Thursday, December 27, 2007

Working With The System

I just finished reading a post by a buddy of mine, Ross Johnson over at 3.7 Designs. He was talking about the need to develop systems in business. From what I've experienced, he is absolutely right.

In order to succeed and grow my business, the methods I used to use have had to evolve. For example, when I was only consulting part time, I could easily keep track of the jobs just in my head. Not long after I went full time, though, and more business started rolling in, I found that just trying to keep things in my memory wasn't going to work.

Now, I've got a two-tiered system to keep track of my various projects. I keep a brief status message on my white board for each client. It's just their name and a one-word status message ("discussion", "quoted", "approved", etc), but it keeps things much more organized and gives me a birds-eye view of the status of my company. The second tier is a spreadsheet where I keep track of the details of the project, including contact information, work specifications, and next steps.

I also have a system now which keeps me in contact with my business network. Making calls, attending networking events, sending out my ezine, and meeting with people one-on-one all fall into this system. Using it, I not only have the benefit of a daily blueprint of what I'm doing, but can also analyze my processes and make improvements.

I fully expect these systems to keep developing over time as my business continues to grow and its needs change. The old ones will evolve and I'll come up with new ones to streamline other activities with the ultimate goal of being as efficient and as effective as possible.

After all, the goal of my business is to support my life, not the other way around.

So, what parts of your life could benefit from developing a system?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Remember The Milk Add-On

I just wrote about "Remember the Milk" in my e-zine this past week. It's a great tool to keep track of all of the tasks you might have to do in your everyday life. A number of folks who follow David Allen's "Getting things DONE" teachings apparently swear by it.

Today I found out about a nifty new add-on for RTM if you are also a Gmail user and your browser is Firefox. This tool displays your RTM task list right alongside your email in the browser window. No longer do you have to switch windows in order to add new items to your task list. Everything is right there.

I've already installed it. I'll have to let you know if it radically transforms my life or anything.

So, what tools do you use for your task lists?

Best Laid Assumptions

About a week ago, our area had almost a foot of snow fall on us. Flights were cancelled, schools had snow days. It was a veritable Winter Wonderland. With that much snow, we were pretty much guaranteed a White Christmas.

Now, due to temperatures in the 40's and the torrential rains we had overnight, I'm looking out on a landscape which definitely doesn't fit that definition.

Of course, the lack of a White Christmas probably won't kill me or even inconvenience me much for that matter, but it does put me in mind of more serious examples of counting on things staying the same.

I'm working on updating and upgrading the website for Bruce Donovan Construction. In talking with Bruce it was clear that he understood that he not only had to be on the Web, but he had to look good on his site and provide his visitors with what they wanted -- in this case a portfolio of current and completed jobs, including photos.

Bruce could have ignored the situation, but more and more people are making their decisions based on information they get from the Web. If he hadn't met the need, I'm sure one of his competitors would have.

Construction isn't by any means the only industry where the technology of the Web is changing the playing field. Think of the difficulties that travel agents have had over the last decade. Now, you'd better be able to plan my whole vacation for me (at ridiculously low cost), otherwise Expedia is waiting. Local booksellers? As if the 800-pound gorilla which is Borders weren't competition enough, the 80-ton dinosaur of Amazon might easily crush you and never even realize you were there.

Even in my own business of web-development, nothing is assured. Tools are coming out which could easily make me obsolete. Website templates, gadgets and widgets, high school students who can undercut me -- these are all factors which I must be aware of. What value can I add which can offset them (and, worse, offset those which I never would have expected)?

I don't really have any answers right at the moment, but you can be sure I'm keeping an eye out.

So, how has technology changed your business, for good or for ill?

Friday, December 21, 2007

More TV on Your Desktop

Yesterday I wrote about Hulu, a service which allows you to play high-quality streamed video of both current and classic television programs on your desktop. Hulu is in private beta right now, which means if you want to use the service, you have to sign up to be a beta-tester and then wait for them to sent you an invitation.

This procedure can take some time so, if you would like to test the offerings of Hulu while you are waiting, you can point your browser to OpenHulu. This is one of several services which are licensed to stream the Hulu content. The site is still a little rough -- they are openly asking for help to refine the interfaces -- but the content is the same as you will get on the main Hulu site.

As an aside, I am continually bemused by the variety and quality of services which are coming out on the Web. I've been using the Web since the days of the earliest visual browsers and I remember when streaming audio was choppy and difficult to listen to. Now we have remarkably clear video streaming and Hulu is already experimenting with high definition video.

Amazing stuff.

So, what Web stuff have you found to be the most surprising and cool?

TV on Your Desktop

I was fortunate enough to be reading TechCrunch today when the notice went up that there were some private beta invitations available for the much-anticipated Hulu.com service.

What? You've never heard of it?

Hulu is a site which provides premium content on the Web. "Premium content" includes both current and classic programs from a variety of providers, including NBC Universal, FOX and a smattering of others.

When I logged in I was able almost immediately to stream a recent episode of "Monk" to my computer screen. I checked out "The Office" and browsed through a number of clips from the Sci-Fi Channel, including their recent "Tin Man" miniseries. I was especially thrilled to discover that Hulu has the complete run of one of my favorite short-lived shows, "Firefly".

The video quality was remarkably good. Despite that, my desktop computer had no problems keeping up with the playback. My "so old that Moses must have brought it down" laptop was even able to do a fairly respectable job (though I didn't try to run it on full screen mode -- I'm not expecting miracles, after all).

The videos show with "limited commercial interruption". In the case of the hour and 26 minute "Firefly" pilot episode, this meant that there were 5 30-second commercials. Not a big deal, but if you really can't stand commercials, then you may have a hard time since there isn't any convenient way to fast-forward (though you can attempt to restart the video after the ad spot).

Some interesting features include the ability to "pop-out" the video to a separate smaller window, go to full screen mode, and even to embed clips or even whole videos in your content. The latter facility even allows you to specify a smaller chunk of the video if you wanted to make commentary on a specific part of the offering. I would have loved this tool back when I wrote about meeting Gil Gerard of 1970's "Buck Rogers" fame (Hulu has a selection of Buck's adventures in their library).

I'll be interested to see how this develops. Right now the catalog of videos includes whole seasons of episodes, but not usually the entire run of a show. Will they continue to add episodes until the entire run is available? Will the episodes expire? Do people even want to watch TV this way?

So, how would you use the Hulu service? Or would you?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Google Themes

iGoogle planet themeI've been meaning to mention this for the past few weeks, but kept getting distracted. Many probably already knew that iGoogle, the personalized Google homepage, has had themes for a while now. They recently added a whole new bunch of selections to the list.

They've got a few more with cute little characters going about their daily lives, similar to the Japanese tea house theme from the original batch. There are a family of raccoons in one, a tiger cub in another, and a giant monster in yet a third. One of my favorites shows images of different planets.

What makes these themes especially cool is that they change in various ways. The beach scene goes from dawn to dusk and eventually to full night. The planets change from day to day (the sun on Sunday, the moon on Monday, etc). Of course the cartoon characters do different things throughout the day. One of the more subtle ones, the bus stop, actually changes depending on the weather in your area.

Does any of this make me more productive? Nope, probably not. It does, however, amuse me and brighten my day, so I guess it does server a productive purpose.

So, which of the new themes catches your fancy?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What I Meant to Say Was...

Careening out of control When I wrote that post about being back on track, what I actually meant to say was that I was careening hopelessly out of control.

Kaylie is an absolute angel of a baby. Oh, she gets a little fussy in the evening, but that's not unusual for newborns (or so I've been told). She does take up a little bit of my time -- time, of course, that I am glad to spend with her.

The other challenge in my life right now is also a good one.

I've got a lot of work coming in.

I'm cleaning up the last details for the big upgrade for Community Housing Network. I'm also in the middle of cleaning up the Bruce Donovan Construction website and adding a portfolio tool so they can highlight photos of their projects. I just finished fixing a response form for Pink Papaya Parties (using ASP.NET, no less!). Tomorrow is the big kick-off meeting for the project I'm working on with Defrost Design and today I got a call from my friends at the Michigan Venture Capital Association to add a new file upload facility to their site.

My cup runneth over.

In the meantime, I at least got the most recent issue of my ezine out the door (only 12 hours late). You can check it out in the archives or, if you prefer, you can sign up for a subscription.

So, what are the joyous challenges in your life right now?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Getting Back on Track

Getting on trackIt's a slow process to get back on track again. I remember even as a little kid, missing even a day of school made me feel like I was hopelessly lost and scrambling to get things done when I got back.

I only really took a single week off after Kaylie was born (and that was Thanksgiving week, to boot). Oh, last week was pretty light, too, but I did work. Still, this week I've been feeling like I'm scrambling. At least I finally got a new issue of my e-zine sent out this evening.

I'm sure, too, that as Kaylie develops a more stable schedule, we'll do better with that ourselves.

So, do you have a hard time getting back on track?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Make It Clear

SwaddleMeOK, I'm back.

My apologies for the two-week hiatus, but getting used to having the little one around the house has taken a little bit of doing. Oh, and just so you are forewarned, it's entirely likely that my posts may be in some way baby related for some time to come. I'll try to restrain myself as much as possible.

I did run into a situation with regards to being a new father that ties in with having a good website. In short: Make it clear.

Lisa and I received a wonderful little garment for Kaylie called a SwaddleMe. Imagine a T-shaped piece of cloth with the corners rounded and the center bar of the T is a little pouch. The function is pretty straightforward. You put the baby's feet in the pouch and then wrap the "arms" around her body.

The thing that confused us was that there were two pieces of velcro on the end of one of the arms. They were the "hook" half of the closures. The problem was, we couldn't find the "loop" half. They wouldn't even latch on to the fabric from with the garment was made. We were stumped.

No one should make any sort of baby product whose function is not immediately and obviously apparent to a sleep-deprived new parent! If I have to read the instructions then I'm going to get mildly grumpy.

In the same way, a website should be equally clear. If your users have to think in any way about how to traverse your site, then they will get grumpy and they will leave. The biggest challenge that many people face is that they want to put everything on their front page. They are trying to write the great American novel.

What they should be writing is the best billboard which your visitors can read at 60 miles per hour.

So, what products have you run into which could have been a bit more obvious?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sharing the Load

There are some tasks for which sharing the load makes for quick work. Case in point: On Sunday, Lisa and I set up the Christmas tree for the holidays. Ordinarily, it can take me up to four or five hours to get it constructed and lit. Of course, some of that is just getting all of the light strings working, but thanks to my Light Keeper PRO tool, that went a lot faster this year.

For the tree, though, this year Lisa and I shared the duties. While I fluffed out and attached each branch, she followed along behind and wrapped the branch with lights. Occasionally she would run into a burnt out one and I would jump in ot replace it. Using this technique, we were able to get the tree built and lit in under an hour.

This was a really good thing because 30 minutes after we put the last decoration on the tree, Lisa let me know that "it was time" and off we flew to the hospital where, at 10am the next morning, our little Kaylie was born.

There are some tasks that you can share, and others where you can only be a coach and support while the other person does all of the heavy lifting.

It is a profoundly humbling experience.

Kaylie Adeline Peters
Born: Nov 19, 2007 9:56am
Weight: 6lb 8oz
Length: 19 inches

Mother, baby, and Dad are all doing well and trying to come to grips with a whole new exciting chapter of life.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

So, Where Do I Start?

Web designOne aspect of my work is the area of "graphical treatment conversion".

Huh? What's that?

Well, basically, my clients sometimes call me in to work with a graphical designer. These are folks who have a great eye for color and layout, but aren't skilled in creating actual web pages. The designer creates pictures of what the website should look like and how it should behave. Then they hand those pictures (the "graphical treatment") to me.

Then I convert those pictures into an actual web page/web site. I do this with a combination of HTML and CSS.

Don't be scared by the acronyms. As I mentioned in one of my TLA tutorials, HTML is just a way of indicating the structure of a web document. With it, I can tell the browser that this chunk of text is a body paragraph and this other one is a section heading. CSS just tells the computer what each of these structures is supposed to look like. For example, it might say that the section heading is in 18 point bold, bright red Arial font and is centered on the page.

The conversion process goes a lot faster and easier if the end client does two things. First, they really should hire a professional web designer or at least a professional graphical designer with lots of Web experience. There are some design elements which are easier than others when it comes to converting them for the Web. If the designer knows this, then the resulting website will not only be up and running faster, but will also probably work better as well.

The other thing?

If you should ever hire a professional web designer, listen to their advice. They probably won't completely refuse if you want to have pink text on a light purple background, but they will have some strong reasons why it won't work. Find out what they are.

Can you tell when someone has hired a professional designer?

Retiring Old Friends

booksAnyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I am an inveterate reader. I have a ton of books on my shelves to prove it. My office shelves are lined with the science fiction novels I read as a teenager. Dear old friends -- some of which I fully intend to visit again.

Then comes the challenge for me.

One of my goals this year is to reorganize my office book shelves. I have numerous business and computer reference books which I would like to have near to hand. That means that at least some of these old friends of my youth will have to go.

Tonight I started paring through them. Oh, the classics will definitely stay. Asimov, Heinlein, maybe even a few of my old Edgar Rice Burroughs adventures. The rest will go into boxes and into storage. As much as I know I should, I just can't bear to get rid of them entirely. A weakness? Perhaps.

But perhaps someday my daughter will open up one of these old boxes and find some new friends for her to meet.

So, do you have a hard time giving up books?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Gift Horse's Mouth

This post is one of the reasons I love reading Seth Godin's stuff. As he once said in a lecture I attended, he doesn't so much come up with brand new stuff, but he's pretty amazing at putting the pieces together and coming up with some interesting conclusions.

The piece to which I'm referring is his riff on gift cards and how they are pretty much a scam. As he puts it, why have we bought into the story that it's crude and crass to just give someone a $100 bill as a gift, but somehow it's OK to give them a $100 gift card. The money is useful anywhere, while the card limits the receiver to one store where they will either have to spend some of their own cash or leave money on the card (since it would be pretty tricky to purchase anything which works out to exactly the value on the card).

Let's not even consider the issue of fees on the card which make it worth gradually less and less if you take too long to use it.

Now, I've given such cards myself. Why didn't I just give cash (or check)? I think it basically comes down to the reasons behind the gift. A gift is supposed to be for someone for whom you care, either family or friend. By giving them some specific thing that they want, you are saying you are so close to them that you understand their deepest desire.

Of course, the challenge is that it's difficult to be that close to everyone, especially as families become more dispersed. I love my brother, and I know he loves tools. By this time in his life, though, after decades of building his workshop and it's collection of saws, hammers, drills, etc., I have no clue exactly what he has, needs, or wants. So, my gift card to Home Depot is a statement that I recognize those things which are important or enjoyable to him, I'm just a little fuzzy on the details.

So, I guess at the bottom of things, I can see Seth's point that the gift card industry creates a lot of waste, at the same time, however, we might actually be buying something more than just "store money".

Maybe we're just saying "I wish I knew you better."

So, what are your opinions of gift cards?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Networking with a Guest

Networking GuestToday I attended a sales seminar given by my sales coach, Joe Marr. I've seen this same presentation (or one similar to it within two decimal places) at least three other times. So, why would I go again?

I brought along a guest.

I had been telling my friend Helene Gidley about how much Joe had been helping me. She was curious so I took the opportunity to invite her to an introductory session (which included a free lunch!).

So, what did I get out of it?

Well, I did get to see Joe in action. He's really a pretty darned good speaker. Watching him, and studying his presentation techniques, is an education in itself. When I decide to start my speaking career, the tricks I glean from him will stand me in good stead.

I was able to help my friend Helene. The cool thing about Joe's introductory seminar is that it isn't just a sales presentation designed to rope you in. Even if you decided to walk away from that class and never come back, you still would have gained an insight into the sales process that could easily be translated into thousands of dollars.

I helped my friend Joe. Just like any other business owner, he has to maintain clients in his pipeline. Maybe Helene will decide to work with him. Maybe not. Just bringing them together, though, might lead to a working relationship which would be lucrative for both of them.

The seminar was also a pretty good networking opportunity. There were probably ten or eleven students in the class. I even got a chance to reconnect with Carrie Hensel of Inner Circle Media. She took the Sandler Sales training many years ago and was attending this particular event for the same reason that I was -- she brought a guest. Ironically, it was Carrie who got me into Sandler in the first place. It was her recommendation which first put the idea in my head.

And with all of that, I got a free lunch, too.

So what networking opportunities have you found in your area which are good not only for you, but for a guest as well?

A New Beginning

Three copiesI got started on the Bruce Donovan Construction project this evening. One of the first steps to this or any project is to set up three copies of the site.

The first copy is the one that is on my desktop computer in my office. This is the copy upon which I will be doing all of my work. Having everything directly on my local computer makes editing files or adding graphics a lot easier. Also, since I try to make my local machine look like the production server as much as possible (i.e. it has the same files and directories), when I finally move the files to the production site, I have a fairly high chance of the system working right from the start.

The second copy is on a test site which my client should be able to see. This is so that after I have made some changes on copy one (the one on my computer), I can then upload the files to the test site, where the client can take a look and give me his or her approval. Quite often I'm able to make what is called a subdomain on the production server and use it as a test site. For example, if you can open the production site by pointing your browser at http://brucedonovan.com/, then the test site might be at http://testsite.brucedonovan.com/.

The final copy is the production site itself. Of the three, this copy changes least frequently -- only when testing on the other two copies clears up most of the potential bugs.

By doing this, I reduce the number of problems which might otherwise crop up on the production website, without giving myself too much overhead.

So, what are the first things you might do when you get a new client?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Subtle Dangers of Jargon

Web 2.0Today in sales training we were talking about jargon and how it is a Bad Thing to use it. The primary problem, of course, is that you aren't guaranteed that the person with whom you are speaking will know what you are talking about. This makes them feel not OK. When you make someone feel not OK they tend to want to get away from you as soon as possible -- which makes it very difficult to determine if they are interested and qualified to buy from you.

Working with my partner in class, we were bringing up various terms in our businesses which might cause consternation in a listener. We realized that there was another danger. Not only could we hit upon a term which the listener didn't know, worse would be a term that the listener thought he knew. One example of this was the phrase "Web 2.0". Even amongst different people in the tech business, you can find different meanings for this term.

In group discussion later, I brought up the term and talked about our findings. Then one of the other students pointed out a completely different issue. For the most part, people in the world of the Web recognize Web 2.0 as the next generation of the Web, with emphasis on the social aspects of making connections using the Web.

This person commented that he always thought that Web 2.0 meant that a site was really old and not yet perfected. Curious, I asked him why he would think that. He told me that "2.0" is a pretty low number. Internet Explorer is on Version 7 after all, so that must make Web 2.0 pretty old.

Huh, I guess I never thought of it that way.

How have people either in or out of your field misinterpreted common jargon phrases that you commonly use?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fun Phone Tricks

LG enVI've had my LG enV "smart" phone for almost a year now. I have to say that it has been an awesome tool to have at my side. It's my alarm clock, my GPS, my web browser and my night-time reading. I've used it to take photos and notes and even to record an interview.

Heck, I even use it to make and receive phone calls!

Last weekend I discovered another neat trick. This one involves searching using Google.

Lisa and I were out doing some shopping to get some things for decorating the house for Christmas. I was looking for replacement bulbs for the lighted deer sculptures that we usually put out under the tree in front of the house. They were very specific bulbs. I needed clear, 3.5 volt bulbs.

After failing to find them at the hardware store, I was dreading the thought of driving from place to place in search of these little widgets. Then I realized that I could search for the specific stores I was considering using the built-in web browser on the phone and just jot down the phone numbers.

A few seconds later, I was searching Google for my first target. Up it came, with no problem, including the phone number. Then I noticed something. The phone number was a link. "I wonder what it's linked to?" I thought to myself.

I "clicked" on the link and suddenly the phone began to dial. Gotta say that I was quite pleased. It was such a little thing, but it made the whole process just that much easier.

I don't know if this works with all cell phones, but you might want to check this out. It's a heck of a lot easier than carrying a phone book with you wherever you go.

So, what was the last gadget that surprised you with its usefulness?

Unexpected Free Stuff

Ezine Articles MugMaybe it's a holdover from my starving graduate student days at U of M, but I still love free stuff. I especially love free stuff when I don't expect it.

Yesterday, when I got home from one of several networking events for the day, I found a package, addressed to me, sitting on the counter. Now, with the baby coming, most packages that come to the house are addressed to my lovely wife, Elizabeth, so this was a doubly pleasant surprise.

Yes, I know I'm supposed to be mature by now, but sometimes I'm just not. So, nyaah!

I opened it up and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a nice, large mug and a packet of coffee courtesy of EzineArticles.

Very cool!

Will I be recommending that people write articles for EA? Well, I would have done that anyway, but now I've got a cool story to add to the recommendation.

Which reminds me: It's about time I sent in a new article or two.

So, what was the last cool free gift that you received?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the Web: Defining Some More Terms

Statistics in graph formAfter reading my post from yesterday, my good blog friend, Jacki Hollywood Brown of Well Organized thought that I should address some of the terms regarding website statistics. Yes, I know that many people don't care about statistics. Really, the only reason you should care is if you actually care whether someone is actually reading your content.

OK, so most of us might actually care about that. So, here goes.

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): This has nothing to do with making search engines work better. This actually means optimizing your site to make it more likely that you will end up on the front page of search results when people search for a particular phrase. For example, one of my former clients, Suzanne Smith of cellochan, is on the first page of results when someone searches on Google for "Ann Arbor cello lessons". SEO is almost as much an art as a science and requires a long-term commitment for any reasonable chance of success, according to my friend Andrew Miller of Your Search Advisor, LLC. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Hits: This is the number of times a file is retrieved from your website. This is probably one of the least useful statistics. Each time a visitor looks at a single web page on your site, his browser has to retrieve many files. The text of a page is in one file and each graphic on the page is also in a different file. One page visited could easily generate ten or more "hits".
  3. Page Views: This is slightly more useful as it is the number of times anyone visits a particular page. This can tell you which pages on your site are receiving the most traffic.
  4. Visitors: When someone comes to your website, they may click around a bit, each generating a number of page views. It's good to know how many people visit your site. Think of this as the equivalent of how many people walk in the front door of a store on any given day.
  5. Unique Visitors: While "visitors" counts the number of people through the door, unique visitors measures the size of your actual audience. In our real-world example, if I had fifty people walk in and out of my store in a day, I might be pretty happy -- until I discovered that it was actually the same guy all the time. My traffic was fifty people, my audience was one.
There are several other meaningful concepts with regards to web statistics, but they start getting into some esoteric areas which, for now might be best left alone. Maybe we'll cover those in another post.

So, what are some of the phrases in your business that a lay person might not fully understand?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On the Web: Defining Some Terms

Global InternetI've spoken with a few networking contacts and prospects lately and I've discovered that there is some confusion as to the entities which govern how we interact with the Web. So, without further ado, here are a few of the terms a website owner should know:

  1. The Internet: The Internet is a worldwide network of computers upon which a variety of services (like email, the Web, etc) can be run.
  2. The World Wide Web or the Web: One of many services which run on the Internet. This particular service provides text and graphics in a particular format which can be displayed by programs called browsers (see below). One way to think of the difference between the Internet and the Web is by thinking of the Internet as an elementary school building. The Web would correspond to the group of teachers and students who make up the fourth grade.
  3. Internet Service Provider (ISP): This actually has nothing to do with your website. This is how you connect the computer on your desk to the Internet. You might have "broadband" or "high-speed" service from your cable company, like Comcast, or "DSL" service from your phone company. You need an ISP in order to surf the Web or retrieve email.
  4. Hosting Service or Web Hosting Service: This is where your website lives. This is a company which has a whole bunch of computers called "servers" (imagine your desktop computer, but way more powerful and without a computer monitor). Your website is stored as a bunch of computer files on one of these servers. When someone goes to your website, the computer on their desk makes a connection to the server at the hosting service and requests the page that they want to view.
  5. Browser: A browser is a computer program which runs on your computer. It might be called Internet Explorer or Firefox or Safari, but essentially when you want to look at a particular web page, this program makes the connection I mentioned above, retrieves the files for the page and then turns those files into the pictures and text which you see on your computer screen.
  6. Domain Name: Think of this as the address for your website, your email, etc. So, in my case, "cyberdatasolns.com" is the domain name for my company website.
  7. Registrar: OK, this one is a little more complicated. Essentially, the registrar is the company with whom you register your domain name. By registering your domain name you are telling the world which hosting service is storing your website. This gets a little confusing because the same company which provides your hosting service can be quite often your registrar also, but they are not necessarily linked. If you ever decide to move your website to a new hosting service, you have to contact your registrar to do so. Usually this can be done fairly easily through an online form.
Those are some of the more commonly confused terms that I've heard. Perhaps you've encountered some yourself. Let me know if there are any other confusing terms or phrases which you think should be included in this list.

So, in your line of work, what terms are often confusing to your prospects or clients?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Being a Superhero

Because of the proximity of Lisa's due date and the Thanksgiving holiday, we weren't inclined to go too far from home this year, despite the fact that I do enjoy the craziness of the family get-togethers. So, to deal with this situation, we figured that we would invite my mom, Debby Peters, and her husband, Steve, up to our place for Thanksgiving dinner.

I wasn't quite sure how I would take care of everything, but as long as I could get away with instant potatoes and instant stuffing, I figured we would be OK. Oh, and I'm not much of a meat cooker, being a vegetarian and all, so I was probably going to have to figure out what to do in lieu of an actual bird (Tofurky anyone?). Then my mom said those words which lightened my heart like the dawn breaking over a new day.

"Why don't I just prepare everything and bring it up?"

Suddenly I could breathe again. I didn't have to worry about it. My mom is a great cook and I knew that everything was going to be delicious and I could focus on taking care of Lisa.

I was thinking about my reaction this afternoon and I realized something. If we are good in our business, this is probably exactly how our clients feel when they call us in to take care of a particular task. They don't know how to fix things. All they know is confusion and pain and we, with a few simple words can make it all better.

"I can take care of that for you."

For many of us, it's probably as close to being a superhero as we need to become.

So, when was the last time you felt like a superhero?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Leave No Room for Regrets

Reaching your goals
For the past two weeks my sales coach, Joe Marr, has been working with my class on setting our goals -- and I mean more than what we were going to do next week. What we were talking about were goals set for five and ten years out. These are life goals.

Both Joe and one of my other coaches, Professor Keith Hafner, have spoken about the mistakes that people make in their goal-setting:

  1. This covers a good portion of the people out there, but the biggest mistake people make is that they don't bother to set goals in the first place. They have worked for thirty years in the same job, but they don't have thirty years of experience, they have one year of experience, thirty times.
  2. The next biggest mistake is having goals, but not writing them down. Many of us fall into this category. You've probably spoken with one or two. "Someday I'm going to have a cabin up north." "My wife and I want to travel around the world someday." There's a word for these kinds of unwritten goals. They're called dreams. Remember, if it isn't written down, it never happened.
  3. Even if folks write them down, they can still end up in the realms of dream. Unless you define the goals specifically, you'll never know when you get there. Bad goal "I'm going to be healthy". Better goal "By December 31, 2008 my weight will be below 200 lbs and I will be able to do 50 push-ups in a row."
  4. Of course, writing them down isn't enough. If you don't review those goals on a daily basis and take specific steps toward achieving them, then the only benefit you gain from writing everything down is that next year you can just change the dates and claim that you did your goal-setting. Remember the old SMART acronym? Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based.
I've still got a long way to go myself on these skills. I'm not bad at the shorter term stuff (less than a year away), but five and ten year plans take a lot more out of me. Still, I figure it will be worth it -- being able to craft and live the life that I want. Joe underscored that with some statistics he had found. According to this study, 4000 retired business executives, average age 70, were asked how they would live their life differently if they could live it over again. The #1 answer?
I would have carved out life goals and owned my life. Life was not practice, it was the real thing. I should have taken charge of my life with goalsetting.
So, are your goals posted where you can read them every day?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Viewing a Bigger Picture

Black BeltsI'm nearing the end of the training process for my next Black Belt. As a part of that process, I've had to complete weekly homework assignments. Most of the requirements were about putting in a certain amount of time in practice, but there were one or two assignments which were written or artistic in nature.

This week I have to write an essay about "Why I deserve my black belt."

Our instructor, Master Jason, has assured us that the reason for the assignment is not that he requires convincing. The real reason is that those of us going through this intensive training are in danger, at times, of focusing on the process and losing site of the underlying reasons we are going through it.

I think there's a similar situation when someone wants to build or renew her business's website. She hires a professional web design team, works with them for weeks or months to design the "perfect" look, helps write content for the site (or hires a professional writer like my friend Deb Merion of SPARK Communications), and finally launches the site. The process can take so much time and focus that the business owner forgets that the site is not the end product, but rather simply a tool in the effort to maintain better communications with her customer.

This is also how many sites run into trouble. The business owner, focused so much on the process, tries to make the site appeal to her as opposed to her client. Often a professional designer can help steer her clear of this, but if she won't listen to the designer's advice, then the site often fails to deliver (or at best delivers poorly) on its specified goal.

So, has it ever happened to you that the client insisted that he new your job better than you? How to you guard against that?

Cool Tool: Light Keeper PRO

Light Keeper PROGiven that Lisa and I expect to be new parents right around Thanksgiving, we decided to get a jump on decorating for the holidays. Part of that process, of course, is bringing out the light strings from last year and trying to get them all to work or throwing away the broken ones and just buying new strings.

After spending hours trying to get things working last year, I was determined that this year if a string wouldn't light, we were just going to chuck it.

We stopped off today at our local Ace Hardware to pick up a few things (I collect the Ace Winter village buildings). I was browsing down the lighting aisle looking for 3.5V clear replacement bulbs for the lighted deer family which usually takes up residence under our big spruce tree out front. Suddenly I saw a gadget on the shelf which intrigued me.

It was the "Light Keeper PRO" and it has changed my life.

OK, maybe it's not quite that momentous, but I sure is going to make my life a heck of a lot easier in the future.

This gadget looks like a red plastic ray gun. What it does though is make dead light strings live again.

Apparently one of the main reasons that light strings die is that a bulb burns out and its internal shunt doesn't kick in. The shunt is the doohickey which completes the electrical circuit for the string which allows all of the other lights to stay lit. When the shunt fails, the circuit is broken and darkness reigns.

With the Light Keeper, you just pull a bulb from the dead area of the string and plug the socket into the front of the ray gun. Then you click the trigger a few times and presto! the lights come on.

Apparently, the gadget sends an electrical pulse down the wire which causes the shunts to trip in the dead lights. Once the string is lit, it's pretty trivial to change the burnt out bulbs.

Take it from me: If you are planning to put up any lights over the holidays (or ever for that matter) get one of these gadgets. I've seen it in a few places for between $15-$25. It is worth every penny.

So, how much time have you wasted tracking down that elusive burnt out bulb?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Going Past the Surface

Flying side kickToday was yet another test on my path to my third degree black belt. It seems like this has been going on forever, but I've only been in this frequent testing mode for the last eight months.

I'll be glad when it's done.

Part of today's test was a board-breaking. I had to perform a spinning side-kick off my left leg and break two boards at once. Not impossible, but certainly not easy.

Once you get past the actual technique you are using (chop, kick, elbow, whatever) a board-breaking comes down to two things (and please don't try this at home):

1. Hit the board really, really hard.

2. Strike through the board.

The second one is what causes most people to fail their breaks. They hit that board as hard as they can and then stop as soon as they come in contact with its surface.

In the web world this is a lot like a company setting up their website -- putting in all that work to design a great-looking site, using all of the latest technologies to make it fresh and exciting -- and then as soon as they launch it, they think that they're done and that they never need to look at it again. Weeks, months, and even years pass by with no changes made and fewer and fewer visitors. Here's the thing: The failure wasn't in the site itself.

It was in the lack of focus beyond the launch.

So, in your business what failures are caused by focusing on the surface?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Re-Use and Re-Imagine

Reduce, Re-use, RecycleI worked some more on the Community Housing Network site upgrade today. I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a good thing as two other projects are starting to heat up a little. Never a dull moment.

At any rate, my work today allowed me to re-use some code from another system. For programmers, this is somewhat of a Holy Grail. Using or re-tooling old code can often save quite a bit of time and effort in a project.

In this case, I had designed a chunk of PHP code a while back, which automatically switched testimonials on a page. Each time you reloaded a page it would grab a random testimonial from a directory on the server. You can see the results of this on both the CNP of Ohio site and on my own Cyber Data Solutions site.

Now, the folks at CHN wanted a series of different images on their front page. I could have used Flash to create an animated slideshow, but I personally think that such things actually detract from the page. So instead, I used my "random testimonial" code and tweaked it a little so that it would display different pictures instead. You can see it on the CHN test site, if you are interested.

So, what do you think about having animated slide shows on a web page? Do you find them fun or distracting?

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Day of Work

Signing a contractSo, I've been spending a lot of time working on my business lately. Well, to be more accurate, I'm working on those parts of my business which aren't actual billable work. I've been out networking, writing, answering emails, reading, and making calls. I've even done a bit of paperwork here and there.

So, I was quite happy this afternoon to just sit down and work in my business. I released my inner Technician and just got some work done.

Primarily, I've been working on the Community Housing Network's site upgrade. Right now I'm adding in the new content. When that's done, I'll need to make some final tweaks to the user interface and we should be good to go. Wish me luck on that.

Now, this morning (during the "working on" period) I spent some time preparing a proposal for a potential new client. This afternoon they faxed the signed agreement, which means that, as of today, I'll be working with Bruce Donovan Construction to clean up their Web presence.

Today's been a good day.

So, how do you split up the "working on" versus the "working in"?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Lists

Scroll with sealI recently mentioned my list of 101 goals for 2007. One of the many items on it was to create a different list. This time the list was to include all of those things which are good in my life and to start out the list with at least 50 items.

50 was a breeze.

I ranged the gamut from the profound to the trivial. I included things from the love of my wife to Thai food, from my business to my memories of Thanksgiving with my family in New York.

That was last night.

Tonight I added ten more. My goal is to add at least ten every night for the next month. Just think, by the end of November, I should have between 300 and 400 "good things" on my list. What a powerful message to myself that I have a truly wonderful life.

With that kind of emotional armor, the slings and arrows of the occasional everyday misfortune won't even be able to touch me.

So, how many items do you have on your "good things" list?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Read, Read, Read Your Book

E-Myth RevisitedI'm a big-time reader. I have been for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, science fiction and fantasy novels held my attention and I'll admit that I still love a good read in those genres.

These days, though, most of my reading comes from the "Business" section of the bookstore, with a smattering of self-improvement scattered throughout for leavening. My current undertaking is Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" -- for the third time.

I'm always amazed how reading a book multiple times changes its meaning and my response to it. The first time I went through E-Myth, I was faintly interested, but was turned off by Gerber's seemingly breathless admiration for the McDonalds way of doing things. Turning my business into a franchise just didn't appeal to me.

The second time through, I began to see the value of what he was writing, but became horribly depressed by what felt like an impossible task of turning my (at the time) part-time business into a systems-driven, money-making venture. I doubted that I had what it took to become a business owner.

This time? This time I'm actually really enjoying the read. I'm excited by the concepts of developing a business as it will be in ten years. I no longer feel overwhelmed by even imagining what that could be like. Now that I am approaching the first year anniversary of my going full time on my business, I feel less like the owner of a job and more like the owner of a business.

So how have books changed for you when you've read them more than once?

The Stars out of Reach

Reaching for the starsHere we are, close to the end of October. Today in my sales class, we discussed goal-setting. The underlying concept is that, once you have some idea what your life goals are, you have more motivation to succeed in sales.

I'm a strong proponent of setting goals, regardless of whether it helps you in your sales career or not. I've been looking over my list of 101 goals for 2007. By this time I'm probably around 80% done with them, right?

Not really.

It's actually closer to 40%. I might make it to 50% by the end of the year.

So what happened? Why am I not further along? Was this a complete failure on my part?

I don't view it as a failure. Some of the goals are time-based and I won't finish them until later (though still before the end of the year). Getting my third degree black belt falls under that category. Others ended up not making sense after investigation. I had intended on joining a particular networking group which proved to be not as advantageous as I had originally thought. Still others, well, OK, with some of them I just didn't manage my time well.

Still, one of the great things about making goals is that, even if you fall short, you can still be proud and even happy with the result. After all, suppose you had a goal of making a profit of a million dollars on your first book sale and you ended up with only $900,000. You'd hardly be crying on your way to the bank, right?

So, I'll be getting busy on my goals, both my list of 101 for 2008 and with my longer-term goals to make my life that much more exciting in the years to come.

So, are you proud of any of your goals which you failed to reach?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Building for a Reason

cribSo, I was assembling the crib we had purchased for our soon-to-be baby. While I was mired between steps three and four in the instruction sheet, I reflected on how much this was like building a website.

Stick with me here.

With a website, you can have a lot of fun working on designing and building the site. You can pick out how the user will interact with the site, what colors and fonts it will use, and which images you want to have to represent you and your company.

But that's not what's important.

With a website, you can take a certain amount of pride in the fact that you actually have a site. Perhaps you are in a line of work where people don't usually think it's important to have a web presence (are there any businesses like that, truly?). Having a site makes you the leader of the pack.

But that's not what's important.

With a website, you can feel that thrill of excitement, when the last page is in place and you put it into production mode, so that all the world can beat a path to your electronic door.

But that's still not what's important.

With a website, the important thing is that, first, you have a purpose for creating one, and, second, that it achieves that purpose. Whether it be for marketing, sales, advertising, or communication, the site is a tool created for a specific purpose.

So, what does that have to do with building a crib?

The crib we picked out is beautiful -- made of dark, solid maple. Lisa and I really enjoyed shopping for it and I, with my puzzler's brain, loved putting the whole thing together. When we saw it in the baby's room, it looked perfect -- just what we'd hoped for. I can't wait to show it to friends and family.

But that's not what's important.

What's important is that my baby-to-be has a safe, warm place to sleep.

So, what's the important part about what you do?

Reassurance

Calm down!Lisa and I had our private Lamaze childbirth preparation class the other day. Our instructor, Stephanie Schaldenbrand is one of those people who are angels sent to earth.

This being our first child, Lisa and I have had the occasional twinges of nervousness. Stephanie helped us look those qualms in the face and reassured us that what we were experiencing was really not out of the ordinary. Just knowing that helped us to feel more comfortable right away.

Similarly, for most of us in our businesses, we need to reassure our customers or clients. They come to us with problems that they think are unique and make them veritable freaks of nature. Perhaps their books aren't up to date (and haven't been for some time). Maybe their marketing materials actually scare people away. It could even be that they have a website which actually embarrasses them. In any case, we have to calm and reassure them that, first, whatever the problem is, they aren't alone, and, second, that we can help.

So, what problems do your clients experience for which they need reassurance?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sneaky Call

Panic ButtonI got a call while I was out. It was from my bank, Chase. The young gentleman on my voicemail sounded like a respectable bank representative. The message went something like this:

"Hello, Mr Peters. This is Tim from Chase bank. I'm calling because we have a few questions about your account. Please call me at 123-4567."

Great. So what did I do now? Did I forget to make a deposit? Are we overdrawn? Did someone get hold of our checking information and drain our account of all it's funds?

As panic settled around my heart, I tried to dial the phone with one hand while the other was attempting to login to my online banking account. I hear the phone ringing in my ear as I'm fumbling with my password.

"Hello? Chase Bank. Bruce speaking."

"Is Tim there? He left a message on my voicemail."

"One moment..."

My password is entered and the screen goes blank in preparation to show me my account information.

"This is Tim speaking. How may I help you?"

"Hi, Tim. This is Greg Peters. I have a message on my voicemail that there was some sort of problem with my account?"

The screen pops up. Everything looks fine.

"Oh, no, Mr. Peters. There's no problem. I just wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about some great deals we're tunning right now on our home equity line of credit..."

Needless to say, I was relieved that there wasn't any real problem. Also needless to say, I was so irritated with this over-eager manipulative buffoon that I wouldn't have taken his line of credit if he had offered to pay me to do it.

I'm in sales training right now. I understand that sometimes you have to do something a little extra to get past the electronic gatekeepers.

But there are lines you shouldn't cross.

If the salesperson is attempting to start out our relationship with duplicity he is doing both of us a disservice. Even if I desperately need what he's selling, I won't even consider it. If we've already got an existing relationship, he's gone a long way toward damaging it irreparably. I don't think I'm quite ready to pull my funds out of Chase just yet, but it certainly wouldn't take much to push me over that edge.

So, what do you think? Am I overreacting?

Working the Systems

The E-Myth RevisitedI've been re-reading "The E-Myth" by Michael Gerber. In it he maintains that there are three different personalities within each of us, the Technician, the Manager, and the Entrepreneur. All of them are necessary to building a successful small business. The problem is, most of us who start businesses are primarily Technicians.

I'm afraid I fall into that class.

I do enjoy just doing the work, but that isn't sufficient. To be successful, I need to not only work in my business, but also work on it, too.

Lately I've been working on developing my inner Manager. This is the part of me that builds systems to make sure that the work gets done. It's been a slow start, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. I started using "Remember the Milk" on a daily basis to keep track of my tasks. I've been using Google Docs to record my networking and sales progress. Of course, I've had a system of folders to sort and categorize my email for some time.

I think one sign that I'm starting to get the hang of this is that I'm starting to combine the systems. Now my email gets categorized and turned into tasks on my RTM "to do" list. My business card processing technique gets fed into my networking and sales tracking.

Oh, I still have a ways to go, but it's a start to a more organized me. The good thing is, the more I have things systematized, the more I can later delegate to someone else. According to Gerber, that's the first step to owning a business and not just owning a job.

Now I just have to get busy developing my inner Entrepreneur!

So, what systems have you developed that have made your life easier?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Email Purge

Too Much EmailThis afternoon I spent a portion of time clearing out my email inbox.

I've mentioned before that I'm trying to minimize the number of times I check email throughout the day. I'm getting pretty good at that, but the skill I seem to lack is actually doing something with those emails when I receive them. My mental monologue sounds something like "Oh, a message from Bob. I should write back to him. I'll leave it in my inbox so I remember. And there's the data I was waiting for. I'll just leave it there until I get to it. That looks like an interesting seminar. I'd better save that message in my inbox so that I remember to register."

And so on.

Within a week my inbox grows to between 50 and 100 "important" messages. Bob never gets a message from me. The data becomes hard to find. By the time I actually uncover the information about the seminar, it's long past.

So, yesterday I made a clean sweep. I acted upon, responded to, or filed away every single message in the queue. Some ended up as "to do" items. Others just got deleted.

Now I just need to keep on top of it every day.

So what's your biggest email sin?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bag of Groceries

bag of groceriesEvery once in a while, the stars align and I mysteriously don't have any networking events or one-to-one meetings for the day. Oh, I still made a phone call or two this morning and Lisa and I went out to lunch with some friends. Other than that, though, today was a work day.

My focus today was to convert all of the content for the new Community Housing Network site and get it published on the test server. I think I went through about ten or fifteen files, checking for errors, making slight tweaks, and, in general, preparing the data for public viewing. When I had finally completed the last file, I updated the search index on the test site and looked for all of the incomplete pages.

There are still 25 of them left to go.

It's funny, but I don't think a lot of people have a good understanding of how much work goes into creating even a moderately large site like this one. Between designing and implementing the look of the site, structuring the data to make it easy for visitors to find what they need, and creating the content that they will be using, weeks or even months can go by before everyone is satisfied.

And that isn't even going into more complex sites which might require backend databases, or those that require a significant effort for search engine optimization.

I'm sure other professionals run into problems like this, too, but I almost have to laugh when someone asks me how much a website costs. One of my friends came up with a snappy answer (though I think I would be gentler with my prospects):

How much does a bag of groceries cost?

So, how do you deal with the "How much does it cost?" question?

Building a Deck (of Business Cards)

business cardsOne of the challenges I've faced, given all of the networking events that I attend, is what to do with all of the business cards I receive. Without some sort of system, I would quickly have been overwhelmed by a landslide of little pieces of cardboard. So far I've got a few rules/techniques I follow to try to keep things under control.

  1. Take only what I need. In general, I try not to ask for a card unless I think that either the other person or I (or preferably both of us) will benefit from a closer relationship.
  2. Take notes. At the event, after speaking with someone, I try to note down anything I remember which might be of importance to me at a later date. "Needs website", "Interested in online database", or "Introduce to Bob Smith", might be some of the short phrases I would use. Usually I try to tack on the event and the date, too.
  3. Review and reduce. When I get home, I try to review the cards as soon as possible. There are always folks who will give you their card whether you ask for it or not. These will often go right into the garbage. It may sound a bit ruthless, but, if I can't remember them (and I didn't make any notes on their card), then I am unlikely to want to talk with them in the future. There's no need to clutter my desk with unwanted cards. Most of the ones for which I've made notes, I will keep.
  4. Take action. With the cards left over, I schedule calls to be made over the next couple of days, possibly with action items in order to provide that person with something which I may have promised them. I'll usually put these cards in a "holding pile" for the short term.
  5. File. If a person gets back to me and it looks like we may be on the way to establishing even a loose relationship, I will file their card under their last name in my business card three-ring binder. I also make a notation under their business name so I can look up a person either way.
  6. Purging. Periodically, I will go through a few pages in the binder. Those with whom I've not spoken in a while might get re-entered in step four above.
That's about it. I've been using this method for only a month, so I'm not sure how it will work for the long term. For now, though, it seems to be working pretty well and preventing me from being buried alive in business cards.

So, how do you cope with business card glut?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Remembering to be a Child

Not long ago I watched a "youth" movie called "A Bridge to Terabithia". Tonight I watched another: "The Last Mimzy". While they were vastly different in tone and plot, they were alike in that they reawakened some aspect of childlike wonder in me.

I love it when that happens.

After watching movies like this (or reading books, etc), I can remember the way I felt as a kid. I remember being fearless and being willing to dream things without concern for failure (or even whether it fit into reality as we know it).

I wonder if some aspect of that emotion is necessary to thrive as an entrepreneur. According to a post on Tom Peters' blog (author of "In Search of Excellence"), the most successful innovators "do more experiments faster". Do you know anyone who is more likely to do that than a child?

So, what happened the last time you let yourself be childlike?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Missing Pieces

I was assembling the new baby bouncer seat that we received as a shower gift. I know that a lot of parents dread this aspect of receiving gifts for their children (or even for themselves), but my puzzle-solving nature just loves to see an assembly instruction sheet. Lots of fun!

Unless you can't find a part.

I had unpacked all of the pieces and spread them out on the floor. I checked each off on the parts list to make sure that I had everything before I started working. Much to my chagrin, I couldn't find the screws that I needed to hold the whole thing together. I looked through the packaging and shook out every piece of plastic and cardboard I could find. Nothing.

I was about to start looking for the customer service number when the glint of metal caught my eye. There they were -- taped to the end of one of the larger parts. I guess sometimes you just have to look a little closer. It may take a little more time, but you tend to be faster in the long run because you've laid out everything before you and you don't waste any time going down wrong trails.

I wish I had remembered this lesson when I was working on my project with Community Housing Network. We're in the middle of a complete overhaul of their site, including a new look and feel and an update on the structure and content of the site. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've pretty much got the appearance under control. Now I'm working on the content.

Kirsten Elliott, my contact at CHN, sent me a bunch of files containing the new copy that I was supposed to add to the site structure I had already built. I started working on it right away, but quickly ran into a problem. The second file I was trying to process wasn't fitting into the site structure that they had originally told me that they wanted. In fact, it appeared to have partial data which belonged on three or four different pages. I finally had to call Kirsten to find out what was happening.

It turns out that the file with which I was working didn't belong where I thought it did. If I had actually taken a quick look at all of the files she had sent me, I would have understood what they had been trying to do.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that skipping steps in the process is a good way to waste my time.

So, when was the last time you took a "long shortcut"?

Friday, October 19, 2007

No Good Deed...

One of my earliest projects was the Community Assistance Directory that I did for the State Outreach department at the University of Michigan. The system went live eleven years ago and is still running as of this writing.

Looking at it now, you wouldn't know it, but back in the day, it was actually a pretty good example of web programming. It largely did what it was supposed to without too much muss or fuss.

Recently, the current administrator of the site contacted me because some of the data had become corrupted. I was able to go in and fix it fairly easily. The only bad thing was that I was brought face-to-face with an occupational hazard.

I had to look at work which I had done more than a decade ago.

I'm sure people in all industries face this problem. As you work in your chosen field, you, of necessity, develop and improve your skills. If you have any sort of early success, you must eventually face that earlier work and wince at its complete lack of elegance. You'd almost be willing to work for free, if only you could erase the evidence of your former lack of competence.

Of course, the real challenge is to recognize that the very fact that your work is still around after ten years must indicate at least some minimal value that you have created.

And that in ten years, the elegant system that you build today will appear as crude as bearskins and flint knives.

So, when was the last time you looked at work that you did ten years or more ago? How well did it hold up?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Passionate Creativity


Tonua Brown of
Frog Island Creative Services
I had the opportunity to deliver another welcome bag for the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce today. This time I got to meet with Tonua Brown of Frog Island Creative Services.

Tonua (pronounced Tonya) and her partner Paul Stacy bill themselves as the "marketing department for small businesses". Their goal is nothing less than to make the little guys look like big guys. They apparently have the skills and resources necessary to do just that. In our conversation we talked about everything from the smallest "brochure" website, to presentations for trade shows, to making corporate videos. They can do it all.

And for them, it's not only all business. The Frog Island name also has an entertainment division, Frog Island Films. Over the past few years, Tonua and Paul have worked to produce (as well as write, film, edit, direct, cast, etc) a film with the intriguing name "The Friends Guide to Beer & Sex." According to the film's site, it's currently in post-production and they are in the process of finding venues in which they can screen their epic.

In chatting with Tonua, I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm and passion she has for whatever she's doing. Her response to me just telling her about the opportunities provided by the Chamber got me excited about being a member!

If she can do that to me in our brief conversation, I can only imagine the amazing marketing solutions she has for small businesses in our area.

So, who was the last person with whom you spoke who figuratively shone with enthusiasm?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Evolving Networker

NetworkingBack some years ago, I took the Certified Networker training course. It had a lot of great ideas and systems to help make business/social networking more effective. One of the concepts it tried to drill home was that when you join a group, whether it's the local Chamber of Commerce, BNI, or the Royal Fraternity of Weasel Trainers, it takes time and effort to make that association pay off -- usually on the order of six months to two years.

Good thing I have patience.

Those who've been following my exploits for a while know that I've been participating in the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce for about a year and a half now. Today I was acting as an Ambassador (read greeter and volunteer host) at the Morning Edition networking breakfast. I'd done this many times before, but today seemed different. In the past I could act confident. I would do my best to point people in the right direction and occasionally be able to connect two people.

Today, for some reason, I was confident.

It was like every time I spoke with someone, a little voice inside my head would tell me "Introduce them to Bob", "They need to talk with Carol", or "It sounds like they would really benefit from Leadership Ann Arbor." I actually felt like I had something that I could give to my fellow attendees beyond directions to the buffet table.

Why, I might even be a Networker!

So, in what groups are you a Networker?