What Winter Storm Pax Has Taught Me

Winter Storm Pax has taken the South by storm (pardon the pun). In Georgia, around 105,000 people were or are still without power. Over half a million people were part of the Southern black-out in Virginia, Albama, and Georgia in total. I am part of the fortunate few that does not have to wait until Saturday (February 15th) or later to have service restored. It’s been quite an experience!

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It was scary at first feeling so isolated. Nights were cold and dark. Roads were blocked and there was not much to do. With no Internet access and limited cell phone service (and battery life), it was like a taste of the apocalypse to some. Sure, that may seem extreme but, in our connected culture, never underestimate the effects of isolation and doing things the slow way!

Three whole days of no power has given me plenty of time to reflect on a number of things. Part of me is disappointed power was not restored sooner.  I was caught in the midst of scheduling a bunch of posts and preparing some new shows. We had to cancel HorsePLAY! LIVE last night, which sucks, but we’ll bounce back!

Allow me to share some introspective and personal development tidbits…

Gratitude & Perspective

Like many of the folks in Augusta and the CSRA, I am grateful to have my electricity return.  It was easy to get bitter about being in the dark (quite literally) but when you think about all the engineers, police officers, fire men, and other emergency personnel away from their families for long stretches of time, a fresh perspective dispeled such angst. Some of these folks worked double or triple shifts to bring people back online quickly.

We all have had our own trials and tribulations to deal with during the aftermath of Winter Storm Pax.  Some have had damage to their homes and vehicles, others have had to deal with injuries and death. These realizations are humbling.  I am grateful now, more than ever, for what My family has and less worried about what we lack.

Without this perspective, it would be easy to be cynical or jaded. One could say the diligent efforts of Georgia Power and other companies was purely driven by self-interest; after all, getting customers back online ensures billability. On the flip side, we have already established the diligence and sacrificed required to restore electrical grids throughout the South. Let’s not forget the efforts to clear all the trees and roads.

As a whole, I think many of us focus too much on white whine and first-world problems. We forget how much bigger the world is and how fortunate we really are. Be wary not to develop a sense of entitlement, folks. Every day is truly a blessing!

My thanks go out to those facing the bitter cold and dangers while helping restore order!

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Why It Might Be Time To Dump Facebook

Everywhere I turn, a friend or colleague tells me Facebook recently sent them a nastygram about spammy behavior.  Each time, we have a laugh about it..  until someone gets suspended for the most asenine of reasons.  I have not been a fan of Facebook for a while but now it is only getting worse.  Let’s just say I am glad I did not put all my eggs in one basket…

As a free platform with full functionality out of the box, Facebook was a strong social network.  It started as a site for college students to network with each other and turned into something much bigger and better.  Facebook has blown up and become bigger than I am sure they originally anticipated.  In my humble opinion, they became too big too fast.

Due to the rapid surge in growth (and selling out with their IPO, which means now it’s all about keeping shareholders, not users, happy), Facebook has scurried to find ways to monetize.  Their strategy has been what we see so often: take away what we were already getting for free and water down the rest, essentially forcing people to pay if they want the same functionality.  It’s the old bait-and-switch at work.

The Facebook Bait-And-Switch - Make Friends, Then Pay For Them

Facebook – you don’t own my friends and fans!

The Facebook model is brilliant yet tragically commonplace: give it away for free, create a dependency (or addiction), then monetize and take our candy away.  On Facebook, we make friends and get fans only to find out they are Facebook’s property.  Fan Pages are almost completely useless now as only a small percentage of your subscribers will see updates unless you pony up some money.

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To Niche Or Not To Niche? The Urgency In Focusing On The Few, NOT The Masses

Today, I caught a tweet (one that was actually useful) leading me back to the Make Money Blogging article by BlogBuildingServices.com – GREAT read!  It got me thinking: do you REALLY need to have a “niche” to be successful as a blogger (or heck, even a writer)?  The short answer is NO..  But it certainly makes life easier.

If I compare my two main blogs, Yogizilla’s Blankity Blank-Blank (An NoF Portal) and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Pass Online (DPO), DPO is certainly the winner in terms of performance and visibility.  On a slow day, DPO gets 80-100 visitors and that’s regardless of whether or not there have been recent updates.  Yu-Gi-Oh! is the main focus of the site but I discuss anime, manga, and video games on DPO too!  Certainly, those topics are all things that have avid fans.  Anime, manga, and Yu-Gi-Oh! are certainly niches too.

It would seem that having a more diversified blog is not worth the trouble, right?  Not at all.  When I get hits on this blog, they are more quality hits.  Less spam, more real visitors, more returning traffic..  This is great for SMO purposes..  SEO, not so much.

Really, that’s where the magic happens with blogs: optimizing for social media and search engines (SMO and SEO, respectively).  Razor-sharp focus on a single niche can help but, if your focus is TOO small, you can over-optimize your content.  What I like about having two different blogs is that I get to use different writing styles; better yet, my Yogizilla-branded primary blog allows me to go off on tangents and somehow connect everything with often-subtle underlying themes. Continue reading

Marketing No-No’s: How to Scare Away Customers in Five Minutes or Less

With Summer coming to an end soon, I’ve decided to take some R&R and bring some long over-due projects to an end. This year has been quite interesting but one thing never changes: every month or so, I run into at least one over-zealous sales person. Few things turn off customers more than empty words, cliche statements, and typical sales talk yet even the best companies are plagued by individuals that I feel have a sort of diarrhea of the mouth, to put it bluntly.

Oh no - it's the scary sales guy!!

The bad thing about these sales people is that they bring a lot of heat to the rest of us, the few that know better than to use tired scripts and strong-arm tactics. It is something that has hurt the IT field, retail, and many other industries. Today, I want to hone in on the MLM/Direct Sales/Network Marketing industry because these types of business now account for more than half of the businesses in the United States (believe it or not). With these companies growing rapidly, everyone will be exposed, which can spell out good things or bad things, depending on what side you’re on and what sort of training the involved parties may have.

I’ll be clear about this for anyone that may have not read my other articles on the Network Marketing business: these types of franchises work but, like in any occupation, there’s good, bad, and plenty of ugly! If you ask me, many of the MLM folks I have encountered also seem to train with the same few people. Their scripts and systems vary a bit but you can always spot these folks from a mile away. They dress the same, use the same corny jokes, draw the same diagrams, and try to hard to exude positive energy, result-driven performance, and things that they think will attract customers and team members alike. These folks couldn’t be more wrong. Anyone that listens to these folks and has been exposed to a similar business would believe these MLM folks all read the handbook on how to scare away customers as quickly as possible by the way they overwhelm you with robotic sales speech!

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Bad Recruiters, Identity Theft, and What To Do About It

Job hunters throughout the United States have cited that their biggest sore point in the job hunt is dealing with inept recruiters. Who can blame them? Recruiters typically repost the job ads that the hiring companies post on their corporate sites then only do the bare minimum to screen and prepare candidates. It has been my personal experience in recent

years that, if a recruiter does more than give you a vague description of the job and ask you to tailor your resume to include certain buzzwords, you have yourself a keeper. The general approach seems to be this: collect as many close fits as possible, herd them together, sell the hype, and hope that the candidates can do the rest of the work for you.

The reality is that recruiters are suffering along with job seekers. Job market saturation is arguably the byproduct of overseas outsourcing, widespread “right-sizing”, 1990’s dot-com collapses, and, of course, 9/11. Our economy has taken a hard hit and, as more and more fresh college graduates enter the workforce, it is not getting any easier, even for the most seasoned veterans in their fields. Recruiters are dealing with easily three or four times the workload that was expected in the “golden age” of the mid-90’s. There is also far more competition from other staffing and recruiting firms. The Recruiting Animal blog cites that the typical recruiter handles anywhere from 26-30 projects at a time on average, which is definitely more than recruiters experienced even 5 years ago. It’s no wonder recruiters are spending less time preparing and qualifying their candidates!

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Business Opportunity, Scam, or Pyramid Scheme?

If you ever visited my page on MySpace, you may have read my rantings about Corporate America and the many ways people are scammed. Since so many people are out there trying to deceive us, it’s no wonder everyone is paranoid. At this point, someone can offer you the cure to cancer and we’d turn it down in fear of being scammed. Now, more than ever, our society is one based on fear and it’s a real shame.

Fear is what makes people turn away from perfectly-viable opportunities. If you think about the many “business opportunities” we are all offered at some point in our lives, one can’t help but to think “which one of these is actually legit??” Sadly, there is no science to this so it’s always going to be hit or miss. Any opportunity we consider in life, whether it’s the next career move or just the next play in a game of cards, is a constant balancing of risk and reward. If the potential reward outweighs the potential risk, then you can take a measured risk. Timing, of course, is always a factor but that’s not what we are discussing here right now.

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To Sell Or Not To Sell

To sell or not to sell?  It’s something that comes up often in our lives but let me be clear that I am not talking about stocks, auctions, or anything of the sort.  I am referring to the choice between going the career path or going into business for yourself.  Now, I can go into the advantages and disadvantages between both paths but I really want to keep this one short because I’m long overdue for some good blogs and, boy, do I have a lot of rough drafts that need completion!

The simple reality is that most people are not cut out to go into business for themselves.  Even those that have “successful” businesses, may not have solid plans or what it really takes to make a business truly profitable.  Consider the folks that you know are in business for themselves.  Chances  are you know maybe one person that is really living the good life but the rest of them are probably busting more tail than they did when they did the ‘ol 9-to-5 thing.  If you just consider that and then look at the fact that a good lot of people go into business to get their time freedom back, they’ve already failed coming in through the door with their great business idea.

Let’s face it: most people are not brilliant enough to think outside of box or, better yet, realize that there is no box.  Some people need to be micro-managed.  Most folks are not self-starters and need to be told what to do; in fact, they love the rat race, though they may say otherwise.  If you are the cut-throat type and/or just a social butterfly, a career path just makes sense.  I’m not saying that other folks won’t survive but I’m saying that brown-nosing, social networking, and aggressive effort are often the keys to career paths, not what your skills are, how nice you are, or things that may matter otherwise.  When you go into business, the operational stuff becomes more relevant but, regardless, business will always be like high school: a popularity contest.

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Public E-mail Follies

Consider this a miracle.  This will be one of my shortest blog entries ever but it is nonetheless an important one.  There is often this silly question regarding whether a business should have it’s own e-mail server or rely on a third-party provider.  Here’s the quick answer: always go in-house with e-mail and any major data warehousing.

Currently, I rely on GMail for many business ventures that are going rather well for me.  While Google is a great company and GMail is a great service, I must say, the random downtime, routing blackholes, and random spam blocking is annoying.  I’ve had messages sit in spam folders for weeks before I noticed them and, check this out: the addresses were already designated as trusted senders.  My other favorite item is messages that randomly get delayed, both inbound and outbound.  Someone will tell me they sent me a message and I’ll get it days or weeks later.  Pretty entertaining, really, but not really..  really!

Outsourcing is a great option for small busineses for most things but I think e-mail is one of those things you have to draw the line on.  I look at it like this: communication is the core of any business so if you can’t manage your communication channels, you’re already at a loss.  I mean, having e-mail systems go through a middle man is essentially saying “our business is yours” to the service providers.  If you have your own officespace, an internal e-mail server is a great way to keep a paper trail going and collaborate with your team members, short of using some fancy intranet or groupware solution.  You can never avoid downtime completely but at least, when you manage e-mail servers in-house, you have more control and responsiveness.

Even when you pay some of these hosting companies to provide e-mail services, if there is any problem with the service, they don’t care how many thousands of dollars it cost your business.  At best, they’ll refund you one month of service and wish you luck next time.  If you go in-house, you’ll have your own person or team managing the server so you have more accountability and ownership.

I should take my own advice and get some dedicated e-mail servers going for each major operation I have going on but, for now, GMail is playing nice and it is FREE so I guess I can’t complain too much…  Not to mention, my entire team is spread out throughout North America so we don’t really have the luxury of an intranet.  All you folks that do have centralized teams but cut corners on the vital IT resources – shame on you!

Marketing No-No’s: Curves Are Back!

I just got back from a client site and, as always, I walk home and take a look into all the windows along the way.  I notice a woman’s magazine and, in big violet letters, it said “Curves Are Back!”  I couldn’t help but shake my head.  This is the kind of garbage that people listen to and then we wonder why so many people are insecure.

It’s sad but, in this day and age, people want to fit in at all costs (usually). If you don’t have some sort of label or group that you can identify with then you’re alone and nobody wants to be alone.  Being alone and not fitting in is uncool.  Uncool people are losers.  You want to be a winner?  Adopt what the media tells you is right and you will be all right.  If you believe those last three lines, you may have already been infected by this virus.  A virus that robs us of our individuality, creativity, and ability to pioneer our own thoughts.

Certainly, there is a need for sheep if there are to be shepherds. A leader cannot lead if no one will follow.  There needs to be a balance, however, and I do not think the US, as a nation, has that balance right now.  Everywhere I turn, I see beautiful, attractive, and BRILLIANT women that second-guess themselves because Cosmo says they do not know how to please their man or they are “too curvy”.  What the??  Too curvy??  There are many wishing their girlfriends were MORE curvy.  I guess you really can’t please everyone and this is what people have to remember before they go through extreme processes just to fit in.

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A Dilbert Lesson: Absenteeism, Engaging Leadership, and Employee Motivation

Dilbert on Management by Absence

Dilbert on Managenent by Absence

A recent Dilbert strip (thanks for catching this one for me, Jules – I have not been keeping up with my daily comic fix lately) sparked the usual random thought in my noggin’.  This strip comes at a perfect time as the hot topic for the media seems to be the declining work ethic in Corporate America.  Whether it’s absenteeism, playing games at the job, or just not putting in 100%, more and more Americans are simply not caring enough to put in a real effort at the work place..  But the issue, from what I’m told, goes beyond the United States.

Sadly, I feel that most are quick to blame employees, stating that people do not work as hard as they used to..  but is that really the case?

Quite honestly, I do not see absenteeism as a huge problem, at least not on it’s own.  I think the greater issues lie in identifying which employees are simply not efficient, responsive, or excited.  Why is that?  Surely, you can only be so excited to go to certain jobs, even if you love what you do [at times] but you’d think some people want to commit suicide the way they treat their work.  Before I get carried into another direction, I’ll just cut straight to the point: the problem is not with absenteeism but, more accurately, the lack of ownership and motivation at jobs across the nation.

As an employer or manager, are you a true leader?  Do you engage, inspire, and motivate..  Or do you just tell people to do things because “you know better”.

Nowadays, most people just want to come in, do the minimal job, and get paid.  This used to be all right but with the job market being so saturated with people looking for work, this is a risky game, ESPECIALLY if you live in New York City. People still think they are in a bargaining position.  They want more pay and they wish to do less work for it.  It’s no wonder corporations are sending work overseas, even as incompetent as some of these international support people can be – you get a more people for less money and far less headaches along with the operational savings.

To me, this problem is two-fold.  First, employees need to come to the realization that someone out there can do what they do and probably for much less than they get paid.  The leverage that we were once afforded no longer exists.  Now, you may think to yourself “well, they’d need to train the new person lots to get them to the point I am with things” but that is not good logic.  Operational procedures are easy to duplicate, even in a business setting where standards are lacking, but strategy advantages and efficiency are a whole different matter.  This means that, if you are not particularly good at what you do, you will most likely be replaced.

The second part of this puzzle is the effort that companies put forth to provide employees with a viable work environment. Managing expectations, providing incentives, and finding ways to challenge and stimulate employees in a positive way are some of the key initiatives that employers should always tackle.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done but, really, replacing people with others is just a simple escape.  Flawed management will always reflect in a flawed staff.

As a team leader and business owner, I try to keep my consultants and staff members excited.  I keep communication lines open, encourage feedback, keep things casual yet professional, and take regular dipsticks to see where everything is at.  It is these simple little things that go a long way but sometimes it is not enough.  Some people need to be micromanaged and some people are just plain umotivatable. The “trick” to it all is not to assume the worst-case scenario and work with people as much as possible.  Making preemptive negative assumptions is rarely a good idea.

Currently, I have a business partner and friend that does great work but he is very unresponsive and unfocused.  It can be quite daunting, to say the least.  I’ve learned to work with his quirks but, believe me, if I went with initial impressions, I would have cut him off long ago.  There are people like this in all our lives.  Getting to the heart of matters is key because you can’t fix a problem if you do not know the root cause.  For my friend, family issues and money matters had him down so I worked with him by advancing him some money and it seems to have helped quite a bit.

Returning to the topic of absenteeism, employee motivation may not always be the reason people take time off.  Life happens and, believe it or not, people have lives.  It’s hard to draw a line between being understanding and being abused but this is something that can be developed with time.  This is why working with even more difficult people should be done with great patience; you want to build a relationship so that all parties can really mesh and play into each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  All around NYC, you have companies that say that they are “at will” companies.  They hire and fire at will.  This mentality is sad because they forget that the “revolving door” approach does not allow for the creation of effective relationships; companies that fire people and hire replacements constantly are only thinking about operations at a bare minimum level, rather than at he most efficient level possible.

The scary part is that now companies have become as jaded as the employees that are bored with their mundane work.  HR decision makers nation-wide are implementing stringent policies on PTO (Paid Time Off), extended leaves, and the like.  Even with these policies in place, there is always the risk that you may pushing your luck.  While some may really need time off to take care of life emergencies, be there for their newborns, or tend to legal matters, there are those asking for away days just to break the routine.

Companies are now cracking down on lazy employees.  Those that really do need the time off will suffer simply because of those that abused lenient PTO policies.  If you look at the trends, the number of companies offering more than a month of time off a year is shrinking.  Even people with tenure are lucky if they get about two week’s worth of PTO.  Unlimited sick days?  HA – don’t make the HR people laugh!  You get sick on your own time, buddy!

It is a brave new world out there.   You can be recovering from a near- death experience, pregnant, or dealing with the death of your mother and that may not seem like justification for PTO to the almighty HR folks on their high horses.  I recall coming into work puking and bleeding all over the place just so that I wouldn’t have to hear the gossip from people saying that I really wasn’t sick or was taking “too much” time off.  Apparently, the doctor was wrong and they knew wwat was best for my health.  This may
seem extreme but it is very much real.  People this dumb and inconsiderate are all around us – YAY!

Dilbert made it into a laughing matter but the whole issue of absenteeism at the work place is a very touchy subject.  There are simply so many considerations and other issues involved that it can be very demoralizing just thinking about how little freedom we  really have on the job.  I’ve actually had the experience recently with a cousin who got pregnant and got let go during her maternity leave, by her own cousin, no less (she’s the HR Director).  It’s crunch time and, with American standards for productivity going down, businesses are looking to drive their bottomline in all sorts of extreme ways while salaries, incentives, and fringe benefits continue to plummet into the bottomless pit called nothingness.

Dilbert, you are the only shining light for Corporate America (well, you and the wonderful B2B consultants out there that “get it”)!