This is not the end of the storyHad I gone to college, I would have studied history.

I like history.

The reason I like history is the same reason I like marketing and law.

The facts don’t matter as much as the stories surrounding the facts.

Most of the non-fiction books we read around here are history related.

(Unless you wrote a book, of course. If you wrote a book, I read it and I loved it. Sensational. Better than Gladwell!)

My beloved has a book called Lincoln and His Generals, originally published in 1952.

It’s about, well, Lincoln, I guess. And his generals.

I had a thought about Lincoln and I thought you might like to hear it.

Abraham Lincoln, like Winston Churchill, or Fidel Castro, dealt with some pretty crazy stuff in his time.

The stakes were pretty high.

When we read books about people like them, we often marvel at how well they kept their heads in a crisis.

They kept cool.

They made decisions.

They executed.

(In all of those cases, they literally executed. But that’s neither here nor there.)

In Lincoln’s case, there were a few moments during the American Civil War that got a little tense.

We might look back at those times and say, “Wow, the Civil War sucked. Way to keep a cool head, Abe.”

We might do that.

But there’s something we tend to forget.

Imagine it’s 1863.

The war started a few years ago and won’t end for a few more. Things are… tense.

Lincoln’s in a room or a field or a steamboat somewhere and the poo is hitting the fan.

Lincoln says to his boys, “What the BLEEP do we do now?”

We in 2015 look at Lincoln – boldly keepin’ on keepin’ on – and go, “Dude. Well played. The Civil War won’t end for another couple years and he’s totally chilling.”

But what we forget is that Lincoln didn’t *know* the Civil War was going to end in a couple of years.

He didn’t know he would save the Union, and he didn’t know he’d be on the five dollar bill.

He didn’t know that 15 years after his death, his wife would be wandering around the streets of Chicago with $56,000 in government bonds sewn into her petticoats.

(OK, maybe he had an idea on that one.)

He felt just as screwed and confused and overwhelmed as you do now.

He felt just as out of decent options.

He felt just as over his head.

He just had to do the best he could.

He had to remember that this was not the end of his story.

Now let’s take Churchill.

Churchill’s mom was… not a nice lady.

She was vicious.

He idolized her and she basically spat on him every chance she got.

He wrote her letters begging to be allowed to come home from boarding school and she never wrote back. Not once.

We look at him and say, “Man, what a guy.”

In 1897, Churchill watched one of his fellow army dudes get slashed to death by a bad guy during the Greco-Turkish war. That’s the word they used – slashed.

You think he was like, “It’s cool, ’cause one day I’ll beat the Nazis”?

No, he was not.

He was crapping his pants.

His third child was born as the First World War was breaking out. You think when he was on his way to Belgium, leaving behind a terrified pregnant wife, he was all, “Winston, relax. You’ll paint great watercolors when you retire.”

His fourth child, Marigold, died.

Of a cold.

A couple months before she turned three.

I have a feeling knowing he would one day be quoted on coffee mugs would have provided little comfort.

It sucked.

It brutally, brutally sucked.

It brutally, brutally, BRUTALLY sucked and the Second World War wouldn’t even START for another 20 years.

But he did the only thing you can do.

He tried to remember that this was not the end of his story.

One more and we’ll talk about you.

Castro.

I’m told by my American friends that y’all don’t know a whole lot about Castro.

Say what you want about him, but revolutionary Cuba wasn’t exactly a pony ride.

You think that when Castro saw the corpses of his friends being hung from trees he was like, “It’s all good, baby… one day they’ll paint my name on fences”?

You think when he was wandering around alone and starving in a jungle, thinking the rest of his 82-man force had been executed and he was next, you think he had a CLUE what to do?

You think the Bay of Pigs was a cakewalk? That he just consulted the Oracle of Delphi and was like, “It’s cool, I got this one”?

He did not know what would happen next and he did not know what to do.

He did not know he would lead Cuba for 50 years and still be good-naturedly yelling at Raul at the ripe old age of 86.

He knew nothing.

He just tried to remember that this was not the end of his story.

Today, you do not know the rest of your story.

You may be floundering.

You may be struggling.

You may be outright failing.

Yikes.

Or maybe you’re doing okay.

Maybe the struggle paid off.

Maybe you got what you wished for.

But you hate it.

Double yikes.

It sometimes feels like the end of the story.

It is not.

You may have to make some changes.

Some of them might be hard.

Some of them might be unthinkable.

Some of them might involve looking like a flake, or admitting defeat, or taking a huge loss.

That sucked for Lincoln, it sucked for Churchill, it sucked for Castro and it sucks for you, too.

But YOUR STORY IS NOT OVER.

Got it?

Good.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Should You Really Join A MastermindI had a chat about mastermind groups today. You know – mastermind groups, networking groups, meetings with alliteration in the name. (Women Who Work! The Wednesday Wowers! The Networking Nerds!) Basically, we’re talking formalized methods of getting together to support one another.

The person I was talking to is on the fence. She dreams of a mastermind group that truly supports her. She wishes for a group of business owners who are her “right people”. She is hoping to find her tribe.

Her conflict stems from two places. One, she doesn’t know if those people exist. Two, if they do exist, they might be hard to find.

The process of separating “right people” from “Oh my God, I hate these people” might be gruelling.

This is a common issue. The perks of a great mastermind group are, well, great. And bad mastermind groups are the ninth ring of hell. Sorting through an unknown number of bad ones to maybe find a good one is unpleasant.

So what should you do?

Joining a mastermind group is kind of like getting married.

When you’re in the dating marketplace, you meet a lot of theoretically viable candidates. If you are a straight single woman, there are a lot of straight single men in the world. (New York City notwithstanding.)

The guy driving your bus might be single. The guy pouring your drink might be single. The guy two mats over at yin yoga is definitely single because he vocally laments it every Saturday morning.

There are a lot of men out there, but not many of them are a great fit.

Maybe you like him and he doesn’t like you.

Maybe you like him and he likes you, but he’s 22. Your youngest child is 26, and you’re just too self-conscious to go there.

Maybe you mostly like him, but he has this one habit. It makes you want to drown yourself in a latrine.

Maybe you like everything about him, but he has no ambition. You know that won’t work long term.

Maybe you like everything about him, but he has too much ambition. You know that won’t work long term.

Maybe he doesn’t want kids.

Maybe he wants kids a little too urgently.

Maybe he already has nine kids and you don’t like any of them.

There are plenty of reasons that something might not work out. If you consider 100 single straight men, probably only one of them is a great fit.

It’s kind of the same with these groups.

Out of 100 theoretically suitable humans, probably only one is a great fit.

In a marriage, you have to find one person to meet four criteria. You can’t hate them. They can’t hate you. You both want to be married. Neither of you is already married to anybody else.

In a mastermind, you need six of these people.

Your odds aren’t fabulous.

I like marriage. I do. I started getting married at 18, and I can’t seem to stop. Marriage can be a rewarding endeavor, if done consciously and with a suitable and compatible person. Marriage is good stuff, but you have to be willing to look and keep looking.

You can’t look around on the bus, not see Prince Charming, and say never mind, marriage isn’t for you. You can’t go on one sucky date with the bartender and one with yin yoga guy, and promptly write off the whole institution.

Ditto masterminds.

At the same time, you might not want to go too far the other way. You might not want to make finding the right marriage partner your whole life’s work. You might not want to make it your mission. You’ve got to be prepared to wait a while for the right fit. Yes, look around. Yes, be available. Yes, make your interest known. But obsession is bad for your liver.

Ditto masterminds.

“Is it a good idea to join a mastermind?” is a similar question to “Is it a good idea to get married?”

You’re going to want to be very careful who you ask. But the criteria for joining a mastermind group isn’t that far off of the criteria for marriage. Granted, sexual compatibility is probably less crucial. If your members get progressively fatter and more conservative as the years go by, you’re unlikely to care all that much. But there’s a lot of similarity.

You want people who know how to listen without interrupting. (You also have to know how to listen without interrupting.)

You want people who support without agenda. (You also have to support without agenda.)

You want people who will be there for you when you need them. (You also have to be there when they need you.)

If you can find those people, you don’t have to worry so much. Don’t worry about similar styles, similar philosophies, or similar industries. You wouldn’t want to marry your twin, and you wouldn’t want to be in a mastermind with your twin either.

Our differences make us dynamic, in marriage and in masterminds. Opposites create polarity, yin and yang, energetic conversations, life.

A group of good people, with your best interests at heart, who are willing to listen and support and grow – that’s all you really need. It may take you a lifetime to find it, but I have no doubt it would be worth it.

So should you join a mastermind group?

Sure.

Why not?

Just sign a prenup, okay?

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

How To Stop Your Business From Sucking Up All Your TimeOnce upon a time, I got cranky about a book I read. I responded with How To Double Your Revenue and Profit. Really. The fifth of five steps in that article was “Get a ****ing system already”.

If you don’t have systems, your business is pandemonium.

If your business is pandemonium, it eats your life.

I’m sure you have experienced this to one degree or another.

For some people, systems are easier said than done. I am one of those people. For other people, even saying the word out loud causes them to make a sort of hacking noise. It sounds a little like throwing up.

Over the years, I have honed in on a handy way to make a Kinda System. It offers similar results to Real Systems, without those pesky… um… systems.

Granted, Real Systems are better, but here are your choices:

  1. A Kinda System started NOW.
  2. A Real System started NEVER.

Exactly.

Let’s take a few steps today to stop the pandemonium.

First, start respecting your time already.

This is a great first step. It can potentially allow you to avoid ever having a system in the first place.

Decide that you’re not going to give away your time for no good reason. Decide to value and respect your time because it is COSTING you something. Generally, we are not aware of the cost of our time relative to the value we’re getting.

If you’re doing pointless stuff, you are not respecting yourself.

It’s like kids and money. They want candy every time you go to the store when they’re spending YOUR money. But if it’s their money, look how fast things change. “Well, I don’t want to spend MY money on it!”

Indeed.

When you’re spending your own money, you don’t waste it on stupid stuff you don’t want.

Not so with time. We’ll throw that stuff out the window like Big Mac wrappers on the freeway.

Until!

One day you realize that all that time is coming out of YOUR pocket. You can’t do the OTHER things you want to do because of the way you run your business.

That’s a lot of unpaid overtime. It’s keeping you from going to the movies. It’s keeping you from spending time with your kids. It’s keeping you from snuggling with your Schmoopie Schnookums.

No one can make you value your time. But when you finally decide to do so, you tend to create your own “systems” pretty fast. Even if your new system is “The hell with Facebook.”

(One tip? “The hell with reading IttyBiz” is a BAD system. Just saying.)

Second, work on stuff that leads to real money before you do anything else.

In the Emergency Turnaround Clinic, we talk about “closest to cash” a lot. Things like running promotions. Following up on invoices. Cold calling or cold emailing. Finishing that 90% done product. Getting that damned sales page up already.

We do this for two reasons.

First, if you work on the things that are closest to cash, you get money in your hands. This is a stellar use of time.

Second, when you do things that lead to cash, you have less patience for things that don’t. You stop goofing off and use that time to write newsletters. You stop reading all those junk blogs and pick the three that are actually useful to you. Things like that.

When you work on closest to cash, you tend to stop the time drain without even thinking about it. So do that.

Third, work on stuff that fixes your weaknesses.

This is completely in line with the profit leaks we talked about earlier.

Fix the weaknesses on your website. You’ll get more people on your list.

Fix the weaknesses in your sign-up process. You’ll get even MORE people on your list.

Fix your random content strategy. Put a real strategy in place. Then you won’t have to spend so much time hustling for traffic. And backlinks. And retweets and Facebook likes and God knows what else.

Fix your vague branding. Make it specific enough to be identifiable and relevant to new visitors.

Fix the typos on your About page. Get help on making your sales pages better. Find out where your traffic is coming from. Get a more cohesive email signature. Fix your customer follow-up so that you’re actually following up. Get those outdated posts off your blog. Clean up the sloppy formatting on your auto responders. Etcetera.

Your weaknesses are costing you sales that you SHOULD be getting.

“Picking up the money you are already dropping” is a very good system.

Before you run toward the next hot webinar trend, focus on fixing your weaknesses. That’s what we could call “second closest to cash.”

Mmmm. Cash.

When you’re done with that, you can do anything else you feel like doing.

Sometimes that will be more work stuff. Sometimes it will be snuggling with Schmoopie Schnookums. It’s your choice. Either way, your business no longer eats your life.

Thus ends the official IttyBiz almost-like-a-system-system.

Start respecting your time.

Work on closest to cash.

Then work on fixing your weaknesses.

Don’t shell out business time for anything else until that’s done.

That alone will show you every system you’ll ever need to create.

(Or close enough to it.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.