Friday, September 30, 2011

LinkedIn and The New Hire


My friend Leslie recently started a great job as Marketing Director at a cool Silicon Valley start-up.  On her first day the CEO sent out the typical email to the entire company announcing her arrival and welcoming her to the team.

Then it began.  Within minutes she started getting LinkedIn requests from the other employees.  Some came by or emailed first, but others just tossed the link requests over the wall.

I have mixed feelings about this.  I have written in detail about my belief that LinkedIn is not a way to connect to anyone with a pulse, and profess the "Coffee, Meal, or Beer Rule" (which basically means I want to know you before we connect on LinkedIn or Facebook).

In this case she works for a small company.  Since it is an intimate group and she will be working closely with everyone, the relationships are guaranteed to follow.  However, if she was working for a big company the amount of LinkedIn requests could have little meaning.  I used to work for Wells Fargo Bank and I still get requests from random bank employees from around the country who say "I see you once worked for Wells Fargo, I think we should connect".  Huh?....  that is just not enough of a reason.  They might as well say, "I see that you breath air, I think we should connect".

Leslie's company has ten sales people and several of them immediately combed her LinkedIn connections to see if she had contacts at any of their prospective client companies.  This was smart.  She has worked inside many technology companies as a marketing employee or consultant and has developed a wonderful reputation throughout the tech community.   Using LinkedIn to discover who are the first degree contacts of the "new hire" is a great idea.  It is a win for the company and a chance for the new person to add value right from the start.

This is another reason to be judicious in your linking policy.  If your new employer comes to you on week one and says "WOW, I see you are connected to Ryan Terrell, can you make an introduction", and your answer is "WHO?", it does add value!

I do believe that Linking with co-workers (with whom you know) is an important way to utilize LinkedIn.  It not only helps those inside the company find contacts that can lead to new sales opportunities, but someday when you move on you want to make sure that those who worked closely with you know how to find you!

What do you think?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Niche Business Shows It's Bra Straps - Ooh La Bra!

I love niche businesses.  I have always admired people who set out and create products and services where nothing existed before. A unique business gets our attention and people love to witness success when entrepreneurs take a chance on something different.

While in Michigan last week I ran into a friend from college.  Our Alma Mater, San Diego State, was playing football at "The Big House" (The University of Michigan's football stadium) and we had a great conversation at the alumni tailgate party.  (Our team lost, but it was still fun).

Lisa Angelos McKenzie has launched a business, Ooh La Bra!, that makes decorative bra straps. Yes, today is a first on the "Some Assembly Required Blog" -- I am writing about bra straps!

I talked with Lisa about the company and her advice to other entrepreneurs who have unique ideas.  Here is the interview:

Company Name: Because I Am Me Enterprises, LLC (dba Ooh La Bra!)

Founded: November 2010

Location: Covington, LA (near New Orleans)

The company designs and carries over 65 styles of bra straps, made of rhinestones, beads, pearls and shells, as well as a signature line of rhinestone headbands called "Chamillions".

Thom:  You have run several successful companies, why start something new?

Lisa: I have been involved in several business ventures for over 20 years. One of the companies that I was running since 1991 started fizzling out due to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the convention industry. In its hay-day, we had over 15 employees and were working 24/7 year round. But as the industry changed, the writing was on the wall that the effort that was being exerted to keep it afloat wasn't worth the reward. Plus, I was getting bored with it, which made it difficult to want to pour anything into the business (financial or creative). Even when it was at the end of its lifeline, I had a fear of shutting it down because it was my baby that I started way back when and it was hard to let go. However, once the decision was made to close it down, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I closed that company in January of 2010, and all of the sudden I found myself with a lot of free time, allowing me to explore some creative endeavors. I wrote a couple of screenplays, pitched a reality show, got involved with charities, designed websites, etc. It was amazing how getting rid of that other company freed my mind to allow me to try new things. The bra strap idea was one of those situations where I was sitting around a pool with friends and said, "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" -- and the idea was born.

Thom: Why colorful bra straps?

Lisa:  Thanks to Britney Spears and Sarah Jessica Parker (in her role as Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex and the City"), they created a fashion trend where it was all the sudden acceptable to have bra straps showing. But not everyone agrees with that fashion trend. I get comments all the time from women (and even men) that they find that look to be unappealing and sloppy. The problem women face with their wardrobes is that it's often difficult to find the perfect bra to pull off a certain outfit. Strapless dresses, off the shoulder shirts, spaghetti straps, racer back t-shirts, etc. -- all of these come with what I call the "bra strap dilemma". And if you have to wear an outfit with a strapless bra, it's almost drudgery because the bra wants to slip down around the rib cage. So -- the idea here is that the bra strap becomes jewelry on the shoulder and is designed to not only be functional (in that it keeps the strapless bra "lifted"), but it's designed to show in a tasteful and beautiful way. They are really quite sexy and practical. (P.S. The straps must be worn with any strapless or convertible bra -- any bra where the old straps can be taken off and replaced with Ooh La Bra! straps).

Thom:  Did the market exist when you started or did you blaze into a whole new world?

Lisa:  The market existed but in a small way. I was actually surprised when I googled it and found companies already endeavoring in the business. But most (if not all) were internet based, and the more I asked around, the more I discovered that nobody had ever heard of the product, and that everyone thought it was a brilliant idea. I've tried to create styles that are completely unique, and that cover a wide range of styles (such as beach and resort wear, bridal and prom, girls night out, plus size, sports colors, etc.), and my objective was to create brand awareness and really cool packaging and displays that would appeal to boutique owners who could resell the product line. I currently have over 120 boutiques carrying the bra straps and headbands!


Thom:  Where do you get your support? (yes, pun)

Lisa:  My bra straps give me the lift I need everyday! :)  Let's see...this is a hard question because support comes in so many forms. As far as keeping a clear head, the biggest source of support I get is from a friend of mine who was a sorority sister in college and has always been the yin of my yang. She keeps me on track with business concepts and growth ideas. Although she is not a partner, she is very much involved in the company and is helping me launch a home party business. I have a ton of friends who offer me emotional support. My 10-year old daughter, believe it or not, is amazing with creative ideas! And recently, I've had some assistance by a financial investor who is helping me take the business to the next level.

Thom:  You have grown fast and are bootstrapping.. what is your biggest challenge?

Lisa:  Absolutely hands down is the fact that I am a small business with no full-time staff. I was blessed with various skills such as web design, graphic design etc. that helps save me a lot of money (without having to outsource) but is also a HUGE detriment because it slows me down on moving the company forward at the pace it needs to. I spend hours and hours on web design, catalog design and I'm at that phase in the business where I MUST involve some other talent to move this quicker. The financial inflow from the investor will ultimately allow me to pay for help in those areas that are serious time wasters for me!


Thom:  You home school your kids? How do you find balance?

Lisa:  My son is in 9th grade and goes to a private Christian school, so I am only home schooling my 10-year old daughter. My decision to home school was to initial save on the tuition, but to also have some quality time with my daughter. However, it is a HUGE commitment and I'm pretty sure I'll be putting her back in school next year. With that said, though, it really has been great having her around and she is learning a lot about the business. The other day, I had a customer who called with a bra strap emergency and I told that customer she could meet me at my house to try on different straps. I was running late so I called my daughter and asked her to pitch hit for me until I got home. By the time I arrived, my daughter had chosen four styles that were absolutely PERFECT for the long, strapless dress the woman was wearing. When the customer left, my daughter asked how much commission she would get from the sale. I promptly paid her and she got a valuable lesson in what results when you provide excellent customer service! You can't learn that at school!

Thom:  What advice do you have for someone with an idea who wants to launch it into the world?

Lisa:  My advice? STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND DO IT! I have so many friends who just talk and talk and talk about all their ideas and never act upon them. If you believe in something, be brave, act smart and put a plan in motion. Keep your overhead low in the beginning and rely on help wherever you can get it. And then be ready for a wild ride. Everyday is a learning experience, and it is so fun to see watch an idea blossom. Also, give the new business/idea about three years to take shape. The first three years you will probably be putting any money earned right back in the business. Accept this as part of the reality. And finally -- take advantage of social media. It is PROFOUND how it can help you grow your business.

Thom:  How can someone order your product.

Lisa:  I have 120 boutiques listed on my website if you happen to be in an area where the straps are sold. However, they are also available on-line at www.oohlabra.com Additionally, we are launching the home party business and if women are interested in becoming a sales consultant and member of TEAM OLB, there is a link to that business opportunity on my website.

So now we have talked about bra straps.  Who knows what will be discussed in my next blog post!!!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

PS - Full disclosure - The links in the post to Ooh La Bra! are "affiliate links".  You can access the main site at www.oohlabra.com 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Innovation You by Jeff DeGraff

I recently read Innovation You: Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved.  It is a new book by the "Dean of Innovation", Jeff DeGraff.

I have been thinking about the topic of innovation.  Change has been so consistent in my life and I know the only way to find more success is to be willing to accept this reality.  If we want to discover our potential we must constantly be innovating.  I have the most fun working with those who are excited by change, as they are the ones who achieve results.

The companies, law firms and individuals I work with want more business in the changed economy, but many have remained the same in their attitudes toward business, sales, marketing, relationships, brand, visibility, etc.....  "We have always done it this way" has become the lamest excuse in the marketplace.  What worked before is no longer the guarantee for the future. (While it might work for some, not paying attention to what is new in your industry is a bad idea).

I also witness this struggle in myself.  As my business grows I find new and exciting opportunities, but I need to expand my expertise.  I am harnessed with the same economic conditions other businesses are facing, but I am not other businesses.  My unique situations present a chance for me to forge my own path to success.  I get excited when I can find ways to overcome problems with a new and fresh approach.

DeGraff is a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and the Executive Director of Innovatrium, a creativity center for executives.  He works with some of the worlds "best and brightest" to help them rethink their innovation, approach, methods and journey.  His experience is important, but he goes further than just another academic who writes a book... he writes with impact that keeps the reader's attention and interest.

In the end, creativity is the key to innovation and success. He tells stories throughout the book that show how people can overcome the road-bumps and reached their victories.  The game has changed, and we all can use a dose on innovation.

Innovation You is a good book, and it is worth the time to read it, as it will kick-start your own re-engineering process.

Have A Great Day

thom singer


Friday, September 23, 2011

Seven Questions To Ask Yourself If You Want To Create More Business In The Recession

Are we still in a recession?  People seem to argue all sorts of facts, figures and predictions, but the news is still bleak and the outlook for the short term can still be sketchy.  There are still too few jobs for those who want to work.  If you look closely in our communities there are people still struggling.  The stock market had another bumpy week.  Three years after the banking crisis there is still uncertainty.  Stimulus or not, times are tough.

But times are always tough.  Even with all the negative news there is business being done.  In good times and bad there are transactions. While it is true that we have been navigating tough times, there is sales happening.  There is always opportunity.  Everyday I talk to my customers and potential clients and they are all seeking to find success.  Each week I see companies celebrating milestones. 

If your organization is looking to create more business you have to accept that the economy has changed.  The way we do business is different, and it will not be the same even when the boom-boom times come back (my 96-year-old father says that every economic bust over the last 100 years has been followed by a boom.  Good times will arrive).

Here are seven questions to ask yourself (if you have read this far down this blog post):

1.  Are you are still conducting your sales, marketing, advertising, networking, PR, branding, personal branding, customer relations, business development, and other visibility activities in the way you did five years ago? 

2.  Has your company had regular meetings to assess how the changing world is impacting your business?

3.  Have you made sure that the LinkedIn profiles of all your executives are robust and coordinated?  Are the profiles place-holders or robust calling cards to your business community? (this goes for the rest of your social media tools, too).

4.  Does your team hide behind electronic communications or are they the in-person leaders of your industry?

5.  Is the recession an acceptable excuse for low performance?

6.  Do the leaders in your company lead by example?

7.  Are you talking to your clients and prospects about their biggest challenges or just trying to sell them your solutions?

Now is the time to reinvent your company and yourself.  If you wait until the boom-times arrive then you might be giving a head start to your competition.  Besides, "waiting" is a poor strategy.  Invest the time and money now to improve yourself, as there is no better time to harness the power of momentum than when others are at rest.  There is business out there, go an find the best ways to do it.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Small Businesses Need To Analyze Business Information

Are you gathering your data, analyzing information, and taking the right actions on what you discover?

"BI Analytics" has become a growing job sector, and Corporate America is seriously seeking people who have a mix of both IT experience and business acumen coupled with "big-picture" thinking.  Gathering, understanding, and implementing the information is having material impacts on the decision making and bottom line of organizations that are paying close attention to the metrics.

I recently participated in a conference for professionals in the business intelligence and analytics sector.  While I was there in my "Conference Catalyst" role, I was exposed to indepth presentations from leaders in medium and large companies who are harnessing information and seeing powerful results.  I speak at meetings in a variety of industries and often walk away learning more than I expected -- this was one of those times! 

I began to wonder about small business owners and solo-practitioners who cannot afford the people and technology to accumulate and analyze this high level of information.  One presentation mentioned "BI analytics on a poor-man's budget", and the speaker discussed how his company did this on a $1 million budget.  This might make you think that BI is not for the micro business.

But what information should a solo-entrepreneur be seeking?  How can it be gathered without staff and high end software?  And once you have information, how do you analyze it and discover how to use it?

Many people make important business decisions based on emotion.  They throw darts at a wall while blind-folded and hope for the right answer.  Hope is not a business strategy, but many of us (me, too) are guilty of this from time to time.

We also get focused on the little things that seem very important, but really take up too much of our time and attention.  Without proper examination of the information it becomes easy to become very busy with small activities and miss the larger landscape.  How often do we spend out time picking up pennies while stepping over $100 bills?

I don't have the answers.  This blog post is more about questions.  The  Computerworld "BI and Analytics Prospectives Conference" had a profound impact on me, but I am not done processing all that I heard from those who are the industry's thought leaders.  What do you do in your small business to make sure that your decisions are made based on real information and not just hope?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Planning A Memorable Conference

I am currently participating and speaking at a Computerworld conference.  The BI & Analytics Perspectives Conference is one of several events I have served as "The Conference Catalyst" for Computerworld (and their sister brands) over the past year, and like the others it is proving to be an "industry happening".  Everyone is learning and also having a lot of fun.

The person I sat next to at lunch flew in from Indonesia to attend this two day topic specific industry event.  He has an agenda to gather information for his company, but when you fly thirty hours each way you also want to be fully engaged in and connected to the mini-society that is created when people come together for a business meeting.  He is getting a great mix of content and experience.

Computerworld does more than just talk about putting the attendees at the center of the events.  Too often business conferences (in technology and other industries) get over run with the focus being on the information, and soul of the people is forgotten.

To create a great conference organizations must be willing to try new things and question the purpose of "why" they make decisions.  I am impressed with the team who planned this event, as they are willing to have in-depth discussions before, during and after an event to ensure that attendees and sponsors are getting the maximum benefit from their participation.

When planning an event:

1. Do not simply repeat the previous years agenda and fill in the blanks.

2. Know your purpose.

3. Know what your audience wants from their participation.

4. Encourage interactivity and have a mix of speakers, panels, and other types of sessions

5. Create an atmosphere for meaningful networking.

6. Build in fun activities (that are not hokey!).

7. Have your speakers stay for meals, breaks, happy hours, etc...

8. Let each session build upon the previous presentations.

9. Have the sponsors as part of the community.

Those who plan events are finding the ongoing economic slowdown is creating more competition to get the right people in attendance.  The same-old-thing is no longer good enough.  Every meeting must have a fresh personality.  No matter the type of meeting, the vibe must be focused on the people.

What are you finding in the meetings you attend?  What is being done to make you say "WOW"?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

PS added after the conference:  I was also impressed with the sponsors at the event I attended this week.  They were very engaged with the participants and split up from co-workers to mingle with the crowd as fellow members of the engaging "mini-society" that occurred at the meeting.  Actuate, IBM, Information Builders, Lexis Nexus - HPCC Systems, MarkLogic, MicroStrategy, Oracle, Tableau, and TeraData all get "kudos" for making the event a welcoming place for all attendees.  Every person I talked with received valuable information and networked like crazy!  

 Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com 



Monday, September 19, 2011

Follow-Up Emails Can Stand Out and Get You Noticed

What do you do to stand out from the crowd?

I recently attended a conference where I met nearly 100 people.  Four days later I received an email from Steve Hunt, a sales director for Hyatt Resorts of Hawaii.  Instead of the typical cut and paste "nice to meet you" message, Steve customized a short video. (See below).

video

The subject line read "Mahalo from Hawaii (Okay, Connecticut)", as Steve actually lives outside of New York City representing the Hyatt's Hawaiian properties to those on the East Coast who will host business meeting in the Aloha State (is that a cool job or what?).  

I watched the video in amazement.  I see many creative ways that people can follow up, but this was both unique, and showed that he put in a little extra effort in his follow through.

We can all learn from Steve Hunt and find ways to do that "little bit more" that gets you noticed.  If I was planning a business event in Hawaii I would call him right back!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Speaking in New York City


I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker for the PCMA Chapter of New York at their annual "Education Day" (PCMA stands for Professional Convention Management Association).  I kicked off the program with the "Conference Catalyst", and got to spend the rest of the day participating in their event.  I met some super-nice people, learned about using social media for events from the folks at Seven Degrees Communications (Midori Connolly and Jessica Levin, who I knew before this event via Twitter!), and had a ton of fun.

The meeting was held at the historic Hudson Theater in New York City (less than one block off Time Square). This Broadway theater has hosted many productions, live television programs, special events, etc... In the 1950’s, the Hudson Theatre was home to NBC’s The Tonight Show with Steve Allen as host. During this time legends such as Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Ernie Kovacs, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis Jr., Barbara Streisand and Vincent Price graced the theatre’s stage. The long-running daytime game show, The Price is Right also made its debut at the Hudson Theatre. It was very cool to get to speak in such an amazing location.  (As a kid I had wanted to be an actor... so this was my chance to be on Broadway!).

I love speaking at conferences or conducting corporate training programs in New York City (okay, I like all the places I get to go... but NYC is NYC!).  The energy of the city is everywhere, and contrary to stereotypes, the people in New York are always wonderful and they are receptive to the message of "Choosing people in our busy world".

I arrived the night before with no plans and decided to grab a last minute ticket to a Broadway Play.  I had wanted to try to get a ticket to "The Book of Mormon", but my flight was late and there was no way to get to this show before the curtain went up (plus it is currently the hottest ticket in Manhattan).  I ended up going to see "Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark".  The show had gotten a ton of publicity for it's huge expense and the accidents that injured actors and others during the rehearsals and early performances.  The visuals were spectacular (set was very well done).  The stunts were great (Spiderman and the Goblin were flying over the whole audience).  The music was okay (yet I cannot remember a single song).  And the story-line was kinda forced (to match the comic books and movies).  It was not the best Broadway experience but I am glad I saw it.  Going to a play alone was weird (Theater is experienced best when shared with my wife or a friend.  Solo in the audience was just not the same).

My last night in town I went to New Jersey to visit my brother and his family.  His wife is a great cook and makes the best homemade salsa on the planet.  We ate a gourmet dinner and drank some good wine.  I got to spend time with two of my nephews (who are growing like weeds).  In the morning I was off to the airport to get home to my own family.

I look forward to my next trip to the Big Apple.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Chocolate Problem - Andy Sernovitz at The Association for Corporate Growth (Austin)


Andy Sernovitz spoke to the Central Texas Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth.  He is a master on the topic of "word of mouth marketing" and shared his philosophies with this gathering of local business professionals.

He talked about "chocolate" having a problem... Nobody calls their friend to tell them they just tried chocolate, and it was awesome.  Chocolate has been around for thousands of years, and it's awesomeness is well known. Thus, once your brand is established you might suffer from not being interesting enought (aka...NEW ENOUGH) to talk about.

In the 1990's Apple Computer re-charged their business when they released their Macs in green, yellow, and purple.  Same computers, but nobody had ever had them in colors before, and that was enough to put the company back on the map and get people talking.

Sernovitz went on to mention brands popular that do little things that make people happy... and these are the companies we talk about: Zappos, RedEnvelope, Jones Soda, Makers Mark, etc...  The unique things they do for the customer gets people to talk, and that is what we all want.  But it is not always your customers who are the ones talking.  Ferrari owners are not their biggest advocates, it is all sorts of others (who may never own such a car) who spread the excitement of the brand.

Companies must remember that your brand is not what you say it is.... it is what other people say it is.  We have to help our fans tell their friends.  Making it easy to promote your stories, and not caring on what mediums the messages are being sent, is paramount to success.

When you are an established and GREAT brand, you must solve the "Chocolate Problem".  You must find new ways to get people talking and keep people talking, without selling out what made you cool in the first place.  He mentioned that Krispy Kreme Donuts was built on people coming to watch the donuts being made (and bringing their friends).  In the world of donuts... ALL donuts start out "hot"...  but Krispy Kreme created an urgency to watching them being made, and eating them warm.  It was special.  However, now you can buy cold and packaged Krispy Kremes at the gas station.  Not as cool, and nobody is nearly as excited to talk about the brand.

SIDE LINE.... This made me laugh when Sernovitz said: 
"It is a federal law that all marketing presentations must refer to Seth Godin at least once" (uttered after he mentioned Godin's "Purple Cow").

His talk was both informative and inspired people in the audience to want to take actions to get others talking.  And he passed out chocolate.  Who does not love a speaker who gives them candy?

Hey.. feel free to share this blog with your friends (he said asking was important!).

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


Make Networking A Priority At Your Event

Everyone desires their event to be an "industry happening".  A conference, convention, trade show, or seminar that is a memorable experience will be the talked about beyond the hotel hallways.  When people are having a good time together they forge relationships that have lasting bonds.  Successful networking is about the human to human connections, thus the event must be about more than just the content presented.  When the networking is a priority, everyone wins!



To get a FREE copy of my eight page essay on creating an atmosphere for better networking send me an email at thom (at) thomsinger (dot) com.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.  http://www.conferencecatalyst.com 
www.ConferenceCatalyst.com

Monday, September 12, 2011

12 Ways Tennis Is Like Business


I have recently begun playing tennis.  I have never been much of an athlete, and I am surprised at my high level of enjoyment in learning this sport at 45-years-old. My experience with each lesson and match brings me closer to finding a comfort zone on the court.  It also brings new aches and pains, as I am getting older.

After each encounter with tennis I have been contemplating what I learned, and then I explore the areas where I need to work to improve.  Interestingly I am finding my needs on the court are the same as my needs as an entrepreneur.

1.  Better focus equals more success.  I find with tennis and in business I need more focus on the tasks at hand. I cannot get distracted by what else is happening around me, or I will miss the next point and / or opportunity.

2.  Speed is your friend.  When I hustle I seem to win more.  If I am waiting for something to happen the ball or opportunities fly across my field of vision.  With speed comes success.

3.  Be strategic with each move.  Taking a shot or launching a product requires a thoughtful strategy.  I have never been good at "winging - it".  Having a plan is better.

4.  Always bring two options when you serve.  If I take one ball to the line, and fault on my serve I will need to scramble to find another ball.  Same is true when I work with clients.  If I have only one option and it is not the right fit, then I am lost.

5.  Anticipate what is coming next.  Life has a way of surprising you.  Just when you think you are set, your opponent can tap the ball over the net and you lose.  Never count the point before it is won.  Same in business.  Too many times I have thought I knew the outcome only to have victory vanish.

6.  Know your competitive advantage.  We all have things we bring to the table that make us unique.  Confidently being aware of what you do well will allow you to take the necessary shots (in tennis and business).

7.  Discover what your opponent is not doing.  Keenly observe those around you (those on your team and on the other side) and discover what they are not doing, or are not willing to do.  Identify the hole and send the ball sailing through it.

8.  Newbies do not automatically play at the top level.   You cannot walk into the elite circles in sports or business.  You have to earn your way up the ladder every day, and with each match you play. The small victories add up and if you are good you will be noticed.

9.  Always watch the lines and make fair calls.  People will knock the ball close to the line.  You must be watching to see if their serve is fair.  Win or lose you must be honest with them and yourself about where it landed.   Call 'em like you see 'em.

10.  Get to know the people around you and have fun.  This should go without saying, but too many people are wrapped up in their own performance and fail to acknowledge the others who are playing the same game.

11. There are no shortcuts to better skills.  You cannot fake experience and hope is a futile strategy.  To get better you must be out there playing the game all the time.

12.  You need a coach. Having someone to turn to when you need extra help is paramount to success.  A coach who will watch from the sidelines and give pointers and advice, without judgement, will allow you to avoid the common mistakes that others repeat over and over again.  Always listen to your coach and do not be defensive at his or her observations.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Capital Factory DEMO DAY

Yesterday was the Capital Factory's annual "Demo Day".  This sold-out gathering has quickly become one of most engaging events for the Austin start-up community.

The day included impactful keynote presentations by Bob Meltalfe, Brain Sharples, and Auren Hoffman.  Additionally the five companies in this year's Capital Factory summer program (and 17 other start-ups) delivered short presentations to investors (whose nametags sported banners that read "I write checks") and others key members of the local the community.

The five Capital Factory companies (StoryMix Media, HelpJuice, SpeakerMix, SwimTopia, and Alumni Charger) all did a great jobs in presenting their information.  It was a great example of why it is so important for executives to develop their public speaking skills.  Entrepreneurs have several occasions to tell their stories, and those who can do this well will have the advantage of standing out from the crowd.

Congratulations to the Capital Factory and all their member companies, supporters and sponsors.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Read This On a Flight to the Conference


Wheels up.  You are now your way to a conference, convention, seminar, or association / industry meeting.  Multiple days away from the office.  Captivating keynote speakers.  Detailed breakout sessions.  Information overload. Crowds of people who could become important business contacts.  Maybe a trade show to view the latest products and services to make you more efficient.

Wow, you have a busy few day ahead!

Your co-workers think you are off on a boondoggle at an exotic resort.  They assume attending the conference means party, party, party and then some time at the pool.  The reality is that even if you do have a little time to play some golf or do some shopping, the event is about work and your schedule is full.

Your investment of time and money to be at the convention is substantial, and maybe your boss is making you attend (you might not necessarily event want to be there).  However, since you are already on the plane flying across the country you might as well make the most of your participation once you arrive.

Here are nine tips to help you maximize the conference:

1.  Check in ASAP.  If the event starts the next day you might be tempted to wait until the morning to pick up your nametag and conference materials.  However, the lines will be longer in the morning, and if they might have a whole bag of welcome "goodies" that you will then need to carry around the rest of the day.  If the registration booth is open, take care of this right away.

Additionally, there might be unofficial events happening the night you arrive and showing up early could equal an invitation to a VIP activity.  Ask the person checking you in if there is anything going on or if there are people seeking dinner companions.  A good conference team will be happy to try to connect people.  It is often the serendipitous meetings that happen early at a conference that lead to the most meaningful connections.

2. Review the agenda in detail.  Read over the descriptions of all the keynote and breakout sessions.  NOT JUST THE TITLES.  Too often speakers come up with quirky titles that can hide the real power of the information that will be presented (or vice versa).  I have seen many people skip out on certain sessions only to later realize they missed some powerful information.  Make your decisions as to what are your "must see" presentations in advance.  This way if something comes up (like you are tired or have a work emergency) you are familiar with the areas in the schedule where you have flexibility.

3.  Say "Hello".  Once you put on your nametag you become part of the mini-society of the conference.  Do not by shy in talking to others who are sporting the same nametag.  If you were in Europe and you saw someone wearing a t-shirt with your hometown or college name on it ... you would defiantly say "Hi".  In the halls of the hotel or convention center there might be many groups present, but those at your conference are present for the same reasons (one of which is meeting others).  Be the person who initiates conversations.  If you wait for others to talk to you, it could be a lonely conference.

4.  Do not check your phone in the conference area.  Too many people spend the breaks or the time just before a breakout session glued to their smart phones checking emails, etc...  When you do this you broadcast to the other attendees that you are not approachable.  People cannot come and talk with you, as that would be rude, so they write you off.  This feeling about you might subconsciously remain at social events later in the conference.  If you have to take a call, step away from the conference area.  Yes, you are busy and have stuff to keep up with, but it can wait a few minutes or you should not have traveled to the convention in the first place.  Twenty years ago when people attended a trade show they were present both physically and mentally.  Now many show up in body only.

This does not mean you cannot pull out your phone during a presentation.  If the speaker says something interesting, you may want to post his comments to Twitter or Facebook.  If the speaker is too boring to keep your attention, then that is his or her problem... and you are free to check email (but give them a chance first).

5.  Have and exchange business cards.  There is a trend for people to not carry or ask for business cards.  But without the exchange of a card the reality of a follow up goes way down.  The card is a reminder in the physical world that you met this person.  Too many just bump, "Link In", or tell the other person to "Google them" to get contact information.  While some actually follow through, most contact information gets lost in the digital stew and nothing ever happens.  Getting the cards, and keeping them nearby until you actually follow-up, is important.

Never expect the other person will follow up with you.  You must own the follow-up once you get home or they will most likely become lost in your past as someone you met once.  There is a big difference between someone you have met at a meeting and a person with whom you have cultivated an ongoing friendship.  Relationships do not happen by accident.

6.  Take notes.  I recently listened to a keynote presentation from a person who was a lifetime business adviser and friend to Steve Jobs.  This guy was actively sharing important nuggets of business advice to a room of 500 entrepreneurs.  Only about a dozen people were taking any notes.  While is information was interesting, he was not so captivating that his words were to be burned into the soul.  Few people probably remembered this guy's insightful information.  Take notes so you can review them on the flight home and you will retain more to put to use when you get back to the office.

7.  Meet the vendors.  There is often a stigma about the trade show portion of business events.  Many people never even venture into the room to visit the booths.  People are scared of being pounced upon by sales people and fear being added to yet another email list.  But vendors are the best friends you can have in your industry.  The good ones are keenly aware of what your competition is doing, and they are always happy to share ideas and best practices with those they have developed meaningful relationships.  If you are not interested in what a vendor has to sell, just say so.  Most sales professionals know not everyone they meet is an instant prospect (some think that way), but cultivating friendships with sponsors is often a quick way for you to uncover future opportunities.

8.  Have fun.  Event planners put in a lot of effort to ensure that conferences are both informational and entertaining.  Take full advantage of the entertaining part of an event.  Even if you are a bit of an introvert you can still have fun at the social activities.  When you get over your initial trepidation about the networking you can focus on having a good time.

Now, fasten your seat belt, return your tray table to its upright position, and have a wonderful time at the conference.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Video Blog Post: More from Back to School Night

"Video Blog" post:

The discussion is a follow up from last week's post "Lessons From Back to School Night".  Each day since I attended "Back to School Night" I have been actively answering the five questions mentioned and the results are compelling, even in just a few days.  I have already witnessed more productivity and creativity in my business efforts.  My discovery of some key barriers that have been blocking my actions are evident (although partially disappointing).

I encourage you to give this level of consistent introspection a try!

video


Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Monday, September 05, 2011

Leveraging Your Referrals - by Paul Grabowski



Today's Guest Blog Post is byPaul Grabowski.  Paul is a nationally recognized leader in the legal marketing arena and has successfully guided several law firm's business development and marketing efforts.  (NOTE: Paul and I worked together several years ago in the marketing department at Andrews Kurth LLP)


Leveraging Your Referrals 

Generating new business can come from three sources. First, you are fortunate enough for a new client to find and retain you. Second, you reap the rewards of obtaining business that previously belonged to someone else. Finally, you mine your contacts for new business. While many lawyers spend a great deal of time and effort hoping for new clients to walk in the door or for them to leave someone else, hope is not a strategy. Leveraging your referrals has the greatest potential to generate a significant amount of new business without the time, money and effort sometimes needlessly spent pursuing other avenues.

Relationships Matter 

People do business with people they know and like. Taking that one step further, people are more apt to refer people to others that they know and like. This is what makes relationships so important. If you have the ability to strategize about your business development plan and plug in those relationships who can lead to additional business, you can then take action.

The first step is to obviously organize your contacts in such a way as to see what relationships you currently possess to a particular industry or market sector. In doing so, consider ranking these relationships in such a way as to which ones could be your best referral sources for new business. Think in terms of the history of the relationship, position within the company or industry and how likely they would be willing to assist you in these efforts. Keep in mind that while the present goal is to generate new business sources through your relationships, it is not always the title of that individual or position in their respective company that yields the most prosperous opportunities. All relationships on some level and at some point have the potential to be referral sources.

Approaching Your Referral Sources 

For lawyers who remember their Latin phrases, approaching referral sources should be considered on a “quid pro quo” basis. If you plan on asking one of your contacts for assistance in generating new leads and introductions, remember that at some point you need to return the favor. However, it is much easier to do this with other service providers because of the level of credibility and strength of your relationship. With most professionals, receiving a referral from a credible source goes a long way in opening new doors.

Once you have gauged the strength of your relationship to your referral sources, the next step is to simply ask them for assistance. While some individuals will be reticent about using this approach, the worst that can happen is they say no. It is also recommended that you do your homework before just blindly asking for referral assistance. One of the easiest ways to determine if one of your contacts knows someone at a particular company or industry is to check out their LinkedIn page. It is now easier than ever to determine if a relationship exists through them to someone you want to meet. If you believe you have a strong relationship with your contacts and are interacting with them on a frequent basis, it is much easier to ask them to act as your referral.

Develop Something of Value 

Once your referral source has made the introduction, it is always best to lead with something of value to the new contact. Remember, this is potentially a new relationship and again, the quid pro quo will come into play. It is important not to just make the connection but moreover deliver something that your new contact will find of use to his particular company, industry or present situation. Some suggestions include leading off with a question regarding a new piece of legislation and informing them that you may have some sage advice or inviting them to an upcoming seminar because you think it would be to their benefit. The bottom line is, don’t go in empty handed.

Other Approaches That Work 

If you are apprehensive to directly ask for introductions from your referrals, there are other approaches you can consider. If you like to write articles or are serving on a panel at a conference, ask those in your network for a suggestion to an expert in the field who might to comment or participate in the program. Another opportunity for utilizing your network for referrals is to create a networking breakfast roundtable program and asking your contacts for recommendations for those who might want to attend. Finally, you can create your own seminar or program on a particular topic or industry of importance to you and extend invitations to your contacts with the offer for them to invite others from their network.

Conclusion 

Alfred Montapert, the author of The Supreme Philosophy of Man, once said that “all lasting business is built on friendship.” Utilizing existing relationships as referrals can be an excellent method to establishing a strong book of business. The key is to analyze your existing relationships, establish a quid pro quo in working these relationships and offering something of value that your new contacts will find of benefit.

Paul S. Grabowski, Esq. has over 20 years experience in law firms, Fortune 500, private facility management, and professional and collegiate sports marketing and business development. He has been recognized for his efforts in building effective marketing and business development campaigns for businesses and individuals and can be reached at paulsgrabowski@att.net.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

First Day of Tennis

I am up early to go play tennis with my kid.  Yesterday I purchased a racket and shoes, and my first "beginner lesson" is all set for Wednesday.  If you read my post from last week, you know I promised my daughter in June that I would take up the sport if she was still interested in playing once September arrived.

She not only took lessons all summer (it was over 100 degrees most of the time), but this week she made the tennis team at her high school.

The kid has amazing focus and an even stronger work ethic.  When she sets her mind to something she is tenacious and finds a way to get to her goal.  Thus I want to support her interest in tennis, and to get good you need to play often.... to play often you need someone to play with... and that is me!

Thus, my own tennis adventure begins.  After a couple of months of lessons I will look at joining an adult league.  I don't just want to knock the ball around, but if I am going to do this, I want to do it right.

For those who know me well, you know I am not much of an athlete.  At 45 years old, this is my first attempt at a sport (beyond my lame-o attempt at little league when I was a kid).

Wish me luck.

thom

***UPDATE - There was a lot of wind at the middle school where the local tennis courts are located (it is on the top of a hill).  It was too windy to really play a full game, but we did practice and play for an hour.  She has learned some exercises to practice and we volleyed back and forth.  It was a lot of fun, and we will go back tomorrow hoping for less wind.  I think my body will be very sore later today, as I used muscles I forgot existed!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Lesson From Back to School Night

I do not always look forward to the "Back to School Night" ritual that happens each year in our schools. As an involved parent I appreciate meeting the teachers, but have come to believe the format is stale and does not often provide any new information (it is the same agenda my parents had when I was in school).

Last night I was blown away by how excited I was about my high school freshman's teachers, school, and what this means for her future.  She attends a public magnet school program for math and science.  The expectations and culture are very different my high school experience, and I enjoyed hearing from each teacher.  I was inspired by the challenges and opportunities she fill face this year.

The highlight of the night was meeting the "Sci-Tech" teacher and learning about this unique program.  It a mechanical engineering class required of all freshmen, and the students will work on a variety of projects throughout the semester that will engage them in ways I never imagined in school.

My favorite part is the journal they must keep in this class.  Each day every student must answer (in detail) the following five questions:

1.  What did I do or learn today?


2. What will I do or learn tomorrow?


3. What is my current progress: short term and long term?


4. What environmental factors or people influenced my productivity today? (identify setbacks or problems).


5. What did my teammates do today?

Think for a minute if grown-ups in real jobs had to reflect each day on our successes and failures in such a manner.  I am not talking about a typical HR annual review, but a focused reflection on each day.  WOW.  What if these young men and women learn from this experience to be this introspective about their progress for the rest of their lives --- I imagine the sky would be the limit.  I wonder what more I might have accomplished if I had experienced these lessons when I was 14-years-old.

I did not show up at Back to School Night expecting to be impacted.  I have not been able to stop thinking about the power in these questions for the business professionals whom I train and consult.  This morning I worked these five questions (giving full credit to the high school Sci-Tech program) into a speech to twenty people from a variety of careers.  BOOM!, they were all captivated by thought of the results that would come if they had the discipline to ask these questions every day.

What do you think?

CHALLENGE:.  Purchase a small notebook and write these questions on page one.  Everyday for the next month end your workday by pondering your experiences and recording the answers to the five questions.  I imagine if any of us really did this we would see more productivity and creativity spark in our lives.  

Have A Great Day.

thom singer