Since sending out the previous Hearth and Home letter, I have received a number of questions about my business, asking for advice or asking questions as specific as Who designs your art work? or Who takes care of your site?
Here’s another question: Who the hell does this girl think she is, doing business so totally on her terms?!
This was a question a colleague-friend of mine confessed to having when he visited my website. It ticked him off a bit that I was carving out my own path, and – you know what? – it inspired him to turn around and do the same thing for his work – to which I say: HELL. YES.
Another dear one wrote to tell me that they found my business inspiring and that my business choices were helping them find their own true voice. I cannot imagine a kinder compliment than that.
So, given all of these queries from many different directions, Mid-Feb to Mid-March has been an invitation to share a few of things I’ve learned about business and life.
Many of us are looking for a balance between work and life. When it comes to the notion of a work-life balance, what I can tell you from my own personal experience is this: when you run an intimate, micro, home-based and heart-and-hearth business, your work is your life and your life is your work. This means it can be difficult to tell which things are being balanced with what!
I think our idea of balance if we leave it unexamined, can often create more problems than it intends to solve. If balancing work and life means that everything is serene and beautiful – and is the sort of balancing act in which things come to a sublime stop – perfectly still, poised and tension-free – this is bound to induce headaches or worse, because tensions and imbalances are, frankly, unavoidable.
So we have to think about balance differently – like, say, balancing on a moving bicycle over rough terrain. Work-life balance for those of us who are micro-business owners is a changing, growing thing, and admits of tension.
By “tension” I mean that owning your own little business can be the most rewarding of endeavors, but if you aren’t prepared for it, this sort of job can drive people up to the wall!
It could be maddening if you’ve been used to good ‘clean work’ at the office, where boundaries are clear and marked out for you already – e.g. when you are supposed to show up at the office, and so on. Working for yourself, you’ve got to be comfortable creating and setting down firm and tough boundaries (e.g. work-flow deadlines), while at the same time you have to know what comes first, stay supple, flexible and adaptable enough to handle life.
The core vision of my business is a pulsing, powerful tree with roots sunk deep into the soil and a canopy that spreads far and wide, strung with stars, and providing shelter to all Soulful Seekers – wherever you come from and however, you show up.
It is this core vision that allows my service and works to thrive and to flourish and (most importantly) to serve thousands of people, while also sustaining my life and the life of my family. And it is that core vision that has allowed me to create a set of values and practices that have informed basic decisions that allow my business not just to be a vehicle, but actually a nourishing source, for my truest voice. So let me share some of those decisions with you.
Decision 1: “XO”
The single most important business decision that I have ever made?
The choice to begin signing my direct emails to clients and student in this way:
It is much more common for spiritual practitioners to sign their direct emails with something like “in blessing,” or “love and light”, etc. I do this too on occasion, but I became very clear years ago that I wanted clients, and later students, that I could send a hug and a kiss to, as I would with my friends and as I would with my family.
Decision 2: “No Client Avatar”
If you have ever invested in business coaching you know that often coaches and programs will have you begin by developing your ideal client avatar. That is, you work hard to identify the ideal kind of client you want to attract. Sometimes these profiles get really specific and include information like where the client lives, where they buy groceries, and how much money they bring in on an annual basis.
Try developing a client avatar for a Soulful Seeker though – I dare you! The truth is that we come from all walks of life, so many different zip codes and addresses, so many different kinds of professional experiences – it would be a terrible disservice to everyone to try to rigidly categorize varieties of individuals into one ‘type’.
My work stands or falls on the very real and very precious individuality of every person as a potential Sacred Artist. Being a Sacred Artist, as a creative artist is nothing if it does not flow from the irreducible you and your own experience of the world. Ever and always in my ‘philosophy’, there is room for all. So, no client avatar for me!
And yet, I did need to have a standard, a way of determining “is this person a right fit for both my business and the community that I am building around and through the business?” X and O were the answer. It cost nothing to implement. I just started signing emails the way I had always wanted to in the first place, and of course, my people LOVED it. And yes, there were a few who did not, they went away and hopefully found people and services that were just right for them – because I was not.
I want to do business with real people, and I want my community filled with people that I can hug and kiss in real life, I want warmth, friendship, and real conviviality. That kind of clarity can actually not be found in ideal client avatars and sophisticated marketing schemes – it can only be found by asking what really matters to you and to what you are trying to build and then taking the time to listen – not to an expert but to yourself.
Decision 3: “Build a Better Magnet”
For those of you who pay attention to marketing, you may have come across the terms “push marketing” and “pull marketing”. Push marketing is when someone is pushing their stuff at you either IRL or online. Pull marketing is what happens when a business is compelling enough to pull you in, interesting enough or necessary enough to have you seeking them out. Pull marketing is preferred for a whole bundle of reasons – personally my top reason for liking it better is that it allows each individual to make up their own mind about whether they want to engage with a given service or product and how deeply they wish to engage with the same – you know I’m a fan of sovereignty.
The challenge, of course, is that in a sea of small and micro-businesses and then in an ocean of much larger, well funded, businesses, how does one set oneself apart in the first place so that people do feel pulled to whatever you offer? You cannot outsell or out advertise larger businesses so what do you do?
You build a better magnet.
One of the most consistent compliments that I receive on my business is that it is consistent. By which people mean that the look of my website, the tone of my writing, the way that I carry myself on social media, and the way that I show up in person all feel like they form a whole. They do not feel “sales-y” and they don’t feel like I am trying to market something. Rather, they feel compelling because they feel genuine, and they are. Magnets compel – that’s what they do, they attract and compel. Your business can do the same thing – no matter its size. And magnets are a great analogy because in magnet-land size does not equal strength. Compelling power is where the secret sauce lies.
So, how do you make a business compelling? All sorts of programs will try to sell you on systems trappings and marketing schemes and platforms. But, in my opinion, there is no better way to make a business compelling than to answer a set of fundamental questions about your core vision, and what you actually offer in terms of real content, something genuine and desirable.
Content should not be anything you make up, rather it should be rooted in real, lived, experience and knowledge – or (and this important!) it should not be something you feel you have to imitate.
This is where finding your voice (or even acknowledging that you have a voice) can be deeply helpful. You may really love someone’s work, and think “Hey I can do that!” and begin to imitate them, whether realizing it or not. It happens all the time.
This is natural, because, it is part of how we learn, and as we are inspired by other people’s work, our inspirations and new knowledge nourishes our own expanding visions. Here is where we need to be very careful: not because of copyright infringement (although that is a concern everyone should be wary of) – but the real concern is our own ability to be straight and honest with ourselves. Is this your own work? Is it coming from you? Do you really have a grasp of it? Do you really know what you don’t know? Have you done your homework? Have you paid your dues? Has it been tempered by experience? If you can be honest with yourself to work through these and other questions, the whole problem of imitation falls away.
And for those of you who see that you fall into the twin traps of either imitation or lack of inspiration – check your inboxes. I’ll put money down that you are subscribed to way too many email newsletters from way too many coaches and business advisors who are giving you way too many pieces of conflicting information. This is information overload, and it runs counter to the three things you really need to develop your own true voice: quiet, space, and the right amount of time.
Develop real content and real services that we ourselves are certain we have originated – and that actually works and actually helps. The core or seed I started with was what most resonated for me by a combination of lineage, training, and discovery. (I’m excited to see what you come up with!)
From the name of my company, Milagro Roots, which came to me in a dream, to the image of the Sacred Heart, which I had always loved, to the fact that I write long-form style — these are some of the elements that make me who I am. They are compelling to me and they are compelling to the people who are the right fit for what I have to offer.
I also had great coaching along the way from dearest friends – Roxana, my BFF, who at the beginning of my path, taught me the ropes of “best practices” and showed me how to focus on the one or two things that really matter; Fabeku who is a wise sounding board and as he says “suck-exorcist” for my business even today.
Even though I’m a Sacred Arts teacher and a writer, these practices grow from the most essential, the most necessary, characteristic of all: trusting and learning from your community. The truth is compelling always, telling real stories is compelling, pointing out easily missed opportunities is compelling. Doing any of these things to the best of your ability and your people will begin to notice, and appreciate, and show up…why? Because your magnet is strong.
Decision 4: Embracing Mistakes
Sometimes my website does strange things formatting wise, my clients or students miss an email or inform me that an email was never sent out. It would be a lie to say that my business runs like a well-oiled machine. And I like it that way.
Don’t get me wrong, I do loathe mistakes and I cringe whenever I find a typo in my work, but you know the thing is, I am not a well-oiled machine, my husband who is my COO is not a well-oiled machine, so why should my business be one? Where did such a bizarre expectation ever come from in the first place?
I’m glad that my students and clients can pop into my inbox and point out a mistake or remind me of a glitch – wouldn’t it be sad if we were just only professionals with each other all the time? Wouldn’t that be boring?! I embrace my mistakes and I learn from them. Done and done.
Decision 5: People Matter
Cassandra does all of the artwork for my site, she is also the site developer and the site manager. Nathan provides my hosting. Monica is my virtual assistant. Jessica is my bookkeeper and Danielle is my photographer. My husband, David, runs all of the operations.
It would have been easier and less expensive for me to pop up some generic visuals instead of having custom art created, less pricey to have to host through one of the big companies, and there is no real reason why someone needs to stick with one VA in this day of freelance everything.
But Cassandra knows my style, she knows what visually appeals both to me and to my community, she understands that beauty is deeply needed right here and right now, and her artwork is a medicine that reflects that. She is also a dear friend and we have collaborated together on multiple creative projects – I don’t want generic, I want the specific look and feel that Cass was able to tap into for me on day one.
Nathan is Nathan. That means that whenever I hit a glitch, or have hackers trying to invade the site, or find that the site is down, I just send a message to Nathan and he gets back to me immediately. (I wonder if he sleeps). He fixes whatever needs to be fixed AND he always teaches me how to do something as well. I don’t even have to talk to an automated voice and I don’t have to wait because Nathan is on it.
Monica is my VA. Several years ago we worked together and then she had a baby and left her VA lifestyle. Last spring I knew it was time to get another VA and so, on the off chance that she might say yes, I emailed Monica. Why? Because Monica knows me, she knows my business, and I know and love her. If you are interested in the magic that is Monica you can email her directly right here.
When David and I started working together a lot of people who know us gave us that sideways glance that said (very loudly) “are you sure??!!” It is always tricky when a couple decides to dive into working with each other, but we had done it before and we knew it was the right fit for our family. We also really love spending time together, working together, and we happen to excel at very different skill sets. David has his own projects as do I, but there is no one I could trust with the essence of both the community and business that we are building like I can my beloved.
Jessica is my bookkeeper. I hired her because I hate bookkeeping and I also am not the greatest at it. When we first decided to work with Jessica it was a significant expense for our business – one that started saving us money almost immediately. Jessica’s role in our business is two-fold – she does our accounting but she also is a tangible reminder that it is beyond worth it to invest in someone who has a needed skillset for your business that you either do not have or that you have zero interest in developing yourself – she reminds me how to care for myself, my right work, and our business.
Danielle Cohen has taken the beautiful photos you see on my website. There are many amazing photographers to work with but Danielle is who I work with consistently. I felt that having professional photos was such a luxury and not really that important for the longest time. Last May, when I met up with Danielle in Santa Fe and we had an hours-long photo shoot, I realized how essential having some good photos is – not for marketing or for social media – although they help – but for me, for reflection, for a visual testament to my role within my greater community.
One of the things that I consistently teach is that the Sacred Arts are custom jobs – they are unique to each person. That means that you have to see each person, each unique being, with clarity. We are not interchangeable people or parts.
People matter. This is a core belief of my business, it is something I talk about all of the time. What would it mean if I ran my business in the exact opposite way – as if people didn’t really matter that much? As if a “team” was just an interchangeable group? It would fly in the face of everything I stand for, and it would make the business far less compelling too.
Decision 6: Listening, Not Asking
As a tarot reader I know that what Henry Ford said is true “If I asked people what they wanted, I would have made a faster horse.” All of us have a hard time asking for what we really want because all of us have a hard time imagining what is really possible. Many businesses love to do surveys and get customer feedback and opinions. I too love hearing from my people but I do not send out surveys, I do not ask my people what they want. Instead, I listen to what they are already saying. That was why I started teaching online. When I first developed my business, I did not think that I would ever be teaching online, but I listened to my community and what I heard was: we need a teacher, so I stepped up. It really was that simple.
Decision 7: Giving Back
Many businesses talk about the donations they make to various not-for-profits, which I think is fantastic. This is one way to give back, and there are others. I like creating free ceremonies for everyone in my community, and I partnered with Theresa several years ago and we now have created quite a resource for mystical business owners through our Talking Shop podcast. These are little ways to give back, to keep paying the love and learning forward, each act can make a significant difference.
Decision 8: Core Principle
Finally, I think all businesses, but especially home-based, heart-based businesses need a core principle to live by. Knowing what comes first and what last is more than half of the whole. This is the guiding principle not of your business but of your relationship to your business. For my work, it is this: our business is here to support our life; our life is not here to support our business.
Now I love working, so this is not easy for me to say.
But what this means is that I will always put our lives first – my family’s lives, and this also means your lives. In other words, in my work, I take no interest in slick marketing schemes designed to boost profit, but the real thing: what is ethical, reliable, down-to-earth, consistent, and what possesses integrity. I will not trademark the term Sacred Arts or create a certification program – because the essential teaching I promote is that Sacred Arts belong to everyone and the work we do in our community boils down to deeper self-knowledge. You can’t certify that; you just pursue it and do it.
If I am not absolutely convinced that the substance of my teaching, writing, and services do not promote life, by encouraging the development of Sacred Arts in our real lives as it would make sense to each of us; if they don’t actually help real people, I am resolved to pitch it out, even if I know it will make more money.
That means that if I have to re-schedule an appointment because my son has a school event that I missed writing down, then I do it. My clients know that about me, I don’t hide it, and my community members not only get it, they appreciate it. Again, this is consistent with my practice that our spiritual practices should support our lives, not vice versa. Each person gets to decide what their rule is; and when you do, tough decisions all of a sudden become much easier to make.
Thus I will set aside time for family and friends in need, because I know that if I can’t show up here in a genuine way, then how can I expect to show up for you?
The upshot of the core principle as I’ve described it is that it means putting substance first. This is my north star.
These are highlights, not the whole picture, but some of the parts that I think are the most important when it comes to my business. Thanks to all of you who have been asking for inspiring me to jot them down!
Other highlights since the last letter came out include:
Getting the baby’s nursery ready! I FINALLY finished my registry, for those of you who are wading through the insane world of car seats and strollers let me just say that I feel your pain. I mean, I’ve translated ancient Greek texts and Sanskrit texts too – I would rather do either than shop for strollers.
Celebrating all of the Pisces that I know and love — my son, my husband, one of my best girlfriends, and beloved teacher – my first week of March is birthday fantastic!!!
Transferring the completed, hand-written manuscript of Making Magic onto the computer. The first step in this process is getting the rough draft in and trying not to wince too hard at the roughness of the draft. This will be followed by some hardcore honing and polishing. It’s a good thing I can type fast.
Receiving love notes, like the one above, from Jasper just out of the blue. Writing and reading are absolutely magical acts – never doubt it.
Wishing you so much love as we head into the Pisces New Moon on March 17th. Here is a blessing for that New Moon by the way.
Image credit: Jasper’s note to me!