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WHEN YOU FEEL CONFUSED, HOW DO YOU MOVE FORWARD?

This morning, during the “5 minutes with Gretel” live video on my Facebook page, I asked my interviewee, Ariane Leanza Heinz, what to do when you feel stuck and you cannot decide how to move forward. Ariane shared her tips with us and I could not agree more:

  1. Get your confusion on paper
  2. Write down a list of things that you can put in action
  3. Decide on one (only one!) thing you can do that day / week and… guess what… do it!

The reason why this works is that taking action is the only way of getting out of a situation, where you are “trapped” into your thoughts. Taking action gives you important inputs, so you can move forward with the next action… until you identify the right direction.

Nevertheless, thinking at my own experience, I have to add one important ingredient to Ariane’s recipe. The missing ingredient is “input and feedback from other people”. As I briefly mentioned during the interview, I felt stuck at least twice in the last 5 years. The first time, about 5 years ago, I knew I wanted to start an independent activity, but I didn’t know which direction to take. The second time, last year, I had already started my business, but I realized it wasn’t working as I wished, and, once again, I didn’t know how to take a decision on how to move forward.

The first time, I took my decision almost in isolation, with only my husband and a couple of friends as “sparring partners”. It took me 3 years to decide. The second time, I asked for help and feedback to the right people and in the right way and it took me just a few months to get clear on my direction and to move on. Here is what I did in detail.

My problem was that my business model was not sustainable, as I was making very little money in relation to all the hours of work I was putting into my business. This is not surprising, because I had started this initiative as a way to help others and not as a way of earning a living, but I felt it was time to make the shift from hobby to business. I had thought about possible options to change my business model, but I wasn’t sure I had considered all good options and I didn’t know how to make a decision anyway.

Hence, in November 2016 I organized a brainstorming and I invited 7 women, who I considered brilliant and business savvy. I asked them to do some exercises and to answer some questions about possible ways to develop my business. We brainstormed for half day. At the end, I felt tired and overwhelmed, but I had gained many new ideas, which I could have never thought of by myself. Based on these ideas, in December I prepared a survey for my potential clients, asking them to express their preferences on new services that I could develop. I got more than 100 answers. Based on these answers, I identified what my “ideal clients” needed the most. By early January, I was much clearer about what I had to do, but my to-do list was definitely too long and I didn’t know how to tackle it. Luckily, the law of attraction worked for me: my business coach invited me to a “Mastermind Day” on January 2017 with other entrepreneurs. I got there knowing what I needed to do, but very confused on how to tackle the big mountain I had in front of me. When I left at the end of the day, I was crystal clear on my next steps: I chose one specific target group, I decided to offer an online course, and I identified the topic. I felt so light on the train back home and in the next weeks I took action to reach my objectives.

In conclusion:

Time to take a decision in semi-isolation, only with partner and friends as input givers: 3 years.

Time to take a decision in a structured way, with like-minded people and ideal clients as input givers: 3 months.

Are you unsure or confused on your next steps? Well, you are lucky. The law of attraction works for you as well. Our Swiss Business is a community of women, who are there to support you. Check out our services and events.

Take action. Move forward.

You can do it:-)

Gretel

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FIND OUT THE BUSINESS POTENTIAL OF YOUR IDEAS WITH A JAPANESE RECIPE (EPISODE 4 OF THE MINI SERIES “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

Over the last couple of centuries, while the western cultures were very busy implementing the concept of capitalism and living in the illusion that money brings happiness, the Japanese culture had already understood that happiness consists of finding your life purpose and living according to it.

The Japanese term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: iki refers to life, and kai roughly means “the realization of one’s expectations and hopes”. Ikigai is seen as the convergence of four key elements:

  • What you Love
  • What you are Good at
  • What the World Needs
  • What you can get Paid for

Living according to your ikigai is a very good idea: in his post on “Psychology today”, Christopher Peterson reports the results of a research conducted by a graduate school of medicine in Japan. One of the purposes of this study was to analyze the correlation existing between ikigai and longevity. Ten of thousands of people responded to a survey and then were followed for a few years. Controlling for other factors, 95% of survey respondents, who reported a sense of meaning in their lives, were alive seven years after the initial survey, versus 83% of those, who reported no sense of meaning in their lives.

I am convinced that the four ikigai‘s ingredients are the same four ingredients that you need to create a business, which is at the same time “right for you” and potentially successful. In a previous post, I have discussed the importance of following your calling and I explained you a possible way to find it, by solving a puzzle. If you have done the puzzle exercise, you have already investigated what you love and what you are good at, so you should know the first two elements of your ikigai. In another post, I suggested a fun way to come up with business ideas related to your calling. What you need to do now, is to evaluate these business ideas according to the two remaining ikigai elements: what the world needs and what you can get paid for.

Offering something on the market that the world doesn’t need or isn’t willing to pay for is, believe it or not, a very common mistake. The problem is that many inexperienced entrepreneurs assume that people need and want what they have to offer, but this assumption is often not correct. Only a few small business owners make the effort to test the market and to ask feedback on their idea to potential customers.

I will give you an easy example. A few months ago, a small shop selling Italian cheese and other delicatessen opened in the small village near Bern where I live. As I was curious and eager to speak my native language, one day I entered and I asked why they decided to open that shop. The answer was “because my father knows how to make cheese and we have a deal with a cheese factory where he can make the production”. I was expecting something along the lines “because we have asked people in the area and we are pretty confident that they will buy our cheese”, but this wasn’t their answer. I bought a piece of cheese, said good luck and left. The cheese was ok, but was it so much tastier than the industrial cheese that I could find in the supermarket in front of the shop? In my opinion, no, it wasn’t. They were also selling Italian wine (available also in the supermarket) and a few other products, but nothing that, in my opinion, was worth the additional time and money needed to pay an extra stop at their shop after buying other stuff at the supermarket. I don’t know how they are doing, but I never see a client in the shop and last time I passed by, there was a big sign advertising a 50% sale.

I think that they simply assumed that people were willing to buy their cheese, but they didn’t do anything to prove their assumptions. What about preparing a 3 minutes survey for people coming out of the supermarket, asking them, for example, if they normally buy cheese at the supermarket, what kind of cheese they like, and whether they were willing to go to a different shop to buy a locally produced Italian cheese? They could have adjusted their offer based on the tastes and preferences of their potential clients, but they probably haven’t. They have just “assumed”.

I see this is a risk for many expats. When we move to another country, we generally miss something that we think is great in our home country and we think “if I open an Irish pub, if I sell Thai arts and craft, if I open a school to teach a new martial art, I will be successful because I have no competition”. Well, it’s not that easy. You may not have competition just because there is no market for what you have to offer!

How can you know whether what you want to offer is needed and people are willing to pay for it?

  1. First, you can prepare a short survey, as just discussed, and ask people to answer your questions, either “live” or online.
  2. Second, you can look at your competitors and study them: are they doing fine? If you open a similar business in the same area, do you think you will be able to attract some clients? Why should people decide to come to you instead of the competitor?
  3. Third, you can bring these questions up in a brainstorming (read this blog if you want to organize or participate to a brainstorming). For example, in some recent events we dealt with the question “do people need in-office massage and how much are they willing to pay for it?”, “would a car pooling service from city to city work in Switzerland?”. The feedback you receive may be enough to make you take a decision, or, at a minimum, will give you a clear indication of what exactly you need to do to find the answers.

Ikigai can also be used as a quick and dirty way to assess the business potential of an idea. I give a score from 1 to 5 to each ingredient of the ikigai recipe:

  • How much you Love it
  • How Good you are at it
  • To what extent the world Needs it
  • Whether people willing to Pay for it

Some of my online course beta testers have decided to go ahead or to abandon a business idea just applying the Japanese recipe.

From my side, this is all for today. Now it’s your turn:

  • If you liked this post, please share it with your friends;-)
  • Try the ikigai recipe on your idea(s) and write a comment to let me know whether the result is delicious or terrible…!

Ciao!

Gretel

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Learn a fun way to generate business ideas that are “right” for you (EPISODE 3 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

Last week, I shared with you an exercise (a four pieces puzzle) to help you find your “calling”. I want to stress once again that this is just the first step in creating a sustainable business. The second step is to create business ideas based on your passion. The third step is to evaluate whether your idea has a business potential (this is the topic of next week’s post) and the last step is to make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business, because “a passion without a plan is just a hobby”, as Mark Schaefer puts it. This is the core of my online course.

Today we will deal with step 2. If you have done the puzzle exercise, but you could not clearly identify possible business ideas that are consistent with your values, interests, strengths, and long term vision, you might need a little push from outside. Sometimes, when we are obsessed by finding a solution to our problem, we overthink and our mind starts spinning in circles, instead of generating new, creative ideas. This is when you need a fresh look at your problem and some outside inputs. If you feel this is your case, try this.

“This” is brainstorming. If done well, brainstorming is effective and fun. What is brainstorming? It is a group technique to create new ideas. The group takes a specific problem and creates as many ideas as possible to solve that problem in a limited time. It’s possible to use this technique to solve many different problems, but today I will focus on the problem of finding business ideas that are right for you.

First, I will share with you the main rules that you need to follow to conduct a successful brainstorming. Second, I will explain you one exercise that I have used successfully a few times to help people come up with business ideas in line with their interests, values and personalities. This is just one of the exercises I use when I lead brainstorming events, but I find it particularly powerful.

Let’s start with the 5 important rules:

  1. Group size and composition

I suggest that your group is between 4 and 8 people. If it’s less than 4 you may not receive enough creative inputs; if it’s bigger than 8, people will not have sufficient time to express their ideas. The group should be made of bright people, who don’t know each other well. This is to avoid that they start chatting and lose their focus on your problem.

  1. Problem statement

You need to state your problem and your expectations for the day very clearly. People need to know what you expect from them.

  1. Careful planning and time management

You need to plan the day in a very detailed way. Which questions you will ask, in which order, how much time each person will have to answer, etc. Sometimes you will need to be a bit harsh with people and interrupt them to move on. If you don’t do it, it’s very likely that you will run out of time and not reach all your objectives.

  1. Separate the time for individual thinking from the time for sharing ideas with the group

There are people who tend to talk a lot and people who tend to keep silent, but you want to hear from both. So, for each question or exercise, give them 2-3 minutes to think individually and write down their ideas and 1 minute to share their thoughts with the group.

  1. No comments or ideas evaluation during the ideas generation phase

You want that people feel allowed to think out of the box and don’t fear to be judged by other group members. Plus, you don’t want to waste too much time on one idea when you can use the time to generate other ideas. You can plan some time for open discussion or ideas evaluation, but only after you are done with the idea generation phase.

These are my 5 top rules when I organize a brainstorming event. I have many more tips and guidance to share, but I don’t want to overload you.

Now, let’s go to the second part of the talk. If your problem is to generate business ideas that are right for you, try this exercise. I call it “overlapping clouds”. Visualize a few clouds in the sky. They are away from each other. Now, the wind rises and pushes some of these clouds towards other clouds, until some of them overlap and form a bigger cloud.

Here is how it works in practice. Before the brainstorming, you do the puzzle exercise and you come up with your personal list of values, strengths, things you like doing, and vision. During the brainstorming, you draw on a flip-chart as many clouds as the number of items in your list. Be selective and try to keep the number of clouds below 10. Then, you ask people to overlap 2 or 3 clouds at a time and write down as many business ideas as they can think of, that combine these clouds.

Here is an example from a brainstorming event Isabelle and I organized last October. One participant shared with me the following lists:

Values: protecting the environment

Strengths: problem solving, languages

Things she likes: coffee, dancing, South America, learning

Vision: helping others succeed, make life easier, helping people from other countries

During the brainstorming, we drew these 10 clouds and I asked participants to overlap 2 or 3 clouds at a time. The result was amazing: they came up with more than 20 business ideas, some of which very good. This person wrote me that the brainstorming helped her a lot.

Now that you have the 5 rules and the clouds overlapping exercise, you can organize your brainstorming. You will need to devote a lot of time in preparing it if you want it to be successful. You will need to identify the right people, find a suitable date and time, send invitations, find out which questions to ask and which exercises to use, prepare a detailed agenda, buy all the stuff you need such as flip-charts and post-its, and eventually organize a coffee break or a lunch.

If you live in Switzerland and you don’t have all this time, you don’t know the right people to invite or you don’t feel confident enough to organize your own brainstorming, there is an easy shortcut: sign up to the waiting list of my next brainstorming. By signing up, you will be the first to know the date and place of the brainstorming and you will get a very special price.

See you there!

Gretel

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Find your calling… with a puzzle! (EPISODE 2 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

In my last blog post, I introduced the 4 steps that you need to take in order to create a business that you love:

  1. Identify your passion or your calling
  2. Come up with some business ideas based on your passion or calling
  3. Evaluate the business potential of your idea, and eventually choose among different ideas
  4. Make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business and implement it

Today I will focus on step 1, identify your passion or, if you don’t have a clear passion, your “calling”. Why? Because for the majority of people, identifying what could make them feel fulfilled is the biggest obstacle.  You may have many interests, hobbies etc., but you feel that none of these would make you jump out of your bed each morning. How can you identify your calling?

Of course, there is no silver bullet and there is no minimum or maximum time, in which you are supposed to find it. It’s a self-discovery journey and it takes the time it needs to take. For me, the right time was three years. Don’t be shocked or desperate. I had no support and no guidance in this journey. With the right guidance, I think it can take much less. Today, I want to offer you a possible approach that can help you. This guidance comes from my own experience: I looked back at my own discovery process and I tried to identify the main factors that I considered and that led me to my decision on what kind of business I wanted to create.

I see the process of finding your passion as a puzzle. This puzzle has 4 pieces, but you may not need them all. You could find the answer by combining only two or three of these pieces.

The first piece is your VALUES and BELIEFS. These often come from our family or other people, who played an important role in our life. E.g. your parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. These people have taught us something important, with words or more likely with real life examples. These examples can be both positive and negative. Something that made us suffer a lot in our life may trigger a strong belief and a call to action.

In my case, for example, my grandmother was deeply convinced that many women have a big potential, which is, in many cases, not put into action. My mom told me a hundred times that women should do their best to be economically independent from anyone else (family, husband, etc.), so they can be totally free. My grandma’s and mom’s beliefs became my beliefs and they are at the basis of my business.

My dad’s story exemplifies how a negative experience can be the source of a strong belief. My dad is a Math professor. Before starting this academic career, he was working in a bank and making good money. One day, he decided to quit his job and accept a research position for half of the salary. He wanted to become a professor. How did he discover this passion for teaching mathematics? By having terrible professors as a student. He deeply believed that mathematics doesn’t need to be an arid subject that 90% of the students hate. He was convinced that by improving the way his professors taught him the subject, mathematics could be “digested”, appreciated and even loved by many students. Hence, he became an excellent Math professor, writing books full of jokes and cartoons. He has just retired, but thousands of students will never forget him.

Therefore, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: what are my strongest values and beliefs and where do they come from? This is the first piece of the puzzle.

The second piece is WHAT YOU (MAY) LIKE DOING. You are likely to identify easily a few things that you like doing, both at work and in your free time, but with no doubt there are many other things that you may like doing, but you don’t know because you haven’t tried them yet. I have asked some entrepreneurs how they came up with their business idea and some of them answered: by chance, trying to do something I had never done before.

Hence, if none of the things that you like doing is a “passion” (as described in the previous blog), you can explore something completely new to you. Start, for example, by joining a meetup group, reading a book on a topic that intrigues you, or taking a course. Then, try to apply concretely what you have learnt for at least a month and get a sense of whether this is something that makes you passionate.

The third piece is YOUR PERSONAL STRENGTHS / WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT. What can you do easily, which for many other people is not so easy? This can relate to the way you relate to other people, the way you analyze and solve problems, the way you get things done or manage a project, etc. You can make a list of your strengths yourself, but I recommend that you also ask people, who know you well and/or do a personality test (I recommend the Clifton StrengthsFinder).

Your strengths are an important component of your passion, because if you can fully use your strengths in pursuing your passion, you are likely to be more successful. For example, if you easily build deep relationships with other people, coaching will probably suit you better than selling shoes, even if you love shoes.

The last piece of the puzzle is YOUR LONG TERM VISION of YOURSELF. This can be visualized through the Aladdin lamp. Imagine that Aladdin tells you “You can tell me only one wish: you can choose what you will be remembered for when you die. I will make your dream come true”. What is your answer?

Now you know what the 4 pieces of the puzzle are. What you need to do is to describe each piece of the puzzle on a different piece of paper (your values/beliefs, what you like doing, your personal strengths, your long term vision). Your calling is something that is written on one of the pieces and fits perfectly together with at least one of the three other pieces. For example:

  • You wrote “technology” on the piece of the puzzle “what you like doing”.
  • This can fit very well with your personal strengths “I am patient” and “I like to analyze problems and find solutions”.
  • It may have nothing to do with your values of beliefs, but it’s not in contrast with them.
  • On the long vision piece of the puzzle, you wrote “I want to be remembered as someone, who has made people’s lives easier”. This can fit very well with the other 2 pieces.
  • Result of the exercise: using your skills to help others solve technology-related problems is a good candidate for your calling.

Try this exercise. Give yourself the necessary time to complete it, at least a couple of weeks. You may need more time if you want to try something new that you may like doing. I have prepared a template with more guidance to help you complete the exercise. You can request it here. It’s free.

If you don’t find your calling in this way, you may need some extra support. This can be the support of a single person (I am eager to help you!), or the support of a group of people, who can help you find connections between different pieces of the puzzle, when you don’t see these connections. This is the topic of my next blog. So stay tuned!

This is all for today. If you liked this post, I ask you to do at least one of these things:

  1. If you care about other people and you think this article could be beneficial to them, share it with your friends
  2. Request the template for the puzzle exercise, try it, and let me know whether it has worked for you (leave your comment below or send me a message at hello@ourswissbusiness.com)
  3. If you have a different way you want to suggest to help people find their passion, please share it with us in a comment.

Many thanks for your attention and don’t miss the next post!

Gretel

 

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Should we all follow our passions in our professions? (EPISODE 1 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

There are thousands of books, videos, TED talks and blogs about why you should follow your passion or life purpose in your profession and how you can actually do it. A couple of excellent examples are Steve Jobs’s talk at Stanford Commencement and Scott Dinsmore’s TED talk “How to find work you love” (Scott Dinsmore was the founder of the worldwide community “Live your Legend”). More recently, some articles and talks explain why you shouldn’t follow your passion and what to do instead. Titles like “To find work you love, don’t follow your passions” (TED talk by Benjamin Todd), and “Why follow your passion is essential (but terrible) advice” (a blog post by Corbett Barr) are some examples.

This is a bit confusing, so I want to give my two cents in this discussion. I am convinced that, if you don’t feel professionally fulfilled and in peace with yourself, finding your “calling” and following it is the only meaningful thing to do (unless there are more pressing needs that prevent you from realizing yourself professionally). I am saying “if”. Many people are perfectly fine having a job that they don’t love, but that gives them the peace of mind, the money and the time to do something they love when they are not working. Some other people feel completely satisfied taking care of their families and houses. If you are one of these people, I think you are lucky. You don’t experience the sense of frustration and the anxiety given by the feeling that your time on this planet is limited and you are wasting precious time doing something different from what you are meant to be doing. You are in peace with yourself and you don’t need to do anything different.

Therefore, my first message is: “Follow your passion is not a message for everyone. If you feel satisfied and in peace with yourself with an “ok job”, which allows you to cultivate your passions and interests in your free time, the best thing you can do is to continue on the same path”.

Nevertheless, many other people feel a sense of frustration and anxiety at some point in their life. Sometimes they feel it when they are young, for example after graduating, when they have to decide which direction to take. Other people are confronted with this feeling later on, after pursuing a career for 10-20 years. At some point, they look back and discover that they don’t know what they are doing with their life. Adam Leipzig, in his TED talk, mentioned that 80% of his former college mates at Yale were unhappy and felt that they were wasting their lives…. and we are talking about privileged people, who had top careers and were earning a lot of money.

If this is true, why are some people discouraging us from following our passions? One of the main reasons, mentioned by Benjamin Todd and Mark Schaefer in his book “Known”, is that starting a business or pursuing a career based on a passion is in most cases not sustainable: a business requires that we can find enough people, who are interested in what we offer and are willing to pay for it. For example, Schaefer writes that his passion is to walk in the woods, but he cannot see how his passion could translate into a business. Todd brings the example of playing hockey. If all hockey-fanatics decided to build a profession around this sport, the market would not be big enough for all of them.

This point is valuable, but there are two important considerations. First, a passion is different from a hobby, although in some rare cases they can coincide. A hobby is something you like doing, such as walking in the woods. You can have many different hobbies and these hobbies can change over the course of your life. A passion is something deeper than a hobby, something that you consider so special to you that you want to dedicate most of your time and energies doing it. If you are not sure whether your hobby is a real passion, it is a sign that it’s probably not a passion. Out of 100 boys, who love hockey, I guess that the great majority consider it a hobby, while only a small percentage are so mad about it that they feel that hockey is their “calling”. In most cases, a hobby is just a hobby and you should not try to make it your profession for two main reasons. First, it probably wouldn’t make you feel happy and fulfilled in the long run. Second, if most people decided to build a profession around their hobby, the offer of goods and services related to that hobby would probably outweigh the demand, and most of these people would fail.

The second consideration is that, if you recognize that your hobby is a true passion, you shouldn’t dismiss your dreams too soon in the name of a “sustainable business”. If you look carefully, you may find out that your passion can become a sustainable business. I would like to give you the example of my brother. His name is Daniele and he’s one of the most intelligent, funny and stubborn people I have ever met. Since he was 10, he has loved volleyball. He went to university and graduated in computer sciences and economics, but his priority has always been playing volleyball. He was good at it, but when he turned 25, it was clear that he would never make it to the first league. Hence, after graduating, he was supposed to look for a job. He started developing a profession as a sales person in energy saving technologies, but his passion for volley was too strong. After a couple of years, he started teaching beach volley for less than half of the money he was making before, then he opened his own school and started organizing great beach volley events with hundreds of participants. He now has a successful business.

Let’s analyze Daniele’s story more in depth. He was definitely a lucky guy, as he had a clear passion and no pressing financial needs. Thanks to his stubborn personality, he also had the determination and the courage to follow his dreams, but he didn’t just merely follow his dreams. He analyzed the market first. He was living in a region where beach volley is very popular, so a market for beach volley existed. Nevertheless, there were already a couple of big beach volley schools, so he had no guarantee that he could gain a market share. In his shoes, many people would have given up at that point, because of the risks involved, to look for a less risky and more “sustainable” business opportunity. Daniele didn’t give up yet: he was convinced he could attract people, who wanted more than just having fun and were willing to pay more for a physically intensive and professional training. Moreover, he had learnt many valuable lessons on marketing and sales during his previous working experience. So, he took the risk. Over the years, his personality, determination, professionalism, great ideas and the relationships he built made him successful. Not only did he earn a market share that was previously absorbed by other schools, he also created enthusiasm in people, who had never played beach volley before. His passion was so contagious that he made the demand bigger.

Based on this and other similar experiences, here is my second message: “If you are lucky enough to have a clear and undeniable passion, don’t dismiss it too soon to look for a “more sustainable” job or business, even when the market for your passion is already busy. Carefully consider whether you could do a better job than your competitors, or whether you could tap into a new market niche”.

Let’s now leave these lucky people alone. Most people are not that lucky, they don’t have a clear passion. For many years, I felt there was something wrong with me, because, in contrast with my brother, I wasn’t passionate about anything. This is the second reason why some people like Corbett Barr critic the “follow your passion” mantra. They say: What if you don’t have a passion? What if you have more than a passion? What if you have a passion, but you aren’t sure about it? Should you waste years and years waiting for “the passion” to appear?

If you don’t have an undeniable passion, I am convinced that you can find your calling anyway. It will take some time and effort, but you are very likely to find it. I had to look for my calling twice thus far. The first time, I was 22 and I was about to graduate. It took me 2 years to decide what to do: I run away from finance and embraced environmental economics. The second time I was 38 and my career in the environmental field was stuck. Hence, I started looking for another “calling” and I found it after three years, when I founded Our Swiss Business. Despite the difficult journey, the wait was worth it. If I had just started doing “something”, sooner or later, frustration and anxiety would have come back and knocked at my door.

This is my third and final message: “Investigating your calling doesn’t mean that you have to sit there and wait. You have to be proactive and take the necessary steps to find what you are looking for”.

Since I didn’t have any guidance, in both cases it took me a long time to understand what I was supposed to do with my professional life. With some guidance, I assume the process would have been shorter. Hence, based on my experience, I will give you my recipe on how to find your calling in my next blog (Episode 2 of this mini-series). If your problem is that you have more than one passion, you can devote some time to analyzing these passions and deciding which one to pursue. Again, there are ways to do that, and I will explain you one method in Episode 4.

This being said, you need to be aware that following your calling will not necessarily lead you to creating a successful business. If you don’t want to fail within a couple of years after starting your business, there are at least four important steps you need to take:

  1. Identify your passion or your calling (Episode 2)
  2. Come up with some business ideas based on your passion or calling. I will explain you a fun way to do that in Episode 3.
  3. Evaluate the business potential of your idea, and eventually choose among different ideas. This is the topic of Episode 4.
  4. Make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business and implement it, because it’s not advisable to rely on destiny or stars when your time and money are at stake. This final step is a bit more complicated to be dealt with a blog post and it’s the topic of my online course.

Now you know what you need to do if you decide to follow your passion or calling in your professional career. Nevertheless, there is one more thing that can stop you from realizing your professional dreams: your fears. Based on a survey I did last year in Switzerland, there are six main reasons that are stopping people from starting their dream business. I prepared a checklist to help you overcome these obstacles, so that nothing will stop you. You can request your free copy here. By requesting your free copy, you will also make sure to receive updates when a new episode is released… isn’t it nice?

Thanks for reading!

Gretel

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HOW I REINVENTED MYSELF IN A NEW COUNTRY: THE DIFFICULT JOURNEY FROM AN UNHAPPY STAY-AT-HOME MOM TO A PROUD BUSINESS OWNER

Being proud of and enthusiastic about my profession has always been very important to me. I could never imagine doing a job just to earn a salary, unless in emergencies. And I could never imagine a life without a profession. After moving to Switzerland, for the first time I faced a difficult reality: I realized that finding my dream job was very hard, if not impossible. Despite a good CV, very serious job hunting and preparation of interviews, the best positions always went to someone else. If you have been there, you probably know how hard this is to digest, how badly this can affect your self-esteem.

Here I was: a highly educated, full time, unhappy stay-at-home mom. I wished I could enjoy it, but being “only” a mom and a wife wasn’t enough for me. Not at all. I started to compare my situation with that of other women, who, like me, had come to Switzerland after building their profession in Italy, in most cases following their partners. What did I find out? Most people I knew from my country had turn themselves into Italian teachers, although in the majority of cases their background had nothing to do with teaching. Some had accepted part-time jobs in their districts or villages, such as looking after pupils during lunch break. Was teaching Italian or looking after children their dream job? I have never asked them, but I seriously doubt it. Back in Italy, they were lawyers, journalists, and sport trainers. Accepting a job below my qualifications or something that I wasn’t interested in was probably better than doing nothing, but I knew that it would have not made me happy in the long run. Other friends were “enjoying life”, as they put it, but I knew I would never be able to enjoy life without a professional role in the society.

What to do? I knew the answer, but it was too scary to say it loud: I should have started an independent activity, a “business”.

A business? My mom was a doctor, my dad a university professor, nobody in my enlarged family or among my closest friends was an entrepreneur. I had definitely not inherited an entrepreneurial mindset and nobody close to me could teach me. I had studied economics, but none of the exams I passed seemed useful when it came to starting my own business. Finally, here was the main question: WHAT kind of business was I supposed to start? I felt I had no special talent or passion. I had a few ideas, but I wasn’t 100% convinced by any of them. To summarize, I felt I knew too little about business to embark in such an adventure…

… until, after 3 years of feeling inadequate and insecure, I finally did it. I felt I had no choice: either being a frustrated woman (and wife, and mommy) for the rest of my life, or just do it and see. So, I analyzed the two or three best ideas I had, I picked the one that I felt was particularly “right for me”, I evaluated its business potential, and I started implementing it. Was it easy? No, it wasn’t and it still isn’t. Was it worth it? Definitely. The best person to ask is my husband, who still remembers how nervous and angry I often was until just a few years ago. Now, when he comes home, he rarely finds a good dinner ready, but at least he finds a smiling wife (well, not always, but definitely more often than before;-). You could also ask my children, although I really hope that they forgot about the yelling mom I was before.

What was my business idea? I thought: when you have a problem and you cannot find a solution, other people may have the same problem and may be looking for a solution. Hence, providing a solution to that problem is likely to be a good business idea. My problem had been the lack of a community to help me generate and discuss my business ideas and the lack of a “guide”, who could support me in learning the basics about starting a business from scratch. So, this is what I do: I created a community called “Our Swiss Business”, I organize brainstorming events where participants help each other generate, evaluate and implement business ideas, and I guide people in the process of starting a business from scratch, through different channels (live videos, online courses, group video calls, 1-1 coaching). Since I started my business, I have learnt so many valuable lessons that I can easily teach you how to avoid the most common mistakes and how to make a plan for your business, which will make you feel like a train on a track, rather than a boat in the middle of the ocean.

 One of the first things that I experienced as a business owner was that most of the fears that had been holding me back for years quickly dissolved after I started. Recently, I decided to ask other women about the reasons why they are not starting a business, if this is something that they feel could make them happier. I included this question in a survey about six months ago. I was not surprised by the results: most of the obstacles they see are the same that I saw before starting. Hence, I decided to take action, to analyze these fears and explain how to deal with them, based on my own experience and on what I learnt from other women in these last years.

Here is the result of my efforts: a checklist, a user-friendly guide to take you from feeling afraid and insecure to finding the courage to start. I decided to give it to you for free, because I hate seeing so many high potential women wasting their best years feeling sad and frustrated, when they could be happy business owners.

⇒Request your free copy!

Yours,

Gretel

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Business Challenge n.2: when you lose motivation

Yes, it has just happened to me, and, I think, this is one of the biggest challenge an entrepreneur can face.

After about a year and a half since I decided to pursue what I love, after working hard to implement my initial idea and to adapt it along the way, while I was working to launch my first online course… I happened to wake up for at least two consecutive weeks feeling exhausted and, for the first time, not excited by the perspective of another day of work.

Why did it happen and what could I do about it? Aren’t we supposed to love every single day of work, when we are following our passion? It’s not that simple. Most of the times, we decide to start our own business because we love to do something or we have a “mission”. On the other hand, starting and running a business involves many different activities. Although we love the ultimate reason why we are doing it, we may not love each single activity we need to carry out to achieve our goals.

Take my case. The reason why I started my business is that I love helping people, and women in particular, realize themselves professionally. When I know I am helping someone start a process of change, build the necessary self-confidence to kick off an independent activity, or understand the steps to transform a vague idea into a real business, I am happy, it makes me feel fulfilled. Hence, personal contact with my community members is an important prerequisite to feel motivated in the work I have chosen to do. That’s why I started my business with brainstorming events!

On the other hand, I soon realized that brainstorming events were not sufficient to support people all the way in the difficult process of starting a business from scratch. At the same time, they were not sufficient to provide a stable income for me. That’s why, in the last few months, I have been working on my first online course “from your passion to your business”, an easy, step-by-step guide to build a solid business model starting from a vague idea, a passion, or a set of different possibilities. Since I love to learn new things and to transfer my knowledge to other people, preparing the material was a quick and fun process. Moreover, my beta-testers were keeping me on track (I had to send them one module per week for review) and the interaction with them was giving me what I needed: the feeling I was helping them.

When the beta-test was over, I had to start working on the final version of the course. Now, the fun part is over: the learning is over, the teaching is over, the interaction with my beta-testers is over. What is left is a tedious process of fine-tuning. It is now only me and my webcam… every single day for many consecutive days. Needless to say, I am not enjoying it. Moreover, since I am a bit of a perfectionist, the finalization of the material is taking much more time than I supposed it would, and completing the course feels like climbing Mt. Everest.

So, I have been in the middle of a phase of low motivation for some time… what to do about it? My reaction was to look for what I was missing: interaction with my community members! This is why I proposed an informal meetup in Bern. Three bright and interesting women showed up and we spent a nice evening, talking about how to find and follow our “life purpose”, by inventing a job that feels right for us. Here we are!!

Another thing that helped me regain motivation was a surprise. In the last weeks I have been video recording testimonials from the beta-testers, who finalized the online course. In a video interview, I ask them to explain whether / how the course helped them. Yesterday, for example, I interviewed Zara and this is what she said:

This reminded me all of the sudden of the reason why I am doing all this. Yes, I am spending endless hours alone with my webcam, but I will eventually finish the course and I will go back doing what I love to do: help you, teach you, push you!

If you are going through a low-motivation phase in developing your business, remember the ultimate reason why you are doing it and try to “treat yourself” with something that you are missing. It will help , I promise!

Want to read more posts like this or get to know about upcoming Our Swiss Business initiatives? Subscribe to the newsletter here (scroll down till the page bottom).

Yours,

Gretel

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8 Tips to test your new product or service

When I first thought about doing a beta-test of my new online course “From Your Passion to Your Business”, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. I knew this process would have taken at least a month, I had no idea about the quality of the feedback I could receive from people I did not know, I even thought that giving the course free to so many potential customers wasn’t a wise idea. On the other hand, my priority was creating a high quality course that could be really helpful to all those people (and there are loads), who dream about creating their own business, but don’t know whether their idea has potential and/or do not know where to start. Hence, I went for it…

… and now I am so happy I did it! Why? First, my self-confidence has increased “a ton” thanks to the positive reaction of my testers to the course. Second, the quality of the feedback received has been of incredible value: I received useful comments and suggestions on the course’s structure, on the content of each lesson, on the way of presenting, on how to make some concepts clearer, on resources I could add, etc…

Here are 8 tips from my own experience in carrying out a beta-test.

  1. When you develop something new (a service, a product, an online shop, a website, a course, etc.), plan for the necessary time (and, eventually, budget) to have it tested. The benefits of a feedback definitely outweigh the extra time needed before launch.
  2. Beta testers you select should be your “ideal customers”. They should not be involved in your project / business in anyways, to make sure their judgment is unbiased. Moreover, they should preferably not know you personally: in this way, they will have no problems in telling you what they REALLY think about your product or service.
  3. Select your beta-testers carefully. You can prepare a short questionnaire / application form, share it (e.g. on social media), and decide based on people’s answers. Questions can include, for example: the reason why they want to become testers; their profile, to understand whether they belong to your target group; age, gender and /or nationality, to help you create a balanced group. From the answers, you can also get an idea of the type of feedback you can expect from these people (did they take the time to answer properly to your questions, or did they answer with just a couple of words full of typos?)
  4. Promise something in exchange. In my case, this was really easy (I gave them the on-line course for free). If you need to test something with no immediate benefit to the beta-testers, make sure you give them something at the end of the test (e.g. a free product from your online shop, a book on a relevant topic, a free 1-hour consultancy, etc.)
  5. Select more testers than you need: it is very likely that some will abandon along the way and/or will not provide a valuable feedback. For example, I selected 10 people from a total of 40 applicants and I ended up with 6 active beta-testers.
  6. Specify the max time they have to try your product or service and provide you with feedback. This is especially important if the test is time consuming (e.g. an online course). For example, I asked applicants to declare that they would complete the course within one month.
  7. Prepare specific questions to help your testers understand what you are particularly interested in, but always let them say everything else that they deem important.
  8. Encourage your testers along the way. For example, tell them more than once how much you appreciate their help, reply to their comments with a personal message, etc. This will keep them motivated and will bring you more insightful comments.

Thank you to Marta, Mohamed, Riikka, Battseren, Zara and Dominique for helping me transform a good online course into an excellent one!

Want to read more posts like this or get to know about upcoming Our Swiss Business initiatives? Subscribe to the newsletter here (scroll down till the page bottom).

 

What type of complainer are you?

It has been a while since I wrote my last article about “How can brainstorming help your business?” I have been thinking for quite some time about the next business-related topic that could be interesting for you, but today I decided to talk about something different. This is not business-related, it is human-related, although it can have important side-effects on business.

Today’s topic is “complaining”. I think I am a qualified person to talk about it, not because I am a psychologist with a PhD thesis on “Why we complain”, but simply because I am a complainer. When I hear people say “stop complaining, start acting!” I am sceptical. I think that complaining is a very human behaviour and it is a necessary step in each process of change. If we are not happy about our current situation, one of the first reactions is to complain about it. People who don’t complain exist, but I think they are just complaining inside themselves, without making it public. So, it is ok to complain. Don’t feel bad about it.

I said “complaining is a necessary step in each process of change”. Let’s analyse this better. Which phases should we go through in a process of change? This is my personal take on this:process-of-change-simplified

This is not an easy process and it can take a long time. I have been complaining and thinking for three long years before I realized what I could do to change my miserable professional life. Once I identified what I could do, I spent the following 6 months asking myself whether I really wanted to do it, looking for people who could help me, and resources/information to make sure I was able to start this new adventure. Then, I acted and things have been going pretty fast since then. Now, after four years, I feel professionally satisfied.

I think that what I described above is a healthy way to react to unhappiness. Nevertheless, many people remain trapped in the first three phases, in a “vicious circle”.

vicious-circle

Why does it happen? I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question, actually I think there might be a number of different, case-specific, answers (here a psychologist would really help… anyone out there?). Nevertheless, based on the people I met in my life, who were trapped into this vicious circle, I have identified two main behaviors that definitely don’t help. These are: 1. Closure to external help; and 2. Procrastination.

“Closure to external help” means that many of us prefer to find their way in isolation, only with help from the closest friends and relatives. We might be attracted by people who lend us a hand and offer possible ways out, but at the end we don’t take that opportunity, finding a lot of excuses for not doing so. Examples? “It costs too much”, “I am not sure whether this would really help me”, and the like. I totally understand you. There are so many people offering their support or services out there (new friends, coaches, events, consultants, workshops…) and we feel unsure, we don’t want to waste our money, we don’t trust these people, who we don’t know. On the other hand, I think that most of these options can bring you something valuable, when you are ready to absorb and process external inputs. You can attend an event and find out that it was not exactly what you were expecting, but you may hear one sentence from a speech that penetrates in your mind and kicks off the process of change. Or else, you may meet one person, who can become an important piece in the puzzle of sorting out what you want to do and how. If you just sit home, feeling unhappy, complaining and thinking, the process of change becomes much more difficult.

“Procrastination” is the second trap. We decide we want to do something (e.g. participate to a meeting that we find interesting, write an email to a person that we met last week, etc.), but we tend to wait, thinking that there is time to do that and that now you have more urgent things to do. Then what happens? You forget about the registration deadline of the meeting that you found so appealing; you are invited to your cousin’s birthday on the day of the event and, since your agenda is free, you accept; you realize that too much time has passed since you met that person and now it is too late to write that email, etc. I was a procrastinator myself and I lost so many opportunities that I worked to change that behavior.

Being trapped into the vicious circle has bad consequences both for us (because we continue feeling unhappy), and for the people around us: do you think it is nice to live close to someone, who complains all the time and does very little to change the situation?

If I had been opener to external inputs and less of a procrastinator, I am sure my process of change would have been faster and I would have avoided a lot of professional (and, as a consequence, personal) unhappiness. Even more importantly, my husband and children would have dealt with an irritable and frustrated wife and mom for a shorter time…

 

So, what kind of complainer are you? One, who prefers to remain inside the vicious circle or one, who decides to start a process of change?

If you are a woman living in Switzerland and your complaining has to do with your professional situation, here are some of the opportunities for you to kick off your process of change:

  • Do you complain because you don’t have a job, or you have a job you don’t like? REGISTER NOW to the business ideas brainstorming event (Zurich, 29.10.2016) and find – or refine – a cool business idea, which is right for you!
  • Do you complain because your business is not performing that well? REGISTER NOW to the brainstorming for small business owners (Zurich, 12.11.2016) and get answers and solutions from a group of women, small business owners like you.
  • Do you complain because you are not able to get things done? SEND ME AN EMAIL NOW to find out about Mastermind Groups, groups of committed women, who are there to support each other and keep each other accountable (upcoming info meeting in Bern on 22.09.2016)
  • Do you complain because you don’t like any of the initiatives above and would like me to do something different? SEND ME AN EMAIL NOW: you and I are part of a community, whose mission is to help women create their dream jobs, so please share your thoughts with me.

Don’t wait… don’t be trapped in your vicious circle… do it NOW!

How can brainstorming help your business?

In the last article, we talked about ways to generate ideas for your business and we mentioned brainstorming as one powerful method. This time we would like to better analyse the multiple benefits of brainstorming.

We start with a simple question: what is brainstorming? There are multiple definitions, but we particularly like this one: “Brainstorming is an idea generation technique to find a solution for a particular problem by generating multiple solutions”. This method (or better, umbrella of methods) can help answer many different questions. As such, it is useful both for people, who are looking for new business ideas, and for those, who already have their own business, but are struggling with a particular challenge. Brainstorming can be both an individual or group experience. Here, we focus on group brainstorming, because we think that, if structured properly, it can bring better outcomes compared to individual brainstorming.

If you are looking for an idea or a solution to a specific problem, you may question why you should join a brainstorming session with strangers, instead of simply asking your friends and relatives for feedback. Here are the most important reasons:

  1. Brainstorming boosts creativity…

Brainstorming sessions are built in a way that is specifically meant to generate creative ideas. For example, if your problem is to find a name for your business, the brainstorming facilitator may instruct the group to carry out multiple “exercises”. These exercises have the following two ultimate objectives:

  1. Generate as many ideas as possible, including crazy ones (crazy names are often the most successful.. think about Apple or Google);
  2. Filter the initial group and work with the remaining ideas (e.g. look for synonyms, combine words, etc.) to select the most promising names, among which you will choose the “winner”.

This process is likely to generate better name ideas than by asking your best friend, what he/she thinks a good name for your business could be.

  1. … and creativity helps your business

Although a business does not need to be creative to be successful (a good business is one that addresses a need), creativity surely helps standing out from the crowd. Think about a fast food. You can either open a standard fast food, or be creative and combine the need of a quick meal with something else that is appealing to the public (e.g. only use biological ingredients, or vegan, or typical products from a region, etc.). In so doing, you will attract not only those people, who need to eat something in 10 minutes, but also those, who like to eat in a certain way. I am thinking of a fast food I tried at the Neaples airport, which only served “mozzarella di bufala”, in three different varieties and presented in twenty different ways. It was constantly full of tourists, who were about to leave Neaples and wanted to eat “mozzarella di bufala” one last time before flying back to their own countries. This is an example where a typical brainstorming exercise (“combination”) can help you come up with a winning business idea by combining two different target groups.

  1. Crowd – thinking is more objective and surprising

People who are close to you (partner, parents, and friends) are likely to have a big influence on your business-related decisions. This has dubious benefits for at least two reasons: a. Their judgment may be biased (e.g. since they love you, they may discourage you from taking any risks); b. They are unlikely to surprise you with astonishing ideas, because you are used to their way of thinking (said in other words, they belong to your “comfort zone”). On the contrary, asking very diverse people, including “strangers”, to propose solutions for your business is likely to produce answers that are more objective and to generate ideas that you and your beloved may have never thought about.

  1. “Brainstorming” allows you getting to know other people much better than “networking”   

If you are looking for a business partner, or someone who can support your business in any ways, finding the right person can be challenging. Business networking events can help, but casual chatting does not generally allow going beyond people’s surface and understand whether they would really get along well with you. Brainstorming will unveil people’s way of thinking and, more often than not, their true personality. If a person appeals to you and is able to help you a lot with his/her ideas during a brainstorming session, he/she is likely to be the right person to work with in the future.

  1. Advantages of sharing your business ideas with others outweigh risks

Some people may fear that, after a brainstorming session, others will “steal” their business concept. That is a real risk, but ideas theft is not that likely, unless you are unlucky enough to share your ideas with some business predator, who has very little capacity to conceive something good on his/her own. Most people prefer implementing their own ideas, rather than stealing someone else’s. The reason is that a business can only be fun when it has to do with your passions and skills. Nevertheless, if ideas theft is a big worry, you can decide to keep the most important features of your business for yourself and only unveil those few aspects that people need to know in order to help you.

 

We have seen how powerful brainstorming can be. Of course, it cannot solve all problems that you may have with your business. Some questions may require expert judgment. This is why, when you have a well-defined business idea, combining brainstorming with an experienced consultant (e.g. a professional sparring partner) can really bring your business to fly.

 

Are you a woman and would you like to join a brainstorming session in Switzerland and meet a professional business consultant? Check Our Swiss Business planned events.