Blog

Small Business Bookkeeping Made Simple

Small Business Bookkeeping Made Simple

If (like me) you’ve ever found yourself pounding a fistful of Advil to quash your bookkeeping headache, I’m sure you’ll be as excited as I was to discover Bench – a new subscription service designed to help small businesses cope with the hassles of budgeting, tracking expenses and preparing tax reports.

I just checked out their website, and what can I say? They had me at, “Let’s agree to never talk about QuickBooks again” …

Digging a little deeper, I discovered that the service includes monthly financial reporting, direct interface with your CPA at tax time, and Q+As with an expert whenever you need it. Their team is rigorously screened (including criminal background checks) and entirely based in North America, so you don’t have to be afraid of your financial data being sold or sent overseas.

Possibly best of all, I fell in love with the Bench About page – see here – a classic example of what it looks like to build a relationship with your prospective clients by offering transparency and a glimpse into your company’s culture. So now, I’m not only feeling a “glory hallelujah” over the service they offer, but additionally I have a giant branding crush.

I’m not signed up as an affiliate or earning any referral credits by saying this, but –

If you’re ready to invest a modest monthly fee into having your bookkeeping hassles lifted from your shoulders…

If you want to work with a company that employs actual humans you can speak with (as opposed to subscribing to yet another software program that ultimately leaves you still “doing it yourself”) …

If you want to know you’re not undermining the value of someone’s professional skills by paying them with a Saltine cracker and a song (which so often happens on sites like Fiverr and Upwork) …

– then I recommend checking out what Bench has to offer: a highly needed service at a fair and reasonable rate!

Pop-Up Penalty Coming Soon

Pop-Up Penalty Coming Soon

To pop-up or NOT to pop-up, this has long been the question of digital marketers and entrepreneurs who understand how crucial it is to build a large and thriving database of email subscribers. Google’s new pop-up penalty, which they will be rolling out in January 2017, may become the factor which finally sways the debate.

I spent several years batting for Team No Pop-Ups, believing them to be a nuisance to website usability. Why would I want to build a list on the basis of annoying my site visitors or badgering them into subscribing, instead of building my list on the basis of having great content that visitors are eager to sign up for?

I still think great content is king, but when I found Nathalie Lussier’s PopUpAlly plugin, which purports to offer a “polite” pop-up experience, I decided to soften my position a bit and give it a try. I have, in fact, received additional subscribers via the front page pop-up, but I’ve yet to prove out that these subscribers – who only see the pop-up if they have decided to abandon my site before viewing deeper content – are likely to convert into active community members or clients.

One of my professional mantras is that “nobody needs all the customers they can get” – meaning, your business is much more likely to thrive, grow, and be of service (both to your clients and to YOU) when you commit yourself to staying laser focused on connecting with your target audience. In other words, you can’t be everything to everyone, and you’re going to hurt your business if you try. So why not grow a list of people who love what you have to say, instead of casting a wider net and scooping up subscribers who didn’t fall in love with your message, and were in the process of abandoning ship?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually *love* Nathalie Lussier’s PopUpAlly. I discovered that the plugin offers a robust and versatile set of options for creating embedded forms as well as pop-ups, and I felt the tool was intuitive and easy to use, so I’ve gone ahead and purchased the pro version and converted all my opt-ins sitewide to PopUpAlly forms.

That said, I remain unconvinced that pop-ups (even the “polite” ones) are the smartest strategy for growing my list. In light of Google’s new pop-up penalty, which they will be rolling out in January 2017, I’m almost certainly going to delete my own pop-up in the near future.

Even if SEO rankings are not currently a part of your distribution strategy, I believe there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of “just saying no” to the pop-up. But I also recommend everyone to keep the long game in mind – although SEO may not be a focus for you today, how you build your site now will affect how easy (or difficult) it is for you to change your strategy in the future. Bearing in mind that when your business grows, top-of-page search rankings may become possible – or even crucial – for your business, the impending penalty is one more reason to avoid pop-ups in the first place.

Compensation With Consciousness

Compensation With Consciousness

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen small businesses struggle with is knowing how best to compensate their employees.

On one hand, small business owners – especially those with heart – want to be as generous as possible with their employees, and often start compensation for a new employee at higher than the market average. This can present challenges down the road, starting with the obvious (too high of a payroll burden has been the sinking stone for many small businesses), to complications that may not emerge until some months or even years later, for example –

  • If your employee turns out to be a rockstar, how do you reward them for their excellent work when you’ve already maxed out the level at which you can compensate them?
  • If your employee turns out to be average, and you later bring on a rockstar to join the team in a similar role, how are you going to reward on the basis of performance versus seniority?
  • As your company grows and you open up new roles with varying levels of responsibility, are you going to be able to afford to pay *everyone* proportionately the same amount above market average?

On the other hand, I have seen unfair employee compensation functioning as a huge blind spot for small business owners, even those who say they have the intention of operating with conscious business practices.

Just as one example, I recently had a client with four receptionists working at their front desk, all of whom had nearly identical job responsibilities, length of time with the company, levels of education and prior work experience, and all of whom were making a different hourly rate.

You could line up those four employees in order from the highest paid to the lowest paid, and I kid you not, the employee with the highest rate of pay was also the employee with the lightest complexion, and their hourly rates of pay decreased in exactly the same order as the darkness of their complexions increased.

I am certain my client did not intentionally set out to pay their employees on the basis of skin color, and in their mind, “That’s just the way it worked out.” After auditing their business, I made the recommendation to standardize the criteria they were using to set their rates of pay, and their response was, “We think it’s appropriate to have ‘a range’ for each role and to use our discretion when hiring.”

While that might sound appropriate, I strongly believe that it’s actually NOT, and here’s why –

When a company has a “range” of compensation they are willing to offer a new employee, if they are acting in the company’s self interest, they will start negotiations at the bottom of that range, or maybe even slightly below the range they anticipate will be the final agreement point.

Conversely, when a potential employee is acting with confident self interest, they are going to negotiate for a higher rate of pay than what they are initially offered.

Sounds like a textbook case of two parties advocating for their own interests but knowing they will eventually reach a fair agreement somewhere in the middle, right?

But here’s the thing: when entering a negotiation, every person is going to have a different sense of their “worth” to the company, a complicated equation that factors in not only their individual history and personal attitude, but what they know their chances are of finding a position on the basis of their gender, ethnic background, and other factors.

In other words, if you’re not a straight-presenting white male, you may not feel your “self interest” lies with negotiating the highest rate of pay possible, but rather your “self interest” may be to accept what is offered now, because you don’t know when another door of opportunity is going to open – in short, you’re going to believe yourself to be in a weaker bargaining position. This may or may not even be a conscious decision, so much as an unconscious operator that governs your levels of confidence while negotiating your rate of pay.

In my opinion, this dynamic plays a big role in shaping why we still have a significant pay gap on the basis of gender, race, and other aspects of identity and appearance – and it’s not good enough for employers to say “that’s just where the negotiations ended up”.

Although this problem of systemic pay inequity may be too big for any one person or small business to solve, if you have the intention of bringing consciousness to your business practices, then with some planning and forethought there is a way you can at least do your part in working towards a system of transparency and justice in the way you compensate your team.

I also know that if you are like most small business owners, you’re probably already so overwhelmed with the amount of work you have and the number of details to think about, that adding yet another system to your business might feel like it’s going to send you into overwhelm.

Believe me, I can relate to the feeling of overwhelm and I sympathize, but I also SO strongly believe in using business as a vehicle for creating justice. That’s why I’ve decided to create an easy-to-use tool that will help you standardize your compensation structure with a LOT less of a time commitment from you!

I’ll be including the Salary Transparency Tool in my monthly video training series, which will launch in early 2017, so please stay tuned. Better yet, make sure you’re signed up for my Love Letters, and you’ll hear from me the moment the tool goes live.

Vertical Video: No Longer A Pariah

Vertical Video: No Longer A Pariah

Vertical video is here to stay, friends, and I am about to tell you why – as well as give you a few tips on how and when to jump on the vertical video bandwagon.

Vertical Video Stigma
Since the dawn of YouTube, it’s been an unspoken rule of the tech savvy that if you’re going to shoot your own video, you’d best remember to rotate your mobile phone and shoot the video in landscape mode.

The vertical stigma was understandable considering the way most online video was played: computer and laptop screens usually mirror televisions in their landscape orientation, and many videos were embedded into websites, which traditionally also favored a horizontal orientation.

Until recently, vertical videos viewed directly on YouTube and in other players, or embedded into a website, would inevitably display horizontally with two ugly black lines to each side of the video, essentially making it harder to view the content, irritating the viewer and making the content producer look like a tech dweeb.

The New Normal
If attitudes about vertical video are changing, it’s because the use of technology has changed, and people are beginning to realize there’s a time and a place for both video orientations.

According to YouTube’s own statistics, more than half of all video is viewed on a mobile device, and the number of hours viewers spent on mobile has increased 100%, year over year. Just last month I read a study by Litmus Software who tracked statistics for over a billion emails and noted that mobile opens have now reached 56% percent. We’re also well past the tipping point where mobile internet use has eclipsed desktop browsing, according to recent reports.

Intuitive Filming Decisions
If it’s safe to assume that your video is going to be viewed on a mobile device, more likely than not, then the only relevant question you should be asking yourself is, “Which format makes more sense for the type of video I am shooting?”

Deciding whether to shoot your video in a horizontal or vertical frame should be as intuitive as taking a portrait: if there’s a reason why you need more horizontal footage in the frame, by all means, continue to shoot that way. But (for example) if you’re filming a close-up of somebody speaking – a common scenario for anyone using video in an internet marketing context – then the obvious choice should be to utilize vertical video just as you would most likely choose a portrait layout when taking a headshot.

The Technology To Back It Up
“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “didn’t you just say my vertical video was going to display funny and make me look like a tech dweeb?” Well, yes, until recently that was the case. But today there are several options for using your vertical video that are downright slick!

The first bit of good news is that YouTube now allows users to embed video in other websites using a vertical orientation (although, unfortunately, when the video is played within YouTube it’s still going to appear with awkward black bars to each side).

To embed vertical video in a website, first grab the regular embed code and then manually edit the dimensions:

  1. Look under the video for a right-pointing arrow and the word “Share”
  2. Click once on “Share”
  3. Click a second time on the word “Embed” which should appear on the next line down
  4. Click again in the rectangle that appears beneath the word “Embed” – this is your embed code, which you should highlight, copy, and paste into the text editor of the webpage where you want to display your video
  5. Skim through the embed code to find the dimensions, and then change the width to 540 and the height to 960 – i.e. w=540&h=960
  6. If you want to change the display size, you can change it to anything you want, but in order to avoid the “black bar syndrome” you’ll need to keep the 540×960 (9:16) ratio the same.

Unfortunately, even though Vimeo continues to outshine YouTube with its “arthouse hipster” factor, the site continues to lag behind with its technological capabilities.

Essentially the same process described above can be done for a vertical video on Vimeo, but the best you’re going to get is a square embed shape, not a fully vertical shape, meaning your video will be slightly easier to view with slightly less embarrassing black bars on either side, but Vimeo does not yet offer a true vertical solution to its users.

Emerging Platforms
Snapchat and Periscope both offer unique platforms for sharing vertical videos, but your strategy for using these platforms will need to be different than with players such as YouTube and Vimeo, as both Snapchat and Periscope offer a more ephemeral experience.

Lastly, I have high hopes for Vervid, the newest kid on the vertical video block. They may be a little hyperbolic on the point that you’ll “never turn your phone to watch video again” – firstly, yes you will, and secondly it’s not that hard – but Vervid does offer a gorgeous “in app” experience for sharing and consuming videos, with easy and intuitive uploading and editing options, and the app also allows users to embed vertical video using VervidTV – check out the Vervid blog to learn more.

Making Time For Your “Great Work”

Making Time For Your “Great Work”

A friend and I were recently discussing an eternal conundrum: why, when we’ve given advice to clients and we’ve seen how our suggestions have helped them immensely, do we still find places where it’s hard to follow our own advice?

I’ve noticed a common pattern playing out for my clients: even when they have an idea or project burning on their heart, and they manage to carve out time in addition to their existing work and family obligations to make progress on their project – somehow, the time just seems to vaporize with little to no progress being made from one work session to the next.

Sound familiar?

With a little reflection, I realized the pattern was familiar to me, too – and that I was falling into the very same pitfalls as my clients.

The repercussions of not swallowing my own medicine in this case has been that I often “don’t have time” – or at least THINK that I don’t have time – to write as much as I’d like, both for business and for pleasure. Writing is what I consider my “great work”, that thing which smacks of destiny and purpose, so it’s fairly inexcusable for me not to be doing more of it.

After my “aha moment” I decided there was only one thing to do: organize the advice I give my clients into a self-directed course – Making Time For Your Great Work – and then put myself on the hook for following my own program!

I’ll be publishing the course soon, so please stay tuned. Better yet, make sure you’re signed up for my Love Letters, and you’ll hear from me the moment the booklet goes live.

The Importance of Self Care (Even When You’re Busy)

The Importance of Self Care (Even When You’re Busy)

When you’re working really hard, it’s easy to forget about yourself. Sure you know that you can only hope to live a healthy life if you have a balanced diet, and that you need to take care of your body and mind if you want to be productive, but are you actually practicing what you preach? I’ll easily admit that I often don’t, but I’ve been trying to do a little better lately. Here are some strategies I’ve been trying to take good care of myself even when life gets a bit hectic.

 

GET UP AND STRETCH (DO IT NOW!)

If you’re reading this article, chances are that, like me, you do most of your work sitting down at your desk, looking at a computer screen, and you’ve probably already heard a thousand times that it’s bad for your posture and your body as a whole. You should get up, stretch and move around regularly, but it’s not that easy to just get up and take a walk, especially when you really have to get this report done by tomorrow. The trick is to find excuses to get up and move, even just for a minute. Take regular bathroom breaks. Go fill up your water bottle. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea. If you work in an office, go say hi to your colleagues on the third floor (and yes, use the stairs!).

 

SAVE YOUR EYES!

The blue light emitted by screens (akin to that emitted by the sun) can be a real strain on the eyes, so try to look away from your screen as often as you can (you could set up an alarm every hour as a reminder). Short of that, if you tend to work late, I highly recommend installing f.lux, a free software that makes the color of your computer’s screen adapt to the time of day: it will be “normal” during the day but will get progressively warmer at night. This will be a real relief for your eyes, and might also help regulate your sleeping pattern as too much blue light in the evening tends to keep you up at night.

 

GO FOR A WALK

I know I’ve already said you should get up and move around throughout the day, but this time I’m talking about a real walk, one that will be good for your body and your soul. You might think that you only ever have time to take walks on a Sunday, but why not change your midday routine and take a stroll around the neighborhood instead of eating a sandwich in front of your screen? Alternatively, you could walk a longer way home or skip a bus stop and walk the extra distance. If you work from home and find it difficult to take long breaks, organize your walk around something you have to do today, like going to the post office, buying some food, listening to a podcast or giving your best friend a call.

 

EAT YOUR GREENS

We all know that a healthy diet is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. But have you been eating your greens? Put a fruit basket on your desk, or in the office space you share and try to make your lunchtime meals as colorful as possible. I like keeping some dried fruits and nuts near my desk for a quick, easy and healthy snack, and I’ve been trying to incorporate fruits into my breakfast to make sure I get enough.

 

DRINK MORE WATER

I usually drink a lot of water, but if I’m busy I can sometimes find myself dehydrated in the evening. As it turns, out I feel much better when I drink water regularly throughout the day. I usually like to have a bottle of water on my desk, and I drink as much as I can. I try to refill my bottle as soon as it’s empty, as it’s an excuse to get up (see point 1) and prevents me from (wrongly) thinking that “I’m so busy I don’t even have time to get up”. Staying hydrated helps prevent headaches too.

 

BREAK AWAY FROM SCREEN TIME

You know you should take breaks throughout the day, and you probably do. But while broswing Pinterest is great (I love it too), it might not be exactly what you need to freshen up your mind. Try to look away from the screen, go outside, focus on something really different from what you’re doing. I find that manual or creative activities are fantastic because I can literally feel my brain reorganizing all the information (like a Tetris game) when I engage in such an activity. If you work from home or in a creativity-driven office, you might be able to play an instrument for ten minutes or stroke your pet. If not, try drawing, reading, writing, knitting, going out for a brisk walk or calling a friend.

 

KEEP ESSENTIALS NEARBY

Overheated offices can make your skin very dry. Make sure you’ve got a hand cream on your desk. If you’re too often picking at your lips when you’re stressed, get into the habit of using lip balm instead by putting a stick on your desk. And if you get dry eyes because of your contacts, keep some eye drops handy.

 

NURTURE YOURSELF

This one is easier said than done, especially when you’re very busy and are facing a tight deadline. But do try to take every opportunity to take good care of yourself. Watching TV might seem like a good way to relax after a long day of work, but if you’re not too tired, taking the time to cook a wholesome meal, bake some cookies, take a bath or do your nails will offer extra benefits that you’ll be able to enjoy for longer. If you don’t have much time to yourself, use it wisely.

 

ORGANIZE YOUR WORKFLOW

My final tip for managing to take care of yourself when you’re busy? Organize your workflow to limit the amount of pressure you’re putting on yourself. Try to keep on top of your work schedule by allowing enough time each day for what you have planned. Don’t be too strict with yourself, and make sure you account for regular breaks in your schedule.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please leave your tips in the comments and tell us how you find little ways to take care of yourself when you’re busy.

Five Simple Strategies to Reduce Business Liabilities

Five Simple Strategies to Reduce Business Liabilities

Creating and running your own small business is undoubtedly very rewarding, both professionally and personally, but that doesn’t mean that you can afford to overlook the risks. However, you can reduce those risks and your own personal liability by managing your business the smart way. Although no blog article can replace professional legal or tax advice tailored to your own needs, here are some of the strategies that small business owners generally find useful and easy to implement to reduce business liability.

 

INCORPORATING

The first thing to do to reduce business liabilities is to select a business structure that limits your liability : by incorporating your company, you are protecting your personal assets from any debt or liability incurred by the business. Make sure you do your own research to decide which structure is best suited to your business. If you’re just getting started, we recommend using Incfile, an excellent resource for researching options and incorporating your business. Once you’re ready to move forward, you’ll find that their system is easy to use and that they provide competitive prices with no tricky hidden fees.

 

PUBLISH YOUR LIABILITY AND PRIVACY POLICY ON YOUR WEBSITE

This is particularly important if you own a service-based business as you will need to make it clear what your services do and do NOT include. If your business provides services or information related to coaching, nutrition, health, etc., you should clearly state your education, experience and credentials, and explain whether or not your services can be intended as a replacement for seeing a health professional. You should make all of that information available on a “Terms of Use” page on your website, and should also provide details about the information you are collecting and using on a dedicated “Privacy” page.

 

MAKE YOUR CONTRACTS CRYSTAL CLEAR

In order to avoid any confusion, you should draft contracts or work agreements that very clearly state what you are “promising”, what will be delivered and what is out of scope, as well as payment terms and refund policies (if applicable). Please note that this is an important step, no matter who you are dealing with, even family and friends. Providing a crystal-clear contract doesn’t mean you don’t trust the other party, it means you are doing your best to avoid any misinterpretation. People may overlook the importance of written agreements between family and friends, but it is just as crucial, and may save your relationship should a misunderstanding occur.

 

REQUEST A LAWYER’S HELP

Leave it to the experts and hire a lawyer to review your contract templates, as well as your liability and privacy policies. In this particular area, a pinch of prevention is truly worth more than a pound of cure. “Hiring a lawyer” might sound like a daunting task with a heavy price tag, especially if you are just starting out in business, but do not be discouraged! If you really need to watch your finances, you can turn to LegalCorps for volunteer legal advice. If you’re on a limited budget but have a little bit of wiggle room, Avvo offers on-demand, fixed-fee legal advice and their lawyers can provide help on a variety of issues. Rates start at $39 for a quarter-hour conversation and you can browse the forum for free advice.

 

OBTAIN BUSINESS INSURANCE

Even if you think all four strategies above are watertight, insurance is your parachute when all else fails. Business insurance comes in all shapes and sizes, so you should do your own research to make sure you subscribe to a policy that truly suits your needs. If you already have home, car or life insurance, check whether your carrier can offer you a bundled rate. Popular insurance carriers in North America that also offer small business insurance include State Farm, Progressive & Nationwide.

Add A Personal Touch With Bond

Add A Personal Touch With Bond

I’ve always had a Jacqueline Kennedy inspired fascination with handwritten letters – even a short but sweet note, written on gorgeous stationary, adds a touch of class to your persona, and goes a long way towards building authentic connection with your clients and associates.

But – let’s be serious for a minute – how many of us busy entrepreneurs have the time and the creative energy to sit down with pen and paper, and compose a batch of handwritten missives after every conference and networking event?

This is the part where I get to thank my lucky stars to be living in the year 2016, a time when technology collides with artisan genius to bring us gorgeous new services such as Bond.

Lovelies, I am absolutely obsessed!

Here’s how it works –

Visit the Bond website and create an account.

You will be sent several pages of forms to fill out, which will capture all the individual quirks of your unique handwriting: the curves, angles and connections, the spaces between letters and words. Send it back, and Bond’s software will analyze your writing sample and capture your unique style. Once you’re writing has been entered into their system, you’re ready to write! Choose your own stationary, type your own messages, and Bond will compose and send ink-on-paper messages to your recipients.

Rather than creating a font based on your handwriting, and then digitally printing your message, Bond has “calligraphy machines” which will write out your message – complete with quirks and variety within the letters – so that every note or card will be unique (even if you’re sending out 500 copies of the same thing, as you might during the holidays).

Prices start at $2.99 per card or letter, and can go as low as $1.49 per note, depending on the volume of letters you are ordering. The price includes first class postage within the United States.

Zenefits: Your HR Hassles Are Solved

Zenefits: Your HR Hassles Are Solved

Many small business owners try to pinch pennies by managing every aspect of their administrative functions “in house”, even as their business grows large enough to bring on employees.

From organizing new hire paperwork, to running payroll, to managing health insurance coverage and compliance with state and federal labor laws, there’s a tremendous number of details to be keeping track of – details which will absorb both your time and your creative bandwidth.

Remember: although I don’t advocate throwing down your money for every shiny object that crosses your path, every choice you make also has an opportunity cost – and when you factor in the value of your time and your energy, sometimes the opportunity cost of the “cheapest” solution ends up being more expensive in the long run.

Enter Zenefits – a new all-in-one dreamboat solution for small business owners. Zenefits provides small business support for almost every aspect of HR management: employee recruitment, new hire paperwork, ongoing support for payroll and benefits, taxes and compliance.

Many of Zenefits services are completely free of charge to their clients; additional à-la-carte options are reasonably priced for the value they provide.

I encourage anyone running a small business, whether you have one employee or many: don’t feel like you have to be everything to everyone, just to save a dime. Allow yourself the ease and support that comes with outsourcing your administrative functions.

This will not only free up your energy to continue your big picture visioneering, it also provides you with a measure of protection by ensuring – when it comes to compliance with employment laws – that every i has been dotted, and every t has been crossed.

Has anyone tried Zenefits? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

Goodbye, Nine To Five

Goodbye, Nine To Five

The alternate title for this blog post might be, “Why I Bailed On Corporate America” or “The Day I Threw Caution To The Wind And Decided To Dismantle My Life With No Game Plan Whatsoever, And Still Miraculously Landed On My Feet”… But both of those titles seemed a bit long, and maybe a tad overly dramatic? … ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In any case, let us harken back to my days working for Ogilvy & Mather.

For the most part, I loved my years with Ogilvy. I had the opportunity to work with a great team, several awesome clients, and I learned an immeasurable number of things, personally as well as professionally. But like many things in life, my experience was a mixed bag, and about halfway through my time there, I began to entertain a few doubts – little whispers at first, which slowly grew louder over time.

These were the three main sources of my concern –

The first, and the hardest to talk about, was the way in which I realized my professional opportunities were being limited by subtle gender bias. Although on a person-to-person level, I loved and appreciated each individual coworker and felt I had the best supervisor a person could ask for, nonetheless I was still experiencing the daily micro-aggressions that I’m sure will sound familiar to many women – for example, sharing my thoughts and ideas in company meetings, only to have my words repeated verbatim by a louder male colleague sitting next to me, and watching him receive the praise.

But because I liked everyone so much individually, and because I saw other women around me who appeared to be happy and thriving in their positions, it was difficult for me to acknowledge to myself that bias was at play and shaping my opportunities.

In my last year with Ogilvy, I personally pitched, closed, and account managed more business than anyone else in my division, yet I watched as my male colleagues received more recognition. There was a defining moment for me when, on the basis of the value I knew I’d already brought to the table, I put myself forward for a new role that was opening up in London, and the response I received was, “What would you even do there?”

I was so surprised by this response that my only answer was to blink several times and walk out of the office. If that question didn’t smack of condescension, I’m not sure what does. It was the defining, eye-opening moment when I realized my value and potential wasn’t being evaluated on the basis of objective, measurable performance.

The second concern that began to weigh on me was simply that my values were not in alignment with many of the clients whose accounts I supported – for example, Nestlé or Procter & Gamble. When I first started at Ogilvy, I was much more focused on the fact that I liked and enjoyed the individual people with whom I interacted. However, over time, my personal respect and enjoyment of these clients began to be outweighed by the problems I had with the brands and parent companies they represented. I couldn’t justify to myself that I was providing strategy or work product that would benefit companies whose business practices contradicted my personal ethics.

Lastly, the most basic and probably most compelling reason for me to leave was that, on a deep level, I knew that the lifestyle I was leading was utterly out of alignment with the life my soul was yearning to live. When I say “nine to five”, I’m using the term emblematically to represent a structured, mainstream office job – but in reality, I was working far more than a classic 40-hour work week. Days that started at 7:00 or 8:00 am, and continued until 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 pm were far more typical for me, and putting in hours over the weekend was not an unknown event for me, either.

I was investing too much of my time into work, and not enough time into caring for my physical health, my social or romantic life, or my spiritual and creative needs. I had deliberately chosen to over-invest myself in my career, telling myself that “hard work now will pay off later” – but as it became increasingly clear that my investment was not going to pay the dividends I’d imagined, I began to grow dissatisfied with the imbalance.

I also knew that there was something far too wild and bohemian inside me to be truly happy coming to work, day after day, to the same desk in the same building in the same town.

Some people can tolerate or even thrive with this lifestyle, but I wanted to be traveling, experiencing, creating. I wanted to make my own schedule, more in tune with the rhythms of my creative energy and inspiration than with standard business operating hours.

Gunning for that third week of vacation a year was just not going to cut it.

With all these concerns weighing on my heart, you might wonder why I stayed at Ogilvy for several years. It may look like wasted time from the outside, but while I was living the experience, my reservations about leaving seemed legitimate, and there were crucial lessons I needed to learn.

I’d accepted a position with Ogilvy shortly before the housing market collapsed, and it wasn’t long until the economy started circling the drain with it. With unemployment spiking into double digits, I felt incredibly blessed to have any job at all, let alone a well paying job in an industry I generally enjoyed. I assumed any other job I could find would come with all the same drawbacks, or else a major pay cut – I couldn’t imagine a pathway to creating the life I wanted while maintaining the income I needed.

In my darkest moments, I imagined the price of my freedom would be sleeping on a park bench, or furtively darting down alleyways as debt collectors chased me with a crowbar. My voices of fear and doubt kept me pushing forward, even as I knew the path I was walking was just not the right one for me.

However, everything reached a tipping point for me in the Summer of 2010. A certain offshore oil rig had exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing one of the biggest oil spills in US history. The company operating this rig had been a longtime client of Ogilvy PR, and a few months after the disaster, I was assigned to be the account manager for the digital arm of Ogilvy’s crisis response efforts.

Anyone who knows me, knows the ocean is my lifeblood. I spent three horrible days trying to wrap my hands around the project during the day, and scrolling through photos of oiled birds and suffocating sea animals while crying my eyes out all night. Red eyed and exhausted, I stood up from my desk on the fourth morning, walked out to my car, and called my friend from the parking lot.

“I’m done,” I said into the phone. “I’m just done.”

My friend absolutely encouraged me to honor this truth, and after our call, I walked into my boss’s office and gave my notice. I was dropping the petroleum company’s account, effective immediately, I said, and I’d stay on for another two weeks to help transition the rest of my accounts. I asked to be allowed to keep my favorite client, and to be allowed to manage the account as a contractor, working remotely.

To my surreal surprise and delight, my boss agreed to all of this, negotiated a reasonable hourly contract rate with me, and voilà! I was on my way.

With no game plan, I’d just bailed on my life, and I felt a bit like I’d jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. I’d love to say that making this transition was “a brave choice” but in reality, I’d ignored my truth so long that I’d reached the point where leaving was no longer optional – being the person that I am, I simply couldn’t go on.

This story has a happy ending, however – one that definitely doesn’t include crowbars and park benches. I might not have had a map to the future in my hands when I jumped, but my cosmic parachute did engage, and by the end of 2010, I was not only living life on my own terms, but I was making twice the income I’d had when I left Ogilvy.

Looking back on the wild, unexpected journey of that year, I made a commitment to myself that I would only ever support clients whose mission and business practices were in alignment with my personal beliefs.

I also recognized that there’s nothing to be gained by ignoring the voice of truth when I hear it speaking inside me. If something is meant to change, it’s simply going to change. The only choice I have in the matter is whether I want to face those changes intentionally and with a plan, or if I’m going to plod forward with my eyes closed, resisting the change until something breaks and redirects on its own.

Although I can’t say that life has been a path of roses since leaving Ogilvy, I can say that I’ve learned innumerable life lessons, improved my physical health, deepened my commitment to my creative process, and made several trips abroad. I’m also breathless with gratitude when I think about the process of building Bijou, and the amazing people and organizations we’ve been able to support.

Have you ever faced a major life choice like this? How did you navigate the process, and where have you ended up? If you have a story to tell, please share your experiences in the comments or join me on on Facebook … And if you’re still struggling with your own dilemma and unsure of your path, let me know that, too – I want to help!

* * *

Psssst!

Are you ready to craft your 2018 with magic and intention? Join the Solstice Dreamers to receive the guidance you need to build your best year ever!