Stop the Stupidity!

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog 2 comments

football 300x230 Stop the Stupidity!I grew up playing all kinds of sports even football. The flag kind, but it was still football. You name it … I tried it at least once. Dang! How did you come up with hockey? In all fairness, hockey didn’t have many fans in Texas unless they were transplants. So youth hockey was nonexistent until the Stars moved to Dallas from Minnesota.

Because of sports, I developed a habit of exercising as a kid. Eventually, team sports faded and I relied on boring cardio machines and dumbbells to put the heart through the paces and keep the muscles from melting away. Really, I don’t mind because it’s guilt-free TV time.

Workout time is around the 1 – 2 pm zone. The time works great in that it provides the boost I need to end the workday strong yet early enough to finish before my youngest comes home from work at the company called school.

The stairmaster has a bent book holder that holds water and a remote without them falling off. (Thanks, kids!) It’s easy to access the remote as I often do. Not just to crack through the commercials but also to back up a whole conversation that I failed to grasp. Sometimes I can’t help think about client work that my eyes glaze while reading the closed-captions on the TV. I read the words, but the brain doesn’t compute that I lose track of the story.

Study says …

It’s easy to see why multitasking is dangerous when you’re driving a car and talking on a hands-free phone. And more so with texting and driving. Then how come many people still do it? According to Multitasking Is Making You Stupid:

“A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common ‘productivity tools’ can make one as dumb as a stoner.”

Whoa.

In my situation and at the office, multitasking is harmless … mostly. Staying focused on one thing — not talking and emailing, not chatting and working on a document or any other dual-activity — you do the task more effectively. The little interruptions like email notifications can disrupt the harmony of your focus.

As I write this, I’ve shut out everything around me. I’ve turned off my cochlear implant because one of the neighbors has construction going on. The hammering is distracting. My second monitor is blank so I’m less tempted to look at something like Gmail or Twitter.

When something else gnaws on your mind, it pulls away your focus on whatever task you’re doing. Bet many of you can relate to Avil Beckford‘s situation. I can. “I started to read a book, but I have been distracted, and to be honest, I cannot focus on the story,” Avil wrote. “The book is not boring, but for a few days, my attention has to be placed elsewhere.”

Stop the stupid-fying!

So how do you stop multitasking? Time Management Ninja lists eight ways:

  1. Do one thing at a time. (You’re just reading this, right? Nothing else?)
  2. Be present. (See comment in #1.)
  3. Finish before you start. (A challenge for … ooh … shiny.)
  4. Don’t let the small tasks interrupt the big ones. (Are you looking at your inbox thinking about answering the quick email?)
  5. Put down the tech. (The mouse or keyboard is OK, so you can scroll down.)
  6. Clean your workspace. (Mine is clean 98 percent of the time. A cluttered space always feels like a cluttered mind.)
  7. Make an appointment with your work. (My husband has to do this otherwise he’d be in meetings 10 hours straight.)
  8. Eliminate interruptions. (Email notifications, for example.)

Multitasking is OK when you’re using less brain power. That’s why I love to fold laundry. It means more guilt-free TV! So what if a shirt isn’t crease-free because of yet another jaw-dropping moment on “Scandal”?

When do you multitask? How do you avoid it when you need to focus?

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Content Marketing Taken Over by Zombies

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 5 comments

Newspaper Zombie 221x300 Content Marketing Taken Over by ZombiesZombies are in. I think its popularity started with PopCap Games’ “Plants vs. Zombies,” which took up many hours of what little free time I had. Now, I wasn’t the likely candidate to be a fan of the game because I’m so not a fan of horror. Yet PopCap created a cute and fun game.

Yes, I said cute in referring to a game with brain-eating creatures. C’mon. It has a dancing zombie with backup dancers. Admit it. That’s cute.

Zombies Everywhere

That’s the extent of my interest in zombies. I will not read “World War Z.” I will not view its movie. And I will not check out “The Walking Dead” no matter how many folks rave about it. I didn’t even want to check out “Under the Dome” knowing its author was Stephen King. (I read the reviews that said it wasn’t horror. Instead of the horror thing, I feared being left hanging. Sure ‘nough, it wasn’t horror and they friggin’ left us hanging!)

Anyhoo.

“But, Meryl! I don’t like horror either and I love the show,” friends said.

Thank goodness I have a trusty husband in Paul. I sent him on a dangerous mission: Watch “The Walking Dead” alone and report back.

He did. The man knows me better than I do. (Mostly.) Paul advised against watching it and explained why. He was right. Me no likey.

Like the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” marketers have jumped into content marketing in growing numbers like the multiplying zombies in “World War Z.”

Missing: Content Marketing Brains … If found, please contact your local marketer

Based on evidence of the quality of content — or lack thereof — out there … some marketers let the content marketing trend guide them rather than their brains. (Maybe zombies got to them.)  Like anything that catches on, folks hop on without giving a thought whether it’s the right thing, or doing any planning.

That’s happening with content marketing.

And a lot of content marketing is crap. (Please excuse my rare cussin’. This still calls for it.) Not only is it crap, but also it’s delivered to the wrong folks, at the wrong time, in the wrong place or all of the above.

Or they’re not doing true content marketing. They’re selling. Just look at these stats Steve Olenski found and shared in The Catastrophic Social Media Content Marketing Mistake Marketers Are Making.

Econsultancy Main Objectives for Paid Digital Media Sept20131 Content Marketing Taken Over by Zombies

Here’s his explanation why this is catastrophic:

It means that marketers are putting more emphasis on selling than they are at establishing relationships with consumers via branding.

It means that marketers would rather try and sell you something than say tell you a story.

It means that marketers are only in “it” to increase their bottom line.

What Content Marketing Really Is

Per the last bullet — Olenski knows the whole point is to make money for the business. He explains:

When I am asked for my definition of content marketing, I usually include the phrase “guns blazing” as in “you cannot go into a relationship and maintain a relationship with a consumer guns blazing. You have to engage, relate to, share relevant content with your audience and yes integrate your ‘guns’ AKA your product, into your overall content marketing strategy.”

It cannot be sell, sell, sell at every single turn.

And Michael Brenner makes these points about the future of content marketing:

Quantity content WITH Quality to support the growing information needs of our customers.

Brands will resemble publishers and assemble newsrooms and hire or train journalists who can tell stories and contribute to major publications.

Sponsored stories. Brands will continue to create more quality sponsored content that is buyer-centric and that removes the brand from the story. (Emphasis mine.)

Content length will continue downward as our real-time, mobile world seeks smaller, more “snackable” and more “shareable” content.

Good quality is always a must. But the rest of it (quantity, what to provide, etc.) depends on target market *needs*. Brenner reaffirms what Olenski said. I applaud his last point about content length. I don’t care how great a story someone tells. I rarely read a 2,000-word story. (Not counting books, of course.) I disagree with folks who say that a person should use as many words as needed to tell a story. Some publications can get away with it — and that’s because they know their audience and deliver what they crave.

Even though a lot of content is crap, there’s still a lot of it out there and some of it valuable. I’d rather have a buffet of content in small portions than eat one dish and get bored with it.

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This Content Marketing Hazard Can Hurt Your Company’s Credibility

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 4 comments
grape jelly geode This Content Marketing Hazard Can Hurt Your Companys Credibility

Ginormous “grape jelly” geode with amethyst crystals

My husband Paul and I finally took our sons to the much-lauded Perot Museum of Science and Nature. Lane, the new high schooler, wasn’t thrilled about going. (“Why did I have to come?” Grumble, grumble.) He’d rather stay home and play video games. His younger brother Zachary, the bookish one, couldn’t wait.

I didn’t have high hopes that Lane would find an exhibit he’d like. You know teens. They make up their minds they don’t want to do something and stick with it. The three of us went our merry way checking out the interactive exhibits with Lane tagging along. At the end of the day, Paul reported the gems and minerals (read: rocks) exhibit captivated our teen son. He’s always been fascinated with rocks. Every time he’d go to the museum with Grandma, he’d come home with a couple of rocks. (We also let him buy one — much, much smaller than the 5 1/2-foot one in the photo. — more like five centimeters.)

You have to applaud the museum curators. Unlike many businesses, museums have a broad target audience as people of all ages and backgrounds visit. They serve single adults, married couples with no kids, seniors. The whole gamut. Yet they curate exhibits to ensure visitors have at least one that grips them. The curators pulled off a biggie in finding one for the pickiest, disinterested teen.

Danger! Watch Out for the Crap Content Avalanche

Sharp content curators are like museum curators. They think of their audience when they curate and select resources. We may not be creating content from scratch, but it takes as much time and effort panning for in the massive content mine since content marketing became the hottest thing. Content marketing has been around for a long time. It didn’t have a fancy name until now. Props to Hank Stroll, one of my first clients, for introducing me to the secret of sharing valuable — not promotional — content in 2001. (Not a typo.)

Folks realize that content marketing works when done right (they forget about the “when done right” part), so everyone does it and most without creating a strategy. That’s why we’re flooded with content that provides zero, zilch, zippo value.

Because of this, most of the time when we click an interesting link, we hit crap. (Sorry for cussing — it’s the best word.) The biggest danger to content marketing is the load of crap content.

Insanity! Retweeting Blind

Dan Zarella explains part of the problem in New Data Indicates Twitter Users Don’t Always Click the Links They Retweet. He says that 16 percent of the tweets with links resulted in more retweets than clicks. In English: folks retweeted a tweet with a link without checking out the link! Yikes! These folks share unchecked links, and some could lead to tasteless or spammy content. (It has happened enough that I encountered malware.)

Why retweet without checking the link first? No one can judge content based on the painstakingly crafted titles or deceptive descriptions accompanying the links. Good social media citizens don’t waste people’s time with lousy resources.

Stop! Nix the Content Assembly Line

So what can we do about it?

Easy!

Stop. Creating. Crap. Content.

Stop spewing article after article, report after report, white paper after white paper like an automaton.

Isn’t your inbox flooded with email offers? You know the free e-book, free report, free webinar,  free here, free there, free everywhere. Free don’t mean a thing if the content ain’t got that swing.

I bet you’ve downloaded a lot of those complimentary offers and opened few. I have. They collect e-dust until it comes time to do a little file cleaning. Then I go Cyberman all over them and delete, delete, delete them. (Yes, I’m a “Doctor Who” fan.) The company producing the content also loses credibility.

Many well-known (and somehow respected) websites generate content with slick titles that mesmerize you. Yes, we writers all have off days. Me included. Nonetheless, these websites did it too often and onto my “don’t visit list” they went. Fool me once, I’ll give you a couple more chances. Fool me six-ish times, kiss my clicks and eyeballs goodbye.

Help! How Do We Build Great Content?

Think of the content process like a journey not the destination. A leisurely route not a shortcut. A marathon not a sprint.

Creating content that’s worth reading is only half of the success formula. Doug Kessler did a bloody fabulous job with the Six Principles of Great Content Brands. This rounds out the rest of the content success formula.

6 Ways to Build a Great Content Brand (the short version):

  1. Be the buyer. Know your prospect inside out (with clothes on).
  2. Be authoritative. Because beneficial and fascinating beat fluff, unless it contains marshmallows.
  3. Be strategic. Create a content strategy so you deliver the right content, to the right folks in the right place at the right time.
  4. Be prolific. Tap great writers and designers. (My fave, of course.)
  5. Be passionate. Great content is contagious when you care. (This post … yes?)
  6. Be hard on yourself. Rewrite, nix, exterminate and delete until you produce hot piping content goodness.

Content oughta be a great virus so that when we click links, they lead us to tasty content worth gobbling down. Meanwhile, I shall keep on curating through the mountain of crap for the diamonds worth sharing in the museum of social media. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find some winners for those finicky Lanes.

What do you think of content marketing? What does it take to succeed?

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Be Accepting, Be Present, Be Calmer

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 at 9:27 AM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog 11 comments

roaring rapids 249x300 Be Accepting, Be Present, Be CalmerAlmost every year when May comes, I fretted about how I’ll get work done without the steady, reliable school schedule. So I dreaded the long summer months. Right on schedule, it happened last year. Except, instead of fighting it, I accepted it. And you know what? It was one of the best summers I ever had. No trips. No special events. Nothing.

What was different? Other than my attitude, not much really. I spent most weekends reading great books by the pool while my sons swam. (Faves: “Ready Player One,” “The Night Circus” and “Gone Girl” – affiliate links) I took a day off to go to an amusement park with my family. Instead of dwelling on high amusement park prices, I lived in the moment. The moment of being on a ride. The moment of snapping a picture of my younger son’s big smiling face. (Yes, that there is the photo.) The moment of seeing a cool light show. (This was a group that appeared on “America’s Got Talent.”)

Recognizing family changes

Did I dread it when summer came to a close? No. I was ready for the school year to begin again. Everything has its time. It’s a matter of accepting it and making the most of it. Hard to believe that just 14 years ago, I had only one child and a less complex life. Now, she’s finishing up her first year of college and my younger son has only one year left in elementary school. When he finishes, we’ll have been at this elementary school 14 years! Right now, the thought of leaving the school makes me sad because I’ll miss the staff and the school being a regular part of my life. It also means not having any more elementary-aged kids.

Maybe I’ll be ready by the time fifth grade graduation rolls around. Last year, people asked me if I was sad about my daughter going off to college. I wasn’t. She was ready just like she was also ready for middle school and high school when the time came. Those changes weren’t hard. Even watching my older son as he prepares to leave behind a wonderful middle school program and enter high school this fall isn’t hard either.

However, he has some challenges, so I’m more nervous about him handling a more challenging class schedule in a much larger environment. I need to remind myself to accept it. Just let it be. If something comes up, I’ll handle it when it comes. I’ve done all I can to help him right now.

Maybe this being my youngest of three makes it different. I’m also the youngest of three. My dad called me — a mom of his three grandchildren — his baby right up until his death. In the meantime, I’m in the present. He’s still in fourth grade, still in elementary school, still losing teeth. He did just turn 10, so no more single digit aged kids. I’ve accepted it, but it didn’t stop me from joking about it and pretending to be all pouty.

Quashing the Sunday afternoon or Monday blues

This approach works well with the Monday blues. I don’t hate Mondays. I think of them as the start of getting back to our regularly scheduled programming. Actually, I struggled more with Sunday late afternoons / early evenings than with Monday. (Hey, “The Good Wife” is on Sunday nights.) It meant winding down the weekend and preparing for the upcoming work and school week. That changed when I flipped my perspective.

The downside of being a one-person business is the guilt that comes whenever I find myself not working at any time during the work week. No work = no earning. Weekends give me respite from that. Thus, Sunday became a time when I get a break from feeling like this. Be accepting. I debated whether to sign up to volunteer to go on a field trip with my son’s fourth grade class. Miss a whole day of work? How many more field trips does my son have left? I went. Now I have another great memory.

Time flies. Soon, Monday morning will be Monday evening. Then it’ll be Hump Day and then Friday all over again. Monday is going to come back. So might as well be present and make the most of it.

We have enough stress that dealing with times of the year we don’t like is wasteful. Be accepting. It feels better and calmer. Sounds simple, but sometimes it works.

May has rolled around again. Summer will be here when it gets here. The plan? Read great books, swim some and ride my bike. (I’m weird. I only like to swim and bike in warm weather. Yes, even with indoor swimming pools.)

How do you handle things you don’t like that are coming up? What great books do you recommend?

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Relish the Past

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 at 12:18 PM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 1 comment

graduation 300x224 Relish the PastMy daughter and I went to her elementary school — where her little brother was a third grader — for the senior reception. Every year, the elementary schools hold senior receptions inviting all the graduating seniors to visit old friends and connect with their former teachers. Even the parents reconnected. I hadn’t seen some since middle school or longer. Elementary school requires more in-school volunteers than any other school. It gave parents a place to meet and socialize.

Digging deep for memories

One teacher admitted who saw her students using rulers as swords on the first day of second grade admitted she thought they would be a difficult class. It turned out to be a  great class. A little lesson in first impressions and how they can be wrong, but also how they can destroy any chances of making a second impression. (The teacher was stuck with those kids. A hiring manager can pass up on a candidate who wasn’t energetic in the interview.)

It was lovely reconnecting with some of the parents that I wished we had stayed in touch. These parents had one thing in common — they weren’t big email or Facebook users. To be fair, I’m not big on making phone calls.

And other parents, I just couldn’t remember their names. Alas, no name tags for the parents. Only the students had name tags, or else we’d all be saying, “Who’s that?” I should’ve showed up with a name tag that said, “Shelby’s Mom. St. Edwards.” (Can you guess the question most often asked at the reunion?)

Connections and business

This shows the value of email marketing and social media for business. It keeps your name out there. It keeps you networking. It keeps your company in everyone’s mind. You may not see financial or traffic ROI. But isn’t it worth helping people remember your name? Eventually, someone will need you or take the next step in the sales process by subscribing to your email newsletter, downloading a white paper or signing up for a free webinar.

It’s also good for your personal brand. One of my clients first hired me to do copy for his product. We stayed in touch and he hired me again when he went to work for a different company. Another client brought me in to do content for his startup. A few years later, he joined another startup and again, brought me on board. It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t stayed in touch.

My daughter may have graduated from high school, but that’s not the end of her connections with her classmates. Some she may never see again. Some she may see at the high school reunions. And some she may find resources through them and them through her.

Leaving a company is like graduation. You may leave the institute, but your connections stay with you.

How do you stay connected with past and current clients? Prospects?

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Get on a First Name Basis with Online Prospects and Clients

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 at 9:32 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 2 comments

Drapers Barber Shop Martinsville 300x185 Get on a First Name Basis with Online Prospects and ClientsOnce upon a time, geography and the surrounding community limited the customer base for small businesses. Today, our connected world offers an unprecedented opportunity for small businesses everywhere because we can live anywhere and work with clients on a global scale.

But what have we sacrificed? Sometimes we long for the days when an owner knew the name of every customer who entered the store. Communities foster customer loyalty and help keep a small business afloat during tough times.

Building meaningful relationships lies at the heart of social media marketing. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not solely another avenue for advertising your products and services. They exist to form a community for your business.

To build a small town atmosphere of support online for your company, remember these four key points.

1. Be a Resource

Customers look for people and businesses that they can trust. Using your social media accounts, you can be a source of knowledge about your company’s area of expertise. Instead of just posting about sales and promotions, use these outlets to share information that you’ve been learning or reading about.

If you’re an accounting firm, this could mean posting easy-to-understand updates about changes in the tax code. Likewise, a natural foods store might post about a new study questioning the health benefits of a product like soy — even if it’s among the products that they sell. By being honest and providing real, objective content, customers realize they can trust you with their purchases.

2. Be in Touch

The ability to directly contact your customers is a valuable asset. First, you have to establish trust – people don’t want to give out their email or phone number in fear of receiving spam. If you can collect this information, however, you now have a direct line to your base. Offer a discount to compel people to sign up for a newsletter or coupons sent through text messages.

Once you collect the contact information, don’t abuse the trust. A monthly e-newsletter can go a long way in helping build on that trust. Shape the newsletter the same way that you do in social media. Balance objective content with information about your products and services. 80/20 works well here where 80 percent of the content is valuable information and 20 percent is self-serving. Likewise, a weekly text message about a great deal helps remind customers to visit your site or connect with you.

3. Say thank you … always.

Regardless the type of business you run, saying thanks never goes out of style. If all of your transactions go through an automated online system, you can send a follow-up email that says thank you and includes a link to a survey or a comment box where people can offer feedback. (Yes, you can automate this.)

If you’re a company that deals with fewer clients than a retail store, it may be feasible to send handwritten cards. Once you order the cards, it only takes one minute to write a line or two of thanks and drop it in the mail. The effect can be a long-term and fruitful business relationship.

4. Remember Special Occasions

Customers need reminded that they’re doing business with fellow human beings, especially in a time when much of our business and interaction occurs through the portal of a connected device. Holidays aren’t an excuse to have a sale. Depending on the size of your company, sending holiday cards or gifts to your most valued customers works wonders in building loyalty and strengthening relationships. If a competitor ever comes along, clients will remember that you sent them holiday wishes. It’s also okay to celebrate your company’s birthday. Remind your customers that you’re growing, and it’s thanks to their support.

In a business world where we’re increasingly separated from clients, it’s important to find ways to establish real connections through relevant content and direct outreach.

What other ways have you found to get to know your customers?

Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a provider of personalized pens, imprinted apparel, mugs, customized calendars and other promotional products. He regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.

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Crazy Busy or Fake Busy?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog 6 comments

baby blues electronics 300x158 Crazy Busy or Fake Busy?From the first job out of college, I’ve worked for organizations where we could choose our hours as long as we were there between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. By 7 a.m., you’d find me at my desk tackling my first tasks of the day. In one company, two of us had an unspoken competition going to see who would arrive first. The guy, an hourly worker, did everything he could to work long hours. Yet whenever I arrived after he did, I’d find him sleeping and I’d dream of crazy pranks to pull on him during his zzz moments.

The fake busy

I’ve also seen people faking their busyness when I walked past their cubicles at the end of the day. They may think they looked busy, but most of us knew they wanted to stretched their hours so they’d look good and outstay the boss.

Sometimes the problem was their inability to end a phone conversation. It didn’t take long to learn that being deaf — among other things — made me a more efficient worker. My phone calls required a third party (the relay operator), so folks were less tempted to call me or have a friendly conversation.

The crazy busy

Then there are those who are truly crazy busy as described in “The ‘Busy’ Trap” from the New York Times by Tim Kreider. Gini Dietrich also shares her experience in “Always ‘crazy busy’?” How many times have you know parents who report some variation of this? “My seven-year-old does scouts, baseball, soccer, basketball, religious school and youth group.”

In the old days, playing three sports wasn’t a big deal because each lasted for one season per year. Soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. Now, these sports have two or three seasons a year. Players who try to stick to a sport once a year may not be able to get back on the team, so they play every season to avoid losing their spot.

I also used to work a lot on the weekends writing content for my websites and handling whatever remained from the week or jump ahead for the next. That changed when I injured my thumb. I could barely work at all, so I broke the habit of not working weekends.

Taking back weekends

By the time my thumb worked again, I struggled to work on weekends. I decided that weekend work would no longer be the norm. Because of this, my family and I went to the State Fair, International Festival, the amusement park. We don’t do something every weekend or even once a month, but we do more than we did in the past.

We’re a low key family of homebodies. (Daughter is the exception and she’s living it up as a college freshman.) But still, I look for experiences for us to do together. With first born in college, I know how quickly a childhood fleets. With my dad’s passing, I know how quickly life fleets.

The one thing I sacrificed? My blog. I’d write blog posts on weekends because I devoted my weekdays to clients. It may have hurt this website’s search engine standings and traffic, but there’s more to life and finding business than satisfying Google Panda, Penguin or whatever search engine best practices has us riled up. People say if you want something, make time for it. I don’t believe that. Instead, it’s about prioritizing your life, starting with the top items and stopping before you fill up your slots. This ensures you have room for the unexpected (and they ALWAYS come up) and taking it easy.

Here’s a great excerpt from Tim Kreider’s article:

Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

You know what? I look at my life and remind myself I have what I wanted: family, home, flexibility and the time to enjoy the little things and exercise. For the most part, I’m happy. And when I’m happy, I do a better job of keeping my family and clients happy. So it’s critical — not selfish — to take care of yourself first and keep your busyness under control.

How’s your schedule? Are you the right kind of busy? Do you leave room to breathe?

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Are We Too Accepting of Information?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 5 comments

Even with all the gadgets I have and time I spend on the computer, I still look forward to reading the print edition of my local newspaper every morning. Recently, I saw an ad in the paper from a hypermarket (combination of grocery and department stores) that I’ll call CubeMart.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to ads, but this full-paged ad caught my eye because it’s misleading. The ad shows a customer’s shopping list and compares her receipt from two stores. What store first comes to mind that would be CubeMart’s competitor? Bull’s eye. It’d be another hypermarket.

Not in this ad. CubeMart decided to compare itself with a drug retailer that I’ll call CubeGreens. If there was ever a time to use the apple and oranges cliché, this is it. Both serve different purposes. I shop at those two stores in very different ways. When I go to the drug retailer, it’s usually to pick up a couple of items or grab things on sale. It’s walking distance from my house, so it comes in handy during an illness.

I certainly wouldn’t buy pull ups at the drugstore — not because I don’t have kids that need them — but because they’re almost always overpriced. Pull ups, laundry detergent, snacks, toiletries, medicine, plastic bags and nine other items appear in the two store receipts CubeMart used to show the customer would’ve saved 15 percent had she chosen CubeMart.

Even if CubeMart had used a direct competitor in the ad, I notice the fine print says prices may include special prices good through a certain date and they may not be representative of prices in other stores of the two chains. And, of course, it covers itself by saying that prices at CubeGreens may have changed.

This is a simple example of how companies can skew data to tell a story that reflects positively on their brand. Here’s another example. Every year, a popular news magazine publishes a list of the best schools in the U.S. Dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of stories reporting problems with the data used to create the list.

Many accept information without questioning them. This also happens with expert commentary, encyclopedias (both famous encyclopedias have published errors) and wordgraphics. (I call them that because they’re too wordy to be true infographics).

We’re overloaded with information, but we don’t have time to question it all. It requires we change how we absorb information and what we do with it.

Most of the time believing reported information is harmless. If a customer believed CubeMart’s ad and switched (still apples and oranges), the worst that can happen is the customer doesn’t save as much as money as she could have at the real competitor’s store.

When should we believe or verify the information we receive? How do we know what sources to trust?

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5 Steps for Small Businesses Reputation Management

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 at 9:08 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 9 comments
man without identity 5 Steps for Small Businesses Reputation Management

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Online reputation management is not just the province of those businesses and public figures that have been subject to scandal. On the contrary, in this age of Google where anyone can look up anything and anyone, reputation management is vital. For small businesses, it’s not a vanity or a luxury, but a true necessity.

Think about it this way. Whether you’re a small business owner, the manager of a dental practice, professional services provider or the owner of a café, you need to bring in new customers. And you typically bring them in one at a time, not en masse. The thing is, customers you bring in are likely doing their due diligence, checking you out on Google and seeing what other customers have said about you.

If Google only brings up positive information about your brand, then you’re in fine shape. If there are any negative listings or bad reviews out there, however, then your company’s online reputation is sunk — and along with it goes your business prospects.

It doesn’t matter if those unwanted listings are true or not. Maybe they’re legitimate customer reviews, or maybe they’re defamatory posts written by business rivals or disgruntled employees. What matters is that these undesirable Google listings are going to send potential clients to your competitors — and your small business will begin to fade into oblivion.

All of that is the bad news. The good news is that reputation defense is very possible — whether you choose to enlist the services of a professional reputation management company, or simply do reputation repair strategies on your own.

Here are five cost-effective steps that any small business can use to ensure maximum brand protection.

  1. Know your online reputation. This is the easiest, most significant step for protecting your business’ online reputation. It’s astonishing, the number of businesses who don’t realize what people are saying about its products and services on the Web. Monitoring your reputation can be as simple as using Google and Bing, and perhaps setting up a Google alert, as well. Searching on Twitter and Facebook is also a good idea.
  2. Build a strong, defensive wall around your brand identity. Now that you have a good idea of where your business stands in terms of its reputation, you’re ready for the next step of building a strong, defensive wall. Start by snatching up all domain names associated with your business — that is, the name of your company, .com, .net, .org and so on. You may not actively use these domains, but owning them helps you build a hedge of protection on Google and other search engines.
  3. Get active on social media. A good Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest presence can be vital for your company. It shores up goodwill for your brand, and it populates search engines with positive content. Perhaps most importantly, though: if you’ve claimed your company’s name on Facebook and Twitter, then your enemies can’t seize it to use against you. Watch for company mentions — good and bad — and respond to them as you would a customer who calls to complain or compliment. If you don’t have an answer to the problem, acknowledge you heard the customer and you’re working on it.
  4. Create positive content about your company. Once you’re bought up some prime online real estate, and started using social networks to your advantage, then you can begin the work of amassing some strong, compelling content about your company. Remember that the battle over your company’s reputation is a battle for Google dominance. If someone writes a bad review of your company, and it shows up on page 10 of a Google search, that doesn’t matter. It’s what’s on the first page that matters. The best thing you can do to protect your brand, then, is to inundate Google with as much positive, brand-enhancing content as you can — using the very domains and social media accounts you claimed earlier!
  5. Bury bad reviews and listings. The final step is to remain committed to the process of publishing positive content, and trusting that positive content to do its job. While responding to feedback is important, it’s equally important to remember that the creation of positive content is what will ultimately curb the effects of bad reviews. Stay resolute in your content creation, and remember that it’s likely to be an ongoing process, one where you build your defensive wall, one brick at a time.

A small business needs a sterling reputation on the Internet. Your online reputation is more than just your business card in the virtual world — it’s the source of all your credibility as a company. By taking these simple steps, however, you are effectively taking online reputation seriously — something that will pay huge dividends in the end.

About the author
Rich Gorman is an expert practitioner of reputation management techniques and a designer of direct response marketing programs for companies large and small. He leads the team at www.reputationchanger.com.

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Is Your Business Missing Out on Checkups?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 at 9:22 AM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments
airplane Is Your Business Missing Out on Checkups?

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The frequent fliers who flew too much tells about travelers exploited the loopholes in the American Airlines unlimited AAirpass program. Although they paid $350,000 for the pass, they took advantage to garner millions of miles. Now the program is under review because it’s costing AA millions of dollars in revenue. “Rothstein, Vroom and other AAirpass holders had long been treated like royalty. Now they were targets of an investigation,” wrote Ken Bessinger of Los Angeles Times.

The AAirpass went on sale in 1981. The airline began investigating the frequent flyer program in 2007. Would it have made a difference on the company’s finances had it stopped the program soon after seeing the abuses? “It soon became apparent that the public was smarter than we were,” said Bob Crandall, CEO of AA from 1985 to 1998. “Soon” sounded like the airline recognized the problem early on.

One of the customers mentioned in the frequent flyer story bought his AAirpass in 1987. Six years after the program went into effect. If AA saw these problems soon after, why didn’t it stop offering it before 1987?

The New Deal

Sometime in the ’90s, I read a story about repealing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs because they no longer had value or applied. I tried to find something about that and the best I found was a Kansas Free Press story on how the New Deal doesn’t work in modern times. With new processes and technologies, old government programs become obsolete. Yet, some keep on churning and wasting millions of dollars that could be use elsewhere.

That’s what happens when doing business as usual without a checkup. Check ups also work for other areas in a business. For example, my manager and I led a weekly meeting with all the managers of a department. After my manager left and my team changed its direction, we stopped the meetings. Some keep on meeting without realizing they’ve strayed from the original purpose.

Phone Plans and Web Hosts

My husband took on a project that involved reviewing employees’ phone plans. He found that one traveler racked up big phone bills because his plan charged high rates for making calls in the countries he visited. Switching plans saved the company a few thousand dollars a year — all on one employee. After reviewing all the plans and making the changes, the company saw huge savings.

A review of your contracts and services is also worth your team, even for a one-person business. I signed up for my first meryl.net web host at $29.95 per month. That price was the norm at the time when there weren’t many choices. I had problems with the hosting and the customer service. Despite the effort it would take to move the website, it was worth shopping around for another web host. I signed up with a host that cost $12.95 per month. And it came with a bonus: fast, dependable customer service. They went out of their way to help with problems they could’ve easily said, “We don’t do that.”

Their service didn’t stop there. As a webmaster for several nonprofit websites, I came across another high quality web host that offered the same features mine did and for less. I contacted my web host to see about meeting the price. They did. I also signed up with the web host for one of my nonprofit organizations.

What other areas should undergo a check up in a business? Does your company conduct check ups? What results has it seen from the check ups?

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