Is Out-of-State Commuting for You?

Job searching, but can’t find a job in your city? Your state? No problem! Location makes no difference if you’re someone who is flexible--and adventurous--enough to spend hours on planes and in cabs each week to travel to an out-of-state job.

Interstate commuting is par for the course for Kari Ryerson. For the last nine years, Kari has been a well-respected and sought-after electronic medical records consultant. She works with hospitals to move them from paper records to electronic ones, transition them from one record system to another, or optimize the system they have in place.

When I first met Kari, she lived in L.A.. However, that soon changed. She and her husband bought a new home in Las Vegas, but she kept her job at UCLA in Los Angeles. That meant weekly plane rides to California, where she’d work the week and fly home on weekends. That was just the beginning, though. In time, Kari and her husband relocated from Vegas to Anchorage, Alaska. Yet (get ready to gasp!), Kari still had her job in L.A.. That meant a weekly commute from Alaska to Los Angeles!

Kari Ryerson with her dogs Baily and Mesa
(and their canine friend) on a hike in Alaska.
But, this year, Kari took on a new client in Indianapolis, Indiana. And, again, she is commuting from Alaska. With such a long commute time, Kari spends most of her off-hours in transit, trying to get home to spend as much time with her husband and four rescue dogs as possible.

Kari’s lifestyle has always intrigued me. I hate long commutes, so Kari’s weekly schedule just makes my head spin. However, at the moment, it works for her and her family.

I caught up with Kari as she sat in an airport on a long layover after her flight was cancelled. Her story fascinates me and I hope it does you, too.

Q:  How many air miles do you log each week/month/or year?
A:  Week: 6,300. Month: 26,000. Year: 300,000.

Q:  How many days of each week do you work, travel, and enjoy time at home?
A:  I fly out on a Sunday red-eye and return home on Thursday night. I sleep in my bed three nights, in a hotel three nights, and on a plane one night.

Q:  What is your travel routine? 
A:  I’m all about the perks. I use the same airline, hotel, and rental car company so that I earn points and get upgrades. I try and fly direct, but currently I have a layover in Chicago. It’s great on Monday mornings because the United Club has showers. I am able to use my layover time to refresh, wake up, and make myself presentable. I have another layover in Chicago on my way home. I tend to make this one a bit longer because the short flights get delayed and cancelled often so I am weary of booking too short a connection on the way home. I take a cab to and from the airport. It’s faster than driving and parking.

Q:  How do you afford the travel costs associated with an out of state job? 
A:  Travel costs are covered as part of my contract, I get them all reimbursed.

Q:  What is the toll of being on the road so much?
A:  You can never participate in activities that happen on Monday through Thursday nights. No sports leagues/classes etc. You also miss your family a lot.

Q:  Are you frequently jetlagged?
A:  I’ve decided that my body lives on Mountain Time, exactly half way between the time zone I live in and the time zone I work in.

Q:  Why does this unusual work arrangement work for you?
A:  It’s what I have been doing since I left college other than a few years in which I worked in hospitals where I lived.

Q:  Would you recommend out of state commutes for others?
A:  Not unless you really know what you are getting into. I am weary of first timers because a lot of them decide they hate life on the road and quit projects part way through.

Q:  How do you choose which out of state contracts to pursue?
A:  It depends on the hospital, project, and who is already working there. It’s rare for me to work on a project and not know a single person already, they tell me a lot about what it’s really like so I can judge if it will be a good fit or not.

Q:  Is this a routine you intend to keep up throughout your career?
A:  I hope not, but I have been saying that since I started.

Q:  What does your family think of the long commutes that you endure?
A:  They are used to it. I have always been nomadic (I spent a year of high school abroad as an exchange student). For my husband and me it’s normal. Even when I did live and work in the same city, he worked nights (other than a short period of time) so we only had weekends together.

Q:  Do people think it's crazy that you commute to the Midwest from Alaska each week?
A:  Absolutely, more so that I commute to a place on Eastern time so it’s a 4-hour time change each way.

Q:  What are some of the biggest challenges of commuting out of state?
A:  The biggest downside is that vacations become not as great. Every week I get on a plane, stay in a hotel, and rent a car. When I have time off I don't want to get on a plane, stay in a hotel, and rent a car. I want to stay home. That’s the hardest part of a relationship, my husband is home all the time and wants to go places. I am away all the time and want to be a homebody when I get the chance.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t have the stomach to do what Kari does each week, but her story is a great reminder that we shouldn’t be limited by geography. Opportunity may not be right in our backyard, but who’s to say we can’t hop a plane to visit opportunity in another state?

To learn more about Kari, and the exploits of her family and rescue dogs (including book reviews of the many books she reads while waiting in airports!), be sure to check out her blog, Dog is God in Reverse.

Being Brave Enough to Say No

This month I said no to a lucrative opportunity. It was hard, but I think it was the right move for me.

As a freelancer, there are busy times and lean times. The work isn't always steady and, sometimes, when things are slow or a little uncertain, freelancers may be tempted to take on work they don't want to do. When I first started freelancing, I told myself I never wanted to wake up and dread the day ahead. To do that, I had to summon the power to say no; no to any project that didn't seem like a fit--no to the money that came with it.

Throughout my career, I've always been the person to say, "Yes, I can," "Yes, I will," and "Yes, you can count on me." It's not in my nature to say no when someone asks for my help (unless it's a completely outlandish request). However, to be true to myself and best serve a potential client or employer, sometimes no is the best answer one can give. If you're not truly interested in the work, or you can't perform the task with the level of enthusiasm and skill that an employer deserves, there is no winner if you say yes.

Just because opportunity knocks doesn't mean it has the right address.

Have you ever said no to an opportunity? Did you feel uncertain about your decision? Or did you know it was the best move for you? 

Are Consumers Becoming Too Touchy?

It's back to school season and the advertising has begun. Kids need school supplies and new clothes to start the year and every business wants your bucks. But, will JCPenney be left out in the cold because of the backlash on their latest back to school ad?

This week, consumers cried foul as a television spot insinuated that not wearing the brands that JCP carries could make or break your year. The ad then cuts to all the kids disappearing and one young boy by himself. If you haven't seen the spot, check it out here:

* Can't see the video? Click here.

Frankly, I think the uproar is ridiculous. I'm sorry, but no matter how politically correct our world becomes, kids are kids and school is school. Children will always notice other kids' folders, lunchboxes, backpacks, and clothes. It's how kids are.

When I was growing up, if you had a Trapper Keeper you were cool. That sound of Velcro as you got your homework assignment out constantly reminder the other kids that you had one. It was the must-have item. I remember when I got a lunchbox that I was really excited about and the feeling it gave me when another kid said she liked it. I also remember the horrible year that my mom got me a hideous backpack and how I'd try to hid it coming and going from school. Boy, I hated that thing. The year I got my first pair of Nike's just like all the other kids had was a landmark. Were they amazing shoes? No. But all the other kids had them and the reality is that kids like to fit in (something as a grown-up I try to avoid at all costs).

As adults, most of use know better than to judge people based on the clothing they wear. This is something that comes with age, experience, and maturity. And, as much as we can try to teach our kids not to judge others based on superficial things like the jeans they wear, the fact is that school is a universe unto itself.

I'm not making excuses for bad behavior, but the critics who are saying the JCPenney ad promotes bullying are just silly. It does no such thing. It simply is reminding parents how important back to school purchases are to our kids. No kid will ever say they want the knock-off instead of the name brand. That's just not how kids are. And, although, not every parent will be able to buy their child ever item they'd prefer (I know my mom couldn't afford to), don't think that what your kid wears or takes to school doesn't matter to them. It does.

So, cut JCPenney some slack. There's nothing wrong with their ad in the least. It just depicts the world as it is. Don't like that world? Change it.

The Value of Giving Yourself Options in an Online World

Nothing good comes from waiting. That's especially the case when it comes to creating a social media presence.

When I first started all this social media stuff six years ago, I invested a lot of time creating my professional online footprint. I knew I couldn't do everything, so I just focused on what I thought I could do well and what would yield the most relevant results. For me, that meant creating this blog and using Twitter and Facebook to promote it and my professional services.

Although the creation of Words Done Write was to market myself, I had another pet project that was simply for pleasure. Even though I started it back in 2009, I didn't mention it publicly because it was just something I wanted to do for myself.

A few weeks ago, I decided to take this project more seriously. I set up a Facebook page for it and it's slow going. I can't help but to think where I'd be if I had only created a Facebook presence for that project five years ago. But, my mindset was that it was for fun; not to grow. That was shortsighted.

No matter what you're doing online, whether it's personal or professional, set yourself up to have options.
  • Buy the domain. If years pass and you don't use it, go ahead and let it expire. But by buying it, you'll have the ability to do something with it should you choose to. 

  • I had to make a slight modification to the desired URL for my pet project because, even though the domain I wanted was available when I looked several times over the years, when I actually chose to purchase it, it was gone. I thought it would be there when I finally decided to buy it, but I waited too long.  
  • Claim the Facebook URL. I set up a Facebook page for Words Done Write back in 2009 and that's what I chose to focus on. But, how hard would it have been to at least set up a Facebook page for my pet project back then, too? Maybe I wouldn't have put the time into growing it, but if I had it perhaps I would have thought about growing it sooner. 
I've spent the last several years online focusing on the professional me and I made a conscious decision to not have my various worlds collide. But, all of us have more than one side. We all have professional interests and personal hobbies, causes, or passions. I'd venture to say some of you reading this probably even have more than one blog or Facebook page.

Perhaps you'll find you want to do more than one thing online, or maybe you'll find that you start with one project but let it fall by the wayside because you feel more passionate about another. No matter what you ultimately do, be sure you set yourself up for success by giving yourself options for the future: buy the domain name, claim the Facebook page, set up the Twitter account, and identify any other social media platform that may be relevant to your project.

Although that fun project you do just for yourself may not be something you want to grow now, wouldn't it be nice to have everything in place in case there comes a time you want to take it to the next level?

Is Hollywood's High Profile Stabbing a Result of a Social Media Obsessed Society?

I'm sick of people taking photos of their food, the storefront that they're entering, and every tiny little aspect of their lives. People are consumed with photographing and sharing everything that crosses their paths. It's really kind of OCD if you think about it and, at least, a little self-obsessed.

This month, a woman was stabbed and killed in Hollywood by a group of homeless men after she took their photograph and refused to give them a dollar afterward. This has spurred heated debates about panhandling, safety in tourist areas, and homelessness. However, I have not seen one person mention the issue of our society's obsession with phototaking and how it was the catalyst for this woman's death.

So the verified reports are that the unfortunate victim of the fatal stabbing saw these three vagrants holding signs that were littered with profanity. She apparently was compelled to take a photo with her cellphone to document what she had seen. Perhaps (and I'm speculating) to share on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I mean, that is why most of us take pictures, isn't it? Had she never taken the photo, I think it's likely that the altercation wouldn't have happened and she'd be home safely today.

Not everything you come across has to be photographed. This is especially true of taking photos of people you don't know. Unless you ask someone if you can take their photo, don't do it. At best, it's rude. And it is an invasion of that person's privacy. It's really not for any us to decide to share that person's activities with our social networks. It's their life, not ours. (Of course, people doing public appearances and speaking gigs isn't applicable here.)

My sympathy goes to the victim's family as this was, indeed, a senseless death. That said, I hope people start having a new discussion about this tragic crime; one that addresses our social media obsessed culture and our constant need to share. Are we so consumed with getting likes and retweets that we just whip out the camera for anything and everything? Let's stop the madness here and now.

The next time you take a photo to share with your online networks, ask yourself, "Will I enjoy and appreciate this photo 20 years from now?" If it's a photo of your lasagna, I suspect the answer is no. However, if it's a photo of your kids with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, the answer is probably yes. And, of course, use common sense when taking photographs; especially of others.

Just because taking photos is easier than ever, doesn't mean that everything is worth capturing for posterity.

Got an opinion? Sound off below. 

Photo Credit: Photobucket/smileu34

What Kids Can Teach Us About Change

temper tantrum photo: temper temper-tantrum.jpgChange is hard. Whenever you make an adjustment to your services, your website, the menu on your phone system, or your actual product, it's not uncommon for your customers to cry foul. Generally, people like routine and are creatures of habit. Change causes stress and, frequently, resistence.

Earlier today I was walking my dogs and we usually pass a pre-school while we're out. All the kids love to come to the fence to say hi to my little dog; he just loves kids and barks to let them know he's arrived. This morning, my little furball barked and all the children came scampering over to the fence. All of them were smiling and trying to pet him, except one little boy who was screaming and crying. My first fear was that the daycare folks would think my dog did something to the child, but one of the yard monitors quickly told me, "It's his first day. He's not very happy"

A kid's first trip to pre-school can be traumatic. For the very first time in their lives they're with total strangers, away from the people they know, and forced to stay in a strange environment where nothing and no one is familiar. Change is hard; no matter how old (or young) we are. Sometimes we'd all like to scream and cry and stomp our feet when change hits us upside the head. Unfortunately, as we grow up this kind of behavior is frowned upon.

The reality is your business is going to make changes. Sometimes they're for the better and sometimes you'll think they're for the best, but they turn out not to be.

Customers like to feel as if they're in it with you. They oftentimes feel like partners or even investors. They don't like to be surprised, inconvenienced, or annoyed. They want to be included. If they're part of a change, or adequately informed about it, it goes down smoother.

The next time your business is thinking of making a change, remember your customers. Can they be part of it? Can you seek their advice? If that's not possible, how can you best inform them of the change? Can you email them about it in advance? Can you guide them through the process with some simple education?

As adults, we're not supposed to throw temper tantrums like the kid on his first day at pre-school. However, in this age of social media, we all know that those outbursts manifest themselves in a different way: snarky tweets, hateful Facebook updates, critical blog posts, and more. Change is hard, but it doesn't always have to be traumatic.

Photo Credit: Photobucket/B. Mahfood

Attract Customers with Interactive Video

Humans are visual people. I mean, c'mon, how many hours do we waste each week watching videos online? Be honest (yes, I'm looking at you).

People frequently like to consume information in the easiest way possible. And watching is less effort than reading. So how, as a business person, do you capitalize on that? Be more interactive!

A video doesn't just have to be video these days. With the tools that are out there, there's no reason you can't jazz up your videos to better sell your message (and make more money). For example, check out this great video from the people at PEEPS:

The brilliant folks at PEEPS have overlayed nearly 30 clickable links on their video, all boasting cool things you can do with their tasty, marshmallow birdies and bunnies. Chances are extremely high that customers will click on at least one of those links to learn about something neat they can do with a PEEP. And, of course, to execute that fun gotta buy some PEEPS!

The next time you create a video to promote yourself or your business, keep the end user in mind. Is your video memorable? Engaging? Interactive? If not, go back to the drawing board. People don't share boring ads; but they do share things they love. 

Make it easy for people to learn more about you or your product--and they'll soon become customers.

Should You Have a Catchphrase?

One of the ways you get noticed online is to be memorable. Are you memorable?

I was recently looking at a page my friend liked on Facebook and I was struck by how the person who manages the page uses the same phrase at the end of all the updates: That makes me smile.

The page is called Unlucky Victor and is about a dog who was attacked, kicked, shot, and ultimately rescued. Today, Victor lives in a loving home and all the Facebook updates are written in his voice. No matter what he says, he ends with that makes me smile. This catchphrase makes this page more memorable than any of the other pages I like. It makes me a fan.  

This kind of tactic is a unique way to brand your efforts and is a really smart idea. Think about it. Could you benefit from a catchphrase that you use on your blog, website, newsletter, or any other form of online outreach? If so, well, that makes me smile.

Why Proofreading is Worth the Investment

Nothing says unprofessional more than sending out emails, newsletters, and sales materials, or producing ebooks or promotional videos with errors or poorly worded language. I always wince when I see an error from a company, especially when they're trying to sell me something. It surprises me, though, that this isn't just a problem that small companies face. Big ones do, too.

Tucked away in my desk drawer, I have a file of things that have mistakes in them. Yes I know it's a weird hobby, but it's better than taxidermy. Anyway, it has materials from big companies like Kodak (pre-bankruptcy) and local businesses, too. From menus to sales collateral, there's errors. Who lets money be spent on producing materials and then drops the ball at the end by letting it go out less than perfect? Unfortunately, way too many of us.

I was recently watching TV and saw a commercial for the film Warm Bodies, produced by Summit Entertainment. Obviously someone on the staff of the film company had the bright idea of putting the hashtag on the commercial. Brilliant! We all use hashtags these days. Hashtag it up, baby! However, whoever did the graphics on this commercial, whoever edited the commercial, whoever signed off on the commercial, and whoever placed the commercial obviously didn't flag the hashtag. Take a look at the video below.

For those who don't use Twitter, let me tell you what the problem is. You can't have a space in a hashtag. Therefore, what the film company listed as #Warm Bodies should actually be #WarmBodies. With the space, the hashtag is just #Warm--and that's wrong. And it's up there the entire time.

So, the lesson here today is let someone (or a bunch of someones) look at your copy before you send it out to the masses. Proofreading is an important part of the marketing, sales, and communications process. When you allow mistakes to go into the world, it's a reflection on you or your company. Do you want to be known for polished and professional materials? Or do you want to end up in my error file?

Surprising Your Customers with Kindness

Don't you love it when you're surprised by something that makes you smile? Most of us do.

As a business, you have lots of opportunities to make your customers happy. Perhaps even surprise them with something they didn't expect. But, do you do it?

Case in point, Send Rover Over Pet Salon in Eugene, Oregon. My friend Kristen Dunder posted this photo to her Facebook page right before Christmas with the following status update:

This is the Christmas card we received from Send Rover Over, Bella's groomers. I love the personal touch...they must have taken the photo when I brought her in last month!

So, here's Kristen taking in her dog for a grooming and completely unaware that the folks at Send Rover Over are secretly taking Bella's photo for a special Christmas card. First off, kudos to SRO for even sending their clients a holiday card. But, to make it so personal as to put a photo of the client's dog on the front of the card? Now, that's the kind of thoughtful gesture that, I'm sure, makes clients want to come back again and again. I know I'd go to Send Rover Over if I lived in Eugene.

If there something your business can do to surprise and delight your customers? Make them feel special? Put a smile of their faces? Think about it. Now do it. 

Blogging or Writing? The Nuances of Words

Ever since I was in grade school, I've enjoyed writing. It's something I've done for a living in one form or another since I graduated college. In my early career, people would ask what I do and I'd say "I'm a writer." People's immediate response would be, "What do you write for? Books? Magazines?" People would essentially ask about the medium for which I wrote. I can't say I noticed that until I became a blogger.

Nowadays, although I write for lots of different projects, I consider myself a blogger first and foremost. And when I say to people "I'm a blogger," their response is always "What do you blog about?" Notice, as a writer they asked about the medium and as a blogger they ask about the content. I find that to be really interesting.

With every word we speak or write, we convey a message. Sometimes people get that message loud and clear and sometimes they come to a completely different conclusion than we intended. Word choice is critical and each statement we make may have nuances we don't fully appreciate. But, we should learn to listen and adjust accordingly.

Think about the words you use and the reactions you get. Are the results what you expected? Does a slight variation yield a different outcome? Don't just send out your message and move on. Pay attention to the aftermath. Perhaps selecting another word will produce a sale or create an enemy. One word can be the difference between black and white.

Do you put thought into your word choice when you speak or write? Could you benefit from more thoughtful communication? Have you had something good turn bad based on a poorly worded phrase? Will you pay more attention to your words and the impact they have next time you communicate?
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