Showing posts from 2011

Purposeless Learning

I love learning. It’s one of my favourite things to do. When I retire, I’m going back to university. Usually, I want to learn something because I’ve had a little taste of it and (a) I’m just plain curious or (b) I want to learn it so I can apply it to my work or personal life.
I’m one of those people that actually read those thick manuals that used to come with new computer games before I did the install. There was a purpose. I knew what I wanted to do and just had to learn how to apply it. Learn and then apply - the better the learning, the better the application. I’ve been good at it my whole life.
This year learning changed for me. I began learning lots of things without really knowing if:
I was even interested in the topicI could apply itit made sense to apply itthere were any benefits to the learning at all Lately, I’ve caught myself saying to people, “You just have to try it for a while to ‘get it’.” (Can you guess what I’m talking about?) A couple of years ago I would not have …

Keep Your Content Fresh

Creating content can be a real show-stopper when it comes to kicking off projects like a new newsletter, website or blog. I often hear some version of this: “What the heck am I going to write about?”

Fresh, interesting content is important to ensure your newsletter stays relevant to your audience. You want your newsletter to be opened with a sense of anticipation. Remember that you have to compete with millions of other emails.

How can you distinguish yourself? It’s not enough to create content about your business and products. Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

Have a clear focus
Of the many possible goals for a newsletter, what do you want yours to specifically achieve? Measure every piece of content against this yardstick to avoid ‘scope creep’.

Write to your reader
What are the wants and needs of the person reading your email? Think about the conversations you have with customers and colleagues. You can discuss these same topics by email.

Tell stories
Stories transform y…

Build It and Work at It

A newsletter is not one of those ‘build it and they will come’ things. It takes work to both maintain and build on each relationship that you (re-)start with each issue.
Maintain: Give your readers what they want, not what you want to give them.Deliver VALUE in exchange for your readers' time.Respond to everyone who replies to your newsletter, even if it’s just to say “Glad you enjoyed it.”
Add new contacts to build your list.Promote each issue through social media to extend your reach.Make it easy for people to share and subscribe.
photo by subsetsum / Flickr
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Writing the Wrong

I've been talking to a lot of people lately about creating and organizing their content for various purposes and places. In the process of conducting a recent lunch and learn on the subject, I collected lots of tips and ideas, and here's a good one.

Share your opinion about someone else's article or on a hot topic under debate in your industry. If you're good at what you do, you will have lots of opinions. Telling people about them will really define your unique selling proposition. It also makes you a leader in your field.
This doesn't have to be about claiming someone else is wrong. It can also be about agreeing with them and offering more info or expanding on the subject.

Of course you have to keep up with your reading and research in order for this strategy to work. Current is key.

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Check Up on Your eMail Marketing

As a follow up to my last article about managing what you measure, here is something else you should pay attention to: Do you know what your email marketing campaign is doing for you?

That will lead you to answer the question: Should you be doing more or less of it?

In this graph you can see how the activity on my website increased as the direct result of two emails sent. If you look at the front and back ends of the graph (before and after), you can see that there was a really significant impact. This is a quick measure that tells me my email marketing is very effective.

How effective is your email marketing? I want to point out here that the impact of email marketing will vary greatly by industry, whether B2B or B2C, scheduling and frequency, value of content, the format and delivery mode, the size of your contact list and segmentation, your relationship with your subscribers, and other less predictable things.

So now you are able to make a strategic decision:
Do you increase the amo…

You Manage What You Measure

One of my favourite bosses worked by the motto “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring”. When I whined that something just couldn’t be measured, he would say, “There’s always something to measure.” And he was always right.

It’s an important concept for small business owners. Having a set of metrics that you watch and that you feel are the key drivers of your success, helps you keep clarity. If you don’t have goals stated for your company, and if you don’t regularly measure how you’re doing against those goals, you won’t have your resources focused on the right priorities.

The more public you can make your goals the better. Transparency of goals drives performance because it creates both a commitment and a sense of urgency. Commitment and urgency are key drivers of success.

People often measure the wrong stuff, or measure with the wrong precision (either too high-level or too detailed). There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach but there are two pretty universal measures:
Customer A…

You don't want Subscribers

What you want is fans. Let's dispel a newsletter myth. The myth is that you want to keep as many subscribers as you can. That's simply not true. You pay for subscribers. If someone is not reading or forwarding your newsletter, why do you want to send it to them? And you don't really want to annoy people.
Have a simple escape route: Make it easy to unsubscribe.Tell people it's easy to unsubscribe.Tell them how to do it. It's not personal! Just because someone unsubscribes from your newsletter, it doesn't mean they have unsubscribed from you. And, if people know it's easy to unsubscribe, maybe they'll stick around a little longer... ?

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Content that Builds Trust

Different types of content will achieve different things. You can educate and inform, build trust, establish your expertise, expand your community, and generate sales.

Building trust is one strategy that is appropriate for just about any type of organization or independent professional. It can be used in your newsletter and also extends to your website, blog and social media. This type of content is used to bridge the gap between awareness and trust.

Here are some types of content that specifically work to build trust:
How-to content - specific advice, tips and processesArticles written by you - displaying your knowledge of the subjectArticles published by others that specifically mention you or your organizationReviews - customer reviews on sites such as Yelp and Google PlacesTestimonials - endorsements from happy customers An added bonus is that these types of content often support your SEO efforts. Being brief and to the point also builds trust so I'll stop here.

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Quick Tip - Avoid Hidden Format Problems

When you're inserting content into your newsletter, website or blog, you're often copying it from other documents.  I suggest you always compose in Word (or similar) to take advantage of its spelling and grammar-checking functionality.

Your formatting in Word may not be the same as your default formatting in these various applications.  While there are a raft of applications that make it easy now to do your own newsletter, website and blog, most of them are converting your content to html code in the background.  When you copy in text that is already formatted, you're possibly creating problems behind the scenes.  As well, you'll end up with differing fonts and sizes that all have to be corrected before you publish.

You can avoid the potential for problems by stripping off all formatting before you paste into the application.  An easy way to do this is to use Notepad (or similar).  You simply open a blank notepad document, paste your content into it, then copy and pas…

How much is too much?

And equally important, how much is too little? Too much and too little can both be bad when it comes to e-marketing.

People ask me how often they should send out their newsletter and I always answer the same thing - as often as you can bring value to your subscribers. And if you can do that every single day, yippee! I myself subscribe to 4 daily newsletters.

Back to reality... of course, there's work involved and that might have an impact on how often you send too. I do strongly believe that you need to send something at least once a month to be having any impact.

Here's a general rule of thumb:
more frequent = smaller amounts of content, and vice versa (Now remember, rules are made to be broken so perhaps I should call this a guideline instead.)
Of course, social media is a great example of the 'more frequent' strategy.

Aside from how much content, you'll also want to consider the type of content in relation to the frequency. Here are a couple of very different st…

Don't Forget Your Fans

You have 2 types of newsletter subscribers:
People who are interested in your content, whether it is informational or promotional: your audiencePeople who are interested in you and helping you succeed: your fans Your ideal clients are the first group. Your 3 F’s - friends, family and fans - are the second group. Both types of subscribers are important. The second group will help get your message to more of the first group.
Make it really, really easy to share. Include tweet, like and other social media sharing buttons. Invite people to share it with friends by email and give them a link to do so.Thank your fans. When your fans share your information, make sure you thank them. And, even more important, make sure you reciprocate!Include a subscribe link - similar to the sidebar link for subscribing to this blog by email. Your fans will share your newsletter and their contacts will want to subscribe. Make it easy for them. Don’t make them hunt for your sign up form. You would be surprised…

Deciding to Delegate

If you are a control freak like me, you’ll know that delegation is a BIG decision. There are lots of things to consider. The question of what to delegate should be easy but often isn’t.

You want to delegate things that…
you don’t like to doslow you down or sap your energycause you to be disorganizeddraw your focus away from the things you’re really good atrequire a certain expertise to get quality results - and you are lacking that expertisecan be grouped together for easy delegation
So now that you’ve figured out what to delegate, how do you go about it? It’s all about finding the right balance between quality and cost.

Quality Is the activity something that needs skill and experience to get a quality result? How do you perceive cost and quality? Higher quality usually means higher cost. What is the level of quality that you require and are you willing to pay for it?

Cost What is your time worth? You really have to have a clear understanding of this before you’ll be comfortable delegat…

The Fun of Flickr

If there is anything visual about what you do, you should be using Flickr.  It's another social media tool and a whole other community that needs to know about what you do.  (As an example, see this photo I posted last year which garnered unexpected attention for the girl who does my nails.)

When you have a free Flickr account, you can upload 2 videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month.  I have a Pro account which costs only $25 per year.  (And a Flickr Pro account makes a nice little gift for friends or clients!)

Flickr can be set up to integrate seamlessly with Facebook - post to Flickr and it can show up on Facebook automatically.  You can create sets and collections and slideshows and link directly to them.  You can add keywords (tags) to be found by search engines.  You even set up a profile much like on LinkedIn and Facebook.  You can comment on other posts, join or lead groups and establish a community.

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Another Kind of Challenge

As I step into my 7th year in business, it strikes me that I’m facing a whole new set of challenges this year. That means new experiences and probably some goof-ups to learn from.

For my first few years in business, my focus was on sales and marketing. I should say that it’s where my focus should have been but wasn’t always. I spent a lot of time (and money) to get good people to help me in my efforts – and lots of good people invested their time in me.

Almost two years ago, I changed my whole business model because it became clear that a strategy which depended on cold calling wasn’t going to work for me. Since then my strategies have been networking, referrals, social media and e-marketing – and it’s been working so good that now I have a whole new challenge:

How do I increase my capacity? Now that I have a fully integrated sales and marketing strategy, how do I continue to take on all the work I’m generating?

I’m painfully aware that I’ve reached a very critical point in the future…

Hurricane Irene and Newsletters

To all of you readers who have established email contact lists... are you capitalizing on opportunities that are staring you in the face?

Today I received a timely and relevant email from Fairway Insurance Services - a warning about preparedness for Hurricane Irene.  It included an update on the storm, a colourful picture of the storm's expected course, and links to useful checklists and such to help me prepare for a storm.  Now how cool is that?

You don't have to wait till your next newsletter issue when something big is going on that affects your subscribers.  Help them out - provide useful information - make it timely and relevant.  Scan for opportunities to be of service to your community.

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Join Me!

This is a no charge online meeting service that allows you to gather people and allows them to see your computer screen as you demonstrate, teach or collaborate. The applications for your business are endless:

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Be a Tease!

I came across this excellent example of how to promote your newsletter sign-up on your website:

It's not visually appealing, but it says all the right things.  It tells me what I can expect by signing up and teases me with what's coming up next.  The only thing it doesn't mention - which is important - is how often I will receive her newsletter.
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What to Write About

Your website is about what you do and your blog is about why you love what you do. I wish I could say I made that up but I read it somewhere. It has really stuck with me though. What an easy rule to follow!

For newsletters and email communication, your content will depend on your strategy and goals. Choose to send either a mostly promotional email or a mostly informational email. I recommend 80% information and 20% promotion – or vice versa. Having this focus makes it clear to your subscribers what to expect. You are better to send two separate emails than to send one email that is 50/50.

Each type of email has its place. I can get just as excited about a shoe sale as I do about a new idea. What do your subscribers want to read about (or look at)? That is more important than what you want to write about. (It’s also the difference between blogs and newsletters.)

Content creation is one of the big challenges for my newsletter clients. I always tell them that it gets easier once they get st…


This site was recommended by my friend Anita Hovey at Twirp Communications. Be prepared to spend a little time browsing! Very useful for determining colour schemes and for seamless backgrounds. (And they actually spell 'colour' right for us Canadians ;)
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It feels like someone was messing with my credit score this week. My domain was blacklisted. There are a couple of things about this I'd like to share.

How did it happen?
Apparently, a link to an event in one of my newsletters pointed to a domain that was blacklisted. (Or at least that's my understanding based on the little info I've been able to get.)

The immediate implication?
Do I have to check every link in my newsletter against the blacklist to prevent this from happening again? I don't really know but, wow, what a pile of work that would be!

How did I discover the problem?
The hard way! I was sending test and regular emails that weren't arriving, even to myself. I initially thought the problem was with i-Contact. They were great about pointing me in the right direction. Then I had to contact Network Solutions which hosts my domain. They were quick to investigate and 'clear my name' for me.

How can I know if it happens again?
If you sear…

Email versus Social Media

Social media trumps all! Email is still king! There are strong opinions being expressed – pro email or pro social media – all over the web, and in person. The internet is littered with statistics that can be bent one way or the other. Like most decisions in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Unlike many of our life decisions, we don’t have to pick one over the other – we can grab all the advantages of both! So, there’s a group that says “Hey, it doesn’t have to be a war!” I fall heavily into that camp.

Email and social media can work together – like a diversified team: thinking a few steps ahead, coordinating their efforts, maximizing their unique abilities, sharing the workload, and so on. The synergy created is far greater than each individually.

The effort you have to expend is also shared. A prime example is content creation. A 'content creation strategy' is the answer to that common question “What am I ever going to write about?” When leveraging email and …


Social Mention is a social media search engine that searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news, videos, and microblogging services.
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If you can’t do it all…

I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of using social media to stay connected. Oh yes, I know there’s a whole relationship-building aspect that I’m missing out on big time.

The value of social media tools really struck me this weekend as I checked in on my website stats. On Thursday evening I had updated the events listing on my website. Instead of simply posting this on my LinkedIn profile as usual, I decided to post it to a few of the LinkedIn Groups of which I’m a member. Look what happened to my website page views:

So a few people visited my website -- what does that really mean? Well, here’s what else happened: 4 complete strangers subscribed to my newsletterA few thank-you’s were posted in the groups3 complete strangers emailed thanking me and complimenting me on my website5 new LinkedIn connectionsIncreased views of my LinkedIn profile3 new Twitter followers And I’m betting there will be at least one nice chat over coffee yet to follow. While I’m far from maximizing my use of socia…

Color Scheme Designer


I use this tool all the time when developing colour schemes for clients' newsletters. You can play around to find a scheme you like. Or you can enter an HTML# and it'll give you the matches.

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A toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. Good for homemade graphics for your blog, website or newsletter. I created this one based on the words on my website home page:
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Prezi is a very different presentation software... I love it!

Check out this one I made to illustrate the newsletter set-up process:

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Getting a Reputation

“Reputation is the currency of networking and referrals.”
- Scott Allen

A positive reputation is one of our most valuable business assets and is built mostly on one thing: happy customers. What if you don’t have happy customers yet? What if you’re new in business or new to the area? How do you build a reputation without customers -- and on a limited budget?

Find a local networking group that you can join and attend on a regular basis. Face-to-face interaction will build strong relationships and present unexpected opportunities. (Mine is The Group Halifax.) Online networking has other benefits, such as being able to do it in your PJ’s.

Be Prepared
When meeting someone, have their cell phone number in case you’re delayed. Leave a few minutes early. Take a pen and paper for notes. Find out about new contacts by reading their website, blog and LinkedIn profile. NEVER be caught without a business card!

Keep Your Word
Follow up with people you meet. Take notes about commitments you make. Be…


A website devoted to answering people’s questions on a variety of subjects. The twist with Quora is that it allows you to interact with others on the site and develop relationships while also giving a sense of fun. Two reasons to use it: to build your expertise and to get answers to questions. Click here to try it out.

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Requesting a Testimonial

You might be surprised at how many small business owners don’t collect testimonials on a regular basis. When I ask clients for testimonials to put on their newsletter, brochure or website, there is often a big scramble to start gathering them. I was like that too, till my marketing guru Debi Hartlen MacDonald set me straight about it a few years ago.

What do testimonials do for you?
Provide social proof Position you as the expertAnswer questions that your prospect has about working with you, even though s/he may not ask outrightThere are two activities you can undertake:

1. Put a process in place to collect testimonials as part of your sales process. For example, when I send an invoice, I request a testimonial at the same time. Using an online app like LinkedIn makes it easy. When you receive testimonials, keep them all in one place. Copy them into a text document and keep them in a folder. Or immediately post them to your website and make that your collection point. (Here's my list.

Get Your Own Board of Directors

Mastermind groups can take many forms. I have been fortunate to be a member of several wonderful groups. In some cases, we didn't call them mastermind groups... but that's what they were.

The concept comes from Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich. He defines the mastermind principle:

Coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.

The purpose of your group can vary greatly. One that stands out for me was a group of facilitators, trainers and coaches. For almost 4 years, we met quarterly to spend a day training each other and sharing best practices. Oh yeah, we also had a ton of laughs and became great friends.

A type of group popular with small business owners takes the form of a board of directors. Each member gains from the others' experiences and skills. You can see opportunities from a different perspective, get challenged, create plans and be held accountable, access your peers' resou…

Build On Your LinkedIn Relationships

Set up your LinkedIn preferences so that you are receiving an update email at least once a week. Use the email as a reminder and, when you receive it, scroll to the bottom and click on 'view all network updates'. Take a few minutes to scan the latest updates from your contacts. Send notes to congratulate others on their successes. Comment on and share links to items of interest. Check out who is newly connected with who and identify someone that you'd like to be introduced to.

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If You Hate Networking...

Take the lead and hold your own networking event. Sound counterintuitive? Perhaps, but you will be in control – which leads to confidence.

Starting your own event will greatly expand your reputation, relationships and marketing reach. It could be a one-time event, such as a free workshop or afternoon tea party. Or it could be an ongoing thing – following a networking group or mastermind model.

Leverage your connections and share the wealth. Find a partner with the same goals that you have and collaborate. You will be able to leverage all of your combined contacts and have someone to help with the planning, execution and hosting. Find someone whose skills complement your own.

Here are a few things to consider:

Weekly, monthly or quarterly
Day or evening - breakfast, lunch or happy hour
Day of the week – avoid Mondays and Fridays

Costs Free
Cover charge
Membership fee
For profit or not-for-profit

Location Hotel, restaurant, bar, club, coffee shop
Central location
Parking availability


Pay your Bills Automatically

Getting statements and paying bills online is convenient, but it's even more convenient to have them paid automatically.

Consider having all your business expenses automatically charged to one credit card (that gives you airline mileage or other perks). Then have that credit card statement automatically paid from your chequing account. The entire process can be hands-off! If you want more control, you can keep that last piece as a manual operation based on your cash flow.

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Beat the Business Blahs

This is a blah time of year. The lack of sunshine is making me listless. I’m anxious for spring… and my garden. My enthusiasm is waning a bit. Are you feeling it too?

Running a small business is hard. We can’t afford to show it when we feel discouraged. How do we get reenergized and refocused? Here are some things that work for me:

Appreciate what you’ve got.
Do a reality check. Focus on what you appreciate about owning your own business. Maybe it’s having the freedom to work from your home office with a cat on your lap. (His name is Romeo.) Or maybe it’s not working your butt off to satisfy a cranky boss. Whatever your motivation, make a list of those things and pin it up by your desk.

Get moral support.
Whether it’s networking or just having coffee or lunch with other business owners, being around others with a similar mindset is motivating and inspiring. Entrepreneurs are optimistic and action-oriented, so if you’re feeling blah, grab another business owner for a pep talk.

Give moral sup…


A cool little online app that you can use to coordinate decision-making among a group of people... and it's really simple! You can ask for available dates for a meeting or ask for input to a decision.

(Thanks to Joan for this handy tool!)
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Action and Email Don't Mix

Reactionary Workflow – reacting to what’s coming in rather than being proactive. It’s a new term but a familiar feeling… and it sure did resonate with me.

Being constantly connected means that it’s really easy for people to contact us. As a consequence, our ability to prioritize is crippled by the unending flow of communication. It has become harder to direct our work with intention. We’ve relinquished control over our focus.

One of my own personal focus areas last year was to be, well, more focused. What I found was that just focusing on being focused didn’t cut it. I needed tactics… and discipline.

Here are some things that I found useful:

Blocking out time for specific tasks, especially tasks related to developing my own business.Turning off email for certain periods during the day – need I say more?Taking time to create, rather than just responding to emails. Yes, I might be suggesting taking more time. Adding value to my communications has resulted in many benefits, especially in ter…

Random Acts of Kindness

February 14th kicks off Random Acts of Kindness Week. I found these cool printable calendars that give suggestions for each day of the month. Try them out on your clients, friends and family!

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What is Everybody Searching For?

Take a few minutes to refresh your knowledge about the most popular keywords in your industry and area of specialty. You can use this handy Google Insights for Search tool to find out what the world is searching for. Or you can narrow it down to country or province.

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Ask for Action

Sometimes things are easier if someone else will just tell me what to do. That way of thinking especially applies to our websites and newsletters.

Your call-to-action is critical – it’s the reason for people to contact you. Use your website and newsletter to convert contacts into leads. Once they click on your call-to-action, they fill out a form… and then they become a lead. Simple, right?

How do you get your readers to take action?
Use action verbs. Start your line with a verb that requests action. Create a sense of urgency and tell people what to do. Make sure images and text are clickable.Don’t just say what to do, say how to do it. Instead of saying, “Buy now,” say, “Phone this number to buy now.”Give visitors something of value for free. Offer relevant, informational and non-promotional items for free to readers and website visitors. Possibilities include: e-books, how-to videos, tips and tricks, best practices, free trials.Make your call-to-action stand out. It should grab your …

Make Your Ideas Sticky

Click here to download this quick reference sheet by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick. It'll help you make your ideas and communication 'sticky'.

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It's a New Year... and New Copyright Date

Make sure your website and other online places are showing current copyright dates. Old dates can have people questioning if you're still around and how current your information is.

If you have print or electronic material with copyright dates, also remember to update those!

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The End Result

We all have the same 24 hours daily to accomplish our tasks. They come in a myriad of forms: phone calls, emails, projects, operational and administrative work, appointments, meetings and more. Priorities conflict, distractions tempt us and it’s hard to keep our eyes on the ball. It takes a lot of effort. Sound familiar?

We can improve our chances of success by adopting more of a ‘big picture’ perspective and focusing on the end result.

Focus on the Right Goals.
What to do: Identify what is important to you and define the intended goal. Why is this important to you? Keep asking why (5 times) to drill down to the root issues.

Manage Priorities. Most of us will admit to having 8 to 10 priorities. With that many, it requires super-human effort to do a good job of handling all of them well.
What to do: Narrow down your priority list to 3 or 4 goals and focus on those. By limiting your list, you will be able to put your best efforts to your BIG GOALS. If reducing your list seems impossible, g…

Change is Good

I make a lot less money now than I did ten years ago. Back then I was single, living in Toronto and climbing the corporate ladder. The lifestyle I enjoy now is much slower paced and I certainly wouldn't have considered it successful or goal-worthy then. It’s too bad our younger selves aren’t better at predicting what our older selves will want!

Our personal success factors will change over time. Last year in January I had an epiphany. I was attending Debi Hartlen MacDonald’s Bootcamp for the 2nd year in a row. We were all busy planning our strategies for 2010. It was my fifth year creating the same plan. The strategies and plans got better year after year. Did I get better at executing them? No.

I was tired of doing only ‘OK’ at the same thing 5 years in a row. I had an emotional reaction to something I knew intellectually all along: in order to be successful at training and development consulting, I needed to be selling 80-90% of the time. And selling is not something I want to spe…