Friday, February 26, 2010

A Little Help From My Friends

You can have mentors and coaches and cheerleaders galore, but nothing takes the place of a really good friend.  Not just any friend, but a kindred spirit.  A twin soul that inspires and motivates you, that dreams things you would never dream for yourself.

For me, that person is Casey McCann.  Not only is she a brilliant musician and educator, but she's a visionary thinker, who is 100% committed to her passion, her vision and her truth.

I first met Casey at a funeral.  It was a gloomy winter day, and we had just witnessed the burial of a mutual friend's boyfriend, who left the world much too soon after a two year battle with a brain tumor.  I don't remember much about that day, other than our mutual friend singing the most haunting rendition of Eva Cassidy's "Songbird," and the serendipidous sound of a marching band outside the funeral home serenading his soul into the afterlife.

And Casey.  I was blown away by her poise, her energy, her spirit.  We didn't talk again for another year or so, meeting again through our mutual friend, who was hosting a CD release party.  We had a brief conversation about my public relations business, which was in its infancy, and her music school, which was thriving and making its mark on the community.

I'm not quite sure the next time we saw each other, but that the raw wounds of our mutual divorces, our joint quest for spiritual and personal fulfillment and our shared passion for entrepreneurship bonded us for life.

Since that time, I've watched her confidence blossom, her spirit soar, her soul center, and the impact of her business has been incredible.  She's a living example of the impact authenticity, passion and truth can have on a business.  I leave every conversation with her insired, empowered, convicted, centered and resolute.

In an era when "coaches" and "experts" are a dime a dozen, it's a poweful remider that sometimes, all you really need is a little help from your friends.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Love Letter to Atlanta

For the past few months, I've spent several hours a week running the streets of Atlanta in preparation for the ING Georgia Marathon.  I usually stick close to home, but this weekend, I decided to do my long run on a large portion of the marathon course, which winds its way through some of the city's most storied neighborhoods.

I started my run in Midtown, and as I followed the course through town, I was surprised to find myself treading familiar ground.

From the joyous eccentricity of Inman Park to the funky chic of Candler Park to the cozy charm of Virginia Highland, these are roads I've traveled before--on foot, in memory, in spirit.  From 3am greasy hangover eats at the Majestic to Saturday morning biscuits from the Flying Biscuit, to my very first run in Piedmont Park to the grueling hills of the aptly named Druid Hills that brutally hot summer I trained for my first Peachree Road Race, to countless conversations and communion over food and drink at landmarks like Murphy's, Watershed, San Francisco Coffee, Fontaine's, Park Tavern--the course is a moving postcard, celebrating all that makes Atlanta home and reminding me why I love it so much.

Why?  Because it combines big city pace with small time charm.  Because it's the place where you know every farmer and chef by name and vice versa.  Because the local gas station attendant remembers how many miles you run each week and taunts you for running "only" ten.  Because you can make new friends at the coffee shop, the grocery store, the dog park, the sidewalk.  Because it snows one weekend and is a balmy 70 degrees the next.  Because the green room at the morning news show feels like a family reunion.  Because if that person you just met isn't family, she soon will be.  Because it's home.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Crossroads and Crosswalks

I've spent much of the past few weeks in and out of hospitals and doctors' offices.  Which are pretty much my least favorite places on earth.  The piercing beeping noises, the sour stench of sterility, the blinding artifical lights, the air thick with restlessness and anxiety.  Putting me in a clinical setting pretty much guarantees that I'll have a panic attack, even if I'm not the patient.

Which also means I'm a pretty awful caregiver.  I hate admitting this, because I love people, and I love caring for people.  I think I'm very kind and generous and thoughtful.  But physical weakness makes me uncomfortable.  Illness makes me uncomfortable.  Aging makes me uncomfortable.  And yet the universe somehow knows this and is forcing me to confront these fears head on in 2010.

My husband is older than me, by a bit more than a decade.  It's rarely an issue, unless we're discussing some random 80's pop culture reference, and we realize that he was in college while I was in elementary school.  He's fit, youthful, healthy, strong--in a word, my rock.

Which began to crack late last year, with what turned out to be pretty debilitating kidney stones.  I like to pretend I'm independent, strong and tough, but in all honesty, I'm pretty needy.  And idealistic.  I want to believe that the people I love and depend on will live forever.  So, when you look mortality in the face--even if it's just a minor blip on an otherwise healthy, long life--it's sobering.  And scary.

As I was in the ER with my husband pondering all of this--and the sad fact that most lives end or at least deteriorate in the very spaces I was haunting--my anxiety started suffocating me, so I jumped at a chance to escape.  My husband needed a prescription filled at the pharmacy across the street, and after 22 hours with no sleep, six agonizingly long hours in the emergency room and delirium quickly creeping in, I was happy for the opportunity to DO something.

The pharmacy--a CVS--is one I regularly encounter in an entirely different context.  Atlanta runners and Peachtree Road Race regulars will recognize the sign the way I have for many years--a visual cue that one of the city's notorious hills--Cardiac Hill--is almost behind you.  For the past ten years that I've called Atlanta home, that CVS sign has been a focal point, a glaring, teasing mirage, taunting me as I power my way up that hill.

If you're not familiar with Atlanta, there's a crosswalk between Piedmont Hospital (where my husband and I were camped out in the emergency room) and that CVS, and it intersects one of the city's busiest roads, Peachtree Street (yes, THE Peachtree Street), not to be confused with Peachtree Battle, Peachtree Walk, Peachtree Industrial, Peachtree Circle or Atlanta's 100 other Peachtree-monikered by-ways.  Directly adjacent to Piedmont--and visible from the CVS--is the Shepherd Center, which specializes in the treatment and rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.

I've always been vauguely aware of the Shepherd Center.  I smile and wave at the patients who line the street to cheer for the 55,000 plus Peachree Road Race runners every July 4th, and I've had a few friends who've served on the Junior Committee.

But the Shepherd Center--as do crosswalks in general--has a graver, deeper significance to me now.  My friend and running teammate Sarah was in a crosswalk, on a similarly dark morning, going about her daily run, when she was struck by a car.  She spent nearly two weeks in a coma and several weeks in the hospital before being transferred to the Shepherd Center for rehabilitation.  Re-learning so many of the things we take for granted--like the ability to walk across the street, healthy and unassisted--on a dark and brisk winter morning.

In spite of the frigid temperatures, I stood at that intersection through three or four lights, overwhelmed by the intersection of life and death and strength and fragility and faith and hope and fate.  By how many times I didn't feel strong enough not only for that hill, but for the silly, mundane things in life that I allow to consume me.  And yet how much strength others have shown in the face of so much more.  The courage to look death in the eye and defy it--to fight with it with every thought and breathe and movement.

We all have these crossroads if life.  When we're forced to confront our biggest fears and weaknesses.  And you have two choices--quit, or keep on trudging up that hill, no matter how painful or difficult it may seem.  I choose the latter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stop Counting and Start Connecting

1,000.  10,000.  100,000.  1,000,000.

Whatever your magic number is, admit it--you're counting.  We're all playing the numbers game.

When we're not compulsively checking our website hits or our blog comments, we're accumulating Twitter followers, Facebook fans and blog subscribers like notches on our social media bedposts.  Me?  Guilty as charged.

But what if we turned all of that focus outward? 

Started counting how many people we've reached out to, how many blogs we've commented on, how many people we've connected to one another, how many good things we've said about others and their work?

Would the numbers even matter?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I am NOT a Publicist

I am NOT a publicist.

There, I said it aloud (yes, I know I'm writing, but I actually did say it aloud).

Yes, I'm well aware of the name of my blog.  Yes, I'm aware that people know me as "the PR girl."  But I'm also well aware of how confining this label has become, from both a personal and professional perspective.

The definition of a "publicist?" One who publicizes.

The definition of "publicize?" Give publicity to; bring to public notice; advertise.

My work is so much bigger than that.  It's connecting, communicating, collaborating, educating, influencing, strategizing, advocating, branding, engaging, leveraging, building, teaching, sharing, evaluating, creating.

That's why you won't see the word "public relations" anywhere on the new web site I'm launching in a few weeks.  That's why I will no longer describe myself as a "public relations" professional.  And why the work I have been and will be taking on in the future will be bigger than simply "publicity." 

Who cares if someone "knows" about your product or service if they're not engaged?  If they're not ambassadors?  If you can't create and communicate and share in new platforms?  If you're not building something lasting of substance and value and community? 

Call me an educator, a communicator, a connector, a creator.  But please don't call me a publicist.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Growing Pains: When the Brand Becomes Bigger than You

It's been less than two weeks since the great Facebook purge of 2010, and I'm still getting at least five random friend requests a day. 

I see you're a fan of x (company #2); me, too! Let's connect.

Um, no thank you.  If you're a fan, just become a fan, especially if we have no natural point of intersection or previous connection.

I've previously talked about this issue in terms of privacy (I'm under no illusion that I have any on the internet) or boundaries (being selective about whom you connect with).  But it's really an issue of branding.

When you're building a business--especially as a solopreneur--social media platforms naturally become a hodgepodge of personal and professional.  Even if you have a website, a LinkedIn account or a stand-alone professional blog, it's pretty much impossible--and probably not desirable--to remove all traces of your professional self from social networking sites.  After all your network--even if its just friends and family--can be a powerful tool for generating leads and promoting your business.

That's why I've adopted a hybrid approach to branding.  You'll see it in this blog, on my Facebook page, on my Twitter account, and in the way I interact and connect with people.  Personality sells.  And I can't separate Laura the person from Laura the entrepreneur.  The two are too intertwined. 

And while I believe wholeheartedly in this approach, I'm having growing pains.  The more visible I become and the more people I connect with, the more I WANT some separation between my personal and professional lives; the more murky the lines between friendship and business become; the more wary I become of endorsing people or places or products, lest they mistakenly become associated with my professional brand.

In other words, my brand, like my business, has some growing up to do.  I'm no longer managing one business, but two.  I have a (very small) staff.  I'm expanding my professional offerings and venturing into the big scary world of speaking engagements and writing opportunities.  All of which I want and welcome.  

But the brand has become bigger than me--an extension of me, yes; but only me--no.  And my online presence has to reflect that.  So, it may mean turning down a few Facebook friend requests I would've accepted a year ago and directing those people to my fan page.  It may mean a little less Twitter chatter about wine and more about my latest exciting project.  And more conversations here about the intersection of entrepreneurship, personality and brand.

Bring on adolescence.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dude, It's Not a Freaking Non-Profit

"Dude.  This is not a freaking non-profit."

I so wish I could take credit for those words, but alas, I can't. They're from one of Elizabeth Potts Weinstein's latest blog posts, "I'm Not Sorry for Selling." 

I've always been apologetic about selling.  Even as a child, I was mortified by the idea of going door-to-door hocking wrapping paper, poinsettias or Girl Scout cookies to fund my latest extra-curricular activity.  It wasn't just my innate shyness--it was a serious distaste for interrupting people and guilting them into buying something they really didn't need, no matter what the cause.

My distaste for selling continued into adulthood.  I distinctly remember an exercise in a graduate school class that  required me to list the three things I would least like to do in my career.  Mine?  Schmoozing, selling and budgeting. 

So, of course, I became an entrepreneur, which as we all know has absolutely nothing to do with schmoozing, selling or budgeting.

And running a business hasn't made the selling any easier.  In fact, I pretty much avoid it altogether.

I've been lucky.  For the most part, business has come to me, from friends, family, former work colleagues and client referrals.  The work has been steady, if predictable and easy.  It's been safe.  Comfortable.  And stagnant.

I always complain that I'm not running a non-profit, and yet, I treat it like one.  I don't charge enough for services.  I give things away for free.  And I'm realizing it's mostly because I find selling distasteful.  I don't want to ask.  I'm scared.  Of rejection, failure, pride--maybe all of the above.

But at the end of the day, I'm running a business.  And if I want to succeed, I have to treat it like one.  I have to sell.  And talk about selling.

Selling doesn't have to be this icky, sleazy, dreaded thing.  We sell every day--with our words, our actions, our beliefs, our personalities and our presence.  And while I've been using these things to build relationships and engage communities, I've been neglecting the last step: the ask.

And without the ask, there's no money, and without money, well--I'm a freaking non-profit.


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