CEO lessons & january goals

Marian ParsonsBalance, my business story, Running a Business52 Comments

Sunday night, I was conflicted.  We had just flown in from our trip to the Vintage Whites Market.  I had been “working” all weekend and I really wanted (and needed) to just spend Monday at home…cleaning, hitting the grocery store, unpacking, etc.  You know the drill.  I own my own business, so I can do that, right?


Yes, I could.  But I wasn’t going to.  I’ve declared 2016 as the year I’m going to lean into growth and work on filling out the role of “president” of Mustard Seed Interiors LLC.

I recently saw a preview for a movie, The Intern.  I don’t know if the movie is good or not.  As I said, I just saw the preview, so my mention of it isn’t an endorsement.  But in the preview, a young entrepreneur and CEO of a company she built was threatened with being removed from her position as the one in charge.  Teary-eyed, she asked if there was such a thing as “CEO lessons.”  An otherwise ho-hum movie trailer suddenly hit home.


Man, if there are, I need those!

I was just mentioning to Kriste that I should look into some sort of business-y class that teaches me to do the things I’m clueless about, like hiring a publicist and developing a strategic business plan.


I feel like I tripped into being in charge.  A series of opened doors and opportunities.  Ones I went for and worked hard for, but it does still feel like there is an element of providence/destiny, whatever you want to call it.  That something that is beyond anything I did or didn’t do.  And it often feels like I am ill-equipped for where I find myself.

 Between the tap dancing, stage craft and musical theatre history I took in college, I didn’t take business development, marketing or accounting.


And this little-blog-that-could has grown to a business that spans the globe and has pretty impressive gross retail sales.  And that realization makes me want to shrink into a Netflix marathon and shut it out.  Put my head down in a piece of upholstery and just do my thing.  To shrink back until I don’t feel like a little kid dressed in her mom’s business suit, hauling a briefcase that’s just a little too oversized for her little hands and petite frame.

So, Monday morning, instead of staying home, I went into the studio to meet with Kriste and Heidi, the two people who work for me despite having real job titles and descriptions.  (We just call Heidi the “administrative ninja”, which is a pretty accurate description of what she does.  We sort of shrug our shoulders at what to call Kriste, which was awkward when I needed to validate her employment as she applied for a mortgage.)

In the meeting, we focused on how we do things now, how we can do things better, how we can grow and how I can stand a little surer on my shaky CEO legs.  What are the goals?  What projects and opportunities make sense from a profit standpoint?  And how do we tackle all of those ideas and still leave me time to be me…to give neglected furniture a facelift and write about it here on the blog?

The creative ideas bubbled up all through the meeting and it was exciting, but as I closed my laptop and packed up my bag, I felt that tight lump that I get in my throat when I’m stressed.  I stretched my neck out and tested my swallowing.  “My throat is tight!”  I exclaimed to Kriste.  She’s been with me enough to know what I’m talking about.  “I feel like I just added a lot to my to-do list…”

She encouraged me and assured me that she’s there to help with it all.  Even if she wins the Powerball, she said she’ll still work for me.


Now that I’ve digested the ideas and goals and plans for a few days, I still feel too small for the job, but I also feel a hopefulness and determination.  We’ve gotten this far on organic growth and hard work.  We can get a little further.  Just one foot in front of the other.

So, I’m putting short-term goals in front of myself in the shape of a monthly to-do list and I decided to share it on my blog…for accountability, transparency and perhaps as encouragement to others.

These aren’t in the order of priority, but just in the order I happened to write them down…

  • Finish my mom’s room makeover (we’re so close…)
  • Put a design plan together for Sally’s living room
  • Launch a small advertising campaign for the milk paint line (already done!)
  • Make a video promotion for Farmhouse White
  • Make a short milk paint commercial to showcase all 25 colors
  • I have some exciting design work I need to finish and submit in
  • We’re hosting a creative workshop for about 30 retailers and I want that to be really special for them.  I need to do a lot of planning and prepping to make that happen.
  • Schedule studio workshops for March-April
  • I am on an organizing and purging kick and I want to continue that in the studio and at home.  I want to sell/donate/pitch as much as I can.  This is something I’ll be chipping away at for a few weeks, so you’ll probably see it on February’s goals/to-do list, too.
  • Reupholster the two sofas in the studio stash (because I need furniture to work on as my therapy.)
  • Develop a regular routine for work, exercise, eating, sleep, etc.  I tend to shy away from schedules, but I feel better when I set boundaries.


Whew!  I was just planning to write about dissecting a tufted sofa and what plans I had for January and this is just what spilled out.  It’s all been brewing inside me and there’s a real comfort and freedom in sharing it.  I don’t have it all figured out, but I want to improve myself.

So, one foot in front of the other and we’ll see how far we get in 2016…

CEO lessons & january goals

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52 Comments on “CEO lessons & january goals”

  1. Reading your blog as I do on a daily basis and wondering if you are thinking about selling a mustard coloured scale that I saw on your blog quite some time ago. When I inquired about it you were keeping it in your styling inventory but would advise if you were ever thinking about selling it. I am still thinking about how great it would look in my kitchen so if it is part of your purge please let me know. Am an avid follower and love your paint. Very excited about the new colours!!! Thanks – Kim

  2. My husband is a partner in a small business and I occasionally work on specific projects for the company. What we’ve learned over the last 15 years is that the “professional” business people aren’t always the best people to consult when growing a business. They often go by the book and aren’t willing to take creative risks because “that’s not how it’s done.” Our company hired a couple of marketers briefly, but found that I or my husband came up with better marketing ideas that actually worked. The best people to make a company grow are people who are part of the company in a creative way. They know the product inside and out and usually love what they do. And they have a “horse in the race”, as it were. A friend I’ve had for years owns a small winery that has become very successful. He says he basically sells himself when he markets his wine and travels. He is out in the vineyards and is intimately involved in the whole wine making process. He loves what he does, he strives to make great wine (not just make money) and it shows. He has never taken CEO lessons. My father owned a small business and it was the same. I think a lot of these entrepreneurial lesson givers make money off of our fears and insecurities.

    1. What an encouraging comment! Thanks so much for taking time to share. I think so much of that is the case, but I have a hard time seeing it. 🙂

  3. Go girl!! Putting it all out there and taking accountability is a HUGE thing to do, give yourself a pat on the back! And I think Kate hit the nail on the head. And I am a firm believer in having a schedule and sticking to it. It makes a world of difference, especially with kiddos. I pray 2016 brings growth to your company and to you as a person in the areas you want to improve. We are all here rooting you on.

  4. Thanks for writing this post. I have been a reader (and fan) from the early days and love to watch your journey. You should watch The Intern…it has a good message …nobody does YOU better than You! It’s not easy but you are successful because of your passion & your dreams …stay true to yourself…plus there are a few really funny parts! Robert DiNero is so cute….LOL

  5. If you can find the time, becoming a board member of a local business or nonprofit is truly eye opening. 4 annual meetings that review budget, forecasting of income and expenses for the upcoming quarter, plans that are longer or shorter term can be eye opening in just how much you know and are doing in your own business. Board discussions help to realize there are people who do and people who throw up obstacles, and depending on the situation we can be either or both. A seat on a board of directors at a different organization than ones we run truly helps run our own businesses better, by witnessing how other organization recognize strengths and weaknesses of their leadership and staff and deal with it. Or don’t. And how the board of directors responds and interacts.

  6. Marian, I took a few business classes about the legal aspects of owning your own business and they were super wonderful. The outreach center also had contacts for insurance agents, etc, which was incredibly useful when I had to figure out how to insure a multi-vendor show under my policy. The point is it may be worth your time to take a class or two. Maybe one dealing with “your business is successful and growing like crazy. Now what?” Knowledge is power and it helped me to learn what I didn’t know so I could address that. Plus maybe you’ll make some contacts that will be helpful down the road.
    Just my two bits,
    The Other Marian

  7. Love your blog and am excited to see you grow your brand and company! You’ve blogged a lot about purging and editing your home to reflect your aesthetic. I’m sure you must still be dazzled by new things, but you’ve learned to walk away from them because they just don’t fit your vision for your home. Now it seems like you’re applying those same principles to your business – a strategic plan will really help you simplify decisions about what is central to MMS’s vision and what is dazzling but not really part of the MMS vision. BTW, you’ve got great people – maybe it’s time for Kriste to become the Director of Marketing at MMS and take on advertising/promotion and retailer workshops! Wishing you continued success!

  8. Move de epping your schedule to the top of the list. Make this priority
    and everything else will happen with less effort! I will be watching and waiting u for ipdates.
    Start a journal to see your progress on this goal.

  9. You’ve gotten where you are by your talent and honesty and creative gut instinct; you should trust that instinct. Some things you’ve learned by trial and error; some from watching others. Both work. After reading your impressive ‘to-do’ list, I would encourage you to stretch your wings even more. Being able delegate and partner with people you trust is key. Letting those people perform everyday tasks will allow you to spend more time doing what only you can do (and love) – being the creative director and CEO of your company: painting and planning and teaching and photographing and being the ambassador of your brand. It’s always good to have short, medium, and long term goals, including those that involve just taking the next step and those that are in the ‘dream big’ category. After reading ‘The Power of Less’ by Leo Babauta (which I highly recommend), short term goals are most effective when they are focused and support your long term goals. I’d love to see you add ‘baby steps toward furniture design’ to your monthly goals : )

  10. I read your blog every day, and you continue to be such an inspiration. As far as business training goes, you might check your local library. Ours, which is a long way from you, has started offering short classes for small business owners!

  11. Marian, my close friend recently began her own publishing company. Her Score mentor has been invaluable to her. If you visit, you can find more information about connecting with a volunteer mentor.

    Best wishes,

  12. My husband is retired and does business consulting. Figuring out what companies need to do to make the most of what they are doing. Maybe it’s time for you and your company to hire some consulting
    Good luck

  13. You continue to inspire and are definitely going in the right direction. Good people, you at the forefront, great job Marian.

  14. Thank you for this post!! You are so inspiring and I needed to hear these exact words today. My mom and I recently opened a small home décor store in my hometown and I have been letting my fears and insecurities get the best of me. I have a full time career in sales management outside the shop and I have to make many quick decisions and I rarely doubt myself. Yet, when it comes to making decisions about our store, I find myself constantly questioning and feeling anxious about everything that should bring me joy. Sometimes I feel in over my head, not sure what our next step should be, and not at all sure about how to continue our growth. I am going to get my head on straight, identify what needs to be done, and brainstorm ways to get there. I will try not to be so overwhelmed and just enjoy this awesome ride! Thank you for being you!

  15. One idea is to hire a CEO. Another is to delegate all the “at home” stuff, the shopping, laundry, cleaning, etc. There are a lot of books on business, marketing, and strategy that you can buy as an audio book. I would find a few of those and listen to them in the car, and when you are upholstering. You will be surprised how much you can pick up and how fast the time goes.
    Another idea is to pick the brains of some of the business academics in your area. You did a fine job in analyzing where your profits come from. And you figured out that most of your time was spent working on inventory for your retail outlets.
    A mission statement is probably critical at this point in your company’s history. Then, anything that doesn’t promote those goals would be less useful. For instance, one goal would be to increase MMS paint sales 100%, from $1million to $2million. Look books, stockist training, brochures, a new how-to book, new colors, new adjunct products would be key. Selling things in Alabama, no matter how much fun, might not be the best use of four days. Luckett’s Market might be a good public relations move, and a good gross sales situation, but most of that work could be delegated, to free you up of 20 days work.
    A lot of success in business is timing. You want to maximize your brand and strengthen your base while people are still interested in DIY painting. Remember Martha Stewart, scrapbooking, and some other trends have peaked. Collecting a board of directors, or even a “kitchen cabinet” could be very important. You have an arts background and may not be aware of many subtle business principles.
    In conclusion, I would like to throw out one brand, The Tightwad Gazette.
    Amy walked away from her business because she was tired of it. That brand was worth millions. She could have supervised from the sidelines, with a very strict set of principles. She could have paid for her children’s college and graduate school many times over. She could have ensured her family’s financial security for two generations. But she didn’t, because she either didn’t know, or didn’t care.

  16. My sister – in – law as ‘fallen ‘ into becoming a CEO of a company due to a death of her boss and mentor. 2 years in she’s just started a CEO Qualification and says what she’s learning is brilliant.
    Go Marion – yours is my favourite blog and yes you are global as I’m a long way away in Tasmania, AUSTRALIA.

  17. That is wonderful Marianne! You have got this and once you’ve figured out your groove it’ll be a piece of pie my friend 🙂 You also have tons of support and are an amazing women so you can definitely do it!!

    Exactly how you put it, one foot in front of the other. Congrats and you go get em!

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor

  18. I love when you share! So honest and it makes me feel like I’m not alone on this little journey of mine.

    Thanks and best wishes for a productive January!!!


  19. I would let God be your CEO and take direction from him. I think he can bring the right people, projects, tools into your life just as you need them. I think he has done a great job so far. It takes a lot of pressure off of you. This is said in love, so I hope it sounds encouraging and freeing.

  20. I don’t know how you do it all Marian. Just the social media in itself is crazy overwhelming. You have created something so absolutely amazing. Just wow… …
    …and all i can say, is pay attention to the tightness in your throat.


  21. Our community college offers entrepreneur classes. You’ve mentioned you live far from good shopping so maybe you live for from a community college too. There might be online classes though. I’m currently taking a QuickBooks class online.

  22. Definitely see The Intern! It’s a really good movie, entertaining and with some good lessons.

    I think if it makes you feel better and more competent you should go ahead and take a class or two in “CEO-ing”. Just remember that you’ve done fabulously so far on your own and only you know whether anything you learn pertains or applies to your business. But don’t overwhelm yourself with information–take it slow and just keep checking in with your own knowing–let your intuition be your guide. I think it is easier and more possible to get in touch with your intuition if you aren’t working yourself to death, also. Often, I find, it’s during a weekend away or when it looks like I”m doing nothing that ideas and inspiration, as well as solutions, come to me.

    Just remember it’s okay to feel inadequate, but you are smart, Marian. It might be all you need to do is look whatever is undermining your sense of competence up on the internet! Probably cheaper than a class! I wish you a fabulous 2016! You are capable of doing and learning whatever you need to keep your business thriving! Just BELIEVE IT!

  23. I think the declaration of more “CEO” type focus is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. For 10 years I have run a CPA firm that is a family owned small business in addition to my own retail shop and you really do have to be your own compass. For one thing you probably will never work typical bankers hours therefore you have to structure family, church and other matters of importance and be strict about that time. I agree with Kate above over many years we have hired “experts” and come up with better ideas, plans and strategies than they did but still wrote that check out for a hefty fee! I do feel if you joined a nonprofit board for a cause that is important to you you would find a network of professional folks that could give you references ideas and a sounding board. Good luck!

  24. You are doing an AMAZING job at all you have to do. And know God loves to put us in places we know we need Him or we’ll sink. You’re right where He wants you to be – which is where you seek & depend on Him and then watch Him continue to do incredibly more than you could dream, plan or imagine all for your good and His glory. Love the Listening series and your video clip. Thank you for sharing!!! (preaching to myself here)

  25. You do not have to be the CEO when you OWN the business. You don’t have to be the CFO either. ( Although, you should sign every check over $1,000).
    Marian, I encourage you to grow in leadership but that doesn’t mean that you need to deal with every insurance or shipping decision. ; )
    You are Marian, Owner, Founder and Creative Director. As a creative person, you need down time.

    I agree you should look into SBA programs. They are fab. Also, Ramit Sethi has some good courses with private Facebook groups etc. for folks running their own business.

    Wishing You All the Best ! And, your staff too!
    ~ Christie

  26. What an interesting post! Another blog I follow, The Modern Mrs. Darcy, posted today about when building skills, that’s it’s hard today, but that it won’t always be that way, that with practice they’ll become completely doable.
    The key is to have a growth mindset. And I think that’s exactly what you’ve got!

  27. Just had to comment that I’m sure you get a lot of unwanted advice so here’s my 2 cents. One of the best of the women out there giving “CEO” lessons is Tara Gentile. Follow her on Facebook now and watch her videos. She challenged herself to do 30 videos in 30 days…and its always good ideas and you can see/hear for yourself without spending any money what she is like. AND she lives in PA so not far from you.

  28. First, love your milk paint!

    A suggestion for your situation might be to read E-Myth Revisited. It’s an excellent business book and it’s very short, as well as entertaining. Everyone has given you great suggestions, it sounds like it’s time to escalate your delegation. You’ve been given a lot of great suggestions from others too.

    Also, a separate thought…. I don’t want to be an alarmist but have you told your General Practitioner about the tightening in your throat? I have had a heart attack and a couple of close calls… they all began with a tightening in my throat. Again, I don’t want to alarm you. It’s just that women’s heart attack symptoms are much different than what men experience. I’m a business owner and I can imagine the stress you’re going through growing your business.

    Wishing you all the best!

  29. I haven’t read one of your blogs in a really long time as life happens and the things I would like to do are overtaken by the things I have to do.

    I am so glad that today was the day I read your message . Thank you for this awesome message, I find it very encouraging as I find myself desperate for some much needed CEO lessons myself as I navigate the waters of being a business owner by sheer providence too.

    I would love any advise and insights into creating an effective website as changing the website I have inherited is of a priority for me and I love the look and feel of your sites.

    I look forward to reading your blog on a more regular basis and drawing from your experience. I love your authenticity and willingness to share so much of yourself with your readers. Thank you.

    From sunny South Africa
    Take care and God bless.

  30. You’ve done so well, so far. Part of your success has got to be because you are you. Most of us like to deal with someone who is a real person, and not some persona of a person, who cannot be real and genuine because of a supposed image they think they need to project. As far as your schedule, yikes. Seems like more than a monthly list. Don’t forget to smell the roses along the way, and hug those precious boys of yours.

  31. I think you are fantastic! Because….I see you do so much. Your accomplishments always amaze me….from the smallest decorating projects to launching a very successful product! I wish I had your energy but more than that I wish I had your courage.

    Just a thought…. I think the learning curve has helped you….just think if you knew how to do the CEO job from the beginning. You would have been aware of all those things that needed doing to create a successful business!!?? Maybe it would have taken away from what really got you where you are today…. Like getting your hands dirty…making beautiful things happen…reaching out to people everyday on your blog and on and on… The learning curve is working for you…. Growth doesn’t have to be fast as long as its there. :-). I just think you are great! Keep it coming!

  32. There IS a CEO school and it’s run by a woman I think you would love, love, LOVE. Her name is Marie Forleo and she started her business in exactly the same way you have. Now she teaches others how to do the same and how to take your business to each new level. It’s called B-SCHOOL. I think you and Marie were cut from the same cloth!

  33. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for being so open and honest with all of your readers. I myself quite by accident started my own business by just painting a few pieces of furniture in my basement garage and now have a store front of approx. 4000 square feet. I find myself overwhelmed, happy, stressed, excited, tired and full of energy all within a short period of time. The “CEO” part of the business is not the funnest place to be and I never expected myself to have to learn all of the things that I deal with regularly. I never went to college, was a stay at home mom and only worked at office jobs outside of the home. I also struggle with the delegating of task part. Your sharing this helps me know that I’m not alone in this journey. I think we can all learn together. Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to see the growth you will experience, and that will help all of us as your followers also. Thanks for being brave enough to step out and hold yourself accountable by sharing with us. LOVE everything you do!

  34. It seems that you and your team definitely have great ideas and direction! I do not know anything about business, but speaking as a consumer and follower of yours, I must say that I think you should keep trusting yourself and doing what you do! I love smaller-feeling, home-spun companies that have their own charm. I feel that sometimes when people get too influenced by “the way to do things”, this personal touch begins to get lost and much of the charm follows. I love what you are doing – don’t get lost in big business rules!

  35. I echo the sentiments above. Delegate tasks, and even some smaller project management, but to keep the business true to you it’s tough to let too much go unless you are 100% sure that person is totally in the like mind. Yes, a podcast on business plans may give you confidence. But know that you’ve built your business one step at a time using your own good common sense and bouncing ideas off Jeff, your parents, Kriste…it’s working.

    YOU are your business. Don’t go all Martha Stewart on us… 😉

    BTW you could have a “Give Kriste an totally rockin’ job title” contest.

  36. I so needed to see this today. I have a small handcrafted business and feel like a little kid who is faking everyone out. It doesn’t occur to me that successful, homegrown handcrafted businesses may have similar feelings toward their business. I’m encouraged by your tenacity and faith and feel inspired. Thank you and good luck with your CEO goals this year!

  37. Love your comments! What an inspiration you are to some of us that just can’t get started with our
    ideas & our passions to grow into something wonderful, like “Miss Mustard Seed”! Thanks!

  38. I am coming a little late to the dance but someone just shared this article on FB and here I am, subscribing to the blog. I had heard of Miss Mustard Seed but that was it. I loved this article! It is so encouraging to know that even someone who has been blessed with such success is still feeling her way through it all. Gives hope to all of us with home businesses.

  39. For some reason I thought of this quote when I read your post. Sounds like you have a great plan for 2016! Best Wishes. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    –Marianne Williamson

  40. You must have a lot of energy. Get a housekeeper and whoever can do some of the tasks that can be easily done by someone else.

  41. Hi,
    I’ve heard every word twice… the first time where my own thoughts years ago when my little entrepreneur thoughts turned into a full on buisness & others were asking me for advice & publishing my experience from interiviews and book, tv etc.

    In all logic the entrepreneur brain works differently even from a creative brain, a buisness is a combination of many facets.I know you want clearity, never stop learning it will lead you there.

    There aren’t any magic books or tutorials… be honest with your intentions ,true to your brand & don’t worry about what others are doing or not doing,

    It’s your baby, you’re Miss Mustard Seed!
    Best Wishes… dream big!

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