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Mack’s Musings

Contrast breeds clarity: Mack’s commitments for 2013

By | Mack's Musings, Miscellany | 2 Comments

I call bullshit on New Year’s resolutions.

It’s just a lame way of saying that you’re going to make a big deal about the things that you think you should be doing in your life but don’t, tack them on to your already over-committed routine, wonder why you don’t see results in less than 30 days, and then quit.

I’ve bagged that whole thing for taking a look at what hasn’t really been working, determining how it needs to be different, and committing to making a change.

There’s a whole boat load of things that I’d like to do differently, but there’s no way I can tackle it all. This is what I can confidently commit to revamping in my work life this year:

I’m going to change my routine

I’ve heard the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I’m done banging my head against the wall trying to make an old routine fit a new role.

For years I have been out of the production side of things. Instead of working on client stuff, my job has been to focus on systems, processes, and leadership. This has been the biggest contributor to the strong and rapid transformation that Mack Web made last year.

Due to our evolution, I have been presented with some new (and uninvited) responsibilities. With new systems and processes comes new roles for everyone, and I need to jump in and help the team with the transition. This means a little bit of production work, more training, and a whole bunch of management in the first quarter of 2013. This doesn’t get me overly excited, but it will help the team to feel empowered, better serve our clients, and get me back to focusing on the growth of the company.

I’m going to ask for help

As a leader (and an over-achiever), it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like I need to know (or learn) how to do everything. There’s too much that I want the company to accomplish this year, and I can’t be the only one who’s working on figuring out how to do it. I’m going to ask for help.

Lucky for me I’ve had a lot of people who have been willing to guide me as I grow Mack Web. I have always looked to mentors to coach me on the things that I have no idea how to do (or didn’t realize I needed to be doing). Hands down, our success can be attributed to the generosity of people who have been willing to advise me.

A long time friend of mine, Mike McCurdie has been mentoring me since I was a sole proprietor (God bless him). When we’re not venting over martinis, he’s pushing me to stay focused on what the company needs (and not what I’m tired of doing that particular day).

Last year, I received phenomenal guidance from many thought leaders in the industry. I can’t thank the Distilled team enough for their insight (when we grow up, we want to be just like them): Will Critchlow, John Doherty, Paddy Moogan, and Duncan Morris have been so incredibly generous with their time and have helped me through some really tough spots. This year, I’m going to add to my circle of mentors and find a few more who can provide knowledge and expertise where I need to be stronger.

Mentorship really has made all the difference in our survival. And someday, when I’m kind of a big deal, I’m going to do whatever it takes to pay it forward.

I’m going to give back

I love sharing knowledge. Even though I didn’t care for being in the trenches at the junior high level, I really do enjoy teaching. I also really like blogging, and that has been one of the most rewarding ways for me to utilize my teaching skills, contribute to our industry, and help others.

Something that I’m really excited and honored about doing this year is contributing to the SEOmoz main blog. SEOmoz has asked me to be an Associate, and as a result, I’ve committed to contributing one blog post a month. This is a hefty commitment with everything else I’ve got on my plate (Moz posts take me days on end to write), but it’s one that I’m eager to fulfill.

Every time I’ve contributed to the Moz blog it has pushed me to grow, but more importantly, it has provided the opportunity to connect with others who are learning as well. It will be nice to have the external motivation to make a consistent effort to learn, teach, and give back to the community that has been so good to me. And of course, make a ton of new friends (which is hands down my favorite part).

I’m going to dwell in possibility

This is our year. I can feel it. We figured out a lot of stuff last year. Contrast breeds clarity and I have no doubt in my mind that we know who we are, what we want to do, and that we sure as hell are going to do it.

We have a ton of work to do this year. My challenge with that is two things:

  1. Not get stuck in the day-to-day but instead dwell in the possibility of where all of that work is going to take us.
  2. Don’t kill (i.e. overwork) the team.

We’re starting the year off by getting grounded in our values. All of us need a better understanding of exactly what we stand for so that we can exemplify this every day:

Knowledge: our dedication to staying on top of the industry and providing our clients with accurate and valuable information that will assist them in making good decisions about their businesses. We take a lot of pride in and have a lot of passion about educating our clients and our community.

Service: our commitment to take remarkable care of our clients. To communicate. To be responsive. To be kind, helpful, honest, and understanding. To show our clients that we value their relationship and we’re worth every penny they’re spending with us. If our clients feel this from us on an ongoing basis, then when we make a mistake or drop the ball (it does happen), we can earn their forgiveness.

Initiative: exhibiting leadership both internally and externally with our clients and agency partners. Internally, our team has to have the drive and ability to observe when something isn’t quite right. When we can do better. When we need to make a change. And not waiting for someone (like me) to ask them to take action.

With our clients, it’s our job to lead them with knowledge and expertise but also with an intimate understanding of their business. It is our responsibility to make their lives easier by always thinking of them first and taking the initiative on their behalf.

Integrity: for me, integrity encompasses so many significant non-negotiables like transparency, accountability, character, and trust. When we’re not a fit for the job, we find the team who is. When we make a mistake, we own up to it. Sometimes integrity means embracing the fact that you’re the guy who sucks. It’s all part of being real and being human.

Relationships: this is all that matters. Sure, I want to make money, but what I really want for our company is to come to work every day and love who we get to be with. I want us to create life-long friendships with people who inspire us, challenge (yet support) us, and make us better. I want us to help other people do amazing things. Things that they didn’t believe were possible before they met us. This starts with the team we’re building, the clients and partners we choose to work with, and the community we are growing. Through these relationships we will make a big difference. In everything.

This is gonna be good

Here’s to a productive and life changing year, kids. But it’s not going to happen doing the same stuff you’ve always done. Shake it up a bit. Be thoughtful about living in the moment and making the most of where you are right now. That’s a tough one for me, but I’m working on it.

What are you committed to doing in 2013? Whatever it is, make it count.

 

 

Highways, Backroads, and the Occasional Tire-squealing U-Turn: Mack’s Journey as an Entrepreneur

By | Creativity, Mack's Musings, Miscellany | 14 Comments

I don’t have a remarkable story. I didn’t become an overnight success. I didn’t invent a product that saves lives. I haven’t made millions. And I don’t have a degree in business.

But what I am is determined, motivated, and passionate. I am a hard worker. A creative. A leader. A dreamer with a work ethic. I have more endurance and drive than most people you’ll meet. I don’t cave in the face of adversity. Rather, it pushes me to accelerate.

I am a mom of two, a wife, and an entrepreneur. Lots of days I’m barely hanging on by a thread, but I love what I do and I have had the great blessing of getting to see my efforts bear fruit.

The latest chapter

This year has been a game changer. Although I started the company almost 10 years ago, this feels like our first year in business. We have taken more risk in the last 8 months than in all the previous years combined. We have also had a lot more win than I can ever remember.

Something is working this year that separates it from any other. We’ve certainly matured, but I think we’ve also determined who we are and what we want to be when we grow up.

In a nutshell, here’s what has made this year remarkable:

We developed a personality.
We truly defined our brand and our values. We decided to have a sense of humor and focus on finding joy in our work.

We started investing in ourselves.
We made ourselves a client. We’ve decided that we will pave the way and actually do what we are recommending to our clients. We spend every Friday working on ourselves so that we can become a better company.

We stopped letting our processes run the show.
We have shifted our focus to the customer and we customize everything we do for them based on their business objectives. We are thinking bigger.

We started being transparent.
We are putting ourselves out there. We write about what we do and how we help our clients. We are reaching out to our competitors. We’re being bold and taking risks to show the world who we are.

We made an effort to build a community.
We are reading and learning more. We are sharing our knowledge and helping people out. We are making new friends in the industry.

We started saying no.
We are standing strong in our values. We are deciding as a team what direction to take and we’re sticking to it. We became selective about our relationships so that we can make the most of what we do every day.

If I’ve learned anything about being an entrepreneur it’s that you’re the one who’s writing the manual. There are no right answers and everyone takes a different path.

For what it’s worth, here are some of the most important things that I’ve learned so far on my journey:

Courage and risk are requisite

At the beginning of the second quarter of this year, we changed our business model. After 9 years of the same basic service offerings, I decided we weren’t a web design company anymore. We were an internet marketing company, a hybrid agencyThat’s what we were good at and it was the kind of work we wanted to do. And that was it. I made the decision, discussed it with the team (who, fabulous as they are, affirmed my decision), and that was that.

It’s not like we were doing anything revolutionary, but our approach was new. We were asking businesses to look at their web marketing in a whole new way. To forget about everything they had ever done, throw out all myths and stereotypes, and trust us. “Give us the keys (and your budget),” we said, “and let’s go for a ride. You’ll like where we’re going. We promise.”

And it worked. I mean, it is working. In fact, 8 months later, that story is still unfolding. And that’s the thing about growing a business. It takes guts to do what you love. A lot of times it’s scary uncomfortable, but you just make a decision and go for it. If that doesn’t work out, you make another decision and you do something else. It’s all just part of the process.

Failure is actually serendipity

What I have come to realize in this last 8 months is that failure is relative. It’s just an interpretation of expectations. The only reason you fail is because you expected a different outcome than what actually happened. And as a result of that, you deem yourself a failure.

How do you know that the outcome actually is a fail? Can’t you look back at moments in your life that you thought were an absolute train wreck at the time, but now in hindsight you can see that they unfolded into something amazing? Something that never would have happened without your epic “failure”?

To me, that’s not failure. That, my friends, is serendipity.

It’s all in your perspective. So call it whatever you want, but I’ll take failure any day over not having the courage to take the risk in the first place.

You’re probably going to feel lonely and I guarantee you’ll want to give up

I’m the sole owner of Mack Web Solutions. I have an incredibly supportive husband, a family who loves me, great friends, brilliant mentors, an amazing team, and 9 times out of 10, I still feel alone.

Being an entrepreneur is lonely. There are no rules, no right answers, and no guarantees. Victories can be short-lived, and sometimes they are few and far between. I have learned that you just have to continue to put yourself out there and try not to be overly emotional about the decisions you make.

I want to give up. A lot. When we’re in a stage like we’re in right now, I want to pack it in on a daily basis. What keeps me going is knowing that we’re doing good things and we’re on the right track. Every few days or so I get a glimpse that things are working. I know in my gut that there’s more ahead, so I put my head down and just keep going.

Sometimes, my team serenades me with, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and threatens to replace my office artwork with “Hang In There, Kitty” posters.

It helps.

A little.

Humility is a really important quality to possess

Rand Fishkin is the founder and CEO of SEOmoz. I have learned so much from Rand and I admire him greatly for his transparency, values, and humility. Here’s one of the 12 lessons he learned while building SEOmoz. I have this slide hanging in my office:

There are lots of times when you’re running your business that you feel like you’re on top of the world. Like you’re a genius. Seriously, like you’re a bad ass. The truth of it is, unless you’re saving the world, you better keep yourself in check.

It’s ok to celebrate victories (which is very necessary to endure the volume of struggles you face as an entrepreneur or a start-up), but instead of always basking in your greatness, use it as a time to reflect and give the credit to your team.

You need heart and hustle, but you also need to have priorities

Call it drive. Motivation. Desire. If you want to be a successful at anything, you have to have heart. You have to be passionate. You have to be all in. And you have to be willing to bust your ass.

But you also have to be realistic and set boundaries. Entrepreneurship requires an insane amount of sacrifice and it will drain everything you have if you let it.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to do whatever it takes to make the company successful, but you also have to take care of yourself or there won’t be a company to run.

These days I could invest a lot more time on my family (oh, and some free time for me), and a lot less time on the company. But that’s the stage we’re in, so I keep pushing along. I work daily to keep my imbalance in check so that when things let up, overworking hasn’t just become standard routine.

Transparency is the key to everything

One of my kids’ favorite books is The Rainbow Fish. Long story short, the fish realized he wasn’t happy until he gave away what was so near and dear to him (his shiny, beautiful scales). Once he let go of what he thought he had to keep only for himself, he found satisfaction, joy, and happiness.

One of the biggest contributors to our success has come from the choice to be transparent. It sounds simple, but transparency is actually a huge risk. You have to be willing to own up to your mistakes (and be public about them). You have to be open to criticism. You have to have the guts to take a look at yourself and face the things that you may not want to see (and then do something to change them).

But transparency also means being human. It means being kind to others and taking time for relationships. It means sharing things with people that you’ve worked hard to develop, monopolize, and own. Opening up about how you operate and what makes you a great company will make you more successful. It will also empower others to be successful, and they’ll have you to thank when they’re on the other side.

I have learned (the hard way) that not everyone possesses integrity, authenticity, and genuine kindness. Not everyone will embrace your transparency.  But there are a lot of people who will. Reach out. Take the risk. Show them your stuff. Learn from each other. It will change your business and you’ll make some amazing friends in the process.

You’ve got to be a leader, too
(and don’t forget your team)

The biggest thing about being a leader is that it’s not about you. Even if you work for yourself and you are the only employee in your company, you aren’t doing this alone. You always have people who are helping you along the way (and yes, your mom counts, too).

You can’t build a business on your own. You may think that because you’re the entrepreneur you are due all of the credit for success. But the fact of the matter is you won’t get anywhere without a team of people who support and believe in you, who can see your vision and know, with a certainty you may sometimes lack, that you will get there.

Building a successful company is a full-time job in its own right, but being the leader your team needs is at least another part-time job on top of that. And, unfortunately, you aren’t going to be able to do the former without the latter. You’ve got to invest as much time in leading your team as you do in achieving your vision.

Someday, I’d like to get more sleep

This year I haven’t slept much, I definitely have more wrinkles, and I have worked more than either my husband or myself would like. But as I take the time to reflect, I can see that it’s been a pretty amazing ride.

For me, success as an entrepreneur isn’t about the money (although that certainly would be nice someday). It’s not in the recognition or respect you get as you grow your brand and people come to know who you are.

It’s in the relationships.

This year has been the most exciting for me because I have made so many new friends. This year has been successful because our team has worked their asses off. I have put myself out there, and we have taken more risk as a company than I ever thought I had the courage to do.

We’ve got some pretty amazing stuff we’re doing for our clients. And we also have some valuable things that we are planning for our community. That’s the thing. This stuff never, ever ends.

It’s been 10 years, but get ready, kids.

We’re just getting started.

Bonus! Video Footage

I had the honor of speaking about my journey as an entrepreneur at the Colorado State University Women Entrepreneurs’ Leadership Summit. In a TED talk style format, I tell my story.

 

Mack’s Mother’s Day Post: Take Three

By | Mack's Musings, Miscellany | One Comment

It took me three weeks to write this freakin post. I revised it three times. Changed my angle. Started over. It still sucked.

Then I got a mother’s day card from my mom:

And I figured out what I really wanted to say.

Maybe it’s the stage I’m in as a parent (with two nuggets under the age of 5). Or maybe it’s the fact that I also run a company in a very demanding industry. But mostly, I think that being a mom is just hard.

I’ll be honest. Some days I really don’t like being a mom. But some days I don’t like being an entrepreneur either. Both require constant attention and carry a great deal of responsibility and work that some days just feels like this huge load that I’m going to become crushed under. Squashed like a little grape.

There are a lot of days where it’s all I can do to keep my head above water. “Balancing” both work and kids and marriage and life. These days I just want a lounge chair. In the sun. By a pool. And a cocktail. All by myself.

But.

When I stop comparing myself to what I think a mom should be, I start to gain some clarity about what I know to be true for me:

I love the shit out of my kids. I love that I have two (and only two). And I love that I have a boy and a girl. My heart melts when I watch Ryan and Easton play together. I love how wonderful Ryan is to her little brother and how amazingly cute Easton is (even though he is a pain in my ass).

I have an amazing husband who is so incredibly supportive, understanding, and helpful. He’s a trooper because he takes a back seat to the kids, and the business, and the alone time Mack wishes she had. And that’s why I married him. Because he loves me and he’s in no matter what.

I love Mack Web. I love what we do. I love our team. I love that we’re funny. I love that we are having success. And this is the stuff I have to remember when I don’t want to work on another stinking process for our company.

It’s not that I don’t love being a mom, I just don’t love it 100% of the time. But for all those days that I want to go mental, there actually are moments that are precious (like when Ryan is crunching her potato chips in her tiny little mouth, or when Easton lays his soft cheek on my shoulder). I just have to remind myself to hang on to those moments for dear life because right now they tend to be few and far between.

I find myself choked up thinking about how big Ry and E are and how it’s all going by so fast (even though I wish away so many moments).

Some day soon I won’t have any diapers to change or butts to wipe and I will be sad thinking about when they were babies. But I’m taking it in. Appreciating and finding the joy in as many moments as possible. Taking it one day at a time. And longing for my lounge chair and cocktail.