Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


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7 Lessons From the First Year of Business

7 Lessons From the First Year of BusinessI still have a hard time believing it, but I launched my business, Signify, on July 1st of last year! Some days it really does seem like yesterday, and others feel more like a seasoned pro. Regardless, it’s been an intense learning experience.

I created Signify out of a desire to help my friends. I knew people with small nonprofits and purpose-driven for-profits and social enterprises that needed someone like me who could lend another set of hands and breakdown marketing and communications for them. They cared deeply about their mission, since it was the driving force of their organization, but marketing and communications weren’t their strong suite. They knew they needed to look and sound more professional in order to get noticed and grow, but they didn’t have time, or maybe even the know-how.

So, I stepped in. I’d already been freelancing, giving them advice, volunteering, and helping them as best I could along the way, but with this as my full-time business, I was going to be able to help them even more.

Many of these relationships became my first clients, and they’ve even stuck around for multiple projects, or referred their friends to me. It’s been a wonderful way to sustain and grow my business. Whether they need writing, consulting, or strategy help—and most often a combination of all three—these organizations have been a privilege to serve. I wanted to assist cause-focused organizations who were doing great things in the world. They were already making a difference, and I knew I could help them create a bigger impact.

It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m eager to start year two.

But first, here are seven lessons I learned from these first twelve months.


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5 More Strange Things About Working From Home

5 More Strange Things About Working From HomeAfter I started working from home full-time last year, I wrote a post about five strange things that came with the territory. And it’s hard to believe, but it’s been just over a year since I started my own business. It doesn’t seem like 12 months could possibly have passed, but if I counted the cups of coffee, I know they’d confirm it.

Working from home 24/7 has been a really interesting adjustment that I honestly didn’t expect. Since I’d previously worked from home two days per week, I assumed it would be a fairly easy transition, but in some ways it has taken me by surprise.

Here are five additional observations:

  1. I don’t see other people regularly. As an introvert (though most people find that surprising), this doesn’t bother me most of the time. In fact, I thought it would be an asset. But I’ve realized that I am more creative and energized by making a little time each week to see or talk to people, whether that is through client meetings, phone calls, or get-togethers with friends. Sometimes I’m ready to see people, and sometimes I have to force myself if I don’t already have something on the calendar, but it always proves to be beneficial in some way.
  2. I occasionally crave leaving my apartment. If the week ahead calls for a lot of writing, or a bunch of similar tasks, I’ve found that I’ll accomplish them faster if I change up my environment. This usually means going to a coffee shop or cafe at least one day a week. I didn’t foresee getting tired of seeing my apartment every day, but it does happen sometimes, especially when my To Do list involves repetitive functions. So, the best option is to switch up my surroundings. And if I don’t plan for it ahead of time, I know it needs to happen when I start feeling the need to unload my dishwasher or vacuum during the middle of the day. I think I’d like to eventually belong to a co-working space, but at about $100+ per month, that’s an expense I don’t need right now.
  3. I’ve taken binge-watching to a whole new level. With no commute, five o’clock can easily mean that the computer gets turned off and the TV gets turned on. And I don’t feel as bad about being a night owl since I don’t have to get up early, get ready, and drive to work. So, that means bonus hours of binge time! Last summer I made it through all 16 seasons of CSI, and watched endless hours of Olympics coverage! 😉
  4. I do less laundry. Yep, I basically don yoga pants and a t-shirt everyday . . . and they’re likely the same ones for an entire week. I will take a moment to note that I do not stink, though! Come on, I still have some standards. And if I have to get out of the house for meetings, to see friends, or to work from a cafe, I’m probably wearing the same outfit to all of those that week as well. #classy But I prefer to position it as further doing my part for the environment.
  5. I’m only dressed and made-up from the waist up for video calls. While part of me gets annoyed that I have to get properly dressed and put on makeup to not leave my apartment, at least I have the satisfaction of only doing it halfway. I look decent from the waist up, but I’m still wearing yoga pants and fuzzy socks. And in talking to others who work from home, this is pretty common. So, there’s a peek behind the curtain!

And that’s more about the glamours life of working from home! This is how the magic happens, people.

If you work from home, do you agree, or have additional items to add?


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Answering the Question: What Do I Do?

hands-typingSince leaving my old job in May, I now frequently get asked what kind of work I do. So, I figured I’d take the time to spell it out here.

The gist is that I am a writer and consultant (mostly marketing and communications) for nonprofits, social justice organizations and social enterprises. I also do a little magazine writing, and hope to expand that soon. Now and again, I do other odds and ends upon request or for friends, but writing and consulting is really the core.

I particularly love partnering with small organizations. I’ve found that many of the people who run and are employed at those organizations do so because they have a heart for the work, but may not be strongly suited for the strategy when it comes to communications and marketing. This is where I come in. I have always loved helping small businesses grow, and being in on the ground floor to build them up. So, when I apply my skills to their needs, I can help them get their message out in a bigger and better way. And in working with those three types of businesses (nonprofits, social justice organizations and social enterprises), I am ensuring a greater success for the types of companies that I want to support personally and see thrive.

Here are a few examples of the work I’ve done so far, and an introduction to some of my fantastic clients:

  • Atlanta Dream Center: They protect and support the area’s most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, at-risk children and women who have been trafficked or prostituted. Among other things, I wrote many of the communications pieces for their annual benefit dinner, such as the website, save the date, invitation, newsletter announcement, press release and sponsor package. I also created a marketing plan that they can use to more effectively organize the event moving forward, and provides a comprehensive strategy for the who’s, why’s and how’s of the annual dinner. Additionally, I consulted on all aspects of the dinner, and was able to give marketing and communications insight they didn’t have before. All of this resulted in their most profitable fundraiser to date—by far! I have been a volunteer with them for the past three years, so I was beyond excited to see them surpass their goals, and for a new audience to become aware of their amazing work.
  • Habitat for Humanity: Ok, so you’ve probably heard their name before. They provide safe, affordable homes to individuals and families around the world. Habitat is a solution to the global housing crisis, and while I’ve always had great respect for the organization, it’s in overdrive now that I’ve learned so much more about them. We both celebrate the big 4-0 this year, so I’ve been rewriting some of their web pages as they prepare for a new digital online presence. And I’ve been able to work with a friend from college, so that’s been fun too.
  • Connect Faith: I started writing for this magazine several years ago when I was at Orange because the focus is Christian event planners, and I fit that mold at the time. So, it’s been a place where I could use the knowledge from that job to help educate and inspire others in that field. I also attend a lot of Christian conferences, as you already know if you’ve read this blog much at all, so I could share the things I was learning with a larger audience. They are a great publication, and it’s been fun working with them. I hope to also be able to write for some of their other magazines soon. And, as I mentioned above, I hope to write for other publications as well before too long, particularly in the areas of social justice and travel.
  • Be the Bridge: This budding organization utilizes resources and conversations to further racial reconciliation. They believe that the Church must become a bigger answer to this issue, and are equipping people to host racially diverse small groups that create open lines of communication.  We should not be having the “race conversation” as only white people or only black people, but as friends and Christians. My friend, Latasha, started this organization because she was willing to have the awkward, but necessary conversations, and build bridges that foster healing. It’s important and timely work. They just held their launch parties here in Atlanta a few weeks ago, so I assisted in strategy and communications, and also did live Tweeting, Instagram and Facebook during the two inaugural events.
  • Dr. Bombay’s and The Learning Tea: This darling little tea shop in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood funds “life scholarships” for girls in India. With these funds, girls can go to college, have a safe place to live, and have all their basic needs provided for. And her chai tea is my absolute favorite! I was introduced to Katrell, the owner, in 2012, and we’ve been friends ever since. I even traveled with her to India in July 2015 to meet the girls! I provide ongoing communications and marketing consulting services for both organizations, as well as for her book, Tiger Heart.
  • Naeem Fazal: My friend, Kitti, collaborated with Naeem on his first book, Ex-Muslim. It’s really fascinating and funny and heart-warming, so check it out. She was unable to collaborate on his second book, so she recommended me. We’re just getting started on the book proposal, so we have a long way to go. But it’s been fun getting to know him. This project falls into more of the odds and ends category, but my friends who know I’m working on this ask me about it a lot. I guess books are just more interesting. 🙂
  • TrueNorth: I just started working with them, and I’m really excited about the work that they do! My friend, Anne, started this organization just a couple of years ago after working with women who had been trafficked and prostituted. She decided that she wanted to work more “upstream” to focus on more of the source and start of the issues, rather than toward the end when women had already been abused. I think that is a terrific strategy. So, she is creating resources and providing information to combat our sex-saturated culture. Porn is a huge issue now, which probably isn’t hard for you to understand. But did you know that kids as young as eight are now seeing pornographic images, and most porn is consumed while individuals are at work? Anne wants to get to the root of that issue, and also help remove some of the shame associated with these behaviors so that individuals, children and families can get the help and freedom they so desperately need, and can only be found in Jesus. She currently speaks about the issues, and is working on a book and Bible study, and will also soon be expanding into events. So, I’m assisting in the writing, strategy and execution of their year-end giving campaign. I can’t wait to see her work and presence in the community grow!

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what I’m doing now that I’m a full-time entrepreneur. It’s been so fun to partner with these causes that I believe in, and to do different kinds of work that furthers good things in the world.

If you know of anyone that I can help in these ways, please reach out! (Website coming soon!)

PS: Don’t I have some amazing friends? I’m so proud of them, and blessed to be a part of their work.


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The Plywood Business Retreat

retreat-lake-house

After attending their conference the past few years, I finally had the privilege of attending the Plywood Retreat last week. This intimate event is limited to about a dozen attendees, and helps entrepreneurs pursue business dreams in very practical ways. Due to the size, we are able to stay at a lake house and enjoy the natural surroundings most of us don’t get to see very often, rather than be in a typical conference room or in-town auditorium.

There were many things I appreciated about the event, but in particular, I love how they try to create a tailor-made experience. Before arriving, we had to fill out an application and go through an interview to make sure we were a right fit for the retreat, which is aimed at mostly social enterprises who want to do positive things in the world, on both the for- and non-profit sides. We were all also in the early stages of business—less than two years, I think. Then we had a phone interview with the founder, Jeff Shinabarger, and he took a bit of time to get to know us as individuals and our thoughts/needs/wants for our business. But, this way, we weren’t walking into the retreat having to introduce ourselves and our goals. The staff already had a good understanding of us, and we could hit the ground running.

These things add up to a couple of other very important customizations. First, they choose the speakers based on us. I think some of them overlap from retreat to retreat, but they also like to bring in folks who can lend unique perspective to our particular areas. So, we had speakers not only on finance, goals, marketing and branding, which most everyone could learn from, but also had one, for example, on donor expectations and insight for those in the non-profit sector or who need to raise capital.

One of the highlights, and the most individual-centered aspect, was the mentor dinner. We went off-site to a restaurant and sat at a table with someone they chose specifically for us. I had a fantastic meal with Jennifer Schuchmann, a local author who also has a background in other forms of writing. She was awesome. She was able to answer very high-level and very practical questions I had, as well as work through a few things I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but knew I needed to clarify in my work. This was really special, and I think everyone felt the same.

So, overall, a very cool experience. And did I mention we had a personal chef? Jason from Homespun was amazing! It was very sad to wake up to my own cooking the next day. 😉

If you feel like you’re part of the target audience for this retreat, I’d definitely tell you to consider it. Or maybe come to the conference as a start. They have even launched an online curriculum now as well. Yes, any and all of them are quite the investment, especially for someone like me who is only in month three of my business. But I am really glad I kicked things off this way. I know it will help me going forward. In fact, I’ll get a follow-up in a few weeks because we all had 30-day action steps to take. Gotta get moving…

But before I go, I wanted to introduce you to my fellow retreaters. They are doing some really wonderful things you should know about.


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How to Give to Charity With Little or No Money

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 3.15.05 PMIt’s the beginning of the year, so you may feel a little financially stretched after the holidays. Or, you may be like a lot of people who would like to give more to charity, but feel you lack the ability or resources. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to give with very little or no money involved. All you need is the desire to do so.

One of my heroes, Sheryl WuDunn states in moving her TedTalk, “Research shows that once you have all of your material needs taken care of, there are very few things in life that can actually elevate your level of happiness. One of those things is contributing to a cause larger than yourself.”

So here are 10 easy ways that I’ve come up with to add a little more happiness to your life. I challenge you to pick one and get started this month. What have you got to lose? Probably something you won’t miss anyway.

  1. Use Charity Miles to earn money for charity when you walk, run or bike.
  2. Donate your hair. I’m actually in the process of growing my hair out in order to donate it, and have had a few friends do the same. I’m still doing research on which charity to give it to, so I’ll keep you posted. But this is a great way to support cancer patients, by providing hair that will be turned into a wig.
  3. Through Fit for Food, Fitbit and Feeding America have teamed up, along with Joel McHale, to donate meals to those in need. You burn calories via Fitbit, they give.
  4. Donate things like airline miles to a charity who can use the travel bonus for their staff or beneficiaries.
  5. Spring clean. Like me, you probably have way more stuff than you need. But chances are, someone else may want or need it. Clean out your home and donate your excess to Goodwill or another local charity. I recommend giving to places where you can actually meet the recipients. This will motivate you to de-clutter on a regular basis knowing that there is a real need, and a real face, that needs your clothes and household items. And if you need any motivation in this area, I suggest you read 7: A Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.
  6. Have extra…anything? If you’re like me, you’ve stayed in a hotel at least a few times. And what’s your most popular and consistent souvenir? Probably the toiletries. I had a gallon+ Ziploc bag of unused toiletries. Then I found out that the organization I volunteer for can use those items in their weekly outreach. The same goes for blankets, suitcases and things like that for people who may not have a permanent home. Realistically, you can probably find a charity for anything you have. You just have to look, and ask.
  7. Don’t use your smartphone. The UNICEF Tap Project will help give clean water to children in need when you open their app or page on your smartphone and leave it alone. Each minute without you using your phone results in a larger donation. (It will drain your batter, though, so keep it plugged in while running.)
  8. Give consistent time. This is probably the idea that first came to mind. But, besides money, it’s probably the item you feel you have the least to give. And that’s ok. As we’ve pointed out, there are other ways to be a solution. But, before you dismiss it, let me say two things. First, we prioritize what matters to us. If you really want to volunteer your time, you can likely carve some out during your week or month. It just has to matter enough to you. Second, you might want to check with your favorite charity to see if there is an option that fits your current lifestyle. You don’t know until you ask. For example, through Out of Darkness, I write letters monthly to a woman in a long-term recovery program. It’s something that doesn’t take a lot of time given my schedule and other conflicts, but it provides her with a source of comfort and encouragement consistently each month.
  9. Give inconsistent time. Maybe you have a skill that can be utilized infrequently, that would still be a huge help to an organization. Like to clean or organize? Are you a business professional that can consult? Do you have first-hand industry knowledge that could benefit others? Can you teach a seminar? Have a couple extra hours one month to run errands? I’ve had friends do all of these things. And I personally consult on public relations, advertising and social media for my friend’s organization. I probably only do it a couple of times each year for a few hours, but it’s beneficial to them.
  10. Buy well. There is no shortage of this topic on this blog. I’m a HUGE proponent of utilizing the money you’re already going to spend on something that has a bigger (and better) impact. Luckily, we see this form of social enterprise everywhere now. This can be anything from clothes to dinner out to eyeglasses to comforters to chocolate to sports gear to flowers to .  . . really almost anything these days. You get the point. It’s easy to do. It may take some habit changes in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll become a pro in no time. And you’ll feel better about where your money goes each month, which is priceless. Here are some resources to get you started. And, I’m an avid Amazon shopper, so when I use that site, I use Amazon Smile to donate to my local charity.
  11. One to Grow On: Give your life event. Charity Water can probably be credited with starting this movement, but many others have done similar things. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely you have a birthday. You may even have an anniversary, or something else you celebrate regularly like a holiday. Those are super easy ways to let others in on your desire to give and tell them about your favorite organizations. Charity Water asks people to donate their birthdays by setting up pages on their company website in order to help build a well from small donations in lieu of birthday presents. I’ve seen similar things for Christmas presents, and even read about a couple who asked their wedding guests to make small financial donations to their favorite org instead of bringing gifts. Last year, I had my friends donate $10 Chick-Fil-A gift cards to Out of Darkness for my birthday. This way the women could be taken out of the house for a treat without it being a financial strain on the house moms, staff or budget. As discussed above, I can imagine that you, like me, have enough. So, why not use these events as opportunities for others to have enough as well.

 

Well, that’s my list. What else did you come up with, or have you done? And if you do any of these, or anything else, let me know how it goes!