Friday, February 29, 2008

The Future for Artrain

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

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

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

... transformer trucks.

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

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

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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Random Notes to Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you remember your concepts and inspirations?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Baskets and Bags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Freelancing Advice

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

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

So, what blogs are you following lately?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't Surprise Me!

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

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

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

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

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

I clicked on the "Delete" button.

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cleaning Up

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


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

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

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

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

But that's just the way I do things.

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

Saturday, February 23, 2008

That Which is Measured...

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

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

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

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

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

So, what aspects of your business do you measure?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Questioning the Technician's Mind

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

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

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

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

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

I think I can go one better.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jott Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Unshared Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Little Catching Up

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

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

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

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

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

So, what projects have you been working on recently?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Farewell, NoMonthlyFees

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

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

I even referred a number of my clients to them.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Getting Snowed Under

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what's your plan?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Trust Me, It's Not You

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

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

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

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

No matter what the system designers think.

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

Friday, February 15, 2008

Showing the Way

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

Those who've already reached Black Belt.

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

I actually met two such folks today.

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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Do You Blog?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Keeping on Track

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

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

Maybe I need a bigger whiteboard?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cell Phone Tools

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

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

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

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

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

So, what cell phone tools would you recommend?

Monday, February 11, 2008

An SEO Primer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Always Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Year, New Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hey, I've Heard of That Guy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Me Working

Not long ago I re-read "The E-Myth, Revisited" by Michael Gerber. If you are a freelancer, self-employed consultant, or just the chief cook and bottle washer for your company, you need to read this book. If you are considering leaving your corporate job for any of the above, you need to read it twice.

Before going any further, I just want to assure you that, for me anyway, I love working for myself. It's actually a heck of a lot of fun. It's just also a heck of a lot of work.

When most people daydream about starting their own business (myself included here), all they can think about is working on interesting projects -- do the work and get paid -- without having a boss or some corporate bigwig dictating to them how it's to be done. They do the math (incorrectly) "Let's see, if I just charge $50 per hour at 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, I'll clear $100,000 in the first year. Even after taxes, I'll be doing better than I am right now! If I charge $100 per hour, then I can just work part time -- with no boss! What a deal!"

OK, the math is correct, but there are a few underlying assumptions which are faulty. The E-Myth warns about this. If you have a business, you spend 75% of your working day on the business -- prospecting for clients, doing marketing, bookkeeping, networking, etc (or managing the people who do those same tasks). You spend the other 75% of your time doing the work for which you get paid.

Yes, you, in the second row. What? The breakdown of time I've specified adds up to 150% of a working day?

Huh, imagine that. Obviously, I've made a mistake somewhere. The total should be closer to 200%. Ah well, I'll check my math after I get some work done...

So, what did you think of the E-Myth?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Clearing the Bookshelf

Back in November, I wrote about clearing out my bookshelf and putting some of my books into storage. It was about time to get things organized and make room for more of my business and technical library.

Then my blogging friend, Jacki Hollywood Brown (a professional organization expert), pointed out that books do no one any good in storage. No one reads them. They take up space. In general, unless you are planning to pull them out at a specific later date and read them (for example, when I finish building my home library) there really was no reason to keep them and every reason to give them to someone who will value and appreciate them.

So, properly chastened, I set to the task at hand. Of course, I kept my old favorites (Heinlein, Foster, Burroughs, etc), but I actually found that about half of the books, while entertaining when I read them, really didn't have the nostalgic hold on me that I originally thought. In the end, I cleared off about half of my shelves and boxed them up to go to the Ann Arbor District Library.

I found out how and where to donate the old paperbacks (and even that my collection of old science fiction was on the list of desirable books) at the Friends of the AADL site. I was expecting it to be a bit complicated, but was pleasantly surprised. Basically I just had to:

  1. Drive the books down to the downtown branch during library hours. They even let you park in the staff lot to make the drop off.
  2. Buzz the intercom.
  3. Unload the boxes of books onto a hand truck.
  4. Get a receipt.

It felt good to know that those books will be getting another read or two and it felt really good to have some space cleared on my bookshelf.

So, do you have any books that you haven't read in a while that could go to a welcoming home?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Make a Name for Yourself

Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows that I think that Scott Ginsberg is a pretty cool guy. He's got a fun way to look at the world and really "walks the talk". I even got a chance to meet him a little while back at the Women Mean Business conference back in 2006.

Scott recently released his fourth book, "Make a Name for Yourself", which I just finished reading. Personally I think this is his best one yet.

First cool thing: He actually released it for free as an e-book on his site. Yes, if you wanted, you could download and read the entire book without paying a single cent. I actually did the download, but I've discovered that I still love holding the actual hard copy edition in my hands. It certainly makes it easier to read in bed!

Second cool thing: The way he organized the whole thing. I'm no graphic designer, but the color, fonts, and general layout made the content seem even more lively. The flow of the page was easy and even fun to follow.

Third cool thing: (and this is a big one): You can enjoy and continue to profit from this book over and over. The first time I read it, I just devoured it from front to back. The chapters are short, but concept-dense and I jotted down more than one "to do" as I made my way through the book. Now, I just like to pick it up occasionally and flip to any point at random. Pretty much any chapter is likely to give my creativity a swift kick in the pants.

Beyond all of this, what he has to say has real value, especially to those of us who are out there trying to find customers (excuse me, "fans") for whatever we do. He touches on concepts of networking, "Internetworking", creativity, and, sometimes, just plain old getting things done.

If you get a chance I highly recommend you take the time to read this book. Heck, you should go out and buy it and read it. You definitely won't regret it and you'll likely have a lot of fun and even learn something along the way.

So, what was the last good book that you read?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Going Wi-Fi

As a self-employed entrepreneur, I tend to spend a lot of my working hours in my home office sitting in front of the computer. Every once in a while, though, it's nice to get out. I can pack up my laptop and head out for one of many locations around the area which offer free wi-fi.

Of course, I have some of my favorite spots (the various branches of the Ann Arbor District Library especially). Sometimes, though, I would like to meet a client in a location like a coffee shop that has connectivity. What can I do then?

Well, I could wander from shop to shop with my laptop to see whether I can connect. Or, I could call around for the information. Or I could check out an online directory of services such as

WiFiFreeSpot has listings by city and airport showing who has the free connections. Some of the information is a bit dated (there's a restaurant listed in the Ann Arbor section which doesn't exist anymore), but in general it's the most comprehensive listing I've found out there. There were even a few surprises on the list for me -- one of the local barber shops even has a free connection!

I don't know how often I'll need the service, but when it is time to get out of the house, it's nice to know I'll have a variety of options for my office away from home.

So, have you ever camped out with your laptop at a coffee shop? Did you get more or less work done?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Show Your Colors with iGoogle Themes

I've written a couple of times now about the custom themes for the iGoogle personal homepage. My favorites include the beach scene (where I swear I saw the Loch Ness Monster at around 3am one night) and the images of different planets.

Now Google has gone one step further to allow those of us with the desire and skill to make our own themes. They've got the instructions available online with everything you need to know to include your favorite sports team, the memories from your last vacation, or even your business' logo at the top of the page. What's more, if you think the theme you designed is really good, you can submit it to Google to be included in the catalog of themes available to the public.

Imagine how cool it would be as a up-and-coming graphic designer to be able to include "Created iGoogle theme used by 1000's of people" to your list of achievements!

So, what images would you use for your personal home page?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Welcome Bag and a Small World

I'm slowly catching up with my life now. It's cool, because that means that this story is only two weeks old (OK, two and a half). But seeing as my story about the Black Belt graduation was two months, I figure that it's progress.

I had a chance to sit down with another new member of the Ann Arbor Chamber a couple of weeks ago. Bill MacConnel of Next24, Inc was a lot of fun to chat with. He has a boundless energy and positive outlook about him that just couldn't help but lift your spirits.

Bill had started his company only days before we met, but I could tell that, with the kind of enthusiasm and "dive in" spirit he has, that the customers of his advertising media firm will undoubtedly be very happy they decided to go with him. Of course, Bill has actually been in the ad business for many years, but finally decided that he was ready to commit to the next chapter in his life. Hmm. Sounds familiar.

Ironically, when we were talking we hit on the subject of the martial arts. It turns out that his son is taking Judo classes from Nick Suino down at the Japanese Martial Arts Center. Nick was the same guy who helped me prepare for one of my black belt tests. Nick also happens to be a lawyer who specializes in the needs of small business and who will be helping me with some aspects of Cyber Data Solutions, LLC.

But, back to Bill. If you do happen to run into him at one of the Chamber events, be sure to say hello. I guarantee that if you catch even the smallest amount of his energy you'll be ready to climb mountains!

So, whom have you met recently that re-energized you just by setting a great example?

Friday, February 01, 2008

It Was Spectacular .. And Then What?

In amongst all of the craziness of the holiday season and of coping with a new baby around the house, I did manage to "walk the stage" and earn my third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

December 1 was the big day. We showed up early at Huron High School, where we always have the graduation show, the "Black Belt Spectacular". We rehearsed the show once on stage, and then the big show was upon us. It's always a blur, but the moment that one of the instructors ties on your new belt inevitably sears itself onto your brain. It's a wonderful feeling of achievement, surrounded by the people with whom you've trained for three or seven or ten years.

And then it's over. Come Monday I was back in my regular classes. The only thing that had really changed was that I had one more stripe on my belt.

It's a lot like setting up a website. No, bear with me here...

Peter Gluck and I,
after the show
You spend a lot of time working toward that big day when the site is going to go live. You and your developer pick colors, design graphics, craft text. You put all of that effort into it and then it goes live.

And then the next day you have to go right back to working on it -- perhaps at a lower intensity level -- but if you don't keep that content updated, then none of your visitors has any reason to come back.

Of course, a lot of people choose to let the site go. After all, it will look good for many months and even years to come. Just like the Black Belt recipient who never trains again, however, the site will begin to lose its edge.

Thanks to my good friends Kimber Householder and Norm Roller for the photos from the day.

So, when was the last time you "finished" your training and let things ride? What happened then?