All startups should be thinking, “What frustrates me and how can I make it better?” It might be a small thing or it might be a big thing, but that’s the best way for them to think. If they think like that, they’re likely to build a very successful business.~ Richard Branson

Starting a Business is Step One, of course, but after that the assignment switches to  Making it Better. Not only does Step Two last longer, it becomes an on-going challenge—and source of creative fun.

Here are some idea starters for days when you feel stumped.

° Every day ask yourself these questions and listen for the answers. Those deceptively simple questions are:

What can I make today?

How can I make it better? (It being anything that is right in front of you.)

How can I amaze myself today?

° Goals aren’t enough. As valuable as formal goal setting is to the process of building a business, it’s not the only tool for growing.  A manifesto, a motto and a mantra (or two) will add power to your goal achievements.

A manifesto is your personal statement of why you do what you do. Avoid corporate gobbledygook  in writing yours.

A motto and a mantra are similar, but not quite identical. One definition of a motto says, “A maxim  adopted as a guide to one’s conduct.”

A mantra, on the other hand, is also a short statement, but may be one that begins with “I am” and includes a reminder of the kind of person you are working to become.

All three of these word tools can strengthen focus and, even, simplify decision-making.

° Put the odds in your favor. According to the National Business Incubation Association, 80-90% of businesses are still operating after 5 years where the founder has received entrepreneurial training and continues with a network group, as compared to a 10% success rate for those who do not receive training.

Be a voluntary student as often as possible.

° Get fussy about your customers and clients. When we’re a new little business, teetering towards success, it may be prudent to take on any and all comers. (Our early customers can be fine teachers, by the way.)

As your business matures, your notion about who you can best serve—and who can be the most joyful for you to work with—may become clearer.

A written statement about your ideal customer can help you weed out the ones who are going to waste your time, be difficult or simply inappropriate.

Having clarity about the folks you want to work with will help you find shortcuts to connecting with them.

° Amuse yourself with another list. As I was browsing through a journal of mine, I came across a list titled Things I Will (Probably) Never Do. Some of the items included wear a baseball cap, eat oysters, play the bagpipe and head a huge corporation.

I realize that there are some dangers in such a list, but they’re minor. While it’s also true that we sometimes surprise and delight ourselves by doing things we’d previously thought were out of reach, this kind of list is designed as an exercise in fun.

Certainly, you can also outgrow your notions about things you’d never do, just as you can outgrow things that you’ve always done.

° Test drive new ideas. Most of us would not dream of spending thousands of dollars for a car that we hadn’t taken for a spin. Our ideas deserve a test drive of their own.

However, the criteria should not be based solely on market response.I learned that lesson in the early days of building my seminar business when I had the willing cooperation of Open U, a fledgling adult ed program, to try out any and all ideas that I had.

Sometimes I discovered that a subject that seemed promising on paper wasn’t all that much fun in the classroom. Sometimes an idea I thought was a small one, turned into a surprising success.

Find your own way of creating a laboratory for running experiments on your ideas. (Just thinking about the pros and cons is not a reliable testing ground.)

° Upgrade when possible. Critics scold Apple for their frequent revisions of popular products. Of course, their most avid fans will repurchase, but this isn’t just a clever marketing ploy.

It’s evidence of an on-going obsession with improvement.

Evolution is your friend, after all, and even the core offerings of your business can be im-proved in both large and small ways. Pay attention when such opportunities reveal themselves.

Guest post by Cynthia Morris

In 2000, I stood in the Père Lachasie cemetery in Paris, marveling. I marveled at the beauty around me. I marveled at death brought so intimately to life in this city of graves.

I marveled that I could speak French. After ten years away from my francophilia, I had found my way back to France and the pleasures of speaking French. Playing with the language felt like coming back to an old friend that I wanted to know better.

There, full of the marvelous on a gray day in Paris, I vowed to return every year. And I have, every year except 2002 and 2003.

What made this possible? When I made the vow, I had no idea how I would fund transatlantic trips to one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

Oddly enough, a long-deceased bookseller made coming back easier. Sylvia Beach, the original owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore, was a compelling figure and the bigger story of her life inspired me to write a novel based on her.

On my annual trips to Paris, I delved into Sylvia’s world. I relentlessly explored the streets and alleys of Paris, sniffing for clues to what this place was like in 1937. I rummaged in dusty bookshops, spoke to booksellers and befriended random passersby, as one does in Paris.

I became more familiar with this city of marvels. These trips helped me feel that I was building on my French degree. These adventures gave me the feeling that I was living my passion, one stroll at a time.

How did a single woman building her business afford trips to one of the most expensive places on the planet? I wasn’t funded and I’m not rich.

Commitment drives chutzpah

My intention to travel and my dedication to this project, along with some creative fundraising, allowed me to travel without going into debt. But I had to gather up my chutzpah – get gutsy – to make it work.

In 2003, drawn to Paris by the Shakespeare and Company literary festival, I conceived of a plan to raise funds from making art. I approached friends and family, promising a hand-painted postcard to anyone who gave me money.

I drew and painted and sent seventeen cards. The money from that wasn’t a ton, but it fueled at least one day in Paris.

Then, in 2005, I began leading workshops in Paris and other parts of France. Combining my coaching, my teaching, and my love for beauty and art, I created a unique experience for others. Profits from these workshops began funding my trips to France.

Clueless but willing to try

When I was a fresh graduate with a French degree and no clue what the future held, I desperately wanted to live in France. After that ten-year hiatus from my francophilia, I made the commitment to keep my passion for it alive.

My historical novel, with its demands for more and more research, helped me live my dream and honor my commitment. Now, I’m content to live in the US and visit Europe often.

Your focus and commitment will look totally different than mine. Not everyone wants to annually visit Paris or wherever.

But imagine the difference it would make if you took your wish and turned it into a commitment. Even if you don’t know how it will pan out, dare to commit.

Too often we squelch our dreams because we don’t immediately know how they will be realized. But with the power of intention and the focus of a project you want to bring to life, answers and solutions appear along the way.

What’s your Paris? What commitment can you make to that passion and what project will help focus it?


Cynthia Morris loves putting her French degree to good use in Paris. When she’s not in France, she coaches writers and entrepreneurs from Denver, Colorado. Cynthia’s novel, Chasing Sylvia Beach, launched online on June 22nd, 2012. Find out more here:

Becoming entrepreneurial is very much like learning a new language. While others are headed off for another predictable day, entrepreneurs are thinking about ambiguity, uncertainty and, even, paradox.

Eavesdrop on a group of self-employed folks at your neighborhood coffee shop and the conversation bears little resemblance to those overheard in an employee lunchroom.

To aid in the transition, I’ve created The 21st Century Entrepreneur’s Lexicon to help you become fluent as quickly as possible.

Adventure—any undertaking, the outcome of which cannot be known at the outset

Boss—a four-letter word that is banished, unless, of course, it’s what other people call you

Businessperson—Duncan Bannatyne said it best. “Business is not the same thing as being an entrepreneur. Businessmen have fat bellies, red braces and pin stripe suits.

“Entrepreneurs do their own thing to create a business. I want to raise the profile of the entrepreneur and make it a sexier word so that more people will do it.”

Collaboration—working with kindred spirits to produce a project or product of mutual benefit; far more satisfying than the old competition model of business

Comfort zone—place to avoid or exit from quickly

Creativity—the secret weapon of entrepreneurs

Dreambasher—one who attempts to interfere with the dreams of another; also known for nipping their own dreams in the bud

Dreambuilder—person assuming responsibility for creating the life of their dreams

Expense—financial outlay used to run a business

Failure—an option often mistaken for running out of patience

False security—trusting someone else to take care of you

Fun—the acid test of a good idea

Homework—gathering information, doing research, talking to trusted allies; a preliminary to taking action, but not a substitute for action

Inspiration—an entrepreneur’s trusted invisible friend

Integrity—the cornerstone of any worthy enterprise

Investment—financial outlay spent in the expectation of a greater future return

Kindred spirit—those folks whose faces light up when you walk in the room

Laughter—sound emanating from the Joyfully Jobless throughout the day

Lifelong learning—wonderful bonus of being self-employed

Multiple profit centers—the jigsaw pieces that make up your perfect business

Natural monopoly—when you are so perfect for the situation that the competition disappears

Options—the more, the better; sound decision-making comes from considering multiple choices and selecting the best

Problems—the hiding place of great opportunity

Purpose—the guiding light for decision-making and business-building

Quotation—wise thoughts to be collected; a good one is a seminar in a sentence

Remarkable—a worthy aspiration for an entrepreneur

Right brain—the generator of entrepreneurial ideas

Risk—not knowing for sure, but being confident enough to move ahead because you’ve done your homework

Security—knowing you can solve problems, create profit centers, always find a way

Supervisior—see Boss

Ubiquitous—my favorite definition says “appearing to be everywhere at once”; a smart entrepreneur keeps looking for new ways and places to appear

Vision—a place to come from


Although I’ve shared my lexicon in other places, I was inspired to dig it out again today after reading Scott Stratten’s delightful Top Tep Things Entrepreneurs Never, Ever Say.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out for yourself.

Remember those carnival barkers who hollered, “Pick a number, any number,”? Could they have been suggesting a tool you can use to build your business?

You don’t have to be a math whiz to put numbers to work for you. Assigning a number to a project can help you focus and  give you a finish line.

Open-ended goals have a way of never reaching completion, but attach a numerical addition and getting started is much easier.

Here are a few ways to put numbers to work.

° Pick a number under ten and use it as a goal setting guide. For me, it’s the number five. You might prefer three or six.

Then instead of thinking, “I need to get more clients,” set a short term goal to get three (or whatever your favorite number is) new clients.

Of course, you can repeat this exercise as often as you like, but your chances for success increase enormously when you work with a smaller number.

Years ago, when I was floundering around trying to get my speaking  business launched,  I met a successful, but unhurried, seminar leader who told me her business plan was, “Do one, book one.”

As soon as she finished a program, she’d spend time marketing her services until she’d booked just one more.

It’s a policy I have used ever since with great success.

° Stumped about your next steps? Challenge yourself (and your subconscious mind) by asking a idea-generating question such as, “What are three ways I can grow my business right now?” Or “Who are four people I could collaborate with?”

° Write a tip sheet.  Don’t forget how useful numbers are in writing tip sheets which can be turned into articles. Six Ways to Get More Exercise is an easier article to write than one called How to Get More Exercise.

Using numbers also is a reminder that when you write a tip sheet the intention isn’t to tell everything you know.

° Numbers work equally well for subtracting things from your life that you no longer want. Instead of trying to unclutter your life all at once, for example, get rid of nine things a day until the job is done. It’s far less overwhelming if you break it down into bite sized chunks.

Go through the junk drawer and throw away nine things or toss out nine magazines or find nine things in your closet you never wear and put them in a bag for the thrift store.

Assigning a number to necessary, but not necessarily pleasant, tasks can break through procrastination and get positive momentum going.

° Pick a number, any number, and then pick one of the projects listed below.

*  Ways to get into the conversation

*  Books to add to my library

*  New profit centers to design

*  Things to study

*  New adventures to schedule

*  Self-bossers to invite to  breakfast

*  Fresh marketing tools to create

*  Media interviews to book

*  Nonessentials to eliminate

*  Ways to support other entrepreneurs

*  Articles to publish

 Or add your own projects to the list—and then get busy making them happen.

Although I don’t know when I began collecting quotes, I do know that I learned about the power of words early in life. As a student at Trinity Lutheran School, I began memorizing Bible passages as soon as I entered first grade.

As I got older, I discovered that these words I’d committed to memory often came in handy when I was confused or frustrated. They also could be used to win arguments with my siblings.

When I was in my early teens, my widowed Aunt Marge advised me to memorize beautiful poems, “So you can recite them to yourself when you’re scrubbing the floor,” she explained.

That bit of advice both surprised and moved me. When I would see her working hard to care for her two daughters, I often wondered what lovely poem was on her mind.

More beautiful words entered my life when I chose English as my college major and, later, taught English to reluctant high school students. However, this was more of an exercise in appreciating fine writing than it was in taking those words to heart.

It wasn’t until I began my journey of self-discovery that I found myself startled, encouraged and inspired by the words of others. How did that author know I needed to hear those very words?

Were there universal truths that could be revisited over and over again and make an impact every time?

Was I the only one who needed frequent reminders?

I really didn’t care what the explanation was. It was enough to know that despite distances of time and geography, there were others who had thoughts that touched me and, frequently, lighted my path.

When I began writing myself, it seemed natural to include quotes from my growing collection.

I also noticed that although I never intentionally memorized these words, they often had lodged in my memory and would show up at appropriate times—providing answers or encouragement.

One day a quote-loving friend and I were talking about the power of words. I said, “I think a good quote is a seminar in a sentence.”  My friend agreed and the description stuck.

Two summers ago, I gathered some of my favorites in a little book called, of course, Seminar in a Sentence. I intended it as a handy guide to pull out whenever a quick seminar was needed.

The pocket-sized book has quotes organized by subject including Dreams and Dreaming, The Creative Spirit, Work and Love, Beginnings, Create Abundance, Small is Still Beautiful, Taking Risks, The Power of Ideas and several others.

You can add it to your library—or purse or pocket—by ordering it directly from me.

As Doris Saatchi reminds us, “Pure space, filled with thoughts rather than things, is good for the soul.”

And if you have a favorite quote, feel free to share it in the comment section below.


Although I’ve published this before, I came across it and decided that it’s worth a repeat visit. While this may sound like a warning, there are some success tips buried in here.

Should you happen to know someone who is perpetually miserable, this will give you some insight into how they maintain their stance.

There’s a woman who goes walking in my neighborhood every day. What’s so noticeable about her is that she always looks furious.

I have been tempted to holler at her and ask, “Doesn’t your body produce endorphins?” I know that wouldn’t be well received, however.

She’s taken a strong position as one of the perpetually miserable among us and she’s not about to give it up.

I got thinking about such people one day after encountering a miserable looking woman as I was going out of the grocery store. I realized that she wasn’t just having a bad day; this was a permanent state of being for her.

I also concluded that the miserable are really masterful at maintaining their stance. Here’s what they do to keep themselves from wavering:

* Ignore or block out anything that might disturb misery. This is turning selective awareness into an art form.

Good news is not given a second glance. When good fortune does sneak in, turn lemonade into lemons.

* Plant yourself in an environment that fosters misery. Bad relationships and dreadful jobs are great tools for keeping misery alive and well.

The more insufferable the people around, the better.

* Recount tales of misery for anyone who will listen. No matter how long ago it happened, keep the pain alive.

If there’s no one to talk to, mentally go back to the horrors of years gone by. Repetition makes anything stronger.

* Avoid new ideas. What the miserable already know is enough. Besides, new thoughts might cause confusion or, even, contradict cherished beliefs.

* Stifle any impulse to laugh. This is especially important when in a group where others give in to laughter. Let them know that you are not amused.

* Never empathize. If someone else wants to share their misery, just add it to your own bank of evidence, but don’t get sucked into feeling sorry for them.

And under no circumstances show any empathy for the optimists that might slip into your world.

* Hoard. Do not offer compliments or any form of praise. And by all means protect money and possessions from others. Sharing is for idiots.

* Have a Misery Insurance Policy. The most effective is to decide that whatever you have is not enough. This guarantees you’ll remain miserable forever.

One of my favorite things about the Un-Job Fair in Denver is that I have an opportunity to hang out with the wonderful Tama Kieves.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure, Tama is the author of the brilliant book This Time I Dance! Her new book, which I am eagerly anticipating, Inspired and Unstoppable, is coming out at the end of August.

As we were catching up with each other, the conversation turned to the subject of book promotion. That led us to talking about tactics which neither of us wish to duplicate.

“I am so tired,” I added, “of the snake oil salesmen who are out there gathering massive followings.”

Tama nodded in agreement and then said, “Barbara Winter. Better than a snake oil salesman.” I laughed and said I liked the sound of that.

“That could be my new tag line,” I suggested. “Actually, I’ve always thought of myself as a lot like Johnny Appleseed, going around, planting seeds, but not sticking around for the harvest.”

As an entrepreneur who is also a passionate storyteller, I am fond of metaphors. Finding the metaphor can often lead to finding clarity or to triggering a fresh idea or point of view.

In case you’ve forgotten, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common.

Creative writing classes often use metaphorical exercises to stimulate innovative thinking. You might hunt some of these exercises down (the Internet is full of them) and use them to jar your imagination.

Or you could create a metaphor (or several) to pull out when you’re asked the question, “So, what do you do?” Let me show you what I mean.

My friend Chris was visiting her local library in the small Connecticut town where she lived. There was one librarian there who had always been especially helpful so my friend made it a point to seek her out when she needed assistance.

After one such occasion, Chris shared her appreciation. The modest librarian smiled and said, “I’m just a waitress in the restaurant of knowledge.”

Pretty memorable metaphor, isn’t it?

So give it a try. What do you do?

And if you come up with a metaphor you love (or that makes you giggle) feel free to share it in the comment section here.