Do You Want to be a Tugboat or a Lighthouse?


I was sitting having coffee with another business owner when she said “and then I realised, I don’t want to be the tugboat in my business, I want to be the lighthouse. Do you know what I mean?”

I made a vague “mmhmm” noise and stirred my coffee quietly as she continued talking.

I did know what she meant.

But I didn’t know what it meant for me.

Later that day I found myself Googling “lighthouse vs. tugboat” and coming up with various variations of a self-help parable doing the rounds on the internet.

The parable asks the reader to visualise a tugboat, Its role is to lead other boats safely to shore. It pulls them, it drags them, and eventually, hopefully, it gets them there. Now imagine a lighthouse. Its role is also to guide boats safely to shore but it does so in a dramatically different way. The lighthouse doesn’t pull or drag, it stands tall on the shore beaming out light to guide the ships home. How the captains of those ships choose to follow that light remains their choice and responsibility. The lighthouse cannot change that, it can only stand firm beaming out its guidance like a beacon.

Are you a tugboat or a lighthouse?

All too often we show up for our clients and our businesses as their tugboats rather than their lighthouses.

We do the work, we pull and we drag them to where they want to be, often irrespective of where we think that they should be going. We forget that we have the expertise, that we have been hired by our clients for that expertise, that part of being able to charge rates which accurately reflect our expertise is in our skill as an experienced guide for our clients.

Think of your last business branding experience. When you brand your business there are lots of options and routes available to you to go from where you currently are - no brand or old brand - to where you want to be - the new brand. One option is to hop on over to Fiverr or Upwork or 99Designs and get someone to give you a logo. If you are disciplined and the odds are in your favour then you are going to end up with a new logo that you like, maybe even love. You won’t have paid very much for it, it probably took a lot more of your input to get it right but it does the job you want. Congratulations, you have reached the shore.

Now consider what happens when you hire a branding expert to (re)brand your business. A branding expert knows that branding is more than a logo, they will take the time to understand your business, to get to know you as the leader of your business and understand your vision for the future, they will present you with options and a wider range of implementations, they will work with you until your whole business reflects your vision. They cost a lot more than getting someone to design you a logo on Fiverr. It is a different way to reach the shore but congratulations, you’ve still reached the shore.

Becoming the Lighthouse

If, after reading the story above, your first thought was “That’s me! I’m the tugboat!” then your second thought was probably “but how do I become the lighthouse?”

There are some professions where this is easy. Take coaching as an example, coaches should always be the lighthouse, it is what they are trained to do, to offer guidance to their clients without imposing a prescribed direction on them. It’s what their clients expect of them.

However, if you are in a profession where you provide a service for your clients it may seem harder to break free of being the tugboat. For example, if you are a copywriter you may feel that you are doomed to live a tugboat life, pulling and dragging your client’s visions into words that engage other people. How could you possibly be a lighthouse when you actually have to do the work if you want to get paid? After all, you can’t just stand there and tell your client how to do it themselves, that’s not what they hired you for.

Take a moment though to consider what your client needs. Did they hire you just to churn out words or did they hire you to guide them so that you can write the best, most impactful, most engaging copy for their business? How often do you value (and charge for) your expertise at that level? How do you communicate the fact that in this, your zone of genius, you know more than your client about how to get their project to shore? There is a huge difference as a client between hiring someone to polish up your words (tugboat) and hiring someone to craft your vision (lighthouse).

Which one do you want to be?

Which one does your business need you to be?

If you are operating your business in tugboat mode then I am confident that this is part of the reason that you feel drained. It takes a lot of energy to pull and drag things to a successful conclusion. Maybe you have also been attracting the wrong clients to you because you are showing up as the tugboat and that’s all they want (or think they want). It is almost certainly keeping you trapped in the day-to-day of your business and not allowing you to create and implement long-term strategies for growth.

If you’ve accidentally become the tugboat in your business when what your business really needs you to be is the lighthouse, then it's time to make a change. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Clear a couple of hours, preferably half a day in your schedule to focus on your business.
  • Identify all the areas where you are behaving like a tugboat instead of a lighthouse.
  • For each area which you identify as a tugboat area, write out what that area would look like if you were the lighthouse. What would change in how you run that part of your business, how would clients interact with it, would your pricing need to change, do you need to outsource or hire someone in to take over, do you need to communicate these changes, if so how will you do that?
  • Now, take a planner and start to schedule in everything you need to do, or hire others to do,  in order to change your course. Remember, you’re still heading for shore, you’re just changing the way you get there. It’s time to chart your own course instead of letting the demands of your business lead you there.

Successful business growth requires strong leadership. Be a lighthouse, not a tugboat.


If you want more systems and strategies to help you work on your business instead of in your business, then you'll love my Notes for the Curious. It's published every two-weeks and delivered straight to your inbox. Notes for the Curious is a curated digest of everything I am learning and loving about running a business and living a life on purpose. From time management, to goal setting, community building to confidence boosting as well as systems and tools to make your life easier, we will cover it all.

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How to Recover from Social Media Fatigue

How to Recover from Social Media Fatigue.png

Do you remember when social media felt like a magical place to spend time? It at once felt like the biggest and most intimate conversations could all happen in one place.

And then the marketers came.

This, people, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a business owner, I’m not blaming the marketers for the state of social media today. We all contributed to the noise that is our current social media world. Instead of using it as a way to connect, we started using it as a “look at me” magnifier where we had to get louder and louder to be heard.

And we got tired. We got tired of the noise, we got tired of competing for attention, we got tired of wondering why social was “working” for everyone else and not for us.

We forgot, that actually, we are in charge of how we use social media and if we want it to be a valuable place to spend time then it is up to us to take back control.

It’s not going to be easy, social media is designed to capture and hold your attention but I believe that by making small adjustments to our approach in using social media, by breaking the bad habits we’ve built up and by making smart use of the tools and systems which are available to us we can really make social somewhere we enjoy spending time again. Where we can connect with people who we may never have had the opportunity to connect with any other way and create valuable interactions.

I think it’s time. Are you with me? Let’s go...

Change Your Mindset

Work out Why Social Media is Important to You

First of all, before you do anything else I want you to ask yourself this question,

Why is social media important in your life?

And don’t tell me that you need to be on it for your business, you don’t. If you were born before 1997 then social media didn’t even exist in your world. MySpace didn’t start until 2003 with Facebook launching a year later in 2004. While social media may seem all consuming these days it’s not been around that long. People grew and ran successful businesses way before social media and they will continue to do so after we have evolved onto whatever is coming next. Social media can be useful for your business but don’t try to tell yourself it is necessary. It stops you looking for opportunities in other places if you do that.

For me, social media is an important way to stay connected. I have a busy life, I’m an expat living away from most of my family. Social media is a great way to stay in touch with the day to day of people’s lives. It is a fantastic way to interact with other business owners, not so I can sell to them but so we can make actual connections which are benefit to both of us.

Take Action: Make social, social again. Stay away from the like button. Leave a comment so that people know that you actually took the time to engage with them. Have a conversation, even better, make time to have a real-life conversation with them.

Be Authentic

Aaargh! Marketing jargon! A buzzword! Wait… Do you remember what being authentic meant before the online marketing world took the word over?

The dictionary says “Genuine, based on fact. Accurate or reliable” Hmm, that doesn’t sound like a lot of social media I see these days.

I like Seth Godin’s definition better when we are talking about being authentic in our businesses. He defines it as:  "consistent emotional labor."

Godin says:

We call a brand or a person authentic when they’re consistent, when they act the same way whether or not someone is looking. Someone is authentic when their actions are in alignment with what they promise.
— Seth Godin

Take Action: Show up consistently as yourself. Consistent doesn’t mean keeping to a strict schedule. Only do that if it helps you stay on track. It means making sure that every time you post something on social media do it as you, not as the version of you that you think other people want to see.

You Are Not On Social Media To Make Yourself Feel Bad

Steph Panther of My Mindset Coach had a great recommendation on her Instagram to unfollow anyone that makes you feel like you need to be someone else. If you feel bad or not good enough when you see posts from someone else in particular, unfollow them.

steph panther my mindset coach

For me that means that I hide any sponsored content that tells me that I need to diet, or be a certain body shape or that makes me feel less than in my business or personal life.

Does that mean you should unfollow people you who are ahead of the curve from where you are now?

Yes, and no.

I believe in models of possibility, so if someone is a model of possibility to you then that's great but if you constantly feel less than when you see their posts appear on social media then set them free from your feed. If you find seeing Oprah’s post inspirational, keep following her. If every time a post from Oprah appearing in your feed it is just a crushing reminder that you are not yet Oprah, unfollow her. I promise she won’t mind.

I've also unfollowed anyone who is using Instagram to sell to me. If the feed is curated, only uses stock photos, puts a quote in every third image etc then unless they are a client I won't follow them. I'd rather spend my time there making authentic connections (see point #1 to remind yourself what is authentic).

Take Action: Unfollow everyone and everything that doesn’t feel good when you see it. You are not a captive audience, you have the power to control what you see.

Kill The FOMO

Fear of Missing Out, FOMO, it’s real. There’s no point denying it. But if you really think about the things that you have consumed recently on social media, how much of it was truly essential? How much of it helped you get closer to where you want to be in that moment? How much of it would you truly have missed if you hadn’t seen it?

Take Action: Ask yourself, "Does (doing/consuming/sharing) this move me closer to or further away from my goal?" Then worry less about what you might be missing out on if you spend your time elsewhere.

Break Your Bad Habits

Reclaim Your Time

Get your phone out of the bedroom. This is a big one for me. I’ve gone through periods when I don’t have my phone in the bedroom and I've gone to sleep earlier, I’ve slept better, most importantly I’ve missed out on absolutely nothing. But somehow, over time the phone crept back into the bedroom and the bad habit of looking at social media before I go to sleep and when I wake up was back. We all know that our phones are not the first thing we should look at in the morning or the last thing we should look at, at night. Yet many of us do.

Take Action: Time to ban the phone from the bedroom (again). And while we’re at it, no tablets or laptops or tv’s either. Make your bedroom a place you sleep.

Turn Off the Notifications

Turn off sound and banner notifications for everything but the essentials on your phone and tablet. I did this about 5 years ago, maybe more and the only things that have a sound notification are texts, WhatsaApps, an app which tracks the flights of loved ones arriving at Schiphol and the rain alarm app (essential in Amsterdam, otherwise you’re going to get wet, a lot).

I don't have any visual notifications telling me how many unread emails I have. I also don't have unread emails very often, I inbox zero as often as I can. I don’t have any social media notifications turned on, I don't need to know when people post or comment, I'll find out when I open the app. These apps are designed to get our attention and if our attention shifts away from them, they are designed to get it back. Don’t be a slave to notifications. You choose when you want to check things, when you have time to do so.

Take Action: Turn off all notifications on your phone/tablet/laptop. Get into the habit of setting aside dedicated time for social media so that you are in control of the time that you spend there.

Systems and Tools

Unfollow everything… and start again

Which sounds drastic, but doesn’t have to be. You could try something radical like deleting your accounts and opening new ones. But it’s much easier to use tools which clean things up for you. It’s like starting from scratch but not quite.

Take Action: Use the Chrome extension Nudge to unfollow everything on your Facebook account in two clicks (note: it doesn't unsubscribe you from anything but it automatically turns off all notifications for *everything* including friends, groups, pages). It sounds scarier than it is but by zeroing all your notifications you can then go back in and switch on the notifications of people you really want to hear from. It's made Facebook a much nicer place for me to spend time these days.

Eradicate Your Newsfeed

For most of us it is the newsfeed that is the problem. So much stuff to scroll through before we see something we want to engage with. Facebook has promised to do their best to change this but until then, turning off your newsfeed on your desktop might be a good solution.

Take Action: I have had NewsFeed Eradicator installed for around 2 years now. If I want to read my newsfeed I open the Facebook app on my phone, which means that any time I spend in the app is intentionally set aside for scrolling my newsfeed. Now that I only have things I want to see in there (thanks to Nudge) I don't worry too much because there isn't much to scroll through. It takes no time at all.

Get Your List On

Most people have forgotten about lists but you can use Facebook or Twitter Lists to organise who you want to see updates from so you only see what you want to see from people and causes you care about.

Take Action: Make a list of the type of people you are connected with, this could be friend, family, colleagues. Create a list for each category and then sort people into the relevant category. That way, when you want to see updates from your friends you can just check the list instead of relying on the algorithm to show you their updates.

Remember RSS?

Go old school and add the news/blogs etc. that you want updates from to an RSS feed reader like Feedly. Or use something that makes reading a more pleasurable, visual experience such as Flipboard. Then you can safely unlike all of those pages on Facebook and updates on Twitter. Social Media isn't a news service (although it likes to pretend to be sometimes). You need to control your own media consumption with publications you trust and enjoy.

Take Action: Install an RSS reader or Flipboard and add your favourite publications to it. Make a date to regularly review what you are reading and unsubscribe from anything that doesn’t make you want to pay attention on a regular basis.

Give up Control

If you have an iPhone, remember that Safari has built-in settings you can use to block websites. If you are the sum of the people you spend the most time with then you are definitely the sum of the media you consume. Stop with the trashy reading and make your reading more intentional.

Take Action: Install blockers on your phone to help you use your time on social media more wisely. Try apps such as Rescue Time or Freedom to help you.

Digest it

If you have a habit of checking news sites all the time, just in case something has happened in the world. Lose the habit by subscribing to daily update briefings. I have one from the Guardian (for the European perspective) and one from Vox (for the US perspective) that keep me mostly on track. News media is terrible for social media because they have to pound dozens of updates in every day onto your feed to get your attention. The algorithm will learn what you click on and then only serve up similar content, meaning you miss the important stories anyway.

Take Action: Make a list of the publications you want to hear from. Check their website for a daily digest and subscribe if they have one, then unsubscribe from them on social media. Try services such as The Weekly (UK based news) The Daily Skimm (US based news) Popbitch (UK gossip and culture) Politico ( US and EU based political updates) The Pool (UK based female lifestyle).

Now it's your turn

What about you? How will you recover from social media fatigue and make it somewhere you want to spend time again? I truly believe that the best way forward is to make it a place where humans connect with humans. I'll let you know how it goes.


If you want more systems and strategies to work smarter, not harder, then you'll love my Notes for the Curious. It's published every two-weeks and delivered straight to your inbox. Notes for the Curious is a curated digest of everything I am learning and loving about running a business and living a life on purpose. From time management to goal setting, community building to confidence boosting as well as systems and tools to make your life easier, we will cover it all.

Fill out your details below to receive the next edition. 

Why I Do What I Do

why I do what I do and you should too by Emmy McCarthy

I believe that everybody is capable of creating an impact.

Everybody is capable of creating change.

Everyone has the opportunity to leave their mark on the world.

As a lifelong introvert, being an observer and a listener on the sidelines is a normal state for me, even so, I don’t want to exist in isolation. I still need to feel that what I am doing has purpose and connects me with other people.

I don’t want to wait to live the life I want, I want to live my best life right now.

Running your own business is scary. You worry about money, you worry about your clients, you worry about not having enough clients, you worry about growing, you worry about staying small, you worry about what other people are doing and whether you are doing enough. You often spend more time worrying than you do enjoying the process of designing the life you want to live. A life that helps other people live better lives too.

I know you do, because I hear the exact same things from my clients over and over again and I promise you, I’ve suffered from those same worries myself. Being a listener means that people feel safe to bring their worries to me, they tell me they feel scared, or unsure, they tell me how high they are setting the bars for themselves and yet they still never feel like they are doing enough. They tell me that they feel scattered and unfocused, that they are busy all the time but never quite sure if they are working on the right thing or if what they are doing will bring the results they truly desire. They wonder where the time they have goes and they worry if they are spending enough time with the people they love, doing the things they really want to do. Mostly though, they worry about what they will have to sacrifice to make an impact on the world, and they worry that the cost of that sacrifice may be too high for them to bear.

I do the work I do because I know that small changes can create great impact

and I also know that we don’t have to spend every waking minute consumed by what we do in order to make a difference in the world.

I know it because I’ve lived it. I was the person who pushed themselves to the edge, who believed that you had to keep doing more and more if you wanted to succeed. I built something which people tell me changed their lives. But it came at a cost.

I was so busy doing everything I thought needed to be done that I forgot that if you truly want to create ways to serve others, you have to look after yourself. You have to put on your own oxygen mask first. I learned my lessons the hard way. Now I do the work I do to make sure that other business owners don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

Changing the way that we work, developing strong structures and systems in our businesses, building, growing and inhabiting supportive communities means that not only can we make an impact, and an income  - because we deserve to be paid for the work we do, especially if that work changes things for the better - we can also do more with less.

Doing more with less means developing better results for our clients, creating more time for ourselves and the ones we love without sacrificing our goals or our income. It means doing the work we are truly called to do, and living the life we want to lead instead of believing we must do one or the other.

Doing more with less allows us to say no, to set boundaries and hold them, to only do what will move us forward instead of what will hold us back. Most importantly, it allows us to redefine our own success and set our goals in alignment with it.

Everybody is capable of impact but we can’t do it alone.

We need support, we need systems, we need the people who have gone before us to reach their hands back in order to lift up the people who are coming up behind them. In short, we need community.

The world needs people to stand up, stand together and be counted. We need more people to use their best skills and talents, people who are prepared to step forward and say, “I can help. I can help you solve that problem. Together we can build a solution that works”.

This is what I know to be true if you want to see change happen, you have to act.

You need to stop waiting for permission, it’s time to create the change you want to see in the world.

It’s what I’ve done, it’s what my clients do.

And if you need someone to walk beside you while you make your change, someone who will share the lessons they learned the hard way so that you can shorten your learning curve, who will help you implement the systems and processes which enable you to grow a sustainable, profitable business, someone who will be your cheerleader, your shoulder to cry on and the person who will keep pushing you to achieve more, then it’s time for us to talk.

Let’s start turning your small, secret hopes and dreams, into big actions, right now.

It's time to run the business you truly want to run and to make the impact (and income) you need to build your legacy for the world.

What are you waiting for?


If you want more inspiration, systems and strategies to help you create the business that you truly want to run, then you'll love my Notes for the Curious. It's published every two-weeks and delivered straight to your inbox. Notes for the Curious is a curated digest of everything I am learning and loving about running a business and living a life on purpose. From time management, to goal setting, community building to confidence boosting as well as systems and tools to make your life easier, we will cover it all.

Fill out your details below to receive the next edition.