Stubborn & Stilted? Staying Competitive in Your Biz

As a new mom, I have been breastfeeding from day one—believing wholeheartedly in the long term benefits to my baby. However, as my daughter has grown, it has become increasingly apparent that my very active love bug cannot be a long term nurser. She has mastered standing up now, so she stands from the time she wakes up in the morning until we put her down at night and nursing is no deterrent from her all day stand-a-thon. She is now also cutting teeth and the vigor and enthusiasm with which she nurses has not boded well for my poor breasts. They have been screaming “mercy”—tapping out like old school thumb wrestling style—for at least two months now. All things considered my boyfriend and I came to the decision that it was time to wean her.

I can openly admit that I was making a halfhearted attempt at it because I was convinced it would be an impossible task. Love bug seemed to have such an affinity for the comfort and sustenance of nursing. One night recently, after an entire day without nursing [can you say #winning], my daughter awoke from her sleep as she usually does and her dear old dad who had been on evening duty handed her off to me. As I had done so many times before, I just stuck a breast in her mouth and waited for her to fall asleep [at 3am who is thinking about any stinking weaning plan? not me]. An hour later, with her still suckling and growing more and more restless, I realized that my quick fix was anything but. It took me all of five minutes to get up and fix her a formula bottle which once consumed in a matter of seconds compared to our hour-long-nursing-marathon got her right back to dreamland. This is not a statement on the breastfeeding v. bottle feeding knock down drag out debate/war… I have no dog in that fight. ​In my mind, a fed baby is a happy baby and happy healthy baby is the aim. However, you get ’em fed is between you, your God, and your baby. So don’t sick ​any crazy mommy bloggers on me. The point I am attempting to make is that I was too lazy and/or stubborn to adapt to change and therefore, cheating love bug and I out of several hours of sleep not only that night but the many that preceded it.

If I’m honest with myself and with you, it was clear that my method wasn’t working, but I continued to use it, mostly out of habit. Lil love bug was not fueled by some inexplicable crack-like addiction to nursing [I mean she does love her some breast milk but to say she was jonesing might be a stretch]. She is nine months old, her life and needs are very very simple. In this case, she needed to be fed a filling meal and given the space to fall back asleep. In many instances, when confronted with evidence that my plan was ineffective at best, I had refused to acknowledge the fundamental flaws of my here-suck-on-a-boob method. Coming to that realization made me wonder how much of that stubbornness spilled into my work life. Worse yet, how much money had I possibly left on the table as I remained unconsciously stubborn and stilted?

In order to not only be a successful entrepreneur and creative, but a continually innovative and active one, you-me-we must be constantly willing to reassess and adapt our process[es]to fit the market needs. How easily do we become lazy? or plain ol’ stuck in our ways? How can we recognise the signs? And what are key elements to getting ourselves “unstuck”?

Recognising the Signs that You’re in a Sticky Situation

What, if any, opportunities have you left on the table? And how so? Here’s a quick activity that will help you gauge where you are and what you can do about it.

There is more than one way to get yourself into a sticky situation. Keeping this in mind and considering the questions below, fold a piece of paper in half so that you have two columns. On the left side list any and all missed opportunities you have had in the last six months. On the right, next to each item write one thing you can accomplish today that will turned that missed opportunity into a viable one.

Are you using success in one aspect of your business to avoid trying in others?

For example, I am an artist but my main focus lately has been building the training business that I own with my sister. I was recently invited to submit work for a potential gallery show but I have allowed myself to use the excuse of working on my other venture to avoid making time to draw.

Have you brushed up on or acquired any new skills to propel you and/or your business forward lately?

We can get so wrapped up in the day-to-day work of our ventures that we forget that the landscape around is changing. There maybe new tools out there that could make your job easier. Are you reading industry and business related literature? Better yet are you availing yourself of free resources that can help you improve your skills? Check out this list from :

Have you reevaluated your tools, work style or methodology lately?

  • How well do your processes work?
  • What are the top 2 things that are working in your business/es? Why?
  • What are the top 2 things that aren’t working? How do they differ from the processes that are? And why?

Key Elements to Getting “Unstuck”

Here are a few other strategies** that I am using to become unstuck and to inject life into my ventures:

  1. Let Go of Preciousness. One of the biggest creative stumbling blocks is our need to get things right. Believe me, I’m a perfectionist myself, so I know how hard it is to let that go. The reality is that treating your creations as precious little things to protect keeps you from the world of possibilities the comes from trying new things out, making mistakes, and getting things wrong.
  2. Freedom Comes From Limitations. If someone were to give me an infinite amount of time and an unlimited budget to create something, I would be frozen. It’s only from narrowing down the options that creativity becomes possible, as you are forced to push against the walls that close you in.
  3. Get Out of Your Environment. No matter how inspiring your workspace, there’s only so much creative work that can be done within it. Of course, if you’re in a place that’s not so inspiring to begin with, the need to be elsewhere is even more urgent. Since most people spend the majority of their time inside, they’re missing out on the much wider world right outside their door.
  4. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone. At some point in your life, you’ve probably been told not to make a fool of yourself, but the fact is that it’s one of the most effective ways to get creative inspiration! Fear of rejection and fear of embarrassment: these are the recurring enemies of creativity.
  5. Get Things by Giving Them Away. It may sound counterintuitive, but you get a lot from giving things away. If I had kept my own project under wraps, rather than sharing it as I went along, I probably would have had a fraction of the positive experiences. The more I gave away, the more people gave back to me.
  6. Collaborate. There’s no substitute for the benefits you receive when working creatively with other people. Some of the best things that came out of my own project were the friendships that blossomed from incorporating other people into my work. You get results that are exponentially greater when you don’t work alone.

Looking for other real-life strategies for bettering your creative business?

Check out my book  “An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast” (published in 2013; new edition available in early 2016).

**These strategies have been adapted/borrowed from Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing, at Home, at Work & in Your Studio by Noah Scalin


Required Reading: Umm What? Why?!

By: Michele A. Matthews, Co-Owner of MAM Squared, LLC.

I have been a business owner/entrepreneur/starter for two years, five months, 29 days and six hours. I’ve been through A LOT in that relatively short period of time–some really high highs and some devastatingly low lows (all of which you will probably read about on this very blog in the not-so-distant future). I entered the world of solopreneurship and now, partnership, with a considerable amount of experience in my field of expertise–strategic communications. So, I thought I knew a lot about what my business entailed and how to handle said entailments. Thought is far and away the key part of that sentiment because though I knew quite a bit about strategic communications, especially where nonprofits are concerned, I knew very little about how to build and manage a business. Being an excellent (if I say so myself) communicator and networker and relationship-builder was a great start, but guess what? That’s right, it was just that–a mere start!

So, what did I do about it?  Well, I started reading; much like you’ve done because you’re obviously reading this right now.

I love to read–I love to read books, blogs, journal articles, especially pieces that can influence my thought process or give me another perspective on something I’ve been trying to master in my business. Over the past two years, I’ve read hundreds of blog posts and articles and quite a few books about everything from registering your business to online content creation management. The latter of which I’ve known a lot about for quite sometime, but I know enough to know that I don’t know everything and that there’s someone somewhere out there who knows more than me. Even if all you have at this point in your entrepreneurial journey is the idea for your new business, the best way to develop, grow and shape your business is by reading all you can about every aspect of business. And, I want to be clear: that doesn’t mean that you take everything that you read as the gospel and apply it all to your business. That would be a very, very, very bad idea.

However, I do think that Dr. Seuss had it right when he said ““The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” So, I recommend you read everything you can and use your discernment to process what you’ve read or what you read on a daily basis. The things that resonate with you–the sentiments, tips, tricks, thought processes that you feel in your heart and soul–keep, act-on, bookmark for later! And the ones that don’t, you can handle in a few ways. For the things (advice, tips, tricks, general sentiments) that I read and violently disagree with–I mean loathe with every cell of my being–I use as fodder for content. Don’t look at me like that! I, simply, respond to it and state why I disagree so passionately and I do that on my blog to spark conversation or dialogue to get the opinions of other folks–other entrepreneurs. And, another way that i deal with pieces i’ve read that don’t particularly resonate with me, but that don’t necessarily evoke any real passion either positively or negatively, is to ignore them. You can adapt my methodology (or not), but you should definitely start (if you’re not already) making reading about improving your business, business processes and even your own personal development a major priority in your quest to develop, grow and sustain your business.

I say all of that to say, that we’re launching this column to share some of the resources that we consider required reading (because well, they’ve helped us…duh!) on our path to take over the world and that we think you’ll find helpful. We’re going to share and analyze everything from specific one-off blog posts and articles that we’ve found helpful over the years, to whole blogs (or the bloggers behind them) and books. Reading is fundamental to your and your business’ success, we want to see you succeed so check out our “Required Reading” every time we post, we can almost guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

Michele A. Matthews is the founder of Agitate Media and Co-owner of MAM Squared, LLC.

Reality Check, Please! Someday is Never Going to Come

By: Michele A. Matthews, Co-Owner of MAM Squared, LLC.

“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.” –Timothy Ferriss, “The 4-Hour Workweek”

This quote, this sentiment just really spoke to me because I couldn’t agree with Tim Ferriss more!

Every single day as God made Moses someone I know (a relative, friend, former colleague—or a combination of those two—an old boss, a friend of a friend…you get the gist) says “Someday after [insert some major life event or lofty, unrealistic happenstance like ‘when I win the lotto’ here], I’m going to step out on faith like you and start my own business!” I normally smile, nod and say “that’s great!” That is, after all, the polite thing to do, right? I hope so because it isn’t at all what I really want to say to that person at that moment, but I’ve been working on my tact largely because I learned the hard way—unlike what my mother told me when I was growing up—being frank often is being insulting. So, in the name of all that is tactful, I don’t dare say what I really want to, which is “oh get off it, someday is never and I mean NEVER gonna come!”

Harsh, I know, but it’s TRUE; there will always be a reason why you cannot start your own business, but if you’re serious about doing it, you’ll take a stand—set a deadline and stick to it. Or, seize the opportunity when it presents itself even in the slightest possible way. That, my dear fellow business owners/entrepreneurs/starters (or ‘wantrapreneurs’), is how I ended up founding Agitate Media with no financial backing, only a few promising (and, as I learned later that year, not-so-promising) prospects and all the enthusiasm I could muster in June 2011. You read that correctly; at most, I had $500 in the bank, a six-month-old HP laptop and just sheer determination.

I would bet money that I know what you’re thinking right now and that is “well, she probably didn’t have any bills or responsibilities to think about…that’s why she could throw caution to the wind…that’s got to be it!” And, while I totally understand and even respect your need to placate yourself because you’ve lobbed excuse after excuse at anyone who dare challenge you to stop talking about it and be about it, that is not the case. In fact, it’s the furthest possible thing from the truth. At the time that I launched my company full-time, I was about five months out from a budget-cut induced layoff from a pretty rad national healthcare association (that clearly did not have any love for middle management as they let us ALL go in one day…cold-blooded I know, but a story for another day) and just two days removed from the implosion of the small, public-engagement firm that was my well-loved, work-from-home rebound job. So, my money was funny and I had a $1,420-per-month rent, $158-per-month cable and internet bill, unpredictable gas and light bills not to mention one unemployed and two underemployed house guests. It was just a now-or-never moment; I felt the necessary urgency and push/pull to start my business right then, five years prior to when I initially intended to do it.

I want to be clear that I am, by no means, saying that the time was right—whatever that means or whenever that is. I am saying that after working with what, for all intents and purposes, was a failed startup; attempting what undoubtedly would have been a failed partnership and escaping relatively unscathed, the premise of going back into the traditional workforce was NOT an option for me. I am also not saying that it was a cakewalk; it was and is not by any stretch of the imagination, easy.  I have a file filled with unsuccessful proposals and a former client roster that is as long as some people’s grocery list; some of those relationships are in great shape with them (my former or occasional clients) revisiting my services and expertise from time to time. While, others did not end so well due to errors in judgment on both ends, fatal flaws, unsavoury business practices, etc. (all things I’ll discuss in tawdry detail on this blog I’m sure). We can suffice it to say that though it’s been a rollercoaster ride—a wild one at that—the rewards have outweighed and continue to outweigh the pitfalls. Becoming a small business owner has really built my character and resolve and contributed to both my personal and professional growth.

And, I’m not alone in that. My sister and business partner, Melissa, is a testament to that.  You can read all about her journey and lessons learnt in our Back to [Business] Basics posts on this blog and on her blog (the online voice of our subsidiary, mAmLtDaRt), mAmLtDaRt Musings. While writing this, I was also reminded of a relatively young entrepreneur’s journey that has been riddled with ups and downs, but through it all, she has stayed true to her dream of being a business owner and weathered the many storms she has encountered over the years. Her name is Ria Ramkissoon and I heard her story for the first-time at the first-ever TEDxPortofSpain, just six months after starting my business and just six weeks after relocating to Trinidad as a way to outsource myself and maximize my income. Here is her story (a must watch if you doubt your ability to push through and reach for your dreams):

I guess my point is that if you keep putting your starter/entrepreneurial goals off until tomorrow, or “someday,” you will take them to the grave and your legacy is worth so much more than a list of should’ve, would’ve, could’ves!

Michele A. Matthews is the founder  and managing director of  Agitate Media and Co-owner of MAM Squared, LLC.