Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Joss Whedon Strikes Again

Sending this out to all friends and family who've been fans of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) or of Doogie Hauser (Neil Patrick Harris) or even just fans of wacky stuff. Check out "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog". Doogie, I mean Harris, plays Dr. Horrible, a young, evil mad scientist in love. Nathan Fillion (Mal, from Firefly) plays his arch-nemesis, Captain Hammer.

They're using the Hulu technology, which, if you've been reading my newsletter, you'll know that it's pretty high quality video for the Web.

Here's the thing, though: It's only available for a limited time. The first act went up yesterday (July 15th). The second goes up tomorrow (the 17th) and the final one goes up on the 19th. All three episodes will only be available until midnight Sunday (7/15/2008) when they will disappear. Supposedly they will be available for download at a nominal charge and eventually available on DVD. Right now, though, they are absolutely free.

Don't be surprised if you have problems accessing it. Apparently the first day of Act 1 brought the server to its knees because of all the people trying to view the Whedony goodness.

Hope you all enjoy!

So, what's the best fun video you've seen on the 'Net recently?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Catching Up With Koios

While I am woefully behind on my blogging (as with many other areas of my life, it seems), I thought I would at least try to catch up on reporting about the new members of the Chamber whom I've been welcoming.

Back in April (April??? Was it that long ago?), I met with Mark Robinson of Koios Consulting Group, LLC. Mark has an office in downtown Ann Arbor. It's a neat old building on Washington Street and he's up on the fifth floor with a window looking out on the city.

Mark doesn't get a chance to look out that window very much because Mark is busy. He works developing economic evaluations of a company's intellectual property. Sometimes this is for lawsuits (perhaps where one company is infringing on the IP of another) and other times it is to help with the valuation of a company. Either way, as you can imagine, there is a tremendous amount of paperwork associated with these efforts. While the desks and tables in his office were organized, they were groaning under the load of work he had. Obviously he's providing great service and is much in demand.

It's always good to see someone thriving in these "challenging economic times".

Anyway, if you see him walking around downtown, be sure to say hello and ask him how business is doing.

BTW, watch this space for a completely underwhelming announcement next week!

So, how are you thriving in these "challenging economic times"?

First Class

I just got back from a trip down to Orlando, Florida for the Extreme Business Makeover 2008 conference. I'll talk more about that later, but for now I want to focus on something else:

On the trip back home, I decided to fly First Class.

Now, please understand, my spending tendencies formed when I was in college and perpetually broke. I never spent money on myself that I didn't absolutely have to and even then only grudgingly. First Class? Why would I do that? It's only a 2 1/2 hour plane flight. I can just tough it out for that long. Someday, when I'm rich, maybe I'll fly First Class.

One of the speakers at the conference said something, though, that made me rethink my position. He said that we filter what we think we deserve in life based on how we see ourselves. Something in me clicked when I heard that. I decided right there that if I had a chance to upgrade on my return trip, that I would. After all, I deserved a little bit of comfort.

So the day to return came and when I went to check in, the kiosk gave me the option to bump myself to the front of the plane. I inserted my credit card and punched the "Yes" button. The extra cost certainly wouldn't break me (though that college student who was still inside me winced at the thought of the number of Ramen Noodle packages I could have bought).

Soon I found myself in a comfortable seat in row 5. I had room to stretch out my legs and people walking up and down the aisle weren't continually bumping my shoulder. My goodness that was nice!

Then, I noticed something about how I felt. Suddenly I wasn't just some poor schlub crammed into a too small seat just waiting to get to my destination. I was a business owner on my way home from a fruitful conference at which I had picked up some good techniques and ideas to improve my business. I had enough room to pull out my notebook (and could have brought out my laptop if I had needed it). I worked pretty much the entire way, stopping only to eat my lunch (served on a real plate!). If I used my normal hourly rate for comparison, just the fact that I was able to work for those two hours more than paid for the upgrade.

I also arrived in Detroit feeling much fresher than I would normally after even such a short trip. That meant that, where I would normally have needed to rest when I got home, I instead spent a good portion of the afternoon getting work done.

Let's see here. Coach class -- monetarily less expensive, but cramped, uncomfortable, no food, no work done, my goal is just to survive it. First Class -- monetarily more expensive, but roomy, comfortable, tasty hot lunch, hours of productive work, left me feeling better about myself and life in general.

I think I'll be clicking on the "upgrade" button again in the future.

So, have you ever flown First Class? Was it worth it?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

We've Got It All

OK, if you thought that your idea for a wacky website was just a little too wacky, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you are probably well within the bounds of acceptable practice on the Web.

I am now thoroughly convinced that there is a website for everything. Today I discovered a site called "Stuff on my Cat". It is, as the name suggests, a site where people upload pictures of their feline companions with stuff piled on them. It's too hard to describe, just go check it out.

If this sort of thing tickles you, you might also try "I Can Has Cheezburger?" Of course, those around you might wonder why you are giggling like a nut.

So, what's the wackiest site you've seen on the Web?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Life is Good

Those who actually check on my blog on a periodic basis have undoubtedly noticed a long dry spell here. Part of that, of course, is due to the darling angel who has decided to come live with us -- our delightful daughter, Kaylie. While she does take up some time, though, our life with her is becoming a bit more under control (as much as it can be, at any rate).

What's really taking up my time now is my business, Cyber Data Solutions.

Despite these "challenging economic times", my business is really taking off. I've picked up several new clients over the past few months and a number of former clients have been contacting me for new projects.

My cup runneth over.

Just a rundown on what's happening with CDS:

  • Common Grove. I helped my buddy Blaine Roderique over at Q Ltd set up a carbon footprint calculator tied into a credit card processing system for people to purchase carbon offsets. That site should be going live any day now.
  • IDSC Biotech Network. I met Mark Creswell, IDSC's glorious leader, through my sales training at Marr Sales. He called me in to help him update the content on their site and to do a little tweaking with the layout.
  • Concordia University, Ann Arbor. Through a string of networking contacts which eventually led to being selected as a preferred vendor for Uproar Communications here in Ann Arbor, I got to work with the friendly folks at Concordia University -- I know, kind of ironic, right?). They were running into some technical problems and needed me to help them set up a stop-gap system which would give them time to consider their next big overhaul of their online presence -- guess who might be called in to help with that?
  • Community Housing Network, Inc. Long-time clients, CHN, called me in to work on adding to and updating their existing CMS-based site. There were one or two small housekeeping projects that needed my attention as well.
  • Clear!Blue. I started working on this project late last year with my friends Craig and Matt over at Defrost Design. We've now successfully launched this system. My part in it was to set up an administrative interface which allowed the C!B folks to maintain their own content on the site. Technically, this is a content management system (CMS), but unlike the work I do for CHN above (a general-purpose CMS called Drupal), this is a customized special-fit system designed to fit the customers specific needs.
There were a few other small items that I helped with during this time, but what I've listed were and are the larger jobs. Looking down the road, I've already got two or three more projects in the pipeline. At this rate, I'll have the best year ever with my business.

Now I just need to find a little extra time for some sleep!

So, what are the exciting things going on with your business or company?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do I Smell Bacon?

A few months ago I wrote a post about a new member in the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, James Macsay of Radio Free Bacon. Well, after wowing them at the Chamber's networking breakfast, RFB has now started their second season.

For those who aren't familiar, RFB is a local audio variety show -- think "Prairie Home Companion" with an Ann Arbor flair -- performed live at one of Ann Arbor's landmarks, Zingerman's Roadhouse every Sunday from 3-5pm. If you can't make the live performance, you can always tune your radio to 107.1 as they will be broadcasting live. If you aren't local, you can still tune them in as 107.1 has a live streaming feed from their website.

You don't have to take my word for it. Everyone that I've talked with who's seen the show raves about how much fun these folks are. Be sure to check them out if you get a chance.

So, when was the last time you were at a live radio presentation?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My Good Name

I had something happen tonight which just irritates the heck out of me. I was checking my email and found some bounced messages. A whole lot of them.

What irritates me is that I didn't send the originals. Some twit harvested my email address (probably from my company website) and used it in the "From" field for his spam-fest. I received around 20 bounced messages for replica watches and "pharmaceuticals". That means a whole lot more made it through to people -- people who now associate my email address with such desultory practices.

This could lead to my email address being placed on the "black lists" for various spam blocking services, which could lead to my messages not getting through to my clients. Nice.

And the worst thing is? There isn't a darned thing I can do about it.

Grrr.

So, have you experienced anyone tainting your good name recently? What did you do?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do You Own Your Website?

Hello, all!

I know I've been away for a bit. Details on that in an upcoming post. For now, I just wanted to let you know that the most recent issue of my e-zine has been sent out. This is the second part of my series on owning your website (and the dangers if you don't). This time we're talking about the questions you should be able to answer. Here's a short excerpt.

1. Are you paying for the site?

Very few things in life are free. Unless you have your site on
one of several advertising-supported systems, *someone* must pay
for it. Usually whoever is paying for it has the ultimate
control over it. Check your financial statements for a monthly,
quarterly, or annual payment for your hosting services. If you
can't find anything, then you might want to start to worry.

2. Who hosts the website?

more...

If you'd be interested in receiving my e-zine, you can subscribe on the ezine page of the Cyber Data Solutions website.

So, do you own your website? Are you sure?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Silly, But Fun

I saw my buddy Al Bogdan had taken this test, so I thought I would give it a go. I beat him by 3%! I think if I do some studying, I can do better.

87% Geek



So, how much of a geek are you?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Implying Expectations

Thursday night Lisa and I went out for dinner to celebrate our fourth anniversary - a big step for new parents! Our friends, Kim and Tim Householder (the Ims) were kind enough to come over to babysit our little bundle of joy. Thank you Ims!!

Anyway, Lisa and I decided to go out to Gratzi, one of our favorite restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor. Yummy Italian food, and willing to accommodate a vegetarian like me. As always, they did a pretty darn good job. The food was delicious and the service unobtrusive (though, admittedly, just a hint slower than I would have liked). There was just one little tiny thing, which felt like a failure. Nothing big, but it would have made the difference between a good evening and a great evening for me.

This is what happened. Knowing that it was a popular restaurant, I was the good husband and called their reservation line to make sure that we had a table that evening. No problem there. They were able to fit us in at the day and time we wanted. Then the operator on the other end asked if this was for a special occasion. Quite pleased, I told her that it was, indeed, our anniversary.

Despite me giving her this information, though, Gratzi's staff didn't do anything out of the ordinary beyond just serving dinner. I didn't need a free dessert or anything. Heck, if the manager had just come over and wished us a happy anniversary, I would have been thrilled.

But we got nothing.

Now, I know the reason they ask is that Main Street Ventures (the parent company for Gratzi and several other downtown Ann Arbor eateries) gives you a free meal on your birthday (just remember to bring your driver's license). As far as I knew, they didn't do anything for any other events. The problem was, the operator asking that question. It put the anticipation of something special in my head. When nothing happened, it left me feeling a bit disappointed.

Since their reservation listings are undoubtedly generated from a computerized system, how difficult would it have been to make a small notation on our listing so the staff would know why we were there and to make our visit more than just a trip out to the restaurant?

More and more, all establishments, from restaurants, to hair salons, to web development companies, have to do everything they can to be remarkable. Making such a small change in an existing system would do an awful lot to make us even more loyal customers and to do what every establishment wants us to do:

Talk about them.

So what do you do to make yourself remarkable?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Working for Writing

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I took part in the Leadership Ann Arbor program. This was a year-long monthly gathering of a group of 50+ people to learn more about the city we live in and to discover how we can act as leaders in our community. Our class graduated back in June of last year, but many of us have chosen to continue to meet to share the ups and downs of our lives and to find ways to help each other out.

My good friend, Angela De Smet, is one of many cool people whom I met through Leadership. She really took the idea of leadership to heart. She serves as the Treasurer for 826michigan, an organization dedicated to supporting kids in developing their writing skills. As a writer myself, I applaud their efforts. After all, writing is the basis of all wealth.

Right now, 826michigan is working on a couple of fund-raising efforts. The first is an online auction. It's pretty straight-forward. They are asking members of the community to donate items which will be auctioned off. They will be accepting donations through May 20 with the auction closing down on May 28. Their site has more details.

The other event is kind of odd, fun, and intriguing. They are having a Mustache-A-Thon. They are looking for people who are willing to be a mustache farmer from March 24 through April 28. They'll take pictures each week and folks are supposed to donate to support their favorite 'stache. It will be interesting to see how this one goes. If you are interested in joining in the fun, be sure to check out the details over at 826michigan. They even mentioned something about "free beer".

So, what's the oddest thing you've done for charity?

Monday, March 17, 2008

One Step at a Time

My daughter, Kaylie, taught me a lesson this morning about creating my web presence.

Yep, she's a child prodigy even before she's spoken her first word.

She was with me in my office while I was working. I had her on her lily pad blanket and she was working on running. No, she wasn't actually getting up and running around my office. She was lying on her back, lifting her legs and rolling onto her side. That's it. She's working on the next step of rolling all the way over. It's hard, but she's not letting that slow her down.

So, what does that have to do with creating a web presence?

Most people -- myself included -- won't do anything on the web until we've got the whole thing figured out. We've got to have the perfect website with the perfect layout and design, the perfect content, the perfect e-newsletter, the perfect search engine optimization which places us at the top of any search rankings, etc, etc, etc.

The end result of this, of course, is that we do nothing.

I think Kaylie has the right plan: Just start. Don't have a website? Hire someone to build one. Can't afford a high-end web design company? Hire your nephew. Can't afford him? Spend ten minutes a day using one of the various online tools at your disposal, such as Google's Page Creator.

Oh, and your site doesn't have to start out with every single piece of potentially interesting information under the sun. Try starting by answering the questions: Who are you? What do you do? How can you help me? How can I contact you? Later on you can create a page with the details of your state-of-the-art, factory-certified, award-winning framenjammer processes, one with the list of your press releases, and the calendar of events that you will be attending.

So what if you don't have perfect content? Something is better than nothing. Write anything, because, as my buddy Scott Ginsberg says, writing is the basis of all wealth.

A Web presence can be (and really must be) built over time, step by step. It's a slow process, but a necessary one, because if you (or your company) don't exist on the Web, then you don't exist.

So, what steps are you taking to increase your Web presence?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Attainable vs. Realistic

We all know the old acronym about SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bounded. Looking at my list of goals for this year, I begin to detect that I may have a problems with the whole attainable vs realistic concept.

By my understanding, having an attainable goal means that I have the ability or skill or talent or even the discipline to achieve that goal. Using this definition, a goal to read one business-related book a month is attainable. Becoming a starting forward on a professional basketball team is not.

Realistic, on the other hand means whether the goal in question fits with all of the other higher priorities in my life. For example, my highest priorities are to be a good husband and father, to spend time with my family, and to grow my business. That said, becoming a lawyer, while attainable -- I certainly have the ability to go to law school -- it isn't realistic -- the time requirements would conflict with my higher priorities.

The trick is, not all "unrealistic" goals are so obvious. For example, one of my goals for this year is to complete my 600th blog post by the end of the year. To do that, I will almost have to write one post every day without fail for the rest of the year. Attainable? Yes. Realistic? Looking at my life right now, maybe not.

So, then the question comes up: What do I do about such goals? Do I leave it in place as a target for which to aim? After all, if I only complete #580, that will still be quite an accomplishment. Do I cut back on the details of the goal? Aim for 500 posts instead? How about the time requirement? Should I make it by the end of January 2009? Should I abandon the goal altogether?

How do you deal with the "attainable" vs "realistic" problem?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Preparing

I've been thinking a lot about systems lately. I've been working on a system to analyze a new hosting service to see how it has been configured. Knowing this, I can tweak my projects to work properly on any given system.

I've also been thinking about a system to deal with new projects/clients. The benefits of such a practice would be that I wouldn't have to chance forgetting some piece or another of the process I have to go through to get them set up on my test server, set up a file for the project in question, and verify that a reasonable set of steps are in place to accomplish the task.

Part of the reason I've been thinking about this is that I was reminded tonight how much easier things are when I have a system in place. In this case, I was setting up for my quarterly LAN party. For those who don't know, this is an event where a bunch of grown men get together and connect their computers into a local area network (LAN) and then play computer games within which they try to kill each other -- repeatedly.

My wife tends to leave the house -- and often the state -- whenever I'm hosting one of these events.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, after spending 6 or 7 hours setting up for one of these parties, making mistakes that I made many times before, I decided that it was time to record all that I could think of in order to make the next one more efficient. Sure enough, it only took me about 2 hours on the next one. Each time I've refined the system, putting in any new contingencies which I uncover.

What was especially nice this time was that it's been 9 months since the last party (I'm not sure why there was such a long delay). Despite the hiatus, I was still able to get everything up and running in about 2 hours. Not bad!

So, what written systems to you have, for either your business or personal life?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Google 101, Part 2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I attended a presentation put on by Google, Friends of CASA, and the NEW Center about the advantages of several of Google's products for nonprofit organizations. One of the first areas they discussed was the suite of tools called Google Apps.

Google Apps includes Docs, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Calendar, Gmail, Page Creator, and Sites. All of them are useful, but the folks from NEW Center placed a particular emphasis on the first three. They hold particular benefit because they address some of the fundamental issues that many nonprofits face with their IT infrastructure. The list is long:

  • Donated (read "old") hardware. "There isn't enough disk space on this computer to load Office 2007!"
  • Non-standardized hardware and software. "Ralph has a Mac Powerbook. Randi is using an old Windows 95 machine and I've got a Linux computer. What software will run on all of them?"
  • Lack of professional IT staff. "Charlie is our IT guy. He's here every Tuesday. Or was that every other Wednesday? Was this an emergency?"
  • Lack of adequate backup procedures. "Uh-oh, the computer crashed with the only copy of the grant application. Now what do we do?"
  • Un-updated software. "I've got version 2.0 and Sally is using 3.1. Why can't I open the files she's creating?"
  • Complicated procedures to share work effort with standard desktop software. "Who's got the most recent version of the grant application? What happened to all of the changes I made?"
  • Frequent turnover of staff and volunteers. "Bob was the only one who knew where we kept all of the original disks for the software and he left a year ago with no forwarding address!"
Google claims that Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations address a lot of these problems. Since the documents are located on Google's servers, you don't have to worry about backing things up. Google also maintains the software (it's always the latest version). As long as the computer can run a modern web browser and has access to the Internet, you can use these programs. They even have a fairly sophisticated sharing mechanism which allows multiple people to access and edit documents at the same time.

Now, to be sure, these applications are not perfect. You don't have access to all of the functionality that modern productivity suites offer. Documents are suited for web display, so if you are writing something which requires specific layout settings, you might have to use MS Word or OpenOffice.org Writer to do the final formatting. You also won't have access to all of the fonts that you would have on your desktop machine.

That all being said, though, just the aspect of being able to maintain your important documents someplace other than the computer on Shirley's desk is probably a good thing.

So, have you tried Google Apps? For what do you use it?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Little Rewards

As I've worked in my business over the years (and especially since I went full-time in my business), I've spent some time observing my behavior. This isn't only because I'm self-absorbed, but rather that I hope to find ways to make myself more efficient and effective at running my business.

One of the things I've uncovered is that I tend to have a lot of resistance to tackling what I perceive of as a big job. Lately, for example, my business website has gotten a little stale. The news blurbs hadn't been updated in almost a year. My portfolio of links didn't include a lot of my recent work. Even my listings of products and services didn't reflect what I could offer my clients.

Yes, I know "cobblers children -- no shoes".

My challenge was that it all seemed like too much. Every time I sat down to get the work done, I would freeze up thinking of how much there was to do. Of course, the longer I put it off, the more there was to get done. So, how did I get things back under control? Two techniques:

Chunk It Down and Small Rewards.

Of course, we're all familiar with the idea of "chunking it down" -- breaking a project down into its component parts and then tackling those smaller pieces as more manageable tasks. I actually took it a step further. Based on a blog post I had read on "Escape from Cubicle Nation", I took even these small goals and broke them down even further until what I had was so trivially easy it was almost insulting. For example, on of the projects was to "Update the News". I broke that down to "Write a news blurb". Then I broke that down even further to "Spend 10 minutes on writing a news blurb."

Ten minutes was so simple I almost didn't have an excuse not to do it. Of course, that still didn't get me all the way there. Just because it was easy didn't mean I had an emotional investment in getting it done. That's where the "Small Rewards" came in.

I'm a comic book collector. Every week I buy up to ten new comic books. My reward for spending those ten minutes working on my website was to read one comic book. If I didn't, then the books just stacked up in my closet. I'll tell you, things got done pretty quickly and my site is almost up to date.

My next task? Moving my site to a new hosting service.

So, how do you motivate yourself to tackle those larger tasks?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Google 101

I attended an exciting presentation this morning put on by Google, Friends of CASA, and the NEW Center's npServ program. The lecture focused on the many benefits of various Google applications and services for nonprofit organizations. I'll go into some of the details in a later post, but there were two tools that I wanted to mention right away, just in case anyone reading this might have use of them.

The first is Google Checkout. This is a credit card processing service similar to PayPal. Right now, Google is running a promotion such that 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations pay no transaction fees. That's right. Every cent that someone donates through the nonprofit's website using Google Checkout goes directly to the NP. This deal runs through January 1, 2009. After that, the fees increase to 2% + $.20 per transaction. Unless you plan on doing more than $100,000 per month in donations, this is cheaper than PayPal.

It might even be cheaper than getting a merchant account from a bank, setting up an online card-processing gateway (such as Authorize.net) and hiring a programmer to set up the whole thing on your website. It's certainly a lot easier.

The second tool is Google Adwords.

I'm not going to go into detail here about how the whole thing works -- suffice for now to say that it is the facility which places those "sponsored links" at the top and right side of search results in Google. Again, I'll cover the details in a later post. The cool thing here is that Google has a program called "Google Grants", which offers what is essentially free advertising to 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

As I understand, "free" is a price that most nonprofits can handle.

Both of these services have an application process, so you might want to check them out if you think you might be interested.

So, what might your nonprofit be able to do with these services?

Read Part 2 of this story.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A View into Google Calendar

Those crazy kids at Google have one-upped me. I guess I can't blame them too much. After all, it's what they do.

In this case, though, they've come up with a relatively simple way to embed a Google Calendar into a website (or blog, or whatever). This is similar to a tool that I had built a little less than a year ago. The only real differences are that mine is a little more customizable and theirs is a lot easier to use.

In order to use their service, all you have to do is:

  1. Create a calendar using Google Calendar -- you'll need a Google account to do that. Make sure you set the calendar to be publicly readable.
  2. Enter some items into the calendar.
  3. Go to the settings page for the calendar and scroll down to the section on embedding it in a web page.
  4. OR, click on the link to take you to the customization page which allows you to specify colors, sizes, default appearance, even multiple calendars.
  5. Whichever step you took, you next just copy the provided HTML code into your web page and you are done.
From that point on, when you change your Google Calendar, the changes will appear on your web page. I've already set up one of these for one of my clients, CNP of Ohio, Ltd. They have a calendar of business networking events that they maintain for their members. Check it out to see what can be done.

So, how could you use an embedded calendar like this?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bluetooth: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Before I get going on the topic of the day, I just wanted to send a quick shout out to my buddy Bill MacConnel (I delivered a welcome bag to Bill as a new Chamber member back at the end of December). Bill has decided to jump into this whole blogging thing. His first post shoots a few pointed barbs at the marketing and advertising industries. Might be a fun one to follow!

Anyway, on with our story.

A few weeks ago I finally picked up a Bluetooth headset for my cell phone. For those who don't know what that means, Bluetooth is a wireless communications protocol -- which means that I can have a headset (or in this case an earpiece) connected to my cell phone with no wires between them. I bought mine (a Jabra BT135) through Buy.com for $15, though you can get them for much more. After using it for a couple of weeks now, I have a few observations.

First, the Good

I love this little gadget. A tap on the control button (there's only one button) and it takes me right into my phone's voice control feature. Hold it down a little longer and it re-dials the last number. The sound is clear despite the fact that I don't actually have to stick it in my ear. My wife, Lisa, says that she can't even tell that I'm using it, it picks up my voice so well. Heck, it's even comfortable to wear.

Next, the Bad

Actually, there isn't much bad to it. It does what it's supposed to do. About the only thing that doesn't work the way I'd like it to is that I can't listen to music through it. I have a "smart phone" which I use for a variety of purposes, including listening to podcasts that I've downloaded. As I understand it, if I wanted to do this, I should have purchased a Bluetooth stereo headset. Oh, well. Not that big a loss for me.

Finally, the Ugly

OK, I've seen people with these gadgets sticking out of their ears. They look like Borgs. Now I can understand doing this in an airport or something like that, but when you show up to a meeting wearing one of these? Well, you might not intend it to look that way, but it makes me feel like I am so unimportant that you would take any incoming call and interrupt our meeting. Not cool.

So, do you have a Bluetooth device of any kind? What do you think?

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Future for Artrain

I was out at a Chamber of Commerce networking event tonight at Katherine's Catering. Lots of fun people and, not surprisingly, piles of delicious food. While I was there, I ran into my friend Brian Tolle.

Brian, in addition to running the Tolle Group, a business leadership consulting firm, is also the Vice Chair of Artrain USA's Board of Directors. He was the one, some months ago, who first told me that Artrain would be leaving the tracks and going on the road.

Brian introduced me to Debra Polich, the President and CEO of Artrain and the three of us spent some time chatting about the future of the mobile museum. Ever since I found out that Artrain wouldn't be on a train anymore, I've been intrigued by the solutions they were considering. As I mentioned in a previous post, they were looking at putting them on semi trucks -- and not just any semi trucks...

... transformer trucks.

No, really. I know it's hard to imagine, but these vehicles can roll into any large parking area and before you can say "Optimus Prime", they will convert into a full-fledged museum.

I can see that you're having trouble visualizing, so you might want to check out the video of how it will all work.

So, would you go to see Artrain if it rolled into your town?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Random Notes to Myself

Looking around my office, in addition to the clutter which often infests my desktop, I see a number of notes that I've written to myself. Often I'm inspired by blog posts or books I've read, podcasts I've listened to, or just random thoughts which flit about the dark corners of my mind.

For example, on a small whiteboard next to my monitor is the simple phrase "I am a goal setter". This one is to encourage me to set my long-term goals. I'm pretty good with short- and mid- term ones, but thinking on the order of five or ten years gets a little past my everyday comfort level.

My larger whiteboard, in addition to being the repository of the status of current projects, also houses a number of notes.

"If I want to succeed significantly beyond my current levels, I must fundamentally change what I do and how I do it". I don't remember what I was reading to inspire that one. It might have been Scott Ginsberg's "Make a Name for Yourself" or it might have been Seth Godin's blog. Wherever I got it, though, I wanted to keep that one in front of me in order to remind myself that the riskiest path is not to change -- something with which my "paralysis of analysis" brain has a real problem.

Right bleow it, inspired by "The Disney Way", a book I'm reading right now, is "What beliefs and values does Cyber Data Solutions represent and exemplify?" and immediately below it is "Rescue. Teach. Empower. WOW." Just me trying to find my way and to figure out what I want my company to stand for.

In my Google Notebook, I've got a list of concepts that I've found. Right at the top is one from lifehack.org in a post titled "12 Ways to Upgrade Your Weekly Review". For me this is an idea which underscores all great achievement: "Decide to do something that will make you uncomfortable next week."

I've got these little messages to myself all over. Some I see all the time, others only appear when I look for them. All are designed to keep me thinking about who I am and what I want from my life.

How do you remember your concepts and inspirations?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Baskets and Bags


Mary D'Alessandro
I had the opportunity today, in my role as an Ann Arbor Chamber Ambassador, to welcome a new member to our boisterous group. This time, the lucky recipient of the coveted Welcome Bag was Mary D'Alessandro, owner of Baskets and More, here in Ann Arbor.

Now before you say "Oh, another gift basket company," you should take some time to check out her offerings. I took just a few minutes to look over her online catalog and was amazed by the variety of different baskets she offers -- and these aren't just your average fruit baskets. From food (of course), to pet toys, to garden hoses, her products hold almost everything under the sun.

If you can't find the perfect basket for your needs, she will work with you to build a custom masterpiece. She told me that one executive actually had her create baskets with complete steak dinners in them. Wouldn't that be a nice surprise?

Well, OK, not for me, since I'm a vegetarian, but you get the idea, right?

I chatted with Mary for over an hour. In talking with her I found that she really knows how to build her business and always has an eye out for opportunities. We were glancing over her complimentary copy of the Ann Arbor Business Review and not a page went by where she didn't find someone for whom she's made a basket. Obviously she knows how to keep her customers happy.

If you find yourself in need of a unique gift for a loved one or a business contact, you could do far worse than giving Mary a call. Tell her Greg sent you...

... It won't get you anything special, but I'm sure she'd get a kick out of it.

So, what was the best gift basket you've ever received?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Freelancing Advice

I sent out volume 2, issue 4 of the "Clearing up the Confusion" e-zine today. This one focused on some of the new blogs that I've been following lately. In particular, I've become quite attached to The Freelance Switch. Here's what I wrote in the e-zine:

For those of us who are off running our own businesses, this is a great resource. It has "how to" articles, advice, links to a podcast, and even its own comic strip, "Freelance Freedom". This blog and its associated website are clearinghouses of great information. I think I've found at least one useful take-away idea every time I've visited. I also love their podcasts for those times when I'm not able to sit down in front of the computer. I can get in a little education while I'm shoveling the driveway.
If you'd like to read about more of the blogs that I recommend, check out the latest issue of the e-zine. You can read other issues in the archive, or you might even consider getting a subscription.

So, what blogs are you following lately?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't Surprise Me!

OK, I like a surprise as much as the next guy. Really. When my wife decided to throw a surprise birthday party for my 40th, I was elated. The clock radio she got me for Christmas -- the one I can plug my MP3 player into? Delightful!

The kind of surprises I can do without usually involve software. Ironically it's often the little things that get under my skin.

For example, this evening I was working on incorporating all of my contacts into Gmail. Now, don't get me wrong. I like Gmail. Anyone who's been reading this blog knows that I am a big fan of Google in general.

This time, they did something that just didn't make sense to me.

As a result of doing this import, I had a lot of contacts which were duplicates of others and some which were just completely unnecessary. As a first pass to clean things up, I decided to delete all of the unnecessary ones. I spent about 15 minutes going through the list, clicking on the little checkbox next to any that no longer belonged. When I got to the end of the list I had 148 names to be deleted.

I clicked on the "Delete" button.

Gmail promptly informed me that I was only allowed to delete 20 entries at a time and I would have to go back and "unclick" some of the ones that I had selected.

What???

OK, for all of you who are designers out there: Don't do anything like this. Don't let me walk that far down the path and then tell me that it's a deadend. If I try to delete that many and you think I might be mistaken, pop up a dialog to make sure that this is something that I really want to do. If you don't feel like doing that, then you'd better do something pretty obvious when I click on that 21st entry.

So, now I get to go back and do the whole winnowing process again...

... but you can bet I'm keeping an eye on how many I've selected!

So, what sort of software bizarreness have you uncovered in your Internet travels?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cleaning Up

We had a party for my wife's birthday this afternoon/evening. We did all of the things you would normally do for such a gathering. We planned a menu, invited our friends, cleaned the house, etc. Everyone showed up. We had a great time. Then everyone went home. Nothing left to do, right?

Wrong.

Anyone who's ever thrown a party will tell you that there's this little thing called "clean up" which you have to do after everyone has gone home. It's part and parcel to throwing the party. In fact, it can even be somewhat enjoyable. I find it very relaxing to reflect on the happiness and laughter of the day while I put things aright.

Websites and web development are actually very similar. You spend time working with your web developer. You design an architecture, write great copy, and generate some wicked cool graphics. You install everything and make it go live.

That's not the end of it, though. There's still the clean up. Because no matter how many tests you run, there will always be something you missed. Sometimes it's something as simple as a typo. Other times it might be something much bigger, like a missing page or some broken links. At any rate, that sort of thing needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible.

Here's where it's important for your web developer have a clear understanding of your expectations. You must both understand how the developer will deal with bugs found after the project has been delivered. For my clients, they receive 3 months of "shake out" at no extra charge. Of course, adding new features to an existing system will cost additional money, but any bugs found are my problem and I will take the time to make sure that everything is done correctly.

But that's just the way I do things.

So, what was the worst "bug" in your website that you've encountered?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

That Which is Measured...

There's a rule in development, whether for business or personal pursuits: That which is measured, gets improved. I've been putting in some effort on this recently. It's a bit tedious, I'll admit, but it is informative.

Each business day, I record the number of calls I make, people I meet, events I attend, and presentations I give. I also record any sales I make and what their value is. I've been doing this now for about five months. My goal is to have a baseline "cookbook".

A cookbook is a concept I learned in my sales training with Joe Marr. The general idea is to understand, in my business, what level of effort leads to what level of results. When you know that, then you can control those results by increasing or decreasing your effort. With five months of data, I should have some picture of my return on investment.

The trick when analyzing this stuff, though, is to take into account the lag factor. For example, I haven't really changed the number of calls, meetings or events over the past few months, but just eyeballing the results, I'm seeing a gradual increase in the number of sales and their total value. So, for whatever reason, my results haven't reached the plateau dictated by my level of effort yet.

This is another good statistic to know: Lag time. If I look at my results and they aren't what I want, making a change now won't have an immediate effect, but might take several weeks or months to show.

So, what aspects of your business do you measure?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Questioning the Technician's Mind

In "E-Myth" Michael Gerber talks about this false assumption that most people who start businesses are "Entrepreneurs", i.e. visionaries who strike out to try new things and build a business with a bold plan. In reality most of us are "Technicians". This means that we know how to do a particular job and we've decided to start a business to work for ourselves, doing that job.

That's all well and good, but those of us who follow that path will never have a business. At most we will own a job. How can you tell the difference? If you have a business, you should be able to take three months off and when you come back it will be doing at least as well as it was before you left. If you own a job, then you just won't get paid for those three months.

The challenge of expanding beyond owning a job is that the Technician is quite happy turning the crank to churn out the widgets. We're very analytical. We tend to color inside the lines. Going outside the lines isn't allowed. Doing that might break something. The problem is, only by coloring outside the lines can we become remarkable. Only by being remarkable in some way will we have a chance to grow and develop beyond just owning a job.

This is a challenge I'm facing right now. While I'm not at capacity right at the moment, the number of my clients is growing at a rate that I probably will be there by the end of this year. It's time now to start thinking about how I'm going to break my current pattern. If I don't do it now, while I have the spare capacity to do something about the situation, then I may find myself trapped by my own success, unable to muster the spare cycles I would need to grow.

One of the things on my list is to spend time coming up with a set of good questions. Tony Robbins, in his book "Awaken the Giant Within" talks about the importance of specifying these questions in an empowering way. Similarly, my hero, Scott Ginsberg, recommends "How" questions instead of "Why" questions. "Why should I expand my offerings" presupposes an option of defeat before I start. I know I have to, so I don't really need to answer this one. A better approach might be "How can I expand my offerings?" This question points to all sorts of things from the products I might consider to how I will find the time to develop these products. This sounds a little more exciting.

I think I can go one better.

"How can I expand my offerings -- and have a good time doing it?"

Wow. When you present it that way, it doesn't even sound like work does it?

I'm going to continue working on my list of questions. When I'm ready I'll share them here.

So, what questions do you ask yourself to motivate and excite?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jott Updated

In one of my recent e-zine issues, I wrote about the service called "Jott". It's a neat tool which allows you to call up a toll-free number, leave a voice message, and have that message transcribed and sent to anyone on your contact list. It is a great way to send yourself little reminders if you don't have a pen and paper handy. In fact, it makes a great way to make your calls and take notes in the car if you have a BlueTooth headset and voice-activated calling.

I just got an email from them today that they'd updated their site and some of their services. It's worth a quick look. They've made it easier to organize the messages that you've sent and you can even listen to the original audio that you recorded. My favorite new feature, though, is the ability to register your own custom Jott Link.

I know, I know. You're all excited about that, too. And you'll be even more excited if you knew what the heck a "Jott Link" is.

A Jott Link allows you to manipulate other online services using Jott as the go-between. For example, I can call Jott and have it record a meeting in my business calendar on Google Calendar. I've also got it set up to record tasks on my favorite "to do" list service, Remember the Milk.

With this new feature, if you have a home-grown or proprietary web-based system that you use on a regular basis, you (or your Web programmer) can connect that service to Jott. So, for example, you might have your own proprietary contact management system. Using this feature you could set up something which allowed you to call up and record the name and phone number of a new acquaintance.

So, how could you use a free automatic transcription service?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Unshared Language

Kaylie was a little fussy this evening. She was crying and unsettled and I couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong.

The problem for me, of course, is that the language she uses (screams and tears) doesn't have enough meaning to me (my wife, on the other hand, claims she can tell the difference between a hungry cry and a "change my diaper" cry). Quite often I misinterpret what Kaylie is saying and address the wrong concern.

Ironically, this is a basic problem with working as a consultant, too. No, I don't mean that one or the other of us acts in an infantile way. The problem is we are dealing with a lack of shared vocabulary.

This is why I have to ask a lot of questions when I sit down with someone to discuss a project.

I recently was chatting with a potential client. They told me that they wanted me to set up an online discussion forum. This is definitely possible, and not too difficult to do. If we decided to go forward, they would end up with a nice system which would allow all of their website visitors to carry on written "conversations" with each other. Pretty cool.

But I never leave things alone. Often people ask for things which I can deliver, but they aren't what they really want.

After continued questioning, it turned out that what they actually wanted was a facility with limited authorship and the ability for readers to comment on those authored items. Wait a minute! That's not a discussion forum. That's a blog -- OK, a blog with multiple authors (definitely easy to do), but a blog nonetheless.

If I had set up a discussion forum for that prospect, he probably wouldn't have been very satisfied. In the end I would have had to spend a lot of extra time trying to get that forum to behave like a blog. No one would have been happy.

My sales coach, Joe Marr, tells us that it is our responsibility to find out exactly what problem our prospect needs us to solve. If we don't, we are giving a prescription without a diagnosis -- and that's sales malpractice.

So, have you ever run into a situation where what they were saying and what they wanted were two different things?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Little Catching Up

Just so you know, I haven't been filling my days solely with taking care of our beautiful Kaylie (though I will admit, when she's smiling -- which is often -- I could sit and play with her for hours!). I've also been getting some actual work done.

Most recently I've been working with my friend Craig Steen over at Defrost Design on a project for another company called Clear!Blue. Clear!Blue creates "spectacular experiences" and like to call themselves "brand superheroes" (without the "uncomfortable spandex").

The system we we've been building has been an interesting one. It's a Flash-based site. For those who don't know what this means, Flash is a product from Adobe which allows developers to create beautiful and intricate animations on a website. These animations can be so complicated, in fact, that they can actually be the website.

Anyway, I was called in on this project because the folks at Clear!Blue wanted to be able to maintain a lot of the information on the site themselves. They wanted to be able to add new people, new case studies, etc and have that new information appear immediately on the website without having to contact the web developer every single time. That's where I came in. I helped build the tools to manage the information on the site and to make it available to the Flash front end.

We're actually getting close to the end of this one. We're down to the final tweaks on the test site while we wait for the client to set up their production hosting environment (using bizland.com). I'm figuring we should be able to wrap this up in the next week or so. Wish me luck!

So, what projects have you been working on recently?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Farewell, NoMonthlyFees

I was inspired by the post my friend, Andrew Miller of Your Search Advisor, crafted recently wherein he bid a not-so-fond farewell to Comcast as his Internet Service Provider. In my case, though, it's time for me to say goodbye to my website hosting service, NoMonthlyFees.com.

Oh, I'll admit that back in the beginning they were quite attractive. Only $70 for a year of service. Not bad at the time. So what if their only service option was a trouble ticket with sporadic email notification. I didn't really need it too much as I'm reasonably technically savvy and can often fix my own problems.

I even referred a number of my clients to them.

Then things started to change. I won't say that they got ugly, but they were starting to make mistakes. Some were minor. Some were system breakers. That's when their support system really fell down. What could have taken mere minutes on the phone was taking days to solve via email. I would log a problem. Hours later they would request more information. Sometimes I would be notified of their response, sometimes not. More hours wasted on trying to get things working. Sometimes the solutions weren't even real solutions (delete the entire account and start over? I don't think so).

I'm not saying that the folks I was dealing with were any more incompetent than any other hosting service, but at least when I'm on the phone with someone, I can uncover that incompetence quickly and work past it.

So, I'll be looking for a new hosting service, even though it will be a big hassle to switch. I just can't take these problems anymore. I'll also be recommending that my clients no longer use NoMonthlyFees, either. There are lower priced options out there and they have 24/7 telephone support.

So, my short recommendation for choosing your hosting service is that the support really does matter. Be sure that you always have immediate access to a real human being. You'll be happier in the long run.

So, what aspect of customer service do you think is most important?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Getting Snowed Under

I was out shoveling the front sidewalk this afternoon. The job was made all the more difficult because I'd kind of ignored the whole thing for the past couple of snows. As a result, instead of an easy clearing of white, fluffy snow, I was dealing with an inch of ice under another inch of slush and water.

Heck, the only reason I was out there at all was that I knew if that top layer froze, too, people might break their necks just trying to walk past our house.

Anyway, it took me two hours of back-breaking labor to get the sidewalk and a narrow path up my driveway cleared.

A lot of people treat their websites like that. They build something nice and then let them go. Instead of updating them periodically, they ignore them until they are so out of date that they are worse than useless. In fact, it can get to the point that the website actually makes them look worse than having no website at all.

Then, to fix the problem, they have to go through a complete website overhaul. It's expensive, time-consuming, and can be full of aggravation.

The solution? Just like with my shoveling, do a little at a time as it is needed. In fact, part of the process of setting up a site should be a plan on how it will be kept up to date (just like me making sure that I have gas for the snowblower and salt for the pavement).

So, what's your plan?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Trust Me, It's Not You

Seth Godin had an interesting post last night about the nature of communication. Essentially, we can blame our audience for not understanding or we can look to ourselves for not being understandable. Guess which one is more likely to lead to success?

This is one of the aspects of my industry that bothers me more than a little. I shudder every time I speak with someone and they tell me that they are too stupid to do anything with the computer (or on the internet or whatever). I always tell them that the problem isn't them, with only one exception:

They shouldn't think that they have to conform themselves to the tool (computer, Internet, etc).

So often, people in my industry build systems and expect the user to change -- the way they think or the way they work -- to fit how the tool builders think things should be done. In reality it should be the other way around. The best systems conform themselves to fit the needs of the user.

No matter what the system designers think.

So, what was the last piece of software, website, or online tool which forced you to change the way you did things? Are you better off as a result? Are you happier?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Showing the Way

Down at the Karate school we have a saying that you should look to those who've already found success for encouragement. The path to earning a Black Belt is a fairly long and difficult one. Not everyone makes it. Often the journey is made more difficult by the student's friends and family who are "just trying to protect you from disappointment" after all "you've tried stuff in the past and always given up." Guess who provides the real encouragement?

Those who've already reached Black Belt.

I've begun to see that this is also true in the business world. In my experience here in Ann Arbor, at any rate, those who've built a thriving business are the ones who are most likely to offer ideas, encouragement and mentorship.

I actually met two such folks today.

At a recommendation of a friend of mine, Carrie Hensel of Inner Circle Media, I called on Kevin Phillips and Debra Christein Copperstock of LTI Information Technology. When I asked them about growing and running their very successful business, they started talking about their planning processes, the classes they'd taken, and the directions they were planning for their LTI, IT. They even showed me some of the documents that they had created to chart their future directions.

To put it bluntly, I was completely overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit. I walked out of there feeling excited about the prospect of working on my business and charting out the future for Cyber Data Solutions, LLC. Many thanks to them!

So, who have you met recently who completely blew you away with their generosity?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Do You Blog?

So, I spent some time with my good friend Len Niehoff on Monday helping him set up his first blog, "Falling Off The Horse". His goal was to use it as a distribution mechanism for sermons that he had given at his church. Just to be clear, he is a lawyer, not a priest, but if you read the introduction to his blog, I'm sure you will agree that the members of his church could do worse than to give him their fullest attention.

This led me to musing today about the nature of blogs and why we write in them. What motivates me to write here every day? What am I trying to say? Seth Godin conveys his insights and riffs about modern marketing. My buddy, Scott Ginsberg (who celebrates his birthday today -- Happy Birthday, Scott!) writes about approachability in all of its forms. My dear friend, Larc Bogdan, connects by telling stories of teaching and raising her little girl. Her husband, Al, writes about writing and creativity. My mom, Debby Peters, writes about networking.

I think what it all goes back to is our never-ending attempt to make connections and be heard, whether we have a specific topic or not -- our voice in the wilderness seeking companionship and those of like minds to share our campfire.

So, if you write a blog (or if you were to write a blog) about what do you (or would you) write?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Keeping on Track

Before I went full time on my business, I used to be able to keep track of my clients in my head. I rarely had more than one or two at any time, so keeping track was pretty easy. Afterwards, though, my client list began to grow and I knew that things would begin to fall through the cracks if I didn't come up with a system.

So, I started keeping a list on the whiteboard next to my desk. It was pretty simple -- just a list of the clients and a one-word status message. I kept a more detailed document as a Google Docs spreadsheet. It's been working pretty well, but, as you can see, my business has continued to grow and now I'm starting to run out of room.

Maybe I need a bigger whiteboard?

This is all an overly long preamble into talking about an online tool that helps to keep track of all of this information. It's called CreativeProOffice.com.

CreativeProOffice is a free service (I'm not sure how they pay for it as there don't seem to be any ads). With it you can track clients, projects, tasks, files, and even submit invoices. It's a remarkably complete service. It's not perfect for me, but I could easily adapt it. So, why am I not converting everything over to using this service?

Well, I'll tell ya. It has to do with the nature of free software. If it were an application that I could download and use on my desktop, I probably would. Even if UpStart Productions (the maker of CPO) decided to stop supporting the application, I would at least have it on my computer and could use it for many years before I might run into problems. Unfortunately, this is an online service. If UpStart decides to stop supporting it, the site could vanish overnight, leaving me without a tool that I might have come to depend upon. I need to think long and hard about whether that is an acceptable risk.

So, would you use such a service to track your clients and projects? What are you using right now?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cell Phone Tools

I just sent out volume 2, issue 3 of the "Clearing Up the Confusion" e-zine. Here's an excerpt:

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a bit of a cell phone junkie. I use my phone for everything from taking snapshots, to reading email, to keeping track of my "to do" list. Heck, I can even use it as a GPS when I'm out looking for a client's office.

Some of these tools are a part of the phone itself. Others, however, reside out on the Web. That means, whether I'm sitting at the coffee shop, or relaxing on vacation, as long as I have a cell phone connection, I have access to my information.

So, what are some of these services and how well do they work? Here's a quick rundown of some of the ones I've been using...

To read the rest of this article check out the e-zine issue. You might even like to subscribe!

So, what cell phone tools would you recommend?

Monday, February 11, 2008

An SEO Primer

As I mentioned the other day, I've been catching up on my podcasts recently. For free content, I'm always surprised about the amount of quality information you can get from them.

Take the one I was listening to last night. My buddy, Ross Johnson of Ingenex Digital Marketing, recorded one of his presentations about search engine optimization (SEO), the techniques and strategies to improve the position of websites in the search results of the major search engines.

If you've any interest in SEO and how it works, I recommend you give this one a listen. He covers these topics and looks at some basic strategies he recommends for his clients to improve their search ranks. He also talks about techniques you should avoid at all costs -- the kinds of behaviors which will get you "thrown out of the pool" if Google catches you trying to use them.

The caveat I have is that this is a recording of a presentation. Ross does a great job, but there are questions from the audience you can't hear. Most of the time you can get what they are saying from context, but not always.

That said, though, if you are at all curious about whay you aren't on the first page of results from Google (and how you can get there), you should really check this out. Spend 40 minutes and get a much clearer understanding of how it all works.

So, for what phrases are you on the first page of the search results?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Always Thinking

Programmers are always thinking about how they can re-use what they build. Since we work in the world of thought-stuff, it's a lot easier to do this than it is when you are working with physical objects.

I just finished working on the Bruce Donovan Construction website. They wanted me to, first, just go through and get the site cleaned up so it didn't look like a template site (or at least not obviously). After a little work, the headers no longer said "Bruce Donovan Construction, put your slogan here", so that was a pretty nice improvement.

The second and larger piece of what they wanted was an online portfolio which displayed pictures of the various projects they've done. The goal was not only a record of their accomplishments, but also a means whereby their clients can actually keep an eye one what's been happening on the job site.

The project went well and Bruce and company seem to be pretty happy with it. They've already got three of their current sites up with pictures and descriptions.

While I was working on the project, it came to me that I could use some similar mechanisms to make a photo album for my lovely daughter, Kaylie. We've got relatives and friends scattered all over the world, from Ohio to Japan. Many of them would like to keep an eye on the little one as she grows.

So today I started creating Kaylie Kimiko's Korner, our daughter's first marketing platform. I'll keep you apprised as I get things up and running. First up will be that photo album, but, who knows? She may be starting her own blog soon!

So, what other offerings do you think friends and relatives would like to see on a baby site?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Year, New Goals

So, we're already more than a month into 2008. How are your annual goals going

As I mentioned last year, I don't do the "New Years Resolution" thing. Instead I create a list of 101 goals for the upcoming year. I got the idea from an article I read by Scott Ginsberg (OK, I promise that this is the last time I'll mention his name, this week). They range from the seemingly trivial (hang a plateholder for Lisa), to the daunting (complete my 600th blog post -- this is 310) to the fun (attend DragonCon).

The thing about creating 101 goals is that you really have to dig deep to come up with that many. Even if you don't accomplish every single one (heck, I only hit about 50% last year) the very act of setting them can open windows on your deepest desires for your life.

And, really, if I hadn't set them last year, would I even have gotten to those 50 items? Maybe, maybe not.

So, give it a shot. Let your creativity run wild and see if you can come up with 101 goals for the rest of this year. You'll be pleased with the results, I promise.

Oh, and why 101? That last one is "To create a list of 101 goals." Might as well start with some success!

So, do you have a written list of goals for the year?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hey, I've Heard of That Guy!

I'm catching up on some podcasts that I downloaded some time ago. I'm particularly enjoying them now as I can listen to them and feel like I'm kind of working (most are business-oriented) while I am walking up and down the hallway trying to soothe a fussy baby (not that that happens very often at all).

So today I was listening to a "Marketing Monday" podcast from back in September 2007. The host, Dean Jackson, interviewed my friend Scott Ginsberg, the Approachability/Nametag Guy.

Yes, I already wrote about Scott this week, but you take your inspirations when they knock or the universe thinks you're being ungrateful.

During the interview they were talking about being "that guy" (short for "that guy who reminds everybody of nobody else"). In this case, it's meant in the positive sense and as Scott put it, it really boils down to the answer to two questions:

  1. What are you known for?
  2. What are you known as?
If nine out of ten of your customers/colleagues/friends answer in a similar way, then you are well on your way to being "that guy". Let's face it, if we can stand out in other people's minds for some good aspect of ourselves, then it can't help but to make us more successful in our lives, both inside and outside of work.

Now the little surprise I had happened about 36 minutes into the podcast (actually 36 minutes and 43 seconds, but who's counting?). All of a sudden I heard Scott use my name. He was quoting one of the concepts from my website with regards to the difference between having a website and having a web presence. Very cool.

I highly recommend that you check out the podcast, even though it's a little dated now (Scott mentions one of the projects that he'd been working on for a while, Nametag.tv, which has since launched -- another cool thing to check out). There's lots of good stuff about the many benefits of approachability, including a great riff on why a handwritten nametag is better than one of those fancy engraved ones that some people wear.

So, what was a good podcast that you've listened to recently?