Category Archives: Business management

Debbie, the reason I can now focus on what I love – #2

It was the culmination of two years of tiny, incremental steps — of conflicting emotions, of learning to let go, of recognizing my own limitations and finding ways to compensate for them, of doing what I knew in my heart was best for my “baby.”

Isn’t that what mothers do? We spend a couple of decades nurturing, feeding, supporting, losing sleep in worry, loving with an ache that is both exquisite and unbearable. And then, because it’s what is right, we step away.

I took one of those steps yesterday, the first business day of this new decade. And my “baby,” the magazine that grew up with me and my now-adult sons, is taking its first bold steps away from me.

At our staff meeting yesterday, I made an announcement. It wasn’t a great surprise to anyone who has seen me laying the groundwork. But I felt it was time for the demarcation — a formal declaration that we have crossed a line and won’t be going back.

“As of today,” I told my staff, “I am no longer the person running the business side of Raising Arizona Kids.”

My voice was shaking. Though I am confident about this new direction, it’s hard to admit you can’t do it all. Wearing the many hats required of a full-time editor and publisher is exhausting. For 20 years I have been in triage — always making tough decisions about which aspects of my job would get my full attention.

I have loved running my business. For someone who played “office” as a little girl instead of “house,” it has been the culmination of a dream. But I had other dreams when I first got into this — dreams that have gone unfulfilled as I’ve done what mothers do when raising their children: make time for everyone but themselves and their own creative fulfillment.

So I have turned over the business operations to longtime staffer Debbie Davis. And Debbie, who has run our circulation department since the fall of 2000, is turning over her duties to Community Relations Manager Katie Charland. The shift will create more time for me to focus on what I love best: content development for the magazine and raisingarizonakids.com.

It’s been two years since I first brought Debbie into the process of business and financial operations for Raising Arizona Kids. We started out gradually, working together on budgets and tracking. Debbie has a long career history in publishing, a good head for business and better business instincts than mine. I am not sure we would have survived the difficult economic downturn in 2009 were it not for her perspective and foresight.

Bit by bit, I taught Debbie what I’d learned in 20 years of making decisions, making discoveries and making plenty of downright disastrous mistakes. Sometimes it was really painful for me; it is easy to feel vulnerable and defensive about something as laden with emotion as money (or lack thereof). Sometimes I’d find myself feeling territorial as she gently probed for explanations or reasons. When she sensed my back was up, she backed off. We waited for another day.

Ultimately, I had to accept two things in order to make this work: (1) that Debbie was not judging anything I’d done and in fact was full of admiration for self-taught systems I’d created from years of trial-and-error and (2) that you must embrace the fear of letting someone in if you want the relief of letting go.

A few days ago I stared a list of “1,000 people to thank before I die.” Today, I’m adding Debbie to that list. Thanks to her patience, her perseverance and her sincere desire to improve the quality and stability of both my life and my business, I am looking forward to new adventures. — Karen

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The true meaning of social media

book3d-150x150Though we visited many beautiful beaches on our recent family vacation, I didn’t take any mind-candy beach books with me. I was on a mission to finish The Social Media Bible, an 819-page (including indexes) how-to book that came highly recommended by a consultant I’ve hired to help me wrap my head around the new realm of social media.

I am fasicinated by all the new high-tech tools that have become available in the last year. I see tremendous potential in harnessing them to enhance our efforts to build a community of thoughtful parents who appreciate and contribute to the content we’ve always provided through Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

But it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed by it all. Which tools are right for my business (and my own personal boundaries?) How do I participate in this next level of collaboration and information-sharing and still get my day-to-day work done? One webinar I listened to recommended that businesses owners spend six hours a day nurturing social media efforts. Are they kidding?

So I opened The Social Media Bible hoping for clarity. I got that–and more. I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to short-cut the learning curve and start developing a meaningful strategy for themselves.

During my trip, I had the book with me at an airport when I was approached by a business traveler. He asked me several questions about it and then asked if he could use his iPhone to photograph the cover so he could remember the title and buy a copy for himself.

On a hunch, and because I like to hear stories from others about my own company, I wrote to author Lon Safko and told him that story. I was astonished when, only a few hours later, I got a personal reply.

“That short story really made me emotional,” he wrote. “When you work as hard as I did on that project, it really does my heart good to hear that it is helping people. My biggest motivation is to help others. May I use this? I think it’s a great social media story in itself. A book on social media, causing perfect strangers to meet and become social, while using the iPhone social media technology to capture the image of the seed of the conversation. Wow…”

One of the themes Lon and co-author David K. Brake hammer on throughout the book is that social media campaigns only work when they are authentic. Talk about practicing what you preach! I was pretty wowed myself when I saw his name in my in-box.

I heard that Lon is speaking at 6pm this Friday at the Barnes and Noble store at 1758 S. Val Vista Dr. in Mesa. I plan to be in the audience.

Back on the grid

Andy (24), Dave (22), Dan and me during our recent travels.

You know you’ve been neglecting your blog when you can’t remember how to log in.

It’s been weeks since I’ve had a minute to think about writing. My family went on vacation recently and I was out of town for 11 days. That may not seem like such a big deal, but you have to put it in perspective: There was only one other time in the 20 years since I started the magazine that I have taken off that much consecutive time in one chunk.

The preparation that goes into leaving a business when you’re the owner is mind-boggling. In the early days, when we had no centralized office and all of the editorial and administrative work was on my shoulders, I would be up all night for days in a row before I could leave. When I’d reach our destination (back then it was usually “grandma’s house”) I would go to my room and sleep for two days. I’m sure my extended family thought it was a bit strange (or even rude) but I was simply exhausted and in desperate need of some quiet time to regenerate.

Before this trip, I’m happy to say, I didn’t pull any all-nighters. But there were weeks of long days and copious “to do” lists leading up to our departure date. Thankfully, Raising Arizona Kids is in a better, stronger place these days. I have an incredible staff of professionals who approach their work with a great sense of ownership of the end product. They have my back. Which is why I was able to spend 11 bilssful days with my family — exploring new places, eating new foods, sharing stories and laughing until my face hurt.

Moments of exasperation

The Oki printer hates me. Especially on Monday mornings, when I need it most.

We have 10am staff meetings every Monday. These meetings are very important to me. It’s a time to get everyone on the same page, share concerns, problem-solve as a team and set the tone and direction for the week ahead. I stress about these meetings because I want them to run smoothly. No one on my team has time to waste and I certainly don’t want to be the catalyst.

So I spend quite a bit of time each weekend preparing. Culling through emails from the week before, sifting through notes I’ve plopped into my “meeting agenda” folder, printing handouts everyone will need to make informed decisions. No matter how much I do ahead of time, I rarely achieve the flawlessly efficient meetings I crave. And I’m often late getting them started.

So I blame that darn Oki printer. I bought it in haste a few years ago when our old printer conked out and we had a deadline to meet. I didn’t do any research. I didn’t go online to read the blogs or visit Consumer Reports. (Neither of my brothers will make a purchase without taking both of these steps.) I think the Oki senses my utter lack of regard, so it punishes me every Monday, when I inevitably discover just one more document I need to print for my staff meeting. It simply won’t print from my computer.

Mala, our calendar & directories editor, is the computer’s muse. She seems to be able to coax it to do anything she wants. But she is nice to it. She nourishes it with new cartridges, fills its paper tray, talks to it in soothing tones. I flail around the office in a panic, saying to anyone within earshot, “This darn thing won’t print again!”

Inevitably, it works absolutely fine as soon as our meeting has ended.

There are many moments of sheer exasperation when you’re trying to run a company. I’ve been going through some of my old RAK History files, laughing as I read and remember some of them. Here’s one example.

On a Saturday morning in 1991, I  was driving up the Dreamy Draw (now Piestewa Peak Freeway). I had just picked up a load of magazines from the printer. (I can’t remember now why I would have been doing this on a Saturday.)

The back of my mini-van popped open, spilling boxes of magazines onto the heavily traveled road. Both my sons were in the car with me, safely strapped into car seats (thank goodness). So I took them home to Dan and went back by myself, recklessly darting into the road to recover as much of our precious inventory as I could manage. Many boxes worth were ruined or lost.

It’s funny now. It wasn’t so funny then. So maybe some day I’ll be able to laugh about the Oki printer, too. 

Taking the hard knocks

090328_goucher_gameTOWSON, Md. – Yeah, that’s my kid. Number 22. The guy who’s struggling to get up.

My husband and I are staying in Baltimore for a week so we can enjoy our son David’s last hurrah as a collegiate athlete. His lacrosse team, the Whitter Poets, has traveled to the East Coast for a four-game swing through Maryland and Delaware. It’s a “two-fer” for us because our other son, Andy, works in Washington, D.C., a mere hour’s train ride away. Yesterday, all three of us were able to attend the Poets’ game in Towson against the Goucher College Gophers.

The day was rainy, drizzly and dreary. I’ve been battling a bad cold since the middle of last week. But the game was fast-paced, competitive and exciting, so all those extraneous factors quickly drained away as I pulled out my camera and starting snapping pictures.

I positioned myself at the end of the field where the defensive players hang out. David is a “long pole” whose job is to protect the goalie. I was fiddling with my camera settings when I looked up and saw him crash — hard — into a Goucher player.

I quickly lifted my camera, knowing the long lens would give me a close-up view so I could figure out if David was really hurt. At first, he started to get up. Then I saw him slump and fall back to the ground. With the help of some teammates, he was soon back on his feet and limping slowly back to the sidelines. Not 10 minutes later, he was back in the action.

After the game (which Whittier won 10-9), we asked him what had happened.

“I blacked out,” he said. “I’m fine now.” Visions of poor Natasha Richardson filled my head and mommy-paranoia bubbled to the surface. “Are you sure you don’t have a concussion?” I demanded. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“Mom. The trainer checked me out. I’m fine.” This from the guy who had told me just a few hours earlier that he “might” have a broken heel from a collision in last week’s game against Union College. The guy who opted not to get an x-ray because he’s a senior and a confirmed diagnosis would end his season. The guy who’d rather hurt like heck than know for certain that his days as a scholar-athlete are over.

I never played a team sport and I can only imagine the guts it takes to persevere past pain and disorientation, to request more playing time even when it could mean further damage to an injured body (or brain). I don’t know where he got that determination.

And yet I wonder. My son has watched for years as I’ve struggled to keep my little business alive. He’s seen me work long past the point of exhaustion, ignoring hunger, illness and physical discomfort because something needed to get done. He seen me persevere past seemingly insurmountable barriers over which I had no control. I kept getting up the next morning and going back for more. He saw that.

There are many ways to take the hard knocks. When you know the end result is worth any temporary inconvenience to self, you don’t even give it a second thought.