Website Wonderland

 

July 2016 monitor with truckDuring the 1980’s, I was always asked if I had a business card so that prospective clients could call me. In the 1990’s, the question became, “What’s your email address so I can write to you?” By 2000, both of these queries were replaced with, “Do you have a website?”

There’s no question that websites have evolved into a highly popular tool for showcasing products and services, providing customers with 24/7 access and attracting media pros seeking interesting stories to put in front of their readers and viewers. That websites are so commonly in vogue today prompted an associate of mine to recently remark that whenever she hears a business doesn’t have an online presence, she can’t help but wonder if (1) if it’s really a legitimate entity or (2) it’s just too lazy to embrace the technology.

Obviously neither assessment is a fair one to make if you don’t know anything about the company or its reputation. In the first place, the existence of a website isn’t an ironclad guarantee of authenticity, nor is there a correlation of authenticity based on how slick/polished/glam the screen looks or how many moving parts there are to seduce your senses. Many an aspiring model or screenwriter, for instance, has been taken in by bogus agencies and production companies that use eye-popping graphics, persuasive language and effusive testimonials that sometimes have no basis in truth. Secondly, the absence of a website could be either a planned decision on the part of management to focus on traditional advertising or a reflection of temporary confusion on how to build a website from scratch.

If you want to avoid the expense of hiring someone to build it for you (and if you don’t count yourself among the computer-savvy), the good news is that there are plenty of software programs, books and online resources to painlessly walk you through the process. The bad news, though, is that an amateur-looking website won’t do you or your company any favors; in fact, it could be worse than not having a website at all.

Once you have it up and running, the challenge is then to keep it interesting enough that visitors will keep returning to see what’s new. To accomplish that, you need to think of your website in terms of a car dealership. Let’s say, for example, that you drive past the same lot twice a day on your commute to work. If you always see exactly the same line-up of cars out front, there will quickly come a point that you no longer bother to even glance in their direction. Since the owner of the dealership can’t afford passersby to be indifferent to the inventory, s/he routinely rotates the vehicles. “Wow!” you exclaim one day. “Was that orange truck always there? I wonder why it never caught my eye before…”

The reality is that the orange truck was always there but just parked in a different place. Once you notice the orange truck, you’re going to start paying attention again and wondering what other kinds of vehicles are available for sale.

The same principle applies to websites. Even if you’re simply reshuffling the contents and changing the color scheme, you’re laying the groundwork to drive repeat visitors to your door.

Excerpted from MEDIA MAGNETISM: HOW TO ATTRACT THE FAVORABLE PUBLICITY YOU WANT AND DESERVE (Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle)

Five Easy Ways to Build Positivity in the Workplace

 

smile-face-wallpaper.jpg

For the first time since Media Magnetism debuted in 2012,  I’m taking April off and putting this month’s column in the capable hands of  Rosalind Cardinal, aka The Leadership Alchemist. What makes Ros’ guest blog such a timely fit is that the world at large is currently awash in negative energy that not only foments distrust but also incites violence, jeopardizes global economies and causes many to view the future through a perspective of doom and gloom. While it’s a reality that nothing changes overnight, it’s the small, incremental steps we can each take on a day-to-day basis (including in the workplace) that can lead to a better – and more productive – tomorrow.

**********

Positivity in the workplace makes a real difference.

It not only determines a person’s well-being but their success as well. In fact, it does more than that. Positivity can also:

  • enhance team members’ ability to think creatively
  • help them cope with challenges
  • nurture their progress in their career
  • and aid them in getting along with others in the workplace

So how do we build a positive culture?

Martin Seligman, positive psychologist and author of the 2011 book Flourish, developed the PERMA model, which details the five elements that must be in place for us to experience lasting well-being.

P: Positive Emotion

E: Engagement

R: (Positive) Relationships

M: Meaning

A: Accomplishment/Achievement.

Let’s break each of these elements down further and see how they apply in the workplace:

Positive Emotion: As a leader, it’s essential you set a positive tone for your team and their working environment inasmuch as possible. One way to do that is to reframe the negatives that can and will arise at times. For instance: “We failed.” Vs. “The project wasn’t successful this time around, but we received valuable feedback that will make the next one more viable.”

Engagement: Rewards and incentives can be great motivators to keep a team focused on crossing the finish line when used correctly, but team members can also develop self-rewards of their own, even if it simply means getting a cup of coffee once they finish a section of a project. The key is to create a reward the team member will enjoy working toward.

Relationships:  Human beings are social beings, which means that we crave healthy, empowering relationships. Many studies show that people with a larger support network often outlive those without it by 22%! Devote at least 20-30 minutes a day toward relationship building. Visit a team member’s office during lunch, ask about their family, encourage them in their personal goals, and learn more about what they’d like to achieve in their career.

Meaning: People want to feel a sense of meaning and purpose in their day-to-day work life. We want to feel that what we does matter; that what we are contributing plays a central part in the ‘bigger picture’. Leaders therefore must empower their team members to see the deeper layers in their work. Revisit your company’s mission purpose and vision statements in a special meeting. How does each team member’s work relate to those statements? In what ways does each team member fulfill your company’s unique vision? Getting to the heart of it may very well be what your team needs to feel inspirited and encouraged.

Accomplishment/Achievement: We are naturally programmed to want to better ourselves. In doing so, we flourish and experience well-being. So how can leaders empower their team members and equip them with what they need in order to experience accomplishment and achievement on a regular basis? One way is to help facilitate their development. Connect employees with a training program that can up-level them. Introduce them to the appropriate connections within your workplace for the advancement of their career. Devote time regularly to reflecting on how you can help develop your team members and they’ll thank you for it.

When a leader focuses on building positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment in the workplace, a positive culture will flourish, making for happier employees, a stronger team, and better work.

Ros

Rosalind Cardinal, known as ‘The Leadership Alchemist’, is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consulting practice in the field of Organisational Development and Human Resources. She has coached clients at Executive and Senior Levels in government agencies, private enterprises, and the community sector and is a sought-after speaker and expert at conferences and events. Visit her website at www.shapingchange.com.au to learn new strategies and game-changing ideas toward becoming a better leader and to download Ros’ free e-book on leadership.

 

Owning the Table

Cielito

A few months ago, my husband and I went to a favorite Japanese restaurant. The former owner – a dear friend – had recently retired so as to travel and work on his golf game. Since we had always enjoyed the food, the service and the ambience, we decided to check out how his successor was doing and have a mid-week lunch date. Although the server took our drink order immediately, it was sometime later before she returned to ask if we’d like some food to go with it. My own order arrived in a timely fashion and we both assumed my husband’s would be out next. Nearly 10 minutes passed. When she finally strolled by to ask how everything was, we asked about the still-missing order. With a shrug, she said she’d go check on it. Upon her return, she immediately threw the chef under the bus with the explanation that “He screwed up because we’re really busy” (which, rather obviously, they weren’t). When the order finally arrived – and after a long enough passage to suggest it had never gone in to begin with – it wasn’t even correct. All this time, the manager had made several strolls through the dining room; although he would likely have seen and heard what was going on, he never stepped up to remedy the problem. Suffice it to say, we won’t be going back.

We contrast this to quite a different experience we had this past weekend at Cielito, a delightful Mexican restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara (California). Not only was our server pleasant and attentive but over the course of our lunch we were checked in on by four other servers, both of the young hostesses and the eatery’s new owner – each of them genuinely interested in how we were enjoying our meal and whether there was anything else they could get us. In a nutshell, not only did every employee “own” that table but also clearly owned Cielito’s reputation as a “go-to” place for an enjoyable experience. Whenever future getaways include a trip to Santa Barbara, there’s no question where we’ll be headed for lunch.

So how does this correlate to your own business? If you’ve ever dealt with a snarky receptionist, a put-upon sales clerk, or a customer service rep who’s clearly in the wrong career, it impacts your impression of the entire organization and makes you disinclined to remain a customer. On the flip side, how many times has a store employee walked you to the correct aisle to find a particular item, wished you a great day or – if you’re a regular –addressed you by name?

Couple the interpersonal equation with the dismaying reality that despite the fact we’re living in a technologically rich wonderland where we can nimbly text someone 8,000 miles away, participate in chat rooms with total strangers, and share Instagram photos across a broad swath of social media channels, we have become increasingly starved for real-time face-time with fellow human beings. Such insularity subsequently breeds a mindset of spinning in a solo orbit – a potentially damaging scenario if what you project in the workaday world reflects poorly on the entity that employs you.

If we choose to define “communication” as 140 characters, emojis, and hashtags, we’re purposely choosing emptiness over the chance to connect on a deeper level, to empathize, and to not only let others know we have actually noticed their presence but that such presence has made a difference – even briefly – in our lives. It is a table ownership in which both sets of participants must be fully engaged in order for the experience to be memorable.

Pink-Slip Your Non-Performers

nonperformers

When you’re an employer, it’s no easy task to let someone go that hasn’t been pulling his/her weight and measuring up to company performance standards. Have you communicated your concerns with clarity? Are there resources or motivational strategies you may have overlooked? How will assignments be reallocated in the interim so as not to disrupt the workflow?

When you’re a freelancer – and writers are especially prone to this – it’s just as hard to let go of all the dribs-and-drabs publishing markets that are supposed to collectively sustain you until Something Really Big comes along. Yet how many of these low-paying gigs have actually increased your exposure, added to your skill sets, and/or made you feel deeply appreciated? If they’re just taking up space on your calendar and desktop, maybe they need to be shown the door.

Consider the following:

  • “Non-performing” markets take up a disproportionate amount of your time and resources and – because you’re not seeing the results you want (i.e., a growing bank account, a bigger global footprint) – can put a negative cast on your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. Content mills are a good example of this. On the surface, $25 for a short article sounds like a pretty easy and consistent income stream. If you can turn out said article in 60 minutes, not have to do any research, and not have your material sent back for rewrites, you’re earning $25 an hour. But what if that project takes you two hours? Four hours? Eight hours? Before you realize it, you’re now making $12.50/$6.25/$3.12 an hour. Those hours add up – and could be better spent on projects that pay more handsomely.
  • In focusing on how to correct ongoing problems (i.e., chasing down payments, dealing with difficult clients), there’s no telling how many opportunities are being missed in venues that provide greater promise. As recently as last week, for instance, I had a writer colleague tell me that she’s reluctant to dissolve her relationship with her agent despite the fact the latter hasn’t sold anything for her in almost two years. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” she said, ignoring the reality of her own career being hurt by a non-performer that’s holding her back.
  • Whether it’s personally or professionally, you’re also known – and evaluated – by the company you keep. As a leader, you’re judged by how effectively you’re managing your team. As a team member (albeit a subcontracted one), your reputation can be jeopardized if the entity with which you’re associated starts getting bad press. This further extends to the issue of whether you should stay with a sinking company and squeeze out a few more checks until you’re officially let go or jump ship before a replacement opportunity for new income has presented itself. While the saying holds true that it’s easier to get a new job while you still have one, how much of a sinking company’s failure do you want attached to your own name if you wait too long to leave?

This being a new year and a chance for a fresh start, it’s time to have a staff meeting (with yourself!)  and take a critical look at what can be jettisoned in order to get you where you want to be.

In my own experience, I look at three key elements in either accepting new projects or culling venues from my existing list of obligations: (1) what does it pay, (2) who will I reach, and (3) how will I feel about doing it. For a project/venue to be viable, it has to satisfy at least two of these three criteria. For example, I’ve been writing lesson plans for free since 2009 for an online resource for video arts educators; I’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future because I’m not only reaching multitudes of teachers and schools across the country but the feedback and effusive appreciation they express makes it all worthwhile. Conversely, I’ve turned down a number of ghostwriting projects which – while they would have yielded a high paycheck – would have involved stressful interactions with demanding/unpleasant/contentious clients and left me little time or energy for the projects that gladden my heart…and bear my own name.

Lastly, it’s important to look at the consequences of off-loading business relationships that don’t seem to be doing as well as you’d like them to. Is there a way to negotiate better terms and conditions? Is it a platform for professional growth if you continue to pay your dues and prove your worth? Are there perks or networking opportunities that might not be found elsewhere? A case in point for the latter is an associate who pens freelance interviews for an arts and entertainment magazine. While he often grouses that the pay is paltry, he’s also compensated with tickets to film screenings, play previews, concerts, gallery openings and the chance to schmooze with celebrities. For the time being, it’s an association that meets the performance definition of Priceless.

 

 

Scattered Thoughts With Intermittent Brainstorms

December 2015 image

If you want your business to stay viable, visible and competitive in the coming new year, it’s essential that your staff not only have a sense of ownership in that process but also be invited to show you what they’ve got in terms of untapped creativity and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for a risk-averse manager to use “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as an argument to discourage initiative. By the time the breakage occurs – sometimes irreparably – the chance is often lost to hear solutions that may have been floating in the hallways all along and yet were never actively solicited.

**********

Thinking Outside the (Suggestion) Box

If the drop-slot of your employee suggestion box is crisscrossed with cobwebs, it’s time to embrace a more interactive approach to feedback. Distribute questionnaires (with an option for anonymity) to gauge staff satisfaction levels with working conditions, procedures, policies, and perks/privileges. Demonstrate that you’re actually receptive to input by publishing the results in your company newsletter and using them as your talking points for the launch of a brainstorming task force. This strategy works well if the size of your organization precludes a full group meeting or if you’ve observed that workers are hesitant to speak out with suggestions for fear of rejection or reprisal.

Thought Bubble Diversity

Within any goal-oriented group – be it TV sitcom writers, nonprofit volunteers or corporate committees – there are typically four personality types: leaders, creative thinkers, analysts, and pleasers. If all the participants in your think-tank session are drawn from the same quadrant, don’t hold your breath for progress to ensue. Why? Because functionally they will cancel each other out: the leaders will grapple for power, the creative types will bounce off the walls, the analysts will scrutinize everything to death, and the pleasers – too timid to offend anyone – will assume the role of bobblehead yes-men. Likewise, if you’re exploring new ideas which will impact multiple departments, the reception to those ideas upon implementation will be a lot warmer if each division had a rep involved in the planning stages.

Forbid Podium-Hogging

What do brainstorming meetings and elementary school classrooms have in common? They are either a scene of cacophonous pandemonium in which everyone talks at once or a setting wherein a handful of know-it-alls dominates the discussion and intimidates the rest into silence. For a brainstorming session to be effective, you must not only brush up on Robert’s Rules of Order (http://www.rulesonline.com) but encourage full participation as well. To get the conversation started, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of The Problem. In other words, what, exactly, are they there to solve? Next, have each participant write down his/her solution to the problem on a folded slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Each “anonymous author” idea is then drawn forth and written on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Start with the first idea listed and ask each participant’s opinion regarding that idea’s merits and flaws. Set a timer so no one is allowed to hog the stage with a filibuster. Rebuttals and interruptions are not allowed when someone has the floor. Ideas that accrue a higher number of negative hash tags are erased. Once you have gone around the entire room, start the process again, gradually whittling down the list – and incorporating modifications – until you arrive at a solution that everyone can agree with.

**********

As energizing and empowering as these brainstorming techniques can be, however, an absence of sincerity – coupled with an unwillingness to compromise – is the quickest way to kill esprit de corps. Whether you’re requesting fresh ideas and then stealing them, trivializing contributions or ascribing value based on rank, or asking for input on a decision you’ve already made, it won’t take long for employees to start keeping their best thoughts to themselves or, worse, giving them to your competition.

Wherever you are in the world, here’s to a joyful holiday season and a spectacular 2016!

Office for One

P.S. Will this be the year you decide to go into business for yourself? If so, you’ll want to add Office for One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide to your wish list. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, this indispensable resource is perfect for any entrepreneur who wants to go it alone without getting lonely.

 

 

Mrs. Shinn Makes a Spectacle

Mrs Shinn130

Sad but true: Not everyone tasked with planning a corporate retreat, a class reunion or a charity fundraiser has the business acumen to generate excitement and actually make it a success. Some fall into the job by default (i.e., “You’re the most recent hire so you have to do the annual fill in the blank campaign”). Others are guilted into volunteering (i.e., “Don’t you care about the plight of endangered muskrats?”). Some see the title of “organizer” as a fast track to the popularity that has previously eluded them (i.e., “They’re finally going to know my name.”). Then there are those who shamelessly wrest command on the basis of their social clout; would anyone in River City, for instance, challenge the entitlement of Mayor Shinn’s wife to direct the Ladies Auxiliary Dance Committee?

All of these scenarios have one thing in common: If the person in charge has invested either too little heart or way too much ego, the event will probably fall flat.

Let’s start with corporate off-sites. Like a summons for jury duty, it’s always a mandatory event. And – like jury duty – “mandatory’ is not synonymous with “fun.” While it’s time spent away from the office, the work will continue to pile up in one’s absence and, thus, create a stressful return. Depending on the venue and duration, it’s time spent away from one’s family as well. This, in turn, disrupts the home-life routine and fosters grumpiness. Lastly is the question of why corporate off-sites are even necessary. According to the pricey facilitators brought in to run them, it’s all about team-building and the loopy premise that group hugs, tearful disclosures, and role-playing games will cause everyone to suddenly become besties when they’re back at the office. Seriously? I have yet to see this happen.

Even if your participants aren’t a captive audience and can exercise free will insofar as attendance, five critical considerations should go into the event planning process:

Incentive aka “What’s In It For Me?”

Your employees, classmates or prospective donors are more likely to embrace your vision if they can see a correlative benefit to their own lives. Will it provide them with exciting networking opportunities? Will they glean knowledge on how to achieve their goals? Will they be served an incredible meal? Will they feel better about themselves for supporting a cause that’s dear to their hearts? Never lose sight of the fact that your event likely has plenty of competition for your participants’ attention. If it’s something that’s going to take them away from their loved ones, cause them to miss another event scheduled for the same weekend, or require them to ask for time off from work in order to fly or drive, it will always be easier for them to RSVP with a “no” than a “yes.”

Affordability

The current economy has given rise to a whole lot of belt tightening. In the business world, the use of teleconferencing, webinars and podcasts has proven to be a cost-effective alternative to physically sending staff members out of town. If it’s daunting to think about paying for a large group’s transportation, lodging and meals, consider hosting a virtual event that takes place on a technology platform instead. For events in which prospective participants are paying out-of-pocket (i.e., a writers conference), be sensitive in developing a pricing package that is realistically within their reach. You might also offer an “early bird special” in which those that register by a certain date can do so for a lower fee.

Accessibility

A colleague of mine is skipping his upcoming college reunion. Although it’s a landmark decade – and, accordingly, a steadily shrinking alumni – the reunion committee chose a venue that is 75 miles from the closest airport and has no nearby hotels. Further, it didn’t put any thought into a formal, themed program beyond a no-host bar and just sitting around. In a nutshell, the only attendees that have thus far signed up are the committee members themselves (who didn’t want to travel outside the comfort zone of their home zip code). Whether your own event is scheduled for a few hours, overnight or a weekend, you need to address factors such as (1) how do participants get there, (2) where do they park, (3) is there a shuttle service, and (4) will the hotel offer a group discount.

Weather Or Not

I used to belong to a national writers group that held their annual conference every July. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many places in the U.S. that are particularly enjoyable that time of year. Nonetheless, quite a few events do get planned for June-August, the primary draw being that attendees with families can build a vacation around it without having to take the kids out of school. If it’s the peak season at your intended locale, it’s going to be more expensive. If it’s off-season, you can usually score some perks. And, of course, never schedule your event around or near a major holiday or three-day weekend where your attendees will have to contend with heavier traffic.

Feedback

If it’s going to be a recurring event (i.e., the annual Founders’ Day Social), it’s essential to find out what worked (i.e., the music), what didn’t (i.e., Mrs. Shinn’s Grecian Urn Tableau), and what everyone would like to see next time around (i.e., more food). Make it as easy as possible for participants to share their two cents. MailChimp.com, for example, lets you create a free, online survey without your respondents having to go find an envelope and a stamp. While backend feedback is useful for future improvements, it’s just as valuable to ask for input prior to an event’s implementation (i.e., “Where should we hold our first auction?”). If, however, you reject every idea that’s presented and, instead, go with whatever you wanted to do in the first place, don’t expect such decisions to be met with feelings of unmixed delight and esprit de corps.

*****

My savvy guest bloggers this month include:

How To Increase Employee Engagement on ‘Dirty Jobs’ – By Dana Barker Davies

Were You Born To Do Something Great? – By Marlon Smith

Reduce The Complexity When Franchising Your Business – By Brian Keen

The Science of Social Media – Better Engagement/Better Measurement – By Sam Reader

Making More Spaghetti Stick To The Wall

Spaghetti

“Hi there! How’s it going? I just discovered your website and I have to say it’s really great. The content really shows that you’re the best in the industry. I’m sure you receive hundreds of emails like this but mine is the one to pay attention to because with the introductory SEO package I can offer you and your awesome sales team, you’ll be driving even more customers to your store and excellent products!”

Any guesses how long it took me to hit the “delete” key on this ground-floor opportunity?

For starters, I wasn’t personally addressed by name, nor was the name of the website referenced. Flattering to know the sender thinks I’m the best in the industry…and yet doesn’t identify what my particular industry is. And while it’s true indeed that I receive hundreds of emails making the same glowy promises of global exposure, where exactly is this store stuffed to the gills with trendy merchandise supposed to be? For that matter, who’s on my awesome sales team? I should take them to lunch.

Like many a salesperson on the hustle, it’s the old “Let’s just throw a big plate of spaghetti against the wall and see how much of it sticks.” While now and again an accidental noodle and some sauce might get someone’s attention, it’s more often than not an enormous waste of pasta (and probably broken plates). To make matters worse, they never even think of varying the recipe before they’re skipping off to the next wall, thus perpetuating a messy cycle of trial and error.

Let’s apply this for a moment to writers. A colleague of mine was recently lamenting her history of copious rejection letters. Her style, I learned, was the scattergun approach of ignoring submission rules and simply sending out the same manuscript to every magazine she could think of. While an impersonal “Dear Sir or Madam” photocopied letter should never be cause for tears, I asked what she did about the ones where an editor actually took the time to offer some constructive advice. “Oh, I just need to find the right editor,” she dismissively replied. In other words, “I like my spaghetti recipe exactly the way it is and I refuse to change it for anyone.”

In the arena of sales, how much do you really know about your customers’ interests, needs and wants? Do you really expect them to take seriously any mass-produced “Hi there! I’ve been thinking about you” letter that was stuffed without any thought into an envelope or distributed with even less thought via an electronic mailing list? Do you ever consider when you throw your spaghetti that some of your customers might be vegetarian? Or gluten-intolerant? Or on a tight budget and unable to afford artisanal marinara? Are you averse to switching up or swapping out ingredients just because “this is the way we’ve always done it”?

Takeaway lesson: Whatever you think you’re saving by doing generic, one-size-fits-all advertising may actually be costing you much more than you realize in terms of building customer trust and a belief that you sincerely care about what they’re really hungry for.

*****

Here’s my line-up of stellar guest bloggers this month:

Giving Back Made Easy – by Lee Romano Sequeira

How Your Name Is Your Most Important Brand – by Rainier Fuclan

Challenging The Disconnect Between What Science Shows And Business Does – by Linda Ray

5 Ways to Simplify Scheduling During a Busy Season – by Brett Duncan

Building a Culture of Health at Start-Up – by Jill Gambaro