Hey Cheapskate! Quit trying to "pick" my brain!

As a consultant, I've found one consistent truth. People think because you work for yourself that you'll give away all your knowledge for the price of a cup of coffee or a veggie burger. Why is that?

This isn't just something that I've found to be the case in my life, but I've heard the same thing from many other solopreneurs. Just because someone doesn't have an expensive sign posted outside a high rent commercial property doesn't mean they're hoping to give away all their professional experience for free.

So, why do people always want to "pick my brain"? Am I living in a world of hungry zombies? My noggin' isn't a plate of cheap hors d' oeuvres.

I've spent years honing my skills. I've made sacrifices. I've stayed in to work and to learn, while others have gone out to play. My knowledge is the result of my commitment and discipline. I've worked hard for it.

My words here echo the sentiments of many men and women who have hung up their own shingles and started their own businesses. I hear it all the time. The lack of a fancy lobby doesn't mean we want to give away all our tricks of the trade for a $4 latte.

That said, I provide lots of free guidance to folks in my online networks. Mostly those who are either operating nonprofit enterprises or who are out of work. People who really need a helping hand.

However, those with means, please don't ask to buy me a mochachino so you can pick my brain. It's insulting. My consulting rate is $100 per hour. So, yeah, it sounds perfectly equitable to me that I sit with someone for 60 minutes dispensing free advice in exchange for a warm cup of Joe.

Pick my brain? Forget that. How about paying me my worth? I have bills to pay just like everyone else. More than that, I have skills that the "picker" obviously doesn't have. You want 'em? Pay for them. Is that too much to ask?

Do you run your own business? Ever had someone ask to pick your brain? Eager to give away all your professional knowledge for free? Let me hear your stories. I know you have 'em.

When opportunity knocks are you playing Angry Birds?

Great ideas are born every day; many by very ordinary people. How many times has opportunity come pounding on your front door only to be ignored because you were playing video games, watching Family Guy, or sleeping in?

Two years ago I bought a retractable leash for my pooch. When I used it, I felt as though I didn’t have as firm of a grasp on my dog as I did with an old-fashioned nylon leash. So, I rigged up a secondary handle with a plastic bungee keychain that held the hard casing more firmly to my wrist so if I accidentally let go of the handle my dog wouldn’t escape. Aren’t I smart?

Well, I’ve been using my little invention for years now and it's been very handy. Enter, Capability: Mom and her blog entry about a new attachment for retractable leashes. She sponsored a contest to give away the Freehand Safety Strap and yours truly was the lucky winner.

Well, guess what? The attachment works very similarly to the one I concocted years ago. Granted, the end result isn’t as primitive as mine and is adjustable (you can also undo the buckle to attach your dog to another object such as a park bench). However, the concept is the same as my crude prototype; connecting the hard casing to wrist of the dog walker. Just like the contraption I jerry rigged years ago, the accessory gives a second layer of protection while using a retractable leash.

The inventor obviously saw the same flaw with the retractable leash that I did. The difference? He designed the accessory, manufactured it, and now has it on the market! And I was watching an episode of The Simpsons. D’oh!

So, this lesson from The School of Hard Knocks comes at my expense. However, there is still hope for me—and you! Rest assured, the next time I find some way to improve a product, I’m not just going to keep the idea to myself. Lesson learned.

So, my friends, learn from my mistake. Open your eyes! Listen! Innovate! But, most importantly, execute! Act! Do! Create! Take that extra step in life. Don’t let your million dollar idea become someone else’s fortune. Take action! That’s what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary, is it not?

5 phrases that ruin your Twitter bio

I decide on who to follow on Twitter based, almost exclusively, on their bio. Turn me off in those 160 characters and our relationship is over before it even began.

Unfortunately, too many think of that bio as a hassle. Something they've gotta plug a few words into. Or, worse yet, some people don't put anything at all. Big mistake. Your Twitter bio is your one shot to sell yourself to a stranger; don't blow it.

Think of it this way. Twitter is a networking event or a cocktail party. A stranger approaches you in the crowd, "Hi, I'm John," he says. "So, tell me about yourself." Your Twitter bio is, in essence, the two or three sentences that you'd use to answer that question.

Your bio opens the gateway to meet people and showcase your personality. A good combo of your professional interests and hobbies usually make for the best Twitter bios. Those few words can open doors and welcome others into your world. Unfortunately, nothing can yank away that welcome mat faster than including the following phrases in your Twitter bio:

Staunch Republican or Liberal Democrat
We all have opinions, but why put one out there that at least 50% of the people are bound to disagree with? Twitter is about expanding your network; not creating conflict.

Affiliate Marketer
Sure, I know that lots of people do affiliate marketing. Even some big time bloggers have affiliate links on their sites. But, none of those people use the term "affiliate marketer" to describe themselves. To do so, in my humble opinion, makes me feel like you're gonna spam me with your affiliate links. I already feel under attack before we've even connected.

I Tweet a Lot
This is something I see fairly frequently. It's not a practice that scares me aware, but I love Twitter and manage my stream pretty well. However, folks who are new to Twitter can get really overwhelmed when they see that.  Forge the connection first and let them decide if you tweet too much. If you do, they'll unfollow. If not, maybe they'll become your new best friend or next client.

Follower of Christ 
Okay, I know some people are gonna beat me up for this one. And, no, I'm not a Satan worshipper. But, much like politics, religion can create divisions. Your purpose on Twitter is to meet new people, right? So, why put up walls that may alienate people who think differently? 

I Follow Back or #TeamFollowBack
Ugh. I hate these ones. People who say this stuff are almost always all about numbers. They don't care about connecting with you or me, they just want to grow their follower count. You'll never be Sally or Stewart to them, you're just someone who has helped them reach that next milestone. 

So, back to the cocktail party. John has asked you about yourself. What phrases will describe you, while putting out that welcome mat? What will give John an overview of the value you can bring to this new relationship (professionally or personally)? Is there anything you could say that might spark a positive conversation? Why should John introduce you around to others?

If your Twitter bio isn't something you'd use to answer John's question, perhaps it's time to tinker with it a little. It's only 160 characters, but it's someone's first impression of you. Shouldn't it be the best you can offer?

What can someone put in their Twitter bio that's an immediate deal breaker for you? What key phrases draw you in or push you away?

Should job candidates pay to attend career fairs?

Who benefits more from attending a career fair? An attendee who has the opportunity to gain a new job? Or, a business who has the chance to meet a variety of talented applicants and fill a key position? Furthermore, who should pay for that privilege?

Today, I received an email from my alma mater announcing an alumni career fair. Here's an excerpt:

"This recruitment event will host over 70 employers actively seeking experienced job candidates. The event is exclusive to participating university alumni to ensure a high quality event. We expect this event to reach capacity."

The event costs $10, which organizers say includes entry and a name tag (score!). But, frankly, I don't think there should be a fee. If these businesses are trying to fill a need by looking for job candidates, shouldn't they pay for the privilege of attending? Human resources and recruitment staffs have budgets and generally must fork over some cash when it comes to attracting talent. So, why is the fee being pushed onto the attendees?

Sure, the employers are offering an "opportunity" to attendees and, yes, that's worth something. However, the event is attracting talented candidates and serving them up for companies to meet. That's of value, too!

Ok, sure, I know that there are other job fairs out there that charge an admittance fee. And, maybe, I'm disgruntled because if this is an event to benefit alumni, it think it should be free. However, in this economy, I think it stinks to pass on the cost to job seekers. A business that is stable enough to hire, easily has $100 to pay for a booth. An unemployed job seeker, especially in today's job market, is living hand to mouth. 

Maybe if you're gainfully employed and haven't been affected by the recession, you think I'm being petty. What's a lousy ten bucks? Well, as with most things, it's the principle of the matter. And, if you don't have a steady paycheck coming in, $10 can be a lot of money. Sometimes the difference between keeping your utilities on or having enough to pay for medication.

So, what say you, cyber friends? Am I being cheap? Too overly concerned with the plight of the unemployed?

Let's hear it! Should people be charged to attend job fairs or should companies pay for booths out of their recruitment budgets?

Are you editing your life to tell the best story?

Regardless of your age, you've probably seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The comedy from the iconic John Hughes was an excuse for many teens to cut school in the '80s to look for fun. It was silly, lighthearted, and downright amusing. But, with a slight twist, it could have been a much different film.

Joseph Brett, a film maker in London, recently made his own trailer for the movie. He changed the soundtrack and selected clips that gave the film more of an indie feel, full of angst and uncertainty. I was dumbfounded with the results. Check it out:

Talented people can look at a bucket and rattle off a hundred uses for it. They can see the million shades of gray that separate white and black. And, challenges are merely opportunities. Smart people who succeed can, and do, create the soundtracks to own their lives. They are not the actors who simply do what they're told, they are the editors who shape the story.

Are you telling the right story in the right way? Whether it be for your company, your self, or your brand? Are you highlighting certain things, while ignoring the others? Are you focusing on the wrong facts altogether? Is the image, the feeling, and the message you're conveying the one that serves you best? Are you letting other people control your story?

Is it, perhaps, time to do some editing?

* Hat tip to Lindsay Barnett who shared this video on her Facebook wall. 

Band geeks and little people: Life lessons from the Pac 10 Tournament

Don't judge a book by it's cover. It's an old saying, but we do it all the time. We, as a society, have really got to stop it.

This week, I've been lucky enough to attend all the games in the Pac 10 Tournament (thank you to the folks at Klout for the free tickets!). I went to a private university that wasn't known for its athletics program, so the whole college basketball scene is something new to me. That said, I have to ask, when did band geeks become the life of the party?

When you watch the games on TV, you just see the scantily clad cheerleaders. When you're there in person, it's all about the band. I had no idea.

The band leads cheers. The band hoots and hollers. The band makes jokes. The band provides all the energy for the fans. The band is Red Bull to the cheerleaders' Diet Coke. They really need a PR team so they can get the credit they deserve. Forget the pom pom girls; the clarinet players work it!

Now, on to my second revelation. Short people can really play ball!

In game 1 of the tournament, Oregon State versus Stanford, I was checking out the players in the first few minutes of the game. I jokingly said to my friend, "who let Gary Coleman out on the court?". I looked up his number in the program and saw that the guy's height was 5'8". Ok, not a real midget, mind you. But compared to the other players, he looked like he should be singing with the Lollypop Guild from Munchkin Land.

Well, imagine my surprise when this guy could play! He ended up being the third highest scorer in the game and his team won by 10 points. Don't discount the short guy, my friends; it's all about skill, determination, and hustle!

Now, if you're a college basketball fan, maybe you already know the things I just learned. But, has there ever been a time when you went into something--anything--with preconceived notions? When you assumed you knew the people, the product, the pitch, or the pitfalls? Like it or not, we all have opinions. But, maybe, we should have a few less of them.

Is the gal with the tuba going to get you fired up? Is guy you think will be least valuable to the team really the rising star?

We all strive to attain knowledge and gain experience. That's important. But sometimes. just sometimes, should we maybe forget what we think we know and see what's really out there. I bet there's a lot more to be learned if we just let ourselves.

A life of fewer fouls and more free throws? That's something we should all shoot for, isn't it?

Please RT? Please bite me!

There's no quicker way to make me shake my head and move on than to write "Please RT" at the end of a tweet. Now, if you are a nonprofit organization trying to raise awareness about an issue, you are the exception. I have no qualms with people spreading philanthropic messages or asking for a retweet to help a worthy cause, either. But, for you regular Joes who write "Plz RT" when you share your own content (e.g. blog post, podcast, video, etc.), you make my eye twitch.

Twitter is a happy place for me; it's me time. Time where I'm calling the shots, tweeting what I find interesting, and sharing with the community. If I find something worthwhile, you bet I'll retweet it. If I want to support someone I like, you can count on me to share their content. But the "Plz RT" after a tweet turns me off. It feels desperate and demanding all at the same time.

If you have retweetable stuff and a targeted audience, it'll get retweeted. It's a beautifully simple process. Sure, alright, sometimes good things won't get retweeted. It happens. But, asking for a retweet just rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes, people even take the request to the next level by asking via direct message.
"Hey Amber! Will you RT my blog post on colors for the nursery that make your baby poop less?"
No, no I won't. If this person knew anything about me they'd realize that's not what I tweet about. My Twitter stream is fairly targeted and focuses on business, writing, social media, and related topics. Not childcare. If I don't RT your post, it doesn't mean I don't like you. But, frankly, I'm a little annoyed about being asked to do something which clearly illustrates you don't know me. Identify your audience and find people who care about baby poop. 

As for putting "Please RT" in a tweet, yes I know it isn't a crime. Nobody dies. No one even gets kicked in the shin. But, it's not something I'm going to respond to. You get retweets by producing good content, establishing relationships with those in your Twitter stream, creating a targeted following, and building a good reputation for knowing your stuff. Not by asking for favors from strangers.

Do you find the "Plz RT" thing a little self-absorbed or am I in this boat all alone?

5 WRONG ways to do online event promotion

As more people hop on the social media bandwagon, more of them are promoting their events online. In theory, that's great news. In execution? Well. some of the results are downright disappointing. Take these two invites below, for example.

First, I share with you a tweet I just received about a networking event. At first when I read "I enjoy following you and I hope to see you...", I thought it was so nice for this guy to send me this sweet invitation. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize his name so I went to look at his Twitter page. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that exact same tweet sent to several dozen people:

Perhaps this will be a wonderful event. And, I'm sure the organizer is a nice guy. However, I simply don't respond to templated, spammy tweets like this. Invite me or don't, but I'm not going to respond to a generic tweet that someone copies and pastes to lots of other folks. Tweeting the same thing over and over again is, by definition, s-p-a-m.

My second example today is an invitation I received to join a group called Blacks in Tech. Now, I'm sure this is a great group. Unfortunately, I'm lacking the major criteria to be a member.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure if I went to a Blacks in Tech event, I have no doubt they'd welcome me. However, it's not called People in Technology; it's called Blacks in Technology. I'm not black and, therefore, probably not their targeted demographic.

So, at last, here are five things you can do to incorrectly promote your events. Tip: You can just do the opposite of what's here and this magically becomes a piece on how to promote events correctly! Ta da!
  1. Blanket the world with your event or group invitations. Who cares if 99% of the people aren't going to be interested? Targeting your efforts is unnecessary.
  2. Make people feel unimportant! No one likes to feel special, so be sure to be generic as possible when you invite them.
  3. Promote your event on only one social media platform. Forget all the people who coordinate their plans on other social media sites. If they're not on the one you've chosen to promote your event, forget 'em!
  4. Don't provide details that make attending the event easy for your guests. Forget including information like parking options and prices, a Google map, or contact info for questions. If they can't get to your event regardless of the obstacles, who needs them!
  5. Stalk strangers. People you don't know will love to receive multiple invitations to your event. If they haven't responded the first three times, send them the same invitation a fourth time. People like that.
Alright, am I being snarky? Yeah. But my point is no less valid.

Putting on a great event is important, but getting the right people there is just as crucial to your success. If you're sponsoring an event in Los Angeles, don't send a Facebook Events invite to your 1,500 friends when 1,485 of them don't live in California.  If you want to tweet people about your event, do so in a sincere way. No one responds to things that feel automated.

What do you see being done right and wrong when it comes to online event promotion? What do you respond to and what alienates you? Got tips on how to promote an event? Let's hear it!
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