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Business Inspiration And Wisdom For The New Year

The insanity of November and National Novel Writing Month has ended for another year and as we approach Christmas I’m doing what I always do at this time of year – taking stock and planning for the New Year. I like to round off my year with a look back at what I’ve achieved in my business and a consideration of where I want to go next year. In the spirit of this I thought I’d share a little business inspiration and wisdom for the New Year.

I’ve gone from ten hour work days with four hours of extra writing at the end of it and sixteen hours of solid book writing at the weekends to my usual ten hour work days and I find myself…contemplative. And exhausted. No doubt about it, NaNo is one of the most tiring things a person can do while simultaneously working a full-time job. It’s worth it, but when December first hits you find yourself utterly drained and oddly emotional. You miss the writing, miss the community, the write-ins and the hours spent at the pub.

Being as I am a chronic insomniac, even though I’m taking a break from my extra curricular writing for a while to recover I’m not doing the sensible thing and…you know…getting some sleep. Instead I binge watched House of Cards of Netflix and, when that ran out, moved on to The West Wing and the pleasant daydream that Jed Bartlett is truly president and everything else was just a bad dream. As a consequence there is a theme to this business advice in that it is all drawn from House of Cards wisdom.

Business Inspiration and Wisdom from House of Cards

If you’ve not watched the Netflix original series, I can highly recommend it. To give you a brief introduction, House of Cards focuses on the antics of a US senator, Frank Underwood, who is ruthless, power-hungry, manipulative, and utterly brilliant. Throughout the series he drops many a pearl of wisdom, and the more I watched the show the more I got to thinking about how applicable the Frank Underwood acumen is to business. Because I’m incapable of sitting and watching TV without simultaneously doing at least three other things, I started jotting down ideas for this post while it was playing and had to stop myself at some point because the list was getting too long. There will be more pearls of FU wisdom in the New Year, but for now, here are my top picks…

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, a little insight, something to energise you as you head into the new year, a few solid truth bombs, or just a good kick up the arse where your business is concerned, look no further…

Business Inspiration and Wisdom For The New Year Treading water is like drowning for people like you and me - House of Cards“Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me.”

This one made it to the top of the list without question. I relate so strongly to this notion that I actually paused the show when he said it, rewound it, and listened to it a few times over. Entrepreneurs are, by nature, thinkers, doers, innovators, creatives, and inventors. We tend to be two things: ambitious and impatient. A tendency towards being type A personalities doesn’t help with this.

There’s nothing wrong with being this way. In fact, in the ever-changing modern world of business, it’s essential to be this way to some extent. The problem is that we’re not good at sitting still. We’re no good at waiting. And just as surely as I’m unable to simply relax and watch TV without simultaneously working on something (even when I’m supposed to be having a break!), most entrepreneurs are really bad at treading water.

We like to succeed, we like to evolve, we are constantly looking to the next horizon, the next challenge, the next achievement. We push, and grow, and if for any reason we have to stop for a while and wait, if we’re stuck treading water instead of swimming onward, we find ourselves in real trouble.

Emotionally, physically, and often financially, we’re not build to tread water. We’re built to swim, to constantly push forwards. As Frank Underwood so eloquently  puts it, ‘Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me’.

Why It Hit Home…

Never have I felt this more strongly than I do at the moment. This time last year I went from living in my mother’s box room to living in my own house. Huge step forward. A couple of months after that I made the decision to refocus my business efforts exclusively on writing, and re-brand. Another huge step. But ever since then I’ve been treading water, because it was a BIG SHIFT and it took a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of planning. I wasn’t able to take time off from working in my business to work on my business so it got shoe horned in around my client work. And it’s not that I’m unhappy with the place I’m in – quite the contrary, I’m delighted with how well life is going, both personally and professionally – but there is something wrong. I feel it right down to my bones and it unsettles me. It’s part of the reason I wrote like a maniac throughout the whole of November and got so much work done on my book projects.

I’m treading water.

And it is like drowning.

Business Inspiration and Wisdom

It doesn’t matter what you achieve or how far you come, the second you get comfortable doing something you find yourself asking ‘What’s next?’.

I used to think this was a byproduct of a mind on overdrive, that it was indicative of a very short attention span and the need to always have something new to work on. And that is part of it. But a greater part of it is that I’m ambitious. I always have been. And the thing about ambition is that it’s never satisfied. It constantly propels you forwards, forcing you to swim, or drown. 

Business Inspiration and Wisdom For The New Year - 'Generosity is its own form of power' - House of Cards“Generosity is its own form of power”

I wouldn’t be where I am today without two things: the love and support of my family, and my clients.

My business wouldn’t be a business without clients. It would just be me, twiddling my thumbs all day, watching the bills pile up and sweating because there was no way to pay them. In the last year I’ve been working very hard to shift into a higher gear and ensure all the people I’m working with are exactly the type of clients I love: smart, business savvy individuals with as much ambition and drive as me. People who understand that a successful business isn’t a one-man-band, that asking for help in areas you’re not as confident in, not as skilled in, or simply don’t have time for, is not the mark of someone who is weak, but the hallmark of a CEO.

These are my clients. And I truly value them.

Business Inspiration and Wisdom

At this time of year I like to give something back to them, a small demonstration of how much I appreciate them, and an acknowledgement of the fact that a business is only as successful as its clients, its customers, its consumers. My clients get gifts at Christmas. New clients joining me in the holiday period receive a gift. Existing clients likewise get a present in the post, along with a fancy card, handwritten by me, with a personal note about the year, what I’ve enjoyed about working with them, and what I look forward to in the future.

There is an element of promotion in this act, I’m not going to try and pretend there isn’t, but I am a firm believer in generosity. In Karma. My clients put money in my bank year round. Come year end I like to give them a little something to express my gratitude for that, to acknowledge and thank them for it, and extend to them the warmest wishes of the season. This doesn’t just come in the form of gifts and cards at Christmas, but flash sales run through the year that give clients who can’t normally afford my services a chance to grab them on the cheap. I just ran a very successful Cyber Monday sale giving a full 60% off blog and book review bundles. Some existing clients nabbed themselves a bargain, and I’m going to have the chance to work with some new faces in the New Year: it’s a win-win all round.

Generosity is a powerful thing. A cynical person would say that the power of seasonal gift giving is increased future revenue, and there is some truth to that. There is also some truth to the fact that some of the people convinced to buy from me for the first time in the sale will go on to buy full price items from me in the future. They’re called promotions for a reason. But there is a greater power at work here. The greater power that comes from appreciating your clients, from giving back, and the way in which it empowers you. Think of A Christmas Carol, and the infamous character of Scrooge. It’s a classic for a reason. It’s a book we read and a film we watch year after year for a reason.

 

I Finally woke up to what my value is and how undervalued I was working for you." House of Cards Business Inspiration and Wisdom For The New Year

“I finally woke up to what my value is, and how undervalued I was, working for you.”

I absolutely love this quote. Knowing your own worth is incredibly important, but it doesn’t come easy.

It’s something I’ve struggled with for years. Since working for myself it has become even more difficult because I have to literally put a monetary value on myself. On my skills. On my time. Even when there are suggested hourly rates provided by institutions like the Professional Copywriters’ Network, stating that £30-£100 per hour is a reasonable rate to charge, depending on experience, it took me until August this year to put my prices up to anything close to that.

Given my educational background, my teaching and research experience, and my writing portfolio and skills, I should be about mid-range on that scale, yet I still ‘only’ charge £35/hour.

Yet it’s taken so much to charge that much! It still feels like a lot, and for many people, it is. It often feels too much. There is a voice in my head constantly telling me: You’re not worth that!

The reality that I’m slowly coming to accept is that I am worth that, and more. But I have had so many relationships – personal and professional – in which people told me, with actions and often the actual words, YOU’RE NOT WORTH IT, that I truly believed this for years. I’m still getting used to charging that rate. It’s still big, and scary. Prior to August I was charging £20/hour, and I’d only been managing that for a year.

Your rates will vary drastically – you may charge by the hour, the day, on a project-by-project basis, on a service basis, you might have set rates for specific packages or products sold at fixed rates.

However you value yourself, your services, and your time, there comes a point when the realisation hits you – right in the gut – that you’re undervaluing yourself, and because of that, your clients are undervaluing you. You’re teaching them bad behaviour. They are underpaying you, and under-appreciating you, but they’re only doing it because you’re telling them it’s okay!

If you feel a client is worthy of your trust, there’s no reason you can’t extend them an offer of discounted prices, but there’s a limit – there comes a point when you’re essentially working for someone for free. Maybe not all the time, but some of the time. And even when the reasons for that are perfectly good, and perfectly justifiable, even when they are lovely clients who would happily pay you full price if they could, you can’t do it indefinitely. 

You’re running a business, not a charity, you’re entitled to your free time, you shouldn’t spend it slaving away for the sake of other people’s businesses – you have your own to take care of!

Business Inspiration and Wisdom

Wake up to your value.

If need be, put your prices up, bring them in line with what you and your skills and experiences are truly worth. If you’re not comfortable with that, start moving towards it. Pick a price higher than your current rates and edge it up slowly.

It’s utterly terrifying, and if you’re anything like me will make you sick to your stomach, but it’s shocking how people respond.

The clients who value you and understand your worth don’t bat an eyelid – in fact, they tell you they’re amazed you didn’t do it sooner!

The ones who undervalue you, who don’t understand your worth, don’t want to pay you your worth, or are (for whatever reason) unable to pay you your worth will do one of two things: they will be completely understanding about it and gracefully stop working with you (at least until they’re able to pay your new rates), or they will kick back.

Some of them will kick hard.

They will guilt, wrangle, haggle, and try to bribe you into sticking to your current rates for them. They will beg a few more months, promise you the earth, and generally try to make you feel like a reprehensible human being for having the audacity to ask them for more money.

These are not people you want to work with.

These are not people who value, appreciate, or respect you. They are not your ideal clients. 

That doesn’t mean they’re awful people, that you should treat them badly, or that you should lose your respect and appreciation for them and the business they have given you up to now, but it does mean it’s time to let them go.

Gracefully.

Raising my prices is literally the best thing I have ever done in my business. My wonderful clients stayed, the ones I have had consistent issues with went, and there was one who desperately wanted to keep working with me but couldn’t afford to at the new rates. Because I believe in her and her business, and have every confidence that she will be able to pay those rates in the near future, because I know that getting to that point will be a lot easier for her with me than without me, and because my income had just taken a healthy boost, I was able to make an exception. Call it a Karmic accounting decision: logically I should have let her go and taken on one of the new clients waiting on a list for space to open up. I’d have made a lot more money. But not every decision in business is about money, even the ones that are.

That they value you. When you’ve created a business entirely made of perfect clients who value you, you can afford to help them out occasionally.

The Nature of Sharks…

I don’t know about you, but I think Frank Underwood and House of Cards in general is a fountain of wonderfully sage business inspiration and wisdom and we’d all do well to take a leaf out of his playbook. That said, I feel compelled to point out that Frank’s a ruthless, manipulative bastard, and while his lessons are insightful, the manner in which he actions them is often questionable. What do you think? Are we heading into murky waters taking business advice from such a questionable character?

Can you learn from a shark without becoming a shark?

I’d love to know what you think! Pop a comment below and let me know!

Book Of The Week: Die Empty By Todd Henry

Die Empty by Todd Henry is just what I would expect from such an impassioned speaker. It’s well written and provides a thoughtful, and though-provoking, commentary giving it your all. Always doing your best work. 

There’s a very personal tone to the book which is evident throughout. Todd is clearly invested in this subject and walks his own talk. He comes across as genuine in his beliefs, and advice, which lends a little book a lot of depth. Included in the book is a lot of advice about how to best approach and conquer your goals. This includes practical advice and ideas on how to assess if you’re really giving it your all. Todd asks that we consider whether we’re putting 100% into what we do. More than that, he questions whether you’re focusing that 100% in the right direction. Sometimes we’re giving it our all, but our focus is on the wrong thing, so we’re not getting the desired results. Not because we’re not trying hard enough, but because we’re looking in the wrong direction.

Die Empty

This is an excellent book to read if you’re unhappy with your progress. If you need to shake things up a bit. Or if you’re looking for a different approach, or if you just like books on personal and career development. The title, Die Empty, refers to the key question of the book: 

How do you set in motion a course of action that will allow you to unleash your best, most valuable work while you still can?

Todd answers this query with a combination of practical advice and a reasonable number of anecdotal stories. He doesn’t shy away from detailing his personal struggled in order to demonstrate what he’s discussing. His background means there is a rather ‘coachy’ feel to a lot of what he says. Todd is a motivational speaker and life coach, and it shows. This isn’t a criticism, but if it’s a style you don’t enjoy you may not appreciate it.

Die Empty Book Cover Die Empty
Todd Henry
Business & Economics
Penguin
2015-04
240

Most of us live with the stubborn idea that we'll always have tomorrow to do our most important and valuable work. We fill our days with frantic activity, bouncing from task to task, scrambling to make deadlines, and chasing the next promotion. But by the end of each day we're often left asking ourselves, 'did the work I do today really matter?' Die Emptyis a tool for people who aren't willing to put off their most important work for another day. Todd Henry explains the forces that keep us in stagnation and introduces a process for instilling consistent practices into your life that will keep you on a true and steady course. 'You have limited number of days on Earth. This book sends an urgent message: make them count!' Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startupand The Art of Non-conformity 'In a field crowded with rivals, Todd Henry stands out as a unique and original voice. I love Todd's outstanding thoughts on how each of us possesses a career-in-potential, and it's our challenge to bring it forth so that we can 'die empty.' If you can read this book and not be inspired, you need a 100 percent full-body-and-soul transplant.' Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Artand Turning Pro 'It's a veritable page-turner of insights and new ways to think about how to soak the most creative juices out of your life.' Twist Image 'If you've pondered a life list, books you want to write, trips you want to take, creative projects you want to begin, don't allow those visions to die with you. Let Todd Henry help you make it happen.' Aaron McHugh's Insights Into Work, Life, & Playblog 'Most of the advice is sensible, easy to implement, and a reminder that best efforts are more rewarding than mediocre ones.' Success

5 Inspirational Women Changing the World With Their Vision

As women we have a lot to contend with, especially when venturing into the realm of business and entrepreneurship, a world that is traditionally the province of men. It’s not always easy to overcome such perceptions, stamp out the inequality, and demand a fair shake in life. We hold ourselves to impossible standards, expect perfection in all things, and often feel we have to do absolutely everything ourselves, or we have somehow failed.  At times like this we need a little pick me up, a little encouragement, and some proof that what we can dream we can do. Here’s Part One of my list of inspirational women changing the world with their vision. Part Two will follow in a few weeks! Some you will recognise, others aren’t so famous (yet!).

Arianna Huffington 10 Inspirational Women Changing the World With Their Vision

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo News.

#1 Arianna Huffington

A hugely successful business woman, author, syndicated columnist and occasional actress, Arianna Huffington was named as number twelve in Forbes’ original list of Most Powerful Women, and Time Magazine‘s 100 most influential people, Co-founder, editor-in-chief, and president of The Huffington Post media group, May 2005 she launched The Huffington Post, which swiftly became one of the most widely read news and blog sites on the web. Arianna has penned fifteen books, most recently The Sleep Revolution, which vividly outlines the problems that arise simply due to not getting enough sleep, and how small changes can make a huge impact on your health and lifestyle, and became an instant New York Times bestseller. Most recently, Arianna has announced she is stepping down as the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post to work on her new startup, Thrive Global.

The Greek American is originally from Greece, and moved to England at the age of sixteen to attend Cambridge University, where she became president of The Cambridge Union, a world-famous debating society, at the age of twenty-one, and graduated with an MA in Economics.

Want to know how to become a Huffington Post blogger? Click Here!

Diane Von Furstenberg 10 Inspirational Women Changing the World With Their Vision

Photo of Diane Von Furstenberg at New York Fashion Week, by Ed Kavishe, Fashion Wire Press.

#2 Diane Von Furstenberg

Previously Princess Diane of Fürstenberg, Germany, Diane von Fürstenberg, is a highly successful Belgian-America fashion designer who initially came into the public eye when she married Prince Egon of Fürstenberg. After their divorce, in 1972 Diane founded her own eponymously named fashion label. DVF has become a global phenomenon. It’s main boutique is in Manhatten’s illustrious Meatpacking District, her designs are available in over seventy countries, and it has over forty additional stores world-wide. 

Diane has been the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s president since 2006. Forbes listed her as the 68th most powerful woman in the world in 2014. She was also featured by Time Magazine in the Time 1oo as an Icon in 2015.

Her most iconic design, a knitted jersey wrap dress that she introduced in 1974, appears in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their Costume Institute collection. The dress, and other DVF designs, were so influential on women’s fashion that Diane’s career has gone from strength to strength ever since. She remains a shining example – and one of the earliest examples – of just how much women in the business world can achieve.

Emma Watson Inspirational Women Changing the World With Their Vision

Emma Watson at the Cannes Film Festival, Photograph by Georges Biard.

#3 Emma Watson

I’ve been a huge fan of Emma Watson since she lit up the silver screen as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. Since then she’s gone on to demonstrate that she’s far more than a cute kid with a flare of playing a magical misfit. Having grown into a stunningly beautiful woman, Emma has well and truly proved her acting chops, staring in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Bling Ring, as well as the TV adaptation of Ballet Shoes, a novel by Noel Streatfeild. More recently she has filmed the new live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, playing the iconic role of Belle. But Emma is far more than ‘just’ a talented actress. 

Passionate about literature and education, Emma took time out from acting to attend Brown University and Worcester College, Oxford, study English Literature. She was insistent on being treated like everyone else, even sharing a dorm room with a co-ed, as any other normal student would in America. Emma embarked on a professional modeling career in 2005, becoming the youngest model to grace the cover of Teen Vogue. She has since modeled for Burberry and Lancôme, and in 2011 was awarded the Style Icon award from British Elle by Dame Vivienne Westwood. In 2014 she won the Best British Style award at the British Fashion Awards, beating out Amal Clooney, David Beckham, Kate Moss and Keira Knightley. Most recently, Enma pipped some impressive names such as Barak Obama and David Tenent to first place in Radio One’s survey of British Teenager’s top stars.

Yet the delightful young star’s talents do not end here. Emma has been very active in her promotion of education for girls, visiting both Bangladesh and Zambia. In July 2014 she was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and later that year gave an inspiring address at the UN Headquarters in New York City to launch the UN Women campaign HeForShe – a campaign calling for men to become proactive in advocating gender equality. In her speech Emma called attention to her own personal questions surrounding gender-based assumptions, which started at the age of eight when she was called ‘bossy’, while boys were not. She also discussed her sexualisation by ‘certain elements of the media’ when she was only fourteen years old. Her speech described feminism as ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities’. Emma furthered this by denouncing ‘man-hating’ as something that simply ‘has to stop’. 

Within 12 hours of making her speech, Emma received threats, which she described as having the exact opposite effect as intended after they left her ‘raging’ and determined to continue her work. In 2015, Malala Yousafzai confessed to Emma that she was inspired to call herself a feminist by her UN speech (Malala will be featured on Part 2 of this list, so watch out for that!).

Emma has gone on to speak at other events on gender and equality matters, and has made numerous other prestigious lists of influential, powerful, and popular women.

Kennedy Walsh Inspirational Women Changing The World With Their Vision

Image courtesy of www.kennedywalshmodel.com

#4 Kennedy Walsh

Model, actress, and most recently the owner of a new line of accessories. Kennedy Walsh has an impressive resume by any standards, yet this phenomenal young woman is only fourteen years old. In addition to having a seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm and ambition, Kennedy is determined to change the our perceptions of beauty, and fight for equality in all things, for people of all abilities. Kennedy herself has down’s syndrome,  a genetic condition that usually causes some level of learning disability and is accompanied by characteristic physical features, particularly in a person’s face. Unperturbed by the supposed ‘disadvantage’ of this condition, Kennedy hasn’t let it slow her down, and has in fact used her difference to fuel her passion for life and campaign for equality.

Kennedy’s campaign began after she was flipping through magazines with her mother one day and noticed that all the models looked the same. While this may be a gripe that every overweight woman in the world has made at some point, the realisation struck Kennedy a little harder, as she realised it wasn’t just people’s looks that were judged, but their abilities, also.

There were no models like her.

Kennedy and her mother swiftly set about changing this and she has since gone from strength to strength, campaigning hard to raise enough money to travel to New York and strut her fabulous stuff as a modeling convention in 2015. At the convention she was ranked in the top 10 commercial beauty models, bagged an honorable mention in the swimming suit competition, and won the spirit and courage award. She also went home with a modeling contract. Since then Kennedy has gone on to model for some high profile brands and release a line of accessories called Kennedy Inspires.

Janet Mock 10 Inspirational Women Changing the World With Their Vision

Photograph Taken In Manhattan On February 12th 2011, by Juston Smith

You can follow Kennedy on Facebook and Instagram.

#5 Janet Mock

Janet Mock is the bestselling author of two books, including Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More debuted at #19 on the New York Times bestsellers list. She is also a strong LGBT activist and trans woman. Janet is also an editor at Marie Claire, and in 2011 came out as a trans woman in an article published by the magazine. Since then she has gone on to speak out about transgender issues and is a fierce advocate for the rights of transgender people, in particular trans women of color, like herself.

Mock notoriously took issue with the title of the article published by Marie Claire, ‘I Was Born A Boy’, stating that her genetal reconstructive surgery did not ‘make her a girl’, she was always a girl, and was not born and raised as a boy. 

“I was born in what doctors proclaim is a boy’s body. I had no choice in the assignment of my sex at birth… My genital reconstructive surgery did not make me a girl. I was always a girl.”

Janet sparked further controversy over the article in 2014, while promoting Redefining Realness, when she took the opportunity to reiterate that she didn’t choose the title of the article, and that it was very problematic. Lea Goldman, editor of the piece, later tweeted his agreement and support of Janet, saying he recalled both Janet and the author of the piece, Kiera Mayo, taking issue with it at the time but he went with it anyway and now regretted that.

In 2012, Janet started the Twitter hashtag #GirlsLikeUs to empower transgender women, and gave the Lavender Commencement keynote speech honoring LGBT students at the University of Southern California. Janet served as co-chair, nominee, and presenter at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards, and in 2013 joined the board of directors of the Arcus Foundation, a charity for the conservation of the great ape as well as LGBT rights. In 2015 delivered the commencement address for Pitzer College. Her work has earned her several awards, including the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s Sylvia Rivera Activist Award. 

In 2014 Janet once more spoke out against the misrepresentation of transgender issues and her own personal story, after appearing on Piers Morgan Live. Her interview was supposed to be about publicising Redefining Realness and raising awareness of trans issues, but Janet felt both Morgan and the show’s producers were uninterested in this and instead shifted the focus and sensationalised her life, focusing on her personal life and physical journey as a trans woman. Janet and the LGBTQ community at large felt this only fueled misunderstanding of trans issues, and Morgan came under heavy criticism for it, prompting him to invite Janet back on the show to address the issue.

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