Guest Post: 7 Lessons I’ve Learned in My First Year of Business

by Megan Constantino, Parachute Partners

Megan ConstantinoToday Facebook reminded me that I have officially been in business for one year. Really? It has already been a year? It has ONLY been a year? The desire and dream of owning my own PR firm was planted in my heart a long time ago. Many factors led to my plunge but ultimately it was God’s timing that sealed the deal. Basically, I needed to develop my craft and be circled with an extensive, powerful network of clients and collaborators for a sustainable launch. What I didn’t anticipate was the having to put on my big-girl pants and figure out my own special recipe for work-life integration. Oh what a year of growth!

Let me save you some stress, anxiety, and heartaches by sharing a few crucial amazing and heart-filled lessons that I have learned over the past 12 months. Perhaps this post is just a self-reflection or it will touch one or three thousand budding hopeful entrepreneurs. Save yourself some sanity and stand firm on boundaries around these 7 things.

  1. Put God first. Every area of your life should glorify Him. If you are working only for earthly recognition, you will not find that deep fulfillment. Each day is nuts when you are running a thriving and growing startup and you cannot do it without Him.
  2. Care for yourself. I ran myself in to the ground. This is easy to do when your laptop is available 24/7 and your phone, social media, etc. are always within reach. If you don’t make moments for you, nobody will. Actually, nobody can care for you. That is up to you. Even if you just take a bubble bath or fifteen-minute walk, treat yourself. Your clients need a well-balanced and rested partner. Do it for you. Do it for them.
  3. Secure family time. When we are all retired or our life has passed, the amount of revenue you brought in a quarter, year, or decade will not matter. We have an amazing and wild two-year-old. I finally have learned to secure quality time without a screen to relish this time. Your family is your most important stakeholder. Secure time for them.
  4. Don’t slave for money. Yes, work hard and be extremely ambitious but don’t sacrifice your sanity and soul for dollars. Pace yourself already! Sign only work that makes your heart skip a beat. There is plenty of business out there… wait for the right matches when you financially can. If you are trying to find happiness in money, you will never be able to earn enough. You will let life pass you by and regret much. Balance needs with sanity, okay?
  5. Price right. You will spend much more time on each project than anticipated if you’re a perfectionist like me. Also, you are worth it! Ask for fair market value! You have invested YEARS in developing your craft. Not to mention, it costs money to make money plus rent isn’t free, right?
  6. Use a project management system. Once you get going and things get crazy, details can become a blur. Perfectionists, find a good low cost or free project management system like Asana or Basecamp. Document each detail with deadlines!
  7. Remember that camaraderie is worth a million bucks. If you are working remotely, enlist the dialogue of collaborators. I now take time to talk on the phone to a few great partners and even do a regular video prayer meeting with Beth. (If you are our client or teammate, you get prayed for!)

I cannot believe my business is already a year old. Happy birthday, Parachute Partners… thanks for the grey hairs but ability to make a difference the way God intended for me to do.

If you are in business for yourself or thinking of taking the plunge, know that you can do this but it might be a little wonky finding that balance or integration that first year. Learn from my top 7 tips on how to keep sane, okay?

I am thankful for this wild journey and see God’s blessings in my work each day. Here’s to our second year serving the world’s best clients.

My best,


Megan Constantino

Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Half Crazy Mother, and Frazzled Wife
Parachute Partners

android-icon-36x36[1]A note from Beth: building a friendship with Megan (who I call my ‘business sister’) has been one of the recent joys I’ve received in running HOPE Unlimited. Megan is also one of our ‘strategic referral partners’ — part of the network HOPE has established of trustworthy, ‘rock-star-service’ professionals designed to help your business excel. To see more about our team click here.

There is an “I” in TEAM



There is a well-known quip that there is no “I” in the word “team.” After all, team is spelled  T-E-A-M. One catalog for team building materials uses TEAM to mean “Together Everyone Achieves More.” There’s truth to that.

In real life though, using team building language, giving out mugs or hanging posters doesn’t automatically lead to a team working “like a well-oiled machine.” It takes time, effort, and understanding to truly relate as one, and it isn’t going to happen unless each member does indeed focus on the missing “I” in “team.” Teamwork starts with YOU.

Teams are only as good as the individuals that make them up. Yes, the whole is greater than the parts, but if the parts are defective, the team will be affected. (Hey, that sounds like another quip! “Parts Defective Means Teams Affected.”)

So, the place to start with team building is you. Here’s an assessment to help you determine what type of a team player you really are. Ask yourself:

  • Do I enjoy working with other people? (Some personalities would rather be in a corner doing tasks all day.)
  • When I meet with other team members, do I contribute to the conversation? (Or do I sit and say nothing?)
  • When I share my ideas, do I limit my words so others can contribute too?
  • Do I want people to carry out my idea in exactly the way I envision it?
  • Am I willing to ask questions to learn from others with a different expertise?
  • If I’m naturally a take-charge person, do I willingly step back sometimes to open opportunities for those less likely to step up?
  • Do I feel I am more experienced than the others on my team and that they should listen to me most of the time?
  • Do I note what is going on with others by truly listening, acknowledging events like birthdays or accomplishments?
  • Am I quick (but not insincere) in giving thanks and praise to others in the way they would most enjoy? (i.e. not embarrassing them)
  • Do people come to me to ask for help? Am I approachable?

If you are really brave, after answering these questions, give them to your coworkers to answer anonymously on your behalf. Do the answers match up? Be prepared to make changes without defensiveness if something surprising is revealed to you. In the long run, that will be for your good and the good of the team! Make sure the “I” in your team is the best example of teamwork!

BWM CoverFor a handbook of fun activities and discussions to share with your team, you may enjoy my book Boost Your Workplace Morale. Visit my store for this book and other helpful resources.


How to Say “No” – Graciously

A flashback on an important skill


I was chatting on social media with a friend—let’s call her Angelica—and asked if she wanted to help me with a project. She replied, “No.”

Then she added, “But thank you for asking me.”

I admit I was briefly taken aback. Moments before, Angelica had just agreed to help me with a different task, one that was related to the latest idea I had suggested. However, the second idea would be more of an ongoing commitment, and she said, “No.”

I told Angelica that I respected her decision and thought it was great that she felt comfortable saying “no.”  She said that “old age” had helped her with this–I responded “not old age…maturity.”

“No” is one of the hardest words to say. Why?

  • We like to be liked, and a “no” can be disappointing to others.
  • We want to be positive, and “no” comes across as negative.
  • We are afraid of missing out on great opportunities.

However, if we don’t say this word enough, we can end up disillusioned, disappointed or exhausted.

There are ways to say no graciously and effectively. Angelica did it. Here’s how:

She understood her life.

Angelica was able to discern pretty quickly whether my request would fit into her current season of life. That tells me she was keeping an informed perspective of her opinions, commitments and relationships.

She gave an immediate answer.

Angelica didn’t hesitate or string me along. It made the outcome quick and relatively painless.

That’s not to say that we should always answer quickly. It’s completely appropriate to tell someone you want to think about it, IF you give them the courtesy of a self-imposed deadline. For example, she could have said, “I’d like to think about this. Can I give you my answer Friday?” and then be sure to give the answer on Friday or before. It wasn’t necessary in this case because of her confidence in her decision, but if she needed a little time, that would have been fine.

She thanked me.

Angelica understood that it is an honor to be invited to participate in an event or project. The requester is somewhat vulnerable when extending the invitation, risking rejection. By saying “thank you” she acknowledged that she appreciated being considered, which softens any possibility of coming across as rejecting the person doing the inviting.

She didn’t give an explanation.

Angelica gave a simple “No, thank you.” She did not feel compelled to explain or rationalize her decision. I admire that. I tend to provide more information than necessary and would do well to just provide a simple answer more often.

“No” isn’t easy to say, but it often makes your life easier!

Question: Do you find it difficult to say “no?” 

This post originally appeared in January, 2014.

How to Give an Effective Apology

Take responsibility when you need to


“First, I need to apologize. We understand what it means to work on a deadline, and we’ve made that difficult for you.”

I was working on an interview-style article that required a good deal of input from someone else, in this case, two business partners*. While they had agreed to be featured in the publication, they were having a challenging week and were not able to mentally focus on gathering the information I needed.

I sent a gentle reminder and received a gracious response.  Instead of an excuse or request to give them some more time, I received what was essentially a professional apology, the words you read above. I was impressed and am happy to report the article went well and turned out great.

There are times in your professional life (personal too!) when you are going to have to apologize. Hopefully, your reason for an apology isn’t that you’ve purposely behaved like a jerk. But overwhelmed professionals can unintentionally cause stress to others. Maybe you have misplaced something someone else needs, or have forgotten to do something, or are feeling pulled in all directions and get snippy with a colleague. In those cases and more, a professional, sincere apology can go a long way toward keeping the relationship strong.

In the scenario above, this duo handled the apology in a way that provides an example for others. Let’s take a look at why it worked

They immediately acknowledged the need to apologize. There was no sidestepping the issue (they had broken the expected rhythm for the project) but they took responsibility for the delay.  (This wasn’t a case of, “I’m sorry someone/you were offended” which puts the responsibility on the other person.)

They articulated exactly what stress they caused. “We understand deadlines, and we’ve made this difficult for you.” This wasn’t just an off-the-cuff “Sorry this is late.” It took my feelings into consideration.

They provided what I needed.  In this case, they were able to not only apologize, but include the material I needed, which moved the project along. While that may not always be possible, it’s the ideal way to make amends. At the very least, giving a hard deadline for when the material would have been ready would have also been acceptable.

Apologies aren’t easy. We all want to think we are consummate pros who do all things right. But that is not realistic. You WILL have to apologize at some point. Don’t make things worse by not giving an apology well.  We have plenty of poor examples in popular culture.  Don’t be one of them.

*scenario has been changed to protect privacy

How to Get Along with the Colleague Who is Faster than You

Techniques for navigating swift waters in business relationships

By Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A swift water rescue team fans out into a V to navigate the fast flowing rapids. The leader carefully checks for unseen holes. The others slowly walk forward, providing a human barrier for the current to rush around. In the center, an area of peace is created, and the team members rotate opportunities to walk in it to rest and replenish for a few minutes.

There’s a technique to handling rushing waters to benefit the team and accomplish the goal.  And there are techniques that can help you navigate interactions with people who work faster, and differently than you do.

I remember a situation* where a colleague was coming into town for a few days. Our work styles were different. Mine includes a plan for the day, allowing space for highly creative spurts in balance with repeated implementation of administrative tasks. I’m a pretty fast worker myself, but I’m also learning to embrace slower, reflective moments and tease out time to think.

My colleague moves faster than I do. They’re up early and run on high energy most of the day, responding to things as they come up, eager to tick off the to-do list, and crashing early in the evening. They think on the run and tend to like to be in charge, much like the swift water you see in areas of heavy rapids. How were our work styles going to work for the days we worked together?  

One key–the same key used by swift water rescue teams–is preparation and mindset. I reminded myself to:

Anticipate.  I knew enough about the person to know what to expect. This helped me in thinking through an agenda/itinerary for the project since I was the host.

Acclimate. For a few days, my workflow was simply going to be different. I had to adjust. I could not expect to do everything the way I normally would.

Appreciate. I asked myself,  “What three blessings there would be in working with this individual more closely than usual?” What came to mind was creativity. Getting things done. Laughter.  I could choose to focus on those things even prior to their arrival.

Abdicate. I chose what battles would be worth standing firm for, and what I could let go of. I knew that while my colleague would appreciate my being a good host, they would NOT want to be treated like a child with no say in the schedule. So I planned opportunities for choices. For example, I’d narrow down some lunch choices to two or three, present them, and ask them to choose where they’d like to go for lunch. A plan, but not a rigid one, was just right.

Allocate. I thought through their visit and developed an itinerary that they would enjoy, allocating certain time blocks to meetings with others or particular projects that would also balance my need for some project time unrelated to their project. By making this itinerary ahead of time, I had a plan that could make us most productive and give us both breathing space.

Activate. I made a basic plan for their visit and worked it. I made sure we had a list of “must do’s” and attacked those we could finish the first day, so they would feel quick wins about the trip.

A swift water team regularly trains and learns to read the river. You WILL experience a swift water situation at work eventually. What can you do to prepare now?


*As is my custom, while many of my illustrations have elements based on my real life experiences, I reserve the right to mix and modify details and enhance with some fictional elements in order to protect privacy and prevent any recognisable association to specific people or companies.

What are Business Soft Skills?

It's not how fast you type.

getting along


Many years ago, while in a management role, I was involved in navigating a difficult situation that came up between two employees. Large chunks of time were taken up in meetings with the employees and upper management. Many hours of productivity were lost because of this issue that was almost overwhelming at the time.

Unfortunately, scenarios like this are not isolated. Ask any business leader if they’ve had to spend time coaching or even disciplining an employee who didn’t have the best of people skills, or who couldn’t manage their time well, and many will say a resounding “yes.”

When preparing this article, I asked people on my Facebook list to simply “like” the post if they’d experienced lack of productivity on a team because of an employees lack of people or productivity skills. Over 35 people liked the post and a few added comments. That’s 35 different companies adversely affected by lack of “soft skills,” and I’m sure that’s a small number compared to reality.

Business soft skills are the character traits, attitudes and self-management strategies that you carry with you throughout your career, no matter what position you have. They are measured more in terms of relational success and productivity than with tangible metrics.  Soft skills are not about how many words a minute you type, or how fast you can create an Excel spreadsheet with formulas. It’s about how you get along with others, manage your time, and communicate. Soft skills can have a huge impact on the bottom line because productivity is often very affected by how successful (or not) employees and their bosses are in these areas. Training can be  rewarding and sometimes frustrating because these skills are impacted in a big way by a person’s natural personality, emotions, and life experiences.

There are a number of soft skills that are worthwhile to “brush up on” from time to time. These include:

  • Communication
  • Leadership, Coaching, Mentoring
  • Time Management
  • Teamwork/Teambuilding
  • Emotional Intelligence/Personality Styles (the ability to self-govern and also observe and influence working relationships)
  • Customer service
  • Organizing, planning and productivity

I encourage you to invest in your own soft skills on a regular basis by reading good books and resources, and taking classes, whether through formal training such as what I do as a contract trainer through CCT Business Training, Lunch and Learns, or books and online courses.  

(And a word to bosses…more than one student wishes their supervisor would be made to take the same classes they are sent to. Set the example by continuing to learn yourself.)

PS: I’m currently doing a local series of Lunch and Learns for a company of about 25 employees. They hired me to come in every three weeks during the summer to present a topic related to being more organized and more productive. Contact me if you’d like more information on this service, or online options for those outside upstate South Carolina.


A blogging break

May I make a confession?



Dear readers,

I’ve been publishing a blog post per week for over two years, and have written or co-written at least one book a year since 2012.  May I make a confession?

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. And tired.

The good news is, business and opportunity has been growing. I feel certain in this season that the direction I’m going with HOPE Unlimited is the path it should be on right now. I am thankful to be serving several clients, slowly building a team, and having regular opportunities to teach business soft skills.

The one area that feels dry is writing.

Generally, I try to do a little writing each week, and ideally like to be 3-4 weeks ahead on my blog posts. I also like to have at least a small book in progress at all times. I have ideas filed away and even some videos in raw form, but as I think about trying to add more to the blog right now, it almost feels like a duty.

So I’ve decided to take a blogging break, and get some feedback from YOU!

For the month of April, the anniversary month of HOPE Unlimited and also the month of my birthday, (which happens to be a milestone one this year) the blog will go temporarily dark. However, I’ll be collecting feedback from my readers through this year’s 5-question reader survey.

After you’ve taken a few minutes to do the survey, may I encourage you to use this opportunity to visit some of the blog posts from the past, which I am linking to below? It never hurts to re-read things and try some new applications.

Meanwhile, during the month, in addition to carrying out responsibilities to clients, a speaking engagement for administrative professionals, and prep for a local Lunch and Learn series starting in May, I will be taking some time off to relax, rest, and refresh myself. I’ll enjoy some birthday celebrating, and while I may do a little writing and brainstorming to “get ahead,” you won’t see anything published until May other than reminders about the survey.

I am grateful for my readers–and in the days before making this decision, I received a couple of very encouraging emails mentioning the blessing of the blog. So with those bits of energetic encouragements to kick me off, I go into a publishing sabbatical that I trust will recalibrate the workflow, creativity, and quality of writing, to be an even greater blessing when it returns.

Here are some links to blogs you might enjoy reading in place of the ones each Monday:

Thank you for being part of my audience. I wish you a refreshing spring season!



Client Spotlight: Let’s Grow Leaders

Karin Headshot 1
lets grow leadersWinning-Well-3D









HOPE Unlimited has the privilege of serving a number of interesting and principle-centered clients. Today I’m spotlighting Let’s Grow Leaders. Karin Hurt is the CEO and her book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results without Losing Your Soul  (co-authored with David Dye) is available for pre-order and comes out April 15!

I love Karin’s writing style and help her with her social media streams, blog updating and other assorted projects as they come up.  One ongoing project of mine is compiling the monthly Frontline Festival, a gathering of thoughts from great leaders around the country. Submissions are always welcome!

Karin is enthusiastic, energetic, and has a whole lot of common sense for the workplace–something desperately needed these days. Check Let’s Grow Leaders out!



The Stress and Blessing of Criticism

Mirror, Brick, Rope: Criticism is all of them

Mirror Brick Rope

OPP: You’ve worked hard on an event, and it went over reasonably well. But in the debrief, your supervisor concentrates only on the elements that didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped they would.

Every professional faces criticism from time to time. Much as we hate to admit it, we aren’t perfect, and we aren’t everybody’s favorite person. Still, criticism always stings–even the person who has a tough skin occasionally feels the pain that comes from facing their imperfections.

But criticism isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s like a mirror, brick, or a rope. All three have negative and positive aspects.


  • Even if in a tiny way, the criticism is a reflection of us, even if only in our response to it
  • Helps us find the small faults to correct (i.e. lettuce in the teeth, makeup smudges. etc.)


  • Can hurt and surprise you when it hits you (“like a ton of bricks.”)
  • Sometimes comes from hardened people (“Hurt people hurt people.”)
  • Can build a wall
  • Could also build a bridge
  • Can be a strong foundation for the future. (Ex: Are you now close with someone who used to be critical of you?)


  • It can tie you up inside.
  • You can be roped into criticizing others through gossip.
  • Can bind hearts together.
  • Can remind us to hang onto other more solid elements of our lives (such as our faith/value system.)

All of the above show that criticism is both a positive and negative experience. Here are a few pointers for when it comes your way:

  1. (Mirror) Ask yourself if there is a grain of truth in the criticism. Is there a small thing you could chage in how you approach a situation going forward? Sometimes a criticism can be a gift to help you grow and redirect you from a bad path.
  2. (Brick) Can you use the criticism to build a bridge or a foundation of friendship with the critic? Instead of getting defensive, believe the best about them and thank them for caring enough about you to point out something. You may become friends (or at least friendlier) with them!
  3. (Rope) Let the criticism remind you of your higher purpose and the solid foundation of your principles. If you’ve acted against them, this is a wake up call. If you acted based on your principles, the criticism can reinforce your commitment and diminish the need to be approved by others. Grab the right rope.

Yes, being criticized is something that can overwhelm a professional. But use it to your advantage!

Additional Resource: Michael Hyatt presents the difference between friends, critics, and trolls.


10 Tips for Planning a Low Stress Event

Events don't have to be stressful to be meaningful

OPP: You are already busy, and you’ve been asked to organize/host an event for clients/customers.

Several months ago, I was invited to an event hosted by Greenville Office Supply. They were having a lunch and learn opportunity at their office/warehouse and invited their customers to come by and enjoy a free lunch, tour, and other fun.

I had developed a relationship with this company while I was filling a part-time office administration position for a full service marketing firm. I was impressed with how they treated us and the event only added to that positive impression.

What also appealed to me was the relative simplicity of the event, which (I hope!) made it easier on their employees to host, yet made the guests feel well cared for. So here are some tips for hosting an engaging event without getting overwhelmed!

  1. Keep it simple. GOS offered a straightforward lunch and tour of the facilities in their invitations, and from what I understand, they do similar events throughout the year, which means tried and tested elements can be carried over. Events don’t have to be elaborate or stress-producing to be meaningful.
  2. Set up wisely. The event took place in the large lobby area as well as a conference room. Having served as a receptionist myself, it makes sense to me that the check-in area was the reception desk, allowing the receptionist to do double duty during the event and not have to be away from the phones.
  3. Keep presentations short. If you are going to speak during a networking or social event keep your thoughts concise. A couple of GOS staff spoke but they did not go on and on. Instead, they had a scrolling slide presentation quietly running in the conference room where most of us ate.  That was a reasonable amount of promotion.
  4. Share the load. A number of employees helped with the event, from checking people in, to giving tours, to pouring iced tea. Each person had their job to do, keeping any one person from being overloaded.  Many hands make light work.
  5. Keep people guessing. I was surprised and delighted at the lunch spread. I expected a boxed lunch and instead we got a Thanksgiving meal! We also each received a tote bag filled with a collection of usable supplies.  Lunch was catered, making it easier on the staff. The bags were the type that could be used for a variety of events or customer service initiatives. It would not surprise me if they just keep a supply of these filled bags on hand and fill them during routine/quieter times.
  6. Streamline. GOS was very respectful that this was a lunchtime commitment for most guests. It was kept to an hour, benefiting both the guests and the employees involved in running it.
  7. Keep things moving. While we never felt rushed, we did keep moving along between the tours, getting lunch, and then listening to brief presentations and having the door prize drawings. (I won one!)
  8. Serve and smile. All involved seemed happy to help and we were waited on, making us feel special. Involve some of your quieter employees in the serving and clean up aspect to help ease everyone’s load while involving your team.
  9. Keep improving. I imagine that the GOS staff debriefs in some ways after their events, so that they can make improvements for the future.
  10. Stop and celebrate. At the end of the event, give yourself and your team a pat on the back for a job well done. Take a short break before debriefing (especially if everyone is tired) but make sure to stop and think about it within a week while the event is still fresh.

I don’t know how stressed any of the GOS staff were for this event–maybe they were, but if so, I didn’t sense any major “hurry-scurry” atmosphere, which is what you want when hosting an event. I truly enjoyed the event and my connection with them. Now go plan a great event for your clients and customers–without getting stressed out!

Your turn: What event do you have coming up? What tip would you offer?