Wow. So January then. Cold, wet, grey, no alcohol, dieting, highest divorce month, no money, lots of cold and flu bugs doing the rounds, and political earthquakes quite unlike anything seen before. You could be forgiven for wanting to find an emergency exit. Luckily, it's February tomorrow. A short month. The month of love. And one step closer to summer.
But if you need something to look forward to, I have the perfect solution. A little something to stick in the diary as a beacon of loveliness: The Campfire Storytelling Retreat.
Here's a little taster of what it's like:
Imagine walking through pretty green woods at dusk. Candles in little lanterns flicker, lighting the path that winds through the trees. In a clearing, you find a campfire crackling and a bell tent decked in sparkling lights. You grab a hot chocolate (or glass of wine), before sinking into a seat under a toasty throw as you watch the flames dance.
You are with a small group of people. They, like you, have also escaped their office to head outdoors, to listen to the wind blowing through the trees and smell the tang of woodsmoke. You've spent the day outdoors, discovering what your business really stands for, where you want to take it, what your vision is. You've learnt what stories you have in your business that you can use in all your marketing. You've had a lunchtime campfire cook out and started the day with early morning yoga. Perhaps you had a chance for a one-on-one consultation about where to take your business or some downtime in the spa. And now it's time to unwind and just let go.
One by one, the group shares what is holding them back in their business. Or what they want from their business. You can feel the release as everyone realises that it's not just them who secretly thinks they're not good enough or that they'll never make it. You can feel the sense of possibility grow as everyone realises they have the freedom and potential to create something great.
Someone passes the marshmallows around. The moon shines. Tomorrow is another day of yoga, learning, walking and networking. You feel inspired and ready to take on the world. All is good.
The Campfire Storytelling Retreat is unlike any other retreat or business event you will go to. It is entirely unique. The value of the workshops alone are worth double the price of the retreat (which includes all your meals and private accommodation.) The feedback from last year's attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Here's a sample:
'The Campfire retreat was exactly what my business and I needed. Sometimes being so busy and involved with the day to day running of my business prevents me from seeing the bigger picture and this retreat gave me the time and space to really assess and plan for the future and the direction I want to take it in. From the incredible surroundings, the workshops, the people and Melissa herself it was an incredible weekend of getting back to nature, brain storming, business planning, and connecting with incredible entrepreneurs. One of the best business decisions I have made this year. ' Joy Zarine
The next retreat is 19 - 21 May 2017. It is in Otley, Yorkshire and is very easy to get to as it's next to Leeds Bradford airport and just 20 minutes from Leeds station. I want you on this retreat.
Give yourself something to look forward to and book yourself one of limited spots available. Full details and booking here.
Know a small business owner who would love this? Share this with them or tag them.
I want to tell you a story that may just help you if you are passionate about something but aren't sure how to make it a business. Or if your current job or business isn't inspiring you and you want to pursue something else.
In 2014, I read the book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. If you're not familiar with it, it's about a woman who walked the PCT (The Pacific Crest Trail) on her own to help her work through some life issues. I had always enjoyed walking, but had never considered doing something as epic as that. But it planted a desire to do more walks.
One weekend, both my husband and children were away. I had a choice. I could spend the weekend working or I could do something on my own. Inspired by the book, I went to an outdoors shop, bought some walking boots and a waterproof jacket and decided to go walking. The radio issued amber weather warnings about gale force winds and torrential rain as I made my way to the North Yorkshire coast, but I was undeterred.
I set off from Whitby, walked to Ravenscar and then back to a hostel near Robin Hood's Bay, a total of 14 very wet miles, before returning the next day. I loved it. I had the path to myself, the wind and rain in my face and I felt free and happy. That weekend kickstarted my love of walking.
I began to invite friends to come walking with me, and we'd do day walks or two-day walks, taking just what we needed in our packs. I took it a whole lot further when I walked 192 miles over 14 days doing the Coast to Coast. I've since walked the circumference of the Isle of Wight, will walk the West Highland Way in April and will be climbing Kilimanjaro in February for charity..
My phone is full of photos of my daily walks. My cupboard is full of walking gear. I organise walks for friends and follow walking-related companies on social media. All the signs were there. I have a passion, a genuine love of something that makes me feel ridiculously happy without even trying.
Yet for years - as a business owner - I'd been trying to find my passion. And that's because I believed my passion had to be something that I was qualified in. I have certificates and diplomas and qualifications and years of experience in PR, Marketing and Small Business Management, but I have no such thing for walking. I have miles in my boots. That's it.
So I kept my walking as a hobby. Nothing more. I focused on my business. And while I am genuinely passionate about helping small business owners tell their stories and grow their businesses, it's a different kind of enthusiasm to the one I have for walking. It's a head-led experience, rather than a heart-felt passion.
Just before Christmas I saw a press opportunity for a magazine that wanted to talk to women who like walking. I responded and was interviewed. Being a PR person, I tried to shoehorn a mention of my business into the piece, but it wasn't a natural fit. And I realised that I was wasting a valuable PR opportunity. This was the kick up the backside I needed to take charge of my passion.
I'd had an idea brewing for ages but didn't know how to turn it into a business, so I ignored it. The idea was to formalise the name I'd given to the ladies I walk with and use it as some kind of walking related business. The name was Glamoraks (because we wore anoraks but were a little bit glamorous underneath the layers or Goretex). I realised that there was a gap in the market to reach out to women, probably in their 30s, 40s and 50s but could be any age, who don't see themselves as hard core hikers, but who don't want to be labelled as ramblers either.
I realised that I wanted to inspire women from around the world to get out and walk more. The benefits of walking are amazing - and so needed by women who juggle multiple stresses. I decided it was time to take my passion and turn it into something bigger that could truly make a difference in the world. Because walking makes women happy. And if women are happy, the world is a better place (ask my husband).
On Monday 9 January 2017, I set up the Glamoraks facebook group. By Tuesday I had created a website for it. Within a week the group had 220 members. They are sharing pictures of their walks, teaming up, finding walking buddies, inspiring others to get out there, getting information on kit and a whole bunch more.
I have no idea where this is going to go. I still have to figure out how to make this a business. I have a head full of ideas. And it's still a side gig to Campfire. But for now, I'm simply letting the community flourish. By embracing my passion, I know that the right ideas will present themselves to me. And one day it will become a business.
By the end of 2017 there were 800 members, the first Glamoraks weekend away held, the next scheduled and sold out in less than 24 hours, it's been featured in Top Sante, Healthy, Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Telegraph and BBC local radio. Big plans are in place for 2018.
So here are some tips if you want to run a business based on your passion:
If you are a women who loves walking, please join the group. If you want to turn your passion into a business and need help getting clarity, see my Clarity package.
You wake up. It's early. 5.30am. You should be sleeping but something nudged you from sleep to consciousness and your brain has fired straight into thinking mode. It starts with a simple, 'What do I have on today?' and within ten seconds, your mind is skipping through a field of worries, ideas and business related thoughts.
You should of course, shut your eyes, breathe deeply, focus on gratitude. But you don't. You pick up your phone or ipad and decide that there's something really important you need to check out. You head to your preferred social feed, or email, or possibly the news. You read something that triggers some insecurity or idea. Either way, this is the cattle prod that gets you leaping out of bed. You may spend the day buzzing with energy or beating yourself up with 'I'm not good enough' thoughts.
Whichever it is, your mind never stops. You are an entrepreneur.
I had one of those mornings today. Sadly, it wasn't the upbeat kind. I saw something on someone's website that was a really clever idea. But instead of feeling inspired by it, I felt less than. 'Why hadn't I thought of that?' 'Why does everyone else seem to be three steps ahead of me?' 'Am I creative at all if all of these people seem to have better ideas than me?' 'Am I even capable of having an original thought when there are so many people all trying to be original and different?' 'How do I make my mark when it feels like it's all been done before?'
And then my lovely husband brought me coffee and I told him how I was feeling. The poor man is very used to the mental rollercoaster I board every day as a solopreneur. He simply said this:
"Albert Einstein once said: 'If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.' You don't have to have all the original ideas. Just because someone else has done it doesn't mean you can't improve upon it."
And with that he left me alone with my coffee and my thoughts.
The internet has made it easier than ever to set up and run a business. The problem is, millions of other people are doing it too. It can feel as though it's all been done before and you get put off before you even get started, particularly when those other people seem to have it all sussed out and you feel like you're just starting.
If this sounds familiar, here are some tips to navigate self-sabotage and comparison-itis:
I created Campfire Communications to help other small business owners achieve their definition of success, however that may look. I help you find your brand story, write it and teach you how to share it with the world. But more importantly, I want to provide a virtual campfire you can sit around to share your thoughts, questions, highs and lows. I currently do this on my Facebook page, but I'm thinking about turning this into a membership group and would love to get your thoughts on whether this would appeal to you.
If you're able to take my short survey on this, please do. I want to create a space that works for people like you.
For now, keep going. You're doing great.
When I was in my twenties, I had a performance review at work. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The final comment on the review was from the country manager. It said: 'If Melissa just believed in herself as much as we do, she could do amazing things.'
That was the first time I realised that I didn't believe in myself. I thought it was normal to feel like a complete fraud, to have that constant niggling fear that I'd be found out or that people would think I wasn't good at what I did.
My lack of self belief pushed me to under promise and over deliver. It actually made me really good at what I did. It even made me win awards. But the thing about not believing in yourself, is that it doesn't matter how many awards you win or how much positive feedback you get, you still feel like you're not quite good enough.
For some people, that means they push themselves harder and harder, getting ever greater success but no greater happiness. For me, it's probably stopped me from earning as much as I should or taking the next big step or feeling that I've not achieved much at all.
Why am I sharing this?
Because while I was on holiday recently, I was browsing Facebook and I noticed just how crappy it made me feel. It wasn't seeing pictures of my friends having fabulous holidays that made me feel down. It was the stream of Facebook adverts and posts on business groups from people talking about their successes that did it. 'How to earn 6 figures' type headlines. You know the ones I mean. I felt like a failure in contrast. The voice inside my head immediately started saying: 'You shouldn't be on holiday, you should be doing what they're doing. You're never going to be a success.'
I shared these thoughts in one of the Facebook groups I belong to and was given a huge amount of support. It seems I'm not alone in feeling this way. In fact the founder of the group summarised all the useful advice in this blog post, which looks at how social media can cause overwhelm.
But for me this goes beyond the issue of social media. It's about a lack of self belief. And I KNOW that so many solopreneurs and small business owners battle with this. We are thrust into a world where we have to do everything ourselves and so it's easy to feel like you're not good enough. Because no-one can be good at everything.
I can read my the testimonials I get from clients and know that I do a good job, but that doesn't stop me doubting myself all over again or battling with feelings of not being enough.
I don't think you can suddenly gain self belief if you've spent a lifetime not believing in yourself or grappling with low self-esteem, but there are some things which you can do that have helped me. I am going to caveat this advice by saying that I am not a psychologist, coach or expert in this area. This is based purely on my experience.
1. Recognise that you have this problem
2. Understand what caused this problem
Now I don't think this is a must have. And frankly, spending a lot of time trying to figure out where this all started may just turn into a delaying tactic. But for me, I wanted to try and pinpoint where this all stemmed from. No-one is born with low self-esteem. I wanted to get to the bottom of why I felt this way. I think I have now. And as one of my very lovely clients advised me, you need to go back that child or person you were and give them love and empathy. Forgive anyone who may have been involved in this process - perhaps a teacher, a parent, a friend, a sibling, an event. Realise that its not you. It's life experiences that shaped you. Now you know that, you can take back control.
3. Reprogram your brain
I got this from Marisa Peer, named as Britain's best therapist by Tatler magazine. There is a simple line you can tell yourself. And then keep telling yourself. Daily. Every time the negative voice in your head pops up. Every time you feel that anxiety or fear or worry about the fact that you might not be good enough. Simply say:
I A M E N O U G H.
It sounds so simple. And it's a line you see all over social media, to the point where it can seem meaningless. But it's not. Say it out loud: I am enough. And try to believe it. Even if you don't right now, keep saying it. Make it visible.
See that picture at the top of this blog post? I sent that as a postcard to myself. Feel free to write I am enough on the walls of every room in your house, on a post-it on your PC, on your bathroom mirror.
I imagine it as a stop sign or banner that I mentally put up every time I start to doubt myself - whether that's looking at my less than perfect reflection in the mirror as I do my down dog in yoga class or sending a proposal to a client.
I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.
And you know what? I'm starting to believe it.
So go ahead and say it to yourself. You may just start believing it too.
Thank you for reading this and for letting me get this cathartic post out. I'll be back writing about business soon! If you want to share your own story about this subject, leave me a comment or come over to my Campfire on Facebook and share it there.
It was half-term last week. And even though I had the luxury of having a husband at home to entertain the kids and time to work, I lost my mojo. In fact, I lost my desire to do anything other than put on my walking boots and walk as far away as possible.
And I did. I stomped around Malham Cove and Gordale Scar. I breathed the smell of woodsmoke hanging in the cold air and squelched through mud. I switched off. Getting some fresh air, headspace and most critically, escape from the internet, gave me a crashing moment of insight into why I had the blahs.
This isn't bullying from trolls. This is self-flagellation, something we do to ourselves. It's where we join social media, sign up to newsletters and join networking groups because we feel we need to. It's where we read inspirational quote after inspirational quote and useful tips to transform your business, your body, your life - repeatedly. It's the stream of filtered images and carefully crafted Facebook ads that drum home the message that you - and your business - are not enough.
This digital avalanche of information is done under the guise of being helpful - and yes, plenty of it is - but so much of it is poorly disguised advertising or has a hidden sub-text saying: 'You're doing it wrong. You should be doing more.' For small business owners, this can be crushing.
It's more than that.
It's the dumbing down of everything so that it fits into a moment. A life made up of bite-sized inspirational quotes, filtered images and top ten lists is a life lacking context or depth. It's like condensing an entire novel into a single paragraph to save the reader time. Except that you have to read 10,000 of these individual paragraphs. It makes your brain feel full and empty all at the same time.
Worst of all, it's addictive.
How often do you watch television and look at your phone or ipad at the same time? Go out to a restaurant. Look at the people around you. How many are on their phones checking out their feeds? Go to an event and watch the number of cameras snapping away, ready to share the moment with the world. They can't help themselves. We have forgotten how to just be instead of reaching for a device.
I am guilty. Of it all. I look at my phone when I shouldn't. I share those inspirational quotes and write up blog posts that are genuinely intended to be helpful, but may easily make someone else feel crappy about the fact that they perhaps haven't written a press release or entered an award. This post included.
And it was the realisation that, not only do I dislike this digital overwhelm, but that I am propagator of it, that made me lose my mojo. How can I be part of an industry that adds to this digital noise?
I know that the world has changed. For businesses - regardless of size - to survive, you need to promote yourself. You need to create content that will engage your readers and share information that will get more people following you. Social media, email marketing, blogging, PR - it all helps tell people about you. But it is exhausting - both for you the generator of the content and for the readers.
When I confessed this feeling with someone last week, they kindly said that if you share with authenticity and a genuine desire to help, it shows.
So this blog post I have no real tips to share. I don't even have any inspiration. I simply want to tell you that if you feel this way, it's ok. The irony of writing this blog post (which I will no doubt share with my email list and on my social media pages) isn't lost on me. But I just felt compelled to put it out there.
Because if there is one thing I have learnt, it's that if I feel strongly about something, I know there will be others out there who feel the same. This blog post is for you.
If you are after advice on how to handle this, this is all I've got:
Give yourself time away. Go outdoors. Put your phone down. Look up. Unsubscribe to some of the stuff you're getting. Turn off notifications. Read an actual book. Do something inspirational rather than reading about it. Switch off. Then start afresh.
That's what I'm doing today.
Last week I came back from two weeks of holiday. Before I went away, I had decided that I was going to take a real break. No scheduling of tweets, posts or newsletters to make it look like I was still working. No checking in. Just silence from me.
Before I left, I sent an email to my newsletter list telling them exactly that.
And I stuck to my guns.
When I returned I felt as though I had left my work mojo in a Namibian desert. Getting started was hard. I knew I needed to send out a newsletter and crank up the social media marketing again, but I was sorely lacking inspiration. For someone whose speciality is writing, I was lost for words.
Eventually, with no great ideas coming to me, I simply wrote a short email that told my subscribers that I was back and I included a list of the different ways I could help them. Nothing fancy. Nothing super creative, just a list of my services saying that I was available if they needed help.
I hit send and looked at my holiday snaps for a while.
Less than a week after sending that email I have made over £2000 in sales and I am booked solid for the next couple of weeks.
So what's the lesson here? Three key learnings:
1. Be unavailable occasionally
There's a saying, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' This flies in the face of all marketing advice that says you have to keep your visibility up all the time. And it goes against the gut instinct of most hard-working entrepreneurs who are programmed to be always on, always available.
Yes your marketing should be consistent, but making yourself unavailable every now and then makes people realise that they actually need you. It's why people who run successful membership clubs or training programmes only open up enrolment at certain times. So don't be afraid to step away every now and then. Just remember to tell people. Make it a conscious absence rather than a silent disappearing act.
2. Tell people that you're back and open for business
It's easy to return from a holiday or absence and assume that because your 'out of office' is switched off and you're being active on social media again that people know you are available to take on new work. This isn't always the case. Remember, they are busy and may not even have noticed that you've been gone. So tell them that you're back and ready to help them.
3. Remind people of what you do
We are often so busy thinking of clever content that we forget that some people aren't actually all that familiar with what we do. Even those who do know your business well can benefit from an occasional reminder. This can be a very simple list stating clearly what you do and how you can help them. It seems so blindingly obvious, but when last did you let your clients know specifically how you could help them?
So to recap:
1. Tell people you're going away and be properly away
2. Tell people you are back and open for business
3. Remind them how you can help them
Take a look at my services to find out how I could help you.