Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Who's in Your Lunch Circle?

Think about the people you have lunch with. Same people every day? Lunches alone or at home? Muffing at your desk, one hand on the mouse? No time for lunch?

I was thinking about this the other day, and I realized that I regularly lunch with a selection of nearly a dozen different people from a half dozen different companies. More than anything else, it's my lunch breaks (and the occasional happy hour) that keep me in touch with what's happening elsewhere in the world. It's also in conversations over lunch that we've generated some of our best ideas. OK, we've generated some stinkers as well, but those are instructive too.

It's not just about meeting with customers and clients. Most of the people I meet with are former co-workers or fellow consultants. Talking to other people in your business is vitally important. It gives us an opportunity to share expertise and information about what's going on in our industry. If the only consultant you talk to on a regular basis is yourself, your world view gets warped pretty quickly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Coffee on Judy: How Judy's Book is Quietly Making Friends

Today a Web site bought me a cup of coffee. That's a good Web site.

Judy's Book is a site for information sharing about local businesses and activities. It's got a lot of competition in a field with a bunch of aggressive newcomers. So what is Judy's Book doing to differentiate itself? It's treating its reviewers like they were customers.

This morning I walked down to Bauhaus Coffee in Seattle where Sidney and Sarah from Judy's Book are handing out free coffee vouchers to old and new members of Judy's Book. After I introduced myself, picked up my coffee, and sat down to do some work, Sidney came over to ask what I thought about the Web site and how it could be improved.

That's really cool because it means that Judy's Book is starting a conversation with it's members. Suddenly they aren't just a Web site, they're people.

Right now I'm reading BuzzMarketing, and it sounds like Judy's Book is taking a page right out of this book. Judy's Book has a human face for me now. That's a huge differentiator from the competition. Now what I want to see is a Judy's Book blog where I can keep up with what's happening with their service as they grow.

Update: So I just talked to Sidney again, and she tells me that Judy's Book is in fact in the process of setting up a blog - more when I hear it.

Update 2: Judy's blog has launched, you can find it here!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dreams and the Daily Grind

Many times myself, my friends, and members of my family have contemplated starting up a business venture. The vast majority of these went nowhere. Why is that? I think one of the reasons is that we mistook business goals for the goals of the business.

It's natural to pour passion and energy into life goals, spiritual goals, personal development goals and so on. What's hard is to pour passion into tasks that are disconnected from these goals. Everyone I know who's succeeded at providing a service or creating a product has had business goals that are intertwined with their life goals-yes, even life goals as mundane as "pay the rent and have something left over to eat."

In the past I've fallen into the trap of dreaming up business ventures that go nowhere. These dreams stay dreams because their not tied to anything real. Dreams of wealth and fame are great, but I have a hard time getting motivated to balance my checkbook, let alone deal with the daily finances of a business.

The successful people I know started their business because of something they cared about more than business. Look at some of the most successful businessmen today. Steve Jobs doesn't make software because it's the easiest way to make a buck. He does it because he has an idea that he can really raise people's expectations about software. That's why Apple has such phenomenal customer loyalty.

How does this apply day-to-day? I'm still struggling with that in my own daily work, but it seems to me that if you take this attitude to your work, it becomes impossible to do shoddy work, so my starting point is to improve the quality of my service incrementally every day.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Doc Searls says Wake up and Save the Net!

There's a might buzz brewing today about the legendary Doc Searles' recent Linux Journal article Saving the Net. It seems Doc's come to the conclusion that the Net is in grave danger, and he's not the only one. I'm not going to comment on it because I'm still absorbing it. I recommend checking it out for yourself.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hugh MacLeod, Cartooning, and Sundry

I posted yesterday on how struggle breeds inspiration.

Today, Hugh MacLeod posts thoughts on cartooning: "'Creative Mojo' is a funny one. As soon as you think you've got it, you start losing it. And as soon as you think you're losing it, it starts coming back again."

I couldn't agree more. I started putting my doodles on my Web site largely because of Hugh. It was a "if he can do it..." thing (and yes, I was thrilled when Hugh posted a comment saying he liked one of my drawings). I'm not sure if it makes my blog a better job, but it certainly gets my brain working the right way.

Don't Ignore the Bloggers

Sony used an exploit called a rootkit on its audio CDs to install copy protection on listeners' computers. Some security geeks sniffed it out. At this point Sony has angered legions of uber geeks and earned some harsh words on sites like Slashdot. Then it turns out that the rootkit is poorly written and may expose the system to crashes. Cue the bloggers.

BBC News: More Pain for Sony over CD Code

Now it turns out that the rootkit uninstaller Sony was kind enough to provide opens up a security hole. In just a couple of weeks, the bloggers have left Sony with a huge pile of egg on their face. This is likely to eclipse the Kryptonite affair.

This might also have been mitigated if Sony had some bloggers out there engaging the blogosphere. The damage would still be there, but at least Sony would be in the conversation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Inspiration Counts

You'd think that after years of writing something as banal as a sales letter, you'd have it down to a science. You'd be wrong. In Secrets of a Freelance Writer, Bob Bly tells how his very first sales letter, the one he used to launch his career, garnered a respectable 7% response rate.

That's a daunting thought to me, especially as I've sent out 15 proposals this week to complete strangers. That's 25 chances to explain why it is that I offer a better service than the next writer in the Inbox, and 25 chances to fall flat.

Years of exposure and experience trying new things, seeing what works, and refining your technique can take you a long way in writing. But in the end, you still need that touch of inspiration to take you over the top. I'm a much better writer than I was 7 years ago. Even on my worst day I can bang out a pretty credible piece of content.

Nevertheless, every now and then I still write something that surprises me. That's inspiration at work. I'd like to think that after my 100th or 1000th sales letter I'll know everything there is to know, but I won't.

Because inspiration is what helps you learn. It's what happens when you brain puts things together, takes a leap, sees a patter it's never seen before. Just look at Bob Bly's blog. He's been doing this for 20 years, and he's still asking questions.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Back On Line

I was reveiwing my hit counts today and I realized that this blog is still getting a slow trickle of readers. So I've decided to revive it. Truth be told, I get the itch to ramble on about business and writing, and this is the perfect place to do so. Cheers!

Hiring Better Customers

When you're hiring staff, you scrutinize them carefully. You review their qualifications. You meet them in person. You want to make sure that this relationship is going to be fruitful for both of you. But when you meet a new customer, you'll do anything to make the handshake.

There is such a thing as a bad customer. They may seem appealing at first (or maybe it's just their money that's appealing). But six months later, when the project is off the rails, the phone calls just keep on coming, and the invoice is way past due, you start wondering if it's time to fire the customer and cut your losses.

Think of your customers as partners. You're going to have to work with them. They're going to be the judge of your work, and you're going to need their input to succeed. Who among your customers is someone you'd love to work with under any circumstances. Chances are they're also one of your best customers.

Here are a few things I've consistently noticed about good customers:

  • They return your calls and E-mails quickly.

  • They want to meet you in person before they'll work with you.

  • They're at their desk at 8am and 6pm.

  • They aren't looking for a bargain.

  • They know what your services are worth.