The Strategy Group

Wouldn’t it be great to have a small circle of trusted advisors to help you achieve your professional goals? That’s what a strategy group does. It’s a great idea but it’s not easy to create one.

Here’s how mine started. Last winter a colleague urged me to put one together. She knew I had just moved back to Boston and was working solo as I tried to expand my work portfolio. She firmly believed that with some support and connections, my task would be easier and more enjoyable. But she was suggesting something much deeper and more meaningful than “networking”.

“Sure, no problem”, I thought. How hard could it be to bring together five or six smart and seasoned women, each with her own goal to discuss, and enough motivation to commit to a monthly in-person meeting for about 3 hours on top of her busy schedule?  And, the maturity to keep it all confidential and the wisdom to offer solid advice?

Well, a bit harder than I thought.

For about 8 weeks, I scoured all my professional associations, made pitches to my alumni groups, and put the word out on my network on LinkedIn. Despite describing the benefits (and expectations), no takers. No surprise really: how do you get strangers to come to a confidential conversation and build trust and loyalty from the start? I think some women would like to have tried it but were either too time-crunched already or wary of how it really might go. Understandable.

At the beginning, even though I didn’t have enough to constitute a “group”, I turned a couple of people down. Got the vibe while spending some time with them that they would not make good members. Too immature, too restless, or too self-absorbed.  Best not to go down that road and have to dis-invite them. Or worse, have them tank the whole effort. The first couple of meetings when new people come on board are crucial. One or two inappropriate people can undermine the project.

Intrepid, I convened the first meeting with 3 “charter members”: Cathy, Karin, and me. I kept the effort up and the group grew through the spring. I looked for women who were enthusiastic, engaged in interesting projects, experienced in the work world, and demonstrated a willingness to help others. Ann and Deb came on board from a common Harvard connection. Then I invited Penny, a sparkling woman I met at a social club we both had just joined. She brought one more in, Louise.  We were at “escape velocity” and we took off!

Over the summer, some of us have gone horse-back riding, hiking, visited Nantucket together, or met for lunch — this is all “off-line”. We still marvel at the chemistry among us, the good fortune of finding each other, and how useful this group is.

Eight months later, it is humming along. We are a diverse group of professional women, ages from 40 to 60 and occupations from journalism to psychotherapy. Some are married, some have children. We seem to have found that “sweet spot” of sharing information, resources, and advice in an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie.

Definitely a good start! We even have an unofficial “waiting list” : )

__________

If you are interested in starting a strategy group, let me know (either leave a comment here or at my website: achievingwomenintransition.wordpress.com). I’d be happy to share ideas and give some tips on how to launch it successfully.

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What Happened to Business Email Etiquette?

Have you noticed lately that more and more people are not replying to your emails? I have. I don’t think it’s personal. I’m not talking about the email people ignore that is obviously spam. But an email to someone you know. It could be a business colleague or client, or a prospect that you have been in correspondence with.

I tend to be pretty prompt when answering email. I almost always reply the same day. There would have to be a good reason I didn’t — and right now I can’t think of one, unless I was sick and not at my computer. There are the obvious reasons why people don’t respond, I guess: too busy, too many messages clogging my email box, I’ll stow it in a mail folder for emails I’ll respond to later (but don’t), I forgot, etc. But these have always been possible reasons.

So why are fewer people responding to email? I decided to poll a few friends about their email experiences.

Here is a summary of what I learned

As you might expect everyone mentioned the sheer volume of emails. But several offered some interesting solutions/comments and I’ve highlighted them.

“Volume is a problem. I have received an email, wanted to think about it for whatever reason, and then failed to respond. In fact, this just happened to me last week. To improve the likelihood of a response I try to put my question in the subject line or at least a reference that will prompt the person to read my email. For example, I regularly send emails to people who don’t know me to schedule interviews for a newsletter. My subject line is “Interview for OIC Advisor Quarterly” knowing the recipient will recognize OIC and why they are receiving the email. (OIC is the Options Industry Council, my client.) Alternatively, if it is someone who knows me I write “Note from (her name)” and I usually get a response.

“I think there is an increasing situation where business people in general do not follow interpersonal etiquette. I am blown away when I continue to hear that people who have interviewed at a company several times never hear any response. I also know that I am at fault. I am curious about so many topics that I am flooded with emails from various websites. So curiosity causes some of the overwhelm. When an email is hidden in a list of 150 per day — it can be lost/forgotten. Interestingly, I started writing a response (to you) several days ago. Saved it as draft. And then had to scroll down hundreds of emails to go back to it today after my trip. Maybe paper letters were easier to spot!”

“I find that my emails that are time/date sensitive and pose a question get a response. When an email does not get a response, I forward the original email with a “Did you get this?” in the subject line and that usually works. If I really need to reach someone, I do it the old fashioned way, I simply call them.”

“Actually I have not noticed a lack of response but I try to use email as little as possible. I still feel that telephone and person to person contact are better. I know that sometimes I respond slowly since I get so many emails that are newsletters, junk, etc., that real emails that require answers get lost in between.”

“For me, one difference is switching from using Outlook to Gmail. Because there are no separate folders — I used to have an @Action folder for things I needed to handle, for example — things get lost in my inbox if I don’t answer them right away. Gmail also sort of telescopes related responses so sometimes I don’t realize that I’ve missed something. Other reasons include: I don’t want to handle this; I forgot; I really have nothing to say/am not sure I need to respond.”

“A simple reply is only common courtesy (not that common).  I find that often people don’t reply because they don’t have an answer, status on a project or they may be waiting for someone else to reply to them before they can get back to you. If anyone has a solution for this — I’m all ears!”

The following reply from a friend seemed remarkably prescient (see Addendum to this blog). “We are getting so many emails these days (they seem to have doubled in the last 6 months due to all increased connections) that people are overwhelmed and forgetting about previous emails. Typically this is the more in the business area – potential clients etc. If the answer is really important I follow up with phone call or letter.

Addendum

As I was putting this blog to bed, my daily email arrived from Seth Godin. He touched on the subject with his blog post “Redoubling to system failure.” In its entirety it reads:

“Every 18 months for the last decade, the world has doubled the data it pushes to you.

Twice as much email, twice as many friend requests, twice as many sites to check, twice as many devices.

When does your mind lose the ability to keep up? Then what happens? Is it already happening?”

So, if the social media guru Seth Godin says we’re being buried with data, including email, then I’ll accept that as an excuse when I don’t hear from you.

Originally posted: http://writespeaksell.com/2010/06/what-happened-to-business-email-etiquette/. Reprinted with permission from: writespeakspell.com

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Are You Always Moving and Going Too Fast? Try a Soul Adventure

I had an amazing session with Carrie, (not her real name), a few weeks ago. She’s bright and a super-charged high achiever.

She was talking SO fast and jumping from topic to topic SO fast,that I could hardly keep up with her….and I was just listening.  Whew!

What we discovered together was that after all this excitement, accomplishment, and activity  she really needed to change gears and s-l-o-w down.

Sounds great when we tell ourselves that…but if you’ve ever tried it you know that actually doing it can be a whole lot harder. We kind of get “addicted” to the pace and the constant multi-tasking – we can even experience a high from it. Yet, unless we unplug and regroup we can actually drain ourselves and end up with nothing left to give.

My solution to Carrie was to go on a Soul Adventure.

Give yourself permission to indulge and do those activities that feed your soul. For you that might mean taking a hot bath, reading a novel instead of a business book, chatting with an old friend on the phone. It matters less what you do and more about how you feel.

Carrie decided that she would use her Soul Adventure by pretending that she was on vacation and could be spontaneous for one week. She found herself listening to her own body and taking a nap in the middle of the day and browsing around in her favorite gallery BEFORE she went grocery shopping and paid bills online.

I know….I can hear you saying, “but I’m not on vacation and have a job to go to and a family to take care of.” Yes, I know that’s true but I’m asking you to carve out time for yourself to fill yourself up again and recharge.

Want some hands on help to embark on your own Soul Adventure?

Reach out to me….you’ll not only leave your session inspired but with a fistful of resources and tools to spark your journey.

To your adventures to transformation!™

Karen Hodges

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Blogging Magic

Blogging is a magic carpet ride. Truly. Especially if you create and build your own blog. Having one can take you so many wonderful places. With so many blogs out there, (some estimate 26 million blogs exist), why blog?  Better question, why not? It’s fun, helps create more brain cells (ok, I made that up, but I’m sure it keeps your mind sharp), and keeps you in the social flow (seems everyone under 40 uses Twitter, Picasa for photos, blogs, Skypes, or has her own website – if you’re over 40, you need to speak their language).

So where do you start? Jump in with WordPress.com or Blogger on Google. Or look at various blogs. What’s their focus? Do they appeal to you visually? Are they well-written? (Good writing makes your blog worth reading).

A few of the many smart, funny, engaging blogs to check out:

  1. get in the hot spot (blogging for fun and profit)
  2. copyblogger (on how to blog better)
  3. a peine for your thoughts (a funny 20-something blog)
  4. this provencal life (running a B&B in Provence)
  5. slow love life (one of my favorites, from Dominique Browning)

I began to immerse myself in blogging ten years ago. It’s been a steady learning curve on various technologies; one thing leads to another.  Currently, I have two blogs (personal and work), use twitter (not obsessively), got a Skype account, and built a portfolio website that’s heavy on the graphics. All self-taught. Much to my surprise, I really enjoy the website and graphics work; true, it takes some tech know-how to make things look good but it’s fun to get the result you’re looking for on your own and be able to tweak it as you want later. It pays off because I feel comfortable using various technologies and have developed confidence learning them. I can speak the “language” enough to enjoy the conversation with anyone using these various tech platforms.

Unlike years ago, learning the technology doesn’t have to be complicated. For instance, WordPress for a blog or Picasa for pictures is quite user-friendly. Good places to start building your confidence.

So take the leap, if you haven’t already. Start a blog. If you give it some attention, add strong visuals, write with care and regularly, you’ll find yourself on that magic carpet going places you hadn’t imagined.

If you’ve already gotten involved, go deeper. Persistence counts. New features and elements come out regularly. You will quickly develop a 21st century skill set. Have fun with it so you’ll be encouraged to learn more and stick with it.

Let me know how your adventure turns out!

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If Not Now, When?

Quiet introspective reading for a Sunday afternoon for anyone on the verge of reinventing her life, Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path, by James Hollis. He delves into the inescapable human condition of dread; fear of dying without really having lived. He asks, “what is one waiting for–retirement, a lottery win, an unmistakable sign–to start one’s life?”

He goes on to quote the poet Mary Oliver,

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.*

We are so busy now. Busy working. Busy buying. Busy driving. Busy worrying about our family. Busy juggling so many tasks, roles, and errands; busy crossing items off our “to do” lists as they continue to grow longer anyway. Busy going here and there, mindlessly hurrying through our “one precious life” (again, Mary Oliver).

For those of us in this new “third chapter”, we’ve built our careers, raised a family, and done all the right and responsible things. I believe this question of how to be more alive, more engaged, more truly ourselves is the most important question of this stage.

Certainly, I am guilty of magical thinking — hoping that “unmistakable sign” would come along and tell me what to do next.  That would get me off the hook! I could blame “the sign” if it didn’t work out. But alas, no. It is up to me to decide, to choose what path to take, how to be more my authentic self. To do that, I have to slow my day down and take time to listen to that quiet still voice within we each have that gets drowned out in our noisy, busy lives.

For each of us, being authentic means taking risks and being courageous (like making my personal journey public). For me, it also means focusing on and developing my creative ideas and my need to be on a great team making something happen. And, it means not allowing myself to become so distracted that I forget where I am and what my real task is now. Else I die only having “visited” this place.

By mid-life, we’ve all been knocked down over and again. But we’ve also learned a few tricks along the way, figured out we don’t have to play by the rules every time, and developed some inner strength to weather the storms and measure things by our own ethical gauge. All that matters is that you get up after getting knocked down. This may be a quintessential American point of view, but everyone who lives long enough has a shot at a second, even third or fourth chapter to their lives. By the Vanguard Scout stage, you have all you need to step into the fray of life, be yourself, and be part of it all.   ______________________________________________

* Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes”.

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Drum Roll: I Have a New Online Social Media Bio

A friend is forwarding my bio to his agency’s new social media director who might need some outside help.  As I was touching up a paper copy to send as an attachment, I asked myself, “Are you nuts?” Paper bios and resumes are so 20th century. My entire business life is there for everyone to see on my blog.  I tooled around the web to find out what other social media consultants are doing and, sure enough, they have online bios.

"Paper bios are so 20th century"Paper bios are so 20th century

Then another “boing” moment. I should add my new bio as a page on my blog, with a new tab “Social Media Bio.”

When I finished writing, I looked at my About page and it seemed bland in comparison.  Dull actually.  From me, the word mechanic (as someone once called me after I told him what I do).  So I immediately ditched the About page.

This is not contest, in the sense that you won’t receive any prize, but I’d welcome your comments on my new Social Media Bio.  I’m still tinkering with it.  Think I’ll move the search box further up, and make a couple of other tweaks.

But I’d love to hear from you, dear readers, about what you like, don’t like or what I might add or delete.   Thank you.

Reprinted with Permission; originally posted at WriteSpeakSell.Com. I Have A New Online Social Media Bio

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My Real Life “Adventure to Transformation”: 35 days until Santa Fe

I’m tickled purple (my favorite color) to share with you that I’m moving to Santa Fe, NM in mid-December — about 35 days from now.

Why tickled? Because I’m actually living my tag, “Adventures to Transformation”‘.

We plan on driving across the country to Santa Fe in about 5-6 days with our miniature schnauzer, Zack. Neither my husband nor I have ever taken a cross-country car trip…….so this seems to be offering us the opportunity of a lifetime!

I’m looking forward to having ribs in Memphis, checking out Nashville and Little Rock, and seeing how the landscape changes as we drive along. It’s sure to be a real adventure!

Yet, it’s a huge move, especially since both my husband and I are “dyed in the wool” Northeasterners.

My move to Santa Fe, like any other change, offers me the exciting freshness of new vistas and opportunities and at the same time a feeling of sadness and loss.

Saying “goodbye” to my community, to the ocean, the beaches, my extended family, my home and property, and to all the myriad of connections that, like a jigsaw puzzle, make up my life is hard. I find myself being quite nostalgic and sad at times….and the next moment feeling the excitement of living in a brand new area of the country. Interesting how both feelings can co-exist.

I’ve moved quite a few times before and find that it takes me a good amount of time to settle in and feel comfortable, usually one or two years.

I remember when I first moved to South County, RI how stressful it was to drive down long, windy roads and needing to call my husband, who had lived here for over a decade, to help me when I was lost. Moving also means figuring out all the mundane details of everyday life — determining where you should go to take a yoga class, which grocery store you like to shop at, which dry cleaner is the best, what pediatrician you should take your children to, where the closest hardware store is, where to get the best cup of coffee, etc.

I know that I will be facing all these same challenges again.

Yet, this time something is different.

It’s almost as if my “adventures to transformation” has taken on a life of its own and is guiding me. I’m in the flow and trusting the wisdom within this process of change in a totally new way.

Got a big change coming up for you in your life?

To your own “adventures to transformation”™

Karen Hodges

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Your Adventures to Transformation™ Resources for Making a Change

Fall with it’s changing colors and that “back to school” mentality has gotten me into action and toward making changes.

What’s a sure fire way to make sure your change takes root?

Try a mini-adventure to test the waters and get some creativity buzzing in your life again.

Why a mini-adventure? Because it’s all about making small changes —  small changes and small steps are key.

Usually when we decide to make a change most of us try making huge changes where everything is transformed at once. The problem is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed or feel defeated and just give up. Small, more bite-size changes are much more manageable and they really DO make a difference.

Here are some low-cost and free resources to launch your own mini-adventure:

For $20 you can take a one hour course online from a company like Media Bistro to test the waters. They have 322 classes ranging from “writing restaurant reviews” to “making sense of social media.”

Not sure what role you were born to play…then try the Strong Life Test for Women. The test based on the latest book by Marcus Buckingham of Now Discover Your Strengths. I took the FREE online test and found it to be amazingly accurate.

Want a shorter version of the Myers-Briggs test? Then try The Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which provides the middle two letters of the original test. What I appreciated most about this FREE online test was the landing page listing job matching options.

Have these resources helped get you into action? I’d love to hear back from you.

To your own adventure to transformation ™ !

Karen Hodges

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Self Love = Tough Love

Do you often say “yes” when you’d rather say “no” – “no” because you can’t do it, don’t feel like it, or are just plain tired?

After a session with a client, I was thinking about Suzie Orman‘s phrase, “Say no out of love rather than yes out of fear.” Since women are the caregivers of the world we usually find ourselves in the role of giving to others.  And, like most things in life, even good acts become bad when they’re overdone. Many times we find ourselves giving just because we think we “should” or because there’s a well-worn rut in the road – it’s become a habit.

Giving to others is great – please don’t misunderstand me – it’s just that we often give so much and so often that we tap ourselves out. Our own pain and exhaustion finally wake us up to our own needs AFTER we’ve drained ourselves down, way down, to empty.

What happens next? We feel angry, bitter and resentful toward those we’ve been generously helping and angry with ourselves for “giving until it hurts.”

How can you break this cycle and say “no”?

  • Pay attention to your gut and the signals you get from it when you’re asked to do something.
  • End the superhero myth that says you have the ability to solve everyone’s problems.
  • Have the courage to say “no” even with tasks that you may have volunteered for in the past.
  • And most important of all, keep your explanation short and sweet.

This exercise is a MUST for anyone who wants to move toward her own desires and dreams/goals. It’s a critical rung on the ladder from where you are now on your adventure to transforming your life to what you want it to be.

So, here’s my Adventures to Transformation™ challenge: for one week pay attention to when you say “yes” but you really and truly want to say “no,” and say “no” in three different situations.

The first two women to post comments about the adventure of what changed will get a complimentary 20-minute coaching session. Why? Because I’m committed to supporting the women in this community to stand in their power and to consciously choose. Hey, if not now, when?

Make yours an adventure to transformation™!

Karen Hodges

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Letter Writing Is Not Dead

I’m constantly surprised that a post I wrote almost a year ago entitled:  “Is Letter Writing Dead?” is consistently at the top of key words that bring people to my blog.

I received a letter today (OK, a direct mail piece) from L.L. Bean asking if I would like to register to receive emails from them with product information and special deals.  Now I believe that the company has my email address because I’ve ordered from them online and received a receipt online.

I think they sent a letter because it was more likely to catch my attention – which it obviously did because I opened it.  Much as we complain about the junk mail we receive, there sure is a lot less of it than the barrage of emails that we get every day.

It’s surprising how many people are searching for variations on “letter.”  For the fun it of, I went into Google AdWords to check out searches with that word.  In the past month, the simple term “business letter” was searched 1 million times tied with “example letter” and “reference letter.”  The “thank you letter” was close behind with 823,000.  That warms my heart to think that people are still writing thank you letters as discussed by my good friend Andrea Nierenberg in a blog she wrote for me entitled “Thank You Notes Are Not Only a Courtesy, They Can Lead to New Business.”

Younger people aren’t even reading email as they turn to Facebook to communicate with friends or pop them an instant message on their smart phones.  Wouldn’t it be a hoot to learn that a vendor might have a better chance of getting their attention with an old-fashioned letter?  I love the idea.  Long live letter writing!

Originally posted at WriteSpeakSell.Com. http://writespeaksell.com/letter-writing-is-not-dead

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