Authenticity: A Key Sales Ingredient

Many people commonly associate “sales” with stepping out of their comfort zone. But, as I’ve learned, “sales” are less commonly associated with one key ingredient that actually makes sales successful.

Can you guess it?

Hint: It has to do with connection.

*drum roll please…*


Maybe this seems obvious. But let’s just get curious for a moment: How often is “authenticity” the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the next sales conversation you’re prepping for?

The idea of selling has a tendency, all too often, to feel scary, intimidating and nerve-wracking. Which is exactly why I love helping entrepreneurs actually experience sales as something fun—and not so scary.

This journey of marrying “authenticity” and “sales” in the same sentence, and living it, has been nothing short of eye-opening and diverse.

And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. One that’s taken me totally out of my wheelhouse and walking along spectacular views. And, one that began when I decided to step away from the career in HR that defined me since my freshman year of college.

Working in HR taught me a lot about communication, and how the way we show up in our communications makes a world of difference. Little did I know, the universe was setting my stage for the work I’m doing now helping clients have authentic, enjoyable and fruitful sales conversations.

When I left HR I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So I started my own business. And failed. I started again. …And failed, again. This happened again. And Again.

Four failed launches.

So I changed directions. Numerous times. I became well-acquainted with stepping out of my comfort zone:

  • I was asked to be part of the opening team (as restaurant manager) for Fort Collins’ dazzling Elizabeth Hotel. What began by staring at an empty lot of concrete and steel transformed to a team collaboration that created an integral and amazing aspect of the Fort Collins community today.
  • Constant Contact offered me a job. I took it and learned a wealth of information about email marketing.
  • I moved to Idaho, turned around and left four weeks later—because I wasn’t afraid to get honest with myself and recognize what was truly best for me, letting go of expectations.

In hindsight, it became clear that all these seemingly disconnected experiences were actually perfectly interconnected, and leading me to a beautiful part of the journey I now find myself on: successfully owning the Proffit Coach, helping others shift their sales experience.

What did all parts of this winding, interwoven journey of mine have in common? What allowed me to successfully launch the Proffit Coach and pay my bills (plus some) during the first 3 months of launching my business? (I spent zero on marketing these first 3 months, BTW. I know, it’s nuts. And yes, you read that double “f” in Proffit right–I’m lucky enough to have ”Proffit” as my last name 😉 ).

As I’ve reflected on a common thread, this is what I’ve noticed:

  • I wasn’t afraid to step out of my comfort zone and make a change (even when other people thought it was crazy). I was willing to trust myself.
  • I made authenticity the tone for all of my business (and personal) communications.
  • I’ve learned to be open to possibility.

Being committed to authenticity and open to possibility, and experiencing this firsthand, allows me every day to help clients apply these ideas to their own business.

What’s amazing is that sales (and most of business) isn’t just about stepping out of our comfort zone. It’s also about being committed to authenticity.

As you become more comfortable sharing your incredible gifts with the world, get curious and ask yourself:

  1. How do most sales conversations feel to you? Do they feel authentic, or does the conversation feel awkward?
  2. If you’ve experienced a truly authentic-feeling sales conversation, can you think of one important thing that made it feel so natural? (Get specific! 😉 ).
  3. If not, what is one thing you could do to help future sales conversations feel more natural? (Hint: check out this post for some tips).

When we communicate authentically, we have an incredible potential to transform our business engine (sales) from experiences in which we forget to breathe, to experiences that feel so natural and energizing that we detach from outcomes, and confidently receive what our journey has to give us.

This guest post is by Alison Proffit, the Proffit Coach.

Alison Proffit teaches small business owners how to become more effective in the sales aspect of their business. Her work focuses on becoming more clear on where the breakdown is, creating a sales process that resonates with them so that they can go into sales conversations more confidently and then have a plan to follow through on the connections that have been made.

Freelancers: Shape Your Success at the Library

Do you have friends who ask you to proofread their reports? Or maybe they want your help designing a logo or building website? Do people ask you to photograph their wedding? Perhaps you’re the go-to person for tech help among family members?

Whatever your skill set, these friendly requests could be highlighting opportunities for freelance work.

Fast Company reported that 35% of the U.S. workforce is now freelancing, around 57 million people, with income that “currently makes up almost 5% of the country’s GDP, or close to $1 trillion.”

Before you go and quit your day-job for the world of freelance work, there are few things to consider to make sure the decision to go solo is right for you.

And the Poudre River Public Library can help! In addition to having a dedicated Business Librarian and Career Librarian available to do research and work with you one-on-one, the Library has a variety of resources and materials to help you take those first steps toward freelance success.

1. Research

Some quick market research will tell you whether or not your freelance business is viable in your area.  Is there demand for what you’re offering? How large is your potential customer base? Who are your competitors?

The answers to these and other critical questions will determine whether becoming a freelancer is feasible.

Among the many market research services provided by our Business Librarian are industry overviews and trends, competitive analyses, demographics, lifestyle statistics, mailing lists, and more. Online reports and statistics can be accessed for free using Library eResources like Statista, First Research, Reference USA, Encyclopedia of American Businesses, and others.

2. Plan for success

Start your freelance journey off right with a plan. You probably don’t need a 25-page structured document, but spending time writing up your goals, financial needs, and plans for growth is helpful for keeping yourself accountable and for measuring success. If you’re anticipating moving from a freelancer to a solopreneur and expanding your business, then a business plan is useful

In addition to the many business planning books and eBooks, Library staff can help you navigate the Business Plans Handbook Collection. Sample plans serve as examples of how to approach, structure, and compose business plans.

3. Forming the business

Are you forming a business or just doing a side gig for extra cash? As you’re planning, you’ll need to determine the type of entity to establish and register with the CO Secretary of State: a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), or something different.

The legal and financial aspects of forming a business should be researched carefully before putting everything together. You’ll want to ensure you have any necessary licenses or permits and are appropriately set up with the CO Department of Revenue for taxes.

The Library can help you access registration forms and point you in the direction of digital resources to guide you in forming your business. One of the most useful resources is Colorado Business Resource Guide which is available at the Library and online. A frequently-used database is the Legal Information Resource Center which includes legal guides and forms for ownership structure, accounting and audits, and more.

4. Work space

Where you’ll work is a big consideration in planning your new venture. Do you have space for a home office? What about leasing co-working space?

Did you know the public libraries have available space for you to work? In addition to the open work spaces at all three Poudre Libraries, there are also collaboration and small group / study rooms that can be reserved for free at Old Town Library. These rooms are useful for connecting with clients, holding meetings, and even conducting conference calls and video calls.

5. Marketing

If your freelance gig is marketing, then you’re probably set to promote your services to potential clients. But not everyone has marketing skills and strategies up their sleeve. The Library has a number of great books and eBooks covering marketing how-to’s including social media strategy, creating a website, and email marketing. There are also databases like First Research and Reference USA that allow you to examine demographics, consumer trends, and other useful customer data to find and target potential customers.

6. Contracts and agreements

The Legal Information Reference Center offers an entire section on consulting and contracting, including samples forms for specific services like bookkeeping, social media consulting, and others. These contracts are useful for project-based and hourly services.

There are also useful reference books like “Contracts: The Essential Business Desk Reference” that can guide you in setting up work agreements.

7. Taxes and finances

It’s always important to consult a professional in legal and financial matters. But to help you understand some of the critical concepts, you’ll find library books and eBooks on topics from basic accounting to QuickBooks how-to.

The Legal Information Reference Center will also help. It includes the eBook “Home Business Tax Deductions” and also has resources for business accounting and audits.

For other legal and financial questions, our Business Librarian can help you get in touch with local professionals and consultants, and find additional support through our partnership with the Larimer Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

To get started on your freelance journey, visit the Library District’s online Business Center or request an appointment to meet with Business Librarian Matthew West.

This guest post is by Katie Auman of the Poudre River Public Library District.

Process, Process, Process – a guest post by speaker Nick Armstrong

The number of those who consider themselves self-employed jumped 40% in the ten-year span between 2000 and 2010, and according to FreshBooks, 42 million Americans will be self-employed by 2020.

Solopreneurship is difficult. Whether you’re figuring out how to delegate or trying to write better copy, most solopreneurs wear so many hats it’s hard to just stop and think straight. Hustle mode is the default.

What differentiates service-based solopreneurs like consultants, coaches, designers, and developers who can successfully scale up and lead well from those who flounder? Process.

Everybody wants to be liked and respected, but it’s hard to take solopreneurs seriously who can’t regularly show up and do the work even while appearing to go-go-go. Process failure is the #1 reason why solopreneurs can’t keep their act together.

Acknowledge That Process Is Protection.

Photo by Chen Hu on Unsplash

The single most important thing that you can do as a solopreneur is to make sure that your clients do not have extra work to do as a result of your efforts. Remember the term “red carpet service”? It meant that you delivered a good experience end to end. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that somehow our clients owe us something (especially if they are late on a payment or pivot on a project or cause delays).

Still. Even if the client is a total nutcase, when you show up, it’d better be like Wonder Woman leaping from the trench – the chaos just stops.

To be clear: you should feel free to fire abusive, mal-intentioned nutcases or adjust expectations until the situation is remedied. But for day-to-day craziness resulting from the natural course of human events, if you’re not weathering the chaos, you’re contributing.

A common scenario: your client gets so frustrated that they take tasks off your plate or don’t ask you to complete something that should be in your wheelhouse.

This happens when you’ve lost their trust in your ability to perform the work, most often because you added more chaos than you quelled.

When you work on other people’s businesses, you’ll almost always find trapdoors, hidden snares, booby traps, and unimaginable horrors lurking just out of sight. Your job is not to look the other way, but to calmly and candidly address and handle those unimaginable horrors while simultaneously suggesting a pathway to fix the issue, without sweating it, and without making whatever horrors you find the client’s issue.

Branding guidelines don’t include typography? Cool. A 5-minute Google search from a screenshot can show you a few fonts that are likely matches. Do THAT before you ping the CEO for the previous graphic designer’s email address while writing a lengthy tome about how much of an idiot that guy was (p.s., it was the CEO’s favorite niece and now they both hate you).

The process to ameliorate chaos is simple:

  • Educate yourself as much as possible, as early as possible, as often as possible, in the processes, people, details, places, timelines, to-dos, and motivations of all things involving your clients. Know the business inside and out.
  • Educate yourself on all of the above without being asked in advance.
  • Whenever possible, look for your clients’ blind spots, knowledge gaps, wobbling plates and falling (not yet dropped) balls, because when they drop/break/cause ninjas to spawn, you and your client will both have 10x the amount of work to do and your client will hate you.
  • Whenever and wherever possible, try to find the answer to a question based on previously completed work of the same type, Google, or any other reliable source before you ask your client or your client’s partners.
  • Whenever possible, ask for verification of an assumption of the correct answer sourced from methods above when there’s still a question, rather than the whole answer itself, which will reduce the chances of your clients telling you that they’ll just handle the thing themselves.

Acknowledge That Chaos is Inevitable.

Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Everything is always chaos. Order is a myth. Planning is just bullet points on paper.

The only thing that creates clarity is action.

Chaos, even personal chaos, is literally the only thing we can count on as entrepreneurs.

Inputs are never certain from clients or partners, the only work we can guarantee is the stuff we do with our own two hands (and only then if our assumptions about resources and expectations are on-point).

Clarity is created when you get both resources and expectations matched up with your commitment to do the work.

Speaking of commitment: entrepreneurs do what we do because we’re OK, at least on some level, with managing our own fate. We know that if we regularly don’t do the work, we’re eventually going to lose a client or lose an opportunity. We also know that some commitments are more important than others (and some obligations we take on might be soul-sapping).

One of my favorite lines from Star Trek: The Next Generation addresses this concept directly:

Crusher: “You don’t actually know which way to go. You’re only guessing. Do you do this all the time?”

Picard: “No. But there are times when it is necessary for a captain to give the appearance of confidence.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Attached”

If we work our butts off too much, we’ll miss opportunities with our families, the ability to be a “present and attentive” spouse, etc. Balance is a total myth, but it’s still on us to at least appear like we know the answer and direction to go.

Clients expect us to show up ready and unhindered by personal obligations. That doesn’t mean we can’t be human in front of them, but it means the majority of our contact with the client should be positive, productive interactions even if our behind-the-scenes world is a raging dumpster fire.

If you’re having more bad business days than good, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be aware that if you ask your clients (as opposed to mentors or advisors or friends) for help with personal chaos, you’re burning trust.

Proper processes like setting SMART goals, creating and sticking to meeting agendas, showing up prepared, documenting issues, and breaking down and assigning to-dos as they occur will keep you on track even when things are burning down.

Acknowledge That Clients Rarely Understand The Thing They Tell You They Want.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

You will spend more time than you like pulling your clients kicking and screaming along behind you toward the goal they set in the first place. As long as you’re acting in their best interest, this is probably par for the course as old habits die hard and they hired you to fix broken things.

In the same way that you don’t hate your personal trainer when they kick your butt or your mentor when they call you out, this shouldn’t cause your clients to hate you.

I’ve almost never had a client quietly, calmly accomplish their goals. You have to tow the line for them even when they’re less than enthusiastic, you owe it to them and you owe it to your own expertise.

Proper processes from documentation, goal setting, time tracking, and regular reporting keep you marching ever onward with little opportunity for getting sidelined by heel-dragging. Knowing the client’s business inside and out helps win arguments stemming from the client’s self-doubt.

Acknowledge That Your Best Interest May Come Into Conflict With The Client’s.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

You have an obligation to the client to ravenously pursue their best interest, even when it conflicts with your own and especially when it conflicts with their own self-damaging behavior.

This is the one thing that has earned me return business. I kill inefficiency dead, because I meticulously and loudly call it out when I see it. I offer solutions so it gets fixed. I create entire guidebooks around it so the client can identify it when it shows up.

It’s not just about doing the work – it’s about giving yourself permission and the mental space to viciously attack whatever problems you encounter along the way on behalf of the client.

That means do whatever you can, whenever you can, to move the ball forward. If you’ve got a directive, figure out how to meet it. Did you or your client set a goal that can’t be met with the current setup? Bust it up. Build something new from scratch so you can make that goal work. Don’t make excuses. Do the extra work to move the ball forward, even if you don’t have permission.

Identify the best thing the client can be doing to save their business or become more profitable, and get started on it for them – sometimes even if that thing isn’t in scope*.

*yet – because you can renegotiate to get paid for it, after you prove it works. It’s a gamble if it doesn’t work, but why be afraid to bet on yourself?

Create processes around reviewing goals, documenting wins, identifying problems, and reporting these to clients regularly. Keep your eye always on what you can and should deliver.

Acknowledge That Burnout Exists and It’s Happening To You.

Sleepiness is weakness of character - a comic by WTF Marketing
Sleepiness is weakness of character – a comic by WTF Marketing

Not only are you a business owner, you’re a parent of two, a spouse, a sibling, a friend… and your work will take a toll because it’s not just work for YOU. It’s work for your client and your client’s clients. Expectations (and disappointments) are exponentially multiplied. Victories are short-lived because there’s always ALWAYS more work to do and “done” is a myth. You have to structure your internal workflow to generate rewards for yourself AND you have to build into your contracts a methodology for bonuses or victory parties or windmill high-fives.

Solopreneurs notoriously burn out because of a variant of the Peter Principle also known as “Yeah, I can do that” syndrome. It’s in your client’s nature to want to offload anything and everything they can to the most competent people and it’s in YOUR nature to not want to disappoint. It’s also really hard, unless you structure your contract in a certain way, to grow enough lead time to secure constant work or work on your own business – and those two things taken together make it hard to define and defend boundaries.

Solopreneurs also burn out because early on they have little ability to delegate work and don’t often spend the time to work on their own business to grow it and scale it. In short: you’ve traded an office for a room in your house, and a sweet commute, but you’re not scaling your time and attention to grow your business and your time will eventually run out. Whether it’s because your interest will wane or your kids need more attention or your health or your ability to tolerate others’ nonsense… that leverage and scalability are crucial to removing you from a burn-out pathway.

Set processes to review your own business goals and treat yourself as a client. Dedicate and defend time for your business. Give yourself a “yes” ration for the month to burn through at your own peril.

Acknowledge Your Meager Notetaking Does Not Constitute Proper Documentation.

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash
Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Clients rarely have a perfectly documented position guidebook or how-to guide for various important tasks in their business, and as a result, have to start over every time someone with a lot of crucial knowledge leaves.

Document your work, and the work of others, so that the how-to, when, where, why, and whatever are crystal clear for the next person to do the work. Assume you won’t be the last person to work on whatever the client is having you do. Be gracious and kind enough to the person who comes after you to leave notes. Teach your client how to do what you do (trust them enough to understand the difference between a checklist and a highly experienced service provider).

This should be done, ideally, during your onboarding process so you can correct bad assumptions before they get too far down the road.

Acknowledge That Your Time Is Valuable.

Photo by Shamim Nakhaei on Unsplash
Photo by Shamim Nakhaei on Unsplash

Most solopreneurs in the service industry eventually discover that hourly rates don’t scale. The best way to review your existing time usage is Harvest and RescueTime – or even just pen and paper.

The best way to scale is to identify the tasks you can document and then confidently hand off to someone down the chain. Those things you’re best at – where you have the most leverage or where you bring a special, secret sauce – don’t hand off. Learn how to do more of that and hand off or automate the rest.

Plan to review your workflow. Build processes around reviewing, planning, offloading, and scaling.

Acknowledge You’re The Keper Of The Keys (For The Most Part).

Photo by George Kroeker on Unsplash

As a service-based solopreneur, you often have the interesting ability to be able to dictate the agenda and choreograph the next steps for your clients, especially when project managing your own work.

It only helps your clients to receive a weekly-updated to-do list of stuff they have to accomplish or that you’re waiting on them for, where to find the resources to accomplish the project (linked directly or attached to the to-do list), and step-by-step instructions on how to proceed along with a deadline.

You’ll give the client clarity, you’ll make your job easier, and you’ll reduce resistance to the goal. A huge roadblock for action (yours or the client’s) is a nebulous or poorly documented to-do list.

A common frustration for service-based solopreneurs is when clients procrastinate by way of shiny-object-syndrome. If the client identifies a shiny object of the week instead of tackling the earth-shaking project at-hand, you owe it to yourself and to your client to either ask them to scope out the shiny object as a project or to refocus themselves on the goal at hand.

Set processes in place that allow you to reframe the agenda when the client goes off-course.

Acknowledge You Should Not Assign Tasks Without Knowing The People Doing The Work.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Clients have their own agendas, worldviews, kids’ soccer games, and head colds and very rarely have the full bandwidth of attention needed to properly understand the things we ask them to do short of two hour-long meetings and an interpreter. Your client’s clients or partners or employees may not trust or understand you or your role, which adds another problematic layer to your project.

Often solopreneurs will task a client or partner or employee with something only to receive a mountain of well-prepared nonsense that has little to nothing to do with the original request and you’re left holding the rope for all that wasted time.

The process error at the root of all that wasted time is a failure to fully scope not just the project and assigned tasks, but also the people you’re assigning to tasks. The proper process for handing off a task to a 3rd party is not “do this, good luck, and let me know if you have any questions.”

A proper project scope would document the end goal, assumptions, questions or research required, costs and resource requirements, check-in points, ownership of tasks and the larger project, known issues and sunk costs, or prototyping that can be done. A proper team scope would document the key players, their skills and interests, their available time and commitment, and questions and concerns.

Acknowledge That Process Planning Is Not Busywork.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

So much of what service-based solopreneurs do is build bulwarks against chaos. What you do is amplified or hindered by your client’s ability to accomplish their own goals. If your client is displeased, you’ll be doing a lot more re-work and sacrificing time you need to work on your own business. If your client loves your work, they’ll tell others, and you’ll earn the chance to do more work.

The biggest opportunity for solopreneurs to lead well is identifying and correcting mistakes/inefficiency when it’s cheap and not yet the client’s problem. Mistakes/inefficiency passed up the chain to the client (x10) or the client’s client or partners (x100) are exponentially multiplied – each action in the chain either lives or dies with processes.

Good processes save money, time, and sanity.

Do yourself a favor and push pause on the hustle. Take a breath, build some processes, and then get going again. It might feel a little stutter-stop at first while you adjust. As you grow and level up, the smoothness will appear and other, newer problems will too (but you’ll have earned ‘em).

About The Author

Nick Armstrong: the Geek-in-Chief behind WTF Marketing, dad, author, Ignite, PechaKucha, Startup Week, and TEDx speaker, audio drama enthusiast, and award-winning entrepreneur.

Nick’s been a part of organizing community events like Fort Collins Comic ConStartup Week Fort Collins, TEDxFoCo, Ignite Fort Collins, LaidOffCamp/CareerCamp, PodCamp Fort Collins, and more. His local efforts landed him a prestigious spot as one of BizWest’s 40 Under Forty in 2016 and the Colorado Association of Libraries’ Library Community Partnership Award in 2018.

Alongside an amazing team of 13 other super-geeks, Nick built out Fort Collins Comic Con to benefit the Poudre River Public Library District and has raised over $95,000 for the Library to encourage youth literacy through comics.

Nick’s Techstars Startup Week Fort Collins Panels:

The Importance of Delegation – a guest post by speaker John Garvey

I’m not going to rip my eyeballs out until I’ve at least attempted to delegate it.

A month ago, I had a “crystallization of discontent.” I needed fewer plates spinning in the air or I was going to snap and join a cult or something. I didn’t know what I needed to delegate, just that it was no longer, in my view, optional.

In the short term, delegating almost anything is harder than doing it yourself. But many solopreneurs rip their hair out after trying to do everything for too long. If your business is your baby—which it damn well ought to be—then you may want certain things done in a way only you can do them. (I need to get over that, but that’s another story.)

There are a lot of steps you typically have to take in order to effectively, systematically delegate day-to-day business activities that rob you of only a few minutes at a time. It might be editing, bookkeeping, managing inventory, running pay per click (PPC) campaigns, scheduling, website maintenance or sales. At any given time, there are at least a couple things I know should be getting done, in an ideal world, that aren’t getting done.

That raises some challenging questions: Hire an intern? … employee(s)? Make greater use of contractors? Plug and chug and continue doing almost everything myself?

My biggest need wasn’t strictly related to my business. I needed to free up time during the essential early- to mid-morning hours when I’m the most creative and productive.

For many months I’ve gotten my two children ready for preschool a couple mornings a week, driven them halfway across town, and gone through a 10 – 12-minute drop-off process. By the time I was actually ready to get my workday started I was often contemplating a stiff drink. (Kids—can’t live with ‘em, can’t ditch ‘em with your chain-smoking neighbors! Sheesh!)

I spend plenty of quality time with my kids on weekends and in the evenings. I love aspects of the afternoon/evening routine, such as wrestling with them and reading to them before bed. That said, I do not consider mornings wrangling a two- and four-year-old quality time. The last couple times I was buckling up my daughter to get her off to school and she gave me that squirrely “I pooped my diaper and didn’t tell you” smile, I found nothing funny about it. In fact, I was pissed. Although it only means a five-minute delay, it comes at a stressful moment when (a) I’d already rather be at work, and (b) I’ve already spent the last 45 minutes on menial household and parenting tasks.

Doing this and trying to make money as a solopreneur without going insane wasn’t sustainable. Because I peak early in the day, an hour of time in the morning is worth two in the afternoon. Many of those hours were being swallowed by microtasks, costing me money and eroding my sanity.

I reached out to Angel Kwiatkowski, founder of Cohere Coworking and one of the most well-networked people I know. She put me in touch with Jeanie Sutter, owner of The Second You, a company in town that assists people by getting errands and busy work off their plates.

We set up a meeting within a couple days and Alicia, our vetted personal assistant, started almost immediately. She shows up three days a week, takes care of a few household tasks like ironing, brushing my daughter’s hair and cleaning the kitchen, and whisks the monsters safely off to school. I cannot believe how pain-free this was. My quality of life and income have improved measurably.

 If you have barriers (financial, aspirational or other) to hiring, or contracting out work, a service like The Second You is a great way to delegate things like errands, laundry, or walking the dog on your lunch break. I admire the hell out of those badass “I took night classes, earned a degree and founded a successful company while raising four kids and working full time” entrepreneurs. I’m not that driven.

About John:

I’m a nerd who obsesses about language. As the Chief Storytelling Officer (pomp!) at Garvington Creative, I specialize in top-shelf B2B content marketing and copywriting. A graduate of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprises MBA program at CSU, I work with businesses to get their messaging crystal clear so people understand, at a glance, what they do and why it matters. Then I roll up my nerd sleeves and work with them to create content that positions them as trusted resources, ultimately helping them win the kinds of clients they deserve.

I’m also the founder of North FoCo Pub Runners, which, like my son, is about to turn five. You can find more from me at

You can see John’s panel Storyfied Marketing: The illuminating and persuasive craft of business storytelling on Tuesday February 26th, 12:00pm-12:45pm @ Innosphere.

The One Skill that Can Make or Break a Company – a guest post by speaker Katie Hoffman

Many companies start with writing – jotting down ideas of a business plan on a napkin, drafting a 5 year-plan, writing down ideas for an investment pitch, and formulating business agreements. But most companies don’t realize writing only becomes more central to a business growing and thriving as employees communicate with each other, clients, and the public.

Just as a thought experiment, what percentage of your work-related exchanges are done in writing? Have you noticed some exchanges that used to take place on the phone or face-to-face have shifted to being done in writing? Think about how you communicate with clients, colleagues, and supervisors, or how you network and maintain relationships – how much is done through email, inter-office messaging systems, texting, or social media platforms? Think about how you plan, execute, report on, and evaluate projects — how much of it is done by writing, sharing, editing, and presenting documents? How much information is communicated in writing about your company through websites, marketing, etc.?

Just working through those questions, most of us would say our workplace interactions and productivity rely heavily on written communications. But the next question is, how much can go wrong and how much time can be wasted if people in a business struggle to write professionally, clearly, and effectively?

As a result, myriad problems can emerge. Inner-office communication culture can slip due to written messages not being respectful or courteous enough, prospective clients can pass on working with a company because they’ve made a judgment about the intelligence and credibility of the company based on problems in written communications, networking and marketing efforts can fall flat because messages are poorly organized for their genre or not appealing to the intended audience, and the list goes on.

While many people earn a position at a company because of their desirable set of skills for performing job duties, many people are not confident about their written communication skills – particularly if they are writing in forms and genres that are new to them. Also, while many companies make efforts to train employees on industry-specific systems, they overlook the need to articulate their business writing expectations and train individuals to meet them. 

This is where Appendance, Inc comes in. Writing is our thing. We are a company composed of women with graduate degrees in writing who have been teaching writing for colleges and companies for years. We want to urge companies to think about how writing factors into cultivating the company culture they want, and then we help them get people at all levels of their company to write effectively for that culture. Some companies want regular training on effective writing to show the value of this skill set and help employees strengthen it, others have just a few individuals that need to elevate their writing skills through individual coaching, and still others want our expertise in crafting or reviewing the writing they make public under their company name. Our services are listed on our website,, and we regularly offer writing tips, tricks, humor, and rants on our blog and through our social media channels.

Writing involves skill sets, and we all CAN get better at writing. This means companies can be more intentional and effective with all the ways they do business through writing, and they can craft the company culture they want, simply by improving the writing skills of the people in their company. 

About the Author

Beyond leading professional writing seminars for Appendance, Katie Hoffman teaches Composition and Literature at Colorado State University. She earned her Bachelor’s in English Literature from Ferris State University in Michigan and a Master’s in Rhetoric and Composition at Colorado State University. She has experience training employees, leading professional development workshops, copyediting, and conducting individual, group, and online writing consultations. Outside of work, Katie is a trail runner, mother, bookworm, and swimmer.  

You can check out Katie’s panel 5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Email (and other business writing) on Tuesday February 26th, 11:00am-12:00pm @ The Articulate.

The Quality of Our Leaders Affects the Quality of Our Lives – a guest post by speakers Nancy Kepner and Julianna Christie

Research shows a majority — 67% — of employees worldwide are disengaged, and a hyperfocus on growth and profits is coming at the expense of people’s well-being. There are significant gaps in leadership where an old style reliant on control and blame tactics isn’t working.

To counter those trends and meet a market need, we started Crafted Leadership. We exist to bring conscious leadership into the global workplace.

What is conscious leadership?

Conscious leadership:

  • supports people to move out of an outdated command-and-control leadership model and into a new leadership paradigm
  • supports leaders to be more present, aware, and engaged. Leaders develop their ability to make ongoing choices from a place of 100% responsibility and to respond from creativity (instead of reactivity)
  • builds teams who trust one another and move through conflict without drama, while cultivating openness and curiosity
  • encourages participation and engages team members through operational integrity  
  • replaces turf wars with true collaboration, and openness to discovery invigorates the whole system
  • integrates an ongoing, open-loop feedback system
  • communicates the details in a way that invites wonder and that does not blame anyone or withhold key information
  • is the new norm for global work cultures

Crafted Leadership provides skills-based training around four tent poles of conscious leadership: self mastery, relational mastery, integrity, and improvisation. Focused attention to these areas builds teams of high trust and collaboration — sustainable alternatives to fear and burnout.

You lead by default or you lead by design

You’ve heard the saying, “natural leader.” Not exactly. Leadership is mostly a learned skill.  Those who lead by default manage through unconscious patterns and bias. Those who lead by design are self-aware and undefended. To lead by design is to put attention to learning and embodying leadership skills.

What are the key conscious leadership skills?

The Architecture of Inspiring Leaders is our model consisting of 13 skills that cover vital aspects of conscious leadership. These skills are simple, but they require practice and commitment. Practice is the difference between just talking about leadership and living it.

The Architecture of Inspiring Leaders

Conscious leadership develops emotional, social, and body intelligence. We call it whole body, whole person learning. For example, we learn to leverage our intuition for better decision-making; we influence others through resonance, not control; and we generate trust rather than fear.

Conscious leadership has a rational basis

Conscious leadership has a rational financial basis for companies as well. Dysfunctional leadership leads to turnover, which reduces productivity and revenue. By creating cultures of high-trust, relational value and relational capital is preserved, turnover is lower, and your company has more discretionary spending. High-trust teams positively correlate to high-performing teams, who help increase financial returns.

Conscious or unconscious leadership can be difference between success and failure for an organization. Which do you choose? 

If you agree or are interested in our mission, you can read more at or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We’d love you to join our community of conscious leaders!

About The Authors

Nancy Kepner is the CEO of Crafted Leadership. Prior to co-founding Crafted Leadership, Nancy served in senior leadership for Denver-based nonprofits. In these roles, as well as global work experience, she experienced firsthand the challenges of leadership and saw the need for practical, actionable programs that helped people move from an individual contributor level to a successful leader of teams. Out of this need, and a decade of dedicated engagement and experimentation in leadership practices, the vision for Crafted Leadership was born.

Julianna Christie is the Chief Learning Officer of Crafted Leadership. Julianna has spent over 20 years in corporate settings, successfully facilitating conversations that take global organizations to the next level. Her expertise in strategic planning, leadership development and organizational transformation has yielded her a reputation as an inspiring facilitator and trusted, gifted coach focused on innovation, integrity, and growth.  

You can check out Nancy and Julianna’s panel Embracing Differences on Friday March 1st, 1:00pm-2:00pm @ Innosphere.

Changing the Face of Technology – a guest post by speaker Darlene Rouleau

Technology companies have a diversity problem. The number of women in tech has been steadily declining since the 1980s. Only recently at Colorado State University, has the number of women enrolled in Computer Science increased from 7% in 2013 to 11.3% in 2016.

As still the only woman programmer on my software development team 13 years after starting, my passion is to increase the diversity in software development.

As a mom of a 2yo girl and 5yo boy I constantly check my unconscious bias – am I raising both my children to know they have the same opportunities and capabilities? Researchers at the University of Washington found that by age 7, children implicitly associate numbers with boys instead of girls. Microsoft researchers found that by age 11, girls become interested in STEM subjects; however, by age 15 they lose interest and it rarely recovers. Computers and video games are for both girls and boys; foster a love of numbers, math and problem solving in your girls and boys; constantly check your unconscious bias.

Recognizing that there is a diversity problem and making others aware of the gender gap is the first step. At my organization I’ve organized a monthly diversity meeting to read, watch talks and discuss these issues. I presented to the entire company on life as a woman in tech. Start with awareness and then work towards changes.

I strive to change the face of your typical software engineer to inspire more women to enter tech. If we change the stereotypes of programming and show young women that women do exist in tech, we can encourage more girls to consider degrees in computer science. For example, I have spoken with high school women on my path and life as a woman in tech and taught courses through Front Range Community College. I want to be a role model for girls and women interested in technology.

I’ve made it 13 years, but life as one of the few women in tech is hard and exhausting. It’s not just me either, after 10 years, there is a 41% quit rate of women in tech (compared to 17% for men); we don’t see the career opportunities and are just burned out.

To learn more, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap is a phenomenal documentary on the lack of women in computer science. The history from the 1950s (women were in fact the first programmers!) to where we are now is astounding.

There are changes you and I can make today. I have to check my unconscious bias daily. Raise children to know they have the same opportunities. Give the women candidates and resumes a second look; was it your unconscious bias that put that resume in the no pile? Small checks on yourself can change the path of your life, someone else’s life, or the future of your organization.

About The Speaker

Darlene Rouleau is a UI/UX Software Engineer for Schneider Electric.

You can see her panel Women in Tech / Diversity / Unconscious Bias on Tuesday February 26th, 10:00am-11:00am @ Cohere Coworking.

The Value of Considering Culture – a guest post by speaker Todd Cornell

Having grown up in Fort Collins, I didn’t have much opportunity to interact with diverse cultures or mindsets. The city we know today is a mecca of diversity by comparison!

Now, when interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, I consciously stay open to things “outside my comfort zone”, remaining mindful of thoughts and inner reactions, while reminding myself to let go of prejudice and judgemental self-talk. Confucius said, ‘those who know that they don’t know are wise’.

There is profound wisdom in all cultures, but sometimes it’s difficult to recognize. Going open-minded into a cross-cultural situation allows me to be open to that wisdom, while recognizing divisive self-talk that may emulate from my own cultural bias. This awareness allows me to see my own cultural shortcomings and gives me a head start at foiling reactions that may come off as disrespectful.

So, what is the value of considering culture when doing business across cultures, or interacting with a co-worker from a different cultural background? For me, it’s a no-brainer. I feel not to do so is a form of arrogance and ignorance. It was only by living in China for over 20 years that I came face-to-face with my own racist reality. I ran smack into a great wall of culture that didn’t make sense.

Not long after arriving in China, I learned a valuable phrase, wisdom that I hold firm to yet today, “know yourself and know others”. It’s a well-known Chinese expression that comes from the book The Art of War.

It means if we understand ourselves and others, those with whom we are at battle, negotiating, or befriending, we will be successful. He also said that if we just understand ourselves, we will only be successful sometimes. The trick is having access to the right knowledge to achieve success.

Whether doing business with, establishing political relations with, or just befriending people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, we, as individuals and a country, need to realize the importance of learning about and understanding others. By not doing so, we may resort to shaming and blaming, consequently not fostering a healthy basis for success.

As Americans, we feel that everyone speaks English and watches our movies, so we don’t need to “waste” our time at learning their language and culture. But, when we consider the wisdom in The Art of War, we clearly see that this is not the case. If we don’t put forth the effort to learn about others or work with those who have; we are putting ourselves, and our country, at risk – be it in business, politics, or relationships.

Learning about others can take many years, but there are ways to bridge the gap:

  1. Hire a consultant who posses the skills you need
  2. Learn the concepts of Cultural Intelligence (CQ), and discover the areas you need to grow in
Todd and Rascal

About Todd Cornell

Todd Cornell is a China Business-Culture Consultant who has lived over 20 years in Chinese speaking countries. He possesses above average China cross-cultural skills and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He has negotiated and managed multi-million-dollar technology transfer projects, joint ventures, and manufacturing businesses in Taiwan and Mainland China, and was the Associate Director at the Confucius Institute at CSU. Todd has gained profound insight into best practices for success with China, which are found within Chinese culture and philosophy. Todd is also a certified Cultural Intelligence trainer. Todd lives together with Rascal, his 13-year-old Chinese West Siberian Laika, in Fort Collins.

You can see Todd speak about Business Best Practices in China at 11AM Tuesday, February 26 at the Downtown Artery and on Cultural Intelligence is for Everyone 1PM Thursday, February 28th at the Downtown Artery.

Awestruck – a guest post by speaker and moderator Kit Baker

Once, on my way back to Scotland to finish my degree after spending the summer with my family in Fort Collins, I stopped at an arthouse cinema in London to see “Mirror” by the Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. At first, things didn’t look so good. There were three people in the audience and my jet lag was seriously kicking in. Yet once the movie started, I was awestruck. I felt something I have never quite felt before or after: that, indeed, a mirror was being held up to my innermost self.

My fascination with Tarkovsky and his undying faith that art can change the world has been rooted deep down inside ever since (you can read my take on “Mirror” at 

But what hill of beans does that amount to in the city of Bikes, Beer and Bands? What do you do when you know about art and music that does not yet have a foothold in Fort Collins but can change lives – like “Mirror” changed mine? 

That’s my challenge: to increase the range and quality of art and music we create and have access to in Fort Collins. The kind that can truly change lives.

After three years of trying that were somewhere between John Cage’s “consider everything an experiment” and Samuel Beckett’s “Fail again. Fail better.”, there has finally been a breakthrough.  On February 28, thanks to LC Live and CSU (with an assist from yours truly), a quartet of woodwinds from the Brooklyn-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will play a concert here featuring modes of heightened listening conjured by outstanding women composers from both sides of the Atlantic – Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Ecological) and Pauline Oliveros (Deep). 

ICE started up with $603 in catering tips; today, thanks to a steadfast commitment to placing the artist entrepreneur at the heart of everything they do, they have 35 of the best young musicians in New York on their roster and a budget north of $2M. Two of those musicians will be in Artup Week talking about new digital tools and a research project that have applications both within and well beyond the music world. They will be joined by two experimental media artists and CSU lecturers talking about a digital tool of their own that lifts sounds to rarified heights and a transgender entrepreneur from Denver who is breaking astonishing new ground with the firm belief that anything is possible.

This encounter between local and global is a microcosm of the balance that invigorated my life and work in New York, London and Berlin – a balance I am now working to foster here in Fort Collins.

One of my favorite pieces of music is Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.” My career has been a million unanswered questions, through which artists have led me to places I never dreamed I could be.  Nothing means more to me than to be joined by friends in those places.  I hope to see you on this and many more creative adventures to come.

About Kit Baker

Kit Baker is an arts administrator, writer, and producer who has worked on both sides of the Atlantic.  In New York, he worked with artist entrepreneurs Michael Counts, an opera director, installation artist, and creator of large scale immersive theatre events, and MacArthur Fellow and Avery Fisher Prize-winning flutist Claire Chase, founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble.  In London UK, he worked with Pierre Audi at the Almeida Theatre to resource productions and performances by Tilda Swinton, Yuri Lyubimov, Astor Piazzolla, Philip Glass, Phelim McDermott, Deborah Warner, Toru Takemitsu and dozens more.  As a development professional, he has raised millions of dollars for the Tate Gallery, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc, Aperture Foundation, Cunningham Dance Foundation, GAle GAtes et al., Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and more. He was assistant director of the Jeff Award-winning TransformTheater Berlin on tour from Chicago to Siberia.

You can attend Kit’s panel Notes from the Field: Using Technology to Advance Artrepreneurship at 3PM Thursday, February 28 at Downtown Artery.

The Classical Convergence Series concert featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble will be Presented by LC Live & CSU Thursday February 28th at 7:30PM in the Organ Recital Hall at the University Center for the Arts.