One of the things I do each month with my Digital Dining Room group is host a Secret Supper.

If I were an actual chef (and not just a metaphorical one), those Secret Suppers would be intimate gatherings in my kitchen where I’d show my guests exactly how I make my Signature Dishes.

Instead, my Secret Suppers are held via Google Hangouts.

For 45 minutes, I share my experiments, processes, and outcomes about that month’s specific topic (everything from social media strategy to copy writing).

They get to see why I choose to do things the way I do. Always with the caveat that they’ll need to experiment and find their own best ways.

Because here’s the truth: my recipes won’t work precisely the same way in a different kitchen.

(Remember that the next time you’re tempted to purchase someone’s “blueprint to six figures.”)

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share our how-we-do-it stories. They can be incredibly beneficial to others looking to find their way through the maze of entrepreneurial success.

So that’s what we’re doing here today: taking a look at how in the world I’ve kept my arms around several major projects over the last few years (all while serving private clients):

  • Word Carnivals :: a monthly group blogging project that began in 2011 and continues today (now with the guidance and cat-wrangling of Nick Armstrong).
  • A Marketing & Solopreneurs Research Project :: a major survey that collected data from nearly 1200 respondents.
  • Small Biz Branding Competition :: a search for the best branding done by a micro biz owner, and judged by three major branding experts (plus me).
  • Attract and Feed a Hungry Crowd :: the writing, publishing, and marketing of my first book; and selling over 5,000 copies on Amazon the first year.
  • Prosperity’s Kitchen :: a 14-week reality web series/competition that included 12 special guest mentors, 15 public competitors, and a play-at-home version.
  • Digital Dining Room :: a year-long group coaching program that evolved from Prosperity’s Kitchen.
  • Rebranding from The Word Chef to Story Bistro :: and figuring out how to
  • Bloggers Mastermind :: a 6-week group program I led 5x this year.
  • Sunday Brunch :: a bi-monthly informal discussion on various topics via a private Facebook group.
  • Bloom Your Online Relationships :: a 30-day challenge that included 25 leaders, nearly 700 participants, and resulted in a published book.
  • Story Circles :: bi-monthly in-person meetups that allow entrepreneurs to practice telling their business stories.
  • Butter & Beast :: a series of stories and recipes for entrepreneurs brought to you by 12 food-loving biz owners.

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. (Kinda makes my head spin when I see it all there in one place.)

It’s important to remember that…

  • When I started The Word Chef, Mr. Perfect worked long hours and I had no children living at home.
  • I have nearly 30 years of experience in directing and managing big marketing campaigns and major events.
  • While I did most of the heavy lifting on the above projects, I had the help of many, MANY colleagues and readers.
  • And while I DID learn my marketing chops way before the Internet was a Thing (meaning,  I’ve had to learn a whole lot about the digital world, just like you), I haven’t tried to master every flipping corner of it.

So how do I keep it all humming?

The Story Bistro Back-of-House Planning System

1. Start with a Plan.

I help my clients plan their marketing the same way I plan mine: by starting with a revenue goal. How much money would I like to create in the coming year? And how would I like to create it?

Then I ask: What needs to be in place in order to make that happen? Do I need to build my list? Do more in-person speaking? Focus on deepening my existing relationships?

I usually choose just two other goals for the year: one that’s operational (how can I improve my back-of-the-house systems?) and one that serves my professional development (what skills do I want to learn or improve?).

From there, it’s a matter of laying out the steps I want and need to take to get there.

2. Use a year-at-a-glance erasable calendar to manage major timing.


I’m using this one from Paper Source which is reversible so you can mount it horizontally or vertically.

What I do first is note regular, recurring meetings…meetings with clients AND with myself.

I make it a rule to spend at least 50% of my work week ON my own business. That means blocking out time to meet with myself on a weekly basis as the CEO. To review the numbers and listen to the stories they tell me about how I’m doing. To dig deep into what’s working and/or adjust strategy, if necessary.

Then I block out time for vacations. This gives me a birds-eye view of my year and shows me where I might be over-committed or have space to tackle a new project.

Once all these dates are noted, I transfer them to my Google Calendar so that I don’t double-book myself for appointments.

3. Use a monthly wall calendar to plan out content marketing.


Again, this is a Paper Source find.

Each color post-it represents a different type of content: email, blog posts, etc. All of which serve to promote — in some way — my products and services.

I use sticky notes so I can move things around if a change needs to be made. (Anyone else addicted to these?)

Ideas for future content are written on stickies and saved on a larger, easel-sized post-it that I keep above my desk.

When I decide to write something about that topic, I can move it over to my wall calendar. Easy peasy.

4. Use an automated scheduling app to manage creation of appointments.

I’m currently using Acuity Scheduling (aff link) which syncs up to my Google calendar. It keeps me sane 99% of the time (the other 1% is usually my own fault).

It’s absolutely the best $10/month you can spend.

5. Use a project management app for all client work.

I’m currently using asana and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I use the free version but only because I don’t need the enterprise version.

6. Use a File Sharing app for client work.

Mostly, I rely on Google apps for this, but I’ve been known to lean on Dropbox (aff link), too.

A lot of the work I do with clients involves them writing and submitting their drafts to me for feedback.

Google docs has a nice option for collaborating on work that functions similar to MS Word’s track changes function. Each time I go through and make my suggestions and comments, the client is notified by email. It’s super efficient.

7. Work with a Virtual Assistant.

I have a confession: I just started working with a VA this year. When you have the technical know-how, it’s a lot easier to manage these kinds of projects yourself. You just have to have the time and space to do so.

When you don’t have those things (time, space or know-how), then you MUST hire someone else. It does you absolutely no good to spend frustrating days and weeks trying to teach yourself how to do something when you can so much more effectively hire much of it out.

Even if it’s just an hour a week, find someone who can assist you with those things that you want to delegate. I use (and highly recommend) Carmen Taggart.

8. Work with a Coach.

Just as I coach and mentor folks, I’ve got a coach of my own. The mentoring conversations I’ve had with her have helped me focus on what matters and stay accountable to my own goals.

It’s one of the most important investments in your business, but don’t hire just anyone. Look for someone whose philosophy and operations are those you’d like to emulate.

Yes, you’d like someone to push you out of your comfort zone, but not so far out that you end up heart broken and bankrupt.

9. Keep a loose grasp on your expectations.

In other words, try to give yourself a buffer zone of objectivity when it comes to your business goals and how they unfold. Nothing will ever work out exactly the way you hoped, dreamed or planned. Don’t take the bumps personally.


Whatever your goals are and however you choose to achieve them, try to create good habits and repeatable processes. And don’t forget to have a life.

Did I leave out a detail you’d like to know? Got a question or tip of your own to add? Let’s continue this conversation in the comments below!


Ever wanted to peek behind the curtain? Wanna know what’s going on behind the scenes of a small business? What little inspirations, daily reminders, and hidden dangers await in the treacherous waters of working for yourself?

Check it out this month’s Word Carnival. It’s your all-access pass.