The Number 1 Sign That Trouble is Brewing

business silence At 6PM last night, all I wanted was Chinese food. Some veggie lo mein, an eggroll and some miso soup and I would have raped a polar bear to get it. Thankfully, my Twitter followers came through in spades to recommend a joint just a wok, skip and a jump from my lily pad. A phone call, quick car ride and a dishing-up later, I was back in front of the computer to work and get my Chinese fix.

And it was very quiet.

I have two three-year-old dogs. Hippopotamus (55 lbs) and Penelope (12 lbs) have free run of the house and I leave the back door open so they can do what they will. When they’re quiet, it freaks me out.

I got up from my office chair and walked out into the living room to find Big Dog and Small Dog on the cream-colored mid-century modern vintage sofa with a organeish-pink smear in front of them. They’d scored a cup of sweet and sour sauce. <insert expletive here>

Today’s blog is sponsored by Shout and one of these. Thank god for polyester blend upholstery.

Silence. It’s the number one sign that trouble is brewing in your business. We bitch and moan about our inboxes filling up and incessant phone calls, but here it is: that deafening silence? A sure-fire bet that you’re about to be hosed. When the clients stop asking questions, when the new business inquiries stop coming in, it’s likely a function of something you’ve done.

Or more importantly, not done.

And to some extent, we’re all a bit afraid of the phone ringing and emails pouring in, because they we have to figure out how to deal with the noise. I’m no different – there’s an Oh Shit factor attached to every one of my communication devices. But here are some ways I’ve come to welcome and deal with the noise, because the longer I deal with it, the more it begins to sound like a killer Etta James tune than a jackhammer outside my window:

  • Flag Football: There’s a flag football game going on in my inbox. If I can’t get back to something immediately, I flag it with the goal that I don’t close the computer for the day until I deal with my flags. And while sometimes that doesn’t happen, I can sort my inbox by flagged items at any time and see where I can eat crow and get back to people ASAP.
  • Program Your Phone: I try to get every one of my client phone numbers into my cell phone as soon as possible. Why? Because sometimes I have to ignore a call and I’m diligent about returning calls. Know who’s calling. Call them back. This keeps the phone ringing and also makes use of valuable car time. On the road? Call a client to touch base. Say hello. It’s the human side of your relationships (and the side that is often the most fun).
  • Get Help: Dear business owner – You cannot do this alone. How many times do I have to say this? Amber Naslund had a great post earlier this week about email management and I admitted that I sucked. One of my followers contacted me that she’s a wiz with organization systems. BAM. You’re hired. She logs into my computer via LogMeIn when I’m offline for the evening and is getting me sorted out. There are a lot of things that I outsource so that I can pay attention to the parts of my business that keep business rolling in. And yes, they cost money. But it’s a small price to pay for sleeping at night, going to the gym in the morning and having ME at my beck and call 24/7.
  • Manage the Asks: I met up with my colleague Doyle Albee earlier this week and he talked about The Levels of Ask. (And my friend, I can’t remember the blogger you mentioned who pioneered the concept, but weigh in down below if you can.) Lots of people will ask for your time. Favors. Access to your connections. Resources. You have to weigh these asks and sometimes, the asks are out of whack with the relationship level. For instance: if you’ve just met or have never met me and want to take me to lunch…that’s a HUGE ask. That’s time and intellectually intensive. However, if you drop me a two-line email with a simple question, I’m probably going to respond even though I’ve never met you. Different level of ask. You can’t give your time to everyone though everyone (quite simply) deserves it, so managing the asks will help you feel less shortchanged and make you, ultimately, more helpful. And some people just don’t know how much of your time they’re asking for. What seems small to them (coffee/lunch) might be a huge ask in your eyes.

There are times I love silence at they are usually ones that come when I’ve closed the MacBook and I get to pay attention to The Real World. But that’s my personal time. Silence in my business? Never a good thing. It means you’ve left something on the counter in Big Dog’s reach and you’re about to walk out and find a hot mess on your sofa. Polyester blend upholstery or not, cleaning it up is a bitch. Do what you can to keep momentum. Keep the noise coming. And soon enough, you’ll hear the rhythm in the chaos. It’s soothing, I assure you.

27 comments
Erica Allison
Erica Allison

Quiet in my house means the 2 1/2 year old woman child has gotten into my black nail polish and is delicately painting not just her nails, but 2/3 of each finger on her white shag carpet. Whoa, Nelly! Quiet in my business world...same thing. Something dangerous is about to go down. Like Kneale says below, just being busy doesn't always mean good stuff, but crickets and a quiet toddler don't always mean peace in the valley. Quiet for me means get my arse in gear in and go rustle up some work, check in with my current clients, and generally take stock! I like your flag football system and so need to better manage the ask -that's a rabbit hole for sure! Thanks, as always, for the laugh out loud read and the great tips.

Kneale Mann
Kneale Mann

I'm one of those weirdos who actually doesn't think busy is a badge of honor or that tweeting your non-stop busy-ness non-stop all freakin' day makes you look like a [expletive removed]. The quietness, we've all felt it, is not good. All too often there is a storm brewing and it's not filled with that pesky bottom line building material we call money. I've been in business or working for someone else for 852 years (true story) and I still don't know how to ask most days. So there, I admit it, right out here in front of everyone. But it is clear by phones calls, meetings and email that many others do not share the same issue. I had one feller ask me for "my opinion" on their new business venture and for me to "just check out" their new software solution. So, I asked him about his budget and the sound of crickets filled the air. Asking is good. And good call on the dog cages.

~joan
~joan

I had never met you and I asked you to lunch... and you said yes and I frequently thank my lucky-ass stars you did!!! Tell me more about LOGMEIN and angel follower...... PLEASE!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Thanks for the clarification, Doyle! And yes, you're in the Big Ask pool, indeed!

Marian Schembari
Marian Schembari

I totally know what you mean and this post is SO spot on. It was feeling too quiet last month and I knew that wasn't a positive thing. It's important to be aware of this sign as you can immediately change your habits (or whatever). The second I feel that silence I immediately start upping my game. Works like a charm every time :) I love the variety in your posts, lady. Honestly, everything you write is a total gem.

Ana Lucia Novak
Ana Lucia Novak

Great post, I finally set up filters in my Gmail box, so my emails go directly into a file folder. I check those folders first thing in the morning, mid day and evening, that way I check what's important to me, and then schedule a reading time later in the day to catch up from all other misc. emails. Love your story about the dogs!

Sara
Sara

I loved this post. Helpful, insightful, and as always easy to read. I don't know what I did before I had you...and your blog. Thanks... as always!

The Redhead
The Redhead

The handoff...no kidding, right? Talk about thoughts from one control freak to another. But my blood pressure's gone down for the better :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Always good to have another look, isn't it? Great to see you again, Jess!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Sure thing, Leah - it's a reminder I need on occasion as well!

Leah_M
Leah_M

Hmm good mention about the Levels of Ask. Most the time if I invite someone new for coffee or a beer, it's so that I can grab the tab (that's my 'give' for 'receiving' some of their time & energy). But what I think of as a 'casual Ask' they may see as a very 'personal Ask'. Thanks for reminding me.

Chere
Chere

Really nice, Erika. I find myself in the middle of a week with little sleep and massive to-do lists and fantasizing about an evening with a movie, snuggling with my dogs and a real conversation with my hubby. (This is what I call the money-making pace.) It drives me a little crazy but I love it too. At the same time, I need to trust my biz savvy enough to give out more work than I do. As you know, it's tough to hand off what one has been handling for so long. But it's gotta be done! Okay, now I'm rambling but I suppose it's my way of saying: thanks for reminding me that none of us business owners are alone in these experiences. Cheers!

ColinP
ColinP

Couldn't agree more. I would rather be crazy busy then have absolutely nothing to do.

Michael LaRocca
Michael LaRocca

If it shows up in my email box (or RSS feed -- same to me), and it's got dogs or cats in it, it's a winner. I love Hippo and Penelope. I used to have a big dog/little dog vibe going at my old place in North Carolina. If your story had happened to me, and if I'd successfully salvaged the furniture and could calm myself down, I'd be giving the dogs (Daisy and Bebe at my place) cups of that sticky orange sauce on the kitchen floor every day. What the heck? My vet finally quit telling me to put my girls on diets and just shook his head, but they weren't but 5 pounds overweight each. I'm a bit more than that myself. Oh. Another fine blog post. I got distracted by the dogs. Or maybe I just felt good that I could put something in these comments (even something stupid) instead of my usual thoughts of, "Amen, sister! Tell it girl!" True enough and kinda nice, but not exactly a dialogue, so I try not to do it. Just like I try not to eat that sticky orange "Chinese" sauce. I lived in China for over 6 years, and they don't eat it there. They invented it just for us. Good, ain't it? I wag my tail for it.

Killian
Killian

Levels of Ask. I like that. I have such a vast array of Asks hitting me at any given time, and that makes me run smack into Ask's other little bastard cousin, Guilt. Both of them get on my last fucking nerve sometimes.