Take A Curiosity Break

Earlier this week I came across an excellent article about the link between curiosity and living a happy healthy life. It outlines the ways being consistently inquisitive can contribute to healthier brain activity, IQ and relationships, as well as, increased happiness and personal satisfaction. I am a huge proponent of creative thinking and would like to think curiosity has fueled some of my more inspired moments so, the correlation presented in this article weren’t a huge surprise. However, the article did get me thinking about the benefits of incorporating “curiosity breaks” into a personal workflow.

New Business Opportunities:

Allowing yourself a bit of time each day/week/month dedicated to pursuing new interests or random thoughts may lead to the new business opportunities you’ve been attempting to discovering through more traditional channels. Learning about a new hobby, culture or experience can reveal a new industry/audience in need of your products or services or a new solution you can adopt to expand your offerings and attract new clients.

Reinvigorated Approach To Existing Business:

Exposing yourself to alternate environments and processes can shake up the way you approach your existing projects and customers. We all tend to fall into a pattern of thinking about how we do our work and the methods we use to solve problems. Investigating new topics – as assorted as they may be- can break up cyclical thinking and unconsciously new context and mindset can sneak in, breathing fresh life into a stale routine. Even something as simple as observing someone else do their job in an entirely different professional sphere can inspire new ideas for improving your own work. A “curiosity break” could also be the fix for a mental rut, those periods – sometimes weeks long- when you can’t seem to operate as productively as you’d like. Allowing yourself the leisure of curiosity replenishes mental creativity and energy.

More Enlightened Holistic Perspective:

On a larger scale embracing curiosity can help you become more satisfied with your life & work. Building your knowledge and familiarity with an assortment of activities, cultures, hobbies, place or wherever your interests lead brings more opportunities for enjoyment into your daily reality. The more you engage your mind and it’s curiosities the more energized your overall outlook will become. Investing in an intentional curiosity practice and truly integrating creative wonder into your routine will unleash a ripple of fulfilling satisfaction through your entire perspective.

In the process of writing this post I have reminded myself how important my varied professional interests have been to creating a rich, dynamic and satiating career. I would encourage you to start making time for “curiosity breaks” in your routine.

For some simple ideas on how to start feeding your curiosity refer to "The Power Of Curiosity"

Be Here Now: A Practical Approach To Starting A Social Media Strategy

Everyday a new report on social media is published; many seeking to provide the definitive, albeit elusive, answer in the search for best practices in social media. Using survey responses, case studies and analytics to support their claims they attempt to shine light on the strategies and tactics that lead to greater brand recognition, more web traffic or more business opportunities. What few reports or observers fail to emphasize is the fact that there is no one way to successfully navigate the social media waters. The technology and user familiarity are moving too fast; methods and tactics used today may be entirely obsolete in two weeks. Additionally, depending on company size and vertical focus the strategy is – and should be- very different. While patterns may be deciphered from this early research the best way for you to start building your social media is to be here now. 

While it is wise to do a little research into how companies have previously used social media streams the best investment of time and brainpower is in staying in tune with your daily social media activity and returns. At the very outset of your quest for social media relevance identify three or four attainable goals; for example, increase web traffic 10% or acquire two new actionable sales leads per week. Then use these goals to dictate your daily use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever your preferred service may be. Each day be mindful of how your social media actions may influence your goals. Note any response or feedback you get in a spreadsheet. You will find yourself adopting a social media rhythm based on the behaviors with the best results and over time you’re notes and hyper awareness will build an organic sense of your company’s social media niche and potential.

Obtaining a sense of purpose and direction within your social media activities provides a solid foundation on which you can build a more complex strategy. Being present in the ebb and flow of your brand’s social media relevance may reveal opportunities unique to your company and audience. It is that dynamic conversation that makes social media such an exciting new territory for business development. Immediately investing a great deal of time and money into a more advanced social media campaign may overlook the more nuanced relationship your company has – or could have- with a wider audience.

Keep in mind, this is just a starting point. Eventually, if your social media efforts prove successful, you will want to expand your strategy; incorporating the basic information you have gathered with higher-level tactics. But, when you’re just starting to explore the social media waters keep it simple and stay tuned in to where you started and how you’re progressing. It will make it easier for you to determine the directions you want to pursue. There aren’t any secrets to social media that you can’t figure out if you dedicate yourself to a mindful daily practice. 

A Sign Of The Times

Have you noticed these icons popping up with increasing frequency on business cards, advertisements and in magazines?

You may have asked yourself why are they there? What do they? Do I need one?

To help you make sense of these new icons I’ve written this quick introduction to the new age of barcodes.

Barcodes, traditionally those linear patterns on your groceries and department store price tags have, like so many other methods of identification, evolved over the years.

Initially commercially developed to automate the checkout process in grocery stores they have expanded from 1 dimensional (linear) to 2 dimensional matrix codes (symbol patterns). They have also branched into an ever-widening variety of industries, generally referred to as Auto ID Data Capture. They are now used for complex filing systems, patient identification, boarding passes even to track the mating habits of bees.

Recently, 2D barcodes have made their way into the social networking scene as apps have been developed for smart phones that enable users to easily scan a code and access information immediately. As I mentioned, you will, if you haven’t already, probably notice them popping up more often as the technology gathers wider user recognition. The two matrix codes receiving the most attention are QR codes & High Capacity Color Barcode.

QR Codes - also know as Quick Response codes- appear as a pattern of squares and were originally developed to track auto parts. However, in recent years they have been embraced by the smart phone industry as a means to quickly convey a lot of information. Using the phone’s camera you simply snap a shot of a QR code and the data within is brought up on your phone. Primarily use to exchange URLs, email, Twitter handles or other social networking information the codes have made their way into all sorts of printed medium.

Their ease of readability combined with the fact that it is free and equally easy to create your own QR code means we’re probably just seeing the beginning of their mark on the data transfer industry.

High Capacity Color Barcodes (HCCB) – also known as Microsoft Tags- are a Microsoft concept and look like a random pattern of colored triangles. Similar to QR codes HCCBs have gained marketshare because they are smart phone friendly. And, because the symbols incorporate a color palette they are capable of storing a lot more information. This allows them to encode much more than a few social networking links. In fact, I first noticed them when they were included in two magazines I subscribe to. In one the HCCB, once scanned, allowed me to watch how to properly attempt a new exercise. The other the HCCB popped up a movie trailer. Although they are a patented, and proprietary concept, HCCB are just as free and easy as a QR Code to acquire.

It is encouraging to see companies welcoming opportunities to build the link between print and digital media. Growing recognition of the potential for providing consumers with enhanced experiences in both formats is an indicator that print may not be as dead as many think.

There is something rather Orwellian about the increasingly probable chance that someday soon all of our personal information could be encoded in a tiny square symbol. For now though, I’ll happily scan and watch movie trailers and exercise videos. I encourage you to check them out and, if you too have a lot of information you want to quickly and easily disseminate these new barcode may be the product for you.

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. 

The Trends Discussion

How often do you talk trends? With your coworkers? With your clients?

A trends discussion is one of the best conversations you can have both in terms of personal and business development. Every morning I read at least five articles or blog posts about new trends and what I learn serves to inform my work but the real potential of all of this new information isn’t realized until I share it with others.

When I get the chance to discuss, and sometimes debate, new developments in my industry with coworkers and colleagues I learn more about their understanding of and experiences with new technology, strategies and services. I usually walk away with a much more informed understanding of the issues and, more often than not, I find out about more new industry developments.

Sharing trend knowledge with customers serves to improve my relationship with them because it transcends the usual “what do you need from me” conversation to one based on an exchange of ideas and information centered on improving their strategy and business. When I become a resource for new processes, strategies and technology my clients are more likely to rely on my advice and services to help them navigate new opportunities. If you bring this kind of conversation to your customers, detached from any sales motive, they will recognize your dedication the betterment of their company. When there is trust in a relationship there is the tendency for return business. Trends discussion can help you build that trust.

New trend information is readily available via the internet, print publications, etc. Go seek it out, make it part of your routine and then pass the knowledge forward. 

Looking At Numbers: 2nd ed: Where Do Numbers Come From?

Before any project can be attempted you must assemble the materials. If you’re cooking you need ingredients, if you’re crafting you need materials and if you’re playing with stats you’re going to need numbers.

The group of numbers you use in stat analysis is called a data set. Data sets can be compiled from a variety of sources in the name of an endless assortment of informational pursuits. On one end of the spectrum there are small sets quantifying, for example, a small business’s marketing expenses while on the other you have extremely large collections like the US Census. The numbers contained within these sets are the colors with which you will use to paint your greater picture.

If you’re attempting to get a better sense of your business’s operations – past, present, and future – then your data set will be mostly made up of information derived from your own records. If you’re attempting to determine where your company fits within a larger context or simply conducting wider ranging research [industry, market, location, etc] you will need to find bigger data sets.

Finding the numbers can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So, I have broken the search for numbers down into small, medium and large-scale resources.


These are resources that you can refer to if you’re numerical pursuits are mostly centered on your company:

Quickbooks Report Library: This is just an example of one financial tracking program but whichever you use to maintain your company’s finances should have a number of reports through which they can run the numbers you enter. From marketing expenses spent in the first two months of 2003 compared to those spent in the first two months of every subsequent year to a full analysis of your company’s financial status these reports can prove invaluable when trying to get a grip on what is working and what needs attention.

Google Analytics: This tool will allow you to track and measure the traffic on your website or blog. Any analytical tool will work but ones that provide you understandable and clear reports are best for beginners.

Survey Monkey: If you need to get more specific feed back you can organize your own survey to send to customers, employees, vendors, etc to get targeted feedback on your company.


These can be used if you want to take a few steps back and examine your/your company’s work in a wider context. If you’re looking to expand, change your product/service mix or simply get inspired a greater perspective can be useful.

Industry Analysis Each industry has at least a few institutions –often associations- dedicated to gathering information and providing analysis. These can give you vital information on the state of your industry and where it is projected to go. These reports are pricey endeavors so be prepared to spend some money. But, if you do your research on the quality and reputation of the reporters it can be an excellent investment.

The Data Market Place: This is a great repository to solicit others to do research for you. Or, if they already have the research this is a great way to see what sets are already out there. Again, it costs some money and it is in your best interest to do some research but it is a great option for more obscure data searches.


These are humongous data sets often amassed over long periods of time and intended to support trend and historical analysis on, in some cases, a global scale.

US Census Results: Every ten years the US gathers information on residents – regardless of legal status- to get a benchmark for myriad statistical points within our country. If you have the time to sort through the massive amounts of information you can find some great data sets to use for your business.

Pew Research: There are many large institutions that conduct unbiased wide ranging researches. They can be a good resource for information you may not even know you needed. Abstracts may be free/cheap but the full reports will cost you. If you want targeted information it would be wise to research PAC’s or other issue focused institutions.

These options should provide you a good jumping off point. But, if you are simply interested in exploring some data sets and playing around with numbers I would suggest James Davenport’s Assortment of interesting data sets. They are user friendly and rather interesting.

Now go get computing. 

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.


A Day Well Spent

I am a systems person. I take great solace in tucking into a routine every morning and using a generally ritualized structure to guide me through my day. Doing so greatly improves my chances of being productive as well as providing my “to do” list with a little natural rhythm. When you work independently in a wildly divergent field, like business development consulting, your days can quickly become busy without any really clear direction except “get it done now.” I see a lot of entrepreneurs and self-employed folks fall apart in the face of the assorted demands of their day. Distractions, stress and exhaustion are also adversaries of productivity. However, if you have a routine in place you’re more likely to keep your head, and focus, in the game. 

My typical routine looks something like this:

7 am:               Gym                                        

• Going first thing in the morning wakes me up, gives me time to think about my day and takes one thing off of my “to do” list immediately.

9 am:               Email check                            

• To tackle a hefty AM open I filter out newsletters, group updates and other regular emails into specific folders leaving only the emails that might demand immediate attention.

9:30                 Update “to do” list

• I use google’s Task function to keep my lists handy and easy to reference. There are many list manager services and aps out there to suit your needs.

10 am:             News & Blog reading             

• This is a big part of my job. Following trends, engaging with social networks and continually researching topics that are of interest to my clients are the fuel that feed my professional fires. I use Google Reader to organize the many RSS feeds I follow.

11 am:             Open project files and dig in

• I make sure to give myself enough time to work, research and write.

1:30/2 pm:      Lunch Break

3 pm:               Email check & reply time

• One of my resolutions for this year is to limit the number of times I hit the email feeder bar. By assigning myself regular times to check in I find I’m less distracted by the prospect of an email.

4 pm:               Open time

• Depending on what is most pressing for that day this time can be used in a variety of ways; writing, working on invoicing, touching base with colleagues, etc.


A Good Routine Is Not Set In Stone

You will notice the auto pilot items are condensed in the morning. My mind needs a little time to wake up some mornings and reading news, blogs, emails often lays the seeds of inspiration for where I want to direct my day. However these items are also not the most pressing; if they aren’t done the world will still rotate on it’s axis so they can be set aside and that time can be used for more immediate needs. Whatever your established agenda for the day is it is important to be able to be flexible and move forward if things do get a little out of control.

A Good Routine Comes In Many Shapes & Sizes

I have a few variations of my routine depending on the greater demands of the day. For example, on accounting days I jump right into the open accounts before heading to my google reader. I find it is useful to break an accounting day up by stopping for 30-45 min breaks to read other material every 2 hours or so. When a day requires travel I will often use commuting time to listen to podcasts or the news to make my time efficient. Once you’ve established your basic schedule you will notice the more commonly occurring themes of your days and can create your own variations.

In the time I have been actively building and refining my daily routine I have noticed a definite improvement in my efficiency and productivity. As customers, projects, environments and needs change it is nice to have something to lean on to give shape to some of the chaos.

If you’ve already got your own routine or productivity boosting tips please do leave them in the comments. I am always interested in hearing how others use their time wisely.

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.

Where Do You Go When You Need A Mental Shake Up?

When you work from home it can be pretty easy to find yourself lost in your own thoughts. There are days when I mull over a challenge, sometimes mumbling to myself, but most often making endless lists and taking copious notes in an attempt to work myself to a solution. When there is no one else around to bounce ideas off of or provide a fresh perspective days like these can quickly spiral out of control. The higher that mental hurdle gets the more prone to distraction or frustration I become and the further I get from any kind of solution.

When I first transitioned to working from home full time I lost a number of days to lone worker aimlessness. I quickly lost patience with the trend and took control of the situation. I realized that when I worked in an office and found myself at a dead end I would pick the brain of my officemate, take a stroll to another department to get a different spin on the issue entirely or make sure to bring it up in a team meeting. So I simply needed to build up a team of minds I could access from my home office using some less than traditional channels.

After a year of adding to and refining my lists I now have a solid collection of sources for inspiration. They fall into two categories; direct and indirect. 

Direct: These are sources I can directly interact with when I need a mental shake up

• My Twitter community: The people I engage with on Twitter come from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. Many of them are in similar situations as myself and we rely on each other to provide support and perspective. The ideas and input I can access via my Twitter serve as substitute officemates and often open my eyes to entirely new ways of thinking about my work.

• My local coffee shop: Besides the benefits brought by a change of scenery I find myself in the company of a wide variety of minds in this informal, and well caffeinated, “office.” The sense of camaraderie and support I receive from my coffee community breathes fresh energy into my work. It is amazing to translate an architect’s perspective of workflow to the world of graphic communications. Plus, being present in my local community has helped me build out our company’s network of potential clients.

• Fellow Industry Colleagues: In my travels and business doings I have had the pleasure of meeting a plethora of talented and wise people. The ones that have offered me their ear and the wealth of their experience are as close as an email or phone call when I’m struggling. I often reach out when in need and always make sure to offer to return the favor whenever I could be of help. It is an excellent karmic investment in my professional community.

Indirect: These are more passive sources I use to revive my frustrated mind. These are mostly blogs and websites whose archives offer seemingly endless bits of inspiration. Not only are they in my RSS reader for daily updates but also on hand when I need to search for something more specific.

            • Lifehacker

            • Justin Kowinacki

            • Social Media Today

            • Seth Godin

            • Inc

            • Conversation Agent

            • Smashing Magazine

            • Sparkplugging

            • Wired

            • Signal vs Noise

While there are still some days where I find myself simply stumped for progress, let alone productivity, they are fewer and farther in between now that I have built my arsenal of home office helpers. Hopefully, you can find a little inspiration from my own experiences. And please feel free to leave comments I would love to help you directly when you may need a fresh perspective. 

A Follower Revolution

In life and, in particularly, in business heavy emphasis is placed on becoming a leader. From a very early age we are told to lead by example; we are groomed to think like a leader; act with the confidence of a leader; constantly seek the leadership position etc. Every once in a while the importance of teamwork is highlighted however, even in those situations the teams are often composed of a bunch of people who have been raised to believe they are truly “leaders;” the ego often becomes a hindrance; leading to ineffective or imbalanced efforts and/or output. They have lost sight of the importance of all the followers that are required to support a successful leader and ultimately to realize a shared goal.                                        

The more time I spend in the “professional world” the more I notice the negative effects of this sense of leadership entitlement. Projects are often derailed by a wide variety of ineffective followers; saboteurs, dispassionate contributors, frustrated collaborators; people who have become so fixated on only wanting to be the one in the lead they overlook the importance of being an equally productive and quality follower.

There needs to be a renewal of follower pride. Schools, organizations, businesses need to reemphasize the value of every person that contributes to the whole of a successful endeavor. Culturally we need to focus on patience, shared accomplishment, genuine support and widespread hope for betterment. There is no one person who can affect great change or create revolutionary products. These things are only achieved when people work together.

I am not saying people should no longer aspire to leadership positions nor that good leadership will no longer be essential to navigate difficult projects. I am simply asserting we need to reestablish the characteristics of an excellent “follower.”


  • Quality listening needs to be emphasized just as much as quality speaking. Collaborative efficiency weighted as much a astounding results. 
  • A great leader will not only have once been a follower but will welcome the opportunity to once again contribute as a follower on future projects. 
  • Great followers will realize that, while this may not be their time to lead, the experiences and lessons taken from following will ultimately make them a better leader when their time comes. 

Schools, organizations, businesses need to reemphasize the value of every person that contributes to the whole of a successful endeavor. Culturally we need to focus on patience, shared accomplishment, genuine support and widespread hope for betterment. There is no one person who can affect great change or create revolutionary products. These things are only achieved when stellar leaders AND suburb followers work together. So go out and start the follower revolution. 

**I just stumbled upon this TED talk by Derek Sivers about First Followers. It seems the revolution has already begun.  

A Lesson In Customer Service

I received an email this week calling my attention to musician Dave Carroll’s fight with United Airlines. It seems, while on a flight from Canada to the US Carroll watched, helplessly, as baggage carriers tossed around his precious guitar before loading it into the plane. When he got to his destination and retrieved his guitar from the baggage claim he wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the neck of the $3,500 Taylor had been broken. When he attempted to seek compensation from United through their customer service channels he was continually passed from person to person, each claiming they had no power before passing him along to the next person. Finally he reached someone willing to give him a concrete response: No. United Airlines would not compensate him for his damaged guitar. 

So, Carroll took things into his own hands and did what he does best; wrote a song, made a video and posted in on YouTube.


United Breaks Guitars quickly became an internet hit. As of today it has been viewed 7,682,624 times, spawned two more videos and been made available on iTunes. Carroll also made a slew of appearances on news programs as the video made the social networking rounds. After four days of a rapidly growing negative PR storm United’s stock dropped 10% costing investors (in an already weakened industry) $180 billion. United could no longer ignore the claims of this angry customer and, after Carroll refused any money – he felt it was too little too late – they made a $3,000 donation to Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. What is the moral of this story? Social networking has made consistent high quality customer service essential to controlling your brand image.

YouTube, Yelp!, Four Square, Facebook, Twitter they have all given customers a forum to voice their praise and, all too often, complaints. The ripple effect of a singular bad experience is no longer limited to a person’s immediate social circle. Now, after notably bad table service you can hop on any number of sites/aps and voice your disdain therefore broadcasting your ills to, potentially, millions – as uneducated or unchecked as they may be – and immediately influencing that restaurant’s image.

This new customer service dynamic poses a number of challenges for businesses; how to get a bad review removed, how to politely respond to a negative tweet, what to do about an unwarranted attack. All of these questions now haunt small and large businesses alike. However, the answers aren’t as high tech and complex as you may believe. The answers can all be found in establishing and maintaining exemplary service from the very first moment of customer engagement. Spend the extra money to train your servers properly, take the time to revisit customer service values, enforce high standards of worker responsibility and review and promote easy to use customer friendly channels of communication. If United had spent the time to consistently train and review the work of their baggage handlers, stewardesses, and CSRs they would have avoided the drastic market response and costly image saving campaign. If you invest in high quality service, anticipate problems and determine solution methods you not only prepare yourself properly for when they occur but, most likely, you will find you don’t have many problems to fix. 

The Loyalty Investment

This past year many of our clients faced cut backs that frequently resulted in either reduced or, in some cases, lost business for us. We, like so many other small businesses, are accustomed to quickly adapting our services and business development approach to our customer’s needs and the larger economic climate. Whenever a project was cut loose we would usually reassess the customer’s initial needs to see if we could propose a modified solution that fit in to their new budgets. If the interest was still there we often revised the project scope and deliverables – shortening the length of a course or restructuring ancillary materials to be more multifunctional- so that a slower economy didn’t also mean suspended business development for our clients.

Why, you may ask, did we not simply turn around and pursue our client’s competition? They would surely be interested in services and content which would help strengthen their market position. Well, the answer boils down to loyalty. We have always tried to work with companies and individuals whose ethics and goals are complimentary to our own. We like to dig in and really understand their business in order to determine how we might best serve them. This is much easier to do if the people are just as curious and hard working as we are. It is also a much more sound investment of time and effort to develop quality relationships with our clients if we know that by providing them effective and loyal service they will continue to bring their work to us.

When the economic climate shifted dramatically and our clients’ budgets drastically reduced it was not as though that professional investment also took a dive. In fact, if anything the spirit of alliance was only strengthened. These were people and businesses that needed our help to keep their eye on the long term; needed to improve their workflows, continue their training and adapt their business development/marketing plans. 

Yes, we could have probably made more money last year by abandoning this sense of loyalty. But, we chose as a company not to panic and begin taking business from anywhere. Instead we decided the greater potential for long-term profit was in continuing to invest our loyalty in long time customers.

This isn’t to say we didn’t pursue any new business. In the instances when a project could not be afforded and the lost revenue needed to be supplanted we took it as an opportunity to explore new verticals and expand our services. We found opportunities in new arenas, like marketing and higher ed, that were conducive to our existing services. We also mined Bizucate’s current employee skill sets and identified new services –social media consulting, for example -- which we could offer to our clients. Both of these exercises carried the unanticipated benefit of reinvigorating our company’s core passion for embracing chances to learn.

We know this level of flexibility is more often the luxury of small businesses –- especially those well versed in ways of bootstrapping -– and that, at the end of the day, practical needs (payroll, accounts payable etc) need to be met. However, the basic philosophy behind remaining loyal to your client base is one that can be exercised on a number of levels. Whether it is the decision to give a little of your time “off the clock” to provide advice or to serve as conduit for information or introductions that could help a struggling customer where you can’t companies large and small can benefit from the loyalty investment.

As we start a new year (with some cautiously optimistic forecasts) we have already seen a slight return on the loyalty investment from clients who have reinstated previously suspended projects and have expressed interest in the new services we added to our roster. By keeping our focus on the larger picture we will continue to grow our business ethically. 

Looking At Numbers

I’m going to be honest, gathering and analyzing statistics is not my favorite way to pass an afternoon. I’m much more of an abstract creative thinker who can spend hours pouring over philosophy theories or days nose-in-book reading about history and art. When it comes time to really get into the numbers though I usually find myself quick to boredom. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the power and knowledge that lies in data sets or analytics. I’ve seen “number people” transfixed by the contents of a spreadsheet and even listened with the utmost respect to their impassioned explanation of a statistical regression. It’s just that, when left to my own devices, I usually skip over the data heavy parts of articles or texts. Professionally this is seldom an option, which is why I’ve decided that 2010 will be the year I really embrace numbers.

With every article I write and presentation I create I realize that by foregoing in depth – or in some cases any - statistical support I am doing my theories and observances a disservice in two major ways: first, I’m ignoring a large portion of my audience who are “number people;” second, I’m not providing the full case in support of my theories/assertions. So, I’ve begun to seek out resources for cost effective informative reports, data laymen and fine examples of stat applications to start expanding my use of numbers. To keep the learning going I’ll be sharing my number lessons with you over the next few months.

To ease my way into this new way of thinking I decided to start where art and numbers meet, in the world of “infographics.” The practice of using graphics to represent collected data sets has grown in popularity as we’ve become an increasingly image oriented culture. As graphic icons have been standardized and the practice of graphic design more standardized(w/c). Combining simple visuals with assorted number sets has proven to be a very effective way to serve a number of purposes. Among the more successful uses I have found include:

Using imagery to emphasize quantity or the relationship between comparative data.

The growth of Crayola colors since their introduction

*from http://flowingdata.com

To present an alternative perspective on information.

A visual interpretation of the information held in bar codes

* from  http://flowingdata.com

A plot of Bach's Three Goldberg Variations

*from The Shape Of Song

See also: A Visual History Of The US

Use numbers to dictate the direction of a piece of art.

A map of a website's traffic.

*from http://designweenie.com

Clearly these aren’t the pie charts and bar graphs of yore but they can be found in many of the same places: reports, slide presentations, textbooks etc. As the design quality of these representations have become more intricate and informed they have evolved into standalone pieces of art. The melding of the world of art with the realm of numbers is a very encouraging place to start this exploration and I’m looking forward to finding out where else it shall lead. 

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.

The Way We Were: Social Networking

There once was a time when "social networking" meant getting out into your community and building relationships. Before phones became ubiquitous, emails the standard, SMS professionally acceptable the main channels for making those connections were civic associations, religious organizations, political groups, hobby clubs, sports teams etc. The motives for participating in these social streams were the same as those that drive users to social networking 2.0 - abate loneliness, grow business opportunities, meet others with shared interests, further your cause, learn more. The methods were rudimentary and shaped largely by social etiquette but at its core social networking was a face-to-face endeavor dedicated to fostering the relationships from which greater institutions, businesses, movements would grow. 

While the invention of tons of new technology and processes have made it easier and faster to build a vast social network they have greatly negated the simple value of face-to-face conversation. Making conversation with the person who serves you your coffee in the morning or asking that person you see everyday in the elevator how their weekend was are all starting points for building out your social networks. 

Don't get me wrong, I rather like all the new bells and whistles that have brought a good number of people into my world who otherwise would have remained strangers. But, I think as things become increasingly virtual it is important to reexamine the art of the conversation. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, emails, phone calls are all great ways to enhance a conversation but taking the time to really get out there and practice your "hellos" and "how ya doin's" will keep your social networks rooted in reality. 

So, before you sign in, boot up, call in or log on have one simple face-to-face conversation. Extra points if it's with someone new. Just relax, engage and see where the network goes.

Who Is Your Audience?

When considering whether to take the social media leap as part of your customer communication strategy there are a number of factors to consider; who will maintain those avenues, how will brand strength be reflected and leveraged, which particular service is most appropriate, etc. Each of these are an essential part of the evaluation process and each can go to a much greater depth of analysis depending on the level of research required by your company. However, before you bother putting on the headlamp and mining the depths of these statistics I ask you to keep it simple.

First, remember these methods are intended to help create new customer relationships or strengthen existing ones. Now, clarify who is your ideal audience. Who are you hoping to reach, please, and support using social media? Then take a look at what kind of user demographics are available for the channels you're considering and see how they match up.

To save you some time I've gathered some surface stats from Quancast for your consideration.


45%Men • 55% Women

Age: 13-17 years old 20% • 18-34 years old 45% • 35-49 years old 20%

Income: $0-30K 16% • 30-60K 25% • 60-100K 29% • 100K+ 29%

More than 350 million active users

More than 700,000 local businesses have active Pages on Facebook

avail 15 languages



50% Men • 50% Women

Age: 12-17 years old 19% • 18-34 years old 35% • 35-49 years old 23%

13 languages



47% Men • 53% Women

Age: 13-17 years old 10% • 18-34 years old 44% • 35-49 years old 28%

Income: $0-30K 20% • 30-60K 28% • 60-100K 27%

23.3 M Total Users

Widely accessible from text messaging/phones


I encourage you to go gather even more focused information to correspond with your specific desired audience variables. Make a list, cross check them and then see which services are the best match. Then, and only then, begin to explore the other considerations regarding your social media strategy. Starting your process with a customer focus will help guide you to the most effective customer communication tool.


*Similar statistics and analytics are available for any and all social media services (LinkedIn, Wordpress, Tumblr, Flikr, etc.) from http://www.quantcast.com

Suvivors Guide To Social Media

Before a recent social media workshop for owners and executives in the printing industry I sent out three pre-workshop questions each participant had to ponder and try to answer before the session started:

  1. How does social media fit into your current marketing plan (if there is one)? If there isn’t a plan, what would you like to get out of social media?
  2. What is going to be said, by whom, using which channels and why?
  3. Could social media management be a service you could use to help your customers? If not, why not? If so, how?

The answers I got back were expected and it helped me develop the content for the workshop. Here is an example of one of the responses:

“I don’t know that I am able to answer these questions. I want to know:

  1. What social networking is
  2. How a business [printer] can use it to his benefit
  3. The step by step process to establish our social network.

At that juncture I expect I would be more prepared to answer the questions. I can tell you that we have a marketing plan; however, social media marketing is not part of it. What I want from social media marketing, like my overall marketing effort, is to develop more business.”

What follows is an abbreviated Social Media Survivors Guide you can use to help begin your journey in navigating the challenges and opportunities around social media.

What Is It? Social networking addresses the human need to interact. Social media are methods and channels to interact with other humans as part of a person’s network. Social networking isn’t new. The ways in which it can get done: blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many more are very new to most. According to Wikipedia, social networking transforms broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues.

Why Should We Do Anything? There is a video on the web worth watching as part of your survival training. The Did You Know? video is currently in its fourth version and describes global changes in the world, new technologies, convergence and the way people behave. The video asks us if we’re ready for the changes and I believe that sets up one of the most important success behaviors in social networking and business—having a plan. Developing a strategic approach to the opportunity is better than haphazard tactical attempts. An even more relevant reason to work on your strategy about how to deal with the changes is because most of your customers are trying to figure this out too, why not work on it together?

Where Does Social Media Fit In?
I’m not trying to overwhelm you with videos, but they are an effective medium along with print and there’s one you don’t want to miss. Eric Qualman wrote Socialnomics, a brand new book on social media. Eric developed a video that takes many of the social media statistics and puts them in an engaging presentation on how we are totally changing the way we communicate. The beginning of the video asks “Is Social Media a Fad?” By the end you will see that some form of social networking with new media tools will continue to grow in use and application.

What Can a Business (Printer) Do About This? No one likes the first part but it’s a good first step. Think strategically about what you could do. Where are you, where do you want to be? Where is your current customer and where are they going? And what about the customers you don’t have…where are they going and can you meet them ahead of time or help them get where they are going? It’s how you can win new business from existing customers and new customers by identifying what they want and having a process in place to deliver on it. That’s marketing.

The second part to the question is a tactical one. It’s got a 4 part answer according to Qualman and it works because I do something similar and help others do the same: 

  1. Listening: Choose a social media channel and set up an account. Find out who is saying what to whom and perhaps why. Following your customers, customer’s customers, vendors, partners and competition can increase your knowledge—and suck up a lot of time if you don’t watch it.
  2. Interacting: Participating in conversations, sharing ideas, asking questions, answering questions, exploring what can be done and said are all part of this step. 
  3. Reacting: Make changes to your social media approach, your business, your services, your customer service…your whole mission can happen here. FedEx listens actively on Twitter and follows up in minutes if someone Tweets about a bad FedEx experience.
  4. Selling: The first three steps will help you identify what a business wants. Keiger Printing in Winston-Salem, NC uses Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS, Delicious, Digg and more to show their customers they are listening and creating dialogs about how they’ve helped their customers beyond cost savings alone. They use case study content on their social media channels to show what can be done. They can even ask for business from some of those who follow them. 

When you leverage social media so people find you, listen to you, and ask you if you can do business with them—that’s a great indirect sales approach. There’s less selling and more helping. You have the opportunity to get paid for that help.

Four popular social media technologies for you to investigate should include a blog (for writing complete thoughts about trends, happenings, thoughts, challenges and more), LinkedIn (for posting information about yourself and your business and network with others who may be looking to find people like you or about topics you may know about), Facebook (to interact with people personally and/or professionally and create communities that are interested in common goals or ideas) and Twitter (to share a quick thought or idea about who you are, what you think, what you want others to know, what you can do to help and follow how others are doing the same in their own way). How you use these tools can help you find out things, get found and identify new opportunities to grow your business in a new way. Once you’ve started the journey you have experiences you can share. You could even set up services to help others do the same in their business.

Share what you learn along the way in some new media…that’s what being social is all about.

Keep the learning going, pass it on. ~Peter