If you had asked me a year ago what it was like to own my own business, my description would have been very different from how I would describe it today. I would have told you all of the ins and outs of setting up the business, creating a website, hiring a graphic artist to design my logo, and nailing down who my target market was. I have discovered that when you own your own business, the learning never stops. It seems as though the more I learn, the less I know. But the more I learn about my business, the more I learn about myself. As a business owner, I often find myself coming back to the question, “why?” When you first start your business, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new challenge. I found myself working around the clock. My mind was constantly thinking of new ideas, new strategies. Let me tell you what I have learned over the last year about starting my own business.
My “Why.” I have been blessed with a discerning eye. Typos and spelling errors tend to jump out at me. And when I noticed these errors on a business or doctor’s website, my trust in them immediately went down. I thought of them as less credible. The unfortunate truth is that these mistakes are becoming far too common. Are people not seeing them? Or do they simply not care? I made it my mission to help companies and sole proprietors fix these errors. I knew, as I know with even more conviction today, that correcting typos before the client sees them has an incredible impact. Businesses shouldn’t risk losing a customer based on typos on their website or marketing material. That’s my “why.” I want to have an impact on businesses. I want to help them be their best.
What have I learned in the last year? Excellent customer service can set you apart from everyone else. In fact, most people expect it these days. I know that I compete with computer programs that claim to edit your documents for spelling and grammar. But a computer program can’t write in your desired tone. A computer program can’t make suggestions based on your target audience. A computer program can’t build a lasting relationship with its clients. I can. And I have.
Smile when you’re on the phone. Even if you’re having a rough day, you’re exhausted, or even unsure of what the conversation will lead to, smile. Trust me, the person on the other end can hear it. In fact, make sure you are smiling when you record your outgoing voicemail message. Make a positive impression.
Do it scared. I learned this from Christy Wright’s Business Boutique. Be confident in your abilities and skills. I tell my children that when they find themselves in a nervous situation, be brave. Even if they don’t feel brave, fake it. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never jump. Do you want to know a little secret? You can often fake being brave, and your mind will start to believe you. And then the possibilities are endless. Do it scared.
You won’t jive with every customer, and that’s okay. I had a new client complain that his marketing director didn’t like my writing. He went on to tell me in several paragraphs why he didn’t like it. Talk about a stab to the heart. After I got through the emotions, I took a step back and thought about this. All of my other clients were very pleased with my work. In fact, each of my clients has come to me with repeat business. I decided that as much as I would like to have another client, it wasn’t worth trying to force the relationship. The marketing director would never be happy with my work, and I would be under constant stress trying to meet his expectations. I picked up the phone and explained why we needed to cut ties. That was not an easy conversation to have. I did it scared.
Set realistic boundaries for yourself. You could literally work on or in your business 24/7. And when you work from home, like I do, work tends to follow you everywhere. Know when to close the laptop. Know that it’s okay to tell a client “no.” Be there for your family. Be there physically, and be there emotionally. Be present.
Be yourself. I have struggled with this a little bit. In my mind, I think that most people envision an editor older, hair up in a tight bun, glasses down on the end of her nose, and in a high-collared button-up blouse. I am none of those. Well, I do wear glasses when my contacts come out at night. But they aren’t at the end of my nose. As I have worked on establishing and perfecting my social media presence, I have had to fight with the thoughts of what people expect versus reality. Reality is that I am athletic, determined, an extroverted-introvert (there is such a thing), lover of nature, a mother and wife juggling more than you can imagine, and someone who loves a good laugh. You see, that doesn’t really sound like your typical editor. But I have decided to stick with reality and portray exactly who I am. I firmly believe that God has given me gifts and talents that only I can use in a particular way. They make up who I am. And there is only one me. Just because my hair isn’t up in a tight bun doesn’t mean I can’t compete with the best of ‘em.
Follow up with your clients on a regular basis. Nobody likes to be forgotten. If I find an article that I think a client would find interesting, I send it to them. If I see something on social media that I think would work for their business, I share it. I always send a thank you note after working on a large project with a client. This goes back to the excellent customer service. Remember your clients.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to something out of your scope. When you are starting out, it’s hard to say “no” to potential clients. You are hungry for any sort of business. But don’t get caught in this trap. If the project is out of your scope, it won’t be good for either party. I had a client ask me to edit her 200 page family genealogy book. I was eager for the job and figured if I could edit five pages per night, I could get this done in a reasonable amount of time. Boy was I wrong. I learned that I am not a book editor. I swallowed my pride and decided that I would never accept a job like that in the future.
Never stop learning. My nightstand is piled high of marketing and business strategy books. My phone is full of podcasts that I subscribe to (I have my favorites). And I belong to a group of female entrepreneurs that meets monthly to talk strategy. You will never know it all. I believe you can learn something from every person you meet. Never stop learning.
Never stop networking. I taught a business workshop this year, and one of the key elements we worked on was developing your elevator pitch. You should have your elevator pitch memorized to the point that you can tailor it to any conversation you are having, with any person you meet. Be confident and be proud of the service you offer. After all, you are solving a problem.
Leave space for inspiration and creativity. For me this means getting outside. Running. Training for a race. This means turning off the podcast when I’m at the gym. This means taking the earbuds out to listen, really listen. This means reading a book for fun. I learned the hard way that when you dive too deep into the working and learning that there’s no longer space for creativity and inspiration. And these things are a requirement for owning a business. Stop and listen. You’ll be surprised at what you hear.
Get enough sleep. The amount of sleep is different for everyone. I am a nine hour person. I know, that probably seems absurd. But if I want a clear mind, I have to have my sleep. When I started my business, I was depriving myself of sleep. I felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day. I still feel like that, but I’ve learned that I can’t sacrifice sleep. With more sleep, I am actually able to accomplish more during the day. My mind is sharp. Get your sleep.
When you ask me a year from now what it’s like owning a business, it will probably look very different from today. I hope it does. I hope I continue to learn, change, and develop. I hope that I always remember my “why.” Because, after all, that’s why I started Erin’s Edits in the first place.
It started with just one. And one led to another. Pretty soon I couldn’t stop. You could even call me an addict. A podcast addict. I knew something needed to change when I turned on a podcast to listen to while I brushed my teeth. And even when my Sonicare beeped after two minutes, I would keep brushing, just so I could keep listening. I listened on the treadmill, while washing dishes, folding clothes, and in the car. I couldn’t get enough. How does someone get to this point? It’s simple. When you have a hunger for knowledge, and it’s being offered to you through a fire hose, you don’t know when to quit.
My addiction started with Christy Wright’s Business Boutique podcast. It is excellent, to put it modestly. I have listened to every single episode, some of them more than once. Her expertise on starting and managing a business, coupled with an outpouring of love and motivation, is incredibly encouraging. And Christy is so fun to listen to! Well, one thing led to another, and pretty soon I was listening to Christy Wright’s podcast guests. Donald Miller has become another all-time favorite. I have listened to every single episode of the Storybrand podcast. I found myself listening, stopping the treadmill to make some notes in my phone, and restarting. There was so much to learn. There were so many directions to go. There were so many podcasts I was following. I was so motivated.
But then, something happened. Burn out. My creative juices had run dry. I was exhausted, I mean, really exhausted. My level of overwhelm had reached a new high. I felt like the more I learned, the more I didn’t know. I became paralyzed with decision making.
And then I realized that I needed to change something. I realized that podcasts had taken over my creative space. They had invaded the gym, they invaded my trail runs, they stole my meditation time. Running is where I gain inspiration. Constantly gorging my brain with valuable knowledge had masked my inspiration.
I made two simple changes. First, I turned off the podcasts at the gym and during my runs. Instead, I turned on a Top Dance station, and I let myself get lost in the beat. I let my mind wander where it wanted. Now I run as hard as I can, letting those endorphins pump thoughts into my brain. And sure enough, it has come back. My creativity and motivation is back. I’m back.
The second simple change? I’ve limited myself to only two podcasts (thank you, Christy Wright and Donald Miller). It’s the right balance for me at this point in my life. It’s enough to keep me motivated and to feed my hunger for knowledge. But what’s most important is that I have created space. I’ve created space for reflection and introspection. I’ve created space to breathe.
My name is Erin Lyman. And I am a recovering podcast addict.
I sat at the quaint, kitchen table staring at the exposed-brick wall and then back at my waffles. There was an awkward silence. Chewing, cutting, a drop of the fork. My roommate, Betsy, sat across from me. She put her napkin down and broke the silence, “I’m just going to say it. Erin, when you shower, will you please rinse the soap scum off of the shower curtain? It is driving me crazy!” I was so caught off guard! I turned red. And then I laughed. “I am so sorry! I had no idea. You see, I take my contacts out when I shower. Without them in, I am literally almost blind,” I pleaded. I vowed to never to do it again and to pay more attention.
How many times in our life are we simply unaware of something we are doing? Or not doing? We continue on our path that, unfortunately, bothers someone else. Because they do see it. Think of the newsletters that you send out to clients, or your website that you haven’t carefully looked at in a while. Time after time, typos get missed. You simply don’t see them. You don’t want them in there, you know they shouldn’t be. But you stop seeing them. The problem is that someone else does see them. That someone could have been a potential client. Unlike Betsy, they may not say anything. They may just walk away.
Having your materials professionally edited is like wearing your contacts in the shower. Typos or misprints are found and corrected. Your documents are clean and typo-free after the hassle-free process. You can go on building your business and presenting yourself confidently and professionally.
As my girls’ soccer season comes to an end, I find myself feeling a sense of sadness , a sense of longing to be with the team. As parents, we’ve spent months together, sitting on the sidelines at practice, sharing snacks, talking about school and the weather, trying to keep little siblings occupied. Then at the games, cheering, screaming for our team. Jumping up and down with excitement when one of our girls scores or has an amazing save. High-fiving each other. And then at the end, declaring “good game” no matter if we won or lost. Then there was the championship game. The anticipation, the nerves. The screaming and cheering. The high-fives. And the “what a great season!” I will miss that. Why? To be honest, I don’t even know the names of the other parents. I don’t really know who they are. But we are connected by one common thread. We are a team. And when you spend that much time together fighting for a common purpose, being driven with dedication, you bond. You are strengthened.
Whether it is a soccer team or a work team, find your purpose. Fight for it. Say it out loud and cheer together. Be strengthened. And at the end, amongst high-fives, don’t forget to say, “good game.”
I was interviewing for a management position in a dental office. The interview went well, but I was a little bit surprised when the dentist said that his wife would be taking me out to lunch to meet the other staff members. And he would not be there. We had a casual lunch, sitting on the tall chairs at Applebee’s, eating nachos. I’ve been in similar positions before, knowing that this isn’t just lunch. This is an interview with, not only the staff, but also with the dentist’s wife. I was friendly, confident, and engaging. I was trying hard to be myself and proving that I was likeable and approachable (two very important characteristics of a manager). I really wanted to work there. I was hungry, and not just for the nachos.
The dentist did something really right – he had his staff take me out to lunch. Patrick Lencioni, author of 11 books on leadership and organizational health, explains that interviews these days should be nontraditional. You may still want to use a series of behavioral-based questions (the what is your typical role in a team setting? type), but you need to go beyond that. You need to make sure that you are hiring someone that is humble, hungry, and smart (see How to Hire a Hungry Employee – Part 1). These personality traits don’t always come out in an interview, so you need to do something with them. Take them shopping, or take them to dinner or lunch (like the dentist did). Take them somewhere where they have to interact with people in a social setting. Lencioni says that it’s easy to “fake” an interview and be charming or witty. But to really see how a person behaves in a social situation, you need to put them in one.
Let’s talk more about the interview. Be frank with the candidate. Lencioni says to be up front and say, “This is what I’m looking for.” It is not your job to win them over. Don’t hire out of desperation. You will be surprised at how many people you will weed out when they hear you mention that you need someone willing to work overtime.
If you’ve done a one-on-one interview and have narrowed down your search to a few qualified candidates, Lencioni suggests doing a group interview. Most, if not all, businesses require working as a team and interacting with people. This is a great opportunity to see how they interact with each other in a stressful situation. You will start to see who you would enjoy working with the most, and that can make all the difference.
Does your business require someone with a sense of humor? Work it into your interview process. Maybe it’s a funny (but appropriate) question or requiring them to wear something funny to the interview. This will definitely weed out the people that aren’t comfortable being funny.
If you are still not quite ready to make the leap into hiring an individual, Lencioni recommends hiring them as a temp for one week. This is a paid, working interview. The hungry candidate will gladly accept this offer. And the employer will have first-hand experience at how well the candidate will fit into the organization. I used to require working interviews in the dental office that I managed. It was a great chance to see how the candidate greeted patients, answered phones, interacted with the staff, and stayed organized in a busy environment. I could see if this person was humble, hungry, and smart.
Lastly, Lencioni says not to over-emphasize the quantifiable aspects of the job. You don’t have to, and don’t want to, lure candidates by money. You will be bringing on the wrong people. Remember, you are not trying to win them over. What is one of the most sought-after companies that people want to work for? Southwest Airlines. Thousands of people apply to work for Southwest, not because of the pay, but because of the love culture. If you have an environment where people want to go to work every day, you will not need to win them over. They will be hungry enough to work for you.
Find the hungry employee.
(Are you interested in learning more from Patrick Lencioni? Click here)
It was January when I flew to Minneapolis to interview with a Fortune 100 company. I was picked up at the airport in a limo, dropped off at a fancy hotel near the Mall of America, and dinner was at an elite restaurant that evening. I sat with two hiring managers and two other job candidates. I knew very well that my interview wasn’t starting the next day. It started the moment I was picked up at the airport. At dinner I made sure I brought my A game. I was polite, engaging, and smiled appropriately. I remember going back to my hotel room that night feeling exhausted. But I sat at my desk, overlooking the city skyline, and prepared all of my answers for the potential behavioral-based questions I would be asked the next day. I was ready.
The morning came early, and the limo dropped me off at the front doors of headquarters. My series of interviews began. Throughout the day I met with high-ranking leaders in the company, staying poised even when I didn’t know exactly how to answer their question. But I remained confident. My day ended with a personality assessment. Of course, I over-thought all of the questions – wondering how they wanted me to answer. It was an exhausting day but a good day. That company does a lot of things right. They invest in the time to find and hire the right people. And I’m sure that they have hired many great employees that fit their company culture.
Interviewing has changed and evolved over the years. It’s not all about the behavioral-based questions anymore. And we all know those questions. Tell me about a time that you worked well with a team? Tell me about a time that you overcame an embarrassing moment at work? How would you describe your communication style?
Too often, we are finding ourselves in a desperate situation and willing to hire just about anyone. In the long run, that person doesn’t end up being a good fit, and they end up costing us significant amounts of money in hiring/training/severance pay. We need to learn how to ask the right questions.
Patrick Lencioni, CEO of The Table Group, is an expert on this topic. Lencioni is the author of 11 books and has addressed millions of people on the topic of leadership and organizational health. The Wall Street Journal called him, “one of the most in demand speakers in America.” Lencioni has developed three personalities that companies should seek when they are hiring.
1. Humble – Are they centered on others, or are they self-centered? C.S. Lewis defined humility as “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” You can be a confident person but still have an attitude of focusing on others.
2. Hungry – Do they have an innate desire to work? Will this person do more than what you are asking of them?
3. Smart – Are they interpersonally smart? Do they have common sense when it comes to interacting with other people? Can they read a room?
Knowing these three personalities, how do you ask the right questions to find the right person? It starts with your job posting. Does your posting say Large company with excellent benefits and vacation, seeking someone with 10 years of accounting experience? If so, you will undoubtedly find someone with accounting experience, but will they have the interpersonal skills that you are looking for? How about trying an ad like this, Innovative company seeking a team player who wants to work hard, is great with people, and has a love of learning? Of course, you will have educational and skills requirements, but this type of job posting will weed out the people that wouldn’t be a good fit.
Keep in mind that you do not want to convince someone to work for you. It’s not your job to win them over. You want a hungry employee. A desperate hiring decision never ends well. Patrick Lencioni suggests that instead of spending a lot of money on job postings, simply ask around. Find the people that you know and trust, and ask them if they have any recommendations. The great people around you undoubtedly surround themselves with other great people.
At this point, you should have a good pool of candidates. Next is the interviewing process. And remember, it’s not all about the behavioral-based questions anymore.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
(If you want to learn more from Patrick Lencioni, click here.)
I graduated from high school in the top 5% of my class. When I went on to college at Northern Arizona University, the “pond” got bigger, and I was no longer one of the brightest students. I still managed almost all A’s. But there were lots of smarts kids in college. I did, however, work very hard and graduated in only three years. When I went on to graduate school at Purdue University, the “pond” became even bigger. All of my classmates were very bright and had an impressive background.
The first year of the MBA program was one of the hardest years of my life. I spent more time at school than at home. I ate almost all of my meals in the "Drawing Room" at school. The studying never stopped. I was pushed and challenged and exposed to concepts I had never heard of. Math problems had answers that took up pages and pages in my notebook. I remember an exam in my accounting class that had only one question. But it had so many parts to it that it took up a stapled book of computer paper. And the worst part was that half of it I had to leave blank. Did we really learn this stuff?
Like most MBA programs, we were assigned to a team of four or five students to complete projects and papers. Each class project would require analysis, Excel spreadsheets, comparing data, making projections, writing up our findings, and then creating a Power Point presentation to “wow” our class and professor. This wouldn’t be so hard if it was just for one class. But these assignments were happening for 5 classes, simultaneously. That is why I often found myself eating a sub sandwich at the Drawing Room table at 9:00 at night.
One of the biggest life lessons I learned during business school was that it was impossible to do everything perfectly. When you are an MBA student, a business owner, or an entrepreneur, you are juggling so many responsibilities. You are the accountant, the marketer, the sales force, the social media specialist, the web developer, AND you are also the one providing your service or producing a product. You do it all. You are constantly thinking, creating, and learning.
One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, recently said, “If you’re the CEO of a company, or an entrepreneur starting a company, you cannot optimize for any one attribute. The minute you do that, you compromise your ability to perform at a high level in another area.” Gladwell and Lance Armstrong compared this with triathletes, explaining that they have to perform three very different sports at an extremely high level. They cannot put all of their training efforts into running and fall short on their swimming or cycling. Instead, they train at a less-intense level (which, compared to most people, is still at an intense level) for all three sports.
The same is true in business. If you put all of your efforts into one aspect (like marketing), your other responsibilities will suffer. And what’s a company with lots of great marketing and no widgets to sell? Malcolm Gladwell said, “The job of running a complex organization or starting a business is all about four or five different things that have nothing in common. Pay too much attention to any one aspect of your job, and the other aspects suffer.” That’s why being an entrepreneur can be so challenging. It can also be very rewarding. There is nothing like creating something, nurturing its growth, sweating, and worrying over it, and then reaping its sweet rewards.
As an entrepreneur, you must not be the best at one thing, but good at many things. And that is what makes you great.
(If you want to learn more from Malcolm Gladwell, click here.)
I recently heard a quote, “Life is tough, but so are you.” I wrote it down, because I think so many of us need to hear that. We need our own, personal cheerleaders telling us that we are strong and resilient.
At breakfast, we were talking about my cousin who is serving in the US Navy, living on a submarine. We were saying how hard that must be. My 9-year-old daughter said, “Why is he doing it then?” TEACHING MOMENT! This led to a conversation about why we choose to do hard things. I started to think about some of my challenging times and how they have shaped my life…
Graduate school was one of the hardest things I’ve done. During my first year at Purdue, I often ate lunch and dinner on campus and studied ALL DAY LONG. I suddenly wasn’t the smartest one in class anymore! There were math problems with answers three pages long. I remember waking up in the morning with an answer to a math problem that I felt like my brain worked on all night long. It was very challenging. But, I am so glad that I did it! Graduate school made me see problems and solutions in such different ways. It made me question things and not take “no” for an answer. I had classmates from all over the world, and I learned how to communicate in creative ways. My experience at Purdue taught me to persevere even when there were times I felt like I couldn't do it.
My experiences in graduate school prepared me for something that happened many years later. Multiple running injuries had resulted in my ankle giving out when I went down stairs or stepped on uneven surfaces. Most of the time my ankle was swollen and in pain. I wrapped it, iced it, and ran a half marathon on it. Perseverance, right? It got to the point that I couldn't keep wrapping it anymore. The pain got so bad that I knew it was time to see an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor determined that my ligaments were completely detached, my tendons were torn, and I had a bone fragment floating inside. The timing was tough. I had a 3-month-old baby when I chose to have the surgery. The surgery was very successful, but what followed was the harder part. I was on crutches for 10 weeks. Guess how many head turns I had when I hobbled around on crutches while wearing a baby in the Bjorn? It took some getting used to. I figured out how to crawl up and down the stairs. I could scoot like a crab while “carrying” my baby, and we’d get from one room to the next. Somehow I managed the stairs, a newborn, 3 other children, and 12 weeks of physical therapy. Would I do it again? Yes! I have a new ankle, and I’m able to run again. Learning how to be resilient, stay positive, and reflecting on past challenges, has given me the strength to do hard things.
I know that a big part of who I am today is based on the hard things that I have done and continue to do. I can do hard things! Everyone is a work in progress. I know that doing hard things makes us strong, gives us a new perspective, is humbling, and it helps us to solve tough problems.
When you are feeling like you can’t keep up anymore, think about all of the hard things you’ve done and how those events have shaped your character. You can do this!
“Life is tough, but so are you.”
As a wife, mother of four, volunteer, runner, and entrepreneur, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many tasks I have on my plate. The only way I can function well is by staying organized. For me, staying organized means keeping a to-do list. To-do lists come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. My favorite? A medium-sized Post-It. The number of items that fit on a Post-It seem manageable to me and not overwhelming. And there is something very satisfying about finishing my list, crumpling it into a wad, and throwing it away.
When is the best time of day to write a to-do list? Some say that it’s at night. There are some definite benefits to this. It’s much easier to fall asleep at night when your impending responsibilities have been removed from swirling around, inside your head, and put somewhere else (your list). When you start your morning, you can hit the ground running with your list that is ready to go. Others like to have a quiet morning, contemplating the day as they derive their to-do list. Find what is more effective for you. The important thing is to create one and to use it. Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, said, “When people don’t take control, they go through their days passively. They go to meetings, they answer email, and when they get to the end of the day, what they’ve done is responded to other people’s priorities and not their own.”
Here are 5 simple steps to creating and using an effective to-do list:
1. Write down all of your tasks you need to complete. Break down the larger tasks into smaller tasks that you can achieve. You may want to have separate to-do lists (work, home, etc.).
2. Assign a level of priority. “A” means urgent, “B” means important, and “C” means low priority. If you have too many urgent items, then take a second look at your list and reassign the priority level.
3. Now rewrite your list based on level of priority with all of your urgent items at the top, and so on.
4. Strike out each item as it is completed.
5. When all of the tasks have been completed, crumple your list into a wad and throw it away.
What about that pesky task that always seems to make it onto the to-do list but never seems to get completed? You know the one. Mine is “clean the baseboards.” You feel bogged down and guilty for not completing that one task. And then you can’t throw away your list, because you have one ridiculous task that you can’t seem to finish. Take it off. Remove the pesky task altogether. You will feel a sense of relief and be able to focus your attention on other things. In a little while, whether it’s in a week or a month, put that pesky item on the list and try again.
Now, get to work.
(If you'd like to purchase post-its, click here.)
I'm Erin, and typos drive me crazy! I'm an MBA graduate with over 15 years of experience in HR, small business management, academia, and social media. I am a wife, mother, half marathon runner, and lover of the outdoors.