Monthly Archives: July 2008

Federal Government Institutes The Ultimate Avoidance of Customer Support

All we needed was for them to send us another blue card – the one that you put in with your pay stubs. The only number my husband could find was for the National SSI number. He called. The conversation went something like this:

“Blather, blather, blather economic stimulus checks, blather blather” as he listened to two minutes of recorded messages.

Followed by a computer which said, “Please tell us what you need.”

“Help with my son’s Social Security.”

“I’m sorry, we can’t understand what you need. Please tell us what you need.”


“Please tell us what you would like help with.”

The thing cannot understand more than two words strung together, or, apparently, it only understands the right keywords in the right order, spoken with the right accent.

Brilliant! The government no longer needs to staff offices full of support personnel because you cannot get past the automated system! They have devised the perfect method of making it LOOK like they are trying, while in fact, completely avoiding anything useful, and the best part is, they can blame it on YOU!

Since people hate the government anyway, they have nothing to lose!

Putting Together a Grant Program

Over the last few years we’ve periodically donated services where we felt there was both a need, and the motivation on the part of the recipient to make something of it. I’m not big on handouts in the business world where the person will just take it and expect you to do the rest for them as well.

Recently I made an arrangement with a new acquaintance. I’d spoke with her enough, and seen enough about how she was pursuing her business, to know that she was a good candidate to make an offer to. It is a good arrangement, I get something, she gets something. It brought to my attention the fact that I do have the time to do that kind of thing on a regular basis.

I believe in giving back, and in helping people get a hand up. It has been part of our long term plans to give where we can, as our situation improves. I’m not sure how much it has improved, but I feel the time is right for us to start a grant program. Details are not yet released, the site is under construction, and the great unveiling will take place sometime before September 1.

It is no small undertaking, the commitment is huge. But it is something I feel we need to do. I’m looking forward to getting that off the ground, it carries with it a sense of excitement sort of like Christmas when you’ve got a surprise for someone else.

The Gradual Drop Out of “Friends” on FaceBook

I’ve noticed a few drop outs. Is it because I am Conservative? Overweight? LDS? Or perhaps just that I tend to be a bit outspoken on the topic of internet marketing, and a bit of a radical in that arena? Given the volume of hit and run marketers on FaceBook, I’m willing to bet the latter as the most likely cause!

That will happen though. And it should happen if you are conducting business well. High integrity makes good friends. Longlasting ones. But it also makes enemies, even if you are not setting out to offend or annoy.

It should be noted, I’ve never spammed anyone on FaceBook, the only Pms I’ve sent have been offers of help without pay, and I do not send invites or any other annoyance. I don’t leave a signature line on anyone’s Wall, even. I just try to build relationships. So it isn’t that – at least I know I didn’t TRY to annoy anyone!

If this rambling commentary has a point, it is merely that on a venue like FaceBook, where you cannot tell anything about people until after you’ve made the connection, drop outs are inevitable. And they don’t mean anything more than the connection meant in the first place – that is, next to nothing!

Sunday Musing – Family Friendly Standards

I’ve made it a point to keep my sites family friendly. There are people who dislike this, especially when they discover what my definition actually is.

A new member of our networking site complimented me on this recently though, and it is for people like this that I do it. Because I want to provide a safe haven for people who want to get away from it, and feel comfortable associating with people without felling like they’ll stumble over something offensive whenever they click a link.

Most of my sites that other people can contribute to are set up to promote businesses. I do not feel right about setting up a site to promote things which I believe harm our society. So family friendliness becomes the standard by which I measure what I will or will not promote.

I use the same standard in the services I provide. I cannot help a site owner promote things that I feel harm other people. From an artistic standpoint, I’d not do a good job at promoting that which I do not identify with anyway!

As time goes on, I’m put in a position of having to really define what it means to me, and where, exactly, I’ll draw the line. Because it seems that every nuance of it is tested, eventually. That is how business is. Ethics and standards are tested in ways we never think they will be. And often it is not black and white, but many shades of gray, and we have to consider all sides – and determine just how dark we let gray get before it is classed as black.

One of the harder issues in ethics – because the responses must be entirely personal. And so then, is the test.

Business and Marketing Systems – The Real Definition

The term “business system” and the term “marketing system” have been corrupted and used online to mean something far removed from what they actually are. They are not quick, prepackaged solutions that run on auto-pilot to make money (and absurd concept to begin with). They are, in fact, customized, individualized, and carefully practiced routines and tools, which, in combination with skill in using them, will make your business and marketing faster, more effective, and more predictable.

The catch is, that for virtually every small business, you cannot buy them. You must either create them yourself, or hire an expert to help you create it. Sounds pretty daunting, but let me explain a little more, so you can perhaps catch the least, and the fullest, meaning of the concept.

If you have email come in every morning from clients, friends, online networks, and other, you may eventually decide that you have too much to sort through efficiently. You may decide that you’d rather deal with all of your network email at one specific time each day instead of having it disturb your work. So you set up a folder for it in your email program, and a filter which takes all of the email that comes in with the network subject line (or sender), and puts it automatically into that folder. Then you look at it at the end of the day, or over your lunch, or whenever you’ve designated for that set of tasks.

That is a very simple example of a system! You spotted a problem, and you developed a standard method of handling it, partly through routine, partly through customizing a tool to do part of it for you.

Most businesses have many systems, which, combined, give you a full functioning business. When someone packages the whole thing and sells it, it is called a “Franchise”. But even a franchise takes time to learn, and is not a magic formula for success!

Look at what you do each day. Are you doing anything that is repetitive and time consuming? How can you make it more efficient? How can you make the outcome more predictable? Can you use a form, boilerplate text, an automated tool, a piece of software, a set of containers, or anything else to make it faster or more effective?

You can do this with marketing also.  Store frequently used text for repeat use. Create multiple sizes of logo graphics for use across the net, and a standardized personal photo for use in networking. When you fill out a form and it asks for info that you are likely to need again, copy it and save it. Set goals for specific numbers of networking contacts or backlinks each week, then pay attention to thinking of ways to make it faster to do it. Analyze the performance rules for your business, and record them to be used again. Develop guidelines, test them, and if they hold over a series of tests, adopt them as business policy.

Successful systems are one of the key differences between successful businesses, and those that struggle perpetually and never quite make it. If you want to make the break into success, then you need to apply some science to developing effective systems to make the tasks you do ever day more efficient.

The power is inconceivable until you experience it.

Marketing – Nothing Works for Everyone

Ok, I’m going to have to explain that before I get cries of outrage. With marketing, there are general guidelines, and rules about what good marketing is. But there are no “systems” that can be applied to every business that will work without alteration or adaptation. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant, or not being completely honest with you. And I expect I’ll still hear cries of outrage over having said THAT!

Those who sell systems want you to think that there is some magic formula. There isn’t. Marketing always takes thought, individualization, and a certain degree of experimentation. Experience can greatly reduce the amount of trial and error, but cannot completely eliminate it. A high budget can also reduce the degree of trial and error, but again, cannot eliminate it. Marketing is always an elegant dance that is half skill, half intuitive art.

Marketing is also not simple. It CAN be learned, and it CAN be broken down into understandable bites. But there are always nuances, and flair that can only be learned with practice.

What the systems cannot do, that they imply they can, is to give you a “do this, get this” roadmap. There is no system that always works. The claims that the seller makes are meaningless – because a marketing plan that works for one business will utterly fail for another, and may not even work for an identical business! A successful marketing plan has to consider many factors, each of which is highly individual for the business in question, and which, combined, equal a combination of factors that no other business shares. This means marketing can never be absolutely quantified.

You’ll need to take many things into consideration:

  • Your product or service
  • Your average target market
  • Your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Your skills and knowledge
  • Your own preferences and business style
  • Your branding (existing or not)
  • Your long term goals and expectations
  • Your overall business plan
  • Your profit and price breakpoints
  • Your financial budget
  • Your available time
  • Your existing sphere of influence
  • Your existing customer base
  • Previous efforts
  • Existing performance data
  • Your available support and resource personnel (who can you turn to for help)
  • Condition of existing marketing assets

You can see, by the time you go over all that, no two businesses will be identical. And the strengths and limitations you will be functioning under will be highly individualized, and sometimes very personal. Marketing counsel which does not take those factors into consideration just won’t be effective – it will fail from the outset because it was not designed to work within the reality of your business.

Can I hand you a system to market your business successfully? No. Can I teach you to market? Yes. IF you are able and willing to learn, and IF you are willing to practice and adapt. Even after you learn the basics, you have to go on learning, because marketing changes some over time, your business and variables change over time, and society around you changes. Even when you are good at it, you still have to constantly adapt and learn.

So instead of looking for a system, look for help in learning the rules so you can develop your own system that works for your business. Our next blog post will cover more about what systems REALLY are, and how you develop one.

Profile Photos and Business Promotion

I’ve been networking more lately, and as I have moved from strictly business networking venues like Ryze, into mish-mash ones like FaceBook, some aspects of profile photos have become more obvious. There are people who have no concept of what a business promotional photo should be.

It is probably important to point out here that if your profile lacks a photo, you may as well not even bother signing up. People do not like networking with faceless entities, and for business purposes, facelessness in a small business is fatal. People accept facelessness for a corporation, but in a small business, a face is your primary asset – the person behind the business IS the business. So having that profile picture is a critical first step.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and here is what I’ve noticed works, is an advantage, or saves you time:

1. You want one or two standard photos that you can upload in a hurry anywhere online. You will end up using them more than you realize. Make them about 200 X 200 pixels for a good balance between visability and control over image quality. This size seems to work in almost all venues, and if you make it this size, it is more likely to be cropped to show a good view.

2. Make your face visible, even when the photo is scaled down. Some places scale your photo WAY down in preview shots.

3. No bikinis. No bare chests. C’mon folks, let’s be clear about what you are selling here! Skin shots are just NOT professional, and you’ll lose some of your best prospects as they assume you are there for purposes other than business.

4. Please do not hold your cell phone at arm’s length and take a shot of yourself. You are more likely to look like a bull moose in a bad mood than a friendly small business owner, because the camera distorts your appearance. Same problem with web-cams, unless you think your nose is just way too small, a web cam won’t give you a good shot!

5. Casual is FINE! In fact, for small business people in businesses where friendliness is a key selling point may do better if they ditch the suit. Professional photos are good also, but a clear, slightly fun casual shot is equally good, because it looks more “real”. Sincerity is a big deal with small business, so no matter what photo you choose, make sure it looks like the real you, and like are are comfortable and enjoying your life.

6. Make sure the lighting is decent. Again, it does not need to qualify for the cover of TIME. It just needs to be sharp and visible – no dark gloomies, no bright glares that obscure features. Sometimes you can adjust this a bit in a photo editing program, but there is only so far you can push it. There’s just no substitute for a well balanced shot to start with.

Look at photos of other people that make you want to get to know them. And keep in mind, no matter what you look like, friendliness is what counts the most. A shot of a less than glamorous person is far better than no photo at all. Even a candid and friendly looking shot of an overweight, middle aged, gray haired woman can a highly effective promotional tool. I know this from experience. Sure, some people may be turned off by my appearance, but if they are, they are not in my target market anyway, because I love working with people who have depth.

Get your photos scaled, cropped, and put somewhere on your computer where you can find them quickly, and then USE them every single time you are asked for a photo – Keep a larger copy also just in case someone wants one for print, but if they watn one for web, you are ready to go in seconds.

That photo will serve you well over and over.

I Just Don’t Get It…

I know people who work for years at what they are good at, and love what they do, but when they decide to try to work from home, they start looking for spammy “business systems”. You know, the kind that don’t work, can’t work, and leave you frustrated.

Why the disconnect in logic? If they were going to go get another job, they’d look at their resume, see what they are qualified to do, and go look for that kind of job.

Yet when they go looking for a work at home option, they look for things that are totally unrelated to what they are GOOD at… even if the system COULD work, the person would be ill suited to it because it was not chosen based on their strengths and experience.

Working at home should not be a matter of trying to find the system that promises the easiest road to wealth – you know those are all scams anyway!

It is more about this:

What is your dream job?

I’m not talking about the one where you sit around and everyone pays you just to look good. I’m talking REALISTICALLY, what do you want to work at that makes the world a better place, that you enjoy enough that the good times make the bad times worth it, and what are you going to WANT to get up in the morning to do every day?

That job!

Turn that into a business. Build it around your skills, your strengths, and the things you actually LIKE doing. Sure, you’ll have to do some stuff you don’t like. And you’ll have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. But it will be yours, and it will be something you believe in.

Just don’t disconnect your brain and think that the way you make money online is to buy into someone else’s system. It isn’t. That is the only sure way to fail. Success comes from taking the unique things inside that you have to offer the world, and turning them into the business of your dreams.


The Perfect Life… It’s All In How You Write It

What, really, is the perfect life? We tend to think of it as being carefree, full of play and relaxation and having whatever we want. We do not tend to think of of boredom, or overindulgence, or the fact that no life is carefree, or that those who have time to relax earned it the hard way in most cases. We just know what we think we don’t have enough of, and want more, without limits.

Much of the perfect life is all in how you tell it. To every perk, there is a price. No one gets everything they want without giving something that most people who want the benefit, do not want to give. Otherwise, more people would be obtaining what they think they want.

  • I wouldn’t mind doing something amazing enough to have everyone awed over my brilliance, but I never wanted the privacy invasion that comes with fame.
  • I wouldn’t mind driving a nicer car, but I never wanted the poor gas mileage of a sports car.
  • I wouldn’t mind having a maid, but I never wanted to miss time with my kids by hiring a nanny.
  • I would like to have a larger house, but I don’t think I’d like to have a ton of rooms to clean.
  • I wouldn’t mind living a little closer to shopping, but I don’t think I want to give up the quiet slow pace of a small town.

Many times, when people describe the good stuff, they leave off the backlash in the telling. They do this because sometimes the down side is something they don’t mind, or because they know that is just the price they pay for what they got.

I think you can make almost any life sound like the good life, if you tell it right. And maybe sometimes we need to focus on that good stuff more than the down side so that we appreciate what we have. But when HEARING about it from other people, it doesn’t pay to be envious – we may not know what we are really envying.

If I tell you that I live in a small town, with a vegetable garden, fruit trees in the back yard, a shade tree in the front yard, on a quiet street in a town with no pollution, where I homeschool my kids and work alongside my husband, you are starting to think this IS the good life. Add to it that we can leave the house with the doors unlocked and not come back to a stripped house, plus we’ll own the house free and clear in less than a year, and you are thinking this is REALLY good.

But we work long hours to have this, the fruit trees struggle and bear small fruit because this is high altitude, and the garden has to be watered twice a day just to keep the hard clay soil moist enough to not cook the roots of the plants. The lawn has perpetual sagebrush trying to get a foothold, and the streets of this quiet town are unpaved, which sends clouds of dust which permeate closed windows and settle on every surface. We are sixty miles from the nearest shopping area, and from full medical care. And if you saw the house, you might think you would not WANT to own that!

We have good things here. But we have a trade off too, and we pay for each good thing with a deprivation or an inconvenience which many people would feel spoiled the dream. It happens to be a set of inconveniences that we can deal with better than we can deal with crowded streets and day jobs.

Look at your life. What is the perfect life that you are already living?

The Power in a Nametag

If you are going to network offline, the first thing you need to do is get a nametag. But not just ANY nametag!

It has to be special. It should be as unique as your business, and it should give the same kind of feel that your business gives.

We began networking through a Chamber about a year ago. We went to the first few and slapped those sticky nametags on. Then we thought it would be neat to have nice nametags, so we talked to a friend who does engraving. He showed us a range of options, metal, plastic, wood. We chose red alder wood. Lovely, distinctive, and attention getting in a warm and homey way. A good match for our business name.

The cost? $10 each. Pricey for a nametag, but priceless in what it got us.

We get comments on those nametags all the time, but more importantly, people actually read them. The nametag catches their eye – when we don’t know how to mingle well in a group, people will ask us about those nametags – they become an ice breaker.

Because they have our name and business name on them, people remember us better. Since our names are right there, people do not feel pressured to remember us from one time to the next, they’ll just look at our nametags if they forgot and save some embarrassment.

They have been the absolute best investment we’ve made to facilitate local networking. We now wear them every time we make an appearance in a professional capacity. It looks professional, and helps make us memorable.

I put mine on before I leave the house, and do not take it off until I come home. I often have to sidetrack to the grocery store after a meeting, and have been approached in the grocery store by people asking what I do.

Our suggestions for getting a good name tag?

1. Choose the right material. Select something that echoes the feel of your business, and that is distinctive. An unusual nametag often has more power than a common type. It is such a small expense that even the expensive ones are still affordable and you only need one!

2. Put your name on one line. Put your business name on another. If you need your URL on it, put that on. DO NOT put anything else! There is not room, and it is too hard to read! Just keep it simple, and keep the things that people can remember easily on it. It is not a business card – they are reading it on your chest, so keep it SIMPLE!

3. Get a magnet backed one. They won’t fall off, and they don’t damage clothes. They are easy to move around once they are on also, to get them straight. The magnet is strong enough that you can take it off, put the clip back over the magnet back, and then stick it to your filing cabinet. The magnet will adhere to the filing cabinet through the clip! Nice storage spot!

Our nametags have been so effective that we now order one for each employee. Truly one of the best things we ever did.

Sunday Musings

If you are not a spiritual person, pass this post by, because Sundays are my day to focus on the Lord.

I believe in some spiritual principals where business is concerned. I’ve seen them actually work to increase our income, and to better our life in other ways. One of those is keeping the Sabbath Day Holy, which means avoiding business on Sunday.

  • If I check business email on Sundays, my business provably does worse the following week than if I do not.
  • If I think about business on Sundays, or do planning, business sinks rather than soaring.
  • If I get Sundays right, the whole rest of the week is more successful.

I’ve proven this in dollars and cents. But that isn’t the only reason I try to avoid business on Sunday. I also do many other thinks to keep the Sabbath:

  • We go to church. That is just what we do on Sundays.
  • We spend time together as a family – often just talking, sometimes baking cookies or pizza (whole grain, of course!).
  • We try to find ways to help other people.
  • We restrict TV or movie viewing to “Sunday appropriate” viewing. We have a special shelf of videos that are just for Sundays, which include scripture and talk videos, but also some religious based stories.
  • We don’t garden (except watering which has to be done), we avoid complex cooking or housecleaning (except what must be done), and we may take a walk together but we don’t go “play” on Sundays, nor work outside.
  • The only business related work we do is emergency – if a site is down, or something disastrous happened, we take care of it, otherwise not. Our clients are told that if they email us on Sunday, we’ll not answer until Monday unless they put “Urgent” or “Emergency” in the subject of the email. If someone calls on Sunday, we are polite about it, and take the call, answer their questions, and then get back to them on Monday if it works for their schedule.

To me, this is one of the great “Success Tools” that the Lord blesses us with though. We just trust Him for the day, and let the rest go, and things work out better for the other six days. It is an absolutely usable tool – I do this, He does that, so if I want that, I do this.

I often spend a lot of time on Sunday trying to control my thoughts though, saying quick prayers, when an idea comes into my head, “Help me remember this later!” I always do!

I’m actually writing this on Friday, because I don’t want the distraction on Sunday, but at the same time, I want to make sure my post doesn’t distract anyone else who is trying, either.

Everyone’s a Coach Now

We are experiencing a proliferation in the Coaching industry. You can have a life coach, a business coach, a spiritual coach, a health coach, parenting coach, and many other niche coaches for whatever part of your life makes you feel inadequate. No disrespect intended to the Coaching industry, just making some observations on the explosion in this arena.

Coaches are sometimes certified, sometimes not, and the origin of the certification varies widely when they do have it. Some have a college degree, others don’t.

I think the coaching industry has grown from two simultaneous happenings:

  • First, people want to take their experience to teach others, and they don’t want to have to do that in a corporate environment. The vast majority of coaches are independent business owners, who feel the desire to be an entrepreneur, not an employee. Their desires and actions have driven one half of the explosion.
  • Second, individuals are seeking coaches for a number of reasons. They are less grounded with family, and feel widely separated from their parents in their needs, and people now are more likely to listen to a professional than to a friend on many topics. There is so much information out there on virtually any topic, that you can research answers to any problem and find completely conflicting information, telling you to do two completely opposite things. Much of the available information is provided with advertising in mind, so it is hardly objective. Individuals feel that coaches are more objective in recommending possible solutions or helping them sort through the confusion of information.

Our world is changing radically, and it is having a profound influence on the kinds of services people will pay for, and the kinds of services people want to offer.

The explosion in the coaching industry is just one of the areas where changes are visible.

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.