About Laura Harbolt

Laura's passion is helping women succeed in small business. With years of sales and teaching experience she will help you create a meaningful business so you can make money and make a difference.

Doing Work of the Heart

heart and paint brush
Meaningful work is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Over the years, I have coached clients and friends as they moved from business to business, from full-time to part-time work (and vice versa,) or to completely new careers. All in search of fulfilling, rewarding work that makes a difference.

I’ve been lucky to experience several careers myself. I worked professionally as a college professor, a high school teacher, in direct sales, as a business executive, and as a small business owner. Looking back, it is amazing to see how all these experiences prepared me for the next — even when the path wasn’t immediately evident.

I’ve also learned that how we live our life away from work influences who are in our career. Over the last couple of years, I worked (and sometimes struggled,) to put together the important pieces of my life so I could be my best in all things. I learned to cook healthy food, became disciplined in my yoga practice, found a new church, focused on my family, learned to paint (well, kind of), and made more time for friends.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been volunteering for our local Hospice. Over the last two years I made phone calls to bereaved families, provided respite care for patients, worked in the office and helped with special events. Like Hospices across the nation, I found that our organization is one made up of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. I wondered if there might ever be the opportunity to work alongside these people professionally.

Recently, a position was posted in the Volunteer Department at our Hospice. The job description listed skills and tasks that perfectly fit my own experience.

I got the job.

What I know with utter certainty is that this is what I am meant to do.

What I also know is that saying goodbye is never easy. Sherra is an amazing business partner. Our business, Big Picture Coaching, sprang from her vision. I will be forever grateful to her, and to each of you.

Thank you for your time.  For reading our blog, working with us on the phone, corresponding by email, and for always striving to be the best in your own business. I admire each of you as small business owners and as great people.

As I leave this phase of my career, I ask you the same questions I have asked myself over the years: 

  • Where are you in your career?
  • Are you doing work that counts?
  • Are you leading a life that makes you better in all things?
  • What is your next step?

If you need help finding the answers, get in touch with Sherra! As she continues the work of Big Picture Coaching, I promise she will help you discover your heart work.

I wish you the very best.

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5 Tips for Using Email as Business Communication


Email is a great form of business communication, but is often overused or used unprofessionally.

Here are few quick tips for using email:

1. Clearly state the purpose of your email in the subject line.

Make sure your email is read by simply stating the purpose and/or subject of your email.

2. Get right to point in your email, keeping your message short and simple.

For example, emails are a great way to remind your clients of an upcoming meeting or event. It’s not a good place for long, detailed communications.

3. If you have several points to make, try using bullets for clarity.

Long paragraphs don’t belong in emails. Try shorter sentences as well. Bullets are clearly, quickly read and are often remembered.

4. Use mass or group emails sparingly.

To make these emails more effective, consider creating a timeline for sending newsletters or business announcements on a set schedule — monthly, is a good rhythm to keep your business in front of your clients, but not overwhelm them.

5. Finally, don’t forget about the power of a hand written note sent via US mail.

A notecard is the perfect way to thank you a client for a referral, or the opportunity to serve them. It’s also a great way to recognize someone for a job well done, or to compliment them.

Several years ago, my husband made a New Year’s resolution to write a note to someone every single day. It was a lovely gesture. More importantly, it was a commitment to building others up. A simple handwritten note, complete with a postage stamp, let’s the recipient know they were worth the time it took to write them and pop the note in the mail.

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Tips for Leaving Phone Messages

phone message light

What are  the “rules” for leaving telephone messages as part of a business communication?

What do you say?

How many times can you call back without running the risk of being pushy?

Sherra and I are often asked these questions. To be honest, there isn’t one answer, but here are some tried and true guidelines for leaving messages:

Message #1

  • Say who are calling for.
  • Identify yourself.
  • Remind the person you are calling where you met, or how you are connected.
  • Let them know you’ll call back the next day.
  • Give them a time frame for your return call.
  • Leave your number in case they would like to call you.
  • No need to go into detail.  Just make it short and simple.

Your first message might sound something like this:

Hi Mary! This is Laura Harbolt. We met last week at the women’s networking group. I’m calling to follow up on our conversation regarding _____. I’ll give you a call back tomorrow around noon. Or if you’d like, you can reach me at (phone number.) I’ll look forward to talking soon!

Message #2

  • Identify yourself.
  • Let them know you’ll call back in a day or so.

Here’s an example of your second message:

Hi Mary, this is Laura. I’m sorry I missed you again — I’ll try you back next week, or if you have a moment, give me a call back at (phone number.)

Message #3

  • Call back at a different time of day.
  • If you don’t reach them, then know that this is your last phone message.

You’ll say something like this:

Hi, this is Laura. So sorry to have missed you again, Mary. I’m guessing this is a really busy time for you, and I totally understand. Please feel free to contact me anytime if I can help you with _____. And in the meantime, I’ll keep you on my list and be back in touch later on down the road.

If you haven’t reached your contact in three tries, chances are they are not interested — at least not now. The best investment of your time is to move on, leaving the ball in their court. Do add them to your pipeline, however, making a note of when to get back in touch.

Next time, we’ll talk about the dos and don’t of written communication.

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Tips for the Telephone

pastel telephonesTalking on the phone seems to be a dying form of communication these days. And yet the phone is one of your most valuable business tools.

While on the phone you can ask and answer questions and give feedback. The person you are talking with can hear the warmth in your voice. Together you can share a laugh or a concern. In a phone conversation you can guide your client to quicker decisions.

Here are 6 tips for using the phone professionally and effectively:

1. Schedule time to make phone calls.

Choose a quiet place. No driving, noisy children or sounds of a busy restaurant or coffee shop in the background.

2. Begin the conversation by asking if they have a minute to talk.

Offer to call back if it’s clear your client is distracted or in a hurry.

3. Respect your clients’ time.

Make your offer quickly and briefly.

4. Stay away from written scripts.

You can use notes or bullets to remind you what to say. Reading a script makes you sound like a telemarketer rather than a trusted service provider.

5. Expect to hear “no,” or “not now” sometimes.

If the answer is not now, let them know you will call back in a few weeks.

6. Never end the conversation without thanking the person you are talking with.

Let them know how much your appreciate their time and their consideration.

Next time, we’ll talk about leaving messages…

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How to Set Up a Communication System for Your Business

DV-00147797-001I’m all about using systems in business. They allow us to streamline everyday processes and to focus on the important stuff. Like serving our clients.

An effective communication system helps you stay in touch with potential and current clients — without feeling like you are bugging them or being pushy.

My next 4 posts are all about communicating with your clients in simple ways, complete with tips to do it professionally.

Let’s start with the most important form of communication — in person conversations. Most business relationships start with a face to face meeting. It might be at a networking event, a presentation, a gathering among friends and acquaintances, or just while out and about. These first meetings go a long way towards building a long term relationship. Here are 3 easy tips for effective face to face conversations:

1. Remember to keep the conversation about the person you are talking with.

Maya Angelou is right when she says:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2. Learn about the other person by asking questions or using conversation starters like these:

  • Tell me about your business.
  • Who do you serve?
  • What made you start doing what you do?
  • What do you love about your business.
  • What are your plans for the future?
  • What does your work day look like?

These conversations are short and to the point.

3. Make a conscious decision to always end with a final statement and a simple question:

“I’d love to contact you to see how I might be of help. Can we exchange information?”

Nothing can replace in person conversations. In fact, experts tell us that over 50% of what we intend to say is conveyed via body language and facial expressions, not by the words we are actually saying.  Smile, nod your head, shake their hand. Show them that you are interested in them and what they are saying.

In the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at 3 more kinds of business communication: the telephone, email, and written communication. In the meantime, make it a goal to meet some new business contacts this week and get to know them!

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Are You a Leader? Four Ways Small Business Owners Serve

leadership signWho do you think of when I say, “Leader in the world of business?”  

A Warren Buffet or Bill Gates type? Maybe a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg?

Perhaps the phrase doesn’t bring to mind a particular person, but rather a “type.”

A CEO in a well tailored suit. The company President who is firmly rooted behind his desk.

If you own a small business, you are not only in business for yourself, you are probably in business by yourself. Even if you employee a small staff, my guess is that you don’t think of yourself as a “Business Leader.”

As Sherra and I work with our clients, we are reminded time and again that small business owners are the real leaders in the world of business.

If you are struggling to see yourself as a Leader, here are a few reminders of the things we see you doing. Day in and day out:

1. Serving as Leaders in Your Industry.

You are involved in professional organizations, networking groups, and continuing education. You represent your market with professionalism and a constant thirst for knowledge. Most importantly, you share freely with others, knowing that helping others be successful is a leader’s greatest gift.

2. Serving as Leaders in Your Community.

Small business owners often have flexibility in the work week. You choose to invest time in service. Whether at your child’s school, a local non-profit organization, or in small town politics, you model ways to give back to your own neighborhoods and cities.

3. Serving as Role Models in Your Family.

Small business owners have vision. You share that vision with your family and find ways to work together toward a shared goal. Many of you put your family right to work! Others remind your children and your spouses that time invested in business hours has a tangible pay off — a vacation, family time, bills paid, dreams made real.

4. Serving as Leaders for Your Clients.

This one is my favorite. For me, a real leader is someone who builds up other people. A real leader shares confidence, skills or products that make life better. You encourage others with a smile, a compliment, and a helping hand. Simply put, you make a difference.

As we wrap up February and look forward to the renewing energy of Spring, allow us to take one more opportunity to share our love and respect for those of you who work diligently to build something of your own. And to serve others at the same time.

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Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

I have to be honest. I am not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.

I think it started in high school.

red carnationAs a fundraiser, the student council sold carnations. For $1.00 you could send a carnation to anyone in the school, complete with a card that included your name…or not. On Valentine’s Day, the carnations were delivered to homeroom. All day, the popular kids walked around with bouquets of red and white carnations while others had one. Or two. Or none.

The flowers were a clear symbol of whether you were liked enough for someone to spend a dollar.

As a young adult, I came to view Valentines Day as a holiday for couples. And that leaves a lot of people out.

As a Mom, it’s easier to find a way to celebrate with my family. Still, my heart aches for the many who are alone or are not remembered with chocolates or flowers or candy hearts.

And then I remember that love comes in many forms.

We say,  
“I love that movie!”
“I love that song.”
“I love your outfit.”
“I love my yoga class.”  
“I love my neighbors.”

As a business coach I often hear our clients say,
“I love my business!”
“I love that I have flexible hours.”
“I love that I can do something I love and make money at the same time.”
“I love that I make a difference.”

So this year I am changing my attitude.

I am going to focus on the people who have made a difference in my life and I will be grateful.

This week, I encourage you to reach out to the people who are at the heart of your business — your clients.

  • Who has been a great customer this year?
  • Who has given you advice?
  • Who has sent you referrals?
  • Who has given you an opportunity that changed that way you do business?

Call those folks and tell them Thank You!

Or email them.

Or jot them a note and stick it in the mail.

Make this Valentine’s Day different by reaching out and sharing the Love.

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Jen Tufford – A Sales Success Story

Jen at conference
Direct Sales is a wonderful industry for men and women who want flexible hours and the ability to work from home or alongside a full-time job. These small businesses offer a way to add income to an existing family budget, or to provide full-time income by building and leading a team. Jen Tufford’s story is inspiring! She offers great tips and advice for those who are thinking about joining a party plan business, or who have been working it for some time!

Tell us about your business and the products you offer.

Thirty-One Gifts is a direct sales company in the fashion industry. We sell handbags, totes, and a great spirit line that features many colleges and universities. Our new Spring 2013 catalog has an amazing new organizational line! Many of our products can be personalized. We also offer an incredible business opportunity that can do everything from getting you out of the house a few times to month to replacing a full-time income…or more!

Direct sales is a great business for women – what specifically do you like about the party plan model?

I think women crave positive, fun relationships. Often in the workplace and at home we receive little to no recognition or support. I love that the party plan model introduces us to a whole group of women that we may never have met otherwise. Many of my hostesses and customers have become some of my best friends.

You are a Senior Executive Director at Thirty-One Gifts.  What exactly does that mean and how did you get there?

Jen's teamThis is the second level from the top of our career path (until recently, it was the top level, but we grew so quickly, another level was added.) I am responsible for celebrating, encouraging, and rewarding my entire downline organization for their achievements and successes.

Direct sales is not hard work, but you do have to work hard.

After my husband was laid off, we had no regular source of income. I had to work even harder to further develop relationships with my customers, hostesses, and team, and to improve my customer service so that I could get referrals to continue to grow my business.

What do you like best about being a small business owner?

Jen's FamilyI love that I work mostly from home. This allows me to not only be there for my kids at their school and sporting events, but also for my husband and me to spend more time together (after a layoff, he was able to start his own business as a result of my Thirty-One success). The flexibility and the income can’t be beat!

What are the frustrations?

Staying self-motivated and focused! Because there is no one looking over my shoulder or giving me deadlines, it can sometimes be hard to come down to my home office to do what I need to do.  Many times, I’d rather than go to lunch with a friend or watch TV!

What advice do you have for other women who are looking for a small business and think direct sales might be the answer?

Choose a company whose products you LOVE! I wasn’t planning to do Thirty-One as a business; I just liked the products. Go to a local vendor show and talk to the people in the companies you are looking at. Most importantly, be sure you like the person who will be your sponsor. If you don’t connect, or she isn’t answering your questions during the “courting” phase, chances are good that she will not be any easier to work with once you join.

What advice do you have for women who are working out of their home?

  1. Hand out 5 business cards per day, Monday-Friday. Make it a game to not come home until you do.
  2. Set office hours, and STICK TO THEM! I do not answer my phone or check emails outside of my office hours. Trust me, this will make your spouse and children much more supportive when you keep business hours rather than constantly answering the phone during dinner or family movie night.
  3. Stay consistent – in whatever way works for you. It is so much easier to stay motivated with your business if you are consistent.
  4. Remember that your family is the reason you are working your business, not an excuse as to why you AREN’T working it!

4 Steps to Using Your Calendar for Success

blank calendar

Using your calendar as a strategic tool is key to running a profitable business.

In my blog post 6 Steps to Creating a Strategy for 2013, I talk about planning and tracking financial goals on your calendar. Your calendar is a tool to measure how income producing business activities directly impact your goals. Double checking yourself on a monthly, weekly and daily basis will keep you on track.

Here are four concrete ideas on how to use your calendar for short and long term success:

1. Decide how many hours you will work per week.

Be realistic. If you are a work at home Mom or Dad with small children, the time you spend on your business may be less than it will be when they are in school. If you own a brick and mortar business, your hours will be longer and will match the needs of your consumer.

2. Determine if your weekly work hours mesh with your financial goals.

How many clients will you need per week? (ie., how many paying jobs, products sold, etc.) Now is the time to either adjust your financial goal, or your time investment.

3. Block your calendar.

  • First, mark the times during your week that are non-negotiable — weekly appointments and meetings, carpool, family time, exercise.
  • Next, determine your business hours. For some business owners, these hours are the same every week. Others require more flexibility so each week looks different.
  • Build in time for unexpected changes. Minor emergencies happen! If you are able to build in an extra hour or two each week, one of two things will happen — less stress when you need to be flexible, or more productivity if you are able to use those hours for business.

4. Double check yourself on a weekly basis.

Here is where your calendar is more than a scheduling tool. When you mark your financial goals in advance, you can then measure your progress towards monthly and annual goals each week. In order to meet your goals, you will sometimes need to adjust either the hours you work or the activity you do during the week.

Like goal setting, using your calendar effectively is simple in theory — a bit harder in practice. If you’d like a little help, we are glad to give it!

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6 Steps to Creating a Strategy for 2013

moleskin and favorite pen

January is a time of new beginnings. A time to refocus and set goals.

For small business owners, the new year means creating or resetting strategic goals designed for success.

Here are some quick tips to create your strategic plan for 2013:

1. Start with a brand new calendar.

Whether it’s electronic or paper, I find that a clean calendar helps me think big!

2. Set aside time to think about what you would like your business to look like this time next year.

Think broadly, and not only in terms of profit.

  • Picture those you will meet and serve.
  • The work you love to do.
  • How you will invest each day.

Your plan should be based on practical financial goals as well as your passion and love for what you do.

3. Based on your answers, determine a realistic financial goal for the calendar year.

Write down that number.

4. Divide your number.

First into quarterly goals. Then monthly. And next weekly. Write these goals on your calendar so you see them as you begin to schedule your time.

5.  Schedule events in your calendar.

What events will help you reach your goal? Appointments with clients, continuing education programs, trade shows, conventions, etc.  Write down the events you already have scheduled.

What events would you like to schedule?  Pencil them in as tentative.

6. Narrow your focus to weekly activities.

Perhaps most important are the daily tasks you choose to complete in order to build your business. What activities do you need to do to meet your financial goals? If you are new to business, or getting restarted, most likely these activities will include networking, making phone calls, and meeting with potential clients. Start scheduling your days so these business building activities are central.

The concept of strategic planning is a simple one, but not always simple to put into practice.

If you need some help, or just someone to give feedback while you bounce around some ideas give us a shout…we’d be glad to help!

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