Want to Succeed? Focus.


Be careful about giving advice. It can come back to haunt you.

My almost 4-year-old burned me pretty badly the other day.

The modern world does not do us any favors when it comes to presence and focus. I work very intentionally with my son to help him avoid overwhelm and concentrate on one task at a time. When he starts flipping through another book while I’m reading one to him, I gently take it from his hands. When he jumps from one game to another, I stop him and we make a game out of putting the first one away. When I’m speaking to him, I encourage him to look me in the eye and put down whatever he’s working on to ensure he’s listening.

“We have to focus on one thing at a time,” is my mantra for him.

The other day, we missed the freeway exit for his swim class. When he asked why we were going on little detour, I said, “Mommy missed our exit, honey. I wasn’t focusing, was I?” He nodded.

A few days later, I was driving him to preschool,  my mind abuzz with the day’s to-do list. Sure enough, we drove straight through the light instead of turning right and had to double-back.

“Why are we turning around?” he asked.

“Because I got distracted and didn’t turn when I was supposed to.”

He gave me a stern look, “You weren’t focusing, Mommy.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Multitasking is a myth. Science proves that we don’t really do tasks simultaneously: We’re just switching focus.  And it takes longer to complete tasks that way because of stopping and starting. Efficiency goes out the window.

And yet, God love us, we still try.

When it comes to promoting your work, you may be tempted to try a million different tactics to see what sticks. After all, there’s a lot out there, right? We live in an age of marketing overwhelm.

You’re right to test and tweak. But not all at the same time! The truth is that you’ll just do a lot of things really badly – and not see results.

Quality over quantity wins. Every. Single. Time.

It’s better to focus on doing a few things really well, mastering them, if you want to see results for your revenue, visibility and impact. 

Focus on mastering a FEW things really well, not trying to do it all, if you want revenue, clients + visibility! Click To Tweet

To help you tackle your focus challenges and breathe easier while getting more results, please download a FREE taste from my upcoming MOMENTUM Pro self-study program by clicking the button below. This Playbook is titled Simplify Your Marketing Plan and it’s all about how to streamline and focus for results. I promise: You don’t have to do it all!

Get your Playbook Now

If you like this playbook and want a more streamlined, non-overwhelming, completely do-able way to master your marketing, check out MOMENTUM Pro! It’s all about focus, providing a step-by-step system to take one action at a time and gain clients, visibility and revenue.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

How to Bounce Back from Failure, Rejection and Soul-Crushing Criticism: A Chat with Alexandra Franzen


How to Bounce Back From Failure, Rejection and Soul-Crushing CriticismAn intimate chat with Maria Ross and Alexandra Franzen

Ever experience soul-crushing, heart-breaking, confidence-shattering criticism, failure or rejection?

If you’re human, of course you have. If you say you never have, you’re a Cyborg and I’m terrified of you.

Life as an entrepreneur – no, as a human being – is full of ups and downs. So much of what we see out there in books and on the Internet is about extreme success: the overnight sensation, the instant millionaire or the glamorous thought leader.

But rarely do folks we look up to open up about their biggest failures or rejections – and more importantly, how they survived and came out the other side stronger, smarter and braver.

Many of you may already know my dear friend, writing teacher and author Alexandra Franzen. Her latest book is called You’re Going to Survive. The subtitle is killer: True stories about adversity, rejection, defeat, terrible bosses, online trolls, 1-star Yelp reviews, and other soul-crushing experiences—and how to get through it.

Feeling discouraged about your career? Maybe you’re dealing with… A frustrating client. A product launch that didn’t work out so great. A painful 1-star review. Maybe online trolls are mocking your latest project. Or maybe you applied for your dream job and you didn’t get chosen. Again.

For tough moments when you could really use a friend, this book is a MUST for your bookshelf.  Inside, you’ll find encouragement, humor, and inspiring true stories about turning defeat into big opportunities.

When Alex asked me if she could include one of my own stories, I was honored to share my lessons learned with others about how I bounced back from some hurtful (and kind of odd)  negative online reviews to my personal memoir, Rebooting My Brain.

It’s a delight to share with you this exclusive video conversation with Alex about all things creative living, rejection, pride, failure and strength. Settle in and enjoy this intimate and inspirational conversation.

YouTube video

There is so much juicy advice in this video, but you’ll especially enjoy these highlights:

On keeping creativity alive in your work:
“I need to not feel like I’m doing 100% client work; I need to have space for my own art projects” – 10:05

On why she wrote this book:
“My hope is that when someone’s having a hard day, they can pick it [the book] up and have some hope” – 13:22

On what makes you successful:
“The people who are able to succeed in their industry, they are the persistent people…they go back in, over and over” – 23:06

One her own setbacks and rejections:
“I had gotten about 20 rejections in total for this book alone” – 27:14

“I’ve had my work plagiarized, 1-star Amazon reviews and my website completely stolen and someone pretending to be me.” – 11:39

On what “persistence” really means:
“Persistence is not doing the same thing over and over, banging your head on a locked door and getting nowhere. It’s keeping the train moving forward, but finding creative ways to keep things moving along and keeping your vision.” – 29:18 

“Discipline and devotion is required, like a musician practicing in the janitors closet or garage in the middle of a winter snow storm” – 33:30

On how to recover from rejection, criticism or failure:
“We are often faced with a choice after rejection; Do we give up or go back in just one more time. Ellen’s story of rejection ended up being more uplifting” – 16:47

“Don’t isolate yourself. Set a timer for your meltdown, and then reach out.” – 39:14

On how to get more work – and how to keep it fresh:
“The more specific I am about what I’m doing, the more likely people will hire me” 4:39

“In order to describe your work, look outside of your industry for inspiration” -7:54

On how to turn rejection into success:

“I opened it [the book] up to my community after being rejected 20+ times, openly and vulnerably, and that was the door that opened for the book” – 28.08

Putting yourself and your work, voice or art out into the world is scary. You may fall, You may be criticized by a few. But you also may bring extreme joy, support, inspiration, hope and delight to many, many others. Never be afraid to share your work and your story. It’s worth it. And I promise: You’re going to survive. (TWEET THIS!)

P.S. Alex created a FREE “bonus extras” Audiobook of certain excerpts and advice told by those featured in the book (including my lovely message for you!) that is fabulous. Get your free “extra” audiobook here.

About the book:

Alexandra Franzen’s newest book is called You’re Going to Survive. It’s a book about how to deal with discouraging situations in your career, and how to build more resilience and keep marching towards your goals. The book has been called “uplifting and encouraging” and “your new best friend on a bad day.” Find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and IndieBound.

You’re Going to SurviveKindle
You’re Going to SurvivePaperback
You’re Going to SurviveSpotify Music Playlist

About Alexandra Franzen

Alexandra Franzen is a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has been featured on websites like Time, Forbes, and Newsweek, and she’s been mentioned in places like The New York Times Small Business Blog, The Atlantic, and Inc.
Alexandra conducts writing classes and retreats, and works 1-on-1 with clients to help them complete all kinds of exciting projects—from books to podcasts to TEDx talks, and beyond. You can find all of Alexandra’s current projects at: AlexandraFranzen.com.


Plan to Your Purpose

Plan to your purpose, not to tactics

Have you planned for next year yet?

Don’t stress. It’s okay if you’re in full-on holiday cray-cray time. But as you make space to do this, perhaps sharing my experience will help you.

This past week, I embarked on an annual planning session. I tucked away for two days, turned off email (kind of) and all distractions, and got to work on my business and personal goals for the year.

PS: I did this as an experimental virtual mini-retreat with several other rockstar solopreneurs. Whoa, the power of accountability and not going at it alone! This may become a full-blown REAL retreat in the mountains next year, if you’re interested. Stay tuned!

First, I revisited last year. You must celebrate what went right before you beat yourself up about what went wrong!

I carefully reviewed my goals and themes for the year. Some of them, I knocked out of the park – HURRAH! So I explored why.

Some of my goals were not quite achieved. Meh.

And a few of those goals fizzled. Epic fail. Not even close. I explored the lessons I could learn so I could improve. Some say there is no such thing as failure, but everything is a learning opportunity. Yes. But let’s get real. It still stings!

As you, too, evaluate your year and look back, you may want to do what I did.

Ask yourself: Do you want to do this again or try this again next year? And more importantly, does the goal still resonate or should you just let it go?

But most importantly I revisited my Purpose. And I committed to planning to that. Not to what others define as success. Not to some mythical standard that I think I’m supposed to reach. Not to what society even expects.

Here’s my purpose statement, in case you’re interested. I worked with a brilliant strengths coach this past year to come to this and then asked a gifted writer friend to polish and articulate it – and the results surprised even me!

My purpose is to…

– INSPIRE. I inspire people to start amazing projects and businesses rooted in empathy that create a positive ripple in the world.

– ACTIVATE. I shift people from thinking/feeling (nice thoughts, good intentions) into action (actual, concrete progress).

AMPLIFY. I work with influential people (writers, entrepreneurs, activists) to help them amplify their voices, share their messages with thousands of people, and create an even bigger social impact.

My purpose is to…

Teach people that you can do incredible good in the world—no matter who you are.

You can be a firefighter, be a monk, open a bakery, or run a software company. No matter what type of vocation you’ve chosen, there is always a way to bring more generosity, compassion, and empathy into your work—and leave the world in better condition than you found it.

Plan to your purpose. It’s a much smarter and happier way to set goals that truly mean something to you.

Plan to your purpose, not task, to set goals that truly mean something @redslice #newyeargoals Click To Tweet

Are you craving more wit and wisdom on goal setting and time management? Check out my little eBook, The Juicy Guide to Time Management and Goal Setting: Advice on How to Wrangle Your Calendar and Slay Overwhelm.  From Kam’s super-kind 5-star review: “This is the fourth eBook from Maria that I read and I know it will be the one I refer my mastermind buddies to over and over again!”

Are you Using the Right Marketing Muscles?

Are you using the right marketing muscles or is your progress stalled?

Being an avid Crossfitter (going on 7 years now), I’ve learned a thing or two about getting my head on straight so my body will follow. And how false assumptions can only hurt your progress. 

My fabulous coach (I use more colorful adjectives when she gives me too many burpees) devotes herself to ensuring we understand the intent behind all of our moves, so that we are not just blindly trying to complete reps, but that we do each rep right. Proper form is everything.  

You can do a million reps of an exercise, but if you do them badly, you won’t see results. Period. 

For years, I held on to false assumptions about which muscles should be activated when doing certain moves.  And because of that, I plateaued. Despite lots of effort, I never got stronger, faster or better. And often, I would just hurt myself! 

For example, when you do a deadlift (lifting a weighted barbell from the floor), most people think you use your back or even your arms to a certain extent. You actually need to activate your hamstrings and booty to lift more weight..  

When you do a push-up, most people position their arms in the wrong spot and believe it’s all about arm strength, which is why they quickly fatigue. It’s not about arms, but about tightening your abs and butt. 

When you squat, especially with weights, it’s not about your quads. It’s about your booty and core. 

When you bench press, it not about using your arms. It’s about activating and pressing from your core.  

The epiphany here is that if each rep is perfectly executed, you can actually do less and make more progress than if you do a thousand reps really, really badly. And side bonus: You don’t hurt yourself! 

You’d be surprised how much more weight you can lift and how many more reps you can do when you activate the right muscles.  

The same holds true for your business and brand success.  

If you’re brutally honest, you may find you, too, hold many false assumptions that are halting your progress and keeping you from reaching your personal best – and potentially hurting yourself! 

Sales is not about being pushy, annoying or slimy, it’s about having a conversation. 

Profitability does not come from just signing new clients. It’s about managing expenses and correctly pricing your offerings or you could actually be losing money on every new deal.   

Marketing success is not more effective just because you spend more money, time or effort. More ads, more content, more, more, MORE. It’s actually about doing less, but making sure you’re doing the right things so you get more bang for your buck.  

It’s not about doing more and doing it all badly. It’s about focusing on fewer tactics and making sure you execute them with perfection.(TWEET THIS!)

Ready to learn proper form and technique so you can do less sales and marketing and yet attract more clients, fans and revenue? If so, please check out MOMENTUM Pro, a self-study digital course you will adore to help you focus, streamline and be more effective in generating sales. Sounds good, right?!

Photo Credit: Tech Girls Movement

Your Success is Not a Formula

I’m a big fan of predictive data analytics.    

While I’m a creative type–marketer, actress, writer–I greatly admire that science and statistics can help us predict many things such as the last amazing solar eclipse, how strong a car seat needs to be to protect a child in a crash, climate change (yes, people, it’s real. Stop it.) 

But factor in a human element and those predictions can go sideways. We all saw this in the last U.S. Presidential election. Models can be wrong when it comes to complex human behavior. You can run all the stats in the world on which team will win the Super Bowl next year, but you may not predict injuries, or how adrenaline and moxie can force a mediocre quarterback to perform superhuman feats when it matters most. 

While there are markers of what will make a business succeed or fail, there is no true formula for your business success. 

As you may know, I’m addicted to the Jeopardy! game show. I’m such a freak, I actually record the episodes that I’m not able to watch and “binge watch” as a treat to myself.  It’s the most endearing of my vices, if I do say so myself. #DontJudge 

Recently, a bartender has been demolishing the competition night after night, racking up (to date) about $300,000. He’s competing against lawyers, scholars, scientists–many older than he. Still the bartender is besting them all. 

If he’d let himself get caught up in head games about his profession or about how others with their fancy degrees and academic lives were somehow “smarter” than him, he’d have lost by now.  

He has prepared and trained for this. But he closes that last-mile gap to success with confidence and determination. 

Your success is not predetermined. Prepare, be confident and GO! Click To Tweet

It’s beautiful to watch. 

Yes, mindset won’t make a failing business or an ill-conceived product succeed. But there are enough saboteurs out there without you adding to them. 

Create a thoughtful plan. Do your homework. Where you have skill gaps, seek help, take a valuable course, or hire a consultant.  

And then stop the trash talk in your head, such as “I’m not enough of an expert” or “I’m just not a good marketer” or “I hate sales and promoting myself.” Just go out there and make it happen. 

If you’re ready to finally tackle this whole “brand and marketing” thing, step-by-step, you may just love my Brand Bootcamp self-guided digital course.  Seriously, you’ve got this stuff down – you just need clarity, confidence and focus to do it right!

The one thing successful entrepreneurs all have in common

Guess what every successful entrepreneur and business owner have in common?
The key to their success is not merely:
  • More funding
  • Innate marketing and sales ability
  • The right connections
  • An Ivy league education
  • or, even the BEST quality product, service, or offering (though that sure helps)

No, what they all have in common….is that they know when to ask for help. (Tweet this!)

Richard Branson, the genius behind Virgin, advises entrepreneurs to not shy about asking for help, like he did:
“I reached out to people who possessed the skills I lacked and asked them for help.”
Marie Forleo, internet marketing expert and community builder, shares that “everything is figure-outable”, her mantra for building her empire:
“If I don’t know how to do something, I’m pretty sure there’s someone else on the planet who does. I Google. I pick up the phone. I ask for help from everyone I know.” 
Howard Schultz built Starbucks as an ambitious dream…and even rejoined the company to to right the ship when it started going off the rails. His secret?:
“One of the most undervalued characteristics (of success) is being vulnerable and
asking for help.
You’re amazing at what you do. You have such value and talent to offer.
But if you’re still struggling with how to build a breakout brand….how to clarify your value, attract the right ideal clients and customers, manage your marketing overwhelm – or promote yourself with more grace, ease and authenticity so that you can reach your goals…
Ask me for help. 

Here’s how you can ask me for help! Let’s spend 90 minutes together hashing out your marketing plan, brand strategy, promotional challenges or more in a Brand Booster Session. Click here for details.

Photo credit: Climate KIC, Unsplash

Behind the Scenes of Red Slice: Reinvention + Renewal (Part 3)

Previously in Part 2 of the Red Slice origin story… 

My entrepreneurial journey – and my life-  came screeching to a halt when I almost died from a ruptured brain aneurysm.  There are just some crises you can’t build into your business plan! But, guess what? The sky didn’t fall. In fact, it opened up to a whole new way of living and doing business that would change me forever – and can hopefully change you for the better, too. 

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here. 

If you missed Part 2, please check it out here. 

Get ready for Part 3! 


OK, so I’d survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. It was amazing to me how quickly people can rally around you after a crisis and pick up the slack.  Armed with moxie, and a healthy dose of ignorance about the severity of it all, I thought I’d be back to work in seven weeks, when in reality, it took many months to focus on healing, recovery and therapy.  

I had to overcome quite a few cognitive deficits: information overwhelm, prioritization, short-term memory, even vocabulary recall. All perfectly normal after-effects–and all skills I needed to do my work. 

In addition, I lacked confidence to jump back into my life again. My hair had been shaved off, my eyesight was temporarily impaired and I was still regaining my strength. My husband, God love him, was my rock through it all. But he was not going to be able to jump-start me back to work. 

Finally, after about six months (which is a miraculous timeframe for this type of injury), I was ready to dip my toe back into work and rebuild my business. But how to do it? 

Networking again played a key role. The connections I’d worked so hard to build, both professionally and personally, saved me. I had to get comfortable asking for help–and see it as a sign of strength and resourcefulness, not weakness. People wanted to help. So I asked people to drive me places, accompany me to events, and get me back out there. I decided that if I started acting brave, maybe I’d start feeling brave–and I needed cheerleading and support or I’d lose my nerve all together. Had I not spent the time to build and nurture that community, before I needed it, I’d have been in a world of pain. 

And soon, my network spread the word that I was back in the game and ready for action again. 

LESSON ONE: Build your community and tribe before you need it. Tend to it. Nurture it. If you start only when you need it, it’s already too late. (Tweet!) 


Fast forwarding through recovery, I started the difficult task of embracing the New Me. My brain now worked overtime on tasks that had once come easy to me so I had to adapt and find new strategies. What would this mean to my work, which was all about my IP and executive brain functions? My therapists suggested choosing a simple,  structured project to start.   

Which I did not heed. My first project back was unstructured and complicated. I cried daily.  

But I got through it and gained confidence back in the process. Networking continued to help me get my name back out there. I ran a few workshops with a colleague. I started blogging and guest writing articles again. And slowly but surely, folks realized Red Slice was back. 

During this “gentle” time of figuring things out and taking on limited clients, I finally got serious about writing a book, a dream I’d had since I was a little girl. Having this time to chase long-procrastinated dreams was a gift. I’m not sure I would have otherwise taken the time. 

Soon, I published my first book and started booking more business. Client work was still a struggle, but I surrounded myself with understanding partners who helped me with some of my deficits on the back end.  

In the next two years, I took on some big projects. At one point, I had a dream project with a software company…and simultaneously, a hellacious project with another big company. I finally realized that my passion was for the early strategic phase, where I could ferret out big insights and package them into an amazing brand strategy and story. 

The rest of the project, however, was less fun.  I basically functioned as a project manager, overseeing implementation. This phase made me want to poke my eyes out.  

A wise coach gave me permission. She said, “If you don’t like doing that work, Maria, stop doing it!” And that was it. I was free! I revamped my messaging, repackaged my offerings to just focus on brand strategy and upped my rates.  I was happy to give client’s a firm foundation and then refer out the tactical work so I could move on. 

It was scary to narrow my focus to attract the right clients and do the work I love.  But, hey, it was advice I’d been giving my clients all this time–I just hadn’t followed it myself! 

And guess what happened? More of the right clients came to my door, I was happier, more relaxed and working from my heart.  

Life’s too short to do work you hate. And it’s downright insane if you as an entrepreneur are the one deciding which work you do! 

LESSON TWO: Don’t be afraid to focus, reinvent and make your business work for YOU (Tweet!) 


This life-changing event not only transformed my work but my life. I was no longer the same person I was before the aneurysm. I couldn’t possibly be. 

It wasn’t just having a “near-death experience” or even the psychological and cognitive changes that occurred due to the injury. Powerful lessons punched me dead in the face so there was no way I couldn’t pay attention. 

I had always wanted my work to be more meaningful and now I had the chance to change lives. After much cajoling from others, I was finally ready to share my experience and lessons learned through a book. It was my heart’s mission and responsibility to take my amazing recovery and help others who were not so lucky. I wrote Rebooting My Brain in late 2011 and suddenly found myself playing the role of brain injury awareness advocate, speaking and volunteering to represent the patient point of view. 

My cognitive challenges forced me to make significant work (and life) changes. I had no choice but to learn how to better focus on one thing at a time, stay present, and go easy on myself. My fatigue and overwhelm would not allow for manic multitasking and overscheduling anymore. 

Wow. “Be present.” “Focus.” “Leave breathing room in your schedule.” 

Not a bad way to live, let alone work, eh? 

All of these changes led to a flourishing business once again.  I built a solid reputation, enjoyed national media appearances, and published more books. And I even found a way, despite the high-risk due to my health issues, to have my first child at 41 years old, a beautiful baby boy.   

So where are things right now? 

Life is full.  Somehow, someway, I managed to accomplish many of the goals I had set for myself way back when. I just got to them through a slightly delayed and circuitous route than expected!  

Every day, I’m still learning and growing. I’ve added MOMENTUM, an exclusive coaching program to my offerings (Check it out! It starts October 6!), and am working on my next book. And I’m enjoying every precious moment with my husband, son, family and friends. 

If only I could go back and tell that eager beaver to just relax. Everything you want can fall into place eventually, no matter what curveballs life throws at you.  

I’ve learned that if you focus on your strengths, rather than defining yourself by your weaknesses, you can find creative ways to get to your goals in the end. 

LESSON THREE: Despite setbacks, focus on your strengths + find new ways to your goals (Tweet!) 

Did you enjoy my origin storyWhat was the most valuable lesson you can apply to your own life and work? Tweet me @redslice or comment on my Facebook page  and use #BIZORIGIN to let me know! 

Behind the Scenes of Red Slice: Business Grows…and Crisis Strikes (Part 2)

Previously in Part 1 of the Red Slice origin story…  

After leaving the security of corporate comfort, I embarked on my consulting business in my new home city of Seattle. Savvy, authentic networking and a rock-solid brand strategy accelerated my early growth, resulting in wonderfully interesting small business clients and a lucrative corporate gig.  

If you missed Part 1, including my three powerful lessons learned, read it here. 

Get ready for Part 2!  


Having always been surrounded by structure and process, the free-fall of entrepreneurship felt like fumbling around in the dark–every day. Quickly, I tried to get my legal and financial ducks in a row. Do I need to register as an S-Corp or LLC? What kinds of taxes do I need to pay? How do I manage my invoices and expenses? Ugh.

A new lawyer friend hooked me up with her firm for invaluable legal advice that should have cost thousands but didn’t and so I got the right counsel on risks and requirements I didn’t even know about. They developed my contracts at a bargain price and I filed for an LLC by downloading a free PDF online called, “How to File for a Washington LLC.” The paperwork. The tax requirements. The fees. It was all so damn confusing.   

I promptly hired an accountant to help me with everything financial. Nothing fancy, she helped me set up my first QuickBooks and educated me almost weekly on what I needed to know. It felt like every day, I came up with more questions on how this whole “business ownership” thing worked. And I majored in business!  

LESSON ONE: No one is an island, nor an expert in everything. Stop trying to be a hero and ask for help from experts who know better. (Tweet!)


Nothing paralyzes new business owners like pricing. I knew what similar consultants charged for my corporate client base, and I was comfortable with that rate because those clients have budget. But for my second client segment, small businesses and entrepreneurs, it was a different story. I had to figure out how to serve them with offerings that would still give me a healthy profit for my expertise and time. 

I admit I didn’t do a very good job of this at first. At the time, my business model was that of a virtual agency. I would hire subcontractors to help me complete all aspects of a brand project. But I was horrible at project cost estimation and factoring in their rates, as well as the right markup. So once again, I turned to others: Experienced consultants who generously shared their spreadsheets with me; Partners who educated me on this new (to me) market; Ideal clients, who openly shared their budget realities with me.  

It took me awhile to land on the right rates and project proposals. I seemed to underestimate how long everything would take me and then never billed those extra hours to the client. Many of my subcontractors made more money than I did from my projects! My nagging self-doubt made me undervalue my expertise and give too much away. I mean, I loved this stuff. It came easy for me, as I’d been doing it for close to 15 years at the time.   

I had to learn that value is not about physical time and effort, but the results the client ultimately reaps. What is the impact on their business? My work often results in clients’ increasing their sales and/or saving thousands of dollars in wasted time and effort, not to mention softer benefits such as strategic alignment, message clarity, market awareness, and re-igniting their passion–surely this meaningful work should be valued accordingly. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I’m so glad I did. 

LESSON TWO: Your expertise is valuable. Even if it comes easy to you. If someone else needs it to move forward, you have the right to be compensated well for it (Tweet!)


There I was, cranking away on my big corporate client and talking to others. It was big impact work that paid well, but I really fell in love with small business entrepreneurs. I had always enjoyed the San Francisco start-up vibe and many of these folks had that same drive–but for work that also fed their souls. The boutique owner. The cupcake shop. The jewelry designer. The life coach. The leadership consultant. The photographer. They all inspired me! I longed to find a way to make this client segment more profitable in some way.  In the meantime, I was making a name for myself, attending networking events, writing online articles and doing a few (unpaid) speaking engagements.  I started an email newsletter, and began blogging regularly. People began to recognize my brand! Sure, I had to write many proposals for work that never went anywhere, but the point was that Red Slice was gaining traction. 

Added to this new business, I was still trying to do it all: yoga, acting, making new friends, seeing the sights of my new home city, writing freelance wine articles. We were brand-new, first-time homeowners and just adopted a dog. I clearly remember confiding to my bestie, a coach for women entrepreneurs: “It’s all great stuff, but I just feel more overwhelmed and stressed than ever!” And she said, “Maria, you thrive on change but I think even you have hit your limit. Then she shared this gem… 

LESSON THREE: “You can do it all but you don’t have to do it all RIGHT NOW!” (Tweet!)

But by then, it was too late. It all came crashing down. 

After a theatre audition, I was struck by a blinding, sudden headache that was like a drill boring into my skull. My neck and back muscles seized up, nausea flooded me and I had no idea what was happening. After collecting myself, I promptly made a doctor’s appointment. He chalked it up to all the stress and advised me to monitor my blood pressure daily, do physical therapy, yoga and acupuncture and report back to him in about a month. 

Did I pull back? No. Silly, right? The yoga, acupuncture and PT just became more to-do’s on my list. I suffered from a few debilitating migraines over the next month and planned to go see the doctor again – when I had time.  And then, I collapsed, unconscious on the bathroom floor. Luckily, my husband saved my life by calling 911. Or I’d be dead. 

A ruptured brain aneurysm had brought all my business–and life–plans to halt.  

I won’t bore you with the details, as a) I wrote a book about this and b) spoiler alert: I survived.  What I will say is that some sort of crisis WILL hit your life or your business; something random for which you can never, ever prepare.  

It happened to me. Even though clients needed deliverables and my task list was not complete. Even though I thought it was ALL SO IMPORTANT.  

And guess what? The sky didn’t fall.   

The sky actually opened up. It opened up a whole new way of living, relating and doing my work in the world – and you can learn to do the same.  

Tune in for Part Three to learn how I revved up my business again and then reinvented it to better suit my life…right here!

Like this origin story so farWhat major setbacks has your business faced? Tweet me @redslice or comment on my Facebook page  and use #BIZORIGIN to let me know! 

Behind the Scenes: How I Started My Business (Part 1)

How My Business Got Started: Valuable Lessons for You!

Starting a business is not easy. Maintaining it for over nine years (gasp!) can be downright unbelievable. People always ask me, “How did you start?”

Recently, I cleared out some old folders and came across every yearly plan from 2008 on. As one does when decluttering, I got lost in nostalgia, chuckling to myself about all the things I thought I knew – and how far I’d come. 

Inspired, I decided to share with you a three-part look at THE RED SLICE ORIGIN STORY and the valuable lessons that can also help your business grow. Full credit for this idea goes to my friend, Melissa Cassera, who recently published a spine-tingling blog mini-series about her business start.  

Please sit back, grab some popcorn (or a lovely Cabernet) and learn from my entrepreneurial adventure! 


2006. Newly married, I was living in San Francisco and directing global marketing campaigns for a billion-dollar software company. Corporate life was all I’d ever known, working at a big consulting firm, a small ad agency, and a multinational entertainment powerhouse. In 1999, I’d come to SF to chase the dot.com dream and did my first stint at a (failed) startup, which was the riskiest thing I’d ever done. But I was still working for someone else for a steady paycheck and full benefits and had never known life without such security. 

My creative urges had led me back into acting and writing, alongside my day job. I landed (unpaid) gigs writing food and wine articles (yum) for local magazines and websites, and soon began my own blog. I wanted to write about many things: theatre, business, culture, marketing, wine, food, film…there were so many facets to my personality. I named this personal blog Red Slice, to represent this redhead’s many “slices” of interest. It was liberating to express my creativity again. Like I had come home to myself.  

Right before I got married, I left my big global firm to be a marketing director for a smaller software company. My amazing team and I remain great friends to this day. But the company itself left a bit to be desired. I was restless. 

In 2007, we moved to Seattle for my husband’s job. By then, you must understand, I had lived through three layoffs during the tech bust. I no longer viewed “working for someone else” as the secure proposition I once did. Rocked by my experiences, I expanded my career thinking. I was also getting older and really fed up with corporate political B.S. Most of my time and energy was spent on bureaucratic B.S, rather than doing actual good work. 

I flirted with consulting and daydreamed about working with clients I liked, doing work I loved. While I’d done freelance consulting between layoffs, permanent entrepreneurship was not in my blood. My two grandfathers, both Italian immigrants, had owned businesses at one stage or another, but my dad had sailed steady, loving his decades-long engineering career with the same firm. Stability was everything to me. 

Luckily, my small software company kindly allowed me to work from Seattle. As this extrovert adjusted to working on my own, setting (mostly) my own hours, an addiction formed. A freedom addiction. 

LESSON #1: Leading a life where you call the shots and every ounce of work you do benefits YOU is positively addictive. There is no freedom quite like entrepreneurial freedom, even though you’re working harder than you ever have in your life. (TWEET!) 

For fun in my off-hours, I built a crappy little consulting website in GoDaddy and, naturally, called it Red Slice. I liked the name: It stood out from the crowd, intrigued people and also had a double meaning of helping my clients’ brands stand out, like anything “red” often does. I would offer clients “slices” of services to fit their needs.  

Then, fate gave me a big push. In early 2008, my company laid off the entire marketing department in prep for a sale. The day we got the final notice, I flipped the switch on the crappy website and sent an email to everyone I knew: Red Slice, the marketing and brand consultancy was born! 


While the visuals were horrendous, I focused more on the brand strategy and the messaging, naturally! I wanted a fresh, focused, innovative brand and to offer my full breadth of skills earned from many years in communications, branding and marketing.  I got to say what I wanted to say, in my own sassy voice, without corporate jargon. #Freedom.

A treasured agency contact from my corporate days offered to design me a better website for free, and his team came up with the fruit imagery you see today.  While my website has evolved since then, they nailed it on their very first design because I had done a great job of articulating my brand strategy, value and vibe before they even got started. Some old corporate colleagues scoffed that clients “wouldn’t take me seriously” if I mentioned my writing and acting on my business website. I doubted myself, but bravely stood my ground: I wanted my brand to showcase my unique blend of practical business savvy and playful creativity.  

LESSON #2: Nail down your brand strategy before you even think about a logo, website or marketing tactics – unless you like wasting hours of time, burning piles of money (TWEET!)  


Lacking any sort of professional Seattle network, I joined a Ladies Who Launch incubator. There, I met a ton of cool, smart women, including Melody, the woman who’d become a dear friend, brainstorming partner and personal escort into the world of independent business owners – a client base I’d never even considered.  She got me my very first small client! 

asked friends to introduce me to folks they knew in Seattle and met them on coffee blind dates. I networked like crazy with the few other contacts I DID have, and it got me into meetings to eventually become a subcontractor for a consulting firm doing work at Microsoft. So two months into my new venture, I had a super fun small business client and a large, well-paying corporate client.  

LESSON #3: Networking is your biggest business booster and it doesn’t have to be icky. It should be part of any marketing plan. Network with people you genuinely like and who knows what doors will open (TWEET!) 

I quickly realized that the large project put me right back into corporate bureaucracy again so I began exploring the small business community. It was like discovering this wonderful subculture I never knew existed when I was in my corporate bubble.  

But that exploration came to a screeching halt when, just eight months into my new business, crisis struck.  

Nothing would ever be the same… 

Tune in for Part Two to learn what nearly crushed me and my business for good..right here!

Like this origin story? How did your business start out? Tweet me @redslice or comment on my Facebook page  and use #BIZORIGIN to let me know! 

Why Empathy is Good for Business + How to Show It

Empathy is good for business! It's just as important as all the marketing tips, hr advice, and other business advice out there. Click through if you'd like to add more empathy to your work!

When you think of the personality traits of a successful business owner, what do you picture?

Tenacious? Hard-working? Creative?

Sure! A little tenacity never hurt anyone. But what if I told you the most important quality a business owner can have is … empathy?

4 reasons empathy is good for business

  1. Empathy increases the know/like/trust factor

Let’s say you can’t throw anything out and you’re suffocated by your clutter. You decided it’s finally time to hire a professional organizer.

Who are you more likely to connect with, relate to, and ultimately hire:

* the person who tells you that five years ago they too had drawers overflowing with old t-shirts?

* the person who’s somehow “naturally organized”?

* The person who doesn’t tell you anything about themselves or their background?

I bet you connected with the person who knows your struggle, didn’t you? It’s human nature! We’re more likely to know, like, and trust people who are similar to us. And – as I’m sure you know – we’re more likely to buy from people we know, like, and trust.

Here’s a great example of a blogger showing us how to break bad habits by sharing the bad habits she struggled with!

2. Empathy shows that you walk the walk

If you can show your clients that you’ve been where they are, found a solution, and emerged triumphantly, you’re modeling success.

You’re demonstrating that you’re empathetic to their struggles and you’ve made specific changes to overcome those struggles. You’re living proof that they don’t have to stay stuck! Living proof makes for pretty convincing marketing.

3. Empathy helps your clients be more vulnerable with you

When you show your clients you understand them, you’re helping them feel safe. You’re showing them that they can be honest and vulnerable with you. When you say “I get it. I used to be overwhelmed by social media too,” you’re making it easier for your clients to open up to you.

And the more they open up to you, the more you can help them, and the better their results will be.

4. Data without empathy is meaningless

These days it’s pretty easy to look at your analytics and see which blog posts your clients read, which tweets they liked, and how many people watched your video. But if you don’t understand why they read that blog post or what problem you helped them solve, that data is useless.

We all just want to feel understood and supported. Leading with empathy makes that possible. Click To Tweet

How can you make empathy good for your business?

Share your backstory

What have you struggled with? What hurdles have you overcome in your business? And how does this make you uniquely well-qualified to help us overcome something similar?

Maybe you overcame stage fright; maybe you undercharged for years. Perhaps you mismanaged your team and lost a big account or had self-limiting beliefs that held you back for years.

Whatever your backstory is: share it. Help us know, like, and trust you. Show us how you can help us overcome what we’re struggling with.

Share examples of people or situations for which you feel empathy 

You can also look to current events or public figures who are experiencing something with which you empathize.

For example, if you’re a financial adviser you could say, “When I heard about Johnny Depp declaring bankruptcy I thought, ‘Ugh. I know how that feels.’” Then you share the story of how you struggled with credit card debt in your early twenties and how you righted that ship to make healthy money management your life’s calling.

If you’re a life coach you could say “When Emma Stone talked about navigating her career while managing an anxiety disorder, I wanted to raise my hand and shout “Me, too!” And then you can share how you changed your workday, workload, or daily habits to get past this hurdle.

Anticipate where they might get stuck

If you’ve been in business for a while, you probably already know where your clients freeze up or give up. You know they’re nervous about being on camera or intimidated by downloading new software. You know which excuses they’ll pull out.

Show them you understand them and you’ve got their back! This can be as easy as using phrases like “You might be thinking ___________” or “I know you’re probably worried that ____________”. Then explain why that reasoning or excuse doesn’t apply here.  Or just assure them that they’ve got this and it’s not as hard as it seems!

My friend Sarah spent years working as a teacher and now creates and sells online courses. Every module of every course includes a ‘Where you might get stuck’ section where she addresses common hurdles!

If you don’t know what your people are struggling with or how you can help, ASK

None of these methods will help you if you don’t understand your people. If you don’t know what they’re struggling with, it’s hard to empathize, right?

Luckily, there are tons of ways to figure this out.

  • Invite someone who’s an ideal client out for coffee
  • Request a Zoom chat
  • Simply ask your social media followers “What are you struggling with at the moment?”
  • Create a survey and ask your blog readers and newsletter subscribers to fill it out. Make sure to clarify that their answers will help you create things that are more helpful and useful!

For more research and strategies on why empathy is great for business, check out The Empathy Edge podcast and book!