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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The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 8 comments

My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.

Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.

A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.

We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.

After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:

Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.

Intriguing, right?

I didn’t like it.

Bad Headlines Live!

That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.

There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.

Please stop. Just stop.

It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.

Back to Basics

A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”

Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)

 The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines The Problem with Carefully Crafted HeadlinesNow when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)

For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it.  (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?

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Speech-to-Text Software Test Take 2

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 at 9:25 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 4 comments

When I had thumb surgery in 2008, I invested in voice recognition software to try to get work done. I spent most of the time fighting and correcting the Dragon Naturally Speaking. The one good thing that came out of the maddening experience was this funny speech-to-text software post.

Despite having little hope in software to help me while I recover from arm surgery, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to try the software that came with Windows 7. At least, I wasn’t throwing money away like I did with Dragon Naturally Speaking. Folks said that speech recognition apps had improved in the last few years.

Well, not in my case.

I completed the training tutorial and had a few shouting matches. My husband must’ve thought I went bonkers when he heard me yelling at the laptop.

I spoke slowly and put on my best speech forward. The crossed out text is what the software thinks I said. What I actually said appears in [brackets]. Here are the sound files of my dictating this letter: [original .wma] [converted .mp3]. Do I really sound like that?

Dear Voice Recognition Software, [During world recognition that when]

Next three [Let’s see] how you do. Are you any better than one can not to write [Dragon Naturally] Speaking brown to the than eight [from 2008]? What are you dress adding [Or are you just as] temperamental?

Oon Caplan on my mother [I’m having ulnar nerve] (Aside: would you believe my maiden name is Kaplan?) decompression star Julie on [surgery] on my right arm on Tuesday, in king, to do a one to [December 18, 2012]. I don’t know how number that were the people were [long it’ll be before] I can type halfway do badly the end of period. [decently with two hands].

Nonetheless, I’m away from [grateful] that I have horrendous and a burned rest am a newcomer accident [two hands and a voice even though it’s not the clearest one]. Thank you for less than 10 listening.

This [Best],

Navarro [Meryl]

I spent another 10 minutes trying to spell my name. “R” gave me the biggest fit. I knew it was my weakest letter, so I tried telling it “R and in rabbit. R as in read” It interpreted that as a, i, and y. Seriously — Navarro? Meryl? Na-va-ro? Meh-ril? Do they sound anything alike?

“Two” from “two hands” changed the paragraph heading to header 2: big, bold, light blue. It was a 10-minute battle of wills trying to fix the paragraph formatting and telling the app I wanted to write “two.”

I’ll be getting an upgraded smartphone soon with voice recognition capabilities. Wanna bet that Siri and I won’t get along?

What’s your experience with voice recognition software?

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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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Living Life to Its Fullest

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Category: Books 8 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Sonia Korn-Grimani’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a signed copy of “Sonia’s Song” [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.

About Sonia Korn-Grimani: Sonia Korn Grimani photo Living Life to Its FullestSonia Korn-Grimani earned her doctorate in French literature and the teaching of foreign languages, and directed a multi-cultural language program at UNESCO. With her husband John, and their children Anthony and Renee, Sonia traveled and lived all over the world. In her album Cantos al Amor, Sonia sings in 16 languages. In 1989, Dr. Korn-Grimani was knighted Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and in 1996 she was decorated Officier des Palmes Académiques.

Living Life to Its Fullest by Sonia Korn-Grimani

Railroad track 204x300 Living Life to Its FullestThe following fragment is from the Chapter “Hidden Cargo” from my memoir “Sonia’s Song.” It is June 1939, and my brother Heini and I, at the time aged 9 and 7, have been left by smugglers 40 kilometers from the German-Belgian border. The smugglers told us to walk along the track until morning and hide if we hear anyone coming. Even though it took place more than 70 years ago, I remember this long journey, fraught with danger, with extreme detail. At any moment, we could have been discovered by soldiers or sympathizers along the way. It was just one of many, many times that we lived through terrible danger before and during the war.

We continue along the tracks, towards the border. Night deepens. I hear sounds through the trees — rustling leaves and then branches cracking. Is someone following us? I grab Heini’s arm. He’s heard it too. We start to run.

We run through the darkness, until we are out of breath and our legs give out. I can’t catch my breath and wonder if I am breathing too loud, if my breath will give us away.

I hold my breath and listen. The wind rustles the branches of the fir trees. An owl calls, inquisitively, then silence. Maybe we outran them, whomever they were. We continue our walk west along the tracks.

The crescent moon lowers and sets behind the trees. Don’t leave us Moon we will be all alone in the dark. Just then I hear rumbling again on the tracks. Heini grabs my arm and we throw ourselves into the side of ditch, although it is shallower this time. I press my face into the dirt, and hold my breath.

After the train passes, I roll over carefully, open my eyes, and look up into the night sky. Even though I am too anxious to feel hungry, my tummy grumbles, loud enough for Heini to hear. He pulls out his butter sandwich and tears it in half, then half again. He hands a piece to me, and the butter, a rare treat, tastes like the best meal I’ve ever had. I try to keep the flavor on my tongue as long as I can.

“I suppose we’ve been walking for four hours. We still have a long way to go yet. I doubt we’re even a third of the way there,” whispers Heini.

We press on as fast as we can. After a few more hours, my toes blister, each step becoming painful. I curl my toes to prevent them from rubbing my shoe, but this only helps so much.

“Sonia — train!” We bolt off the tracks, jump into the ditch and wait.

After the train passes, I look up and find Polaris overhead. I see the great wagon and the kneeling giant Hercules with his club making his way across the sky, as we make our way to an uncertain future. The stars become our guide, our hope, our comfort, lighting our way in the darkness.

So much of my life during the war feels like it was broken up into little bits. We were in hiding, living for weeks and months on the run with the Nazis always just a step behind us. Each day, each moment, we didn’t know what was lurking around the corner, what the day would bring, or if we would ever see each other again.  I remember each time I’d see my mother I would try to savor that moment in time, because I honestly didn’t know if that would be the last time I’d see her.

And the thing is, we didn’t really know then, and we don’t really know now. Perhaps it is an effect from living day-to-day, and experiencing deprivation and danger for such prolonged periods of time as a small child, but I remember many times during the war my senses being heightened, and my world reduced to what I could see, hear, and smell at that instant. The past didn’t matter, the future didn’t matter. All that exists, really, is the present.

After war’s end, I was able to book passage on an Italian migrant ship, the SS Napoli, which was filled with hundreds of other people like me from war-ravaged Europe, all trying to seek a better life for ourselves. We left from Naples, Italy, and traveled past Egypt on the Suez Canal. During our nights on board the ship, we congregated on the top deck and sang to entertain ourselves. The passengers fervently loved Italian operas. They asked me if I know any Puccini arias, and I sang for them and led them in song. There we were, a chorus of fellow émigrés from all over Europe, united in harmony, singing Puccini under the summer night sky.

We were all so tired, so weary of the war, of our past, of our circumstances. But I felt a shared sense of determination to make something of ourselves in our new land. It was a time of joy as we ventured to our new home, a time to reinvent our lives and break from our past, and a time of sorrow for leaving a part of us behind us. And as I was singing beautiful songs under the night sky with my fellow émigrés, I felt a pure joy as I lost myself in the music and the summer night and the companionship of the other travelers.

I looked up at the stars and thought of the time Heini and I were laying in the soil, trying to disappear into the ground as the trains would pass us by on that fateful trip, pretending very hard not to exist, catching a glimpse of the great hunter in the night sky. And as we were trying to momentarily slip out of existence, so too did our fears and troubles, at least, for a brief instant.

We tend to cling to the past, and always make plans about the future. But in the moment, you are who you are, no more, no less; you are perfect, you are the sum of all that has happened in your past, you are the vessel of potential for every good thing that will do in your future.  And if you get lost, the stars to will always be there to guide you on your way.

sonias song book cover Living Life to Its FullestAbout Sonia Korn-Grimani‘s Book: At the age of eight, little Sonia Korn is declared an enemy of the German State. She and her family are given a grim option; either find a way to disappear, or be rounded up and sent to certain death. After a perilous escape to the Belgian border, and becoming caught in the chaos and carnage of war-torn France and Belgium, Sonia finds that she must give up everything she knows and loves just to survive. This is the complex true story of one girl, who rises from war’s ashes to sing the songs of hope and love world-wide. A heart-wrenching and poignant memoir, by internationally renowned singer Sonia Korn-Grimani.

Comment and win: The prize: winner gets signed copy of “Sonia’s Song.” For a chance to win, please leave at least a 30-word comment about how you live life to its fullest or what music means to you. You have until 11:59pm on  October 11, 2012 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.

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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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The Ugliness of Comment “No Follow”

Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 9:50 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog 7 comments
comment The Ugliness of Comment No Follow

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Most blogs allow readers to add a link to their own websites. This gives the blog’s owner and other readers a way to connect with that reader. However, most content management systems (CMS)  and blog apps like WordPress add “no follow” in the code. This prevents search engines from rewarding commenters’ link back to their websites with search engine optimization juice. What happens is these apps add “no follow” in the code preventing search engines from following those links.

I used to have a plug-in that linked to readers’ latest blog entries. That went away because of problems. Because I appreciate every single person who stops by to read this blog and leave a comment, I investigated the possibility of removing the “no follow.”  In a perfect world, it’s a great way to reward people who take the time to read a post and share thoughts.

I looked at some blogs that follow reader links. What I found was ugly. Lots of nonsensical or hollow comments along the lines of “I agree” and “This is a great post!” A comment of value rarely showed up. Most of these “do follow” blogs have subpar quality.

Few — I mean very few — “do follow” blogs had posts worth sharing that could evoke great discussions. Not a single one of these better quality blogs managed reader (fake readers, really) comments that were laden with comment spam. All that comment spam ruined the experience, which hurt the quality of those blogs. Furthermore, it wasn’t clear how Google and other search engines view blogs that don’t have “no follow” on comments.

It was those few good quality blogs that compelled me to leave the “no follow” in place. Even if I control every comment that is or isn’t published, I don’t want to attract the bad element.

Obviously, there’s no benefit in removing “no follow” from comments. So how can bloggers reward the readers who care enough to join the discussion? I visit their blogs to leave a comment or I tweet their latest blog entry.

What if all apps turned off “no follow” in comments? How can bloggers reward readers who post valuable comments?

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