Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Random Journey to Somewhere

I have a TiVo, well actually two which I love. This thought crossed my mind today as I sat staring at the white background of Microsoft Word. A background I might add that should have been covered with words. So, I thought of the dreaded “blue screen of death” feared by TiVo users. Of course thankfully my TiVo has never been broken which then made me think of things that had been broken. This is the random thought process in which I often engage when words fail me.

At one time I would have chided myself for engaging in pointless head chatter. I have learned, however, that allowing my mind to wander and roam free often actually leads somewhere. It leads to a place, a thought , an idea that never would have been allowed to form in my otherwise structured, deadline driven day. So often in doing nothing I accomplish a great deal.

Everyone can find value in allowing time to drift along with their thoughts being carried wherever they may lead. Seemingly unrelated threads can sometimes form the basis of true innovation. Far too often in business we focus so much on structure that we miss the opportunity to dream, plan, visualize and create.

Engaging in random thought is different than brainstorming. With brainstorming you are still focused on a specific problem or concept. You simply free yourself from censoring any idea or solution. Random thought is wholly unstructured in every way. You take a back seat and allow your thoughts to do all the driving. Random thoughts have a number of benefits including:

· They can help you overcome a challenge or problem. Giving your mind a break from mulling over something can often lead you right to a solution.

· They can reveal underlying issues that you have been avoiding.

· They can reignite your creative spark.

· They open the dam and allow a release of fresh thinking and new ideas.

· They help you to recover lost memories.

The next time you find your mind drifting along don’t try to harness your thoughts. Unless of course you’re behind the wheel of a car in rush hour traffic! Otherwise, give yourself the freedom to drift along on a sea of random thoughts. You may be happily surprised where those thoughts take you.

This post was inspired by the awesome writer, Joanna Young who wrote a post on Random Facts which got me thinking….

Friday, December 14, 2007

What you can Learn from Kiefer Sutherland

Kiefer Sutherland, star of 24 is currently serving a 48 day jail sentence for a DUI. His popularity with fans has apparently not suffered. Kief is receiving boatloads of fan mail in jail.

Surviving a setback is not limited to celebrities. Many companies have not only made it though a crisis or bad publicity but emerged better and stronger. What’s the secret?

Fess up. Acknowledge your mistake and work to make it right. Whether you are dealing with one irate customer or a major recall, “We were wrong, we’ll fix it” goes a long way.

Learn from it. Adversity has a way of making us stronger. Take the time to assess what went wrong and why. What systems can be put in place to prevent the error from happening again? Don’t fix a problem one time, fix it for all time. If a customer brings something to your attention, standardize the solution.

Actions speak louder than words. Kiefer Sutherland admitted his mistake, apologized to his bosses and quietly made arrangements to serve his time. He did not make the talk show rounds with a tearful apology and public plan for redemption. Once you’ve acknowledged your error and set about fixing it. Let your actions continue to speak for you.

Bad things happen – in business and life. How you handle the tough times can show your customers (and competitors) what you’re really made of.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Is Your Business on Welfare?

Recently a writing colleague posted an article on the Elance water cooler. The article written by Ron Lindeboom, highlighted the three different buyer types. The article is several years old, but the principles still hold true.

Lindeboom discusses the three marketing types and groups them into top tier, middle market and low end. The top tier clients representing about 15% of your client base are those that value quality and relationship. The middle tier represents about 70% of the market and they want good but fair pricing. The low end wants high end service for cut rate prices. Lindeboom calls the low end segment “Grinders.”

As a business owner, why would you ever want Grinders? Yet, far too many businesses, particularly small businesses fight for this client type. Understanding the psychology of the client segments is important but it’s equally important to understand what type of business you are.

Many small business owners are standing in the welfare line and not sure how they got there. They work hard. In fact they may be working longer hours than CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. They deliver high quality work. Yet, they are barely making ends meet. These businesses are well intentioned but are not appropriately targeting their market or pricing their services.

Other small businesses are locked into a mentality that says they can only compete on price. To win against the “more established,” or “the “larger competitors” they have to compete on price. Does this sound like you?

Still others believe that volume makes up for low pricing. These business owners proclaim “yes our pricing is low but our volume supports it.” These same business owners would like to convince you to work at a fraction of your normal fees because they’re going to give you a large amount of work.

Although I’m humiliated to admit it for a long time I too had a business that was on welfare. My company was turning out high quality work and a sucker for every sob story that justified someone negotiating our rates lower. We wanted to help and by golly help we did to the detriment of our own profit margin. In fact our margins were negative!

I’m here to tell you “Don’t try this at home! You’ll go broke!” I am a big believer in volunteering, giving back and charitable giving. However, when running a business you must realize you exist to make a profit. You can set a fixed amount of time aside to donate business services (and I advocate doing so) but your day to day operations should be generating income.

Let’s look at this from another angle. In corporate America, did your employer negotiate your salary daily? When you showed up for work, did HR say, “Gee you know right now our budget is stretched, so can you work 3 extra hours for half your salary?” Of course not! Yes, companies get into budget trouble and they often solve it by doing lay-offs or salary freezes but no company negotiates your pay (or value) on a daily basis. So why are you doing this in your own business?

Negotiation is a natural part of doing business. Negotiation however is an exchange and not the seller simply giving everything away. It is an exchange to work toward a mutual win where the critical needs of BOTH parties are satisfied. Great negotiations end with all parties feeling like a winner and it sets the stage for a good long term relationship.

However, you are not obligated to negotiate price with every potential client. When you walk into the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk, there is a price you will be required to pay. Do you get to the register and ask to pay a different price? Do you ask them to give you more milk for the same price?

Yes, I realize milk is a commodity and service businesses operate a little differently, but do you negotiate price with your doctor, dentist or hair dresser at every visit? We ask for lower pricing when we beleive the price does not reflect the value but more often than not we simply pay what is asked or we don't buy.

So, how do you begin turning things around? The first step is to examine what you have to offer. What does it cost you to provide the service? What is the value of that service to your ideal client (ideal being key here as you are not targeting grinders)? Set a fair price and stick to it. Your ideal client will pay you for the value. Grinders will not buy from you.

You may end up with fewer clients, but that’s a great thing. You want fewer clients that pay you what you’re worth. Unless of course you really do want to spend your time killing yourself for the pennies that grinders are willing to pay.

I’ve learned the hard way that clients will only value what I have to offer if I first realize that value myself. This means getting off welfare and saying No to the people who really can’t afford my services. Am I missing out on a large segment of the market? Yes, I am but it’s a segment that does not represent my ideal client anyway.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

New Website Launched

I hope you won't mind a departure from business as usual today but I'm excited! After agonizing, writing, rewriting and trashing a number of websites I finally launched the new site. It's funny how procrastination often leads back to the road of simplicity. I had toyed with complexities that I never would have been able to manage, flash images and flying objects but in the end decided on a simple, clean Web 2.0 design. The whole website experience reminded me of a few valuable lessons that I'd like to share.

Do not be paralyzed by perfection. So often we're so focused on perfection that we lose sight of the big picture - getting it done. There are times that perfection is required (like in plastic surgery) but there are other times when good enough is really good enough. Spend your time and resources accordingly and saved yourself some anxiety in the process.

Good help is to be celebrated. Greg Ogorek, of Global Internet Services (globalinternet.net) was just the kick in the rear I needed. His expert guidance made the process so easy. I had tried and failed to accomplish this on my own for 10 months, but one good expert was exactly what was needed.

Just do it already. Sometimes we just need to take action. I was so afraid of doing, writing, designing the wrong thing that I had my cruddy old site up for almost a year. As a result I never promoted it or made it work for me. So, I'm taking my own advice and just doing it.

So, please check out the new site at www.wordsforhirellc.com. I will be adding new resources throughout the year and always sharing with you what I learn from my failures and successes.

Until next time,


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Break from the Herd

I’ve been out sick and am now finally catching up. Before I post the low cost marketing tip, I have to share this great post that I read over on the Media Post blog (http://blogs.mediapost.com/spin/?p=1134#comments):

Tom Cunniff from Combe Incorporated says:
September 27th, 2007 at 7:59 am

“Businesspeople run in herds, for safety. Many of us run in the Formula Herd; our heads down, ritualistically reciting our formulas like a prayer. We desperately hope that we can get rich before our formula loses its mojo. Others of us run in the Silver Bullet Herd; eyes constantly scanning the horizon for Deus Ex Machina. We desperately hope that our Silver Bullet will make us rich before anyone realizes it’s really just a little man behind the curtain.

A few crazies split off from the herd and form their own small groups. We desperately hope that logic and reason will win the day, and that our superior survival skills will make us rich in spite of the insanity of business. Usually the most successful crazies can be found at conferences peddling Formulas and Silver Bullets to members of the other herds.

And, there you have it :-)

I seriously laughed out loud when I read this thoughtful, dead on comment. So kudos to Tom Cunniff! Tom’s comment is a perfect lead in to a discussion of business marketing. Too often people are joining the herd rather than being brave enough to be different and do what works for their business. I read today of an internet marketer who hired a copywriter to write optimized blog posts. Unfortunately the marketer was neither a blogger or SEO expert so had no idea how to evaluate the final product! I applauded the marketer’s honesty and felt bad for the situation. It’s likely that he/she got some advice from the gurus in the herd and eager to achieve success followed along.

Okay, enough of the soapbox. There are so many great low cost marketing ideas that have proven the test of time. Remember it’s critical to evaluate your own market and use only the ideas that align with your overall plan. So the first low cost tip, use your business cards. What? Yep, that little card is marketing gold. You can have really nice business cards printed and still not break the bank. Rather than stick them in your business card holder or wallet, use them. Resolve to pass out ten cards per day. Strike up conversations wherever you go and pass out that card. Drop a few in the thank you notes you send to clients (you are sending thank you notes, aren’t you?). We miss so many opportunities in our day to day life to talk about our business and how we can help people.

You will be surprised at the number of contacts and leads you can develop with that tiny little card. Happy Marketing!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Crystal Ball Marketing

In the past few months, I have watched several businesses open and close in my community. The latest to bite the dust was a New York style deli around the corner. Was it to be my fate to welcome a new place only to have it close it’s doors in a couple of months. In the span of a few months, a coffee shop, Mexican restaurant, grocery store and drycleaners had all shut down. Here in Michigan where unemployment is among the highest in the country, it would be easy to place the blame on the economy. While the economy certainly played a role these business failures can be traced to fundamental errors made by the owners.

Nosiness is a professional hazard, so I talk to everyone, and ask lots of questions. I had chatted with the owners of the businesses on many of my visits so in every case had gotten to know their story. Many of the businesses had opened and closed in less than 6 months. In every case the owners had been filled with enthusiasm and hope only to close up shop a few months later. So, what happened?

The economy does impact spending. But let’s be clear consumers do not stop spending money they simply become picky about where those dollars go. This means that businesses have to work a little harder to attract their customers. Each of these businesses had failed miserably at attracting customers. They opened their doors and hoped for the best. None had a solid marketing plan (I asked) and apparently all were severely under capitalized. The owners all mistakenly believed that they could not afford to market so their efforts were a couple of fliers and coupon offers in local papers. Yeah, that worked out real well.

It may surprise you but these owners are not unlike many business owners. So for all of you out there allow me to share this: Consumers do not have a crystal ball that will direct them to your business. You have to TELL them not only that you exist but WHY they need you. You have taken the time to develop a business idea, raise enough capital to get started so isn’t it worth it to close the deal. Without customers, you don’t have a business so shouldn’t the acquisition of customers play a central role in your planning? Consumers are not psychic and the mere presence of a building (or website) will not guarantee you business. In fact as a business owner, the majority of your time should be spent on acquiring business and creating systems to improve the customer experience. Again - no customers, no business.

Marketing does not require a million dollar budget. There are many creative, low cost ways to acquire customers. The key is to understand your target market and find the most cost efficient and effective way to reach them. Who is your market? (Here’s a clue, your answer should not be “everyone.”) How and where does your market make decisions? How does your product/service help them solve a pain point, or avoid pain? Here’s a great example. The Mexican Restaurant that was briefly open did a fair share of take-out business. They had a small dining area which was perfect for the lunch crowd but most of their business was take out. Yet they did nothing to market or cater to this business segment. What could they have done? Local delivery service could have helped to grow this market. Fax and express phone service are other low cost ideas that could have worked. Dominos Pizza built an empire by filling a customer need and marketing it to death. By the way, they were not the best tasting pizza but they certainly were savvy in their marketing.

Marketing is not a nice to do task, it is essential to the life of your business. You cared enough to start your business so share that passion with your target market by telling them what you can do for them! Stay with me in coming weeks as we look at low cost ideas and methods to get you the recognition you deserve.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lessons from Michael Vick

Whether you are a football fan or not, you have certainly heard the ugly details of the charges brought against Atlanta Falcons Quarterback, Michael Vick. The case has dominated headlines for several weeks and sparked nationwide anger against Vick.

Vick and co-defendants allegedly operated an illegal dog fighing ring and are been charged with various charges including federal conspiracy. The illegal activity occurred on a property owned by Vick but lived in by his cousin (who has been charged and pleaded guility). According to Vick he was unaware of the activity and rarely visited the property. In spite of his profession of "ignorance" he has lost several endorsement deals and is temporarily suspended from Falcons Training Camp. More importantly he faces five years in jail if found guilty.

I am not sure what the final outcome will be for Vick but the case is a cautionary tale for everyone. Lately, it seems that we could fill a book with tales of "celebrites gone wild," but at the heart of many of the outrageous headlines is the basic concept of choices.

Every choice we make has a consequence. Vick chose to entrust his home and reputation to his cousin. If in fact Vick did not know what was going on in a home he owned, that too was a choice...and it was a very wrong choice.

We learn from Vick that ignorance is not bliss but it is a choice that can carry serious consequences. As business owners we too make choices. While we cannot avoid mistakes or failure (in fact both are key elements in our growth) we can make better choices. If your choices are driven by knowledge and active decision making and you fail that's okay. You made a choice and it did not work out but you have an opportunity to learn from the stumble and move forward. However, if you were not aware of what was going on in your company or chose to associate your business with questionable relationships and as a result you fail...well, you have to take responsibility for that and hopefully you can recover.

Successful people guard their inner circle. Not everyone is allowed in to that precious space, related or not. The successful understand that your associations are a choice and can reap negative or positive consequences. They are not willing to damage their earnings or reputation by poor choices and neither should you.

Today take stock of your own moral compass and guiding values. Are your choices aligned with those values? Next, take stock of the people in your inner circle. Are those relationships aligned with your values and vision? Finally, as you seek to erect that fortress around your vision and reputation, where are your blind spots? While it is not necessary to micro manage every area of your life, it is up to you to know what's going on and understand the choices that others are making which will directly impact you.

As an animal lover I am horrifed by the Vick case. But as a human being I am heartbroken for Michael Vick. It is not easy to watch another person's life fall apart and in doing so it is impossible not to shine the light back on myself and think there but for the grace of God....

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Great American Balancing Act

In the United States we talk a lot about work-life balance. Harried employees talk of the lack of work-life balance, while corporations entice recruits with their culture of work-life balance. Some employees and employers solve the problem with alternative work arrangements such as split shifts, telecommuting or 4-40 work weeks.

Yet, as a country we seem to be failing miserably at achieving this so called balance. Americans take fewer vacation days than any other country. We are one of the only modern countries without vacation-time minimums mandated by law.

A new study by employment firm Hudson noted that “Thirty percent of Americans say they use less than half their allotted time. And 20 percent take only a few days instead of a week or two (Business Week May 21).

Our technologically advanced culture was predicted to give us more leisure time. Instead it has increased the pressure to be “always on.” Even when we’re off, we’re at work. We have blackberrys, laptops and voice mail that allow us to remain at work even on vacation.

As the workplace grows more competitive, the pressure to be there increases. This trend however has not only impacted employees but has also affected business owners. In fact many business owners allow work to consume every waking hour believing that they don’t have the luxury of taking time off.

However, working all the time does not increase productivity, it decreases it! We all need time to decompress and relax. Time away from work allows you to come back with more energy and a fresh perspective. I have gotten many of my best ideas when I was far from an office and work setting.

Balance looks different for everyone but it is something that we all should strive to find. I suspect that for many that means first dealing with the fear of not being at work. Employees and business owners face competition within and outside of our borders. Business owners may lose opportunities to foreign countries that can do it cheaper. Employees may lose their job as organizations merge, or consolidate to cut costs. Many are afraid that if they don’t stay on top of things they could lose their income.

The answer is to overcome your fear with faith. Have faith in your talent and abilities. Focus your energies on becoming productive and giving 100% during the hours you are at work and then go home and give 100% to the other parts of your life.

Your time will be better spent focusing on the positive and living your best life now. Employees should take charge of their careers by keeping their resumes updated and networking to stay current on market trends. Working a 60 hour week does not protect you from reorganization; it simply makes you angry when in spite of all your time you too receive a pink slip!

Business owners should develop multiple income streams to protect themselves against the natural up and down cycles of business. Spend focused time weekly working on the business and not in it. Create systems and processes for success.

Time off does not detract from your competitive edge, it enhances it! Let’s face there will be times for all of us that we’ll put in more hours and work harder but that should not be our way of life. Life is far too short to spend it all working in fear that you will lose ground.

I challenge you to find a better balance, you will not regret it!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Paris Hilton and Purple Cows

Do you ever feel like the Nicole Ritchie of the business world? Destined to be lost in a sea of larger, flashier competitors? Volumes of books have been written about standing out in a crowded marketplace so it’s obviously a topic that is near and dear to the hearts of millions.

Job seekers ask professionals to write resumes that will make them “stand out” from the crowd. Businesses strive to find their “purple cow” solution that will make them stand apart from competitors in their space. Even those running for President are looking for ways to be different in one of the largest and longest pre-primaries in recent history.

In the past, there was a clear dividing line in business. There were major corporations participating on a national or global stage, small business that was primarily local or niched and mid-sized business that fell between the two.

The size of the business no longer determines the playing field. Technology has made it much easier for small and mid-sized businesses to look much bigger and compete on a global scale.

Like it or not, almost every business does compete locally even if their desired customer base is local. The freelance writer in Paducah may face competition in the business writing arena from Great Britain, India and Chicago.

Technology has made the world much smaller and it can be hard to rise above the blogs, adwords, youtube videos and MySpace pages to get noticed. No wonder Barack has turned to hip hop music videos and Hillary is spouting one liners on Letterman!

So, how do you get noticed? Is it possible to rise from oblivion to greatness without a porn tape or shaking your groove thing at a Hollywood party?

Believe it or not the business principles that pre-date our modern technological tools remain relevant today. People still value good old fashioned quality and service. Yes, they may download songs from iTunes but it’s not the technology that makes them listen it’s the music.

In other words, the technology is a tool to reach your market but you will win and keep customers because you offer something of value to them. Album, CD or MP3, a great tune is a great tune!

The key is to know your market. What does your market want and where are the gaps in your industry? What do you bring to your market? Take time to discover your value to your market and then tell them! Once you’ve got the substance go ahead and add the sizzle! Use the most effective technology and marketing for your market. You may never become as famous as Paris but plenty of people have never heard of Martin G. Carver either.

Be purple, fuchsia, sing a song or tell a joke, but just be uniquely you!

Until next time!


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bring on the Experts!

After an extremely long hiatus, I’m back! I must admit I considered abandoning blogging altogether. My strange addiction to 12 hours of news per day resulted in an overload of stories about bloggers targeted by crazy cyberstalkers and it freaked me out. Yet, what scared me even more were the multitudinous conflicting theories on blogging by “experts”. A sampling of expert data included:

-Your blog must have a very specific business theme (no random musings allowed!)
-You should absolutely not have a blog as it provides no real business value
-Writers should not have blogs unless they are promoting a book
-Writers should have blogs because how else could they build readership!

Um, okay. All of it left me scratching my head in frustration. With each opinion I carefully weighed the entire argument. All of the “experts” raised good points but in the end all that advice left me feeling unworthy to implement any of it. My quandary over blogging could apply to any aspect of business advice.

How often have we all found ourselves flummoxed by conflicting “expert” opinions? More importantly, how do we sift through the opinions and counter opinions to choose what is right for us?

Every week I have clients contacting me wanting me to do something that was advised by an expert. I can clearly trend popular seminars by the requests that I receive monthly. One month I may be deluged with requests for “SEO articles that will drive traffic to my website,” and another it may be “a sales letter written in AIDA style.” The “expert” advice is not necessarily wrong, but often it’s not the right strategy for that client’s business.

I am a big fan of learning from the success of others. However, I believe that one person’s successful strategy could be a total failure for another. It’s important to consider the advice in the context of your business environment, and your overall strategy. Implementing tactics that are not aligned with your overall strategy can prove disastrous.

One of my favorite words to use is “authenticity.” Unfortunately it’s far too often ignored in business. Many business owners have implemented “tips and tricks” advised by experts only to become frustrated when it didn’t work. A 7 page web sales letter is not the right strategy for every business. A single press release will not cause reporters to line up at your door. Tips and tricks work best when they are authentic to the goal and character of your business, otherwise it’s just a slick trick.

So, what brought me back to blogging? In the end, it was a simple decision. I may not win tons of new business from my modest blog nor become a best selling author but I do enjoy writing and connecting with others. I missed the emails from those who shared their opinions and the insight I gained from “putting it out there” for the world to read and comment. Writing a blog may not make me lots of money, but it’s certain to allow me to practice what I truly love – writing. In the process I hope to inform and entertain those who read and along the way get better at something I love to do.

Until next time,


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fad junkies

I have a friend who seems to spend all of her time at seminars. She owns a business but I'm not sure when she actually has time to run it! Each time I speak with her she has changed her business model (again), on the advice of yet another guru who she heard at a seminar.

While I am a proponent of continuous learning for some it can be dangerous. The power of learning new things is actually applying them. It is my belief that there are even greater lessons to be learned when you apply knowledge. To simply run from one seminar to another is a waste of time and money and I am sure that the purported gurus would agree.

So, is my friend addicted to learning? Possibly, but I think the true problem is fear. I have witnessed her inability to make a decision for fear of making a mistake. Her answer? Continue to run around and allow others to make the decisions for her. The result of her actions (or inaction) is that her business hasn't really changed or grown in 5 years.

I challenge you to act on one piece of advice or knowledge. Apply it to your business, refine it, learn from it. Don't make the mistake of running from one fad to another. Let me know how it changes your business.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year, New Beginnings

Happy New Year!

I don't know about you but I'm really glad that the holidays are behind us. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the celebration of Christmas and many of the holiday festivities but it can be exhausting! So, here we are in 2007 and off to a new start.

This month represents a fresh start, and for many - new beginnings. Very few people approach the new year without wanting to make it even better than the last. Even those who had a great year strive to improve when a new year dawns.

It is for this reason that so many people make New Year's Resolutions. Gyms and churches are filled in January, but the crowds thin out before the month is over. Some people will give up on their resolutions before the week is out.

I love resolutions. I typically don't make them at New Year but instead I set goals weekly, monthly and throughout the year. I am always working to improve some aspect of myself and or my business, and trust me there's much work to do!

I have found that it's not enough to want something, you have to plan for your success. I write down my goals and then break it up into action items. Some goals may take all year to reach, while others may only take one month. I celebrate the milestones along the way and re-evaluate periodically to make sure the goals still make sense.

For example, last year I had a goal of running my third marathon. However, I found myself consumed with my new business, stressed, overwhelmed and worn down from overtraining. Realizing that the goal was not right for where I was in my life, I had to postpone it. I was disappointed but got over it and actually used the loss to improve my workout routine.

Goals should not be things that torture us but should be motivators. Your goals should align with where you are in life and what is realistic to achieve. As you contemplate this new year, by all means make a few resolutions! Just ensure that your resolutions are meaningful and achievable. Also keep in mind that changes don't come overnight. Plan the steps that you will need to take to reach your goals. Along the way, you may have to readjust, but it's okay. Life is a journey filled with twists and turns. Be open to new pathways as you pursue your dreams.

I wish you all a fulfilling year!