Why Small Business Owners Should Read Self-Help Books

Small business owners wear a lot of hats: founder, CEO, sometimes office manager and janitor. So why do I advocate reading self-help books? There’s a few reasons but they all boil down to leadership — soft skills.

Firstly, I “self-help” has a negative connotation. I call it nonfiction, research, and personal development. Whatever way you look at it, if you have a small business, you have challenges that often lie on the outside of your primary skillset: the reason you built the business.

Soft skills are the social glue that brings together all aspects of any successful business. Click To Tweet

As a small business owner, you are a leader. Leaders create company culture that works for everyone. Leaders model psychological safety. Leaders understand their own limitations.

How can you possibly be a successful business without first understanding yourself and secondly understanding your team? We haven’t even stared talking about understanding your audience, customers, and potential market.

Leaders Model Company Culture

Company culture is created whether you intend to or not. Intentional company culture provides a path to success. Your small business depends upon you to create culture. It’s almost impossible to create it bottom-up. It comes from the top.

One of the aspects of a small business company culture that is important is vulnerability. Small businesses are a small team. Your team has to look up to you. As a culture, we view vulnerability as weakness. It’s not weak; it’s the opposite. True vulnerability is strength. That strength not only encourages your team to trust you, but it inspires them to try (and fail) as well.

The more vulnerable I have been, the more encouraged I have been to continue to do so — through business connections, mentorship opportunities, and the growth of my own empathy.

“The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career have three things in common.

First, they recognize the central role that relationships and story play in culture and strategy, and they stay curious about their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Second, they understand and stay curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people they lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception.

And, third, they have the ability and willingness to lean in to discomfort and vulnerability.” Brené Brown, Rising Strong

True vulnerability is strength -- it encourages your team to trust you and inspires them to try (and fail) as part of the learning process. Click To Tweet

Leaders Create Psychological Safety

The vulnerability that you express creates a safe space. Small business owner, I ask you these questions:

  1. Do you feel safe to fail?
  2. Does your team?
  3. What are the implied or strict consequences of failure?
  4. How is that treated in your company culture?
  5. What kind of atmosphere exists in your stand up meetings or staff meetings?
  6. Do your employees come to you with ideas or concerns?

I can’t answer those questions for you. These are questions that require self-reflection and thought.  It may require observation over time and meetings with your management. Successful teams need to feel safe. If your team isn’t bonding, how can that be fixed?

“In Edmondson’s hospital studies, the teams with the highest levels of psychological safety were also the ones with leaders most likely to model listening and social sensitivity. They invited people to speak up. They talked about their own emotions. They didn’t interrupt other people. When someone was concerned or upset, they showed the group that it was okay to intervene. They tried to anticipate how people would react and then worked to accommodate those reactions. This is how teams encourage people to disagree while still being honest with one another and occasionally clashing. This is how psychological safety emerges: by giving everyone an equal voice and encouraging social sensitivity among teammates.” Charles Duhigg, Smarter Faster Better

The best benefit you can offer your company's employees is the freedom to fail. Click To Tweet

Leaders Understand Their Own Limitations

There is nothing worse than a person who can’t see their own limitations. This is the moral to the story in the Emperor’s New Clothes. We delude ourselves with our own pride and often forget to look at the whole context.

This is another reason why leaders and small business owners should meet and mastermind with people outside of their own industry. Thought diversity is an important component of innovation. What can a manufacturer of tile learn from a computer programmer? How can a battery business learn from solar? The connections we make foster ideas. Confirmation bias is a danger and the first step to protecting yourself is to recognize its existence.

“A modern name for Smith’s insights about self-deception is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias happens when we filter reality through our biases, ignoring evidence that challenges or refutes what we believe and eagerly accepting evidence that confirms what we believe.” Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

Do you dismiss alternative theories and ideas as negative or are you thankful for a differing view? Click To Tweet

What are you reading?

If leaders who understand their own limitations, create an intentional company culture with psychological safety, then understanding yourself, your team, and your customers will follow. And with that internal success, external (financial) success is bound to follow.

So, what are you reading? What inspires you?

Specialize and Refer – Grow Your Network

How do you grow your network? That’s easy: specialize and refer. We all live off of word of mouth, if it’s not your specialty, refer. Right?

I was thinking of writing about this and then saw Rebecca Gill’s tweet. So this post came alive.

Why Specialize?

“Do one thing and do it well.”
“If everyone is your client, no one is.”
“Do it right or don’t do it at all.”

These are the clichés that make up business advice we all know. Okay, the last one was from my mom.

But the point is you can’t do everything – and do it well. Which reminds me of the ‘good-fast-cheap triangle’ tweet my friend Rachelle Wise just sent last week.

Thinking we can do everything is not only delusional, but distracts us from the things that really make us money. We’re in business for a reason, right?

If you’re a roofer, be a roofer. Go horizontal if you want, and do HVAC, but don’t start installing windows.

If you build websites, build sites. Go horizontal and make apps, but don’t start making videos.

Do what you know. Do what you can do well, efficiently, and make a profit.

How do you refer?

Knowing that we should refer and knowing how to refer are two different things. If you refer the right way, you’re still providing a valuable service to the client. It’s not losing business, it’s about being that go-to person, the expert, and the well-connected person.

If someone asks me if I do Facebook Advertising, I say,

“Sorry, John, I don’t do Facebook Ads, but my friend Jason at Thought House does.”

You can either give your client their contact information or write an email to them both. “John meet Jason. Jason meet John. John wants Facebook ads, I told him, you’re the best.”

This way, you’re making an introduction, and keeping your brand top of mind to all parties involved.

How do referrals grow my network?

Referrals work on the human emotions of trust and reciprocity. Firstly, by referring, I am extending my brand to another. I am saying, I trust this person, you can, too. So be careful about referring to people you don’t trust.

Secondly, if you send enough business someone’s way, they will also begin to refer you. That’s reciprocity. Heck, if you are just a nice person, your network will send people your way. I cannot even tell you how many dozens of people have sent others my way in the last four months.

Sometimes, they come in the form of public tweets. I have amazing and generous friends.

Do you refer, Bridget?

I absolutely refer. Firstly, I don’t build websites, I refer people to agencies. And I’ve even agreed to a partnership with Roy Sivan of ARC(CTRL).

I also don’t do Pinterest. I refer them to my very good friend Carol Stephen of Your Social Media Works. I don’t blog. I mean, I can, but I’d be way too expensive. So I refer clients to my friend Jen Miller of Need Someone To Blog. She has a system. She’s efficient. Guess what? She doesn’t do social. She sends me leads.

Do you see how it works?

Be serious about your brand and your focus. Kill the things that consume too much time. Specialize and refer the rest. You’ll never regret it.


Say “Yes” To Yourself: Why I Started My Business

What does it mean to say “yes” to yourself? Saying “yes” to yourself is about taking a risk — regardless of your fear — and going forward. If you fail, it won’t be because you didn’t try. This is why I started my business.

I’m sure I heard it somewhere but I’ve found myself advising my friends this year,

“If you don’t apply to speak, you say ‘no’ to yourself.”

The inverse is “say ‘yes’ to yourself.” This is my 2018 statement.

Daily reminder at #GuruHQ: say yes to yourself. #marketing #freelance

A post shared by Bridget Willard (@bridgetmwillard) on

Why the Business?

When my services at my dream job were no longer needed, I found myself at a crossroads. Do I look for another job? Do I take on clients? It wasn’t an easy choice, yet I knew I had to make a decision.

My late husband wanted me to start my business in 2009. All of my social media friends for the last ten or so years have always encouraged me to go into business.

I had the support of my friends and family:

My sister-in-law believes in me. My grandma believes in me. My mom believes in me. My long-term friends believe in me. Julie Brigham tells me to say “I am awesome. I love me.”

Still, I was afraid. I knew social media. It was running a business which scared me.

Then I realized I have all of the skills I need to run a business. Accounting, job costing, customer service, teaching, marketing, reporting, counseling, sales, and proposal writing have all been learned on my awkward career path. My broken road wasn’t broken — it was training.

I had the knowledge, the skills, and the support I needed. I was still worried only now, I knew I could and should make the leap. I knew I would succeed.

New Logo: A Dragon

With a new direction comes a new logo. My previous tagline was “Giving Unsolicited Advice Since 2011” which is true. Sometimes I’d joke and say that “I do things the hard way so you don’t have to.” But when I decided to start this business I thought more about my clients and how I can help them.

I was chatting with my friend Jason Lemieux of Postmatic about how I approach social media marketing. He said, “Oh. You’re the Jane Goodall of Twitter.” Yes. I study them and I work hard to be them.

So when I was in Seattle with Justine Pretorious, I bounced off my new tagline and she said, “Yeah. That’s you.”

“Your voice. Your power. Your Brand.”

I asked Cheryl and Sherrie LaPrade, of Rosie the Wapuu fame, to take my tattoo and make it into my logo using it for color cues. (Wait, tattoo? Read the next section).

I love what they did. It’s so me.

  • ocmarketingguy That’s really awesome Bridget – I love that you incorporated your new ink! #badass #branding 😎👍🏼
  • meg.delagrange Ohhhh it gives me chills, you are moving forward powerful Queen!
  • mhanes Amazingly well done, communicates you perfectly 🙂

Thank you @cheryllynn730 and @sheriebeth79 !!! Happy New Year!

A post shared by Bridget Willard (@bridgetmwillard) on

A Dragon and a Flower

So, what’s up with your new logo? It came from my tattoo.

Fear has always been my nemesis. It’s had too much of a hold on my life for too long — in every single area. I cannot allow it.

In November, I did it. I decided upon a dragon because they are fierce and powerful. I wanted it on my right hip to remind myself that I have my own power. The flowers speak of my femininity. I can be a strong woman who is fierce and powerful and soft and pretty. These are not flaws or mutually-exclusive attributes. It’s me — I’m a whole person who is powerful.

My power is my voice. Your power is your voice. Let’s amplify them together.

“Your voice. Your power. Your Brand.”



Brooke Lark

In Defense of My Perspective: A Pragmatist in a World Full of Dreamers

How does a pragmatist survive in a world full of dreamers? In the era of startups, ideas are often valued more than their execution. Yet, we know from reality shows on television and interviews in startup magazines that execution is the only thing that truly matters.

This world needs dreamers. We need optimism. We need hope.

But we also need reality. We need pragmatism. We need boundaries to break.

We need the clouds and the dirt as Gary Vaynerchuk says.

“What doesn’t matter is basically everything in between the overall vision and strategy and the real knowledge of it.” Gary Vaynerchuk

A World of Dreamers

Yes, I believe in dreams. Well, that’s not entirely true. I try to believe in dreams. Disappointment and I have been too acquainted for way too long. I’m am distancing myself from cynicism.

More accurate is that I want to believe in dreams. This means that my desire is to not kill a dream; rather, to help make it possible.

We need Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – the dreamer and the implementer. The ideal and the practical.

You need the imagination and the infrastructure.

“Google has built an infrastructure that makes a lot of dreams closer to reality.” John Battelle

“The dreams we have [for the digital future] can only be realized if we not only build secure approaches that make those easy to administer.” Bill Gates

Is Pragmatism Negativity?

I’ve had some interesting conversations lately — in the world of WordPress especially — where realism is equated with negative energy.

I’d like to address this concern.

I don’t believe that just by speaking, you create reality. That is to say, that if you speak something aloud, it happens. That by looking down the road, diverged in the yellow wood, and having to make a choice, by weighing the options, you’re a dream killer.

I disagree.

“Hey, you! Get off of my cloud.” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

We need dreamers. And we need the people who see how to build the dream. We need the realists. We need the pessimists. They even fuel the dreamers to overcome. We need those pragmatic people who say, “Yes, I love that dream. Here’s out we are going to build it.”

Devil’s Advocate

I love the concept of fairness — of intellectual honesty. I’ve always made a mental exercise to view and consider all perspectives of an issue. And I’ve learned over the years that not everyone can be objective — especially about their own business.

Many of my peers own businesses. I was the wife of an entrepreneur. I worked in the inside of businesses for years — in accounting and office management. Though those positions are rarely regarded, secretaries know everything and accountants know more. In that position, they are the proverbial fly on the wall. Because of all of this experience, I understand the questions that need to be asked to achieve those dreams.

So my friends will call me up,

“Hey Bridget,” they say, “I was talking to so-and-so the other day and was thinking of [details the dream]. What do you think?”

I’ll just ask them questions.

What about x? What about y? Who will do z?

Recently, six months after a series of conversations and a business decision, my friend turned to me and said, “Whoa. Bridget, you just saved me $13,000.

It’s important for freelancers to bounce ideas off of people who will give them real things to think about — not yes men.

“There is no dream without the work.” Me.

Yes. I’m quoting myself.

In my presentation about how I changed careers, I talked about how it seems like I was an overnight success. I wasn’t. I’d been doing content marketing since 2009. It’s 2015 when people noticed it. It’s 2016 where I started to travel. 2017 people seemed to know me. It was not overnight.

It’s work to dream. It’s work to build the dream.

Let’s do it together.

Are your WordPress clients not paying you? Here are some tips.

Are your WordPress clients not paying you?

Do you have outstanding invoices? Who is keeping on top of your accounts receivables (AR)?

If even those questions overwhelm you, I’d like to help.

Here are some tips to better collect payment from your clients.

My Background.

I spent twenty years in accounts receivable and collections in trucking, roofing, and with a general contractor. These were all business to business relationships (not retail.) I don’t advise on retail collections.

When I was in roofing I had less than 4.5% of the receivables over 45 days. Our suppliers were net 60. I was kind of a hero in AR. So, with the bragging, not a humble brag — an actual one, aside, let’s get to some tips.

Collections is the Last Recourse. Prevention is Key.

Here is the basic order of things.

  • Manage expectations.
  • Have a contract.
  • Verify you sent the invoice to the right person.
  • Send statements and reminders.
  • Start collections sooner than later.

I know that seems simple, but about 70% of all collections issues I’ve encountered were because of these types of mistakes.

It’s important to be friendly in tone and with your voice, even if you have to escalate. As Samantha Zehngut said in her WordCamp Orange County talk, “Sell the joy of paying your bill.”

Also: You should watch this.

Step 1: Email

Send an email asking for help with the invoice. 

Yes. Ask for help. I start with “Can you help me?” People like to be the hero. This is emotional. They want to help. Make it more about them and less about you. It’s not a conflict — yet. It could be a simple mistake.

Remember that everyone is doing their job. You have no idea what kind of family or business pressure they’re under. You don’t know if they were told to cut the check but not allowed to mail it. Be kind.

Always be kind when you're asking to be paid. The kind people move to the front of the line. Click To Tweet

Step 2: Phone Call

Call and ask for the Accounts Payable department.

“Can you help me? I’d love to get this off our aging? Did you receive the invoice?”

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it shows empathy and fosters connection. Click To Tweet

Step 3: Mail

As the invoice begins to age more (45 days, 60 days), the tone in the conversations must also escalate. This means, you should start sending mail. Yes. Physical mail. On letterhead if you can. 

People change jobs. Emails get lost. You get put in a junk folder. Your email is buried under 200 new ones. Mail is so rare, that it gets attention. Attention is what you want when you’re asking to be paid.

Physical mail shows that you are serious. You have no idea if their email is working or if they're no longer employed. Click To Tweet

Step 4: Litigation

When it gets bad (90 days), I send a copy of the small claims form that I filled out. That way the client knows I’m serious. If it’s much more than small claims allows for your state, you can either consult your attorney or CPA. It may be cheaper to write it off as bad debt at that point.

Don’t be afraid of small claims. Most states walk you through the process online. Decide if you want to set your own personal boundaries. It’s okay. Really. I promise.

What’s the worst that could happen? You lose a client — a client who doesn’t pay.

Don't be afraid of small claims. It's about setting your own boundaries. It's okay. Click To Tweet

I’ve been to Small Claims twice when I was in roofing and won both times because of the contract.

The judge said, “Did you agree to this work? Did they do the work? Did you pay? Then pay.”

Breathe. Bad debt happens.

Bad debt happens to us all. It’s a cost of doing business. But if you can stay under 5% bad debt, you’ll be golden.

  1. Make sure you’re sending the right invoice to the right person.
  2. Believe that you do deserve to be paid.
  3. Do not let the client bully you (scope creep).
  4. Stop work until you are paid. Be polite, but firm.
  5. Decide if you want to keep that client.
  6. Continue being awesome.
  7. I believe in you.

Oliver Thomas Klein