What is the ‘ideal life’ anyway?

Do you know what your ‘ideal life’ is? The life that would leave you fulfilled daily because you’re working on awesome stuff?

Note I said working? Some of you may have been thinking of lounging on a beach, drink in hand and not a care in the world. I hate to break it to you, but that’s not an ideal life — that’s a fantasy land that will leave you unfulfilled.

How I will be

Meet future Curtis. Not only is he good looking (wait — he is already), he’s smart (check), has a beautiful wife (check) and kids who always listen and never fight (okay, that’s a fantasy).

He gets to spend a few days a week in the mountains. He travels to awesome spots around North America and gets to experience the beauty around him. He participates daily in the homeschooling of his kids.

Yes, he works — mostly writing, but he really only needs an Internet connection two days a week to catch up on email and to take some coaching calls with his clients.

He travels to speak, but takes his family with him most of the time because he hates it when he’s away from them.

Most of his money comes from a business model that is one-to-many. So that’s books, courses, a few plugins. Things he builds once and then many people can benefit from.

He actually does web development still but he’s super picky and charges much more than he currently does. That means he only does web development a couple weeks every quarter.

He does still dig into development of things he finds interesting, but as he wants, and usually for personal projects.

How will you be?

That’s my story of where I will be. What’s your story? If you’re not sure ask yourself:

If I didn’t need money what would I do with my time?

As I said above, I’d spend more time in the mountains (or in the great outdoors) and I’d still help people because I simply can’t stop myself. I want to see people succeed.

There is a problem with that question of how you’d spend your time, even though it’s a good starting point. Money isn’t really a predictor of happiness and an awesome life.

If only I looked that way, if only I had more money, if only I got that job…but since I can’t get that, oh well, it wasn’t meant to be, and I’ll just stay stuck in this lousy place. – Shift for Good (Amazon.ca)

Asking that question gets us too focused on money, and implies wealth being a place of happiness. But happiness is a choice, in large part. Just like being busy is not a sign of success. You can be happy with no money to your name, happy barely making it, and happy with lots of money.

You can also be unhappy in all those states of your financial journey.

Another question to ask yourself is:  What tasks do you currently do that leave you more energized? I know that when I talk to people about how to run their businesses better and help them take steps to earn more without simply adding hours to the day, I get breathless.

Yes, I literally talk so fast and pace so much that I have to stop to take a deep breath as we talk.

Knowing that I get so energized by that I want to do more of it.

Finally do you know what your purpose is? Do you know why you’re around on this earth?

Mine is:

To help people run an awesome business so they can live the life they want to live

Knowing that allows me to make decisions about what I’m going to do.

If you haven’t figured out what your purpose is then get my free PDF with 10 questions to ask yourself to find your purpose.

The rest of this month I’m going to talk more about how to get to this ideal life in your business.

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Have your best people started ruining your innovation?

We have a problem in many organizations, which is managers and business owners believing they have the best ideas and are the only source of innovation for the company. On the surface, it seems to make sense that the people at the top would drive innovation. After all, many of these people rose through the ranks by being top performers in their area. However, allowing owners and managers to be the sole source of innovation can handicap the business in 9,000 more ways than it helps.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

Dancing with Innovation

There’s a scene in the movie Dirty Dancing where Neil (the resort owner’s grandson) comes up to Johnny (the dance instructor) and proposes a change in the dance Johnny has planned for the resort’s end-of-the-year bash.

Now, Johnny is the one with years of experience in dance — certainly more than Neil — and Johnny has lots of ideas on what dances would be good for the party. Johnny lives, eats and breathes dance. His joy in life is dance, which is clear when you watch him move. You can see something deep inside his soul leap with joy when he dances. Johnny’s an innovator, and has a wealth of ideas on how to really make the end-of-year party something amazing. Something guests will love and talk about long after they leave.

But Neil (simply by virtue of being the owner’s grandson) shuts him down and says it’s time to dance the Pachanga instead of the Mambo. When Johnny is less than thrilled with the idea Neil threatens to fire him, so of course Johnny capitulates.

Do you see the problem here? Instead of listening to Johnny — the person on the front lines of dance — Neil figures he’s the arbiter of all things awesome when it comes to what the guests at the resort will love, including dance. He fails to listen to his expert on dance, even though dance is an integral part of his big event.

Neil doesn’t listen to the best innovator he has simply because he’s in a position of authority and thinks he knows better.

Micro-managing

As managers you do this when you get involved in not only helping set the goal but in telling employees how to accomplish each step on the path to get to that goal.

Maybe you do this because you’ve had an employee fail before and thus you don’t want to give them any freedom. You live in fear of that failure all the time and block out almost any innovation in your organization that doesn’t come from you.

Maybe you’ve been successful in your career and always been a top performer. Now that you’re managing a team you may be uncomfortable with the idea that you’re not still the star performer on the team, and consequently you don’t listen to the team. You’ve now handicapped your team by assuming you’re the only one who can be awesome.

Maybe you’ve run your business yourself for years and built it from the ground up. It’s your baby and of course you’re super careful about who can take care of your baby. You don’t give any of your employees any real authority. They need to check with you on everything and you feel trapped in your business. It would never run without you. But that’s your own fault for not trusting employees, even after you’ve had a failure.

Don’t set yourself up as the arbiter of everything good. Let innovation rise. Listen to new ideas. Coach those around you to be better than they are currently. Empower them to be their best selves.

Doing this is going to help your organization be healthier, happier, and yield exponentially better results.

Most of you know how Dirty Dancing ends. After getting fired, Johnny comes back at the end-of-year party and takes Baby (a resort guest who’s fallen for Johnny) out of the corner to be his dance partner. Johnny then dances as he wants to dance. The two dance with passion and joy, and while the guests are initially subdued (probably put to sleep by the original song going on) they quickly end up tossing their chairs to the side and embracing the joy. They even dance in the aisles.

If Neil had only let Johnny be in charge to start with…

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Inspiring Employees is not Cheerleading

We all want employees who are excited to come to work. We want them to be inspired to give us and our clients their best work. To forge new ground and make our clients happier than they’ve ever been about doing business with a company like ours.

How do you get employees to that stage, though? How do you lead employees so that you’re helping them grow to be more than they were when they joined your company?

Tough Love

Have you seen Coach Carter? If not then you’ve surely seen movies with a similar plot.

Coach Carter is a movie about a coach who takes over the basketball team at his old high school, located in a bad part of town. Statistically speaking, most members of the team are destined for either jail or an early grave. The graduation rate among the players is low, and boy are they bad at basketball.

In the movie Coach Carter steps in and immediately raises expectations — asking more from his team than anyone has ever expected from them. He wants them to not only learn to play basketball well, he wants them to do well in school. It would be sad for them to look back on a high school basketball year and have it end up being the ‘best’ year of their life.

He sets high expectations and holds them accountable. At one point in the story, he locks his players out of the gym when they don’t meet the academic standards he’s imposed.

He does this because he loves them, and this is a situation where soft love won’t work. In fact, whether you’re dealing with troubled teens in a bad neighborhood or normal kids in a safe suburb, when training and teaching, the best kind of love is often tough love.

Do you have that type of love for your employees? Can you set boundaries and hold them accountable to them? I’m not talking edicts around profit and butt-in-chair time, but real goals that focus on results that you let them set.

You’re not a cheerleader (though you should be praising your employees) — you’re a coach. You’re the leader. You’re there to make them into a better version of themselves which means being tough sometimes.

Freedom

How much does freedom affect the quality of your employees? Turns out that freedom is one of the biggest things that the truly good people look for in a quality job today.

They want to set their own goals and figure out when they work the best. They want to be judged based on results, not butt-in-chair time. But don’t just set goals for them and expect them to dive in with smiles — get your employees to join you in setting the goals. Let them know the overall direction of the company and the goals of your department (which they should have had a hand in building) then get them to put together individual goals that contribute to department goals, and the overall goals of your company.

Once they have their goals, give them freedom to figure out how to accomplish them best. Don’t track the time it takes, track the results. If they hit their goals then they did an awesome job and you should celebrate that.

Giving employees some tough love and freedom will go a long way in building a business where you don’t take on the role of a hall monitor. That’s not how you should be spending your time. As a business owner you have a whole host of other awesome gifts that you should be exercising instead of just monitoring butt-in-chair time.

photo credit: kwl cc

Will I do the right thing…even when it’s no fun?

I’m sure you’ve seen that old woman or man at the coffee shop. They possess a quality — perhaps mysterious — that you yearn to have. They sit there, comfortably sipping on their coffee and chatting with people around them. There seems to be a magnetic quality about them, drawing people to interact with them without consideration of any established relationship.

They handle each interaction with grace, whether it’s with the person all dressed up for a day of business or the person carrying a few shopping bags of random stuff which makes up their world.

Strangers are drawn to interact with these people because of something they can’t see but so desperately want.

That thing you see and yearn for is character. We’re naturally drawn to people of high character, and we don’t even need to talk to them to recognize it…to feel it deep inside our bones.

Where do I purchase this character?

Consistently making that choice to do the right thing despite your fear — that’s the thing you see in that old woman or man who radiates something. Something you haven’t yet been able to put your finger on. That something you know you want but have yet to figure out exactly how to achieve.

It’s called character and it’s achieved with a lifetime of making the choice to do the right thing. Even when that thing isn’t fun or what you really want to do.

It’s about treating all of those people that cross your path daily with dignity, regardless of their station in life.

Progress

You know that project you have, the one you just don’t want to work on? Yeah, I’ve got one too right now. It sits around and I’d rather it just wasn’t there anymore.

Maybe I can get some red shoes and click my heals together and it will magically go away?

That project needs progress made on it and even though it’s not fun, you need to make it happen. Nobody said that progress needed to be fun. But it’s the right thing to do.

Your character is shown in how that project moves forward.

It’s those little decisions each day that contribute to our character and the reputation of our business.

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Effortlessness

I had a pretty good idea of how Noah felt hovering over the lip of the gully. Having been in similar situations at nearly the same age, I understood that he just didn’t want to be scared, didn’t want to feel all that tension in his body, no matter what the payoff might be. He wanted to have effortless fun – Crazy for the Storm (emphasis mine)

That’s one of the passages that most spoke to me in Crazy for the Storm (Amazon.ca) — specifically the “He wanted to have effortless fun” part.

Isn’t that what we all want? Big payoff for little input? It doesn’t help that social media perpetuates the idea (myth, really) that everyone else is getting huge reward for almost no effort. Viewing social streams we continually compare our actual life with the highlight reel of others.

Seriously, ask a social friend how they think you’re doing when you know you’re doing bad. I’m going to bet that 99% of the time they think that your business is awesome, your kids always behave, and your relationship with your partner is amazing. Life is pretty smooth sailing for you.

Sitting on the inside of that life though, you know that’s simply not the case. The kids were a terror last night then got up early. You could use some work to pay bills, and you and your partner had a decent argument last night, which may be your fault. Of course the only photo you posted was of the 30 seconds your kids were smiling — between tears.

Reward for Effort

When you really dig in with successful people you find out that most of them put in years of effort with little reward before they developed significant leverage. Only after all those years of toiling away do they get huge results from comparatively little effort.

Right now there are people (heck, even me) struggling along to get to that point where effort and reward invert. We write and write and write and make a few thousand dollars a year off the products we put out or the affiliate links we include in our writing. We put out huge effort for little financial reward.

But again, you don’t see that, because that’s not the image we project most of the time. So many of the ‘next great’ people that will be admired and held up as models aren’t even known at all — except by a small handful of people. That means the wider world will just suddenly ‘discover’ them in a few years and they’ll be the next overnight success.

Training yourself for effort

I work out five days a week at least, but more often six days a week. Due to this training I can go to a friend’s house and help them move an entire shipping container of PFDs (life jackets you’d call them) without really being sore the next day. I can go backpacking and put on 80 pounds and end up with a crying 50-pound toddler on top of my bag for 3 km — and while I’m tired the next day, I’m not really all that sore.

I get this ‘effortless exertion’ because I’ve trained myself to work hard. When I was just cycling I had a solid cardio system but a weak upper body so I started CrossFit to change that. I was sore — oh so sore — for weeks as I started and I was barely able to keep up with anyone at the local box.

My effortlessness in so many physical tasks only exists because I’ve put in training to try to ensure that I can effortlessly help a friend chop wood for a day.

How are you honing your skills? Do you dream of writing, or are you writing something daily?

Do you dream of being an amazing web developer? Are you pushing to learn new code daily?

Do you dream of being one of the great designers that you currently idolize? Are you posting stuff for critique regularly?

If you’re not doing any of those things, then it’s time to ask yourself if you’re just looking for effortless reward.

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Your Ideal Employee Profile

You know you should define your ideal client and filter prospects against that definition. Those ideal prospects are the only ones you want to convert into clients. Sticking to that axiom is going to help you create a business you truly love as you work for people (and on projects) that really get you fired up.

But what about those that work for you? Have you defined your ideal employee? Do you have a profile written down for the type of people you would prefer to work with?

I don’t mean just the technical skills they should have. Really, those should be some of the lowest things on the priority list. A good programmer that doesn’t yet know WordPress can learn to build a good WordPress site. Skills can be taught.

Think about the things you can’t teach. What is the personality you want? How do you want someone who represents your business to think about your clients? When an issue comes up, how should they approach it?

Do you want an employee who views a customer site as a series of technical check boxes, or as a dream they are fulfilling for a client?

How does that employee define their ideal project? Does that fit with the ideal project for your company?

If you don’t have an ideal employee profile, then take the time to create one this week. It’s likely that you’ll need to refine it a few times, but starting it now means you at least have some direction when you’re ready to hire.

Yes, it’s much easier to hire against a list of technical skills, but that’s not going to get you the employees you really want.

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Running a business won’t suddenly make you happy

I work from about 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day, and only do client work Monday through Thursday. I spend Friday putting up blog posts and writing code for personal projects.

Sometimes the weather calls and I spend Friday afternoon on a mountain, or at the beach, or riding my bicycle.

I can live a life like that because I run my own business. I get to make the rules for my work.

While running your own business does provide some freedom and flexibility, running your own business won’t make you happy.

Marriage changes you?????

There are lots of people out there who figure when they get married they’ll be complete. They create an image in their mind of a magical wedding day, with birds chirping merrily, and forest animals helping them get dressed. It’s as if true love suddenly makes them a hero to someone and gives their life value and meaning.

That’s a fairy tale. If you’re not happy with your life before you get married, you won’t be happy after.

If you’re not comfortable in your own skin before you get married, you won’t magically become comfortable in your own skin after saying “I do”.

Oh sure, getting married may enrich your life if you’re already happy. But it also may only mask problems for a while (maybe even decades). At some point you’ll have to deal with your problems again. Only this time you’ll have another person along for the train wreck.

When I was getting my counseling degree and studying about counseling married people we often talked about how you needed to be the person you wanted to be before you got married. Or at least comfortable that you were on that right path first. Marriage, while a positive thing, does add a lot of extra considerations into the mix.

There are months/years where it feels way harder to stay in that relationship than it does to get out.

But a business….

Running a business is much like maintaining a marriage. You need to be comfortable with who you are before you go into business. You need to like your life (or at least be happy with it and know you’re moving forward to where you want to be).

The act of launching a business — even with the freedom and flexibility — won’t suddenly make you happy. You won’t find birds chirping merrily outside your office window, leading you through a dance in the park on your lunch break.

You won’t suddenly become some knight in shining armour, ready to vanquish all your clients’ troubles.

You’re going to be the same person you are today, only with a bunch of extra responsibilities. No longer can you just design or code, but you’ll need to learn project management, marketing, bookkeeping and sales.

You are likely to have less time to do that one thing you really love (code/design/write) since you’ll be spending much of your time figuring out how to get more work doing what you love.

Don’t think of running a business as a magic happy switch you get to throw. If you’re not happy now, launching a business will only mask the symptoms for a while and you’ll have to deal with the fallout later.

photo credit: via cc

Your choices have consequences

Earlier this week we talked about how there will always be one more thing. One more thing to do before the day ends or one more year to work before you really take a vacation.

Next year you’ll really celebrate your anniversary and show your spouse how special they are to you.

Next year you’ll stop working so much and spend more time with your kids.

But if that ‘one more thing’ always gets your attention, at some point there won’t be a relationship with that spouse so you won’t have anyone to tell they’re special. But hey, the next marriage will be different, right?

Those kids will grow up and not have time for you, but when they’re young they long for your time and attention.

Your choices have consequences which you need to think about now. I’m sure you didn’t go into your marriage planning to neglect it, or have kids planning to not spend time with them.

It’s easy for your attention to get pulled away by things that don’t have lasting value. We all battle the temptation, and that shift in focus will creep up on you through your choices. Choices which, when you’re making them, often appear to serve your kids. More money means more food on the table, a safe car to drive, a new pair of shoes, and even extracurricular activities that will make your kids well rounded. It’s hard to fault someone for working long hours striving for financial goals — or to simply provide well for their family.

Really though, would your kids rather have every gadget out there or more time with you? Is it better for your marriage to have the newest best clothes/car/thing, or to spend time together talking?

The balance is tough to maintain. But in the long run, it’s critical to make good choices.

photo credit: kwl cc

There is always one more thing

It’s easy to let a ‘thing’ stand in the way of you reaching your goal (or goals). Maybe you want to go out on your own and you want to save $10K before you make that leap.

Maybe you want to complete one more $5K project before you make the leap.

Maybe you work super hard while the kids are young and will spend time with them when they’re just a bit older.

None of those things are bad. In fact, they’re all good. Building a solid base of savings before you go out on your own is critical for building a stable business.

Having a number of clients lined up before you make the leap to running your own business is just plain smart.

When the kids are little they may not notice your absence quite as much, so putting in a year or two of extra hard work to set a solid foundation may be just the thing you need to do.

The problem is that many people don’t stick to their milestones. Some people reach that $10K target, but one thing comes up, and suddenly $15K is the new milestone they need to reach.

Or, that $5K client was okay but not amazing, so they’re chasing after one more amazing client before taking that next big step in their business.

Or, the kids are only 5 and 7 — I’ll take some time off next year.

There will always be one more thing. Make sure that you choose the proper thing.

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Just because it’s big, doesn’t mean you have to fill the cup

On a recent trip to San Diego, I went to McDonald’s to have lunch. If you follow me on Twitter, this may surprise you, because you know I work out five days a week, ride my bike to work, plus go for 100-kilometer rides at least once a week. And if you know me, you know I’m careful about what I eat (though chocolate chip cookies are my undoing).

And yet I went into a bastion of not-so-healthy food.

Along with my chicken nuggets and large fries I got a large drink. While the large drinks in Canada are pretty big, the one I got in San Diego looked like it would be better used as a small bucket for serving chicken in.

Maybe I could have lugged it home and filled it with water so my kids could swim in it.

The thing is, that even though I was given a huge cup, no one or nothing required me to fill it up. I had complete freedom to only fill the cup 30% full — and not get a refill — if that’s what worked for me.

Obligations

This same line of thinking applies to many other areas of our life and business. Just because someone calls you doesn’t mean you need to actually answer the call. You don’t have to reply to the email that someone sent you.

I know it may not be polite, but by initiating contact, the other person is putting an obligation on you without your consent. You don’t have to agree to accept that obligation.

Just because someone has a project they think you’d like, you aren’t obligated to take it. Even if it’s a referral from a trusted friend.

Remember that when you get your next referral or the next time your phone rings.

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