For so many entrepreneurs, their nemesis is The Other F-Word. Focus.
Why is that? Years ago, Oprah was interviewing Michael. He started singing off-the-cuff, then beat boxing, then tapping out a rhythm. It was insane how effortless it all was. Mr. Parker agreed. Then said something I’ll always remember: “Michael Jackson is a man who has spent his life doing exactly one thing. Just that one thing. Of course he’s great at it.”
There it was. Focus. Michael’s one thing. Yet, as an entrepreneur (and a creative entrepreneur at that) I’m always seeing ALL the things I could be doing—both inside our business and in addition to it. And, as someone who works with others on their businesses, it’s clear and obvious: entrepreneurs have trouble focusing.
I just had one client, in one sentence, talk about four different business efforts. Why? I’d asked one simple and focused question. It was about a single action item I’d given. A focused question. One simple subject. Four different answers. All four unrelated. None of them answering the original question.
The other night, I attended a video conference about how to be effective on LinkedIn. The presenter was great. Tons of actionable advice. He had it completely dialed in. For a moment I thought, Damn, I’m dropping the ball on LinkedIn. Then I thought back to Mr. Parker and Michael Jackson. This guy from the video chat is doing only one thing: kicking the living sh*t out of LinkedIn. That’s it. He better be great at it.
I run a marketing company that specializes in branding for small business. I’m allowed to not be amazing at LinkedIn. I’m allowed to pick one tip from the LinkedIn presenter and execute just that. I’m allowed to get a virtual assistant to handle a few of the other tasks that lead to a better LinkedIn network. And then, I’m allowed to focus back on the job of doing my job.
Recently, Mr. Parker and I began building a new product for Slow Burn Marketing. We feel it’s smart, timely and necessary. Our biggest challenge? Pushing aside all else while we’re getting this one thing up and running. The Fates are constantly flying out of their box, waving shiny keys at us. It’s so easy to look in their direction. But no! Must! Not! Look!
The solution to split focus? Stop. Feel the doubt and just stop. Switch off the phonograph. Let “The Sabre Dance” grind to a halt. Step away from all the plates you’re spinning. They will not smash to the ground. Look at them all. Which one plate is the next and only plate that your business should take on? Pick one task. One project. That’s it. Work on that one until it’s done and done well. Send all those other projects and great ideas to the sidelines. They’ll be waiting when you’re finished with your one thing. And, anything else that you can hand off and simply supervise? Just do it.
Remember, be like Michael Jackson.
Hope that helps. Cheers,
Aren’t we all tired of phrases like, “In these uncertain times”? Yes, we all know things are funky. But as small-business owners, we also know that there’s no such thing as “certain times.” When have you ever been guaranteed anything?
That said, things have shifted. For many business owners, it’s not for the better. We all have the same two options: 1) sit and wring our hands, or 2) engage in proactive change. Ah, yes, the C word. “Change.”
Change is not in most people’s comfort zone. But you and I are entrepreneurs. When we get uncomfortable, we thrive. We go in for another C word: “Chance”. So, take a chance and change.
During this COVID craziness, some of our favorite CoupleCos are making impressive changes to stay relevant and useful to their customers. The winery Phifer Pavitt is hosting virtual wine tastings. Alpine Distilling is making hand sanitizer. Freedom Chiropractic is offering virtual office visits through a HIPAA-compliant web portal. WatchTower Coffee & Comics is selling products via delivery, including their new, handcrafted Tongan Caramel sauce (which is also selling out, just by the way—it’s outstanding).
As you may know, our primary business is Slow Burn Marketing. We specialize in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. And Slow Burn is making a pivot. Even before COVID hit, things here were slowing down. This was due in large part to me stepping back from the business to be there for my mother, whose health was declining. Mr. Parker was incredibly supportive. (Thank you, babe.)
But, with only half the manpower and half the skillset, our business felt the impact. My mother has now passed (thank you for your kind words and support), and we are faced with a new question: What next?
And there’s that catchphrase that keeps coming up: “These uncertain times.” We thought, hey, we started Slow Burn Marketing during The Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.” Uncertain times, indeed.
But, history shows that many new businesses (especially ad agencies) launch with great success in “uncertain times.” So, we’ve just decided that “these uncertain times” is code for “excellent opportunity.”
We’re in the process of creating a DIY branding book and online courses for the business owner launching or redefining operations in “these uncertain times.” These are the times when nervy entrepreneurs (nervypreneurs?) go out and do stuff.
But not all entrepreneurs, especially newbie-preneurs, understand branding. Many can’t afford the price tag that comes with being a Slow Burn client. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to be useful or them from having access to credible brand thinking.
And frankly, now that we’re doing it, we’re asking ourselves why we didn’t do this sooner. But making a shift often requires taking a shove. We’ve been shoved, and we’re doing something good with it. (As I type this post, the book is just back from the proofreader. It’s very exciting.)
A big thanks to all of you who’ve inspired us by being proactive, making necessary shifts, pushing forward, even thriving in (yes) uncertain times. We wish you continued success.
Hope that helps
Wow, these are some nutty times. On the spectrum of “things we don’t plan for,” COVID-19 goes to 11. For a business owner, the questions range from, “How do we adjust to these times?” to, “Can we even survive this?” And, occasionally, “When will we be able to buy toilet paper again?” We understand. Being in marketing, Mr. Parker and I have recently been offering business advice and doing interviews on the smart strategies for odd times.
Unknowns abound, particularly when you’re responsible for your family as well as your business. Yet, here’s where we can have a leg up. (CUE: SAPPY MUSIC.) Every night, after Mr. Parker and I have done all we think we can do, and after we’ve rethought everything probably more than we should, and we’ve gotten to the point of crispy around the edges, I look over at my business partner cum teammate cum husband and think, This is a rugged time—but also a special time. Team Parker is getting tighter and stronger. We’re working at least as hard. But we’re hiking together, biking together, eating together, watching too many documentaries and stand-up specials together, and hugging a lot more.
On social media, we’ve seen our CoupleCos posting their own team time. The Fitlows, Pavitts, McMillens, Tituses, Owens and others—all sharing the together time. And yes, many folks are dealing with business changes and uncertainties. But just as many are sharing moments of quiet joy, silly togetherness and team strength. As Team Parker often says, we are each other’s foxhole buddy. And when we emerge from all this weirdness (because yes, we will), foxhole buddies emerge stronger than before.
So, the mayhem is running its course. Meanwhile, we remind ourselves that we are The Lucky Ones. And as The Lucky Ones, do we have a responsibility to look over the top of the foxhole, and help others that are going it alone? That question can only be answered individually.
For now (as you may have noticed), Team Parker is suspending regular interview episodes to offer a series of Mayhem Marketing Minutes. These are bite-size episodes are highlighting simple marketing and evolutionary strategies for navigating the social weirdness. If you’ve met us, you know that we’ve been in marketing since the womb. It felt like this is one small way we can help. They're on our shows page as well as our YouTube Channel. We’re bringing on guests with expertise in marketing, psychology, real estate—who knows, we may even reach out to you to share your intel. And if you’d like to reach out to us, go for it. We’d love to hear from you.
The best to you and your foxhole buddy. And remember: Lucky us. Lucky you.
Hope that helps,
As Mr. Parker likes to say, words matter. I spent my career in Big Advertising creative departments. When talking about work done for a client, I’m trained to always say, “we” and not “I” or “you.” Yes, I may have developed an idea. But without the other team members, there’s no way I would’ve gotten to the finish line. One idea leads to another, which leads to another, until it all snowballs into the win. So, “we” win. But “I” never do.
A while back, Mr. Parker and I were collaborating with Ben, our 13-year-old nephew, on an entrepreneurial effort he developed. He mentioned an idea we’d been working together. He said, “I came up with that.” We explained the use of “we” versus “I.” He understood immediately. Sometime later, his father told me he was referring to something he was doing on the project, and used the pronoun “I.” Seems his son told him, “Dad, we don’t say ‘I.’ We always say, ‘we.’” (Color us proud.)
Recently, a PBS show on couples and romance cited a study. It said that in a relationship, using the word “we” is more romantic than bringing home flowers. Now, I’ve received more than a few bouquets. So I stopped and thought about which I appreciated more. Is it the flowers, or is it the “we?” And while I loved the flowers, the “we” has lasted far longer.
Whether the relationship is personal, professional, or both, “I” and “you” can become weaponized pronouns. They cause all kinds of destruction. Am I claiming responsibility for something good happening? That means my partner is on the sidelines, forced to applaud me. But there’s a high likelihood that he played some part in that good thing. As for “you,” it often comes with the sting of blame and accusation. “We’ll, you said to do it that way. Now look at it.”
Most of our CoupleCos are well acquainted with power of “we.” It’s always evident in our interviews. Yet, it’s also worth a reminder because together, WE are stronger. Welcome to the power of first-person plural.
Hope that helps
Entrepreneurship is a challenge. A challenge that the outside world often calls, “Living the dream.” This is not a cake walk. How do you handle changes and downturns? This has been on my mind as our business of 12 years is going through a transition. We’ve said goodbye to a big, long-term client. But instead of just replacing them with another big client, we’re changing our business model to attract more, smaller clients. Will it work? Years of experience at this makes us think so. And it’s guaranteed, right? Hmm, no! Guarantees do not exist in the grown-up world of living life by the seat of your entrepreneurial pants. You’re always working without a net. We knew that when we signed up for this. But so far, sweat equity coupled with mad skills make it seem like we at Slow Burn/CoupleCo lead a charmed existence.
We were just talking with another entrepreneur couple. They were discussing things like the crazy hours associated with opening a new location while keeping the staff happy at the current locations. We were all laughing about how people will say, “But when you travel to that location, it’s a write off!” Like that helps. Yes, it’s a write off—IF the IRS agrees. And either way, it’s not like it’s a free trip. Maybe if you’ve never worked for yourself, you don’t consider that someone still has to pay the bill. And that someone is, yes, you.
Recently, I was reading a social post by one of our favorite CoupleCo interviewees, Chopped Champion Christian Hayes of Dandelion Catering in Yarmouth, Maine. We’d interviewed him and his wife, Christine, for episodes #36 & #37. Just recently, they’ve added to their food-service empire by opening a restaurant called The Garrison. For perspective, Christian’s a rocker. He spent about a decade with a band described as an “eight-legged bombastic juggernaut of rock.” In this social post, he’s talking about entrepreneurism, and he hits it right between the eyes.
Christian writes: “The truth is, entrepreneurship is a lonely, isolating reality. People want to believe you’ve got the world by the balls and that you go home with a sense of accomplishment. The reality is sobering. There are so many people connected to me on social media that feel it every day as well. You think you know—until you’re in it—then you realize you had no idea. It’s been 11 years with Dandelion and now we’re doubling up with The Garrison. Don’t get me wrong. I’m living my fucking dream. But also, let’s not forget the gut wrenching, paralyzing churn of wondering if this is the week that breaks you. Financially, spiritually, mentally, physically. The demands are astronomical and ubiquitous from every direction. Yet, on hour 75, as I get out of my car in the parking lot and walk towards the kitchen, I’m always fucking happy. There’s a content feeling that washes over you. The apron goes on—and it’s time to work. I’m right where I belong. Cheers to all my people doing it every day.”
Reading that, I found myself nodding in understanding the challenges that no one sees. There are all kinds of messes you get to clean up while being a “trailblazer.” By the end of the missive, Christian had me charged up to put on my big-girl pants and dig back in. We chose this life for a reason. And for anyone who’s a CoupleCo, the loneliness of the entrepreneurial struggle is a bit less lonely. In our business, we are always Team Parker. If you chose this kind of life, you are part of a special breed. Yeah, we’re gamblers. But at least we’re gambling on ourselves. And no matter the odds, how do you not like taking that bet?
Hope that helps.
OMG, what a day! From the moment I opened my eyes, work descended from the heavens in biblical proportion.
No, not descended. Attacked. It rushed in like an epic swarm of monster locust.
But hey, it was Friday, a “work day.” So what’s the problem? For me, the problem was that I’d worked overtime all week. All week. Every day. Overtime. I’d planned to make Friday a day off. Understand, we live in a ski town. Mid-week ski days are built into the DNA here. And it was exactly the kind of day I wait for: fresh snow, blue skies, the ski slopes empty of the weekend crowds.
I stumbled into the kitchen for coffee. That’s when Mr. Parker hit me between the eyes. We had a situation. Things were blowing up in the UK. A promotional campaign had to be overhauled immediately. My heart sank.
It took a while to mourn the loss of my planned respite. Time to focus on the urgent task at hand.
The day was a Megillah. (That’s a technical word from ancient Hebrew scrolls.) Besides the death of my holiday, Mr. Parker had to table all of his other projects. We I spent the entire day volleying back and forth, round and round. How to revise the strategy. How to implement tactics. What executions. Writing it. Art directing it. Revising it. Fixing it. These things matter to us. They are worthy of debate. It’s why our marketing clients hire us: To. Get. It. Right.
The clock ticked. The hours passed. The adrenaline surged. At times we were at loggerheads. Our only purpose? Serving the client’s best interest.
Every day in ski season, I’m able to look out the window by my desk to see skiers riding the lift. Today, that view did not help. But, we had bigger fish to fry. This stuff had to go out the door. We had an obligation.
The day waned. The lift stopped running. The skiers went home. Hours after that, we delivered the project.
Afterwards, in the living room, we sat staring at each other. Whipped. We’d been into mental and emotional battle and survived….together. It was no longer important that the day’s plans for fun were dashed upon the rocks of professional responsibility. What was important was looking across the room and seeing My Person. This is the person for whom things matter—things like doing good work; fulfilling an obligation; and Crushing It on behalf of another guy’s bottom line. These things matter to My Person as much as they matter to me. It was once again a reminder: I am on the right team.
Hope that helps,
Most of the working couples we interview have hard and fast rules about downtime. Those are times when work is not allowed to creep in. We all need that time away. But, have you considered a working date?
This is something that Mr. Parker and I do regularly. It’s not that we need a break from work. There are just times when we need to free ourselves from the confines of our office walls (or, when on the road, our RV walls). It lets us open up our minds. For us, it means taking a hike. Getting out in nature. Nothing so strenuous that we can’t talk. And, depending on how much time we have, we go for anywhere from three to seven miles.
We usually pick one topic upon which to focus. We may try and hammer out something that has had us stumped. Or we may try to come at a project from a different perspective. Sometimes, we’re trying to come up with a tagline for a client. Whatever the challenge, nature is an amazing thing. It brings a freedom to our thinking. Fresh thoughts come to the surface. Yes, we may throw out 80% of what we come up with. But the other 20% can provide answers and insights that we couldn’t see from our desk chairs.
The added bonus is the positive benefits of exercise on body and mind. The added, added bonus is the bonding we enjoy as a result of our time connecting over solving problems. It strengthens us as a team.
Perhaps our tagline should be, “When in doubt, walk it out.”
Hope that's helpful.
How does your partnership handle one of you dealing with non-business challenges?
Life’s big emotional bumps in the road challenge anyone’s business life. You can’t plan for everything that life throws your way. Lately, for us, it’s been my mother’s failing health. A slow decline over the last year and a half is becoming ever more consuming. From flying to my parents every month or so to help out, to the ever-present emotional strain of watching people you love in pain, it’s rough.
Of course, as resilient American superpeople, we’re programed to suck it up, put on a brave face, and move forward. It’s never easy. But when you’re a couple in business together, there are extra challenges—including the fact that 50% of the management team is not performing anywhere near peak ability. How does the other pick up the slack? How do you compartmentalize enough to accomplish the minimum? How do you support your partner and not get sucked into their grief?
Back when we were recording the interview that became episodes #33 & 34, we were sitting down with Murray and Felicity Gardner of the Gardner Group in Park City. Murray informed us that his mother’s health was in decline, and he could be getting a call at any moment to jump on a plane to Australia. At this point, my own mother had started going downhill. Yet, listening to the interview, you can’t tell that anyone was anything but fine. Humans are strong creatures. Entrepreneurs are stronger still.
The key for Team Parker in handling this challenging time has been communication and agreement. Communication about what’s happening, and agreement to who is now handling what. This lets us manage our expectations of each other, which is crucial, especially since it’s often just the two of us. We’ve discussed what we are and aren’t capable of taking on. Honestly confronting limitations, even temporary ones, is beyond important.
A national business training group recently asked us to deliver a series of marketing webinars. The folks in charge asked what, beyond our fee, we wanted to get from this. New clients for branding and marketing? Our answer was that our business presently lacks the bandwidth for new clients, but we’re happy to offer consulting. Why? Well, we didn’t tell them that. Let them think we’re too busy. But we’d agreed ahead of time that we can’t handle new clients right now. And that’s okay with both of us. It has to be.
At the end of the day, we know what’s most important: Us. That said, we never want to let a client down. That’s why we’re taking on only the projects we know we can deliver at a level that we feel good about and which keeps our clients thrilled. (For Slow Burn’s oldest and most demanding client, we just delivered a holiday ad that made them laugh and sign off with no changes. That’s a victory on any day, but especially now.) Even in the most challenging times, we continue to take satisfaction in ringing the bell. It’s a welcome break from the obstacles life has thrown in our way. And it reminds us who we are and why we do it.
BTW, my parents were a CoupleCo. We interviewed them in better days, and you can hear them in episode #38, "Sitcom Jewish Parents In Business."
Hope that helps.
It works only if you take it.
Running your own business can seem non-stop. That’s why it’s important that when we stop, we truly do stop. And then, we have to make sure we take the time to connect over something completely non-work related.
How to do this? It’s pretty basic. Reach out. Hold each other’s hand. Even briefly. And remind yourselves that you’ve earned this time together. This time when you aren’t working. Try to be in the moment and acknowledge that you’re enjoying yourselves. Say it out loud. Really. Say something like, “I’m really enjoying this.” Actively recognize the down time, or it’s easy to gloss over, like it never happened.
Chip & Carol Bleam of Freedom Chiropractic (CoupleCo podcast episode #19) have a practice we love. They keep a jar that’s filled with Popsicle sticks. Written on each stick is a different date night activity. Once a week, they go to the jar, pull out a stick, and whatever it says becomes their weekly date night.
Take the time to mentally log your downtime, and it will be there in your mind while you’re running your business. Then, you can clearly point to it, savor it, replay it, and enjoy the benefits of it. It’s important to be able to look at your life partner and see him or her as more than a work partner.
Hope that's helpful.
What you’re not good at can cost you big.
“Doctor heal thyself.” How many years have I been saying to Mr. Parker, “We should get someone to do the books”? Answer: Too many. Neither of us are that person. Yet, every year, he swears at QuickBooks and the tax receipts for a lot longer than a pro would have to. (*Assuming a pro swears at QB and receipts at all.) Bookkeeping takes him away from the things he’s great at, the things that can’t be delegated, that only he can do.
So, the cost of his time, plus the revenue that could have been generated by him creating product, is what that mistake costs us every year.
Tyler Sheff of The Cash Flow Guys (CoupleCo podcast episode #66) has said, “We don’t do what we’re not good at.” They hire people. It frees them up to do not only what they’re good at, but what they enjoy. Which means he and his business-partner wife Jill are happier at work.
Several couples we’ve interviewed, including Katy & Michael at Quarters Arcade Bar, talked about hiring someone for social media. And that was a hard one because the task seemed easy. But in practice, their efforts were often sporadic due to other pulls on their time, so their efforts weren’t successful.
Bottom line, every time we hand something off, we feel like we’ve given ourselves a present. I’d pick having someone handle our books over getting a free massage every month. Suzanne Phifer-Pavitt (Phifer Pavitt Wine, episode #52) say, “Surround yourself with really clever, talented people and amazing things happen.”
So, who are you surrounded by?
Hope that helps.
Are Blaine & Honey Parker Relationship Experts?
Hardly. And does the world really need more of those? Instead, we are a couple who have worked together for over 20 years. We've learned a few things along the way. And now, we're traveling the nation interviewing other couples in business together. Join us for the ups, downs, ins, outs, laughs, tears (even though Honey believes Blaine has no tear ducts), and the inevitable, practical insights into being a better couple--in life, business and everything.