Friday, December 25, 2009

Breaking off the business

Over the last 45 days or so, I've used this blog to see if I could change my focus. Specifically, I wanted to know if I could write posts tailored to entrepreneurs, organizations and businesses. I've been encouraged by those entities, whether at speaking engagements or as a consultant, to talk more on business topics. And as this is my primary vehicle to communicate, I went deep down the rabbit hole.

I used a site called Wordle to track how I've been doing. I feed Wordle the my blog's feed and it did the rest. As my feed only contains posts from November 30th on, it's a true picture of what I've been writing about.

[caption id="attachment_1267" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Word cloud based on the content of this site for the last month."]Word cloud based on the content of this site for the last month.[/caption]

With the exception of the "fishing" post I made for fun, this rings quite true with what I was trying to do. It clearly shows emphasis on doing business in the web-world of today.

But does that match what people actually want out of the blog? I don't get a lot of traffic here from search engines. It never was the goal. But that means that any key words that are used to actually bring people to the site might be more "pure" than if I had embarked on a huge SEO campaign. With the magic of Google Analytics, I can easily export the keywords used to bring traffic to the site. And when I export that list over to Wordle, the picture changes:

[caption id="attachment_1268" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Word cloud for keywords used to find this site"]Word cloud for keywords used to find this site[/caption]

It would appear that my reputation precedes me. There are few "business" words here, and a fair amount of social media. But the key terms seem to be all about me. And that makes sense, since this blog was all about me and the fun things I was doing. Until about a month ago, that is.

So it's time for some changes. Yes, again. Those who were missing the old me will see more of that. Those that liked the new me and didn't even know that apparently I'm an asshole shouldn't fear too much. I'm keeping the near-daily posting going. Hopefully here and there. But most certainly there. Where, you ask? I've revived an old brand I created -- A Simpler Way -- and am repurposing it to fit my modern needs. The site isn't close to done, though I hope to be spending some quality time with it over the holiday breaks. If you want to keep up with my digital business content, I'll be posting it over there.

This site will also go through some changes, going back to it's original intent -- things I'm doing that are fun. So if you want to subscribe to both, feel free. Or if you want just one side of me, that's OK. Expect the occasional cross over. And I'm pulling lots of archives from here and posting them over there. If you think you're seeing double, you're not. It's just me moving things around.

Thanks for hanging out with me through the experiment. And hi to all the new people!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The battle between the biggest and the best

Tug of War
Image by daftgirly via Flickr
It's hard to become the biggest at something. For companies, it often means understanding market opportunities, what the masses want and beating the hell out of the competition in price. It's not a field in which individuals can play without being a part of -- or leading -- an organization.

It's hard to become the best at something. Becoming the best often means relentless dedication to excellence, innovation and detail. Here companies and individuals are on more of an even field.

But becoming the biggest and the best at something? It seems those two things are at odds with one another. And if you take stock of the companies that purport to be one or the other -- or both -- you'll see how rare it is.

The brand of beer that outsells all the rest by orders of magnitude? That doesn't make it the best. I'd argue all the ones in my refrigerators (Yes, I have more than one. I like beer.) could vie for the best, but they are a proverbial drop in the bucket when sales volume is examined.

The author making the rounds on the talk-circuit with a book that's burning up the charts? Neither are the best. But any that hard-core book fans would agree is the best is likely unapproachable by the masses.

Though it's argued often, biggest is a quantitative measurement that leaves little to interpretation. I understand that best is subjective, but it's a demonstrable qualitative characteristic. So while companies often say "we're the biggest and the best", they aren't. They may be one or the other, but it's difficult to be both.

Or is it? Here are a few examples of where I think the biggest is also the best. I'd love to get your opinion on these as well as some other examples.
  • MP3 players - The iPod reigns king in sales and in usability.
  • Ketchup - Not that I use it, but I have it on good authority that Heinz is pretty tasty.
  • Blizzard Entertainment - I'm no gamer and I understand there is a wide-range of opinion on this, but WoW seems to be one of those waves that didn't quit. And when Diablo 3 hits the stands, it'll do it again.
  • Search engines -- Google. No further discussion required, though I'm sure some of you are Quixotic enough to try.

There have to be others. Please discuss in the comments.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The missing revolution

Image representing Contenture as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase
What if you threw a revolution and no one came?

Contenture is shutting down. No, you probably never heard of them and probably won't miss them. And since I didn't even know of the company until I saw notice of their demise, I won't presume to offer cogent reasons why their business model never got off the ground. But here's the key reason they gave on their blog:

[W]e were unable to get any big publishers to use the service, which was going to be the key to our success. Without any large publishers, the economics just don’t work.

I bring this news up here as a cautionary tale in two parts:

Labels are important.
Contenture billed their service as "The Micropayment Revolution". That phrase was part of their logo on their blog. That revolution lasted exactly 192 days from launch-date to shut-down announcement. And as they say above, the revolution wasn't adopted by key entities. Revolution is a pretty serious word. It brings up serious connotations.

Lesson: Be sure the words you use match the reality of your intent.

Don't ignore the Convenience Arrow
After reading the links above that describe the business model, it seems to go backwards. Sure, blocking ads would be nice, but it does little to enhance convenience. And it's certainly not worth paying for. At least not to me. And obviously, not a lot of other people either.

Lesson: There exists a difference between annoying and intruding. One I'll pay you to get rid of. The other I'm really good at ignoring.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 5 stages of tribalization

There's been a lot of talk lately about tribes. Much of if focused on how to build them. If fact, we operate within tribes on a daily basis. As this video from TEDx USC points out, everyone is in some stage of tribalization. Even those on the outside looking in.

My initial reaction was to ask "Which stage am I in?". But that's the wrong question. The question needs to be asked of the tribes in which you are involved.

I wrote 700 words on how that all relates to me, my work, my extra time and my goals. And then I erased it. Because it doesn't matter to you. Here's a briefer summary:

  • Most employees are at stage 2. The company assumes they are at stage 3, yet puts out outward-facing communications claiming they are at stage 4.
  • Social tribes (non-work) are made up of mostly stage 3 people and a handful of 2s that stay on due to a sense of obligation. They tend to be led by a single person at 4, who is constantly battling the 3s.
  • Stage 5 is truly remarkable.

Nod to INDEX // mb for the inspiration.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

A fishin' break for teh funny

No new insightful blog post today, though I'll return to that shortly.

Instead, here's something for the media producers out there. Let it act as a reminder that what you see as the final product likely is not a true representation of what the camera captured. It's short, but I laughed until I nearly peed from 1:02 on.

For the record, I abhor fishing. Always have. Yes, I grew up in the sticks and have done it. On numerous occasions. The only thing I'd rather do less than fishing? Watch fishing shows. But if someone created the Outake Channel, I'd subscribe.

Cast of the rod to Blunt for the catch!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Little changes, little rewards

Pink Princess Birthday Cupcakes
Image by abakedcreation via Flickr
This post inspired by a nice soak in the steam room, my little reward for breaking my 1+ year sabbatical from working out.

None of us have it figured out. No one has achieved perfection. Supreme enlightenment is at best unattainable and at worst a scam.

There always remains a stone unturned. A nook unprodded. A path unexplored. For all of us. Even for those who always seem to be first, there was a time when they didn't know about it either.

We all fall short of our goals. We take missteps and often time make mistakes. Occasionally we screw up royally and get embarrassed by our own ineptitude.

So when you figure something out, celebrate. When you discover something new, have fun with it. And when you crawl back on the wagon horse, ride on.

Go ahead and reward yourself. But keep the scale of your accomplishment in mind. Somethings are worth shouting about. Most that I've mentioned above are not. Yes, they are important. Yes, they can lead to bigger things. Yes, you should feel good about what you've done. But little changes deserve little rewards.

When you're done, go work toward something truly big. You can scream about that.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Do you need a website to do business online?

11 Cloned Men Went To Mow, Went To Mow A Meadow !
Image by Bobasonic via Flickr
The future is almost here. No, really. In a few days it will be 2010. That's the future.

As of late, I've been writing a lot about business. Specifically, how the digital world changes what it means to be "in business". A catch phrase I've been using over the last year is this: Doing business online means more than just having a first-class website. And while I believe that is true, I wonder if the statement goes far enough? I wonder if, instead, I believe this:

It is possible to do business online without having your own website.

Heretical? Not really. And not all that ground-breaking. I first heard about eBay from a neighbor almost a decade ago. A significant portion of his income came from trading baseball cards on the site. He didn't have his own website until the last few years. I've ran a digital media consulting practice for the last two years without a site for said practice, though I'll concede that this site helps and that I used prior connections to secure clients.

The web of today provides smart businesses many chances to make connections without having a dedicated website. So yes, it's possible to do business without one. I'm not advocating you abandon your website. But I do challenge you to consider the role your site plays today. Think of where your customers or prospects are and be there. Spend at least as much time building and maintaining your presence out there as you do on your own site.

Maybe more?

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Exceeding by reducing choices

Beer wall from an #evfn at Whole Foods
Image by evo_terra via Flickr
Given the choice, I think every business would choose to be remarkable. Certainly no one in business wants to provide a bad business experience. But I'm more troubled by those in business satisfied to deliver a staple experience.

Staples are things you have to have, or need on a regular basis. The "general store" of old comes to mind. Competition really didn't come into play, as they tended to be the only game in town. It may not have been pretty to shop in, but they had what you needed. And if they didn't, you probably didn't know you needed it.

Today, businesses in the staple-market compete on one thing and one thing only -- price. Margins are razor-thin. Service and selection are commoditized. Success is measured by volume. Customers are lured in by items offered below cost in the hope that an impulse decision may result in a slightly higher profit item being sold. Some companies have made loads of money this way. Some entire industries operate under this principle. There is a success path here, if that is your true intent.

There exists a direct relationship between choice and staple-ness.

It's hard to offer a multitude of choices and succeed at all of them. It's difficult to try and meet every conceivable need and almost impossible to exceed them all. If you're lucky, you do one or two things really well. The rest? Filler. And those things you don't knock out of the park may be doing harm to your business or your brand.

Consider the restaurant that offers dozens of entrées. Do you go there because the all the food is fantastic? What about any of the food? Chances are, you eat there because it's fast (relatively speaking), decent (relatively speaking), cheap (relatively speaking) and predictable.

Alternately, consider the establishment that is really known for one or two things. Chances are, they offer a more limited -- more exclusive, if you will -- list of items that they kick-ass on. Every. Time. Because of the limited selection, they can also be fast enough and (relatively) affordable. But these places offer a product that is far above decent. Predictable? Only to those who are regulars, and they often drag their friends along just to see the look on their faces when they taste something truly remarkable.

Those same rules apply to almost any small business or entrepreneur. Focus on that which you do better than anyone else. While it's hard -- if not stupid -- to turn away business, understand the possible risk if you fail to not just meet, but exceed your customers' expectations.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Help needed from history and anthropology buffs

A campfire
Image via Wikipedia
For the past year or so, an idea for a new book has been rolling about in my brain. I registered a new domain for it today and want to start formalizing my thoughts. Much of that will come out in this blog. That may spill over to the other domain. And I'll probably try out the concepts in a variety of settings to see how the concept plays out.

Speaking of that: Here's an early chance for you to get involved. The central conceit is simple: as a culture, we move constantly toward as state of increased convenience. I've played with it from a few angles, and that always seems to be the case. There probably exists the odd edge-case or two, and individuals and even small-ish groups can decide to move in the opposite direction. But I'm talking about entire societal blocks. Terms like "Americans" and "industrialized nations" describe the groups I'm looking for.

Tell me examples where large societal blocks moved away from a more convenient lifestyle to a lessor one.

History has provided a few of those. The great civilizations of Mesoamerica come to mind. But I'm building in an out-clause for those shifts that a great calamity or disaster caused, or when dystopia forced our adaptable brains to go another direction. I'm looking for those cases where a conscious decision to "go backwards", if you will, was generally adopted before the disaster struck. Before people looked around and said "Wow, there's nothing left to eat and everyone else is dead. Guess I better remember how to use a sharpened stick to skewer some of these rats."

I'm looking for examples of ebullient societies -- maybe even organizations? -- who decided to not just right their course, but to abandon some trappings of convenience and go "back to a simpler time" on their own. I don't think it's happened. But I'm willing to be wrong and start adjusting my thought process around it.

I don't think this book is going to leave my head unless I write it down. I appreciate your help way way in advance.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

My inner math geek mucks up business metaphors

I Told You, Im good in Math. ;D
Image by Beni Ishaque Luthor via Flickr
My inner math geek squirms a bit each time I pass along this equation:

CwF + RtB = $$

That's inspired by Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails and simplified to the above by Mike Masnick of TechDirt. It describes the approach Nine Inch Nails is taking to marketing and business in the hyper-connected world. A world where -- at least for creatives -- fans are finding ways to bypass the big labels and houses for their purchases. And for many, it's working. But back to my inner squirming.

The equation isn't mathematically sound1. CwF means Connect with Fans. It's not a hard value, but it does represent the whuffie your business2 has built up with your key consumers over time. It doesn't happen overnight. It's more than just having a blog. And it's different for every single business out there, so stop trying to duplicate and start trying to learn and apply.

RtB is a Reason to Buy. It starts with an opportunity to buy. Examine the purchasing process from the eyes of a customer. Do you have more than one? Do you have your products and services in every venue where you customers might what to buy? But it doesn't end there. You have to give people a reason to buy. Price can be a reason, but only if I want it. And then only if you're the cheapest. Reasons are different for every business, so take my same advice on resisting the urge to copy. Apply instead.

Both CwF and RtB are worthy topics that require deep dives on their own. This short blog post won't do it. And I want to get back to my mathematical squirming.

In reality, neither one of the two variables can be zero. If you never connect with your fans, the fantastic reasons to buy won't make you any money. Or if you relentlessly connect but never give an opportunity or reason to purchase, you won't make any money. And that's my problem with the equation.

I think CwF * RtB = $$ is better, though I'm not sure if the data would support it. And now I'm going way too far in the weeds with this, so I'll stop now before I have to break out a Calculus book.

How are you connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy?

1 - Yes, I know it's just a metaphor and I should just relax. But you obviously don't know me.

2 - When I say business, I mean business. If you're selling something (note the $$ at the end of the equation), then you are in business. Not a big one, but it's business.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

5 Best Social Media Tools for Business You're Not Using

2008-09-11 Social Media Club Phoenix edition
Image by chuck-reynolds via Flickr
Tonight at Social Media Club the topic is a deep dive into blogging, a panel discussion lead by Chris Conrey. Prior to the main event, I'm once again hosting Social Media 101.

The Phoenix chapter of SMC has grown significantly in the last six months, and it's great to see people with a business-bent getting value out of the event. It's also become a lot more accessible to those new to the concepts, and I don't think I'm being too self-aggrandizing to say that the 101 classes I've been leading are contributing to that.

I think it's one of the best business-focused events taking place in Phoenix -- and it's totally free. The main event starts at 6:30p at the corporate offices (not the Stadium). But at 5:30, I'll be leading a short and hopefully interactive discussion about the 5 best social media tools for business you're probably not using. You already know about Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. I use all three of those and they are great tools. But there are other tools I use in business that you should consider. They are:

  • Flickr - A photo sharing service. If I can use photos to help promote my free audiobook business, you can probably copy my techniques to fit your business goals.

  • SlideShare - Presentations with legs. I use this service to share my presentations with those who can't be there live. And also as a practice run before the real event!

  • - Broadcast yourself. You may not be the next Oprah, but this tool lets you have an interactive video show with your dedicated audience.

  • YouTube - The #2 search engine. The proliferation of video shows no signs of stopping. Savvy marketers will grab this fact and find ways to create new and compelling content.

  • Google Reader - The best way to consume news. It's 2009. If you're still visiting websites to see what's new, you've missed the revolution. I'll get you back on track and save you valuable time.

Remember, this class is highly interactive and 100% free. Show up, have a seat, and get ready to ask some questions. We'll break at 6:15 so there's plenty of time to make it to the main SMCPhx event that starts at 6:30. See you then!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cultivating impatience in business

1881 Programme for Patience
Image via Wikipedia
I'm not a very patient man. My sense of time has always been a few clicks faster than those around me. This helped me in academics as a kid -- but to a point. Impatience breeds boredom. And that leads to a host of issues with less-than-desirable outcomes.

But impatience can be -- over time -- channeled into a power for good. While everyone else will happily continue to drive over the speed bumps, we impatient find a way around them. Eventually, those around us notice and start following. And without any planning or process meetings, a new and generally accepted path is formed.

Businesses can be impatient, too. I see that as a Good Thing. Impatient companies recognize a need and fill it -- now. While there's nothing wrong with analyzing conditions to see if the timing is right, sometimes that just takes too long. Or sometimes the signs are so obvious that further study simply isn't needed.

How do you adopt impatience? I don't think you can. I think you are, or you aren't. But your business can learn to be. You may have to bring in talent from the outside. You may have to look through your list of "troublemakers" and see if they truly are worthless (then fire them) or if they just want things to move faster. Don't give them the reigns, but do give them some rope. You may be surprised what they can create, and what you might learn.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Strengthen your connections

Melting Ice
Image by vitroid via Flickr
Don't underestimate the value of connections. While we (and by we I mean I) sometimes get caught up looking for ROI and hard, measurable facts, some things are more esoteric. Yet just as valuable.

When Google bought YouTube, they thought the asset was the impressions the videos would deliver. What they found more valuable was the connections and conversations people were having around and because of those videos.

Today, you can't have a network without the connections. Some connections between you and others are incredibly strong. When you start noticing the same people at events and see the same names on email, comments or other outreach, that's an indication of a strong connection.

But strong connections aren't conducive to growth, either personal or the growth of the network itself. And while it can happen, strong connections make it difficult for others to join in the connection. So instead, we tend to keep increasing the strength of our own connections, since that's easier than breaking in. I think that approach misses the mark.

Spend less time strengthening strong connections.

If your connection with another person is truly strong, it will survive a bit of neglect on your part. I know that people will tell you that relationships take work. I've found that not to be the case. At least, not a significant amount of work. And if it does, then it's probably a relationship I'm probably not going to miss.

Rather, spend your time shoring up tenuous connections. Reach out to those you're loosely connected to, and make those connections stronger. You'll quickly find yourself exposed to new ideas, new people and new opportunities. And those other strong connections? Still rock solid. Now you have even more.

Which tenuous connection will you work on strengthening first?

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New FTC guidelines for bloggers are a bigger challenge for marketers

Image via Wikipedia
Changes to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines on endorsements and testimonials were made active on December 1. And seven days later, I'm happy to report that I, a blogger, have not been sued. Neither, chance are, have you.

There was a huge stink about these proposed changes a few months back. Mob mentality won over common sense, and the assumption was that bloggers were going to be fined $11,000 if they failed to mention the book they just reviewed was purchased from Barnes & Nobel with a 15% coupon.


What do the new guidelines mean for bloggers?

Probably nothing. The overview by the FTC on this page is pretty good, but I think this short PDF of the revised guidelines is even better. And if you want the whole story, check this 81 page PDF. It's overkill, but for the complete-ists out there; have at it. But back to "probably nothing".

The new guidelines -- the first change to the endorsements & testimonials section since 1980 -- require marketers to be honest, forthright and clear when using endorsements and testimonials. What a crazy concept. If you're the endorser or provider of the testimonal -- bloggers, for the purpose of this discussion -- then you have an obligation to do the same and disclose if you were compensated for your endorsement.

Chances are, you already do that. And if you don't; start. It requires you do nothing more than say "Ford let me drive this new car for a week, and here's what I think". Again, you probably do this already.

Marketers are responsible for what compensated endorsers say.

That's the biggest change. If Snapple sends out free samples of a new beverage to specific bloggers as part of an outreach campaign, they have an obligation to make sure the endorsements are real and true. That's an oversimplification, but it's close enough. If one of those bloggers posts about how the drink cured them of lung cancer, the marketer is on the hook. The blogger is on the hook as well, and probably by more than just the FTC.

My advice to bloggers is simple:
  1. Don't lie. If your really didn't think it was the best ever, don't say it was. Don't shill.
  2. Disclose received compensation. Getting it for free for the purpose of blogging or tweeting about it is compensation. Getting a free sandwich because you bought nine others is not.

My advice to marketer is even more simple:
  1. Don't try and deceive. "Results not typical" will be a thing of the past. Finally.

And yes, the fine for infractions can be up to $11,000 per occurrence. Will you get caught if you break the new laws? I sincerely hope so.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Don't scare off the new people

Image by Getty Images via Daylife
There are only two types of "visitors" to your website, blog, profile, or account page1: Those who've never seen any of your stuff before, and everyone else. Converting the new visitor to a repeat visitor is a key goal for anyone in business. The definition of conversion varies, and we'll get deeper into that in the coming posts. But a high-level goal should be moving that new person into the "everyone else" column.

First impressions mean everything to this group. They will be making snap decisions about you based on your most recent post on your blog, update to Facebook, image on Flickr, tweet via Twitter, video on YouTube, episode of your podcast, or whatever action you do on whatever platform you're doing it from.

Your most recent update should always be your best.

It should also be indicative of the kinds of things you want to be known for on that platform. That makes it hard to post anything other than that which you want to be known for. And that makes for a boring, monolithic platform.

The fix is easy. Though it's easier on some platforms than others. In fact, I've done it with this blog post. It's not the most recent post I've made, though new folks would never known it.2 I back-dated the post I wanted to make so that it showed up below this post and deeper in the RSS feed. The "everyone else" I mentioned before are probably getting this via RSS or email, so they won't miss it. Those that are more casual checkers may miss it, but so what? It's not like the post was all that critical. This one is the important one.

Not all platforms will let you do that. So that last tweet is what people who hit your Twitter page will see. You can't back-date on Facebook or Flickr either. So it's a good idea to hold some gems in reserve. Then you can post that whimsical update followed quickly by something of more value to the new person.

Or... you could recognize that personal branding is pretty fractured, and you don't have to be the same thing in all places. You never want to stop being a human, and if cutting up in public is part of who you are -- it's sure as heck who I am -- then do it and don't worry about it. I do it just about everywhere else but here (as of late).

But even still, I think I could do a better job of putting my best foot forward on platforms other than this. Now to determine if I care or not. Do you?

1 - This assumes they come in through your front door, as if someone told them to check you out online. Searchers are a totally different breed, as Google cares little for taking people to your home page and instead wants to take them straight to the content they want. More on this in the future.

2 - Well, they wouldn't have known if I didn't spill the beans with this post!

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A little cleanup to the categories

A little cleaning of the blog
Image by evo_terra via Flickr
I spent a LOT of time cleaning up the categories on this blog. Now that I've shifted directions a bit, my old structure didn't make a lot of sense.

I didn't delete the old stuff1. And none of the old links to content should change at all. But you should notice a much cleaner "Things I write about" section. Lots of consolidation, and I'm trying to get better at tagging. It's probably the thing I do the worst in new media.

But I did notice a lot of content like the new stuff I've been cranking out. But you probably missed it, as it was sprinkled in here and there with a bunch of goofball posts. You can find all of these new little gems under A Good Idea. Seemed a fitting category.

And for those of you saying "Hey, we're the goofball posts we used to get from you over the last three years?" You'll probably still see them from time to time. But now, they'll be the ones sprinkled in. For now.

1 - Well, that's not entirely true. I did delete the auto-posts from and Twitter I was doing back in the day. That was just dumb and won't be missed.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Clients and consultants both bring skills to the table

Image by badlogik via Flickr
As a consultant, I get to work with a wide range of clients. My sweet spot is in transitional periods with an emphasis on making the transition to digital. Last year, I had the pleasure of working with a C-suite executive transitioning from a 30+ years at a single company to launching his own business initiative.

Like many fledgling businesses, this new venture suffered from perception problems. In this case, those deeply involved in the industry -- his potential client base -- didn't recognize the change his venture offered. His was not a case of solving a symptom rather than a problem. In his case, consumers were clamoring for the change but the industry was slow, if not flat out reluctant, to respond.

Together, we collaborated on a communication plan to get those reluctant C-suite executives in the space exposed to the change. The communications would also serve as ammunition for more progressive executives in the space pushing for similar change. I'll admit it was a challenge for me to come down from the bleeding edge and understanding how his peers both consumed and shared information.

Blend your smarts with your clients' smarts.

While I had spent over a decade in the same industry and was incredibly close to the change he was counting on for his new business, his knowledge of the inner-workings the C-suite was invaluable to the success of the initiative. This was an audience for whom the height of communication was checking -- though probably not sending -- email on their company-supplied Blackberry. So you can imagine I didn't lead with an effort to gain a top placement on Digg.

And it's working. The success of our rather complex plan and his overall business model hinged on getting meaningful exposure. He's now a contributing author for the industry's top publication. His words are now directly communicated to his peer group, whether they read the magazine offline (and you can't walk into any of these people's office without seeing the most current issue) or online. Not with ads. Not with stories of doom and gloom if they don't adapt. But with logical, well-thought and reasoned discussions on the changing nature what consumers have come to expect and how the industry can make subtle shifts to give them what they want.

If you care about how the internet is changing the tire industry, Mike has that and other articles posted in the last few months on Modern Tire Dealer.

Now... how can I help you?

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Passing on the wagons

Sheep Herdin'
Image by devehf via Flickr
Perhaps it is my lineage of Oklahoma settlers, but I'm not a big fan of wagons. My mom had a station wagon when I was a wee lad, and I don't remember liking that, either.

But the wagons I am speaking of are of a different sort. The first is the wagon. What used to be a metaphor for sobriety has been hijacked to mean any sort of routine. Workouts, a commitment to daily blog posts, vegetarianism, eliminating "nazi" from your lexicon... you name it. But my ire isn't with the bastardization of the term. Culture does that, and I'm OK with it.

Falling off is akin to falling down.

Don't just lie there -- do something about it! Don't flounder around for support and sympathy -- do something about it! You created the wagon. You decided to crawl upon it. No one pushed you up there. If it's a place you want to be, then be there. If you find yourself constantly slipping off, maybe it's the wrong wagon for you.

And then there are bandwagons. Snaked from the tarnished world of politics, bandwagons have become legion. In fact, they've come to represent any specific wagon referenced above that is shared by multiple individuals. But people don't fall from bandwagons.

If you don't like the direction it's going, get off.

Unless you've got the reigns, you can't steer a bandwagon. The moment it heads someplace you're uncomfortable with, get off. Find another. Or make your own. Or just start walking. All too often, those wagons are filled with sheep. Or maybe that's just how they look to us wolves.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Being an Expert Is Time-Sensitive

Example of Old\New on a studebaker
Remember when you hung out your very own "expert" shingle? Oh, there's no doubt that you deserved it. You knew as much -- if not more -- on the subject than anyone around you. And when the topic of your expertise came up, people immediately thought of you.

You received payment for the work you did for clients. And you did amazing things for clients. They referred other clients to you, and your expertise was further recognized and validated. You made ends meet and created a successful -- if not profitable -- business venture. Well done.

Or maybe you took a job with a company. They hired you as The Expert or An Expert, and you worked diligently on projects and ideas for your clients. Those clients loved the work you did for them, and your company received great referral business, solidifying you and them as true experts in the field. The company made money, you drew a steady paycheck, and life was good.

But that was last year, when you were the expert.

While you were busy being an expert, your expertise expired.

Unless your expertise is in something like Great Opera Singers of the 12th Century -- and maybe not even then -- the game is changing constantly. The milieu isn't today what it was 12 months ago. And if you're in an emerging or highly volatile field, that could be 12 weeks.

While you were busying being an expert, your skills lapsed. While you were busy being an expert, the platform moved. While you were busy being an expert, outside changes impacted your field. You didn't notice. And now you're an expert at outdated concepts.

Stay fresh.

If you're spending 100% of your time on billable work, you have no time to keep abreast of the changes in your field. If the company you work for has you cranking out paying work 40+ hours a week, then they are letting your expertise lapse, and you're becoming a limited time offer.

Cut back on the work and make time for what many professional organizations call continuing education. Attend and speak at conferences. Read publications. Try new things. Connect with other experts in your field. Connect with experts in related fields. Become part of the community.

If that means you have to raise your billable hourly rate to make up for the lost income -- do it. If that means you have to demand your employer reduce your doing-work to give you room for learning-work -- do it.

The consequences of not doing it? You cease to become the expert, and your value effectively drops to zero. And who wants to put "I used to be an expert" on a resume?

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Beware the tyranny of the ways

The Way by Alexander Liberman
Image by fotobydave via Flickr
Right Way
Two dangers here. First is the assumption that your way is a right way. Just because it works for you doesn't mean it will work for someone else. The second danger is worse: the assumption that your way is The Right Way. In reality, there is no one right way. There are many right ways.

Wrong Way
I hear the words "you're doing it wrong" all too often. Truth be told, I've uttered that phrase all too often. Not that there aren't clear-cut mistakes that are easily cured with education. If you're still forwarding funny emails to dozens of your friends using BCC, that's wrong. It may feel right and appropriate from your vantage point, and none of your friends have complained because they're too nice, but it's still wrong.

But wrong ways are often implementation issues and/or have good intentions at heart. Correcting the means can usually lead to a better expression of the idea. If you find yourself ready to correct something you see as a wrong way, be sure and offer up a solution to help make it better.

Old Way
Humans may be nostalgic creatures, but in flights of fancy alone. The fact of the matter is that progress flows one way. Old ways always always lose out as the arrow of convenience (my term) moves forward. If you're pining for a "return to..." then you are misguided and wrong. If an old way is truly that, then it remains something to reflect upon fondly. You have little hope of resurrecting it. And if a return to the old way actually does work, it simply proves that the new way didn't work out and wasn't really a new way after all. That happens rather frequently.

New Way
New doesn't mean better. New doesn't mean the old will die. New doesn't mean faster. New doesn't mean bigger. New really means something that replaces the old in a way that increases the amount of convenience for those serving or served by the process that has undergone the change. New ways tend to crop up seemingly daily; but most are false new ways. Some new ways are adopted quickly. Some take time. Some are exposed to be more trouble than they are worth, which means they weren't really new ways after all.

Unexplored Way
If you haven't tried the way, how do you know it's bad? Yes, I know your current way fits your needs perfectly. That doesn't qualify you to make judgments on other ways -- unless you've tried them. And I don't mean reading the FAQs or relying on anecdotal evidence. Until you've explored the way, your opinion of it remains uninformed. So don't speak so loudly.

Your way
And at the end of the day, none of the above matter. What works for you works for you. It may not always work for you, and you may try different ways along the... way. That's OK. You may have ways that work for you that run counter to those around you. Still very OK, though don't make the mistake of trying tell everyone moving forward why your way is better. See "old way" above.

To quote Joss Whedon via Malcom Reynolds: "I have a way?"

Yes. Yes you do.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

When data is not your friend

A simulation using the navier-stokes different...
Image via Wikipedia
Here's a new question you need to have at the ready: So what? Use it early and often, but use it primarily any time someone throws some stats or analysis at you.

I'm a data junkie. I admit it. I understood just enough in my college statistical mathematics class to prove to me that I may not be as smart as I thought I was, and that numbers can mean a hell of a lot more than they appear at first glance.

But stats are just that -- stats. Without informing any goal or objective, without providing a clear path for tactics and execution, they are simply unactionable stats. Spending too much time -- hell, any time on unactionable stats is an utter waste of your time. And a huge stress-ball you don't need.

What am I supposed to do with this?

Require your reporting team to give you something you can work with. And don't let them shove averages and trends down your throat. I think that the average is one of the worst measurement tools we have and leads to terrible decisions. But it's easy, and so we do it. Trends are just as insidious, as they lead to causefusion.

Demand data you can work with. Data that helps you solve a problem. Data that informs your goals and objectives. Not getting it? Get it. It's there. You just have to dig a bit deeper. Start by throwing out all that worthless stuff on top.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

The value of fair-weather fans

you suck, squared
Image by *0ne* via Flickr
When it comes to sports, I'm a classic fair-weather fan. I don't have a team that I stand by through thick and thin. In fact, my only "team" is the college I attended right out of high school, and then it's only the football team I care for. And I only care for them when they are winning, which they've done all too infrequently for my tastes this year.

That puts me at odds with many other "true" fans who scoff at my fickle ways. True fans, I'm told, really don't care if their team is winning or losing, but are there to constantly show their support.


At least that should be bunk for anyone trying to succeed today. Leaving sports aside for a moment, I suggest to you that you neither need nor want true fans. Not until you get really, really good at what you do. And even then, be careful. True fans are often times at best misguided and at the worst, lying. Sometimes. Because let's face it -- everything you create/write/build/paint/draw/shoot/make/bake/do isn't perfect. It can't always be OMFGTHISISTHEBESTEVER... which is about all you ever get out of your "true" fans.

Praise children. Be honest with adults.

I wrote about the fine line between false praise and encouragement about this time last year. Perhaps it's the season. And while that still holds true, I didn't go far enough to encourage creators to seek out and cultivate fair-weather fans. Hearing praise and accolades is nice, to be sure. But for how long? And is it really helping you get better at what you do?

While you're out there trying to relentlessly connect with fans -- a great idea -- demand them to be relentless in return. And when the critiques come in, don't shy away. Don't bury yourself in the mounds of praise you received from your "true" fans. Examine the critique. See where it fits. Ask around. Take it under advisement. And when necessary, get better. How else will you know you need to if they don't tell you?

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Surviving in a reputation-based economy

help wanted
Image by kandyjaxx via Flickr
When I walk into a room, I assume I'm the smartest person there. Call it a character flaw if you will, but it's really a survival trait expressed in the modern world. But my self-described smarts come at a price -- I lack the ability to actually do many things. I've managed to excel in the world of digital media and web development without knowing how to code, design, layout or architect. That's not to say I'm completely clueless in these areas. But I know enough to know what I don't know. And that's where the survival trait comes in.

To borrow a phrase, I get by with a little help from my friends.

I don't use those smarts to brow-beat the others around me. I use them to add to my ever-growing repository of would-be collaborators. Collaborators I need not only for my own flights of fancy, but for external projects and opportunities that find their way to me.

Showcase your skills for free...

I'm incredibly proud and fortunate to have found a vibrant and rich community in Phoenix. In every project I've been involved with -- and there are many -- I'm constantly amazed at the amount of effort put forth by volunteers who ask for nothing in return. If you don't have that in your community, I'm very sorry. Work on building it.

It's out of those "free jobs" that I find the majority of my collaborators. I've been turned on to talented designers, legendary coders, non-evil SEO types, gifted writers, cerebral typographers... the list goes on. And while they probably don't know it, I've been indexing and cataloging their skill sets, waiting for the right opportunities to show up. And they have. And I've been happy to either refer jobs out, sub them out or even collaborate together so we all see income from the final products. That's what I do.

... but treat the free jobs like you would a real job.

But understand that Meritocracy is the law of the land. Assume that in every pro-bono job you do or community effort your a part of, someone watching has potential work for your or is a potential client. We're watching your efforts and the efforts of others around you. Yes, we appreciate you -- and the rest of us -- are working for free. Yes, we appreciate that you -- and the rest of us -- have other paying gigs that sometimes take precedent. But you should recognize that how you work on the free project is how we assume you'll work on a paid project.

The fact is that we -- like you -- have options. All things being equal, we'll go with those who have shown themselves to be dependable when they only thing they could count on was a "nice job" from the rest of us.

We're moving to a reputation-based economy. How is yours?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Trying out Google Friend Connect

Noogle Mug
Image by evo_terra via Flickr
Google Friend Connect is by no means new. Heck, it's not even all that exciting. And for many, it's just one more failed effort by Google at enabling or facilitating the social web.

Call Google what you will, but I don't think stupid is a fair description. And GFC seems to embrace many of the open web standards that I think will soon become the norm. So with that, I'm adding it to the site.

You'll notice a spot in the sidebar to "friend" my site. And to make this a total popularity contest -- at least over the weekend -- I'm adding a "top 10" gadget to this post. When I first posted this today, I'm my only friend. Kinda sad. So do something about that, if you're of a mind to.

And yes, I know there are loads of other resources like this. But I did mention this was Google, right? I'd be foolish to discount them out of hand. Which is what I've done with GFC for the last three years. Hey, I can be taught too, right?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Avoid monoculture blogging

monocultures two "hell"
Listen to enough "blogging experts" and you'll hear a common theme: blog about one thing and one thing only!

I think that's bad advice.

I'm willing to concede that many bloggers do in fact blog about one thing and one thing only. I'm willing to concede that they probably wouldn't have as large of an audience as they do if they didn't blog about one thing and one thing only. But as I said yesterday in many more words, your mileage may vary on "expert" advice.

There's a very simple reason why I don't give this advice to blogging novices -- they're boring. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but the odds are that your first dozen posts or so are going to be about as interesting as carpet fiber science. They are going to be so mind-numbingly unexciting that you're going to lose interest -- quickly. It won't be of any big loss to your readers... because you'll have none. With few exceptions, new blogs aren't read by any sizable audience. That's why I recommend newbies to blogging start out with a Tumblr account -- and not tell anyone about it.

Blog early and often!

Write about anything and everything to get in the habit of blogging. Write about a huge variety of things to discover the mechanics of blogging. Use pictures from Flickr for inspiration, or join Plinky to get "prompts". Make really long posts. Make quick-and-dirty posts. Hell, make dirty posts if you like, experimenting with vulgarities and cursing if that's part of your personality. It's party of mine. Fuck. [checks] Nope. The world didn't end.

Once you've figured out your voice and have your blogging routine in tip-top shape, then it's time to start worrying about how to blog better/make money/grown an audience/stop pissing people off. But if you start from square one looking for advice from the leaders in the space, you're setting yourself up for failure. Sure, Lance Armstrong is a good person to give biking advice. But last time I checked, you couldn't enter the Tour de France if your bike has training wheels.

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