Get away from it all! Spend some time alone so you can think deeply about it.

During your time of introspection, think about your past. Take the obstacles in your life that you have overcome and reflect on them. Use those challenges and successes as an outline of what to do and not to do in your business. I have also found that writing your life story helps. Limit your story to 500 words or two pages. What events from your past are most important to you? Write out those moments and key realizations for each moment, then move on to the next.

After reflecting on your past, choose one word that defines you. Keep it to one. Then think about the people you admire—your heroes and heroines. What are the characteristics in these people that you admire the most? These exercises should get the creative juices flowing, and before long, you’ll uncover the business idea of your dreams.

When making that final decision, make sure you go with your gut. Your decision should be one that you are confident and passionate about.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid! If entrepreneurship is something you really want, then you can’t be scared to go for it! Remember, you have created a strong and confident brand. You and your brand can handle anything that comes your way.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Share the Spotlight

I was recently at a company meeting and realized only the department heads took center stage. They covered a lot of great info, but it got boring. Face it: People just stop listening after so many PowerPoint slides. It would've been so much nicer to see some new faces. All of their team members were in the back, and only one leader gave a shout-out to her team.

Whether you're having a sales rally or a client meeting, make sure to include your team. They work hard for you, so share the spotlight. It will break up the monotony of the formal presentation and introduce your audience to other key players who make your business go round while building camaraderie.

With employees, it's the little things that count. The small gesture of inviting them to the stage or saying “thank you for all you do” shows you care and value them.

In a recent study of leadership traits, leaders were asked what they thought employees expected from them. They responded with the ability to: prioritize, strategize, set vision and keep things moving.

When employees responded to what they actually wanted from their leaders, the answers were very different: trust, stability, hope and compassion.

Sharing the spotlight is a simple way to start adding the softer side of business to your company. How have you done this in your business?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The time is now, start your own business today!

It’s never too late to start your own business! Whether you are 28 or 72, if you are passionate about business, you will succeed.

As the baby boomer generation grows older, it is more common to see that those approaching retiring age are not emotionally ready to do so. Every 60 seconds, a woman starts a business, and a large percentage of those women are over the age of 50. Many of these women have a productive career behind them, years of knowledge packed away and still dream of running their own business. And there are not limitations on making your dreams come true.

I tell people all the time that it’s never too early or too late to create their personal brand. Everything you’ve done up to this point has prepared you for entrepreneurship, and you are uniquely qualified to make your dreams and your passions come to life. Along the way, you’ve acquired wisdom and experience. Sure there have been setbacks, but you’ve moved ahead with great strides. In short, you’ve learned from a wide variety of experiences that will benefit you greatly in the days to come.

So, I say start defining your personal brand today. Then take it, along with the experience, insight and confidence you’ve gained in the process, and begin the next chapter of your career with gusto.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

When it's time to say good bye

You work hard. You create an unstoppable team. You build your culture, you nurture each other and together you grow. But eventually, almost without exception unless you make her a business partner, some of your most valuable team members will chose to leave, to spread their wings and become business owners themselves or join other companies promising more opportunity.

It's the type of entrepreneurial spirit you hope to foster in your company, and model for those around you. But it still makes you just as sad when a treasured team member tells you she's taking the plunge.

Trust me. I know. It happened again yesterday morning. On top of the fact that it was Monday morning, and five degrees outside, as soon as she walked in my door, I knew what was coming and it wouldn't be good for me. But it's great news for her. She's starting a business, the business of her dreams. After six years under my wing, she's flying the nest. Hopefully I've given her strong roots in the world of business and now she's ready to fly.

The measure of a successful entrepreneur is how many people she impacts in a positive way - and by how her legacy is spread and supported by the people she's nurtured and grown along the way. In our business, real estate, we've had four rounds of layoffs. Each person we've had to let go hurts and leaves a hole in the culture of our business. It's the same, too, when someone chooses to move on.

It's never easy to say good bye - whether it's because of a financial necessity or because an employee decides to move on. When days like this happen to you - and they do and they are - remind yourself of the strength of your personal brand. About the things you are passionate about, and what has made you proudest as you mentored your team member who is moving on. Tell her how special she is, and how she has changed your life. Never be upset because she's found her wings. There is room in the sky for everyone to soar.

And then always, always, give yourself a hug and know it's going to be OK. Your personal brand is growing stronger everyday. Especially now, through the tears of good bye, if you allow it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A mother’s work is never done. Just remember to slow down.

With endless days filled with meetings, luncheons, doctor’s appointments and kids’ activities,it’s hard to cram everything I do into a 24-hour period. It is no wonder working moms feel overwhelmed.

Mothers across the country are reaching out and starting support groups and communities. On an episode of Oprah, An Overwhelmed Mom’s Deadly Mistake, a grieving mother, Brenda Slaby, spoke about her unfortunate accident that she described as her “wake-up call to slow down”. In trying to be everything to everybody, she lost her daughter. Slaby chose to speak out about the tragic event because she wants to share her knowledge with others. She doesn’t want other moms to live through the same tragedy. To hear more about her story, go to

So in order to slow down, don’t go it alone—and ask for help. While it’s easier said than done, if you’re trying to do it all—without the help of your spouse, kids, friends and co-workers—you won’t survive. Women are notorious for trying to do it all. But life moves at an accelerated pace, and frankly, it’s impossible to do it all alone. Asking for help is a sign of strength and confidence.

So, the next time you’re trying to balance life and work, stop, take a breath and ask for some help. Those who support and understand your dreams and passions will be there to assist you. Working moms are amazing women!

And in the words of Slaby, “the house doesn’t matter, the perfect dinner doesn’t matter—the kids matter.”