The Power Of Storytelling

The Power Of Storytelling

Dickens’s dream by Robert William Buss

A beautiful image of one of the greatest storytellers of all time dreaming of his characters

How do we use our power appropriately?

How do we use our power appropriately?

This blog is a longer version of a talk I gave to my colleagues at Lewes Women In Business – an independent women’s networking group of which I am a co-founder.

A couple of months ago I was sitting at my desk scrolling through my Facebook feed for the umpteenth time that day, trying to glean something positive from the largely negative posts that kept popping up. And then something snapped. I just couldn’t come back from one more post about the effect humankind is having on the environment, the increase in far-right politics across the globe, another story about knife/gun crime and the youth.

Inwardly I collapsed and shut down. I did the only thing I knew how to do at that particular moment and I withdrew in order to protect myself. Maybe you have experienced something similar when things have become too overwhelming? Going inward and withdrawing are valid survival mechanisms when we cannot cope with the outside world. Sometimes we need to go small and in that moment I felt utterly powerless in the face of all the things I cannot change; the Trump administration, climate change, Brexit.

So I allowed myself for stay in that place for a day or so. But then something else happened. I got angry, really angry, and this set me on a different train of thought; instead of focusing on where I am powerless, what would it look like if I decided to focus on where I did have power and go with that?

I confess, I did have a little help in the form of Michelle Obama’s autobiography “Becoming”. I was inspired by many things she wrote about and her awareness of how she found her own power but I was especially struck by what her husband said to their daughters when Trump was elected:

"'Societies and cultures are really complicated … This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it's messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.

And you should anticipate that at any given moment there's going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn't stop … You don't get into a fetal position about it. You don't start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.'"

[From an interview with David Remmick in The New Yorker]

The truth is I had gone fetal, and while that allowed me to survive in that moment, it didn’t enable me to thrive. Going fetal is the antithesis of being creative. We cannot be expansive from this place. So I took his advice and started to look at the places I could move forward, focusing on where I had agency and who I needed to talk to in order to get things moving.

When people come to see me for business coaching, they often feel as if they have lost their power, or maybe misplaced it. Clients often tell me they have become overwhelmed with choices and feel paralysed and unable to make informed decisions. So they have done what we all do in those times and have fallen back on what they know, which may be old ways of thinking and old patterns of behaviour.

Going small is fine for a while but because we tend to go inward and think only of ourselves, it will ultimately have an impact on our businesses, and out lives.

So what does power mean and how do we use our power appropriately?

Let’s start with a definition. Of ‘power’ the OED says:

1. The ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.

2. The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events

In a scientific sense power is the transfer of energy from one place to another, it is about movement and change, so another way of thinking about power is to focus on how we continue to move forward, rather than stay in a static place, unable to change.

Appropriate and inappropriate power 

A lot of the conversations we have around appropriate power are the same ones we might have around assertiveness (see my blog on assertiveness here). Using our power appropriately means that we ‘direct’ and ‘influence’ others, not manipulate, coerce, impose or ‘over’ power. This is akin to the idea of assertiveness where the best position is for us to take is, “I’m Okay, you’re okay”. Not “I’m okay, you’re not okay”.

Just like assertiveness using our power requires high levels of self-awareness, and a constant checking in with oneself as to how our behaviour affects others. When we are in our power and we allow others to be in theirs, we operate from a positive place and take responsibility for our actions. This is what all good leaders do.

Sadly in our world today and especially on the political stage (naming no names but I can think of one person in the American administration who is a good example of this), we are seeing glaring examples of poor, damaging leadership because of the way in which people are using their power inappropriately, often driven by high levels of fear and narcissism. When people feel inadequate, weak or are lacking in confidence, their sense of agency tips over in to control, intimidation and manipulation. They may have learned and seen evidence early on that this is the way to get things done.  This kind of power is fragile as it is constructed around their fears and insecurities and is operating exclusively from a, “I’m okay, you’re not okay” position.

Using your resources

A true, real sense of our own power comes from understanding who we are and what inner resources we have used to get to where we are today. Michelle Obama is a really good example of this. She was always a quiet, bookish type that avoided confrontation and chaos. She was the type of person who would sit back and let others speak up while she quietly observed situations and people.

It’s true that without her husband she would not have dreamed of being involved in politics in any way, it being so at odds with the kind of person she is. However, even before Barack got in to politics and their lives took them in the direction it did, she looked at the places she could push forward in order to help people in a way that worked for her. Early on in her career, and at each stage in her life, she used what influence she had to focus on her passion for social justice, education and social mobility. Happily for us, and many others, the influence she had and has grew and grew. She never chose to focus on what she couldn’t do she just kept asking what she could do.

 So if you feel you have misplaced your power and aren’t sure how to move forward, think about the following:


  1. Tell your own story and allow others to do the same – when we feel powerless we have a tendency to see our whole lives through that prism, and this can lead to inaction. Going back and looking at when we last felt brave, fearless and in our power can help us to access that energy again. It reminds us not to define our lives through how we might be feeling in this moment.

    When we feel in our power it enables us to be generous and look at how we can help others tell their stories, and help them see where their power lies.

    Look at your own story and what has brought you to this point. Yes you will have no doubt had some help and focus on where and when you felt powerful and used that power in a positive way.

  2. Use your networks – when we think of using our networks we often concentrate on our immediate networks- friends, family, colleagues but actually it is often their networks that are the most useful to us. They are larger than we can possibly imagine and are full of potentially like-minded, useful people whom we have never met. So use these networks and let people know what you do.

    It’s amazing what can happen when we have conversations. I’ve seen evidence of this in my life and work many, many times, so don’t be afraid to share your dreams and aspirations with the world. As the saying goes, “ We are all blind beggars sitting on a pile of gold.”

    Those networks may well uncover some hidden gold.

  3. See the bigger picture – if you feel you have gone small think about what your higher purpose is. What I say to my clients is think about what you want your legacy to be. Think about why you have chosen to do what you do. I don’t mean money, which is a consequence of what we choose to do, but about what you were put here to do.

    When you are clear about why you do something, it enables people to make an emotional connection with what you do and in turn inspires, influences and motivates them.

    When you work out what your why is, use that as your starting point.  Be expansive and remember that power is about movement and change.


Remember real power is built on strong emotional foundations. People who feel in their power display high levels of humility and do not feel the need to brag . I’ll leave you with some words from Michelle Obama:

It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.
— Becoming - Michelle Obama

If you would like to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help you and your business, then book a 30-minute phone call here. Let’s talk!

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers

The truth about business plans

The truth about business plans

How do you feel when you hear the words ‘business plan’? Do you feel bored at the prospect of writing one? Guilty because you feel you should have one or just downright terrified at the prospect of starting one? Or like me do you see it as an exciting opportunity to deepen your understanding of your business, your clients and your USP? No?! That’s just me then….

But seriously, business plans have a really bad reputation in the small and independent business community, whereas the large corporate entities just treat them as part of their culture. So what is going on here?

You probably won’t be surprised to know that out of the all the workshops I run, my one on business planning (Called ‘Learn to love your business plan’) is by far the most popular. This is because most people who start an independent business don’t go out and get a qualification in business studies first so they often lack confidence in their business skills and approach business plans with some trepidation.

When I was conducting research for this workshop I came across a book (whose name I will not reveal) extolling the virtues of a business plan and what needs to go in one, but then on the very first page it said “If you run a small business there is no need to write a business plan”!

And therein lies the rub. If a business plan is seen purely as a route to investment (as it is by many people in the wider business world), or something that you need to have to show shareholders, then indeed for a small independent business it will be hard to see why you need to invest time in writing one, and what having one will do for you and your business.

So in this blog I will explain what a business plan really is, make a compelling case for why as a small business owner you need one, and break down what it really needs to contain.


What is a business plan? And why do you need one?

In general I would say that the people that come to see me for one of the following reasons: 

  • “I know what I want to achieve and have a clear vision, but I’m not sure how to get from where I am to where I want to be, and the steps along the way”  (Strategy)

  • “I have been in business for a while, but now I find I’m confused about what to do next.” (Goals/Strategy)

  • “I’ve been in business for several years and want to diversify/break in to a new market.  How do I find the time to do that and still continue to run my business?” (Product/service diversification/ Delegation/Market research) 

  • “I’ve been in business for a while but the nature of what I do/deliver has changed and I feel confused about my brand identity”. (Branding)

  • “I’ve recently expanded, which is exciting but the current infrastructure hasn’t caught up with this growth so consequently I don’t have things in place and I’m working all the time!” (Strategy/Sustainability)

  • “I’m a start-up business and don’t have any experience in business, but I have a great idea and don’t know how to execute it.” (Business planning/Strategy/Market research)

  • “I’ve been in business for a long time but I’ve never felt like I earn enough money and recently I’ve noticed I’m not getting as much new business as I once was.” (Goals/Sustainability/Market research) 

  • “I’ve got a potential investor that is interested in my business and they told me I need write a business plan.” (Investment/Strategy/Market research)


If you feel like any of these describe you, then you probably need a business plan, or need to update your existing one. A business plan is essentially a road map for your business and if you don’t have one then you might find yourself grappling with the same issues on a daily basis, and that can zap your energy and make you feel like you are wading through treacle.

At their best, business plans are living, breathing things that provide a repository for everything you need to know about your business on every level.

They provide answers to the ongoing questions that you have about your business, and what problem it solves for whom. They also:

  • Provide a template for the copy you will use in your marketing

  • Provide the copy for what you say about yourself and your business on your website – your brand story (and your elevator pitch)

  • Clarify who your competitors are and what distinguishes your business from theirs

  • Clarify your USP (Unique Selling Point)

  • Give you a logistical and strategic plan

  • Hone and refine your brand values

Not only this, but they also provide the opportunity to set goals around income and profit, as well as providing the information a potential investor needs, if you are looking for one.

When you have a plan for your business, you are much less likely to waste time and resources as you are clear about your strategy and what you activities you need to focus on day-to-day. And all it will cost you is an up front investment your time.

Thanks Marisa for a positive approach to business plans - much more interesting to view it as an opportunity for strategic planning - I like that.
Thanks so much for this mornings workshop Marisa. It has totally changed my perception of what I thought a business plan had to be.
— Business Plan Workshop Participants


Years ago I had a client who ran a creative business. He loved what he did, but he didn’t feel like he was earning enough money, and wanted to raise his profile so he could find an agent to help him take things to the next level.

At the end of the first session, after we had spent some time getting to know each other and finding out what was important to him, I said I was going to send him some questions from my bespoke business plan template to start to answer some of the questions he had about his business, to which he replied “I f***ing hate business plans”! Now while this could have been disastrous for our coaching relationship, it was actually great place to start the process.

Business plans come with a lot of baggage for all the reasons I have already mentioned, but they are in fact nothing more than a way of telling our story to the people that need to hear it, in a compelling and concise way.

When we re-frame writing a business plan as purely a way of telling our business story and providing a narrative for the community of people we wish to help then it starts to take on a new meaning. We can see it not only as a process we can enjoy to help us achieve the things we want, but also as a way of saving precious time and money so we avoid trying to take on running every aspect of our business with no strategy in place.

As I explained this to my client and encouraged him to see a business plan as a process rather than being about the end product, it took on a new meaning for him and made it something that was much more fun and enjoyable than he had anticipated. It provided answers to the ongoing questions that he had about his business, and what problem it solved for whom.

So if you agree that that sounds pretty good, then what are the next steps and how do you begin the process? What does a good business plan really need to contain?


How do you write a business plan?

If you Google “business plan” you will bring up innumerable templates and advice about how to fill them in, and to be perfectly honest, a lot of them do look pretty dull. They tend to focus mainly on the finances, which while being extremely important are not the whole picture of your business and do not bring out any of the storytelling element of the business, which is so important for brand storytelling and how we decide to market ourselves.

It is for this reason that over many years in business I have developed my own template of what I feel a business plan needs to contain to answer the questions that the owner of the business has and what they need to know to move forward.


What exactly does it need to contain? 

1)   Describe your product or service – this section is about your customer and the describing the journey they go on when they start thinking about using your business. (Avoid jargon!)

2)   Describe who your target market are and provide evidence that there is a need for your business.

3)   Research the competition – look at who they are and how what you offer is different to their offering.

4)   Marketing and promotion – what activities are you going to undertake to reach your audience and how are you going to monitor that activity?

5)   Pricing and costing – How have you arrived at your selling price and does it allow you to make a profit once your overheads have been paid?

6)   Operations and logistics – How will the service be delivered, by whom and for how many hours a week?

7)   Sales and cash flow forecast – How have you reached your forecasted sales figures? How are you going to monitor cash flow? (This will also require a spreadsheet)

8)   Admin, legal requirements, insurance, taxation – Show that you understand what your legal responsibilities are and what taxation you will be liable for.

Business Plan Headings Infographic

Business Plan Headings Infographic



Lastly, a few words about what is called the Executive Summary. This is usually the first section of your business plan, where you set the scene for your audience, but it should be the last thing you write once you have worked through all the other sections and have a deeper understanding of your business.

So that’s it in a nutshell. But before you roll up your sleeves and get started, remember 3 things:

  1. It is going to take time so don’t rush it. If you do you may wish a vital learning opportunity.

  2. A business plan is not linear so don’t worry about jumping between sections.

  3. Tackle it in small chunks rather than trying to fill it all in at once.

The best business plans aren’t long or complex with loads of jargon. They are punchy and concise and contain precisely what you need to know. And they are never a waste of time.

If you feel like you would like some help with a business plan using my own tried and tested template then click here to book a 30 minute phone consultation and find out how coaching can help.

5 ways for independent businesses to demonstrate ethics and integrity

5 ways for independent businesses to demonstrate ethics and integrity

How does your business and brand convey integrity to your customers and clients?

From the Latin for “wholeness” or “completeness”, Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one's self to consistent standards.

The culture and values of a business rests upon the standards to which it holds itself and this affects every part of the organization from the staff, to the customers and all the business operations.

In this blog, we are going to explore what integrity is and what it means to us personally and professionally; we’ll look at what 5 things you can do to build more integrity in to your brand that adds value to everything you do.

1. “Walk the walk and talk the talk” - Personal Integrity

The ethics, values and integrity of our business, starts with us, and how we conduct ourselves has a huge impact on how people regard our business.

 It is absolutely vital for business leaders to live a lifestyle of honesty, integrity and high ethical standards because what we do as leaders and how we behave can harm the reputation of the business or organization.

This is especially true of small independent businesses that may be operating within small, local communities, where people know each other. As a small business owner for twenty years, I know how true this is and how demonstrating integrity positively influences how people regard your business.

At the other end of business spectrum, the technology and security corporation Tyco knows only too well the pitfalls of a lack of integrity when two of their former executives unwittingly became the poster children for failed ethical leadership. Both were sentenced up to 25 years in prison after stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the company.

Tyco Executive Scandal 2001

Tyco Executive Scandal 2001


It goes without saying that this generated negative press for Tyco affecting not only the company’s value and profitability, but exposing its poor ethics and values, something that is impossible to reverse.

 When you become a business owner and leader, you have a responsibility to maintain a high moral standard, and treat your customers and stakeholders as you would wish to be treated.

2. Commit to your brand promise

Regular followers will know that I do a lot of work around branding and brand identity for small and independent business owners. One of the things I talk about in my workshops and in my one to one coaching sessions is how to demonstrate integrity by following through on your brand promise to your customer. In other words, when people see and identify with your brand, ensure that the product or service they receive is congruent with that and their expectation of it.

Let me give you the example I give in my workshop; a few years ago I bought a craft activity box for my daughter at the start of the summer holidays. The boxes had been advertised in a magazine for parents and the brand looked beautiful. However, when the product arrived the contents were very disappointing. The materials were cheap and flimsy; the book was well below my daughters reading ability, and the activity was over in five minutes!

Not only that, but we then received another one two weeks later as it was actually a subscription, which had not been made clear when I bought it. When I made a complaint about the product and lack of clarity about the subscription, the company never even bothered to respond, let alone, offer a refund.

 For me, this company did not commit to their brand promise, not only because the product itself was not congruent with their marketing and branding, but also because they did not follow through on customer service in any way, so I was left feeling angry and abandoned.

 Continuing this theme let’s look at service after the sale.


3. Service after the salewhy it’s important to follow up with customers.

If you know your marketing, then you might have heard of the 5 stages of the buying cycle. This is the emotional and logical process customers go through when they are buying a product or service. They are:

1.  Awareness : The customer identifies a need or problem that they have and they think your business can meet that need or solve their problem

2.  Consideration : The customer evaluates how your offering meets this need, including the evaluation of offerings from other businesses; I.e. your competitors

3.  Preference/Intent : The customer uses a combination logic and emotion creating bias towards one solution or another, ultimately leading to a purchasing decision

 4. Purchase : The decision is made to buy from your business.

 5. Repurchase: The emotional and logical process that (hopefully) leads to a repeat purchase


All though this process, which can be applied for every transaction customers make, your ethics and integrity are being scrutinized. However, how you interact and deal with your customer after they have made a purchase is critical as this is when they are at their most anxious and vulnerable.

Unfortunately a lot of businesses don’t take this stage seriously as they only focus on getting the sale, but how you deal with a customer once they have made their purchase says a lot about your ethics, and influences how they feel about your brand and business, whether they will buy from you again and whether they will recommend you to others.

So ensure that you follow up with an email and make it clear that you are there to answer any questions or concerns they might have. Remember great customer service should be the cornerstone of your business.

4. Product/service integrityDon’t be all things to all people!

It seems obvious to say that what you deliver, be it products or services, should be of the highest possible quality and that you need to have integrity about what claims you make for your product or service.

However it still surprises me how many businesses overstate what they product or service can do. Let me go back to the craft box example; the marketing claimed that the activities and books would keep your child entertained for hours, and would improve their making and crafting skills. Let’s not forget that they even had different kinds of boxes for different ages, but their claims just did not stand up so my daughter and I were very disappointed.

As part of your business and brand integrity, it is vital that you are honest about what your product/service can and, importantly, cannot do. People will appreciate your honesty, especially if you can signpost them to another product or service that could help them. So be clear about what you offer and don’t try and be all things to all people!

5. Demonstrate integrity when dealing with staff and all stakeholders.  

 The best kinds of relationships are those based on mutual trust and respect.

 Having integrity when dealing with staff, collaborators and customers also involves assertiveness and self-awareness. In my previous blog on assertiveness I wrote:


“Assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behaviour impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.”


It is not possible to run a business where you treat customers really well, but your treatment of your staff and collaborators is lousy. It isn’t congruent with your brand values, and just like with the Tyco executives, bad news travels fast and people will get to hear about it. There is a bit of a prevailing corporate culture around this, but as independent business owners we can positively influence that culture and show them how it should be done.

 My husband and I have been running a well-established health business for 20 years and are well known in the local area. For us it is important that our values of promoting wellbeing extend to all our staff so we would never insist that they come in if they are unwell, and often pay for treatments if they have a particular issue that needs resolving; physically or emotionally. So we demonstrate our integrity through good pastoral care.

 Not only does this make us feel good about what we do, it is good for business as we have a really happy team. How they are treated reflects well on us as business owners and makes them good advocates for the type of business we are running.

Having high ethical and moral standards gives us a sense of pride in what we do. It reinforces our brand values and influences the public’s perception of our business.

So ensure you make integrity part of your brand identity and culture in everything you do.

If you would like helping building more integrity in to your brand and communicating what you do more effectively, book a 30 minute phone consultation here to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help.

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers

What does it mean to be resilient, and how can we build resilience in ourselves and in our businesses?

What does it mean to be resilient, and how can we build resilience in ourselves and in our businesses?

I was recently talking to a friend about their experience of being on an intensive meditation retreat. The teacher was talking about the importance of sensitivity and intuition, and that in order to develop those qualities it was also vital to cultivate resilience. They described the two wheels of a chariot; one wheel was sensitivity, and the other wheel was resilience. If you have all of one, and none of the other, then the chariot cannot go forward and you get stuck.

On the surface, you might think that this has nothing to do with running a business, but, I believe that emotional resilience, and to what degree we posses that inner quality that can enable one person to bounce back from failure, and another to spiral down into defeat and burnout, or to take every misfortune personally. When we think of great leaders or people that have achieved incredible things in the face of huge adversity, resilience plays a big part in their story.

So in this blog, we’re going to explore what resilience is, and what we can do on a daily basis to ensure that our businesses are resilient enough to move through the difficult times that they will no doubt face. 

First of all, let’s be clear about what resilience isn’t. Being resilient does not mean an overinflated sense of optimism, where you go around with a big grin on your face and laugh off all misfortune. Resilience is about authenticity (one of my other favourite words to apply to businesses), it’s about acknowledging that while things might be hard, life (and business!) is about ups and downs, and that that’s okay.

Resilience is also about being able to draw on your own resources, and see failure as an inevitable part of life. It’s not about being tough and going through life with a gritty determination that nothing is going to get the better of you. The interesting thing is that we are not born with resilience; we learn how to be resilient in childhood just like assertiveness (see my blog on assertiveness here), and just life assertiveness, the good news is that with time and with practice we can develop resilience.

So how resilient are you?

Why is it that some people seem to bounce back from traumas with relative ease, or even thrive after negative events, while others might fall apart?

The answers are compelling. In his best-selling book, The Resiliency Advantage the late Al Siebert, writes that, “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most important, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will. They have a knack for creating good luck out of circumstances that many others see as bad luck.”


A long-term study of 99 Harvard graduates showed that the way people view negative life events (either as fixed and unchangeable or as temporary and subject to influence) predicted their physical health 5, and up to 35 years later.

But a boost to physical health isn’t this mindset’s only upside. Resilience refers to our capacity to deal with discomfort and adversity, but it’s not just a reactive skill set. The same characteristics that make us resilient are traits that enrich our lives. And of course they will enrich our businesses too.

10 steps to developing resilience permanently

Like anything worth doing, it’s going to take time, but follow these steps and you will be well on your way to increasing your resilience:

  1. Nurture relationships and get support. No one ever achieved anything on their own, so why should you? Being surrounded by positive, resilient people is inspiring and feeds our sense of self. Having a good network on a personal and a professional level helps us be our best selves and gives us a place to share our challenges and difficulties, as well as our triumphs and achievements.

  2. Nurture yourself – how do you take care of yourself? Good health, and a regular routine of healthy habits, are the foundation of both mental and emotional resilience. But our physical resilience also depends heavily on our baseline mental and emotional well-being. And one of the best ways to nurture that, says Carol Orsborn,, author of The Art of Resilience: 100 Paths to Wisdom and Strength in an Uncertain World is to take regular mental breaks: “It could be something as formal as a regular meditation practice,” she says, “or it could simply be letting yourself daydream.” (See my previous blog on why entrepreneurs need downtime!)

  3. Don’t be afraid of change and to change. When we have a fixed idea of how things are going to go and how they “should” be, it can be harder to feel positive when things go a different way so don’t set yourself up to fail. As they say, “if you keep doing the same things and expect different results, that way madness lies” so be flexible

  4. Develop self-control. If you are someone who gets easily emotional or angry, then it might be that your chariot of sensitivity and resilience has got a wheel missing! Before you react, take a moment to think if your behaviour is going to enhance or diminish your resilience.

  5. Look for the lesson in everything. If you see challenges as opportunities to learn, change and grow, then you are more likely to build resilience.  

  6. Have a plan to do more of what you love. Nearly 20 years ago I discovered a fantastic book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. One of the exercises is to make a list of things you do that make you happy and keep you in the moment. It could be anything from flower arranging to paragliding or walking in the woods. Whatever it is for you, if it makes you happy and keeps you in the moment, make sure you are doing it on a regular basis.

  7. Perform random acts of kindness. When we are kind to someone else even in a very small way, our brain rewards us with a boost of serotonin, the hormone that relaxes us and makes us feel good. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to view adversity as a challenge rather than a disaster. 

  8. Be grateful for what you have. We all know someone who, no matter what their life is like, or how successful they are never seems to be happy with what they have. Practicing gratitude for the things we take for granted in life helps us see the positives in life.

  9. Make a conscious decision to be happy. It’s amazing how many people think their happiness relies on external factors, and therefore don’t take responsibility for their own happiness but rather put it on to finding the perfect relationship, having the biggest house/car, or earning X to make them happy. Of course many things can make us unhappy, but truly it is up to us to develop a sense of happiness and contentment within ourselves.

  10. Have a sense of humour! If you are anything like me your sense of humour can be the first thing to go when things get tough. But being able to laugh is good for so many reasons; it releases tension and gets us to connect with others, but laughter is also empowering as it puts things in to perspective, so something that seems overwhelming at first, becomes more manageable when we can laugh at it.

When we are happy internally then we can bounce back from anything and move on, which has got to be good for us, our businesses and our customers and clients. 

If you would like to find out how coaching can help you build resilience in yourself and your business book a 30 minute phone call here.

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers

Think holidays are a luxury for small businesses? Think again.

Think holidays are a luxury for small businesses? Think again.

After a summer of a little work and virtually no social media, I have come back to work with a renewed sense of purpose and a new attitude to how I manage my schedule, the “life/work balance”. It’s really made me appreciate how important it is for business owners to take a break and find a new perspective.

How we manage our time in life and in business is something that is debated the world over, but especially in the west where, thanks to technology and the way we work, time always seems to be in short supply. So when we all perceive ourselves to be time poor how do we find the time to take a break? And why is it so important?

You won’t be surprised to hear that around 90% of the business owners I work with either haven’t had a proper holiday in several years, or routinely take their work on holiday with them. And what I hear all the time is the same; “I can’t afford to take a holiday”, to which I say, “actually, you can’t afford not to”.

Our working landscape is changing all the time and more people are starting new businesses. According to research from the accounting software company Xero, 20 is the age that young business owners (18-34) decided they would like to set up shop compared to those aged over 45 who had the same lightbulb moment at 35. In fact, almost seven in 10 (69%) new businesses set up in the past five years have been started by those aged between 18-34.

It starts with a plan

When we start a new business, it is easy to be inspired and passionate as you turn a vision in to reality. However, passion will only get you so far, and those businesses with sound plans, good processes and a clear strategy, have a far better chance of survival than those who don’t put these systems in place.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to work with a group of storytellers on bringing their projects to fruition. We were talking about content strategy and blogging. I told them that one of the things I do is to sit down every quarter (or thereabouts) to plan my blog content and plan my weekly schedule up to six months in advance. I have to tell you, they were horrified! At first… But when I explained how this liberated me mentally, and that the plan gave me a sense of security, and allowed me to factor in downtime, it started to make sense to them.

Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that you plan each day to the last detail, only that you have set days for set tasks. But likewise it is important to plan when you are going to take downtime.

Of course when you start an enterprise, you can expect to be working longer hours as you get everything up and running, but if you don’t have a plan in place to take time off from your business, you may come unstuck further down the line as you get burnt out and exhausted. Not only that, but in order to be inspiring and creative, you need to feel inspired, and it’s hard to generate new ideas when you have nothing left to give. Holidays and downtime are vital to the lifeblood of our businesses, as they allow new ideas to bubble to the surface, and keep us in a creative mindset.

So how can you run a business and still take time off?

Now we have established the importance of taking time out, let’s look at the practicalities

Plan for downtime in your quiet times

If you know Christmas is a busy time for your business, then you will probably not be looking to take time off between September and December. But you could plan to take time off in January.

For my business, I know that January and September are really busy times for me, but August and December, not so much, so that means I nearly always take time off around May and in August as that works for the flow of my business.

Think carefully about this one. I have had some business owners who will swear that they are 100% busy literally all year, but when we have analyzed the figures, we have been able to find much quieter times and look at when would be good to take a break.

To check, or not to check, that is the question….

Let me share some more stats with you; research by the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that over 65% of employees check their emails while they are on holiday. This rises to over 80% for senior managers, so it’s not hard to imagine that for business owners that is nearer to 100%!

We are all so connected nowadays that it can be tempting to keep working through holidays and downtime, which may defeat the purpose, and make you unpopular with family and friends!

Again, you have to do what works for you. Some people need to switch off completely so do not want to check emails and notifications while they are away. For other people, they are happy to have a set day to respond to emails because they find that less stressful than coming home to a full in-tray.

And some people, like me, are somewhere in the middle. So for example during August, I did check my emails from time to time, and I let my clients know that with my handy out of office message:

Hi there,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m taking some much-needed downtime during August so I’ll only be checking my emails on Mondays, but I will ensure that I get back to you.

In the mean time find out why I was voted one of the Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers in the world and sign up to my blog here

You can also find me on Facebook:

And Twitter:

I also run a Twitter chat for Micro Business owners chat every Tuesday from 7-8pm. Go to: and use #MicroBiz_Hour to join the conversation

For further information on business coaching, please go to

This message also has the advantage of letting people know about all the other things I do, like my blog and twitter chat, as well as reassuring them that their message has been received, so win-win!

Remember the big vision

When I work with clients who have lost their purpose or are confused about which direction to take with their business I often ask them “What is your higher purpose?” It may sound corny, but remembering what motivated you to start your business in the first place really connects you to what you are trying to achieve.

You might say that you started your business as a vehicle to earn money, but still, you chose this way, this business, when you could have chosen another one, so what was behind your decision?

Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to serve the community you have identified as needing your help. Remembering why you chose this way to help them, reminds you that part of your responsibility to them is to take time out. 

“Sustainability” is a word I use a lot to remind business owners that they their business needs to be sustainable not only financially, but also physically and emotionally. If you become burnt out due to overwork, you cannot be there for your clients.

To explain what I mean, I like to use the story Stephen Covey tells in his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’. The story is about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt, but he still keeps cutting down trees. If he were to stop sawing, sharpen the blade and go back to his tree cutting with a sharper saw, he would save himself time and effort.

So remember that time out sharpens your saw when it stops being so effective. If you just keep going until you collapse that tree won’t get cut down any quicker and no one will thank you for it.


And finally…. If you need some help figuring out how to take time out get in touch here, and find out exactly how business coaching can benefit you and your business.

Small is beautiful - What makes a great micro business?

Small is beautiful - What makes a great micro business?

Are you a small business or a micro business? And why does it really matter? According to the Office of National Statistics and the EU, the definition of a micro business is one with 0-9 employees with a turnover of less than £2 million, so when we talk about small business, we are in fact mostly talking about micro businesses. Amazingly 76% of UK businesses fit in to this category and make the greatest contribution to the economy.

While this sounds great, the problem is that micro business currently has no voice and is often cut out of funding streams, training and support and tax breaks which are only available to small businesses (10-20 employees; turnover of up to £10 million) and larger enterprises so growing a sustainable micro business can be hard.

I’m on a mission to address these issues at policy level and have set up a weekly Twitter chat @MicroBiz_Hour every Tuesday 7-8pm to bring micro business owners together to talk about the changes that would make their lives easier, and to meet the influencers that could make that happen. (To join the conversation use #MicroBiz_Hour)

I also want to show the world how great small enterprises are, and why they are so important to the economy.

For me there are 3 things that make a micro business great:

  1. “Do One Thing Well” – micro businesses are brilliant at finding solutions to problems faced by a particular group and solving that problem by being an expert in what they do, rather than trying to be all things to all people.
  2. Building an authentic brand that tells customers how you solve that problem for them - a good effective brand builds an emotional connection with your customer that makes it easy for them to make informed decisions about what products and services work best for them. [Here's a blog I wrote about branding]
  3. People before profit – Good micro businesses always put customers, employees (if they have any) and collaborators first. Profit is important, but people should be at the heart of your business.

It’s simple, but these three qualities are a solid foundation on which to build your micro business, or any business!

To demonstrate what I mean I want to introduce you to micro business owner David Hunt of DCR Wheels. David runs a fantastic small enterprise that specialises in building bespoke bicycle wheels.

I knew I wanted to speak to David after a chat I had with my lovely friend Chloe.  Chloe is one of David’s wheel builders and was telling me how much she looks forward to going to work because everyone is so friendly and helpful, and how valued she feels. She said David had even invested in a coffee machine for the staff just because he thought it would make them happy!

This sounded like all the qualities of a great micro business so I went down to meet David and the team and find out more:

The DCR Wheels team

The DCR Wheels team

No. 1. “Do One Thing Well”

Marisa: So why “hand-built” wheels, for people that don’t know the difference.

David: Well, they are specific to the person’s needs in a way that shop-bought wheels may not be. Because we just hold the component parts of a wheel we can provide many different combinations, and we don’t need to hold a lot of stock.

M: So it’s a good business model then?

D: Yes definitely. We only need to stock the components that make up the different combinations.

M: I saw that you put a lifetime warranty on your wheels. That’s pretty amazing customer service. How does such a small business manage to do that?

D: Yes that’s for the build and the spokes. We can always service every wheel we have ever made because of the relationship we have with our suppliers and the quality of their components.

M: Fantastic. What I like about your company is that you are specialising in one part of the bike, so you are complete experts in just one thing.

D: Absolutely. Our major investment over the years has been the specialist tools and machines we have that are essential to building high quality bike wheels, and that’s it.

DCR Wheels logo

DCR Wheels logo


No. 2. Authentic branding

M: It’s obvious that people really like what you do. What is it about the brand that people connect with?

D: I think our brand is quite low-key and funnily enough the logo was designed by a company who liked us, so we did a skills exchange.

M: How brilliant! It’s a really effective logo.

D: Thanks. I like the fact that it’s quite playful. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and the branding really reflects that. But we’ve also been very much focused on service and knowledge being the cornerstone of the business rather than flashy branding. So for example we have our own branded products but we don’t plaster them with our logo so it’s quite understated and allows the products to speak for themselves.

M: And I think that is especially important because you are in such a heavily branded industry.

D: That’s right, and actually there is now quite a backlash against that.

M: Yes, I see quite a lot of style over substance in the cycling industry.

D: We don’t want people to be a walking advertisement for what we do. We would prefer that they like us because of the quality of work we do and the service we provide.

M: So I guess what you’re saying is that your brand is consistent with a quiet confidence about what you do.

D: I like to think so.


No. 3. Putting people first

M: So Dave the reason I am here is because of a conversation with Chloe about how valued she feels as part of the team at DCR. You have obviously created a really positive work environment. What do you think is the secret to creating a happy work force?

[At this point, while Dave was considering his answer, Chloe dropped in to the workshop and started telling me how she felt about her experience of working at DCR]

Chloe: I think it’s the little things that make a big difference. Because I like coffee it’s nice to know I can come to work and have a nice coffee – it’s a small thing, but it makes a difference to my working day.

Also Dave really understands that we all have our own lives, which he sees as a good thing, rather than a burden, unlike other places I have worked. As a working mum I’m not made to feel guilty if my son isn’t well and I have to leave early or something like that.

M: So David it seems your work is done as your workforce are speaking for you!

D: I guess the way I see it is that when I’ve worked elsewhere, what I earned varied, but my job satisfaction didn’t come from the money. I used to feel frustrated because I felt the employer could have done a lot more for my well-being which didn’t have a cost attached, and even if they had of doubled my salary, I wouldn’t have felt more job satisfaction.

As a small business I can’t afford to double someone’s salary, but for example I can ensure that Chloe has the flexibility to leave early if she needs to.

M: So your approach is based on mutual respect.

D: Absolutely. So if someone has a need we try and find a solution together. Listening is really important.

C: I was going to say that you do really listen. You know, the things we bring up might be quite simple and you will implement them quite quickly in a way that another company would let things linger on. It’s just done and it isn’t a problem.

M: And in fact David the cost to your business is less because you haven’t got a high turnover of staff.

D: Exactly. So for me where wellbeing is high, productivity is high as well. Also, I can’t have all the ideas. I need these guys to tell me if there is something we can improve on. So I feel like companies that ignore the observations of their staff are unlikely to do as well as they could for their workforce or indeed their customers.

M: Well, they clearly have a lot to learn from you. Thanks for your time David and Chloe.

So there you have it. Follow these 3 steps and you will be well on your way to becoming a great micro business.

If you would like some support with your business, micro, small or any size then book a 30 minute phone call here and find out how coaching and mentoring can help you and your business.

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coach Blog 2017

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coach Blog 2017


What is assertiveness and why does it matter to you and your business?

What is assertiveness and why does it matter to you and your business?

Inspiration for my blogs can come from anywhere. This time, inspiration came unexpectedly from my eight-year old daughter. We had been discussing a situation in the playground that had not gone so well for her and I said that it was really important to be assertive; to ask for what you want with respect for the other person and for yourself, or words to that effect; so when I casually asked my family what I should write my next blog about, my daughter instantly said “Why don’t you write about being assertive?” So here we are!

Assertiveness is the cornerstone of positive, healthy communication, where everyone gets to state their needs, have positive self-esteem, and have respect for themselves and for other people. So far so good. The problem is that for various reasons we don’t always find it that easy to ask for what we want and so may be defensive, passive-aggressive (more on this later) or just plain aggressive, paving the way for resentment and negative confrontation.

So in this blog we are going to:

  • Define what assertiveness means,

  • Explore why passive-aggressive behaviour holds us back from being assertive,

  • Look at ways to develop your own assertiveness and foster a culture of assertiveness at work


“I’m OK, You’re OK”

In order to define what assertiveness is, let’s first look at what it isn’t. Have you ever noticed how some people seem to find it easy to ask for things and state their needs in a way that nobody loses face? Whereas other people might get what they want, but in a way where they seem to be imposing their will on others? That is the difference between assertiveness and non-assertiveness.

Like Emotional Intelligence (see my previous blog here), assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behavior impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.

At the heart of assertiveness lies the theory of transactional analysis (TA), developed by Psychiatrist Eric Berne, and in particular the concept of “life positions”.  Berne’s philosophy of TA and life positions posits that all people are born “OK” and that in childhood people make decisions based about themselves based on how they are regarded and treated by significant others such a parents, family, teachers and so on. For many, they make a decision that they are “not OK” and therefore this becomes their “life position”, so they may unconsciously say, "I'm OK, You're not OK" (bullying behaviour) or "You're OK, I'm not OK" (victim, passive position) neither of which leads to assertiveness.

Fortunately, Berne believed that whatever our life position, given time and with the right support we might choose to make new decisions about our self-beliefs, and therefore our beliefs about others. We can choose to adopt an assertive life position where we can be our authentic assertive selves, and allow others to do the same.

Assertiveness is naturally tied up with self-esteem. When our self-esteem is low and we are being held back by negative thoughts about ourselves ("I'm no good at X", "I always mess things up", "I'm such a failure" etc) we can often slip in to treating others badly, reflecting our feelings about ourselves.

In Dr Nathaniel Branden's wonderful book "The Seven Pillars of Self-Esteem" he states that throughout life we attract people with a similar level of self-esteem to us because it makes us feel comfortable. And that's fine as long as we feel good about ourselves, but if we don't then it's easy to see what a slippery emotional slope this can be. When we develop our self-awareness and therefore our emotional intelligence, we are more likely to catch ourselves falling in to this self-esteem 'trap'. Dr Branden's solution to this is to ask yourself every day "Are my actions supporting or sabotaging my self-esteem? Am I treating myself and others with the care and respect they deserve?"

I am not suggesting it is easy to develop this approach to assertiveness and it won’t happen overnight, but I know from the work I have done with my clients, and my own journey with assertiveness that it is possible.

So let’s look at what else holds us back from being our authentic, assertive selves


Why passive-aggressive behavior kills assertiveness

Just like aggressive communication, passive-aggressive communication is apposite to assertiveness. When someone is passive-aggressive they avoid being directly aggressive and instead engage in indirect, or passive aggression. Typically people who operate from a passive-aggressive place may deliberately procrastinate, avoid certain people or situations that they do not like, say they are ok, when actually they are seething with anger. [Dr Scott Wetzler calls it “Sugar-coated hostility.”] They may also shutdown and refuse to discuss the issue at hand, making progress of any kind impossible.

At work this kind of behaviour may exhibit itself as not doing a task they have been charged with, putting something off until the very last minute, or completing it late in order to punish the person who asked them to do it.

If it is so negative and potentially destructive, then why is this kind of behavior so common?

Early life experiences: As Berne says, our upbringing has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves in relation to the world and others. For many people direct expressions of emotion were discouraged or not allowed. Therefore many people learn that it is too scary to express their real feelings openly so they find passive ways to process their anger and frustration instead.

Fear: Being assertive takes courage and is not always easy, so sometimes we all find it easier to deal with anger and frustration in covert ways, and this is fine. None of us will manage to be assertive all of the time.

Settings and situations: Even if you did grow up in a household where you could freely express emotion, you might have found that at school, and later at work, that this was frowned upon so you adapted your behavior accordingly depending on the situation and the setting. 

While I would love to see assertiveness adopted as the norm for how human beings treat each other, realistically it is unlikely to happen. However, there is much we can do to change our own behaviour to positively influence those around us, particularly at work.


So how do we develop a culture of assertiveness in ourselves and at work?

The fastest and most effective way of developing and maintaining an I’m OK: You’re OK life position is through giving, receiving, and asking for positive recognition. People who feel positive about themselves appreciate and value others; they are able to give and receive positive recognition. Positive recognition inspires and motivates people
— Assertiveness and Diversity by Anni Townend: Palgrave Macmillan 2007

It is easy to assume that if people think well of us and treat us accordingly then we will naturally feel good about ourselves. However, the truth is that, like any shift in consciousness, the change has to come from us. This is where self-esteem comes in. The reason Dr Branden’s book was so revelatory for me, is that it was the first time I had made the connection with treating myself well and having good self-esteem. For all this time I had been waiting to find people who treated me with respect when in actual fact I didn’t value myself, or feel comfortable with positive feedback and recognition.

It might sound simple, but I really hadn’t made that connection before, so I was always in a passive or victim position, rather than in an assertive, creative position.


3 steps to adopting an “I’m OK, You’re OK” life position

1. Develop emotional intelligence through self-awareness:

Always, always acknowledge people’s feelings, and don’t belittle or talk down to them. If they sound angry, then acknowledge their anger or frustration for what it is. Equally acknowledge your own feelings and emotions, and be aware of how they impact on others.

2. Accept praise and positive feedback

Here’s an exercise to try out the next time someone gives you some positive feedback or praises you for something; instead of dismissing it or diminishing it, just thank them and tell them you appreciate their feedback. If you already find this easy and like receiving praise then you are probably already using assertive communication in your life. But if you find it difficult to hear or are quick to say something like, “it was no big deal”, or “oh you don’t need to say that”, then just check in with yourself and see how it feels when you do something different. Simply say “thank you” and smile!

3. Listen to some negative feedback without taking it personally:

Equally, try and hear some difficult feedback and see how that feels. This of course might be much harder but as assertiveness is also wrapped up with emotional intelligence and taking responsibility for your actions, you also need to learn to hear negative feedback from a position of assertiveness.

Remember, people rarely criticize us for who we inherently are. They criticize us for how we acted and how our behavior affected them. Once you can listen to some feedback about how your behavior affected someone else, without taking it personally, then you are on the road to using assertive communication.

If you would like to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help you be more assertive, then book a 30-minute phone call here. Let’s talk!

[For further reading on the subject of assertiveness go to Anni Townend, Scott Wetzler, Eric Berne]

Motivation: How to find it and what to do if you lose it

Motivation: How to find it and what to do if you lose it

Marshaling emotions in the service of a goal is essential for paying attention, for self-motivation and mastery, and for creativity. Emotional self-control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness – underlies accomplishment of every sort
— Daniel Goleman

In the depths of winter when daylight is in short supply, and the weather is less than clement, I sometimes find it hard to keep going. I’m sure everybody has felt this at some point, when all you would rather do, or have the energy to do, is curl up on the sofa and watch TV, or sit in front of the fire with a good book. And there is nothing wrong with that. As humans we are deeply affected by our environment, so it is natural to have more energy and bounce when there is more daylight.

But it got me thinking about how we motivate ourselves when we have a big project to execute, or when we are working towards a long-term goal. What enables one person to stay very motivated, where another loses momentum and seems to run out of steam? And what does emotional intelligence have to do with motivation?

As a business coach, I spend a fair amount of time asking people what motivates them. In fact before the first session with a client I ask them to fill in a questionnaire that asks, “What motivates you and what are you passionate about?” Understanding someone’s motivation tells you a lot about who they are and what they fall back on when the going gets tough.

So we’re going to explore:

  • What motivation is

  • What motivates you

  • How developing your emotional intelligence can increase your motivation

  • And, what to do if you find yourself losing motivation


What is motivation?

Let’s start by defining what motivation really is. According to the dictionary motivation is defined as:

“A reason or reasons for acting in a particular way; desire or willingness to do something.”

 Motivation is what drives us to achieve our goals; the internal, or external factors that stimulate our desire to stay committed to a task or project in order to achieve a particular goal.

Daniel Goleman, father of Emotional Intelligence and best-selling author of several books on the subject, identified four elements that make up motivation:

  1. Personal drive to achieve, the desire to improve or meet certain standards;

  2. Commitment to personal or organizational goals;

  3. Initiative, defined as ‘readiness to act on opportunities’;

  4. Optimism, the ability to keep going and pursue goals in the face of setbacks.

 A lot of Goleman’s work on motivation is around leadership, how leaders motivate themselves and, crucially, inspire others to have a high level of self-motivation. In his research, Goleman found that the one trait that that all effective leaders had in common was a high level of motivation. They were able to consistently mobilise their positive emotions to drive them toward their goals. They were driven to achieve beyond their own and everyone else’s expectations.

Not only that, but it seemed that their positivity rubbed off on those around them. They were motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement, and those around them were inspired to do the same. It was the intrinsic, as opposed to extrinsic motivation, that enabled them to keep going. [I’ll come on to the two types of motivation in a minute…]

And achievement was not the only benefit of self-motivation; Goleman found that people who are self-motivated tend to be more organized, have better time management skills, and more confidence and self-esteem, which sounds pretty good! [For more information on self-esteem, read Nathaniel Branden’s wonderful book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”]

What motivates you?

Fundamental to self-motivation is what motivates you to do things, not your parents or siblings, or your partner, or your best friend, you.

Let’s go back to ‘instrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation. Simply put, they can be described as:

Intrinsic = Love, because we want to.

Extrinsic = Money, because we have to.

In other words:

Intrinsic motivation involves in engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward; like playing a sport because you enjoy it. Intrinsic motivators include having fun and being interested.

Extrinsic motivation means being motivated to perform a behaviour or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. The reward could be money, power, or good marks at school.

Most of us are motivated by different things at different times of our lives, and we may switch between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In fact the same task may have a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators at the same time.

Let’s take a simple example:

Holly works to pay off a big mortgage. She gets very little satisfaction from her job, and it is not going to lead to anything else, like a promotion. Holly’s motivators are purely extrinsic.

Samuel loves his job and gets a huge amount of job satisfaction and self-fulfillment. He could do something that earns him more money, but he is happy with his choices. Samuel’s motivators are purely intrinsic.

Holly and Samuel are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to motivation, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We have to work to earn money, but we value getting satisfaction and fulfillment from our jobs.

How to find out what motivates you

Take a moment to think about what is important to you right now in this moment, and whether your main motivators in life are extrinsic, or intrinsic.

Here are a few more suggestions to help you work out what is motivating you:


  • Think about what you are passionate about and work back from that – or another way of putting it is “What do you want your legacy to be?”
  • Seek out creative challenges – How do you express yourself creatively? How much of your work life is creative?
  • Keep learning and improving – look for ways to learn new things or enhance your skills
  • Surround yourself with enthusiastic people – their positivity will rub off on you and help you think about your own motivation
  • Let procrastination be your enemy! Putting off difficult tasks is a form of self-sabotage (See below) so if you are struggling with something difficult either break it down in to smaller, more manageable tasks, OR…..
  • ….ask for help/help others – knowing when you need help is a sign of high emotional intelligence, not (as we are sometimes told) a sign of weakness. Once you have asked, and received help, you will naturally want to help others and inspire then to find their own motivation, and the whole happy circle continues!

Emotional Intelligence and motivation

 So now we have explored what motivation is, let’s find out how it is linked to emotional intelligence. Having followed Daniel Goleman’s work for many years, it seems to me that motivation and emotional intelligence go hand in hand. Simply put, emotional intelligence is about recognizing and managing your emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. It is about being self-aware of your own emotional responses. This in turn leads to a greater understanding of other people’s emotions, and how to respond to them.

For me emotional intelligence is linked to self-responsibility as the healthiest, most dynamic relationships with one’s self and with others relies on being able to take responsibility for our own emotions.

So when you have a high level of self-awareness, it is easier to be honest with yourself about what really motivates you. As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, we can often take on someone else’s definition of what is important in life. I have worked with countless entrepreneurs who were unconsciously working to someone else’s definition of success (most commonly a parent, sibling, or partner) and so had no idea what was important to them. This made it hard for them to stay motivated as their heart literally wasn’t in it.

So before you commit to your project or start your business, get honest with yourself and ensure that this is your passion, your goal, not someone else’s

[For more on EI click here and here]


What to do if you find yourself losing motivation

 Once you have gotten clear about what is really important to you and how you are going to achieve your goals you will probably find it much easier to stay motivated, but if you do find yourself flagging, follow these 6 steps:

Take a break – It’s hard to be creative or learn something new when you are exhausted, so taking time out to replenish your energy levels is essential to staying motivated.

Check in with your goals – are they still real for you? It is fine for goals to change so don’t feel you have to stick rigidly to a goal just for the sake of it. As your emotional intelligence increases you will discover more quickly what is really important to you. So if a goal that was once important to you no longer is, then modify or change it, and move on, BUT……

……be aware of self-sabotage.  In my previous blog, ‘Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome” I wrote about the pitfalls of self-sabotage

We don’t often think of it this way, but success comes with responsibility. And sometimes the fear of achieving this success, what it might mean to others around us and therefore the responsibility that goes with success can be overwhelming, so people unconsciously choose the path of least resistance and side-step their goals, meaning that you never actually achieve that success, or step in to who you really want to be.
— "Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome" Marisa Guthrie

If your goals change, ensure it is because they don’t fit your big vision any more, not because you are afraid of achieving them. Let emotional intelligence will be your guide.

Get inspired by others – Inspiration and enthusiasm is infectious. Share your journey with others who inspire you and whose values fit with yours. They should be those people who are your biggest advocates, who have got your back every step of the way.  

Celebrate your achievements every step of the way – even the smallest ones before you move on to the next goal. Acknowledging and sharing your achievements with others is great for intrinsic motivation so don’t hold back!

Be your own best friend – we all have a tendency to be harsh self-critics, so remember to have some empathy for yourself and go at the pace that suits you. We all have different energy levels, so if do what works for you, not for someone else, you are more likely to achieve your goals.

And finally, if you do need some help getting and staying motivated then find out how business coaching can help and book a 30 minute phone call here.

Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome

Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever woken up in the morning and wondered if today was the day that you would be exposed as a fraud? That everyone would find out that you are not what you appear to be and the ‘real’ you would be exposed?

If you have, don’t worry you are in very good company:


"[I would] wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud," Kate Winslet.


‘I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Is this what I’m meant to be doing?”‘ Daniel Radcliffe


Liz Bingham, managing partner at accountants Ernst & Young, also remembers thinking to herself: "What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out."


 The novelist Maya Angelou admitted  "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'"

[Angelou was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and won five Grammys for her spoken recordings, plus a myriad other awards.]


The term “Imposter Syndrome” was first used back in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzannes Imes in their paper The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women. And while it seems to be something that mainly affects women, it is certainly not exclusive to women.

According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science by Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander 70% of people feel this way. Not only is that a huge percentage of the population but the authors go on to say that if Imposter Syndrome is prolonged without intervention it can lead to clinical levels of depression and anxiety.

So what exactly is going on here? Why do so many people feel like a fraud? And what can we do to limit the impact of Imposter Syndrome?

In the last hundred years, and especially the last couple of decades, the world has changed beyond any recognition of what it was before. Our lives and working landscapes have been utterly transformed by technology at a pace that shows no signs of slowing down.

Therefore no matter how skilled we are at our work, technology is growing so fast that most of us are learning something new on almost a daily basis. And that can make you feel like you don’t have the expertise you should.

Meanwhile, other people’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages make it seem like they’ve got it all together, or that they are more successful than you because they have more followers. But there’s a big chance that your perception isn’t in line with reality.

Individuals who experience Imposter Syndrome may be highly successful but unable to internalise their success, or as I describe it, unable to ‘own your achievements”. So sadly for impostors, success does not equal happiness.

As the old Hollywood saying goes, “You’re only as good as your last film” so instead of being able to enjoy their achievements, impostors nervously lurch from one high point to another, constantly looking for reassurance from others. When they don’t get that constant reassurance, which is impossible to maintain in any profession or walk of life, they fall in to despair, anxiety, guilt, shame, burnout and emotional exhaustion.

It is easy to see how all these factors contribute to make the perfect storm for Imposter Syndrome to develop and take over, leading to overwork and exhaustion in what Sakulku and Alexander describe as the Imposter Cycle.

The Imposter Cycle
Overworking is one observed and self-perceived pattern of the Impostor Cycle. Overworking becomes problematic when the amount of effort and energy invested in a task exceeds that for producing work of reasonable quality and interferes with other priorities. Even though individuals with impostor fears recognise this overworking pattern, they often find it difficult to break this cycle. Clance (1985) observed that Impostors often have strong beliefs that they will become a failure if they do not follow the same working style.
— The Impostor Phenomenon Jaruwan Sakulku , James Alexander
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

We’ve all met that Uber-confident type of person, the “Don Draper” types who seem to have it all together and do not appear to be fazed by anything. But appearances can de deceiving. These might be people who are just as qualified or experienced as us, but are more adept at selling themselves – ‘walking the walk and talking the talk’.

It’s true that some people are more impervious to outside perceptions or criticism, but scratch the surface and you’ll probably discover that even the most confident of individuals are not bulletproof and experience self-doubt and a lack of confidence at least sometimes. [By the way, watch Mad Men, if you haven’t already. It’s a real lesson in how not to do business!]

The Imposter Syndrome and self-sabotage.

The most terrible obstacles are such as nobody can see except oneself.
— George Eliot

So what can we do to tackle Imposter Syndrome before it takes hold and we get stuck in a cycle of overwork and anxiety?

One of the ways in which you can limit the impact of imposter syndrome is by ensuring that you are setting achievable goals for yourself and your business. Now I’m all for getting people to challenge themselves and getting them of their comfort zones, but coaching is about setting realistic goals and going at a pace that works for you. It is not about setting such huge, unachievable goals that you never reach them and so the carrot of ‘success’ is always just out of reach (More about success later).

If you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you will not be surprised when you don’t achieve them and this in turn will add to your underlying fear of being an imposter. This is otherwise known as self-sabotage, or setting yourself up to fail.

Let me tell you a story to explain what I mean.

I recently met with a coaching colleague who told me about a client of theirs who was a published author. Although the client had had some success, he never quite felt as if he were really writing to his true potential, and felt very dissatisfied with his work. Now to the outside world he probably seemed quite successful and accomplished, but inside he knew he was capable of being more creative, and being the writer he really wanted to be.

After a couple of sessions and exploring this issue further, the coachee realised that he was unconsciously playing out a familiar scenario as his mother had been a journalist, but had never worked with the newspapers she really wanted to, and had ended up being very frustrated and unfulfilled.

He had unconsciously created a scenario where his lack of success enabled him to identify and stay close to his mother, even though it made him unhappy. He had chosen to stay stuck in his frustration, rather than take responsibility for being the creative writer he knew he really could be.

We don’t often think of it this way, but success comes with responsibility. And sometimes the fear of achieving this success, what it might mean to others around us and therefore the responsibility that goes with success can be overwhelming, so people unconsciously choose the path of least resistance and side-step their goals, meaning that you never actually achieve that success, or step in to who you really want to be.

What is ‘success’? And is success just down to luck?

I always ask new clients how they define success. This is partly to help establish the goals they want to achieve, but it is mostly because I want to ensure that person is bringing their authentic self to their business. What do I mean by ‘authentic’? From childhood onwards, our notion of what it means to be successful is driven by many factors; parents and family, how society defines success, peers, teachers and so on.

What our parents did, (or crucially were not able to do in their lives), often sets the tone for our own notions of what it means to be successful, which is then reinforced throughout life by society and so on. So, just like in the story above, sometimes when people try and define success for themselves, they are so mired in their family’s/society’s version of success, that they haven’t even realised who they are and what is important to them.

Society has a lot to answer for when it comes to universally agreed ideas of success because it is such a narrow definition; earn a lot of money; buy a big expensive house and a fancy car; find the man/woman of your dreams; have a family; retire at 45 etc.

In fact increasingly, the people I see in my coaching practice are mostly aiming to simplify their lives and the phrase I hear almost on a daily basis is to ‘get back a work/life balance’. Yes they want to be comfortable and have a business that is financially sustainable, but they also want to spend time with partners or family, and be able to take a nice holiday once in a while.

So be sure that you get some clarity about what success means to you. It may take some time, but once you know what success means to you, you are much more likely to achieve it and be able to bring that sense of authenticity to everything you do.

The more intense your sense of Imposter Syndrome is, the more likely you are to attribute your success to luck, rather than your own merit. Certainly in my coaching work I have witnessed many people who never take credit for what they have achieved and always attribute their success to external rather than internal factors.

This compounds their sense of certainty that they are a fraud, and often drives them to overworking.

So how can you break the negative cycle of Imposter Syndrome?

Self-awareness and acceptance is key. Once you fully accept that you sometimes feel like a fraud, and feel out of your depth, you are well on your way to breaking patterns of thought that might be holding you back.

Six ways to deal with imposter Syndrome so you can be your authentic self and get back to enjoying what you do.


1.     Share experiences with others. If 70% of the population have experienced Imposter Syndrome then you are bound to know someone who feels like you. Finding soul mates and allies, discovering that you’re not alone can be very reassuring.

2.     Celebrate your achievements and who you are. Equally, learn to take praise and internalise it – don’t discount it. If someone praises your work, just smile and say “thank you”!

3.     And it should be remembered that everyone’s entitled to make mistakes from time to time – so instead of beating yourself up, decide to learn from them and move on.

4.     The same goes for failure. If you don’t fail then you cannot learn.

5.     Learn to take criticism seriously, not personally.

6.     And finally let go of perfectionism! If you attempt perfection you are going to fall short, which in turn leads to self-sabotage. Remember, Being ‘good enough’ is good enough!

And finally if you feel like you need more support in breaking the pattern of Imposter Syndrome then find out more about how business coaching can help. Click here to book a phone call.

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What can horses teach us about leadership?

What can horses teach us about leadership?

[I would like to dedicate this blog to Anni Townend with whose help I learned to be my best self and to Horace and Purdy, my four legged teachers.]

It’s funny how two seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives can sometimes converge in the most unexpected of ways. I have been a business leader in one way or another for the best part of twenty years, either running businesses for other people or for myself.

I have also been fascinated by horses since I can remember, but have only been able to explore this passion in recent years. I am now seeing how these two separate but related parts of my life are finally coming together.

I talk to business owners and CEOs about leadership all the time; what kinds of leaders they want to be, who their leadership role models are, how they can increase their self-awareness and therefore emotional intelligence. And time and again I find my thoughts drifting back to horses.

Let me explain.


Why horses?

As many people know, horses are incredibly intuitive animals. As a predated animal horses are typified as a ‘flight’ as opposed to a ‘fight’ animal. They do have a fight reflex which is why they will bite, kick or buck, but this really only happens once they have explored all their other ‘flight’ options, in other words, when they feel they have no other recourse. It will also happen if they have been badly treated.

The reason why their relationship with humans is so intriguing and so special is because to a horse, we are the ultimate predator. Lions kill horses by leaping on to their backs, so when we put a saddle on a horse and ride it we are tapping in to a very primal sensation for them. The horse has to put his/her total trust in us.

Their flight response also means that they are highly attuned to small physical and emotional cues from humans. If we are scared, sad, anxious they will know, often before we do.

This is why horses are used increasingly in leadership coaching and for team building. If you try to lead a horse from a place of fear or anger, it simply will not follow you. In order for the horse you trust you, you have to be calm and assertive.

Someone who does a lot of work with horses in this way said:

"Horses don’t care who you are, what your title is, how much money you make. They give you honest feedback"

Just like the shift that took place in the business community several years ago, the equestrian community is shifting from fear-based leadership (as in “breaking” a horse) to respect-based leadership. This is because horses react the same as humans do to intimidating leaders, which is to detach and disengage.

In order to lead a horse, you have to listen to the horse: be consistent and clear, and mean it. If you do not provide the leadership, the horse will, and it is likely to resent you for it.


So what can horses teach us about how to be better leaders?

Even if you run a business where you work on your own, you are a leader of your own business and you set the tone for how people interact with your business.

Many people I have worked with don’t set out to be a leader, but somehow end up in a leadership position by default. This can happen when you need a team of people to help you realize your vision but you have no idea how to manage them.

So whether you are leading your business as a sole trader, or whether you have a big team of people to manage, identifying what kind of leader you are or want to be can be really helpful.


Introvert Vs. Extrovert

Spending time with horses, and particularly observing herd behavior, has brought me to the natural horsemanship approach championed by Pat Parelli among others, known as the ‘horse whisperers’. The Parelli approach looks at horse ‘types’, and just like us, horses have a predisposition to be either more introvert or extrovert, or a right brain or left brain dominant type; so more emotionally driven, or more linear in their approach to the world and the problems it presents.

Here is a recent interview with another one of my horse whispering heroes, Buck Brannaman:


Knowing how we function, or what makes us tick, helps increase our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and when that increases not only are we more aware of our own responses, but we are more highly attuned to the people around us and this helps us to be better leaders, as well as team players.

So I would like to share with you what horses have taught me about leadership, and how you can use these ideas when thinking about how you lead your business.


1. Trust

You don’t need me to tell you that the best relationships in life are built on trust. In both our personal and professional lives, we cannot grow positive relationships without mutual trust.

When we are in a relationship with someone we trust then we are able to be ourselves, which in turn engenders personal growth. So just like a lack of trust causes us to shut down and turn in on ourselves, a trusting relationship allows us to expand who are and feel safe and supported. We can build self-confidence and self-esteem from a place of trust and we can help others to do the same.

So ask yourself; do I trust the people I work with? Can they trust me?  How am I a trustworthy colleague/partner? How do I demonstrate trust to my clients? How do they trust my business?


2. Partnership

How are you in partnership with your colleagues? I have worked with many business partnerships that on the surface seemed to be working together but were actually working on their own. The left hand literally didn’t know what the right one was doing. They were not attuned to each other or their teams, leading to disengagement and resentment building up on both sides.

Not only does this often mean wasting huge amounts of resources over issues related to miscommunication, but in some cases I have seen perfectly good businesses folding due to an inability to be in partnership with others.

So think about how you partner with others in your business. You might not have a business partner or employees, but think about how you work along side others, not just your clients, but people in your general network, the people that help you move forward in your business. They might be your web designer, bookkeeper, a supplier, anyone that is somehow invested in your business. Is your communication with each other based on assertiveness? Is there room for feedback? How can you deepen your partnership?


3. Be assertive

You are the only person that knows what is right for you so knowing your boundaries is the first step to being assertive in your communication with others. Assertiveness is a big topic but essentially it is about being able to state your boundaries in a calm but firm way. Assertiveness is often misunderstood as aggression but it is in fact the antithesis of aggression.

If you are on the receiving end of someone being aggressive it is likely to make you feel defensive, as though you are being attacked, but truly assertive behaviour can never be misinterpreted. Assertiveness is stating your needs quietly but confidently. Like trust, assertiveness on both sides of a relationship makes for the best, most effective kind of communication.

So aim to be assertive in your communication and ensure that others know that you expect the same from them. Take responsibility for your actions and the way you communicate and others will follow your lead.

[For more on assertiveness, and Transactional Analysis click here]


And finally, stay positive and always end on a good note!

When Pat Parelli or Buck Brannaman are working with horses that has issues around trust, they always makes a point to keep on working until they have seen a positive change, regardless of how small.

Staying positive in your communication and acknowledging that sometimes we agree to disagree is a good place to end when there has been conflict. When you respect another person’s viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it, it leaves the door open for further thinking and discussion. It’s another way of saying, “I might not agree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.”

Being a leader in your business takes time and commitment but the rewards are huge. If you can stay positive and assertive in your communication, you will build trust in your team/colleagues and create strong and lasting partnerships.

Let me leave you with a quote from Pat Parelli:

“If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong.”

If you want to find out more about leadership in your business, contact me for a 30 minute phone chat here

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Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

What ‘coaching’ really means and why it’s a better way to do business.

What ‘coaching’ really means and why it’s a better way to do business.

I get asked all the time what coaching actually means, and whether it can truly help people in business. Because coaching has become such a corporate buzzword, it is in danger of being misrepresented and dismissed.

So I’m going to take this opportunity to dispel those myths and describe what coaching really is, where it comes from and what self-coaching techniques you can use in your day-to-day life as a business owner.

The definition of coaching

According to the Collins English Dictionary, ‘coaching’ can be defined in three ways:

1Sport - the act of training a person or team of people in a particular sport

2. The act of training staff in business or office practice

3. The act of giving a person special teaching in a particular subject, esp in order to prepare him or her for an examination

Whilst this definition is helpful, it is only partially accurate. From early forms of transportation, i.e. stagecoach, or rail coach, the literal definition of ‘coaching’ is to move someone from one place to another.  Simply put, coaching is about creating movement or change. What a good coaching relationship should provide is the space for helping someone see opportunities for improvement.

Let’s delve a bit deeper (like all good coaching does!) and look at coaching’s origins.


The roots of coaching

As the Collins definition suggests, coaching has its roots in sport. In 1972, Harvard educationalist and tennis expert Tim Gallwey published his groundbreaking book The Inner Game of Tennis.

Rather than focusing players exclusively on technical ability Gallwey used the word ‘inner’ to indicate that the player’s internal state, was as important as what was happening on the court.

He asserted that if the coach were able to help a player remove or reduce internal obstacles to their performance, their natural game would flow without much technical input from the coach. He said:


 "The opponent within one’s own head is more formidable that the one on the other side of the net."

What Gallwey’s book did was to identify the essence of coaching; to unlock a person’s potential to maximize their own performance; helping them to learn, rather than teaching them.

Check out this little animated video of Tim's book.

The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

Up to this point sport and business had been much more authoritarian, but Tim Gallwey was the first to shift the emphasis to a learning model, rather than a teaching one; listening rather than telling. His approach suggested that we are not just empty vessels waiting to be filled, but are more like an acorn that already contains everything it needs to be a beautiful oak tree. We need nurturing and encouragement and to know where the light is, but the ‘oaktreeness’ is already within us.

At this stage you might be asking, “Okay Marisa, so this is all very interesting, but what does it mean for my business?”


Why coaching for business?

I don’t know about you, but when business/life throws me a curveball I can quickly lose confidence and become overwhelmed, not sure of what to do next. Looking at Gallwey’s concepts of coaching, it’s not hard to see how they can be applied to your business.

There will always be external barriers to achieving what we want to achieve in our businesses, factors beyond our control, but it is our internal barriers or ideas of self that determine how we deal with our business challenges.

Let me put it another way; it isn’t what happens to us, it’s how we deal with it. Coaching is about raising our self-awareness and taking responsibility. There is no mystique around coaching. It is not difficult to learn, but it requires practice, discipline and a willingness to learn and change.


The GROW technique and self-coaching

Having been in and around coaching for a long time, what I have come to realize is that coaching is not just something you do; it is an attitude to life, a mental flexibility that comes with a lot of practice. Part of my role as a coach is to help people develop their own mental agility when they are faced with problems so that rather than resorting to old patterns and ways of thinking, that they can develop a new attitude to problem-solving. Become their own coaches, if you like.

One of my coaching heroes, John Whitmore, developed the GROW technique.  It is a coaching standard and one I use all the time to get to the root of an issue. GROW stands for:

G – Goal – Set goals for the short and long-term

R – Reality – Check reality and really explore the current situation

O – Options – What are the options and alternative strategies or courses of action?

W – What is do be done, When, by Whom and the Will to do it.

Whilst it helpful to work through these questions with a coach, it is perfectly possible to use them on your own or with colleagues if you have a particularly knotty issue that needs attention.

Self-coaching is wonderful for developing new ideas, increasing your confidence and self-awareness.


Here are my top 6 self-coaching tips that you can apply to your business or in any situation:

1. If you need answers, ask positive, open-ended questions – Asking the right kinds of questions forces your brain to make new connections so ask questions like: If I had nothing to lose, what would I do right now to solve this issue? What one thing could I do to get me started in the direction of the solution? How can I look at this problem another way?

2. Be open to new ideas – We can all be guilty of resisting the new. We become comfortable in old patterns of thinking and behavior, even if they don’t serve us any more. Be willing to embrace new ideas and new ways of thinking.

3. Start with one step – “Even the journey of 1000 miles start with a single step.” By their very nature entrepreneurs are ideas people who are probably used to having lots of projects on the go at any one time, but if you want to achieve something big, you have to break it down in to small tasks. Or another way to put it is start with end in mind. From here you can work backwards and figure out what you need to do in what order.

4. Take responsibility – With compassion for yourself ensure you are taking responsibility for your actions and are neither in victim nor perpetrator mode. From this position it is much easier to make decisions and take action.

5. Write it down – Intention is a powerful thing. If there is something you really want to achieve then get it down on paper; write it, type it, or draw it, but get it down. Committing to paper gets the creative juices flowing leading to new ideas and solutions.

6. Celebrate! – In the same way that you wouldn’t attribute your success to fate or someone else, don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements. Owning and celebrating what you have achieved builds self-esteem and confidence. Rushing from one project to another without stopping to acknowledge what you have achieved robs you of the opportunity to delight in your own success and fulfillment. So take time to feel proud.

To sum up I’ll leave you with a quote from John Whitmore's book "Coaching for performance":

“Self-esteem is not met by prestige and privilege…..It is built when someone is seen to be worthy of making choices, in other words by genuine empowerment and by having the opportunity to express potential. This is the very stuff of coaching.”

Happy coaching!

If after all that self-coaching you are still feeling like you would like some more help book a 30 minute phone chat here

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

"Do one thing well" Part 2

"Do one thing well" Part 2

My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest……there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.
— David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

In the second part of my blog “Do one thing well”, I thought I would pull out all the stops and start with a quote from one of my favorite authors Charles Dickens.

I wanted to share it because it encapsulates one of the main issues I work with in my coaching practice; that is, doing too many things and having too many projects, and/or, what I touched upon in Part One of this blog, trying to be all things to all people.

Regular readers of my blog may already know that I started my consulting career working with budding social enterprises. They were incredibly passionate about how their business idea could tackle some kind of social issue, but sometimes their enthusiasm and passion got in the way of how to ensure their venture was financially viable.

In other words, they were clear about how they could address a problem in society, but they hadn’t found a way of making their core business sustainable so it wasn’t able to support the social enterprise arm of their venture.

I see many businesses moving on to new projects and new strands of their business before they have really consolidated their core business and so are not working from a sustainable base.

Not only does this not make for great business strategy, but it’s also a one-way ticket to burnout, which again is not sustainable for the business owner, or for their clients.

Why is this so common in businesses? And what can we do about it?

Creativity and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Highly creative individuals tend to have high energy levels and are used to, and moreover enjoy, getting out of their comfort zone in some way. They are often brimming with ideas, and don’t have enough the hours in the day to execute them. So far these all sound like excellent emotional traits to have for business owners.

However, the problem is that being an entrepreneur and running your own business, also requires huge amounts of self-discipline and self-reflection (Interestingly, one of the main tenets of Emotional Intelligence.) and this can be an issue for people who might also have a low boredom threshold, and the apparent inability to say no. Is this sounding at all familiar?

Saying ‘no’ is a tough one. As all self-employed people know, income can be erratic, so the desire to take on every piece of work you are offered, can be tempting, but without looking at the bigger picture, or having the infrastructure and systems to support the work that is coming in, it can often be detrimental to the business.

So how do we move our businesses forward in a sustainable way?

Take these three steps:

  1. Strategize

  2. Consolidate

  3. Deliver and review

Step one: Strategize

Business owners often come to see me at a point where their business is ready to grow, but they don’t have a strategy in place to support that growth so they end up firefighting. If you have been in this position, you will know how exhausting firefighting is, not to mention boring as it takes you away from creativity and the things you are good at.

Having a strategy that allows you to see the bigger picture is the way to avoid getting in to the firefighting cycle. Your strategy underpins all the decisions that you need to make on a day-to-day basis for your business and therefore takes the anxiety out of taking your business to the next level.

Strategies are the steps you take in manifesting the vision you have for your business. Like any plan your strategy needs to be flexible and change according to the needs of your business, so when you business changes, make sure you re-assess your strategy.

Once you have a clear strategy for your business and are clear about your main objectives, you can start to…….

Step two: Consolidate

Before you start to diversify and develop new projects, you need to ensure that you are working from a firm foundation. This means establishing what your main business is and communicating that clearly to clients and prospects. You also need to ensure that you are delivering your product/service to the highest standard, and have feedback mechanisms in place with your clients in order to continually improve their buying experience.

Let’s break this down in to three simple elements:

1. Clarity – Are you clients and customers really clear about what you offer and how you differ from your competitors? Have a look at Part One of this blog here and think about whether you are communicating your USP in a clear, succinct way, speaking to customer about the problem they have and how your business solves it.

2. Systems – Before you start thinking about new projects, be really sure that you have all the appropriate systems in place to deal with your current business and workload. One of the ways small businesses in particular come unstuck is in launching before they are ready, or growing really quickly and not having the infrastructure to support that growth.

This can then have a disastrous affect on customer experience, stock control, cash flow, and ultimately whether the business will survive and thrive long term.

A simple way of monitoring your current systems is to put yourself in your client’s shoes from the moment they are starting to look at your product, all the way through to the final transaction and ask yourself at every step if all the systems are in place to support that process.

If they aren’t, and you are struggling to manage all of those elements on your own, you might need to……

3. Delegate – Right now I want you to make a list of everything that needs to be done in order to run your business. Once you have written it, look at each task and see how much time it takes each week/month, and whether you need to be doing it, or whether it could be delegated to someone else with the appropriate skill set.

If you think it can be delegated, then work out how much this would cost. I meet many business owners (and I have been guilty of this myself in the past) that spend more time than they need on certain elements of running their businesses. Bookkeeping and credit control are the classic examples.

It is really important, and indeed a legal requirement of running your business, that you keep good financial records, but unless you are already a bookkeeper or accountant, or really like working with figures, are you making the best use of your time doing your own books and VAT returns? Likewise, if you are spending a lot of time chasing debtors (people who owe you money), is this really an efficient way of running your business?

You may be surprised how little it costs you to hire a good bookkeeper each month, giving you the time to focus on other elements of your business that only you can do.

Or alternatively look at whether there is an app out there that you save you time.

And lastly…..

Step three: Deliver and review

Now you have systems in place and are working to a clear strategy, you can concentrate on the fun stuff delivering your product/service. Let the strategy run for a couple of months and take the time to review it and see if it is still working for you, your business and your customers.

Because you understand your business better, and have the overview of how all the different elements of your business fit together, you are clear about what you need to do each day. You have confidence in your business and brand because you are focusing on doing ‘one thing well’.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by choices and lost sight of the bigger picture, find out how business coaching can help you. Book a 30 minute phone chat here

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“Do one thing well” Part 1

“Do one thing well” Part 1

I love it when I find companies whose philosophy of business resonates with my own. Recently I happened upon Hiut Denim, whose strap line “Do one thing well” completely gels with my own approach to business, and ever since I found them I can’t stop name checking them to everyone I meet.

You could say they have inspired this blog.

Why? One look at the Hiut web site and you can see that they are a textbook example of what a gorgeous brand looks like. They tick all the boxes; beautiful bespoke images, minimal but relevant copy, good functionality, simple logo, I could go on….

Hiut Denim Home Page

Hiut Denim Home Page

But the other thing that strikes me is that I immediately understand what they do and what they stand for (read, what their USP is). They make good quality, ethical jeans. That’s it. Nothing else. No gimmicks, no extras, just simple great quality products.

This got me thinking what it means to small business owners to “Do one thing well.” So I decided to tackle this knotty issue in two parts; in this blog, we will be looking at identifying your unique selling point (USP); Part 2 will explore how to stay focused on the big picture and therefore strengthen your core business before moving on to new projects.

“I/We” Vs “You”

I recently gave a bite-sized presentation to local businesses about finding your USP. When I was talking to people afterwards, what struck me was their confusion about what their USP is, how to identify it and communicate it to their customers.

I noticed that businesses tend to get stuck right from the first word when you ask them what they identify their USP to be. They start by saying:

“I am passionate about…”,

“We are the leading service provider for…..”,

“I can help with…..”,

“I am a fully qualified/accredited….”

In other words, they start off by saying what they offer and why they are so great at what they do, an “I/We” statement. And I’m sure they are great at what they do, but in truth the client doesn’t care how passionate they are, or whether they have the greatest market share, or even whether they are fully accredited.

The customer/client has a problem, and they want to know how this business can solve it for them. That’s it.

If you think this sounds a little over simplistic, take a moment now to ask yourself what problem you really help your customers to solve.

“What’s in it for me?”

Let’s take some examples from businesses I know; in healthcare, practitioners and therapists are forever telling people about where they trained and what conditions they can help with, but in reality what they are selling is comfort, the ability to help someone change, to be free of pain, in the mind or body. Yes clients will want to know that their therapist is qualified and has some experience in the issue they are struggling with, but the first thing they want to know is how that particular intervention is going to help them.

How about a coffee shop? On the surface, you just want great tasting coffee, and good service without breaking the bank. But what a good coffee shop really does is to create community; community through a shared love of good coffee, but also somewhere to feel part of something; a meeting place where you can relax and feel taken care of, even for ten minutes.

Or we could use architecture as an example; if you look at most architect’s web sites, the first thing you will see is a photo gallery of their portfolio, which is perfectly reasonable, but when you go to the ‘about’ page instead of a mission statement, outlining their approach to design and how they can help their clients execute their vision for their home/business, there is often a long list of achievements and qualifications.

As with the therapists, this is important. You definitely want to know that your architect is qualified! But it doesn’t help you decide how to choose one architect over another, why one architect is different from another, and what their values are.

I could go on, as there are so many kinds of small businesses, but the principle is the same. When thinking about your USP think first about whom you are pitching to, what current problem they have and how your business is going to solve it.

By all means be clear about who you are and what you bring to your business, but this is secondary. First, it’s important to listen to your clients when they say “what’s in it for me?”

[Top tip: Keep it free of jargon. If a client doesn’t understand the words/phrases you are using because they are too technical, they will immediately switch off.]

Watch this video about leadership, and why we choose certain companies over others:


How about Hiut Denim? They are on a mission to make good quality ethical jeans for people that care about where their clothes come from and support UK businesses.  From their web site:

“Our town is going to make jeans again - Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades.
Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world what they could do.
That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.
As one of the Grand Masters said to me when I was interviewing: “This is what I know how to do. This is what I do best.” I just sat there thinking I have to make this work.
So yes, our town is going to make jeans again.
Here goes. “


Three steps to identifying your USP

Identifying your USP is not that hard when you begin to focus on your client’s needs. The problem is when you attempt to be known for everything, you don’t become known for anything, so keep it simple and focus on doing one thing well in three easy steps:

1.     Put yourself in your client’s shoes – You will already have many assumptions about why your customers buy from you. In order to really understand your USP you need to challenge those assumptions. Keep asking yourself – “what problem does my business solve, and how?”

2.     Ask your customers why they buy from you – What do they identify with about your business? This is less about the traditional customer demographics and more about understanding the emotional connection people are making with your business – what values do you have in common with each other that they identify with? 

3.     Uncover the real reason customers buy your product as oppose to a competitors – again, focus on your values and how that sets you apart from other people in your field – what is your particular focus and why?

In order to have a unique selling proposition, you can’t attempt to be known for everything. You have to make a stand for something.

So what will your business will stand for? Part 2 to follow.....

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If you would like help building confidence in your brand and identifying your USP find out how coaching book a 30 minute phone call here

How do you keep moving forward when things look uncertain?

How do you keep moving forward when things look uncertain?

However you are feeling about the world at the moment, there is no question that we are in a time of huge change, socially, politically, and for our businesses, potentially, financially. There is a lot of rhetoric, positive and negative in the media about the impact that Brexit is going to have on business in the UK. With so many conflicting opinions, it is hard to know what it will really mean for business and the economy.

The truth is, we never know what is around the corner, but it is all question of perception, of how stable we feel things are, not necessarily the reality.  [Watch this TED talk about our perception of safety and the reality]

This kind of thinking ultimately takes us in to the future – a good thing for planning ahead, but not so good for our anxiety levels!

It would be easy to take a passive position and just wait and see, but instead I want to look at proactive, practical things you can do for your business if you are unsure how to move forward, for any reason; tools that you can use at any time of uncertainty (either because of external or internal factors) that will have a positive impact on your business and also keep you focused on why you do what you do.


Go back to the beginning

As intelligent human beings, business owners like to overcomplicate things. Our thought processes work at such lightening speed that we can often get bogged down in the details and lose sight of what inspired us to start a business in the first place. 

Many clients come to see me because their reasons for starting a business have gotten lost in the day-to-day practicalities. It has been buried under all that essential admin that accompanies the running of any small business. Or they have ideas for several different projects and are finding it hard to stay focused on one.

In order to simplify things, you need to reconnect with your higher purpose. That might sound a bit deep, but all it means is answering the question: “Why do you do what you do?” Of course we all need to earn money, but why have you chosen this particular way to do it?

Another question I ask all new clients is “what would you like your legacy to be?” Most of the big questions people have about strategy, marketing, branding, how to get new clients and so on can be distilled down in to the answers to these questions so keep asking them and writing down the answers.

This leads me on to the next tool.


Update your profile

 One of the things that excites me about working with small business owners and why I love the coaching process, is that we are all changing as individuals all the time. And of course this means that our businesses are changing all the time as well.

Your higher purpose may stay the same, (and it is important to clearly communicate what that is) but the way you choose to express it will change. Your job as a business owner is to communicate how you are changing to your customers.

You might have decided that you want to reach a different audience, or you may have added services/products to your existing ones, or you might have done a training course which has brought a different emphasis to your work; whatever the change may be, you need to let people know by updating your business profile on whatever platforms you engage with – your web site, LinkedIn, Facebook etc.

LinkedIn for business

LinkedIn for business

Keeping your profile up to date is an essential part of strengthening your brand because it ensures consistency throughout all your communications with customers.  It also shows customers that you are a professional who is attentive to detail.

And, apart from a little bit of time, it doesn’t cost you anything, and may deliver surprising results. It may also help you answer the question……


“Who do I want to work with?”

Spending some time getting to know your customers (otherwise known as market research….) is never a waste of time and you can never do too much of it. Market research informs and underpins everything you do. Obviously big businesses can, and do, devote huge resources to doing extensive market research, but you don’t need to do that in order to find out what you need to know.

Here is a super quick guide to market research:

  1. Primary research – that is research you do yourself – talking to customers, surveys, interviews, researching your competition
  2. Secondary research – existing research that has come from secondary sources – trade associations, government information – The Office of National Statistics, local council web sites and so on.
  3. Survey toolsSurvey monkey, Google consumer surveys

If you are uncertain about how to move forward with your business, conducting even a little bit of market research is a really good way to spend your time and is always a good investment for your business. Getting to know existing and potential customers better, and finding out more about what the competition is up to is ultimately going to give you valuable insights in to your own business, and that can only be a win-win!

It will also help you decide how you should invest in your business, which brings me to the next section.


How should you prioritise spending money?

This is a tough question to answer, particularly in uncertain times but let’s try.

A lot of small business owners say they would prefer to hang on to their cash if they are feeling unsure of what is around the corner, that they don’t want to tie up their cash if things go quiet. On the one hand, this is probably quite sensible, but the down side is that it may mean that you miss certain opportunities that would have enabled you to move your business forward.  

By all means, be careful and ensure sure you have good systems in place (see the next section!) for monitoring cash flow, and income and expenditure. But it is also important to remember that you need to be continually investing in your business in order to develop it, so it stays fresh and does not stagnate.

Let’s look at it another way; A good coaching tool for making any decisions is to start with this simple question; does this decision expand or diminish me? Or in business terms, does this decision expand or diminish my business?

What you need to think about is whether your potential investment is something you would be able to sell on, if it is a piece of equipment or materials, or if you are deciding to do a particular kind of training, if the skills you are learning are transferable to another industry if things don’t work out?

Whatever investment you make, keep it manageable, but don’t keep things so small it that compromises your vision for your business. Of course there is a risk that things won’t go as planned, but there is always a risk in running a business. 

And if you are so befuddled by the finances of running your business, then it might be time to……


….review your systems

Systems are the things you need in place to ensure that every aspect of your business is being properly monitored; finance and cash flow, invoicing, stocktaking, web traffic and SEO, marketing, HR, payroll etc. The list is endless and different for every business, depending on what kind of business you run and whether you produce products, or provide a service, or both.

So, first of all, do you have any systems?! If you feel like you are snowed under by admin all the time, and feel like you a reinventing the wheel every time you finish a project and need to invoice a client, or every time you go to place a stock order, then you probably could do with some good systems in place.

The other benefit of reviewing your systems is to look at what you can delegate to another professional. I’ll give you an example from my working life.

For several years I have been doing the bookkeeping for one of my businesses. Now I’m a decent bookkeeper, but its not my strong point and as I have been trying to develop this particular business, using skills I have accumulated over many years, I asked myself whether doing the books was really the best use of my time.

It turns out it really wasn’t. So I delegated this to a professional bookkeeper, someone who is really much better at it than me, freeing me up to do the stuff I’m good at and have been trained to do. Yes there is a cost attached to that, but because it was taking me so much longer than it takes someone who is actually qualified, and has all the proper software (rather than several Excel spreadsheets!), it was a false economy because it was taking my attention from what I needed to do to upscale the business.

When reviewing your systems ask yourself:

  1. If you have proper systems in place for each aspect of your business?
  2. If your systems are working for you and your business? I.e., are they saving you time and money?
  3. What could you delegate?
  4. If you need some new technology?
  5. If there is an app out there that could make your life easier?

Even if you do one thing that streamlines your business and frees you up so you can more of what you enjoy, it will be worth it.


Find inspiration

Even when you are running the business you want to run, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and feel like you are on a hamster wheel going round and round.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have heard me talk about sustainability and how it relates to your business. It basically means if you want to keep continually creating something new and inspire others, you yourself have to be inspired. I call it ‘filling the well’; you can’t draw water from an empty well, and you can’t inspire others if you are lacking in inspiration.

Inspiration is:

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative
— The OED

So one of the questions I always ask clients is ‘what inspires you?’ or ‘what do you do to find inspiration?’ If you want to inspire others, you need to be inspired by ideas and by doing new things.

I can hear you saying, ‘this all sounds great Marisa, but how am I going to fit anything new in to my working week when I am so busy with my business and with life?!

And of course you are right. It is hard to find the time, but it doesn’t have to be big, in fact, it is more sustainable to look at small ways you can find inspiration within your working week. Going for a walk, being in nature, reading, listening to podcasts or music, going to a gallery in your lunch hour (or for 10 minutes!); It really doesn’t matter what it is, but find small ways each week to be inspired

Here are a few things that have inspired me:

  • TED talks – way way too numerous to mention specific ones here but with literally thousands available you will definitely find something that inspires you. Here are the top 20 most popular TED talks:


  • “An astronauts guide to life on earth” by Chris Hadfield. If you don’t know Chris Hadfield, he is otherwise known as the singing astronaut because of this
  • “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and “Working with Emotional Intelligence” – How to communicate as a person and as a leader with clarity, assertiveness, and authenticity.
  • “Quiet” by Susan Cain – If you suspect you are an introvert at heart then read this. It is a great book for anyone who feels they should be ‘selling’ themselves more, but just doesn’t feel comfortable with that way of being.
  • My mentor! You will be pleased to know that I practice what I preach and check in with my mentor every few months. Together we look at ways that I can improve my work and be my best self. For more info at how mentoring can help you and your business go to this page of my web site.

And finally……


Look after yourself  

Clients are sometimes surprised when I ask them how they look after themselves, but it is as important as any other aspect of running a small business. Again, it is all about sustainability; in order for your business to be sustainable so you can keep moving forward, you have to look after yourself in a sustainable way. If you overcommit and are running on empty all the time, can you really be there for your clients and customers?

How we look after ourselves means different things for different people but this is what it means for me; to cultivate healthy mental habits, and healthy work habits, limit screen time and time spent on social media, (my daily cut off time is 6pm but do what works for you) get outside, find some form of exercise you enjoy and do it a couple of times a week; do whatever else makes you happy and keeps you in the moment, spend time with people that understand you and inspire you and don’t drain you.

And lastly, watch this talk by Arianna Huffington, businesswoman and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, all about just how important it is to get a good nights sleep.


We can never know for sure what lies ahead, but by keeping things simple and staying in the moment, we can make better decisions free from anxiety and fear, and that has to be good for us, and our businesses.

If you are feeling uncertain about how to move forward with your business and want to find out how business coaching can help, click here to book a 30 minute phone call.

What is a brand? And can a small business ever be a brand?

What is a brand? And can a small business ever be a brand?

Branding. It certainly is one of the buzzwords of the decade. But what on earth is it and what does mean to small businesses?

There was a time when I seemed to talk to clients a lot about ‘marketing’ and ‘PR’. But since the digital age really took hold, and especially since the advent of social media, and how businesses use it, I now spend an inordinate amount of time with clients talking about branding.

Simply put, branding is how you visually and emotionally communicate your message to your market (the people that buy your stuff/service). You could see it as your promise to your customer. Your brand falls out of who you are, who you want to be, and who people perceive you to be.

For the corporates, branding is just part of their working landscape, and they have huge amounts of resources they can devote to branding. But for some reason small business owners are much more ambivalent and less confident about how to approach branding, or even whether they should think about it at all!

So let’s look at why branding is relevant to small businesses and how you can build a brand when you don’t necessarily have big resources.

One of the mantras I hear all the time in my practice is, “I’m not good at selling myself”, or “I can write copy about another business/person, but when it comes to me I don’t know where to start.” Among the small business community, there is a perception that branding is all about selling yourself. So while that might be good for people who are good at selling, or naturally gifted networkers, that approach doesn’t really work for the rest of us.

So the first myth I would like to dispel is that branding is always about self-promotion. It's not. It is in fact about:

  • Congruency
  • Consistency
  • Establishing credibility
  • Sharing common values

So when you are putting your brand together, ask yourself if it possesses theses qualities. If it doesn’t, start again.

What makes a good brand?

 A good brand is:

  • Unique
  • Memorable
  • Easy to recognize
  • Authentic to the business (i.e. the business owner)
  • Conveys your message and values

For me the worst kinds of brands are the ones where you can tell it is all for show – meaningless mission statements, overly hip, corporate images or flashy logos, but no substance when you drill down in to the ethics and values of the business.

It is for this reason that I often tell clients that their logo is the last thing they should look at after all the other elements of their business have been communicated with clarity.

You can’t start with a great logo and fit everything around it. If you are going to communicate with integrity you have to lay the foundations first and that means understanding your business and your customers.

Let me give you an example from my local high street, as I am lucky enough to have a fantastic brand right on my doorstep! Popsicle is an independent shop selling beautiful fun things for the home and for children.

Popsicle shop Lewes

Popsicle shop Lewes

Popsicle Gift Tag/Business Card

Popsicle Gift Tag/Business Card

Popsicle have a retail outlet, run workshops, and also sell online.

Popsicle Web Site. Courtesy of Popsicle and Studio MakGill

Popsicle Web Site. Courtesy of Popsicle and Studio MakGill

As well as being eye-catching and unique, what makes Popsicle’s brand so effective is its authenticity; it matches the values of the business and its owner Sharon. This is a brand that says fun, happy, design; it is very colourful and stylish, as well as being affordable. This is a business that understands itself and its customers. The business delivers what the brand conveys.

Don’t let others fill in the gaps

A strong brand is about filling in the gaps. I’ll explain what I mean. If you don’t have a brand, or your brand is inconsistent with your business, it will be harder for people to understand the uniqueness of what you do. I am always talking to small business owners about how to be authentic in their work – not to try to ‘do it like everyone else’.

Here’s an example; you might be a web designer. There are plenty of web designers around, but what makes your business different is you; your experience, your values, your particular philosophy about what makes a web site great, in essence, how you see the world.

If you don’t have a brand that at least attempts to reflect that, then your potential customers will fill in the gaps. They will make assumptions about you, and those assumptions may well be incorrect, so make it easy for them.

What do I need to brand my small business?

Arguably you could spend an awful lot of time and money on developing a brand, but the truth is you probably don’t need to. However, if you want to be as professional as you can be without spending huge amounts of money, you really need the following:

1. A high quality, professional headshot - This communicates a lot about not only who you are, but about your kind of business. To me a professional headshot shows that you are professional. Taking a quick selfie (even a good one, if that is possible!) shows laziness.

2. A professional web site - For the majority of business owners, whether you provide a service or make a product, your web site will probably be the first port of call for your customers. If it looks good and works well, you are on your way to securing a sale. [Also see my previous blog on “What makes a web site beautiful.”]

3. A business card with the same design and copy as your web site - Even if you do not do a lot of face-to-face business or networking, being able to give a potential client a card just might give you the edge over your competitor. It shows you are prepared and professional, in the way that a number or web site scribbled on a post-it note just doesn’t.

[Top Tip: Always carry your business cards with you. I have handed mine out at the most unexpected of times and places – at the cinema/shops/school run/train station!]

4. A good FB or Twitter page, or both (and don’t forget LinkedIn!) - Nowadays, most people expect you to have some kind of presence on social media. Business owners are either happy or unhappy about this to varying degrees depending on how much they use/like social media themselves, but it is just a reality.

5. Social media is here to stay and you need to engage with it. Why? Because social media is brilliant at reinforcing your brand in a way that marketing and PR cannot match and all it costs is your time.

For most small businesses, just using one or two platforms is probably plenty, and once it is set up it shouldn’t take up much time in your working week.

[For more info, here is a short blog I wrote about social media]

Emotional connection

Who you are as an individual, your personality, your aims and particularly your values, should be reflected in your brand. You might not realize it but when you buy in to a brand, you are making some kind of emotional connection with it.

That might sound a bit far fetched, so another way of saying it is that in large part you buy from particular brands because of what they make you feel. [Advertising executives have spent years identifying the ‘X’ factor that attracts people to certain brands]. They might make you feel, happy, or comforted, or carefree, or attractive, they might make you feel safe (‘I can trust this brand’) or they might remind you of things from your childhood. This is emotional connection.

“A brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind. If the representation consists only of the product’s attributes, features, and other information, there are no emotional links to influence consumer preference and action. The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user.”

“Inside the Consumer Mind” by Peter Noel Murray Ph.D

[Link to full article here]

So as a business owner, your job is to figure out what this emotional connection might be and use this as your starting point.

 So how do I begin to build a brand?

A wise person once told me a great saying about business that I quote to clients all the time; “All businesses should be an inch wide and a mile deep”.

In order to build an authentic brand that is congruent with who you are, or who you want to be in business, you need to start with a deep understanding of yourself and why you are in business. This is where the personal and professional cross over so begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are my core values?
  • What motivates me?
  • What makes me happy and fulfilled?
  • What are my interests and passions?
  • What do I want my legacy to be?

As you answer these questions, think of it as telling a story about yourself to someone who has never met you. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool in conveying your branding message to others, so try to explain with clarity what is important to you and what it is that has brought you to this point.

I’ll give you an example from my own branding story. For me, business is all about people. You are the person you bring to work every day so business should be about bringing our best selves to our work. I also see business as a route to positive social change. If people run good businesses, and create a positive, fulfilling working environment, with happy workers then that has a positive effect on society. Everything I do in my business comes down to this.

So the point is that you won’t know this about me when you see my marketing materials or land on my web site, but you will get a sense of who I am and what I am bringing to my work – what my values are. And if my values, fit with your values then you are more likely to decide to get in contact.

Remember this is an exercise for you so don’t worry about what it looks like or sounds like, but it will hopefully start to form the basis of how you market yourself. It should also help you identify the values inherent to your brand, and what your brand will look like.


If my values match yours and you want help building confidence in your brand then book a 30 minute phone call here

How can Maslow’s Hirearchy of Needs help you and your business?

How can Maslow’s Hirearchy of Needs help you and your business?

As my regular followers will know, I am a big fan of TED talks. [For a selection of my favourites go to my Facebook page]

I was recently listening to one about feeling secure, which had a section on Maslow’s Hirearchy of Needs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Maslow, he was a psychologist in the 50’s. In his 1954 book ‘Motivation and Personality’ Maslow developed a five-step pyramid of human needs in which personality development progresses from one step to the next.

The needs of the lower levels, physiological needs like hunger, thirst, shelter, must be satisfied before the next level can be achieved and so on.

The next step, the need for safety, security and order, are essential for dealing with the world. If these needs are met, the individual can progress to the next step, love – the ability to love and be loved. The next step, esteem, requires approval, recognition and acceptance. With these elements in place, the individual can develop high self-esteem and self-respect


The final step, self- actualization, is the utilization of one’s creative potential for self-fulfillment, and for Maslow, is the ultimate goal for human beings.

Self-actualization is really about personal growth and discovery, ‘being all you can be’. But rather than being a fixed state, it is an evolving one as we are permanently on a journey of ‘becoming’.

Maslow measured the extent to which an individual is self-actualized, by their capacity to experience and enjoy peak experiences. This is when we experience the world with wonder, awe and joy.

For each person, the motivation for self-actualization leads them in different directions and could be achieved any number of ways. Some of the characteristics of self-actualized people are:

  1. Good objective judgement, rather than subjective
  2. Seeing problems in terms of challenges requiring solutions
  3. A healthy need for privacy, comfortable being alone
  4. Reliant on own experiences and judgement
  5. Not generally susceptible to social pressures - non-conformist


Filling your creative well

When you look at all these characteristics and the steps to self-actualization, it is not hard to see how Maslow’s work can be applied to you and your business. Starting and developing a business is one of the many ways we can experience self-actualization as we express our inner creativity.  It can also bring us joy and a deep sense of self-fulfillment.

However, it is crucial is that in expressing your creative potential, that you do not let your other needs slip.  I like to call this ‘filling the well’. It’s a simple analogy; you can’t keep drawing from a well that is empty, and you can’t keep being creative, or move forward with your business (or life!) if you are struggling to meet your fundamental needs or have lost sight of what inspires you.

It can be easy to fall in to this trap of ‘running on empty’ when we are so passionate about what we do, and when we have seemingly never-ending workloads.

But if we don’t recognise the signs of burnout, and take some time out, then we not only risk compromising our own health and well-being, but we may also find ourselves letting down our clients and customers; the very people we have worked so hard to find.


Timing is everything

I recently ran some workshops on business planning and bumped in to someone who was thinking about coming along. He said that he thought it would really benefit his business, but perhaps now was not the right time as he had a big project on and was moving house, so would not be able to give it his full attention.

Now this person could probably have found the time to do the workshop, and it might even have helped him and his business, but he was thinking about his basic physical and emotional needs and acknowledging that the timing just wasn’t right for him. In our 24/7 world and with our ever present devices, there will also be something to ‘do’ but it’s important that the time is right.


Meeting your needs and dealing with the world

So if you are finding it hard to:

  • Access your creativity
  • Find new sources of inspiration
  • Make objective decisions
  • Manage your workload comfortably
  • Switch off and find time for yourself

Or if you are getting overly stressed by the day-to-day challenges you face in your business it might be time to review if you are meeting your basic needs for rest, good food, leisure time and time with family/friends, or whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

Use Maslow’s pyramid as your guide, and address which level might need some work before you can get back to being self-actualized and doing what you love.

If you would like some help prioritizing your workload then contact me for a free 30 minute consultation.

What makes a web site beautiful? And why should you care?

What makes a web site beautiful? And why should you care?

I spend a fair amount of time with clients looking at and advising on their web sites. Generally they fall in to three camps; most of my clients have built their sites themselves; some have employed a friend or family member who ‘does web sites’; a few have employed a professional to build their sites for them.


However they got their web site, most people who come to see me are often less than satisfied with them.  It might be because they feel that they are out of date with current design, or there might be too much copy. Worse still for some people their site remains unfinished because they are so busy running their business that they don’t have time to finish it, so links don’t work, blogs pages remain empty of content, or products/services are out of date.


What is your web site for and why does it have to be beautiful?

Your web site is your online business card. People might hear about you via word of mouth or through some other channel, but the first thing they will do is look for you online and it is almost scary how quickly people will make a decision to work with you based on your web site.

As soon as potential customers land on your web site, they are already making assumptions about your business based on the copy on your home page and the images you have chosen. Given that potentially you have very little time to impress them, can you risk your web site being anything less than beautiful?

Unfortunately the idea of a beautiful web site is not my own, but one I pinched from my fabulous web designer Katie VanDyck of

Katie and I have worked on several web sites, and as well as being a great web designer Katie is also a brilliant photographer. 


What I have learned- Authenticity!

Katie is the first photographer I have met who only uses natural light. She does this because she feels it brings an authenticity to het subjects that can be lost with studio lighting.

I think the same principle applies to businesses and their web sites. The best kind of web sites are those where we get a real feeling for the person/people running the business and their story; where you feel that the site reflects the values of the founder. This is what makes a web site stand out.

Beautiful web sites matter because:


  1. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation, or how you improve the way you are found on the web, specifically Google) responds well to beautiful, relevant images and succinct copy
  2. Images really do speak a thousand words – the images you put on your site evoke feelings in the people who look at them, and give them more of a feel for your business, than your words ever can.
  3. Functionality should always be beautiful too. There is no point having lovely images and design if your web site is not user-friendly, or doesn’t direct people to your ‘call to action’.


But by far the most important lesson I learned from Katie, is that the PROCESS of building the web site was as valuable for me as the end result. I learned so much about my business from the questions that Katie asked me that it helped shape HOW I promote my business. This is what a good web designer should do.

‘But Marisa, what about the money?!’ I hear you cry!  Web sites are expensive, and designers’ abilities vary. This is a fact, but looking at it a different way, you have to think about how much of your time you are going to invest building a web site. Unless you LOVE building web sites, or learning this skill is going to enhance your business in some way, it is going to cost you a huge amount of time and when you are running your own business, time really is money.

BUT, if you really are short on funds and want to do a good job yourself, here are my golden rules:

  • Make sure you invest in professional photographs. Google hates duplication so stock images are bad for SEO, and they do not look authentic, therefore they cheapen your brand.
  • Ditto head shots. Whatever you do DO NOT USE SELFIES! Aesthetically they do not look good and make it look as though you couldn’t be bothered to do anything else. Make sure you get a good professional head shot.
  • Be careful and succinct with copy. Make sure it is relevant and not all about you! People want to know that you are good at what you do, but remember that they are seeking your product/service because they have a problem they want solving so figure out what that is, and how you can help them.
  • Keep your site up to date! It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many businesses set up a great web site and never do anything with it. Out of date products and services are really off putting to your customers, so check it weekly at least.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your web site shouldn’t be either! There are many online courses that tell you that you can build a web site in a day or two, but I think this misses the point about what your web site is for.

Your web site is your shop front – a vital component of your business. If it were a real shop front, you wouldn’t dream of putting it together in a day. The process of building your web site teaches you about your business and challenges your assumptions about your customers. If you rush it, you miss a vital learning opportunity. 


So take your time and think carefully before you embark on designing a web site – it might end up costing you and your business more than you think.


If you would like some help with your web site and how you market yourself, book a 30 minute free consultation here.

More work is making us less productive

More work is making us less productive

The phrase ‘Work smarter not harder’ was coined back in the 1930’s. In those days, before the advent of computers, the internet and Facebook notifications on our iPhones, most people would have worked on a 9 to 5 basis. When they left the factory or the office and went home, they knew they were probably not going to be working again until the next day.

Nowadays for most people there is no absolute cut off point, as the potential to carry on working is always a possibility. You can keep checking emails any time, anywhere, but is this really sensible or productive?

In his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt, but he still keeps cutting down trees. If he were to stop sawing, sharpen the blade and go back to his tree cutting with a sharper saw, he would save himself time and effort.

It isn’t hard to see why this analogy is especially important for modern working practices. With a constant flow of information from technology and therefore the potential for constant interruption, it has become much harder to keep focused on one task before moving on to another one. So how can you be more productive and make more time for yourself?

Here are my own 7 habits for using your time more productively:

1. Prioritise

Do you have a strategy for your business and are you clear about what needs to done each day? Do you have goals that are SMART? (I.e.; Specific, Measureable, Achieveable, Realistic, Timed). Do you have clear objectives for your business?  If the answer is no, then you need to invest some time figuring out what your priorities are.

Without a plan for your business, it is hard to figure out what to do each day. You might find yourself overwhelmed by choices and feeling confused about how best to spend your time.

Investing some time up front writing a strategic plan, or a business plan, should save you heaps of time in the mid to long run. You might even need to invest some time working with a business coach! Click here to find out how business planning can help you and your business.

Once you know what your priorities are……

2. ….work out when you are at your most productive for certain tasks. Early bird or night owl?

I am definitely an early bird. If I want to write a blog, or prepare for a talk or a workshop, I have to do it first thing in the morning. I have never been at my best in the evening, but some people, the night owls, come alive in the evening and are therefore much more productive at this time. We are all as different as the businesses we are running so figure out what works for you.

Another trick I find useful is to give difficult tasks an allotted time. As I do a lot of writing, I am bound to have times when I get writers block. When this happens I still make myself sit at my desk for the prior allotted time, and I won’t let myself get up until that time is up. See if this works for you. (Also see No. 5 below…)

3. Spend some time putting good systems in place

Now you have a strategy for your business, take advantage of technology and find out how it can help you save time. Nowadays there is no shortage of clever time saving apps for business owners. For every issue business owners face, there is someone who will say, “there’s an app for that”!

Using an app for all my business invoicing for my two businesses has not only saved me huge amounts of time, but it also means that I can manage my cash flow much more efficiently.

So if you seem to be spending more time on the admin of your business, than doing the fun creative stuff, then you either need an app to help you or you need to delegate. [For more about how to delegate, go to my blog “Do one thing well” Part 2]

4. Create a time for answering emails/phone calls

Many people who run small business feel they should be available to their clients all day, every day. That if they don’t answer all their emails and phone calls immediately somehow they are letting their clients down.

But how realistic is that, and could you manage their expectations in a different way? Unless you are running a large scale operation where there is always someone to answer the phone, you can’t always be available to your clients, but what you can do is let them know from the start exactly when you are free on a daily basis to take their calls, and respond to their emails.

If finding the time to even do this is proving a step too far, then you might need to find a virtual PA or admin assistant. Another benefit of current technology is that almost everyone is able to work virtually. There are plenty of highly effective, professional PAs out there and you never even have to meet.

5. Be ruthlessly disciplined!

I love reading and I’m really interested in the whole process of creative writing. If you listen to writers talking about the process of writing, most of them will say it is a thankless task requiring huge amounts of self-discipline.

Think of Ian Fleming who used to spend two months a year in Jamaica in a darkened room writing his next Bond novel, or Roald Dahl who used to spend all day writing in his studio, only emerging to listen to the lunchtime news.

If you want to achieve your goals, there may be times when you need to withdraw from the world entirely, even for twenty minutes, so you can focus on the task ahead. This might seem impossible at times, but sometimes it just has to be done. Again, if you have spent some time thinking about what you really want to achieve and already have your strategy in place, it is easier to keep focused. And if you are still finding it hard to keep going……


6. Ask yourself this – “what do I want my legacy to be?”

This is something I always ask my clients when they first come to see me. For some it is relatively easy to answer, but for many business owners it is something they have never thought of. Without being too morbid, think of what you want to leave behind; what mark your work will have left on the world and work back from that.

Write it down on post-it notes, or do a mood board, something visual to hand so that when the going gets tough (which it will!) you can quickly remind yourself why you are doing this; what the pay-off is for this monastic self-discipline.

7. Take a break

And finally, remember to sharpen your saw when it stops being so effective. Don’t just keep going until you collapse. That tree won’t get cut down any quicker.

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Being an entrepreneur is hard work so take little breaks in your working week, but also build some time in your year to take longer breaks when you can.

You probably can’t work any harder, but you can definitely figure out ways to work smarter.

Click here to book a 30 minute phone call and find out how you can work even smarter.