7 Life Lessons I Learned from My Friend Who Lives in His Truck

"Hey man, where are you staying while you're up here?" I said, as our two-hour long conversation finished up at a lunch spot in Burlington. "Oh, my truck. I'll be fine. I'm actually headed to Canada."

And for some reason, I wasn't surprised. I offered up my couch, but it was respectfully declined.

The person I met a few years ago working in a cubicle was now living out of his truck.

The lavish accommodations were complete with mattress (accented by a blue sleeping bag), trash bag shades, a small portable grill, and a 20-gallon water reserve - among not too many other things.

While I'm not going to be living in my Honda Civic anytime soon, the conversation we had didn't reflect one bit on the fact that he lived out of his truck, hadn't shaved in a couple weeks, and we used the lunch spot downtown to, well, not get lunch at all - and just talk.

I'd like to share what I learned from him.

1. You don't need a lot of things

There wasn't a lot in my friend's truck. Because he didn't need a lot. This led me on a rabbit hole of research into minimalism, a guy's list (with pictures) of the 97 things he owned, and me, staring at all of the crap in my apartment, my closet, and my pantry. Who needs all this stuff? It's not making my life any more awesome. Life is about experiences, not things. I have too many things.

2. You can't purchase time

Time is one of the world's finite resources. You can't go to Target and buy it. You can't dig it out of the ground. And you can't make more of it in your basement. It's yours -and it's limited. Do what you love. Spend time with people who don't waste your time (Waste time with the ones you love). Let people know when they're wasting your time. You can always do something else. But, Is what you're doing right now worth not doing something else? Take risks. Be assertive. Get what you want.

3.  Stop asking why

I let my friend know I had stopped drinking. I'm almost 2 years sober. And I mentioned how annoying it was when people asked me why I didn't drink. They'd assume I was an alcoholic. His response? "Asking why is the stupidest question because...who gives a f*ck?" He's right. Who cares why you stopped drinking? Who cares why you run marathons? Who cares why you are a single mom? The only person who should care is you. You have decided to live your life a certain way. And no one should question your decision.

4.  Be selective in who you work with

Why work with a group of people who don't get anything done? They drag out projects for months, don't value your service, and it's a pain to track them down to get paid. My friend wants to find a handful of contract clients every year he's pumped to work with.  I'm leaning in the same direction.

5. Money isn't that exciting

My friend is practically a freelancer. He makes good money, works wherever there's an internet connection, and he knows his worth. He doesn't want to be rich or build a billion dollar company. (In fact, he told me stories of how he found himself frivolously spending on things because he had the money). He'd happily make less. Because when he was making more, life wasn't any more exciting.

6. Take care of yourself

Dying at 63 years old isn't high on my to-do list. So, that means I've got to take care of myself. Eat right, exercise, get good sleep, drink a lot of water, etc. (This still means I can eat cake). Related to #2, people complain about how limited their time is, yet don't take care of themselves. They die early because of the choice they've made to let their health not be a priority. Take care of yourself today so you have a better tomorrow.

7. Go where you want to go

Over the past few weeks, I've been applying to jobs across the eastern seaboard - Burlington, Providence, Durham, and even Canada. There's a part of me who wants to explore. I want to see another part of the country. But, my heart will always be in Vermont. Always.  I learned from my friend to go where you want to go. You can always come back.

I can count my close friends on two hands. 

These friends challenge me, make me think differently, and lend an ear when needed. The person I'm describing above does everything to the extreme. He's passionate, curious, and a problem solver. Oh, and he happens to live in his truck.

It makes me wonder what I'd learn from other people who are in situations I've never been in before. What if you talked to the homeless people on the Church Street Marketplace looking for lose change? Or, the terminally ill cancer patient, the women trying to raise her three kids by herself, etc.

Stories amaze me.

They make life worth living. And I'm happy I learned my friend's story isn't finished. It's a cliff hanger. And he likes it that way.

Do you have any friends you've learned a lot from?

 

How to Overcome Decision Paralysis

I make a lot of decisions. Some are HUGE. Some, tiny. For example:

  • What am I going to have for lunch?
  • Should I run or lift?
  • What should my workout be?
  • Should I watch Law & Order now?
  • Oh, a new Chicago Fire? That's next.
  • Should I call Grandma?
  • Where do I want to go on vacation?
  • I wonder how Drew & Paula are doing?
  • Were there any new jobs posted?
  • I need to ship that order. Oh look sunglasses.

Sure, you could call this brain pong -- but, really it's just a look into all the decisions randomly dispersed over the course of my day.

Each decision takes effort.

Should you forget about it? Act on it? Delegate it? You mean I have to make a decision to make a decision? Yes.

Even this blog post was a decision.

I hadn't written in a couple months.  My blog was quiet. And I know a lot of people don't read this, but I don't write for readers. I write for myself. It helps me process what I'm thinking.

And I've been thinking a lot lately.

About my company, happiness, priorities,  relationships, and health.  Some of that list has been bearing down on me for months. (You know, the "What the heck am I doing with my life?" questions.)

This paralyzed my brain.

It's hard to eliminate some decisions because, to make sure you're making the right decision, you solicit feedback from others (your family & friends).

This makes the decision complex.

Mom said this. Sara said this. Brittany said this. Ryan said this.

So, I thought I'd take some time to write down what I'm doing to eliminate decision paralysis (after all, it's incredibly important to make decisions). Because something has to happen. Whenever I'm pressed with a decision that affects my life one of two things happen: I either push it off -- or worse -- don't make the decision at all.

5 strategies to overcome decision paralysis

1. Talk to less people

Less is definitely more. When I'm having trouble making a decision, I call the people best suited for the situation. Maximum people allowed to give me their two cents? Three. The more people I talk to, the more opinions. The more opinions, the harder the decision gets. Talk less, listen more. Make up your mind.

2. Runs on auto-pilot

My morning is a well-oiled machine. From 6am - 9am, I know what I'm doing -- and it doesn't change. This eliminates any decisions. Curious what it looks like?

  • 6:00 - wake up, stretch, get ready for the gym
  • 6:30 - 7:30 - gym time
  • 7:30 - 8:00 - get stuck in traffic & shower
  • 8:00 - 8:30 - Breakfast and make to-do list for the day (no laptop)
  • 8:30 - 9:00 - Email - then pause inbox

After 9:00, I hammer through my list. However, I lose structure given meetings, phone calls, deliveries, etc.  (Oh, random cravings for dark chocolate).

I'm trying to bring structure to the rest of my day. Choosing a time I "go home", go to bed (usually 10pm), and what my life looks like after work (which never ends for a small business owner).

3.  Eliminate options

I only buy American Eagle jeans. Yes, I'm 26, but they fit great - and they're affordable. I (try to) only shop at Price Chopper. It's familiar and I'm out in 10 minutes since I buy the same groceries every week. I watch four TV shows on Hulu Plus because I don't have cable. They are all scheduled into my week.

These are easy decisions.

I've trained my brain to think there is nothing else. Yes, I could shop at Hannaford or Trader Joe's (their chocolate-covered turbinado sugar coated almonds are addicting), but shopping at Price Chopper down the road wins out every time.  I could buy other jeans, but it'd take too much time to find the cut and size that fits - at the right price. Speaking of time....

4. Ask for help

Whenever I find myself stuck on a problem or thinking "I wonder if....." I just ask. There are no stupid questions. And I reach a decision faster.  This means picking up the phone and calling. Or simply asking the produce guy where the bathroom is. The more time you spend thinking about making a decision, the more you waste on things that are more important to you (like friends & family). Why do you think Simon Cowell only wears black t-shirts?

5. Plan ahead

I know what's coming up this week, so I plan to make decisions. Those decisions are sometimes scheduled in my Google Calendar. Some are recurring - others spontaneous. For example, I travel a lot on the weekends. Meals are always a decision. So, I find restaurants I'm going to or buy all my meals at the grocery store. Now, I'm not only prepared for the weekend, but I'm not tempted by the food at all these festivals.

What do you do to help yourself make decisions?

Photo courtesy of JakeCaptive

The 3 Productivity Hacks I'm Using to Get More Work Done

Do you hate the feeling of being overwhelmed? I hate it. There's lots to do at work, people to follow up with, friends to hang out with, kids to pick up from school, gym, eating healthy. All that stuff adds up. I'm sure you've battled it at least once.

The unfortunate circumstance of being overwhelmed is the feeling of getting nothing done. Sure, I do things. but they aren't moving me - or my business - forward. Something had to change.

First, I identified why I was unproductive:

  • Email
  • Phone notifications
  • Not having a to-do list

Then, I went in search of a solution to help me control these 3 "triggers".

Let's tackle each of them using a system (because you all know I'm type A): situation, problem, and the solution I've found to help me (albeit some of them simple).

1. I hate my inbox.

Up until last week, my inbox owned me. The 60-80 emails I get each day controlled my every move during the work day. The little window that slides across my monitor saying I have a new message made me feel like one of the dogs in Pavlov's dog experiment.

I'd click on it immediately.

But, what I found was that 8 out of 10 times, the email was useless. Maybe a sale on Express shirts I haven't purchased in years, a Vistaprint sale on business cards, or some daily newsletter I signed up for 7 years ago.

And only on occasion would I get email I'd have to take action on. Maybe 5-10 a day required a response. The lesson? Email was taking over my day. This created a false sense of productivity.

Going through emails does not equal getting work done.

I started to research what I could do about. I wanted to find a solution that is easy to use and didn't require me to create a new habit. Ironically, as I was wasting more time browsing Facebook, I stumbled on an article my friend Matt Wilson from Under30CEO wrote about email hacks.

In the article he wrote about InboxPause, a Gmail app that pauses your inbox so no new email can't come in. After installed, simply click the blue "Pause" button and incoming emails get sent a hidden folder until you un-pause your inbox.

This has changed my life.

Inboxpause helped me:

  1. Check my email 4-5 times a day (working on making this 2 times)
  2. Process 50-60 emails in 15 minutes
  3. Get work done to move my business forward - not spin my wheels.
  4. Respond to people when I want to respond.

Give InboxPause a try. For the app haters (cough - Dad - cough) you could also log-out and back in to your inbox. However, to me, that's not the same thing. I still would like access to my inbox to process what's already in there while no new email is coming in. It's batch processing and I'm falling in love with it.

2.  Phone notifications

Ok - so this isn't a hack. It's just helped me. And I don't know why I didn't do it sooner. Last week, I shut off all the notifications to my phone except for text messages and phone calls.

The result: I love the silence.

Yes, I could put my phone on silent (which is what I had been doing) but then I miss phone calls and text (some important) from friends, family, and my kitchen manager.  I've had to scramble to solve several time-sensitive problems recently.

While I still have some Facebook notifications popping up (rather mysteriously, I might add), I've eliminated everything else. No twitter, Instagram, email, map, or calendar notifications. My phone is on and it alerts me when it needs to. I have less of an urge to pull my phone out of my pocket. And you know what? I'm less stressed. Before, I'd see a handful of emails, someone writing on my wall, and maybe a comment on Instagram. I'd feel the need to respond. Now, I don't. And I love it.

In summary, I made my phone 90% dumb and 10% smart - because that's how smart it needs to be.

3.  No to-do list

As a small business owner, there are a million things to do. And sometimes that feels like an understatement. One way productivity experts say to get more done is write a to-do list.

I tried that. And figured out I was doing it all wrong.

Months ago when I was on a to-do list kick, I'd write page and a half long to-do lists. I called them weekly lists so that what was on the page (which was usually 2 columns) would get done within the week.

But that just stressed me out.

The plan I'm working to implement now:

  • I hand-write a to-do list in my notebook for each day.
  • My list is no longer than 15 items.
  • The list includes 3 priority (or $ generating) items.
  • I write the time I'm going to stop working.
  • Tomorrow's to-do list gets done at the end of the day.

And now, the reasons behind why my to-do list is so rigid:

1. Why I hand-write:

Writing commits your to-do list to memory because you read it over and over again. Plus, all we seem to do is type on our computers these days. Hand writing is falling by the wayside. My notebook stays right next to me all day. I use it to cross off to-do's take notes during phone calls, and scribble down thoughts to mull over later. During the workday, it never leaves my side.

2. Why my to-do list is limited to 15 items

Big lists are, well, big. They're intimidating. And beastly. I limit my list to 15 tasks because that's enough to get done in a 9-10 hour day. Some are big, some are small. Some get completed in a couple minutes and some require a car trip. 15 is manageable for me so I'm going to stick to it and see how it goes.

3.  Why I include 3 revenue-generating items

I could easily fill my to-do list with 15 tasks that will not make me any money. Or I could mix in tasks that either bring me closer to making money - or make me money. This could be sending invoices, doing follow up calls, or managing Facebook ads. Most of the time these are the prioritized items unless an administrative task is time-sensitive.

4. Why I write when I'm going to be done

I work a lot. In fact, I work too much. The old "unproductive" me used to send emails at any time of day, work from 5am-11pm because I felt like I got nothing done. Plus, I left no time to relax. To think. To laugh. And to have fun. Being productive isn't about working long hours. It's about getting the most done in the limited time you have to do it. That means, if I write down 7:00pm (which includes breaks for lunch and dinner), I'll have a set amount of hours to conquer my to-do list. And sometimes I write 3:00pm as a challenge - so that I can take the afternoon off (ok - I'm kidding - I'm still working on that).

5. Why tomorrow's to-do list gets done today

I used to wake up in the morning, hit the gym, take a shower, eat breakfast, and sit down to my laptop without a thought to what was going to get done today. Now. I try to make a list the night before that is at least 5 tasks long and includes 1 priority item to get me started for the day with some "quick wins". I'm still getting into the habit of this and hope to have it down in a couple weeks.

So that's how I'm increasing my productivity. While it largely centers around a rules-based to-do list, InboxPause has mad the biggest difference in my productivity.

What about you? How do you get more work done?

Photo courtesy of Flickr 

 

My Dad Has Been Trying to Teach Me This for 26 Years. I Finally Get it.

It only took 26 years.

My Dad complains the only reason people call him is when they have a problem or need advice. I'll be the first to admit that's pretty much true. I mean, there have been a couple times I called him to celebrate in ridiculous excitement (because Mom didn't pick up the phone), but he's right. Most of the time, I have a problem. Some are stupid. Some are crushing. And some are legit "how-the-heck-do you-(insert problem here)?"

I'm conditioned to ask my parents for help. (Damn you, millennial tendencies).

My immediate reaction when I have a problem I can't solve is "DAAAAAD!" Am I right? Seriously. I think every child and young adult goes through this -- and some daily. We automatically throw our problems onto someone else to solve. In short, we give up. I give up. And I shouldn't.

I want to tell you a story.

When I signed the lease on my apartment two years ago, I bought a couch. When the couch came in, I brought my Dad to get it from the factory back to my apartment. We drove the SVU over together and I helped him load it into the back of the car.

But, how was the couch going to stay in the car?

Knot tying blows my mind. And (from his college sailing days) my Dad knows every knot. Me on the other hand?

I can tie my shoes.

He got down on the ground to tie a trucker's hitch - in fact, multiple - to the car. A couple huge loops around the roof-rack and through the car to finish up and we were good to go. When he was tying the trucker's hitch, I said something I always think about when I call him with a problem:

"Dad, if you were hit by a truck right now, I would be so screwed. I don't know any of this stuff."

He looks at me with a smile on his face. "Yep."

This goes beyond knots.  It includes all the stuff he knows about solving life's problems. Like, McGuyver stuff. You know, all those school projects our parents helped build, all the car maintenance, and even simple tasks.

Let me tell you another story.

Last week, I traveled to NYC with my parents on "business" (aka eat the biggest gyro of my life). The first morning, I went to take a shower. The shower was ancient. It had 4 knobs to turn. Without hesitation, I yelled "Dad, how the heck do you turn the shower on? There's 4 knobs!"

"Just think" he yells back.

I stared at the four knobs (granted, I didn't have my contacts in so I couldn't read a thing). A couple seconds later it hit me. The top two knobs were hot and cold for the shower head. The bottom two? Hot and cold for the bathtub part. It was a successful shower.

The bigger lesson hit me when I got home. I could eliminate nearly half the calls to both of my parents if I just thought about it first. It sounds stupid and well, it is. But, seriously.

Think about it.

Whatever the problem, try to solve it first before you call anyone. Because, you know what? There's going to come a time where your parents (who by default know absolutely everything between the two of them) aren't there to solve your problems.

And to those who haven't grown up with Mom, Dad, or either parent, you kick some serious butt every day. You're the best problem solver out there. I think we use our parent's as a crutch to get ourselves through life. (Mom and Dad, I'm still coming over for dinner - especially when steak is involved).

Since things are always better in three, here's my final story:

Last night, my vacuum stopped working. Through hell or high water was I going to use the hose extension to vacuum my apartment. I reached for my phone. I could hear the conversation playing through in my head "Dad, my vaccuum's broken. What the hell." "What's wrong with it?" "It won't vacuum."

I mentally slapped myself in the face. You moron. That won't help at all.

I flipped the vacuum over and checked to see if the brush was clogged. Nope. Then, I noticed 2 screws holding the bottom together. I got my screwdriver and loosened the screws. The cover was not coming off. Turns out I missed three screws. Ok, the cover is off.

I unclog a couple parts and then see the belt. It's broken. Now I know that if the motor in the vacuum is running, it's probably a clog or a broken belt. Broken vacuum belt. "Dad, how do I....." --- No. I was so close. I was going to solve this by myself.

Hello, Google!

"Broken vacuum belt" -- TADA! It showed me how to replace the belt, how much it's going to cost (~$4) and where to buy them. Thank you, Google. You're like my Dad, but digital.   (Not quite).

I scribbled the part number down, the vacuum brand and the model number. I'm all set for a trip to the hardware store in the morning to solve the whole broken vacuum problem. And Dad wasn't needed. Boom!

So, what's the point here?

I hope you don't think the point here is that I'm an idiot. Yes, I should know how to solve these everyday problems. But there comes a time when I don't know how to solve a problem.

For 26 years, my parents have been trying to teach me to JUST THINK. You have a problem? Solve it. Other people won't be there for you all of the time. Soak it all up when you can. Know that a tire should be at 30-35 PSI. Know how to fix a vacuum belt. And know how to design a boat to win your kid's 5th grade boat race. Think about it.

I know this sounds simple. But, all too often, I want to throw my hands up in the air and quit. The problem has beat me. Time to call my parents. They'll know what do. Well now, I'm going to consciously try to beat the problem.

Photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen

 

What I Learned From Running My First 5k

Today, I completed my first 5k as part of a relay team in the Vermont City Marathon. It was my first time running a race. I'm used to running the loop around my neighborhood - 2.9 miles - a couple times a week. I'm by myself - just my ipod and heavy breathing. Oh, and tight calves. But this race was different.

I was part of a team. A team of which I only knew one other person. I met the rest of the team an hour before the gun went off. Great group of guys, super encouraging, and in high spirits to complete the race. We weren't going for time. We were in it for fun.

Here's how this whole running thing happened in the first place.....

On April 30th, I got the text from my friend, Mike.

"Want to run the first leg of my marathon team? It's 3.3 miles. We had someone drop out."

I was sitting on my parent's couch watching the news. I hadn't gone on a "long" run in almost 6 months. The harsh Vermont winter kept me inside lifting weights, putting on a good amount of muscle.

I needed to do more cardio, anyway. But.....

"Maybe I shouldn't do it. I don't know if I can run 3.3 miles in three weeks," I told my parents. Doubt settled in - and it wasn't even 10 minutes. I needed new running shoes ($125).  Training needed to start immediately.

Screw it. Let's do it.

I texted Mike back: "Why not. Gotta start running again haha." It was starting to get warmer out. I figured I could at least run 2 miles non-stop, so what's another 1.3 miles?

I bought my new running shoes, assembled a playlist of top 40 hits and hit the pavement. I trained 3 times a week for the next three weeks and took two days off before the race. I also used this as an excuse to eat bread and pasta (YAY carbs).

Race day was here.

I was more nervous about getting a parking space in downtown Burlington than the race (ok, maybe not). I arrived at the parking garage at 6:15am -- plenty of spaces left. I couldn't wait any longer so I got out of my car in search of a bathroom. Pre-race jitters were here. Was I going to make it? Was I too dehydrated? What if I don't hit my time? What if I have to go to the bathroom again? (Personal side-note: I went 5 times before the race started. I was freaking nervous.)

I met up with my team, pinned my race bib to my shirt, and headed to the start chute. I had to ask three people if I was in the right place. It was impossible to know -- I mean, 8,000 people were at the starting line. It looked like everyone was just standing around. Type-A-me had to make sure.

The gun went off. It was go-time.

I launched my playlist (which also served as a timer -- if the music was over, I was behind).  We started out packed like sardines, as we trotted up Pearl Street.

People passed me left and right.

Good for them. People were behind me, too -- I was middle of the pack.

I had two goals for this day: Maintain my 10 minute mile pace and run all 3.3 miles - no walking. Every turn was an accomplishment. That's how I got through it:  I cut the run up into turns and simply ran to the next turn. Brilliant.

I saw a couple runners I knew - and just past the aid station, I saw my first familiar face cheering runners on. I pointed and waved. It was nice to see someone I knew. It gave me the extra encouragement to finish the last stretch.

As my leg came to a close, I got a little bit of shoulder pain.

It's something I've got to work on. I pushed my shoulders down and back - chest out - to get my blood flowing. As I rounded the final corner, I saw my relay team cheering me on - pointing to where my hand-off, James, was. I was so focused on finding him, I didn't even realize the bib numbers were categorized with signs.

I connected with James, handed off the relay bracelet, and wished him good luck.

My run was over.

The 3.3 miles represented more than a 5k, though (yes, I realize it's slightly longer). Pounding the pavement through the streets of Burlington was rewarding, inspiring, and, you know what? It was fun, too.

As I do in many of my blog posts, I like to reflect to see what I learned. Here's a list of what was running (pun intended) through my head as I took each step - and after my leg, too.

What I Learned:

1. Take risks

I don't know what made me do it, but saying yes to running a 5k with 3 weeks of training was crazy. I just had to plan, train, and get in the game.  I made time in my schedule for runs. And it paid off. One of the biggest hurdles my - and probably your - life is getting over fear. The only way to get over fear is to take action. I did it. I ran 3.3 miles. What risk are you going to take today?

2. Anyone can run

Several kids under 10 blazed by me. I ran past a man who must have been in his 80's. I saw all body types - skinny, heavy, muscular. Even a couple "you gotta be kidding me's". But you know what? They're out there running the race - right alongside me. They put their mind to it to run the marathon. Whether running the whole thing or as part of a relay time,  everyone killed it out there. It doesn't matter what time they finished. What matters is they finished. They accomplished their goal.

This could not have been more apparent than the Brainfarmer team wearing the sky-blue t-shirts. There must have been 12 of them - aids running alongside cognitively disabled kids. Anyone can run.

After finishing, I caught my breath and walked over with my team to watch the runners. A few minutes later, several of the Brainfarmer runners came by with their aids. The crowd went wild. I smiled and let out a big scream. The kid raised his arms and cheered. He was exhausted. But I could tell he felt accomplished. Amazing.

3. More cowbell

Along the whole run, there were residents, family members, friends, and a whole bunch of random people cheering everyone on. People literally didn't stop clapping. While there were more people in certain places, the energy was amazing. It didn't matter if you knew one runner or hundreds, every cheered for each other. And man were there a lot of cowbells! I loved it.

4. Focus on what's in front of you

For me, it's a struggle to "turn-off". I never stop thinking about my business. During those 3.3 miles, I did not have one single thought about my business. It was freeing.  Seriously.  How did this happen? I focused on what's in front of me.  I wanted to finish the run. That's all I wanted to do. So, how can I transfer this to my business? Well, I need to get tasks done. Don't start another project until the first one is done. No more doing six different things at once. Focus. Execute. Move on.

5. Be part of the community

I love Burlington. It's an awesome city. From the free high fives on the second leg, to the cowbells (see #3), and the energy of a supportive 42,000 residents, I'm proud to live here. I'm happy to see people supporting each other (I've never heard so many "Great jobs!" in my life), cheering each other on, and being part of something that happens just once a year. People are helpful here. People are friendly. And people are happy. This community is undeniably one of the best I've been a part of.

6. Reward yourself

I legit pigged out after my run. Greatest cheat day ever. Do it every once in a while. Work hard. Eat hard. (You could play hard, too, but well, eating is WAY more fun).

So, that's what I learned. After my part of the race, I debriefed with the guys about how it went. My friend, Mike, who originally got me to run, turned to me and said:

"I want to get you to run a longer leg next year. You in?"

I looked at him and said "Yeah. I'm game!"

This run was good for me. It was 3.3 miles of life lessons. Imagine what 5.8 would bring.

Congrats to everyone who ran in the Vermont City Marathon. A big thanks to the volunteers, the drag queens directing runners, event organizers, company sponsors, and everyone else involved. Definitely doing it again next year. You in?

3 Sure-Fire Ways to Fail at Networking

I went to the second annual LaunchVT Finals yesterday (Congrats to IrisVR -- super-bright guys from Middlebury who'll blow your mind with what they've accomplished for architects and virtual reality). I won LaunchVT last year so I know what Nate and Shane are in for - mass craziness, and a TON of networking opportunities.

A great network is the most valuable asset of any entrepreneur.

You have to know how to work a room, put the phone away, start chatting with anyone you can - and just own it. Own what you're doing, who you're doing it with, and where you're going. Be the most interesting person in the room. Pretty easy for many entrepreneurs as I've written about before.

But some entrepreneurs aren't the best. That's why I decided to write this post - to give you (and other aspiring networkers) tips on what to avoid - plus how to network better. Let's do it.

3 Sure-Fire Ways to Fail at Networking

1. Talking about yourself the whole time

Ever get the sense you're doing all the talking? If you do, well, be quiet. Good networks are good communicators - but they're also fantastic listeners. How do you know if you're talking too much? Look at the person's body language. If their eyes are wandering, they've lost interest. If they're shoulders and body are turned away from you, it's time to end the conversation - they clearly don't want to be a part of it.

The fix: Start the conversation off by asking about what they do or why they decided to come to the event. This way, you immediately make your mini meet-and-greet about them - not you.

2. Not talking to anyone

The whole point of networking is, well, to network. And networking involves conversations. Nothing is going to happen if you're in the corner on your smartphone checking Facebook. Put the phone away.

The fix: Pick anyone to talk to - literally anyone. They feel awkward standing there alone - just like you do. Get involved into a conversation because you know what? You never know if the person you're talking to will become your next business partner, advisor, or investor.

3. Not following up

The second everyone leaves the event, they don't remember you. After all, they've met a handful of other people that night. That makes follow up important. Without it, all the efforts you put into "networking" are out the door.

The fix: Keep business cards you get in your back-pocket. I have one pocket for my cards - and another for cards I get. When you get home, put them in-front of your laptop. That way, you see the cards when you first sit down to your desk for the day. Get the follow-ups done first thing. Include what you talked about and next steps you both talked about if you'd like to work together.

Those are my three tips. And don't get me wrong. Everyone once in a while, I do all three of these things. And I'm certainly not going to win an award for best follow-up. I'm working on it, using the strategy I wrote about above.

I know a lot of you are super-awesome at networking. What are your networking fails? Or, on the positive side, how do you make network work for you when you're at an event?

How to recognize when you need help (Entrepreneur edition)

It was Friday night. I was sitting at my dining room table, in front of my laptop. The white glow illuminated my face as I typed away. I wanted to finish a couple things before I called it quits. But I couldn't.

I just could not get anything done. Why? There was this voice in my head saying "What are you doing? Wouldn't it be so much easier if you just got a full-time job again? You're literally putting yourself to the grind on a Friday night. And you've been working since 7am. It's 10pm. And this isn't the first Friday night you're working."

Reality check: Entrepreneurship is the hardest thing I've ever done.

Seriously. You need to have an iron fist, full armor, and the sharpest sword you can find to get through the first few years. It's certainly not TechCrunch magic all the time. It's a hell of lot harder.

As a result, I've been battling my own mind.

Sometimes it feels like I haven't done anything to build my business. Other times, the highs are so fantastic, I ride the coattails of Tuesday all the way to Friday. And then crash and burn when I don't hit projected sales for the month. That was Friday night.

I came to a point where I truly questioned what I was doing. It was around 9:30pm when I realized I didn't have anyone to talk to. I had no motivation. No energy to push through and get work done.

It was then I decided to lay down. My head hit the pillow on my couch for the first time in close to 4 months. I wondered why I didn't do this more often. Couch cushions are so comfy.

Humor aside, I was in a bad place mentally. A bad place.  And no one knew. The contributing factors went far beyond my work. It was life in general: The pressure to find new/more friends. The pressure to "do something that isn't work".  And the pressure to believe that work/life balance actually exists (and no, going to networking events only to talk about my business, wasn't exactly work/life balance).

No one knew I was crumbling under the pressure until I told my business coach a few weeks ago.

"It's been a hard few weeks. I don't know how I'm going to make this work. I'm barely scraping by. My living costs are increasing (I'm looking at you, health insurance) and I feel like I'm falling behind everyone else. My friends are successful in their careers, making good money, getting married, and what am I doing? For some reason I believe I can build a mustard company."

She listened as I continued.

When I was finished, she reminded me I wasn't alone. That a lot entrepreneurs go through this period of uncertainty, regret, and the feeling of failure. It was normal.

It's normal to work 7-days a week? It's normal to turn down social engagements because you've "got to get some work done"? It's normal to have a 78-item to-do list?

This wasn't normal. A negative transformation was happening. I was becoming introverted - too introverted.  A homebody. Nothing was fun to me anymore. It was just a matter of trudging through things. Sleep. Repeat.

It was then that I realized something needed to change. I needed help. And I needed to admit it. Out loud.

I wrote a 68-item to-do list. Everything I wanted to accomplish. I have since written another 37-item to-do list. With some simple addition, that's over 100 things I felt were priority.

Another reality check: I'm not superman.

I can't do all this. Something  had to get knocked off the "priority" list (as an entrepreneur everything becomes priority). I needed to start bringing in a team to take my business to the next level. A team of young, talented people, passionate about a disruption in the condiment category (they're actually pretty easy to find).

Before I get to how I'm making  change in my business, I want to help you identify if you need the same help.

5 Signs You Need Help (Entrepreneur Edition)

1. When your to-do list is over one page - the whole thing is never getting done. Just face it.

2. When you can't sleep a solid 8 hours - I'm still working on this. I get six if I'm lucky.

3. You think you're Superman - no you're not. No phone booth is going to help you get more done.

4. When your friends start to notice - my best friend calls me out all the time. Thank you, Britt.

5. When you realize you do nothing but work - Last year I fell into this trap. I was out for a couple months. And now, I've fallen back in it.

If you are experiencing anything on this list, you need help. When I hit all five of them, I shut down my computer and binged watched three TV shows for three hours straight. Pure trash. It felt like eating an entire pint of ice cream. It was that good.

After realizing I had a problem, I needed to find a solution. Here's what I did:

 So, how did I figure out what needed to get delegated?

I looked at my huge list and identified what wasn't getting crossed off:

  • Small retailer follow-up
  • Event planning & public relations
  • Small graphic design projects & blog posting

It's not that I don't want to do these things. I love graphic design. I love hunting for media lists. And nothing gets a smile on my face like landing a new retailer. But, I needed to put more time in elsewhere.

I needed to hunt the big whales.

You needed to what? Yes, hunt the big whales. Last week, I had an impromptu meeting with one of my favorite advisors. When we get in the same room, it's far too easy to just shoot the breeze with him, but we eventually get down to business. He's incredibly good at asking the hard questions. And one of them was:

"What the hell are you doing? You've got to spend more time landing the big accounts!"

He was right. I needed to devote more attention to landing bigger accounts. So, that's what I'm doing. (PS: He had a lot of other thought-provoking questions I'll address in future blog posts).

What about that other work?

I'm pulling on two interns (maybe three) from two local colleges: A sales & events intern, an online marketing & PR intern, and I'm considering hiring a graphic design intern (believe it or not) who'll work remotely from New Jersey and even abroad this summer. I didn't think I needed the third intern until I realized how much time that would free up for me to get more sales calls done.

More sales calls = bigger business.

While I wish I could actually pay my interns, they realize how unique of an experience they get - and it's one heck of a portfolio/resume builder. I had unpaid internships in college and quite honestly, they were better than the paid ones.

Side note: My parents are stepping up their game, too. Dad helps me build things and sells mustard at events - and Mom, well, she does everything in this blog post.

Overall, I'm happy with the changes I'm making to my business. It will free up some of my time, give me an occasional Saturday off, and the chance to build a personal life back into well, my life.

Finally, I realized I needed help and decided to do something about it. Do you need help, too?

 

 

What I told 255 High School Students About Entrepreneurship

I recently spoke at the Vermont Entrepreneurship Week lunch in front of 255 high school students. I was one of four entrepreneurs who were selected to tell their story - how we got started, the importance of business education,  a couple networking tips, etc.

I had nothing prepared.

I ran out of time. I had no notes. Nothing. I totally winged it. And it paid off. After admitting I had nothing prepared, I set into what felt so natural to me: story-telling. I could tell the students were connecting with what I had to say.

Oh, you're wondering what I said? Here's the gist in a neat, organized list of 7 things:

1. Network up

Your friends only know, like, five people. But, everyone else in the room with glasses, semi-gray hair, and well, they look older. They know everyone. Network with them. It's just more efficient. Why network with someone who knows no one when you can network with people who have already done what you're looking to do and know the people who you need to connect with to make something happen? Seriously. Network Up. It's going to be your best asset moving forward.

2. Done is better than perfect

This tip (which I recently learned) has helped increase my productivity ten-fold. If you know me at all, you know I'm a type-A, detail oriented, semi-control freak. But, being able to say things have been completed is so liberating. Sure, there isn't a cherry-on-top, but it's done. I can move on to the rest of my mega to-do list. The Vermont SBDC president loved this so much, she even wrote it down. Awesome. Now, if all the other type-A students could do the same thing, we'd get a heck of a lot more accomplished.

3. If you don't build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.

I ended with this quote. It's what I have hanging in my office, just above my monitor. It keeps me motivated to never want to go back to corporate America, wear a suit every day, etc. I want to build my dream - not yours. You can certainly help achieve mine - that's what a great team is for - but, I'm going for my dream first. The earlier you realize this, the earlier you can get started doing what you love and building your own dream. And it doesn't mean you can't do both. In fact, I recommend working full-time until you can break away and devote full-time resources to your dream. But, at least take the step to realizing your dream. Life is too short to not be going for your dreams.

4. Take psychology classes

Getting into the mind of your customers is so important. You need to know what pain points they suffer from (yes, even for gourmet mustard). You need to know the colors that create certain emotions. This is all consumer psychology. And it pairs beautifully with marketing. Neuromarketing is the future. If you'd like to read more about neuromarketing, this book will completely change your mind about marketing (pun intended).

5. You can't do it alone

My parents are the glue to my business. For larger businesses, it's their team (remember to always hire people smarter than you). Even solo founders have help - from family, friends, advisers, consultants, you name it. They've received help along the way. That's what is so great about entrepreneurship. You build a network worth its weight in gold. Start building your network right now - oh, and re-read lesson #1.

6. It's a roller coaster and when you go down, you go down.

A teacher asked me what some of my challenges were. And I was honest. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to keep myself emotionally balanced. I almost cried this week. I ate straight from the peanut butter jar multiple times. In the last two weeks, I've been over-whelmed, stressed, and pushed to my limits.  This is the bad of entrepreneurship, but I'm trying so hard to focus on the good. The good helps me grow. The good helps people believe. This is what it's like owning a business. When you go down, you go down, but when you go back up - it's so, so worth it.

7. Just try and make a couple hundred bucks.

A student in the back of the room (who I knew) asked a question about where we produce mustard, and I answered it, but I took the opportunity to turn it into an inspirational story about how he launched a small side project refurbishing old Nike shoes and making $450 in one week. If he could do it, any one of the students in the room could do it. Just get started. Have a small goal to make a few hundred bucks. You'll be surprised at what you'll achieve.

How'd the talk get received?

Super-well. I had multiple people come up to me afterwards to let me know how dynamic I was, how engaging I was, and how real it felt. I got that last comment a lot, actually. Many students appreciated how raw my talk was. How I was just so honest about my struggles. This was my response:

I used to sugarcoat everything. Things were always great - just peachy, if you will. The second I started telling it like it is, being honest, and raw, I got more respect, I built my credibility as an entrepreneur, and I got people to champion what I believed in.

Following the talk, I testified in-front of the House Commerce Committee at the Statehouse about the importance of entrepreneurship in school curriculum. I was passionately honest (if that can happen) about what I needed as a small business owner to take my company to the next level, too. All the legislators were thankful for my honesty. And that leads to the 8th tip, I wish I could have told those students:

Be honest. In fact, be brutally honest. Sugar-coating gets you nowhere. Plus, sugar is bad for you, so you should eat less of it.

------------------------------

Thanks to everyone who made Vermont Entrepreneurship Week possible. It was a blast speaking to over 250 high school students. I'm happy and honored I got the chance to make a difference in a least some of their lives.

Why you should sword fight with friends

I just came back from San Francisco visiting friends for a few days and gorging on copious amounts of specialty foods at the Winter Fancy Food Show. It was fantastic. Despite my travel delays, forgetting my license while standing at the front of the security line in Burlington, and getting shin splints walking three hours a day in San Francisco, it was a much needed trip that encouraged deep-thought.

Today, I'm writing about the thoughts I had on the plane home to Vermont.

The flight caused me to reflect on how important these close, intimate relationships with my friends are. But, I realized they're important for reasons I hadn't considered before. What am I talking about?

Friends are there to challenge you.

They want to push you - get you off the couch to exercise, apply to a new job, and get out of an emotionally-risky relationship. When you turn left, friends make you strongly consider turning right.

If all your friends did was bring you cookies and pretend everything was ok, they wouldn't be too much of a friend (Don't get me wrong. I'm not refusing cookies). But, take this other scenario: A friend brings over a sharpened sword and says "I want to sword fight" you'd probably run the other direction,right?.

But you can't. You have to face the friends who present you with challenges. You can't just run away from it.

That's pressure. Pressure to remain calm, think about your next move and execute. Do you swing randomly or wait to make the next move? You clashed swords? Try another angle. Go for the knees. Eventually, one of you will win. An idea, trip, perspective, or opinion will be impaled. It'll die. But, you'll feel challenged. Challenged by another perspective - another person outside of your personal comfort zone. Challenged by the words you didn't want to hear.

But, that's what friends are for.

Friends help you prepare for the bigger battle.

When I hang out with my friends, conversations are deep. They're about life, finance, relationships, challenges at work, and trying to find happiness in it all. Friends are there to help you train. To face your fears. And to help you realize something you may never have known.

I look for people who challenge me, encourage me to defend my beliefs, and stand-up for what I believe in. Friends who are there for the training and the aftermath. Friends who will go to battle.

Find friends who will help you go to battle.

Because that's what life is. It's a battle. And you have to be prepared.

 

What I Learned After Taking a Month Off From Blogging

Notice the lack of posts, lately? Yep - I took a couple weeks off, just to see what would happen (oh, and handle one hell of a busy holiday season with my mustard company). Not much changed, but I did make a couple observations:

1. One third of my blog's traffic goes to one blog post

And it's a blog post that I don't even want to known for: I Give Up! 7 Reasons I'm Done With Online Dating. It has over 70 comments from people, both male and female, who have been through similar experiences. These are random people writing multiple paragraphs - literally spilling their feelings onto the web. I get 1-2 new comments a week. It blows my mind. But, it's the only post that really drives traffic to this blog. You can see my other top posts in the sidebar. Basically, for a blog that is meant to be about continuous improvement, happiness, and an honest look at an entrepreneur's life, the last thing I wanted was a post about online dating to make my blog "famous". Oh well - what can you do?

2. I'm writing for myself

I totaled up my writing for 2013. I've written over 300,000 words across every marketing channel. From blogs to e-books, white papers to sales page copy. And it's all helping me become a better writer. After all, that is the goal, right? Practice makes perfect. If you do something every day for a prolonged period of time logic says you'll get better at it. That's my take. And it's my new outlook for this blog: I'm writing for myself. Want to read my writing? That's cool.

3. Make time for activities that generate a return

I have a lot going on: contract work, software company, mustard company, three blogs, family, friends, gym, etc. I know I'm just like every other person out there with a "busy" life, but something has got to go. First on the chopping block are activities where I'm not seeing a return. This blog is tops on the list. While it's great to have a professional presence on the web, other activities, like my companies, require more attention now. My shift in focus is necessary to be successful in 2014.

4. I have 11 people on my email list (ha-ha?)

And I know 3 of them. On the plus side, one of them isn't my Mom, either (although she does read this because my posts go directly to Facebook). Back to those 11 people. You read online about "how to grow your email list" and "get 10,000 subscribers in three months!" After realizing number two on this list, it shouldn't matter how many people are signed up to get my blog posts delivered to their inbox each morning. And I know the number will grow if people find value in what I'm writing. So, I'm letting it grow organically. If you want to sign up, throw your email in that little grey box on the right side of your screen. Thanks!

With that being said, here's what's changing moving forward into 2014:

  • I'm writing on my own schedule, when I have something, I feel, needs to be said. Maybe that's once a month or three times a week. Whatever.
  • I want to encourage conversation on my blog with less emphasis on "building a list" (I have my other blogs for that)
  • And I want my blog to rank for more than just my post about online dating. (But, it is hilarious that its gotten 73 comments.)

Have you learned anything when you stopped doing something you routinely did? Let me know in the comments below -- start the discussion off!

The Presentation that No One Came to See

I was scheduled to speak at a Voices of Leadership series at Burlington College on Monday of this week. The presentation room was all set. My powerpoint, titled "10 lessons learned from 10 years in business" was projected on the screen. And I sat and waited for attendees to show up. Nobody came.

While I enjoyed my conversation with Angela, the woman who put this series together, I drove home wondering why no one showed up. Maybe I didn't have enough credibility? Maybe the event fell on deaf ears or maybe it was "just an off night." Regardless, here's my presentation with a lose transcript of what was in my head below the slideshow:

1. Age Doesn't Matter

I started my first company when I was 15 years old. I sold cookies in front of a hair salon in downtown Richmond, VT, just to make enough money to go to the movies with my friends. And you know what? People have started even younger than me, and three times as old as me. Age is just a number. Start a company and follow your passion. Let your age play to your advantage.

2. Never Stop Learning

I'm always reading - books, blogs, pdf's, meeting with people who are smarter than me, etc. I'll never know everything, but I can get close. Learn what you want to learn. Make it something completely different from your day job. For me, right now, it's food photography and video production.  Sure, both help me in my core businesses, but I have limited skill in both areas.

3. Be Different

I interned for Magic Hat Brewing in the Summer of 2008. Their iconic founder, Alan Newman, sat all the interns down and walked us through a presentation about Magic Hat and what made they different. As he began the story of bringing Magic Hat to life he said one thing that has stuck with me since 2008. Look at the entire industry and do something completely different. How can you differentiate yourself? Is it in your customer service level, the nice serve, your packaging, or maybe the precision equipment and tools you use. Be different. Be unique.

4. Write

Man, did I hate to write a couple years ago. Blogging was a chore. Research papers were the death of me. And heaven forbid I write a book. Well, I've done all of three - and a lot more. Writing is a skill everyone needs to develop. Write more. Write in a journal, start a blog, write copy for your company's website. The more you write the better you'll get at it. And keep a conversational tone. No one wants to read corporate jargon.

5. Help People

I do a lot for free - free advice, design, food start-up consulting. I give it all away because I know eventually it will get back to me. It not only connects me with more people (see #8), it builds my credibility in the industry. Plus, I find that when I find other people who extend a hand, our relationship is stronger and they tend to connect me with more givers. Keep giving. Be patient. You'll get eventually.

6. Execute

Just do it. Screw the planning, the SWOT analysis, and the money. Do something for a few hundred bucks, build a website. Get off your butt and talk to people about your business idea. File an LLC with the state. Whatever is stopping you - just do it. Laziness is no longer an execute. Plus, your side project is a HUGE boost to your resume.

7. Shut up & Listen

Many people love to talk, talk, talk. That's all they do. If I've learned anything, it's shut up and listen. Who are you talking to? What do they do? Are they facing any challenges? How can you help them (yep, #5 again)? I like to talk only when I have something of value to say. Other than that, I'm a pretty quiet person. Nothing says you have to be extroverted or introverted. Just pay attention and listen. Ask questions. Listen again. If more of the world listened, we'd be in a better place.

8. Build Your Network

Nothing gets done when you're in your apartment playing World of Warcraft. No one knows you. No one knows what you're working on. Get out there and talk to people. Go to industry events, get coffee with anyone who will listen, join the local chamber or business association and attend their meetings. It's hard to build something by yourself. That's why you need a team of people who are going to help you succeed. The only way to do that is to build your network.

9. Learn to Like Roller Coasters

Entrepreneurship is the worst roller coaster I've ever been on. It's not like Six Flags. Let me give you an example: in the morning, you start with a quick win, then all hell breaks lose. Then you're back to receiving a big order. Then you lose an order. And not to mention your production line is having problems and the local news wants to interview you.  It's like being sent out to sea in choppy waters. Your business is your boat. Get ready for a wild ride, put your hands up and enjoy it.

10. Fail

I've started several companies. Some I've just let go because they weren't working. But, I learned a lot. When you start your own company, don't be afraid of failure. What you're building might not work - even if it's software or a pug-walking business. And if it doesn't get off the ground, what did you learn (remember, lesson #2)? Take what you've learned and use it to build something so much better the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time around.

I ended with this quote: "If you don't build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs." I love it. I love it. I love it. I finally realized I was a cog in someone else's wheel. Now, I'm doing everything I can to bring my dreams to life.

So, that's what I've learned. Yes, it's a shame no one came to see the presentation, but now it's up for the whole world to see.

Do you own a business? What have been some of your most valuable lessons?

Why You Should Embrace "Happy-Freak-Out" Stress

You know when you're working on something and it's spinning out of control, but in a good way? That's happening to my mustard company right now. I'm incredibly excited with everything that's happening - from our packaging redesign (by the amazingly-talented Lis Gerber) to the people we meet at shows and events who truly believe in our product. And I don't even know if we can produce enough mustard to meet demand. Not to mention a growing personal brand.

I've had bags under my eyes and a huge smile on my face for the past few months.

Things are starting to come together. This is what I deem "happy-freak-out" stress. It's the kind of stress entrepreneurs love. The feeling of working through the night on a project you're so freakin' passionate about. The feeling of support from those around you. And the dreaded horror of not being able to get it all done (even when part of your business is outsourced). It's a feeling only business owners feel - that  the roller coaster is alive and well.

Embrace Happy-Freak-Out Stress.

It's a good thing to be on your toes. It forces you to execute like you never have before. To solve problems quickly. To meet people who help you make things happen. Stress isn't always a bad thing. It can be what lights your fire. It can be what completely ruins your day. And it can be a source of frustration.

Embrace stress. It's never going away.

Happy-freak-out stress is a way for you to take a step back. To use your stress in a positive way. For example, when I'm stressed, I take the time to call a friend or family member and talk it out, rather than have it overwhelm me. That just leads to poor execution.

Happy-freak-out stress has helped me gain better relationships with friends far away, and even my parents down the road. It's helped me realize the power of letting go (whether that's behind the lens, at the gym, or on the spin bike) and how important it is to maintain focus even in times of great joy or dark days.

Don't live your life letting stress control it. Embrace stress. Call your friends. And make stress work for you.

 

5 Tips for Better Networking

I sat on a panel for the Burlington Young Professionals last week on "Networking Up". It was designed to help young people (even though there were some older ones in the audience) get the job they wanted, meet new people, and ditch just handing out business cards and hoping for the best. I shared the stage with two great Burlington people - Lou McKenna of Grey Dog Media and Jonathon Wilson from Dealer.com. They had great points of view on how to network in the Burlington area and beyond. I especially liked Lou's point of having to make something out of nothing - and quick. Plus, Jonathan pointed out the importance of having a vision and taking small steps to achieve it.

Then it was my turn.

I typically am a bit more "out-there" when I speak in public. Engaging might be a better word for it. But, if I had to sit in a plastic chair for an hour, I'd want to at least have a smile on my face, right?

I had planned what I wanted to say on the back of my business card (Ironic? Yes.) and got to talking. I provided a lot of tips and tricks in the few years I've been networking and wanted to outline them for you here:

1. Utilize your parent's networks

When I was 15, I wanted to start a cookie business because no one would hire me. I didn't know the first thing about starting a business, so I asked my parents. They hooked me up with ingredient suppliers, a table, and lots of people they knew to help grow my first business. They continue to help to this day with their connections. After all, your parents have 20-30 more years of networking under your belts than you do.

2. Pick your targets

I've attended several networking events over the past few weeks. There were a handful of people there (in some cases hundreds), but I didn't want to talk to 95% of them. I picked a handful, researched them, and found them at the event. It's fine to strike up conversations with strangers, but have a plan. You never know who you're going to meet. If you meet someone and they aren't going to help you towards your goal, move on to find someone who will.

3. Location is not required

Networking doesn't have to happen in just your town. I have built relationships with people in California, Iowa, Tennessee, and even India, and England. Burlington - a town of only 40,000 - is my closest networking hub. That means if I can't find people in Burlington, I have to look elsewhere. Think outside your town and see who you can connect with.

4. Learn to socialize

I publicly admitted at this event that I watched YouTube videos to learn how to talk to people. While many in the audience laughed, my ability to start and hold a conversation has improved 10-fold. While I do struggle to keep some conversations going, practice makes perfect - and that means you have to get out there to talk to people. The videos I watched were from Ramit Sethi. Some of the tips included asking questions, listening instead of talking about yourself, and talking to people who aren't talking to anyone else. They're worried about looking awkward, too!

5. Your reputation is fragile

Don't burn bridges - especially in a small town. If you disrespect someone, it comes back to hit you ten times harder. That means you have to be careful about what you say, write, and do around people - and online.

What networking tips do you have?

My plea to college students looking for a job or internship

I attended another career fair yesterday at Champlain College. I recognized several students from the last time I attended. Surprisingly they didn't recognize me or mention they stopped by last time. (I would hope you remembered!) One student even asked what we did - even though I had a detailed discussion with him last time. I can get past the memory gaps, but what I can't get past is how many students interested in doing work on the web lacked a portfolio or examples of their work - not even to mention a personal website. And thus, my plea to college students looking for a job or internship:

Put yourself on the web. Make a website. Start a blog, Work with a new programming language. Build a portfolio.  Connect on Twitter and LinkedIn. Tell me who you are, show me what you can do, and make it happen.

I talked with countless students yesterday who were graphic design majors, programmers, game art designers, communication majors, computer information systems guys, and more. They all wanted to work on the web. And only a handful of them could produce links to work or whip out their iPad and show me a slideshow of graphics work (and that particular student was a freshman!)

Use your passion, drive, and determination to create something new every day - and be proud of it. You wouldn't be in the major you chose if you didn't love it, right? So, show the world what you can do!

And if you don't have a blog, post pictures of your life on Instagram, connect with LinkedIn groups, write about observations of college life, start a recipe blog, etc. Find what makes you tick and write about it. Once a week - that's all I ask. Show employers you can communicate well using the written word. A blog or project work would impress the hell out of me as an employer - even if you write about different breeds of cats and you're looking for a graphic design internship. I don't care. If you write incredibly well about cat breeds and your blog looks nice, I'm bringing you in for an interview. You clearly know there's more to getting a job than simply handing your resume over to a recruiter.

Oh, you don't have a resume (which happened to me 10 times yesterday)? You should turn around, go sit at your desk and create one. Need help? Go see career services. They're awesome. Make a resume. I don't care if it's 1/3 of a page because you don't have experience. I don't care if it tells me you played with Barbies when you were 7 and you babysat the neighbors iguana while working at SillyBilly's Ice Cream Stand in high school. How am I going to remember you? Make it happen right now.

Now, back to making a website.......

But a website is hard to maintain! or I'm taking web class next semester, so I can't build one yet.

Come on, guys. Don't wait. Go build a SquareSpace site, use Weebly, or install WordPress. Yeah - I know, it's not helping you learn along side a classroom environment. But, it's helping you execute. These services exist for a reason - to help you build a website in under ten minutes. TEN MINUTES.

The world is the web (plus some face-to-face communication sprinkled on top). If you want to work in the web, you better be on it. Create a website, design a slick resume, and be prepared to show me what you've done to set yourself apart from the people who can't remember to bring a resume to a career fair. You're better than that, aren't you?

Start building. Start doing. Don't wait for next semester to learn how to execute.

Execute now.

// end rant

5 Reasons You Should Try a Spinning Class

I can't feel my legs this morning. I'm taking an hour-long weekly spin class on Monday nights at Fitness Options in South Burlington. It's incredibly fun and I'm excited to get back into it after taking the summer off to pursue other exercise avenues like hiking and running.

I missed spinning.

There are so many benefits. Yes, it's an incredibly hard workout, but you feel so accomplished when you get off the bike. And the post-ride stretching? It's better than brownies. (Whoa, did I just say that?) Anyway, here's a couple other benefits of taking a spinning class.

1. You burn 500-700 calories

I just bought a Polar heart-rate watch and finally configured it before my ride last night. I burned over 700 calories. Normally, it's a bit less, but it was a tough ride. You could run on a treadmill and hop on an elliptical, but it'd take you forever to burn the same amount of calories (plus I find those two machines boring). The calorie burn is a great supplement to your strength workouts and it really gets your heart pumping. I was hanging around 170 bpm for the tough parts of the ride.

2. It works your legs like nobody's business

I hate leg day. Hate it. I'll dedicate one day a week to leg day, but I'd rather get stronger on the bike. Doing hill sprints on the bike and tough climbs to work all of my leg muscles is more my liking. And you'll definitely feel it. I got off the bike last night just barely being able to stand, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

3. You meet people driven to get in better shape

One of my favorite parts about spin class are the relationships you build with your classmates. They spin at the same time every week. You start to learn more about them, laugh with them, and build a small group mentality. We're all in this together, trying to get fit, and everyone helps each other out. Plus, you can go at your pace without anyone barking orders at you to pick it up. Spinning leads to doing other activities together like runs, cycling, and hiking. When you hang around fit people you're internally driven to get fit yourself. It's like good peer pressure.

4. It helps with running

For me, running is barely a hobby. I'll run every once in a while -- and no more than 3 miles because it gets incredibly boring at the three-mile mark. But, I make that run count. I run the same route every time. Sometimes I go left out of the driveway - sometimes left. But, after spinning for a few months, I can feel my stride getting stronger, my hill sprints getting faster, and I'm not catching my breath all the time now.

5. It's constantly changing & motivating

No spin is the same - it's always different. For example, last week I did a ride that was called "Climb & Climb Again" which was a whopping 8 short hill climbs. Yesterday, I did a ride called "British Invasion." It was five longer, more intense, hill climbs. The intensity is different. The music is different. And sometimes the instructor is different. Each time, you'll get a completely different experience. I love the variety in spin workouts.

So what are you waiting for? Find a spinning class near you right now. It'll put you on the path to a new healthier you - no new year's resolution needed. Have fun!

Does it really "sound good"?

I say it all the time. "Sounds good!" But I don't think about what the saying means. What if it doesn't sound good? What if it ends up being horrible? Do I say "sounds good" to appease who I'm talking to, or am I saying it because the situation does sound good? I've said it to my boss, my best friends, and my family. And almost every time, I feel like I'm skirting around saying something else. Maybe it's how I feel? Or just to end the conversation. I'm not sure.

Would you ever say "sounds bad?" You might if your friend's describing a horrific car accident or you broke your leg skiing. But, what would someone's reaction be if you told them something sounded bad?

And you could take it in the other direction - "sounds awesome!" Is that better than sounds good? If something sounds like something else, you are perceiving it to be a good, bad, or fun event. So, if your boss said "Let's catch up. We'll chat in five minutes?" you would say, "sounds good" perceiving what's going to happen when you talk to your boss as positive. When, in reality, you could get asked to pack up your stuff and leave. You're fired. Man, should have said "sounds bad", huh?

There are so many nuances in the English language. "Sounds good" has been on my mind for a while now. What do you think? Do we say "sounds good" so nonchalantly now that it doesn't require an over-analysis? Let me know.

Sound good?

 

What I've Learned After Not Drinking for a Year

Today's the day. It's been exactly one year since my last drink. It was an Angry Orchard hard cider (I know, it's not even a local beer - let alone produced by AB). And I still remember what it tastes like. I remember the event. I also remember specifically where I was sitting. And I remember when I made the decision that night to stay away from alcohol completely.

I've never truly liked it.

Yes, I have enjoyed my fair share of good beer, but it's not my go-to beverage. And on October 8th, 2012, I chose to eliminate all alcohol consumption. For more reasons why, you can check out the post on why I stopped drinking.

In this post, I'd like to reflect on what I've learned after not consuming alcohol for a year.

1. "Want to grab a drink?" isn't an easy question for me to answer

I'm a 25 year-old young professional. I should be jumping at an opportunity to grab a drink at a local watering hole. Instead, I feel I'm putting a damper on my friend's plans to hang out after work. No one invites me to bars anymore because I don't drink. I don't care, but it's funny how bars are one of the only places people in their mid-20's can hang out. If I looked for a non-alcoholic venue, I might as well go to the local teen center.

2. Everyone thinks I'm a recovering alcoholic

"Oh, ok. Why?" is the response I get every time I tell someone I don't drink. When I let them know several reasons why I stopped, it's almost like none of them are acceptable. I can see in their body language they're thrown off. How could a 25-year-old not drink? People have asked about my drinking past because of my current lifestyle choice, and, as many of my college friends know, I barely drank in college. So completely eliminating it wasn't tough. No, I'm not a recovering alcoholic, but it sure seems like I'm sometimes stereotyped into being one.

3. I've saved a significant amount of money

It's become routine for me to simply order water when I'm out with family and friends for a meal. It's free. It's not $5/pint or more. I almost exclusively drink water now. No hot chocolate, no coffee, and a very limited selection of tea. The choice to only drink water has saved me hundreds of dollars - if not thousands over the past years. I still have beer in my cabinet that I'll likely make killer beer bread out of, but other than that, it's the only beer in my place. Buying a random 6-pack to stock the fridge or a delicious bottle of wine (that's my personal favorite) wouldn't phase me, but it would hurt my budget. Now, it doesn't even cross my mind. The frugal me is certainly happy about that.

So that's what I've learned. Nothing truly earth-shattering - just a few general observations. It's been easy to stop drinking, and I'm going to continue. But, I just wanted to bring to light what it's been like - and the interesting social ramifications of such a decision.

What about you? Have you stopped drinking and experienced the same thing? Let me know your story in the comments below.

I'm sick of chicken breast and frozen vegetables (and my attempt to fix that)

What I'm trying to say is my eating routine is getting dry. It's boring. It's the same thing almost every day. Want to know?

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with cinnamon and sliced banana, plus an apple
  • Post-workout-snack: Apple with peanut butter
  • Lunch: Large salad with romaine, green pepper, cucumber, balsamic vinaigrette and a protein source
  • Snack: Another apple or granola bar
  • Dinner: Chicken and frozen vegetables
  • Dessert (1-2x a week): Dark chocolate (unless my parents bring me something from Cheskie's Bakery in Montreal) Then, all bets are off.

This routine enables me to buy the same thing in the grocery store each week. This (sometimes) makes my grocery bill plummet to less than $30. Yes, a week of food sometimes costs me $30. Hello, cheapskate. And I'm not buying Nutter Butters (even though I really want to). Newsflash - the $3.50 you're spending on Nutter Butters can actually buy you a good amount of healthy stuff).

But lately, I've been bored with what I'm eating.

I really just want to shovel an entire tray of chicken and biscuits and follow it up with an entire chocolate pie. Oh, and sesame chicken with fried rice should be thrown in there somewhere. Maybe a snack? Ok. Shut up, inner-fat-kid.

Seriously, though. I'm going to make a more concentrated effort to actually cook things. I don't want to operate on auto-cook-pilot anymore. If you follow me on Pinterest, you'll notice I've been pinning more (fattening) recipes lately (sorry). I want to bake again. And yes, I realize living by myself it's impossible to eat just one brownie (those are my weakness. I can make it without cookies and cake, but brownies. Oh, man).

So, that means I'll have to put the goods up for grabs on Facebook (or randomly send baked goods across the country). I kind of like the later idea. Are you in?

I want to take cooking one step further.

I used to have a recipe blog called Blueberry Chuckle. That took way too much friggin' time. I was posting ok-tasting recipes, writing horrible copy, and taking horrendous yellowed-out pictures.

Now, I'd like to focus on the photography aspect. I've been reading and learning more about food photography and styling. I want to learn how to take beautiful food pictures. You'll find them on my blog somewhere -- probably under a tab at the top.

Ok, I'm done rambling. What are you eager to get back into?

I think reply all should just go away

It happened again. I received a message from an event organizer that went to over 40 people. And four people (a whopping 10%) decided it would be a grand idea to hit "reply-all", even when the email clearly stated to let the sender know if you're not interested in continuing on with the event. Just sender. Not the other 39 people on the list.

Yes, folks. This is my first straight-up rant post. Please continue reading.


The "reply all" feature was available in almost every email client I have ever used: AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Google Apps, etc. (Oh, AOL, I miss you). It was built to make it easier to reply to groups of people all at once. It's just like text messaging on an iphone. The entire gets your response (and sometimes that can backfire). And yes, I think reply-all from your iphone should burn a slow death, too.

Why do people hit reply all?

Their message tends to be of zero value to the other members in the group anyway. It's usually something like "Hey, John - thanks for all you do. Let me know if you  need anything - Maria".

Seriously? Do you know you sent that to 40 people who simply don't care? Drives me nuts. Or, as Peter Griffin would say, "do you know what really grinds my gears?"

I propose a simple remedy.

You know how Gmail warns you to attach a file because you used the word "attach"? (quite possibly the greatest email feature of all time, by the way). They, as well as other email clients, should do the same thing for reply all.

Hear me out:

You just got a message about someone's surprise birthday party. The message was sent to 100 friends and god forbid you hit the reply-all button. You type your less-than-fifty-word-response about how you're excited to go and hit "send".

Up pops a box that alerts you: "Are you sure you want to send this to the 99 other recipients?" Then you have two options: "Yes, send this to everyone", which confirms you want to spam everyone's inbox, or "No, reply to just the sender", which sends your email as a "reply", not a "reply all".

That's all I want. Who's with me?

 

The Evolution of Gredio's Brand Identity

I've been thinking a lot about brand identity lately. Maybe it's because we just launched Gredio's new logo. Maybe it's because I'm looking into rebranding Green Mountain Mustard in 2014. Who knows. Then I stumbled upon my initial concept for Gredio's logo.

I was looking for a Gredio brand asset and found the succession of logos - from what we started with to what we have now. Ironically, all in order. And that sparked this morning's post idea. I want to show you guys how the Gredio brand has evolved. I may do the same thing with Green Mountain Mustard next week - that's an even crazier transformation.

Anyway, onto the first concept...

The first concept I had for Gredio

When I first started Gredio, I slapped together a logo. We had to look at least a little legitimate. I didn't quite think anything of what I was doing. I opened Photoshop, played around, and came up with something. And I slept on it because I hated it. It was a mash-up of two pieces of clip art and a font I was obsessed with (Ok, I still am). But, this identity was too pharmaceutical. On to the next one.gredio_logo2_web

The logo needed more color. It was ugly. Plus, I needed an icon that was better aligned with what Gredio did for small food producers -- ingredient inventory management (it does so much more now!). I have always been in love with green (even though my favorite color is blue), but green just seemed to make sense. I chose a playful font here, but then after more "sitting on it" I decided that the playful font made the app look less serious. It was more slap-stick than the first one. But, I liked the sugar bag. Let's change the font...

gredio_logo3_webI changed the font to another one I'm obsessed with. I love the simplicity. I was now getting closer to "web appy-ness". We settled on this logo because I needed to get cards printed and start talking with small food producers. Then, we won the LaunchVT competition. Part of the win was re-branding from the talented folks at Hark Communications. That led us to a big (and totally awesome) logo.

Gredio_Logo_Final_Web

I love this identity. And yes, it's world's different from what I started with (that awful pill container). We decided on the measuring cup because it's a common symbol with food companies. Plus, the concept of measuring is appropriate as we give small food companies better analysis of their food business. Oh, and the font is fun and web 2.0. We now look like a serious web application.

So what did I learn during this re-brand?

1. Don't just settle on a logo - think it through. How do you want your company to be represented? 2. Be flexible - Don't get stuck on something and say "it has to be green" or "I want to keep this font". 3. Hire professionals - they really do know what they're doing. And it allows you to work on building an amazing company.

What about you? Has your company gone though a re-brand? What was the process like?