In which I make a mantra and (not) a mission statement

I don’t remember when this happened, but at some point, I subscribed to emails from someone called Avinash Kaushik. Apart from the splendour of that name, someone on Twitter (it’s always someone on Twitter) said he was a must-follow.

His Twitter bio is a bit mysterious if you’re not part of the digital marketing world. It says:

Author, Web Analytics 2.0 & Web Analytics: An Hour A Day | Digital Marketing Evangelist, Google | Newsletter: http://zqi.me/tmaisignup

I’m not usually a follower of digital marketing trends but I have nevertheless found his email newsletter to be a source of wisdom and provocation.

Kaushik writes a lot about marketing analytics, and then I just quietly move along. Sometimes he writes about life in a corporate environment – and often what he says about that applies a lot more widely.

In my small business world, for instance, this post challenged me on many levels. Kaushik says:

“I humbly offer that for any brand that wants to survive for more than a couple of years, you have to figure out what the heck do we stand for? And, do the hard intelligent creative work required to manifest it in a simple tagline.”

Forget mission statements

In another post he talks about mission statements. He is not a fan: “Mission statements had great intent behind them: Signify purpose. Provide a clear True North. Ground individuals. Bring people together. Mission statements have long since morphed into blathering homages to nothingness, constructed by committees trying to appease every vested interest.”

Rather, says Kaushik, get yourself a mantra: “five words, or less. In that space, good mantras, capture the very essence of existence (of a team, company, product, or a person)… The best mantras communicate purpose, meaning, and are a clear rallying cry to bring people together.

Hmm. What the heck do I stand for, then? And can I say it in just five words?

When in doubt, make a list

I started with a long list (of course I did: I always make a list), brainstorming the things I stand for. In the list, were the following words (this is not the whole list, just the ones that leapt off the page at me once I was done):

  • Keeping faith (staying true to the things I believe in and support, even in hard or difficult times)
  • Being trustworthy and reliable (that’s what it says on the tin: safe hands)
  • Turning up (being responsible)
  • Connection (making connections, seeing patterns, closing circles)
  • Honesty (in both senses: being ethical, and being truthful)

Looking at my list and thinking about the range of things I do (editing, proofreading, social media, “fixing” problems with documents and websites, and more), I then distilled my purpose down to this:

“I help people to make connections through clear communication.”

Why only one mantra? I could have lots

And I generated a whole bunch of mantras (because, as previously recorded, I can’t resist a list):

  • I believe that doing the right thing is enough in itself.
  • I believe in not giving up.
  • I believe in making connections.
  • I believe in doing the work to keep my family together.
  • I believe in order and creating order.
  • I believe in helping other people to fly.
  • I believe in honesty and truth-telling.

I’ve been in business for three years now, and have mostly just done the thing that is in front of me.

But 2020 is my year to do things differently, to reflect and learn and grow. So I’m glad to have made conscious my values and to have begun the process of refining and distilling the essence of what I offer. It’s a process and my list will change and grow. But here, today, this is what I stand for.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs: coaching, editing, writing, social media.

Main picture: Estée Janssens, Unsplash.

My business and personal theme for 2020: Abundance

April 2020 update: I wrote this post in February, when the world was as it was. Pre-pandemic and pre-lockdown and pre-catastophic economic meltdowns. The world is now a very different place, and I hesitated before sharing it, but I think it still has validity. The world has become a much smaller and scarier place for all of us, and much of that is out of our control. But we can control how we think about things. We can  hope for a better world, and give thanks for what we have now. There is still abundance, if we choose to look for it.

“People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me. The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to … rather than detracts from…our lives.”

So says Stephen Covey (quoted here), author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’ve never read Stephen Covey, but I intend to start.

The reason I will be reading Mr Covey lies in a Udemy course I recently completed. It’s called “Taking your Business to the Next Level”, and was billed as a course looking at “Why and how to apply Systemic Intelligence in your business to unleash its full potential”. The course – sadly now not offered on the site – was conducted by Alessandro Carli*.

I started the course some time late in 2019, when I started to become aware that my business was not working for me. I’ve written about the new approach I am taking in 2020: going slowly and reflecting on what I really want to be doing. As part of my new year reboot, I decided to finish the course before doing anything more specific.

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Small business lessons learned: ask for help, collaborate

At the beginning of 2020, I found myself so exhausted all I could do was sit in a chair and read.

Two weeks into my holiday, I wasn’t feeling much better. I felt as though I was walking a labyrinth that would never end.

Ask for help, said a voice in my head. So when marketing guru and coach  Tina Keys at Pink Diamond Projects asked me to look over a document for her, in return for whatever work I might need done, I said could you give me some of your magic and get me up and running again?

She promptly enrolled me in her month-long Purpose and Identity challenge, which provides a framework for looking at the old year, thinking about the new year and setting some goals, along with a daily and weekly programme to make it all happen.
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Two years on: My business gets a rebranding

Big businesses do rebranding exercises; small businesses can too…

When I first started freelancing in December 2016, I described myself as just that: a freelancer.

But I soon learned that saying I was a freelancer was either not understandable, or made me sound like someone who “just worked from home”.

So I started saying I run a small business, or sometimes “I am a journalist”.

And when in November 2018 I made enough money in one month to cover all my expenses I thought: okay, now this is serious. This really is a business, and that’s not just something I say because that’s the general advice on all the entrepreneurial websites.

At about the same time, I was due to get new business cards printed. I looked at my existing cards and thought they looked a little tired. When I first started my business (see what I did there) I went on to Fiverr, found a designer, told him I wanted something minimalist and then used what he did for two years.

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Why businesses need editors: it’s in the details

Editors like to say that their work is invisible. An editor should leave things better than they were before, and no one should know they were there. Because that is true, most people don’t really know what editors do, or where they work. I would guess that the general public thinks of an editor as someone who works at a publishing house, or at a news publication – and indeed you will find editors in those places.

But wherever there is the written word, there is the need for a second eye, an editor who checks what has been written and applies a particular set of skills. Don’t believe me? Dear reader, I will now demonstrate. Continue reading

Things I have learned from being retrenched (twice)

In 2002 I was at last pregnant

After two years of fertility treatment, we had done it. Things were going well. We owned our own house, our relationship was strong, I had a good job. I was worried about how I was going to manage a baby and a career but I thought I would figure it out.

That was not how it was going to pan out, though.

At about the six or seven months mark of my pregnancy, I found myself in the boss’s office being told that my job was being made redundant. I was given a good package and a generous baby shower, and shown the door.

My therapist was a little unsympathetic, pointing out that being retrenched was not as bad as, say, losing a baby. With hindsight, she was of course right.

But retrenchment is not nothing, either. Continue reading

Things I have learned in a year of running a business

Red moleskine notebook

Picture: Sean McGrath, flickr

I’m a member the South African Freelancer’s Association, and the current acting chair of the Western Cape committee. In that capacity, I was asked to talk to a group of film-making interns at Reel Partners about freelancing and entrepreneurship.
I duly sat down and made a list of my five top tips for freelancers – you can read them here.
The talk went down well, I hope, and it got me thinking about what I have learned on a more personal level. It turned out there was quite a lot to excavate from the past year. Here then are the “deeper” learnings: Continue reading