You Already Know How to Sell, Honest

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Remember the last awesome movie you saw? Or that amazing cafe you went to downtown, the one with fair trade organic tea and a great atmosphere?

Chances are high you told your friends. Chances are also pretty high that a number of them–the ones with similar tastes as you– decided they might go see that movie, or stop by the cafe on their commute to work.

Guess what. You just sold something.

You told someone how cool xyz thing was, sharing your experience with it, and they decided to try it as well. That’s selling.

That experience slips right under the radar, because it goes nothing like what we think selling should be. Mostly because it didn’t make us feel terrible, which is the sensation most folks get from their attempts at selling. (High-pressure retail jobs, anyone?)

But we all know how to sell, we just never call it that. The word selling is all tied up in red string to the word marketing, which already tastes bad enough.

But selling, like marketing, doesn’t have to taste disgusting.

If the thought of selling makes you cringe, then learning that you already excel at selling the non-skeezy way can be a relief. It means that getting more clients for your business doesn’t equal selling out. All that needs to happen is a skill transfer: life skill, to business skill.

Let’s look at this cafe ‘selling’ thing again.

You found this great cafe. Delicious fair-trade tea, 100% recycled and recyclable carry-out cups, walls decorated with art from local artists… The sort of place you love.

So you tell those of your friends with similar tastes about this cafe. They know and trust you, and your taste in teas–you’re a bit of a tea connoisseur, without the snobbery implied by the word. You’re good at tea, so to speak. And they can tell when you share how creamy smooth and earthy your green tea latte was that you truly enjoyed it. They decide to visit the cafe themselves.

Now imagine doing that with your business, a product or a service. Suddenly feels a lot harder, doesn’t it?

Imagine if all selling could be as effortless as recommending a new cafe.

You can make that happen.

Look at what went into the cafe example:

  • A fantastic thing (that’s you, by the way)
  • Your friends (your email list, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, etc)
  • Enthusiasm (pretty much the same)

Now, all the people who follow you do so because they trust you. They trust that you know what you’re talking about, that you want to help them succeed, and you’re not going to share new things with them without vetting them yourself first. (That last one is especially important if you ever promote something that isn’t yours.)

Your enthusiasm is straight forward. You’re sincerely excited about the cafe, just like you’re sincerely excited about your business. You know it’s amazing, you know it’s going to do wonders for people, you know it’s a step to a better world for everyone.

Say your friend wants a second opinion. They hop on the Interwebs and read a few reviews about the cafe, all of which agree that it’s the sexiest thing since sliced bread. (You didn’t know bread could be sexy, did you?) On your site, those are your testimonials.

Swear to gods, it’s the same pattern.

You can use that pattern to grow your business naturally, without making anyone, especially you, feel uncomfortable.

This is the sort of outreach we want. The kind based on human connections, on being helpful, on remembering birthdays and watering your neighbour’s plants when they’re out of town.

People always talk about selling. But what we’re really doing is building community.

What was the last thing you tried that you told all your friends about? Share with us too in the comments!


What a Pissed Off Cow Taught Me About Business Setbacks

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“Don’t cry over spilt milk” isn’t talking about what you think it’s talking about.It’s not referring to the groggy annoyance that comes from missing your coffee cup and sloshing milk onto the counter at 6am.

It’s talking about when you’ve spent the last hour and a half as the sky turns from dawn to day, hunched over in the barn, forehead pressed against the side of a cow as you milk three of them in a row, your hands and forearms screaming protest. It’s being almost done, knowing that you still have the rest of the farm chores to do–chickens, pigs, sheep, horse, calves, piglets, duck–but at least you can give your aching wrists a break soon.

It’s all of that… and then suddenly the cow kicks over the milking bucket, soaking both the barn floor and you in three gallons of frothy fresh milk.

For a moment, you just blink in disbelief, watching the milk mingle with the sawdust and soak into your boots.

Milking Gingersnap on one of her less fussy days

Milking Gingersnap on one of her less fussy days

Then an inexplicable fury comes over you: at the stupid cow, for kicking over the damn bucket in the first place- nevermind that she’s a new milker and isn’t completely convinced about letting people grab her teats; at yourself, because maybe if you weren’t spacing out you could’ve pulled the bucket aside in time; at your ancient nomadic ancestors, for breeding cows that produce ridiculous amounts of milk, beyond what a calf can drink. Fuck this, you think; I’m done.

But you can’t just stop.

At the realization, the rage fades, replaced by something only two steps removed from despair. You can’t stop, because then poor Gingersnap will get sick from the milk left in her udder. Even though you ache, even though you’ve been doing this for literally hours, even though you don’t even have a bucket of milk to show for your work. And now you’ll have to muck out the milk parlour, lay down fresh sawdust, and change your clothes, on top of your normal work for the day.

It almost makes you cry from sheer frustration, salty tears blending with the spilt milk at your feet.

Business setbacks feel a lot like this. They appear out of the blue, snatch your bucket of progress from your calloused hands, and dump it all over the ground. And possibly laugh.

Unlike the cows though, there’s no non-negotiable ‘you have to keep going’ in your business. Technically you can announce that you’re quite done, thank you, if you wanted that level of grief in your life you’d just watch Les Mis on loop and eat Cheetos. That is a valid option, and chances are good that it’s not the option that will make you happiest long-term.

One spilt bucket does not a failed business make. Nor do two or three buckets. (No, four is not the magic failure number. The number of kicked buckets I’ve dealt with is legion.)

The cows need to be milked twice a day, every day. They don’t care if the bucket got dumped earlier, they live in the moment. Cows are very Zen like that.

Your business also lives in the moment. One spilt bucket did not dissolve it out of existence. You can curse it, yourself, and your ancient ancestors–if it helps, go for it–and remember that your business is exactly where you left it, waiting for you to grab your bucket, plunk it back in place, and continue doggedly plugging away at it.

The tricky part is convincing/tricking yourself to think that your business is a loving, mooing brown cow with smooth white horns, who needs your continued love in order to thrive.

For now, focus on filling up your bucket. It gets easier.

The fruits of my labour: cream, buttermilk, and three pats of butter

The fruits of my labour: cream, buttermilk, and three pats of butter

(And, speaking of setbacks, because the universe thinks its hilarious, my browser crashed the first time I tried to write this post and deleted the whole thing. So I thunked my head on the keyboard, stuck a post-it note to my laptop that reads “save often”, and wrote the post again.)

What’s been your biggest setback to date? How did you handle it?


How to Spin Projects

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Take a moment and count how many projects you currently have underway. They don’t all have to be related to your work, and ‘work’ is not one category. Whatever you’re involved with right now, be it business, skill-building, learning, whatever- add that to your list.

Look over that list. I suspect it’s pretty damn long, and full of amazing and unrelated things. Mine currently looks like this:

  • copywriting
  • blogging
  • herbal course
  • studying Russian
  • fiction writing
  • knitting

If I were to break these down into sub-componenets, it would probably triple in length. All people struggle with the question of how to get everything done, and multipotentialites fight with this to an extreme. We often cannot stand having just one project underway–not stimulating enough–so how do we balance everything?

‘Getting it all done’ is a trap. Setting deadlines has been incredibly helpful to me for completing goals, and has also sent me into soggy puddles of self-criticsm, wherein I steal the Voice’s job and say mean things to myself, about why I didn’t make the deadline. The self-imposed deadline designed to help me work better. Right, not helpful.

The goal is not ‘get it done’. The goal is practice, and learning. Getting stuff done is the lovely side-effect that hoards all the focus.

Yes, it is important to finish things. It should not cripple you from ever starting, robbing you of practice. If this is you, breath. I do this too. It’s okay. Fear of failure is a Thing. Thank it for the attempted protection, start the project anyway. We’re all learning, even our Things.

So now that we’ve looked at that–balance. How do multiple projects? Whatever way works for you.

Arguably the least helpful answer possible, second only to those who would answer ‘you don’t’. The reason I say it anyways is because finding balance is an intensely personal journey. No one has a magical silver bullet for finding balance (though apparently you can buy them for fighting werewolves?) What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. That said, here are some techniques you might find helpful.

Prioritize: ‘And how the blazes am I supposed to do that!’ you demand. ‘I love all my babies equally!’ I know, which is why I wouldn’t prioritize on that quality. Look at other factors. I’m a big fan of Chris Guillebeau’s method of ranking projects in terms of how fun it’ll be, how big an impact it’ll have (on you and on others), how long it’ll take to run its course, and what income potential it’ll have. This is especially helpful when trying to figure out what projects to start. If you’re overwhelmed with more projects than feasible (me, a few months ago) or more than your externally-imposed schedule can realistically allow (me, three months ago and), this method can help you find some focus.

Schedule! Sort of. In a wibbly, wobbly kinda way. (Time travel optional.) All sorts of personal preferences goes into this. Does a manager’s schedule or maker’s schedule fit you better? I function better with a maker’s schedule, so the stray half an hour, hour I have on a daily basis is tricky to negotiate. Do certain times of the day work better for specific tasks? My Book of Me clearly states that I write best in the morning, so regardless of how the over-arching priorities work, writing projects happen then if at all possible. Are clear, concrete tasks the best way for you to work? Or do you prefer Pat Flynn’s method of scheduling an open-ended ‘work on project A’, leaving the details flexible? I flip-flop between the two on a weekly basis, on a project-to-project basis.

That’s important to note: your preferences can and likely will change. If our goal is practice and learning, then the transformation from data to information means constant exploration, refinement, and optimization.

Figuring out project balance takes time, trial and learning, and patience with yourself.

Ultimately, it is absolutely worth it.

What projects have you been balancing, either well or poorly? What have you found helpful, or not helpful, when trying to balance? (Aside from a strong breeze.) Tell us in the comments!


Farm Fridays: Death Days

More syrup boiled, no lambs yet. Death continues to visit the farm, this time wearing me as its guise. Today I slaughtered the eighth chicken from the smaller flock, an egg-eater caught in the act. The farmer leader commented that at the rate it’s going, I’ll make enough Horcruxes to live forever.

References aside, I have never been so consistently exposed to death before coming to the farm. I have never personally dealt death, before coming to the farm. I’m still mulling over the experiences, what it means for me to care for the animals, to be involved in all parts of their life and death. And it is a caring, even in death. To care for the dead, is both a mundane and profound experience simultaneously. Even with chickens. Perhaps especially with chickens and the other animals on the farm, because I look after them and care for them while fully aware that I will later consume them. It is a most holy symbiosis.

I don’t have more than that today. The first full day of spring carried light snow flurries, and I brought death even as I turned my thoughts a step closer to planting and new life. It’s all interwoven; it’s all cyclical.

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Farm Fridays: Syrup, Seeds, and Snow

Sunday into Monday saw the unexpected death of the oldest ewe, Dollie, from a suspected case of pregnancy disease. (Not kidding, that’s what the condition is called.) Sheep are tricky when it comes to illness; once they start showing symptoms, you have between 24-48 hours before they die. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time.

More heartening news: the first batch of maple syrup has been boiled, and my house received our first 750ml bottle of it. It’s light, with a sweet, almost buttery flavour. Pancake breakfast tomorrow!

I’ve also been inventorying the seeds the farm has on hand. Despite the three inches of powdery snow we got this week, with more to come tonight, the greenhouses are beginning to thaw out. As long as temperatures don’t plunge again too far, we’ll be able to start working the beds by Equilux.

Soon, we start seedlings. The year is waking up, shaking off the slumber of winter, slowly but surely.


Farm Friday: Dispatch 1

Each week we take a look at what’s up on the sustainable farm and life-sharing community I’m currently living at until early August. Follow the seasons with me and press your fingers on the lifebeat of a farm.


The sap is running! We hope. 38 sugar maples have been tapped in anticipation of the warm weather we’re slated to have over the next few days. This will help stop the farm from being the icy death trap it’s been aiming for. (We’ve been in winter for so long that warm means anything above freezing. My personal cold perception has settled into three categories: scarf worn over the mouth; scarf worn over the nose; and, ice crystals freezing to one’s eyelashes.)

The greenhouses are thawing out though. We’ll be able to start building beds and planting early lettuce and spinach within a week.

The five ewes are inhaling impressive amounts of hay as they enter the end of their pregnancies. Because all ewes have different gestation periods, the lambs can arrive any day between now and May.

A neighbourly boar arrived today for a few weeks’ stay with our two huge sows, Sweet Pea and Bacon. Depending on when the piglets are born later this year, we’ll know if it was the work of this boar, or the one who was visiting before. (I’m hoping for the first boar–he’s a mulefoot!)

We’re finally at roughly two dozen eggs a day again, primarily thanks to the big flock. The small flock will get smaller as I continue to catch and slaughter the egg-eating hens.

Our lovely heifers are weathering the winter nicely. Victoria gives us about two gallons of milk a day, while the old matriarch Violet gives probably less than two cups. Victoria’s daughter Gingersnap isn’t milking yet, and is expecting her first calf in early June. The bull calf Vern is slowly getting stantion-trained, though his head’s too small to make use of his stantion yet. Soon!

And last but not least, our sassy-pants Morgan horse Amos is still very unhappy about being snowed inside. I’m leading him daily, and training him out of some bad habits as we do so, but he’s craving a good snow melt.


Drop Everything and GO! 3 Steps to Never Losing an Idea Again

One week ago today I got blind-sided by a new project. You know the feeling–an idea so exciting, so terrifying that it makes your heart race thinking about it for too long. By too long, I mean more than thirty seconds.

A week later, I’m one week from launch (Oct 1st!), have a day-by-day list of action steps in place leading up to that launch, and feel like I have my shit together for once.

Guys, this never happens. So I’m going to go back and documenting what I did from that initial point of creative Best Idea Ever epiphany, in the hopes that I’ll be able to do it again in the future.

Told Someone About It

Around the time when I realized that sleeping was not an option because my head was so fired up about my new project, I told my partner. The positive feedback and encouragement to pursue this idea (even if it meant putting other projects on hold) went a long way to avoiding possible guilt about jumping projects. It went even farther in securing my motivation to take the next steps.

Wrote It All Down

I was terrified of going to sleep and losing my initial burst motivation. My two-hour oops-you-thought-you-were-sleeping-tonight conversation with my partner was conducted over text, which made this step fairly easy. I already had the words down in the text record; failing that, I would’ve jotted down key points in a notebook that lives next to my bed. Writing it all down captured enough of my motivation to carry over to the next day.

Designated My Immediate Next Action

Since I had already tanked my bedtime by close to three hours, I decided my immediate next action was listing what I would do the next day. First on that list was create an action plan for the rest of the week. With only two or three things blocked off each day, my list was designed to give me achievable, trackable units of progress. I also had a side-column of actions that weren’t 100% necessary to launching the product, but would be nice to do. If I found myself with extra time on any given day, I would shift to that secondary list.

This seems like straight-forward advice, and it is. I’ve heard these steps before, separate from each other. First time implementing them in conduction with each other, and I’m sold.

Quick recap:

  • Sharing it with another person created mid-communication clarification.
  • Rather than jot down one or two lines about the idea, I brain-dumped enough info to re-excite me later when I went over it in the morning.
  • When I reviewed my midnight revelation, I crystallized it into a plan of action that would carry the idea to fruition.

Now I’m poised to strike out on my first ‘official’ business. I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t followed these steps.

How do you capture out-of-the-blue ideas? Share below in the comments!



Can’t Focus? Check Your Health Stats

Too often we approach a project with guns blazing, inspired to create amazing stuff, but find ourselves distracted and listless in what feels like a short amount of time. Before despairing about how you can’t focus, lack the motivation for this schtick, will never get anything done, etc, check your health stats.

As a long-time D&D fan, both playing and running campaigns, the gaming metaphor comes naturally to me. Here’s the concept:

Imagine you have a thin green bar floating above your head. That’s your energy bar. When it’s full, you’re ready to go; when it’s empty, you’re too tired to do anything. Getting stuff done lowers your energy bar, and the difficulty of the task determines the amount of energy it takes. Tying your shoes? Next to no energy loss. Running a marathon? Probably the whole energy bar.

As this bar empties, focusing on a single task because more difficult. That lack of focus is often your first warning sign that you’re running low on energy. When your attention starts to wander, look for ways to replenish your energy bar. The first culprits and often times easiest fixes for low energy are your health stats.

Your Health Stats

These three categories are key to not only starting with a full energy bar, but refilling it throughout the day.

Water: Dehydration is rarely given the credit it deserves as a force of ill in your life. It causes headaches, crankiness, and will destroy any hope you have of focusing. If you’re not sure that you’re dehydrated, two rough guides will help: if your piss is yellow, you’re dehydrated. If there are little bubbles in your spit, you’re dehydrated. Thankfully, this is an easy one to fix–drink some water! (Preferably with electrolytes in it, preferably not all at once.)

Food: This one is more well-known and just as misleading. You don’t to be starving before lack of food will affect your focus. You just need to be hungry at all. As a very rough guideline, biological males need to eat approximately every six hours, whereas biological females need to eat approximately every four. Listen to your body and discover where your personal rhythm is. I can practically set my watch by how regularly I need to eat. Again, to fix this all you need to do is eat a meal.

Sleep: Everyone knows about this one, and it can be the hardest to fix. I’m going to skip the time-honoured “you need eight hours of sleep” line because frankly I don’t know how much sleep you need. I happen to need eight hours; you might need more or less. Again,  listen to your body. Anyone who’s ever had to deal with school beyond fifth grade knows how hard it is to get through the day when you’re tired. The best fix is preventative; failing that, take a nap (either 10-20 minutes, or 90 minutes. Anything in between will leave you groggy and feeling more tired.) Failing that, responsible use of caffeine.

Dealing with Low Health Stats

Having just one of your health stats off will damage your focus. Two or more, and you’re in for a rough time. Out of whack health stats mean lower stress tolerance, less patience, greater chance of arguing over nothing, poor judgment/decision making, greater chance of messing up behind the wheel–it’s a long list. Thankfully, it’s all avoidable.

Once you notice a health stat needs adjustment, make it your priority. No really–the boost you’ll get from drinking water/eating a meal/etc is absolutely worth the time it takes away from working on your essay/business plan/miniature rocket.

Be gentle with yourself. Realizing that your focus is gone due to health stats does not automatically readjust them. Guilt-tripping yourself for having to fix them is unhelpful. Understand that you’re not quite up to snuff at the moment, and that you can fix it.

It’s common practice among my friends to give a verbal warning if we notice a health stat needs work. “Hey guys, to let you know, I’m food crashing.” This heads up lets everyone know that we not at our best, we’re aware of it, and we’re taking steps to fix it. Being patient and understanding of friends with low health stats goes a long way to avoiding unnecessary fights and preserving relationships. (Honest to gods, every time my partner and I have had an argument, one or both of us have been dehydrated/food crashing/sleep dep’d.)

With a little awareness, you can keep up your focus and live happier.

How are your health stats right now? Tell us a time when low health stats were a problem–how did you fix it?


Dear Me: A Letter to the Me from 2008

I’m working through Emilie Wapnick’s excellent eBook The Renaissance Business and the second chapter challenged me to consider what advice I’d give if I met myself five years ago. This is the resulting letter. If personal insights aren’t your thing, feel free to pass on this one. If you think tough love can be constructive and uplifting, read on. (Warning: it’s long. I was in a crummy place five years ago.)

Dear Me,

You’re about to go to college, congrats! This is you/me from five years into your future–it’s currently 2013 and I’ve been out of college for a year already. (Spoiler: you graduate on time, yay!) I have some pearls of wisdom I’ve choked on over the last few years that you’ll find useful, but before I get to that I want to give you a few quick mood-boosters right off the bat: you do get your double major and minor, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude. Dude, nice job!

More spoilers! Within the next five years, you will: go to three different countries because you speak the languages; start a blog; have your worldview shattered and reformed through life-changing revelations about health, relationships, friendships, identity, money, and more; go to the hospital twice; move to two  different states; meet some frikkin’ amazing people; participate in the largest nationwide protests this nation has ever seen; start your own business; and be happier than you currently think possible.

Sounds fun!

There will be rough patches. You’ll stay in a relationship until things fall apart beyond repair and you work up the courage to walk away for your own good. Heads up: that’ll hurt beyond imagination. You’ll also push yourself harder than is smart in junior and senior year, to the point where breakdowns and internal-compression freakouts occur monthly. Those will also suck. And you’ll get through it.

I’ve learned so much in the last year I’m having trouble condensing it into advice…

Okay first, good job keeping up a (fairly) reasonable sleep schedule. It’s a major reason why you don’t completely lose your shit from stress over the next few years.

Second, kudos on mostly intelligent food choices. Try to cut out more sugar, increase the amount of dark leafy greens you eat, and front-load calories in the morning. Oh and stop eating gluten, but you’ll figure that out in about a year.

Next, remember all that exercise you got from colour guard in high school? Aside from keeping you fit, it was also keeping you sane. News flash, past self: you get anxious has hell when you don’t exercise. No really. Yoga is amazing and saves my sanity. Try that coupled with tai chi and maybe something with cardio, your choice.

So many health concerns. Here’s another: don’t wait to get scoliosis treatment. I am dead serious. Those headaches you get? Yeah, that’s from your back. Too much sitting, too much head tilted down to read. The exercise you’ll get from the previous advice will help, but don’t push yourself too hard. Toughing it out until you’re limping doesn’t win you any points. If people think it does, stop hanging out with them, they’re poisonous. You’re allowed to be picky about who gets your time– if they doubt you, ditch them.

I think that’s it for physical health– WAIT I LIED! Take fish oil, calcium, and vitamins D and all the B’s. Your cramps will stop. Start studying herbalism while you’re at it.

Okay, actually done with health tips now. What’s next, productivity? You’re going to learn time-management skills over the next few years. Write down all your assignments, keep a weekly list of thing you need to get done, and schedule out your time. Use the Pomodoro method to help with focus and switch up tasks if necessary. Set goals, tell people about them so they hold you accountable. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. Perseverance is key here.

Now for advice that sounds scary up-front: start thinking about what you want your life to look like. Paint a vivid picture of your ideal day from start to finish. Ditch the idea that you’ll be poor forever (you won’t be) or that you’re bound to hate your job (who said anything about a job?)

I’ll say it outright: you are brilliant and determined, a powerful combination in life. You are literally designed to break the status quo. Hell, your very existence breaks the status quo–wait ’til you see what happens when you put some energy behind that. We are building a life where we enjoy our work, can travel as we’d like, study what/when/where/how we’d like, all while helping a lot of people. The faster you realize how frikin’ talented you are, the faster we reach that future.

That free time you have? Use it to keep writing. Stop selling yourself short: you’re good at it. Expand beyond fanfics to include a blog (doesn’t have to be niche-specific) and be confident knowing you have done, are doing, and will do astounding things. You’re not going to be poor; you’re not going to fail at life; you’re not going to lose your dreams. In fact, you’re going to grow bigger ones. And achieve them. Fantastic things are coming your way– people, opportunities, experiences. Enjoy them, learn from them, and know that your future fucking rocks, for one reason above all others:

You built it that way.

tl;dr: Stop doubting yourself, you’re badass!

From the future with love,


P.ostS.cript: I’m living on a farm right now. It’s fun, you’ll like it.

What advice would you give your past self of five years ago?