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Where creative answers come from

Photo :: Sherbrooke Forest, outside Melbourne, Australia (by me)

Like a spring flower just coming up from the ground, I'm slowly emerging from a three-month sabbatical where I turned the noise down on my life, including contributing to this blog. I created a quiet space for myself with no external input (no email, no social media, no clients). As a result I got answers to several big life and career questions I’ve been asking.

Creating this quiet space was crucial to my continued growth as a coach, a creative person and as a human being. I was able to see clearly and listen to my inner voice. Some big a-ha moments happened.

All of us face big and small challenges in life and in work from time to time. And although not all of us can take three months off (it took me five years to be able to do it) the concept of quiet space can still apply in your life every day.

To get answers to our problems we can ask a friend for advice, hire a consultant, work with a coach, read a book, attend a conference or participate in a workshop. Those are all good options (I've used them all myself) but there's a closer and more immediate source that can help you figure things out - you.

You have the power and creativity to solve every one of your problems. Your inner voice knows what's best for you and if you listened to it more frequently and more carefully you would save yourself time, energy and money.

But how can we possibly hear what goes on inside of us if all we hear is noise from the outside?

We live in a culture of constant noise and opinion. Everyone has something to say and something to sell. Next time you scroll down your Facebook wall or Twitter feed, notice all the noise. Most of what you'll see is people (or companies) sharing their opinion or promoting something. It's really all about them. Noise noise noise.

I'm amazed at the solutions my coaching clients come to when they access their inner voice. But to hear that voice we must create a space where the noise is reduced and your higher self can be heard.

So how do I hear that inner voice? I take a walk.

Friedrich Nietzsche said "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking". When Im facing a problem or whenever I find myself in a creative block, I take a walk. Staring at a computer screen searching for inspiration doesn't cut it. I need to move my body and circulate my blood so it can turn my brain ON and spark new ideas.

Walking is the universal way to solve problems. Most of us walk for the sake of getting exercise or to get from one place to another. We'll often have a pair of headphones on listening to music or a podcast, or we'll walk with a friend engaged in a conversion.

The kind of walking I am talking about is walking for the sake of walking with an intention to get present, slow down and listen.

Next time you face a tough problem, try this first: take a thirty minute walk. Leave your computer/phone behind, take no music and if possible, walk in nature. Gift yourself time and space to reduce noise so you can listen to a new voice - yours.

Start your walk by getting present. Take a few breaths and look around. Notice your landscape and connect to your surrounding. Drop your thoughts. Don't force anything. As you walk you may start thinking about your problem. This will come naturally. When thoughts come up, observe them and start asking questions like "what could I try?" or "What seems to be wrong with this situation?". Be curious. Don't expect an answer, just be in inquiry and play.

Suddenly, a path may open. Slowly, ideas may spark. You may see something new in the situation or get an idea about a different approach to the problem. It may not be THE solution but you might get an idea about where to go to get the right answer. And sometimes, of course, the answer will blossom before you like the most beautiful spring flower, waiting for you to notice.

The lessons of years past

I was blessed to coach some amazing creative entrepreneurs from around the world this year. Each person sought truth, growth, change and improvements in their business. And I watched it happen!  As I look back, I’m amazed to see in every case how real change in a person’s business life always followed change in their personal life. When we take ownership of our life and we pay attention to the real things that get in our way we can then make serious changes in our world. It’s beautiful to see.

I’ve asked some of the brilliant people I’ve coached to share one of their biggest lessons learned from 2012. Here’s what they said:

1.  Don’t Wait for Inspiration

“I can’t afford waiting for inspiration” said Matt Steel of Metagramme in Saint Louis. “I used to think of my creative muse as a maddeningly capricious vapor. I’ve learned that when I do my part – show up and get to work – inspiration comes. I’ve learned that creativity is a current that never stops flowing. I simply choose whether to tap into it or not. Embracing this simple truth changed my life.”

2.   Put Your Self-Care First

"Handle [yourself] with care" said Curt Cuscino of HypeLife Brands in Los Angeles. “As an agency owner, I've had a tendency to take care of everything around me first, and myself last. Every bill needing paid, every staffing problem, every client “emergency,” and every creative challenge to solve took precedent for me for many years. In the end, I ended up completely drained, my soul sucked dry. 2012 taught me the value of this important lesson: take care of myself first, feed me first. It’s not selfish. It’s for the betterment of me and everyone around me."

3.  Make a Personal Creativity Routine

"Having a creative expression routine for myself freed me from finding creative expression in client work" said Dustin Woehrmann of DW Design in New Orleans. I took on a challenge of creating something every day. Sometimes it was painting, sometimes it was writing. It wasn't easy, there were days that I had to really force myself to show up but eventually it became part of my daily routine, like brushing my teeth. Creating for myself on a daily basis has given me a completely different outlook on what my role as business owner is."

4.  Be a Partner, Not a Vendor

"My value starts within!" said Chris Fewell of Curious Communications in Calgary, Canada. "My greatest lesson this year involves valuing myself and my company’s work. I decided to move my business out of the role of creative technician into the role of strategic partner and I cannot believe the difference it has made. Even with clients that we've had for 10 years, once I changed the way I approached our relationship, our value became more apparent to them. This shift also allowed me to fire 3 disrespectful clients, 2 of whom were in our billing top 5. As scary as the decision was at the time, the difference in moral, energy and creativity within the company since has been staggering."

5.  Respect Your Own Expertise

"I started taking my own advice" said Stuart McFaul of SpiralGroup in San Francisco. "It's easy for me to give advice to clients and peers but when it comes to my own business, it was time for me to listen to the best consultant I know - me, and to start taking myself seriously.  I fired clients who didn't treat me like a serious business partner and took serious action towards those who owed us money, which in turn, got us paid in full from every single client. I'm still going to be the same lighthearted guy but when it comes to my business, I'm going to listen to my own advice more and act from that place."

 6.  Celebrate Your Unique Gifts

"I stopped comparing myself to other agencies" said Dan Kuss of Creative Grease in Australia. "When I compare myself to others I learned that I am not truly serving my clients but rather working from ego and trying to look as good as others. I got with the program and reminded myself that no one thinks like I do and that it's time for me to think bigger for my clients. I stopped comparing and started creating from my unique perspective. I brought more of my unique genius to my clients and that changed everything."

7. Be a Leader, not a Pleaser

"I learned that my clients want me to lead" said Diann Cage of Diann Cage Design Company in Saint Louis. "After a decade, I finally realized my client relationships had been backwards. "The customer is always right" had been my mantra. I'd bend in every direction to make clients happy, often against my better judgment. What I'd failed to understand is that a good client (which most are or have the potential to be), doesn’t want to call the shots, they want to be led. Our contract is evidence of their trust in my expertise. I let go of the notion of pleasing the client in favor of serving the client; both my outlook and business changed for the better."

 8. Have Fun

"If I'm not the person in the room having the most fun, I'm not doing it right" said Cheryl Taylor Bowie of Right Angle Advertising in Laffayette. "I learned the value and importance of having fun at work, especially when meeting with clients. When I claim ownership for bringing excitement to the client's experience and they see that I'm having fun too - it's infectious. The energy gets lighter, the client is more open and I am able to relax and serve the client best. So if I'm sitting in a meeting and it's NOT fun, it's up to me to change that, to energize the room."

 9. Stay Reality-Based

"I learned to manage expectations" said Lisa Mullis of Blue Marble Creative. "In hindsight, any of our projects that had less than ideal outcomes were a result of us not setting expectations in the beginning or not readjusting those throughout the course of the project. In all cases we had expectations, and our clients had expectations, but the times when those expectations morphed into assumptions were the times when things got derailed. I learned to manage the expectations and create more agreements with our clients so we can always be on the same page."

10. Create a Community

"I don't have to do this alone" said Gretchen Schisla of Enrich Creative in Saint Louis. "I stepped our of my 'safe' world and joined Peleg's mastermind group that created deep relationships with other creative business owners from around the country. I learned that we are all vulnerable and that we all face the same challenges every day. The power, brilliance and problem solving support I received from others was astounding. I learned that when I open myself to others I get much more in return.”

 11. Count Your Blessings

"I learned not to take anything for granted" said Ed Gandia in Atlanta. "I started daily gratitude practice and noticed that I'm no longer taking people or things for granted. Even little things that before seemed insignificant now feel more special. This new mindset is helping me attract better things into my life, including new, higher-quality clients. Within days of starting this practice, I became much more aware of all the blessings in my life — not just in the morning, but throughout the day as well. This has certainly changed the way I show up in the world, and it has helped me approach the day with a higher sense of joy and purpose.

 12. Take a Break

"It's ok to take time off" said Karen Simon of Simon Does in New York. "Last year I took a two month sabbatical from my design/strategy business. I was afraid to tell my clients I would be unavailable for two months, but I took a deep breath and took the step, taking the chance that my clients would seek out other firms in my absence. Operating out of my truth, knowing what I needed to do to nurture my creative soul, was a step in the right direction. I lost no business, and my clients, all of whom I shared the experience with, were supportive and ultimately benefited from my restorative experience.

Wishing you all a creative, fearless and abundant 2013. 

See you in the spring. 

From passion to profits

At the last HOW Design Conference I presented a half day marketing workshop titled "From Passion to Profits". Attended this workshop was David Michael Moore, a brilliant illustrator who captured the content and essence of the workshop in a beautiful illustrated poster.  

Take a break

The folks over at Online Business Degree have put together this super cool visual illustration on the importance of taking breaks. Love it. 

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The ABC index for choosing clients

I used to take any client that had a checkbook. That was the early days of my business, when every dollar mattered and I was working in fear and needy mode. I soon leaned that just because a client has money, it does not always mean they are a good client to work with. 

I needed to come up with an index that could help me make the decision if the client I am about to engage in is a good fit. I wanted a simple tool that will help me examine the most important values I look for in a client.

In your creative business, having a clear index to use when you are creating clients will help you filter out the bad apples from the bunch. This means that you must put yourself first and make a decision that comes from a place of loving your business, not desperation and neediness.

The index that worked best for me, and one that I often teach my clients is the ABC index. This index contains three simple questions that you can ask yourself when you examine a prospect and its fit with your business.  

A - Artistic :: Is working with this client going to allow us to be most artistic and creative?

B - Business :: Does it make business sense to take this client on? In other words, is the budget right? Are the terms OK?

C- Compatibility :: Do I like this client as a person? Is this someone I would want to cook dinner for?

If you are not getting a solid YES to any of these questions, chances are you're about to get into a client nightmare situation. I have yet to see a healthy client relationship that doesn't fit this index. 

In your business, what's your index?