From Knife Skills to Life Skills, Executive Chef Dana Shares Her Journey

“I don’t know what else I would do. Food has always been an integral part of my life,” said Executive Chef Dana Murrell.

Chef Dana’s role in the culinary world has taken many forms throughout her life and career, from placing in a high school cooking competition to leading Green Chef as executive chef today.

But some things have always been constants for Chef Dana: her philosophy of food, her determination to make it in a male-dominated industry, and her commitment to family.

Chef Dana shares how she made her own way in the culinary field and what it took to find where she really fit.

Chef Dana

“You have to prove yourself, and I think that makes you stronger and harder.”

Cooking has long been viewed as a domestic task, a woman’s role. Yet in professional culinary circles, men are known to rule the roost. Dana is no stranger to having to lean in, and dig in her heels, among male colleagues.

Men have easy entry into the culinary profession: start as a dishwasher and work your way up. Not so for women, who seldom get hired for such entry-level positions. Instead, like Dana, women are expected to earn a culinary degree as the first step of proving their bonafides.

Even after graduating from culinary school and working in restaurants, Dana encountered “a lot of hurdles.” Such as a chef who made it his mission to bring her to tears and a line cook who refused to listen to her despite her expertise.

Of course, it takes more than one person to transform an industry, so Dana had to take control of her own experience.

“You have to continue to push yourself to show them that you can not only play with the big boys but that you can do it faster and harder and better. It makes them respect you. And I think that makes you a stronger person in general and a stronger person in your field.”

“I was content in knowing what I thought was my place.”

Earning the respect of her male colleagues wasn’t the only hurdle. Executive chefs are expected to work 50-60 hours a week, typically late into the night and on weekends, which doesn’t always mesh with motherhood.

It was difficult for Dana to find a restaurant that could accommodate her family’s schedule, and in those that would, advancing professionally was impossible. She couldn’t accept more hours to move up, so she ultimately decided to support her husband (also a chef) and children by taking a daytime line cook job.

“My place was a supporting role for [my husband] to be an executive chef. I was working during the day and home at night with the kids so he could live out his passion as an executive chef, which required working night shifts. So I wasn’t looking for anything else for myself.”

Cue Green Chef. While trawling Craigslist for job postings for her husband, Dana found an intriguing call for a chef to develop 10 new recipes a week. She jumped on it and has been Green Chef’s executive chef since the beginning.

Each week, she and her team mastermind recipes for Green Chef’s organic meal kits that customers cook at home. Chef Dana gets to not only bring her culinary creations to life for thousands of people but also work a more desirable schedule that allows for family time.

“There’s always work to be done here, but I get to have weekends off and still be involved in food. It’s huge changing over to Green Chef. My husband’s quite jealous, and it’s been really exciting for me as a chef. I am shipping 5-star-restaurant-quality food to consumers.”

Chef Dana sees the possibilities as endless. She can cook what she wants while giving other busy working professionals what they want: quick, simple, delicious meals.

“I think cooking is extremely empowering.”

Even professional chefs have to ask themselves when they get home, “What’s for dinner tonight?” But you don’t need culinary training to apply Chef Dana’s advice for achieving success in the kitchen: “Keep it simple, stupid. Or stupid-simple.”

Chef Dana strongly believes that simple, easy, no-fuss food is also the most delicious food. She also knows not everyone has the know-how to cook without a recipe or confidence in their abilities.

“I know cooking is a skill that I take for granted. I can go home, open my fridge, pull out a few things, and through knowledge and training, just whip up a dinner. That in and of itself is empowering. It’s amazing. When I take a step back and look at it through someone else’s lens, see what I’m capable of, it’s really kind of cool.”

At Green Chef, she’s able to carry out her passion for creating delicious, easy-to-prepare food and empowering others to cook at home. Every recipe Chef Dana develops and sends to customers comes with simple instructions and prepped ingredients to cook a complete meal in just about 30 minutes.

“There’s a need for more women doing what we do.”

Chef Dana hopes to not only empower more women to take charge of their own kitchens but also help them excel in the professional culinary world.

“I want to set up a scholarship fund that’s specifically geared toward women in the culinary business. It’s such an important field for everybody to be a part of, and I don’t think that women should be excluded. They have to go to culinary school, so what’s a good way to help them start that journey for their life?”

You can try Chef Dana’s masterpieces yourself by joining Green Chef. Their meal kits have everything you need to cook delicious dinners: organic ingredients, easy recipes, all delivered. Get $50 off your first order.

Power Practice #18: Be Before Do

We all find ourselves off-kilter or off-center sometimes. And it can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors and default responses that we later regret. But what if we explored a different path?

Henna Inam brings her 20 years of executive coaching experience to identity the 5 step process that occurs when we are thrown off by a situation, and leads us in a guided practice to recover to our most authentic and adaptive selves when we are triggered.

Build your self-confidence, your courage, and your resilience in the face of criticism, insecurity, or fear with this transformative Power Practice from Henna Inam.

Play Power Practice #18 – Be Before Do:

Henna Inam is a sought after speaker, successful author, and CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc. Her unique workshops, tools, and online community help managers create innovative, engaged teams that drive measurable results.

Henna and her global partner team work with Fortune 500 companies to deliver executive coaching, leadership development, and team workshops. Clients include Coca-Cola, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, CNN, and Bank of America. Prior to starting her company, Henna worked for 20 years at Procter & Gamble and Novartis. She has lived or worked across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Like what you hear? Why not get in on four full days of power practices, movement, inspiration and collaboration at Emerging Women Live, October 5-8, 2017 in Denver, CO. Join us!

Power Practice #17: Boost Your Self Worth to Grow Your Net Worth

Is money a constant source of anxiety for you? Nancy Levin, Emerging Women Live speaker and author of Worthy: Boost Your Self Worth to Grow Your Net Worth, has a practice that should help.

The real key to creating financial freedom isn’t changing what we do, it’s changing our limiting beliefs about how we feel—and that requires more than just learning how to invest. Ready to give it a shot? Discover which beliefs may be inhibiting your sense of self worth, and unlock the potential to grow your net worth in the process.

Play Power Practice #17 – Boost Your Self Worth to Grow Your Net Worth:

Nancy LevinNancy Levin is the bestselling author of Worthy: Boost Your Self-Worth to Grow Your Net Worth, Jump … And Your Life Will Appear and Writing For My Life, She’s a Master Integrative Life Coach and the creator of the Jump Coaching and Worthy Coaching Programs, working with clients – privately and in groups – to live in alignment with their own truth and desires.

She was the Event Director at Hay House for 12 years and hosts her own weekly call-in radio show Jump Start Your Life on Hay House Radio, Thursdays at 8am PT/11am ET.

She is also Contributing Editor of Kristen Noel’s Best Self Magazine and one of the hosts of the Hay House World Summit each year since its inception.

Nancy received her Masters in Creative Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and she continues to live in the Rocky Mountains.

Like what you hear? Try Bari Tessler’s Power Practice #06: Crafting a Money Practice to go deeper into your money mojo:


Why not get in on four full days of power practices, movement, inspiration and collaboration at Emerging Women Live, October 5-8, 2017 in Denver, CO? Join us!

3 Must-Haves for Women Entrepreneurs

The face of entrepreneurship is changing in the United States. More and more women are taking the leap from employee to owner, and the number of women-owned businesses grew 74 percent between 1997 and 2015 – that’s one-and-a-half times the national average, according to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Business Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN.

During October, which is National Women’s Small Business Month, the small business sector was in the spotlight, leading many inspirational entrepreneurs and communities to ask, “What can we do to help you succeed?”

Interestingly enough, the answer hasn’t changed much over the years. Women, like the majority of small and medium business (SMB) owners, need a mix of three ingredients for success: community, capital and growth.

Community

When it comes to community, women have long been the gatekeepers. The same skills that organized neighborhood events and activities and led to the founding of women’s’ organizations in the 1970s continue to be crucial to the future of entrepreneurship.

Capital

No conversation about women entrepreneurs is complete without discussing the challenges and key developments pertaining to issues like women’s access to credit and cultural expectations that have, to a certain extent, limited many women’s ability to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. These uphill battles, which could, even today, become deterrents, have instead fostered new strengths and determination that are integral to business success.

Growth

In business, many would say if you’re not growing, you’re failing. When growth is the name of the game, it’s imperative to constantly seek new ways to succeed.  Technology is now integral to enabling SMBs to grow; ever more accessible and sophisticated technology continues to democratize the means to leverage solutions once relegated to large companies. More than ever, technology now delivers a level of flexibility and mobility that enables every female entrepreneur to define her own workstyle and lifestyle.

Microsoft’s Windows10 Pro operating system and Windows10 Pro devices play a prominent role in the ongoing transformation of small businesses to do great things. We’d like to offer you a free copy of the Windows 10 for Business Onboarding Kit (click here) to learn more about how Windows 10 Pro and new devices can help empower your business.

5 Reasons We Want You to Take the Entrepreneurial Plunge

Some women decide to start a business because they have an innovative product idea that fills a gap in the market or a service they can offer that is in high demand. We love it when women choose the entrepreneurial path because we know the power of feminine business leadership to change the world at large.

Regardless of the motivation, if you’re a woman considering entrepreneurship, here are a few reasons to get excited about taking the proverbial plunge:

Determination

Women are likely to be well-armed when it comes to the determination necessary to succeed at starting a business. Rutgers University includes determination in a list of necessary traits in prospective and burgeoning entrepreneurs, along with perseverance, curiosity, innovation, and fearlessness. They offer the example of Airbnb, which for many months apparently only made about $200 a week; the founders are now estimated to be worth over a billion dollars each.

Causes

There is a great deal of interest and momentum behind what’s known as “cause marketing,” at the moment. Forbes cites Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Research in noting that “Women are 1.17 times more likely than men to create social ventures rather than only economic ventures, and 1.23 times more likely to pursue environmental ventures than economic-focused ventures.” Considering the current popularity of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability issues, women would be well-advised to pursue a business putting environmental conservation, energy efficiency, or social justice causes front and center.

There is now the existence of Certified B Corporations, certified by B Lab—who define B corporations as “for profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” A new interest in the triple bottom line of “profit-people-planet” is making B Corps especially appealing to a younger generation interested in supporting causes that value sustainability and economic equity. The new prominence of B corps should be especially motivating to women interested in starting forward-thinking businesses concerned with contributing to the social good.

Support

There are better support networks in place in 2016 than ever before. SAP mentions a few noteworthy organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners, Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and Aspect Ventures as examples of organizations or companies interested in fostering and supporting female-run companies. There are even more resources accessible online that offer a number of tools, words of advice, and support services to women looking to start their own business. And of course, Emerging Women and Emerging Women Live offer stellar opportunities to get inspired and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and investors.

Investment

It doesn’t cost as much money as you might think, at first. In fact, according to Intuit, “The majority (64%) of small business owners start with less than $10,000.”  That’s great news to those of us on a budget—which, let’s face it, is most of us. One way to make the process more painful is to start your business on the side, rather than quitting your job and hoping for the best. That way, you have a bit more breathing room to settle in and figure out which aspects of the business need adjustment or revision before full-launch. Entrepreneur offers a list of affordable business ideas to get you started, in case you’re at a loss for reliable options that are also on the frugal side.

However, if you are willing to shoot for more capital with which to start your business—especially if your business happens to be tech-based—Mackenzie Burnett put together a list of female angel and early-stage investors in tech. It helps immensely to tap into female-run investment firms, since for whatever reason many male investors are still biased against female entrepreneurs. Look into Broadway Angels, whose founder, Sonja Perkins, was recently interviewed by Fortune.

Independence

The last and perhaps most significant reason to start your own business is because of more independence and greater money-making potential. Many women want to start a family or would simply prefer to be their own boss than be forced to put up with traditional male-dominated hierarchies in a more traditional office setting. There is a great deal of marketing and business-based interaction that can take place online, now, as well—as opposed to in person or with the luxury of a brick-and-mortar office location. The traditional overhead costs simply don’t exist, when you work remotely or from a home-based office. And being in charge of your own business means you get to set your own rates or prices, which can feel empowering!

Make no mistake: setting out on your own can feel intimidating, and it probably won’t be easy. Set goals for yourself, and don’t be afraid to share your idea with the world. You have most of the resources you need, and you can find the ones you’re missing with the support and collaboration of your fellow females.

Forming a concrete image of your future entrepreurial success can keep you motivated when the going gets tough. Try this guided visualization from Right-Brain Business Plan author Jennifer Lee to connect with your future success:


Power Practice #16: Stepping Up and Speaking Out

There’s one question Nan Crawford hears a lot: How do I walk on stage with confidence, and genuinely inspire and influence my audience?

In this Power Practice, Nan shares her tips for crafting a good strategy before your presentation or conversation so that you will authentically connect with your audience. She illustrates how simple shifts in focus can lead to a tremendous increase in confidence and connection. She also leads us through a breathing practice which releases the jagged energy that comes with high stakes presentations and conversations.

Take 10 minutes to reframe your relationship to public speaking, and let the power of your voice help you make an impact in this world.

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Play Power Practice #16 – Stepping Up and Speaking Out:

Nan CrawfordNan Crawford is on a mission to create a world where women and girls know their power. An expert in how to increase your influence, Nan coaches bold women leaders to step onto a bigger stage. Nan has helped clients secure Executive level promotions, craft funding pitches that have raised millions of dollars, write and deliver powerful presentations for boards of directors, TED, Clinton Global Initiative, The State Department, The White House and The Colbert Report. Clients include: Autodesk, Boeing, Deloitte, eBay, Kaiser Permanente, Google, Paramount, Target, Wells Fargo and World Pulse. She serves as Executive Education Faculty for Columbia, Harvard and UC Berkeley’s Graduate Schools of Business. A cum laude graduate of the University of Texas with a BFA in Theatre, Nan holds an MA from The California Institute of Integral Studies in Organization Development. Nan Crawford has been featured in Fast Company magazine and The New York Times calls her work “inspirational”.

Like what you hear? Why not get in on four full days of power practices, movement, inspiration and collaboration at Emerging Women Live, October 5-8, 2017 in Denver, CO. Join us!

Power Practice #15: Unhooking from Praise and Criticism

Feeling stuck? You’re not alone.

Many of us can vividly imagine the next phase of our lives, but are reluctant to take the leap until we’re “ready.” That’s why we love women’s business leadership expert and Emerging Women Live speaker Tara Mohr. Tara has made it her mission to dig into the underlying reasons we think we’re “not ready yet.” Much of it has to do, she says, with getting hooked on praise and criticism.

As we maneuver through our lives, we give a lot of credence to other people’s opinions. The business world is wrapped in layers and layers of feedback. And while feedback can be helpful, it can be debilitating if taken too personally.

Hit play to try Tara’s exercise in freeing yourself from praise and criticism to allow yourself to operate at your highest potential. Grab a pen and get ready to take that leap!

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Play Power Practice #15 – Unhooking from Praise and Criticism:

“Feedback can never tell you anything about yourself. It can only tell you about the person giving feedback.”

Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert on women’s leadership and well-being. She is the author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message and creator of the acclaimed Playing Big leadership program for women, which now has more than 1000 graduates from around the world. Tara writes a popular blog on women’s careers and well-being at www.taramohr.com and has been featured on Today and in publications ranging from Huffington Post to Harvard Business Review to mariashriver.com. Tara received her MBA from Stanford University and her undergraduate degree in English literature from Yale. In 2010, Tara was named a Girl Champion by the Girl Effect organization, honoring her work on girls’ education in the developing world. She is also a poet, and the author of Your Other Names: Poems for Wise Living.

Like what you hear? Why not get in on four full days of power practices, movement, inspiration and collaboration at Emerging Women Live, October 5-8 in Denver, CO.

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Could Women Overturn Traditional Labor Roles?

A 21st century woman who’s looking for a lucrative and in-demand field in which to start a career—or a business—may want to consider the skilled trades. While women have not traditionally filled job roles like electrician, carpenter, welder, or HVAC technician, they may find it easier these days to break in and find success than in the past due to shortages of skilled labor and greater emphasis on workplace diversity. Plus, many women could find benefits to working in the trades compared to traditionally female-dominated fields.

Skilled Labor Shortage

Over recent decades, graduating high school seniors have been steered toward pursuing a college degree rather than vocational training. Popular opinions regarding education and professional success have influenced this push. As a result, there are fewer young people trained to take up skilled trade positions for those who are retiring. One piece of proof for this trend is that the number of unemployed construction workers fell by 1.1 million in the four years before 2014 according to Associated General Contractors of America. Another statistic indicative of a move toward a skilled labor shortage is the fact that 35 percent of 112 economists surveyed in 2015 by the National Association for Business Economics reported skilled labor shortages.

Workplace Diversity

At the same time that the skilled trade labor shortage is developing, businesses are becoming more and more eager to build a diverse workforce. Diversity in the workplace is not just about ethnic or racial diversity, but also about gender diversity. This means that women nowadays may find that it is easier for them to land a job in the skilled trades since an increasing number of employers are eager to diversify their teams.

Advantages of Skilled Trades

Among the advantages that working in the skilled trades might be expected to bring to female workers are higher salaries, more affordable educational requirements, and higher job demand, as this graphic below highlights. Equally enticing are the entrepreneurial opportunities available in the skilled trades: the construction industry has the second highest rate of self-employment of all major industries. More women-owned businesses could prove beneficial and inspirational for all women!

Check out this beautiful infographic to learn more about all that the trades have to offer women:

A Room of One’s Own: Why we need sacred spaces in order to create.

A few months ago, we had a feng shui master and his wife over for dinner. His wife and I were talking about our creative writing ventures and, when the master overheard, he chimed in with the simple question, “Where is your writing space? I love to see creative spaces.” I stuttered around an answer. The kitchen counter after the kids are asleep? A stolen afternoon at a coffee shop with thirty other coffee drinkers? The lobby of the rec center while my kids swim?

His look bored into my soul. He said, “Your writing will never take you seriously if you don’t have a sacred space to create in.” In that moment I realized what he was saying was true, but that actually doing something about it felt inconvenient.

“Your writing will never take you seriously if you don’t have a sacred space to create in.”

So I’ve been thinking about it: Does inspiration really squeeze in beside you if she has to contend with the sea of laptops and fancy coffee drinks, table to table with other aspiring creatives? Whether you are seeking to create a poem, a killer investor pitch or high tech breakthrough, if you want to invite inspiration to come visit you need a place for her to sit down. You need a “room of one’s own”, à la Virginia Woolf.

How many of us read A Room of One’s Own in high school or college and said to ourselves, “Right on, sister!” Her small book declares that women need space to tap into their creative power. Like me, you probably thought that when you grew up, you’d insist on the room. It would be a non-negotiable. But as our adult living situation becomes a reality, we concede the space to the distractions around us.

Some never conceded, like my friend and entrepreneur, Renee Israel. Renee is an entrepreneur and cofounder, with her husband Rob, of Doc Popcorn. They both work out of the home and they both have private home offices. When most people were remodeling by tearing down walls for larger living areas, Renee knew that she needed that wall. She insisted on articulated boundaries versus the larger communal space. And with that came intellectual freedom.

I am lucky enough to have an “office” that is shared with my husband, but stacks of to-do’s cover the space: brochures for potential summer camps, permission slips, bills, catalogs and then there’s Will’s desk, which is even more chaotic. When he is sitting at his computer, we chit chat and share, and we interrupt with things like, “Hey, is next Thursday a good day to get the furnace serviced?” My son walks in without a knock to ask if he can have a turn holding the bunny. The humdrum and the wonder have a hard time cohabitating at times. Busy work is worlds away from generative thinking. My office is a place to orchestrate the responsibilities, not the whisperings of my soul.

“My office is a place to orchestrate the responsibilities, not the whisperings of my soul.”

Lately, I’ve been eyeing the potting shed in the back yard. It’s full of straw, torn slip n’ slides, stacked pots, a wasp nest and a weed whacker. All of the that can find another home, I realize. So what is really standing between me and a room of my own? Maybe it’s my own self-doubt, or the fear of taking up space, but I’m getting over that. I may not write the next bestseller, but I just will have more than half an hour without an interruption to my thoughts – that sounds just as delightful. There would be nothing worldly in there, just a writing surface, some cool tchotchkes and creative quotations pinned to the wall. And ventilation. That’s it – all my room needs.

I like to think of it this way: HGTV is full of shows on creating the dream man-cave, but what would a woman-cave look like? Even if the best room of your own you can create is the kitchen counter after the kids are asleep – go for it. Find a talisman, light a candle and tell the others to stay away because inspiration needs a signal for the all-clear. Demand it. Do it for Virginia Woolf and the women who fought for the right. Because when we take up space, we take ourselves and our aspirations seriously. And so do those around us.

Show us your “rooms,” ladies. How do you take up space?


annike Annika Paradise is a freelance writer living in Boulder, Colorado.  Her writing has appeared in Brain Child Magazine as well as various blogs.  She is currently working on an historical fiction novel that takes place during the women’s suffrage movement in Colorado’s mining towns.

Power Practice #14: Letting Go – A Meditation on Surrender

Tosha Silver Letting Go

Are you feeling stressed out, rushed, or overwhelmed?

This very simple practice has become a staple for the Emerging Women team. As Tosha Silver says, in this testosterone-driven culture it’s so important for us to let go of struggle and let the Inner Divine take the lead. That way we can operate not from a place of aggression, ego, or even passivity, but with an openness and receptivity that is felt deeply within the body.

You can do this quick and relaxing practice several times a day to shift into a calming, healing mindset. Get ready to move with the flow and enjoy the synchronicity and magic that results!

Play Power Practice #14 – Letting Go – A Meditation on Surrender:

Tosha Silver graduated from Yale with a degree in English Literature but along the way fell madly in love with yogic philosophy. For the past 30 years she has taught people around the world ways to align with Inner Love. She’s the author of Outrageous Openness and the recently released Change Me Prayers: The Hidden Power of Spiritual Surrender. She lives near San Francisco, where she runs an online school about these ideas called, “Living Outrageous Openness: Think Like a Goddess”. This offers an ongoing way to support those who truly want to live these beautiful, ancient practices. You can also join her on Facebook by liking her author page where she writes a few times a week.

She particularly enjoys finding fresh, funny ways to invite and embrace the Divine, while avoiding conventional jargon and cliches at all cost. She loves how the sacred and the mundane are truly One. The guidance from the Inner Divine begins to lead when it is sincerely invited….by anyone.

Check out our Emerging Women podcast with Tosha Silver to hear more:
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Power Practice #13: Motivating with Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff Motivating with Self Compassion
Do you rely on self-criticism to get you moving?

This written exercise from self-compassion expert Dr. Kristen Neff is designed to help you shift your motivational focus from self-criticism to the more energizing benefits of self-compassion.

Press play to get in touch with what your inner critic might be trying to accomplish for you, and then let Kristen guide you towards meeting that same need with a kinder, more compassionate voice. Hands on hearts, people – self-compassion is the way through!

Play Power Practice #13 – Motivating with Self-Compassion:

kristin neff During Kristin’s last year of graduate school in 1997 she became interested in Buddhism, and has been practicing meditation in the Insight Meditation tradition ever since. While doing her post-doctoral work she decided to conduct research on self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and one that had not yet been examined empirically.

In addition to her pioneering research into self-compassion, she has developed an 8-week program to teach self-compassion skills. The program, co-created with her colleague Chris Germer, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, is called Mindful Self-Compassion. Her book, Self-Compassion, was published by William Morrow in April, 2011.

Check out our Emerging Women podcast with Dr. Kristen Neff to hear more:

Is your good customer service weakening your brand?

customerSurely you’ve heard the clichés: The customer is always right. Give the client what they want. Just do what you need to do to make them happy. If all else fails, give them their money back.

But when have clichés ever been a source of wisdom for building relationships with the people who matter most?

They offer no guidance in the often-messy reality of responding to customers’ needs and wants. It’s not for the faint of heart. Anyone who’s been in business long enough will know immediately what we mean: someone comes to you with a complaint, or a critical question, or a request that you change your policy just this once, as a favor, because it’s the “right” thing to do.

When you’re sitting at the computer with a knot in your stomach, you might acquiesce and just make the problem go away. In the painful moments it may be easier to defy your intuition and good sense than to speak an uncomfortable truth or hold a contested boundary. This is especially tempting when you mistakenly believe that the goal of customer service is to make people happy.

But here’s the truth: “good customer service” doesn’t mean putting your needs second. In fact, a more seasoned, intuitive, and courageous approach to customer service may just get your clients what they need instead of what they want.

In thinking creatively and in your willingness to speak a harder truth when necessary, you may serve customers in ways that they’ve never imagined, which have little to do with the product or service you’re selling. That’s what’s possible here. And in that capacity, you build your brand value along with your contribution to the world.

Most of us don’t even realize the ways we undermine ourselves. So here are the top 5 ways businesses unintentionally weaken their brand:

1. Falling on your sword to make the customer right.

We’ve all heard it before, but it’s just not true. Customers are human, and as such, they are funny, silly, forgetful, emotional and prone to make mistakes – just like us. They are also compassionate, caring, full of grace and forgiveness – you know, the good stuff – and we wouldn’t want it any other way. There’s no need for the blame game with your clients or customers, but there’s no need for you or your brand take the hit to stroke their ego.

Case in point: we were recently consulting with a client on creating some friendly scripts for failed subscription payments. They wanted their message to be kind and free from shaming language. (Yes, yes, yes, we couldn’t agree more.) However, the current model that they wanted to keep stated, We’re sorry, your payment has failed; perhaps something is wrong with our system (it happens), please try again or use a new payment method.

Do you see what’s happening here? This approach presumes shame on the customer’s part and assumes the blame. But look, failed payments happen. They’re nothing to be embarrassed about. They aren’t a sign of financial insolvency or an indication of personal irresponsibility. More often than not, a failed payment is the result of an expired or stolen credit card. There was no need to preemptively diminish the company’s payment system or apologize for the customer’s own oversight. Neither approach establishes trust in your brand and, worse, the former makes a valid case for customers not using your system in the future.

So keep it simple, stick to the facts, and be positive: Hi there, it looks like we are unable to charge the card we have on file for you. This generally happens when the card expires or some information changes. Here’s a secure link to update your payment information. We appreciate you working with us to get this matter resolved. Thanks!

2. Apologizing for things outside of your control.

Along the same lines, apologizing for things outside of your control sends the message that your business isn’t firmly on top of its moving parts. So one of your emails went to spam, and a client missed an important deadline. Or a customer didn’t receive an autoresponder that was delivering paid-course content. These things happen as a normal part of doing business in the virtual world. Instead of an apology, extend understanding (“Well that’s frustrating, isn’t it?”) and immediately move to a solution. (“We’ve got you covered, we just sent that email again.”)

This holds true even if the response you’re crafting is a troubleshooting email or a response to a complaint. All too often “I’m sorry” is said reflexively, without much thought, as a way to avoid further accountability for a situation. It also weakens your brand. There are more precise and productive ways to express that mayyybe you messed up. (You mess up? Nah.)

If you feel sorry, express empathy, and then write with a focus on solutions, from a spirit of assumed, collaborative solution-finding (i.e., “Let’s see what we can do.”).

3. Taking complaints personally.

Complaints frequently feel personal, because your work is woven through with your efforts, your aspirations, your desire to serve. In short, your work is personal because you’ve put yourself on the line. But the truth about client communications is that when it gets tough or goes sour it is RARELY about you (though it feels that way) and is NEVER personal, even if you made a mistake.

Taking things personally takes you out of problem-solving mode and puts you into a defensive, deflecting state of mind. Here again, you don’t need to take responsibility for the things outside of the scope your work, but we all have felt the difference between customer service that takes time to listen and understand our situation, and someone on the other end who is in total deflection-defense mode. The former will win you clients and referrals. The latter will not.

When a customer complains, they’re doing you a favor and giving you the opportunity to fix the situation. If you can get to the root of their problem and arrive at a solution you have a real opportunity to make a happy customer for life.

4. Offering an unhappy customer a refund as a first line of defense.

All too often our clients think they are being kind or delivering the very best in customer service when they immediately offer unhappy customers a refund. But consider this: when you offer a refund to a customer you communicate, “you’re right, our product or service failed you.” Sometimes it comes out of conflict avoidance or simple dismissiveness – a quick fix to avoid having to “deal with them.”

Over and over we see it. A talented, committed business owner whose work gives incredible value to her people will suddenly dissolve into no-questions-asked when someone writes a nasty-gram. (And sometimes it doesn’t even have to be nasty, but there is fear that it could become nasty.)

When we can face the complaints and gnarly moments with poise, even while our heart is racing and our stomach is in knots, we can learn so much. The unhappy customer may teach you something valuable about your target market, what they expect or don’t like, or the ways that what they’ve tried have failed them and how they feel about that. (Yes, there are always needlessly painful moments and folks who are caught up in their own neuroses. But remember that the most difficult cases aren’t fundamentally about you or your work anyway.) So it’s important to appreciate the value of what can be learned in the tough spots, even though it always feels awful in the thick of it, and to respond with grace rather than reacting with fear.

Sometimes when your surprising kindness and graciousness saves the day (because often it will save the day) people are so blown away that they will come back another time.

If you can’t remedy the person’s real complaint or objection and you make a graceful choice to offer money back (an important distinction, by the way: your ability to choose to give a refund from graciousness rather than shame) – that person becomes a brand ambassador rather than a detractor. Your genuine connection with them can shift what they say from “This product or service failed me,” to “That company is great, but I just wasn’t ready for what they were offering.

5. Assuming you have to reinvent the wheel of kindness with every reply.

Writing a kind, personal, unique email each and every time is the ideal, right? It means you and your team are delivering the very best in customer service. Well, not when it slows down the lines of communication or creates yet another unattainable standard of perfection.

Here’s the good news: it is absolutely possible to use a “formula” without writing a formulaic email. There is a middle way between pasting an impersonal blurb and feeling obligated to reinvent the wheel of kindness with every reply.

 This formula is the backbone that supports most of the communications that have come across our desks, because it allows for genuine connection that isn’t onerous or cheesy.

Here’s how it works…
 Use the 7 step non-formula formula:

  • Step 1: Thank them wherever possible.
  • Step 2: Make them feel heard and unique.
  • Step 3: If it’s a troublesome case, consider finding an alternative to saying “I’m sorry.” If you feel sorry, express empathy, and then write with a focus on solutions.
  • Step 4: Now work your particular magic. Move to a solution, recommend a service, etc.
  • Step 5: Outline the next steps involved and/or what’s needed from them.
  • Step 6: Clearly state what you need and make a call to action. Don’t bury this in the paragraph above (the one that’s full of abundant explanations).
  • Step 7: Keep the lines of communication and gratitude open, even as you sign off.

Good customer service simply means that you’ve honored the implicit and explicit agreements between you and the people you are helping. It means that your clients and customers reliably get what you’ve set them up to expect. And in order to provide those things, it’s critical to stand for yourself and your brand with dignity and integrity. When you model that, your brand’s trustworthiness grows, and so does its value. It’s a commitment worth making.

Now tell us: what are the hardest customer service moments for you? When are you most tempted to abandon your policies or to do the “nice” thing at your own expense? What might you do differently if you didn’t think your job was to make people happy?

Nita Apple and Jess Larsen Jukelevics of nitaapple.com are the co-authors of Say It With Grace Toolkit: a Blueprint for Stellar Client Communications. The Toolkit contains email templates and a customer service guide for what to expect, how to say it, and what to do when customer service gets gnarly. Together they provide a custom service called Let Us Say It With Grace and consult with businesses about ways to use customer service to build their brand, engage and retain delighted customers, and empower their support teams to do outstanding work. 

Nita AppleFor Nita Apple customer service was hardcoded into her DNA, as she grew up working in the family store, The Happy Apple. Greeting customers with a warm smile and can-do attitude was the norm, even for a five-year-old. Nita carried that service approach forward throughout her corporate career – whether working as a Human Resource Manager or an Employee Benefit Consultant – her approach was to treat everyone as a customer with a problem solving mindset. Today, Nita calls herself a Customer Service Solution-ist for online businesses. She’s a problem solver by nature, an intuitive innovator, and the founder of the online consulting firm nitaapple.com.

Jess LarsenJess Larsen Jukelevics is the founder of two businesses: a copywriting + virtual support firm and a birth doula + childbirth preparation practice. (You may think online course management and labor support wouldn’t meet in the middle. You’d be surprised.) Jess has a background in public relations, public policy and public health. She brings an instinctive sense about what needs to be communicated, and curiosity about ways that inspired communication can facilitate professional, personal and spiritual growth.