In January of 2013, Craig Hosking and I were just beginning to realize what the LOVE of this community felt like. We were still building a name for ourselves. We were slowly (SO SLOWLY – or so it seemed then) building our business, and looking for ways to add value, whenever possible.

I think my family still thought I was crazy… for thinking I could build a business out of nothing. But we’d been building the business for almost 4 years – things were just starting to get “good!”

I had to work hard to keep believing. I remember wondering, “What in the world am I even doing?!” When I started to doubt it, I forced myself to hold on to the belief that I was here for a reason, and I looked for the lessons I was supposed to be learning (aka the pennies, I was supposed to find) on this journey.

And every time, I convinced myself to “Have one more try.”
More than once, I looked at Craig and asked, should we go get “real” jobs?

But for one reason or another, we kept going – alternating between “believing” and “hustling” and along the way, I discovered what I was capable of. (Craig says he knew all along.)

The truth is, none of our current situation – where we are today, and where we’re going – happened simply because of our own effort.

We needed a few doors to open.

We didn’t know it at the time, but those doors were opening, and the unexpected was happening right before our eyes.

In February of 2013, a “door” to a downtown office opened, and an opportunity that can only be described as the stars aligning was presented to us.

I know the struggle that working from home presents to many entrepreneurs. I doubt we’d be where we are today had someone not generously offered us some space on Tennessee Ave. “Explaining” our office was no longer a thing I had to concern myself with.

About a year after we moved to this downtown office, we were invited to merge with what is now our company – Maximize Digital Media

And yet another door had opened.

Over the years, Lakeland Business Leaders has continued to grow. We have made so many friends, and contacts and discovered so many “pennies” along the way. We’re blessed beyond measure.

And it’s time to move on – even if just a little step. I know now, that every step is important, especially the little ones!

It seems like yesterday, I was just a scared “kid” with a dream.

What a difference 5 years makes.

Today is our last day in our office. We’re moving to a nearby location, 3 blocks south of the place were all of this magic has happened.

It’s a bittersweet moment. And it might seem like a little step, but I know that every little step has led to so much.

These are the other things I know now, thanks to this office:

1. I am capable of more than I ever knew was possible.
2. Craig is the best partner I could ever have asked for.
3. I am surrounded by a family who loves me fiercely and who believes in me.
4. I have a talented, passionate team of WINNERS working with me and serving our clients.
5. My friends, those I see every day, and those who cheer from a distance, are the greatest friends a girl could ever ask for.
6. This community of Lakelanders, LBL members and citizens I have had the privilege to know and connect with, are, without a doubt the most incredible community in the whole entire world.

Yes, we’re only moving 3 blocks, but I am remembering and appreciating 5 years of memories, that started right here in this office that I have been so blessed to enjoy.

So, the next time you’re wondering if some little step is worth taking, I hope you’ll lean into it with all you have, because there’s something amazing waiting for you on the other side.

It’s called LOVE.

Contributed by Jay Clouse 
Unreal Collective | Columbus, OH

I receive Jay’s daily email. We were in altMBA12 together. There’s been a connection since we first met this summer. Today’s post was perfect and articulates perfectly how I have approached networking. I hope you enjoy this guest post from a fellow Seth Godin fan.

Originally Shared via Jay’s Blog

As you are probably already aware, I’m a big Seth Godin fan.

Seth Godin thinks differently about marketing than most marketing gurus – and I love it. Recently I watched a video where he described permission marketing.

Every time you engage with someone, you are either making yourself more irreplaceable (and justifying why paying attention to you is worth it) or you are taking a valuable resource: someone’s attention.

Attention is precious. It’s not refundable and it’s always limited.

Godin is describing modern marketing and communication – email lists, social media, advertising, etc. His point here is that a specific message needs to be adding value, or you are wasting your time.

His expanded viewpoint on this topic is that most modern marketers are focused on short term wins for their company/organization/cause and not putting emphasis on the receiver of the message.

And his thesis is that this selfish form of marketing will come back to bite us, making attention an even more difficult and valuable asset to command.

So to him, the time is now to focus on “permission marketing” – marketing that is done by gaining permission from the receiver of the message. Every time you then engage with your audience, you are making yourself more irreplaceable and proving your value.

Would people miss you (or your message) if it was gone?

That’s how I approach this newsletter, and that’s how I’ve implicitly approached “networking” as well. Networking for networking sake (i.e. “collecting” contacts) is not providing value. It is not demonstrating why you are worthwhile of attention.

Instead, relentlessly provide value to someone you’re trying to get close to. Connect them to someone else, send them some piece of information you think is valuable to them, or invite them to an event they could benefit from.

When the expectation of your message (or presence) is positive, new worlds open up.

Read more about Jay here

Dreams are a precious gift. Not the ones we have when we are sleeping. Not the fleeting dreams that don’t stick around longer than a day.

I am talking about the ones that stir our hearts, that won’t leave us alone, that feel like someone or something is tugging at our hearts, challenging our reality, month after month after month. That nagging voice that asks, “What if” — and actually wants you to answer.

The ones we have when we’re designing our purpose-filled life.

What life are you imagining when you endeavor to ask yourself why you exist, why you were put on this earth?

And what does the voice of reason say when you give your heart permission to dream?

That’s impossible.

You’re never going to be able to make it happen. 

It’s not your turn yet. 

It’s never been done before. 

You’re not old enough.

You’re not young enough.

You’re not smart enough.

You’re not good enough.

Dreaming isn’t reckless, it’s not selfish, it’s not crazy.

Whatever we dream is possible — is. Unless we listen to the voice of reason.

We might actually share our dreams with someone we trust, and they might be the ‘voice of reason’ for us.

But more often than not, the voice is our own, internal buzzard. Picking at the leftovers of our hearts, chiding us for even considering that what is within us is alive, if only we will allow it a chance to become more than a thought.

The real world can be a deadly place for dreams.

Until one day, when we decide to play devil’s advocate with the voice.

Who says I can’t? How do you know it’s impossible? What if I can? What if the only thing holding me back is this voice? What if I’m imagining this because it is possible?

If you want to read a book about how to make your dreams come true, I have a couple of suggestions.

But a book isn’t going to make it happen for you.

There will be hurdles. You’ll mess up, you’ll stumble, you’ll be filled with these doubts again, all along the way, you’ll find plenty of reasons to stop. But you cannot stop. The voice of reason is lying to you.

Resisting the voice is part of the magic of making it. Your desire to achieve — whatever it is stirring in your heart — is there for a very special reason.

It’s your dream. 

Maybe your dream is to help someone achieve their dream.

Maybe it seems silly to consider anything other than the life you currently have. After all, you have a great life. You should be happy with what you have. You have so much more than many people do!  You’re blessed, right?  Things are good just the way they are.

And, if you choose to believe that, there is no one that will criticize you for it. You get to make that choice.

But remember, it’s not the voice of reason’s fault. You can’t blame the energy vampires, the pot stirrers, the haters or the ‘realists’ for talking you out of your dream.

Only you have that power.

And you also have the power to decide to go for it.


Great advice from a local restaurant owner

We (my local business network) had a meeting of the minds this morning. We had a lively discussion about how local business owners can work better together, and ultimately drive more awareness and foot traffic to the stores that are, historically called the “backbone of our community.”

Our host, a local restaurateur participated in the conversation, and helped re-ignite my passion for small business, which for the last 8 years has been at the core of everything I do.

Owning a small business is hard. In the initial stages of building and growing, it seems there’s little time for rest. We’re pulled in hundreds of different directions, and that’s not even counting the direction of “home.”

As big box brands have strengthened their grip in our small towns, and made it more and more difficult for the mom and pop to survive, friends and loved ones are warning new entrepreneurs against starting a new business.

And yet, here we are, in the trenches. Believing not only in ourselves, but also in the communities we choose to build our business, that we can make it happen. And, it creates a contradiction – We know, in order to succeed, we must compete, but not at the risk of isolation.

Most of the time, my involvement in these conversations circles around what we can do as consumers to raise awareness. But today, the conversation was packed with wisdom that we can all apply to ourselves. We have to remember that we’re not in this alone.

The message he shared caught me off guard, and yet struck a chord deep inside:

“Get over yourself”

It wasn’t said in anger, or frustration, but out of love. The tough love that we’re not so used to these days. We’re soft. But there’s no room for soft in the small business trenches.

I have paraphrased what this wise, young entrepreneur shared:

“We, as business owners have a duty to bring our best. We can’t keep thinking it’s the customers’  job to “shop small.” We have to make the shopping local experience BETTER. We need to work together, share and talk about what makes us choose Lakeland. We also need to support other small businesses — outwardly. We might not like everything about them, but we ALL have a duty to SUPPORT LOCAL and encourage others to do the same. We need to get over ourselves. We chose this for ourselves. We choose it every day. So, the only way to improve our situation, is to make it possible for all of us to thrive.” — Marcos Fernandez, Owner 1961

To apply this to anyone, regardless of their chosen profession, it might read like this:

“We, as human beings have a duty to bring our best. We can’t keep thinking it’s someone else’s job to support our efforts. We have to make what we do BETTER. We need to work together, share and talk about what makes us choose to do what we do. We also need to support other human beings — outwardly. We might not like everything about them, but we ALL have a duty to SUPPORT HUMANS and encourage others to do the same. We need to get over ourselves. We chose this for ourselves. We choose it every day. So, the only way to improve our situation, is to make it possible for all of us to thrive.” —  Awesome Human

If we want others to support us, we have to commit to supporting others. 

Because I work with and live the life of a small business owner, when I look another micro-business owner in the eye, I can see my reflection. I know they know. And that is all it takes for me to charge my batteries and ignite the passion to carry the flag of my brothers in arms.

We, as human beings are all fighting the same challenges. We’re not alone, we’re in this together.

We don’t need to explain the challenges, but we do need to stop blaming and resenting the big box (or whatever our personal challenges might be) and focus our energy on uniting on the one thing we all believe — that the lifeblood of our work is being awesome!

If small business is the backbone of a community, an alliance among all of us, arms locked in unison, becomes the arms that embrace and connect the community together. It’s not their job — it’s ours.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A few years ago, someone asked me this question:

“What advice would you give to someone who is just getting started as a professional?”

… and my answer hasn’t changed.

Show Up … and Listen.

Your input isn’t going to matter if your only platform is your social media persona. Participation means showing up. That’s where people really start to listen, because you took the time to show up makes it more tangible. The opportunity to look into someone’s eyes makes it possible to know who they are. And it gives them a chance to know who you are.

Are you authentic, abrasive, kind, thoughtful, polite, well-mannered, rude?

It’s easy to paint a perfect picture of yourself when you choose your words, and your profile picture to paint the best version of yourself.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, and it’s not 100% true. Even if you try to show who you really are in your social feed. Who you are depends on who you are when you show up and who you are online. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

20 years ago, “showing up” was the only way to connect — and it made it harder to make a name for yourself, because most people were busy doing their thing, and it was impossible to know anyone, unless they did show up.

Today, showing up means being engaged in the community in a meaningful, purposeful way. It means supporting others and allowing others to share their concerns, passions and ideas.

You can make a name for yourself simply by participating in the conversation online, but your relevance won’t be confirmed until you take it one more step. Not just once, or twice. Not just because it’s a thing you need to check off the list. But by leaning in and staying connected, between the “IRL” (In real Life) meetings by listening to what people care about.

Success requires that you understand the relationships, to share your own passion, and allow people to hear your thoughts in person. The nuances we can hide behind online are out in the open, and real trust and communication can begin to take place — when you let people know who you really are.

Because, who you really are is what people want to know, and what allows business to take place, and trust and respect to exist.

I used to think life was like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but today, I believe the adventure chooses you. It’s just up to you to decide if you’re willing to accept the challenge.

Who the HECK do you think you are?!

There are days, actually, last Saturday was one of those days, when the Resistance comes in with such a force that I am paralyzed. I question everything. I won’t waste your time with the dialogue, but if you’d like to compare the voice of your Resistance with mine, I am sure it will be an easy victory for this guy over here.

It has been about 10 years since my adventure began, and I still can’t believe it. But, well, here we are. And, I am writing this post, and you are reading it, so there’s no pretending that it’s all made up.

The adventure began when I started asking, What if? I asked it when Craig, my boyfriend, business partner and best friend had sent me packing, tired of the ups and downs that were my reality back then. I was pathetic, and I knew it, but I didn’t want to be that way anymore. So, I asked, What if I can win Craig back? I set a goal, and a deadline, and began to work hard at being reliable, dependable, positive, courageous, likable and successful — something I should have already been, but sadly — was not. As if like clockwork, within 11 months (the deadline was 12 months), he had opened his heart and his arms to me again.

At about that same time — because part of the deal with winning Craig back was figuring out how to be an entrepreneur — I also asked, What if I can actually do this business owner thing? I still have the copy of the first check I earned, to remind me what happens when I stop listening to the resistance and start believing anything is possible.

Starting a business isn’t for everyone. Starting something different, new, challenging, scary, and meaningful, however — is.

And, that is when the adventure chose me.

It was as if the adventure was waiting for me to get to this point, I could try to explain it, but in her book Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert, says it perfectly:

“Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.

Therefore, ideas spend an eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.(I’m talking about all the ideas here — artistic, scientific, industrial, commercial, ethical, religious, political.) When an idea thinks it has found somebody — say, you — who might be able to bring it to the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. You might miss the signal… [but] the idea will try to wave you down (Perhaps for a few moments, perhaps for a few months; perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realizes you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.
But sometimes — rarely, but magnificently — there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something…. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night, and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.

And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, “Do you want to work with me?”

Are you Ready to Say Yes?

When I opened my mind to the possibilities that came into my heart when I started saying “yes” to myself (and the adventure that awaited), and what I was capable of, and began refusing to allow the word “can’t” into my mind. It wasn’t just saying “can’t,” but actually stopping myself at the point that the thought creeped into my head.

The next “What if” came when I asked,

What if I could use my passion to connect the local community of Lakeland, around the idea that entrepreneurs, business owners, merchants, retailers and the community at large could have a place to share ideas, pass referrals, and support the local economy?

And, then I set about trying to see what would happen. And, that’s when Lakeland Business Leaders was born. That idea chose me.

Along the way, I have discovered a new kind of personal fulfillment and joy that comes from connecting. Since 2011, we’ve connected over 6,000 members of the local community around that one question. “What if” — and the journey with that adventure is only just beginning, thanks to the amazing people who have embraced the idea and leaned in to be part of the LBL community.

Most recently, this question, has been swirling around me:

What if I could share my story, and begin to inspire others along the way, to begin their own adventures — writing a blog, or starting a reading group, teaching a class, planting a garden, raising money for people in need…. It doesn’t really matter what the adventure is, I just want to inspire people to begin believing in what they can do.

I am powered by this purpose. Because I believe, when I allowed the adventure to choose me, everything else lined up to make it possible for these things to occur.

If you don’t believe in magic, if this is all too ooey gooey for you, don’t worry, I get it. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask yourself that most powerful 2-word question, and then, see what happens when you say yes: to setting aside the doubts and the worries – and begin to make manifest that greatness that is within you.

If I didn’t have my story tell, I wouldn’t believe it either. What adventure is going to be your story? When will you be ready to tell it?

I work with many different people. All of them have something important to say.

All of them.

My favorite part of my job is to listen, encourage, coach and ultimately help my clients understand why they need to get really good at telling their story. And why no one else can tell it as well as they can.

That’s where the trouble begins.

Today, there are millions of people clamoring to be heard. Together, we’re all looking at this mosh pit of thoughts, and we’re terrified of throwing ourselves into it. The fear comes from unknown sources. Most of the time, it’s not even identified as fear.

It’s described as too difficult to learn, or not important enough to warrant the time, or too time consuming.

You’d rather someone else do it for you. And, if you ask enough people, you might find someone who will do it for you. But then, it’s not your story. It’s their version of your story.

So what’s the solution?

Maybe this is a simplification, but I don’t think so.

  1. You need to understand the power of your voice.
  2. You need to leverage the relationships you have now.
  3. You need to listen to the stories of those around you.
  4. You need to care about their stories first.

You’re a human being, first and foremost. And, no matter what you say, the studies reveal that your most basic human need is connection. Without this, we cannot thrive. It’s no different in your business. You need connection in order for your business to thrive.

The trouble is, there’s too much noise pollution, and for some reason all of the good and decent messages are being throttled down by the gimmicks and the lies. You, know that feeling you get when you’re running close to your allotted data with your service provider, and nothing seems to work well? That’s called throttling your data. What if we could throttle up the good stuff? I believe we can.

Your voice is worth sharing.

If more of us believed that, maybe we’d be able to throttle down the noise and we’d eventually be where we all want to be: valued.

But the deck is currently stacked against you. If I told you to go out and start writing your brand story, and you took that blog section of your company website — the one that you’ve been neglecting for 5 years, and went to town, that would be an excellent start. But I would be willing to bet all of my marbles that it wouldn’t last. You’d only have half of the point.

You’d come out of the gates on fire. “Excited! Yes, it’s time to tell my story. I have so much to say, people will want to hear my message. The story is so good!” And you’d write. One post, maybe two posts. If you’re really motivated, you might write a week, or even a month’s worth of posts. And, you’d share them with your friends and your family.

“Hey, check this out, I wrote this. Can you give it a look, maybe a comment, or a “like” or  a ❤?”

But no one would really be that interested. Sure, your mom and dad, your employees, your friends (the really nice ones), would take a look at one, or two of them, until you’d be just another voice in the crowd, another distraction among the other thousands each person must deal with each day.

The point isn’t in just telling your story, it’s in making your story worth hearing.

While your voice is important, and your story matters, the real way to be heard is to start by listening. Answering questions, letting other, important voices be heard too — lifting the voices that matter above the noise and sharing a glimmer of what’s important in this world filled with click bait and fake news. Giving a little, gets you so much further today than it ever has, because, quite frankly, we’re all wanting the same thing, and the ones who are going to get what they need, are the ones who step forward and give it to others first.

I don’t suggest that this is easy. But I do suggest that it is necessary.