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A chat with Jennifer Lee about her latest book

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 by Marianne Elliott

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-4Jennifer Lee is one of the people I always make time to meet up with when I’m in San Francisco – there’s something particularly delightful about an afternoon spent walking and talking with her. She brings together creativity and clarity, and is able to hold in balance a kind of vibrant playfulness and a deeply grounded practical wisdom.

So it’s no surprise that her book, The Right Brain Business Plan, has been a best-seller, helping many thousands of creative people find an approach to business planning that works for them. Her new book, Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way, picks up where the first book left off, taking you from planning into making it happen – all while honouring your creativity and sense of play.

After reading Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way I had a few questions which Jennifer agreed to answer for us today.


Me: Do you think the systems and advice in this book are equally relevant for creative people who want to start non-profits or social enterprises?

Jennifer: While I haven’t personally worked in a non-profit or social enterprise, from the clients and colleagues I’ve talked to who are in them, I do think that the guidance in the book can pertain to them as well. In fact, 2 of the featured entrepreneurs in the book – a previous client, Lou Shakleton of The You Can Hub in the UK, and my friend, Brighid O’Shaughnessy of Erasing the Distance in Chicago – both run non-profits.

Even if the organization is not-for-profit it still needs to manage money, to have a mission, align their actions with their values, attract their right people (whether that be donors, volunteers, or clientele the organization serves, etc.), and create engagement within their community to move them into action. Also, things like smooth sailing systems (processes, systems, and tools) and team building are important for any group of people to be able to function as effectively as they can.

In your book you talk about the importance of knowing what it is that you stand for in your business or enterprise. For many people that — in itself — is very difficult. Is there a pain-free way to get clear on that? What creative processes help you get to the very core of what you stand for in your work?

Yes, I totally get that getting clear on what you stand for (and saying it out loud!) can be difficult and even intimidating. I think a helpful thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t need to be the “be –all-end-all” let’s solve world hunger lofty message that we think it needs to be. Just start small and let it evolve over time. Also, don’t worry about it being a succinct bumper sticker type message. For now it just might be a feeling or intuition that over time you give voice to. But do give voice to it even when it’s not entirely clear because that’s how you’ll hone the message and you’ll see if it resonates with you and your right peeps.

A few suggestions for getting started:

  • Name something that upsets your or frustrates you. Go on a rant and video tape it so you can rewatch and make notes about the things that stand out to you. Or write a letter to someone or something that upsets you that you’ll never send (that way you won’t edit yourself). See what themes, phrases, and words show up and use that as a starting point.
  • Use the Fantastical Freeway Billboard play sheet from the book or just use a blank sheet of paper to collage images and words that speak to you. The idea here is to imagine that you have your own billboard space and you can communicate whatever you want to your right peeps. This is a more intuitive, visual approach that might work just to get the juices flowing.
  • If you’re feeling really brave and want to test out a core message, you can “tattoo” it on your body. Take a pen and write out the message somewhere on your body and notice what it feels like to embody the message. Regardless of how you choose to explore this, remember that it doesn’t need to be perfect and it can change over time.

I love teams. I especially love working with people who are good at things I’m not good at! In your book you talk about building teams to help your business or enterprise flourish. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in this area, and how did that inform this book?

Probably the biggest mistake I made was waiting too long to hire help when I needed it (like when I’m in already in a bind versus being proactive and hiring early). I’m definitely a control freak and perfectionist, so it was hard in the beginning for me to let go of control. Well, actually, it can still a challenge because I can worry about things like expenses or increased complexity but as my business continues to expand, it’s very clear that this business needs many people to continue making the impact it’s meant to make and I need to get out of my own way. I just made a significant team hire with bringing in a business manager to help me expand and run the team so that I can focus on more strategic growth.

I think the other place that I’ve fallen down before as it relates to team is waiting too long to let someone go if they’re not working out. I tend to put it all on me – that there’s something I could’ve done better to explain, or my expectations are too high, etc. – but sometimes it’s just not the right fit. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Just not right for the role and it’s better for everyone to move on. So I’m learning to make those decisions faster and practice better communication. As someone who avoids conflict it’s definitely a muscle I’m building!


More about Jennifer

Jennifer Lee, author of Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way and bestselling The Right-Brain Business Plan spent a decade climbing the corporate ladder before pursuing her creative dreams. Through her popular workshops, coaching practice, and writing, she
empowers others to follow their passions. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and sweet husky-lab mix.




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