Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't Panic!

or The value of thinking things through before someone gets hurt....

Has anyone else noticed that some people seem to be having a knee-jerk reaction to this so-called downturn in the economy? I want to talk about the value of thinking things through before you make moves that could jeopardize your business. I have started doing consulting, coaching and brainstorming with people, to help them come up with new ideas and plans for their business. This is in direct contrast to thinking about things on one's own, and not planning at all. No sounding board. No opinions from anyone else.

An example is switching your branding. An overnight change of your branding is tantamount to wiping your marketing slate clean.

I went to a website I had been to before, and their design and overall "feel" to their website was so starkly different I thought they may have lost ownership of their domain name, or I misspelled it and landed on a "parked domain" page. If I was less familiar with the company, I would have gone back to whatever search engine I had come from. I scrutinized the links, clicked around, and found out that it was indeed the same business. There was no connection to the old website -- no visual clue-in that it was the same company. The logo, gone. All the images, changed. The About Us page didn't have the name of the people in the organization. It's almost like they sold the company (they didn't sell the company!). The only clue left was testimonials that mentioned people by name.

In a global economy, some of our intrinsic differentiating factors are where we are, the people in our business, and the personal connections we build with others outside of our organization. I panicked as a marketing maven, because in my mind they had just cut off all their current prospects by changing their design and market positioning so drastically. As a web designer & programmer, I can also say there is a problem created on the technical end: When people are looking for your website in a search engine, what they typed into the search engine in the past could stop working. Had this person taken a little more time, and perhaps consulted with someone (read: ME) before the change, there could be an analysis of keyword history for the website.  A plan could be created to shift the business branding & site design without so drastically alienating loyal followers. A graphic designer could have suggested visual cues intended for established clients or prospects to establish that this is indeed the same company. As it stands now, a complete change of the design and the content means that the website may very well be starting from scratch even with regard to prior visitors as well as search engine rankings. Ouch.

There are so many things to do to shift the focus of your business without metamorphosing into an entirely new entity. My business' shifts of late have been happening slowly over time. My first "adjunct" website was which would make NO sense as part of my main website -- it's intended to be an entirely separate entity and in many ways a business venture unto itself. is based on my tag line, and first showed on business cards as a website address that pointed directly to my website packages.  Now it is a separate website, and is hopefully a less confusing portal for information about my website packages & services -- the packages didn't change, just how clearly they were presented. is my corporate website, and only still holds some straggling service/product information such as maintenance packages. Another domain was for pointing to the section of my website about brainstorming sessions, and is now a separate website ( to showcase my consulting, coaching & brainstorming services. It's not an overnight shift -- much of this was years in the making.

Perhaps I shouldn't panic. Maybe other people have, like me, had a lull in business allowing them to put plans into action that they had on the back-burner for months or years. I hope so. But if you're panicking and really feel like you need to change something -- take some time to think it through, talk it over with people whose judgement you trust and who are willing to really tell you what they think. If you need impartial help to figure out your best possible future, come up with a plan of action, and to help talk you off the ledge of knee-jerk marketing, that's where my business coaching & consulting services shine.

Here's something I'll probably have to explain for the rest of my life:

The difference between coaching & consulting:

Coaches sit in an interesting grey area between consultants and facilitators. They help you figure out where you want to go, and then helping you get there by way of fostering your own growth. Coaches may be able to give advice when you are stuck, but their main purpose is to open up choices for you, and help you accomplish your goals. You define the goal, the coach helps you get there by helping you draw a map.  When needed, the coach might tell you where the nearest 3 gas stations and rest areas are while they're at it.

Consultants have answers. They don't usually teach you how to get there yourself (there are moments a consultant can become a trainer  -- and a trainer is more like a coach), usually they are brought into a situation to be or provide the solution to a problem. You OR the consultant defines a goal, the Consultant takes you there -- by handing you a mapped route with specific rest points or picking you up and carrying you piggyback if need be.

Someone who is both consultant and coach can switch between the roles if needed.  At times they may give expert advice, or even roll up their sleeves and do something for you. At other times, it would be better if you learned about doing it yourself, or it's a situation where you must be fully invested in the results, otherwise there are no results at all.

Ok, here's an example of the difference:

You might need a technical consultant to help you install a computer network. You wouldn't want a coach unless you are somewhat technically proficient, and wanted to learn how to do it yourself. However, you need a coach if you're going to grow your business: you shouldn't hire a consultant to come in and build your business for you or you won't be able to maintain the changes. It takes a personal commitment and new habits from the top of your organization down. You can't outsource that.  Consultants help change something. Coaches help you change.

My brainstorming sessions are a blend of consulting & coaching sessions. I usually spend a portion of the time helping you figure out where you want to go (coaching), and helping you figure out the next steps to get there. Then if needed I'll give advice on marketing (consulting), since you might not have a lot of ideas on things to do to reach your target market (but defining it is coaching) &/or venues for inexpensive marketing to your target market (consulting). With some people, I help them define their needs in daily operations (coaching), or even mapping out cycles in their business workflow (a blend).

I strongly encourage people to either take advantage of my brainstorming sessions OR to try my complimentary exploratory coaching session. Either one can change your outlook on your business permanently, but with a sense of excitement instead of panic.

Never make changes when you're in a place of panic. If the changes are a reaction to the economic climate, and not what you really want to be doing with your business, the changes will be temporary at best and they will confuse your prospects. To make lasting changes that will have you happy to work every day, you need to spend more time planning, less time acting.

Call today so I can help you out. 845-820-0262.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Getting the most out of networking

Oh, no, not another one of those "networking" posts. Never fear -- I have some ideas that are different from the run-of-the-mill ideas.

Hint 1: Manage your expectations. Do you expect the event coordinators to provide you with a room full of warm bodies to toss your business card at? If someone did that to you, would you be impressed? As the economy has declined, I've heard complaints from event-goers about attendance. Take the opportunity to connect with people who threw your business card out the first time you handed it to them: if there's a connection, they'll keep and remember your business card.

Hint 2: Bring a host-gift. Ok, so let's say you DO expect your networking event host(s) to supply you with a room full of warm bodies to throw your business cards at. Return the favor to your fellow attendees and the event hosts. Invite your prospects, your entire mailing list, your clients, to any event you're going to go to. You'll get another moment of face-time with your warm prospects, which couldn't hurt any, a chance to make sure your clients are happy with your services, and there will definitely be more warm bodies in the room for everyone else. If every other guest did this, suddenly you'd be at a standing-room-only event and have to fight your way to the bar. Don't complain--contribute.

Hint 3: This builds on idea #2 -- carpool. The host-gift is built-in and you end up with a captive audience for the drive to and from the event. Don't be a boor, though -- spend your time driving and listening without talking. They'll think you're the most brilliant person on the planet if you just listen. When you do finally speak, they're sure to hear you if you heard them first. Talk about time well spent! You just networked during what would normally have been dead time.

Hint 4: Note who DOES show up. So there's very few people at the event. Look around carefully. Have you cultivated a close relationship with the diehards in the room? This is your prime market! These are the avid networkers, the people who come early, stay late, form lasting ties with other networkers, and refer clients. Don't be disappointed -- be excited. Pick 3 people, make a point of looking them in the eye and asking if you can contact them after the event to do coffee (breakfast, lunch....). These are the people you need to catch. Get on their preferred referral list. They'll be at the networking events you miss. These are the people who could be your unpaid sales force.

Hint 5: Play a game. Pick out a topic for information you want to know -- something of importance or common experience to most people -- and make a game out of getting an answer to the question from as many people in the room as possible before the end of the event. Here's some ideas: Who was your favorite pet? Where did you grow up? What did you study in school? What is your favorite sport? Make sure it's an open-ended question, and that you ask for more details (i.e. What was it like growing up in Brooklyn?). The best thing about this exercise is that you'll definitely be taking your eye off the prize. You'll get to have some interesting conversations, and maybe someone will actually ask you what you do, or ask for your business card.

Hint 6: Play matchmaker. This one is fun. Go to the event with a bunch of business cards for people you trust and can refer. If you're new to business this could be your plumber, your beautician, or your brother. It doesn't matter what they do, just make sure that you know their services are good and that they give great customer service. Now, while you're at the event, listen for any opportunity to give out one of their cards. Talk less about what you do, and find out more about what people in the room are looking for. Turn into an opportunity ninja. When the attendee shows a moment of need, search your brain for the right connection. It can be someone in your card case -- or it can be someone else in the room. The best black-belt opportunity ninja tactics happen when you can drag someone across the room and make a direct referral on-the-spot. If you don't know the quality of the person's work, and can't give a hearty honest recommendation, just mention it: "Oh, I just met Jane, she said she's a realtor. Here, let me introduce you to her." -- the person will know that it's a cold referral, but it's better than nothing. Note: The best way to give a referral is to hand the person the card for the vendor and ASK if you can give the vendor their information. "My brother John is a plumber. Here's his card. If you give me your card I'll have him get in touch with you about that leaky sink."

You get out of networking what you put into it. It's got "working" in the name -- it's not a free ride, business doesn't just happen. It can take months before you see the results, but when you do see the results, they're profound. Referred clients gripe less about your services and are usually your best customers, because they come to you with some measure of trust & faith. But for your referral partner to transfer that trust & faith, they need to know you and see you at work. Get to know your referral partners -- that's the real power of networking.

For local networking events, please see Networkaholics Anonymous -- help increase attendance at local networking events!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fate of Promotional Pens

Melanie Richards of Prisms Promotions is considering starting a "How do YOU use promotional pens?" contest. Let's see if we can start her off on t he right foot here....

If you hate when someone hands you a business card like someone handing out a leaflet outside a gentleman's club, then you probably have an equal dislike for rinkydink promotional products that are worth virtually nothing and have no meaning behind them. Like a pen.

Oh, we all need pens. The idea behind a promotional product pen is wonderful -- pens are things everyone carries around, get annoyed when you can't find one, and some people actually do something important with them, like actually write something with meaning. Then again, those of us who are writers probably have a favorite type of pen. When it comes to paper & pens, suddenly we're as obsessive-compulsive as Felix Unger. For us OCD writers, only our favorite pen will do. I won't be caught without a pen, and if I don't have pen & paper on me at ALL times, it's like the Muses take it as a personal affront. I always keep pen & paper on or near my person -- it's like a charm to make sure that I won't have ideas, inspirations, song lyrics, or poems suddenly overtake me. I take on a FAVORITE type of pen. Right now it's Pilot G-2 5mm. I took a brief sojourn with the Uniball Signo RT Gel .38 because a really super fine line gets me every time -- but the ink doesn't last long enough, and I can't find refills. So it lost and I'm back on the Pilot G-2 5mm even though the ink doesn't dry fast enough for my moleskines.

Oh, back on topic -- you can see I'm a real pen-obsessed person. I love my pens. Guess what? I don't love YOUR pens. I don't love them when I get 3-4 per event I go to, and I don't love them when you try to give me them again at the next meeting. And I don't love them when I'm doing the artwork to fit into their 1.5" wide by .25" high imprint area. You want to fit your business name, name, tag line and phone number -- plus logo -- into WHAT? I'll try, but I need a shoehorn & a magnifying glass. But hey, you're the customer, so you're always right.

Pens. Why did it have to be pens? Sure they're one of the least expensive promotional products you can get -- but you get what you pay for. Please save your $.30/piece. Figure out your budget then get a real consultation on how to best spend your promotional item funny money with Melanie rather than just buying some more pens.

So what do I do with all those pens when I get back to my office (read: Home)?

Well, in my house I have a special place for those pens. It's a pen jar in my office, as far from my desk as possible. It sits there and it's convenient to point to when my son needs to do his homework. If the pen jar were in his room, he'd empty it under his bed. He "borrows" a pen and "brings it back" later -- well, it works that way sometimes -- but since you still give me more pens, the jar ends up with more & more pens in the long run anyway. Since I'm so anal about my pens, you can bet he's not touching my pens. If he loses YOUR pen, what do I care? You have 500 more where that one came from and I'll get another one next week, right?

I have to say, I make an exception for a few exceptional pens. Jellybean: I like the purple pen. I won't use it, but as a designer, I have to say it's awesome to have a pen that writes in your logo color. I have some admiration for your other ink pen, too. Nice choices. They're in the pen jar for my son, but I do admire them.

Carol Garcia, Carole & Company -- LOVE the light-up pens. Hours of amusement for my son. One stays at my bed for writing dreams or notes to myself in the middle of the night. You took "promo pen" to a new level for me. Thank you! Thank you! A pen I actually use -- myself! I write in journals at my bedside with your pen, too.

The rest, I could take or leave -- no actually I'd rather leave them, because I'm an environmentalist. But if I have to take them, at least my son puts them to good use -- or loses them, chews on them, breaks them, tries to sharpen them in the pencil sharpener....better your pen than mine though!

Do you have any funny tales about what you do with promotional pens? Please feel free to comment, send the information to Melanie at Prisms Promotion or send them to me.

Last word: Do you really want your company associated with writing out checks to pay the bills, signing tax forms, or best yet, an item that's eminently disposable? Does your company run out of juice just like the pen? Be careful what products you tie your name & image to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pack Rat and Synchronicity

I'm an unashamed pack-rat. It's my doom, especially in a small home. It's also occasionally enabled those odd moments of synchronicity to occur. Right now is one of those times. Being organized is exceptionally important, mind you. But I get stressed out when I go on the occasional tossing streak, because at the time I collected something, I probably had a reason for it, whether conscious or subconscious.

Flashback to something like 2-3 years ago, when I was frequently combing Craigslist for what was going on in the Hudson Valley. My eye was caught by an ad for massage space by the hour. On the surface, I thought Maxine Ward, my favorite massage therapist could use the space for her practice. I gave the info to Maxine, but held on to it myself. It tickled my mind somewhere -- I couldn't let that paper go. I found it during a descavation (that's to say the digging out of one's desk under long-standing rubble). Try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to categorize it, and I couldn't figure out what to do with it. So, it being on a Post-It™ note, I just stuck it to my desktop almost under my keyboard -- it was temporary. I'd do something with it shortly.

I did. A few days later, under the sounds of jackhammers, and exchange students with dust masks and brushes gingerly brushing the sand off the desktop, I got annoyed at said Post-It™ note. I have this wonderful saying captured from a judge from the competition:

I welcome with open arms any tool that tries to make me more organized! But I have one reservation about this idea –– and this is largely a personal problem ––— to me, Post-It notes are, in a way, the very opposite of organization. They're 3 inch squares of pastel-packed institutionalized chaos, the paper product demon spawn of Lucifer himself. What starts with one simple Post-It note "Don'’t forget to e-mail Ged!" quickly devolves into four hundred incomprehensible notes saying things like "magic beans" and "do thing".

During the descavation, my partner Chris (yeah, Chris) laughs because I'll find pieces of sticky note that are rendered completely undecipherable by time. The exchange student hands me something that might be useful, or beetle dung. I just exclaim "Magic Bean!" or "Do Thing!" and throw it out. My partner chuckles.

I was having a "Do Thing!" moment when looking at this note. I grabbed it, crumpled it, tossed it into the recycling with dozens of other Post-It™s. Then the little voice in my head said "Noooooo!" and it turned into a scene from Indiana Jones, with everyone rushing to the precipice of a newly uncovered chamber of some ancient Pharaoh's tomb. I dove nearly head-first into my recycle bin and fished it out. I had it -- I knew suddenly why I had been holding on to that piece of paper for Two Years. I was becoming a coach, business & life coach, and there was no way with my towers of pack-rat-itis that I'd have clients peacefully recline in my home office and tell me their dreams. No. Nope. No-way.

Suddenly the piece of paper was a string of rubies, the collar of the Pharaoh's wife, a new sarcophagus. I could use this woman's hourly massage room to coach clients. The heavens opened up, and pixie dust rained down on me. An epiphany.

Today she returned my call, and we're meeting later this week. You can tell I'm a little excited.

Was this an epiphany, design of my conspiratorial subconsious, the world's Abundance, divine design, or just a coincidence? I don't care!! "What does it matter--you weren't looking anyway." (What Dreams May Come) I wrote to Cindy Marsh-Croll, professional organizer, just to let her know:

Score: 1 for being a Pack-Rat.

But then again, if it weren't for Croll Organizing, there would have been no descavation at this site in the first place. Thank you, Cindy for teaching me that there might be some treasures, or even an ancient city, buried on my desk. I might even find Atlantis!

Note: Post-It™ is a trademark, probably registered, of its respective trademark holders and thus I didn't manufacture or attempt to claim the label as my own....I just tried throwing it out.

Note 2: My son wants me to make another disclaimer. I disclaim my ability to make another disclaimer on his behalf. I'm just doing this because it makes him laugh.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Business Brainstorming & new website

But Molly pushed him aside and went up to the unicorn, scolding her as though she were a strayed milk cow. "Where have you been?" Before the whiteness and the shining horn, Molly shrank to a shining beetle, but this time it was the unicorn's old dark eyes that looked down. "I am here now," she said at last.
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn (quote from book, link to video clip)

[caption id="attachment_91" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Small Business Challenges - Dec 4, 2008"]Small Business Challenges - Dec 4, 2008[/caption]

I moderated at an Orange County Chamber business brainstorming forum on Thursday last week with 26 people participating. It's called "Small Business Challenges" and is touted as a peer idea generation forum. We split into tables of up to 6 people. Here's a paraphrase of how I introduced the meeting:

To steal a phrase that may date back several hundred years: "No matter where you go, there you are." It doesn't really matter how we got to where we are, we're here now. And we need to move on from here. Whether we're in a recession, or a depression, it's the first time we're in this situation in the new Information Age, and just like every time it's happened before, it's unique unto itself. Hats off to every person who says "But this time it's different..." because they're right. And that's a good reason to celebrate. Let's make history together!

We need to think differently, start doing different things, so we can get different results. Today we're borrowing the ideas of other people to help us to think differently about our business, to make new plans, to revise our goals. Meet your temporary board of directors sitting at your table with you. Keep an open mind and let them help you.

There are plenty experts out there, plenty books to read, but unless they know you and your particular business or industry, their advice has to remain generic. It needs to fit many other business, many other people. Today we're here to address our specific issues, in our specific industries, within our specific situation, and figure out how to go on from here.

If you hung your coat at the coat check, please picture that you've hung your fear there with it. We're not here to be angry or frightened. We're here to move on into a new and exciting future, to marshall our considerable resources to tackle our own challenges, and to help others with our creativity.

The feedback on the session is excellent. We'll be tweaking the format and it will return on February 10th. If you need help before February, please consider requesting a one-on-one brainstorming session, or attend my small group brainstorming sessions in the meantime. I will gladly lead other larger business brainstorming sessions for other business organizations, have one-on-one brainstorming sessions with you, or you may come to The Crissing Link group sessions. Please see for more information and testimonials.

Here's to the crazy ones.[...]Because the ones crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Apple Computers, Think Different