A Chat With Steph Young

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In the sort of “perfect” world the mothers of an earlier generation envisioned for their daughters, every “meet cute” that transpired in a laundromat would magically end up in a fairy tale wedding, every blind date set up by well intentioned friends would be Hugh Grant and not Eddie Munster, and every man who ever whispered all the right words would actually fulfill them. In the wackily imperfect world of the 21st century, however, finding “Mr. Right” has more likely become a quest for “Mr. Right For Now” or a reluctant acceptance that maybe matrimony just isn’t in the cards one has been dealt.

In her new book, No One Plus One: What To Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy, author Steph Young embraces a mirthful message of female empowerment – that instead of lamenting you’re seated at a table for one, you should be happy that you neither have to share your dessert nor be chided about whether you’re cheating on your diet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why do you feel the message of your book is important, especially in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not meant to live our lives as singletons?

A: My friend Jill Dickman and I dated a lot and we were single all the time. Though we were still working through our own disappointments, our friends would always come to us for advice when they were newly single. The common themes were boredom and loneliness. The loneliness seemed to stem from a lack of self-confidence. They wanted reassurance that they were desirable – don’t we all?

Predominately media makes a fairytale ending seem like the norm, which becomes the ultimate success for women. Try to think of a movie – even those with strong female lead characters – that doesn’t end with a love connection. So when your life isn’t turning out like the movies, women tend to assume something is wrong with us. Jill and I recognized this and set out to tell women that it’s okay to be single. And while we are single, whether for 2 weeks or 10 years, we should still enjoy life, not pine away for a perfect relationship, which seems to be up to chance or luck anyway. We promote the idea of feeling complete as is.

Q: If you could time-travel, what would you most like to go back and tell your younger self about romance, sex and happily ever after?

A: I probably did tell myself this, or somebody did…But really, just stop worrying, analyzing, fretting. Time will take care of everything. We are all on the right path to where we need to go. Single or taken, life is to be lived so don’t waste time analyzing if somebody likes you back or not. Just keep it moving and do what makes you happiest. Another huge piece of advice that finally clicked for me recently is to stop beating myself up. So much energy is spent feeling bad for what’s not going right. This is the biggest time waste/energy suck there is. It has absolutely no positive value. It doesn’t make you feel better; it doesn’t motivate or inspire. It just makes you feel like shit. It was a hard shift to stop doing this, but once I got some mastery of it, my life changed.

Q: What’s the stupidest thing you ever did in the name of love?

A: I haven’t done many stupid things in the name of love, but when you fall sometimes insecurity seeps in and gets the best of us. One time I was fearful that a guy I was dating was sleeping with other girls, so one night I waited outside his house in my car to see if I could catch a girl coming in or out of his place. Now as an older, wiser me, I would handle this insecurity with good communication and getting up the guts to talk to him about it. Or if I felt he wasn’t showing me the kind of love that made me feel secure, I’d probably just stop seeing him. I really admire a friend of mine who moved to Europe in the name of love. She left her whole life and started over for a really, really nice guy. It’s been working out so far. They are now married and have lived together for four years. We all have different paths; we can’t judge our own life on somebody else’s. I don’t know if I would be able to take a leap like that but I love that she did. It’s all part of the adventure.

Q: What inspired you to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and turn your perspectives about living an unapologetic single life into a book?

A: The book started on a whim. It happened one day when Jill and I were sitting in our living room (we were roommates at the time) and going through old journals and cracking up at our ridiculous dating stories. Then we said out loud, “We should write a book” and so it was. We put together an outline and some ideas that afternoon and picked it up every so often. The slow process lasted for years until we got serious about it last year and set the goal to complete and publish No Plus One.

I had no idea what writing a book would entail, and I really didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I don’t think all messages make for good books, but we agreed the story + “how-to” nature along with the homework would warrant a short and snackable book.

Q: What governed the decision to write a book from two people as one?

A: We initially started writing the book as a fictional story from one character’s point of view, however it wasn’t really coming together, so we decided to switch to a non-fiction, how-to / self-help style. Our stories were so similar, we felt it would be less confusing to the reader for us to seam our stories together rather than following two separate narratives. We also wanted to get to the heart of the issues rather than drag the reader through backstory and set up.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the day-to-day development process worked for both of you.

A: We worked really well over Google docs. When one of us would get stuck, we would hit the other up and say, “Can you pick this up?”  Since we knew each other so well, we could essentially fill in the missing pieces. We were friends for a long time and we had both lived through a lot of the stories together.

Another tactic that worked was when we’d jump on the phone while both of us were in the live Google doc and talk and write. That was really efficient because by working together we didn’t let writers block settle in for too long. Either the other person would pick up and write, or we could talk through what we were really trying to say. Talking out loud often helped us find the right words to write down.

Q: How do you manage to stay away from envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your friendship/partnership?

A; It can be an easy to fall into the trap of wanting individual success or feeling resentful if you feel like you’re contributing more than another person. When we decided to finish the book, Jill and I clearly outlined our individual goals, desires, and expectations on how we wanted to contribute to the project and what we wanted to get out of it. We agreed that our number one goal was to get our message out. We weren’t using this platform to turn a huge profit or grow our personal platforms, though either of those would be an added bonus. We really believed in our message and wanted to help women. We also outlined a partnership contract that identified how we would split everything should we turn a huge profit. The important part of that process wasn’t necessarily having a signed contract, but rather working through the contract together. It gave us a forum to communicate. It can be awkward approaching a friend about a contract. It can seem insulting, like you don’t trust the other person, but I’ve been on the loosing end of a friendship agreement before, so I was happy to go through any awkwardness if it meant saving our friendship in the end.

Q: What was the greatest challenge during the creative process?

A: The biggest challenge was writer’s block. It’s really hard to make a streamlined and cohesive story, especially sustained over nine chapters. Getting the words on the page was difficult, editing and re-writing parts that didn’t make sense was even more painful. Being persistent was also really hard. It took over a year of intense and consistent writing and editing. I have a full time job so the time I would write was at five o’clock in the morning. Getting up and doing this everyday was a challenge but it soon became habit.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when this journey toward publication began?

A: I didn’t know how long the marketing process would be. Books are different than other products because the word of mouth is much slower. People need to read the book before they pass it along. So after a year of marketing we are still gaining interest and audience, we haven’t reached a tipping point yet, but I know with consistency of messaging we will find the right fans. With a traditional publisher, they will typically do a big marketing/PR push for you at the beginning. I talked to people who had gone the traditional route and still were not satisfied even though they had a big publisher behind them. They also had less control of the outcome. The decision to self-publish meant we had to do all the work, but we also control all the profit as well. We also can continue hitting new audiences and trying new marketing tactics long after the launch.

Q: Did you ever encounter writer’s block along the way? If so, how did you get past it?

A: All the time. Writer’s block, frankly, sucks. One tactic we used was to talk through it. I would call Jill or she me, and we’d say what we were trying to say. By the time we had talked for five minutes, we had formulated the words and could continue writing. Another tactic is free-form writing. When you can’t find the right words, sometimes just writing any words, even if they don’t make any sense, can get you past writer’s block. The last part is to read. When I run out of inspiration I remember to look outward. Sometimes I’d find the nugget I was missing while exploring other articles, books, artwork, etc. Also, the same goes for getting out of your house to experience the real world. Our life experiences give us insights that we use, so it’s important to take time out to go get some new material and perspective.

Q: Tell us about the decisions you made regarding a publisher once the book was done.

A: We made the decision to self-publish before we completed the book. Often when pitching to a traditional publisher, you don’t need the final manuscript, you need a pitch. Early on we pitched our project to literary agents and got a few bites, but after a year of this we grew impatient of the process. We decided that getting the message out was far more important than signing with a publisher so we set on self-publishing. It’s a much more involved process, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in anything business minded. If you only enjoy the writing process, I would suggest trying to find a publisher (even a small one) who can help with the publishing details. I personally love business and new projects, so it was something I wanted to dive into. There is a huge learning curve, so it was important to give myself time and do a ton of research throughout the process.

Q: What has been the response by your readers?

A: The response has been more fulfilling than either of us imagined. While I feared scrutiny, mostly I just wanted to make sure people “got it.”  It was really important to have the message land. We wanted women, and especially single women, to feel good. We designed the book from the format to the length to do just that. When I see comments or reviews and women say that single or not, they’ve gained a sense of empowerment or self-confidence, it fills my heart. It means a lot that our message and experiences can directly connect with somebody and impact their life. I believe in paying it forward and in the power of positivity, so I feel good knowing that I’m spreading positive messaging around in the world.

Q: What are you doing to promote this title and which methods have yielded the most success for you?

A: We’ve run the gamut to promote No Plus One. The biggest goal is awareness, so all marketing is done with that in mind. I’ve got a great PR person who continuously reaches out to get placements and features. I worked on an influencer seeding strategy using my personal relationships. I also write articles to promote my book along with other articles that are a cut down of the book to help find and hook potential new readers. The most effective network I have are my Facebook friends and family. They are the most supportive and engaged audience. I’ve also tried paid tactics like FB and Twitter ads as well as iAds, but these aren’t my favorite methods. All the tactics should be done in tandem to be really effective. Writing for platforms, like Thought Catalog or Mogul, plus PR and influencer seeding have been the most effective.

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from similar self-help titles about relationships?

A: Most other self-help focused was on how to change your behavior to remedy being single (i.e. find a relationship). Our book focuses on discovering the beauty in being single and feeling confident in yourself so that you are comfortable being single. It neither promotes finding a relationship or being single, it just recognizes that being single is a special phase that we can all benefit from.

Q: Are you currently writing full-time or does another career absorb a lot of your waking hours?

A: I have a full-time, well, more than full-time job in marketing. All my writing happens early in the morning. It was a huge commitment to get this book done while working the hours my day job requires. I bordered on the verge of obsession. I needed to set a really aggressive goal in order to finish. For about a year I woke up at 5 a.m. to write for as long as I could before I needed to get ready for work. Other times, I’d spend all weekend writing. I don’t write the best at night, but even sometimes, I pined over chapters just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.

Q: When and where do you do your best and most energizing creative thinking?

A: I love writing first thing in the morning. I pour some coffee and sit in front of my windows and just write. The Internet is a really distracting place, though, so I do my best not to get sucked into mindless surfing while on my computer. I also found that putting on vibey, calming music was really effective. I loved the idea of working before the rest of the world was up.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I am actually quite good at my day job in marketing, which has little to do with writing self-help. I’ve become somewhat of an industry expert in digital marketing based on the portfolio I’ve built with the brand I work for.

Also, I didn’t really start writing before I wrote my book. The extent of my writing was journaling or the occasional blog post. Writing the book made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m starting a new job in brand marketing in a few weeks. I’ll be heading up a team so that will be an entirely new challenge in leadership. I’ve been taking a breather from writing so I hope to start up again in a really authentic, no-filter style for a new project. I am also working on a screenplay – which I have no idea how to do.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Following me on Twitter or Snapchat (@StephYoungMC) is a really quick and unfiltered look at who I am as a person. I also write a lot of articles on onMogul.com; I can be reached on any of those platforms if anybody has questions. I’m always happy to help other writers / entrepreneurs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t ever be afraid to go after your dreams.

 

 

Business and Baby at Home!

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I’m really pleased to introduce and welcome Australia’s Sarah O’Bryan, author of Business & Baby at Home! More than just an author, Sarah walks the walk of a savvy “mumpreneur”, as she juggles three young children at home while continuing to build her home based business, Lasso Creative, as a Graphic Designer. As if that weren’t enough, Sarah is also comfortable in the media, engages audiences during her public speaking talks, and writes insightful, helpful articles in various publications, websites, and blogs. In today’s interview, we get the chance to know a little more about this fascinating woman.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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 Q Sarah, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what lead you to write for and about work-from-home entrepreneurial mothers?

I’ve always been a firm believer in creating your own blueprint and leading with passion in life. I guess that’s why my husband and I were knee-deep in a gigantic dream-home reno at the same time I moved Lasso Creative into my home studio, and gave birth to my first child. Similarly, my third babe was born on the cusp of my book launch. I juggle the latest design project alongside the world that is Business & Baby at Home (Finch Publishing, 2013). This includes an appearance on the Today Show, contributing to numerous magazine features on the topic, and writing articles for Australia’s biggest women’s network, Business Chicks. Business and Baby at Home (Finch Publishing) is an extension on the way I run my business. It’s my way of passing on inspiration, innovation and the business acumen that I use to build my brand on a daily basis. The book is a set-up and survival guide for work-from-home parents, with a positive and engaging message that I believe is vital in today’s society.

Q What would you say has been your most difficult personal or professional lesson to learn?

I’m very ethical in everything I do, whether personal or professional and I’ve always had the natural assumption that others will behave the same way. It’s tough when you have to work with people who don’t share the same values. You’re left feeling let down and disappointed. I’ve learnt that it comes down to being mindful, and accepting jobs where values align for both parties.

Q If you could invite any two people to dinner, who would you choose, and why?

Frida Kahlo was a game-changer and has always fascinated me. She lived by her own set of rules, was a true artist and an amazingly resilient human being. I really admire resilience in a person. I would also invite Oprah Winfrey, because she’s such a wealth of information on life and business, has amazing connections, and is a true beacon of success. We share a common trait… she also loves food, so the table would be abundant, the music playing and the drinks flowing.

Q We all have aspects to our lives or our selves that aren’t well known. Could you share something about yourself that not many people know?

Most people tell me that I’m really relaxed and laid back, but it’s really the opposite. My mind is constantly ticking over, brainstorming new ideas and dreaming up my next goal in life.

Q As a woman on the move, I’m sure you have many, but what would you consider is/was your greatest WOW moment, and why?

Seeing the words of how my life works in print which lead to chatting to the stunning Lisa Wilkinson on the Today show, one of our national breakfast programs here in Australia. Being on set with the cameras, lights and crew was such a buzz! I was called on as an advocate for working from home and having that all-too-frightening discussion with your boss negotiating the move. It was new, challenging, and I felt completely in my element.

Q We seem to be seeing a global trend in this area, but why do you think so many women are choosing to work from home?

I think there are a few factors at play regardless of where you live. The first is the rise in the cost of living, real estate prices are sitting at an all-time high, and the weekly family food shop is an expensive exercise. For many, it’s just not an option to be a stay-at-home mum. Secondly, I think women want to retain some independence, and have an interest beyond motherhood. A lot of us enjoy our chosen professions, and want to stay connected with it. Others find becoming a mum is the inspiration for starting a new business. Plus, the world is changing, it’s now more acceptable to work from home, or create more unique work practices. Technology is continually evolving to support flexible work arrangements.

Q Working from home can seem like the ideal dream job, but what do you think are the biggest obstacles new “mumpreneurs” face and aren’t prepared for?

A lot of mums tell me they don’t feel supported by their partners or family and friends. In some cases, there’s an attitude that what they’re doing is not a proper job; particularly in the early days, when the business may not be making a huge profit. Support is very important. I talk in the book about adopting an equal-parenting approach, but also an equal approach to all the responsibilities of running the household. The other factor I’ve found is having the determination to persevere, even when you feel disillusioned. You can often hit roadblocks or speed-bumps, and it can be tougher than you think to get the business moving.

Q Time management and scheduling have to be the cornerstones for any successful entrepreneur. Could you give us an example of what a regular day for you looks like, and how you juggle all the various demands?

My day always starts with a cappuccino! I then get the older kids ready for school, and all the other usual family demands in the morning. Once the school run is done, and the baby is settled, I check my current work-in-progress schedule to figure out my priorities for the day. Then it’s all about ticking off the to-do list! I may design a new logo or brochure for a client, respond to a journalist or pop some material on Facebook or Instagram. I use my little one’s sleep schedule as blocks of work time. It’s great for client phone calls and is a really productive way to work, as you know you have a deadline the moment the baby wakes. By the afternoon, I’ve made progress. I always make time for some afternoon tea, park or play time with the kids. If my husband is home on time, he’ll make dinner and do a few household chores while I play tag and head back into the studio to finish any major projects off. It took a while for us to get the balance right, and while every day is different, we always end the day with dinner at the family table.

Q What do you think are some of the mistakes people make when starting out, and why?

The old saying, ‘do what you love, love what you do’ is a huge factor in finding success. Do something you’re passionate about because this is what will keep you motivated when you lack enthusiasm or are feeling exhausted. People often forget that whilst they may look like it on the surface, not many businesses are over-night success stories. Years are spent planning, working, networking and building businesses, and hopefully it’s done with joy in people’s hearts because they are doing what they love to do.

Q Really making any new business a long-term success is tough. What do you think is the secret to success for those who choose to work from home while raising a family?

I’ve found one of the biggest issues is knowing when to switch off. I know for me, a huge amount of self-discipline is required to not constantly check my phone, or think about the design project I’m working on. It’s really important on many levels to know when to take the work hat off, or vice versa, take the parent hat off when you’re working. It’s about being present, living in the moment, when your children are telling you about their day, or being completely on task when you’re working to meet a deadline. Work/life balance is never achieved, it’s just maintained.

Q Everyone wants to know; what are some of your best tips for mothers who want to successfully run their business from home, while still being a hands-on parent?

Keep a work-in-progress (WIP) list at all times so you have a record of your jobs. Update this throughout the day so that nothing slips through the cracks. Go over it at the end of your workday to help you switch off and relax, knowing that everything is in place. This also means you start your day with a clear direction of what needs to be done first.

Set reasonable lead times for yourself so that when you’re particularly busy you’re not overly stressed trying to deliver on time. It’s better to surprise a client by getting a job done early rather than it being late. If it’s taking longer than you expected, retain clear communication with the customer, assuring them you’re doing the best you can and that they’re a top priority.

Set short and long-term goals for both personal and professional achievements. These may be setting financial benchmarks, acquiring a number of new clients, or getting to Pilates once a week. It’s a huge encouragement and as you tick them off they give direction to keep you on track for where you want to go.

Maintain a strong routine that enables you to get your work done. A lack of routine can result in shapeless and unproductive days with no progress. We all know as a parent, you can get to the end of a day and think where did the time go? So create and stick to a routine that works for you and allows blocks of time that you’re working through your WIP.

Q How can we connect with you in social media?

Website: www.businessandbabyathome.com.au

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/businessbabyathome

Instagram: SarahOBryan_

Twitter: @SarahOBryan_

Thank you so much for your time today, Sarah! You’ve given us some great insights, tips, and encouragement on women/mothers working from home. Congratulations on the success of your book, Business & Baby at Home, and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

 

Editorial Note: Sarah O’Bryan is also one of over thirty experts featured in the newly released Office for One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide. (https://www.createspace.com/5029312)

 

 

The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say

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“The best executive,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt, “is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Suffice it to say during all of the years I was employed by someone else, there was only one boss I ever had who fit T.R.’s definition of quality leadership. Woefully, the rest were either manic control freaks and paranoid blame-gamers or women that were gung-ho about teamwork and upward mobility…until, that is, they crossed over into managerial positions and promptly pulled the drawbridge up behind them.

Such are the individuals who could benefit mightily from David M. Dye’s new book, The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. Targeted to leaders and managers, this how-to guide is packed with practical and encouraging tools for cultivating energized, responsible, and results-oriented teams.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With 20+ years of experience in multiple business sectors – including nonprofits – who would you say had the greatest influence in honing your professional skills (and passion!) for leadership and employee engagement?

A: I’ve always believed that the very best life-textbooks we have are when things don’t go well. I’ve had some excellent leadership mentors, but often the people who weren’t very good taught me the most and helped me honed my own professional skills. My passion often came from realizing what would be possible if only the leadership was more effective.

Q: How has your mindset changed and evolved from how you originally approached leadership issues and how you address them now in consultations with your clients?

A: When I was young, I went searching for the secret to changing people (naïve, I know!). Of course, as I matured, I came to understand that the only person you are responsible for is you. Consequently, my approach to leadership shifted from fear, power, and control to real engagement based on taking responsibility for myself and the environment I create for the people I lead.

Q: Once upon a time, individuals fresh out of college (or even high school) would go to work for the very first company that hired them, climb the promotional ladder, and remain there until the day they retired. Nowadays, many students are not as wedded to the idea of corporate loyalty and, accordingly, view every job as a revolving door to somewhere else. How then, can today’s employers create an environment that will not only engage the members of their team but also provide incentives that will make them want to stay?

A: No team can thrive without trust. The tension you’ve described is a lack of trust between employers and employees. When neither group feels that the other cares about them, it is tough to build high performance organizations. The answer begins with something Stephen Chbosky, Writer and Director of Perks of Being a Wallflower, said: “The generation gap is nothing more than a conversation we haven’t had yet.”

People want similar things, but they want them in different ways. They want meaningful contribution, purpose, recognition, a feeling of growth, a sense of power over their own destiny, the opportunity to use their strengths in meaningful ways. These express themselves in different ways in different people…so start with conversation. What is important to you? What is important to them? Why are you both here?

Q: How do these principles of engagement and esprit de corps extend to the external teams with whom a company does business, especially, for instance, if their management practices are radically different?

A: It depends on the nature of the interactions. If an external group is going to be closely related to day-to-day operations, you want to be very careful about doing business with someone whose values are very different from your own. More generally, however, treat those individuals and their teams consistently with your own values and practices without judgment or criticism. You may even change how they do things.

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that managers make under the umbrella of “Motivation”?

A: Band-Aids!

What I mean by Band-Aids is when manager becomes aware that there is a motivation or morale problem and they respond with a team bowling day or a pizza party. The team collectively rolls its eyes and now feels even worse. Why?

They feel worse because now the manager is essentially telling them, “I’m not going to address the real issue. In fact, you must now feel better because we did something ‘fun’.”

This is so demotivating. Fun is only fun when fundamentals are sound. If there are broken systems undermining productivity, having a pizza party is like slapping a Band Aid on an infected wound without first cleaning it, disinfecting, and getting stitches.

Q: Is leadership a natural born talent or one that can only be learned through hands-on experience?

A:  It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. Leadership has many components and most everyone is born with strengths in one or two areas. Effective leaders learn their skills and acquire ability through study, mentors, and experience.

Q: There are lots of leadership books on the market but you’ve approached the topic very differently. How did you come upon the idea of the ‘things your team needs to hear you say’ as a structure for your message/book?

A: Above all, I want the tools I share to be practical – something you can read during lunch and apply as soon as you return to your team. I focused on what leaders say because words are an easily modified behavior, because words work, and because what we say is often the start of further behavior change.

Q: You’ve included a number of individuals and stories in your book. Was there one in particular that profoundly touched your heart and made you say, “Wow”?

A: I share a story about a time my daughter asked why nothing she does is good enough. It is difficult to share, even now, how impactful that was. It goes back to why I focused on what leaders say: our words have incredible power, either to create or devastate.

Q: What’s the first thing you hope your readers do after finishing your book?

A: I hope the first thing readers do is tell themselves, “You can do this!”  The second thing would be to pick a phrase and share it with their team.

Q: What prompted you to launch Trailblaze and what are its core objectives?

A:  We have thousands of years of leadership wisdom available to us and yet 2/3 of Americans say they’d prefer a better boss to a raise in pay.

Clearly, there are so many leaders in need of practical wisdom they can apply in a fast-paced, pressure-filled environment. I launched Trailblaze to provide leaders, managers, and supervisors with practical tools they can use to get more done, build teams that care, and meet their goals.

Our core objective is to help leaders be effective at what they do. I think of my work as a “force-multiplier” for all the wonderful vision, passions, and energy people bring to their jobs.

Q: If you had to summarize your message on a billboard, bumper sticker or tweet, what would it say?

A:

Everyone’s a volunteer.

Lead to bring out the best, not wring out the worst.

Be the leader you want your boss to be.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

A: My website is http://trailblazeinc.com.

For more about the book, check it out on Amazon or get more information at http://trailblazeinc.com/7things

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Imagine what can happen when people take responsibility for their corner of the world and work with those around them to make a better tomorrow. I invite you to be one of those people!

 

The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.

 

 

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

I often consider myself fortunate to have been a toddler in a pre-technology age. Yes, there was radio and television but they figured only minimally in terms of educating me or keeping me mindlessly entertained. I also seem to recall that my favorite toys were sans batteries and that I could be mesmerized for hours with “talking” sock puppets, blowing bubbles, making hand-shadows on the walls, collecting fallen flower petals, and turning the pages of a colorful book as the nearest available parental read out loud to me.

As a result of these experiences – all of which were “free” – I knew how to read, write, talk up a storm, color pictures and do simple math before I ever started school. Margaret Welwood’s book (available through SmashWords) may be small in terms of page count but it packs a pleasant punch of happy memories and serves as a reminder to today’s parents, grandparents and guardians that the very best thing they can spend on the little ones in their lives is Time. It’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough, especially the concept of carrying on conversations with toddlers even though logic might otherwise tell you that they haven’t a clue about, oh say, what the national deficit, global warming, or supply side economics even means.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your background as an educator and ESL instructor. During the 25+ years you worked with immigrant families, were there any differences you observed between the passion they exhibited to give their children the best learning opportunities versus the mindset and expectations of non-immigrant parents?

A:  An interesting question. I would say that in my experience most parents want the best for their children and will sacrifice to provide for them. However, some of the refugees I worked with had suffered so terribly in their home countries that I believe they had a heightened appreciation of what it means to be Canadian. They were truly grateful for the opportunities their children would have here.

Others, whom we would term “economic refugees,” gave up good positions in their home countries so their children could have a better life here. One young woman told me that in her country she didn’t have choices. “Here,” she said, “I have choices.”

Q: What attracted you to the topic of early learning?

A: I’d worked with children off and on for years. When I wanted to promote our college’s English as a Second Language program for adults, a freebie on the website on how parents could help their children learn seemed like a good idea.

Q: What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in this field?

A: My early work with children consisted of teaching nursery school, Sunday School and English as a Second Language. In later years I worked as a teacher aide with Canadian students who had special needs. Thus I can’t really speak to how curriculum and delivery have changed, but I will note another important facet.

That is the emphasis on safety and security. There were no peanut-free schools when I started out. Fire drills yes, lockdown procedures no. And no signing in and out at the day care. I was so impressed with the director of Tommy’s after school care. I used to pick him up about once a week. Once I picked him up two days in a row, and the director asked, “Is he staying with you now?” They don’t miss much!

Q: What do you feel distinguishes your approach to early learning tools and techniques?

A: I believe that’s what is in the book is simply common sense, based on shared experience and solid research.

Q: Define the desired takeaway value of this book for your readers.

A: I think that for conscientious and aware parents and caregivers much of the value may be in being able to say, “I’m doing most of these things. I’ve got it right!” But there may be a couple of surprises. I’m really intrigued by the link between learning a second language and delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms, and the possible link between excessive screen time and autism.

Other parents, particularly young ones, may find a lot of new information that they can use from day one.

Q: Throughout the text you’ve incorporated wonderful pictures rather than using stock photos. Why?

A: None of the pictures except the cover one were taken with the book in mind. I looked through some very attractive—and free—stock photos, but they all looked so posed. They didn’t fit with my theme of using everyday experiences and no-cost or low-cost activities.

Q: Tell us about your prior writing/editing experience.

A: I started writing freelance newspaper and magazine articles, then edited a business magazine and a Writer’s Digest award-winning book on diabetes education.

Q: How did you get into writing picture books for children?

A: My grandchildren, Tommy and Tina, were the impetus. They like me to read them stories, but there’s something special about making up our own. Tina even missed her school bus one day while she and I were engrossed in our story about a bug hotel! And once Tommy called, very sad, and said, “I think what would help me is a really funny story.” I did a take on Jack and the Beanstalk using his house, and it helped to distract him from his sorrow.

Q: The best writers were often voracious readers growing up and have simply carried that thirst for reading into adulthood. Would that apply to you?

A: Yes. I really liked science fiction. My mother used to park me in the book section of The Bay while she did her shopping, and I worked my way down a series of SF books.

Q: What and who were some of the books and authors that especially resonated with you?

A: Marooned on Mars by Lester del Rey and French-Canadian fairytales. I also read non-fiction books about astronomy. The Stars Are Yours by James S. Pickering was an inspiration. I bought a telescope, and my friends and I had a space club.

Q: I’m assuming you read aloud to your children when they were toddlers?

A: Oh yes, and years after they were toddlers, too.

Q: As crucial as this bonding experience is between a parent and child, a lot of today’s moms and dads who are dual wage earners or are single heads of households lament that they just don’t have enough time to read aloud, much less play games. What impact does this have on a child when s/he starts school?

A: Some older teachers say that kids aren’t as smart as they used to be. I think part of that is the need for faster and flashier stimulation than a book affords. Yet, earlier this year as a volunteer story reader at a day care, I found that the children were, in general, very good at listening to stories. I also never saw a TV on there.

Reading and playing with children is important, but I believe that a lot is also accomplished through solitary and group play with generic toys that encourage creativity.

Q: Every year there seems to be a strong push to get technology into the hands of children at a younger and younger age. In your view, what are the pros and cons of this approach to early learning?

A: Pro—it’s the way our world is, and children need to be ready for it. Also, some learning technology is highly interactive. I’m attempting to learn French with a free online program and a set of DVDs I’ve borrowed from the library, and I think they’re pretty effective.

Con—I think some children are less able to entertain themselves or to pay attention to what’s going on around them. And they are losing the ability to interact with others through play. I see these as real losses, and I’m always encouraged when parents limit screen time.

Q: Writing is a solitary pursuit. Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress or do you make everyone wait until it’s completely done?

A: Allow?? I insist! I love getting feedback.

Q: You’re giving your book away for free and yet this still requires marketing efforts on your part to let parents, grandparents and guardians know that it’s available. What steps are you taking to accomplish this?

A: I’ve posted a link on my website. There are several links to the book on my g+ page because I’ve posted it on several communities. I offer it to people I meet who show interest in the topic—and I ask people like you and The Edimath for reviews!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: The artist is coloring the pictures for Scissortown and then the marketing will begin in earnest, hopefully this month. (I have a reading at the Christian school booked for Jan. 27.) I’m also doing a course on Google AdWords.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The e-book, Scissortown, and other books to follow are expressions of my love for my grandchildren and our enthusiasm for stories.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Please visit Writing Books for Children to learn about my writing journey, Grandma’s Treasures to learn about Tommy and Tina, the inspiration for my stories, and Grandma’s Bookshelf for a video about Scissortown, a link to my free e-book, and reviews of books I like.

 

The Secret Blueprint to More_______* (fill in the blank)

Chris_M._Sprague_headshotWhat if you were empowered to have more free time and energy, get important things done quickly and more efficiently, and eliminate the barriers to success?  In his new book, The Secret Blueprint to More_____* (fill in the blank), author and motivational speaker Chris M. Sprague reveals that you already possess the tools to move mountains, pursue your dreams, and positively impact the lives of others. It all gets down to understanding how, exactly, you’re uniquely wired.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with an overview of the academic and professional journey that got you to where you are today.

A: My journey (like many others) has been full of twists and turns.  Going beyond the academic, I started out with dreams of being a professional bowler with a back-up plan of working in radio, television and film.  I began both acting and bowing at the age of 5 and by the time I was 16, I had already been accepted to the #1 bowling college in the nation which also happened to have a great mass communications program.   I ultimately decided not to attend college right out of high school to continue my disc jockey/entertaining career.  Over the next few years, I moved around from job to job trying to make ends meet and eventually made my way into a corporate job with an Information Technology company.  In total, I took a 15-year detour from my passion and purpose of inspiring and empowering people’s lives.  At the end of my corporate career, I went through two layoffs in two years.  I then spent 12 months of trying unsuccessfully to get back into the workforce.

That’s when I made the commitment to start my own business.  A few months before I started my business, I had joined John C. Maxwell as a Founding Partner in his coaching, teaching and public speaking certification program.  At first, I attempted to use the training as a way to show prospective employers that I was pursuing personal growth and not just sitting around all day waiting for things to happen.  However, it didn’t help.  What I have figured out now is that going back to Corporate America was never what I was meant to do and that God had bigger plans for me.  Over the course of the past 2 ½ years, I have begun to bring together all of my life experiences (the best teacher) and realize that many people out there are in situations similar to what I’ve been through and they can benefit from my mistakes.  The biggest part of my journey that I feel can help people is the discovery of how people are wired.  I say this because, discovering how I am wired – and discovering that everyone can and should understand their own wiring – was the seminal moment in my life and business that changed everything.

Q: Who were some of the people that inspired you when you were growing up and what lessons did they impart which became incorporated in your personal blueprint for success?

A: This is a tough one.  Before the age of 18, I don’t remember too many people (other than Jesus) inspiring me.  The things I incorporated from Him into my life were, being a man of my word, always trying to help others and standing up for what I believed in even if the world doesn’t think I’m right.  When I think of someone inspiring, I think of someone that I say, “I want to be like” or, “This person is a great example”.  I believe part of my challenge growing up was that I never let anyone inspire me.  As I moved into adulthood, the first real inspiration I can remember was Anthony Robbins.  Granted, this inspiration was also coupled with some skepticism (let’s face it, I only knew him through his late night infomercials).  However, I felt that if his story was true and he did what he said he did, then there was hope for me!  The biggest lesson I learned from Tony is that we all have a great power within us and we just need to understand how to harness and unleash it.  If I (and the people around me) would have understood how I was wired earlier on in my life, I believe I would have had more inspiring people around me and I would have been more open to inspiration.

Q: Who do you most admire today for the way they in which live their lives, run their businesses, and/or take risks to push the envelope?

A: It would be a three-way tie among Jesus, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.  Each of these people were/are calculated risk takers and quick decision makers.  The best thing to do if you’re going to fail is fail quickly and then move on to the next challenge.  I can also identify with the way each of them is wired.  Jesus was wired to be a servant leader (and so am I).  Steve Jobs was wired to push the envelope (and so am I).  He was also wired to know when people needed a push to get things done (and so am I).  Richard Branson is wired to be the ultimate risk-taker (and so am I.  However, my risk-taking side is still being un-pasted.)   This concept of removing the paste covering your wiring is something for another article.

Q: When did you first know that becoming a published author was a goal you wanted to pursue?

A: Until 2012, I didn’t think I was wired to be an author.  However, once I uncovered a way to unleash my creativity in written form, I realized that I was always wired to write.  However, my wiring had been pasted over (covered-up) by negativity though out my childhood/school years.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind your book.

A: There were two inspirations behind The Secret Blueprint to More (_____*).  The first was that I have always wanted to help people.  Since people learn in different ways, a book was a great way to reach people who love to read vs. people who love to learn by watching.  The second what that I knew I needed my own platform as a public speaker and that I needed to begin to set myself apart as an expert.

Q: How did you go about defining your target audience, developing chapter content, and organizing the requisite research?

A: Given that this book was meant to be applicable to everyone, I never really did nail down a specific target audience.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I (like many other people) don’t want to limit the people who this book will help.  I also feel that if I completely ‘niche’ a book, it will limit the audience the book will appeal to.  The good news is that, I am also wired to understand that now that the general book is written, niching it down is that next logical step.  As for developing chapter content, I just sat down and started writing.  I say this not to diminish the efforts of other authors who spend months and years writing their books.  I only say this to illustrate that, once you understand how you’re wired and match what you’re doing to your wiring, your roadblocks melt away.  As for the requisite research, all of the material from the book came from personal experiences.  So, it was just a matter of organizing my previous experiences into something readable.  I’ve also always been a people watcher and an investigator.  This led me to accumulate thousands upon thousands of hours of anecdotal research and findings.

Q: There’s certainly no shortage of books on today’s market about personal growth and empowerment. What do you feel distinguishes your own approach?

A: My current book is a collection of things I’ve used personally to get ‘more’.  These are not theories or ‘Gee I hope this will work’ types of things.  These are concrete steps that will produce results.  I have also kept these general and broad enough so that at least one thing in the book should match the way most people are wired.

Q: I love your fill-in-the-blank title! How did you come up with it?

A: Thanks!  It was based on a number of focus groups.  I had a few different titles.  All of my original titles were based around changing one’s mindset.  The people in the focus groups liked the original titles.  However, their feedback was that the general public wouldn’t be looking for things on shifting mindset.  They felt the general public would be looking for something more concrete.  Then, after Charlie McDermott wrote the forward for my book, the idea of The Secret Blueprint hit me.  Finally, I added in the More (____) when I realized that the topic in the book would lead people to more free time, more success, more happiness and a whole bunch of other ‘mores’.  Had I started off by niching down to one particular segment, it would have gone against my wiring and there would have been mental roadblocks stopping me from succeeding.  In fact, this is exactly what happened when I first started my business and everyone kept telling me I needed to niche to a particular group before I created my content.

Q: So what’s your own word to fill in that blank?

A: Peace.  Using the tips I laid out in the book, I have been able to reduce stress, frustration and have more time for doing the things I love.  To me, that brings me peace.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I am wired to look at things in detail, be able to explain them in detail and then bring them up to a very high-level and go from the 1-foot view to the 100,000-foot view.  The challenge for me (and people like me) is to not make things so board that they go from appealing to everyone to appealing to no one.

Q: Just as teachers often learn new things from their students, authors are often provided new insights about themselves in the course of penning a book. Was this the case with you as well?

A: Yes!  For me, it was the fact I could be an author.  I spent many years believing I didn’t have that ability.  Every time I tried to write a book, I would write a few paragraphs and then say, “Ok, I’ve told them everything.  No need to write anymore.”  What I didn’t realize until last year was that, if I just pretended to be speaking rather than writing and let the words come out of my fingers rather than my mouth, I had a lot to say!  Before this book, every time I started to write, I merely thought about writing.  Now, when I start to write, I imagine myself doing an interview or a stage performance and the words just flow.

Q: So many people in today’s society – but especially women – feel as if they have to “have it all” in order to say they have successful lives. When they fall short of that objective, they immediately label themselves as failures. What’s your response to this?

A: While we all fail sometimes, no person is a failure.  Every time you have a challenge and things don’t go as planned, you should use it as a learning experience.  If your challenges come early in your career or life, be thankful and remember – it’s much better to make your mistakes when nobody’s watching.  Each time you have a challenge or fail at something, it’s preparing you for future successes.  Much of how people react to failure either has to do with how they are wired or the paste they have let the world use to cover their wiring.  This is especially true for people whose wiring has been pasted over with the belief that they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  This is where it gets interesting.  There are those who are wired to believe they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  Those are those who make it look easy when they try to ‘have it all’.  For those people who struggle to ‘have it all’, most likely they’re doing things against how they are wired.  They have also bought into what the world says they need to do to be successful.  If they just went back and found out how they were wired, they would be able to have what they truly want and deserve.

Q: What are three things that people can do to adjust their mindsets and start improving themselves from the inside out?

A: The overarching thing is to uncover how you are wired.  This involves going back, way back to a time before the world began to paste over your wiring, cover it up and change you from who you were meant to be to who you are today.  To do that, here are three things people can do today to start moving down the path to uncovering your wiring.

1) Realize that it all starts with attitude.  Attitude is the only thing you have complete control over every day.  Establishing an attitude of success and making it a habit will help you get through the trying times.

2) Reflect and plan on a daily basis.  Each night, about 15 minutes before you go to bed, you should be reflecting on the day and planning for the next day.  That way, your subconscious gets all night to work on the best solution possible for the challenges you know you will face the following day.

3) Live in forgiveness.  People get too caught up in anger and in judging themselves and other people.  Living in forgiveness (forgiving yourself and others) is a happier and more peaceful way to live.  Waking up every morning and repeating the following affirmations will help put you in the right state of mind:

I am able to forgive myself.

I am able to forgive others.

I am able to forgive life.

I am able to forgive God.

I am one who lives in forgiveness.

Q: What part does timing play in the equation for personal growth?

A:  I believe that personal growth must be intentional and not accidental.  Therefore, in the strictest sense, timing has very little to do with personal growth.  However, the timing of events in your life can play a role in stunting your personal growth – if you let them.  That’s why intentionally growing and sticking to a personal growth plan is so important.

Q: How do you define your own purpose and passion in life?

A: I believe that we’re all endowed with a purpose and passion from God.  It manifests itself in our gifts and what we are naturally drawn to do.  My purpose and passion is to positively affect the lives of 10,000,000 people each year.  While I can see this clearly now, it took me many years to understand my wiring and to get back to living to my purpose and passion.  That is one of the reasons I’m on a mission to help people better understand themselves.

Q: If you had only one thing in the world to do, what would it be?

A: Be on stage speaking.  I love being on stage and speaking.  I love the interaction with people, how the energy flows and how, when things all line up, you and the audience become one.  Being on stage (or holding court as some of my friends call it) is where I’m at home, at peace, and doing what I was born to do.  From the time I was a small child, I was wired to share.  While many people chalked it up to me being talkative, what they didn’t realize is that it was more than merely being talkative.  It was a deep rooted desire to share.  It also brings about the biggest joy in my life, inspiring and empowering people to transform their lives.

Q: Are there any new book projects up your sleeve?

A: I am currently working on my next three books.  One is a follow-up to The Secret Blueprint to More, the second one is tied more closely to my research on how people are wired and the third is a deeply personal one about a journey I’ve taken in 2013.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The best place is my website, http://chrismsprague.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: When you look at people who are succeeding and people who are struggling, one thing separates them.  The ones who succeed understand and utilize how they are wired.  The ones who struggle, don’t.   It’s that simple.  Understanding and utilizing your wiring is what took people like Oprah Winfrey and Loretta Lynn from poverty to the heights of their profession.  It’s what takes someone who cannot survive doing a technical job and makes them a great manager.  It’s what top-notch CEOs understand when they build their inner-circle.  It’s what allows incredible authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John C. Maxwell and others to churn out new books year after year.  It’s what takes people from relative obscurity to fame.  To make this happen for you, I invite you to check out The Wired to Thrive Project.  The core of this project comes from material that has helped thousands and thousands of people from over 40 different countries around the world.  The Wired to Thrive Project will kick into high-gear in January 2014 with the goal of inspiring and empowering people to understand how they are wired and thrive.  The goal is to have 47 people preregistered for The Wired to Thrive Project by December 31st, 2013.  More information can be found at http://WiredToThriveProject.com

Master Shots, Volume 3

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Back when I was 10 and forced to endure a week of Girl Scout camp in the Pacific Northwest (for parental reasons that, frankly, still escape me), I recall a gaggle of us trekking into the woods on a quest for blackberries. “Do you think we’ll get lost?” one of my friends nervously asked. “No way!” I replied, proudly informing them that, “I have a compass!” It was new. It was shiny. It even had the official Girl Scout trefoil stamped on the back as testament to its authenticity.

The fact I had absolutely no clue how it was supposed to work – never having read the instructions which came in the box – was a moot point. Somehow, I thought, if (1) darkness fell in the forest, (2) bears started chasing us or (3) we came upon a strange village where no one spoke English, all I had to do was flip open the lid and it would magically tell me what turns to take in order to get us safely back to camp.

Technology, of course, has given us tools far more advanced than the humble compass. Movie cameras, for instance. Yet how often do the uninitiated fall into the trap of thinking that if they just point it at something, it will always yield picture-perfect results worthy of the finest cinematography?  For aspiring filmmakers of any age, Master Shots, Volume 3 by Christopher Kenworthy is a must-have title for their resource library. Here’s what he has to say on the subject.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You’ve had quite a “storied” career as a writer, director and producer. How did each of these roles in your creative journey come about and what would you have done differently if any of them were subject to a rewrite?

A: There’s story in everything I do. Whether I’m creating a tutorial, running a workshop or shooting a music video, there is story, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

I made films and wrote stories as a kid, but it’s difficult to know which came first. When I was 17 I decided I wanted to be a novelist, and spent the next 15 years working on that. While writing my second novel, I kept picturing the shots I’d use if I ever had the chance to direct. So I bought a camera and made a film based on my novel. Within a year I was making a living at film.

I did an OK job as a producer, but it wasn’t my calling. I can’t say that I regret it, because it’s made me a better screenwriter and director. Producing my own feature was a mistake. It was probably the only way to raise the budget, but it meant that by the first day of shooting I was already exhausted from 18 months of intense work. My directing wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I swore never to produce a large project again.

Q: Should wannabe cinematographers go to film school to learn their craft or just get a camera and start experimenting by trial and error on their own?

A: The only way to learn is to shoot. If people read the Master Shots books, and then hardly ever shoot, they won’t be able to put the ideas into practice. You need to get hold of a camera and shoot. If you find a film school that’s going to give you a lot of shooting time along with the theory, that’s a good thing. If you go it alone, make sure you read every book that’s relevant, and get onto as many film sets as you can. A good mentor is as good as any film school.

Be careful of being too precious. If you wait for the perfect time or the perfect budget or the perfect script, you’ll wait too long. Shoot something, anything, and shoot it well. So long as you have access to a camera and a handful of lenses you can learn a lot.

Q: What are the three most common mistakes in composition that beginners tend to make?

A: 1. Forgetting that good shots make the most of space by having a foreground, background and middle ground.

2. Over-focusing on the subject. The subject exists within a world, at a time and a place, in relation to other people, and the shot should show that.

3. Assuming that shooting handheld will give it a naturalistic look. It doesn’t. Handheld shots can work, but I get very tired of seeing camera operators hosepipe all over a scene, while claiming that this somehow reflects how we see the world. The same is true of bad lighting. Many newcomers think that underexposed is meaningful, when in fact it’s just dark.

Q: Can great work behind the lens make a mediocre actor look better and, conversely, can a poor job be to the detriment of a stellar performance?

A: When you’re working with weak actors, you can try to hide their lack of strength. By hiding their flaws you can make them look better, but only within certain limits. A wooden performance will still look wooden. You can do a lot in the editing room, but on set it’s difficult.

Ideally, you should rely on your relationship with the actor, rather than on a camera setup. Sometimes, though, no matter how good you are, the actors come up against the limit of their talent, and then your job is to shoot in a way that makes the scene work. To explain how to do this would require a whole book, but in essence you find the weakest point in their performance – whether it’s eyes, mouth, body language – and shoot in a way that emphasizes something else.

Brilliant performances are often lost due to poor camera setups, and because of traditional film-making approaches. Most of the time people shoot a wide master, then some medium shots and some coverage. By the time you get to the close-ups the actors have burned out or got bored. It depends on the actor, because some warm up over time, but many lose their energy. When that’s the case, you need to start with close-ups.

The best shots capture the space, the person within it, and let us see their entire performance. This is really what the Master Shots books are trying to show. How to shoot actors in a way that reveals the meaning and emotion of the scene.

Q: Alfred Hitchcock is credited as saying that the test of a good film is if you can watch it with the sound off and still be able to figure out the plot and the relationships. Can turning down the volume and, thus, not having the distraction of voices and music be instrumental in focusing on angles, distance, lighting and background/foreground elements?

A: This is something I’ve been recommending for years, but I never knew it was Hitchcock who first came up with the idea. It’s not always true, but I’ve found that most of my favorite films work without sound. A great example is Children of Men. The visuals are simple, but so strong, you can tell what’s going on from watching. When they’re hiding, you can see it. When they’re scared, escaping, doubting, or discovering a great secret, you see it all, without a word needing to be spoken. The same is probably true of Gravity, by the same director. It’s worth trying this with any film, though. Just about anything that Spielberg’s directed works without sound, so even if you don’t like his films they’re worth watching without the audio, to see how well he directs attention and lets the visuals do half the work.

Q: Which do you personally consider more of a challenge: to shoot a commercial, a music video or a full-length film?

A: There are always restrictions and there are always opportunities. The challenge with a feature film is holding an overall image in mind for months.

Commercials are generally easy because you’re working to such a tight template. The downside of that is there’s very little room for creativity.

Music videos tend to be quite easy, because you’re left to your own devices.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the Master Shots concept and how did it go from one book to a trio?

A: I’d always sensed that there was a hidden language that directors were using. Consciously or not, they were using setups and moves to create feelings. For years I wanted somebody to read a book that decodes these techniques so I could use them. When nobody wrote the book I wanted, I started watching three films a day until I was able to write Master Shots Vol 1.

It was so successful that it was published as a 2nd Edition. That’s the same book reprinted with enhanced images and a few revisions to the text. Then came Master Shots Vol 2, which looks at dialogue. I really wanted to write that book, because there is so much you can do to make dialogue interesting, to really tell the story and catch the performance. That book was a passion of mine. I loathe those scenes where actors look at each other and talk their lines out. I wanted to cure directors of that.

The popularity of those two books made me wonder if we could create a third, but only if it really went beyond the first two books. So I created The Director’s Vision, which looks at the more advanced setups, so you can learn to create your own signature style. Without style, you don’t get hired, so this is a book that can help directors to make a real breakthrough.

Q: Tell us about the transition you made to an ebook format and how the latter expands on what is already some very comprehensive content.

A: The first two books were made available on the Kindle, but that was just a way of reading the same books on a tablet. We wanted to do something much more inventive, using video to illustrate the shots.

So we took the best 75 shots from the print books, filmed them, and made three enhanced eBooks: Master Shots: Action, Suspense and Story.

The eBooks aren’t meant to replace the print books, but they give you a deep insight into the workings of the shots. Even if you’ve read the books, they can help you decode the shots. If you’ve never read the books, it gives you the core techniques in a much more immediate way.

Q: Despite the fact that movie cameras continue to come down in price, what would you say to a struggling young filmmaker who laments that you can only craft kick-ass images if you have the most high-tech and expensive equipment?

A: The best thing I ever made was a music video I shot on a Canon 7D. I used available light and shot it for $400. We always want more money and better equipment, because it can help, but unless you interpret the story in a creative way, no amount of equipment can save you.

Q: In what ways do you envision aspiring screenwriters using the Master Shots books when there’s such emphasis to not “direct on paper” as they’re writing a script?

A: The better you understand storytelling, the better you will be at screenwriting. Every scene tells a story, every shot tells a story. The better you understand how filmmakers work, the better you will be at crafting scenes for them. It’s not your job as a writer to picture every shot, but if you understand the scale of a scene – whether it’s vast and airy, or close and intimate, you can communicate that without ever directing on paper. When you do, you’ll fire up the director’s imagination and possibly have a hit on your hands.

Q: What’s the difference between a fourth wall and a fake wall?

A: The fourth wall is the imaginary wall that the audience sits behind. In film, that’s the camera lens, which is why – most of the time – you don’t want the actors to look into the camera. It breaks the illusion. We fall out of the story and remember we’re watching people pretend. Fake walls have many purposes. Often they’re used to tighten up a location and make it feel more claustrophobic, or simply as set dressing. In studios, all the walls are fake, and they can be rolled out of the way to make room for the camera. It’s worth remembering this when you’re shooting on location. You can ask yourself, if this was a studio, and you could swing that wall out of the way to allow the use of a longer lens, would you? If so, is there any way you can reposition the actors and camera on location, to get that result?

Q: What’s your favorite opening scene in a movie and what should readers be looking for in order to enhance their understanding of the cinematographer’s craft?

A: The first few minutes of Juno are stunning. They are extremely simple setups, but every one is carefully thought out to tell the story. Within seconds you know everything you need to know, and you care. It would have been so easy to kill this film quickly, but the opening is a wonderful mixture of familiar, strange, mundane and beautiful, which is the perfect setup for the story.

Q: Your books feature squillions of compelling frame grabs for study. Do you have a favorite image and, if so, what is it that particularly resonates with you?

A: There is no single image, because these stills are there to suggest the motion and emotion inherent in the shot. I like images that remind me of the story, and make me remember the feelings associated with the film.

Q: In order to have an effective collaboration, how much should a director know about cinematography techniques and how much should the person behind the camera know about directing the action? (I can’t help but picture the two sides getting into a shouting match of, “No, no, I think it looks better my way!”)

A: Directors can get away with knowing very little, but they are then carried by the cinematographer. If you want to work with the actors and don’t care how the shot looks, that’s one approach. But I think that if you really care about performance, you need a full understanding of how the camera relates to the actors. That’s the only way to capture performance. And if you want your film to look beautiful, why leave that to the cinematographer?

It should never be a competition and the best way to avoid that is to establish how you like to work in early meetings, before you hire anybody. Both people need to be clear on who calls the shots.

A good cinematographer will constantly suggest ideas, but should not shout you down unless you’re so tired you’re missing something obvious. Equally, a good cinematographer should be happy to let you choose the lens, say where the camera goes and even set the frame. If you can show that you’re competent, they should respect your choices and make sure they light the scene in a way that captures what you’re trying to get across.

If you are prescriptive about camera moves and lens choice, give the cinematographer as much scope to work with lighting as possible, or they feel like a hired hand rather than a creative collaborator.

It’s also vital to listen. If there’s a better idea, use it, no matter who suggests it to you.

Q: Thanks to the magic of technology, there’s no question that the look and texture of movies –especially with the incorporation of CGI and 3D – have come a long way in the past century. The question is, where do you see the filmmaking industry going next?

A: I find that advances in technology are usually pushed for commercial reasons, rather than because they help storytelling. 3D was pushed in the last decade, not because it was new – it was ancient – but to force people out of their homes and into the theatres again. High Frame Rate was introduced on The Hobbit supposedly to make 3D easier to watch, but to me it made everything look really fake, so my suspicion is that it was one more way to convince people that going to the theaters was more important than waiting for the DVD. And CG is becoming tiresome. It can be used well, but if I have to watch one more city being destroyed by giant monsters I am going to walk out of the cinema.

The real challenge, however, is dealing with changes to the way movies are consumed. As David Lynch pointed out a while back, art house is now dead, but internet distribution hasn’t really settled into something that’s working for anybody, and blockbusters feel like they’re running out of steam.  Most people are more excited by the latest HBO series than the next big feature film.

It’s impossible to say what will happen, but my hope is that the focus will return to storytelling rather than more spectacle.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: Purely for pleasure, I’m going to make a short film called Catching Sight. It’s about a young girl who catches a disease that gives her great talent, but at the cost of her happiness. She has to decide whether to take the cure and lose her talent, or remain a depressed genius.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Just about everything you could need to know is summarized at www.christopherkenworthy.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: These are difficult times for people who want to be directors. It used to be the case that if you made a film, you were one in a million. Now, everybody is a film-maker. There is so much material being produced that you have to look brilliant to stand out, so I hope filmmakers do everything they can to learn the craft behind their art, and create a signature style.

Fired At Fifty

Christine Till

A Conversation with Christine Till

As if the stress of worrying whether you’ve saved enough for a comfortable retirement weren’t enough to keep you awake at night, consider an even more daunting scenario: that you’re suddenly let go from your job 5-15 years earlier than you anticipated. The employment pool is quite a different one from that which you originally splashed into as a new grad ready to take on the world. Is it too late to reinvent yourself, to take a leap of faith, to finally discover what you were meant to do?

Not only has author Christine Till (aka The Marketing Mentress) been there/done that but she has also written a timely self-help book to help the over-50 crowd rise from the ranks of society’s new wave of unemployables.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind writing Fired at Fifty.

A: January 4th of 2011 I walked into my office, where I had been working as director of sales and marketing for the previous two and a half years, all excited and ready with my marketing plan for the new year. An hour later I walked out of that office, fired, with no prospects.

After “the dust settled” I started applying for another job, but to no avail. It seemed that nobody wanted me, except one company that offered me $10.00 an hour. That wasn’t enough to even pay the mortgage! I would have to be working three jobs at that rate! It was at this point that I decided to dig for my strengths and discover what I had in my tool chest that society would need, want, and be willing to pay for. This now meant that I needed to “sell myself”.

As I attended networking meetings, I looked around those tables and discovered that most of the people sitting there had grey hair, or they were bald! Most of those people were in the same position as me! I watched many people with huge degrees of education fall all over themselves trying to express to their audience what they had to offer. I wanted to help them somehow, but you cannot just go up to someone and tell them, “You need to lose the wrinkly polo shirt.” That would shatter their self-esteem. I knew I could help these people, so I decided to write my story in a self-help fashion; they could learn from what I went through.  

Q: Who is the target market for your book and what’s the takeaway message you’d like them to glean from its content?

A: By the time I decided to write my book, I had discovered that sixty-four percent of my followers online were male. The age range was 45-65+. They were five to fifteen years short of their financial goals for retirement. They still had mortgages to pay and children in college. They did not have loads of cash on hand to invest in a business. They were desperate to find a way to bring in a good income. I knew I had the answer for them. I could show them how to discover “what they were meant to do”.

Q: What are the “tsunamis” you refer to?

A: There are two tsunamis rising ever so silently. We all know they are there, but we choose to ignore them for the most part…especially the grey hair’d generation. The first one is social media. If we do not get on this wave and ride it for all it’s worth, we will be left in its wake! The second one is the boomer generation. This generation is a formidable force like no other before it. It is creating a whole new economy of trade. Thirty percent of the new businesses started in Canada alone last year were by people over fifty. Almost forty percent of those startups were service types of business.

Q: I understand that you’re donating to a local seniors’ organization. Can you explain more about this?

A: When I was working with the senior care industry, I put on a seniors fair at a local seniors center. They bent over backwards to help the fair be a success. I could see that they were struggling to find ways they could generate funds for facilitating their activities in the center. So, when I published my book, I decided that I would donate one dollar from the sale of every book to them. I have also donated ten books to them, to get them started.

Q: Tell us about your toolchest and what’s in it.

A: When I was “fired”, I had a podcast show called “Eldercare 911” and I called myself the eldercare specialist. So it was a natural transition to start “The Marketing Mentress” show. LinkedIn and helping people get their social media organized is my specialty. This uses my skills of public speaking and sales and marketing. In the past, I have taught workshops on the topics of “Enhancing Your Personal Marketability” & “The Ten Commandments of Business Management”. I have also put together a workshop for new immigrants who are starting a business in this country to help them learn how business gets done here.

Q: What are some ways to turn your age into an asset, monetize your skill sets, and stay afloat in an unsettled economy?

A: Be proud of who you are and how old you are. Age is only a number. Realize that you don’t have all the answers and be willing to work with others to help you monetize yourself. You are a commodity that is available with many strengths to offer society. You need to understand exactly what you have that will be needed and wanted in our society today. You need to understand exactly what your niche market is and market to that niche on a regular basis. You also need to be different, or you are dead in the water.

Q: Podcasting is on the rise these days as more and more people embrace the idea of becoming an armchair producer. How did you happen to foray into this dynamic new media tool and how is it working for you?

A: Everyone in business needs to have a blog. Your blog needs to be the center of your marketing plan. My podcast blog is the center of my marketing plan.

What a blast podcasting is! I love having people on my show to chat about their business and what makes them unique in the marketplace. I had been podcasting for two years before I was “fired”. So it was a natural transition to my new show. My gift of public speaking and song are able to shine through this medium. I have used it to position myself in the marketplace through bartering for “stuff”.

People want to be on The Marketing Mentress show. They will trade and pay for the opportunity to be featured. That is a huge way I was able to pay for coaching and help for my business.

Q: A recent article on The Exchange, a finance blog (http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/baby-boomers-jobs-younger-workers-214210886.html?.tsrc=sun?date=90390905), sets forth the idea that one of the reasons college grads are struggling to find employment is because the baby boomers are postponing retirement and staying in the workforce longer than previous generations. What’s your response to that?

A: One day these college grads will be in the same position as the boomers. They will be changing their tune in a big hurry. What everyone needs to realize is that “the day of the job is gone”! We all need to have something on the side that we do to earn income for ourselves, even if we do have a job. We all need to be thinking entrepreneurially.

What these young people need to understand is that it is their boomer parents who have put most of them through school and helped pay for their tuition. These same parents have had to pay for their parents’ retirement assistance because their parents were not financially prepared. Now these parents need to replace those funds and pay off their mortgages, so they will have money for their own retirement.

You see, according to Statistics Canada, 85% of boomers are not financially prepared for retirement. Where does that put our pension plan? The longer they can work, the better off the whole country will be.

My question to these young college grads is, “Are you ready to pay for your boomer parents’ retirement?” Your boomer parents are going to live much longer than their parents and are going to require much more financial preparation because of that.

Q: According to research published in 2012 by the Urban Institute, workers who are 50+ are 20 percent less likely to get re-hired following layoffs than candidates who are half their age. Has the phrase, “You’re overqualified for the needs of this position” become the new euphemism for “We think you’re way too old”?

A: Personally, I don’t think this is the case at all. Businesses are simply making a financial decision. It has nothing to do with age per se. What is being said here is that they cannot afford to pay the kind of salary the candidates have been accustomed to. This statement is not unique to the older generation. I have had prospective employers tell me this when I was in my twenties and thirties. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with budgets.

Having been in the position of managing the finances of a company, I have seen firsthand what happens to a company’s bottom line when the employees use the extended health plan a lot. The costs to the company increase. The older employees tend to use the extended medical more than their younger cohorts. That’s a fact.

Companies are opting to eliminate pension plans. They are letting people go from their jobs when they are in their fifties, so the company cannot be accused of letting them go just to avoid paying the pensions.

There are companies now who make it a policy not to hire anyone over fifty.

Q: People oftentimes stay in a job they hate – even if they know it’s only a matter of time before the ax falls – rather than take a leap of faith, reinvent themselves and launch their own dreams. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of waiting until they’re actually pink-slipped?

A: Great wisdom is learning from the experience of others. Just having a job is not enough in this day. We all need to have something on the side that we are using to generate income for ourselves. If we wait until we are pink-slipped, it will be too late to start something. We need to establish our niche now! I can help you with that.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: As a classically trained vocalist, I perform for seniors living communities. I usually have at least a couple of gigs a month. It fills my heart with joy to see smiles on the faces in my audience as we sing together the songs of Doris Day, Patti Page, Dean Martin, etc.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Now that Fired at Fifty has been published, I have noticed that it is stirring up great interest. So my next step is working the speaking circuit travelling locally and abroad to share my story and help this second tsunami with ideas and solutions to their dilemma of being “Fired at Fifty”.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: The big key I’ve learned from my experience is to be willing to “ask for help”. So many of us boomers are proud and feel like we should have all the answers and that we are smart, educated, full of wisdom. We are! But we don’t have all the answers and we do need to humble ourselves and ask for help. If we insist on being lone wolves, we will struggle much longer before we find out “what we were meant to do”.

Readers can learn more about Christine at marketingmentress.com.

Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century

Clemens Rettich

A Conversation with Clemens Rettich

In his new book, Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century – author Clemens Rettich not only draws from real-life case studies of small company successes and failures but also walks readers through tips and strategies on how to borrow a page from the performing arts world and deliver stellar service that will rate a standing ovation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  Given your background in the performing arts, what correlations can be drawn to motivating a workplace “cast,” identifying flaws during “rehearsal,” finding an enthusiastic “audience,” and getting the “critics” to respect your efforts?

A: We don’t motivate a cast. We provide them with roles that light them on fire. We don’t need to motivate or empower people. The whole notion makes me uneasy. Who are we to give anyone else power? The best thing we can do is facilitate the environment around our performers to allow them to do their job. Give them the big picture, the back-story, the tools to do the job, then stay out of the way.

Theatre rehearsals and performances are a model for how more businesses should operate. Rehearsals are exactly that: practice. Every time I go into a retail establishment and suggest things like scripts, role play, or direction, I get push-back along the lines of “That is so artificial; it isn’t who I am to talk like that. It won’t sound natural.” Funny. I never noticed that in the 30 years I have been watching films and theatre. That the actors sound artificial. How could I have missed that?

And when the show is over, or the scene is shot, the whole cast and crew does ‘notes’. We get together and review everything that went well and that needs improvement. The only place I see that as a matter of course in the business world is in the hotel industry. Other businesses could learn a lot from that disciplined approach to team reviews of daily performance.

Your audience and your critics are your customers. American Idiot isn’t The Sound of Music. Find your audience. If you don’t have critics, you don’t have a show I care about; it means you are so vanilla and so forgettable, I don’t even want to know. Take a position and make some enemies. Your audience will come back night after night if you give them the experience you promised them. Experience, not products or services, or even customer service.  Experience.

Q: What was the inspiration to write Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century?

A: Seeing how few small business owners really understood the fundamentals they needed to master to grow a business. Heck, most business owners don’t even know that ‘growing the business’ is what they are supposed to be doing. I wanted a book that was both inspiring and practical. And I wanted a book that shared some of the approaches to successful execution that the performing arts world already understands: the relationship between practicing the fundamentals and improvising with whatever happens when the curtain goes up.

Q: Who’s your target audience and what will be the biggest takeaway value for them by the time they finish reading?

A: Any small business owner will benefit from reading this book. The feedback I have had has far exceeded my expectations. I just met with an associate yesterday who said she had my book on her desk and a client picked up to look at it, read a few pages, and promptly “stole” the book. When my associate called her client to ask about the book, she replied “This book is amazing, and I’m not returning it until I’m done.” I gave my associate another copy. Free. You can’t buy marketing like that.

The number one thing I want a small business owner to take away from the book is the understanding that the fundamentals matter, what those fundamentals are, and how to use them to do the one thing you should be doing as a business owner: grow your business towards a determined exit.

Q: Tell us about the structure of the book and why you felt this was a practical approach in presenting your material.

A: Practical schmactical. I had fun with it. The book is divided into 3 acts and a number of scenes. Like a script. My publisher Influence Publishing and I worked that out.

The only part that ended up being a nice ‘true’ fit for the structure was Act III which is all about designing your exit from your business. The rest is just playful.

Q: With so many business titles already on today’s market, what do you feel distinguishes yours from the competition?

A: I tell the truth in a way that is both inspiring and sobering. You try to hit that balance! Almost no other book I have read (and I read business books constantly) hits that note. Ninety percent are all inspiration and no substance. Or the substance is nonsense. Can you have substantive nonsense? No real understanding of marketing, finances, psychology, statistics, etc. All of the underpinnings of what makes a real business really successful. There are no secrets. No “believe it and it will happen” patchouli-scented magic. This book is a script for a great small business performance. There isn’t anything else like it that I have ever found.

Great Performances challenges you to learn the fundamentals, practice them every day, have the courage to improvise on those fundamentals, and have the courage to design a giant vision, and the discipline to take the daily baby steps required to get there.  Most small businesses fail, and there is a reason for that. It is incredibly hard. This book, if you take its contents seriously, will increase your likelihood of surviving, and even thriving.

Q: What are some of the section topics you cover?

A:  ACT I: Putting People First. I talk about customer and employee relationships, how to manage them, and why retention is the most important strategy of any business.

ACT II: Maximizing Limited Resources. We look at the only 3 resources any business has to grow: time, people, and money. I write about priority management, how to go about planning your business over time, and how to manage all of the financial building blocks a small business owner must contend with, including debt.

ACT III: Planning Your Exit. The final section looks at management, and managing your business to develop an asset with real value. We talk about the incredible importance of documents like Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) in that process. And we focus on how important it is to design an exit that generates maximum value for the business owner.

Q: What part of the book was the most challenging for you?

A: Writing it. That isn’t a facetious response because while all of the content for the book was at my fingertips, and while I have been writing and teaching writing for years, I also have a business advising/coaching/consulting practice and speaking schedule that leaves very little extra time for something as significant as a book. So having the discipline to carve out the hours required was very challenging. There was no way that would have happened without the support of my wife and family. Much of the time I took to write the book, I took from time with them. They were incredibly supportive.

Q: Tell us about your online coaching program and how the growing popularity of distance learning interfaces with the principles of your book.

A: I am currently in the process of restricting the online portion of my practice. I have not been happy with the platform I was using. Currently I provide business support for clients throughout Canada, using a combination of my new online platform, Podio, and Skype (as well as other fantastic tools like Evernote and Dropbox).

I don’t think there is a direct connection between what I teach in the book and the world of online learning, except perhaps to say that if much of what business owners need to know is a set of fundamentals, those are as easily communicated online as face to face.

I am in the process of building an online community for small business owners based on the content of the book. I am rolling that out through a series of not-online workshops starting this summer.  People taking the Great Performances workshops will have an opportunity to continue their learning and mentoring online.

Q: There’s no question that an unstable economy such as the one we have now is making people wary of taking personal and professional risks. Let’s say that someone comes to you and says, “I know I’ve steered my small business into a dead-end. I’d rather be doing something else but leaps of faith take time and money, neither of which I have. Should I just try to ride things out and hope the economy gets better?”

A: No. Stop now. Get a job.

One of the most frustrating and humbling things I have to do in my practice is let a small business owner know they have let things go too long and the resources they have left (time & money) are not sufficient to the task of growing the business any more. Time to close the doors.

Business owners who see things sliding wait FAR too long before seeking real help. And even when they bring me in, they are still reluctant to make substantive changes. They insist on continuing practices (or the lack of practices) that have already put them at serious risk.

There is huge value in faith and persistence and optimism. They are the most important traits of a small business owner. But the failure to get professional input and change course the very instant revenues and profits start to dry up, is almost always fatal.

Q: In your opinion, is it more challenging to start a new business from the ground up or reinvent an existing one?

A: Reinvent an existing one, unless the existing business is already VERY healthy. Change takes enormous resources and the saddest irony of all is that most business owners want to reinvent their business because they have completely run out of resources. Too late.

Momentum is everything. And as we learn from basic engineering and physics, any change in direction of a body or fluid in motion creates turbulence and draws resources.

Starting something well, even on limited resources is always easier than changing something that is off course, especially on limited resources!

Q: If you could have lunch with any famous business leader from the past 100 years, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Jerry Baldwin and the original founders of Starbucks. The transition from single shop to the vision beyond, is one of the most interesting moments in business. I would love to go over the conversations and thinking that took place in the mid-1980’s and that lead to the Starbucks we know today.

Also I would love to talk to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines who was the great voice for putting employees ahead of shareholders and even customers in the growth of a business. I would love to ask him how he came to that conviction.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: So many things… but the one that seems to draw the most visible surprise when I speak to people is that English was not my first language. It was German.

Q: How has your book been received since its release?

A: It has blown me away. The reviews on the site tell the story (http://www.greatperformances.ca/the-book/the-reviews/). And it is a story I really didn’t expect.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Designing the Great Performances workshops and kicking off that process in British Columbia before taking it to the rest of the country, and ultimately North America.

Continuing to grow my business while building capacity to help my clients grow theirs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The best way to connect with me and with the world of Great Performances in small business is through my Facebook Page (clemensrettich#) and my blog www.smbfundamentals.com.

Of course there is always buying the book… but that crosses into shameless self-promotion.

 

 

An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast

Melissa Matthews

“Every child is an artist,” wrote Pablo Picasso. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Much too often, the demands of making a living take precedence over the joys of making a statement and affecting social change through the creation of original artworks. When we mistakenly embrace a mindset that everything we do must be tied to compensation, there’s a tendency to become risk-averse, especially in a shaky economy.

In her new book, An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast, author Melissa A. Matthews shares savvy advice on how to feed your muse, keep your bills paid, and turn your current struggles for recognition into a journey of personal empowerment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Let’s start with some background on your journey to becoming a full-time artist and art consultant. Who or what, for instance, was the strongest influence on your decision to pursue your creative path?

A:  It wasn’t a cognizant decision. Discovering art in high school introduced me to a catharsis, I am not willing to give up.  Every decision after that has kept me on this path.

Q: What would you identify as your biggest “break-in” moment?

A:  I suppose my break-in moment as an artist came in January 2008. I was invited to be one of three artists exhibiting at a private show at the home of a former NBA player in Trenton, NJ. After, four years of university and working three plus jobs at any given time as a fulltime student studying painting which my mother so eloquently described as “aspiring to poverty,” I sold eight of the sixteen paintings I exhibited and walked away with roughly $6,000 in cash.  It wasn’t the first time, I had sold work but it was the largest volume of work at one time and the only time my mother was able to witness firsthand that I could make a living at this “art thing”. It was an “aha” moment for her that has served our relationship well as she is now one of my biggest supporters.  As a professional and a daughter, there is just nothing more validating than to make believers of your family.

Q:  “Art as a Lifestyle” is a wonderful tagline for your online shop, Mamltdart. How are you living this dream yourself in straddling two environments as culturally diverse as Washington, D.C. and Trinidad/Tobago?

A: Well, having owned and operated MAMLTDART for just about nine years, (most of that time utilizing it as a part time income stream) I made a conscious decision in early 2012 to commit myself fully to the growth and development of my brand. This meant making a few sacrifices. I gave up my apartment in Cheverly, MD, sold as many of my earthly possessions as possible, booked a flight to Trinidad and embarked on a journey of embracing two sides of myself. I have always straddled these cultural environments being a first generation American whose family is inextricably tied to their home country. Trinidad has been ingrained in me as long as I have known myself and I touched its soil just six months after being born for the first time.

Most of my art practice revolves around this twoness of being an American that isn’t so American and a Trinidadian that isn’t so Trinidadian. Therefore, shuttling between the two, physically is perhaps the most natural part of my journey as an artist. I couch surf in both countries; to keep costs down and ensure all my energy and money feed my business and develop my brand. I have managed to pull together a small support team that assists me in setting up exhibitions, staying current with my client base and developing new products and brand strategy. When I don’t have supplies, I work digitally on my small netbook computer. In the last year, I have created in excess of 150 pieces of art. I am constantly entrenched in creating, blogging, and engaging around art wherever I am. Art is my lifestyle.

Q: What are some ways that creative types can affect social change in today’s world while they’re caught up in just trying to keep a roof over their heads and staying a step ahead of their creditors?

A:. Social change is affected when people channel their passions in the direction of achieving common good. I started my career in the NGO/ Nonprofit sector, helping NGOs hone their branding and community outreach. As a consultant, I do project development and arts administration planning for arts based nonprofits. Every industry needs creative people; from graphic design to marketing to product, brand, and project development- creativity is a commodity Another way, creative people affect change is by being provocateurs, questioning the why, where, and how of the society they live in through whatever medium they are working in.

Q: Define the difference between “wants” and “needs” and why entrepreneurs oftentimes make the wrong choice on which to focus their time and energy.

A: Wants are those things that would make our lives easier— a ritzy apartment, a new instead of a used car, eating out, a $500 handbag and/or pair of shoes, a fancy studio. When in fact most people have the capacity to live and operate on much less than they think. Needs are those things that are NECESSARY for us to subsist and keep working –a roof over your head, something that takes you from point A to point B (feet do count), food with some nutritional value, any bag that holds your stuff and a place to work (Starbucks will do). Oftentimes people make the “wrong” or more extravagant choice because they don’t know any better. No one has told them that their work product is not a reflection of where it is created but of their knowledge and skillsets that could be aptly applied in any environment. When you focus on what you don’t have, you will always be in a state of lacking— your work will never be good enough because you don’t believe that your tools are good enough. Entrepreneurship is the choice between perfection and the idea of being perfectly imperfect. Successful entrepreneurs realize that the latter sets them apart in business.

Q: The concept of barter has become a viable currency in our downward spiraling economy. What are some venues outside of the artistic community where the implementation of bartering would be effective in managing costs and resources?

A: Bartering can be applied in almost in any situation. A good example of this would be food co-ops, giving a bit of your time for freshly grown and harvested produce.  There are also cooperative workspaces wherein people lower the overhead costs by dividing the maintenance work amongst them and practice conservation techniques to keep energy costs low. The possibilities are really there for bartering and cost conservation in every field if you look close enough.

Q: Arts programs are typically the first things to be cut in school programs. In your view, how does this diminish us as a society and what can be done to reverse the trend and make art more accessible to future generations?

A: Art teaches a new way of seeing, examining the world around you, and relating to or empathizing with it.  We are developing a generation of people that will lack the ability to think outside of the box. As a result, their problem solving capabilities, ability to conceptualize new and innovative ways of moving forward, and empathy will be lacking. This will leave us starved for new products, processes and perhaps most disheartening— leaders.  Remedying this situation is as simple as outlining the role of art within other fields and making a concerted effort to teach arts integrated education. This will make for well-rounded individuals that can more easily understand the role of the arts, creativity, critical and imaginative thinking within a number of realms.

Q: Has 21st century technology made it more – or less – hospitable for individuals to become entrepreneurs?

A: I would say easier. Sitting within the confines of your own home, you can develop and run a web-based business be it ecommerce, counseling, a processing service, the possibilities are endless.

Q: If a young person came to you and said, “I want to quit school and become an artist but my parents want me to go to college and get a ‘practical’ degree,” what would your advice be and why?

A:  I would first question why he/she felt that art was a field that denoted quitting school and encourage them to do their research. Tell them that any field worth being apart of is worth studying for. I would have them outline a plan for where and how they saw their art career evolving including education and post education plans as well as market research for the expansive ways in order to succeed with an art background. I would then have them present said plan to their parents. Parents are often worried about stability and once you can prove a solid career or financial stability is an achievable their worry is quelled.

Q: What do you feel are some of the common attributes of successful entrepreneurs?

A: Determination ( a “go get it” attitude), creativity, and failure— the ability to embrace failure as lessons learned and stay in pursuit of the ultimate goal.

Q: Tell us about what inspired you to write An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast.

A: I have been blogging for years. Sort of documenting my journey as a creative professional, and I started getting little notes from artists and non-artists alike telling me, that my posts were helpful to them. One day after going through quite a few blog posts, I had an epiphany, why not write a book for other people like me— artists, entrepreneurs, and people beating their own path. I’d read and absolutely love some great business books but none of them fit squarely in my box. I wanted to give people a realistic but still encouraging look on how to survive entrepreneurship, creativity as business and the like.

Q: Did you work from a formal outline or just let the thoughts flow freely?

A: I had a basic outline, taking a cue from the formatting I used in my blog but I basically free wrote the entire book over a day (it’s a short read) and then spent the next few weeks refining it.

Q: Who is your target demographic and what do you feel is the book’s primary takeaway value?

A:  Entrepreneurs, artists, recent graduates, and the confused: people who aren’t quite sure what they want to do but are perhaps sure that conventional job paths may not be their thing.

Q: Self-publishing is a popular trend these days but also requires that authors don multiple hats to successfully see a project through to completion. Why did you take this particular route and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I took this path because as proven by my life, I enjoy a challenge. The thing I know now that I didn’t know as the beginning is that Epub formatting is an exercise in sadomasochism (just the most excruciatingly annoying process ever).

Q: If a movie were made of your life, who should play you and why?

A: That’s a tough one. Perhaps Quvenzhané Wallis when she gets a bit older. I absolutely adored her in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Q: In your own words, what is “failure” and how do people rise above it?

A: Failure is finding a way that won’t work. Rising above it is dusting yourself off and finding a way that will work.

Q: A sense of humor is critical in life as well as in business. How has your own sense of humor served you effectively as a professional?

A: I try not to take my work or myself too seriously. Most of my gaffs and failures are well documented in my art. I’ve literally sold them.

Q: What is the most surprising thing that your readers and followers don’t know about you?

A: It’s a toss up between the fact that I’m 4’9/ 89lbs and I’m a twin.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I have an exhibition opening in Maryland this June, continuing to produce the monthly illustrative zine, Overdrawn and I am writing the second installment of An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out this fall.

Q: Where can people learn more about you and your work?

A: You can find all my new work, musings on career and life on my blog mamltdart.tumblr.com and links to all my projects on mam-ltd-art.com.

 

 

 

 

Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style

Lori_Bumgarner_of_paNASH_Style - new hair

Whether you’re on a cusp of your career or are in transition to something completely different, an invitation to improve your overall image is one that should not be ignored. And who better to dispense that advice about developing every aspect of your public presence than Lori Bumgarner, owner of paNASHstyle and author of the popular self-help guide, Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, published by O’More College of Design. Coincidentally, Lori was one of the two dozen experts who recently contributed to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve, and I’m pleased to put the spotlight this month on her incredible arsenal of image-building talents.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to the business of fashion and image consulting, and when/where did the door first open to launch your career in this field?

A: I have always had an interest in fashion ever since I was little. I always loved dressing my Barbie Dolls in different outfits and coming up with outfit designs with the Fashion Plates my grandmother got me for Christmas one year. That interest combined with my experience in career advising is what inspired me to start doing image consulting. This occurred when, for the first time in my career, my creativity was starting to be stifled. I couldn’t work like that. My friends encouraged me to do wardrobe styling which allowed me to use my creativity, but I wanted to do more than just that. As a result, I decided to offer image consulting services that incorporated both wardrobe styling and presentation skills (i.e. interview skills, etc.), which are also part of one’s image. I started my company part-time while still working full-time as a career adviser and did that for 9 months. Then, I took a leap of faith and quit the full-time job to take my business full-time.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I have learned so much about running a business that I never knew before. I also am using my undergraduate psychology degree in this career field more than ever before which was an unexpected surprise.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write this title and how you went about determining what topics would best benefit your target demographic.

A: Actually, it happened the other way around. I came up with the title after writing on each topic. That’s usually how my own personal writing process works, especially with my blog. I write my blogs first and then come up with the title for each after. The initial inspiration of the book came from a lot of the work I do with individual clients and also the work I did in the past as a career adviser. In my opinion, a person’s image is more than just how they dress. It’s also about how they present themselves on paper, online, and in person, whether that includes networking events, job interviews or media interviews. That’s why the book takes time to cover each of those topics separately.

Q: What do you feel is the best takeaway lesson for your readers in Advance Your Image?

A: That anyone can improve their image in simple ways and see results. They will have a greater confidence and will see how that confidence will open new doors of opportunity for them. The great thing about the book also is the Appendix because it gives readers hands-on activities and steps they can take immediately to improve their image. It serves as a resource that readers will refer to again and again over time.

Q: For someone who wants to update their image – whether they’re staying in their current job or transitioning to a new one – what do you recommend as the easiest and/or most economical starting point and why?

A: The easiest and most economical way to update one’s image is to “shop” in one’s own closet to come up with new outfits with what they already have on-hand, and then to incorporate new accessories (jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, hats, etc.) in with their current outfits. When “shopping” in one’s own closet, it’s always good to get an image consultant or a stylish friend to help you because you are so used to seeing garments and outfits put together only one way. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to show you how to create new combinations that you may have never thought of on your own.

Q: When most people go to have their professional headshots taken for a website, corporate brochure or lobby display at their place of business, they tend to dress according to the current season. Considering that their picture will be likely be seen year-round, however – and possibly even in different countries – what thoughts should govern their choice of wardrobe?

A: They should mix classics with current trends, but never with fads. Fads are things that last for only one season. A trend is something that may last for 3-5 years or even up to a decade. An example of a fad would be those ridiculous chicken feather hair extensions we saw a few seasons ago. An example of a trend would be a pointed-toe shoe or a dark wash dress jean in a modern cut. Also, it’s best to stick with classic colors and avoid trendy colors in photos that won’t be updated often. But, I would say that professional photos should be updated as often as a pair of glasses frames should be updated which is once every 3 years, and more often if your hair or glasses frames have changed dramatically since your last photo was taken. For instance, I went from a blond to a red-head, so I had no choice but to update my promo pictures, especially since I have my photo on my business card.

Q: While we’re on the subject of clothes, should a prospective job candidate (1) emulate what s/he knows to be the company’s workaday dress code and subliminally project “I fit in here!” or (2) wear his/her best business attire for the interview and potentially risk dressing better than the interviewer?

A: Definitely the 1st option! Always know your audience and make yourself relevant to that audience. Once a candidate has made it through the resume screening process to the job interview, this is the point where the company is determining fit. All the interview candidates meet the minimum qualifications. The interview is where the company decides which of those candidates will best adapt to the corporate culture.

Q: During the dot-com era of the late 1990’s, the concept of “Casual Friday” made its debut, inviting workers to take a break from having to wear coats, ties, pantyhose, and dress shoes. But has “Casual Friday” now gone too far by spilling into the rest of the week?

A: It’s hard for me to answer that question since I work mostly with recording artists and music industry professionals, a field where casual is the norm no matter what day of the week (and even here “casual” means “trendy/hip/funky,” not sloppy). I think perhaps it has, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing if people are “dressing up” their casual look instead of just using it as an excuse to be a slob. You can easily dress up a pair of jeans and look well put together, and yet be more productive than you would be in a suit and tie. Maybe “casual” isn’t the right term to be using (because it can sometimes be interpreted as “sloppy”). Maybe we need to call it “not-so-boring Friday” instead!

Also, I think it’s time for the classic job interview attire to make a shift to something a little more exciting than a boring cookie-cutter black suit. If I was a recruiter, I think I would get tired of seeing the same outfit on every single person I interviewed. I would instead prefer to see a little bit of the candidate’s personality and personal style shining through in their look. That way, I would have some idea of how the person would dress on a daily basis if they were to get the job. Anyone can dress up in a suit on interview day, but do they have the style and fashion sense to represent the company well on a daily basis? That’s why I started my Pinterest board entitled “Alternative Job Interview Attire.” It’s my hope that recruiters will open their minds to allow for some personal yet tasteful style in the job interview, and that candidates will be encouraged to take a risk by showing a piece of themselves to the interviewer. After all, if interviewers are trying to determine a good fit for their company, what better way to do so?

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that artists and entrepreneurs make in creating their “online presence” without the insights and expertise of professionals?

A: Not keeping the reader’s perspective in mind when creating the content of their web pages and online profiles; not utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest extent; begging for “Likes” of their Facebook fan pages without offering relevant content in return.

Q: “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two words popularly associated with today’s social networking. What’s your personal definition of these two concepts, and what are some ways that individuals and small businesses can apply them to their networking activities?

A: To me it means still being yourself, but a more polished version of yourself. The best thing people can do is to not fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others (i.e. their competition, the people with whom they are networking, etc.). Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and easiest way to feel defeated, to lose your self-confidence, and to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Q: Is successful networking an art or a science?

A: It’s a little bit of both with some divinity mixed in. I totally believe in divine connections and how we are brought together with other people. After that, it’s what you do with it, applying the science of networking rules and etiquette along with the art of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships.

Q: What are the most common elements of a boring profile and what can be done to rev up the appeal and excitement?

A: It is extremely difficult to write your own professional bio and make it sound interesting. This is because we as humans feel a little weird bragging about ourselves in writing. It’s much better to get someone like myself who can paint a picture with words describing what makes you unique. My artists who have hired me to write their artist bios have all said when they tried to write it themselves, it never came across the way they wanted it to. After hiring me, they always come back and say, “Wow! This is exactly what I was trying to say but just didn’t know how.” Anyone interested in having me write their bio are welcome to check out some of the bios I’ve written for other clients at http://panashstyle.com/documents/SampleBios.zip.

Q: The good news is that you have just been invited to do a media interview. The bad news is that you have never done one before and you are absolutely terrified because you have no idea what to expect. If a client just told you this, what would your top three tips be to prep them for the experience?

A: 1) Do your research. Know the stats about the magazine, radio station, or TV show and know the demographics of their audience such as its median age. 2) Read, listen to, and watch others’ media interviews with a critical eye. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses. 3) Read both Advance Your Image and Media Magnetism for even more tips to be best prepared!

 Q: In addition to being an author, you are also the owner of paNASH Style and editor of a pretty spiffy newsletter, too. What would you like readers to know about the services you provide that enable them to put their best foot forward whether it’s onstage, in a recording studio, or stepping into a boardroom?

A: Our goal is never to turn someone into something they’re not. Instead we focus on keeping the client’s image (their look and presentation of themselves) true to their own personal style, personality, and work/art. Also, we work with many clients virtually via online chat and email, especially for services such as media coaching and development of professional bios. We have clients all over the US, in Canada, and in Australia.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to more speaking gigs at various music industry events and working with more clients one-on-one, my plans for the near future are to bring on additional stylists, offer more workshops, and possibly start my second book.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It would be the tagline of the Advance Your Image book: “Putting your best foot forward never goes out of style!”

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: Yes. Readers can get exclusive tips and advice not featured in the book when they subscribe to my monthly newsletter on my web site at www.paNASHstyle.com.