Lesson(s) Learned

If we’ve learned anything in the past six months, it’s that very, very, very little is in our control. We’re all helplessly embedded in the fabric of cities, towns, counties and countries, dependent on our neighbors near and far, and completely incapable of operating on our own.

I always considered myself a fiercely independent person, and sank deeper into that identity when we started our first business. I felt like I was operating outside the status quo and outside of the fluctuations and financial ups and downs that hit a lot harder when you’re in the back of the caravan instead of in the driver’s seat.

COVID-19 absolutely shattered one of my favorite parts of myself – my independence. I realized overnight not only that many things well beyond my imagination were possible – correction, currently happening in real time – but that those external things had near-complete control over my life.

Within a few days, our income was cut down over 90%, we were on full lockdown, and our island was shut off from the outside world. There was no timeline, no hints, no warnings. And the interim – of not knowing when we would reopen, when we could make money again, when things would go back to normal – has lasted for six long, painful months.

We didn’t know what to do, so we focused on what we could do. We could rearrange our business to bring in income. We could apply for the SBA, PPP and local grants and wait out as they ran out of money (twice) before ours got approved. We could speak to our clients, let them know our plan, and keep them updated as things progressed. We could keep our cool and put one foot in front of the other. So, we did.

It’s important to note that most of these changes were very uncomfortable, scary, risky, brave, bold, painful, laborious and miserable. There were days I woke up and just told myself to make it through today, and try for a better day the next. There were tears, panic, loss, loneliness, struggle, lost sleep, anxiety, mental breakdowns and panic attacks. There was all of it, but somehow we just kept moving forward.

And that, at least for us, is the lesson of it all – we just have to keep moving, that will always, always, always be enough. That’s something we can always do.

We’re Supposed to Change

As I’ve navigated the first few months of being 30, I’ve noticed a constant dialogue surrounding the idea of change. Our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our old hometown/high school acquaintances – I’ve encountered the same old phrase consistently: “wow, you/he/she has really changed.”

This is usually commented in an off-hand, slightly negative way, with the underlying meaning seeming to be, “wow, you’ve let life change you. wow, money/success has really changed you. wow, you’ve lost your way to yourself because of a/b/c.”

My reaction to this type of comment is usually, “what do you mean by that?” to which I almost never get a response, since people don’t tell you that you (or someone else) have/has changed as a compliment. What they’re doing is trying to say something they don’t feel comfortable saying without actually saying it, and assuming you’ll understand the meaning so they can wipe their hands clean of their intent.

I’ve never understood our cultural resistance to change in the first place. When someone states, “wow, you’ve changed!” my internal response is “you haven’t?” We should change in significant ways over decades of time. We should learn and grow from our mistakes and heartbreaks and mishaps – that’s the whole point of living a life in the first place. If we’re not changing over time, than what on earth are we doing?

In theory, change should be a fluid and celebrated part of life. We should ebb and flow on our way to who we really are, learning lesson after lesson as we encounter mistake after mistake. I realize that people usually mean “wow, you’ve changed!” to indicate that we’ve somehow betrayed ourselves; by changing our political views, our values, integrity, personality, or what’s most important. But I’ll argue that those things too, should be subject to change as we change as people over time.

First of all, the only person that knows our internal values, morals, items of importance, etc. is us. Ourselves, only. Not our friends, or peers, or co-workers or even family members or parents. No matter how we are raised or what values are instilled in us, we are still individual human beings that have a duty to uncover those gems for ourselves.

Secondly, if we are not supposed to change the big-ticket items, who is determining them? Where do our unchangeable morals and values come from? We start off as children and are taught those things by our parents, teachers, friends and society. We should not be beholden to the values of other people that we were instilled in childhood, and never be able to think critically enough to decide them on our own.

Lastly, we are changing, whether we want to recognize it or not. Over time, your cells are changing. Your brain is changing. Your hormones are changing. Your body is changing.

Just like they do for every. other. species. on. planet. earth.

Even at just 30 years old, I’m changing rapidly. Being a business owner – especially during a pandemic – has been like an internal-change pressure cooker. We’re learning so much and learning to deal and endure so much that it is logistically impossible for us not to change. Change is still scary, but so is everything else. We have to learn to deal with fear and change in order to move towards a better world.

The next time someone says, “wow, you/she/he has changed!” I’m inviting myself to openly answer, “of course I/they have. That’s life. We’re supposed to change.”

Coconuts on the Beach

 

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In our culture, we are always looking forward – towards our goals, dreams, aspirations. We work each day in the hopes of achieving specific outcomes: climbing the corporate ladder, owning a home, paying off debt, having a family and marriage.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working for the future, but the problem is that we are so preoccupied that we forget to enjoy the journey.

Consider your path as a timeline; our end goals are just a blip, while the journey to get there stretches out as far as it needs to. We suspend our joy, presence, light and love for 90% of the process. Do we want our joy to be on the straight line, or just a single dot?

Coconuts on the beach

A lot of our culture is fixated on the results of hard work – the instagram photos, highlight reels and coconuts on the beach. But, we forget that life is supposed to be the journey. The process IS life, in itself: growth, change, joy, sorrow, challenges.

Life is not the vacation. Life is every single day before and after it, and also the vacation, each given equal presence and attention.

I have nothing against coconuts on the beach, but it’s not the remedy for life’s challenges. Embrace the journey and remember to enjoy it. After all, that straight line is where you’ll spend most of life anyways

If it Don’t Make Dollars, it Don’t Make Sense.

Let’s keep it real: businesses are designed to make money. Sure, there’s childhood dreams, life-long aspirations, passion, talent and love involved – but the purpose is positive cash flow. The whole idea is to make money in a different way.

Dreams & passion aside, we all need income to survive. To pay bills, keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We don’t always like to talk about it, but it’s true.

When you start a business, the scariest leap is the financial one. Will this business make enough money for my life? Will I go into debt? Will I lose everything?

We were lucky that our business was pretty cheap to start. We had cleaning supplies, our real estate licenses, some software and a shared laptop in a one-bedroom apartment. That was it. As the business started to take shape, though, we constantly came up to the same obstacle:

This would be great for our business, but does it make financial sense to do so?

The answer to this question popped up as a lyric from one of our favorite groups: if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

We wanted so many things: a luxe office space, all organic, locally made cleaning products, sustainable/fair trade cotton linens, and a third person to help us out.

We settled for a new laptop, a cheap desk from Walmart, and generic cleaning products/linens from amazon. It was what made financial sense at the time, and it was absolutely the right choice.

Two years later, we’re moving into a beautiful three-bedroom home so we can have a proper office. We’re still working towards our third person, but for now, we’ve started contracting out the cleanings and laundry work, so we can focus on accounting and growth.

It’s what makes dollars and sense, where we are right now. And that’s what has empowered our business to grow and improve without putting us into debt.

So keep in mind – if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. You have to put YOU and YOUR business first. Before all the partnerships, collaborations, and shiny, attractive services you can’t quite afford yet. It doesn’t mean you have to give up on what you really want – it just means that you have to take your time to get there.

Saying No to Customers

As small business owners, we love our clients. After all, they’re what keep us in business! It’s deeply important to us that our customers are happy, but it’s also equally important that we don’t allow them to push us around.

Let me be clear: most customers are wonderful people, and we’ve made some great friendships along our journey. And of course, we are always happy to fix mistakes and improve our services. But, as most of us know, not every person is easy – or possible – to please.

In the beginning, we had a really tough time dealing with difficult customers and outlandish requests. We’d freak out and panic because we want to do a great job and ensure all of our customers are happy. Now that we have some time and experience under our belts, however, we don’t break a sweat when we come across a tough client, because we’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way.

You Can’t Please Everyone

You could create the most delicious/original/unique/beautiful service or product, and someone out there will not like it. In fact, someone out there will hate it.

People come with their own tastes, expectations, needs, wants, and issues, and you cannot possibly meet all of them. And even if you did, someone out there will still not like it – still – because they are having a bad day.

It’s (Usually) Not About You

When a customer overreacts to a small issue – like cilantro as a garnish, or a wrinkled pillowcase – it is usually not really about the issue. It’s about something else.

When people overreact, the problem at hand is likely the latest cherry on top of a bad day, week, month, year, or even life. It’s not the core of the problem, it’s just the latest straw.

So, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you, your product/service, or your business. All you can do is do your best and handle the situation as best you can. Which brings us to our next point:

Do Not Escalate. Ever.

Since the issue is usually not really about the actual issue – or you, or your business – there is no sense in participating in whatever madness is going on. Do not escalate, ever.

We’ve come across a handful of people that pop up now and again. They are analytical, critical, and angry, and they are – get this – looking for an argument. They are actively searching for the opportunity to yell at someone, and we do our best to ensure it’s not us.

These types of customers are easy to spot, because they blow up over a small problem (or an imaginary one) and are often disarmed when we stay calm, logical, and helpful. We’ve come up with a magical power-sentence to disarm anyone that comes in too hot:

“I understand that you would like [their complaint/request], but unfortunately we cannot [logical reason why not], and [reiterate that that their demand will not be met]. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding.”

That is our de-escalation secret sauce, and it hasn’t failed us yet.

Offer a Baby-Compromise

In the harsh world of internet reviews, sometimes you have to give in a little – even if it’s unjustified and unfair. Keep in mind that you have to do the best for your business, and it’s pivotal to put your pride aside when you need to.

We like to offer baby-compromises. They’re often easier and more cost-effective than spending hours on the phone or stressing about the impending bad review. A baby-compromise is just that – a very, very small compromise, in which you give the disgruntled customer just enough for them to move on.

This could be refunding one night of someone’s stay, or comping one small item off of someone’s check. And no, they usually don’t deserve it – but you also don’t deserve to run yourself into the ground trying to reason with someone who is unreasonable.

Remember: all you can do is do your best, and that may occasionally mean giving in. More importantly, saying No gives you the time, space and energy to better serve your customer base. Saying No can free up the time you need to launch a new product, polish up your service, or dust off some marketing materials to grow – baby compromises & all.

Letting Go of Control

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For the past few months, our business has been rolling along wonderfully. We’ve had time to tout our crazy-full guest calendars, revamp our welcome messages and leases, upgrade our advertisements, and put together fabulous owner packets for prospective leads. Our numbers and ratings were sky-high. In short, we had the business firmly under control.

Or at least we did, until a then-category 5 hurricane began swirling its way towards the Hawaiian islands. Guests cancelled left and right; flights were cancelled; we fielded calls and messages and inquiries and complaints all day for over a week. Our awesome numbers dropped and our chock-full calendars were marred by vacant days at the end of the month. I kept asking myself, what is happening? What did we do wrong?! Why?!

A looming hurricane felt like it had ruined everything (everything!), but the truth is that it took away our control. Hurricane Lane itself is naturally, and obviously, out of our control – but I couldn’t stop myself from running through ways of controlling the result of it. Could I open up our properties to last-minute reservations? Displaced guests? Surely one airline was still landing….

It was my fiancée that made me realize how ridiculous it all was. We had a major, potential natural disaster-level storm a few hundred miles away, and I was upset that guests had cancelled their trips? Of course they did! What in the world was I thinking?

f062b425bdf17d58915c9d0da25a3dedI realized that I love running my own business because I love having control. I love managing, watching, tinkering, tweaking things to be perfect. I dig it, and it’s been a way of life for me for a while – but it’s not really how life works.

Actually, Hurricane Lane is a pretty good metaphor for life. You can do everything on earth to ensure your life/home/business are picture-perfect and under control, and then something external and totally unexpected can swirl right through and cause some chaos and mayhem. And you have no choice but to do your best and just deal. 

As our business grows, I know the day is coming when I’ll have to relinquish control. I’ll have to trust. I’ll have to let it go – and that day is coming sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to enjoy a few days off curled up with my man and dog until the storm passes.

Busy is a Blessing

It’s b6a696ed0eb058faacc909f2b48a04f48een a little over a year since we quit our office jobs and jumped into our business with both feet. In the beginning, the workload was light, every small success was exciting, and we envisioned a laid-back, beach-filled future where we outsourced most of the hard stuff to other people and managed from afar. We pictured freedom, happiness, and bliss.

What we’ve learned, though, is that when it comes to being self-employed, things are always complicated.

It turns out that the hard stuff makes the most money; small successes and growth come with a heavy workload and re-adjustment period; people are difficult to manage, and good people are even more difficult to find. We’ve discovered that every seemingly small choice and action are multi-faceted, and each decision carves out where our business is headed and who we are as a company.

In the midst of the busy fire, it’s easy for us to get lost in the crazy and forget that we want this. We worked for it, prayed for it, and sought it out – and we got it. Yet, it’s still hard to step back and reflect on how far we’ve come, and how we dreamed of being this busy back in the beginning.

Our personal goal is to keep in mind that busyness is a blessing, and that we are grateful for every small step forward – no matter how complicated it might be.

 

 

Entrepreneurial Thoughts: Saying NO

Entrepreneurs are generally thought of as ‘Yes’ people. They saw an opportunity, they said yes, and followed through to self-made success. Even in speeches and webinars and books, that first ‘yes’ is always referenced as ‘the beginning of it all’. If I hadn’t said yes…

You get the picture.

For us, we said yes many times in the early days of our business. We said yes to our opportunity, we said yes as we opened corporate bank accounts, filed for a state tax id, met with a (free) lawyer and designed our logo. We said yes to tough questions from those around us, too.

Are you sure you want to leave this job? You have a real future here… 

Are you sure this will work?

Do you have any idea what you’re doing? 

Yes, yes, and yes. Yet, as we progressed as a company, we found ourselves saying ‘no’ much more than yes. We had old friends we barely spoke to that wanted to be a part of our business; acquaintances that wanted to help; companies that wanted to purchase our little seedling of a business before it had a chance to blossom. We said no to professional ‘small business advisors’, to corporate bank loans, to people, to other opportunities, to new accounts, to sizeable amounts of money that would cost us any potential we had. No, No, No, No, No.

Every No is what shaped and strengthened our business into the small, albeit strong fortress it is today. Every no was us standing our ground, defining our business under its own terms. Those No’s define what services we do and don’t provide; what we are willing and aren’t willing to do; the kind of clients we want to work with; how we handle conflict; and who we are as a company.

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, you have so much power in the word ‘no’. So many people in each of our lives – especially those that know us well – often ask questions in full expectation of a yes. But no matter who is asking or what they’re asking for, you have a divine right to say no.

No, this doesn’t serve me. No, I can’t do it. No, my plate is already full right now. No.

You deserve your own boundaries, space, and peace – entrepreneur or not.

Entrepreneurial Thoughts: TAXES

I’ve encountered some scary situations in adult life, but none have been as daunting as filing corporate taxes for my small business. It’s our first official calendar year, and we handed over our beloved binder of taped and scanned receipts, expenses, and hand written notes to our CPA. We do all of our own accounting, but since we’ve never filed corporate year-end, we hired an affordable CPA willing to help guide a small business through this hurdle of terror.

As we walked away from his office, we found ourselves relieved. Little fear, no anxiety – just general curiosity about what we’d hear back from the IRS. We’d budgeted and prepared for this every day for the last year, and kept meticulous records of every penny we spent and earned. We knew this was coming, and we were as ready as we could be.

Ironically, many people in both our personal and professional lives had warned us about his moment. They told us that we would never be able to handle our own accounting; we weren’t disciplined, experienced, or possibly capable of running our own show. It was too difficult (it wasn’t), a CPA would be way too expensive (he wasn’t) and the business itself would be too confusing (it wasn’t).

2160c8ba6a06427711207386e42aeb10We had people we both respected and trusted tell us firmly, even aggressively, that we’d never make it out alive. Yet, here we are – moving along into the next year with year-end taxes being a small financial and clerical blip on the radar. I wasn’t sure if I felt lied to, or misguided. Why had people discouraged us so vehemently?

I realized that when you have an idea or new business, you have to be very careful who you listen to. We’ve always been open to advice – in fact, we still are – but this journey has taught me that people can be very defensive of the path they’ve chosen. When they’ve spent 15 years climbing the corporate ladder and you decide to deviate from the status quo and build a set of stairs, a few feathers can easily be ruffled.

Keep in mind that how people meet your idea or new business says more about them than it does about you. Maybe they are terrified of accounting and taxes, and that has deterred them from starting their own business. Or they’ve even had a bad (or terrible) experience with a CPA or the IRS, and are dutifully passing that information on to you to help you escape a similar fate. Or, they might be upset that you’ve chosen to reject the status quo when that status quo is their life – their past, their future, their choices.

Whether you’ve been building your own business for years or considering starting, there’s two things I’ve learned in this first year:

  1. anything is possible with enough research and phone calls
  2. No one – literally no one – really knows what they’re doing.

So, you might as well pursue your dreams – taxes and all.

 

 

 

Missing Hikes & Simpler Life

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A few months ago, I had a serious epiphany at work that shook me to my core. I was sitting in my cubicle grinding away on a grant application, munching on processed snacks and downing my third cup of coffee when I realized something. Or rather, many many legitimately scary things:

This isn’t who I want to be.

This isn’t my path, or purpose….

This is not the way I’m meant to live.

I’m not spoiled, naïve, or unrealistic. I know I need to earn money to pay bills and make a living. I get it. However, that doesn’t mean that working full time is the only way to do so.

After that day, I cut my hours down to part time, got a job teaching soccer at various preschools, and found myself with an abundance of time. Time to hike, run, train, surf, play, read, write, nap….you name it, I could do it.

Living that was beautiful, simple, and stress free. As you might expect, it wasn’t all that lucrative. I struggled and blossomed all at once, and realized I had a more important dream than doing nothing: creating a career I love by building my own business.

My boyfriend and I started our own company – a real, adulty, official LLC. It’s been lots of late nights, early mornings, crazy afternoons and jam packed work. I have less time now to surf and hike and play than I ever have, but the fulfillment of building and working for our own life is radically different than working for someone else’s dreams. We’re chasing our own, and even the daily grind of constant tasks and small fires are fulfilling on a much deeper level.

Running a business and keeping up our side jobs is a lot of work, but it’s not a lot of stress. We’re physically tired, but we’re spiritually vibrant and mentally sharp. We’re worn out, but we’re happy. We don’t have as much time to go to the beach or hike or adventure, but every day is filled with a different kind of fun and satisfaction.

Our lives aren’t simple right now, but we’re building a foundation for a happier, simpler, and easier life for the rest of our time here on this earth – one hand-laid brick at a time.

Cheers to the end game,

Nikki