Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Lists

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

50 was a breeze.

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

That was last night.

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Read, Read, Read Your Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stars out of Reach

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

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

Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Building for a Reason

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

Stick with me here.

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

But that's not what's important.

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

But that's not what's important.

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

But that's still not what's important.

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

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

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

But that's not what's important.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sneaky Call

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

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

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

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

"Hello? Chase Bank. Bruce speaking."

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

"One moment..."

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

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

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

The screen pops up. Everything looks fine.

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

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

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

But there are lines you shouldn't cross.

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

So, what do you think? Am I overreacting?

Working the Systems

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

I'm afraid I fall into that class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Email Purge

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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

So what's your biggest email sin?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bag of Groceries

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

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

There are still 25 of them left to go.

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

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

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

How much does a bag of groceries cost?

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

Building a Deck (of Business Cards)

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

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

So, how do you cope with business card glut?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Remembering to be a Child

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

I love it when that happens.

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Missing Pieces

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

Unless you can't find a part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

No Good Deed...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Passionate Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Evolving Networker

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

Good thing I have patience.

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

Today, for some reason, I was confident.

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

Why, I might even be a Networker!

So, in what groups are you a Networker?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Accomplishing the Task

PerseveranceI spent a good portion of this afternoon and evening doing a conversion of a graphical treatment for the Community Housing Network project. What this means is that they are doing an overhaul of the look and feel of their site. My graphical designer drew up some beautiful pictures of what the site would look like and, after getting CHN's approval, I got busy turning those pictures into an actual website.

I've still got a few tweaks to go on the look (I'm missing some pictures of people for the front page), but I finally got things looking just about right.

This project was complicated by the fact that the CHN site uses a content management system called Drupal. Drupal is a wonderfully powerful system for controlling the content of a site and gives the site administrator a lot of options for what they would like to display. The one disadvantage is that sometimes the look and feel that it wants to generate isn't easily converted into just any graphical layout.

As with most of these things, though, as with most puzzles (which I love), it's just a matter of perseverance. If you try enough combinations of things and don't get too discouraged when you have the occasional "one step forward, two steps back" moments, you will likely accomplish your task in the end.

So, what was the last task you performed which required perseverance?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Doing It All

Virtual CorporationI met with two different people today for coffee and, from those meetings got a better understanding about the nature of doing business in Ann Arbor -- especially as a small business owner.

Each was the owner of his or her own business. My good friend Ross Johnson owns 3.7 Designs and my new friend Christine Slocumb is the principal of Clarity Quest. If you listened to the two of them describe what they do (SEO, web design, print marketing, etc), you would swear they are competitors -- and they are.

Kinda, sorta, in a way.

In a way, though, they are colleagues as well. They often call upon one another to fill in when things get too busy. Right now Ross is sub-contracting for another designer, who is working with Christine.

Now, Ross and I met today to see if we had the potential for a similar strategic relationship. He has the design skills which I lack, whereas he sometimes has need of my programming expertise.

We each can lead and we each can follow. Together we can make our individual companies even stronger. No longer will I have to turn away clients who want a new website, despite the fact that I don't really do that sort of thing anymore. Ross, on the other hand won't have to worry when one of his clients suddenly needs an online database of press releases.

Believe it or not, being a DIY'er, this is actually a bit difficult for me to wrap my brain around. Still, I know for my business to grow, I need to let go of trying to do everything myself.

Maybe next I'll look into letting someone else pay my bills! ;-)

So, have you worked with someone else in a "virtual corporation"? How did it work out for you?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Karate Fun

Last weekend I had what was either my last or next-to-last Karate demonstration/test for my third-degree black belt. I'll find out on Monday if I'm going to have one more in November. Assuming all goes as planned, I should be receiving my new belt on December 1st.

Of course, since our baby's due date is November 28th, there is some question as to whether I'll actually be up on stage to receive my belt!

Anyway, here's the video of the three of us performing Old Koryo, a form our school hasn't used since before the mid 70's. To my right is Peter Gluck, my partner for the last eight months and to my left is my young friend Darcy Christian who will be receiving her third degree in May of next year. She's just started her monthly testing.

Oh, and just in case you think this has nothing to do with business: Working on preparing for this performance is a lot like some of the projects I've worked on in my business. In both cases, working with skilled professionals who have a ton of experience under their belts (so to speak) makes the whole thing a lot easier and a heck of a lot more fun.

After learning the form, it took us almost no time to get it synchronized. All three of us have had to do that so many times that it's almost second nature. The same holds true with my programming projects. When I'm working with experienced professionals, the project is almost inevitably effortless.

What was the last project you worked on with someone else? Where they "skilled practitioners"? Did it make a difference?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Ones that Get Away

The One the Got AwayI got a message from what had been a potential client today.

We'll call him Bob (not his real name). He had contacted me regarding a Web project for which he needed my services. The project involved one of his clients (call them ABC Company), who wanted to update their existing website. The site was programmed using PHP and he was hoping that I could help them take some new designs and apply them to the site.

By the way, this sort of project is what I call a "conversion". I'm given a picture of what the site is supposed to look like and convert it into HTML and CSS so that it actually works on the Web.

Things were going along well until today when we found out that ABC Company's original web designer wouldn't give up the passwords to the site, which means that Bob and I can't make any changes to it. So, basically, ABC Company has the choice of continuing to work with their original designer (in which case they wouldn't need me) or do a complete redesign with Bob. In the second situation, Bob's company would do the redesign entirely in house using their own (Microsoft-oriented) programmers and wouldn't need me.

Am I upset? Maybe a little. Oh, not with Bob or ABC. I'm mainly irritated that someone in my industry, instead of keeping his customers through an excellent product or service, has basically decided to extort their clients' loyalty. It just gives us all a bad name.

As for me, I'm not going to worry about it in the slightest. As my mom has told me before: If you make space in your life, the universe will find a way to fill it.

So, what was the last "big one" that got away from you?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Write Anything

writingOne of my heroes, Scott Ginsberg, has a lot to say about writing. In his view, "writing is the basis of all wealth". I can see his argument, but to some folks, the idea of writing just seems impossible.

In talking with people about their web presence, I often recommend that they start a blog and write in it regularly or even write an article or two for a newsletter or e-zine. To which they laugh and protest, "but what would I write about?"

I think if they stopped for a moment or two, they could come up with a year's worth of articles without too much of a stretch.

Write about:

  • ... your job or business. You could probably come up with fifteen things about your business which would surprise and inform and audience. I don't care if you think your business is patently obvious to everyone, there are aspects of it which are complete mysteries to those outside.
  • ... doing your job or running your business. What are some of the challenges you faced today? Change the names to protect the guilty, but you might inspire others with your solutions to the common problems we all face.
  • ... your passions. What hobbies or pastimes have your attention? What books do you read? What movies do you see? What were the difficulties with the last quilt you made?
  • ... your travels. If you are out on the road a lot, what recommendations would you have for the rest of us? What's the best Indian restaurant in Toronto? Which tour would you recommend to see whales in Hawaii?
  • ... the random thoughts you have throughout the day. Some of the best bloggers write about the signs they see and how they think it reflects on aspects of customer service. And it's interesting!
There are a variety of reasons to write, but for me, at the end of the day, it becomes a record of my thoughts and actions, my fears and beliefs. It's the living record of my life.

And if it isn't written down, it never happened.

So, what was the last thing you wrote?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Long Distance Radio

Talkshoe LogoWhile I am still on vacation today, I did manage to get some work done. I made a few calls, did some programming and even cleared out an email or two.

And I recorded a podcast.

OK, to be accurate, I was interviewed as a part of someone else's podcast, but let's not quibble over semantics.

Debby Peters (yes, she is a relation) of CNP of Ohio, Ltd interviewed me as a guest on her biweekly podcast, Networking on the Chin. We used a pretty cool, free service called Talkshoe. It does everything for you except actually speak. It provides a central phone number where people can call in. It posts the description of the episode. It does the recording and streams it during the show and then provides it as a download afterward.

People can even choose whether they want to connect by phone or through the Web interface. All in all it's a pretty slick setup.

So, if you are considering immortalizing your words of wisdom, you might want to check them out.

Here's the recording I did today:

Or you can download the audio to listen later (9.4M)

So, have you ever recorded a podcast? What tools did you use?

Delightfully Different Dinner

Red Mesa GrillLisa and I are still on our vacation in Traverse City. Tonight we went out to a restaurant called "Red Mesa" for dinner. I mentioned this locale in a post from my business retreat earlier this year.

So, why, when there are so many options we could have explored, did I go back to a place I had been before?

Well, one part, of course, is that I wanted to show it to Lisa. The other (which actually ties in with the first) is that when I went the first time I not only enjoyed the food and service, I found it "remarkable", and I mean that literally. I've told a number of people about the place and how much I enjoyed it. While it does have Mexican food, it certainly doesn't limit itself to that one country. On it's menu are dishes from Cuba, Peru, Argentina, and Costa Rica, to name a few.

The folks who run Red Mesa could probably have created a pretty good Mexican restaurant, but instead they went an extra mile or two to become truly remarkable. As an entrepreneur, I'm trying to figure out how I can follow their example. How do I add an amazing array of dishes to my "menu" without diluting myself to the point of mediocrity?

That's a puzzle with which I think most business owners struggle. I'm far from saying that I have the answer, but the first step is recognizing the problem, right?

So, how do you add variety to your "menu" and become remarkable?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Getting Away from the Everyday

vacation viewLisa and I are off on vacation in Traverse City. While we are both still working, this has already proven to be a most relaxing time. Even a working vacation gets you clear of the normal daily noise and gives you time to reflect and relax. You come back energized and ready to face whatever your normal life has planned for you.

Similarly, your job or your business might need a little vacation shake-up.

Doing the same-old same-old day in and day out is sure to result in half-hearted and mediocre work. Every once in a while you need to break out and try something new.

  • Take a class.
  • Read a book.
  • Go on a retreat.
  • Try a new piece of software.
  • Visit a new networking group.
  • Work from a new location.
  • Volunteer to work on a new project.
  • Write an article.
Heck, by even just changing up your normal schedule, you might be surprised by the increase in your interest and effectiveness of what you do. Give it a shot!

So, what did you do recently to change up your business or job?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Never-ending Classroom

classroomOn Mondays I attend my sales course with my coach, Joe Marr. I've been going to the class since February of this year. It's a slow process (due to the student, not the teacher), but I think my sales technique is slowly improving.

In class today, I was struck by an amusing thought. I don't know if you remember being in grade school and thinking "Oh, I can't wait to get out of school." The whole goal was to get past all of this education.

Wouldn't my younger self have been surprised to learn that I am still attending classes (and paying for them out of my own pocket, to boot!).

Those of us who've been out of our K-12 and even our college education for a while recognize one of the fundamental truths of the world. If you aren't working to improve, then you are falling behind.

As an entrepreneur I certainly can't afford to fall behind.

So, back into the classroom I go.

So, how have you been educating yourself recently?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Catching the Moments

Today I'll be working on my most recent requirement for my Black Belt. This time we had to research a form (or kata) that hasn't been used in our style for over 30 years. Fortunately, we did find someone who knew it and was able to teach it to us.

Now that we know it, our teacher, Professor Hafner, wants us to make a DVD of it.

Thinking of doing this kind of makes me chuckle. I've been around long enough to remember back when CD players cost hundreds of dollars (heck, I remember when they didn't exist). To create a CD required equipment which cost thousands. DVD's weren't even a twinkle in someones eye.

Now we don't think twice about burning our precious memories onto these fragile plastic discs.

My wife and I are expecting a baby girl in November. I wonder what new technologies will be on our desks when she's getting her black belt?

So, what precious memories have you saved to DVD?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cleaning the Windows

windowIt's funny how life can get so cluttered and dusty and murky and we don't even notice.

Lisa and I spent the morning cleaning the screens and windows in our house. Everything sparkles now, but more importantly, I realize now what I was missing. The dust and grime that had built up since the last time we cleaned had taken away from the enjoyment of the view and I hadn't even noticed.

How many of us live our lives this way? I know I used to.

Did I get out of shape overnight? Or was it that extra dessert I ate or the walk I skipped -- over and over?

Did my desk suddenly become cluttered? Or did I just not take the time to put stuff where it belonged -- over and over?

Did I suddenly wake up one day numb to my life? Or did I make one small compromise in my happiness -- over and over?

The other funny thing about cleaning the windows? It really didn't take as long as I thought it would. Just a couple of hours -- a couple of hours spent on a task which had some very nice visible results.

Sometimes "cleaning the windows" is just that easy. For example, taking a moment at the end of each day to put my desk back in order certainly is easy enough for me to accomplish.

Sometimes it isn't so easy...

...but the "view" when it's done is all worth it.

So, when was the last time you "cleaned your windows"? Was the "view" worth it when you were done?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Looking at Things from All Sides

safari logoI've been working on the Community Housing Network project over the past few days. Among other things, we're completely revamping the look of the site. My graphic designer came up with a beautiful new look and now I just have to make it work within the Drupal framework (Drupal is the content management system which CHN uses on their site).

This stuff is actually pretty fun for me. I treat it as any other puzzle and just have a good time coming up with tricks and techniques to make things work the way I want them to. There is one tiny little challenge, though, that really gets under my skin.

I have to own about nine different computers to adequately test everything.

After I've done all my work, I have to test the system on a variety of different operating systems and browsers. What looks perfect under Firefox running on Linux (my main desktop machine) will likely look slightly different from a Windows box running Internet Explorer 7. It in turn will look different from a Mac running the Safari browser.

It's a small thing, but to really have a professional site, you need to take this into account.

Fortunately for me, someone else must have been having these same problems, because theres a site now which will test your pages under all combinations of browsers under these three operation systems. It's called Browser Shots and it's a tool any good designer should have in their arsenal.

At least until you can afford to own nine different computers!

So, how well does your site stand up to different platforms and browsers?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Measuring Makes Improvement

measuring stickOne of the techniques my sales coach, Joe Marr, advises is to maintain a daily "A/B" journal. In it I track my "attitudes" (my feelings about myself) and my "behaviors" (the actions I take).

The idea is threefold.

First, my relative success as a salesperson shouldn't affect my image of myself. If I mark that self-image on a scale from one to ten, it stands to reason that my behavior will be limited by wherever I place myself on that scale. If I see myself as a four out of ten person (pretty low), then how can my behavior in my business role exceed who I think I am?

Second, the act of recording my behavior -- in this case, the actions I take toward making sales -- allow me to observe my technique. This way I can reinforce those practices which lead to success and correct those which lead to, well, "other destinations". I hesitate to call them "failures". So long as I learn from the situation, I achieve some level of success.

Finally, the journal acts as a means of self-accountability. Each day I review the previous day's activities. Did I attend the events I said I was going to attend? Did I call the people I said I was going to call? It's all right there in black and white (as is my critique of how well I performed).

I've been using Google Docs as my tool of choice for the task. I whipped up a quick template for a daily page and just make a copy of it each day for my record keeping.

I've only been doing it now for about ten days, but so far it seems to be working pretty darn well. Have I closed a whole slew of deals, yet? No, not really.

But I'm making more and better connections than before when I wasn't keeping track.

So, what behaviors are you measuring in order to improve?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Artrain Goes Offrail

ArtrainToday we had our monthly meeting of the graduates of the Leadership Ann Arbor class of 2007. One of the members of this group is my buddy, Brian Tolle. Brian is not only the President of the Tolle Group, an organizational leadership consulting firm in Ann Arbor, but also a board member for Artrain. Today he had some sad news for us.

Artrain is leaving the tracks.

For many years now, the cars which house the Artrain exhibit have been transported to far-flung communities by attaching them to the ends of freight trains. Unfortunately for the exhibit, the railroad tracks in the United States are over capacity and, as a result, it's become more and more difficult to travel to distant areas reliably.

That being the case, the board finally made the difficult decision to stop the train. Artrain will finish up the year and then the cars will be sold off. An era will end.

Don't worry too much, though, as Artrain will be reborn as a fleet of specially designed semi-trucks. This will not only allow the exhibit to carry on, but will also give it access to the 60% of the country which doesn't have rail service.

So, if you find that Artrain will be showing up in a town near you, I recommend you stop in and see it. If you can't, be sure to catch it the next time it rolls into town in its new incarnation.

I guess that just like any other business, even a mobile art museum has to roll with the times and adjust to the changing scenery.

So, when was the last time you had to adjust your business because the world had changed?

15 Minutes

I haven't been writing much recently. I think part of the problem is that I can't seem to write a short entry. I end up writing paragraph upon paragraph and searching for just the write graphic. Before I know it, I've invested an hour or two into writing a single post.

So, I think this has to change. I'm going to try to write a few posts in only 15 minutes. I'm hoping that they will be short, to the point, and will encourage me to tighten up my writing.

For tonight, I'm just going to include a video of my most recent Black Belt exam. This one was a tonfa form (think of a police night stick).

In the martial arts, as with most human pursuits, a practitioner has a variety of specializations upon which he can focus. To be truly memorable, though, he must choose one upon which he will lavish his attention. Many years ago, I started my training in martial art weapons (Kobudo). As a result of that focus, I'm now the primary weapons instructor at the school I attend.

Similarly, I've had to focus my business. I could have tried to become an "everything for everyone" web development business, but I've found that I am happier and more memorable as a back end web programmer.

So, how do you specialize?