Want Something for Free? Just Ask.

A few weeks ago I was in my hometown of Green Bay for Easter. I was talking with my sister who is a recent college graduate and is in her first year of teaching Spanish in the Milwaukee Public School system. There is a very high poverty rate amongst the families of students that attend her school and she described some of the daily struggles of both students and school administration. I was shocked to hear that in April with over two months of school remaining, the principal called all teachers to her office and told them to each grab two reams of paper for their classroom because that is all they had left for the rest of the year. I asked her if she or the school had tried to find any community partners that might be able to help with their situation. She hadn’t even thought of it.

I quickly did a Google search and found that there were several paper companies within a ten mile radius of the school. I clicked on one and found an email address. I sent a short email that described how my sister was a teacher at a local middle school and that they had ran out of paper for the year so it was difficult to continue with their daily curriculum. I told the company the school was looking for local partners to help donate the much needed paper. Within hours I received a response that the company would have two cartons (10,000 sheets) of paper waiting at the front desk for my sister the next day. I sent a text to my sister who was thrilled to go pick up the donation.

The next day I called to check in to make sure the delivery was successful. Not only was the paper ready at the front desk when she arrived, but she had a great conversation with the lady working the desk as they loaded up the reams of paper into the car. My sister found out that the woman had attended the corresponding high school to the middle school the paper was needed for. She was thrilled to be able to give back to her old school district. The woman then told my sister that each week the company threw away several boxes of poster board and assorted other paper because of small defects that probably were not even noticeable to the average consumer – she asked if the school would have any use for those too. Now, every other week my sister drives a couple blocks and picks up a new (free) supply of paper. She is the hero amongst teachers for providing a much needed supply and the paper company worker is happy she gets to give to a good cause and help students at her alma mater. All of this because of one simple email from one stranger to another stranger asking for help.

In the business world, people are usually more than willing to lend a helping hand. Just think, if someone called you today with a reasonable request, you would probably do what you could to accommodate their needs. When people ask for your help you feel like you have something valuable to offer and you feel happy when you are able to help another person. For these reasons, people are happy to help others if not for their own satisfaction. What people struggle with is being on the asking end of a favor. They don’t want to offend anyone or have a contact feel like they are “using them.” Use your discretion so you aren’t constantly bombarding the same person with requests, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You will discover that the more ways you find to create win-win situations with contacts or business partners, the stronger your relationships will become. You may not get a “yes” to everything you ask for, but I guarantee you will get a lot more than if you never ask for anything. Be bold and create your own opportunities for success instead of waiting for opportunities to fall in your lap. Take action and ask for your “paper” today.

Your Fast Track Action Items:

– Ask someone you have never met to help you with something – this can be personal or professional.

– Ask someone in your network to partner with you on a project or upcoming event.

– Find an opportunity for a win-win situation and reach out to the person, business or community group to offer your assistance.

Email me at jennaatkinson1@gmail.com and ask me for help. I might not be able to accommodate your request, but maybe I can.

Be Happier in Two Minutes a Day

Originally published in InBusiness magazine.

Recently I have started to see a topic that is trending more and more in business publications. It isn’t marketing, operations, budgeting or a laundry list of other standard business issues. The topic I am talking about is happiness. I think the rise of this topic can be partially attributed to the increasing number of Millennials in the workforce. The newer generation of workers is more focused on work-life balance than previous generations. Not only are 20 and 30-somethings looking for a job to pay the bills, they are looking for a career that gives them freedom to pursue things they are passionate about and helps them fulfill their life’s “purpose”.

Being a Millennial can be a difficult and stressful time in a person’s life with many big changes and decisions in the works. From careers to relationships and family life, it is easy to get overwhelmed with day-to-day decisions and “To-Do’s” and lose your feeling of happiness. Since I believe being happy is a key factor in not only being productive and successful at work, but living a full life, I want to share with you one simple area you can focus on to increase your happiness in only two minutes a day!

An area commonly linked to happiness is gratitude. Being thankful and showing your gratitude for others is something that seems simple, but is often overlooked. I recently read a book called “A Simple Act of Gratitude,” by John Kralik. It was a really fast read with a great message and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an uplifting book. Kralik, an attorney, tells a true story about a time in his life where he was facing many difficulties and struggles in both his business and personal life. After he noticed that writing a simple thank you note improved his mood, he made it a goal to write one thank you note a day for a year. Although it ended up taking over a year to finish the 365 thank you notes, the changes he experienced in his life and overall outlook were remarkable.

I would like to extend a similar challenge to you. Maybe 356 thank you notes in a year seems a little bit overwhelming, but how about one a week? Not only are handwritten thank you notes a great way to help you focus on the positive in your life, they are also a great way to differentiate yourself. In a world of thousands of emails, how fun is it to actually get a piece of handwritten mail, especially a thank you? The two minutes it takes you to write and send the card will leave a lasting impression of you and your business to the recipient.

In the action items below I will give you a few ideas to jump start your attitude of gratitude! Find something that works for you and whatever it is, take two minutes a day to be thankful. I guarantee if you make gratitude a priority in one way or another in your daily life, you will see positive results. Just like any habit that can lead to positive change, being successful in this endeavor requires consistency. The more you train your brain to see the positive in every situation the happier and more successful you will become!

Here are your Fast Track Action Items:

– Buy a pack of thank you notes or better yet pick out 10-20 unique cards to keep in your top desk drawer or a place they will be easily accessible

– Handwrite at least one thank you note per week, one per day is even better!

– Keep a gratitude journal. Each morning or night, write at least one thing you are thankful for that day. You will start to notice even when things are going wrong, there are plenty of things to be grateful for. Starting your morning with something positive can change your whole outlook on the day!

– Thank someone in person for something they have helped you with, if you are sincere even a quick dialogue can make a large impact

Email me at jennaatkinson1@gmail.com to let me know what you are thankful for this month and how adding gratitude to your daily routine has affected your business or life.

Be Successful On Purpose

Originally published in InBusiness Magazine


To be successful, you need to set goals and take action. It sounds easy enough, but according to studies only 3% of people have written goals. During my time in Madison I have had the opportunity to speak to many business and community leaders. One question I love to ask is “What are some specific things you have done professionally that have helped lead you to success?” By far, one of the top answers is having written goals they review on a consistent basis.

Several years back at a previous job, the company owner was (and still is) very successful and wealthy. On my first day, he called me into his office and said “I have a very important question for you.” I sat anxiously on the edge of my seat, paper and pen ready to jot down my first official task. “Do you have your goals written down?” Oh no…I must have missed an email that entailed my first assignment. He must have noticed the panicked confused look on my face, because he then continued, “In order to be successful in this job, in your profession and in your life you need to know where you are and where you want to go. Write down your goals and the path will become clear as to what you should do next.” He then opened his top drawer and pulled out a piece of notebook paper with several categories and individual goals written under each one. He told me how every day before he checked his email, attended to clients or even turned on his computer, he took a few minutes to review his goals and make sure during that day his actions reflected even the smallest steps he needed to take in order to accomplish the goals he had set for himself and his business. This short meeting taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. Anything is possible with a goal and a plan. No matter how successful you become, consistency with seemingly simple routines (like writing down and reviewing your goals daily) will continue to separate excellence from average.

Although I can’t guarantee you will reach every goal you set, by setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound) goals and taking even the smallest action steps to achieve them, I guarantee you will be better off than when you started. For most people who are successful, it did not happen by accident, but by purposefully taking action to get where they wanted to go.

Here are your Fast Track Action Items:

□ Create 3-5 SMART goals for your personal and professional life this month, one year from now, and five years from now. If you are really ambitious, you can also set daily and weekly goals as well.

□ Write these goals down and keep a copy where you can see it every day. Next to your computer, on your bathroom mirror, in your top desk drawer, as the first appointment on your Outlook Calendar (my personal favorite), just make sure they are visible daily so they stay top of mind.

□ For each goal, write down your first three action steps you need to complete in order to reach the goal.

□ By the end of this month take at least one action step to work towards each goal.

□ Email me at jennaatkinson1@gmail.com to let me know what some of your goals are and what, if any, stumbling blocks you are facing. Comment below and let me know what strategies you have used to be successful with setting and achieving your goals!