Monday, July 26, 2010

Never Confuse RPM with Torque

I got my first really awesome sales job in the  mid-90's. I was really confident in the interview and made all sorts of promises about being a diamond in the rough, etc.  'Robert' (who was one of the best bosses and mentors I could have ever lucked into) bought that-my first real sales pitch I suppose-and gave me the job. I was very determined to not only prove that I was worthy of the faith he put in me but to also be a VSBW (Very Successful Business Woman) in my own mind. 

As most really good managers do, he watched me. He hovered around my desk when I made my cold calls and he rode with me to pitch new clients. He saw me bring tons of office supplies from the supply closet and even supplement them with those I purchased myself.  He saw me come in earlier and stay later than everyone else around me. I made sure I was very very busy.

One morning he called me into his office.  He asked me how I thought it was going, how I liked it and how I thought I was doing.  At some point the words 'I work really hard' must have slipped out of my mouth. He leaned into me and said 'The first thing you have to do is learn to never confuse RPM with Torque.'  It took me a few minutes to figure it out...I think it was after he said something like 'Do you get what I'm saying?' but I DID get it...I just didn't know what I was doing wrong.  Over time that saying has remained one of my favorites. We all get so very busy but sometimes don't always analyze our torque against our RPM.  I know I have to revisit that phrase when:
  • I find myself frustrated several days in a row
  • When all of my files stay in my To-Do pile longer than a few days
  • When I have conversations with clients or prospects and leave the meeting with no clear idea of what my very next step with them is
  • When the words 'I'm really busy' come out of my mouth
  • When I start to lack a sense of accomplishment on anything
As someone whose hard-earned corner office is in her home, I find myself falling into this trap more than I might if I worked in a staffed corporate office. I have to be careful to not get caught up in anything other than my work during the hours I'm at my desk. I have to go into conversations with a clear resolution to move something forward even if it is just to advance the relationship I have with that client. I have to force myself to do something-make a note, file, make a phone call, delegate to my staff-with every file or project folder I touch. Sometimes I have to just find something that I can work on and finish in a few minutes time so I can feel that I did something to completion.

It's easy for me to feel busy...I have to remember it's important to be busy doing something that makes an impact. How do others keep from falling into the 'always busy but never completing' pit?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

3 Reasons Shopping for Office Supplies Makes Me Happy

I went to Staples this morning. I don't go often but I love it. I have been giddy since last night when my printer cartridge just could not be shaken anymore into printing without lines across the paper. I am never this excited about shopping ever. I realized why office supply shopping  beats clothes shopping (or shopping for anything else) for me every time.

When I buy office supplies I get a feeling akin to purchasing a lottery ticket with a huge payout and a limited amount of people vying to win. Except for my aforementioned stapler I have no loyalty to any of my existing office supplies. Every pen, every notebook, every paperclip and every file jacket is just one new eye-catching and sale priced replacement away. Because anyone of them could be THE ONE.  The one file jacket design that would suddenly make all of my files finished, legible and alphabetized.  The one paperclip that might inspire me to more compactly combine my many ripped out notebook pages of valuable information.  The one notebook that might make me abandon the current routine of just grabbing anyone of 5 floating around on my desk when the phone rings and I may have to take notes.  Every single item holds the possibility of making my professional life So Much Better.

I can buy a whole lot of office supplies without spending a whole lot of money and I have absolutely no purchaser's remorse about it! I absolutely, as the owner of a company and a very important person in my own basement, am justified in buying a whole cart full of supplies.  I NEED them.  Heck sometimes I even feel superior to the women simultaneously leaving the card shop in the same shopping center because I spent my money on BUSINESS stuff.  Guilt free shopping-does it get any better?

Office supplies don't elicit indecision or self-loathing during the shopping process.  Clothing is sometimes true to size and sometimes not-sometimes I think I'm magically losing weight, sometimes I feel like a heifer-and I don't know until it's too late which way it's going to go.  I worry that I could save money if I wanted to a different point in the season to buy it or  I worry that I'll show up to a meeting and someone will be wearing the same outfit and look really so much better in it than I do. While there is far too much frustration involved in buying clothes and most everything else I feel like  my new pens/designer paperclips/file folders/blank CDs are perfect to buy.  They don't make my hands look fat, they rarely go on end-of-season sale, and I don't care if everyone else has one just like them.

I don't view this borderline obsession with office supply shopping as a bad thing.  It's a quick process that doesn't involve much time. I don't have to go to multiple stores to get my fix since the closest Staples to my house does the trick every time.  Things don't break or run out or need replacing every week. I don't go often enough for the clerks to recognize me so I can still go without applying make-up or clothes that necessarily match. I never come home and decide that the highlighters looked better in the store than they do on the desk and need returning. There are 4 drive-thru opportunities between my house and the store that can accommodate any cravings I have.  All good.

Am I the only one?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

3 Ways Teenagers and Soap Opera Characters Lead Amazingly Similar Lives

This isn't a business post or an inspirational post. It isn't even a post with great tips for doing something better/different/faster.  It is a mom post.  About the thoughts that occur to me sometimes in dealing with my boys.  My sons are ‘grown’ if we’re strictly counting legal age of accountability. One is 21 and one is 18. The 18 year old just graduated and lives with us. Yesterday I was reminded again how teenagers and soap opera characters lead very similar lives. This is what they seem to have in common:

1-The perfection of the long, overly-dramatic, did I mention LONG? look they give when they are questioned about a sticky subject or caught in an obvious untruth. Let’s face it, almost everyone has at least briefly watched a soap opera. You know how the character is able to hold this look right into the camera just as the show goes to commercial break? The one that begins as a frightened ‘Oh my gosh, did Willow just hear me admit that the triplets I’m carrying may be my father’s brother’s drycleaner’s cousin’s babies and not my husband who is being held in a unidentifiable third world country jail’? and then slowly turns into a look of challenge and ultimately defiance ‘I don’t believe she heard anything and I’m going to stand here and look innocent and peeved that she appeared to be eavesdropping in the first place’? THAT’s the look my Max has perfected when I ask him how it is that report cards were sent out a month ago and yet haven’t seemed to show up in our mailbox a mere 5 miles away from school yet, or when I remind him that I’ve asked him 300 times to unload the dishwasher and ask just what day that could possibly happen. If only I could get him on contract so he could get paid for the acting. Which leads me to #2…

2-The effortless nature of wearing nice clothes, being invited to great parties, having gym/club memberships, and just showing up everywhere they are supposed to be without ever seeming to actually go to a JOB (unless you count the occasional hospital, police department, or family corporation). People in soap operas are like most teenagers. They always have nice clean clothes and yet never seem to be hovering over a washing machine. They are members of the neighborhood pool without ever having paid a homeowner dues bill. They just expect that they will have good food and be given great opportunities without any thought of actually clipping coupons and stocking the fridge. And like the magic of television, my children are walking around in pretty nice clothes and well-fed through no effort of their own.

3-The lack of acceptance of the simple fact that it is far better to confess early than be found out later.
On television people rarely learn from their mistakes or the mistakes or others. They stubbornly refuse to admit to the affair, the evil twin, or the baby switch scheme but they always always always end up exposed as liars. Teenagers are often the same way. My son knows his report card is horrible and he knows that eventually it will find its way to me. Yet when he is questioned repeatedly about his grades, his exams, etc, he is adamant that all is good. So when it finally arrives I am mad. Mad at the grades but more angry (here is the crucial part that soap opera characters and teenagers never grasp) at having been repeatedly lied to about it. Really angry as I sit and remember the many opportunities he had to ‘fess up when he chose to hold on to the cover-up instead. And never has there been a shot-out of gangsters at the local hotel or any other sudden and far-fetched tragedy  to instantly make me forget that I'm mad at him.

I suppose I could wish that my children had aged right through their teenage years and reappeared on my doorstep looking quite unlike themselves or either of their parents as the soap opera characters do but I don't.  Despite the frustrations I have great boys and enjoy them far more often than I want to throttle them. And since they are young in real-life I can assume that they will outgrow most of their soap opera ways.  Until then, join us tomorrow for another episode of 'From my Basement Corner Office'...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Five Most Important Things on My Desk

I've had desks, many desks over the past 20 years or so.  Some were surrounded by a flimsy gray lean-to (known as a cubicle), some were in offices with or without a window but all were covered with things I thought were necessary to make my desk look professional and to make me look like a very busy person. Over the past few years as my desk audience has dwindled to the cat, my husband and the chimney sweep once a year, I've found the things that are really vital to my functionality, productivity and cautiously optimistic demeanor.  They are:

1-My PaperPro Stapler
  This being first on the list is no accident. I had used really bad staplers all of my life until I found this one. In retrospect I was being really loosey-goosey with company funds by spending $12 on a stapler when others were available for $3 and I already owned a bunch of them. But this green one caught my eye and I bought it...and I LOVE it.  Stapling is one of those things that you never give any thought to until you have a bad stapler.  And then the simple act is a big pain.  So please, if you don't have a great stapler yet go buy yourself one.

2-My Paperweight from George Washington University
 I had the pleasure and privilege of being guest lecturer/trainer for a graduate class at the George Washington University Graduate Program for Tourism and Hospitality Students and along with a very nice thank you note I received a beautiful etched paperweight.  Those two hours were huge for me for many reasons but the biggest being the fact that I never got a Masters Degree myself.  It was fun to have the students eager to hear about MY knowledge (and honestly, we all need a chance to pontificate on occasion) and to feel like I had something valuable to offer to them.  If you don't have something on your desk, some token that reminds you that you do know what the heck you're doing and are even brilliant at it when the stars align, I'd highly recommend you put something there.

3-Pen Holder with Multiple Pens
I'm not really sure what happens to all of the pens I own but they seem to plot with the socks to disappear without a trace. I never seem to end the day writing with the same pen I was using at the beginning. I do find them sometimes upstairs by the refrigerator, by the front door, in the bathroom, etc where I evidently carry them without realizing I'm still clutching them until I need that hand for something else.  Having at least 10 readily available to me at all times is one less tiny frustration for me to deal with daily and one less, is well, one less...we all know drops make oceans.

4-Speaker Button
Only my husband, children and co-workers have conversations with me via speaker phone.  For everyone else the sound is so-so, the cat meows, the pens roll off of the desk (see #3) and a plethora of other background noises pop-up.  But most of all, the speaker button allows me to be placed on hold by my vendors, the bank, the electric company, the internet company, the IRS and any number of other people with wait times in excess of my wrist-contorting or head-tilting limits while still working! Somehow the music seems less irritating and the wait flies by when I'm doing other things.  If your office phone does not have speaker capabilities you don't know what you're missing.

5-My Queen Statue

My sister gave this to me and she found it far funnier than I did at the time. Now I think it is a riot because she was right: every business person, especially a salesperson-business person, longs to be validated by their clients and their work.  When I'm working on a proposal and I'm starting to stress, I look at her and I remember that I don't need to be so desperate.  I have a really valuable service and my company provides it well. If I'm on the phone with a media person and I'm getting the feeling that they just don't think my press release is nearly as earth shattering as I do instead of talking faster/louder/harder, I just look at my little friend and remember that she isn't the visual I want to give the person on the other end of the line.  Make sure that you keep something handy that reminds you  that you and your business have value and remember that not everyone will love you or what you're offering.  But at your practical and cozy desk in your office, you're the queen!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Where to Hide a Cat and other Basement Corner Office Challenges

I have the corner office.  I've worked very hard over the past 20 years: selling, mothering, wife-ing (twice), creating, marketing and more. I partnered with some friends and friendly acquaintances and started a business with less than 5 thousand dollars that grossed more than a million dollars in the first 11 months and I was quite impressed with myself.  Initially by necessity and then by choice, in our business everyone works remotely.  And my hard earned corner office is actually in the basement of my home.

Working from home wasn't the struggle I thought it might be.  Like most 'creative' people, I have a very short attention span and can VERY easily be led off in a million directions.  I have slowly tamed the reactive monster and actually work without jumping on every email and phone call the second they come in.  If anyone asked me I would think myself somewhat of a modern expert on the home office mode.

I was approached last year about conducting a webinar to several hundred people in my industry.  I welcomed the opportunity and gladly scheduled the presentations.  Then the home office version of the next-door-renovation happened: a stray cat started showing up outside the door to my office sending my male cat into a howling, whining, annoying frenzy. He couldn't go upstairs because my visiting niece was allergic and his piercing and longing and carrying on was clearly heard through my headset when I shoved him into the downstairs bath.  It wasn't lost on my newly found time management skills that I had spent an hour or more pondering where to shove a screeching cat, hardly adding to the bottom line. Sheesh!

Of course the crisis passed...I sent my niece shopping with her cousins and put the cat into our master bathroom upstairs for the three hours I needed.  And it didn't dampen my enthusiasm and now true passion for having my office, whether it's the corner one or not, in my home for any number of reasons not the least of which brings joy to my environmentally focused friends. But it did remind me that it isn't easy: the burden of running a business/occupying that corner office OR doing it from the basement.  I hope this blog can offer some hope, help and humor on both of those struggles.