Sorry! Too Bad!

I’ve got the kids today while my wife works. Laundry, feeding, reprimanding and the very necessary trip to the supermarket are all on the to-do list. We can’t make it through the hurricane with a few almonds and some old breakfast cereal that nobody likes, can we? Of course not, so make the list and check it twice knowing full well that some critical item (milk?) will be forgotten anyway.

Shoes on. Seatbelts fastened. Numerous in-transit requests concerning candy and other junk denied. Park. Grab a wet cart in the rain. Run across the lot. Put on the bargain hunter hat and get busy. That’s where the real story begins. This could have been a training video on how to discourage customers.

Endcap displays are normally where you find the deals. All of the important things you need, all on sale. Not today. Today (in the early afternoon), every endcap was set for tomorrow’s ad with today’s full prices. The guy in the tie said, “Yes sir, our sales start tomorrow.” Obviously this is for their convenience and not the customers’. Those ends all looked wonderful, and gave me lots of reasons not to buy. Maybe I will get that stuff tomorrow – at the warehouse club. Sorry! Too bad!

$12.50 for a can of Folgers? Uh, is this Starbucks and you didn’t change the sign? The same stuff was $8.00 at Target last week. No coffee for me. Sorry! Too bad! By the way, what is that logo that Stop & Shop (and Giant, another Ahold USA brand) uses? It reminds me of customers fainting and falling over backwards from their prices.

If a company is going to have the cast iron determination to shake every last nickel from you with their prices, you could hope for a great checkout, right? Maybe, but not today. As everyone is shopping hard to prepare for the big storm, there was one express line, two regular lines staffed by humans, and a row of self-serve stations. Ugh.

The guy watching the self-serve was busy writing some secret notes on a tiny piece of paper while customers juggled through the maddening interface of these checklanes that were likely designed by the same fellas who came up with the Yugo. The systems look like the Frankenstein of the IT world: a scanner here, a screen there, another screen for your credit card and yet another screen where you sign your name. Don’t forget the light-up slot for your coupons (that doesn’t light up) and the hockey goal-esque red and green flashing lights bolted atop this monstrosity. Does red mean goal? Do I get a discount?

Secret-note man came to help for a moment and bagged a few items. Until he had to go back to his secret note. All the while my kids are banging on the Redbox machine like retirees at the nickel slots while I force sweaty frozen foods into plastic bags and hope to finish my task before the next customer’s OJ squashes my bread. Sorry.

What are my points in sharing my “what I did on my day off” story? Don’t show your clients and customers what you can’t or won’t do for them. Justify your prices with the quality and service you deliver. Exceed your customers’ expectations. And let your spouse do the shopping.

The “You Pie Chart”

A basic rule of investing is that you should build a diversified portfolio that includes different asset classes – stocks, bonds, cash – and different holdings within each class – stock in different companies, a bond ladder, CDs – to give you exposure to gains in different sectors and some downside protection when times get tough. That’s a great strategy for the money you already have, but what about the money you still hope to earn? Does your money come from different sources, or is your entire livelihood dependent on one stream of cash? What happens when the drought comes and the stream stops flowing?

Here are a couple of thoughts to consider on how you can start building some stability into your income portfolio (all of it in your household) and reduce the risk of dependency on your employer.

First, if you are married, look at ways to diversify careers and industries within your family. My wife just finished nursing school and is launching a new career as a Registered Nurse. I don’t work in healthcare, so we have some new found diversification (and an extra paycheck).

Second, brainstorm on ways to create alternative income streams. Unless you are in an employment situation that forbids outside business activities, chances are good that you have skills that you can turn into a side business. I have a close friend who turned a talent for woodworking into a small business making custom pet feeders. Another leveraged public relations skills into a side consulting practice.

Third, network like crazy and give freely of yourself and your knowledge. The more you do to help people with no expectation of return, the more likely you are to get help when you need it. You may also be presented with opportunities that would never have come your way otherwise.

Think about your income the same way you think about your investments. Remember those colorful pie charts that came in your 401(k) package? More color means more diversification. Is your income portfolio one color, or a safer and more satisfying rainbow?

Next up: Thoughts on brainstorming and turning the exercise into a business.

Independent Thinking

As we flip burgers, watch fireworks and maybe, just maybe, consider the history behind the holiday we celebrate on July 4th, consider your own independence. What are the actions you are taking and the plans you are developing to express yourself and show your independent thinking, motivation and decisiveness? Are you growing, learning and making yourself more valuable, or maintaining the status quo, hoping that the pink slip never comes your way?

If you work for someone else, what are you doing to deliver more value than your pay? In the last 30 days, have you done something creative, original or innovative to show your organization that you are engaged and committed to the mission? Maybe your independence is freedom from the stress that underperformers feel, knowing inside that they are not giving their best.

If you work for yourself, what have you done to bring a new service or product to market, improve service to your customers, or learn new things to give yourself a competitive edge? Have you kept your client relationships alive with relevant marketing and superior service? Are you the first service provider your clients consider when they need whatever it is that
you sell?

If you are the boss, what are you doing to encourage independent thinking and innovation among your people? You can’t possibly have all the good ideas. Encourage innovation and celebrate risk taking.

Independence Day was not the end, but the beginning of an experiment by independent and free people. It’s an experiment that continues to evolve 235 years later. Take a few minutes over this weekend to consider how you can advance your own experiment and solidify your independence. Happy Independence Day!

Anticipating the Unpleasant

When you walk down the aisle, take your vows and then make the many decisions in a marriage, the last thing you want to think about is, “What if?” What if there is a job loss? What if there is a death or divorce? It’s easy to ignore these possibilities, but not wise. No, this is not a pitch for life insurance or some other financial product. It’s about thinking about and preparing for the challenges we all face.

I have worked with two clients in the past month, both women, who are in the process of divorce. As a result, the plan that said “You work and I will stay home with the kids” showed its dark side. The women in both of these relationships sidelined themselves, letting their college educations fade into the distant past and their professional skills atrophy.

So what’s the lesson? Unpleasant things can happen in relationships and tragedies happen every day. Recognizing that many will live long lives, change jobs many times and may face relationship breakdowns, doesn’t it make sense to stay engaged outside of the home, even if only for a few hours a week? Experiences volunteering, running a small home-based business, or working part-time in a more traditional employment scenario all can be presented effectively when a person re-enters the job market. Your network stays fresh, you keep current in your vocation, and you may even have a business suite that fits for an unplanned interview.

Uncertainty is certain. Plan for it.

You’re Batman? So What.

Pretend you are Batman for a minute. Maybe an unemployed Batman. I know, Batman is very entrepreneurial and makes his own success, but hang with me for a minute. You’re lounging around the Batcave one day, thinking about how you are going to pay the fat mortgage on this hole in the ground, and think about getting a paycheck. Being a savvy masked superhero, you hit the job boards and search to see what is available in Gotham City.

It’s your lucky day, because the city is advertising for a superhero just like you to take a bite out of crime. You know you have the talent and you are the perfect person for the job, so you send out your resume and your standard cover letter and wait for a call. Or an email. Or maybe even that bat-shaped spotlight. But none of it happens. Why not?

Could it be that you haven’t sold yourself in your cover letter? Did you fail to connect the dots for the HR person in city hall who sent your resume to the “thanks but no thanks” folder?

The job posting said that the successful candidate would have the ability to significantly reduce violent crime in the city, especially crime perpetrated by criminals with colorful costumes and weird MO’s. Did you remember to tell the hiring people that you have created an ingenious strategy to capture and successfully prosecute these bad guys, and that you look forward to sharing your skill with the good people of Gotham? Did you mention that you can get it done without the Gotham police officers being in harm’s way? Did you sell yourself?

Enough of the Batman story for now. When you are presenting yourself for opportunities in your current company, for a new job, or when discussing your performance with your boss, are you discussing the benefits that you bring – or will bring – to the organization? If not, you are failing to sell yourself by showing the buyer – your boss or potential employer – a compelling reason to put you on the team. You can remove the pain. The benefit you bring will be much greater than the paycheck you receive.

Nobody will care about what you do unless you can show how you will do it for the organization and how you are worth the investment. Gotham won’t hire Batman unless Batman can persuasively sell the idea that he will be locking up the Joker. Quickly.

3x5x30

If you have ever been in sales, you have heard the term “elevator speech.” Some call it the elevator pitch. The idea is that you should have a speech ready at all times that you can use to introduce yourself to others. I was a member of a networking group that talked about this a lot. We didn’t just talk about it, though. We talked, we wrote, we critiqued, we role-played and we laughed at each other’s speeches. Some were great, while others…had opportunities for improvement.

I was reminded of this twice over the last week when I talked with new and prospective clients. I asked them about themselves, and it was obvious that one of them had never been coached on this concept. Here’s why it is important.

You never know when you are going to meet new people. You could be introduced by a colleague or friend. You could get stuck next to a Chatty Cathy on a plane. You never know when you will have to tell someone about yourself. Oddly, you’ll probably never do this on an elevator though, so I don’t really understand how it got called an elevator speech. Do you talk to strangers on the elevator? Don’t you just stand there and stare at the numbers? But I digress…

So, here is an idea. Take some time to write your speech. Now here’s the meaning of this post’s title: try writing it on a 3”x5” card, and be able to say it in less than 30 seconds. Make it concise, clear and interesting enough to get the listener to want to know more. Practice it on your cat. Bore your children. Do what you have to, but be able to tell someone about yourself well. If you can’t, who can?

Are You Part of the Big Brain?

On what topic are you an expert? Maybe you spend hours each week working in a discipline that has allowed you to develop expert level knowledge in some area. Maybe you have a passion outside of work that others would find valuable. If you haven’t explored Quora, you are missing an opportunity to learn, share and bolster your personal brand.

Inc. Magazine offered a useful tips article for Quora users. Visit Quora, read the article and understand what the site is all about. Then consider this.

If you have a skill that you could share to benefit others, consider engaging in this forum. Pick a topic and search for some of the people who are also involved in the conversations. You will find thought leaders on every topic freely sharing their knowledge, asking questions and engaging in dialogue. If you want to know what the leaders in your field or industry are discussing, this is a great place to visit.

Think about how you can burnish your own personal brand on the site. I have been visiting and posting to help people with questions concerning resumes, cover letters and other career marketing issues. What do you know a lot about that you can share?

File this pointer under “New Things I Have Learned This Week.” Take a few minutes, see if the site and the conversations resonate with you, and decide if this can help you develop your professional brand and online reputation. If so, jump into the conversation, have some fun and show us how smart you are.