Reinventing Myself Again: Part One

In my blog's intro blurb, I claim to be using this space to chronicle the life of a small creative business owner. So let me give you a peek into my week: I skipped the Color-a-Week installment inadvertently last Wednesday. Suddenly it was Thursday and then Friday and I was so preoccupied with other thoughts that I couldn't quite jump onto that train right then. Churning through my mind instead were ideas about how to articulate my personal history and sum up my business goals coherently in a four-minute presentation. (This is an insightful exercise for anyone out there, by the way.) We'll get to the why in a minute.

There are some things that are helpful to know about me:

1. I don't normally gravitate toward the easy road. I studied hard in high school and then went to Stanford. Upon graduation, as many of my classmates were heading to Wall Street to cash in on their degrees, I entered the Peace Corps. When I returned to the US after two years in Africa to begin a teaching career, I chose urban schools chock-full of challenges. I remained in a difficult marriage for 15 years before making the hard but healthy choice to divorce. I got bored with jogging and aerobics so I joined a martial arts class and am now training for a black belt test in May. I left my secure teaching job to start my own business, with no business training or experience... in 2008 (sigh). I've found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, and he lives 650 miles away. And so on.

2. I have a tendency to want to be all things to all people. This has not helped me articulate my business focus. Or even locate one, for that matter. In fact, my first stab at a logo for my brand new business involved a bucket with a bunch of tools in it, like this:

My idea was that each tool would represent a skill or service I could offer: the pencil = writing and editing; the ruler = organizing; the large paintbrush = interior painting and decorating; the small paintbrush = fine art; the scissors = everything else, which I termed "help with that pesky project."

A graphic designer friend thankfully ignored my tool bucket and came up with this:

The hand is simple and clear, but look at that long list of services we squeezed on there!

"Murals mosaics collage writing editing tutoring paint rethink your space organize de-clutter recycle repurpose brainstorm inspire help with that pesky project."

That's what it says. And that's what I did. I created a job out of my mixed bag of skills and interests, and tried to market it. It didn't fail, exactly, but it was hard for people to understand what I did. Then again, what didn't I do, right?? I could do anything for you—you just name it! It seemed like a clever and foolproof formula for success.

What I failed to understand is that people—meaning potential clients and customers—like specifics. In my desire to be as general and open-ended as possible, my business was failing to thrive.

I keep using the word "fail" here not to be self-depricating or negative, but because this is a new phenomenon that being a business owner has taught me to accept. In fact, one intriguing business speaker I heard suggests creating a "failure resume," and says if you're not constantly adding to it, you're not really trying. In this spirit I keep a Thomas Edison quote on my mirror: "I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

So, why the four-minute presentation?

In a confluence of good timing and ripe conditions, I was recently invited to the weekly meeting of a professional networking group, a local chapter of BNI (Business Networking International). I was ready to sign up practically the minute I walked in. My friends and family will be able to gauge my enthusiasm for this group by the fact that I look forward to getting up at 6:45 every Thursday to make it to Berkeley for the 7:30 am meetings! My learning curve is near vertical right now, but the determination to make HandyGal succeed is a constant motivator.

I wear my Professional Organizer hat in this group, although it feels disingenuous to ignore the artistic side of what I do. Therefore I'm looking for—and finding—ways to blend the two sides together in a meaningful way.

The first, biggest, and most important challenge is clarifying my message.

What do I do, and why would people want to hire me?

The other 28 people in the room on Thursday mornings are my volunteer sales force, as I am theirs, and they need to be able to speak clearly about my business in order to refer potential clients to me. I'd already been trying to streamline my services, breaking the grab-bag into two parts: ORGANIZING and CREATING, or as I sometimes like to say, "I make big messes, and I also clean them up."

That was helpful, but still not enough, and it doesn't speak to why I do what I do, and how it helps you, the client. So what, more specifically, do I do? This is the topic of my four-minute presentation on Thursday. I need to introduce myself, my history, my goals, and my business to this group. And I want to do it well.

I'll end this post (but be on the lookout for Part Two!) with a partial list of tag lines I've been brainstorming in my notebook, that can help illuminate the how and the why. In the spirit of honest reporting, some of them won't be good.

HandyGal Organizing...

Free your space, ease your mind

Creating "Peace of Space"

Making your space work for you

Repurposing things, ideas, and spaces

Because your home should feel good

Creating happy spaces

Your home should be your happy place

Therapy for your space

Creating spaces with heart

Home massage

Chiropractic for your home

Home healer

Space sculptor

and, "HandyGal: the Left-Handed Organizer"