Category Archives: Uncategorized

3 Emotions That Keep You Stuck

(And How to Overcome Them)

We all like feeling happy and settled. But those pleasant feelings can plateau your growth. Big goals are bound to stir up less pleasant emotions. Namely, fear, doubt, and uncertainty. In this episode, you’ll learn to see those feelings as the welcome committee to your best performance-and pick up some valuable tips to beat them.

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How This Young Mom Built Her Dream Business In Montenegro

How this Young Mom Built her Dream Business in Montenegro

One of the best things about having an online business is feeling like we’re able to give our son a dream childhood.

Sarah’s first venture into the business world didn’t go so well. She and her husband had bought a franchise in a shopping mall. After several years of working long hours for little return, they realized that, instead of achieving the freedom they had yearned for, they were slaves to the malls and the franchisor.

They pulled out of the franchise, taking a major financial loss. They decided it was time for a fresh start, in a different country. So they relocated to Montenegro, the home country of Sarah’s husband.

While working as a tour operator, Sarah kept her eyes open for another business opportunity. But this time, she wasn’t going to be lured by the promise of “easy money.” She knew exactly what she wanted: a business with low financial risk upfront and a solid income potential long-term.

A business that would give her freedom, location independence and enough free time to spend with her family. In short, she was searching for her dream business.

Did she get that “dream business”? Let’s find out…

Exploring Montenegro

1. Sarah, can you share a little about your first venture into the business world? What were some of the challenges you faced and why did you decide to get out of that business?

My first venture into business was buying a franchise – actually two branches of the same franchise. There were lots of challenges:

  • I wasn’t passionate about the business or what I was selling.

  • Two years into the lease I learned the shopping malls would be increasing the rent significantly every two years. After consulting lawyers and appraisers I realised there was nothing I could do and, therefore, essentially had a worthless business.

  • My husband and I worked as many hours as we could to cut costs, which meant we worked all the holidays while our friends and family were out having fun. Christmas falls in summer in New Zealand, so we missed a lot of barbecues and summer holidays because we were working.

  • Because so much of our income depended on Christmas, there was huge pressure on Christmas sales. One year a freak hail storm caused a flood and the mall had to be evacuated.

    When we picked up what had been abandoned by the checkout, we had lost over $10,000 in income. That income was supposed to help us keep going for the rest of the year and it was gone in an afternoon.

  • We had no control over the pricing because the prices were set by the franchisor. After our first year it became apparent there were errors in their system that cost us $40,000 on our bottom line, and the franchisor wasn’t willing to fix it.

We decided to get out of the business because we realised that we were working ourselves to the bone for nothing. We were working more hours and earning less money than in regular jobs.

The reason we wanted to have our own business was to have freedom; instead we were slaves first to the malls, then to the franchisor.

TAKEAWAY #1: The franchising industry is huge and growing rapidly across all business sectors. According to Franchise Direct’s 2017 industry report for the U.S., the retail franchise industry alone (think McDonalds, 7 Eleven or Ace Hardware) brings in nearly $70 billion dollars per year, while employing over 815,000 people directly.

And, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce suggests that 95% of franchises are still in business after 5 years.

Those numbers make a pretty strong case for the franchising model. Sarah’s experience, however, paints a different picture. Granted, she admits that she wasn’t passionate about their products.

But even with passion, the other major drawbacks would have still been there: being strangled by the mall’s rising rents, having no control over pricing and having to work insane hours to turn at least some profit.

Running a franchise business can certainly work (otherwise why would so many people do it?). But, if freedom, location independence and low financial risk are high on your priority list, an online business is the better option for you.

2. After that nearly devastating experience, why did you start another business? What did you do differently this time?

After we got out of the franchise (and took a major hit to the pocket), we relocated to my husband’s home country of Montenegro for a fresh start. I got a job with a new tour operator and helped people book holidays in Montenegro. I enjoyed my job, but in the back of my mind I was always looking for another business opportunity.

I started thinking about all the things I wanted in a business:

  • Low financial risk
  • No hard selling
  • Passive income
  • Location independence

Honestly, it sounded impossible…but then I discovered Solo Build It! and incredibly, it ticked every box. The Kiwi motto is ‘she’ll be right’ (everything will be alright). This time though, I wasn’t going to be dazzled by the promise of easy money.

If we were going to go into business again I was determined to have a business that enhanced our lifestyle, rather than turning us into miserable robots. I double and triple checked with myself that an online business was what I really wanted before I got started.

TAKEAWAY #2: A less entrepreneurial person might have given up on her business dream. After all, Sarah and her husband had taken a major financial loss due to their franchise adventure. But Sarah used their “mistake” to re-examine what she really wanted from a business, and kept her eyes open for the right opportunity.

And, as the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In Sarah’s case, the “teacher” was SBI!.

So, even if your first (or second) attempt at becoming your own boss fails, don’t give up! Keep looking for the right opportunity for you. Do your research. Don’t fall for the shiny, get-rich-quick promises. Insist on verifiable proof. Once you are satisfied, take the plunge and go all in! Great things will happen, as they did for Sarah.

Exploring the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, with her husband and son.
Exploring the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, with her husband and son.

3. How did you decide about your niche? How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

Ahhhh Brainstormer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

SBI! Brainstorm It!I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is the greatest advantage for us SBIers. The fact that we don’t just randomly start online businesses based on our passions. We build online businesses based on 1) what we know and love, and 2) what we have a good chance of succeeding in.

While I was booking holidays in Montenegro, I realised there was a dearth of information about Montenegro online. What was there was written in poor English; a lot of it was irrelevant and a snoozefest to read. I wondered if I could have a business helping more people have an amazing time in Montenegro. When I checked Brainstorm It!, the numbers agreed!

SBI!’s Brainstorm It! tool helped me make sure that I was starting an online business in a niche that I could be successful in. That doesn’t mean it didn’t take effort and work, but it meant that with effort and work there was a good chance I would succeed.

TAKEAWAY #3: Too many beginner solopreneurs depend on “gut feel” or “intuition” when deciding about their niche. They love to travel, so they start a travel blog. They enjoy cooking, so they start up a recipe site.

And while travel and cooking are great general areas for an online business, they are far too broad for you, as a solopreneur, to succeed against the “big guys.” You need to carve out just the right size of niche, big enough to be profitable and small enough to be “winnable.”

How do you do that? You research and refine, and research some more. Keyword research plays a big part in determining a niche’s viability. SBI! members like Sarah have access to Brainstorm It!, SBI!’s smart keyword brainstorming and analysis tool.

“Keywords” are simply the words or phrases that people use to search at Google and other engines. Brainstorm It! tells you…

  • which keywords (that are related to your niche) people search for
  • how often they search for each term
  • how many other pages there are about that topic, and
  • what the commercial value of those terms is.

Brainstorm It! finds way more search terms than you could ever think up. It shows you which ones make most sense to write about. It helps you determine your idea’s profitability. It guides you in developing your initial content structure and – as your business grows – it helps you discover new topics to write about.

Beach time.
Beach time.

4. Organic search traffic to www.montenegropulse.com has increased considerably since January 2017. What did you do to make this happen?

I did three things:

  1. I published new pages more often
  2. I rewrote weak pages and
  3. I focused on the best social network for my business.

When I reviewed my existing content, I realised how weak a lot of my pages were. They had bad photos and didn’t cover the topic fully. My niche is really visual, so it made sense to source great photos to show my readers how beautiful Montenegro is.

I also added more relevant information and more personality when I rewrote my pages. I aim to get into my visitor’s head. What do they want to know? What problem are they trying to solve? Once I’ve figured this out, I offer them a solution. Between Brainstorm It! and my years of booking holidays here I have a good understanding of what people are looking for.

Given my niche is visual, I put a lot of effort into Pinterest. I used great photos to create beautiful pins and started pinning them to some travel-related group boards. I only work two to three hours a day on my online business, so I’m focusing on the social network that I feel is the best for my niche.

TAKEAWAY #4: Content is the engine that drives free traffic – your business’s lifeblood – to your website. But not just any content. Not even merely “good” content. Your content has to be outstanding, whether it is text, images, video or audio.

How do you produce outstanding content? Sarah mentions three important factors:

  1. You have first hand experience with the topic you write about (or you researched it really well).
  2. You put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. When your visitor searches for that keyword you’re writing about, what does she really want to know? What’s her most pressing problem or biggest desire? That’s what you page needs to answer.
  3. Your content is “uniquely you.” Your writing style, tone and design all work together to create your “brand of one.”

This principle of OVERdelivering is just as important for your social media presence as it is for your website. While search is still by far the largest traffic source for most solopreneurs, social media drives direct traffic too. For some online businesses, especially in the travel niche, Pinterest or Facebook (if done well) can contribute a good amount of highly targeted traffic.

We’ll talk more about which social media channels to choose for your business, and how to use them efficiently, further down.  

One of Sarah's favorite restaurants to work on her online business.
One of Sarah’s favorite restaurants to work on her online business.

5. You provide lots of information and resources for free. How do you “upgrade” people from being free content seekers to paying customers?

I use affiliate marketing. I connect my visitors with good local businesses offering tours, accommodation, rental cars and anything else people might need on their holiday in Montenegro. Those local businesses give me a commission on bookings.

I work with some partners directly, which I really love because I get to know them well. I know I’m helping my visitors find an awesome experience here and I’m also helping a local business that really deserves it.

Montenegro is old school, everything is done over the phone. So connecting my online audience with my offline partners works extremely well.

I also use affiliate programs like Viator, Get Your Guide and Booking.com. Next year I’ll be creating my own products, mostly guides, to boost my income.

TAKEAWAY #5: Affiliate marketing is an easy to implement starter monetization model. You send visitors (i.e., potential customers) to a merchant’s website that you are representing. If they buy (or complete a required action – for example, fill in a form), the merchant pays you a commission. Simple, right?

That, in essence, is the beauty of the affiliate concept. It’s even better if you work directly with your merchant partners. Not only do you build a personal relationship with them, but commission rates are most likely higher than when you sign up for one of the “big guys” like Viator or Booking.com.

In Sarah’s case, some of her partners are local businesses who may not even have a website, but are offering exactly what Sarah’s audience is looking for. Referring her visitors to these local businesses is a win-win-win situation for everyone involved.

How did Sarah find those local partners? Well, that was one of the challenges she faced. She explains more about this in her answer to question #8. First, let’s hear whether her online business provides her with a full- or part-time income.

So much research to do! This time... restaurant testing.
So much research to do! This time… restaurant testing.

6. How long did it take to start earning income from your online business?  Is it a full-time or a part-time income?

It took me about six months to start earning money from my business. I still remember that first payment, it was an amazing feeling. I had validation that my ‘crazy idea’ would really work and I had earned money from something I’d created from scratch.

It took me a while to earning regular income, mainly because Montenegro isn’t really online. When I started there weren’t any online affiliates offering tours here and I had just had a baby, so going out and recruiting partners was difficult. People here don’t email, they want to meet face to face.

Now I’m almost earning a full-time income. I focused on passive income, which is why it’s taken me awhile to get my income level up. At first you work and earn very little, but then the income increases exponentially.

And the great thing is you don’t have to work more to earn more. I expect to be making a good full-time income next year and then – the sky’s the limit!

TAKEAWAY #6: “At first you work and earn very little, but then the income increases exponentially.” That, in a nutshell, is the beauty and the crux of an online business with mostly passive income sources.

The crux because you need enough stamina to get over the “hump.” You won’t see income over night. It took Sarah 6 months before she earned her first money. Depending on your niche, and how much time per day / week you put into your business, you may start earning a bit earlier, or a lot later.

On average, 6 months is a good amount of time to calculate as the build-up phase where you see little to no financial return for your work. Once you’ve reached that turning point though, the work – reward ratio reverses. You’ll see more and more income for the same (or even less) amount of work.

Passive income (from monetization models like affiliate marketing, Google AdSense, advertising) gives you the most freedom. Income keeps coming in while you sleep. The downside? Your dollar-per-visitor ratio is limited. Profit potential, especially from AdSense or other contextual advertising, is low.

With enough traffic, you can still make a good income from solely passive monetization. To increase your income, you can add more active models to your monetization mix. Creating and selling your own e-goods (eBooks, digital downloads, online courses) works well for many niches.

Or, you go fully active, for example by selling your own services. At some point, Sarah might decide to offer her own Montenegro tours. Or she might open a bed and breakfast. It’s a question of what you value more: your freedom and location independence, or the level of income from your business.

As an SBI! member, you won’t be alone in that decision-making process. You’ll find help and guidance for every monetization model, from fully passive to fully active.

7. You use social media to promote your online business. How did you decide which platform(s) to use? Why do you think they work best for your niche?

I started with a Facebook Page, but realised that Pinterest is fantastic for travel sites. People come to Pinterest for inspiration. Beautiful pins of holiday destinations certainly fall into that category.

Pins stick around for much longer than posts on other social networks. People are likely to save pins of things they want to come back to later. So if I make a pin about things to do in a town in Montenegro, people see it, pin it and then visit my site when they’re ready to make bookings for their holiday.

Other than Facebook and Pinterest, I post on Instagram and Twitter. I don’t post on them as often, but they’re useful for connecting with local businesses in my niche.

TAKEAWAY #7: Nowadays, as a business owner, you have to “go social.” But, which network is right for your niche? Choose the one(s) where you are most likely to reach your target audience. For visual niches like travel, crafts or food, Pinterest is a no-brainer.

Facebook can work well, too. However, as Sarah points out, Pinterest has the added benefit that people use it specifically to save things to do, try or buy. Saved pins with links to your great articles are easily organized and accessed later.

And it’s not just that Pinterest users want to see pretty pictures. Pinners may go there for inspiration and to plan their dream vacation, but 55% of them are also there to buy. For travel sites that can mean hotels, tours, car hire – even the best flights.

Facebook or Instagram posts, and of course tweets, have a much shorter lifespan than a pin. A pin can still be found after, literally, years.

Sarah touches upon another important use for social media. In addition to building relationships and trust with your potential customers, you can – and should – also use your social media presence to connect with influencers and possible business partners in your niche.

Compared to the offline model of taking business contacts out to dinner and drinks, or 4 hours of golf, it’s a time-efficient way of spreading your name, getting natural links and becoming the go-to person in your niche.

Find out more about the personal use of social in our article, “3 Easy Steps to Building Social Media Relationships.”

8. What has been your biggest challenge so far as a solopreneur?

Oh, there have been plenty of challenges on this journey!

Personally, I tend to jump from task to task and leave things half done. I think a lot of people who start online businesses are like that – it goes hand in hand with the “shiny object syndrome.”

SBI!’s Tier Structure Template and Action Guide have really helped me stay focused, organized and on task.

I also had to overcome huge resistance about picking up the phone and cold-calling local businesses I wanted to partner with. What if they laughed at me? Or rejected me? Some did, but I realised it’s not the end of the world. Some of the people I called have turned out to be wonderful partners and friends. I’m glad I screwed up the courage to make those calls.

There’s tremendous personal growth in being a business owner – if you’re willing to face your fears.

TAKEAWAY #8: One piece of advice that you’ll often hear from fellow SBIers is to “put your blinders on and follow the Action Guide.” The world of online marketing and business building overflows with distractions. Each day, dozens of articles with best practices and new strategies are being published.

How are you supposed to keep up with such a fire-hose of information? And, more importantly, how do you know which advice to follow and which to ignore? You can’t. And with SBI!, you don’t have to.

SBI! provides you with exactly the information you need to know at any given point in time and which action – if any – you have to take to stay current with today’s online business requirements.

To quote one of our customers:

[…] whenever I have a question, I always know exactly where to go to find the answer. That in itself is priceless! It saves me countless wasted hours trying to find reputable answers in the mishmash of useful, garbage, and out-of-date information that’s out there.Erin Dragonsong, http://www.wicca-spirituality.com

Sarah's son loves to help with her research trips.
Sarah’s son loves to help with her research trips.

9. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

Choices. Having an online business has given me choices both personally and professionally. Professionally, I choose when, where and with whom I work. Since I love to travel, I love to explore somewhere new and then I can write about it on my website. It really is my dream business. I also love that I can just shove my laptop in my bag and jump on a plane to join my husband at a yacht show in Monaco or Dusseldorf.

Personally, having the business means we get to choose our lifestyle. Things we thought were impossible before are suddenly options for us. Homeschooling, living where we want – these are choices we can make now. We enjoy more time together, don’t spend our mornings rushing about and generally have a pretty chilled lifestyle.

One of the best things about having an online business is feeling like we’re able to give our son a dream childhood. In summer we spend every morning at the beach, in winter he runs around in the sun with the neighbourhood kids (because it’s sunny here even in winter!).

And he loves coming with me on my ‘research trips’ to check out new boat tours, go kayaking, spend a day in Dubrovnik or go for gelato in Kotor. None of that would be possible if I’d gone back to my 9-5.

Essentially, having an online business has offered us freedom in every facet of our lives. And to me, that’s the ultimate prize.

Finally, Montenegro has a big stray animal problem and Montenegro Pulse also helps me with with my other passion – animals. I collect donations and donate a percentage of my income to spay and neuter projects. I wouldn’t be able to do this without a high-traffic website.

TAKEAWAY #9: The freedom to choose your lifestyle, to spend more time with your children and spouse, to merge your professional and personal life in ways you never thought possible – that is indeed the ultimate prize of being a solopreneur.
Another boat trip research tour.
Another boat trip research tour.

10. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

When you start an online business you have to have – or develop! – faith that you can create something most people label as “too good to be true.” Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do (the SBI! forums are full of them). Why? Because most of your friends and family won’t get what you’re doing.

Be willing to face your fears. Building your business will require you to step out of your comfort zone at some point. You will face rejection and failure. That’s just part of running a business. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying something.

TAKEAWAY #10: You might find this surprising, but we often hear from solopreneurs that they faced the biggest resistance from their closest family members. As a best case scenario, they simply don’t understand what you are doing. In the worst case, they try to talk you out of it.

That’s why Sarah’s advice to surround yourself with like-minded people is so important. In fact, it can make the difference between failure and success. When we asked 50+ of our members in which ways SBI! has contributed most to their success, the SBI! forums and community came in as the second most important factor (just behind the Action Guide).

Are YOU ready to step out of your comfort zone, to achieve the level of freedom that Sarah has found? When you are, we’re here to help.

Browse the SBI! forums, talk to one of our advisors, or sign up and start building your business today (with our 90 day money-back guarantee you have nothing to lose!).

Author information

Sarah Pavlovic

Born and raised in New Zealand, Sarah Pavlovic has now made the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro her home, where she runs the popular tourist guide Montenegro Pulse. She devotes her time to sampling donuts on Montenegro’s beaches and being wowed by Montenegro’s incredible landscape, people and food. She loves spending her business income on plane tickets and helping the stray cats and dogs of Montenegro.

The post How This Young Mom Built Her Dream Business In Montenegro appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

One Easy Self-Assessment for True Success

How to Keep Track of the 10 Domains that Make up Your Life

One key for designing the future we desire is self awareness. A study study by Cornell University and Green Peak Partners found it was the single greatest predictor of success among executives. That goes for most of us.

Our lives have many domains. Consider your spirituality, psychological and physical health, family, friends, and work. It doesn’t stop there. As Michael says, it’s helpful to see our lives as consisting of ten interrelated domains: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, marital, parental, social, financial, vocational, and avocational.

Struggling to keep track?

A critical insight is that these domains are interrelated. Each one affects all the others. Take work. Job stress can drain our physical and emotional energy, tax our closest relationships, devour our margin for recovery, and more. It’s the same with our physical health and our families. How many people have you seen riding high until an ailment or a divorce brought everything to a screeching halt?

The trouble is visibility. True self awareness means we know how we’re doing in all ten domains. Easier said than done, right? It’s challenging to maintain focus on one area while keeping an eye on all the others. It’s like a game of existential Whac-A-Mole.

A few of us don’t even try. We pursue whatever comes easiest and forget the rest. But I bet most of us want much more out of life. We just struggle to keep our eye on so many moving targets. We want to build a strong marriage, give our best on the job, and stay connected to our kids-all while making room for friends and pastimes that help us rejuvenate.

We know most things don’t get better on their own. Improvement takes attention. One tool that can provide the visibility we need is the LifeScore™ Assessment. This is a tool that lets you rate yourself in all ten life domains. It then assigns a numeric value to your answers and calculates your overall LifeScore™.

How far can you go?

The score let’s you confirm what’s working well already and spot opportunities for improvement. As Michael says, the LifeScore™ Assessment gives you the clarity you need to design the life you want. This is the third year we’ve offered the assessment, and one thing we love hearing is how it’s already helped leaders, entrepreneurs, and others make progress toward designing the lives they want.

“The first time I took the LifeScore™ Assessment was a huge wake-up call for me,” said Kelly Thorne Gore, founder and president of iBloom. “I was really strong in certain areas, and I was proud of that. There were certain areas where I was really frustrated.” Seeing the gap gave Kelly insight into what needed her attention next. “That awareness was a defining point for me,” she said. “It was realizing that I had to make some changes. And I was worth it. My family was worth it. It really was the catalyst for creating one of my best years ever.”

“The LifeScore™ Assessment has meant everything to me,” said Rick Kloete, president and managing partner for the Kloete Group, an executive search firm. Because of the assessment, “I knew where I needed the most improvement and what was most important.”

Steve Anderson, a speaker and industry consultant on technology and its uses in insurance, said the assessment “is a great tool to help you understand more objectively than probably you can on your own where you stand in terms of your goals.”

How far have you come?

The score not only tells you where you are, it can also show you how far you’ve come. “I am a numbers guy,” Mark Timm, CEO of Cottage Garden and Ziglar Family, said. “That’s one of the things that I think I liked about the LifeScore™ Assessment. It actually gave me a number I can use to benchmark my progress.”

“Take it once,” he said, “that’s your baseline, and then take it again. . . . So you can measure the progress that you’re making.”

The future is built on the present. Our decisions and actions today contribute to the shape of tomorrow. But without a good sense of where we stand right now in all of life’s domains, our decisions will be uninformed and our actions lopsided. The LifeScore™ Assessment gives us the insight and balanced attention we need to make significant progress across the board.

What’s more, watching your score improve will help you stay motivated and engaged for the long haul.

How far will you go?

The LifeScore™ Assessment only takes about ten minutes to complete. Once you’re finished, you’ll get a score-specific report along with tips and strategies you can use to improve your number in the coming year. Best of all, the LifeScore™ Assessment is totally free-for a limited time. We’re offering the assessment as part of the prelaunch promotion for the 2018 edition of our 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever course. After that, the assessment will only be available as part of the course.

Discover Your LifeScore™ Now!

Don’t miss this chance to discover your LifeScore.™ It’s fun, fast, free, and will give you the visibility you need to succeed in all of life’s domains.

How This Career Coach Crafted Her Way To Creative Online Success

How This Career Coach Crafted Her Way To Creative Online Success

It was quite satisfying to know that every month, I reach, for free, the same audience size as a craft magazine that charges people $1000 to reach their readers one single time.

Lisa McGrimmon loved her job as a career coach. She worked from home and could set her own hours. But, in 2006, her employer lost some major funding and had to let her go.

What now? She couldn’t see herself working a traditional 9 to 5 office job. The freedom and flexibility of her work-at-home lifestyle tasted too good to give up!

Besides her professional career, Lisa had always loved crafting. She decided to build a business around selling her handmade jewelry. The artistic part inside her was happy. But “hey, what about me?” said her career coach part. “I want to be involved too.”

So Lisa merged her skills as a career coach with her love for crafts into a unique solopreneur business. The result of this merger? That’s what she tells us in the interview below.

1. Lisa, your online business, www.craftprofessional.com, combines your skills as a career coach with your love for making jewelry. How did this come about?

Back in 2006, the company I worked for lost some major funding. I was laid off from my job as a career coach. In many ways, it was a fabulous job. I worked from home and set my own hours. I could take my son, who was 3 at the time, for walks in our neighborhood during the day, meet my husband for picnic lunches at the beach near our home on a work day, and still have an interesting career.

After getting a taste of that freedom, I couldn’t see myself returning to an office job. I also knew that, realistically, the working conditions I loved would be tough to replace in another job, so I looked to self-employment.

Hand Made is BetterMy work had been lacking an element of creativity, and I missed that. I had always been involved in the arts in some way, but I had been gradually promoted out of any kind of creative work. I decided to start selling my handmade jewelry as a way to add a creative outlet to my life. I think many craft businesses start out of similar motivations.

My website, CraftProfessional.com, came out of a logical combination of my craft business and my experience as a career coach. As I was learning about how to sell crafts, the career coach in me took over. I wanted to share that information with others.

In a lot of ways, I still see myself as a career coach. I’ve just taken the broader skills and knowledge that a career coach has and laser-focused them in the tighter niche of craft business development.

TAKEAWAY #1: Do you believe in fate? That whatever happens to you happens for a reason? Being laid off is a terrible thing. Especially when you enjoyed your job, as Lisa did. But instead of lamenting her job loss, Lisa took a step back and examined what she wanted to do next.

She took her forced unemployment as a chance to re-introduce more creativity into her life. Not only that, she found a smart way to combine her love for crafting with her skills as a career coach – a match made in heaven for growing a successful online business!

Lisa McGrimmon, Career Coach turned Online Business Owner!
Lisa McGrimmon, Career Coach turned Online Business Owner!

2. Tell us about your philosophy regarding content. How do you know what your prospective customers are looking for? Where does this information come from?

My content ideas come from one of three places. First and foremost, I use Solo Build It!’s Brainstorm It! tool to find keywords and topics that are of interest to people in my niche. I am a heavy user of the tool and frequently research keywords for possible topic areas in my niche.

SBI! Brainstorm It!Brainstorm It! gives me plenty of inspiration for topics to cover. It shows me where there’s a good amount of interest in a topic, but not too much competition from other websites.

Second, I get content ideas from readers. I have surveyed my newsletter subscribers to ask what topics they want me to write about. They have given me a good list of topic ideas, which I cover on my site.

Finally, very occasionally I just write what I want to write. It might not be a topic that has great numbers in terms of being winnable at the search engines, but sometimes there’s a topic that I feel craft business owners need to know about, even if the numbers aren’t promising.

The pages that I have written around keywords with good Brainstorm It! numbers do the best job in bringing traffic to my site. They are also by far the most read pages.

While I benefit most from my content decisions based on Brainstorm It! data, I will supplement and fill in a bit with other topics that I feel are valuable to my readers.

TAKEAWAY #2: Lisa’s content decisions are based on an excellent mix of data-backed research with Brainstorm It!, her intimate niche knowledge and direct feedback from her audience.

Brainstorm It! is a smart keyword brainstorming and evaluation tool that’s included in every SBI! subscription.

As Lisa pointed out, it brings back a plethora of topics (aka keywords or keyword phrases) related to your niche and tells you the demand and supply numbers for each term. In other words, Brainstorm It! shows you how popular a search term is and how much competition there is.

When you begin your business-building process with SBI!, you’ll use various brainstorming techniques to help you shape your website’s content structure. You’ll create a “site content blueprint.”

What does that mean? You’ll organize all the topics you’re going to write about into a 3-tier structure. Tier 1 is your site concept keyword (which becomes your site’s home page). Each Tier 2 page is a subcategory of your Tier 1. Each Tier 3 page is a subtopic of a Tier 2 page.

As a best practice, you’ll start by writing about the “low hanging fruit” first, i.e. you choose the topics with less competition that have a solid demand. This will get your traffic rolling!

One important thing to keep in mind: never decide what topics you’ll cover solely based on numbers. You know what makes most sense for your niche. This might mean to skip a keyword despite its great numbers, or to write about a topic that has bad numbers, but provides value to your readers.  

3. You provide lots of information and resources for free. How do you “upgrade” people from being free content seekers to paying customers?

Building trust is key. When people see you are a real person, who cares about their concerns, and offers quality free content, it makes it easier for them to trust and make the leap to buy a paid product.

Repeat exposure to a product offering is also important. I send out a newsletter every week to thousands of readers. In it, I provide helpful free content, along with a mention of my product.

Happiness is hand MadeI also work mentions of my product into relevant pages on my site. I’m still working on doing a better job of that; it all takes time. I used to be less disciplined about sending out newsletters, but my income from several sources has increased since I’ve become more consistent.

Recently, I was approached repeatedly by an advertising salesperson who works for a print magazine in my niche. She wanted to sell me ad space that would have started at approximately $1000 for a single ad. I checked the magazine’s circulation numbers and discovered my website’s monthly page views were the same as the magazine’s monthly circulation.

It was quite satisfying to know that every month, I reach, for free, the same audience size as a craft magazine that charges people $1000 to reach their readers one single time. Needless to say, I smiled, and didn’t buy the expensive ad.

TAKEAWAY #3: Fantastic business advice from Lisa! Building trust and repeat exposure are two key ingredients for selling your products or services. In fact, they’re requirements for any kind of monetization beyond simple advertising.

People prefer doing business with someone they know and trust. So how do you build that trust in the rather anonymous online business world? It all starts with your content. You create truly excellent, high-value content that delivers what your readers sought at the search engines.

Next, you offer your audience ways to interact with you, both on- and off-site: your visitor can comment on your site, submit a form to contact you, and subscribe to your newsletter.

Off-site, you build a great presence on one or a few social media channels (the ones that make most sense for your niche – more on that in a moment), where you invite your “fans” to ask questions, give feedback or simply “hang out” with you.

Within the SBI! community we have a term for this trust-building approach. We call it “PREselling.” As the name indicates, it’s the crucial step that comes before selling (monetizing).

It’s also step 3 in SBI!’s proven Content Traffic PREsell Monetize process. Too many solopreneurs start with monetization… and fail. You need the C T P engine to generate the “fuel” for your monetization options, aka a steady stream of warm, ready-to-buy visitors.

We had to chuckle about Lisa’s $1000 ad anecdote. She doesn’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get her content in front of the right people… all these people come to her site for free. That’s the power of SBI!’s C T P engine!  

Enjoying time with her husband and two sons.
Enjoying time with her husband and two sons.

4. One of your products is an online course. How did you create this course? What made you choose coursecraft.net as the course platform?

Creating and promoting the course required a lot of research about e-learning best practices, and also where to host a course.

Whenever I need to use some type of outside service for my business, I start my research with the SBI! resources and community. I trust Solo Build It!’s recommendations, so starting here saves me time searching for the best service provider.

When You Support Small Business, You're Supporting a DreamI read everything I could find on the SBI! forums about developing a course and got some good information. From there, I created a short list of service providers I wanted to consider.

I researched a few and found that CourseCraft offered excellent and timely customer service. Anyone who enrolled in my course would get a good response from CourseCraft if they had questions related to using the platform.

In addition, CourseCraft offered enough functionality to allow me to create the type of course I wanted without being too complex, and their fee structure worked well for my needs.

TAKEAWAY #4: Time is every solopreneur’s most precious, most limited resource. That’s why every aspect of SBI! is focused on saving you time.

This includes sifting through hundreds of outside resources and information to recommend the most up-to-date and efficient solution to any business need you may have. In Lisa’s case, she needed a platform to create and host a paid online course.

When we first talked with Lisa, we had assumed that she wanted to do a video course. This wasn’t the case though. Below she explains which formats she uses for her course and why.

The primary focus of the course is a 70+ page printable workbook which, when completed, will give craft business owners the self-knowledge and information needed to develop a business that’s a good fit with their skills, expectations, resources, and opportunities. There are online lessons, which guide people through all of the exercises in the workbook.

I chose a printable workbook as the main focus of the course instead of a medium like video because my research indicated that creative and visually oriented people typically do their best in-depth thinking when working on paper, not on a screen.

My readers generally fall into the category of visually oriented people, so I felt a printable workbook would best meet their learning needs.

I do use some video though. For example, I have an explainer video on my course intro page, which was my first foray into creating video for my site. I used VideoScribe for the animation. Most of the images came with their platform, but I had to create a few images of my own to tell the story I wanted to tell.

I’d like to make more use of video for my business, but it would require a big time commitment. So, first I’d need to determine the most effective ways to use video and ensure it would be a good allocation of my time. It’s something that’s on my radar, but it hasn’t made it to the top of the priorities list.

TAKEAWAY #5: According to 2017 video marketing stats, one third of online activity is spent watching video. Some marketers even believe that we’ve shifted into a “video first” world, a world that includes more watching than reading.

Videos can help your business in different ways:

  • Raise awareness and drive traffic (when you upload your videos to YouTube or other video platforms)
  • Boost engagement on social platforms (especially on Facebook)
  • Build trust with your visitors
  • PREsell affiliate products and services
  • PREsell your own products and services
  • Generate income as a paid product (video course, downloadable video lessons, videos on DVD)  

As an SBI! member you’ll have access to a whole series of articles and tutorials about how to best use and create videos for your niche. In addition, you can exchange ideas and ask questions in our dedicated video and audio forum.

Another family trip, this time to Walt Disney World.
Another family trip, this time to Walt Disney World.

5. What other ways of monetizing do you have, and how well do they work for you?

I have Google Adsense ads, Amazon CPM ads, affiliate links, and I’m in the early stages of developing a line of digital products.

The Google Adsense ads were my first online monetization method. I like the simplicity of passive income. The ads used to pay quite well, but that’s not the case anymore.

I’ve gradually moved away from Adsense ads, replacing them with Amazon CPM ads, which perform better for me. I haven’t completely eliminated Adsense, but it’s on the way out on my site.

I also earn affiliate income from Amazon. I’ve tried a few other affiliate programs, but Amazon converts for me far better than any other program I’ve tried. Amazon provides a great range of products that people need when setting up a booth to sell at craft shows, and my readers appreciate being directed to those products.

People have written to me to thank me for those links I provide on my site, so it’s a win-win. Back in the day, when I sold at craft shows and was designing my own display, these products were not easy to research and find online, so I’m happy that resource is available now.

TAKEAWAY #6: Passive monetization with Google AdSense used to work really well until a couple of years ago. Even with moderate traffic numbers solopreneurs could earn a decent income.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case anymore. Lisa did the right thing. She tested other passive income models and replaced what’s no longer working with higher paying alternatives.

Even better, she started developing a new line of digital products. Let’s hear from Lisa why she’s so excited about her newest offering, and how she decided where to sell her products…

I’m in the early stages of developing a line of digital art products. I’ve moved away from selling jewelry. My jewelry designs contained elements of digital art, and I realized that creating the digital art was the part of the process I enjoyed best.

I’ve experimented with different ways to sell digital art. This current offering is an extremely new part of my business and something I’m excited to get established.

Like I did for my course, I researched platforms for delivering the downloads and collecting payments. Etsy was among the options available, and it was a good fit for the type of products I wanted to sell.

I had a bit of experience selling on Etsy, but I had not explored it fully. I prefer to build my own business on my own site. For the most part, people who buy products from your Etsy shop are Etsy’s customers, not your customers.

Part of Lisa's new line of digital products in her Etsy shop.
Part of Lisa’s new line of digital products in her Etsy shop.

Among my options for selling digital products, Etsy had the added bonus of being popular with craft business owners. It was something I felt I should know more about to serve my readers well, and at the same time, it could fulfill a need I had for my digital products.

My Etsy shop is getting a good amount of traffic considering it’s a new shop and I don’t yet have a lot of products compared with others selling in the same category.

Interestingly, my statistics show that only about 8% of visits to my shop came from Etsy. The vast majority of my shop visits came from my own website, newsletter, and social media promotional efforts.

It will be interesting to see how those numbers evolve as I expand the shop, make more sales, get reviews, and also promote it more on my site.

TAKEAWAY #7: Did you spot the key statements Lisa made above? She wrote, “I prefer to build my own business on my own site.” And she goes on to say: “Interestingly, my statistics show that only about 8% of visits to my shop came from Etsy. The vast majority of my shop visits came from my own website, newsletter, and social media promotional efforts.”

Yes, you can succeed with selling your products only on marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon or eBay. But, unless you’re a well-known brand, it will be much harder to get enough potential customers to see your offers. You’ll probably be forced to pay for your traffic.

In addition, you have to play by the marketplace’s rules. If you violate them, knowingly or unknowingly, they can shut down your store.

A content-rich niche website, like Lisa’s, is the ideal driver of perpetual free traffic to your online store or offline business. And it’s yours.

6. You have a strong presence on Pinterest and Instagram. Why do you think these social media channels work well for you? Can you share some “best practices” for each network?

I love Pinterest and Instagram. I like to scroll through Instagram images and see what craft business owners are doing and look for trends in my niche. I plan a lot of my personal DIY projects, decorating, shopping, and baking on Pinterest.

I think understanding how “regular people” use a platform is important. It’s easy to get lost in looking at platforms from a marketer’s perspective. To connect with people, it’s important to be aware of how these platforms are used by regular people.

Pinterest sends my site as much traffic as Google search. I feel like I’ve laid a good foundation on Instagram, but I’m still learning and experimenting with it. I’m thrilled to see my website traffic coming from diverse sources, so I’m not too dependent on a single source of traffic.

Both Pinterest and Instagram are extremely visually oriented, and the craft niche in general is also quite visually oriented, so my audience is there on both platforms.

For both Pinterest and Instagram, I’ve found it’s important to post regularly and consistently. I use Tailwind to schedule Pinterest and Instagram posts. It helps me post daily no matter how busy I am with other things, and I can schedule posts when it’s most convenient for me.

Whenever I write a new article, I take time to create images optimized for Instagram and Pinterest, so I can promote the new articles on those platforms. It definitely adds to my workload, but, given the number of people who find my site through Pinterest, it’s well-worth the time.

TAKEAWAY #8: Nowadays, every business needs a social media presence. But you cannot and should not be on every platform. Instead, select the two or three networks where your audience is most likely to hang out.

As an expert in your niche, you’ll know which channels are best… the ones that you use yourself as a “consumer.” But what if you’re unsure which social media platforms are best for your business?

Fear not! Audience research is part of the in-depth business planning that you’ll do with the help of the SBI! Action Guide. The Guide walks you through the process of building a picture of your ideal site visitor. It will leave you with detailed information about your customer “persona,” which you can use to match up with social platform target groups.

And it gets even better. Because we know how much solopreneurs struggle with using social media in the most efficient way, we are creating Social Media Action Guides for the four major players (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram).

Each guide follows the same proven step-by-step structure of the overall SBI! Action Guide. Each will shorten your social media learning curve. You’ll master the social network that’s most relevant to your business in no time at all!

7. What has been your biggest challenge so far as a solopreneur?

Protecting my work time.

Because I have a good degree of flexibility in my work schedule, people sometimes think that means they can call on me to run errands or chat at any time.

But First, CoffeeI have set office hours, and I believe that’s essential if you’re going to accomplish anything. I work every weekday when my kids are at school. I work other times, too, but I do my best work when my family is out of the house for several hours.

I will happily give up some of those office hours to go on a class trip, or take my child to a medical appointment. That’s primarily why I chose this business – so I can be available for my family when they need me.

I won’t give up my office hours to take personal phone calls or run errands. I’ve had to be firm in setting boundaries with some people.

Yes, I do control my time. I work when I choose, and that is fabulous. But I do have to put in the work. I have a lot of goals for my business that I want to achieve, and that will only happen if I put in the hours and do the work.

TAKEAWAY #9: While working from home is undoubtedly the best lifestyle (yes, we’re somewhat biased here 😉), it also poses its challenges. Setting boundaries is one of them. Giving yourself “time off” is another.

Lisa gives a great example how to deal with some of those challenges. She sets “office hours,” which she firmly defends against non-urgent demands from family or friends. You’ll find 4 more tips about how to stay focused when working at home here.

Lisa's home office.
Lisa’s home office.

8. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

I love so much about being an online business owner.

I enjoy sharing what I know with my readers. They are the nicest, kindest people. My readers send me wonderful emails and leave great comments on my site. It completely makes my day when a reader sends me a message to thank me for something I’ve shared or offers insights to help others who visit my site.

I love learning and working in a role that’s not stagnant over time. I like that my online business is always evolving. The business I had ten years ago is very different from the business I have today, and I like knowing there will always be something new and interesting to learn.

Small Business is a Big DealBeing a solopreneur requires a good degree of self-discipline. Building my business has taught me a lot about myself that I might not otherwise have discovered. I’m “it” in this business. Nothing gets done if I don’t do it. As a result, I’ve had to become very aware of my strengths and weaknesses.

I have learned which of my personal tendencies hold me back, and I do my best to be aware of and avoid those inclinations. That self-knowledge spills over into other areas of my life, too, and has made me a more disciplined person.

I’m thankful that I can have something of my own that’s interesting and fulfilling, and, at the same time, I can be available for my family in a way that works for all of us. I pick my younger son up from school every day. He leaves the school and comes running into my arms every day. We wouldn’t have those moments if I was in an office from 9 to 5.

I have a child who has some ongoing medical needs, and when he is sick and needs to stay home from school or see a doctor, I don’t have to be stressed about balancing what an employer expects of me with what my child needs. I know that kind of autonomy is rare, and I’m very grateful to have it.

TAKEAWAY #10: When you run your own online business, you’ll enjoy many benefits. Lisa mentions several of them:

  • The knowledge that you touch other people’s lives in a positive way.
  • The satisfaction of learning something new and interesting every day.
  • The realization that you not just grow your business, but yourself as a person.
  • The pure joy of being around for those precious moments in your children’s lives.

10. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

You need to be willing to work hard, but hard work isn’t enough. You need to work hard in the right way, and on the right things.

It’s important to create and follow a clear roadmap toward your goal and not approach things randomly and disjointedly. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Others have already achieved the goals you’d like to achieve, so you can look to trusted advisors for guidance. Someone who has already walked the path you are about to embark on will be able to see pitfalls, help you avoid mistakes, and help you make progress on that journey much faster than you ever could on your own.

TAKEAWAY #11: “You need to work hard in the right way, and on the right things.” BINGO! Lisa hit the nail on the head. Working hard, but in the wrong way, won’t result in success. Conversely, having the right process laid out for you, but not putting in the work, won’t create success either.

Both parts of this “success equation” have to come together: a proven, step-by-step process, which helps you focus on doing exactly the right thing at the right time in your business-building journey, and your commitment to really do this, to keep at it until you’ve reached your goals.

Solo Build It! provides the process, the tools, the guidance and a community of like-minded solopreneurs and experienced advisors. Now it’s up to you to bring in yourself.

Author information

Lisa McGrimmon

Lisa McGrimmon is the founder of CraftProfessional.com. She’s a huge fan of independent-minded, creative people. She began her work as a career coach because she wanted to work in a profession that allowed her to help people help themselves. Lisa lives in Canada with her husband and two children. Writing about the craft industry keeps her pretty busy, but she also makes time for creating digital art, reading voraciously, supervising play dates, and early morning treks to the gym for spin and dance classes.

The post How This Career Coach Crafted Her Way To Creative Online Success appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Goal Sharing

When and How You Should Go Public

I’ve always done my best to keep up with the latest research in goal achievement. I not only want to learn from it myself, I also want to distill the lessons for fellow leaders. But the tricky thing about science is that it often causes us to reevaluate our assumptions. That reevaluation can be uncomfortable, but it can also help us take our performance to the next level.

Case in point: I had always believed and taught that we’re more likely to accomplish big goals if we share them publicly. I assumed public declaration would create the accountability we needed to follow through. The potential embarrassment of not delivering on the prediction would help ensure we got results.

I probably believed this because of my personality. According to the Enneagram personality profiling system, I am a performer (Enneagram type 3). A performer’s greatest fear is public embarrassment-like the kind that might result from sharing but not meeting goals.

But then along came entrepreneur Derek Sivers to pour cold water on my belief. Sivers makes the compelling case that public goal declarations can backfire big time. The CD Baby founder argues that telling others your goals can have the opposite effect of what we intend. Because of the way our brains work, goal sharing often gives us the same psychological satisfaction of accomplishing the goal without having to do the hard work. In other words, talking becomes a substitute for doing.

Goal sharing often gives us the same psychological satisfaction of accomplishing the goal without having to do the hard work. In other words, talking becomes a substitute for doing.

-MICHAEL HYATT

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Sivers doesn’t say this lightly. He points to a study by NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer that included four separate tests. In these tests subjects wrote down their goals and then worked toward them for up to forty-five minutes. They were allowed to stop at any time. The twist was that half of the test subjects announced their written-down goals and the other half did not.

I guessed the people who announced their goals would perform better. But the opposite was true. Those who kept their mouths shut mostly worked for the entire forty-five minutes, and afterward said they still had a long way to go. Those who had gone public averaged only thirty-three minutes. They felt they were close to accomplishing their goal and didn’t need to work the entire time.

When we learned of these dramatic results, I quickly shared them with my blog readers and admitted this was a reversal of what I had taught about one aspect of goal setting. I also admitted that I was still puzzling through what it meant at an organizational level. After all, goals are a big part of what drives our organizations forward.

This caused us to turn over more rocks and reexamine other aspects of goal setting. It turns out there was one thing both kinds of people in the experiments Sivers describes did exactly right. They wrote their goals down. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, conducted her own goal-setting study with 267 participants. She found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

Beyond that, Matthews also found there is a place for sharing our goals after all. How so? Participants “who sent their commitments to a friend accomplished significantly more than those” who didn’t, and those who followed up with weekly progress reports to their friends did even better. So don’t set goals and tell everyone under the sun. Instead, tell those people who need to know and can provide the support and accountability you need to get results.

Science often causes us to reevaluate our assumptions. That reevaluation can be uncomfortable, but it can also help us take our performance to the next level.

-MICHAEL HYATT

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Similarly, organizations should dial back the pre-celebrations when launching new initiatives. This is just another way of getting the dopamine hit early. Odds are good your energy will peter out. Instead, make and share the goals with all the important stakeholders and let them know their help and dedication are necessary for success. Save the celebrations for when the team manages to achieve the goal.

And of course feel free to share the goal with the whole world once you’ve achieved it. After all, that’s part of your success story.

Pilgrims’ Progress: The Real Thanksgiving Story

Reconciling Gratitude and the Power of Creative Discontent

Many extended families will gather this Thanksgiving in the biggest home of the brood; take their places under that roof, around long tables; have each member specify some small thing that they are “thankful for”; and then gorge themselves on turkey, cranberry salad, and other standards. After, they might loll around in food comas in front of the television, play Yahtzee, catch up, horse around outside, or go see a movie.

It’s hard for us to understand today just how precarious the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation was. So try this: Take the above picture and subtract the roof, the table, the cranberry salad, even the turkey. Also, imagine that over the last year, half of your family had died. Now: What are you thankful for?

In late 1621, the Pilgrims were thankful that they just might make it through another winter. Their first one in the New World had been a deadly disaster. Their voyage was delayed because one of their ships sprung several leaks, likely due to sabotage. Then, instead of the moderate weather they expected in America, they were hammered by a harsh and relentless New England winter.

The ship that finally ferried them across the Atlantic, the Mayflower, returned to London far later than planned with nothing to show for the trouble. The ship was supposed to return with produce to pay back their creditors, but the new colonists had nothing to spare. The Mayflower stayed anchored throughout the winter out of necessity. The Pilgrims used it for shelter because they had precious little of that to give them a reprieve from the snow, the winds, and the cold.

In late 1621, the Pilgrims were thankful that they just might make it through another winter. What are you thankful for?

-JEREMY LOTT

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They had some shelter almost a year later-but not much. We see this reflected in many Thanksgiving paintings in which Pilgrims eat outdoors at a long table. But the truth is they probably didn’t even have that much.

“Tables and even chairs were scarce…knives were rare…and forks were nonexistent” at Plymouth Plantation, explains Robert Tracy McKenzie in the book The First Thanksgiving. When we think of that first Thanksgiving meal, he says, “we should picture an outdoor feast in which almost everyone was sitting on the ground and eating with their hands.”

It was indeed a feast-one that featured:

  • fish, shellfish, and possibly eel
  • birds, though probably not turkeys; venison supplied by their guests, the Wampanoag Indians
  • maize, grown from a native stash the Pilgrims found and, well, let’s go with borrowed
  • plus various herbs and root vegetables

But that had to taste bittersweet to many of these new settlers. The deaths had leveled off but the toll was high: 102 people had set sail; only 51 or 52 remained that first Thanksgiving. “As many as two or three people died each day during the first two months on land,” explains the Plantation’s official website.

That attrition left many husbands wifeless, many children parentless, and was especially tough on both the very old and the very young. Only three people over 40 were left standing. Two babies had been born en route to and in this new world; one of them had already died.

I bring up this material gulf between the Pilgrims and Americans in the present not to shame us in our food comas- though really, turkey? We can do better! Bring back eel!-but rather to show how things have progressed. By the standards of history and in the eyes of most of the rest of the world, Americans are incredibly wealthy. We have shelter, heating, food, non-leaky ships, and kitchen utensils in abundance. And we have a pretty good handle on disease. Our lives are long and we have made horrific things such as infant mortality rare.

The great thing about the American experiment that the Pilgrims accidentally helped launch is that even those successes are not enough. We ought to be thankful for what we have, and the example of the Pilgrims helped to cement that in our national DNA. But another strand of that DNA, which the Pilgrims also had something to do with, tells us that we can go further, take chances, do something that will leave a mark that folks 400 years from now will still be talking about.

Gratitude and creative discontent are not mutually exclusive. These are the twin lessons I leave leaders to chew on this Thanksgiving.

Inside the Surprising New Science of Gratitude

5 Proven Benefits of Thankfulness to Keep You Motivated all Year Long

It is easier to be thankful during Thanksgiving. The name alone inspires a sense of appreciation. Mix that general feeling with turkey, good wine, family, and friends and even the busiest, overworked American can find a reason to stop and be thankful. The challenge is maintaining a thankfulness habit throughout the year.

All too often, life gets in the way. Assignments need to be completed, employees need to be managed, and flights need to be caught. Presentations need to be given, equipment needs to be maintained, and reports need to be filed. On top of your more-than-full-time job, daily tasks affiliated with raising children, maintaining relationships, and keeping yourself sane have to somehow fit into your schedule.

It is easy to become so preoccupied with meeting goals and succeeding in life, that we forget to enjoy and appreciate the ride. A thankfulness habit is a natural remedy. Like most habits, it takes time and effort to establish. Recognizing the many benefits of thankfulness is key to prioritizing its development.

Thankfulness will not only make you happier, it will help you to achieve your very real goals. It will strengthen your relationships, help to maintain your health, and ultimately enable you to live a more productive life. You don’t have to take my word for it; the science of thankfulness is well documented. Here are five proven benefits of thankfulness to get you motivated.

1. Thankfulness combats stress

The many impacts of stress on our health are still being uncovered. We know it can be bad, but we’re not always sure just how bad. With every study, the severity and extent of this relationship deepen. Stress impacts the gut, decreases activity levels and can lead to irritable bowel syndrome. There is even evidence chronic stress can quicken cancer progression.

The good news is that thankfulness combats stress. According to Carolyn Youssef-Morgan, gratitude is the antidote to work stress. Gratitude has been linked to well being by too many studies to list. Positive reframing is one reason for the connection. When people practice gratitude they are more likely to see the good in challenging situations. They face adversity head-on. They find the silver lining. Positive reframing, and the thankfulness that helps us to achieve it, are powerful tools against stress. When you combat stress, you also avoid accompanying the health consequences.

Thankfulness will not only make you happier, it will help you to achieve your very real goals.

-ERIN WILDERMUTH

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2. Thankfulness builds emotional resilience

Thankfulness improves mood and can even conquer more than the run-of-the-mill blues. Studies with those who suffer from depression onset by chronic disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and spinal cord injury have found that gratitude can help people to overcome even the most traumatic adversity.

This style of resistance can be applied to more than physical trauma and psychological disorders. Mental strength helps a person to keep fighting when the odds are against them. It helps us to do what is right thing even when it is hard. Resilience helps us to win the war, even when multiple battles have been lost. Professional success cannot be won without it.

3. Thankfulness fosters connections

Sororities are all about connections, but how do they cultivate them? One way is through gratitude. A 2008 study published in Emotion found that success rates of Big Sister Week, designed to solidify relationships between members, succeeded based on gratitude. Big sisters spent the period giving surprise gifts to assigned new recruits. At the end of the period of giving, matches were revealed. Little sister gratitude ratings, which corresponded more closely to how thoughtful they considered the gifts than how much they liked them, predicted the strength of their connection to their big sister and their feelings of integration in the sorority a month later.

Strong relationships and solid connections are paramount to a happy life. They are also often the cornerstone of professional success. Networking done correctly is fulfilling, enjoyable, and personal. Success doesn’t spark to life in a vacuum.

4. Thankfulness improves sleep

If you’ve ever gone without sleep, you know how important it is. Sleep helps us navigate the world. It allows us to think without thinking, unweaving the web of our day. It keeps us sharp and focused. Anything that improves sleep, improves us. Thankfulness is one such thing.

A 2009 study found that gratitude improves sleep duration and quality, even when controlling for personality traits that might influence sleep. A 2016 study turned to biology. Gratitude was correlated with better sleep and decreased blood pressure.

5. Thankfulness rewires your brain

You may have heard the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.” Pathways that are used are strengthened. The stronger the pathways, the easier they are to access. Scientists have identified the parts of the cortex that are activated by thankfulness. They are involved in emotional processing. They also set off like firecrackers when activated by gratitude. These are two parts of the brain you want to wire with the pathways of positive emotions.

Though the many benefits of thankfulness are worthy of a significant investment of time and energy, the actual investment necessary is surprisingly low. A simple gratitude journal, where you write down five things you’re thankful for every night before bed, can do the trick. Thankfulness may change your lifestyle, but it doesn’t require a lifestyle change. A small dedication to positive change is all the investment you need.