When I picked up my mail yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to find a small package waiting for me. I was so curious that I opened it right in the post office and discovered a nifty luggage tag with my name printed on it.

The little gift arrived from Southwest Airlines with a note thanking me for five years of membership in their Rapid Rewards program. I had to laugh when I realized they were thanking me for taking advantage of their free flight program.

It’s no secret that I’ve been smitten with SWA from my very first encounter with them a decade or so ago. I had flown to Sacramento from Minneapolis on Northwest (almost the only option), but was taking a side trip to visit my family in southern California.

When I arrived at the airport, I stopped to ask a question at the gate. The gate agent then asked me if I was returning home to Burbank. “No,” I said, “it’s my birthday so I’m going to spend the rest of it with my daughter.”

By this time, the waiting area was filling up so I found a seat in the back and settled in. A few minutes later, the gate agent came on the PA system and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an important person flying with us tonight. Would you join me in singing Happy Birthday to Barbara?”

As my fellow passenger broke out in a rousing chorus, I blushed and thought, “This would never happen on NWA.” I’d had enough experience with the older carrier to know that making their passengers smile was not in their company policy manual.

Shortly after I moved to Minneapolis, Making a Living Without a Job became one of the most popular adult ed classes in the country. For the next decade, I flew frequently  and eventually amassed a million miles on NWA. (Note: I didn’t even receive a thank you note when I hit that milestone.)

It wasn’t because I loved the airline so much, however, that they got my business. In Minnesota, NWA had a near monopoly, bumping out other carriers and making it difficult to exercise any choice in the matter.

This lack of competition produced visible results. Airfares were higher, crews surlier, and planes dirtier. After all, there was no incentive for doing things well when customers had no other options.

After I moved to Las Vegas, I vowed to fly NWA only as a last resort. Even though I have frequent flyer miles sitting in my account, I have managed to avoid setting foot on one of their planes.

(On my last flight with them, my seatmate was a smelly drunk who should not have been allowed to board. Shortly after takeoff, he nodded off and began groping my leg. Instead of moving him from first class back to coach, I got reseated in a cramped smaller seat.)

On the other hand, I’ve wracked up numerous jolly memories of my flights with SWA. I often wonder if they studied NWA’s way of doing business and decided, “Let’s do the opposite.”

Saturday night stay over? Not required. Hire flight attendants who actually like people? Good idea. Keep things simple and efficient? Makes sense. Charge for baggage? Heck, no. Give passengers an in-flight magazine that’s actually worth reading? Let’s do it. Allow passengers to catch an earlier flight for no charge if there’s room? Sure.

So here’s another radical idea, one you can use even if you aren’t running an airline.

Find a business that disappoints you. Study how they operate. Don’t just be annoyed, however. Learn from them.

Then simply do the opposite.

A man once wrote to tell me he’d been homeless and living in his car when the old adage, “It takes money to make money,” came to him. Realizing that he couldn’t test this notion, he continued to contemplate his options and came to the new realization that “It takes ideas to make money.”

Having hit upon this thought, he started to get excited about solving his problems with his imagination. That led him to start a little service business that’s grown and prospered.

Struggling entrepreneurs often convince themselves that if they only got their hands on some money, it would solve all their problems. Not only is that position not very helpful, it also postpones the possibility of lasting success.

As Paul Hawken reminds us, “Money follows ideas. Money doesn’t create anything.”

Real estate people talk about sweat equity—investing time and energy rather than cold cash. Creative capital is a similar concept, but it goes a step farther.

When we use our imaginations to grow our businesses, we not only generate bigger and better ideas, we keep our passion alive and build confidence in our own ideas at the same time. Those are powerful ingredients for succeeding at any undertaking.

No one understood creative capital better than Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. She showed a natural flair for what I call Hansel and Gretel marketing. When she opened her first little shop in Brighton, England, she would spray a trail of scent from the main street to her side street location, hoping people would follow the smell.

She writes, “Believe me I was prepared to try anything in those early days to get customers into my shop. I wanted to get passersby to stop, so I put big, old-fashioned sandwich boards outside promoting one or another of the products. I drenched the front of the shop in the most exotic perfume oils so that it always smelled wonderful.”

Early on, Roddick came to understand the power of free publicity. After many runners in the London Marathon complained about sore feet, she got busy concocting a foot lotion and the following year got permission to stand on the sidelines of the marathon and hand out free samples.

The media took note. She also became a regular on talk shows, plugging The Body Shop as much as she could politely get away with.

Instead of spending  money for advertising, Roddick insisted on finding creative ways to communicate her unique message. “How we communicate is gob-smacking,” she wrote in her autobiography, Body and Soul. “We use every available medium to preach, teach, inspire and stimulate, and in everything we do our single-minded passion shines through.”

Another entrepreneur who understood and used creative capital brilliantly was Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens. From their earliest days, the Geek Squad stood apart from other folks in the computer repair industry through their clever use of humor, attention-getting automobiles and badge-carrying employees.

Starting on a tiny shoestring turned out to be an asset, not a liability, says Stephens. As he discovered early on, “In the absence of capital, creativity flourishes.”

The most successful entrepreneurs seem to understand the importance of valuing and nurturing their creative spirits. They experiment, try things, find ways to do more with less.

In fact, the creative business is more like an artist’s studio than a factory production line. It’s a model we can happily adopt.

Just feed your creative spirit well and put it to work on your behalf. This is one investment strategy that works brilliantly—in any economy.

The latest issue of Budget Travel magazine arrived today and as I was browsing through it, a piece on Denver’s LoHi neighborhood caught my eye. One of the businesses they mentioned was especially intriguing.

Sipping ‘N Painting offers classes for adult amateur painters. For $40, participants receive brushes, paints, and a blank canvas for an instructor-led session designed around a theme. Also included is a glass of wine or beer for those who are so inclined.

As soon as I saw the story, I hopped over to their website to learn more. Then I sent a link to Connie Hozvicka, who did such a fabulous painting workshop at the Jamboree. It seemed like an idea that might fit her portfolio of projects.

Had I not spent time with Connie and seen her in action, I probably wouldn’t have thought to send this idea along to her. Nor would I have alerted Karyn Ruth White to Ode magazine’s humor issue, if I didn’t know her passions.

Of course, it works both ways. Almost daily, someone sends me a link to an article or resource or clever business idea that they uncovered and thought I’d want to know about too. I am thrilled and appreciative.

When I got the hang of Twitter and began spending time there daily, I felt as if I’d just found a volunteer research staff. Hardly a day passes without someone sharing a terrific idea or article that I’d never have uncovered myself.

Connecting with entrepreneurial thinkers is a critical, but frequently overlooked, key to success. In direct and indirect ways, such folks will enrich your life, expand your horizons, add positive fuel to your dreams.

As Scott Stratten so brilliantly points out in UnMarketing, building a business today begins with building relationships. And unrestrained sharing of ideas, encouragement and resources.

Although I wasn’t in the market for a pumpkin, when my daughter said they were headed to the Lombardi Ranch after naptime, I decided to tag along. I assumed we were visiting a normal pumpkin patch.

I was so wrong.

The Lombardi Ranch is a family-owned seasonal business that’s a Halloween tradition with folks in this part of the world. The parking lots were jammed and people of all ages were milling around with smiles on their faces.

I plunked myself down on a straw bale while my family went off to enjoy a horse drawn wagon ride. I was facing acres of tall sunflowers which were home to numerous scarecrows who seemed to attract more photographers than birds.

Pumpkins and wagon rides were only two of the offerings of this entrepreneurial family. There were food stands (corn on the cob seemed to be the big seller), a party tent available for private rental, a petting zoo, face painting and pony rides.

There were thousands of pumpkins, including white ones, in every size and shape. Families walked the grounds pulliing small wagons loaded with the perfect jack-o-lantern material.

Even though the overcast skies appeared to be getting ready to produce a downpour, there was a festive atmosphere made even jollier by the live music coming from another tent.

I’m guessing that Halloween is the favorite holiday for the Lombardi family. It’s also one that requires more planning and preparation than it does for those of us who simply don a costume.

For years, I’ve been singing the praises of the seasonal business and pointing out that if you sell pumpkins, most of the year has no cash flow. When that cashless spell is followed by a Harvest Celebration, payday can be huge. And hugely fun.

Speaking of hugely fun…while I was taking in the in all the pre-Halloween delight, Connie Hozvicka (aka Dirty Footprints) was sharing her experiences celebrating National Boss’s Day as her own boss. Don’t miss her story.

This week has been mostly about getting ready for the Joyfully Jobless Jamboree. There have been long Skype conference calls with Alice Barry and Sandy Dempsey and a steady stream of e-mails.

All of us are filled with anticipation and excitement because we’re old hands at taking ourselves away, changing the scenery, surrounding ourselves with a new cast of characters, and focusing on moving ahead without distractions or interruptions.

Retreats are so powerful that I can’t imagine why everyone doesn’t take advantage of such opportunities. After all, in order to do all we can and have all we desire, we must first become all that we are.

For most of us, that requires the assistance of those who are farther along on whatever path we’re treading. There was another example of this last week from one of my Facebook friends.

Andrea Brigitte Klee wrote, “I just returned home from Barbara Sher’s Scanner Retreat in France. What a week! I ate the best southwestern French food ever, and had a major breakthrough concerning the direction of my life. I found the answers to two basic questions, and, surprisingly enough, it was me who answered the questions.”

Yup, retreats have a way of letting us get in touch with our boldest dreams. At their best, they also provide us with tools to keep the momentum going once we’re back in familiar territory.

Author Sondra Ray once pointed out that the most important item in a budget is for personal growth and yet few people include it. Ray says, “When someone says, ‘I don’t have enough money to go to that seminar,” it’s like saying, ‘I’m not a good investment.”


If you’re a one-person operation, you are the biggest asset your business has. Without investing time and money in yourself, it’s difficult for that asset to expand.

Retreats have another bonus in addition to self-discovery. Ever see the movie About a Boy ? It has nothing to do with attending a seminar, but it certainly is a terrific story about personal growth.

Hugh Grant plays a purposeless young man who is supported by royalties from a silly Christmas song his father wrote years earlier. His life begins to change when he unwillingly befriends a socially inept boy.

At the end of the movie, when many lives have changed for the better because of the relationships they’ve made, the boy says, “One is not enough. You’ve got to have backup.”

That astute observation doesn’t just apply to personal relationships, of course. Having backup is critical for anyone who is serious about building business longevity.

So what kind of backup should we be putting in place? According to Scott Stratten’s brilliant new book UnMarketing, it starts with connecting to others. To do that successfully requires making relationship building an on-going activity.

Some of those relationships will begin via social media, of course, but face to face offers another dimension that can’t be achieved via a computer.

So I’m heading to Austin expecting to come home with new ideas, new enthusiasm, and fuel for the next leg of my journey.

Most of all, I’m excited to find some new friends who will provide—and receive—backup, because, quite simply, you can never have too much of that.


We’ve had many questions about recordings from the Jamboree. However, we decided it’s a “you had to have been there” kind of experience so we won’t be Tweeting, posting, recording or taping the event.

When  speaker Jerry Gilles told his audience of would-be writers that they should buy one hardcover book every week to support the industry they were part of, there was an audible gasp in the room.

What Gilles was suggesting wasn’t radical at all. It is just one way to put into action  the idea to  “Support That Which Supports You.” Successful people do that all the time.

As entrepreneurs, we have numerous opportunities every day to spread the entrepreneurial spirit. Here are a few ways to do just that.

°  Be joyful in the world. Make other people wonder why you’re so happy. As you go about routine errands, think about those you interact with and how they’re part of your success team. The postal clerk, bank teller and print shop are helping you accomplish your goals, after all.  Let them know they’re appreciated.

°  Adopt a protégé. Even if you’ve only been in business a short time, you’ve probably learned more than you realize.  Helping someone who knows less than you do can serve a dual purpose: besides making their journey  smoother, you’ll also see how far you’ve come.

That can be a huge confidence booster. Coach, encourage and support someone who’s just getting started. Ask them to pass it on.

°  Share what you’ve learned. Write a What I Learned From Starting My Own Business article and get  it published in a local business paper or post it on your Web site.

What do you wish you’d done differently? What was the best surprise you got in starting your own business? Pick six or ten key lessons and find a way to share them.

° Talk to the media. Local media is always on the lookout for stories about interesting folks in their midst. Let them know you’re there. Don’t just be a publicity seeker, however. Come up with an angle that’s newsworthy.

Artist Greg Evans had a great piece written  about him in  Colorado Avid Golfer magazine after he sent out a press release titled “From Corporate Life to Creative Life.”

Might your personal story be of interest? Or do you have expert advice to share that could add to your  visibility?

° Do  the opposite. The entrepreneurial path is not about following the crowd. One way to keep your creative muscles tuned up is to find ways to do things differently than everyone else.

Thinking in opposites is an easy starting point for finding a unique way of doing even simple things.

° Be a student of success. Eavesdrop on conversations and you’ll hear how many people are clueless about success factors and the behavior that leads to genuine success.

Teachers like Jim Rohn devoted their lives to studying winners and their findings are documented in books, in seminars and on CDs. Be more than a casual student of what they have to say.

° Conduct regular interviews with entrepreneurs. My niece Gretchen is associate business editor of the Ventura Star. She was telling me that one of the best parts of her job is talking to passionate entrepreneurs. “If they know you’re interested, they love to talk about their business.”

You don’t have to  be a newspaper reporter to take advantage of all this enthusiasm. Seek out entrepreneurs and be genuinely interested in hearing their stories. Easy as that.

° Support small business whenever possible. There are numerous ways to do this beginning with patronizing the entrepreneurs in  your community. You might pay a little more at your local hardware store, but you may also discover you’ll get useful advice along with your purchase.

And don’t overlook opportunities to form alliances and create joint projects with other entrepreneurs. Collaborations can create positive synergy.

° Help a kid. One of the most common regrets I hear from adults is that they weren’t exposed to entrepreneurial thinking earlier. So cheer a young upstart on.

° Connect with your tribe. While some old organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, may not be a fit for the new creative entrepreneur, look for places where the joyfully jobless congregate and join them.

While waiting for my flight back from Denver on Sunday morning, I engaged in one of my favorite airport activities—people watching. As I noticed my fellow travelers move around the airport restaurant, I thought to myself, “Every one of them has a story.”

Although I don’t recall hearing many stories while sitting in airports, I’ve certainly had my share of fascinating seatmates on long journeys.

One of those was a weary  traveler I’ll call Sam that I met in Newark. Like me, he was heading back to Minneapolis after a trip to London. Unlike me, his day had been filled with travel detours and delays.

When he finally seated himself, I asked a simple question, “Are you coming or going?” He told me he was going home. When we discovered that we’d both been in the UK to lead seminars for entrepreneurs, we bonded instantly.

Then Sam told me a story I’ll never forget. He said he was flying to Los Angeles to give a talk and was seated in first class next to an elderly, inexperienced traveler. Although my new friend had planned to spend the flight working on his presentation, his seatmate was in need of help.

Sam abandoned his own plans and decided to see what he could do.

When dinner arrived, the older man found it difficult to cut up his food, so Sam helped him out. When he needed to go to the plane’s restroom, he told Sam he was nervous about doing so. Sam took him to the toilet and even helped him zip up his pants. He then helped him back to his seat.

Throughout it all, Sam said, there was never any word of thanks offered, but that didn’t keep him from assisting the man.

Upon landing, the wheelchair that had been ordered didn’t arrive so Sam stayed with the fellow until he was united with his relatives.

The next day, Sam delivered his talk to a professional organization sharing his thoughts on service. At the end of his talk, a man in the audience stood up and said, “We hear a lot of speakers talking about lofty things and I often wonder if they live up to their words. I just want everyone here to know that I was on the same flight as Sam yesterday and watched him as he cared for the elderly man sitting next to him.”

Sam was, of course, quite surprised by the voluntary testimonial, but said he’s never forgotten the experience.

He told me, “It’s easy in our populated world to think we can remain anonymous and to some extent that’s true. However, we never know who might be watching us as we go about our lives.”

Someone has suggested that we can tell a great deal about someone’s character by observing how they treat waiters and cab drivers—or total strangers seated next to them on a long flight.

If you’ve met me or seen my picture, you may have noticed that I am blessed with hair that’s straight as a ruler. Unfortunately, when I was a little girl, Toni home permanents came up with a solution—Tonette for children.

After it appeared on the market, my mother enthusiastically administered this smelly monstrosity to my hair at regular intervals. When I would protest, she’d remind me, “You must suffer to be beautiful.”

It became one of my mother’s favorite mantras and I suspect the message spilled over into other areas of life. How dare I feel proud about any accomplishment that came easily?

While I no longer believe that suffering is a necessity when it comes to personal achievement, I do know that worthwhile endeavors usually involve a challenge—or several.

Nevertheless, I suspect that too many of us continue to make things harder than necessary when we’re going for a dream.  I also suspect that we’re often unaware of those behaviors that slow us down and add drudgery.

How can we be sure we’re making it harder than it needs to be? Here are five surefire ways that can burden the entrepreneur’s journey.

1. Avoid investing in ourselves. Anyone who starts a business signs up for a learning adventure, but those who never bother to attend a seminar or travel to a conference are making their own success a low budget priority.

And it’s not just information that needs to be acquired. As author Earnie Larsen points out, “You can’t outperform your own self-image.”

For most of us, acquiring a healthy self-image requires an investment of time, money and assistance from pros.

2. Pamper our excuses. We’ve all got them and when we repeat them often enough, they begin to feel welcome.

That’s only a short step away from believing them. The moment we do that, our excuses assume a position of power.

It’s hard to move ahead when our excuses have lodged themselves around our ankles.

3. Never ask for help. In a recent post, Seth Godin said, “Too often, businesses (and freelancers) focus on making it on their own. In fact, the secret of being indispensable is making it together.”

Colorado Free University founder John Hand believed that for everyone who has a problem, someone in the community has the solution. Whether the community is geographic or virtual, we make it harder for ourselves if we fail to find those helpful resources and listen to their advice.

4. Ignore the successful. The world is full of people who are willing to share their experiences, lessons and techniques.

The best way to keep from following in their footsteps is to avoid putting yourself in their presence to begin with, but should you find yourself in the same room, use it as an exercise to compare yourself to them rather than learn from them.

5. Scorn inspiration. One of the best kept secrets around is that inspiration is available to all of us, but it needs to be cultivated. In order to do that, we need to know what inspires us—and take ourselves to those people and places on a regular basis.

As Mary Pipher observes, “Inspiration is very polite. She knocks quietly and if  we don’t answer, goes elsewhere.”

Inspiration, even at its quietest, helps us to feel more brilliant, more creative, more capable. When we undervalue it, we rob ourselves of its gifts.

It’s so much harder to succeed if we haven’t invited inspiration along as a companion.