The fact that I don’t have business cards yet was beginning to become a running joke in my small business Meetup group. Every month while other people passed around cards and marketing collaterals, all I could do was TALK about my God-centered lifestyle brand, Christian Culture and my first Christian e-book released under the brand, “Are You Gonna Believe God or Your Lying Eyes? The Smart Christian’s Guide to Walking by Faith” (Kindle version at http://www.amazon.com; Nook version at http://www.barnesandnoble.com; all other versions (ipad, PDF, rich text, etc.) at http://www.smashwords.com).

Inevitably, somebody would ask for my card. I’d tell them I didn’t have one. They would say, “You don’t have a business card YET?” I would answer that no, I don’t have one yet and eventually be asked to write out my contact information on a piece of paper. People in the room would literally look at me (or maybe I was just a paranoid neurotic) like I smelled funny. Like instead of having good business sense, I had a business stench. Not having a business card has made me feel unprepared and unprofessional. Intellectually I realize it’s not that serious, but that tiny feeling of inferiority would always prompt me to explain that I am developing this business on a zero dollar budget. I would tell people I had chosen to put my limited funds into creating the logo and e-book first. They would tell me about Vistaprint like even a toddler could go online and order some cards. I would smile and thank them for the recommendation. However, though I realized (forever ago) that I could go on Vistaprint and get a business card for 2 cents and a cold chicken wing, I wanted something, although conservative, a little different from generic.

So this is for anybody I told I would make business cards my next project: the card has been designed. Okay, so it’s not printed yet, but before you give me the side eye, I am only one step away from having cards in my hands. As I type, my graphic designer, Michael Duncan, is getting a print quote for me, and I cannot wait to whip out my card while yelling, BAM! the next time somebody asks me, “Do you have a card?” My only dilemma now is that the website listed on the card is not live yet and probably won’t be for another couple months. Oh, well. LOL. All good things in time…

This week’s takeaway: Slowly But Surely, the pieces that make your business a real business do come together!

What pieces do you still need for your business and what are you doing to get it done?

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Okay, now that my ebook is out (“Are You Gonna Believe God or Your Lying Eyes?  The Smart Christian’s Guide to Walking by  Faith” (Kindle version at www.amazon.com; Nook version at www.barnesandnoble.com), fear has set in like a bad perm.  I don’t know what to do about it, except to believe that it will, like it has at other times in my life, GO AWAY.  I was under the impression that I was afraid  of not selling enough books.  When I am fearful of anything, my number one sign is inactivity.  Usually I write every day, but in this state,  I haven’t written a word in two weeks.  I haven’t checked my ebook sales numbers on Amazon, Smashwords, or Barnes and  Noble.  I haven’t written my blog in two weeks.  I have done absolutely nothing toward continuing to build my business.  Fear had me paralyzed even while I was repetitiously quoting that God did not give me the spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind  (self-discipline).  Then there were the crying fits, coming out of nowhere that had me scratching my head and saying,  what’s wrong with me?

I chalked the whole experience up to being afraid of failure.  Of me being afraid that nobody would buy my books, which in essence meant they would not buy into my dream, which translated into rejection.  I became frustrated that I didn’t have the money to really invest in certain marketing tools the way I wanted to, like building my website, getting my business cards done, and designing e-blast content.  However, I  learned something interesting from talking with my life coach.  There was a deeper fear than failure in my line of vision.  It was my fear that if I  did fail, if nobody buys my books, and I don’t have two pennies to rub together, I would have to get a regular full-time job.  A regular, full-time job is, in my opinion, worse than I imagine it is like in Hell.

The idea that someone has the right to tell me when I can come and go, that they can control any amount of my time is a miserable thought.  Then there is the workplace bullying, which I have experienced in the past from supervisors who were either incompetent or insecure and took it out on me.  There is that incessant small talk people have to do like, “is it hot enough out there for you?” and “so how was your weekend?” (My eyes are glazing over just thinking about it).  Then there is the absolute phony behavior.  For instance, when someone asks how you are doing, they don’t really want to know.  All they want to hear is “fine” or “great.”  And what about those timekeeping systems, signing in and out.  That’s the kind of thing that goes on in a halfway house among criminals.

I am haunted by the very idea of time-wasting meetings, cliques, backstabbing, red tape, and jobs that expect you to be loyal to them, but don’t reciprocate.  They want you to give reasonable notice if you decide to resign but tell you up front they are an at-will employer and can get rid of you any time for any reason.  They want you to work long hours but leaving early is frowned upon.  If you are out three consecutive days, they want a doctor’s note; but they will keep need-to-know information from you and lie to you up until Dooms Day.  It is sad that one bad supervisor or terrible co-worker can make life difficult for everybody, but it is tolerated and there are no laws to stop workplace abuse.

So, no, I don’t fear failure.  I fear what failure will mean…getting a full-time job.  The thought of it makes me cringe.  I beg God to let me sell enough copies of my books and let the business flourish so well that I never have to see the inside of another W4 form again!  But I also realize, even as I am begging God for His help, that I have a part to play.  So I’m getting up, wiping my tears, setting aside my fears, and I’m making this business work for me, ride or die!

This week’s takeaway: Use your fears as your fuel to keep going

What are you afraid of and how do you manage it?

Now that I have published my new e-book “Are You Gonna Believe God or Your Lying Eyes?  The Smart Christian’s Guide to Walking by Faith” (Kindle version at www.amazon.com; Nook version at www.barnesandnoble.com; all other versions (ipad, PDF, rich text, etc.) at www.smashwords.com), I have entered the territory I find most uncomfortable…telling people.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.”  That has been my motto for years.  I consider myself a fairly decent writer.  I write pretty much every day.  I can write all day without even blinking.  But when it comes to conversing about my God-centered lifestyle brand, Christian Culture, Inc. and my ebook on faith, I sometimes get cold feet.

My husband got on my case about this recently.  We were on a plane to Charlotte, North Carolina.  I struck up a conversation with the woman beside me but never once mentioned my books or my business.  You have to tell people, my husband said to me after we left the plane.  The main reason I rarely mention Christian Culture or the new e-book is that I hate what marketing has become.  It seems everybody is selling something.  Their services.  A new weight loss product.  Real estate.  Bean pies.  Goodness!  This society is on advertising overload.  I roll my eyes when telemarketers call.  I cringe when salesmen show up at my door talking a mile a minute.  My first thought is, how can I get rid of this person without being rude?  I never want anyone to feel that way about me, like I am encroaching on their turf or wasting their time.  So I just don’t bring my business up.  That is what I told my husband but even while I was trying to justify why I never once told the lady about my e-book on faith, I knew I was copping out.  Bottom line is I missed an opportunity to tell someone about the positive work I am doing.

I belong to a meetup group called Maryland Small Business Marketing.  The group is made up of Maryland-based CEO’s looking to learn more about marketing in order to build their business.  At the beginning of each meeting, we go around the room and do a 30-second elevator pitch where we introduce ourselves and tell the group what we do.  Although I hate the spotlight and anything that appears as boastful behavior, I pitch my business in that setting as requested.  I am finding that it is very good practice.

I am also beginning to come to grips with the simple fact that in order for people to know about Christian Culture and my e-book on faith, I have to talk about them.  And it’s okay for me to do that as long as I am sensitive to and respectful of people’s precious time and personal space.  From another glass half full perspective, talking about my business and the new e-book helps me more clearly understand and communicate my message. I no longer stumble through conversations about what my business is, how it will help people, and who I am.  It was during one of these pitches that I first called myself a Christian author.  The words slipped out of my mouth before I knew it and when I heard them, the description clicked for me.  But the best part of all is that talking about my business and e-book is absolutely FREE.  Now, that is something my zero-dollar budget can afford!

This week’s takeaway:  It’s not a crime to talk about what I do; how else will people know?

 What is your business?  Are you talking about it?

AKA Trial and Error

Growing up, one of the things I loved about being a Girl Scout was earning badges. I remember getting them for things like outdoor camping, cooking, and crafts. I couldn’t rest until my sash was covered with colorful patches that displayed my 11-year old accomplishments. Earning badges meant I had to roll up my sleeves and put in some good old-fashioned hard work. It also meant if I wanted a particular badge, I had to take on new tasks outside my comfort zone.

Similarly, I am having the same experience in getting my business, Christian Culture off the ground. When you are the sole proprietor of a zero-dollar budget business, everything falls on you. The only employee is the one I see every day in the mirror. I may run the company, but I’m earning new badges every day as I work toward success. So far I’ve got my receptionist badge, my administrative badge, my writing and editing badge, my marketing badge, my strategic planning badge, and my social media badge. One badge in particular that I am earning in stages is my technical badge. And it was during my latest encounter in that arena that I met a little comedy team called Trial and Error.

Trial and Error are a real trip. They sneak up on you when you least expect them. They usually strike when you don’t know what you’re doing and their jokes are always on you. Now, I’m fairly decent on a computer and I pick up programs rather quickly, but I usually try to get a little guidance on some of the more technical tasks. So when I set out to publish an e-book, I knew immediately I would use the strengths God blessed me with: 1. Write the book and marketing copy. 2. Edit the book. 3. Conceptualize a cover look.

As far as the technical pieces of layout and proper digital formatting were concerned, I had one game plan: GET SOMEBODY ELSE TO DO IT. That somebody else came in the form of my ace graphic designer, Brad Whitford.

I’m not new to publishing. My print books, Somethin’ Extra and Reinventing the Woman from Simon and Schuster were bestsellers. Traditional publishing is a process I know. But I had never published an e-book before and had no idea how. From my research, I decided that Amazon Kindle and Apple ibooks were my best targets. Oh, how I wish I had read the Apple fine print more closely. It would’ve saved me money. But this was before trial and error. While I was blithely ignorant, I handed over all my wonderfully edited files to Brad and had a cheeseburger to celebrate. Yay, me. Somewhere in Oz, Brad magically produced the versions I needed for Kindle and Apple. The Amazon process worked like a dream. Yippee. Then I went to upload the Apple version that accepts the EPUB format (a term I just learned and still don’t understand yet but I know it’s important).

Uh oh. Unlike some online self pub companies, Apple requires you to have an ISBN number (the government sells them in bulks of 10 for $225) and instead of using your individual SSN# like Amazon will, Apple wants a business EIN (just got it for free on the IRS website; very easy). Jeez. What was a girl to do? Enter http://www.Smashwords.com. Smashwords is an e-book distributor I learned about while reading Joe Konrath’s self-pub author’s blog. Thanks, Joe. On Smashwords, you submit your content and their converter system will transform a Word document into practically every existing e-reader format there is. It is absolutely free to do this. Smashwords partners with all the big retailers. This means that without spending a dime, I can hit several e-reader providers in one shot! Smashwords also provides a FREE ISBN number. The only thing is, their formatting process is a beast. You have to remove all your book formatting and incorporate theirs. But they have a private list of designers who can produce a cover for about $30 and formatters that come even cheaper.

So there I was with this new information about a process that could’ve cost me under a hundred bucks and few headaches. Instead, I had a Trial and Error pie in my face–a bill from Brad for $492 that I am biting my nails trying to figure out how to pay and a book I needed formatted for Smashwords. I didn’t want to be charged more money by Brad nor did I have any ready cash to pay a formatter. That meant I was about to get my formatting badge. I sat down at 1:30 in the afternoon with Smashwords’ 72-page, step-by-step REQUIRED READING style guide. I didn’t finish formatting and uploading my book until 9:30 that night. All told, Trial and Error cost me eight hours and $400. It was a painful lesson (picture me groaning, eating chips and sweets, and praying to God for the end of the world) but I earned my badge of honor. The book is up for sale. I have another e-book coming out in a few months and guess what I’m going to do? Stick my tongue out at Trial and Error. Been there, done that, guys. Got the badge to prove it.

This week’s takeaway: Trial and Error can’t be avoided at times, but when you know better, you do better.

What costly, time-consuming mistakes have you made while building your business and what was your “do better” fix?

It’s official. My first e-book is finished! Are You Gonna Believe God or Your Lying Eyes: The Smart Christian’s Guide to Walking by Faith looks absolutely amazing. I love it. When I started this scary, wonderful journey of starting a God-centered lifestyle brand I never thought I would be blessed enough to be part of something so grand. First of all, God gave me an opportunity to work with a very talented graphic designer, Brad Whitford of Whitford Creations. My oldest daughter looked at the design work and she said, “Wow. It looks so professional.” Now that I see the outcome, it made me think about something…even on a zero-dollar budget, a CEO must never skimp on quality. This doesn’t mean the e-book is the best thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t mean it gives Picasso a run for his money. But it means that if your intention is to create product with integrity and beauty on no budget, it IS possible. And that almost brings tears to my eyes to realize that with God, all things are possible.

There are some loose ends. I am biting my nails about getting the invoice. It’s actually not that much money. Only a few hundred bucks. But when you have bills multiplying like a pandemic mystery illness in a bad movie, it can make your pulse race a little. I mean, I’m the girl who is saving pennies by bringing flavor packets with me to restaurants so I can order free water instead of paying for soft drinks.

Then there’s the issue of my website. I secured the domain name (www.christiancultureinc.com) on http://www.godaddy.com but right now that leads to the cyber black hole. It was a dilemma I did the best I could with. I didn’t want to release the book without listing a website and I didn’t have the money to get the website designed. At some point in this process I will have a beautiful website that actually leads somewhere.

But for right now, I have a finished product that is ready for public consumption and I am grateful for that. Are You Gonna Believe God or Your Lying Eyes: The Smart Christian’s Guide to Walking by Faith will be available on Amazon Kindle and Apple ibooks on Tuesday, August 23, 2011. It is also coming out on Smashwords. It is such a thrill that smack in the middle of a financial struggle, a flower like this somehow made its way through the concrete.

This week’s takeaway: Cut corners but never quality. People deserve your best work.

What can you do in your business to ensure you produce a quality product?

I am slowly beginning to understand something. My business life and my personal life are in direct hand-to-hand combat. The two entities are literally like two giant sumo wrestlers grunting and sweating, trying to push each other out of the ring. On one hand I’m a small business CEO working to get a Christian lifestyle brand going. On the home front I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.

Serving in so many roles often makes me feel I have way too many balls in the air.

As an entrepreneur there is no set schedule. Business hours are from the moment I wake up until I finish what I need to accomplish that day. Evenings, weekends, and holidays are not sacred. Not when the graphic designer is waiting on approvals or I have to do things like buy my domain name on http://www.godaddy.com (christiancultureinc.com) and set up my email address (pattyrice@christiancultureinc.com) so they can be listed on my products and business cards.

There is editing to be done on my “Smart Christian” book series. There is writing to be done on new topics. Tons of tasks make demands on my time. There are no go-to people when you have a zero-dollar budget. Y-O-U are responsible for every deliverable, deadline, and decision.

On the home front, my family and friends appear to be under the impression that because I’m not working a 9 to 5 job, my time is up for grabs. They behave like I’m sitting by the phone waiting for their calls like the head cheerleader waiting on the captain of the football team to ask me to the prom. They seem to think it is their duty to fill my days with idle conversation, and errands and favors I didn’t volunteer for. They don’t seem to realize that they often pull me away from valuable time I could spend writing, researching, networking, and building my zero-dollar business.

So here I am, performing a juggling act with my business and my family that sometimes makes me want to scream. But I am starting to get wise to some tactics that are helping me make this rocky marriage between my business life and my personal life work a little better:

1. Prioritize my work deliverables and set realistic deadlines and goals
2. Screen calls or turn my phones off during peak work times
3. Pre-arrange non-negotiable quality time with my husband and children
4.Schedule time to make touch base call backs to family members
5. Turn on my email auto-reply to let people know I’m unavailable
6. Decline low priority errands and time wasters that disrupt my work day
7. Refuse to be all work and no play; take time out for fun and relaxation to refuel

This week’s takeaway: Stop juggling and start finding more ways to create a viable work/life balance

There are plusses on each side. With my business I get to do what I love. With my family I am surrounded by love. I may never be 100 percent in every role I fill, but I can at least make a 100 percent effort so that both sides win.  What can you do to bring more balance to your life?

Today I have been in business for a month—that’s four weeks of putting my energies into this little engine that could.  I haven’t sold one book or t-shirt yet (my product designs are still in progress), but the company exists and I have a logo to prove it.  Its existence has definitely brought me some struggles.

Already I have shed tears over this process simply because it is a process and not a magic act where I can say ta-da and whip out a Fortune 100 company.  I have stressed about money and had to write a bad check this week because I used money from another bill to pay the graphic designer.  I have been frustrated by not being able to produce results at the rate I am used to.  I’ve felt like an utter failure because the building is so slow and there isn’t any tangible success that other people can see.

But overall I have to admit that building this God-centered lifestyle brand on a zero dollar budget is SATISFYING.  No 9 to 5 job has ever given me the joy and fulfillment I have every single day of this journey.  For me it is like bonding with my own baby as opposed to babysitting somebody else’s bad child.  There is a different level of commitment here. That is keeps me going.

So I celebrate my one-month business-a-versary.  I clap my hands over the small strides I made this week by doing a final edit to my e-books and sending them to the designer for cover art and formatting.  I say “it is good” to the DMV Small Business Meetup I went to on Thursday at the CEO Business Café in Greenbelt, Maryland where I:

  • gave my 30-second elevator pitch to a group of entrepreneurs who were very receptive
  • met a lady that can do my business cards
  • gave my information to three people who requested it, and
  • heard from the speaker how most all successful business owners started like me

This week’s takeaway:  Don’t despise small beginnings, applaud them

What baby steps are you making that deserve a hand?