On the night before I was scheduled to head out of town on a four day trip, I was quietly reading in bed when I heard a strange gurgling sound coming from the bathroom. Further investigation revealed that the water in the toilet bowl was looking like a volcano about to erupt.

Since my plumbing skills are nonexistent, I decided to flush it and see if that solved the problem. Moments later, water was flooding the floor and I was bailing water and mopping up with a towel.

I shut the water intake valve off, but spent the next couple of hours fretting when I should have been snoozing.

What if the toilet erupted while I was away? Would I flood my downstairs neighbors in the condo below mine? Would I return to a home in shambles?

On Friday morning I headed to the airport still carrying trepidation along with my luggage. Later in the day, my daughter sent me an e-mail assuring me all was well (or, more literally, all was dry). I relaxed a bit.

My attention shifted to teaching the liveliest seminars I could to three groups of students in Sacramento. When I shared my mini-disaster, I got all sorts of advice on dealing with my plumbing problem.

Early on Sunday morning, I headed to Las Vegas to meet up with the folks from International Living. They were running a Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference  where 600 people were investigating what it would take to live abroad.

Since I have no plans to retire either here or abroad, I wasn’t there as a participant. I had come at the invitation of International Living publisher Jackie Flynn to discuss a product they’ll be launching in the new year.

On Sunday evening, I shared dinner and ideas with Jackie and her writing team. I went back to my room feeling quite excited about their new project.

Monday morning I woke up and had two e-mail messages that took me by surprise. The first was from Southwest Airlines alerting me to a delay in my late afternoon flight back to California.

The second was from my long time online merchant provider announcing that they were closing down shop at the end of the year.

I shared my bad news with my Facebook friends and promptly began receiving messages of encouragement. Once again, the dark cloud lifted quickly.

The truth was that neither the bad news nor my overflowing toilet is what I’ll remember from this journey.

In fact, there were so many delightful moments in these four days that when I recall the trip, the first things that come to mind will be the fun I had spending time with my friend Judy Miranda in Sacramento.

I’ll also think about meeting Facebook friend Lisa Montanaro for the first time and the engaging participants that showed up for my seminars.

And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the view from my room at Red Rocks Resort with the full moon shining down over the lights of Las Vegas.

Or the joyful time I had brainstorming with the International Living team.

After our meeting Monday morning, I headed to the airport although my delayed flight was hours away. I went to the Southwest ticket counter, asked if I could be put on an earlier flight and a few minutes later was heading home.

“Is there a charge?” I asked the ticket agent.

“Not from me,” she replied (just in case I needed another reason to love that airline).

This little outing reminded me, once again, that building a business isn’t about living in a total and continuous state of bliss. Anyone expecting such a thing won’t be in business very long.

On the other hand, on those days when you wonder if all the annoyances, distractions and disappointments are worth it, remind yourself of  this observation from Paulo Coehlo:

Too often we decide to follow a path that is not really our own, one that others have set for us. We forget that whichever way we go the price is always the same: in both cases we will pass through difficult and happy moments.

But when we are living our dreams, the difficulties we encounter make sense.

When I moved into my new home last December, I was determined to find the most colorful Welcome Mat available. Not only did I want my visitors to know I was happy to see them, I wanted to remind myself that I was entering a place where good things happened.

There may have been another factor motivating my insistence that I get it right; my downstairs neighbors have a mat in front of their door that growls Go Away. Since I pass by it every time I come home, I felt obligated to counterbalance that grumpy message.

When it comes to your clients, customers and potential clients and customers what’s your sign? Are you putting out the Welcome Mat—or hanging a Do Not Disturb warning?

You don’t have to look very hard to see that every business invites you in—or warns you not to bother them.

I  learned about the Do Not Disturb sign from years of flying with Northwest Airlines. Apathy and indifference seemed to pervade the corporate culture.

As the planes got grubbier and dirtier, the crews got crankier. Questions were often treated as an irritation and passengers were an unfortunate interruption.

There wasn’t much smiling going on during the million miles I logged with them.

Now that I am not limited to NWA (merged with Delta) as a carrier, I avoid them at all costs. In fact, I’ve not touched my frequent flyer miles with them despite the fact that I could have a free trip to Europe if I was feeling the need for more abuse.

On the other hand, my trips these days are mostly on Southwest Airlines and I find myself anticipating these trips since I never know what friendliness may be in store.

Is the flight attendant heading to Las Vegas auditioning as a standup comedian? Will the passengers be invited to sing  Happy Birthday to a fellow traveler? Will I manage to read all the interesting articles in their in-flight magazine before we land?

You don’t need to operate an airline to recognize the importance of sending a message that welcomes.

Of course, there are times when the Do Not Disturb sign comes in handy—especially if you live with other people who don’t understand that you have a business to build, but in every part of your business where you’re connecting with other people, keep the Welcome Mat out.

Here are a few easy ways to do just that:

° Answer all telephone calls with friendly expectation. Yes, it might be a telemarketer on the other end, but unless you’re a really gifted psychic, don’t risk it by sounding grumpy.

Your voice message needs to be upbeat as well. (Skip the trite, “your message is important to us” stuff, however.)

° Get into the conversation on social media sites. If you’ve got gas or you’re bored, keep it to yourself.

Use social media to praise, share, ask questions, interact. That’s not difficult stuff, but it does take conscious effort to do so.

Keep in mind, too, that this is about connecting with other people. No matter how adorable your kitten is, use your own photograph since you’re the one we’re responding to.

° Don’t make busyness an excuse for rudeness. Dazzle people with your fabulous and thoughtful good manners. If you really want to astonish people, send them a hand written thank you note or express your gratitude publicly.

Keep asking yourself if you’ve got your Welcome Mat out. It’s one of the best business building tools you’ve got.

As Anita Roddick reminded us, “You will never fail as a result of any investment you make in humanizing your business.”


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.


Although my birthday doesn’t arrive until October 10, I received my first card last week.

The sender always remembers my anniversary and let’s me know they’re thinking about me. In fact, they started celebrating when we barely knew each other.


Several years ago, when I still lived in Minneapolis, I was in Sacramento to teach three seminars. At the end of the day, I headed to the airport to fly to Burbank so I could spend a little time with my daughter. I had booked my flight on Southwest, an airline that didn’t serve my hometown, primarily because of the ticket price and flight time. I was expecting even worse service than I was used to with more expensive carriers.


When I got to my gate, I walked up to the counter to ask the pleasant gate agent a question. That led to a little chat. I learned he’d been a schoolteacher prior to joining SWA; he learned I was off to celebrate my birthday with my family. I sat down in the waiting area and watched the growing group that would become my fellow travelers. 


Moments later, I was startled by an announcement that said, “Passenger Winter, please come to the podium.” I grabbed my suitcase and followed orders. The moment I reached the podium, the message continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special person flying with us tonight. This is Barbara and it’s her birthday. Join me in singing Happy Birthday to her.” And they did. 


Now that I’m a regular SWA passenger, I know that such spontaneous behavior isn’t that unusual. However, at the time of my serenade, I was (reluctantly) a frequent flyer with Northwest Airlines who had a strong monopoly in the Minneapolis market. I’d spent years being treated as their adversary by gate agents and flight attendants. A birthday card from NWA? Never. In fact, when I hit 1,000,000 miles flying with them, I didn’t even get a thank you note. NWA and SWA are polar opposites and their corporate cultures show it.


SWA continues to surprise me. To my delight they’ve taken on bully NWA and I’m now able to fly with them to Minneapolis, as I did for Follow Through Camp earlier this month. That trip was made even more delightful by their in-flight magazine which happened to be a special Entrepreneur’s Guide which declared Make Your Bright Idea Bear Fruit. I couldn’t stop laughing over Jay Heinrichs editorial which began, “There are two kinds of people in this world: entrepreneurs and naysayers. I belong to the second group…Entrepreneurs never follow the advice of people like me.”


Of course, their magazine is always worth reading and seems to be written with the intention of adding another layer of pleasure to their passenger’s flight. 


Last week on my return from Denver, our flight was staffed by a flight attendant/Elvis impersonator—and another who seemed to be working on his standup comedy act. As the lights of my new hometown came into view, Elvis impersonator led the plane on a rousing (and respectable) rendition of Viva Las Vegas. Everyone was smiling as we touched down.


Surprise. Delight. Care. You don’t need to run an airline to put those to work for you.