Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A great experience during a difficult time

This weekend, my wife had to go in for emergency gall bladder surgery. Everything went well, but it was a difficult experience due to the suddenness of the symptoms and the long, trying day. But I developed a great appreciation for the staff at The Scarborough Hospital (particularly our surgeon, as well as the nurses).

I was particularly impressed by two things:

  1. The surgical team were friendly, funny, informative, professional and all-around great people. I hope that everyone gets to deal with these people during difficult times.
  2. The entire experience flowed very well due to numerous accuracy checks and well-developed processes.
If you run any kind of business, especially if you are self-employed or run a small business, then you should develop checks and balances, as well as a series of steps to complete tasks, like the surgical team and hospital staff. At every crucial stage, they verified the information to ensure that they were dealing with the right patient and the correct situation. Every step along the way was well organized, and moved smoothly along by very pleasant and helpful people. It was a great experience during a difficult time.

I don't ever want to go through surgery, but if I do, I know where to go.

Monday, October 21, 2013

You meet all kinds...

Over the past few weeks, I've had two very distinctly different encounters with clients. These experiences truly illustrate different ends of the spectrum.

For one assignment, I am writing a profile piece about a business for an industry-based magazine. I had to interview a number of executives, and I sent off questions to the owner that would be directed at different stakeholders (based on their roles and how they contribute to the company and a particular project). I called one of the interviewees (who is the son of the owner) for his scheduled interview. There was a bit of confusion, as he thought it would be a group interview where several people would answer questions. I clarified that I had questions specifically for him, and then asked the first question. After a brief pause, he decided that he would rather not participate and that I would be better off getting information from the other members of the team.

I have never had anyone decline an interview during the actual interview (I've been turned down for interviews before, of course). I was completely taken aback, and was practically at a loss for words. I thanked him for his time, and moved on to my next interview. I guess that he had his reasons, but it still boggles my mind. It hurt my interview, as he was supposed to be an integral part of the article, but I managed to gather enough content to write a draft.

On the other end, I received a call from a client who I had last worked with several years ago on his book. He wanted to let me know that a colleague was working on a book and he would likely contact me to discuss working on his book. It was an unexpected boon and I thanked him for referring. In his view, I was helping him out by potentially helping out his colleague. Then he asked how else he could help me, what types of clients I was interested in, etc. I told him that I am most interested in clients who produce regular content, so he proceeded to provide me with four leads to clients who could fit the bill.

My client went out of his way to help me in my business. That really struck a chord, and even if nothing comes from it, it was greatly appreciated. He showed great generosity and kindness with no expectation of anything in return.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

It's my birthday... Another day along the path...

Summer was a relatively quiet time work-wise, and then it picked up considerably over the last month. I've had my head buried in different projects the last few weeks, with very little time to breathe and take a break. Today is my birthday, which I traditionally take off to do as little as possible. However, I have a couple of interviews scheduled today for magazine articles, so I will have to work today. Yes, it's a first-world problem, but it has been a relatively regular tradition.

So, now that the day has arrived, I'm 44, and coming up for a bit of air to look around. It has been a year filled with some ups and downs, but that's nothing new. It's also been a bit of a slower year for work, so I will have to buckle down somewhat and work to correct that situation. My daughter is three this year (tomorrow actually) and she has gone through a lot of changes - no more diapers, a lot more talking, and growth in her personality.

I hope to write more often here, and eventually do something about that book rattling around in my head. I also need to update my website and get into networking again. I get a bit complacent on the building the business front, so it needs to get done. But business is still decent, and should improve.

Enough rambling... on with the rest of my birthday.

Friday, September 27, 2013

And then what happened...

Seth Godin wrote an interesting blog post around public speaking and sentences. Most speeches, he argues, are based on sentences. People give speeches and presentations one sentence at a time. They insert pauses at the end of each sentence to give the audience time to react. He argues that you should speak in paragraphs, or stories, which ebb and flow based on the audience's mood.

The key indicator of whether you are succeeding with your story is to stop in the middle. If the audience insists that you continue, then you know that you have them hooked, which is what you really want.

What cannot be done easily in public speaking, but can be done in writing, is to focus on one word at a time. Headlines and titles offer excellent opportunities to attract your audience's attention with just one word. Some words (FREE) stand out on their own and grab the eye. They demand that the reader pay attention because there is something IMPORTANT happening here.

But I think that stories are a great way to write and draw in the audience. People read words and sentences, but building a story will actually drag them along, engage them, interest them, and want them to continue reading. People like stories because they lead somewhere. It's the destination. Where is this going? If a story just stops, it's disconcerting because people need conclusion.

Tell a good story, and people will follow.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You cannot saw sawdust

Every so often, I'll pick up Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and read it before bed, usually when I've read my other books or I want to wind to down before going to sleep. Chapter 11, "Don't Try to Saw Sawdust," uses sawdust (and spilled milk) to illustrate the fact that you cannot do anything about past mistakes, so there is no point in continuing to worry about it.

The title of the chapter comes from the following section:

I have always admired a man like the late Fred Fuller Shedd, who had a gift for stating an old truth in a new and picturesque way. He was editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin; and, while addressing a college graduating class, he asked: "How many of you have ever sawed wood? Let's see your hands." Most of them had. Then he inquired: "How many of you have ever sawed sawdust?" No hands went up.

"Of course, you can't saw sawdust!" Mr. Shedd exclaimed. "It's already sawed! And it's the same with the past. When you start worrying about things that are over and done with, you're merely trying to saw sawdust."

It's a valid point, and the image works very well to explain the point. You made the mistake - learn from it, and move on. I know that I have pondered and worried about what I did, a mistake I made, what I failed to do, etc. I worry about a lot of things. But realizing that there is nothing to be done has helped me to get over it and move on with life.

I hope that you can learn to stop trying to saw your sawdust, too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How many people does it take to network?

I recently attended a niche networking group that had a relatively small number of participants. They had changed locations and not everyone was aware of the new meeting area. I had several reasons for attending this particular meeting (close to home, interesting theme) but I was a bit disappointed by the turnout. Oddly enough, I've avoided networking events with "too many" people.

However, I thought about this event compared to other events I've attended. When it comes to networking, the number of participants is not that important to the success. One could argue that more people will produce a greater chance of meeting potential clients or a great lead. I've met people who treat it like a numbers game (or the bar scene) - meet enough people and you will eventually score.

The only number that matters is 1. You are the key to your networking success. Your approach will determine whether you succeed. One valuable tip on networking that I was taught, and that I tell others, is that you should treat it like developing a relationship. Get to know a person, and they'll trust you to refer you to their friends and acquaintances. I've found that the people I meet generally do not need my services. But there is a very high likelihood that they know someone who would. The person you network with is one person, but they have a network of many contacts, who also have networks of contacts.

As usual, it's about quality, not quantity. You will have more success establishing a strong relationship with one person than you will exchanging business cards and pleasantries with many people. One great networking relationship will take you a long way.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The value of words with pictures

I'm currently working on an online project that involves tying an interesting image to high school math lessons. Each image is supposed to come from the real world and evoke a concept or explain an example being taught in the lesson. Each picture is accompanied by a caption that ties the image to the lesson.

While the pictures are fantastic, they are ineffective on their own. They require the words to explain how the image is depicting what is going on in the lesson. Mathematics is often quite abstract, and trying to find the right image to interest a student and describe the lesson is a tall task. The right combination of words can turn an attractive image into an "A-ha" moment for the student. The pictures attract the eye and imagination, but the words spark thought and understanding.

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but words add meaning to the pictures.