True Story: I'm almost shut my business down...

Back in 2008 I started my 2nd business, an ecommerce website that sold retail jewelry.

The business model was simple:

  • Carry brands that had a lot of search volume

  • Rank #1 for those search terms

  • Buy Google Ads for keywords that people were using

  • Get people on our email list so we can cheaply re-market to them

  • Buy more of what sold, less of what didn't

  • Repeat over and over again

Spoiler alert, this business went from $0 to $7 million in revenue in 5 years. 


But here's the thing -
 

We almost shut it down MANY TIMES in the first 2 years.


There were days when it felt like we had more inventory than we could ever sell. At times we questioned how we would EVER make more money than we needed to invest in inventory to get ahead. Most of the time our marketing efforts felt like talking into a broken microphone...tap...tap... "is this thing on?"

But we were data nerds. We kept looking at the numbers. I had projections and metrics that I tracked like a hawk and I could see the turning point. (Granted it always looked like it was around the NEXT corner, but still, it was there). 

And then one day it happened. It was noon on Black Friday and I was monitoring our Google Analytics and daily orders reports. 

We had 50 orders! (A normal day was 10-20.)

Time to finish off that left over piece of pumpkin pie and get in to the office to start shipping order.

And while we were shipping those 50 orders, another 50 came in, and then another 100.

250 orders in one day and we finally made it around that mythical corner we were chasing. We were officially going to make it. All thoughts of shutting the business down vanished in an instant and we started making plans for expanding to an outsourced warehouse and doubling our inventory.

Granted this story has all the trappings of luck, determination and a strong dose of crazy entrepreneur, but the true unsung hero is my trusty dashboard.

At any given point in time I could see the exact data I needed to determine next steps and predict future outcomes. While most days I was predicting the shut down of my business, there were some days I would get a positive outcome and realize if we did more of THAT, we could get ahead. And because I was measuring inputs and outputs it wasn't guesswork.

When you have a short time in business and not a lot of data, it's really hard to zoom out and find a trend because you can't zoom out far enough. It feels like you are driving blind. But by tracking and analyzing the data you DO have, you can identify positive and negative trends EARLY and start to manifest your success by placing energy where things are making the most impact in your business.

Curious about how to build your business dashboard? Grab my templates and get started!

When You Feel Like An Impostor...

I was recently told that when human civilization was first getting established, we tended to form in groups of no more than about 200 people. This was a natural tendency - we are social animals, we gravitate to one another, but when the group gets too big, new groups spin off to form new towns, villages, etc. 

The beauty of the 200 person group was that there was a defined role for everyone. It was easy to know your place. Maybe a few people knew how to make shoes, and from those few, the "best shoemaker" emerged. As a child, if you wanted to hone a skill, it wasn't unreasonable to set your sites on being the best at something, because you were competing with a rather known quantity; about 200 of your closest friends and family.

Now, however, we are not only in groups of thousands and millions, we are connected to BILLIONS of people via the Internet. If you are striving to be the best at something you can Google it and find people who have lifetimes of experience, PhD's, and 100 page blogs proving they are experts. It's enough competition to kill your drive before you even begin.

It fills your head with doubt, worry, unease and feelings of unworthiness that you, meager you, will never amount to anything with powerhouses like those in the world. So what's the point?

Why try?

Here's why: EVERYONE FEELS LIKE THAT.

It's true. Even the guy with the 7 degrees from Harvard on the topic. We all suffer from comparison ourselves to one another and once we do we can get a mean case of IMPOSTOR SYNDROME.

Impostor syndrome sounds horrible, and it is. But we don't have to succumb to it once we name it for what it is. In fact, if we can get clear on the feelings and notice it arising as it's happening we can turn it into a tool that will propel us forward.

So what to do about it?

Next time you feel a tinge of self-doubt creep into the mix, try one or a few of these tactics:

  • GET CLEAR ON THE FACTS. Ask yourself - have I ever had success at what I'm trying to do? Name all the little things, and don't be shy. If you're just getting started, that's ok. One of the things you've done is DECIDED TO START, and that's a big one. How do you ever get anywhere without taking the first step.

  • WHAT WOULD OPRAH DO? Oprah came from a broken home and humble beginnings. Did that stop her? NO. And now she's one of the most powerful women in the world. How did she do this? She tapped into something inside her and didn't worry what others thought. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF. Get off Google. Ignore your competition. Look away from the Instagram feed. NOW and then...

  • DO SOME WORK. One of the best coping mechanisms for impostor syndrome also happens to be a productive one. Tackle one thing on your to do list. For extra points, do the hardest one. Our brains are hard-wired to love finishing things. Once you've done one thing, you'll get a dopamine hit and your mood will improve and doing the next thing will seem easier. Keep walking, one foot in front of the other.

  • CHALLENGE YOURSELF. If you're feeling "less than", then maybe you have a higher desire that you aren't setting yourself up to achieve. Ask yourself, "what do I REALLY want?" and make sure your goals, projects and tasks are setting you up to achieve it.

  • CLAIM AN ALTER EGO. Envision who you want to be. Get to know this person. How they act, what they wear, how they achieve things. Many professional athletes do this. On the field of play, they will often picture themselves as warriors and perhaps give that personage a name and personality. They fully create a super human/super power version of themselves and become that person during a game. For extra points, incorporate talismans that make you rise to the occasion. Wear a pair of glasses, a Wonder Woman -esque cuff bracelet, a suit jacket, or some other "power piece" that cues you into who you want to be, and then own it. When impostor syndrome creeps in, turn to your alter ego to crush it to smithereens.

Know this:

You are not alone in this feeling. You are doing better than you realize. You are the only one is who going to go out in the world and do the work you are doing in your own unique way. 

While it may feel like you can never be the "best" at what you do given the powerhouses in your field out there, tell me this: define "best". Best is subjective. Best is relative. You ARE the best choice for a client who connects with your style, your background, your way of connecting with them. 

You are drawn to do what you are doing for a reason. The world needs you to show up and do YOUR best, and to check the impostor syndrome at the curb.

What's your antidote to feeling like an impostor?

Why Are You Doing That?

I often find myself feeling like a hypocrite when I claim the lifestyle entrepreneur title. I recently told my friend after a few grueling work weeks, "I'm a lifestyle entrepreneur who has no life!".

True, at least it felt that way. Sometimes you get so damn busy with your entrepreneur self that planning something for your lifestyle self doesn't even sound fun. It sounds like more work.

In an attempt to reverse this feeling, I held a family meeting with my husband to see how we could have more fun. Funny agenda, right? But I was dead serious. We need to reclaim our lives a bit. With spring break on the horizon, we started there.

The result was that we outlawed the "staycation". I identified it as a soul-suck for me. While the staycation feels like a safe place, where hopefully I get a bunch of "life" stuff done (fix that creaky stair, plant new flowers in front, etc) and enjoy the place I live (go to that new restaurant downtown, see a movie), in reality it's a landmine-filled space with whiny kids, too much laundry and dreary weather looming. Sure, the staycation is cheap. It means I can work less and spend less, but it's expensive when I factor in the cost to my mood, energy and happiness.

So, this year for spring break, we planned a mega adventure, for us at least. We booked a week with friends in Sedona, Arizona where the weather is warm and the mountain biking is good.  To add to the adventure and to easily bring our own bikes, we decided to add an extra week off and drive there. 

The trip was epic, both in proportion and fun. 3,000 miles, 4 National Parks, 6 family member visits, and 7 fun families to hang with in Arizona.

But that's not really why I'm writing all this here. I'm writing to share the ah-ha's that came to me once I re-entered daily life back at home; when I stopped living moment-to-moment, mile-to-mile, campsite-to-campsite (which is a feeling I LOVE, by the way). Once the peanut butter M&M induced coma wore off and the van was unloaded, I began to feel a calm, cool and collected post-vacation vibe.

And the ah-ha moment was...

This is WHY I'm doing all this! Working for myself, creating clear boundaries between work and life, setting clear expectations for myself and my clients, being super discerning with the type of work I take on, running 2 businesses side-by-side. The lifestyle entrepreneur in me, felt proud, vindicated, and served. This is WHY I do what I do.

It is so, so, so easy (especially for a left-brained, type A girl like me) to lead with the head. To ignore the heart, make logical rational decisions and stay in the practical world. I preach that as great business advice. HOWEVER, it is also so important to listen to the heart. The heart wants what the heart wants, and if ignored, you will feel the pull, chasm, tear inside of you. A lifelessness that can be so uncomfortable, and ultimately devastating. 

So I ask you this - WHY are you doing what you are doing? What's it all for? What's driving you? What's at the heart of it? Are you a freedom fanatic like me? Are you working because it fulfills your creative passion? Do you get up and log on to your computer because on the other side of it are people who are making changes and doing great work as a result of what you do/teach/sell?

Jot it down right now and see where it takes you. 

The road-warriors at the Grand Canyon.

The road-warriors at the Grand Canyon.

 

 

 

2017 Year In Review

good-path-consulting-2017-year-in-review-tracy-bech.jpg

As I gear up for 2018 I cannot help but reflect on the last twelve months and give thanks, celebrate and give you an update on what Good Path Consulting has been up to. It’s been a wild ride (keep reading for a random twist of events).

This year was my first full year officially incorporated as Good Path Consulting and I’m so stoked about all the amazing clients I’ve had the privilege of working with.

Here are just a few 2017 highlights:

  • “Got right with story” with Thread in the form of a new website launched by Daylight Studio. Check it out the website for a fun look at what “knowing your story” can do for your brand.
  • Launched a website and #1 best selling book on Amazon for author David A. Duryee. The 60 Minute CFO should definitely be on your list of books to read for 2018 if you want to understand your business’ cash flow and key ratios outside of the basic financial statements. We teamed up with Rob Kosberg of Best Seller Publishing.
  • Guided Cutino Sauce through a Planning and Discovery phase of a website redesign as well as working with Gorge Web Design to tune up the current site in the meantime. Fun fact: Cutino sauce is ALL Jimmy Kimmel wants for Christmas.
  • Taught a lot of brands and companies about SEO. This might be one of the main things I do. It’s always good to brush up on the topic and make sure you know the latest.
  • Had too many to count inspiring conversations with ongoing clients who need coaching, pep talks, and marketing advice on an hourly basis. Things like, what to do when your prior marketing efforts have fallen flat, a web redesign has left your SEO non-existent, and how to best launch a new ecommerce brand.

And I mentioned an unexpected twist...

In April, my product designer husband and I invented a product designed specifically to aid women's trips to the ladies’ room wearing shapewear (ie, Spanx). Say what?!?

Yep, In March and April, I took a hiatus and underwent diastasis repair surgery. As part of my recovery I had to wear Spanx to help ease swelling and protect the surgical site. (My full story is here.) Wearing Spanx day and night for 5 weeks straight is uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, the primary of which is trips to the loo. Spanx, as it were, have an opening for such functions, and well...let’s just say, it doesn’t work.

So we created a simple adapter device for the opening in shapewear to hold the fabric open and keep it from getting...wet… :) It’s called peeLUX.

From its inception, the project has been trucking along at a breakneck pace. We went from concept to rapid prototyping to finished product in about 6 months, having just received our final inventory at the beginning of this month (Dec 2017).

As part of our first steps, we filed a provisional patent, built a website and started writing content to rank for keywords. We now rank #1 on Google for “how to pee in your spanx” - beating out the Daily Mail, Reddit, Vogue and The Knot.

Once we had final products, we built an ecommerce site and got listed on Amazon as FBA. We are now optimizing the digital marketing (deep dives into Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads, reaching out to celebrities (anyone know any personally? Let me know!), contacting influencers/bloggers, and doing traditional PR.

Having this project definitely keeps me fresh and engaged and better at consulting with my clients. I also have an amazing appreciation for all those brands out there who have started from scratch and invented something new. It’s entirely different to market something no one even knows exists, than to market products that already exist in the marketplace. Truly humbling and so inspiring! 

The Good Path - Thoughts for the new year

This wild ride of a year has me excited for what 2018 will bring but also reminds me of the all important concept of "the now". We truly aren't guaranteed another day on this planet. While you spend so much time focusing on planning for the future or reviewing the past, are you recognizing the now? Are you enjoying it? Are you on your "good path"?

It's far too easy to fall into the trap of saying, "I"ll feel really accomplished when my business reaches the 8 figure mark", or "I'll be happy when we finally pay off that loan". These are solid business goals. But don't forget, life is happening NOW. Whether you are riding a high, or battling it out in a low, don't forget to enjoy it. 

And just exactly how do you enjoy a low point; when things really suck,  when nothing is going right?

It's different for everyone, but what keeps me going is knowing that change is our only constant. Whether we like how things are going, or despise our current affairs, one thing's for sure - it'll change. The trick is to find a mental space that allows you less suffering despite it all. If you can focus on the tiny amazing things happening all around us, you can find gratitude. (This is an adorable holiday-themed example of finding gratitude in the little things.) When you can find gratitude, you can find beauty and grace. And with beauty and grace comes growth, acceptance and abundance. And in doing this, you are setting an intention to see and be the good in the world.

Stringing together a million amazing little "nows" will ultimately add up one heck of a "good path".

That said, you still gotta show up, do the work and do it well. But just remember to enjoy it.

To each of you who I've connected with this year: I’m grateful and inspired by all that you do.

And I’m keeping my calendar open for client work, so please let me know how I can help you reach your 2018 business goals.

Know someone who would benefit from my services? Please put us in touch.

In gratitude,

Tracy

How a Slow Printer Almost Ruined Our Holiday Season

As I sit on the precipice of starting my second ecom business (more on this later!), I can't help but reflect on my past adventures in this arena.

My relationship with ecommerce is love-hate. I love the immediate gratification of launching a digital campaign and watching orders fly in after. I hate the constant to-do lists, never being able to close your shop (yes, orders come in day in night, but so do issues), and the constant uphill challenge of an ever-changing marketplace.

I did, however, manage to build an ecommerce business from the ground up from $0 to $7 million annually over the course of 5 years. That’s a super fast timeline, and without any outside funding means you have to do a lot of things right and operate very leanly to make it happen.

I’m not going to dive into the specifics of how to reinvest profits and sustain a rapid growth rate, today, nor am I going to harp on some of the basic core principles of ecom (mobile and user friendly website, search engine optimized, tailored product offerings, secure checkout, yada yada), but I want to talk about one extremely simple, yet nuanced principle that may get swept under the rug, that I believe is critical to rapid and big growth.

Speed.

I want you to ask yourself this:

Is EVERYTHING in my ecom business lightning fast?

Here’s why speed matters:

A Google search can take a user from your storefront to a competitor’s in just seconds. Additionally, the average human attention span is declining due to the mobile device revolution, falling from 12 seconds to just 8 (goldfish clock in at 9 seconds!!) Therefore, on top of having what a customer is looking for, you have to serve it up super fast, otherwise they will get bored, antsy and look for the goods elsewhere.

Amazon is investing in shipping programs that allow users to get their products not just in 2 days via the usual Prime account, but on THE SAME DAY they ordered.

In the last few years, live chat features have cropped up on almost every website from AT&T to Backcountry.com, shortening the time spent getting an answer to minutes.

So what exactly needs to be fast? Let’s dive into a few details and anecdotes.

Page Speed

Here are a few fun facts:

—Users expect webpages to load in 2 seconds or less.

—40% of customers will abandon any site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

—For every 1 additional second of load time, conversion drops by 7%.

—For every 1 additional second of load time, user satisfaction drops by 16%.

So, you wanna have more customers and higher conversions? Up your page speed times and get there. Ask your developer to minify all Javascript, optimize images, enable compression, leverage browser caching and to provide information on adding a content delivery network (CDN) to your site (if you don’t already have one).

And it's not just your users want pages to load fast. Google will favor faster pages over slower ones as well.

Fulfillment

Once an order is placed, customers don’t want to wait to receive it. Your time is well spent in optimizing the time between order placed and order fulfilled. Whether you do all your fulfillment in-house or work with a 3rd party fulfillment center, look for ways to make this process as efficient as possible. Here are my suggestions for streamlining:

Packing slip and postage printing speed

Seems obvious, but there are so many details here that can slow this down. Be sure you have one or multiple printers that can handle the order volume you receive at PEAK times for both packing slips and postage labels. The way your business operates at peak levels will determine if you can grow or not.

Let me repeat that: The way in which your business operates at PEAK times will determine whether or not you can grow.

I’d like to share a real life story from my ecom days…

The first warehouse we ever outsourced our fulfillment to was an excellent fairly small mom and pop shop just outside Kansas City. They were awesome people, took great care of us and gracefully handled whatever random exceptions and instances we needed for them to handle.

Our business, like so many ecom businesses, was largely driven by the holiday season. As the season got nearer and nearer, we watched our fulfillment speeds get lower and lower. The situation got more and more tense as we would ask each day how the day before’s backlog was getting handled. Each day, the backlog grew and grew until we had to escalate the issue to the president of the company. At the rate they were going, our Black Friday orders may not ship until after Christmas. It was bad.

They were finally able to isolate the issue as being a slow printer. At the printing station, there was a software glitch that was holding up the printer and orders were bottlenecking there. It did take a few calls to both the software company and asking the fulfillment partner to invest in a new printer before we were able to get through the bottleneck. Ultimately, however, we realized that at our 200-300% year over year growth rate, we were never going to be able to succeed in this scenario, and it ultimately cost the warehouse our business. A few months later we were relocated to a new facility that boasted split second print times.

It’d be easy to say that this was not a huge issue because it only cropped up during our busy season, but with our growth rate, our “busy season” was really only a great training period for what would in a few months become our new “normal”. (Well, not quite, but we would reach those peak numbers much more quickly around smaller holidays).

Case in point, take your peak seasons seriously. Be optimized for them (or be able to quickly scale for them) at ALL times, and you will be primed for growth.

Picking

Do your pickers have to travel long distances to get to best selling products? Consider ordering products by sell through volume (instead of sku) so that the high volume products are nearest the packing station, and to one another, and the less popular items are further away. (There is a whole science around this. If you are already doing high volumes consider investing in a person who can optimize this for your business.)

Packing

What do your packing stations look like? Are they a jumble of flattened boxes and half empty tape guns? The packing station should look like master craftsman’s workshop and function like a well oiled machine.

Each day should start with a good amount of prebuilt boxes, tape rolls should be mostly full, labels and branding material freshly laid out, and bubble wrap, packing paper, etc, at an arm’s reach.

Any specific guidelines should be laminated and posted at eye level so the packer doesn’t have to make any mental notes or stop to look them up.

Shipping

This could be an entire blog post, but I’ll spare you the various ways to optimize your shipping carriers and methods, as for one thing I find it really dull, and for another, it’s not what I specialize in. Just know this - you do need to analyze this for the health of your business. If you don’t already have relationships with UPS, FedEx, <insert your favorite carrier here>, then you need to form one and understand their bulk price rates, policies and promises they can make around peak times in your business (Ie, holidays).

Why is this so important? At this point you have your customer's money and they have nothing aside from your promise. Your brand integrity now lies in the hands of a shipping partner and method to get them the goods in a timely and safe manner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to personally take the blame for a mistake UPS made, because ultimately, the customer doesn’t care. They gave you their order, and their money and they will hold YOU responsible - even if UPS makes the mistake.

Returns & Refunds

Handle these in an expeditious way to ensure you don’t lose your customer’s trust, especially after the hassle of having to return something.

Ways to keep this process pain free for all parties are:

  • Post an easy to understand return policy on your website, stating:

    • In what condition the items must be for the return to be accepted

    • In what time frame from the order date you will accept a return

    • How to place the return (from an RMA to the way to ship it)

    • How and when they will be refunded

    • Who to contact with questions

  • Create easy to use screens for your customers to find their order, print a return label, and ship it back to you. Work with your web developer to understand what is possible on your website platform. Products like Magento, Shopify and Squarespace have out-of-the-box return functionality for both logged in and guest customers.

    • Make it crystal clear how returns should be processed for customer service/warehouse staff. Account for all scenarios:

      • Items are broken or not in new condition (or the condition you specify in your return policy)

      • A return received outside of the allowed window

      • The wrong item returned

      • No customer info included

      • Anything custom to your store

Customer Service

I will save a lot of customer service goodness for a later post, but I include it under the topic of speed because no one likes to wait when they need help. Put key performance indicators (KPIs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place regarding customer service. Actually, put them everywhere you can in your business, but especially in customer service. Here’s why…

What gets measured, gets managed.

This means if you aren’t paying attention to why people are writing you and how long it takes to get back to them, and the overall time it takes to close a ticket, then you aren’t managing that time either. It could be a day (yay!) it could be 2 weeks (boo!). At a minimum start looking at these response rates. Use customer service software like SmarterTrack, Live Person or Zendesk (or any other, there are many), that have these features built in.

Set KPI goals and targets for the time it takes to answer an email and phone call and time it takes to resolve (close) the issue. Track the team’s performance over time (record these KPIs in a Google Sheet or Smart Sheet) and review them on a regular basis. And per my point above, pay special attention to them during peak times. This will determine your ability to grow.

Conclusion

While these all seem like no-brainers, it’s amazing how easily they can shift to the background when other fires come up (and ecom is all about putting out fires). But when we shifted our attention these important (not urgent) issues and put goals and strategies in place to increase their performance, we elevated our playing field. We knew now that we could crank our volume knobs to the Spinal Tap mythical 11 setting, and not be hindered speed issues that could ultimately take us down.

Have you been the victim of ecom slugishness, or the victor in an online speed war? Let me know in the comments below!

 

5 Lessons From the 50 Year Storm

We are in deep. Literally and figuratively. Hood River, Oregon is typically a pretty perfect weather paradise. We have hot summer days and cold snowy days, enough to punctuate the otherwise super temperate climate. Yes, we still manage to complain about the rain, the gray, the heat, or ice storms, but for the most part we have it good. We don’t get tropical storms, hurricanes, and the fire danger is usually quite low.

This year, however, is one for the record books. We have had snow on the ground (at this point) for over 60 days. The first dump brought claims of “the storm of the decade”.

Whew! We breathed a collective sigh of relief when all the roads were plowed and schools were open. Then, BOOM. It kept coming. My kid has had 10 days of school closures and too many late starts to count. Today was our first “early dismissal”. Due to the “worsening conditions”, 12:30 marked the end of my work day, shaving off at least 2 hours of productivity.

Trying to keep a positive attitude amid all of this is hard. I’ve got sh*t to do, and I’d like to think it’s pretty important. I’m newly into my new consulting gig. I’ve got clients. I’ve got masterminding to do. Content to craft. Thoughts to process. A business model to mold and build. I’m super organized and go into each week with my days appropriately “themed” and a list of tasks that I plan to accomplish.  When all that comes to a screeching halt, I have a hard time being ok with it.

All rants aside, I do have some things that I have learned as a result of this storm of perhaps 5 decades.

Here are my top 5 lessons learned from the 50 year storm:

1. Chill out.

I have had meditation in my tool kit on and off for years. I have been told by mentors, blog posts, Ayurveda, and just my own intuition that for my personality type (classic “type A”, and an ENTJ on the Myers Briggs scale, if you’re wondering), that meditation is my key to harmony.  

So I dusted off the “Calm” app on my iPhone and have been successfully carving out 10 minutes a day.

The result…?

I am so much happier. I feel connected to the universal good. I feel like I’m fitting in glimpses of gazing at the stars to feel small and insignificant, even though those stars are well shrouded by storm clouds. I have more patience with my kids and even with the fresh inches of snow and ice that keep appearing on my driveway.

Even my family has noticed too. An exact quote from my husband is “yeah, I can tell you’ve been meditating. You’re not as b*tchy as you usually are.” (Thanks honey!! See why I meditate?!?!)

2. Embrace it

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

I now view shoveling snow as one of my workout options. A great calorie burner. A neighbor calculated 375 calories burned per session, easily as much sweat and glut' work as a barre class. And free! (LOL)

Snow is for skiing. I’ve been consistently getting up to the ski hill at least once a week and enjoying the change of pace and plans. When the kids are out, we take ‘em with us. There are years when the runs are barely open and we mourn the lack of snow. This one is to be celebrated. (The Mt Hood Meadows snow report has a picture of a food truck on end to allow you to visualize how much snow they have at mid-mountain.)

Enjoy the way your yard and neighborhood look in the snow. There is so much contrast of branches against white. I’ve noticed birds and nests I had never seen before.

When the snow day count was around 5, we piled wood high in the firepit and spent the evening warming ourselves outside with snow banks as chairs and neighbors and kids up too late, buzzing from cocoa and marshmallow sugar highs.

The neighborly displays of love have been off the charts. Shoveling and snow blowing each other’s walks has essentially become a display of grandeur that no one can resist. How can you not love that?

3. Take the long view

The Earth has continued to revolve on its axis since the dawn of our time. Therefore I am certain that the seasons will change. There will be a day when the sun is blazing, the garden beds are crackling dry and I’m yearning for a few powder turns. The reservoirs are full. We will not hurt for water come summer. We are blessed. (I feel better just writing that.)

4. What doesn’t kill you…

...makes you stronger. Blech - so cliche, but it’s pretty damn true. My kids are tougher. They now just grab their ski suits, hats, boots and put them on. No push back. No fumbling around and jockeying to wear shoes instead of boots, or forgo a jacket just 'cause. They just do it. They understand layering (as good Oregonians should). They put their stuff by the fire to dry, planning ahead knowing they’d like dry gear the next time they head out.

Yesterday my son and I saw a brief break in the downpour of “wintry mix”, and dashed out for a push bike session. We ended up getting caught in the mix again and he was completely content to ride his bike in the snow and slush that we now consider the normal ground cover.

My daughter looked out the other day on her way to school and said, “oh, it’s just sprinkling, I’ll be fine” and off she went. Bring it on weather, we’re tough!

After dinner, the kids, now hooked on shoveling headed back outside in the dark wintry mix to bust a few more cubic yards out of our way. Woo hoo! Tough.
 

5. What doesn’t bend, breaks

Buildings and bridges
are made to bend in the wind
to withstand the world,
that's what it takes
All that steel and stone
is no match for the air, my friend
what doesn't bend breaks
what doesn't bend breaks
- Ani Difranco, Buildings and Bridges

Oh Ani. Whether you’re a fan or not, she nails it most of the time. This was playing through Bluetooth on my Subaru’s speakers as I slid out of my driveway and into the 6 inches of wet snow to pick the kids up from early dismissal and hit the grocery store to load up before yet another possibly ice-pocalypse and power outage.

What doesn’t bend, breaks. Humans, if we let ourselves, are infinitely adaptable. I’ve used these wacky, off-the-routine days to challenge my thinking and creativity. To put down my oh-so-pressing self-enforced deadlines and be a little softer. Be a little more forgiving. Be a little more present in what is ACTUALLY happening.

After all, this IS why I love being in nature and the outdoors so much. It’s why I have the hobbies I have (sailing, biking, skiing). Mother Nature forces you to comply with her plan. And if you can’t adapt a little and chart an altered course, she won't hesitate to throw your ship right into the rocks and break you into a million tiny pieces.

Bending a little has allowed me to get to know my kids a bit better. What motivates them, what pulls them out of their boredom spirals. To cook more food. To be a better meal planner and keep a stocked fridge and pantry. To learn how to make good-for-you hot cocoa (dude, Swiss Miss is garbage!). To be like the bamboo in my back yard. When the snow falls, gracefully bend, and as it melts away, spring right back up, a little bit taller.

My kids have gotten to know each other better. It’s like we went away for winter camp. Little 2 year old Axel learning from 6 year old Parker, and Parker in turn, gathering big sister skills like making snacks and celebrating his potty training wins (which, by the way, is a great snow day activity - we ditched the diapers!)

Being bendy has allowed me so much inspiration. When we get small breaks in the weather and school and routines are as usual, I attack my work with a voracious appetite. I actually work even faster with a sense of urgency, because “what if it starts snowing again???” A feeling of urgency and not being able to get stuff done fast enough is annoying, but in this case feels good to have the excitement behind it.

As I write, the flakes are still falling. NOAA’s storm warning doesn’t end until midnight tonight and they even have another storm warning backed right up to it which starts at 7am tomorrow and lasts another 36 hours. The hits JUST KEEP COMING.

At the end of the day you have a choice. You can bend, or you can break. I choose bend.

Of course, this is my business consulting blog. I am hoping you draw the appropriate analogies here to your business and work demands. There are so many:

- When clients or bosses demands pile on in and amid a technical crash

- Employees giving notice in the middle of a big project / high workloads

- Dealing with difficult people (need I say more?)

- When family becomes demanding at the same time as your work world ignites and you need to put in long hours at the office

- When you have big ideas, but the rest of your team isn’t on board
 

When have you had to bend so that you don’t break? Tell me about it below!

 

How My Favorite Rockstar Set Me on My Good Path

Tristan, sporting the Good Path Bangle Set, the product that started it all!

Tristan, sporting the Good Path Bangle Set, the product that started it all!

One of the best ways for me to sit down and get a bunch of work done is by finding music I love, pressing play and busting through my to do list. It was through this habit and the advent of internet radio and ITunes that I stumbled across singer songwriter, Tristan Prettyman. She was young, sang from the heart, and had percussive acoustic guitar tracks that reminded me of Ani Difranco meets Jack Johnson. What's better is this was also the time of MySpace where musicians would bare their souls through tons of photos and blogs and let you in on their creative process, behind the scenes tour moments and deep thoughts, be them random, profound or a total waste of time.

Tristan did a fabulous job of this. Through this wacky online world of transparency, I became even more connected to her music and her. I was a totally fan-girling.

People close to me knew that if I likened something to Tristan Prettyman-greatness, then I was giving the ultimate compliment. It was funny. It was my thing. I was oddly obsessed, and to this day I can't exactly pin down why, other than the fact that Tristan has a genius ability to speak and sing from her heart that instantly connects you to her if you're listening at all.

Fast-forward to the onset of Twitter. MySpace has died a quiet death, and I'm now gobbling up TP words of wisdom in 140 character chunks. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I'd like to do business with Tristan. We were two birds of a feather; I, a small business owner selling jewelry to the fans of this jewelry, and she, a singer-songwriter, band leader singing songs to her fans. I wanted to team up, meet her and collaborate. My soul was screaming for me to do this. 

So, through a series of Tweets, emails and conversations, we did! It was a momentous occasion for sure for me to be connected in real life to someone who I had prior only a virtual connection to. We collaborated with Tristan and key designers to go on and create a few of our best selling skus. We even met up with Tristan when she toured in Portland and hung out pre and post show, pretending to be rock stars along with her for the night.

We named the first collaboration we did with Tristan "The Good Path Bangle Set", after the Path of Life charm that hung from one of the bangles and the tattoo she had just gotten in Balinese that read "Find and follow your good path".

Having way too much fun post-show with Tristan Prettyman, Jill Crimmins, and Paul Cannon at the Doug Fir.

Having way too much fun post-show with Tristan Prettyman, Jill Crimmins, and Paul Cannon at the Doug Fir.

I truly believe the universe orchestrated all of this, hence setting me on my Good Path. I believe if you are looking and listening, yours is always there, right in front of you. When it came time to name this venture, it only made sense to keep with the theme. Hence, Good Path Consulting was born.

As soon as I registered the LLC, I emailed Tristan to let her know that she and her tattoo continue to inspire me. We agreed that life takes you exactly where you need to go, you just gotta open up your eyes and go there. 

Where has life guided you? What is your good path?

PS - Guys, Tristan and I are business name twinsies! Check out her Instagram feed about health, food and wellness @GoodPathSD. 

 

 

 

What I Learned From Swimming With Sharks

In June, 2014, I woke up one morning only to realize that I was swimming in shark infested waters. 

My business partner and I were on the tail end of a riding a long and epic ecommerce wave. We had paddled into it in 2009, armed with the best practices in SEO, PPC, web design, usability and development and only blue water in front of us. All we had to do was follow all the advice we had been giving our clients and we would succeed in the ecommerce landscape.

The ride lasted 4 years before everyone else caught up, and next thing we knew, the wave was getting crowded and sharks were showing up.

The concept of the red ocean/blue ocean strategy is one pioneered by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in the book Blue Ocean Strategy - Create Uncontested Market Space & Make the Competition Irrelevant.

Their book goes into more detail, but the basics of a Blue Ocean strategy are that after a while any market and business can find itself in a red ocean. All the sharks have shown up, attracted to the blood of the initial kill and are feeding on an ever-dwindling school of fish. 

A Blue Ocean strategy is one where a company deliberately looks away from the red ocean feeding frenzy into the vast sea of blue. It requires new non-competitive thinking, and innovations. It leaves the competitive landscape for the creative, opportunity building one. 

For more info on the specifics of finding a Blue Ocean, definitely check out their book, but for the purposes of my point here, that's all you need to know.

Ecommerce as I knew it, as a retailer of designer jewelry had become a straight up red ocean. The cost per click was way up. Amazon, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales AND the brands themselves were competing with us on cost, pay-per-click, loyalty programs and customer services. There were no more ways to differentiate ourselves within the constraints set up in our business.

Our next move wasn't to lower our costs, we couldn't, we had Minimum Advertised Price agreements in place with our vendors. We couldn't add services, we already had fast, free shipping and returns. We couldn't pay MORE per click. As it was, we already only broke even on the first customer acquisition cost, relying on the total lifetime customer value to make a profit. Our only option was to completely pivot. But to what? 

We came up with a few ideas. The first, start a subscription-based "box" model, a la Blue Apron, Stitch Fix or Trunk Club. Hand picked jewelry just for you, delivered once a month. Another option was to create our own brand, that contains an element of personalization. The 2 places Amazon can't compete in (for now) are any type of engraving, and when the brand chooses not to sell on Amazon. We'd do both. We also considered a jewelry rental model that you could subscribe to, wear the pieces, and send them to trade out for new pieces (similar to handbag programs out there).

These ideas held water (to keep with the H20 analogies). The problem was this - we hadn't planned for any of this until the red water was around us. We rode the wave too long. It was crashing on the beach. Our boards were on the sand, and it was WAY easier to hop off and sunbathe for a bit, than to paddle back out and wait for the next set.

Personal factors weighed in too. I had an infant in my arms, and bringing a new business model into the world at the same time felt like WAY too much. Also, I didn't want to do it. I was getting tired of the impersonal world of ecom. Never touching the product. Never interacting with the designers. It became mundane and souless.

So, while the blue ocean almost always exists, you may not always like it.

What did we do? We sold the business. Based on the track record we had, we were able to find a buyer extremely fast, and offload the whole project to them to execute. 

It was a real moment of reckoning for me. Was this the life I'd envisioned for the business? No. Was it what felt right at the time? Yes. What I do wish I'd done was stay one step ahead of the red ocean feeding frenzy and to put blue ocean strategies in place one small step at a time. 

The best way to eat a hippo is one bite a time. Don't wait til the sharks are circling to think about where your next blue ocean might be.

Have you ever swum with sharks? Are you implementing a blue ocean strategy now? Let me know in the comments!

The 80/20 Rule: 80% of People Get It 20% Wrong

The 80/20 Rule has popped a lot for me over the past 8 years or so. The first place I learned of it was from Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Work Week. (This book changed my life.)

Here's how he phrases it...which I think makes the most sense. I have definitely heard a few paraphrases of this that aren't quite right. If you stick to these examples and apply directly from here, you will get it. I lifted this from his blog:

  • Hyperactivity vs. Productivity — 80/20 and Pareto’s Law: 

Being busy is not the same as being productive. Forget about the start-up overwork ethic that people wear as a badge of honor–get analytical. The 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto’s Law, dictates that 80% of your desired outcomes are the result of 20% of your activities or inputs. Once per week, stop putting out fires for an afternoon and run the numbers to ensure you’re placing effort in high-yield areas: What 20% of customers/products/regions are producing 80% of the profit? What are the factors that could account for this? Invest in duplicating your few strong areas instead of fixing all of your weaknesses.

  • The Customer is Not Always Right — “Fire” High-Maintenance Customers: 

Not all customers are created equal. Apply the 80/20 principle to time consumption: What 20% of people are consuming 80% of your time? Put high-maintenance, low-profit customers on auto-pilot–process orders but don’t pursue them or check up on them–and “fire” high-maintenance, high-profit customers by sending a memo detailing how a change in business model requires a few new policies: how often and how to communicate, standardized pricing and order process, etc. Indicate that, for those clients whose needs are incompatible with these new policies, you are happy to introduce other providers. “But what if my largest customer consumes all of my time?” Recognize that 1) without time, you cannot scale your company (and, oftentimes, life) beyond that customer, and 2) people, even good people, will unknowingly abuse your time to the extent that you let them. Set good rules for all involved to minimize back-and-forth and meaningless communication.


Where people start to water the power of this down is when they just start chopping everything things into 80/20 blocks instead of creating a relationship between desired outcomes and inputs. Like, I spend 80% of my time with 20% of my friends...That's not a helpful insight... It could mean you wish you could spend time with a wider variety of friends or that you could spend more time outside of your social realm, etc...it just doesn't give you a look at a way to optimize your time.

Instead, the relationship is more like this - "I get 80% of my enjoyment from 20% of my time spent with friends". This means you can cut out 80% of the people in your schedule and still have 80% of the enjoyment. You have to factor in a variable that has some sort of meaning to you like happiness, profits, efficiency, <insert desired outcome here> and relate it to an input (time, energy, stress, etc). [and I realize this is a ruthless example!!]

Other ways to apply it to your life: 
You get 80% of the enjoyment out of 20% of the clothes you wear.
You get 80% of the enjoyment out of 20% of the recipes you make.

What are the 80/20 rules in your life or business? How has this principle helped you? Let me know in the comments!