Monthly Archives: May 2008

How Come it Always Gets Busier?

Life seems to get busier every month. Discouraging, because I’m not even hanging on sometimes when something new comes along and demands another segment of my time.

It is often GOOD stuff. But what I struggle with most is balancing the need for now against the need for the future. I have a class coming up, and I have client contracts due. I have to prepare curriculum, and I have to work for my clients. Then I have requests from clients that come in sporadically (usually 5-6 per day), that I have to prioritize and work in around the other stuff.

Sometimes it is a delegation issue – I sometimes forget to delegate some of those niddly little things that I could just forward to Kevin. I’m getting better about that though, as he would assure you!

Sometimes it is just knowing which of the ten top priority items is the MOST important item. Do I do something that will earn us in the future, or do I speed up what will earn now? It isn’t as simple as it seems, because if I focus too much on now, I’ll be left with nothing then. So I have to keep up with now, but I also have to get some things done that will ensure that I still have work and income when the immediate work is done.

Somehow I have to balance family needs here too, and some of them affect income and sustainability. I have to take time from work to plant the garden. I have to take time from work to cut up the half of a beef that we bought so we could have the higher quality meat that I require, at a more affordable price. It affects our income now, but we have to do it to have what we need. A different way of supplying some of the needs more affordably.

So all of this has got me swamped until I get over the hump. I’m working on strategies to do that, and some are having an effect which is good. My blogs have suffered though – the few hours a week I need for them have been swallowed up in class prep, garden prep, and meat processing.

Meanwhile, I have clients contacting me saying, “I have to put this on hold, my life just exploded on me.” And I can only say, “I understand!” After telling one client that, and adding, “If I cloned myself, I’d just be twice as far behind.”, she responded, “You really DO understand!”.

I’ve come to understand that busy is good. It helps us figure out what is really important. But it is also an opportunity for growth that we should learn from. And I am making the attempt to do that!

Blatant Abuse on Merchant Circle

I hear people tell me what a great networking arena Merchant Circle is. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m just not seeing it. I’m seeing a lot of pseudo-networking going on, with people gaming the system, but I’m not seeing any real opportunities to connect in a meaningful way.

Here is what people are doing:

Merchant Circle allows people to review other businesses, to give a comment on services or products received. The purpose is stated as giving people a way to get good info on other businesses, from customers.

Only members are using it in a way that can only be called unethical. They get in and review each other – when they’ve not so much as even TALKED to another person. “This business is great.” from someone I’ve never heard of. I’ve had two reviews. I don’t reciprocate those, though they obviously expect me to do so. I will not perjure my integrity to get a comment which isn’t worth the time it took to type.

It is all false, and dishonest. That isn’t what the system was set up for. If it were my website, I’d penalize anyone who reviewed a business falsely. Otherwise, the entire system is just a hollow pretense.

Three Way Call Solves It

She had a problem. Her site wasn’t working. She called her hosting company, and after long discussions, they concluded that the problem was with the domain registrar. She called the domain registrar. They talked with her and said the problem must lie with the hosting company. She asked the tech to hold for a moment, and put in a three way call to include the hosting company rep. Then she said, “There… you two work it out.”

What I love about this is that you do sometimes get caught in the middle of things, and sometimes we either lack the skill, or the ingenuity to devise a solution. This solution solved it – directly.

Being caught in the middle, when you are the one with the problem, is very frustrating. Sometimes you feel like nobody really cares whether your problem is solved or not, that they just want to get you to go away so they can mark it done.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve explained a problem to tech support, just to have them send back a pat solution which I already tried (and SAID I tried in the initial email), only to have to turn around and tell them again that this was not what I needed. That is such a regular occurrence that I think tech support people fail to read anything if they can help it.

But getting caught in one of those situations where it isn’t working, and they deny that there is any problem is the worst. Especially when you aren’t sure which company the problem is originating with.

Sometimes, you just have to get tough with them.

The Actor Makes a Difference

If you happen to hire someone to read your ad for you, you’ll find that the copy will change with the actor. The meaning can even change.

A local Mexican restaurant hires a man to do their ad. He has a rather broad speech pattern, and consistently mispronounces the name of the restaurant – in such a way that it sounds pretty stupid. Another local ad is read by a woman with a rather breathy, affected speech mannerism, and is so annoying that people turn off the radio when it comes on.

Even when you get a good voice actor, you must expect the ad to change a little. The actor will generally change a few words, to make them more comfortable to articulate, and simpler to speak. As long as the message stays intact, this is normal.

The best ad actors will not sound like they are reading. They’ll practice quite a bit before attempting a recording also, and even when they get to the point of recording, it may take several tries.

Sometimes the voice or mannerisms of the actor simply will not suit the message – like the Mexican restaurant, where they needed someone who could at least pronounce their own name in a way that sounded intelligent. A wise choice to start can avoid embarrassment later.

Whatever you do, don’t put it to music and have someone sing it unless the jingle is really good. A local bank has an ad that is an embarrassment because the words were put to a melody and rhythm that makes it nearly impossible to tell what they are saying. It does get stuck in your head, but not at all for good reasons!

The PowerPoint Crutch

Ok, I have a rant… (gets out soapbox and climbs on). Anymore, people ASSUME that if you are giving a presentation or teaching anything, that you HAVE to use PowerPoint. This assumption is responsible in large degree for a huge number of BAD presentations.

It used to be that you had to learn to present well, based on your speaking style, posture, and actions. Now, people just throw the lights, put some cheesy frames up, and talk in the background and expect that they’ve done a good presentation because they had their PowerPoint display. When I see someone who created a handout with bullet points, and then a PowerPoint display that was nothing more than text on the screen that repeated those points, I wonder why they went to the effort to produce the PP. It is redundant, and does not enhance the message at all.

I’ve seen a LOT of those lame PP presentations. PP has become a crutch for a lack of preparedness and practice – people use it to cover the fact that they are reading their stuff instead of delivering it in a more natural and spontaneous way.

I have never used one. I frequently use the projector for my classes, but not for PowerPoint – to demonstrate image techniques, show website examples, show code samples, etc. I alternate that with verbal instruction and hands-on experience for the students. I think teaching has given me the best possible experience for presentations, because it has helped me to understand how to engage the students, and to understand which things they have the hardest time grasping. I’m not the best teacher, but I am not about to create a PP presentation just so I can pretend that I am!

I think that we REALLY need to think OUTSIDE the PowerPoint box. PowerPoint is NOT a requirement to deliver a memorable presentation, it is often not even an enhancement. In fact, I’ve had someone insult me over not using PowerPoint, and they thought I was a wacko for using the Projector to demonstrate techniques! (Of course, this is the same person who thought that if I did not teach my students how to hand-code a website, that I could not possibly teach them to build a website at all!)

It is far more important that you plan for interest, comprehension, the “ah-ha” factor, and a competent delivery than that you have a PP ready! A professional presentation has less to do with PP and a LOT more to do with delivering an enjoyable and understandable message.

That means, in practical terms:

1. Plan it well so that it has a logical progression. A good presenter can present from a few notes – they don’t have to write everything down, they just need reminders, and can deliver a good deal of it spontaneously.
2. Practice for natural delivery (no one wants you to sound like you are reading).
3. Time it, and edit for time constraints.
4. Practice some more.

Usually, I practice a few times as I am creating it, again when I am timing it, and then I practice a few more times in the car on the way there (Kevin usually goes with me – and we have a LONG time in the car almost anywhere we present).

Last night we attended a presentation called “Starting a Business with Nothing”, that was supposed to be about Bootstrapping. The guy spend the first half of his presentation talking about his dream and vision for his current project. Halfway through, he finally hit the topic he came to discuss. Consequently, half of the audience sat there with a bemused look on their faces for the first half of the presentation, wondering when he would get to the point. He didn’t even tie them up into something comprehensible, when he could have – there was a great opportunity to lead from one right into the other, but he didn’t. He just quit one, picked up on the other, and didn’t relate them with one another. But he did have his PowerPoint…

This is one area where we really NEED to think for ourselves. If speaking is not a strength, then practice until it is. Because trying to prop up incompetence with bad slides just makes it worse.

Workable Back Doors

There are no shortcuts in business. Not really. People who sell shortcuts are invariably trying to cheat you.

However… There is knowledge, experience, strategy, tools, and methods for achieving results, which can be taught, or shared.

People get in trouble when they go into business with the naïve sense that they can just do what they want and not observe the rules of business. They also get into trouble when they start trying to fight fire with fire – big business competition can always outgun the little guy. You have to find another way to do it.

The trick is, to think outside the box, without letting go of the rules. The rules include things like:

  • Proper licensing for your particular line of work.
  • Reporting and paying taxes.
  • Using sound business practices.
  • Using sound marketing practices.
  • Building on your skills and strengths.
  • Avoiding the spirit of pure gambling in business (does not mean avoiding thoughtful risks)

There are many good back door methods for starting on a shoestring, or bootstrapping. It means relying on work, rather than money, and it means pinching where it won’t stop your business if you pinch there.

You have to use smart workarounds, and you have to know when it is time to let them go and gradually work into a different way of doing business.

Smart creative methods, and workarounds can allow you to accomplish something against great odds, if you are willing to back it up with hard work. They aren’t a way to run a business permanently, but they can be a great way to get your foot in the door – even if it is just the back door!

Paying for Experience Instead of Family

Some stores sell goods. Some sell services. Starbucks sells an “experience”.

Ok, when did we get so deprived of real experiences that a cup of coffee is considered a thrill? And when did we get to where we are willing to pay for new “experiences” all the while crying that we cannot afford children?

I submit that people who have larger families do not need such experiences. When you have a bunch of kids who depend on you, you work harder. You see and experience things you cannot imagine you’d enjoy if you look at them from the outside. You learn things about yourself that you’d never imagine were there TO learn. And you find more in yourself than you’d ever find bungie jumping.

Parenting takes patience, time, courage, wisdom, and perseverance.  No travel tour can substitute for that.

It is sad to me that people are running around looking for “fulfillment”, and “life”, and “meaning”, all the while running away from marriage and family. It is a catch-22. The further you run, the more you feel you have to get away. Conversely, the more you immerse yourself in the good of it, the less you feel like you need to be elsewhere.

It takes courage to admit to your teen that you made a mistake. It is exhilarating watching a baby laugh for the first time, or take their first steps. It is oh, so fulfilling when a child stops in their day to hug you just because you are Mom. And love, after 25 years of marriage, is even better than it is at 20… if you let it be! There is the challenge of teaching a kid to drive, and the triumph of helping them overcome a particularly difficult obstacle.

Ain’t nuthin’ that can compare to this.

Lose the Safety Net

It is impossible to serve two masters. Many people think that it is easier to gradually become self-employed. They want to keep the health insurance, have a dependable source of income, or they just want to keep their foot in the door in the workplace.

Problem is, when you do that, it is hard to actually commit to your business. The business always comes last, and last never becomes a winner.

We noticed after Kevin came home for good, that the few days that he had to go out and work elsewhere, our business did more poorly. It was harder for him, and for me. When you aren’t depending on it, and when it is not the sole focus of your efforts, it is much more difficult to make it work.

If you want to really succeed in business, get rid of the safety net. Fly solo, and you’ll be well motivated to succeed.

Scary? Oh, yeah! I’ve been there, remember. I know what it is like to need groceries and have bills to pay and know that there is no money due to come in, and to have no idea when there will be any expectations. It is nerve wracking. But it gets you busy, and keeps you doing everything you can to make it work!

People just think and act differently when they know their actions matter that much. And they perform better in work when they have only a single area of focus, instead of having to split their efforts between two different jobs.

It isn’t something everyone can do. But if you possibly can, prepare well, and then jump off. It is worth it.

MicroManagement Defined

I’m getting a lot of mileage from a speaker we heard a week or so ago. He said to finish this question:

MicroManagement is…

I said, “Self defeating”. He said, “Absolutely essential.”

I realized quickly that he was defining micromanagement in a different way than most business professionals define it – but that his misinterpretation is a common one, especially among people who do not understand business concepts well.

They confuse staying informed and following up, with micromanagement. They are not the same thing.

He was defining it as a business owner having their finger on the pulse of what was happening – knowing what was being spent, knowing who was doing what, keeping up on the status of projects. That ISN’T micromanagement. Only the irresponsible parasites in business think it is! (Not that he is an irresponsible parasite, but perhaps he is around too many of them!)

Micromanagment is when you TAKE the responsibility from someone, and when you step on their toes after you’ve given them a job. It is when you interfere with their ability to actually DO their job. For example, a nearby Chamber wants control over every single decision – even though they have bylaws which provide for the authority for certain decisions to be made by other people. They do not trust the people they hire though, and they come in and countermand decisions, require that everything be presented at board meetings (which always end up too crowded with too much on the agenda). They could delegate, receive a report, and move on with simpler choices, but they don’t. This is because the people involved do not understand how to manage well.

A good manager, or business owner, has to know what is going on. They also have to be able to delegate tasks, then follow up with a check to see if they’ve been done, or to receive a report and see if the report matches the expectations. You cannot trust others to do what you ask them to do if you do NOT follow up. But if you do follow up, you have a chance to check in the middle to see if progress is being made, then to review the results, and act accordingly. That ISN’T micromanagement. That is necessary management – and it is one reason larger corporations have a problem – there can be just too much distance between the bottom and the top, and too many layers of people to go through, and it breaks down too easily.

But for bitty businesses, sometimes the hardest transition to make is the first one – going from being responsible only for, and to, yourself, to having to supervise others. It is easy to tip too far in one direction or the other. To either not LET other people do their job, or to ignore them when you oughta be paying attention.

Micromanagement isn’t necessary. Smart management is.

Living in the Envelope of Functional Obsolescence

He said it was a stupid name. He was right. He called it “maximum Freud”. He had two reasons, one of which I cannot remember, but the other was that if you stayed there too long, you’d go crazy. I see things differently than he does. But then, I spend a lot of time there.

I’ve named it the Envelope of Functional Obsolescence. It is that place where one technology is dying, and another is being born to replace it.

As a MicroBusiness Web Developer, I spend most of my time on one side or the other of this state. A technology doesn’t die a quick death. It is gradually edged out. And new technologies don’t catch fire rapidly in most instances either. They come in slowly, have to prove themselves, have to BE improved to the point of stability, and then they have to come down in price. During that process, the old technology still has a large following. AFTER that, it slowly dwindles.

We live on the edge, making constant choices about the most cost effective solutions. They have to be stable, and affordable in the short term, yet not so close to obsolescence that they’ll fade in a year and compromise the investment of the site owner. Because our clients have limited budgets, we live closer to the edge than most businesses of this type. We cannot afford to adopt new technologies when the price is still higher, nor can we afford to adopt technologies which may still be having the bugs worked out, UNLESS it is one of those rare ones that is a clear and unquestionable leap forward in price and function.

It does not, in fact, make one crazy. It just requires balance and a good deal of knowledge and experience. You can’t do it without knowing your stuff, and you can’t be successful at it unless you know just who the customers are that it benefits.

Turning Disadvantage to Advantage

Small businesses that have succeeded in the face of competition from large businesses have done so largely because they have found a way to turn their disadvantages into advantages, and a way to make those drawbacks into something appealing.

  • No secretary? “When you call, you get to talk to someone in charge.”
  • Only a few customers? “To us, you are a name, not a number.”
  • Recycling packing materials to save money? Slap a label on, “This box proudly recycled by…”
  • Can’t provide national service? “Looking for a local company that knows your needs?”

Find the advantage in the aspect that can be negatively viewed, and turn it around. Make it into something that a larger company CAN’T do.

People who succeed find a way to do this. Think outside the box, and use the flexibility that a very small business has, to do things differently. For bitty businesses, it is the key to winning against the competition.

Are You a Geek?

She introduced me to her daughter. She said her daughter was studying computer sciences at the University, and loved web design. I asked her, “Are you a geek?” She smiled and admitted it.

There are two kinds of techies:

  • Those who are embarrassed about it, or think that they need to apologize for the name “geek”.
  • Those who take pride in it, and wear the name of “geek” as a badge of honor.

She was obviously the second type.

People have tried to define what a geek is. They talk about glasses, social ineptness, and a love of pizza. In reality, geeks don’t fit any stereotype, other than this:

They are universally passionate about their area of technical expertise. They speak a language that boggles the mind of regular people. And they can get in and solve a problem that makes other people think they are a genius (we actually like that part!).

The thing I’ve noticed lately is that you can create a geek. At first, the candidate isn’t even aware it is happening. But soon, words like “processor”, “code”, and “compatibility” begin to creep into their vocabulary. It isn’t long after that before they drop their first acronym (HTML, PHP, SEO, CMS, IP, DNS), and at that point, you know that it is only a matter of time before you can hold a conversation with them which will sound mostly like real English, but which will confuse the heck out of any average person!

I happen to like the confident geeks. The ones who fully understand that it isn’t just something they do, it is part of who they are, and they take pride in their ability to comprehend and puzzle out the problems.

It isn’t a closed club. It is populated by people all across the world, of every shape, size, color, age, and lifestyle. If an overweight, middle aged, gray haired mother of eight can be a geek, pretty much anyone can!

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.