Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Facebook and the Newest Ezine Issue

By the time you read this I will have sent out my most recent ezine issue. That's number 12 for those who are counting. This time I wrote a bit about my first experiences with Facebook and how I intend to use it for our Leadership Ann Arbor Roundtable group.

If you are interested in reading any of the issues, or would like to subscribe to the ezine, you can do so on the Cyber Data Solutions website.

Friday, July 27, 2007

An Enterprising Evening

Part of my responsibility as a business owner is to attend at least one and preferably two networking events each week. Some of these are more productive than others. Some are more fun than others. Tonight I attended one that fell in the top range on both these scales. I went to a meeting of the New Enterprise Forum.

NEF is a group whose sole purpose is to support entrepreneurs. To this end, they provide a venue for people engaging in new enterprise to present their ideas to a larger group with the idea of receiving critique and potentially the possibility of investment. These events usually also include a speaker or two and, of course, lots of opportunity for networking.

Tonight we heard about two new businesses, TuneVUZ and Procuit. The first is a service which helps new musicians market and distribute their music electronically. The second is a site which helps people learn and more importantly retain new information. Obviously I could never do justice to the presentations. You're better off checking out their websites for more information.

We also had a panel of three "unusual" entrepreneurs who spoke about their individual paths to success. Doug Chapman talked about HyperFit USA, a high-intensity fitness club. Janet Brown-Smith told us about her company, Mookies Pet Toys, whose products have sold on QVC. Finally, Brad Morgan let us know how he turned the "by-products" of his dairy farm into a booming business called Morgan Composting.

While I found the presentations interesting, and the folks I met while networking had fascinating stories to tell (and may in the future prove to be profitable), there was one aspect of the gathering which I didn't anticipate which made it really stand out to me. Listening to all of these folks talking about their businesses and about their big plans for the future infected me with their enthusiasm. Walking out of the Holiday Inn where they normally hold their monthly meetings, I couldn't wait to get home to work on my business.

I'm definitely going back.

So, what gets you excited about working on your business or in your career?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

5 Ideas to Turn "All About Me" into "All About Them"

Telling storiesSeth had a great post today about why some blogs are boring and don't get much traffic. Essentially, it comes down to the fact that bloggers often write about themselves. Needless to say, such ramblings are really only of interest to the author and his immediate family.

Not that I've ever done that.

The counter argument, of course, is the traditional admonition to "write what you know". So, how do you draw on the strength of your experience without boring the tears out of your audience? I've come up with a few ideas. If you have any others, please send them along.

Tell your story if:

  1. It shows an example solving a commonly experienced problem -- "I had a problem with a sticky drill bit one time. Here's what I had to do."
  2. It sends a warning -- "Let me tell you how I got this hole in my forehead."
  3. It asks interesting questions -- "So, after all of that, I have to ask, what could I have done to avoid breaking the drill bit?"
  4. It makes us laugh (without having to know the people or places involved) -- "Then my brother climbed on top of the stack of magazines with a his drill in hand..." (OK, that might be a bit of a warning, too!)
  5. It talks about your interactions with others - where they are the focus -- "Let me tell you how Bob Smith of BS Hardware helped me out with my drill problem."
Basically, I think it all comes down to trying to help others and not aggrandize yourself. If you are providing value, through advice, warnings, testimonials, etc, then it is worthwhile for your audience to come back regularly. If it's just a story of your everyday life, well, send your mom the link, I'm sure she'd love to hear from you.

So, can you think of any other situations where it would work to tell your story?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cool Guys and the Networking Loop

Q LtdA short while back I mentioned chatting with the amazing Jenn Cornell. Jenn is a great networker. By this I definitely don't mean that she hands out a lot of business cards at every event she attends. Rather she understands the higher levels of networking and the value of putting together the people she knows who might hit it off.

Today I got to be the beneficiary of her networking prowess. Shortly after we met, she sent out an electronic introduction between one of her friends, Scott Hauman of Q Ltd, and me. Scott and I were able to get together this morning over at Sweetwaters in Kerrytown. He, in turn, thought that it would be good for me to meet his colleague, Blaine Roderique and brought him along to share in the conversation.

Now comes the "small world" part of this whole story: Blaine and Scott, the Director of Emerging Media and the Director of Planning respectively, have a colleague whose role is the Vice President of User Experience. His name is Peter Morville and he's a friend of mine. Over a decade ago, Peter and my buddy Lou Rosenfeld had a company together called Argus Associates, Inc.

They were the ones for whom I did my first consulting project.

It's amazing to me how this whole networking thing just keeps coming back around.

For those who are unaware, Q Ltd has been around for over 25 years. They specialize in branding and customer experience in all media. Of course, as the Web has grown in importance, so has it become more and more a focus of their work. Avoiding any jargon, they design websites which are easy for your customers to use and make those customers want to come back again and again.

And Scott, the self-described "Brand Cop", is the one who makes sure everything fits the client's brand and identity.

So if your company needs a professionally designed site, marketing materials (both print and electronic), or a brand identity to tie everything together. Q Ltd might be just what you are looking for. You won't be in bad company, that's for sure.

So, have you had any networking "loops" in your life? How many steps before it came back to you?

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Book

Harry Potter PartyOK, yes, I'm enough of a nerd that I did go out on Friday night to get my copy of the new Harry Potter book. It wasn't because I wanted to have one of the first copies (I didn't have mine in hand until almost 2am, so I was way out of the running there) nor was it to be one of the first who read it. Heck, it wasn't even for the various free gifts which went along with the purchase.

For me, the big thing was just the whole spectacle.

The Arborland Borders where we spent our late-night Friday had hundreds, maybe even more than a thousand people crammed in it that evening. I'm reasonably certain that we were breaking a few fire codes. People of all ages were camped out in every book row. The staff even had to mark the path that the books would take from the back room in red tape in order to keep it clear for the big unveiling.

And what an unveiling it was. We had a countdown and at zero, a staff member, wearing a red cloak and a wizard hat and standing on a desk held the book above his head to a rousing cheer from the crowd.

I guess for me this was an amazing bit of history in the making. With the exception of other books in this series, I've never heard of a book generating this kind of excitement. People -- kids and adults -- actually waiting in line to be one of the first to read? Of course, we see this with people who want to be the first to see a movie fairly regularly, but rarely has a book so grabbed the collective attention.

I guess the whole thing saddened me, too, in a way. Really, unless J. K. Rowling decides to pen another volume in the series, I doubt we will ever see such an event again.

Our society just doesn't elevate the written word to those levels. We are buying fewer and fewer books each year, and, according to some estimates, of those books which are sold to individuals, 95% are never read.

I guess all cultural and social structures change over time, but it sure was heartening to see so many people, of all ages, excited about a book.

So, without posting any spoilers, have you read the new Harry Potter book yet? What did you think?

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Karate Video

My training partner, Peter, and I had our most recent test for our 3rd degree Black Belts on the 14th. As usual, I dragooned a friend into shooting some video. This time it was Ed Hood, an attorney whom we had met through the auspices of our church bulletin. I think he did a great job catching the action (what their was).

Once again, I used the Microsoft Movie Maker to edit the video and do the titles and such. This time I added some subtitles. We were demonstrating some basic Judo moves which we had learned and I thought it would be good to give some indication what moves we were doing and the corresponding Japanese names.

I've embedded the video below, but you can also see it (and my other videos) on YouTube, where you can comment on what you've seen and even give it a rating.

So, what videos have you seen recently on YouTube?

Comcast Service Follow-Up

Comcast truckYesterday I wrote about some great customer service from an unlikely place -- my cable company, Comcast. I was impressed by every level of interaction, from the rapidity of the phone response to the timeliness of the arrival to, in general, the work that was done. Bravo!

Of course, nothing is entirely perfect in this world. The repairs improved things immensely, but there was still a slight problem with the system. When I went to view a "video-on-demand" movie, the picture would pixelate (usually the symptom of a weak signal). It only happened on the upstairs TV, though. Justin, the cool and knowledgeable first technician, had told me that if I ran into any problems with his repair, to call his supervisor, Randy Cousino.

So, I made the call to Randy and left a message on his voicemail. By 1:30 today, Carey, another Comcast technician, showed up at my door. He did fix the problem in short order. That would have impressed me enough. What really got me, though, was his respect for our home. As soon as he walked in the door, he slipped protective covering over his shoes so as not to track any dirt on our floor.

Very nice.

So, to those who were hoping for one of my rants about horrible customer service, my apologies. This time Comcast came through like a winner.

So, who has really impressed you lately?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good Customer Service? From Whom?

OK, I know this is going to be a bit shocking to some of you, but here goes...

Over the past week I experienced great customer service from ... (drumroll please) ... our cable company, Comcast.

Could someone throw some water on that guy who just passed out in the back row?

From the vitriol heaped upon Comcast's door by many a dissatisfied customer, you would hardly expect such a good experience. In fact, I've had bad experiences with them myself, which is why I often wait to call them -- expecting nothing useful to come of it.

Still, we had recently upgraded our service to digital cable and things weren't working quite correctly. So I got out my phone headset and settled in for the usual hour-and-a-half phone call.

And got through within five minutes.

Not only did I get through, but I actually chatted with someone, her name was Marnee, who could actually start the repair process. When that didn't work, she immediately scheduled me for a repair visit on Tuesday (I was calling on Saturday). She apologized that it would take so long and then told me that if I wanted a visit sooner, I should call back first thing in the morning to see if there had been any cancellations. I wasn't concerned about that, so I decided to wait until Tuesday.

Of course, as with most scheduled repairs, I was given a window, "sometime between 9:30 and 12:30", which, to my cynical mind, meant "sometime on Tuesday, maybe". To my shock and surprise, on Tuesday at 10:30, a neatly uniformed young man showed up and, within an hour, had cleared out three or four different problems with my cable setup which resulted in a clearer picture and access to all of the cool video-on-demand features which I had been promised.


As he cleaned up his equipment, he told me that he was pretty sure that he had gotten it all working, but if there were any problem,s here was his supervisor's direct line. Call him and I wouldn't even have to go through the five minutes of calling the toll-free line.

OK, I've got to say that Comcast just jumped several notches in my book. Of course, now I'm going to expect more of them. Will they be able to deliver? We'll find out today. Last night, when I was trying to watch a movie from video-on-demand, my main system suddenly started having trouble. I'll let you know how it goes.

So, what what completely unexpected good customer service have you received recently?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"Running" a Web Presence

RunningOn my list of 101 goals for 2007 is one which says "Run a 10K". I've been working on it now for four months. Yesterday I made it 5.1 miles (10K is 6.2 miles approximately). I'm not running particularly fast (around a 9 minute mile on average) but I'm getting there and that is what I want to do. While running, though, I do have a lot of time to think. This time I was struck by some of the similarities between training as a runner and developing a web presence.


Yes, there are similarities. Stick with me here.

  1. Focus on one thing. In running, I can improve my distance or I can improve my speed. Trying to focus on both would likely lead to unhappiness and possible injury. In a recent e-zine article, I came up with eight ideas on how to improve your Web presence. If someone tried to start doing them all at once, they would quickly burn out and quit doing anything at all.
  2. The first mile is the hardest. Some days I wish I could start on the second mile. After that first mile of running, your legs get into the rhythm and most of the achiness goes away. Your breathing settles into a pattern and it feels almost effortless. Since much of the effort of developing a web presence requires writing in one way or another, I've found the biggest challenge is getting through the first paragraph. After that, it seems almost effortless.
  3. Start small. When I first started running, I wasn't even doing a mile -- just around the block once and then stretch. To do any more would strain my body and probably make me give up. Similarly, if I tried to develop my web presence by first creating the perfect website (and not doing anything else until it was done), I might never get there. Instead I had to get small pieces up and running first and leave space into which I can expand.
  4. Get into a habit. OK, so I lied in #2. The hardest thing is actually getting out there and running when I'm supposed to. Unless I make it a part of my weekly workout habit, sooner or later it stops happening. In the same way, if I don't make a habit out of writing in my blog or e-zine, then before I know it, I'll have skipped two weeks and I have to start all over again.
  5. There's always an excuse. Just as you have to get into the habit, you have to watch to make sure you don't fall out of it again. This is a tough one for me on both fronts. As an entrepreneur and business owner, it's so easy for me to say to myself "Oh, I'll go out for my run later on. I need to finish this project right now" or "I don't have time to write today. It won't hurt if I skip a post or two." Even if I only walk around the block, or write a short two-sentence post, it's better than doing nothing at all.
So, what have you done recently to improve your Web presence?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Speech Follow-up

NetworkingI gave my presentation today at the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce "Networks!" lunch. I thought it went pretty well, though sometimes it is hard to tell from behind the podium. The focus of the speech was on how to make the Power Mingle part of the lunch work for you. This is the time after we have all made our public introductions where we try to chat with whomever caught our interest.

I hit on three topics:

1. Be specific. So many people when describing what they do are far too general. Telling me that you are a real estate agent, or a mortgage broker doesn't tell me for whom you are looking. Telling me that you can help anyone looking for a loan doesn't help me either. I don't know what that person looks like. Tell me that you want to meet couples who want to move into a house on the old west side gives me a lot more with which to work.

This point seemed to have very limited impact. I heard several "I help people who need loans" during the Mingle. The biggest problem is that folks think that if they are too specific then they will lose out on opportunities that don't fit into those constraints. Ironically, the opposite is true. When I used to tell people that I helped nonprofit and charitable organizations develop their website, I invariably had folks come up to me and ask if I would do work on a corporate website. Icing on the cake.

2. Be focused. Coming to a networking event it's quite easy to spend a lot of time, eat your lunch, and then walk out to the car feeling like it was a waste of time. The solution to this is just to set yourself a goal. Some folks set goals to hand out twenty business cards -- not terribly effective, unless you want to be remembered as the highly horrible networker. Far better would be to meet and have great conversations with two people from your target market and get their cards so that you can set up a meeting with them (or set up a meeting right there and then).

It was hard to tell if this point sunk in at all. The folks who came up to me seemed to be more likely to chat, though one person actually interrupted a conversation I was having with an acquaintance in order to force her business card upon us (without finding out anything about us other than that we weren't really interested in what she had to offer).

3. Be a host, not a guest. Since the goal of a networking event is really to be memorable, what better way to accomplish this than by making other people feel comfortable and looking for ways to help them. So many people show up at a networking event and give into their ingrained aversion to talking with strangers. By pretending to be the host, we have a tendency to look around and find those folks who can use our help. After all, you wouldn't ignore a guest who came to visit you in your home would you?

As I said, I felt like the presentation itself went pretty well. I didn't get lost in my words, nor did Tom Denk, the host of "Networks!", have to get out his hook to drag me off the stage. I'll let you know if I receive any feedback at all.

So, what tips do you have for working a networking event?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Speech! Speech!

Giving a speechA couple of weeks ago, Barbara Davenport from the Ann Arbor Chamber called me to ask if I would be interested in helping out with the next "Networks!" lunch. Now, I've helped out in the past as an Ambassador. My responsibilities mainly included welcoming people, pointing them in the right direction and making introductions whenever possible. This time, she wanted me to do something a little different.

She wants me to give a speech.

Oh, I'm not the capital-S Speaker for the event. That honor goes to my sales coach, Joe Marr. What Barb wants me to do is talk about how best to make use of the so-called "Power Mingle" portion of the lunch. This is the ten to fifteen minutes after we do our introductions when you try to meet the people who tweaked your interest. Anyway, I get about a minute or two to make a few points about my vast skills as a networker.

How did I get this opportunity, you ask?

Well I doubt is was for my good looks or for the fact that I'm a pretty snappy dresser. She said that when they decided to have this bit, I was one of the first names that popped to people's minds.

Pretty cool.

So I guess all that Certified Networker training is starting to pay off.

So, if you are interested and are in the area, you can hear my presentation at the Chamber lunch on Thursday July 12 at La Piazza by Mediterrano over on State Street. I'd love to see you there!

So, when was the last time you were top of mind?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Adding a New Feature

As of this writing, I am using Blogger as my tool of choice for creating and maintaining this blog. I am more than satisfied with it's features and I've been quite pleased with how much more stable the whole system has become. Of course, there is always room for improvement. On thing that I would dearly love to see is an incorporated "trackback" feature. I have that feature through a third-party tool, but, unless you are either a techno-nerd like I am or have access to one in the family, it's pretty unlikely that you will have trackback if you use Blogger.

What? You don't know what "trackback" is?

OK, let me back up.

You know how at the bottom of many blogs there is a link to "Add a Comment" or something similar? This allows the reader to take part in the creation of the blog as an online community. I do get the occasional comment on my posts. Most are quite polite and actually contribute to the discourse.

Trackback is very similar, except that instead of making comments on the blog site, the reader uses her own blog to make the comments and then sends a link to the original blog for inclusion in the "trackbacks" section. If you check out Seth Godin's blog, you'll see what I mean. In fact, this is the only way he accepts comments.

Why would either party do this?

In a phrase, it spreads the word. Both authors gain by pooling their audiences. My readers, who might not have heard about Seth Godin, might check out his blog (and eventually his books) and become new fans. I benefit by temporarily getting a greater readership, some of whom might stick around for a while.

All in all, it's pretty much a win-win all 'round.

Now we just have to get Blogger to recognize that trackback is the way to go. They have a similar feature, called "backlinks", but, as far as I know, it only works with other Blogger blogs (not WordPress, TypePad, MoveableType, etc) and, in a quick browsing of other Blogger sites, I couldn't find anyone who had enabled it.

If you are a blogger and you are interested in the trackback feature, please feel free to drop me a line. I can tell you where to download the free software which allows you to use trackbacks with your Blogger blogs.

Quick note: I just added a new category section over to the right, immediately above the "Archives" section. It will probably take me a while to categorize all of my posts, but I've gotten about half of them done. Try it out and let me know what you think.

So, how do you draw readers into your blog?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Surprising People: Jennifer Cornell

Jenn Cornell, PR Superhero
Jenn Cornell
This Tuesday I rousted myself from bed a little earlier than usual so that I could meet one of my classmates from Leadership Ann Arbor. Jenn Cornell was in my project group back at the beginning of the class and whenever we had a moment or two we had some fun conversations. In the last class, Quality of Life Day, while walking to the Michigan Theater, she revealed to me that she was going to be leaving the public relations firm where she had worked for the last seven years to head off on her own.

Now, please keep in mind that Jenn is everything you would expect in a public relations expert. She's knowledgeable, creative, has made great contacts with the media, and has an amazing eye as to how to craft a message to target a particular venue. She's probably one of the friendliest and most outgoing people I've ever met. I was astounded by some of the intricacies of how she helps people position themselves and get their message out to their audience and potential customers. In fact, she says that one of her biggest challenges is in helping the client understand that what they are selling is not necessarily their product, but rather that intangible quality that the client gains from the product -- whether that be more time with loved ones, a sense of security about the future, or more energy to achieve their dreams.

And, yet, with all that, she's got a deep dark secret...

... She's a nerd.

Of course, I'm hardly one to point fingers, but it's always quite wonderful to discover others like me out there.

How did I find out?

I was waiting for her in the restaurant when I saw her pull up outside. I noticed in her rear window that she had a "Transformers" sticker. When I asked her about it, she told me that she has been a fan since she was a kid and that she still frequents Vault of Midnight, the local comic book shop. In fact, she knew more than I did about some of the upcoming comics-related news.

The funny thing is, we're all "nerds" to one extent or another. To be a nerd is just to have a passion for something which other people might not understand. Some people love to attend foreign films, others prefer spending every spare minute in their gardens, still others invest their time obsessing over stamps or coins or baseball cards.

It comes down to this: All things being equal, we do business with those people we like (and sometimes even when things aren't equal). Of course, you want to work with people who are skilled at what they do, as Jenn most certainly is. What makes us human and ultimately approachable, are those parts of our lives which make us fun and interesting -- whether it be prize-winning roses or a healthy obsession for the collectible toys from our youth.

By the way, if you own or work for an established IT company in or near Ann Arbor and you need to get your message out, you really need to talk to Jenn. She'll know just how to help you out.

So, what obsession do you have that would make people call you a "nerd"?

More Karate Video

I finally got a chance to upload the video from my most recent test for my third degree black belt. This was a self-defense demonstration with examples of defense against both armed and unarmed attacks. Just a warning: I don't think this is nearly as exciting as the previous month's board-breaking demonstration.

It's actually kind of funny to me to watch myself doing these moves. What seemed pretty exciting to be in the middle of looks kind of tame from the outside. Actually, if you think about it, that's the way it probably looks with a lot of things. I guess this is why we have focus groups and user testing. Those of us who are in the middle of the creation, whether it be programming software, putting in a garden bed, or creating a logo, are caught up in the act of creation itself, which makes it much more difficult to see it with an untainted eye.

Anyway, here's the video.

So, how do you look at your creations with an untainted eye?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Music to My Ears and a Change of Heart

cellochan logoI mentioned a while back that I was working with Suzanne Smith of cellochan on getting her set up with a brand new website. After several months of work, everything is up and running and it looks great!

Suzanne is quite happy with the site we designed and has apparently already received a number of compliments. She's also quite happy that my initial foray into the world of search engine optimization has landed her on the first page of Google search results for a variety of search phrases which she's hoping will bring in some more business. If you are looking for "cello teachers in Ann Arbor", you should check out cellochan!

I had a good time working with Suzanne, but in the process, I discovered that designing websites, while interesting and challenging, really isn't the true calling of my heart. I admire anyone who has the skill to bring together the beautiful pictures, great typography, and focused layout necessary to make a great website. In the process of building the cellochan site, though, I discovered my passion is in building features, not making them look good.

I like the work I did on the design, but I love the extra tools I built. The page which displays excerpts from Suzanne's blog was fun because of the programming challenge it presented, not for how it looked. Setting up the means for Suzanne to update the quote in the upper right corner of the page was much more fun to me that trying to place the quote there in the first place. Building the tool which contacts Google Calendar to retrieve the event information was a heck of a lot more fulfilling than making sure the text was the right color.

That all being said, I now want to figure out how to reposition myself so that my business supports this passion for me. After all, if the work I'm doing isn't truly fulfilling me, then I might as well go work for someone else.

So, have you discovered your true passion of your job or business? What is it?