Saturday, March 29, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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!"
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
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
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
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:
- 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.
- Enter some items into the calendar.
- Go to the settings page for the calendar and scroll down to the section on embedding it in a web page.
- OR, click on the link to take you to the customization page which allows you to specify colors, sizes, default appearance, even multiple calendars.
- Whichever step you took, you next just copy the provided HTML code into your web page and you are done.
So, how could you use an embedded calendar like this?
Saturday, March 01, 2008
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?