If your idea of being an entrepreneur is 1) Find the Formula, 2) Follow the Formula, and 3) Repeat the Formula, you’re probably better off being an employee. “Just tell me what to do,” is not the mantra of creative businessowners. 

On the other hand, if your idea of being an entrepreneur is 1) Experiment, 2) Evaluate, 3) Evolve, you’ll have a great time building something on your own.

For the past quarter of a century, I’ve been studying people who succeed and looking to discover the common denominator. If there’s one word that describes these innovators, it’s Participation. And if there’s one person who demonstrates that every day it’s Peter Shankman.

Shankman is currently training for his fourteenth marathon, is a skydiver, writer, and entrepreneur. His speaking schedule would leave most of us breathless. He’s innovative thoughts on social media, public relations and creativity have made him one of the most popular speakers on the circuit today. He recently showed up on CNN bringing his expertise to a story of the day.

Shankman is best known, however, for taking a little idea he had for making it easier for journalists to find people to interview. Three time a day, five days a week, his Help a Reporter Out mailings go out to over 100,000 people. I’ve personally benefited from this and been interviewed for three magazine articles as a result and several times a week I send along requests from a journalist or blogger to someone I know.

When Shankman made the switch from employee to entrepreneur, he did so with the same proactive flair that serves him so well today. He says, “So when I started my first PR firm and had no money, I did it by selling a t-shirt about the movie Titanic in Times Square. The shirt read simply, ‘It sank. Get over it.’ I made a fortune.”

Look closely and you won’t see any formulas here, but there’s success of all kinds. I suspect that Peter Shankman would laugh if you asked him for his secret. He’s too busy making every day the best it can be and he has no time for nonsense. One of his Twitter posts summed that up: “New rule: people who have 2 put ‘guru’ or ‘genius’ in their Twitter handles to show that they are, are obviously not.”

You won’t find any formulas in Derek Sivers’ article, either, but it may be the best thing I’ve read in a long time about Why You Need Your Own Company. I’m thinking of memorizing it. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Five years ago, Marilyn decided to leave her soul-squashing job and start a business that would share her love of animals. Today she’s still dragging herself to that same job and her entrepreneurial enthusiasm is weak from neglect. When questioned about her business plans, she replies, “Oh, I decided in this economy it was better to hang on to what I had. Besides I hate to give up my benefits and I really need the money from my job so I can remodel my family room.”

What Marilyn demonstrates is that whenever we ignore our dreams we rationalize it by creating a villain. It’s never our fault, for goodness sake. Someone or something outside us is standing in our way. 

Since finding an excuse is not a creative exercise, most excuses aren’t too original. Knowing that, syndicated columnist Dale Dauten put together the Excuse-O-Matic which can be a handy tool. Just find your age and under it you’ll find the corresponding excuse not to take a risk.

Under 30—too young

Need to get established/planning marriage/ kids/house

No experience/no credit/no capital   

30 to 40—too busy

Have spouse/children/mortgage

Too much credit/need to save for college tuition    

40 to 55—too stretched

Kids in college

Need to pay down debt/save for retirement

Over 55—too tired

Not up on latest technologies

Too late to risk capital

Concerned about losing retirement benefits

Deceased—too dead

The final and best excuse

Now I’m not a mathematician, but I can see that if you add up these excuses all you’re left with are excuses. If you want your life to take on a fresh luster, if you want to amaze and dazzle yourself,  make a pact with yourself to give up, once and for all, anything that sounds like an excuse. Giving up all excuses is not enough, however. In the part of your brain where you’ve stored reasons and excuses, start building an Option Bank.

An Option Bank, just like the place where you store money, is a repository of good ideas, dreams and goals. Like an ordinary bank, the more you put in, the more you can draw out. The best way to get started at this is to convince yourself that there is never just a single option available. Never. If you begin with that premise, your creative spirit will be free to go to work. 

A word of warning: this is not the same as the frequently used expression, “I’m keeping my options open,” which usually means, “I have no idea what I want and am waiting for something to happen to tell me.” What I’m talking about is a proactive listing of any and every possibility that occurs to you.

On a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the center. At the top of the page, write a goal that you have in the form of an affirmation. Over the left hand column write Excuses and over the right hand column write Options. 

Think of your excuses as debits and your options as deposits. Now write your lists. If you can’t simply ignore your excuses, what direct alternative can you take to eliminate or change them? When you repeat this exercise regularly, you’ll discover that your Option List will grow while your Excuses List will shrivel.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” Anais Nin wisely observed. Keep building your own Option Bank and you’ll discover that life not only shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage, but also in proportion to one’s options.

Our duty is to proceed as if  limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation. ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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I have two  teleclasses coming up. One will help you eliminate excuses and the other will help you create options. 

Last week I went hunting for a new entrepreneur who had disappeared from Twitter. I discovered that she hadn’t closed her account, but hadn’t participated for months. She had posted some interesting things so I wondered why she’d gone quiet. I sent her a message inquiring into her whereabouts and got a quick, but terse, reply saying, “Decided Twitter’s not for me.”

She’s not the first person I’ve heard voice such an opinion, of course. Another more seasoned entrepreneur, who is currently struggling, refuses to even consider social networking, blogging or any of the handy free tools at her disposal that could ultimately open new avenues of opportunity for her. In fact, she’s never understood the concept of e-mail as a form of conversation.

At the same time, almost everyone agrees that the best marketing–even in our sophisticated high tech world–is word of mouth. As Gary Vaynerchuk, host of Wine Library TV, told CNN, “Twitter is word of mouth on steriods.”  Why wouldn’t you want to take the time to be part of that?  At the very least, it’s an opportunity to promote other joyfully jobless folks. In fact, many social networkers enjoy giving support as much as they enjoy receiving it. (Not surprisingly, they’re the same ones getting lots of support in return, I’ve noticed.)

New entrepreneurs, especially those who are nervous about marketing, tend to hide out behind conventional forms of advertising, keeping a distance as it were. What they fail to realize is that all of us like to do business with people we know and like. And we can’t like you if you don’t let us get to know you.

When it comes to marketing, to creating visibility, to expanding your reach, what’s your sign? I’m not talking about billboards or astrology here. I’m talking about the subtle signs that convey your attitude.

Alas, I see a lot of Do Not Disturb signs, almost daring anyone to come close. That is not the path to healthy longevity in business. If you’re going to succeed, you’ll find a Welcome Mat is far more effective. Connect, collaborate, welcome newcommers into your life. You never know when you’re the answer to somebody’s prayer.

Man without a smiling face must not open a shop. ~ Chinese proverb

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If you’d like to add to your marketing toolkit, join me for Cheap Tricks: Marketing on a Shoestring. I’ll be sharing dozens of free and inexpensive ways to put out the Welcome Mat in Madison, WI on June 18th. I’ll also be teaching Cheap Tricks in other locations this fall. 

The other day one of my Twitter friends posted a message that said, “Listening to two 50-year-old men complaining about their boss Never want that to be me.” I’ve eavesdropped on those kinds of conversations myself and am always reminded that such grumbling would never happen in a chat with my joyfully jobless friends. 

It’s not just conversation that’s different, of course. Entrepreneurs develop a different mindset. So why was I perturbed when I saw another Twitter post that said, “EMPLOYEE MINDSET=accept what you can’t change. CEO MINDSET=change what you can’t accept”? For starters, CEOs are often not true entrepreneurs. They are, however, the chief perpetrators of the employee mindset. 

Unfortunately, most of us have had far more training on how to behave like an employee than on how to behave like an entrepreneur. Even after we make the transition to self-employment, that old thinking– which may have served us well when we worked for someone else–follows us into our own enterprise. When that happens, it can wreak havoc with our best and brightest dreams. 

Often, employee thinking is sneaky companion. Take the oh-so-emotional area of money. If we spent years justifying staying too long in a bad job by convincing ourselves that the money compensated for our misery, we may have a hard time accepting money for doing something we find deeply pleasurable. 

As Paul Hawken warns us, “Owning a business and working for one are as different as chalk and cheese.” The good news is you can learn Entrepreneurial Thinking and put it to work building the business of your dreams. While it does require effort, it’s easier than learning a new language or Texas Hold ‘em. 

One of the best ways I know to accelerate that process is by spending a day in my What Would an Entrepreneur Do? seminar. (The next one is happening on June 19 in Madison, WI). 

Even if you’re thousands of miles away from Madison, you can consciously build an Entrpreneurial mindset. Make an effort to listen and learn from the successful. Follow successfully self-employed people on Twitter or Facebook and notice what they find important enough to pass along. You’ll start noticing inspiring quotes, interesting articles, success stories about other entrepreneurs. Soak it up. 

Hop over to my book page and you’ll find several great reads written by entrpreneurial thinkers. There’s Lynda Resnick’s Rubies in the Orchard, Anita Roddick’s Business as Unusual, Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner’s Shameless Exploitation: In Pursuit of the Common Good.

However you choose to build your  entrepreneurial mindset, don’t wait. Initiate. That’s what an entrepreneur would do.

Zoe turned five last month. About six weeks before the big event, she called me on Skype and said, “Grandma, my birthday’s coming.” I assured her I was aware of that. “I’ve  got my theme,”  she announced. I was flattered to get the advance notice, but even more pleased that Zoe already knows that a party is just a party until you give it a theme. Then things start to happen. 

Themes aren’t just for parties, of course. You can can put your entrepreneurial efforts on track and keep them there with a theme. It could be a single word or a phrase that becomes your motto. Either way, it will help you gain clarity and focus. I like to pick a new (and challenging) theme for each new year; shorter projects also are given a theme. When you’ve chosen a theme, it will also be a catalyst for ideas that are in line with that theme. You’ll manage your time more effectively and notice things that are in alignment with your project name.

A seminar participant who had been procrastinating about getting her writing business launched called her project Anne Learns How To Market Her Writing. This led her to read several books on the subject and take a couple of adult ed classes on marketing for freelancers. Within a few weeks she’d sent out five query letters and gotten a writing assignment. “What had seemed intimidating before,” she recalls, “suddenly became a fun challenge.”

Recently, I made another discovery about themes. While I’ve always thought of themes as being consciously chosen, I’ve noticed that people who participate on social networking sites often reveal a theme that they may not be aware of. I see folks who consistently model themes such as I’m Here to Sell You Something, Did I Tell You I Wrote a Book, I’m Here to Get What I Can. Other people seem to have Gratitude, Generosity and Curiosity stamped all over their posts.

If we’ve all got major and minor themes operating all of the time, doesn’t it make sense to actively chose those that bring out the best in us?

Here are a few theme possibilities to consider:

       Expand
       Travel Light
       Simplify
       Explore More
       Make Connections
       Build Strength
       Do It Easy
       Visible Abundance
       No Limits
       Daily Laughter
       More Magic
       Wildly Creative
       Amaze Myself
       Welcome Opportunity
       Keep Moving Ahead
       Back to Basics
       Fully Engaged
       Renaissance
       Collaboration
       Dream Bold
       Catch the Spirit
       New Adventures

A life devoted to trifles not only takes away the inclination, but the capacity for higher pursuits. ~ Hannah More

It’s ridiculously easy to become an information junkie these days. The Internet puts an astonishing array of facts and figures at our fingertips. If you’re starting a business, hundreds of Web sites will happily flood you with more information; whether it has anything to do with your enterprise is another matter.

There’s no question that information is an essential part of creating a successful business, but it’s only one part of the equation. That seems obvious to me, but when I look at the popularity of how-to formulas, whether in books or seminars, I realize that many people are missing the pieces that really make a business stand out. What I’m talking about isn’t information at all: it’s the raw material of creativity.

Recently I was thinking about some of the entrepreneurs who have inspired me. Without exception, they’re all people who haven’t followed a formula, people who have put their own imprint on a business and done so in a way that’s totally unique. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course.

In 1937, Fortune magazine wrote a profile of the folks behind Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. Here’s what the author discovered about the family whose business bore their name:

Herbert Marcus and his sister Carrie Neiman, and his three sons in the business, have sublimated and channeled every ounce of their considerable selves into four floors of beautiful merchandise. The reason is not that they lack other interests…it’s the other way around. They are exciting business people because in one sense they aren’t business people at all; and they live the store, not by lacking outside interests, but by transferring them all inside. With his mobile Jewish expression, Herbert Marcus quotes Plato or Flaubert at you, displays a Canaletto in his dining room and dreams of owning a Renoir. But his real creative and artistic self is released on Neiman-Marcus. Similarly his sense of drama is expended there, his sense of prophecy, his powers of psychology, his strong moral sense. It isn’t a matter of being 100% on the job (though all of them always are), but rather of being dedicated to some austere and lofty mission.

Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsch frequently reminded his staff that entrepreneurs are artists and business is their canvas. Like a conventional artist, feeding your imagination with ideas, images and inspiration from a multitude of sources keeps your creative muscles limber.Sometimes the journey to building a great business starts in a museum.

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I’ve been singing the praises of Laser Monks for years. Now the NY Times chimes in. Love those monk/entrepreneurs.

Every few months, I get the alumni magazine from my college. I usually glance through the class notes to see if there’s anyone I remember who has gotten mentioned. Most of the entries are a bit, well, dull, saying things like, “Now retired after 30 years teaching in the same school” or  “Just retired from 40 years at the bank.” Apparently, my fellow college students were big on staying put in one place.

This time, however, an entry caught my eye. It read, “Retired after thirty-five years as a social worker and probation officer. He now spends his time as a big-game hunter and traveler in Africa and is a full-time freelance outdoors writer.” I never knew the man so described, but I wanted to. I wanted to know how he kept his adventurous soul alive for such a long time while toiling away in Cook County Illinois. 

Leaving a familiar situation is a challenge that comes to all of us—sometimes several times throughout our life.  I once received e-mail from a woman who had spent her life as a teacher. She had stuck with it long after the satisfaction had gone. Now she was ready, she said, to do something completely different. However, she wasn’t at all certain what the new path should be. That happens, of course, when we become entrenched in a situation or relationship for so long that we forget that we have options.

I made several suggestions about how she could begin exploring. I heard from her again after about ten days and she was making remarkable headway. She’d even listed all of her teaching books on eBay—burning her bridges she said.  Imagine my amazement when I opened her latest e-mail which was obviously written in a moment of great panic. “I only have another week to sign my teaching contract,” it read. “Should I sign it?”

I was flabbergasted and promptly replied that I didn’t have the answer to her question. I suggested, however, that it might be a temporary lapse on her part and then I said, “So how are you going to tell your grandchildren that you once had an opportunity to create a truly adventurous life and you chickened out?” The moment I typed that question, I realized at a very deep level, how our acts of self-doubt don’t just impact our own lives, but have a profound ripple effect. Take the low road and you’ll have a procession behind you. What kind of legacy is that?

We might tell ourselves that staying in a stultifying relationship isn’t really so bad or having a job that robs us of any creative enthusiasm is fine for now, but every day that we hang on we are losing precious time that could be spent building something bold and beautiful. On the other hand, our acts of courage beget courage in others as well. I’m guessing that my former college classmate will inspire all sorts of people to create their own version of a safari. 

While letting go can seem terrifying, think of the times you’ve done so and found  yourself in a better place. It’s no use tricking yourself into thinking that you’ll make things better while staying in the bad situation, however. Doesn’t work that way. As long as you hang on, you can’t move on.

If you’re in need of prompting, you might want to post these encouraging words from Ellen Goodman: “There’s a trick to the Graceful Exit, I suspect. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over and to let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives. It involves a sense of the future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, we are moving on rather than out…It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best parts of ourselves behind, back in the dugout or the Capital or the office. We own what we learned back there, the experience and the growth are grafted onto our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along. Quite gracefully.

The ability to invent a desired future is directly dependent upon the willingness to break with the past. ~ Robert J. Kriegel

Like many people, I became a fan of Malcolm Gladwell after reading The Tipping Point. Not only did I find his ideas fascinating (and applicable to the Joyfully Jobless life), but his storytelling made the book fun to read. So when I saw an article in Time magazine about his new book, Outliers, I eagerly read it to learn about his latest exploration.

This new book looks at extraordinary success. Gladwell contends that talent and, even, genius aren’t enough. Instead, he cites what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule which says that great achievement is most often the result of constant practice––about 20 hours/week for 10 years, to be exact.

Can you imagine devoting yourself to something that passionately? Would you do it for free? Many people won’t, of course, and consequently will never actualize their full potential. 

The ones who are willing to put in the practice often dazzle us once we learn about them. I was reminded of that when I read a recent edition of Valerie Young’s Changing Course e-zine. She had this little quote from Rachel Ray tucked away at the end of the mailing:  I did 30 Minute Meals for five years on local television, and I earned nothing the first two years. Then I earned $50 a segment. I spent more than that on gas and groceries, but I really enjoyed making the show and I loved going to a viewer’s house each week. I knew I enjoyed it, so I stuck with it even though it cost me.

When I first decided that I wanted public speaking to be part of my business, I made it my policy to accept every invitation that came my way–whether money was attached to it or not. I knew that the only way to polish my speaking skills was in front of other people. And if someone was giving me the opportunity to practice with a live audience, I was going to take it. I even found a volunteer gig as a backstage tour guide at the Guthrie Theater, which gave me additional speaking practice.

Eventually, I began to get calls where I was asked, “What is your speaking fee?” That’s when I turned pro. (That’s not quite accurate; in my own mind, I had turned pro right from the start. It just took a lot of free talks for it turn it into a reality.)

In Phil Laut’s nifty little book, Money is My Friend, he says, “An easy way to create an abundance of clients is to give away your service at the beginning until you have more clients than you can handle or until people force you to accept money. If you don’t like your business well enough to give away your services, this may be an indication that you are in the wrong business. When you have an abundance of clients, it is a good idea to continue to give away a portion of your services, even if you have to refuse the money.”

Think of it as an investment. Think of it as sweat equity. Think of it as the unsung road to success. By all means, think seriously about what you would do for free.

I think the best investment that you can make it to start a business that is so much fun that you don’t care if you go broke. With this approach, you can be certain of success. ~ Phil Laut

When my friend Peter Vogt called this morning, I happily settled in for one of our always inspiring chats. The catalyst for his call was a seminar he’d attended yesterday. “I think I was channeling you,” he joked and went on to tell me a story about what he called a “smarmy SCORE volunteer” who was sprung on the group. Peter–and others–were extremely annoyed.  Peter knew I would share his upset, but that wasn’t what he called about. “The rest of the seminar was full of good stuff,” he said, “and it triggered pages of new thoughts and ideas. Once I get it all written down, may I send it to you for your reaction?” Of course I said yes.

Then our conversation moved on to the power of seminars. Peter and I know that something happens when we put ourselves in a room with others who share our interests and curiosity  that simply can’t happen any other way. We can get information from reading or the Internet, but seminars are about so much more than information. They’re about connection.

A couple of hours later, I talked to Della Kurtz who is planning to attend my upcoming  Compelling Storytelling event in Las Vegas. She had some travel questions, but mostly we talked about another seminar she had attended over the weekend. She said a day after that lively event, she was talking to a friend on the phone who commented that Della’s energy seemed stronger and clearer. Della eagerly shared some of the things she had learned and ideas that were sprouting as a result of her participation. Even though she’s been a lifelong learner, Della has that enthusiasm that seems natural to those who are determined to support their dreams with action.

Of course, we don’t simply wake up one morning and find ourselves in seminars like Peter and Della attended. We have to make a commitment of time and money in order to have the experience. Unless we make our dreams a top priority and back that up with action, nothing much changes. 

A mentor of mine had a mantra that went, “If you want to be successful, you have to do what successful people do.” Seminar participation is one of those things. Like Peter and Della, put this into practice : learn, take action, learn some more, take more action. Repeat indefinitely. 

We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into. ~ Carolyn Myss

So what does it take to be a great storyteller? The fundamentals are pretty simple.

° Curiosity. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, who not only produced innovative ad copy, but also trained many successful copywriters, wrote, “I have never known anyone who bounced out of bed in the morning, delighted and astonished by the world in which he found himself, who was not a success. A vibrantly alive curiosity  will put you right up there with the best of them. This intense interest in people and things—this sense of wonder—can be acquired.” 

Without curiosity, you’ll miss all the good stories happening around you that might be put to work on your behalf.

 ° Attention. TV  journalist Steve Hartman  created a popular feature on CBS called “Everyone Has a Story.” He began looking for his subject by throwing a dart at a map. Then he’d go to wherever the dart landed, open the local phone book and pick a name at random. Some of the stories were funny, some poignant, some  buried deep, but he never came away empty-handed. 

Hartman’s premise is that stories exist everywhere, but only storytellers seem to be paying attention. Follow their lead. Listen for inspiration. Listen for evidence. Listen for material. When someone says, “Your teleclass was so exciting that I was awake until 3 AM with all these new ideas,” use it.

 ° Edit.  Editing is critical in all forms of storytelling. The difference between a boring and an enthralling storyteller is in the editing. We all know people who start telling a story and then wander off to side stories about the characters or unrelated events or random thoughts.

So what does an editor really do? According to Sarah Tieck, the job of an editor is to ruthlessly look for what’s relevant and then eliminate the rest. In many ways, editing uses the same skills as are needed to identify priorities in the goal-setting process. 

°  Bring it alive.  Don’t you just marvel at all the ways chef Jamie Oliver describes food? That’s what a great storyteller does. Passion and a good vocabulary are the fuel.

Except for Prairie Home Companion, there’s not much storytelling in radio anymore. If you listen to Garrison Keillor—a master storyteller—you’ll hear how he adds just enough detail so we can imagine the scene. 

In marketing, part of the storyteller’s job is to help the audience of potential customers imagine how products or services will be useful to them. Storytelling can do that more vividly than just listing benefits.

°  Watch your audience. Bores do not notice their listeners fidgeting in their seats or gazing around the room looking for an escape. Alas, the self-absorbed among us are oblivious to this. A good storyteller, on the other hand, understands body language and looks for clues. After all, storytelling always involves at least two people: the teller and the listener. Both are important. 

Polishing your storytelling skills can be as good for your business as it is for your social life. If  you’re ready to make your marketing creative, fun and memorable by becoming a better storyteller, join me and Alice Barry at our upcoming Compelling Storytelling event on December 2-4 in Las Vegas. Special Early Bird pricing ends on October 25th.


Marketing is the act of telling stories about the things we make—stories that sell and stories that spread. ~ Seth Godin