Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Most Sincere Pumpkin Patch

The Webmaster in the pumpkin patchAs promised, here is the picture of the pile o' pumpkins on our front porch. We had a lot of fun over the weekend getting together with family and friends to create these works of Halloween art and we received more than a few compliments on them.

I've always loved Halloween. I trick-or-treated until I was about 16 (much to my parents' embarrassment). I loved the costumes and I really loved the candy. To be specific, I loved the good candy. Smarties and Sweet-tarts were OK, but let's face it the good stuff usually involved chocolate. Of course, the top of the heap were the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with Kit-Kat running a close second. The next tier down were the other chocolate bars. Lower still were the dum-dum suckers, and the ubiquitous peanut butter candies in their black or orange wrappers. The only thing lower than that were the pennies.

Yeah, you remember that guy who gave out pennies. Don't be that guy.

So now that I'm a grown-up (OK, so now that I own a home), I always give the good stuff and I always give out a lot. We rarely get a lot of kids (this year was a record at 28), but they always get a big handful from us (I have very large hands).

Interestingly, this leads me to thoughts of doing business and the different ways businesses treat their customers. Think about your own establishment. If your customers were trick-or-treaters, would you be the one giving out: Kit-Kat's and Peanut Butter Cups -- exceeding the customers wildest expectations? Smarties and dum-dum suckers -- doing a good, if uninspired, job? Or are you the one giving out pennies? (Don't be that guy)

Hope you all had a safe and wonderful Halloween. I'm sure I'll feel much better after I sleep off the sugar crash.

So, what was your favorite candy at Halloween?

I'll Have the $3.95!

I was reading Seth Godin's blog again tonight. It reminded me of what one of my other business teachers, Professor Keith Hafner, once told me. He said that he could teach Karate for only $35/month. The thing is, you get a different quality of student. A $35/month student doesn't have the same dedication as a $75/month student, and he, in turn, is of a different quality than the student who pays $150/month. Of course, you still need to provide the $150/month value, but personally, I'd rather be that great company that goes the extra mile rather than the one that was cheap, er, I mean "inexpensive".

Ready to eatStill, there is that temptation. Value competition is difficult. It requires imagination and creativity. The owners of the Pump (the restaurant in Seth's post) could have opened a McDonalds. It probably would have been a lot easier. Of course, they would have been competing with every other low-priced lunch stand in town. Instead, not only did they come up with a creative solution, they also allowed their customers to get into the creative fun. After all, it would take a while to exhaust 41,000,000 combinations!

So, this leads me to my own navel-gazing contemplations of how I can provide my own customers with "41,000,000 combinations". Obviously, my business of "rescuing people from their own websites" is a bit different from a multi-option sandwich shop or a Karate school. The basic concept applies. If I don't follow the path of value competition, then I become just another website maintenance company, scrambling to undercut my competition in order to get the clients who will walk away from me as soon as someone else decides to undercut me.

OK, I'm not sure, but that price competition stuff sounds like a lot of work, too. Maybe I'll try that creativity route. It, at least, sounds like it might be fun.

I'll try to get back to my usual stories tomorrow. I'm going to try to get a good picture of our massive jack o'lantern display (OK, so it's only 13 pumpkins, it will still look big on our tiny front porch!).

So, how do you make yourself or your business unique and valuable?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Good Business, Bad Business

I was reading Seth Godin's blog today. Seth wrote "Purple Cow", "Free Prize Inside", and many others. His post was short and to the point. He criticized anyone who takes the viewpoint "It's just business". After all, it's OK to lie, cheat, and otherwise treat others poorly to succeed in business, because it's "just business".

Seth hit the nail right on the head when he said that he wouldn't ever want to work with someone who had that viewpoint. Just look at the numbers. Assuming you work only 40 hours a week (and who does that anymore?), you are at your job for more than a third of your waking life, and that doesn't include commute time, lunch breaks, weekend and evening "overtime", and all the other spare cycles we spend thinking about work when we aren't at the office. How depressing would it be if we chose for that time to be a morass of amoral (or immoral) activities? How long before it poisons the rest of our life?

One of my Karate teachers over the years, the great Timm Rowton, maintained that he wouldn't even speed. As far as he was concerned, if you have to rationalize or use the words "I can get away with it", you were on a slippery slope. I think it's the same for our businesses. Let's face it. You might be able to "get away with it" in the short term, but eventually you are going to hit that speed trap and your customers will know exactly what kind of business you run.

And then they won't be your customers anymore.

So, what businesses do you know of which display a level of integrity which is second-to-none?

Friday, October 27, 2006

If My Blog Could Talk

Talkr LogoThis morning I was listening to a MarketingMonger podcast interview of Chris Brooks of Talkr (yes, I spelled that correctly, how could you question me?). Before I go any further I've got to say that the MarketingMonger Guy, Eric Mattson, has got some great interviews on his site. If you've got an MP3 player (iPod or otherwise), you might want to look through his offerings. He's even got an interview with one of my personal heroes, Scott Ginsberg.

Back to my original point (and I do have one), if you write a blog, you can now have an automated podcast. Talkr.com offers a service which will distill the written genius of your blog into an audio track that your loyal followers can download into their MP3 player.

Signing up for your account is free and there are instructions on the Talkr site which explain how to incorporate this into your blog. The process is remarkably simple. In about 20 minutes I had a working "podcast" of my blog. In fact, if you look at the bottom of this post, you will see a link to "listen". Give it a try.

Now, there is one caveat. The audio is automatically generated. You can tell that the voice is computerized. Still, the technology has come a long way since Joshua asked "Would you like to play a game?" If you are a blogger, it's probably worth your while to check it out.

Do you listen to web-based audio programs (podcasts)? If so, which ones? If not, why not?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This is Just Neat

Google LabsI love Google.

There. I've admitted it. Oh, I know they are planning on taking over the world, but who isn't?

They build cool toys and I love toys. I've had a Google home page for quite a while now. I love having my personal links, feeds from blogs, the weather and a quote of the day appear before me each time I open a new browser window. Before I had the home page, I was using Google almost exclusively as a search engine (though I've branched out in recent months to include Wikipedia).

I use Google calendar -- easy to use and ties in with my Gmail account. I have my comic book collection recorded in a spreadsheet that I keep in Google Docs & Spreadsheets. I often choose Google Maps over MapQuest, and I've even played around with Google Earth (ever since they came out with a Linux version).

Heck, Every once in a while, I stop in at Google Labs, just to see what sorts of new things are coming up. In fact, that's how I began to use Google Reader, a simple, but effective blog aggregator. Now, instead of clicking all over the Web to read my blogs, I go to one place and see all of the newest and latest right there.

Now, I'm sure you have your own preferences for many of these things and that is totally cool. After all, it's those other companies coming up with new gadgets which keeps Google cranking out the new toys for me.

So, do you use any of the Google tools? What about tools from other companies, like Yahoo!? What do you like best about them?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hey, I Know "That Guy"!

Scott's Book: How to Be That GuyI really enjoy Scott Ginsberg's take on life. I just finished reading his latest book, "How To Be That Guy". Good stuff.

In 47 short chapters (some only a page), Scott provided me with an amazing number of little (and several not-so-little) "a-ha" moments. He definitely put me to work to figure out how I'm going to be "that guy".

Scott and Greg at the Women Mean Business ConferenceI actually got to meet Scott at the annual Women Mean Business conference that was held down in Toledo, Ohio on September 22. Scott gave the morning keynote speech and got us all worked up and energized for the rest of the day. His humorous and insightful stories kept us all enthralled. One of my favorite parts was when he had us all take the quiz on approachability that he created for Cosmopolitan magazine. Imagine my delight when I discovered that I was a "one woman welcome mat"!

I've said it before, and I'll keep on saying it: If you get a chance, read Scott's stuff. You can find a great sampling of his material on his website and on his blog. If you get a chance to hear him speak (or if you are looking for a great speaker for an event you are arranging), run, do not walk, to get your spot in the audience. I speak from experience here. After Scott gave the keynote, he also presented one of the breakout sessions. If there had been a fire marshall around, I'm sure that we would have been in big trouble, based on the number of people who were trying to cram themselves into the room.

So, how can you be "That Guy (Gal)?"

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Leadership Ann Arbor, Day 2

I'm back home in Ann Arbor after attending the Leadership Ann Arbor Retreat. As I mentioned before, this retreat is all about learning to be a leader in the community. Yesterday was about being a leader within a group. Today was about leading as a group.

To that end we were placed in a group of six or seven. Pictured to the right are four of our six: Mike Williams of the Gerald Alcock Company, me (the "Webmaster"), Shannon Brown of the Ann Arbor Radio Group, and Tom Manning-Beavin of the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corporation. Behind the camera was Karen Lancaster of the City of Ann Arbor. Our last member, Jennifer Cornell of Eiler Communications, had to leave early. I'll geta picture of her and Karen up here sooner or later.

Since the groups were chosen largely at random, our first task was to take a look at the members and the skills we each brought to the table. To be honest, I'm working with some very skilled people. As a group we are fairly well-balanced. Where some of us had weaknesses, there is someone else to take up the slack. An auspicious beginning for our group -- the "Avengers" (oh, did I mention that we had to come up with our own name?).

At the request of the Leadership Ann Arbor staff, several local non-profit organizations had submitted descriptions of problems that they were experiencing. Each of the groups was given a different one of these issues to work on. Our group is to help the local Boy Scouts of America Council. We were given two hours to come up with a strategic plan which we then presented to the rest of the class. Actually, I was elected to present it (darn my radio announcer's voice anyway!). Now we have to work on our plan and, in December, we will present it to the Boy Scouts.

I feel like I've been thrown in the deep end. I guess I 'd better start learning how to swim!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Leadership Ann Arbor, Day 1

What an amazing day!

We're up here at the beautiful Crystal Mountain Resort for the first day of the Leadership Ann Arbor retreat. Our goal for today was to discover what qualities go into being a successful community leader and, further, what qualities we possessed as a leader.

Our facilitator, Terry McGinn, put us through a number of exercises (and some gentle good humor) to help us understand ourselves better. In the process, of course, we got to know the people around us and to help each other along wherever possible. Oh, there was a bit of good-natured teasing and quite a bit of laughter, but, all-in-all, it was an exciting chance for self-discovery in a friendly and supportive environment (or, at least, no one actually told me that I was hopeless as a leader and should just ask for my money back). Terry really deserves serious kudos for herding us and helping us to keep focused on the goals for the day.

Despite the fun we were having, by the end of the day, a group of us decided we needed to get out to go on a short hike around the grounds of Crystal Mountain. It was a great opportunity to chat more and see the gorgeous Fall colors of northern lower Michigan. Of course, it might also have been another leadership test as we were only given one map. I think we must have succeeded as we all made it safely back to the lodge in time for dinner.

As Terry said just before we broke for the day, today we worked on leadership within our group. Tomorrow, on the other hand, we are going to work on leadership as a group. I'll let you know what happens!

So, what has been your best experience at a business conference or seminar?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed

I was up bright and early this morning to attend the Ann Arbor Chamber's "Morning Edition" gathering. This is a monthly event held at Weber's Inn on the west side of "A-squared". I'm an Ambassador for the Chamber, which means I got to get there especially early (6:30am) to help set up. I don't mind telling you that, being a programmer at heart, usually the only time I'm up that early is when I haven't gone to bed yet.

I had the best time!

It's funny, but that shared experience of being up so early in the morning led to a real feeling of camaraderie amongst those of us who were setting up for the hordes to follow. I've only been in the Ambassador Corps for a few months now, but I can already tell that I have entered into a special group of people who really know how to work cheerfully as a team.

The other cool thing about being there early was that I got a chance to chat with some of the early guests and really get to know them. I ran into Dr. Joseph Koob, author, lecturer, and founder and president of DifficultPeople.org. He speciallizes in helping people in all walks of life deal with difficult people, whether they be client, co-worker, or boss. Now I know that most of you don't have any difficult people in your life, but, just in case, you might want to go check out his site. He also told me that some of his books will be soon coming out in trade paperback. Look out for those!

Anyway, if all goes as planned, tomorrow I'll report on the first day of my retreat for the Leadership Ann Arbor course that I'm taking this year. Stay tuned!

So, who have you met recently who made you want to talk about them?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'm Back! TLA Tutorial: CMS

As many of you know, I've been a bit busy lately, finishing up a big project for Community Housing Network. CHN is a great group with which to work. As with most folks at charitable and non-profit organizations, they bring an excitement and passion to everything they do which is a breath of freash air in our sometimes cynical and business-as-usual world. In this case, we performed a massive overhaul on their website. Amongst other things, including a more intuitive look and feel, we added a content management system (CMS) to the site.

What's a CMS, you ask? Well, essentially it provides a framework full of tools and features which allows a website owner to update her own site more easily without having to know anything about HTML, how to upload files to their server, or how to create and maintain a search index for the site. There are a number of different packages out there, some commercial, some open source. The one I used was called "Drupal".

I know your eyes just glazed over, so let's just say that, once set up, it allows even the rankest beginner to have and maintain a website which has cool features such as searching, discussion forums, individual user logins, online glossaries of terms, and even advanced features such as online surveys -- all within a consistent look and feel. If this sounds intriguing to you, you might want to ask your current webmaster whether it is something to consider.

So, what features would you love to have on your website?