Michael Adams

Trying to make each day better than the last and writing about it.

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Why you should sword fight with friends

I just came back from San Francisco visiting friends for a few days and gorging on copious amounts of specialty foods at the Winter Fancy Food Show.

It was fantastic. Despite my travel delays, forgetting my license while standing at the front of the security line in Burlington, and getting shin splints walking three hours a day in San Francisco, it was a much needed trip that encouraged deep-thought.

Today, I’m writing about the thoughts I had on the plane home to Vermont.

The flight caused me to reflect on how important these close, intimate relationships with my friends are. But, I realized they’re important for reasons I hadn’t considered before. What am I talking about?

Friends are there to challenge you.

They want to push you – get you off the couch to exercise, apply to a new job, and get out of an emotionally-risky relationship. When you turn left, friends make you strongly consider turning right.

If all your friends did was bring you cookies and pretend everything was ok, they wouldn’t be too much of a friend (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not refusing cookies). But, take this other scenario: A friend brings over a sharpened sword and says “I want to sword fight” you’d probably run the other direction,right?.

But you can’t. You have to face the friends who present you with challenges. You can’t just run away from it.

That’s pressure. Pressure to remain calm, think about your next move and execute. Do you swing randomly or wait to make the next move? You clashed swords? Try another angle. Go for the knees. Eventually, one of you will win. An idea, trip, perspective, or opinion will be impaled. It’ll die. But, you’ll feel challenged. Challenged by another perspective – another person outside of your personal comfort zone. Challenged by the words you didn’t want to hear.

But, that’s what friends are for.

Friends help you prepare for the bigger battle.

When I hang out with my friends, conversations are deep. They’re about life, finance, relationships, challenges at work, and trying to find happiness in it all. Friends are there to help you train. To face your fears. And to help you realize something you may never have known.

I look for people who challenge me, encourage me to defend my beliefs, and stand-up for what I believe in. Friends who are there for the training and the aftermath. Friends who will go to battle.

Find friends who will help you go to battle.

Because that’s what life is. It’s a battle. And you have to be prepared.


What I Learned After Taking a Month Off From Blogging

Notice the lack of posts, lately? Yep – I took a couple weeks off, just to see what would happen (oh, and handle one hell of a busy holiday season with my mustard company). Not much changed, but I did make a couple observations:

1. One third of my blog’s traffic goes to one blog post

And it’s a blog post that I don’t even want to known for: I Give Up! 7 Reasons I’m Done With Online Dating. It has over 70 comments from people, both male and female, who have been through similar experiences. These are random people writing multiple paragraphs – literally spilling their feelings onto the web. I get 1-2 new comments a week. It blows my mind. But, it’s the only post that really drives traffic to this blog. You can see my other top posts in the sidebar. Basically, for a blog that is meant to be about continuous improvement, happiness, and an honest look at an entrepreneur’s life, the last thing I wanted was a post about online dating to make my blog “famous”. Oh well – what can you do?

2. I’m writing for myself

I totaled up my writing for 2013. I’ve written over 300,000 words across every marketing channel. From blogs to e-books, white papers to sales page copy. And it’s all helping me become a better writer. After all, that is the goal, right? Practice makes perfect. If you do something every day for a prolonged period of time logic says you’ll get better at it. That’s my take. And it’s my new outlook for this blog: I’m writing for myself. Want to read my writing? That’s cool.

3. Make time for activities that generate a return

I have a lot going on: contract work, software company, mustard company, three blogs, family, friends, gym, etc. I know I’m just like every other person out there with a “busy” life, but something has got to go. First on the chopping block are activities where I’m not seeing a return. This blog is tops on the list. While it’s great to have a professional presence on the web, other activities, like my companies, require more attention now. My shift in focus is necessary to be successful in 2014.

4. I have 11 people on my email list (ha-ha?)

And I know 3 of them. On the plus side, one of them isn’t my Mom, either (although she does read this because my posts go directly to Facebook). Back to those 11 people. You read online about “how to grow your email list” and “get 10,000 subscribers in three months!” After realizing number two on this list, it shouldn’t matter how many people are signed up to get my blog posts delivered to their inbox each morning. And I know the number will grow if people find value in what I’m writing. So, I’m letting it grow organically. If you want to sign up, throw your email in that little grey box on the right side of your screen. Thanks!

With that being said, here’s what’s changing moving forward into 2014:

  • I’m writing on my own schedule, when I have something, I feel, needs to be said. Maybe that’s once a month or three times a week. Whatever.
  • I want to encourage conversation on my blog with less emphasis on “building a list” (I have my other blogs for that)
  • And I want my blog to rank for more than just my post about online dating. (But, it is hilarious that its gotten 73 comments.)

Have you learned anything when you stopped doing something you routinely did? Let me know in the comments below — start the discussion off!

The Presentation that No One Came to See

I was scheduled to speak at a Voices of Leadership series at Burlington College on Monday of this week. The presentation room was all set. My powerpoint, titled “10 lessons learned from 10 years in business” was projected on the screen. And I sat and waited for attendees to show up.

Nobody came.

While I enjoyed my conversation with Angela, the woman who put this series together, I drove home wondering why no one showed up. Maybe I didn’t have enough credibility? Maybe the event fell on deaf ears or maybe it was “just an off night.” Regardless, here’s my presentation with a lose transcript of what was in my head below the slideshow:

1. Age Doesn’t Matter

I started my first company when I was 15 years old. I sold cookies in front of a hair salon in downtown Richmond, VT, just to make enough money to go to the movies with my friends. And you know what? People have started even younger than me, and three times as old as me. Age is just a number. Start a company and follow your passion. Let your age play to your advantage.

2. Never Stop Learning

I’m always reading – books, blogs, pdf’s, meeting with people who are smarter than me, etc. I’ll never know everything, but I can get close. Learn what you want to learn. Make it something completely different from your day job. For me, right now, it’s food photography and video production.  Sure, both help me in my core businesses, but I have limited skill in both areas.

3. Be Different

I interned for Magic Hat Brewing in the Summer of 2008. Their iconic founder, Alan Newman, sat all the interns down and walked us through a presentation about Magic Hat and what made they different. As he began the story of bringing Magic Hat to life he said one thing that has stuck with me since 2008. Look at the entire industry and do something completely different. How can you differentiate yourself? Is it in your customer service level, the nice serve, your packaging, or maybe the precision equipment and tools you use. Be different. Be unique.

4. Write

Man, did I hate to write a couple years ago. Blogging was a chore. Research papers were the death of me. And heaven forbid I write a book. Well, I’ve done all of three – and a lot more. Writing is a skill everyone needs to develop. Write more. Write in a journal, start a blog, write copy for your company’s website. The more you write the better you’ll get at it. And keep a conversational tone. No one wants to read corporate jargon.

5. Help People

I do a lot for free – free advice, design, food start-up consulting. I give it all away because I know eventually it will get back to me. It not only connects me with more people (see #8), it builds my credibility in the industry. Plus, I find that when I find other people who extend a hand, our relationship is stronger and they tend to connect me with more givers. Keep giving. Be patient. You’ll get eventually.

6. Execute

Just do it. Screw the planning, the SWOT analysis, and the money. Do something for a few hundred bucks, build a website. Get off your butt and talk to people about your business idea. File an LLC with the state. Whatever is stopping you – just do it. Laziness is no longer an execute. Plus, your side project is a HUGE boost to your resume.

7. Shut up & Listen

Many people love to talk, talk, talk. That’s all they do. If I’ve learned anything, it’s shut up and listen. Who are you talking to? What do they do? Are they facing any challenges? How can you help them (yep, #5 again)? I like to talk only when I have something of value to say. Other than that, I’m a pretty quiet person. Nothing says you have to be extroverted or introverted. Just pay attention and listen. Ask questions. Listen again. If more of the world listened, we’d be in a better place.

8. Build Your Network

Nothing gets done when you’re in your apartment playing World of Warcraft. No one knows you. No one knows what you’re working on. Get out there and talk to people. Go to industry events, get coffee with anyone who will listen, join the local chamber or business association and attend their meetings. It’s hard to build something by yourself. That’s why you need a team of people who are going to help you succeed. The only way to do that is to build your network.

9. Learn to Like Roller Coasters

Entrepreneurship is the worst roller coaster I’ve ever been on. It’s not like Six Flags. Let me give you an example: in the morning, you start with a quick win, then all hell breaks lose. Then you’re back to receiving a big order. Then you lose an order. And not to mention your production line is having problems and the local news wants to interview you.  It’s like being sent out to sea in choppy waters. Your business is your boat. Get ready for a wild ride, put your hands up and enjoy it.

10. Fail

I’ve started several companies. Some I’ve just let go because they weren’t working. But, I learned a lot. When you start your own company, don’t be afraid of failure. What you’re building might not work – even if it’s software or a pug-walking business. And if it doesn’t get off the ground, what did you learn (remember, lesson #2)? Take what you’ve learned and use it to build something so much better the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time around.

I ended with this quote: “If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs.” I love it. I love it. I love it. I finally realized I was a cog in someone else’s wheel. Now, I’m doing everything I can to bring my dreams to life.

So, that’s what I’ve learned. Yes, it’s a shame no one came to see the presentation, but now it’s up for the whole world to see.

Do you own a business? What have been some of your most valuable lessons?

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