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,