Talk at Southwestern Michigan College - Modern Marketing Careers

Southwestern Michigan College Logo

Early in October I had the privilege to give a presentation to students at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, MI about careers in digital marketing. This opportunity came from a conversation I had with my friend, Scott, who is Dean of Arts and Sciences at the school. He asked me "What is is exactly that you do?" As I described my job to him, he told me that I needed to come to talk to the students about it. Of course, I readily agreed.

One of students did a very nice writeup of the talk, which you can check out on their website.

Judging the US Search Awards

US Search Awards 2017 - Official Judge
As part of this year's Pubcon experience, I was invited to judge the US Search Awards. This was my first time acting as a judge in this type of event, and I found it quite interesting and educational.

The main thing I learned from this experience: There are a lot of great people and teams doing some amazing work. It was very interesting to get outside my work bubble and see some of the work others are doing. Some of it is quite excellent.

Of course, I can't tell you about all the details, but you can see the short lists on the US Search Awards website. I attended the event a couple years ago when Rockfish was up for an award and can say that the organizers put together an excellent evening.

The US Search Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 starting at 6:30pm at the TI. If you're interested in going, there are still tickets available.

Upcoming Speaking Appearances: Pubcon Vegas 2017

Pubcon Vegas for 2017 is shaping up to be another amazing event. I am also quite honored that I have been invited to speak and moderate several sessions again this year. This will be my 8th consecutive year of speaking at Pubcon. In addition to speaking and moderating duties, I will also serve as track chair for the Organic SEO Track that will be held in Salon A on Tuesday.

Whether you've attended Pubcon in the past, or not, this is a conference you won't want to miss. Check out the coupon code at the end of this article and register today!

Presenting
The first session in which I will present is entitled "Knowledge Graph Max: From Strings to Things." Eric Enge will be presenting in the session with me. In this, we will share information about how "smart" Search Engines are getting in understanding queries and content and offer hints on how you can better optimize your digital ecosystem for best results. This session will be held in Salon A on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 2:00pm.

Pubcon Preview: Knowledge Graph Max - Strings to Things with Eric Enge and Elmer Boutin

The second session for which I have a speaking part will be held on Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 11:10am in Salon E. This sessions is called "Reputation Management Saturation" and will cover how to saturate your online presence with the goal of positively affecting your online reputation. In this session, my co-presenter will be fellow Metro Detroiter Dwight Zahringer.

Pubcon Preview: ORM Saturation with Dwight Zahringer and Elmer Boutin

Moderating
I will be moderating 2 sessions at this year's Pubcon Vegas. The first is a session entitled "Using SEO Seasonally" which will feature Laura Scott and Ann Smarty. For those of you involved in eCommerce website optimization, this is a great session to listen in on. This will be held on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 4:20pm in Salon A.

Pubcon Preview: Using SEO Seasonally with Laura Scott and Ann Smarty

Another session I'll be moderating is one that I enjoy very much: live site reviews. These sessions dish out tremendous value in free consulting and can often be worth the price of admission alone. "Site Reviews: Focus on Organic" will be held in Salon J on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 2:45pm.

Need a reason to come? These sessions should be enough to convince you. If it's not, then maybe a 15% off coupon code will do the trick! Register for Pubcon by October 20, 2017 and use the coupon code rc-3856015 when you check out

I hope to see you there!



Barry Schwartz Gets It - Leadership in Action

Barry Schwartz is certainly a leader in the digital marketing world. Not only is he the CEO of Rusty Brick, he is also the person behind Search Engine Roundtable and the news editor of Search Engine Land. Barry is often the first person to share important news in the world of search, making him an important person to follow online.

Given his prominence and fame online, some might find it surprising that he is most often the one who takes out the trash at the Rusty Brick offices. If you're one of those who is surprised at this, you shouldn't be. Barry is demonstrating real servant leadership in action. When his team is busy doing more productive work, Barry is taking care of business by making sure menial tasks don't get in the way.

Granted, he admits that taking out the trash is a great way to get away from his desk, get in a quick walk and clear his head. The motivation isn't as important as the net result of Rusty Brick people getting things done, practical things being accomplished, and establishing a culture of real teamwork in the organization.

Well done, Barry! I hope other "bosses" take a lesson here.

Doing Business Right With Alan Bleiweiss

Alan Bleiweiss is an SEO professional in the San Diego area who specializes in auditing client websites in order to help them address issues that hamper their performance in organic search. He's gotten so adept at his process that he generates a fairly significant income for himself and his part-time assistant.

The secret of his success is really no secret. He recently shared some insights from his journey in an article on his website. There are several great pieces of wisdom in there:
  • Do amazing work and provide value to your customers
    Alan's process for relating to his customers is simple, yet very effective. He does great work, he takes care of his clients, he gives value beyond what was promised. Even when he has to fire a client, he works hard to refer them to someone else who can help.
  • Be generous
    Alan mentions that he shares a lot in online groups, forums and through speaking at conferences. I can personally attest to his generous sharing from interacting with him both online and off. Few are the people who would pack up their household and move in order to help a friend over the course of several months; but, Alan is the kind of person who would do it. I know many generous people, but precious few can even come close to the things this man does for individuals and the digital marketing community.
  • Be grateful
    Thankfulness is closely related to generosity. Alan often points out people he is grateful to in public forums. He has also put in a great deal of effort in sharing his gratitude with groups both large and small. He has gone through great pains to bring people together in the spirit of community and cooperation. That gratitude also spills into his client work.
By now, some of you may be thinking those "soft skills" don't matter much in the realm of "real business." I disagree. Beyond technical knowledge, beyond mere competence, beyond business savvy, the things that differentiate businesses are those soft skills. Success is more than just the bottom line, it also consists of those intangibles that bring more value to each interaction beyond just a transaction.

Alan will be sharing some of his audit knowledge at Pubcon Vegas 2017 in November. He will be sharing the stage with Bill Hartzer on Tuesday, November 7th at 10:10am. If you're interesting in attending Pubcon, register today and use coupon code rc-3856015 to save 15% (good until October 20, 2017).

Pubcon 2017 Session Preview: SEO Audits with Alan Bleiweiss and Bill Hartzer

Book Review: "Be Like Amazon - Even A Lemonade Stand Can Do It" by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg

Cover shot of the book "Be Like Amazon" by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg
It's not often that I get to interact with an author as they are planning a book. In the case of Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg, I got a small preview of the topic via a Facebook post by Jeffrey. I don't remember the original post, but it was something along the lines of a question asking his friends there if they thought a book that boiled down the principles of how Amazon does business and how it applies to any other business would appeal to them. I responded, playing "Devil's Advocate" wondering if that hadn't already been done. Jeffrey's response was that it was not.

I didn't totally understand his response at the time, but after reading the book, I have to agree. It's far more than just another "Amazon" book. It shares very simple, yet profound truths that are also shared in other works in a very entertaining and thoughtful way.

Some of the lessons shared could have come from Good to Great, others from Thou Shall Prosper, still others from various authors and speakers I've shared about in this space. What makes this book different is the way the lessons are presented and how quickly.

The book's story line is about a young man starting out on a road trip with a wiser, older man. The young man laments that his business is not doing as well as he would like, which leads the older man to start sharing lessons about great businesses and the people who led them to greatness. It also shares how some of those businesses ceased being great when their leaders passed on and their successors did not adhere to the ideals that shaped the greatness that had been built.

The fundamental lesson in the work is the concept of the "4 Stone Pillars of Amazon:"
  • Customer Centricity
  • Continuous Optimization
  • Culture of Innovation
  • Corporate Agility
As the older man shares lessons, he refers back to these 4 Stone Pillars as a guide the younger man should use as his "North Star," having everyone in his organization make all decisions based on one or more of the pillars. It's really a great idea.

The best thing about this work is that it can be read in an afternoon. Yet, even in its short format, the lessons are clear and extremely valuable.

I highly recommend Be Like Amazon to anyone who seeks to make a business better, or to do better as a team member. It's well worth the time.

20 Years In The Business

2016 marks a significant milestone in my career as a marketing technologist.

It was 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1996, when I built my first website. From the time I strung together my first HTML up to now it has been a fascinating, interesting, fun (for the most part) and challenging career.

In 1996 I was a non-commissioned officer in the Army. I was coming up on a year left in my contract and had already made the decision to leave military service for a civilian career. The problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was trained as a Czech linguist and an intelligence analyst. While that in itself was a great career it didn’t really translate directly to a job on the outside.

Flashback
Moving with a family while in the military in those days was a challenge. Most military communities didn’t have enough on-post housing available for the growing number of families. That made it necessary for many to seek homes off post. What would normally happen was that one member of the family would get to the new area, talk to their new coworkers and get a referral for an apartment community or a property management company. Then came the days- or weeks-long schlep around looking for a place to rent. It was very tedious and stressful.

One day, as I was helping a new arrival to our unit, the conversation turned to the challenge of finding a place to live when moving with a family. As Dave and I talked he said something that inspired me: “There must be some way for people to use this new Internet thing to help soldiers find a house before they move.”

Up to that point, I’d been trying to look for a business I could start from home with the idea of potentially building it large enough that I could transition from the Army to that business when I got to my discharge date. Nothing that I tried, though, had really gelled. What Dave said, though, got me thinking about putting together something that could provide an income as well as fill a real need.
I got on my brand new PC running Windows 95 (a brand new OS at that time) and started looking for rental referrals. I learned two things:
  1. There were rental referral companies out on the web. The largest of them were Apartments.com and Rent.net.
  2. The existing rental referral companies were mostly centered in larger metro areas and were very expensive to get into.
I realized that many military communities were not in or near major metropolitan areas, and, because of that, the rental managers likely didn’t have a budget to get onto the online rental referral programs running at that time.

In the meantime, I started taking apart websites (learning how to do “view source” in those first web browsers). With my very rudimentary command of BASIC, I figured out it was pretty easy to put websites together. I got a copy of “Teach Yourself HTML in 10 Days” and really got into the code. I learned to put together form actions with CGI and purchased my first domain. Thus, GeneralRent was born.

Screen shot of the home page of www.generalrent.com - circa 1999


We started in Central Texas, signing up apartment communities and property management companies. If they didn’t already have a website (and most did not), we built one for them. Property managers would fax (and later email) their vacancies to us and we’d update their listings weekly. Those who were really forward-thinking would ask us to come pick up pictures of the places for us to scan and include with their listings. There were several occasions where I would go and take photos myself … for an extra fee, of course.

We joined the local apartment association and set up a booth at a Texas Apartment Association conference in order to attract more clients. We soon had listings in San Antonio and El Paso. Things were really coming together.

During that time I was also building websites for auto dealers and an art gallery. The art gallery owner didn’t even have email. I would get questions from customers via the online form on his site and call him during afternoons so he could dictate responses to me to type in and reply to them.

After about a year of tremendous growth, we hit a wall. The first sign of trouble was getting funding for expansion. We came to where we needed more equipment and operating capital. I didn’t know anything about getting investors or funding, so I went to the bank to see about getting an SBA loan.
The folks at the bank were nice, and they humored us. Online businesses were still so new, that they didn’t consider intellectual property and a business with few physical assets a good risk for a loan.
The other shoe fell when several of the larger rental referral sites merged. Their combined forces commoditized listing space, brought the prices way down and virtually eliminated the bar to entry for most rental companies. I had not yet mastered the programming and database skills to build a dynamic website that could scale enough to compete with them. After several months of losing clients I made the tough choice of getting a “real” job.

I ended up working as a temp worker at Wilsonart International working on a project to upgrade workstations from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. Thankfully, I’d had to rebuild computers at home enough that I had some great troubleshooting chops. That eventually led to a “regular” job doing tech support, and later to being promoted to Webmaster. I held that position for 12 years doing everything from application programming to database admin, to server admin, SEO, social media community management and more.

For nearly 4 years now I’ve been with the Search Team at Rockfish where I am fortunate enough to be able to work on SEO and Online Reputation Management projects for clients both large and very large.

Humble beginnings have led to a great career for me. I’m looking forward to another 20 years working in this amazing and dynamic field.

Book Review: "Thou Shall Prosper" by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Cover shot of the book "Thou Shall Prosper" by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Thou Shall Prosper - The Ten Commandments For Making Money has been on my list to read for quite some time now. I first heard it mentioned on The Dave Ramsey Show and the author, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, has also been interviewed on the EntreLeadership podcast. I recently got caught up on this part of my reading list and very much enjoyed taking in some "old fashioned," but very relevant wisdom. As my friend Alan K'necht pointed out in his book, The Last Original Idea, "... there is nothing new under the sun."

While the ideas Rabbi Lapin shares in this work are based on very old wisdom, they still translate very well into modern times. Throughout it all, misconceptions and bad ideas about business are busted and replaced with good ideas.

As the title suggests, the book is broken down into 10 "commandments," and each one builds on the others to make it rather compelling:
  1. Believe in the Dignity and Morality of Business
  2. Extend the Network of Your Connections to Many People
  3. Get To Know Yourself
  4. Do Not Pursue Perfection
  5. Lead Consistently and Constantly
  6. Constantly Change the Changeable While Steadfastly Clinging to the Unchangeable
  7. Learn To Foretell the Future
  8. Know Your Money
  9. Act Rich: Give Away 10 Percent of Your After Tax Income
  10. Never Retire
There are some great quotes from the book, here are a few that I highlighted:
... dishonesty and loathsome behavior only pay off in the very short term. Reputation is key. Sooner or later, the cheating, dishonest, and unpleasant business professional runs out of people with whom to conduct business.
This is quite true - especially in today's culture online. It doesn't take long for someone's bad reputation to spread and for people to decide not to do business with them.
If there is one Jewish attribute more directly responsible for Jewish success in business than any other, it is this one: Jewish tradition views a person's quest for profit and wealth to be inherently moral.
Now, before images of the Ferengi from Star Trek with their "Rules of Acquisition" enter your head, keep in mind that Rabbi Lapin is not referring to avarice and greed. Rather he is referring to the fact that it is good and honorable to be able to support yourself, your family and to help those in need. Any quest for profit must be done in light of doing business honestly and being charitable. Here two additional quotes that help pull it together:
Biblical figures are almost all larger-than-life, three-dimensional personalities. Although the Oral Torah describes many of them as fabulously wealthy, this does not usually emerge directly from the text. This is because wealth is considered to be the consequence of a life well live, in the company and companionship of others doing the same, rather than a purpose of life in itself ... Wealth was consequence and not a prime purpose.
Some people mistakenly assume that a transaction can only take place if one side withholds information from the other. They assume that a transaction constitutes one party outsmarting another. This is a failure to understand that when two parties sculpt a true transaction, it is one one party taking something from the other, but two parties cooperating to create entirely new wealth. The transaction is more likely to take place if both parties understand that nothing needs to be hidden. Furthermore, the transaction is more likely to be successful if each party trusts the other and feels confident that no material facts are being withheld.
"Learn To Foretell The Future" was an interesting chapter. In that section, Rabbi Lapin discusses the Sabbath and why it's a good idea to take time out to rest and clear your head sometime during the week. In our frenetic culture, everyone is overtaxed and stretched to the limit. The ability to dial down, unplug and relax is important to help you see things that may affect your business in the future.

The "Never Retire" section reminded me of an acquaintance of mine. "Frenchie" was very active in the amateur radio club I was part of when I lived in El Paso, Texas. He was a very busy man who put in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in his wire manufacturing business. I remember once talking to him during a workday at the club when he let on that he was nearly 80 years old. I was quite surprised as I knew he was a bit older than the 25-year-old me, but I had no idea that he was "elderly" - he certainly didn't look or act his age. He told me that he started his business with his twin brother, who worked until he was 65 and then quit. Sadly, the brother passed away within a few months of his retirement. Frenchie told me that he was never going to retire. he felt that if he was useful and had a reason to get out of bed each day, then he would just keep on going.

Rabbi Lapin makes a similar point. Even if you "retire" from your day job and do charity work, you should never just quit. It's good to have a reason purpose in life.

Thou Shall Prosper - The Ten Commandments For Making Money (Amazon Affiliate link - as is the cover shot link above) is an excellent book filled with some great business wisdom. I highly recommend giving it a read.

Book Review: "To Sell Is Human" By Daniel H. Pink

It's interesting how many different ways we are all selling at some point or another:
  • If you're an entrepreneur, especially running a small startup, you're constantly selling your business to investors, potential customers and potential partners or employees
  • If you're working in a large business, you are selling an idea or a plan for a project
  • If you're an employee, you're selling your boss on the idea to give you a promotion or a raise
  • If you're looking for a job, you're selling your potential boss on why you are a good fit for the organization.
This list can go on forever, but you get the idea.

Cover shot of the book "To Sell Is Human" by Daniel H. Pink
In To Sell Is Human, the author takes us from this premise, and then shows us the different ways we all can be better at selling. No matter what it is from actual products to ideas, if you have to sell it you can always do it better. Pink goes through many different specific ways to help us sell better, including getting some improv theater techniques.

It was all very interesting and I learned quite a bit. I never considered myself much of a salesperson, which is why I never tried to get a true sales job. But it's really not all that hard either - especially when you realize you've been doing it all along.

The bottom line, though, is that the most successful sales technique is to be a "servant" seller. The idea behind this is to help the person to whom you are trying to sell something solve a problem. The best sellers take the time to understand what the customer needs, what their pain points are and then introduce them to the product or service that will help them best. Sometimes the customer doesn't realize that several problems are related. When you help piece the puzzle together and help make their jobs or lives better, you have not only won the sale, but you've won the relationship. Each relationship you build can multiply into others as you get a reputation for being a problem solver rather than "just a salesperson."

This was a very good book. It's well-written, interesting and even humorous at times. The stories are very illustrative of what Mr. Pink is trying to get across. For example: Did you know there are still Fuller Brush people out there selling? I didn't. I still have a lint brush that my mom acquired from the last Fuller Brush person I can remember from the early 80s. As of the writing of this book, one man was still active in San Francisco. Some of the things he's learned over the years are invaluable.
I recommend this book to anyone involved in business - and this goes doubly for those who are like me and don't think they are very good at sales.

To Sell Is Human - The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink (Amazon Affiliate link).
DISCLAIMER: I won this book from a drawing I entered when Mr. Pink was interviewed on the EntreLeadership Podcast. This is, however, my true opinion of the work.

Book Review: "Unselling" by Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer

The word "UnSelling"
I've been a fan of Scott Stratten since I first heard him speak on social media at Pubcon South 2010. I've read and enjoyed all his books:
I'm also a fan of the weekly "Unpodcast" show and the semi-regular "Vegas 30" podcast he does, both of which are done in collaboration with his co-host Alison Kramer.

The thing I enjoy about listening to Scott and reading his work is that he is funny, irreverent and he makes me think. There really aren't too many people I can say that about.

His latest venture with Alison, Unselling - The New Customer Experience, is a collection of anecdotes and stories all aimed to help the reader understand that "selling" is not really "selling." "Selling" in this era of the modern internet can really be broken down into several things:
  • Have the most awesome product or service you can create
  • Build relationships through authentic interaction with customers and non-customers alike
  • Follow the "Golden Rule"
  • When things go wrong, do your best to make things right.
"Oh, wait" you might be thinking to yourself, "those things aren't really new."

And, you would be right.

The problem is that so many companies/brands/businesses do these things so poorly, and so few do them well, that the ones that do them well rise above the crowd and really stand out. With the myriad of instant communications tools available to consumers, they have as much or more information about businesses than the business themselves. That instant communications also helps great brands get noticed. Those not-so-great brands get noticed too, but in the wrong way.

The authors of "UnSelling" - Alison Kramer and Scott StrattenIn Unselling, Scott shares examples from customer interactions with Ritz Carlton, Disney, and others that make you wonder why more aren't doing these things. Seriously, the Disney story made me a bit "misty."

One way to help you, personally, make changes to how you do business is to remember that "You are the brand." When we remember that each person who works with us and/or for us (and that includes "us") ARE the brand to our customers, it helps us to act better towards them, do what is right, hire better and even treat our coworkers differently.

The warden in the movie "Cool Hand Luke" often said that "you have to get your mind right." In the end, if you want to make your business better, you need to do just that.

I highly recommend Unselling to anyone in business who is looking to change and do things better. If you're just interested in the status quo, you might enjoy the stories, but you might not get anything else out of it.

Or will you?
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you don't want me to get a cut of the sale, go directly to Unsellingthebook.com and buy it there.
Images from Unsellingthebook.com

Book Review: "Repped" by Andy Beal

Cover shot of the book "Repped" by Andy Beal
I consider Andy Beal to be the "Godfather" of online reputation management (ORM). His talk at Search Engine Strategies in 2006 was what really got me interested in the subject. The book he co-authored with Dr. Judy Strass, Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online is one I consider to be the textbook for those who want to get started in the practice of ORM. When I saw Andy had a new book out, I definitely wanted to check it out.

Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation (Amazon Affiliate link) takes many of the concepts taught in Andy's earlier work, combines it with a lot of newer information and puts it all together into a step-by-step set of instructions that will help anyone wanting to improve their own or their business' online reputation. It takes readers through an A-Z process of
  • Understanding what an online reputation is
  • How online reputation can affect individuals and businesses
  • How to evaluate online reputation
  • Steps to take to improve online reputation (if it's bad) or to solidify it (if it's good)
  • How to weather an online reputation crisis.
This is a great guide for individuals or those who run small or medium-sized businesses. For those who are already ORM practitioners, Repped has a lot of great tips and ideas that will help you do your job better.

Here are some random quotes from the book and thoughts I jotted down as I read them:

A deliberate effort to increase the number of positive Internet discussions about you, while limiting the damage of any negative ones. [Definition of ORM]
This is a great definition of ORM - short and to the point
Your reputation will only ever be as good as your character. ...  It’s the same with your reputation, but that’s something you can use to your advantage! ...  keep in mind that by simply being a better person, a better company, a better non-profit, you’ll automatically start to improve your reputation. 
If you spend the time to take an honest look at the way you conduct business, it should become apparent where you are weak. If you find yourself struggling, then ask others for their thoughts. Your employees, coworkers, customers, or business partners can all provide an impartial opinion on where they feel you are most weak.
This is very important. Trying to manage your reputation when you have terrible products and/or services is pointless. Use what you learn online as you work through the ORM process to improve yourself or your business offline.
"It’s the Real Thing."
"Because You’re Worth It."
"We Try Harder." 
You probably recognize at least one of the above marketing slogans. Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, and Avis   have all spent a lot of time and money to ensure that their messages are stored away tightly in the recesses of your brain. Knowing where, when, and how each message is shared on the web is a priority for each of these corporate giants. Likewise, if you have a marketing message, tagline, or other slogan that is tied to your brand, you should include it in your online reputation management efforts.
Good point. Sometimes detractors can use your tag lines and catchphrases for the purpose of maligning your brand online. 
Hire employees that really want the job. Hire those that are passionate about your industry. Hire those that love what you do and will take a social media bullet to defend your online reputation. Then, empower them.
It’s amazing how one member of your team who cares (or doesn’t care, as the case may be) can have a tremendous influence on your online reputation. Everyone is a brand ambassador! This is key. It’s hard work to hire well, but it can pay off dividends in many areas ... not just in ORM.
Your online reputation is always changing, sometimes growing, sometimes shrinking. Merely posting a couple of items and calling it a job well done is naive at best, and risky at worst. By continuing to share valuable and insightful blog posts, tweets, and updates, you grow your audience. You nurture your centers of influence.
Yes, this is an investment! Building out interesting and valuable content is one of the costs of doing business in the modern world. If you don’t pay the “content” cost, you’ll pay in other ways. This goes beyond ORM and is a long-term commitment. It’s not just “one and done.”
Goodwill is earned when you unselfishly look to help those in your centers of influence. It’s earned when you tweet the post of an existing customer. You bank goodwill when you help one of your peers out by giving their latest video a thumbs-up. Goodwill also increases when you spend time sharing great content that doesn’t benefit you in any way but adds to the value of your stakeholders.
Think conversations, not broadcasts. Andy is certainly not the first person to talk about this, and he likely won’t be the last. With all the online experts with huge audiences from Brogan, to Stratten to Beal saying this, it’s amazing how many people have never caught onto this “secret.”
There are two words that are vital to include in your vocabulary if you wish to build a better online reputation. The first is “sorry” and the second is “thanks.”
Most stakeholders who attack your reputation want just one thing: an apology.
Saying “I’m sorry” has repaired many damaged reputations.
These two phrases: "Sorry" and "Thank You" are key in ORM. Learn to say them!
I once sought out a Trackur fan at a conference and specifically stopped him to thank him for all the retweets and social sharing he does of our online content.
I’m likely not the person Andy is referring to, but I can personally vouch that he is a very gracious person and is very quick to say "thank you." This does positively affect his reputation both online and offline. Andy’s not just telling you what to do, he lives this stuff.
The time to influence a customer review is before that customer ever gets to the computer. If you’re not interacting with your customer before they’ve completed their transaction with you, then you’re playing Russian roulette with your ratings.
I like to say, “Nothing happens in a vacuum.” What happens offline affects what happens online and vice-versa. It’s a continuous cycle.
... it’s important to be proactive in building your Google reputation. In the absence of any positive content you’ve created, Google will fill the void in its search results with anything that it finds relevant - even if it is something negative. The best defense is offense and taking the time to mold your reputation now will better prepare you for when your reputation comes under attack. And it will come under attack.
This is VERY important. It’s much easier to weather an online reputation crisis when you're on a strong foundation.
When facing a reputation crisis   most people will ask, “What is it going to cost me to resolve this attack?” That’s actually the wrong question to ask. Better is to ask, “What will it cost me if I don’t resolve this attack?” 
Repairing - Don’t underestimate how much time and money you will have to spend to clean up your online reputation. Many online reputation firms charge in excess of $10,000.
Yes! Bravo to Andy for bringing this up. It’s a hard question to ask, but very, very important. This question reflects attitude - and if you’re just looking to get rid of the “problem” you’re not going to fix the underlying issue ... and not fixing the underlying issue will cause you a lot more problems down the road. Being proactive is important as well. "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later."

Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation (Amazon Affiliate link) by Andy Beal - a great guide to ORM for individuals, those who run SMBs or those who wish to improve their online reputation practice skills.

An Example of Perseverance - Hiroo Onoda

If you're looking for an example of perseverance under difficult circumstances, you would be hard pressed to find a better example than Hiroo Onoda. Onoda was a Japanese soldier who hid in the jungles of Lubang Island in the Philippines from 1944 until 1974, when he finally surrendered to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

As a young lieutenant in the Japanese Army towards the end of World War 2, the Americans were clearing out resistance to General McArthur's return to the Philippines, Onoda was ordered to stay behind and run guerrilla operations to impede U.S. and Philippine forces, to never surrender and not take his own life. He and three others took to the hills and continued their part of the war. Over time, the others were killed or gave up the fight. But not Lieutenant Onoda, he continued living off the land (and the occasional stolen livestock) until March 9, 1974 when his former commanding officer was flown to the Philippines to finally convince Onoda that the war was really over.

Some might be tempted to think this man was simply crazy. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In Onoda we find a man who was dedicated to duty and had the perseverance to see his mission through until the end - even though that end was not in sight and lasted 30 years.

I read his autobiography several years ago. In it, he describes the measures he took to survive all those years. He also talks about the extreme loneliness, the desire to go home and be with his family and the fatigue he sometimes felt in carrying out his duty. This is a man who was far from crazy, and someone from whom we can learn some very valuable lessons about perseverance and follow-through.

Hiroo Onoda passed away on January 16, 2014.

I recommend reading Onoda's autobiography. No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War (Amazon Affiliate Link).

Book Review: "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook" by Gary Vaynerchuck

Cover shot of the book "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook" by Gary Vaynerchuk
I've been following Gary Vaynerchuck online for several years now, but I hadn't yet read any of his books. It wasn't until I heard an interview with him by Chris Hogan on the EntreLeadership podcast about his newest book that I decided to give him a read. I'm glad I did.

The first part of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook covers some basics of getting online and telling your story in a compelling way. The key, according to Vaynerchuck, is not to shout your "right hooks," or calls to action, over and over. Rather, he describes looking at the art of adding value to your customers over and over again without asking for anything. He compares this "jabbing" to the strategy boxers use in order to get their opponents to drop their guards. When the time is right, they come in with the right hook and, hopefully, knock them out. You, as a marketing storyteller, need to time your jabs (informational value adds) and your right hooks (calls to action for purchases or whatever) at the right points in order to be most effective.

In addition to this strategic overview, Gary goes into some details into how to best use the 5 currently-popular social media sites with examples of the bad, good and excellent ways brands are using these platforms:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
He also touches on some emerging social media properties. These may pan out to be very popular, or they may die out. The main lesson here is that the social media practitioner needs to be aware of new sites because you never know what might become the next big thing.
Here are some quotes from the book along with my thoughts on them:
And now that your consumer is mobile, you’d better be, too.
I'm tired to saying, "The time of mobile is coming." It's here now and has been for quite some time. This applies to all online activity by brands. Mobile web browsing is growing exponentially. You MUST be mobile.
Whatever story you tell, you must remain true to your brand. Native storytelling doesn’t require you to alter your identity to suit a given platform; your identity remains the same no matter what. I’ll behave one way when I’m giving a presentation to a client in Washington, D.C., another way while I’m standing on the train platform waiting to head home, and yet another way when I’m watching football with my friends that night. But I’m always the same guy. Different platforms allow you to highlight different aspects of your brand identity, and each jab you make can tell a different part of your story. Have fun with that. One of the biggest mistakes big brands make is to insist that their tone remain exactly the same no matter what platform they’re using. In clinging to this outdated model, they’re missing out on one of the greatest benefits of social media—always having more than one option.
This is genius! It is very hard for big brands, especially, to be this flexible. Maybe it's time for different managers for different platforms. Instead of one social media manager, there could be an overall strategist to help maintain that brand identity and several platform admins to be the proper voice of the brand on different channels.
No way is a consumer going to say yes if you ambush him with a giant pop-up that blacks out the middle of the Web page he’s reading. The only thing he’ll feel is irritation as he frantically hunts for that little X in the corner that will make you go away.
Isn’t this the truth. Pop-up ads, pop-under ads, interstitials and the like are nothing if not irritating.
Funny thing, though, sometimes those popups asking for people to subscribe to a website’s updates convert rather well - or so say some.
Unfortunately, the engagement that marketers most want to see—purchases—is not the engagement that Facebook’s algorithm measures, and therefore not the engagement that ultimately affects visibility. More than anything else, marketers want users to respond to their right hooks. That’s why they put so many out there. What they don’t realize, however, is that on Facebook, it’s the user’s response to a jab that matters most. ... All of a sudden your brand is talking like a human being, not a [product or service].
You need to think of this as a two-fold issue. 1. You have to create content that gets engagement on Facebook. 2. As you get more impressions, you’ll get more conversions when you do the right hooks. Content that is considered valuable from the consumer point of view is going to win more than a bunch of yelling, "Buy now!" Find a way to correlate Facebook engagement with conversions on your website and you have a pot of gold.
My advice to marketers is to quit complaining and start creating micro-content worth the money it will take you to successfully reach the customers Facebook is now guarding so carefully.
It’s amazing how much outcry there is from marketers (and users) every time Facebook changes something. It’s their platform and they can do what they want. Every time something changes on Facebook people in my social stream call for boycotts and threaten to delete their profiles. There has been only 1 friend I know of who actually did this (though there may be 1 or 2 more that I don’t remember). Get with the program - either like it or leave it - but quit complaining!
Yes, it will be frustrating when Facebook once again makes changes to its algorithm and newsfeeds, and Twitter and Pinterest will probably make tweaks and redesign. But if you don’t give in to the frustration, and do persist in staying alert and figuring out how to use these changes to your advantage, you’ll instantly be leagues ahead of most of the marketing pack.
This is along similar lines as the quote above. You’re not a victim. You have control as to what you do on platforms when they change. Instead of whining about it, poke around and learn how it works and stay ahead of competitors.

I enjoyed this book very much. If you're into any aspect of online marketing, I think you'll find quite a bit of valuable information inside. Check it out.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuck - Easy to read and digest while offering up some very valuable information.

Book Review: "Your Customer Creation Equation" by Brian Massey

Cover shot of "Your Customer Creation Equation" by Brian Massey
I've been acquainted with Brian Massey, The Conversion Scientist™, for quite some time though his speaking at PubCon and following him on Twitter. He's a sharp guy with some great ideas about how to make websites work better to create customers from visitors. When I heard he had a book in the works, I knew I wanted to check it out.

I recently received a Kindle version of Brian's book, Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist [Amazon Affiliate link] and I was not disappointed. It's a work filled with great methodology on how to measure what's happening on your website and how to make adjustments to help you can gain more customers. While there is a certain amount of "step-by-step" instruction, it's flexible enough that just about anyone can use the knowledge gained and work out a plan which will help them make their website a conversion machine.

Measurement is all-important as you work through doing anything with a website. The first two chapters of the book cover this topic in great detail, allowing one to create a "Digital Conversion Laboratory" in order to carefully and accurately measure the results of any changes made to websites.
Because there are more types of sites than just those which sell products or services, I also like the fact that he breaks websites down into 5 different types. He even goes into some instruction on how the brochure site, the publication, the online store, the consultative site and the online service work and how each method of optimization works on those types of sites. He even covers situations where a site may have elements of more than one type.

Here are some random things I noted as I went through the book:
  • "Marketing speakers and authors Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenburg are fond of saying, 'You can't read the label from inside the bottle.' It is hard to look at your own business objectively, so it helps to look through the eyes of your prospects and customers."  - To which I say, "Yes!" It's important to get someone from outside your organization to check out your website(s) from time to time. It helps eliminate the myopia we sometimes get looking at ourselves.
  • Related to the point made above: "It's important that your content be organized intuitively for both new and returning visitors. By 'intuitively' I mean your visitors' intuition - not yours. ... It is the visitor's frame of mind that counts." - This is so true. We often design websites according to how we organize ourselves rather than how customers might see us. Again, we have to step outside ourselves and see what they see.
  • "One of my mantras is that 'specificity is a hallmark of conversion.' - If you want customers to do something, give them a clear call to action. If you leave them guessing, they will 'guess' to another site." Brian covers this in much detail in the book.
  • "The choice is simple: Listen to your wallet or listen to your ego. Your accountant will know better than your designer whether your site is performing." Related to the first two quotes above, this is very important. Ego is a killer of conversion and good site design. Once more: Get outside yourself (or your organization) and learn how your customers see you.
  • From the "You Learn Something New Every Day" Department comes the tip about the Google Analytics Application Gallery. I don't know how I missed this before, but I know about it now. I already use most of the tools listed there, but there are some which are new to me.
  • "This flies in the face of reports and research that says surfers don't read. The truth is that web surfers don't read content that is crappy, colorless, tasteless and irrelevant." - True, true, true!
  • I've never been a fan of those huge hero images common to most web sites these days. Brian has some thoughts on those, as well: "The motion of the [rotating big hero image] - also called a slider - causes the reader to stop scanning the page and look back up. Almost every test I've seen on this is clear: rotating banners reduce conversion rates." I also don't like the fact that they push so much of the real content "below the fold" on most sites.
  • The most important lesson: "The data will tell you stories you may find hard to believe." - So true. It's amazing what you can learn about your website by looking at the analytics data. Some surprises may be good, but some may be quite bad, too.
All in all this is an excellent book which I recommend to anyone who is looking to increase the effectiveness of their website - regardless of what type of site it is and what is/are the goal(s) of the site.

Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist by Brian Massey [Amazon Affiliate link] - Practical knowledge for anyone running a website.
Disclaimer: Even though I received a copy of this book at no cost to me, this is my honest opinion of the work.

Book Review: "EntreLeadership" By Dave Ramsey

Cover shot of the book "EntreLeadership" by Dave Ramsey
A few years ago, I attended the EntreLeadership 1-Day event in Dallas, Texas. I was already a fan of Dave, having read "Your Total Money Makeover" as well as attended and coordinated his Financial Peace University class at our church and my former employer. His book, EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches (Amazon Affiliate Link) was released in September, 2011 and has been on my "to read" list since then. I finally caught up with it last week, and I'm glad I did.

Much of the information I remember from that event was included in the book, and a whole lot more. The ideas included in the book aren't just a bunch of theories put together by someone who hasn't "been there and done that." Instead, it is filled with practical knowledge that lets you learn from someone with experience (read: learning from someone else's mistakes).

The book is laid out quite well and is filled with stories from Dave's experience starting his business on a coffee table in his home to the multi-million dollar enterprise it is today. There are chapters covering:
  • Setting goals and creating mission statements
  • Time Management
  • Making tough descisions
  • Marketing
  • Launching your dream
  • Hiring and firing
  • Sales (selling by being a servant)
  • Money issues
  • Communication
  • Building unity and loyalty in your team
  • Recognition and inspiration
  • Dealing with contracts, vendors and collections
  • Compensation plans
  • Delegation
Each chapter is built with information, illustrative stories and different ways to approach different challenges with pros and cons of each. While Dave points out the things that led to his success, he also shows there are sometimes more than one way to solve a problem. I got the iBooks version which also came with videos that further illustrated finer points of the chapter's content.
Here are some quotes from the book and some ideas they brought to mind:
The big deal here is to remember that the very things you want from a leader are the very things the people you are leading expect from you. You must intentionally become more of each of these every day to grow yourself and your business. And to the extent you’re not doing that, you’re failing as a leader.
Dave mentions throughout the book that leaders should follow the "Golden Rule" and treat others as they would like to be treated. This is key to help leaders treat those they lead with dignity and respect.

... it means you are more than a corporate bureaucrat who treats his people like units of production.
"Leadership" does not equal "management." You lead people, and to the extent you look at them as "units of production" you fail as a leader. This type of “leadership” doesn’t work as well as people think.

Passion is so key in leading and creating excellence that I will hire passion over education or talent every time. I prefer to have both, but given a choice I will take passion. La Rochefoucauld once said, “The most untutored person with passion is more persuasive than the most eloquent without.”
Passion is so important to look for when hiring. Look for those who are passionate about your products and services. This also applies to those who are looking for work. If you can't be passionate about who you work for, then you should start looking for another place to be.

Big decisions should take big time and little decisions should be done instantly. The more money involved the more you should slow down. The more time involved as a result of the decision, the more you should slow down.
This is a good formula for figuring out the difference between big and small decisions.

There was a line forming at my office to ask permission and direction on every single detail. This is a normal progression for the small-business person to grow past emotionally, but be quick to recognize this as a bad process and grow your people to make the call.
I was once part of an organization where the head of the unit pulled all his junior leaders (20-30 people) into his office every morning to tell them what their teams were going to do. What a complete waste of time and energy! Once you grow beyond 12 or so people, you have to start splitting things up. Start developing leaders NOW!

Sometimes as organizations grow they get confused and stick by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. People who never change the process, who worship process, are called bureaucrats. If your team can’t explain why you do something, you are filling your building full of bureaucrats and you have sown the beginning seeds of your destruction.
This is very wise … an important lesson.

With social media like Facebook and Twitter you can ask your customers their opinion quickly, easily, and inexpensively.
The web can be the greatest and least expensive focus group you can use. Get feedback from real customers to learn how to improve products, or what new products might be needed.

Have you ever sat down with a friend to discuss a problem and by the time you finish describing the problem you know the answer and don’t need his advice anymore? The reason is simple: when you force your thought process through another layer and verbalize your thoughts, you reach a higher level of understanding. This escalation of your thought process happens yet again when you write out your problem. Thoughts are one level, verbalization is another level, and by writing out a problem you have processed it once more.
Sometimes the best solutions come from just talking about it for a few minutes. I remember once I was writing code for a complicated web application and got stuck on this one part. I spend the better part of a week trying to work out the logic for this one piece of the process. I happened to be talking to my mom toward the end of that week, and, as sometimes happens, I started telling her about how work was going. I started to describe the project I was working on and how I was stuck on this one part. As I described the process to my non-nerd mom, the solution came to me. It was through the process of explaining a complex problem so it would be understood by someone outside that the solution came to me.

People don’t want to be “marketed to,” they want to be “communicated with.” - Flint McLaughlin
"Markets are conversations." Check out The Cluetrain Manifesto.

... a guy who owns a heating and air company thought ... he just did HVAC repair and replacement, but by flying over his “field” ... he saw something new. He went home and changed his website to reflect the funnel. He first offered free downloadable reports on how to make your furnace, air-conditioning, and hot water heater last longer with some simple free maintenance tips. ... He asked for an e-mail address to get the free reports and offered his e-mail newsletter to continue the free education. ... Next down the funnel he offered a $59 HVAC tune-up, which included a fourteen-point checkup and cleaning to make the system run better ... and make sure the unit is safe. Of course sometimes the tune-up led to the discovery that the system ... would have to be replaced. So the funnel started with a free report and ended for some folks with a $3,500–$5,000 purchase. ... He sent me a note to say that simply viewing his product offerings through the funnel had opened up a ton of new business for him.  
The funnel approach is simply having some inexpensive or free and quick ways to interact with your company. The quicker and cheaper the product or service, the more people you will draw. This can be as simple as having lots of quality content that the customer can get for free on your website.
This is a great example of content marketing. Anyone can "Be That Expert."

We were there working hard, helping people, doing media all along. The national media just happened to notice and I wanted our team to understand that this particular event in our company wasn’t random. Instead it was more like we had worked our tails off for fifteen years and we were suddenly an overnight success.
There is rarely the real “overnight success.” Most of the people and brands that seemingly come from nowhere have been working hard for a long time before they got noticed by a larger audience. Hard work pays off and there are no real shortcuts.

Companies whose stock is publicly traded often fall victim to worrying about Q1 profits so much that they lose focus on the future.
It's sad to see companies sell their future for one quarter of numbers instead of looking to see where they will be (or want to be) in 5 or 10 years.

Two years ago we alternated three different types of graphics on our website to sell live event tickets. The one that I hated sold the most. So we dropped the other two and went with what worked. So your ego and your best guess may be proven to be as pitiful as mine was.
A/B Testing - Do it!

Not only do I want to convince you that you as an EntreLeader are always selling, but I want you to convince your whole company that they are in sales. Customer service is sales, shipping is sales, production is sales, and quality control is sales. If the customer has a wonderful total experience they will remain a customer and send you more customers.
This is so true. Think about your team members driving around town with your logo on the truck. Everyone is involved in the sale!

The trick in our business is to create such quality that we go viral with positive referrals in the community and on the Internet, creating instant rapport. And we must be very intentional about pushing referrals into the market as part of our sales plan. That can be as simple as asking for referrals.
This can also apply to asking satisfied customers to review your business online. A sticker on the door or a message on the register receipt might be enough of an ask.

Once you have that connection you should do research on the person to learn additional points of common ground before you meet with them. Again, we are not trying to be manipulative; we’re trying to avoid major rapport mistakes by knowing who you are talking to. My personal assistant will have a bio on you on my desk before we talk on the phone or have a meeting. We do that so I do not say something offensive or stupid, not knowing any better. Do a little simple research and find out who you are meeting with before you enter a meeting.
This makes a lot of sense. I agree that it's not good to do this as manipulation, but as a way to build bridges.

In order to serve your customer with passion you have to know so much about the competitor that you know why you are better. You can point out the brand differentiation without trashing your competitor. I am sure you have noticed that it is hard for you to trust someone who is selling you by tearing down their competitor. Just point out the differences and why you believe you are a better choice. You cannot do that if you have not studied your competitor in detail, as if you were going to sell their product
This is very key. It's like what Santa did in "Miracle on 34th Street." If Macy's didn't have it, they referred customers someplace that did.

It is really hard to imagine, but people actually think using a credit card to finance a business is smart. The person who thinks that is a very naive businessperson—basically, a gambler. Yet according to Businessweek 50 percent of small companies use credit cards, with 71 percent of them carrying balances. This extremely expensive form of debt is an indicator that the person running or opening the business isn’t putting much thought into the finances. They are under the illusion that they can outearn their stupidity.
I can speak from experience that this is true. I tried financing my first internet business with credit cards after reading an article in Entrepreneur Magazine telling how much it made sense. I finally paid off those credit card balances 7 years later. A very expensive lesson!

Annual reviews are often the one time a person gets real feedback on their job and personal performance, and the time that a raise is given. At our place job and personal performance get continuous, almost weekly feedback, positive or negative. I do not wait a year to course-correct mistakes. Team members don’t need to wait a year to bring problems to leadership either; that is silly ... We do not use the annual checkup as a job-performance discussion; I require my leaders to make that a fluid ongoing discussion.
Even if your company does do annual reviews, you shouldn't wait a year to give feedback. Meet with your team members weekly. Let them know what's going on and where they stand. Don't wait until things become a huge problem before dealing with them.

One of the hallmarks of winning companies is they are very intentional and effective at communication. As a matter of fact the EntreLeader’s goal should be to create a company culture of communication. Communication is the grease in the gears. You can have great gears in your company and it will still freeze up, grind to a halt, if you don’t put the grease of communication into the engine. When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, great frustration and distrust sets in.
The more you communicate the better. Even if something comes up you can't talk about due to special circumstances, because you are open about everything you can be, people trust your judgement.

Jacques Plante, Hall of Fame NHL goalie, said, “How would you like a job where every time you made a mistake a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?”
OK - big bonus points to Dave for having a Jacques Plante quote!

... the EntreLeader values his team and never mistreats them, but I am discussing our legal obligation. We don’t have, nor will we have, a legal employment obligation arising from a contract. I don’t want someone to stay on my team because of their contractual obligation; this would mean they have no passion, have no creativity, and add a lousy element to our culture. Nor do I want to be forced to keep someone when it is time they leave.
This illustrates the difference between building a team and hiring a bunch of "employees."

Are they compensated like a valued partner or like a unit of production that can be tossed to the curb like last week’s garbage? If you have team members like I am describing and you make a net profit of $10 million this year, would you be okay with paying them $1 million? ... Realize your team is your secret weapon. Bad companies become so worried about Q1 profit that they squeeze their secret weapon and kill the culture that brings profit. When in doubt, be generous. You will live with fewer regrets and you will profit more by attracting and keeping extremely talented and passionate people.
This is a question every business needs to ask itself. Of course shareholders deserve a return on the money they risk investing in your company's, but are they more important than the people who make success happen day in and day out?


EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches (Amazon Affiliate Link) by Dave Ramsey. Great book filled with leadership and business knowledge. This book is ideal for anyone aspiring to leadership and those who run (or who are thinking they might one day run) a business.

WWII From a Different Perspective - Veterans Day 2012

I've written several times about my trip to Pilsen in 1995 to as part of the U.S. Army contingent sent there to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of liberation from the Nazis. It was a fantastic trip filled with many interesting experiences (now ... if I could only find the pictures I took).

On the day of the big parade, after the speech by dignitaries from many nations (Including then Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright, a native Czech herself who delivered her address in "flawless Czech" as described by the newspapers after the event), there was a luncheon for all WWII veterans held in the Czech Army Reserve Center not far from the main square. I was asked to be there in case any translation help was needed.

When I arrived, I found that the hall was full of former American soldiers who served in the area during WWII. That was quite an impressive group of Veterans. From the smattering of conversations I overheard here and there, many were seeing each other for the first time in decades.

The room was quite full and there were few vacant seats. I grabbed a plate and found an empty spot in the back corner of the room next to a Czech gentleman sitting by himself. I was in uniform, so I think he was rather surprised when I greeted him in his native language and introduced myself.

As our conversation progressed, he told me he was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't more attention given to the Czech men and women who served in the armies of the different Allied nations. While he was grateful for the Americans who liberated his city, he felt that the contribution made by him and so many his fellow Czechs was being somewhat ignored that day.

He proceeded to tell me his story, which I will attempt to reconstruct as he told it:
Soon after the Nazis took over western Bohemia, which they called the Sudetenland, I started walking east. I ended up in Bratislava (now in Slovakia) for a time. They eventually set up a government sympathetic to the Nazis, so I left and went east again. 
After a time, Hitler attacked the Soviets, so the Soviets joined the Allies. I ended up in The Ukraine and joined the Soviet Army since I wanted to do my part to defeat the Nazis. They didn't mind that I was Czech. In fact, they were willing to take anyone who could hold a rifle. They sent me to a basic training camp somewhere in Russia and then to a school to learn how to jump out of airplanes. 
Part of the parachute training was to jump off a high tower. It seemed crazy, but I did it along with everyone else. Unfortunately, I landed badly and broke my leg in several places. I ended up in a hospital for over a month while it healed. Afterwards, I was healed enough to fight, but the leaders of the parachute training school told me I was not allowed to be part of a parachute unit because of my leg. 
Soon after I was released from the hospital, I was assigned to an artillery unit advancing towards Germany. It was a constant routine of move, set up the gun, fire off rounds for hours, or even days, at a time, then move again. It was relentless. 
And those Soviet soldiers were a little crazy. One time we were shooting our gun over and over again. We had to shoot in rapid succession, so we had the live ammunition in open crates stacked around the breech of the gun. The hot casings were ejecting out of the breech and bouncing around the live ammunition, which I thought was very dangerous. I mentioned this dangerous situation to the sergeant in charge of our squad. He looked at me and said, "Either the Nazis will kill us or we'll kill ourselves. Either way we'll be dead. Be quiet and keep shooting!" 
I lost track of how long I served with the Soviets. We eventually made our way into Poland and had a time of rest. One day, the sergeant handed me some papers written in Russian (which I never learned to read) and told me my part of the war was over and I could go home. There were no trains running and I couldn't get a ride from the Soviets, so I started walking south. I eventually made it back home to Pilsen to start over again.
I really can't tell this man's story as well as he did. A little is lost in translation and a little is lost in time.  It was a fascinating conversation, though, as he regaled his small part in what the Russians call "The Great Patriotic War."

In the U.S., the WWII generation is called "The Greatest Generation."  Let's not forget those in other countries who sacrificed just as much.

Book Review: The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome by Stratten

Scott Stratten's new book, The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome (Amazon Affiliate Link), is a great follow to his earlier work, Unmarketing. It's actually two books in one, where one half of the book is the "awesome" part; flip it over and the other half is the "unawesome."
Cover shot of "The Book of Business Awesome/The Book of Business Unawesome" by Scott Stratten

Scott takes us around the online world and shares some examples of people and businesses doing great, no-so-great and absolutely atrocious things online. Some of the stories you may have already heard; but, with some additional, behind-the-scenes details you may not have heard, the stories become far more alive and interesting. Through the telling of these stories, Stratten teaches some great lessons in how to be awesome in your business -or- how to avoid being unawesome.

One of my favorite examples from the awesome side is this video done by some folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan, created in response to an article on Newsweek's web site which declared the city was dying. It's a little long, but an excellent showing of civic pride and a little "in your face" to those who would bust on Grand Rapids.

As I read the unawesome side, I could only think of some terrible experiences I've had with companies. I've written about some here, and I'm thinking about sharing some others. The bottom line is we should all strive to do better. After all, if you can be awesome without expending a lot of effort or capital, why not do it? Often, a little attention to detail will make a huge impression on your customers and differentiate you from you competition.

We all know it costs a lot less to keep a current customer than to gain a new one; and, yet, so often businesses go out of their way to gain new customers at the expense of ticking off their current (and often quite loyal) ones. If your business is part of the group always going after the new at the expense of the current, and you get some inspiration to unlearn that habit and start being awesome to all of your customers, then this book would be well worth reading.

All in all, the book is an easy read and is fun, entertaining, and teaches some great lessons. What more could you ask for?

I already had this book on my "To Read" list when I saw a post on the Unmarketing Facebook page offering to send a free copy to any veterans who wanted to read it. I responded right away and not only got a free copy of the book, but also a package of posters and stickers to go along with it. That's awesome, right? Thanks to Scott for sending them along.

The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome by Scott Stratten (Amazon Affiliate Link) - an excellent book for those working in marketing, PR, customer service, SMBs, non-profits or anyone else looking for inspiration to be awesome in their business and have a few laughs in the process.
 

Job Seekers - Your Online Reputation Precedes You

Your Online Reputation, That Is
I've had had an ongoing conversation on Twitter with someone opening a fast food franchise outlet in the area. He's had a rough time finding qualified and willing workers for his establishment. This doesn't surprise me. I've had conversations with many food service managers in the area who tell me it's hard to find good team members.

I feel for him, because it's tough enough getting the construction completed, certifications, permits, supply contracts, etc. set up. You'd think with lingering unemployment lurking about he'd have no problem finding people willing to join his team. Even with many applicants, he said a challenge to find people with good attitudes he can train to do what he needs them to do.

First, only half of the people with whom he scheduled interviews even bothered to show up. That in itself is telling. Second, he pre-screened applicants, checking their online spaces, and disqualified a few applicants because of things found in their Facebook profiles.

Your Online Reputation Matters!
He mentioned one applicant entered "Smoking Big Joints" as one of his interests. Another entered "Legalize Marijuana" as his interest.

I don't want to get into the politics of things and do believe in one's private life being private. But, how private your life is depends a great deal on how much you post online. Smoking marijuana and taking other illegal substances is considered such a liability in employment that many companies routinely screen new applicants for drug use. Coming up positive on a pre-employment screening means automatic disqualification. Many companies even go so far as to randomly screen all employees for drug use. This being the case, it really doesn't make sense to advertise your use of such substances in a very public forum.

My friend is certainly not alone in his use of social media to screen potential hires. Consider this Mashable article by Erica Swallow from October 2011: How Recruiters Use Social Networks to Screen Candidates. This type of search is routine now and job seekers should expect that they will be "googled" when they apply for a job.

I once had a very interesting conversation with a colleague whose daughter was getting ready to apply for teaching jobs. She went through Facebook and "untagged" herself anywhere she could find herself "tagged" - regardless whether the picture could be considered "bad" or not. She didn't want to take any chances.

Job Seekers: Market Yourself
Whether you realize it or not, you are a brand. When seeking employment, you have to market yourself in a similar way a company markets its brand. You have to show potential employers you have skills and the right attitude to be part of the team. If your career goal is to work in a head shop, then advertising the fact that you smoke marijuana might be a positive thing. However, if you want to work somewhere else, you might want to think twice about putting that fact in a public forum.
Some may be thinking to themselves, "That's not fair." Whether it's fair or not is beside the point. This is where the job market is and you need to take your overall online reputation into consideration.

Krista Neher shared some great tips on checking, and building, your online reputation as part of getting ready to look for a job.

Current Employees Also Need To Consider This
If you are already employed, you might also consider what you post online and how your management might feel it reflects on them. This past weekend I told some business-owner friends about this article which prompted them to tell me about a problem they had with a former employee. He "friended" them and "liked" their Facebook page, which is nice. But, he routinely posted profanity-laced tirades against people he felt slighted him. They were concerned about how these posts might reflect upon their business.

I'm not for businesses having the ability to muzzle their staff online. However, it is worth thinking about how your actions reflect on the people who pay you salary. Whether you realize it or not, everyone is brand ambassador. Would you want your online actions to hinder your company's ability to do business?

Employers also need to consider this. How much is too much when it comes to your team members potential damage to your reputation? It's a good idea to consider this and create some sensible policies for this eventuality.

What say you? Have you run into any problems hiring or getting hired because of something posted online? Have you taken steps to clean up your online reputation? Please feel free to share in the comments.


Hey Hey, My My (SEO Can Never Die)

For all of those who think SEO is dead, here's a song for you ...

Neil Young playing the guitar on stage.
Sung to the tune of  "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)"  as performed by Neil Young (Amazon Affiliate Link) - with appropriate apologies

Hey hey, my my
SEO can never die
There's more to the searchin' than meets they eye

Hey hey, my my
My my, hey hey
SEO is here to stay
As long as folks are searchin'
We'll make a way
My my, hey hey

Out of the blue, and into the black
You paid for links and that got you banned
And once you're gone, it's hard to come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black

The King is gone, but he's not forgotten
This is the story of Alta Vista
It's better to burn out, Google never sleeps
The King is gone, but he's not forgotten

Hey hey, my my
SEO can never die
Long as there is searchin'
We're lookin' for eyes

What Is Best Buy's Real Problem?

Are the prices too high or is the customer service just too bad?

Best Buy (and many other brick and mortars) often blame online stores like Amazon for their problems. The chief complaint centers on how online stores compete unfairly because they don't have to collect sales tax.

But is that the real reason? I don't think so, and neither do many of those I've spoken with on the topic this past week. Those conversations were prompted by an article on Forbes.com by Larry Downes, "Why Best Buy is Going out of Business...Gradually." He puts some numbers with his poor experiences at Best Buy and comes to the conclusion that it's customer service which really makes the difference - not price.

At the risk of "piling on," I present two experiences I had with Best Buy this past year which I think prove Mr. Downes' point quite well:

Experience The First - Buying Mom a New Computer
Whenever I head up to Michigan to visit Mom, I usually get hooked into doing pro forma tech support. I don't mind, though, because her being online and tech savvy helps us to communicate better. When we were there this Summer, she said it was time replace her outdated desktop. So, we headed over to the local Best Buy to see what we could find.

Mom had a specific budget and certain things she needed her new machine to do. I wanted to get her a powerful enough computer to last a few years from a brand with decent tech support - in case I wasn't available to help her over the phone.

We walked into the store and straight back to the computer section. Of course, we were immediately approached by a salesperson. I explained that I would let him know when we'd made a selection, but that we really didn't need any help. He hovered around (way too close, I might add) for several minutes.

In the meantime, I pulled out my iPhone and started looking at the models they had on display, checking details, specs and user ratings from various sites. Much the opposite of Best Buy's complaint that people use them as a showroom then later go purchase from Amazon, I often go to Amazon for ratings because they usually have good ones. I also check NewEgg and search Google and Bing on the model numbers to catch any ratings I might miss. That was when the salesperson disappeared.

Once we narrowed down our choices to two, I had a specific question about one of them. Once we hunted down the sales person, he had no idea what I was even asking. More googling came up with the answer and we had our choice. Then we had to hunt the guy down again to get the item so we could pay for it. Of course, we were asked a half-dozen times if we wanted to purchase the extended warranty. After declining the first time, I wished they'd quit asking.

This experience wasn't too terrible, of course. Pretty typical for Best Buy and many other stores.

Experience The Second - The Missed Pickup
My wife and I recently decided to replace our malfunctioning home theatre unit.  She did most of the research, narrowing the myriad of selections down to two. We decided on one and checked prices online. We found that Best Buy had the best price, beating Amazon - even including the sales tax and $10 in-store pickup delivery charge. (Why is there a delivery charge to pick up an item already at the store? That really puzzled me.) I ordered the item from Best Buy's web site and opted for the in-store pickup.

The next day, we went to our local Best Buy to pick up the item and purchase a new HDMI cable. The pick up line is situated next to the returns line, with a shared POS terminal between them. The people working didn't have my item immediately ready even though I got an email indicating it would be so. No big deal, though, since someone very quickly went to the shelf and grabbed one for us. But, I had to get into the returns line to pay for the HDMI cable. Again, no big deal since they put me ahead of others already in line (which probably didn't make them happy).

We went home and set up our new sound system. It is very nice. My wife is playing Skyrim right now and the sound is excellent. We are quite happy with the purchase.

The day after I picked up our item, I got an email from Best Buy reminding me to pick up my purchase. I was a little puzzled, but just deleted the email. My initial thought was, "The in-store system hasn't synced with the main system, yet."

I got another email the next day, and the next. For ten days, each morning, I received an email reminding me that my purchase was ready for pickup. I remember even tweeting once something like, "@BestBuy, why are you spamming me to pick up an item I already picked up?" I thought it rather humorous. The last email warned that if I didn't pick my item up, they would cancel my order. Cancel? On an order for an item I already picked up? Nonsense!

Oh, but they were serious. The next day I received an email letting me know that my order had been cancelled and my card credited the amount of the purchase. A quick check of my bank account verified that they had, indeed, refunded my money. Now I laughed out loud.

I wanted to let Best Buy know about this so they could get their money; that was only fair. I called the number on my email receipt and hit zero until I got a real person. I explained to the lady I spoke with what happened in detail. She was surprised and said she'd transfer me to the correct department immediately.

I sat on hold for half an hour. After wasting enough of my monthly allotted cell minutes on this, I decided to try to email. After all, this was their error - why should I waste my minutes.

I pulled up my email receipt again and hit reply. I wrote a very detailed message describing what happened and asked them to respond so we could work out how to make this right. After all, I wanted to get them the money they were legitimately due for my purchase.

My message received an auto response:
This is an automated response. Please do not reply to this email.
If you need assistance, please contact our Customer Care, http://www.bestbuy.com/ or call 1-800-BESTBUY.
I hate auto responses like that.

Companies Note: Never bounce an email from a customer telling them you don't monitor a specific email address. MONITOR ALL EMAIL ADDRESSES you send email from. Don't waste your customers' time.

I clicked on the link in the response, which lead to Best Buy's customer service contact form. I copied the text from my bounced email and pasted into the message box on the form and made sure to enter my order number in the appropriate place. At this point, I was starting to get a little perturbed, having wasted almost an hour trying to give them their money. In the message box I wrote that this was the third and final time I was going to try to contact them regarding this matter. If they wanted their money, they should email or call.

Another auto response was the last message I heard from them:
Best Buy Customer,
This message was automatically generated in an attempt to answer your question as quickly as possible. If you are contacting us to cancel, or modify your BestBuy.com order, please call us at 1-888-BEST BUY. (1-888-237-8289)
Thank You.
Best Buy Customer Care
I didn't want to cancel or modify my order, and I certainly didn't want to spend another 30-plus minutes on hold.

It's been nearly a month since this transpired and I still haven't heard anything. Those I have related this story to feel I did more than most people would have to get them their money and that I should consider the home theatre unit a Christmas gift. Perhaps they are right.

The Bottom Line
There have been many surveys done in the past several years where consumers have indicated they'd be willing to pay extra for better customer service (examples here, here and here), and many people willingly pay a little extra for more service than standard offerings. I've experienced exceptional customer service for which I probably payed a little more on several occasions. I didn't mind a bit.

I'm really very surprised Best Buy didn't beat a path to my door to collect their money. If they had at least acknowledged my efforts to contact them I would be telling quite a different story here. Instead, I'm commenting on an article which offers up what I think is an apt analysis of Best Buy's self-inflicted woes based on my own experience with them.

I wonder if their leadership will take notice and try to change course. If they don't I suspect it won't be too long before they meet a similar fate as so many of their former competitors.

What say you? What do you think about Mr. Downes' take on Best Buy's situation? What do you think about my experiences with them? Do you think I did enough due diligence in trying to right their error? Please feel free to tell us what you think in the comments.

Oh, and Best Buy: If you do decide you want your money please give me a call or email me. You have my contact information.

Lastly: Just as I was finishing this up, I caught a response to the Forbes.com story by Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn on their blog. Check out the comments, too.

Elmer's Speaking Appearances in 2020

Updated: March 9, 2020 . 2020 is going to be a busy year for me as far as speaking engagements go. I'm very excited to share what I h...