I love asking questions. The inquisitive part of me adores learning and having meaningful conversations that go beyond surface-skimming chit chat. As a business owner, I’ve learned that asking questions is a crucial component of building a brand and making connections. But there’s an art to it. Knowing the difference between “okay” questions and “great” questions is like going from Kansas to Oz.
For example, “What do you do?” is an okay question. We ask and answer it all the time. But how often does it lead to thought-provoking conversation? We give our pat answer, reciprocate the same question and move on.
There’s got to be a better way.
So I went to an expert on questions (yes, there is such a thing), my client Aileen Gibb, author of Asking Great Questions.
What’s the big deal about questions?
“The most powerful conversations happen when you ask questions” Aileen explains. Good questions and meaningful answers can change the world.
What is the best question to ask?
When you enter a conversation with “preloaded” questions, you can’t help but mentally tick off the boxes in your head. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. You’ve gone from “whoa” to “meh” in four questions flat.
“The scary question is the one that makes the difference,” she notes. It’s the one that comes up when you are focusing on the moment, when you are in a back and forth conversational groove. If it makes people pause before answering, it’s a great question.
What is a good question to start a conversation?
“Anything but ‘So, what do you do?’” laughs Aileen. It’s important to be genuinely curious about others. Ask questions you haven’t asked before and you’ll receive interesting answers. Be bold and ask questions that come from a different place than everyone else’s. “What inspires you?” or “What’s a dream or ambition you haven’t yet fulfilled?” gives a conversation a set of sturdy legs to stand on.
Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you think about…?” It shows a respect for opinions, which leads to trust and understanding.
Why do some business owners and leaders have a hard time asking questions?
As business owners we often feel responsible for having all the answers. We are expected to be decisive, fearless and innovative… and to know the answer before the question has even entered anyone else’s brain space. It’s not easy to hang out in that vulnerable space where we are waiting for answers instead of providing them.
If the floor is open for answers to emerge through asking questions, the possibility of innovation and creativity will be infinitely larger. Our co-workers and clients will feel valued when they realize their voices are important. By letting go of the need to have all the answers and fix all the things, we create an environment of trust.
Asking questions is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a way to open doors and build relationships. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, once wrote, “Effective leaders ask questions instead of giving orders.”
How can we be better listeners?
“It’s all about the intention you take into the conversation,” says Aileen. Are you truly open to what others say? Or are you attached to specific answers that swing the conversation back to you? Create space for possibilities and surprises. Learn to be comfortable with silence as you wait for a response. Don’t interrupt.
Trust that the conversation will be way more meaningful than anything you try to force.
People love talking about themselves. It douses our brain with dopamine, a “feel good” hormone. When you want to make another person feel good, give them space to talk about themselves. Asking better questions is a surefire way to develop lasting relationships and build trust with people. (And that’s always good for business.)
What are your favorite questions to ask? Have you ever been asked a question that stopped you in your tracks?
There are things I do in life to help me achieve greater balance and joy. I call them my “practices” and they include exercise, tabla and meditation. Sometimes my practices are strong. Sometimes they get sucked into the black hole of Trying To Do All The Things.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
My client Julie van Amerongen is an entrepreneur doing good work in the world as Director of Programs and Events at Conscious Capitalism. She’s also a busy parent with an insane schedule. When three people she was close to passed away within short amount of time, Julie needed an outlet for her grief and sadness. So she decided to run one mile a day. Every. Single. Day. It’s a relatively short distance but huge in the sense of the commitment behind it.
Her new book, Every.Single.Day., put me back on track with my practices. I spoke with Julie recently about her journey and about the importance of having a practice.
I READ YOUR BOOK BEFORE I DESIGNED IT AND LOVE THE STORY BEHIND YOUR RUNNING STREAK. HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN FOCUS AND KEEP GOING?
This far in, there’s no question about not running. It’s like getting ready for bed at night. Brushing your teeth is not an option. You just do it, like clockwork, because it’s an ingrained habit. It’s a way of being. Running became that for me.
HOW HAS YOUR RUNNING PRACTICE MADE YOU A BETTER ENTREPRENEUR?
Running every day is like taking a handful of nature’s Prozac. It makes me feel energized, blows the cobwebs out and gets my brain moving. I get the best ideas when I’m running. My running practice is a personal experience, for sure, but I also become a better person in the process. I’m showing up better for my family, friends, customers and community. I’ve got more to offer because I’m taking care of myself.
LET’S TALK ABOUT RUNNING AND STRATEGY. HOW IS THIS TRANSFERRABLE TO BUSINESS?
Running requires all kinds of strategy. You have to write a training plan, stick to it, allow for “wiggle room” when life happens, get the right amount of sleep, nutrition, and hydration and have the right gear. Flexibility and adaption has to be a part of the plan. Taking steps to ensure success is the same in running as it is in business. You must be flexible.
WHY IS TRACKING PROGRESS IMPORTANT?
Think about the person who sets a New Year’s Resolution to lose 50 pounds. A few months, or even weeks, into the year and they’ve sputtered out. The goal was too lofty, too hard.
Everybody can take small steps towards a bigger goal. Everybody can find five minutes in their day to do something good for themselves. It’s easy to waste five minutes here and there checking your phone or scrolling through social media.
Tracking is a way to celebrate the small successes. It allows you to take tiny bites rather than a gigantic mouthful you can’t chew. You can see your progress and course correct as needed. It’s very motivational.
Tracking is a good way to take inventory of what you are actually doing versus what you think you’re doing. Get the actual data. Record it and compare it. Tracking can be a mirror to your life.
YOUR FIRST YEAR OF RUNNING RESULTED IN A BOOK. NOW THAT YOU’RE IN YOUR SECOND YEAR, WHAT’S THE GOAL?
My first year was all about getting out the door. I did some races but I didn’t set myself up for anything other than running one mile every day.
Running has now taken on a life of its own. I’m pushing myself towards bigger adventures. I’m running longer and faster and swapping out roads for trails. Right now I’m training for an ultra-marathon. If I had set this goal 700 days ago, I would still be on the couch.
And now running is just something I do every day.
Ready to whip your own practice into shape? Julie offers the following five tips:
- SMALL STEPS EQUAL BIG IMPACT
Do something small, every single day. It doesn’t need to be audacious to be important.
- YOU CAN DO IT
Your practice doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or difficult. Dedicate five minutes a day to one simple thing.
- TRACK IT
Find a way that works for you, whether it’s paper, an app or a spreadsheet.
- DON’T DO IT ALONE
Ask for support from your family, friends and community. We all need cheerleaders.
Sharing your process and small victories can be of great service to others. Our personal experiences provide immeasurable value to those who may be struggling.
Having a daily practice can transform your life and business from slightly-stale to soul-satisfying. Even five minutes a day can make a huge difference. What’s your personal practice? Or what practice do you want to commit yourself to? Let’s chat about it in the comments!
The pictures in this post were taken by Julie van Amerongen. Check out her Instagram feed where she uploads a photo a day of her feet during their run. Or the Youtube Video of Julie’s first 365 days of running.
They say that everyone has a book inside of them. Butt-in-the-chair time to extract this thing lurking in your brainspace is step number one. Step two? Figuring out how to publish and market the dang thing.
Earlier this month I participated in the Write to Publish conference. I met emerging writers interested in publishing, stoked the relationship fires with colleagues and offered my book design expertise as a panelist for “Self-Publishing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
The conference was an awesome experience and it got me thinking about the clients I work with. I see them creating amazing things in the world and it’s an honor to help them design the book that finally tumbled its way out of their hearts and minds and onto paper.
David Rosell, of Rosell Wealth Management, totally rocked the promotion and marketing of his book Failure is Not an Option. It’s an adventure story based on David’s experiences as he traveled the world in his younger years. He paired those stories with financial advice and created a guide to help people rule their retirement.
David’s book is now in its fourth printing. He is a great marketer and I want to dive into the secrets of his self-publishing success.
Check out David’s book cover. What story does it tell?
- It speaks to his prime demographic (those planning ahead for the second half of the financial journey).
- The mountains embody the majesty of Central Oregon, a place known for its sense of adventure.
- The body language defines hope and success.
- Endorsements make it credible. David’s world revolves around sports, motivation and business, so he gathered endorsements from people in those arenas to use for the cover.
SHOW US YOUR PERSONALITY
The design lines up with who David is as an author, an expert and a human being.
- He’s an avid skier.
- The imagery captures “the spirit of the mountains” and the splendor of Central Oregon’s great outdoors. People choose to live here for a reason. They are adventurous, smart, willing to learn and want to grow their money so they can maintain their Central Oregon lifestyle.
- The “edutainment” (education + entertainment) factor hooks readers. Failure is Not an Option is an adventure book, turning the oftentimes boring topic of financial planning into a great read.
PLANNING IS EVERYTHING
David offers the following tips for marketing your book:
- Have a website just for your book.
- Don’t be afraid to incorporate clever marketing tools. (For example, he created a postcard the same size as the book cover and gave it to traveling clients. It was easy for them to take a picture holding the postcard, pretending it was the actual book. David then used these images as social proof throughout his marketing.)
- Stickers are magic. Use the title of your book or a catchphrase. Print up stickers and hand them out to everyone you meet. People love sticking inspirational messages on water bottles, phones, computers and cars.
- Sell your books at local bookstores and coffeeshops. Form solid relationships with the owners.
- Hire a PR company. They can submit press releases and gather mentions of your book from important publications.
- Become active on social media. Create an author Facebook page. This is one of the most important steps in establishing your “author brand.” David uses social media to share his travel adventures as well as the stories of his clients who are out exploring the world and doing cool stuff.
- Hire a writing coach, even if you’re a good writer.
- Bookstores will only carry your book if they can send it back to a warehouse if it doesn’t sell. Form a partnership with a distributor that can help you with this, such as Hillcrest Media Group. They’ll print and send out the books for you as well as take online orders.
- Give it a year. Give it a year. Give it a year.
Writing and publishing a book can be incredibly daunting. The most important piece of advice I can offer is to never give up. The publishing industry rewards persistence.
Keep writing. Keep promoting. Keep your chin up.
You can check out more of David Rosell’s work here. Stay tuned for his forthcoming book, Keep Climbing.
If you’re like me, you sit behind a desk all day staring at a computer. Maybe you’re rolling around in a hand-me-down vinyl chair with cracker crumbs smashed into the seams. Perhaps you have a multiple screens going at the same time, on par with running the Death Star. Hey… I’m not here to judge. Running a business is hard work.
Have you ever caught yourself “swooping”? It’s when your head juts forward to take a closer look at your computer screen and then says locked in that position for hours. I’m a swooper and I’m willing to bet you are, too.
And at the end of the day, I ache.
Work definitely impacts our physical bodies. There have been days where I’ve been behind a desk staring at a screen for 12 hours. What’s your crazy number?
Lately I’ve been wondering about how to stay happy, healthy and feeling good while I sit and work. So I contacted my client, Allison Suran of Healing Bridge Physical Therapy, and asked her this question:
As a person who sits way too much, what can I do to prevent chronic pain?
Allison offered a few tips:
- Make movement a priority. Change positions as often as you can and alternate between sitting and standing.
- Good ergonomics is important. Consider the level of your computer screen, the height of your seat and the placement of your keyboard. An inch or two can throw off your posture and create pain. (The Mayo Clinic has an excellent infographic on desk ergonomics.)
- Practice healthy breathing. It’s amazing that something as seemingly insignificant as breathing can have such a positive effect on personal comfort. Discover triggers throughout the day to remind you to pause and take a deep breath. This could be as simple as every time you finish a phone call or send an email. Take a full inhale and emphasize the exhale. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
- Lie down once in a while. Give your muscles and brain a refreshing pause from desk work and get horizontal. Close your eyes and imagine your body lengthening.
Check out Allison’s newest blog post for additional advice about staying ache-free at your desk.
I’ve worked with Allison and Healing Bridge for several years. When they approached me, they were already an established brand. But… they were scattered in their visual identity. Flyers, business cards, postcards, letterhead and other marketing materials had the “touch” of various designers over the years.
My task was to create a cohesive look for their brand and create an instantly recognizable visual identity.
The result? Brand clarity and unity that shows the world what Healing Bridge is all about.
I hope you are embracing 2017 as the year of health, happiness and doing work that matters. Whether it’s something as simple as changing the height of your computer screen or as challenging as telling your brand story, I am here to cheer you on.
What are you hoping to accomplish this year?
The year is 1996. Over 10 million people are now using this new thing-y called “the internet”. Dance clubs are filled with Macarena maniacs. Mad cow disease is scaring the bejeezus out of everyone.
And I’m finishing up my master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.
My classmates are an “interesting” combination of artists from 12 different countries. Every day we simultaneously clash and make magic, which is an inevitable consequence of sticking a bunch of creative people together. Due to our different cultures and viewpoints, we eventually feel bridled by the traditional, structured art training found at the Academy. We came to explore various ways of expressing our personal stories and visions, not to be stuck in a box.
So what did we do?
We rebelled. We stirred the pot. We bucked against the system.
I “blame” most of our rebellion on Fred Bervoets. He was the “wild child” of Belgian’s art scene and happened to be our instructor. Fred had an unusual way of teaching that involved hanging out at the local pub together. Our beloved watering hole was a bar named De Jezuiet. It was a cooking pot where ideas, philosophies, absurdities, and musings about art, painting and life simmered and melded. Through the din of dialogue and debate, Fred taught us about the power that comes from diversity.
“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.” ~ Jacqueline Woodson
When I hear the word “diversity,” I think about my days at the Royal Art Academy. Sure, we were there to learn technique. Each student had an incredible drive to paint. But we were also there to express what made us unique. We were diverse not because of our skin color or nationality or gender, but because of our distinct points of view and desire to stand out from the norm.
When I think about diversity in business, a strategically crafted 10-point mission statement is not what comes to mind. Diversity in business is about brands adding something unexpected to humanity’s cooking pot, stirring things up, creating magic. They figure out what makes them different. They express and measure it against a totally different yardstick than what the world uses. Like an artist with her clay, they shape their differences into something people crave.
Wondering about your own brand’s diversity? Ask yourself these questions:
- How does your brand stand out? Does it look like everyone else’s?
- How does your brand give people an experience that is memorable?
- What does your brand give to the world that’s never been seen before?
- How does it break free from the traditions and structures of society?
“We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” ~ Jimmy Carter
I’ve just returned from Antwerp where I participated in an art show with my old classmates. Hanging out with them for five days made me realize what a beautiful mosaic we created during our time at the Royal Art Academy. As we gathered 20 years later, brought together by our current collective exhibition named Duikboot, I saw how our differences back then helped transform our work today. Thanks to our diversity, our friction, our need to deviate from the norm, each of us carved out our own space in the world. When we reunited, something magical happened…
We figured out how to walk through this world together.