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Creative Lifestyle

Occasionally I like to pause and think about the goodies that make my daily life and work feel richer, easier, and all around better. I often do this when I’m caught in a tidepool of glittering possibilities (like right now) and am trying to step firmly toward the soft shores of clarity.

Abby Kerr is Creative Director of The Voice BureauHere are the 6 best things I’ve discovered/done/read in 2014, so far.

(No affiliate links; just sharing because I love.)

DDP Yoga

DDP Yoga’s Voice Values, most likely: Power, Audacity, Helpfulness, Community

Being the purist and the aesthete that I am, I never imagined myself taking a former WWF wrestler as my yoga teacher. (I know.) I saw Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) pitch his yoga-at-home DVD program on Shark Tank, and was almost immediately sold. As someone who has been alternately very physically active for years at a time and then pretty sedentary, due to pesky overuse injuries and lifestyle (the writing habit is a pretty sedentary one if left unchecked), I had a feeling DDP’s approach to yoga-as-physical rehab could work for me.

I deal with chronic inflammation in my tissues and ligaments. I trained up to 30 hours a week as a pre-professional classical ballet dancer through my adolescent and teen years. I’ve always been hyperflexible with hyperextended joints (i.e. when I straighten my elbows or knees, they go past straight). Ballet’s emphasis on being super stretchy and elongated had already jacked me, followed by years of heavy lifting at the gym on overstretched ligaments (I used both machines and with free weights, all with great form, but still), followed by overzealous stretching during yoga practice. All this plus a decidedly high inflammatory diet — one of my unprettiest admissions, but true: when I’m not eating clean, I’m eating cheese, butter, white flour, and burgers and fries — makes for a very inflamed body.

DDP’s approach couples basic yoga poses with basic physical therapy. Plus he uses dynamic resistance (i.e. intentional body weight resistance) to help “jack up” your heart rate for greater fat burn. It feels good and it works. Plus, it’s guy-friendly and safe for those who have no interest in traditional yoga’s spiritual component.

While I’m still zenning out my tissues with rest, ice, gentle massage, and ibuprofen (and moving toward eating clean more consistently), I’m also gaining rapidly in strength, core fitness, and postural alignment. I feel back in my body, and that makes everything better.

Tara Brach’s podcast

Tara Brach’s Voice Values, most likely: Intimacy, Depth, Legacy

I was never attracted to Buddhism because of what I perceived as its ascetic austerity and denial of the self. But ever since TWO people who know me well recommended her podcast to me, it’s become my daily (and often nightly) listen. Brach is a clinical psychologist and a leading western teacher of mindfulness meditation. Her gentle, embodied, humorous, intelligent guidance on being “right here” (I can hear her saying the phrase as I type it) and accepting exactly what is has really helped defuse my nervous system and make me a more present business person, partner, friend, and person.

Body Oil from Etta + Billie

Etta + Billie’s Voice Values, most likely: Transparency, Clarity, Excellence

I’d been in search of a smartly packaged, organic, just-right-smelling body oil line to forever replace lotion, and this one is it. Etta + Billie is handcrafted in San Francisco by Alana Rivera. I always flip my wig over modern vintage design, so the packaging of this line turned my head. I’ve been alternating Lavender one day with Grapefruit and Cardamom the next. Slicking this oil on after a bath or shower makes me smell delicious and feel rapturously anointed.

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

Tartt’s Voice Values, most likely: Legacy, Enthusiasm, Depth

This is the 2014 Pulitzer Price winner and rightfully so. Ten pages in, I knew I’d be giving it 5 stars on GoodReads. Terrorism, adolescent drug and alchohol use, awareness of class issues, New York City legend and lore, and the fine art and antiques world. It’s all here. A chunk of a read at 800+ pages, this book’s epic scope makes it the twin to Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, but set in contemporary times.

I’ve especially loved reading up on the notoriously private Tartt herself, to whom my own fiction was compared by Lee K. Abbott, then director of the MFA program way back at Ohio State when I was an undergrad (!!!).

Deleting my color-blocked “What I Should Ideally Be Doing At This Time of Day, 5 Days a Week” schedule from Google Calendar

Google’s Voice Values, most likely: Innovation, Playfulness, Community

I finally did it. No more time tyranny by pixels. I like the idea of being a structured-to-the-quarter-hour person who lives happily by her calendar, but I’m just not. I need to flow like a stream, buffered by several well-placed rocks. Segmenting my Monday-Friday into color-coded blocks of time prescribed for “yoga, coffee, shower” or “prolific time: write!” just hasn’t been working for me for a good while, and I finally decided to stop pretending it someday might.

Not changing my brand’s color palette on a whim

My Voice Values (for sure): Power, Excellence, Depth, Clarity, Intimacy

Some months back, I’d emailed Allie and told her, “I need to shift something up, visually. Can we try recreating a similar vibe with this new color palette I found?” I sent her a secret digital passel of images showing the new palette, and we tried it on for size, but it just didn’t sing. And I kept comparing all the mockups to what was on my site already, and missing the signature pop of saffron yellow we have going on.

So instead of mixing up the palette, we tweaked the Home page in subtle ways, and I’m adjusting the intimacy level of the whole brand conversation. On some level, I like formal; I like official; I like ‘comfortable prestige’ — it’s me, it’s my personality. Someone close to me once described me as “an 80 year-old grandma, a 19 year-old rapper, and a 40 year-old Victorian lady all in one package.”

Yep. That feels about right. My natural tendency is to maintain a polite, polished reserve until I can see you eye to eye, one-to-one, and then I’ll use my inside voice — that is, inside closed doors. Like Donna Tartt, I’m pretty private.

But this year, I’m cracking the door just a bit wider open. For one, with posts like these.

In the comments, I’d love to know:

What’s one of your best non-business finds of 2014 so far? And, if you care to share, what are your top Voice Values?

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When I read that Gwyneth Paltrow and her musician hubby Chris Martin were ‘consciously uncoupling’ (AKA breaking up), I gasped and smiled.

But not for the reasons you might think.

Abby Kerr of The Voice Bureau and Tami Dawn Smith of The Dawning Point discuss their business uncouplingYou see, I’ve just gone through an uncoupling process of my own. My primary collaborative partner over the past two years and I are going our separate ways. We’ve consciously uncoupled — and we’re co-writing this post to tell you all about it.

If you’ve been following The Voice Bureau for a while, you know that a big part of my work over the past 2 years has been accomplished in collaboration with Tami Smith. Together we created a holistic consulting service called Empathy Marketing, as well as four successful DIY programs for values-based solo business owners. For the past couple years, Tami and I have been meeting at least weekly to collaborate, plan, design, create, and facilitate our joint ventures.

And then, beginning a couple of months ago, Tami and I began a series of really honest conversations. It turns out that even as we enjoyed collaborating, we were both feeling called to pursue individual projects. And we both came to the realization — organically and yet with a tinge of surprise — that pursuing these projects would mean laying down our collaboration for the foreseeable future.

“I can’t believe it. We’re breaking up,” I said to her one day, over the phone.

“We’re not breaking up. We’re UNCOUPLING,” she said.

“Uncoupling,’”as described by Katherine Woodward Thomas, was a process Tami had recently gone through in her romantic relationship.

Tami, I’ll let you take over from here.


The truth is, my whole uncoupling process with Jeffrey was painful. Eeek. Wouldn’t want to go through that again, and of course, I never will. That is the way of it. Once the principles of uncoupling are understood, they apply to everything. Uncoupling doesn’t always mean ending a relationship, which is surprising to most people. Uncoupling, as I’m interested in it, is about unhooking from the needs of a relationship and seeing what remains.

I think having gone through an experience where I uncoupled and yet stayed in the relationship changed the way I view relationships in every form. Because of the level of consciousness you and I were both at, and the way we communicated, our uncoupling was much smoother! It is a joy to begin and end when we are aware of what we are doing.


Agree. The decision to begin working separately, on separate ventures, as opposed to collaboratively under The Voice Bureau, seemed to arise really naturally for the two of us. But it wasn’t without some, shall we say, emoting on my part. Working through the kinks is always a part of any transition. Most of my kinks weren’t even with YOU, but within myself — what it meant that we were uncoupling, what it meant for the brand, for my work. Existential narcissism.

Because our collaborative work has been such a huge piece of The Voice Bureau’s approach and offerings up until now, I wanted to share some of our internal process with you readers and friends around deciding to go our separate ways.

In the past, we’ve had questions from our clients and course participants about how we manage our collaboration. Now’s as good a time as any to talk about one important part of collaborating, which is knowing when, why, and how to separate.


Yes. I know some people are wondering about what happened, and what we are going to do about Empathy Marketing and the work we co-created.

It probably seems like something that happened abruptly, to outsiders.

The real story might not be as juicy as a falling-out over an incident! LOL :) I’ve seen a few people in social media talking about collaboration and if there are any good teachings on how to make it work, so I know there’s interest in what we did and why we are going separate ways.


I also really want you to talk about what you’re doing next.


I would love to talk about what I’m doing next. It really did come from insight through our collaboration.

One thing I realized is that the more we moved away from deep interaction with clients, the less happy I was. Our collaboration highlighted our individual strengths and the types of relationships we want to have with clients. The beauty is neither way is right or wrong. As long as we are in our strength, and operating from our values, we can’t go wrong.


You know, I didn’t realize that you felt you were working outside your strengths in our collaboration.

I definitely felt, especially toward the end, that we were biting off way more in our offerings (especially in the DIYs, at those price points) than was advisable or sustainable (or good for clients, who only have a certain amount of bandwidth within any time period). But I didn’t actually know that you would have wanted more 1:1 time with clients.

What is so interesting to me is that you, Tami, were feeling like you weren’t getting enough one-to-one client time, and I was feeling like I was having my upper limit of it.

Any more would have been too much for me. Owning what I want here, so publicly, makes me feel like a jerk, in a way. I’m afraid someone’s going to pop out from the wings and say, “You’re an asshole! What do you mean you want LESS client interaction? Why do you even have a business?” It’s that whole there’s a best way to own and operate a values-based microbusiness and getting cozy with clients is IT! But rationally, and from my heart, I know that’s not the case.

So, you’re right, Tami: our preferred ways of working are fairly different, and neither is “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong” — they just are. I am definitely the “creator in the garret” type. I love the experience of working in near isolation, and do best with less connection overall. Of course, I NEED connection — we all do — but perhaps I’m just in a season where too much connection throws me off my center. For my own work and my own spiritual path right now, I’m learning to trust what is inside, at my core.


I think I could talk about this stuff ALL day. This is the first truly inspired insight I’ve had and it only came through the experience of working outside of my strength, in our collaboration. I’m so grateful for all we did and created together; for what it showed me about myself. It fits so perfectly into the Voice Values methodology.


Well, I think sometimes we don’t even realize we’re NOT in our sweet spot until we’ve been out of it for a while, consistently. We then realize what we’re missing or what we’d like more of. It’s like trying out veganism or vegetarianism — some people realize that hey, this is totally what my body needed this whole time. I feel so much better. And other people feel like, wow, if I could just have two eggs a day, I’d feel more satiated. Or, I’m really missing animal protein. I need to eat some grass-fed beef a couple times a month.

Funny comparison, but I think it works. We know what we need, if we listen closely.

So let’s talk about what we learned from collaborating, and how it’s shaping what we’re doing next.


The biggest lesson, for me, came from the mirroring I saw in clients who had these BIG, hard to understand services and fuzzy value propositions. I could see that was being mirrored to us. We had a way-too-big service.

My desire to hone-in led to a problem I really wanted to solve. In The Dawning Point I’m working with a slice, not the whole pie. I understand the other pieces of the pie, which makes me better at what I do, but they are not mine to work with directly.

My slice is working with the brainworkers.

Those pioneers, strategists, and consultants who don’t work in the realm of tactics and tangible deliverables. There are a whole lot of us out here trying to work in the same mold as handworkers — the beautiful crafters, freelancers, designers, artists, and writers — because that is all we know. Things work differently for people who “have a hard time describing their work” and value prop. I’m ready to take it on and create a solution for this pressing problem.


I love that you’re bringing up the differences between traditional service model businesses and the more amorphous, coaching or consulting businesses we see out there. You’re right: it can be REALLY hard for some businesses to say what they do in a simple way because the results aren’t tangible or even quantifiable.

One thing I learned through our collaboration is that I was working with the right clients — finally! — but for me, the bespoke consulting, 2-to-1, wasn’t my ‘flow format.’ It wasn’t a WRONG format, but it wasn’t my total sweet spot, either. I used to be a classroom teacher (I taught high school), and for me, the 1-to-many model is where it’s at. I just feel creatively electric and compassionately synergistic delivering my work in that way.

Not to throw Enneagram into it, but . . . okay, I’m bringing Enneagram into it. I’m a Type 4, the Individualist, so for me, one way I identify is through autonomy, being unique, being different. Too much ‘people time’ or ’identifying with others’ or even ‘service’ time can easily make me feel overwhelmed, clouded, lost. (Confessing this makes me feel like a real diva. I don’t want to be too attached to labels or identities. I know I’m more than a ‘type,’ but I also appreciate the universal shorthand.) Also, the stress point for a Type 4 is to start acting like a stressed-out Type 2, which is The Helper/The Servant/The Caretaker. When I’m caretaking and busy-bodying and trying to be all things to all people or even just involved in lots of people’s affairs — that’s NOT me shining, that’s me being extremely stressed out. Noticing and honoring all these discoveries about myself help keep me centered and balanced and in-flow.

You know how we teach what we need to learn?

Well, the Voice Values paradigm for branding is my deepest teaching. I’m still unpacking it, methodologizing it, getting ready to share it with more transparency and fluency to my readers and clients. And I’m learning to honor and TRUST my Voice Values, and my values in general.

I have a high Power value, which for me, is all about personal power and self-efficacy and being able to teach and translate those to clients through my work. One way I express my personal power is by keeping a very sacred space around my daily hours, my creative time, even my mind and what I allow into it. I don’t think I’m overly precious or superstitious about it (good Lord, I try not to be), but I notice that the more I safeguard and honor it, the better I feel and the richer my work and easier my output feels. And it makes me a better friend and partner and dog mom and everything.

Another Voice Value I struggle with is my high Intimacy value.

(For those who’ve worked with me or followed my work closely, you know that I’ve tested previously as having a high Legacy value, but more recently, I’ve been testing with higher Intimacy than Legacy.)

I notice my high Intimacy value in the language I choose when writing or speaking about my work. It’s all about coming closer. And at the same time, I have a very LOW Transparency value. I’m extremely private, probably to a fault. So in my languaging through my brand, I have to make sure my Intimacy value doesn’t come off as a ‘bait and switch.’ Come this close, but WAIT — stop right there. Don’t come any closer. Intimacy, for me, is not the same as sharing everything. And it’s not the same as full access.

Tami, what does your high Intimacy value look like?


Intimacy as a Voice Value always puzzled me. Out of all the Voice Values I scored highest in, I was most interested in this one and what it meant, especially paired with high Innovation. I started looking at my experience over the last five years as a solopreneur to see what the patterns might be telling me about this combination of Intimacy and Innovation. I didn’t look like a person with high Intimacy. I couldn’t see closeness between my clients and myself and that really bothered me. I wondered if it was the high Innovation coloring my experience and overshadowing the voice that longs for rich, meaningful, and individualized conversations. Innovation was obvious to me. I couldn’t see how Intimacy played a role until I realized that what activated innovation was the desire to understand. I wanted an intimate understanding of my ideal client’s problem.

I thrive when I’m solving problems and when there is an exchange of ideas. I’ve been slowly uncovering hidden aspects of myself, unraveling my scripts to understand my own desire and what the hell I’m supposed to do with what I have. I know that my work in becoming intimate with who I am has been foundational and critical to the work I’m most interested in doing.

So Intimacy is starting to take center stage, and will be much more apparent in the new brand I’m launching.


To get back to slices — I want a really tiny slice, too. For me, that slice is brand voice. That’s my sweet spot, my obsession, and where I can feel most prolific and be most of service. And with my high Depth value, I yearn to go really deeply into it.  I suspect you feel the same way about your new project, Tami.


I think I’ve struggled with finding my sweet spot more than most!

I’m an INFP (borderline introvert/extrovert) and Enneagram Type 7 (The Enthusiast) which makes for a dangerous combination of always wanting to know more, experience everything, and share experiences with other people. I was the child who was adored for my sweetness and loathed for my talkativeness and questioning.

It actually makes a lot of sense as I think about the natural sanguine aspects of my personality. I value intuition, insight thinking, intimacy in relationships, curiosity, and being present in the moment. I’m finally trusting myself and giving myself permission to work in a way that leverages my strengths. It is amazing to see the difference in expression that is coming through my new brand. I can feel the shift as this alignment with my strengths come into focus, and for the first time I can tell people who I am, and what I want. This shift is a result of staying with the process of uncoupling, first in my romantic relationship and then through ending our collaboration. Reminds me of the expression, “Comfort and growth are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.”


Whoa. That’s a good one. I’m going to remember that one.


Should we talk about what Empathy Marketing meant to us, why we wanted to collaborate on this project? What is going to happen to Empathy Marketing now? What aspects are incorporated into our individual work and how is our individual work different from Empathy Marketing?


Yep, definitely.

Empathy Marketing, to me, was the most validating collaborative experience I’ve ever had in business. Putting my unique perspective on brand voice and content creation together with yours on persona development and understanding ourselves in our businesses — for me, it was nothing short of feeling the earth move. It was so cool to see the power and the impact of two complementary methodologies working together. Now that is a takeaway for our readers — when you think you see someone out there whose approach complements yours in a magical away, it can be unbelievably important to explore that. If you want to. ;) (Speaking to my fellow Type 4s.)

I believe wholeheartedly in what you and I created together, Tami.

I ADORE the clients we were fortunate to serve in our DIY workshops and two-on-one in Empathy Marketing consultations. And I enjoyed working with you so much. You helped me to slow down and look a little more deeeply than I was used to looking (we share that high Depth value, you know), to question things not just once but twice or three times before making a decision. You helped me to reframe beliefs I’d had about the way things were supposed to work. And the best part of it, for me, was that we became true friends through our collaboration. We worked together virtually and person, you visited my home. We had dinner together in Seattle with our partners. It’s been awesome. And I am really glad we are maintaining that part, our friendship!

So, the business gist is, we’re putting Empathy Marketing into the vault for the foreseeable future.

We have no plans to relaunch the DIY Workshops we did together. We feel — if I might speak for myself and Tami here (and if not, Tami, let me know) — that we did the work we were meant to do together in the time we were meant to do it.

And now we’re in a new time.

Tami, what can you share about the work you’re doing in your new brand? How does it relate to Empathy Marketing, if at all?


Well, going deeper into the intersections of brand Voice combined with Buyer Persona development, the work we did in Empathy Marketing was fascinating. Empathy Marketing was good at exposing the big picture and we learned invaluable insights from the work we did together.

As you said, it was more than a business collaboration because we shared our perspectives and ideas to allow something new to develop. Learning to collaborate at this level helped us to see ourselves and our strengths, which is an amazing gift. It was the best experience and perfect in the way it rolled out. I agree it feels like we did what we were meant to do.

As it became clear that we were moving in different directions with our individual preferences and where we wanted to focus, I gave myself permission to look at what I wanted to do in a way I had never allowed myself to explore before. I realized that while I can work in the details of organic SEO and translating buyer language to content strategy, what I wanted to do was to work at understanding and uncovering the things that block us from knowing what to do, and where to focus, as entrepreneurs. For people who are in the role of a strategist or consultant — you know, where what you are selling is intangible or pioneering in some way — knowing what to do and where to focus is doubly challenging.


Oh, yes. And we saw a lot of those types of businesses in our collaboration. Working with them can be richly rewarding, and also uniquely challenging.

So, your new brand is The Dawning Point.


Yes. The Dawning Point was born from the desire to honor the way insight informs business decisions. I think it is easy to understand the importance of dawning points and we instinctually know we should pay attention to our a-ha moments. It just isn’t easy to see a way to create a structure where we can use our insights in a practical way.

So to answer your question about how it relates to Empathy Marketing, I would have to say that I’m building on the foundation we laid but turning the attention and focus into a more specific area. Where Empathy Marketing connected many dots of a brand proposition, The Dawning Point connects the points of a buyer/seller relationship to create a conscious sales process. I’m excited about this intersection, or what I call convergence of harmony, that unblocks something in us and allows us to make offers that we want to deliver. I believe we all want to create a good experience for our clients and the key is understanding our own desire nature as entrepreneurs. That is where I’m going and what I want to give expression to in this new brand.


Tami, this sounds . . . sexy, lush, particularly beautiful, organic, and really satisfying. I know the quality of the work you offer and I’ve got to say, I am excited to send clients your way when they are ready to talk about sales process.


It has been an honor to be part of The Voice Bureau, especially as a co-creator of the methodology that exposed huge gaps in areas that need to be understood, developed, and implemented before bringing a brand online. I hope that our work together has been as transformative for our clients as it has been for us.

Thank you, Abby. I’m getting teary now and a lump is forming in my throat. Good thing this is in writing or I would have to stop before saying: thank you for being my friend and believing in me, for believing in our collaboration, and for listening when I needed it the most!



Now I have a lump in my throat. Huge, happy sigh.


I’ll be sharing about what’s next for The Voice Bureau in my very next post.

In the comments, we’d love to know:

What’s been your experience with uncoupling in business or ending a creative collaboration? Also, if you’ve worked with Tami via The Voice Bureau, please feel free to wish her well as she embarks on this new adventure!

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It’s not Creative Director Cool to admit it, but I struggle significantly with overwhelm.

Overwhelm is NOT a force of nature. It’s a learned and practiced habit. I know that.

Back alley ivyI’ve got the best, anti-overwhelm, most pro-self-care planners and systems and containers out there at my fingertips. I use them, sometimes devotedly, sometimes dipping in and out.

I’ve got a fabulous little support team who goes above and beyond to make sure I stay out of the weeds.

And yet, I keep walking myself back there emotionally — into the weeds of overwhelm — when I think about all there is to do.

Because I hold a big vision, there’s this self-imposed pressure to be able to ‘wrangle’ the vision. But: ack. I am NOT a wrangler. I dislike the word ‘wrangler.’ I don’t actually don’t want any ‘wranglers’ hanging around my business.

What I do like: Compassion. Composition. Harmony. Cascading. Ordering. Sliding into place.

Last night I was talking to someone who knows me well. I asked her (rhetorically) what I can do (again — yes, AGAIN) to not feel so overwhelmed in my business and life.

She asked me, “What DO you need to do? Somewhere deep inside, you DO know what that is.”

“What do I need to stay out of overwhelm?” I asked myself, like a well-polished school girl rehearsing lines for a report I’d give in front of the class.

And then, this (what follows below) came out of me — clear, centered, certain, sure. I first talked this aloud, and then immediately grabbed my iPhone, opened the Notes app, and dictated it in, knowing I’d write about this topic today.

If you struggle with overwhelm, I think it might help you, too.

How to Not Feel Overwhelmed In Your Business & Life (As Told To Me, By Myself)

1) Take care of yourself first everyday. Follow the impulse for self-care. If you feel like taking a walk by yourself outdoors, take it. If you feel like soaking in a hot bath with Himalyan pink sea salts, do it. If you feel like reading a novel on the couch for 30 minutes, have at it. When recovering from perpetual overwhelm, extreme self-care is the protocol.

2) If you could only work two hours a day, what would be the essentials you’d need to get done? Do those things first every day and let the rest take their place somewhere else in the day or week, when inspiration is flowing. There is an optimum time and season for every task, and a time and a season in which you’ll enjoy it most.

3) Know that you’re not obligated to take care of anybody besides the clients you’re currently serving and your team. You don’t have to give anyone else’s career or business an assist; you don’t have to contribute to anyone’s project just because they asked; you don’t have to collaborate because someone wonderful invites you to. Generosity is good, but not at the expense of your own basic needs.

4) Focus on the activities you MOST love to do in your business — for me, that’s creating content like blog posts, and teaching and learning materials, for our courses  – and make sure you are building your day around doing those things. Don’t feel bad about handing over the tasks you don’t actually LOVE to do. I appreciate a good spreadsheet, but it’s not my zone of genius; my Project Curator, on the other hand, lives and breathes by them.

Probably none of these suggestions are new to you. But every once in a while, it helps to be reminded.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

How do you work with — or work around — overwhelm in your life and business?

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Voice Bureau Faves for 2013

December 30, 2013

I’ve been feeling self-imposed pressure to write the quintessential End of the Year Blog Post — astute and moving, witty and full of realness.

Abby KerrBut I haven’t yet fully processed the depth and breadth of this past year and all it taught me. I’m waiting on alchemy to turn up what it will. Meanwhile, I’m returning to my original idea for this post, which is a catalogue of stuff that made my business and life a more excellent experience this year.

Software & Apps

  • Asana for individual and team To Dos and project management. Simple, lightweight, flexible — love.
  • PandoraOne plus Jambox turns my living room into a café where the playlist is always of my choosing. My (very different) go-to stations: Brandi Carlile and Gotan Project
  • InstaGram with Aviary and Over — lots of lighting options and color effects, plus typography for days; PicMonkey Royale for online photo editing
  • Goodreads for sharing book ratings and reviews with friends


  • Story is a State of Mind with Sarah Selecky — incredibly elegant ecosystem for short story writing [affiliate link]
  • For gifts, home decor sundries, and inspired browsing, Free People, Terrain, and Mothology (a vendor I used to buy a lot from when I owned my boutique).
  • The best paper planner ever, by Laurel Denise. I swear it’s set up to work with the INFJ brain.


  • Liz Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things is about following our passions and obsessions and creating legacy, all wrapped in a rollicking ride through history. Incredible. Breathtaking.
  • Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, about a group of talented teens who find fervent friendship at a summer camp for artistically gifted kids, and what happens to them over time, as stars rise and fortunes take shape
  • Susan Choi’s My Education, about a precocious graduate student who falls for her charismatic professor and his temperamental, alluring wife
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, about a beautiful and manipulative married couple with . . . problems
  • Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, part of the 99U Book Series — essays on getting your best creative work done, efficiently and elegantly


  • Everything happens from the inside out. This is not new news, to me or to you, but this year I’ve really lived into the concept of transformation originating from the base up, from the core outward. Just like we wouldn’t slap together a visual brand identity for you out of pet fonts and a “good enough” color palette, true reinvention starts with recognizing why something matters.
  • Mastery is important, but not at the expense of experimentation. I used to be all ‘mastery first’ — actually getting pissed at people with the gall to launch business coaching brands without themselves ever having run a successful business. (I still don’t like this idea.) But this year, I’ve seen the beauty in experimentation, innovation, and boldly going where YOU have never gone before.
  • Priorities create pressure; beloved work deserves equal weight. For many years, I’ve suppressed my desire to write and publish fiction because it wasn’t imminently for-pay. So I prioritized my business growth and development over everything else — self-care, relationships, even sleep. But just in the past couple months, I’ve started treating my fiction writing practice as equally important as working on and in my for-pay business. My fiction pursuits are currently private and thrilling: there’s no blog, no social media presence, etc. I’m not interested in going there anytime soon. For now, it’s just me and a black-covered Mead Five Star spiral bound notebook (the kind with perforated pages for clean tear-outs) and a good pen. Heaven. Suddenly, my for-pay work is getting done better and easier, too.
  • As you (I) niche in to any passion/interest/pursuit/obsession, everything opens up. I don’t why this is so, but it’s so. This is one of the guiding philosophies for The Voice Bureau‘s work in 2014. Likely, you’ll see less scope on our website, more clarity and depth, and more accessibility for everyone who’s eager to come with us on this journey into Voice Values, brand voice, and the mindsets and skillsets needed to develop an emotionally competent business brand with a personal feel in the digital age. Wow. Here we go.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What’s your favorite find, in any category, for 2013?

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At The Voice Bureau, we’re planners. We leave lots of space for intuitive lunges, but we also love a good spreadsheet.

So naturally, as the end of the year draws close, Tami Smith and I have been having lots of big talks: about what really worked this year for Voice Bureau readers and clients, as opposed to what just felt good, or what may have looked promising but didn’t pan out so well in implementation. And most importantly, we’ve been deciding on what we will commit to for our 2014 collaboration.

Then Tami came up with The Curiosity Grid, a simple, self-guided inquiry tool that brings clarity to what was created, launched, and accomplished in a given period of time — and actually understand what to do with the reflective process. (BONUS: The Curiosity Grid works on personal stuff, too, not just business-related.)

We’re sharing Closure & Clarity, featuring The Curiosity Grid, via a simple, elegant 4-week course, for which registration is open now and closes end of day Thursday, December 19th.

Here’s a Q&A with Tami herself, the creator and facilitator of the course. (I’ll be a supporting contributor.)

ABBY: Tami, first, let’s talk a bit about you. Many of our Voice Bureau clients know you as the co-creator of Empathy Marketing, our high level consulting package for business owners. They also know you as the co-creator of DIY workshops under the Voice Bureau.

Can you share with us a few highlights from your independent work, and your life, that Voice Bureau readers would connect with? How can you relate to the mostly solopreneur crowd that is our readership?

Photo of Tami SmithTAMI: I’ve noticed a  high level of self-awareness and sensitivity among the readers of the Voice Bureau. I love the way they approach all thing,s and especially marketing. I knew when I started my consulting businesses that the way I worked and how I connected with people was going to have to be from a place of genuineness. I was always allergic to hype and any bending of truth in marketing. I started my consulting business in 2008 with the desire to bring all the experience I had from working in a variety of high level sales and marketing positions to the small business owner.

I remember when I wrote an email to friends and family announcing the launch of my business. I was so excited about what was ahead, and  how my knowledge was going to be so appreciated by small businesses owners. Yes. That was how naïve I was. Some well-intentioned responses to that email came back informing me about the road ahead and how hard it is to own a business. It was the “good luck with that — tell me when you are back in the market looking for a job” kind of response,  and I thought, well, just because it is hard for some people doesn’t mean it will be for me. I thought things would be better for me because I already understood marketing and sales. You could say the early optimism and confidence was slowly wrung out of me over the next five years, replaced by the reality that building a business and a brand you love is going to have ups and downs, cycles, seasons, and all achievements are short lived.  There’s always more to do and finding your own rhythm takes time.

It seems that many Voice Bureau readers are also great writers, so I’m not sure how much they can relate to this aspect, but it feels like so much work just to get someone to notice my brand. I have two pretty big things working against me. One, I don’t like attention. For real. It isn’t that I’m shy, in fact, I’m fairly outgoing and genuinely like people and meeting new people. It is when some sort of spotlight shines on me that I shrink. I love engaging in good conversations that are private, not public. Two, I’m not a good writer. Words seem to get stuck in between the thought and the expression on the page. I have all these things to say and the words just swirl around and come out sounding mixed up. Obviously, in the online marketing world, that is a pretty big hurdle.

On the upside, I have a really good grasp of the big picture and can quickly understand how to connect various dots to create strategy. It is an innate talent and one that I’ve cultivated and honed to use in my consulting practice. I have that problem-solving gene that drives me to innovate. You can read more about my personal story and experience here.

ABBY: What’s at the heart of Closure & Clarity, the 4-week course, and why is now the right time to share this approach?

TAMI: The heart of Closure & Clarity is an honest and mature conversation with one’s self. It is surprisingly difficult just to come really clean, to be totally open and honest. There’s often a part of ourselves (at least this is my experience) that wants to hang on to some sort of story about our experience. Sometimes the story is about how we deserve better, how things should be different, how we should be different than we are, how we’re not enough, or how life is unfair. For some reason, the stories about the spectacular results our clients got, the kindness we showed, the ways we showed up fully, never seem to stick. We end up with a skewed perspective of reality. Closure & Clarity is a way to see the whole of your experience, not just the sticky stuff. It is a way to see that limits aren’t obstacles as much as realities that need to be seen, accepted, and released. It is a way to learn from your past year and to see more clearly that there really are no mistakes.

Why is this the right time? Well, anytime is the right time to pause and use the Curiosity Grid to see your own truth, but it is especially important this time of year.  Collectively and culturally, we are acknowledging  endings and celebrating beginnings. There’s a natural drive to give pause and to plan.

ABBY: Why don’t traditional business planning methods, and resolution-making and goal-setting, work so well for self-employed people building a values-driven business?

TAMI: I don’t think anyone starts a business so they can be the worst boss they’ve ever had or experience a little more of the daily grind. Goals hanging over your head can quickly become that demanding boss. I’m not saying we shouldn’t set goals at all, rather, we need to learn how to use our energy in a way that is more productive. My sense is the biggest motivation for starting a business is to have more freedom. We want freedom to act and move from our values. Goals have ends. The teaching around goal setting is that they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  If we hold freedom, connection, peace, and creativity as our highest aspirations, we see that these things are not destinations we arrive at by reaching a set of goals.

ABBY: It’s so easy, as microbusiness owners and brand creators, to get caught in cycles of comparison, jealousy, and self-loathing, which ultimately only distracts us from doing the great work we want to do. What’s your take on the Not-Enoughness complex so familiar to many solo business owners (especially sensitive ones)?

TAMI: Yep. Uh-huh. I agree. It seems to be inescapable, in my experience. I’m curious about this, though, because while I see Not-Enoughness as a universal human experience, it seems to be accentuated by being a business owner and even more so if you are an online business. If we can accept that there’s a part of us that will never feel whole, that it is wired-in to our experience, we can start to see it for what it is and accept it.

For me, I experience this self-loathing, I-just-don’t-matter feelings when I bump up against my limits. I literally come to the end of myself and admit that I just can’t understand or I just can’t do whatever it is I’m trying to do. In that stopping, and admitting, I start to let go. It is a surrender and sometimes it hurts a lot. When I fully stop, then the comparing and stories about how I’m not good enough stop, too.  In the space, in the void that is created by stopping, something new starts to arise and I feel connected to truth. Then I start to see possibilities and I’m able to work from a place of curiosity and wonder again, instead of comparing myself.  That is my process and something that has taken years of practice.

I want to say a little more about why this Not-Enoughness complex is especially difficult and accentuated in solo-entrepreneurs. There’s a general consensus that bringing a business online is something anyone can do if you know a few secrets. Once you get past the initial hurdle of the first few years, you’ll be ready to reap the rewards of the greatest lifestyle on the planet. There’s an unrealistic view around this “have it all” message that sells programs. We end up comparing ourselves to people that have achieved some sort of satisfaction, popularity, or monetary success and believe that we should be the same, or we should be experiencing the same thing. That is just craziness. The deeper truth is we all have our own unique experience and have access to everything we need to enjoy our lives, if we can see the beauty in our own experience (as it is, not as we wish it was).

ABBY: What do you see as the point of getting closure on 2013 and clarity on 2014? What difference will going through a process like this make to our businesses, brands, and to us, as individuals?

TAMI: The point of getting closure on 20213 and clarity on 2014 is that we don’t rush right past our own life in a hurry to get to a better one. There is so much wisdom waiting for us to extract from our experiences and if we don’t take the time to see it, if we don’t get the lesson the experience held for us, we are bound to repeat it. Our work can have impact,  meaning, and profitability, producing a more satisfying business life when we are able to act and make decisions from a place of gentleness and wisdom, knowing we are turning obstacles into stepping stones.

ABBY: The tool you’ll be teaching in Closure & Clarity is The Curiosity Grid. Tell us about the idea behind the tool and how it came into being.

TAMI: Curiosity is an amazing gift and a tool we can use to gain clarity. We can use the power of curiosity to understand ourselves and our experience, to see what is really true without judgement. I wanted to create a way to use curiosity without getting lost down rabbit holes. The Curiosity Grid is designed to provide a container, or structure, to tap the power of curiosity and  access the answers you need for closure and clarity.

Think of it this way: the idea is to have a structured way to use curiosity as a guide.

ABBY: Anything else you’d like to tell us, Tami?

The 4-week course walks you step-by-step gently through the process of sorting through the past year’s ups and downs and honoring all your efforts. The Curiosity Grid provides structure to question what needs to be questioned, to see the beauty in all your work, even the things that didn’t work out so well, and to reveal your heart’s deepest desires. This course is designed to give you peace in letting go, which is always just a new beginning.

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

What’s your process for getting closure and clarity during a transition season in your business or brand?

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