Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blogging: The Ultimate Form of Productive Procrastination

Spaz post alert - I feel like writing again even though it's only been one day since my last post. Pour que? Because I have two projects to complete tonight and a blog post is the perfect form of productive procrastination. Take that whirling-yet-lazy mind that keeps avoiding projects because you think they are too big and don't know where to start. I will blog some sense into you!

When I finish a blog post or any other project that you can actually tell is done, I feel a sense of completion, and that sense of completion gives me confidence. I need confidence right now like Popeye needs spinach.

The projects I'm working on tonight require a superhuman mental energy to complete. A completed project - such as this blog post will soon be - is the ultimate spinach. A dose of spinach and I'll get 'er done tonight (click on that, I promise it's funny). In other words, as I once eloquently said in a facebook status update, it's time to rev up my get'rdunitude. What do you do to get on a roll and feel confident?

Ok, so here are the two projects I'm tackling first by writing about them (classic procrastination strategy but it really does help). This is why I need someone other than this creature (Clementine, CraterCom's VP of Business Development) to talk to about work stuff. Good thing today I met with my first potential hire.

Project A: This is a research project for a new, very exciting client. It's a really cool assignment but one I've avoided sitting down to finish because it involves spreadsheets. Spreadsheets freak me out, don't ask me why, usually because I don't get the formatting. I have all kinds of words for the nightmare that is excel - such as when in Exhell I need an excelpert who can lend me their excelpertise...oh how I love the wordplay. Boxes across a scrolling screen - my skin is crawling just thinking about it, especially google docs. I'd sooner clean the litter box than populate a Google doc spreadsheet. Mostly I don't like them because your boss/client can check in on your work at any moment. I prefer to keep it all to myself until it's ready to show, no peeking in on where I'm at with something (usually because 90% of a project is in my head and/or scattered throughout notebooks at any given moment).

Project B: Messaging document. selling a new service. Involves thinking, positioning, writing, etc. I know this stuff but really need to crank it out. That verb choice sounds awful but, hey, it rings true. Let's be honest, as much as I love it, writing is hard work, n'est-ce pas? That's why people pay other people to do it. But it's very rewarding and for this particular assignment, it's pretty exciting where this one-pager is leading.

Ok so there, I wrote a blog post and it's done. That them there was some good spinach! Bleck...but hopefully once I push "publish post" the energy rush will kick in and I'll have fun with my work. Thanks for listening!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Chronicles of CraterCom

I have never been happier since leaving my so-called corporate life and becoming an entrepreneur. I have also never been hungrier.

Going through some photos, I found this one taken on the Saturday after I got laid off back in June 2009. It's amazing how happy and calm I look considering I had just finished packing up my belongings from the cubicle where I practically lived for the last year and half. I actually loved working there - the thrill of the job pushed me learn new skills and work harder than I ever had.

Moments before this picture was taken, my hands were shaking and I had tears in my eyes. Frantic and resentful, I was packing every last file and office supply into boxes as fast as I could. I knew I'd need to hustle to keep the beach apartment I had just moved into right before the lay-off and had madly fallen in love with. I felt frantic yet assured I could get new work before August rent was due. Sadly peeling the picture of my new place off my padded cubicle wall, I vowed to work hard to keep that apartment throughout the rapidly shifting employment situation (ha, nice euphemism, eh?). Snap, picture - the camera must have caught me in that thought.

I had severance to last me for the next month and half, and I used part of it to buy a computer and desk for my new home office (you gotta spend money to make money, I believe that). I was committed to trying out my own thing and knew I had to take a leap of faith and commit 100%. Being an entrepreneur is downright scary, especially first starting out. The hardest part is consistently having money in the bank. When my steady retainer-based income didn't cover expenses (which was the case for three months) I had to rely on multiple freelance projects to make up the difference. As a result I couldn't go grocery shopping until I got paid, and I was hungry sometimes. I put my student loans on hold, used my credit cards to pay bills and ate every free meal I could at my parents' houses (thanks Mom and Dad!).

But, the hard work and uncertainty is paying off. I am meeting amazing people, going to incredible events and am really living my dream. I have three new clients I just started working with and another one likely to sign next week. I'm interviewing my first potential hire tomorrow. Since I last wrote, I entered a business plan competition, organized a panel I'm moderating next month, traveled to San Jose for a conference and wrote a bylined article for Environmental Leader. I also choreographed and performed a modern dance piece to "System of a Down" (which I will share once I have the good version) and recorded this (admittedly cheesy) video about CraterCom. When I say all that it sounds like a lot, but for some reason I almost constantly feel like I'm not doing enough and I should be working more. The vicious guilt complex - never helpful. Some of the best advice is to get out of your own way.

By just having two clients in the beginning, I was able to focus on doing a quality job and building up a base of work. I also got to apply my marketing and PR strategies to my own business. I had work samples to show my new prospects and have built great relationships so far that are really helping my business. Now I am frankly scared again about the new workload, but I'm meeting with someone tomorrow who I may hire to help me manage it. This is my update and I will keep you posted - pun intended:) I wonder what the story is for other entrepreneurs, especially those that started their businesses after being laid off. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Whirlwind Week of Green Connections

My apartment is a total mess now after a whirlwind of back-to-back networking events that were all within 1 week of each other. I have 40 more amazing facebook friends today than yesterday and I met most of them in person. Rather than clean, which I hate, I will write, which I love. I want to share some of the things I've learned while I was CraterCom at large last week, and I want to do it in time for Melrose Place...hope someone can glean something useful because I'm not just doing this entry to avoid dishes!

Tuesday, Nov 2:
PR Newswire Social Media Panel at the LA Times building
Caught the second half of a PR Newswire panel presentation on social media strategies after getting dreadfully lost in downtown Los Angeles. I was too disoriented to take notes but listened from the back row to all kinds of terms that make me think I have a lot still to learn about social media: TweetSheep, crowdsourcing, was too early to get much out of this and without coffee all those new words gave me a headache. I'm not a morning person and made a mental to note to avoid early morning downtown meetings when I live 40 miles away. Sat next to a cool woman though who had the same phone as me but in a different color and with a picture of a dog instead of a cat. She runs a PR business and I posted about her on my CraterCom facebook page.
Meeting with Los Angeles Times business editors
10:30am Had the most amazing meeting ever and felt like a superstar when I got to go upstairs in the LA Times building and meet with John Corrigan, Nancy Rivera-Brooks, Marla Dickerson and Sharon Bernstein. I was just expecting to say hello to John, who thanks to PRSA and facebook I had been chatting with over the past two months, but to my pleasant (and nervewracking!) surprise, he took me into his office and had the other three editors join us for a conversation about green story angles and happenings in Los Angeles. I rattled off tons of talking points I had been preparing my clients with over the past couple of months and was so excited to be there talking to them. Got to pitch the Opportunity Green conference in person and hear that green stories are the ones with the most hits on their website. I hope I made a good impression and didn't sound like a babbling idiot ;) I'm pretty sure I didn't though, as they did send a reporter to cover the conference and came out with this piece on Monday:,0,5234850.story I'm thrilled because this is my first really big media placement for a client. The other major placement was the Houston Business Journal article back in August:

Wednesday, Nov 3:
8:30am-4pm, Manhattan Beach
Escape From Cubicle Nation Workshop with Pamela Slim and Colleen Wainwright

I loved the book "Escape from Cubicle Nation" by Pamela Slim and starting cyberstalking her a couple of months ago, which was how I heard about her workshop in LA. She did an amazing job inspiring and connecting a group of entrepreneurs in various phases of their businesses (including yours truly). The starting point for her workshop was defining the kind of life you want and then modelling your business around it. I loved how we began by visualizing our ideal day and then thinking about the ideal kinds of people we want to work with. She had a really useful framework of being in business; a circular process usually sprung from a catalytic event such as a layoff or health scare:

Square 1: Death & Rebirth - shedding your old identity as an employee/wandering in the desert. MANTRA: "I don't know what the hell's going on, and that's ok"

Square 2: Dreaming & Scheming - all possibilities are open. I felt I was in this one today when I started visualizing this dance production I intend to make happen for an event next year. MANTRA: "There are no rules, and that's ok"

Square 3: Hero Sage - a journey in which you become different through all that you go through. There are many challenges and mistakes; it's best to have a mindset of curiousity and observe yourself as if observing a bug. MANTRA: "Nothing is working, and that's ok."

Square 4: The Promise Land - you get it, you're doing it. You maybe start thinking of something else to do. MANTRA: "Everything is changing, and that's ok."

She is really funny and real and I'm glad she posed in this picture with me:

Also presenting during the day-long event at the Belamar Hotel in Manhattan Beach was a really funny and extremely bright woman, Colleen Wainwright, known in the cyberworld as the Communicatrix. She personifies the witty, hilarious advertising type of woman I always wanted to be friends with and have like me, which is why I was super high-maintenance and made her be in this picture with me:

Colleen shared these thoughts about branding:
-Brand is an emotional aftertaste

-Always be awesome :)

-Follow the 95/5 rule when posting on social media - it's 95% about others, 5% about you. In other words be them-centric, not you-centric. (This is what "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie is about)
-Frame your elevator pitch as "are you this person with this problem? I can help, here's how."

P.S. On the way to the workshop I got pulled over by a cop for just touching my blackberry at a red light! I thought that was ok, but apparently you should go to jail just for having a telephonic device within 10 feet of your vehicle. Beware ;)

SMARTY OC Foundation Class (still Wednesday..)
7:00-9:00pm Costa Mesa
Despite being pretty workshopped out, I still made my SMARTY class and I'm glad I did. We worked on our elevator pitches and shared our strengths and weaknesses.
Thursday, Nov 5 - what, you thought this blog post would be done by now? The week is just getting warmed up ;)

Ok, so, Thursday...

3pm-6pm, Santa Monica
RedBull Reception for Tour de OG Riders
It was really cool to greet the 12 cyclists who rode from San Francisco to Los Angeles to come attend the Opportunity Green conference. I must have been vicariously hungry through their efforts because I gorged myself on the delicious hors d'heuvres and met amazing people who I would continue to run into all weekend. I wrote my first blog post for Greenopolis on this ride:

Friday, November 6
EcoStiletto's Green Blogger Convention
Great event, great speeches, got my nails painted and hair done, met amazing women, learned about Project Green Search:

Saturday-Sunday, Nov 7-8
Opportunity Green conference, UCLA
This was amazing! Met tons of incredible people, gushed to Helen Walters, editor of BusinessWeek, that in my world she is a celebrity and I would be putting her card on my wall. Such a nerd! Felt important running around with my walkie-talkie and hooking up the press interviews. I saw Daphne Zuniga (Jo from Melrose Place!!) in the EcoFabulous Lounge and acted like a total goon, telling her I loved her comeback as a photographer on the new Melrose Place. Speaking of which, it's almost time for my show so this post is officially over!

(see my face there in the background?)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What is Your Why?

I serendipitously started a class this week with an entrepreneurial women's group called SMARTY. This week's homework assignment is to ask ourselves, "what is our why" for going into business on our own. As a cash flow crisis brought on by the loss of a client this month has me searching for full-time work at 2am on a Saturday, I just realized my why. I'll share that in a second but first want to say how I even came to be in this class because it's pretty incredible.

When I learned via a harsh email on Monday that I lost a client, my best friend (who happens to be a budding Yoga Therapist) shot over to my apartment to comfort me. As soon as she walked in the door, I asked for her to guide me in a yoga series to help me through the pain of my first real "failure" as an entrepreneur. I use quotation marks because failure is code for opportunity, growth and powerful lessons. But at that moment it was more like a swift punch in the stomach.

During the gentle movement and meditative exercises we did for 10 minutes, I asked to be open to whatever was in store for me next. After all, everything happens for a reason, right? During our brief practice, my friend received an email from a contact of hers offering a spot in the class which started the very next day. Because she was reading the email in my apartment, I was able to jump in and say what an amazing opportunity that sounded like, and she was generous enough to let me take the spot. So, for four Wednesday nights I get to meet with seven other women entrepreneurs in cozy armoires at a day spa in Costa Mesa to share experiences, insights and learn from a well-thought out curriculum. The first class was already amazing.

Our homework:

"Why do you want to do what you are pursuing? What does you doing THIS thing mean in the bigger context? Bring your WHY to class in your head or on paper. Knowing it will also help you get through the some of the harder moments in business."

I realized my why when I started dredging through the PR jobs on craigslist in search of something full-time. The moment of clarity struck as I read yet another post full of skills and requirements, low on pay - the only job I saw relevant to my skill set that night was a marketing/PR job for a Korean game manufacturer. I started thinking how I'm pretty much against video games - at least the violent ones - and I didn't want to contribute to something I don't believe in. Especially if it's full-time and at the cost of focusing on my new business. Ah ha!

My why for going into business for myself is that I want to apply my talents, skills and energy to something I believe in. In other words, I want to choose my clients. I chose green companies as my niche because I’ve always had a thing for the environment (my college thesis was on American attitudes toward nature). In other words, I heart nature.

It’s really hard to get behind something that you either feel nothing for, or worse, despise. This was the case at my last agency job. While I was fortunate enough to work on a few alternative energy accounts, there were some clients I worked for who did things I wanted nothing to do with, such as building dams, mining for limestone, manufacturing chemicals, drilling for oil and slaughtering animals. Actually, I did want something to do with them - in the form of stopping them!

I used to think, how could I, Miss Treehugger/Protestor, become a corporate flak for evil companies?! Well, maybe I’m exaggerating about the evil part, but that is what it felt like to me at times. What got me through the disgust I would sometimes feel looking through dam-builder brochures was the knowledge that I was learning new skills - transferable skills - that eventually I could use for good. I knew that while at the time I was working for less-than-desirable clients, one day I would get to apply those skills to companies and causes that were actually doing good things in the world. Fortunately that moment came sooner than later when an unexpected lay-off pushed me head-first into starting my business.

And that's what CraterCom is to me - it's my chance to consciously choose where my energy and efforts go. I'll still keep an eye out for full-time work, but my real effort will go into finding the next green business to go after. As the homework assignment says, knowing your why helps you get through the harder moments in business. Losing my first client (and thereby rent money) definitely counts as a hard moment, but fortunately I have my class (and movement) to help me through it. And as I said in my first post, one of the most essential things in the early phase of running a business is having a support system of positive people. In other words, thank goodness for my peeps!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When no sleep is a badge of honor, we're not practicing what we preach

"Sustainability" is one of the big buzz words I encounter daily working in the green industry. I've been thinking about this concept a lot as it applies to the work/life balance. Part of the green movement is challenging practices that cannot be maintained and repeated over time. When companies talk about being sustainable, they are referring to practices that can be replicated without damage in the long run. So drilling for oil and using coal for power are not sustainable practices because we run out of resources and hurt the planet. Using the power of the sun and wind, on the other hand, is sustainable because it is not depleting anything. Businesses embrace sustainability in their supply chain and business models, but what about the people who run and work in those businesses? How many of them travel incessantly and work crazy hours without rest? Why is it that almost every entrepreneur I've spoken with hardly sleeps (me included) and doesn't seem to experience real days off?

Our culture of consumption measures success by increased output (i.e. the growth of the GDP) and there is an aching undercurrent of faster, better, more. This applies to businesses and individuals. We try to balance work, family, exercise, rest, social life, etc...but how many of us feel like work gets most of our time and attention at the expense of the other things? I know I do. But to admit that sounds like I'm not a hard worker, which is not the case at all. It's just that our society values output and production - fortunately, we are also beginning to value sustainability. I say that to make a fulfilling and successful career sustainable in the long run, we must embrace balance in the beginning. Workaholism is not sustainable - and neither is its cousin, drinking more coffee than water. But when I get to encounter amazing people and share invigorating ideas, it replenishes me. That's the reason I have the energy to write this blog right now.

Today I went for a midday walk in the Bolsa Chica wetlands (squashing the guilt I always feel when I do anything other than WORK). The fresh breeze, glimmering water and mesmerizing birds actually did little to alleviate the constant pressure I live with every day. There's client work, business development and cash flow worries. I felt guilty for walking but I knew I needed to do it (it would have been a run but I am sick and still wanted the fresh air).
In my last post I compared the challenges of running a new business to feeling like a waitress carrying multiple trays. Sometimes you just need to set the trays down for a second. The walk was my second, and it helped at least to recognize that the plates full of household chores (dishes, laundry, vacuuming) and self-care items (manicure!!!) are important too. If I'm only focusing on the work projects and ignoring my personal and household care, I feel terrible and gross. To keep up the pace and not drop the trays, I have to do things like take walks to gain perspective and maintain stamina. But I still have a long way to go before I don't feel guilty all of the time - that's because my inner self wants to please everyone but at the same time rejects the existing standard of an unsustainable chunk of life dedicated to working, working, working.

I need to sleep, play, laugh, dance and sleep (did I already say that?) so that I can be present and focused when I am writing/pitching/planning, etc. It's not sustainable to be imbalanced. And in the green movement, if we are going to talk sustainabilility, let's try to live it too. It's 11:20pm and I should go to bed, but I'm going to be a hypocrite now and go back to work. Why? Because that's the way it is. It's not the way I want it to be though, and little by little I will become the change I wish to see. Today I took a walk, and tomorrow, by G-d, I am getting a manicure!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let the blogging begin!

Thanks to the help of my wonderful friend and fellow blogger, Yogalexis, I am finally foraying into this new forum of communication. I hope to use this blog as a way to reflect, share and motivate both myself and others. I've been journalling since age 8, so just a heads up that my posts will probably be long because once I start writing it flows for at least 15 minutes. I don't know how narcisstic blogging is in my case - such a strange dynamic I don't even know where to begin on that one - but I'm feeling very drawn to it so here goes.

As a sole practictioner running a public relations practice from my home office in Sunset Beach, CA, I find that it's so important to stay connected to a community of inspiring people. Positive people, positive's not only vital to success, but to survival and sanity. Especially when you work mostly alone and don't have colleagues to bounce ideas off. Many of my family and friends are so supportive, but they don't understand exactly what I do (sometimes I don't even understand exactly what I do, which brings me to the forthcoming lesson of the day).

What I miss sometimes about working in an office environment is that random brainstorming and venting throughout the day with colleagues who not only get what you do, but are doing it too. So I'm taking to blogging about my process as a necessary step to gaining clarity and focus for the work I'm doing. I wanted to say that I have so much on my plate, but what I really feel like is a waitress carrying two trays of six plates, each one with so much on it. Maybe we all feel like that. I do especially as a new business owner balancing the needs of my clients with the business part of billing, proposals, marketing, not to mention personal needs like healing, dance, yoga and meditation. I need to set the trays down, take a step back, roll my shoulders, shake my head and take some deep breaths. If angry customers are crying for their food while I do this, so be it, because if I am to really do a good job in this world, I better be grounded. I used to be a waitress actually, and on more than one occasion I quit in tears, so I know how serious it is to be calm, collected and clear heading into every situation.

Lesson of the day: back away from the computer.

Today I found that stepping away from the computer for a couple of morning hours was the best move to gain perspective on a project I've been trying to tackle for over a week. I realized that the project was driving me mad (and away from it) because I wasn't clear on what exactly I need to do. So everytime I tried to work on it, I would sit down at my computer and get sucked into the vortex of Internet, emails, random spreadsheets, everything more urgent and entertaining than planning and focusing. My facebook status read "Must. Stay. Focused!" but the very fact I was on facebook sabotaged my intentions, and not too long after I was posting a picture of Suri Cruise in highheels with a starbucks cup to speak out against the oversexualization of little girls. Pretty interesting, right? There I go again....!

So, I took my notebook and my brain to Coffee Bean on PCH, where the smell of espresso sweetness enlivened my senses and I sensed a buzz of energy. Looking out the window at the rain pouring every few minutes, hearing the rythmic music at just the right volume, taking just a notebook and pen to work with, that felt right. I did my best to break the project into pieces and identify clear next steps. So now I am going to make a PowerPoint slide by slide, with each slide identified ahead of time. We'll see how it goes. This project is like the entree on the biggest plate on one of my many trays. It's a steak and I had to cut it into pieces to make it digestable.