Biz Lessons

Write It Out

When was the last time you wrote? I don’t mean a quick email reply to your officemate or 140 character tweet. I mean really took some time to sit down and write out your thoughts. It is a practice I often find myself doing when I am trying to develop an idea or clarify my opinion on a matter. It helps to solidify my positions and makes me much more articulate when I need to talk about the topic or my position later.

Of course, the fact the I have to write a lot for work, gives me motive to write regularly but, now that I have realized the benefits of putting my thoughts on paper I find myself doing it a lot more for reasons other than blogging or proposal writing. Usually while in the middle of putting my thoughts into words I will see my thoughts take a natural order, one I might not have come up with if I had tried to find key point before fleshing out the full argument. I even sometimes find myself questions my initial opinion or finding a whole new side of the argument. I vary my approach depending on my mood or topic and I always feel better –not to mention, more prepared - after I’ve put my mind through a bit of a workout.

If you think starting your own writing workout would help you make better at forming arguments and sort through your thoughts here are the two main approached I use. 

Free Styling

When I have a nugget of an idea or even something as vague as a general direction I will often let my natural synapses take control. To keep the thoughts flowing freely I’ll pick up a pen and go at it; sometimes when I type I find the process can interrupt the stream of ideas. So, with nothing between my mind and the paper in front of me I begin writing everything that comes to mind, doing my best to make the thoughts string together somehow but ultimately not fussing with semantics. I’ll do this until I hit a block or until I feel the ideas have really played themselves out. Then, I step away and let it sit for a while.

After at least an hour but sometimes as much as a week I will return to the work and start to give the piece shape. I’m not looking to necessarily make it publishable, just to extract the strong points and find the most concise relationship between them. I work with the brain dump until I feel like I’ve absorbed enough to either help me in future articles and/or presentations or in conveying opinions.

Much like a brainstorming session this no rules approach often shakes loose some ideas that wouldn’t have been revealed by a more formal process. It also helps improve my understanding of the way I write. Becoming familiar with my patterns and voice makes writing on assignment easier and more efficient.


On the occasion when I’ve been gnawing on some ideas but can really wrap my head around how to connect them or what angle to use to dig a little deeper I give myself an assignment. I take a basic editorial approach. First, by making an outline. In fact, I often push the outline step to it’s fullest trying to organize the various thoughts I’ve already come up with. Then, I begin to build prose around that outline. Challenging myself to make my writing as concise and relatable as possible.

This approach requires me to be more structured but it usually provides the connections I need to make the best argument succinctly. I generally us this when I need to understand my thoughts but, more importantly, I want to be able to share them with others. I will edit the prose until I‘ve reached a point that I feel it stands on its own then I put it aside. The mere exercise of working through my thoughts and refining them primes my mind for future conversations. Instead of worrying I may not be explaining myself effectively or trying to justify a position I haven’t fully thought through I am more confident in presenting my thoughts and opinions.

While this may seem like a lot of work it saves me a ton of time because my head is clear and my positions solidified. At least try it once and see if it doesn’t help you with your formal work.

Lessons From The Kitchen

Prior to joining the more traditional 9-5 workforce I spent two years as a pastry chef. After college I had no idea what I wanted to “be” so I went to culinary school to pursue a passion. It was there that I was taught the importance of efficiency. You see, in a professional kitchen you need to be able to turn around an order quickly and accurately. The faster you’re able to get a plate out to the table, the sooner the table will have eaten and departed and the next party seated. The more tables you can turn over in a night the more you can profit.

My culinary curriculum was structured largely around efficiency. We were taught cooking methods and communication skills to ensure greater consistency of efficient performance. This type of specialized training – found in culinary programs worldwide- makes working in a variety of kitchens easier because there is a base hierarchy of priorities – efficiency, flavor, presentation, etc- and methods to achieving them. In the years since I have left the world of baking I find myself using a lot of the principles I learned in culinary school to navigate my professional activities. In the spirit of spreading some of those lessons in hopes it helps you become more consistent and efficient I have put together this list of lessons from the kitchen:

Be Prepared: Line & pastry chefs alike spend a good portion their day preparing their stations; chopping, mixed, sorting, storing everything they’re going to need to complete their orders. They need to look ahead and see what is on the menu then plan and prep accordingly.

What if you were to look ahead at your day every morning –or at the close of the day look towards tomorrow- and prepare mentally and physically for your day’s menu? I try to do this every day and I spend a good deal of time gathering the research, prepping the files, reading the emails that will contribute to the larger tasks of my day. It has helped me maintain a fresh perspective of my priorities and eases the anxiety of last minute stress and unexpected hiccups.

The Economy Of Steps: In school we were taught about The Economy Of Steps. Basically, the fewer physical steps you needed to take to prepare a dish the more you were able to contribute to a profitable restaurant workflow. If you were going to the freezer for eggs why not get all the refrigerated items were going to need for the next two hours? Continually walking back and forth across a kitchen eats up time and energy. Keeping your mind in the game and an eye on the larger list of things needing to be done made a chef much more effective in a kitchen.

The basic premise behind this principle, that the more aware you are about every step in your day the more efficient your personal workflow will be, is one many professionals could invest in. Instead of repeatedly checking in on your email, go every two hours. Focus on what needs to be done there then move on to the next task. If you’re going to be making an office supply order, check with everyone before closing out your order. You will be saving someone else in your company some time and therefore contributing to the larger, hopefully profitable, workflow. Take a few days to challenge yourself to be more in tune with your economy of steps, it may reveal a few time saving patterns you may have been overlooking.

Establish A Leader: In every kitchen there is a head Chef. They’re the boss. If they tell you to do something, you don’t argue, you do it. If there is something you disagree with you address it with them after service so as not to disrupt the larger workflow. The head Chef is responsible for establishing the flow of the kitchen, they work with the expediter to get plates out on time, they make the big on-the-spot decisions. If something goes wrong it is his credit that is tarnished. On the other hand, if something goes right he receives the praise and, if they’re a good Chef they’ll openly share accolades with their entire kitchen. The rest of the stations in the kitchen are part of a well established chain of command headed by the chef. Acknowledging this and abiding by it, even when you may not agree with the decisions, is what keeps a kitchen’s service moving. Smart head Chefs will also encourage an open dialogue with their line outside of service to make sure everyone is happy with their role. 

While the strict chain of command doesn’t transpose to a number of industries the recognition of a leader is certainly an asset for an efficient worker. I notice this most in meetings. If, at the beginning of every meeting, a leader were identified to keep the group on task and moving through the items at hand most meetings would be far shorter and more effective than if they are left to an open ended chat. Even if an agenda has been established you need someone who will be responsible for making sure people are heard and topical focus is maintained. This is a particularly useful approach to virtual conferences where there is a tendency for people to talk over each other.

Eat Your Own Product: A good chef tastes his or her goods. It is the only way to make sure their customer is getting what they ordered.

How often do you put yourself in your customer’s shoes? Try it. Place an anonymous order, call customer service with a fake complaint, or simply imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end of your work. Being aware of your output will reinvigorate your approach to how you get there. No matter how many clients you have, or how great your profits, if you wouldn’t want to be your own customer you are doing something wrong.

These four lessons are just a few of the ways my kitchen experience has influenced my 9-5 career; while I still do a good deal of baking they are the only skills I learned in culinary school I currently use professionally. Although I never expected to walk away with much more than a killer croissant technique I’m happy I’m am now able to share some of the business acumen I got from my culinary education.

Webinar Wednesdays: Let's Get Together

We are excited to announce a new monthly series Webinar Wednesdays, a joint venture focusing on progressive event planning strategy. The art of event planning – conferences, webinars, annual meetings, out of the field training – has experienced some major changes as a result of the unstable economic climate.

In the context of this radically altered economic environment, Bizucate and Webinar Resources have come together to crack open the traditional event planning processes and find a way to create engaging and successful events while maintaining a budget and reaching the largest possible audience. It is possible to facilitate educational and profitable events by employing a multi-channel campaign over a phased process of engagement.

In an effort to share this sensible approach to event planning, Webinar Resources will be hosting Webinar Wednesdays, a monthly webinar held on the second Wednesday of the month. Peter will be hosting each session which will cover a particular aspect of this progressive event planning strategy. To kick off the series, the first four sessions outline the basic framework of a successful multi-channel event then move on to focus on more specific elements of implementation.

We hope this new series will challenge you to move beyond traditional event planning strategy and consider the numerous new ways professionals network and communicate. In the future the potential for effective and memorable events lies in combining these channels to suit your audience’s needs.

In addition to the monthly webinar we will also be contributing to The Multi-Channel Mix a weekly blog dedicated to issues, trends and discussions that are associated with multi-channel event planning. We invite you to submit your comments and questions to keep the dialogue relevant and evolving. 

How Do You Choose To Communicate?

Every day there is a new option for communication; email, phone, skype, twitter, SMS, etc. As the number of channels available through which to communicate multiply so to do the number of people who claim to be experts on each. There certainly may be nuances and particulars implicit to the various options there are three rules that will make you a master of any method:

1.    Make sure your audience, be it one person or hundreds, is comfortable with the method. You probably have your preferred methods of communicating but if those you are trying to communicate with don’t share your preference you may be wasting your time. If you are trying to use SMS to send a message to someone without a data enabled phone then you message will be lost in the ether, literally. More frequently messages are invading channels where they may not be welcome. Facebook, for example, is used by many for personal networking so when commercial or professional messages are received they may be ignore or worse, cause the receiver to become annoyed. Make sure the method you choose to communicate is one your audience prefers, even if that means sending the same message through more than one channel.

2.    Be sincere.  You know when you’re on the receiving end of a hastily written, jargon filled, mass email. You also know how whatever the desired message contained within, you’re less likely to give it much thought or credibility. Next time you find yourself writing one of these messages take a second to ask yourself are you being genuine. This doesn’t mean you have to write a novella it means you have to speak succinctly and intent. You will recognize the difference in reception if you always present your words with awareness of the audience and goal of the message.

3.    Know the etiquette.  For most channels there are a loose set of standards of etiquette. You shouldn’t send an SMS in all caps, don’t flood an in-box with unnecessary emails, look someone in the eyes when you speak to them. Many of these “rules” are learned first by watching, then by doing. If you aren’t sure exactly what the proper content is for a Twitter message read those of others. If you aren’t sure what to write in your LinkedIn status then look to those whose work you respect.

Simply be smart and curious when investigating new methods of communication. Don’t let the number of options intimidate you. Even if it means sticking to the standards – phone call or face-to-face meeting- if you follow these rules you will improve the chances your message will actually be heard.


The Lost Art Of Mentorship

In the classical trades like carpentry, cooking, tailoring, even plumbing there is a long tradition of mentoring. Individuals more established and experienced in a particular industry foster relationships with the newer generations by becoming mentors to members of the fledgling ranks. They pass along skills, trade secrets and lessons learned in an effort to educate and support their mentees. Through mentoring companies and even entire industries experience the benefit of continuity; continuity of tradition, practices and standards. On the receiving end mentees are given the chance to share newer trends and technology with their elders in an effort to evolve their chosen field.

Mentorships are far less common in the world of businesses. The competitive culture in a lot of large companies makes the teacher/student dynamic an unsteady one. And in small businesses there is rarely the time to maintain genuine mentorships. These realities however, do not reduce the need for mentors; in fact, I would say they increase the need for a supportive professional relationship.

I have been lucky to be both a mentee and mentor and firmly believe both experiences have contributed enormously to my ability to push myself personally and build professional relationships that go beyond the usual boss/employee or seller/customer dynamic. While my experiences unconventional – in that they weren’t focused on a single trade – they were none the less influential. When I was a mentee I had a person to go to with my questions (regardless of their triviality) as well as someone whose own experiences were able to guide mine. Once I moved into the role of mentor I recalled the advice and mannerisms my mentor had shared with me. I worked hard to listen before commenting and to openly consider feedback. The exchanges I had with my mentee were genuinely educational for us both and we remain each other’s champion even as our relationship has become much more collegial.

Many progressive companies have instituted internal mentoring systems or engaged a company like Bizucate to coach and support their employees. However, it is well worth the effort to seek out a mentor relationship. Whether you are just entering into a new industry and need help translating the nuances or if you’ve been at it for a while and want to pass along your lessons and experiences while learning more about what’s fresh here are a few tips on starting down the mentor path:

Where to find a mentor/mentee

I usually suggest looking outside of your immediate work environment. It removes some of the inevitable influences of office politics and allows questions and comments to flow freely without having to worry about looking uninformed or stepping on someone’s toes.

• Check with your alma mater’s alumni office.

• If you’re a member of an association or professional networking group look around your next meeting.

• Colleagues in other offices may have some referrals.

What to look for

There are benefits to finding someone with whom you share a similar viewpoint or background; it may be easier to find yourself at ease with them or directly relate to their experiences. However, you can learn a lot and really expand your professional perspective by seeking out a relationship with someone who may hold different ideals, position or even gender.

• Find someone whose work and reputation you respect.

• Make sure it is someone who communicates openly and clearly.

• Ideally it should be someone who has time to commit at least a year to the mentorship.

How to ask

Keep it simple, keep it courteous. Begin by acknowledging the commitment of time and involvement you’re asking of them and then outline what you hope to gain from and contribute to the mentor experience. Be prepared to present the pros and cons but in most situations I think you’ll find the conversation is an easy one.

How to maintain the relationship

This should be determined according to the availability and need of both people involved. Try to figure out a schedule of regular check-ins to keep you both connected. Other than that let the relationship organically develop; ask questions, seek guidance, share experiences, teach, discuss. The potential is limitless as long and the channels of communication remain open.

So, go forth and find your mentor/mentee. It is one of the best investments you can make in your professional development.

A Backwards Walk Through Your Workflow

We sometimes get a little too comfortable in our routine. We forget the motive for our actions or how the pieces we produce fit in to the larger whole. Without taking the time every once in a while to refresh your perspective the efficiency of your workflow may suffer, as well as, the quality of your end product. One exercise I find particularly useful is that of walking backwards through your workflow. Reconsidering how projects are developed or products created from another angle often reveals weaknesses as well as opportunities for new approaches.

First, it is best to define a workflow. For our purposes here workflow should be interpreted to mean:

The people, process and strategy involved in getting work done.

Now, choose one project and start at the "end" with the customer. Consider their experience with your work - what motivated them to seek you out, what were their needs and requests, what kind of feedback (if any) did they give you? Keeping those customer centric factors in mind begin to retrace the steps back to the original communication. At each phase/step/exchange consider these three questions:

1. Were the required elements effectively/correctly received from the preceding step?

2. Were the customer's needs & overall goal reaffirmed or conveyed in the exchange?

3. Was the person(s) responsible for that phase able to explain the purpose/function of the step/phase directly before and after theirs? 

The answers to these questions can reveal where there may be a break down in communication, which can lead to errors or slow downs. It can also teach you a lot about your own position within the mix. Use what you learn to refresh your routine and think of ways to improve how you do what you do. Walking backwards through your workflow may take some time but the results can truly reinvigorate your workflow strategy and lead to improvements you otherwise may not have known were necessary.

It's All In The Process... Well, Most Of The Time

Stevemartin190_2(I knew that would grab your attention. No need for a double take, that's Steve Martin. I found this photo in the New York Times book review section. The photo credit goes to Sandee O.)

What does it mean to be a Renaissance Man?

After some intense thought and brief research, I found that a Renaissance Man is thought to be a man or a woman of many accomplishents.  The success of these accomplishments is in part due to the Renaissance Man's proficient knowledge in a wide range of fields.

Where am I going with this?

I came across Steve Martins' Born Standing Up earlier this year and it really got me thinking about processes. This book is an autobiography, but reads like a biography because it's a
step-by-step take, by Steve Martin, on how he accomplished his success.

In business terms, Born Standing Up is about the process. It's healthy to ID what customers need and then give it to them, but having a process in place on how to accomplish giving the customer what they need is stellar. Do you know your process?

Beth Schneider over at Process Prodigy has nailed the topic and has created a business based on processes. It is my understanding that in order to be successful in your deliverables for the customer, you have to have a process (system) in place to be sure it happens the way it's supposed to happen, every time.

What's your process for keeping your customers?

Send me a comment, I'd like to know. And if you've read the book, what are your thoughts about it?

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What's A Cup Of "Joe" Worth To You?

J0438525_2 Have you ever stopped to wonder about that? When you meet with a prospect at the local coffee shop,
that eventually turns into business...what's the dollar value of that cup of Joe?

Before I go there, I must say that getting to that cup of coffee has a lot to do with what you said yesterday, last week or last month that even got you the meeting. What you used as your pitch plays a HUGE role in how you plan to keep the pipeline full of prospects/business. The key to keeping that script fresh in your mind is to rehearse it as often as possible. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Look beyond the $4.85 Vanilla many of those Lattes led to a new account? It's all in how you look at it. In fact, if you stopped reading this blog and went to your local coffee shop right now, you'll most likely see business happening all over the place. Those conversations you'll witness are far more than coffee.

Having a perfect elevator pitch isn't about big words and confusing jargon, it's about truly understanding your target market and having the ability to tug at their core emotions in 30 seconds or less whenever you're asked the coveted, sometimes dreadful, "What do you do?"

I found a useful tool to help hone in on my elevator pitch.  Practicing what you're going to say allows you to break away from the unneccesary information and get to the point of the message.       

If your coffee talks are down, maybe it's time to take a look and a listen. Grab a buddy, pitch and ask for feedback. Your pitch is your ticket to getting more time over coffee and in turn, greatly affecting your sales goal.

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Consulting 101

Have you ever stopped to think… what is a consultant?

I’ve been pondering the true definition of this profession myself and according to the dictionary, it is defined as a person who gives professional or expert advice. In fact, there are a ton of how-to websites for one who might consider this practice. For me, a consultant is someone who gives perspective.

People pay therapists to provide perspective about a current or past situation in their lives.

And in looking at it this way, I started thinking about the independent contractors that I hire to help keep my company going, and the truth of the matter is I can do everything that I pay them to do. All I’m doing is seeking perspective. Gaining perspective gives you a choice.  Having a choice gives you the freedom to reach your full potential.

Is that what being a consultant entails? 

I think it pays to have perspective or receive a different point of view.  When you really look at it, all of you are my consultants or anyone who comments on a blog can act as a consultant.  You’re comment simply validates that particular thought or challenges the blogger to see the topic in a different light. The spring of technology and its access has put all of us in the driver’s seat, and that’s something to be excited about. 

Keep the learning going...pass it on!