Getting Ready for Session 9

I'm kind of afraid to check my email.  Not really. . . well, sort of.  It's the day before our final session for the Business Bootcamp.  We asked our participants to send in the their presentations so we could take a look.  It’s something that is a measure of success on a lot of levels.

Making an ask like this - homework - is the hardest thing we do in a program like this.  We have a class of adults.  There is a dynamic at play about accountability that can be difficult to navigate.  And it’s important to show visible respect in a way that people can feel it.  We ask for submissions knowing that we might not get them, but at the end of the day it’s a necessary element of development. 

Sitting down to assess your progress in a class is the hardest thing any student has to do.  This is especially true of high achievers and perfectionists.  These types of people gravitate to the deficiency in their work. . . and they are also disproportionately attracted to being the boss.  The presentation highlights all the things you haven’t done yet – even if you have been working like crazy.  It’s a moment to decide if the time spent was worth it for you and for some it’s hard to say that it wasn’t. 

I empathize with the students in so many ways, but right now I’m feeling the other side of it.  I want to take a minute and talk about why this is hard for the instructors.

  1. When you don't get a submission, you can be sure that the person is struggling.  They might not have confidence or be short on time or think that talking about their business is no big deal.  All of these things are evidence of the struggle to show up and be engaged.  The more we know, the more we can assist.
  2. The results are the feedback that we need as instructors.  Our aim is to give people real knowledge they can take away and turn into better planning and progress in their business.  If we can't see what you are doing with the information, we don't know if it works. 
  3. We've asked people to come see the presentations and we want to make sure the people we've asked are of benefit to the participants.  So the more we can see about where people are in their development and where they have questions, the better we can do with invitations for people who can help.

So I need to open my email and see who submitted their work.  Let’s hope for the best.

Getting Ready for Session 8

The Final Countdown is upon us.  It feels like the end of an era.  It is.  It's the culmination of a long journey for us, Yvonne and me; but also for Randy as our community organizer and everyone in the class.  We're a little family at this point.  We have one more session after this, but I'm wondering what it will feel like on that 3rd Tuesday in January when we don't meet for the first time.  If I forget to say it then, I will be missing this class.

Yvonne and I took on teaching this class with a number of things in mind.  I wanted to remind everyone of a few of them:

  • Access to information is extremely powerful
  • Spending dedicated time developing your business creates better businesses
  • SW Atlanta is a vital part of the city with a LOT of change right now
  • We had a lot of ideas that we wanted to see what would happen when they were all put into practice in one place.

It's this last item that I have on my mind currently.  We're drawing to a close and getting ready to take a look at how it all worked.  Some of this has been amazing.  We know we planned too many elements in the program.  Some things will have to be re-thought, re-organized, and re-worked for better impact.  Stay tuned for more on that.

So, Session #8.  Ahhhhh!  Here we are.  Talking about filing your LLC and record-keeping for tax purposes.  This is the part of the business where I struggle with myself the most.  The tasks are easy, but the work is hard.  This is where an idea person or someone who likes to chart new territory can easily make a mis-step just by being themselves because this work takes consistency over long periods of time with large gaps in that time..

So when I say this, all I mean is that my personality is not administrative.  So, this kind of work - where you read a form and make sure it's filled out on time each year - tends to be something that is difficult for me.  I am a detail-oriented person and I'm a perfectionist.  So, this is a bit of a conundrum.  It doesn't make sense on the face of the work that I should have a difficult time with this.  And I wonder why I do.  Then, the trouble starts.  Because the real trouble is not that I wonder why, but that the next thought is that I SHOULDN'T have a hard time with it.

We all know this is where the story gets interesting in our business, right?  There is an area that it seems like we should be good enough to get the work done, but somehow that isn't how it works in real life.  For you, it might also be this kind of paperwork; it might be having hard conversations with employees; it might be enforcement of the office rules and culture; it might be talking about your business in public.  We all have an area.

I learned a very long time ago that the best thing I can possibly do when I need to get this work done is follow a simple protocol:

  • Remind myself that I need some space & time to work on this - I allocate 3x as much time on my schedule for these tasks than I think they will take.
  • Make a list of the steps I know that need to be done.  All of them.
  • Start fresh at the beginning of the day after doing one short task that is relaxing.  
  • rink a large glass of water before I start
  • Breathe deeply while working through the work

None of these things are rocket science, but they can be incredibly easy to forget when you are uncomfortable.  We lose our heads and can't remember that we have a lot of resources to deal with the issues.  I like to keep this listen on an index card.  My friend, Jordan Hayles, calls this a failure protocol.  It's a simple step-by-step process of reasonable things to think and actions to take when you are in over your head.  This will get you through the piece of work and back on track with your self.

A failure protocol like this is so easy to develop and it can keep us from getting in the weeds on something small.  I've got a few of them that I use to deal with instances where I struggle.  Some of them are what to do to avoid the pitfalls and some are what to do when I find myself in the ditch.  So, take a few minutes now and think about one area that always causes you issues.  Don't go tackle it, but take a few deep breathes and think about how you want to handle it.  Write it down.  Think about what might help you handle it in that way.  Who is good at this sort of work?  What would I tell someone else to do?

Share your protocol in the comments, if you would.  We would love to see them.

Getting Ready for Session 7

When we finally work out how to make money or get the cash flow that we need, the first thing we do is start hiring people to do the things that we should not do.  For me, this is cleaning and bookkeeping.  I shouldn’t clean because I do too much and spend too much time doing it.  It’s a way for me to avoid work.  Which brings me to the bookkeeping. . . I should not do this because I will do anything to avoid it.  Perhaps we will talk about this more on the NEX blog, ;).

So we start hiring people.  For me personally, this is where it gets very dicey.  The basic issue for me is that I do not trust my own instincts.  When I acknowledge this, I ask the people I trust the most to help me.  Here are just a few things I have learned – most of them the hard way.

Hire small first.  There are so many great ways to do this today.  Hire a part-time bookkeeper or outsource your social media.  I’m not one to recommend interns – see below – but I really love professional services people who have small business packages.  For instance, you can hire Tamay Shannon as your social media strategist for one price.  She can do the daily execution and engagement for a higher fee.  But if you really want the best deal - $47 per month – you can join a facebook group where you get templates, training, advice, feedback and have email access for questions.  Perfect!

Hire slowly; Fire quickly.  Take your time to interview.  Maybe establish a trail period to see if they are a good fit.  Have an established point of review at 90-180 days where you can end the employment without repercussions.  Make sure to keep a journal of what you see.  Address problems directly.  Document the conversations and interactions.  Then, if and when you see an issue, give it your full attention and make a decision about what to do.  If you choose to establish a remediation period to correct behavior, stick to the agreement and deadline.  Be ready to have a termination conversation – talk to your lawyer first.  And be decisive.

You cannot hire a partner.  Someone is either an employee or a partner. These are two totally different things.  An employee is someone you are responsible for providing direction and guidance and making sure their paycheck is cut without question.  A partner is someone who works to figure out how they (and you and everyone else) can actually get paid.

Maintain your standards.  I recently picked up a phrase from Yvonne – “It’s ok.  It’s just not good enough for me.”  I find it to be one of the most comforting things I have learned in the last 6-7 years while founding the business.  It’s got enough room to tell someone that what they did is good and would be acceptable to many people.  (This translates as, “I am not criticizing you.”)  But in this case, where it is for me. . . well, I have really high standards and it’s my business and that is that.

The most important thing you can do in terms of growing your business is to hire the right people.  In a small business, you want people who care as much about what is happening as you do.  It might not be realistic at first, but your employees should be committed and understand the important of them doing their job well.  This will be the hardest thing you do in business, but if you work at it and find your way it will pay off substantially.

Getting Ready for Session 6

When I think about where to find money for your business, there are a few things that come to mind immediately.  A lot of people are afraid of money; maybe I should say that a lot of people are in awe of money.  They are controlled by their feelings about it.  At the same time, there are so many lies about money.  That it will make you happy.  That people with money don’t have problems.  Lies, all lies.  The one truth that I know for sure about money came from my mom.  She said, “Money is a like a hammer.  It is a tool.  You can use it to build something, or you can bang a hole in the wall.” 

Never talk about money.  This isn’t what it seems on the face of it.  I do believe in the saying that if you want money, you should ask for advice.  I don’t think this because it’s a good way to get someone into the conversation, but because it’s a good way to learn more about how they really think.  And you NEED TO KNOW HOW PEOPLE THINK if you are going to take their money.

So, ask for their advice.  Listen carefully.  Take notes.  Go back and unpack what they say to you.  See if you are on the same page – values, integrity, community, or whatever might be important to you.  If you are, go back and ask for money.  When you ask for the money, really do it.  Be direct.  Be clear.  Make sure you use numbers and understand the value exchanged.  Know what it means to you to ask this person.  Make sure to do what you did before – listen carefully.

Ask, always ask.  This is a truism about money of any kind.  As a kid when I sold Girl Scout cookies, this was the key.  Pick up the phone.  Go to their office.  Send an email, if you must; but follow up with more direct contact.  Ask people.  Don’t be afraid.  Someone out there is waiting for just the opportunity that you are presenting.

Always stay in the conversation.  Often people are so nervous about talking to someone with money or about the fact that they are asking for money that they kind of black out when they ask.  They are listening for a yes or a no, but often what we really get are questions.  The person wants to know more.  The other time this benefits us is when it This is especially comes to debt you owe or owed to you.  People want to pay back what they owe, but when they can’t they will avoid the conversation – mostly out of fear and anxiety.  Instead, stay in the conversation.  Do what you can.  Be honest. 

The only thing that is a no, is NO.  After you have asked and they have asked their questions, after you have listened closely, there is more listening.  A lot of people are looking for rejection and so they are listening for a YES because that is clearly not what they are expecting.  But there are a lot of answers that are not a yes and are also not a no.  “Let me think about it.  I need to talk to my spouse.  This is something to consider.  I’m not quite ready.”  These are all things I have heard and in my inexperience, I interpreted them as a polite way of saying No.  They were not.  The only thing that is really a no, is when someone says, “No.”

On that note, I want to give you a little new age-y concept to take with you into the world as we prepare to talk about how to find the money you need to grow your business.  Most systems in the world are based on a Theory of Scarcity.  This means that there is only so much to go around.  This is a law of the physical world.  For some things that might hold true. . . when someone takes the last brownie, well, you know.  But in the creation of value, we’ve seen some amazing things in the history of the world.  The pie is always growing.  We can create value in a place and a way that did not exist yesterday.  It’s quite amazing.  This is a Theory of Abundance.  The world is awash in value AND money.  Each of us only has to connect with what is right and beneficial to each of us.


Getting Ready for Session 5

I’m not even sure where we met, but I have been a HUGE fan of Charles Green since the beginning of our relationship.  I think it was sometime in 2009 or 2010.  He’s a really funny guy, likes to have drinks in midtown (where we both live), knows a lot of good people and is just amiable in that southern way that some men are.  So, it’s such a fantastic thing that on top of all of that, he’s always looking for ways to spread information around in order to open doors.  If you know me at all, you know this is my #1 mission in life.  Knowledge is power.  And knowing how to open the door is 90% of getting to the other side.

If you want to learn more about Charles’ resume, check out his Linked In profile.  If you want to really get to know the guy and his genius, sit in his Small Business Finance Bootcamp (SBFB) classes.  He’s not doing them on the regular right now, but I’m working really hard to change that.  So stay tuned to the NEX Calendar and our newsletter for upcoming sessions.

The SBFB is the primary program of Charles’ project, the Small Business Finance Institute.  It sounds pretty fancy, but at it’s core it’s about demystifying the process of finding lending capital for your business.  He walks people through the rules of thumb used by lenders everywhere and shows you what they are looking at on all of those documents they ask you to submit.

In 2011, we hosted the first of these classes at HUB Atlanta.  Charles came with us when we moved to Grant Park and became NEX.  The classes came also.  I did what we always do and negotiated a deal where I, or someone on my team, could sit in on the class each time it was presented.  It was 2 days of non-stop and utterly amazing information.  I went home after the classes on both days and went on and on to my husband about how astoundingly simple the whole thing is.

The is the genius of SBFB and Charles – he takes something we all fear and worry about and makes it into something that makes SO MUCH SENSE.

I just love his guy.  He’s opening minds and doors everywhere he goes.

Getting Ready for Session 4

Yvonne is BACK!  I would never begrudge someone the opportunity to travel.  Especially if you are going out into the world to do something that you really believe is important, but oh my!  Last month was nerve-wracking for me.

First, a little bit about Yvonne's trip to Ghana.  She was traveling with Chop Art.  They are an arts organization that uses art instruction to help kids process their feelings about being homeless.  They work in shelters in Atlanta, New Orleans, India. . . and now Ghana!  The trip was to establish relationships with organizations on the ground who can help in implementing programs.  So, so important.  Cheers for Yvonne - and Chop Art - on a job well done and hopefully you will see something on her blog about the trip.

So this month feels like the band is back together and it's really great.  When we work closely with other people, it's easy to fall into a rhythm where you bounce the project back and forth until it's finished.  One person may do more outlining and the other more presentation design.  With the two of us, our conversation goes back and forth over the whole month between sessions.  In addition to that, we have been working in close proximity to each other on entrepreneurship development for a few years. . . all the while knowing we are on the same page.  So, in some moments we are like two sides of the same coin working to create something.  We respect each others expertise and have similar styles.  The knit-picky things - like text on slides - we are on the same page.  

So, when she was out of the country it was like trying to work with only one hand.  The little decisions take longer.  And that person who knows you know what your are doing isn't there to give support before you can even ask.

Just in case you wondered, this blog is really just a thank you note to Yvonne for being such a great partner-in-crime on so many projects.  It's great working together and I look forward to a lot more fun projects in the years to come.

Site Visit: Miss D’s Café

In our experience, one of the best ways we can help combat the tension between the day-to-day and big picture tasks is to provide structure and accountability around making time to think, review and write down that plan.  We’ve made ourselves available for one-on-one time with each team in the class.  We’re doing this because we are at the end of the sessions on overall planning (see Session #2 & Session #3 for some context) and heading into the sessions where you take a specific topic and apply it to YOUR business, like marketing or bookkeeping.  We want to make sure that each person in the class found a way to create a plan for their business – some people will like numbers, some will like a calendar, some will like a narrative.  Which kind doesn’t matter; it matters that you work through the process and have a plan that you can attach the next round of ideas.

TODAY, we met with Miss D. 

When we arrived, we were greeted by one of Miss D’s pop-up chefs.  He was expecting us, and let us know that she was on her way.  It’s always fun to do a site visit when the owner isn’t there yet.  You get to see Does someone know I’m coming?  How do they treat me?  What do they tell me in terms of what the owner might have said to them about me and what I’m coming to do.

We learned some things about how Miss D’s Café started.  She needed a kitchen to do catering.  When she found this spot on RD Abernathy in Westview, she saw an opportunity to help her community by expanding the operation to include:

  • a restaurant open for breakfast and lunch,
  • pop-up space for other chefs to help them get started, and
  • hiring local residents that might be difficult to employ - ex-offenders, kids, etc.

What We Saw

On a site visit, Yvonne and I want to see how the business functions.  We both love design and creating places; so we are looking at color and light and the menus and how the space is arranged.  It’s also great to see how the employees act.  Are they happily working away or standing around waiting for someone to direct them.  At the end of a workday, you want to see people who look satisfied.  And finally, what is the owner like in the place?  One time won’t tell you if someone is on it or distracted, but you can start to see who they are in their role as the boss.

How the Session Went

What we did while we were there?  This was an interview process for our class.  We are helping to put numbers and strategy down on paper for the students.  These are things they know about their business, but can't take the time or settle their mind enough to do it.  It's a really hard thing.  So, we are taking this in hand to get them started.  The difficult thing from our perspective is to make sure through the process that the business owner comes to own the information.  So, it has to be focused on them, how they think and what they are trying to accomplish.

Miss D has an epiphany between when I met with her Friday and Tuesday when Yvonne and I came back to walk through the Session #3 work.  She was thinking about what was different and special in her cafe.  A lot of people compare her to Thumbs Up Diner.  So she looked at their menu and eliminated all the things that they both do. . . this isn’t what makes her special.  (Genius!)  This small action created a very clear and actionable insight.  She made a note.  Then, she looked at her YELP! Page and saw that they get a lot of compliments on their brisket.  She made note of this.  She asked several customers what they like most.  It’s a little more complicated, but she got feedback that they love the brisket, but most people didn’t know they have it every day.

So, they have decided to feature it.  It’s unique.  They do it well.  The customers love it.  It has a good price point.   By the time I saw her Tuesday, she had already come up with items for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and the price points that items needed to hit.  She initially had the very common problem of too low on pricing for a new item.  A little conversation about it and a shift in thinking led to a good result.

So Miss D had her own experience of this session.  She likely thought it was a somewhat wandering conversation.  It was a make-up session for a class that she had missed and this meant she didn’t know the material already.  In reality, it was a pretty in-depth look into how she currently makes money and what pieces can be leveraged to make more money with less hassle, time, or cash outlay.  There were some significant insights she had; especially because there were a couple of days between the two conversations.  The biggest, most exciting thing for me was that she mentioned key points from each session of the class, including our Introduction.  She’s on it.

So. . .

It doesn't always work.  The crucial piece for success here is that the business owner has to take ownership of this work.  They have to be comfortable talking about what is and isn’t working and leading the conversation.  Over the course of a few meetings like this, you can see someone change how they greet you, open the meeting and even how organized they are about what they want to accomplish.  In the beginning, you are telling them what we are doing.  In the end, they are showing you where things are going.    

What about it almost always works?  This is a way for us to help a business owner find time and energy to work on the business, instead of in it.  Why is it so much easier when you know you have to sit down with someone?  Because they provide physical accountability.  The other person can also help you to focus because they bring conversation and a point of visual focus.  We also bring some structure to the conversation because we have a process that we are sorting the conversation to fit into.  This means that we latch on to the things that matter and move on from things that don’t.   We also bring a buffer or a fence around the owner, even if they are sitting in their own business their employees are less likely to interrupt the conversation than they would be do disturb someone thinking or processing invoices.

How Do We Do This?

We behave as the women that we are.  Yvonne and I have taken a lot of time to create a strong collaborative energy between the two of us.  We bring this to our meetings and conversations with other people.  Each of us is passionate about helping people create a business and a life they love.  We are nurturing and caring.  We really want you to succeed and believe that you can.  We treat you that way too.  We sometimes disagree with an owner and will speak up.  We use logic, persuasion and all the examples we can think of to help people learn.

We listen more than we talk.  We ask a lot of questions, but only after letting the business owner start it off.  We guide, but we don't decide.

Getting Ready for Session 3

I'm being really methodical about getting ready for this session.  It's a little different for me.  I've got my list and I'm just working my way through it a little bit each day.  It's a good way to do it.  Very sane.  Very measured.  And totally not how I usually work.

This is called tranquil inertia.  It happens to people when they are stressed.  This time it's presenting itself as movement, but often it can be a standstill.  I think the steady forward movement is a happy accident and I'll take it.  If you are a business owner and you read this description above, you are more than likely nodding your head and sighing. . . tranquil inertia, what a great description for it.  I have to remember that. 

The stress right now is coming from a few different directions, but the biggest is that my partner-in-crime is away in Ghana on a site visit for ChopArt.  It's an amazing trip, I'm sure and I wouldn't ask her to not go. . . but it's stressing me out.  Yvonne and I do a lot of things together - this class is just one of them - and we are used to talking about projects and prep work and decisions a few times a day.  This isn't bad though. . . because for me, this is REAL PROGRESS.

A few years ago, I wouldn't have been phased by this.  I also didn't have a solid support system around me with amazing partners like Yvonne.  I was incredibly lonely and it turned into some very severe burnout and depression.  It's not unusual for business owners to feel this way; that's why I'm sharing this.  What is unusual is to be able to pull out of it while keeping the doors open.

So, I'm teaching this one alone.  It's ok; we've done this class a few times.  We have even turned it into a webinar.  So the content is there and in that way, spending time working on the class is sort of like spending time with Yvonne.  Until she returns. . . 


Welcome to the sophomore experience.  That's how it feels, right.  Anyone can show up for the first class, but when the second one rolls around and you may or may not have gotten your homework done - well, that is the measure of a person.  We will talk about this more in a few posts; look for things like Show Up or Do the Work.


In our last session, we did an overview of the business and determined where you are both with the business and personally.  This should have helped you see where you need change the most and where you are already succeeding and can leverage that to build.  So, this month, we are talking about your priorities and how to establish a plan and use it as a way to measure your work and your success before it results in something as easy to count as money.

Last month we had a time management exercise.  It's more than just curiosity about what people are doing and how many hours they are working.  Those things are important in terms of evaluating where stress management needs to be emphasized, but it's important to measure your time spent against your priorities.  

So if you are trying this at home, take a few index cards and answer these questions:

  1. What are do you spend the most time on? 
  2. What do you enjoy the most or feel the best while you are doing it? 
  3. What do you avoid or feel bad while doing it?

In completing the exercise, things will surface about what you may need to learn or where you need support.  Listen for how you might criticize yourself.

This month, we will dive into a 1-year strategic plan using the Soulful Strategic Planning process developed by Yvonne Dodd.  We have modified it for the Bootcamp group to include a 90 Day Action Plan.  There are a series of questions to answer:

How do I want to feel?  When I have accomplished the goal I have in mind, what do I expect to feel?  This is a really important question because often we are chasing something that won't produce the desired results.  This is why people experience disappointment after a big success.

What does that look like in reality?  Dig down into what is in your imagination.  What does success look like to you.  What will you do with the success?  Do you reward yourself?  How?  What does that success enable for you, your family, your friends, and your community?

What are my goals?  We think about this, but are they written down?  Have you described what reaching the goal is?  Doing this simple step means you know what crushing it looks like too.  It's easy to minimize a win - and it's bad for morale too.

What are the barriers to success?  We all have hurdles to jump.  So, take a minute and think about what usually gets in your way.  You have your own areas to work on, but you also need to be honest about the ways your team and support network have let you down.  Think about how that might be different, if you took a different approach.  Finally, what about this project is new or needs more time or needs research.  Is there any baggage hanging around that you need to handle before you can proceed.

After you have answered these questions, it's time to do a Comprehensive Assessment of where you are today and then establish your Priorities moving forward.  I like to look back 1-year and forward 1-year.  (This is in the context of being in business for 5+ years and I have a 5-year plan moving forward.  This gives me some context.)  In this part of the process, Yvonne asks people to look at the following:

Wins & Challenges:  Over the last year, what went right and what was a challenge.  This is a moment (or a few hours) to just relax and tell it like it is.  Over the years of using the method with Yvonne's guidance, I have had to cultivate a sense of assessing someone else's work.  This helps me be more honest while also creating some necessary separation between my self and the business.

Write a Mission Statement:  This is a guiding force in your life and business.  It's not something you will be able to write in 10 minutes.  You may want to start with a list of words that mean something to you.  Think about what you want the sum total of your life to be when it's over.  This might sound lofty, but it's real.  This is a big deal.

Articulate Priorities:  Write out the goals and all the projects.  Now, take the time the decide what is more important.  It can be hard to address this as absolutes.  So to make it a little easier I put each item on a post-it note and then move them around on a large sheet of paper.  The top is most important and the bottom is least.  Things can be of equal importance and on the same line.  And then, you might move something just a tiny bit above the other.  And at the end of the process, remember that we can really only juggle 3 things at a time.

Draw Your Timeline:  This is about understanding your expectations, noticing where you need to shift focus and even taking into account the external factors of life - like vacations and holidays.  I always recommend that you write it down.  Look for overload and revise.  Make sure to look at the whole year.  Make sure to narrow your priorities to 3 things in each segment of time.  Finally, see if you can engineer some breathing room and time to assess your progress.

Review Strengths & Weakness; Take a look back at what happened last year.  Take an inventory of your self - you did this in Session 1.  These are things you can work on to improve the likelihood of success.  Don't let it slip up on you.

Create Measures of Success:  Make sure that you what needs to be done and how often.  Many things in business are about consistency and we need to know what is required in terms of Daily Input.  The other measure to success is to map this against the Milestones from the Timeline.  How much effort can be determined from where my focus is and what point I am trying to reach.

It's a simple process, but no one will ever tell you it's easy.  Just give yourself some time and space to make it happen.  Even if you don't get all the way through it, the exercise will prove to be incredibly valuable.  There will be a moment when something not-so-great happens in the business.  You will have thought about it and will be mentally ready to address it.  That's a win.

To wrap-up our teaching tonight, we went back to the time management exercise.  Just setting aside time to do this work can be the hardest part in starting.  So, we asked an expert to help us address that.  Now that everyone has an idea of how they spend their time, it's likely they have issues with the results of the exercise.  No one is perfect and we all hear a lot of messages about how to maximize our time and be more focused.  Tonight, we had a guest speaker to discuss Time Management.  Tikoshia Davis gave a short presentation on common barriers to good and effective time management.  My takeaway from the session had to do with procrastination and recognizing that it's often a symptom of not making time for yourself.

In tonight's discussion about, What are you leaving with tonight? most of the class mentioned the intensity of the work we asked them to do.  Generally, there was an acknowledgement that it was manageable in terms of the time commitment.  Where people had issues was in what they learned as they were doing the work.  When you start to dig deeply into how you feel about your life and your business, it's inevitable that you will see things.  It's different for everyone, but the most important thing to know is that you can only change what you can see.

Getting Ready for Session 2

Oh boy!  It's time to prepare for Session 2.  I've got a mixed bag of feelings over here.  The first session went so well. . . I think.  So, does that mean this one will be a disaster?  i know, I know.  I'm a little nervous.  I wonder how many classes it will take for this to feel normal?  It might never really get there just because this is so important to me.

Yvonne and I have been working on, planning for and strategizing about this type of class for a while.  It might be even from the time we met a few years ago.  Along the way, we've done lots of pieces and parts, but this is a real high point for us.  We've done thing in-house at NEX that are similar, but this is different.

We are out in the community.
These businesses are almost all up-and-running.
We're delivering this program for someone we really respect.
We've met all the business owners and it makes your success personal.

So it's a good thing that Session 2 is about Strategic Planning.  This particular process is one that Yvonne Dodd developed herself and she's been offering for 3 years.  It combines your business goals with your life goals and asks you to dig deep and decide how you want to feel when this all happens.  it's a tough class.  I've done it a few years in a row to create the yearly plan for my business and every time I walk away saying, "this is LIFE changing."  

For each and every one of you in the class, I urge you to bring your best self and your WHOLE self.  Nothing less will do for this session.  Take good note and ask questions.  If you can digest this process and make it your own, you will have a very powerful tool for growth that you can employ over and over.


Transparency & Vulnerability

The aim of a program like this is to create real leaps forward and help the participants rid themselves of blocks and barriers to growth and success.  These obstacles can be personal issues or a lack of a skill or resource within the business.  To get to the real issue though, everyone has to talk about what happens in the business across the board.  And to do THAT, the key is to develop both Transparency & Vulnerability.  

We will share more on both of these topics as we go, but I want to give you a quick explanation of what we (Yvonne & Michelle) mean when we say this.  Transparency is a willingness to share details which you might think of as private, like how much you pay yourself; look at the differences between what you say and what you do; and answer questions about all of it.  Vulnerability is the acceptance that we cannot control much of what happens and it still affects us.  It's important to acknowledge that both of these are hard in terms of business and not usually topics of conversation at business networking events.

Show Your Work

In 5th Grade, I had a wonderful math teacher.  She was a family friend and I loved her from the time I was a really small child.  We are a lot alike & I think we could tell it from the very beginning.  I was a little bit of a math prodigy.  So, I was a little surprised when she told me I had to stay after class one day to talk about my work.

Argh!  Gasp!  Who me?

Yes!  She wanted me to show my work.  I asked why.  Were the answers not correct?  She said they were, but she wanted to make sure I knew how to do the work.  I remember telling her that I didn't know how I knew. . . I just knew.

Business can be a lot like that.  You just know.  Especially when you are getting it right.  Here's to hoping that we all have a teacher like Miss Pat though.  Because when you force yourself to work through the problem, you can see the process - not just the answer.  When the problems get harder, you have the process to lean on and it will get you to the answer.  Or if your best friend (who is not a math prodigy) asks for some help, you will be able to at least show her what you did.

For every business owner, there comes a time when the work is more than you can do on your own.  You have to turn it over to someone else and you will need to show them how to do it.  You might encounter a problem where something that used to work isn't cutting it anymore.  When you go to ask for help, it's so much easier if you can show someone what you have been doing.  We all want to help our business community and when we get together, it's so clear that I know how to do some things and you know how to do others.  If we can show each other, we can teach each other.

So, we start early, showing our work.  

Session 1: Homework

Ok, so you are probably feeling like there was a lot to remember from our first session.  It was pretty intense with all the assessments and asking so many questions about how things are going.  We learned so much about each of you though.  Now, let's talk about the work you were assigned to do between Session 1 & 2.

Ice House Reading:  Make sure to read Chapter 1: CHOICE in Who Owns the Ice House? by Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger.  Be prepared to talk about how this relates to your business and experience.

Finish all Assessment Exercises: Make sure to keep working through the assessments from Session 1.  The First Quarter Assessment should be finished before Session 2.  The Clean Sweep is something that might take longer and also provoke a lot more of a response from you about the overall state of your life.  Just keep working through it.

There were a few other exercise that need to be completed for Session 2:
1.  Time Management: Document 3 days of your work life and make notes about how you spend your time
2.  Mission Statement: Create a draft of your mission statement
3.  Priorities & Focus: Write down your goals for 2016 or the next 12 months.  You should have at least 3 and probably no more than 20.  Feel free to include as much detail as you like, but try your best to make them quantifiable; i.e., Increase monthly revenue to $12,000 per month.
4.  Brand Assessment: We did the first page in class.  Make sure to work your way through the rest of the hand out.

For each of these, just make sure that you are working on them regularly; maybe once a week, you should make a pass through the worksheets.  There will be parts of it that are really easy to answer and others that you need to consider the questions or even do some research.  Write out what you are thinking.  And if you have questions, make notes.  There will be time to review and ask questions in Session 2.

As you do all of the exercises, homework and reading, ask yourself a few things:

  • What comes up in your head?
  • Where do you feel particularly strong and where do you feel inadequate?
  • Where do you want to delegate the thinking and doing?  This can be because you aren't confident or you just don't like doing it.

Best of Luck!  And don't forget to call your partner from class.
See you on May 17th!


This week’s session was an overview of where the businesses are.  These activities are assembled to understand if the major obstacles for each business are financial, stress-related, lack of a network, need of a particular skill (marketing) or even just a general feeling that they are not in control of what is happening.  So this session, likely felt like a doctor’s visit, but this is really an invitation for the business owner's to open up and share about where they are.  

The class had to bring a few things with them.  You can see the pre-work in our Welcome email.

In the first session, we reviewed the pre-work, each participant got up to give a short presentation of their business, and we went over a series of assessments and checklists.  The biggest chunk of time was spent on the presentations.  With 9 participants and each person talking for a maximum of 3 minutes, plus 3 instructors doing the same*. . . well, it took a little while.  We asked that everyone cover the following:

  • Who am I?  What do I do?  How do I do it?
  • Here is my binder with information about my business and this is what I have in it?
  • Where do I want to focus in the coming months?  What is most challenging for me?  What needs attention right now in my business?
  • Finally, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I feel like the boss?

In terms of the last item – about being a boss – there were some interesting answers.  Two people actually said they were not a boss because they had a partner and so that meant they were not THE boss.  Some things to work on there, right?  And another person came out of the gate with a score of 10.  I’m all for confidence, but I’m a born skeptic and this sent up some red flags for me.  We will have to keep you updated as both of these situations unfold.

The rest of the class was spent doing a series of personal & business assessments along with reviewing some checklists about brand, operations, and money**.  For the most part, the age of the company was commiserate with the operational and financial development.  In my experience there are some moments when your mental state doesn’t match the age though.  So, a 12-month old business team may feel they have their operations together more than someone at the 6-year mark.  This is a matter, most times, of just not knowing what you don’t know or more plainly stated, “Ignorance is bliss.”  It’s also a factor of outgrowing a manual or labor-intensive system and needing to upgrade your process.

And the syllabus for the 8 sessions shows what we will be doing from now until November.  It’s a lot of work and in some ways a lot of time.  We assigned partners in class so that people can check in and support each other through the process and also hold each other accountable for making consistent effort.

Lastly, We like to end each session with asking, “What are you leaving with tonight?”  For different people, this can be an A-HA moment, they might have learned that someone next to them has an expertise they need, or you might see a weakness or deficiency of your own that you just couldn’t see before.  It’s important to see all of these things as information.  They feel like high’s and low’s, but they are all just moments in the journey.



*It’s important for the team members to actively participate in these exercises too.  The playing field has to be level to build trust AND if you own a business, you should be doing this work regularly anyway.

**Here’s a quick list of the Assessments: 1st Quarter Assessment, Mission Statement Exercise, Brand Assessment, Clean Sweep Assessment, Business Operations Checklist & Money Checklist

Creating the Binder

So last Friday Yvonne & I got together at NEX and reviewed the homework for the SW Atlanta Intown Business Bootcamp.  There are a few things we are asking the participants to put together so they can show the group where they are in terms of organizations and stress levels.  We have people in the group that are just establishing their business all the way to a 10-year veteran of the entrepreneur hustle.  So, it's exciting, but it will take a little bit of time at the beginning for us to establish expectations and coordinate working with a wide range of development.

The primary task we assigned was for people to create a binder with their vital documents in it.  These can be a whole host of things, but there are a few key elements like your Yearly Plan, current cash flow, collateral (like business cards or postcards), and legal registrations (business license, Secretary of State filing, etc.).

This kind of thing can be overwhelming, so we made this quick video showing you what we each put together to give everybody an idea of what we were looking for.

Good luck, y'all!



Getting Ready for Session 1

It's amazing the thoughts that have been going through my mind while we are getting ready for Session #1. Watching people sign up is exhilarating.  It really is!  Writing the agenda for the evening was hard, but really satisfying.  Yvonne and I spent a few hours working our way through the evening and imaging how it would happen.  THEN, we made the epic decision that we would do ALL of the homework we were asking the class to do. . . and chronicle it on this blog. 

Oh, my!  What were we thinking?  That it would be a good exercise.  That it would be a great way to think through where people might have blocks or see obstacles.  AND that is would be a great way to make sure that we were working side-by-side with the participants from the beginning.  It's important to both of us that we roll up our sleeves and DO THE WORK!

So, we have each been working our way through the assessments that we will ask the class to do and assembling the binders of information about where our business is today.  That is likely the hardest part.  In my prep notes for the class, I've made a list of things it's important to remind people to keep in mind - 1. It's a process. 2. You can't move it forward if you don't know where it is. and 3. It's a way to make decisions about where you need to spend your time in the business.

While all of these are true. . . it was difficult to remember any of them while I was combing through my documents (paper and digital).  My brain was a swirl of things that were not very nice. . . wow, you haven't finished that!. . . You really need to get on top of this!. . . This is supposed to be updated every month. . . WHAT were you THINKING?!. . . You would be more successful if you (fill in the blank). . . and on and on and on!


The Info Session

Oh, I was so nervous.  It's always like that when you are meeting new people. . . and especially so when those people really matter to you.  It's an odd thing, but this is how I feel when Yvonne (Dodd) and I walk into a room to start a new program.  The people who show up, the people who say they will spend an evening listening to what will happen in the class. . . these people really matter to me.

The evening turned out really well.  We had 50 rsvp's and there were probably 25 or so people there.  There were lots of people who turned out from the community organizing side.  These are neighborhood committees and leaders who want the local businesses to have access to educational opportunities and want them to succeed.  The small business owners who came to hear about the class were smart, interested and seem to be genuinely invested in the local communities.

This program is the project of Randy Gibbs in his role at the Adair Park Neighborhood Association.  It's been assembled to serve eight (8) intown south west Atlanta neighborhoods, including Capitol View, Capitol View Manor, Adair Park, Sylvan Hills, Pittsburgh, Oakland City, West End, and Westview.  Prior to this program, there have been Development Days and also a Cash Mob program to cultivate support for the neighborhood businesses.

We have some more prep to do and we're gearing up for our first session on April 19th!  If you want to be in the group, you need to sign up by April 15th - see the information below.  We're really looking forward to it. . . and be on the lookout here for our blogs on what's happening.  Up next. . . we the facilitators are doing the prep for the first session that we are asking our participants to do.  Come back around April 15th to see how it turns out.

About the Program & Signing Up

Team Intown SW Atlanta presents the Small Business Bootcamp designed for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers living or conducting business in the SW Atlanta Neighborhoods. This 8-month course is designed to introduce basic business concepts covering everything from strategic planning, business finance, obtaining government contracts, effective marketing, managing social media and gaining access to capital.

The course meets once per month on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, starting April 19th.  If you would like to participate in the bootcamp, please fill out the application form ( and pay the $150 fee by April 15th.  

If you and your team need to discuss a payment plan, please email Yvonne Druyeh Dodd at  


Michelle Morgan is the founder of NEX Atlanta, a coworking space in Grant Park.  She's an architect, a spreadsheet nerd, and avid connector of people and opportunities.