Should Solopreneurs Get "Real" Jobs?

Photo Credit: Deepak Malhotra, Stock Xchng
I work a lot. I work on weekends. I work at night. I work on holidays. But, you know what? I don't mind because I work for myself. Ok, sure, other people pay me and expect certain things in return. But, I decide who I work for and what my schedule is. I'm a solopreneur.

This wasn't a decide I made. Like many others, it's something that came about due to circumstance. In my case, my life change was prompted by a layoff. On April Fool's Day, no less.

But since then, I have reshaped my life. I work from home (frequently with a dog on my lap) and I love the work that I do. Every project I accept is something that interests me and am excited to do. I never dread the work day ahead. I love the life I've created for myself.

However, my mom still asks me when I'm going to get a "real" job. I'm quick to tell her I have a real job, but to her that's not the case. She thinks a benefits package makes a job real. I think being happy and earning enough to pay the bills is real enough for me. 

Is the idea of a "real" job generational? Is it something that more traditional people expect? Or is it just the norm? The reality is, most folks do have "real" jobs. I had a real job all my life. And you know where I ended up? Laid off.

Folks seem to think a real job gives you security. I don't think that anymore. I create my own security. With a real job you put all you eggs in one basket. One basket that has complete control over you. One basket that can decide you're unnecessary, obsolete, or too expensive. One basket that can throw your whole world into complete chaos. Instead, I now put a few eggs over there, and some here, and a couple over yonder.

The new world order is changing. More people are working for themselves, out of their homes or coffee shops. Co-working spaces are becoming more common. Tech tools make online collaboration a cinch--whether you're in the cube down the hall or across the globe.

Is a real job for you? Maybe. Maybe not. But don't let someone else make that decision for you.

No more "awesome" in the new year


In recent years, the words cool, neat, and great have been replaced. The new king of the hill these days is awesome. I hate that. Because, truth be told, very few things in life are truly awesome. Overusing that word diminishes its meaning.
  • Your burger is awesome? No, afraid not. Want to know what's really awesome? The Grand Canyon.
  • Think your friend meeting you for drinks is awesome. Nope. Try the Sistine Chapel
  • Sorry, your new jacket isn't awesome. But, you know what is? The universe. 
As a lover of words, I don't readily embrace slang. And, yes, I know saying "awesome" when you don't have to wait in line at the market is perfectly acceptable these days. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Think about it. Awesome means something that inspires awe. Is getting a parking place near the front of the mall really awe inspiring? I just don't think it is. However, the pyramids in Egypt are. So is Stonehenge.

The next time you think something is impressive or exciting. Why not say it's impressive or exciting? Believe it or not, not everything is awesome. But the things that are? Wow, they're pretty incredible.

Can cats improve your business model?

We all have a direction that we want to go in life and in business. However, despite our goals, the world around us is changing every day. If we don't change with it, we won't succeed. It's that simple.

Consumer trends shape the business decisions we make. What was hot yesterday may not even be a blip on the radar in three months. Do you listen to what the world is saying? Do you watch trends? Are you giving your customers, your clients, or boss what they want--or what they need?

The next time you start to write a new, business proposal or embark upon a new project, ask yourself if you're creating for today or the future. Are you incorporating the latest stats, trends, and research? Are you being progressive or complacent? And, most importantly, can you have more cattitude? 

Taking the dog leash off your employees

"Ever wonder where you'd end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash?" - Robert Brault

When I walk my dog, I let him decide where we go and how long we stay. If he wants to go left, we go left. If he wants to smell a bush for five minutes, he smells. Our walk is not for me, it's for him. He calls the shots. Just because he's on a leash doesn't mean I'm going to prevent him from pursuing what interests him.

Whether you're at a big company or a small one, chances are lots of the staff are on leashes. They can only move so fast, they have to stop when told, they're tugged to go right when their instincts say left. As an employee, you've undoubtedly felt that leash weighing you down some days. But, imagine a company culture where all the employees are allowed to move freely--without that metaphoric leash yanking them back.

Would creativity abound? Would productivity flourish? Would morale skyrocket?

Some of the most innovative companies allow their employees to pursue special projects. Some dedicate a day each month for staff to delve into something that interests them, above and beyond their daily work. Because who knows where they'll end up or what they'll discover, if allowed just a little bit of freedom.

Just like a dog who's allowed to decide the direction and destination on his walk, an employee who's given the ability to pursue something he or she is passionate about can yield amazing results. And, whether you're a dog or a human, who wants to always be told what to do anyway?

If you're the one who holds the leash, go ahead and create some slack in it today. See where the adventure takes you.

Losing friends: The clash of social media and politics

There are more people using social media today than there were during the last U.S. presidential election in 2008. More people tweeting and posting Facebook status updates about political news stories. More folks sounding off in real time during the presidential debates as they get annoyed, angered, or frustrated. Whether it's about Obama's health care program or Romney's binders full of women, people have an opinion. But, do you need to hear it? Are you starting to dislike your friends and connections because of it? Do you feel like Patricia?

According to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center, 40% of social media users say they were surprised by the political views that their friends posted online. Another 20% say they've blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone because the person posted too much political commentary. There's a reason they say you shouldn't discuss politics or religion. People feel strongly and no matter what their opinion, it's about 99.9999% unlikely that they'll unexpectedly embrace the opposite viewpoint.

Personally, I haven't unfriended or unfollowed anyone due to their political tweets or updates. However, I'm not going to lie, there are some people I don't quite see the same anymore. On one hand, can you really be friends with someone if you don't know the "real" them? Are our friendships bound to be more superficial that way? Or are there some things we just shouldn't discuss out in public? Or, only with like-minded individuals?

There's nothing like an election year to help you learn more about your social circle. But, do we have to? Should we just all keep it to ourselves? Or is saying whatever we want and letting the chips (or friends) fall as they may the best approach? Right or wrong, people don't seem to censor themselves much when it comes to social media. We've all been given a soapbox, and most of us use it at one time or another.

Has politics taken its toll on your social stream? Have you alienated someone when you shared your thoughts? Have you lost respect for someone due their support of a certain candidate or proposition? Is social media the place to share political views? Or are we all better off tweeting pictures of our meals and posting updates about our dogs?

The importance of self-editing

When you write something, anything, chances are you've written too much. Most of us have the tendency to say more than is needed. Sometimes those extra words are unnecessary; other times they may be just enough to undo what we've already written. A few extra words can change things.

Case in point, this homemade sign inside a shop door in my neighborhood.

As I started to read it, I thought it was so nice that they were reminding folks to feed the meter. Thank you very much, Mr. Shop Keeper. I appreciate that! But then they lost me on the next two lines. They almost felt like a threat and a little righteous. Saying "Did You Remember to Feed Your Meter" was enough. It was helpful. Adding "58 Dollars or 25 Cents? You Make the Choice" just wasn't necessary and it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. In this case, less would have been more.

The next time you go to write that blog post, report, advertising piece, press release, or anything else that you intend to put in front of the public, ask yourself, "Is there anything here that I should cut?" Have you already said it? Did you drone on passed your logical ending? Do you need those extra words or would it be tighter and clearer without them? Self-editing can be hard, but take the time to do it. Your writing will be the better for it.

The marshmallow path to success

Life is short, eat dessert first.

Have you heard that quote before? I love it. It's a great reminder for all of us to concentrate on the good stuff in life. But how does that apply to business? I'm glad you asked.

My new, edible addiction is Mallow Bits by Kraft. Have you tried them? They're hard, little marshmallows--the same texture of the ones you find in hot chocolate mix and sugary cereals. I have to admit, I like to pull those marshmallows out of the cocoa envelope before I make it so I can gobble down the crunchy goodness. When I leave them in the mix, I always wish there were more. Someone at Kraft must know I'm not the only one, because they've produced a large jar comprised of nothing but these yummy, white nuggets. They put the good stuff all together in one, new product. Can you do the same?

What service or product do you offer that you could repackage or market more prominently? Do you have a b-list product? Or maybe a service that doesn't get very much dedicated promotion? Do you have something that people really like that you could upgrade from supporting player status to superstar? Is there a Mallow Bits on your menu of services or line of products?

Listen to what your customers and clients like. Can you give them more of it?

How Radio Shack earned my business

The web may be changing the way we shop, but there's nothing like a good, old-fashioned, face-to-face encounter when it comes to excellent customer service. Face it, sometimes we actually need a real, live person to hold something, look at it, and test it. No matter how good a company's online customer service is or how skilled their phone reps are, sometimes you need that tangible experience. 

My mom is technologically challenged. If it glows, beeps, or was produced after in 1985, she can't operate it. So, when her smartphone wouldn't charge, I had to step in to handle the problem.

After I got the phone from her, I happened to be driving past a Best Buy. Not knowing if the issue was with the phone or the charger, I stepped in to see if someone there could detect the glitch. After standing in a long line in the mobile phone department, I finally saw a clerk and was able ask if the line was just for activations or if they could help me with a problem. He promptly answered, "No, we just activate phones. You'll have to call Virgin Mobile directly." Oh goody.

Upon driving home, I happened to remember that there was a Radio Shack nearby. I pulled right up front and walked into the tiny store. Two clerks were there and I told one of them, Mike, the problem. He took a new charger out of the packaging and plugged one end into the phone and the other into an outlet. Voila! That pretty, little, charging battery icon showed up and I was good to go.

At that point, I didn't care how much the charger was. I didn't care if I could get it cheaper online. I just wanted to reward Mike with my business. He made the effort to troubleshoot the problem and, because of that, I could return a working phone to my mom. Isn't that what customer service should be?

Although Radio Shack is a big company, the size of its stores still give it that small town, Main Street feel. And, I certainly got Main Street service--something that Best Buy clearly wasn't interested in providing. Because of Mike, I'll be returning to that Radio Shack for all my future needs. No doubt about it.

Have you had a customer service experience at a chain store that made you feel like you were shopping at a Mom and Pop shop?  Do experiences like this make you more devoted to a particular store or brand?  Or am I old school by wanting to have a real, live person fix my problem for me?

Text speak gives you social diseases

I hate it when people write in text speak in their emails and other correspondence. "U go 4 it" or "cuz U haz dat" is not proper English. I refuse to be a part of the annihilation of the written word and, as such, won't use lazy text speak. (If you've ever heard Peter Shankman present, he frequently shares the story of how he turned down a job applicant because she closed her cover letter with "4 U" instead of for you.)  Considering this kind of language makes my eye twitch and my lip quiver, I was delighted when Esta Singer tweeted me the image below (credit to the original tweeters @venessapaech and @sbadsgood):

Wow. If that doesn't say oodles about people who can't make the effort to write out the word "you," I don't know what does. Isn't it just downright amazing how writing "an individual" changes those search results? And, I didn't take this graphic as fact. I tested it myself and the results are authentic. Those who write "u" are riddled with a plethora of search results about social diseases.

Whether you're a 45-year-old professional, or just out of college, language matters. And, how you communicate tells complete strangers a lot about you. Don't take the lazy way out; use the proper word in the proper way. Anyone who writes "I can haz" should serve 20 to life as far as I'm concerned.

Gr8 2 C U here. U haz commentz?

Dogs in the workplace

Image source:
I work from home most of the time and much of my work is done with a dog zonked out on my lap. When I get a cranky email from someone or a demand with an unreasonable deadline, my happy, little furball keeps my stress in check. Who can get all red faced and angry when a dog is smiling at you?

If you're a pet guardian, you know of which I speak. Dogs are incredible stress reducers and can provide a much needed mental break from the madness of the work day. Doubt the positive effect dogs can have on your nerves? You'll want to read, "Dog Named Woolf Provides Calming Effect for Kids Testifying in Court," a recent article from the Orlando Sentinel which discusses how dogs are used to keep kids at ease during court proceedings. 

As a dog lover, this is my favorite time of year when it comes to dogs in the workplace. This week is Take Your Pet to Work week, all coming to a glorious end on Friday with Take Your Dog to Work day! If your office doesn't normally allow pets in the workplace, be sure to read "7 Tips to Ensure Your Business is Ready for Take Your Dog to Work Day" and "Win Over Your Boss" to get started.

Take Your Dog to Work day can be a really fun opportunity to engage employees, as well. How about having someone snap photos of each employee with their dog? Then, post the pics on your company's Facebook page or upload to your intranet. Or sponsor a hot dog luncheon, with treats for the dogs, too. Tweet the photos out to your Twitter followers or put them in your newsletter to share the fun! Feeling philanthropic? Why not organize a doggie-themed fundraiser with the profits going to your local animal shelter. These are easy things to do to make your employees feel good about the place where they work, and show potential job candidates the fun side of your company! 

If you want to organize a Take Your Dog to Work day event at your business, download the free Action Pack to get started. And, if you want to learn how dogs can help you become a better business person, be sure to read "How to Succeed in Business by Acting like a Puppy." 

What do you think? Would you like to see dogs in your office more often? Think dogs in the workplace can affect morale or help co-workers get to know each other better?

An open letter to Delta Airlines

This month, I flew cross country on Delta Airlines. My flight was delayed two hours and didn't leave until 11pm, but that wasn't what bothered me most. What really got me was the sleepy flight attendant.

Dear Delta Airlines,

As a passenger on a Delta flight from New York to Los Angeles this month, I had an experience that's contrary to your whole "Safety First" mantra. On my flight, there was a stewardess who kept complaining how tired she was. Eventually saying "we only get a nine-hour break to rest." This was all before the flight took off. And none of it was directed at me. I heard her five rows away.

Ironically, the last time she said how tired she was was just prior to the video with the CEO that said how Delta puts "Safety First" and how that was paramount to the Delta experience. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not feeling safe if I have to worry about a sleepy flight attendant being responsible for my life in the event of an emergency.
There are really two problems here. One is that Delta is obviously not giving it's flight crew enough down time. I'm sure I would have been tired, too, with such a short break in between flights. And the second is the lack of good judgment on the flight attendant's part. It hardly instills confidence in a nervous flier to hear one of the people in charge of passenger safety is sleep deprived.

If you're going to have passengers watch a video from the CEO at the beginning of every Delta flight, saying that safety comes first, you better walk the walk and talk the talk. I'm not writing this to get anyone in trouble. I'm writing this to remind you that branding, that slogans, that mantras (like Safety First) are nothing but rhetoric if they're not put into practice.

Perhaps it's time to redo that video and give your flight attendants a much needed nap.
Amber Avines  

Have you seen a company not practicing what it preaches? What about using a slogan that didn't deliver? How do you feel about a business when it tells you one thing, but does another?

Is guest posting for you?

I just came home from a week-long conference in New York, BlogWorld & New Media Expo. Throughout the 200+ sessions from the 175 speakers, one of the recurring themes to help content creators gain exposure was to guest post for other blogs. However, today I read a Q&A with Dino Dogan who calls guest posting "slave labor." Hmmm.

I actually met Dino at the BlogWorld conference and although I had interacted with him online on occasion, I'd never met him in person. He's spunky! And, a really nice guy. Who, by the way, is doing some great things to help up and coming bloggers. But, I have to respectfully disagree with his assessment of guest posting.

If you're a content creator and have the time to do a little extra writing, I highly suggest you start doing guest posts. This is a great way to get your name and ideas in front of a new audience. And, it's also a powerful way to solidify your personal brand.

The more places you write, the richer those Google results will be when someone searches for you online. And, the more popular the site, the higher that guest post will rank in your search results. For instance, I wrote a guest post for Spin Sucks in 2011 called, "7 Ways to Turn Employees into Brand Ambassadors." It got a ton of traffic and even made it onto Spin Sucks' list of Top Ten Guest Posts of 2011, ranking at number seven. That initial article always shows up on the first page of search results when you put my name into Google. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty neat.

So, is guest posting for you? Here are some resources I've assembled to help you through the process:

A Blogger's Checklist for Guest Posting on Other Blogs
by David Risley

How Guest Posting Can Help Grow Your Blog
by Jeff Goins

10 Places to Find Blogs to Guest Post On
by Kwame Boame

6 Powerful Guest Post Tactics that No One's Talking About
by Tom Ewer

How to Build Links Through Guest Blogging
by Neil Patel

For the record, I think "paid" gigs that offer writers insulting wages are ridiculous and that you should never write an article for $5. However, if you choose to write for free, as is the case with a guest post, because you reap some sort of benefit from it, that's a completely different animal. I know I've done lots of free work over the years, solely because it gave me great exposure. A guest post is no different. Just like anything, you call the shots and as long as you're getting something from it, I say go for it.  

If you're new to the idea of guest posting, do you think this might be for you? If you've guest posted before, what were the benefits? Drawbacks? Any advice for the newbies in the group?

The car mirror approach to life

You know how your car has a sticker on the side mirror that says "objects are closer than they appear"? This is actually a good reminder for life in general. Things are rarely what they seem.

I just returned home from an advanced screening of the film, "People Like Us" with Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks. Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from it. However, I was pleasantly surprised and I loved the ending. I don't want to give away the good stuff, but there was one scene where Chris Pine lamented that his dad always sat in the car when he took him to the park as a kid. This story was meant to illustrate the distance in their relationship; how his dad wasn't close to him. Enter the metaphoric car mirror. Objects are closer than they appear. In fact, there was more to the story than Chris' character realized and the situation was much more complicated than he knew. (I really want to tell you more about the park, but I don't want to ruin it for you if you see the film!)

In any case, after I left the movie theater I started to ponder how quickly we all jump to conclusions about people. Stan is cranky in the mornings at work, so he's a jerk. Sarah always declines your lunch invitation, so she must be stuck up. But, is there, perhaps, more to the story? 

What if Stan is cranky in the morning because he's up every night taking care of his invalid wife, whom he loves deeply? What is Sarah turns down your lunch invitations because all her spare money goes to pay for therapy for her troubled son? Hmm. Stan's not such a bad guy and Sarah's not a snob anymore, are they?

Whether it be in the workplace or in our personal lives, we all form opinions based on very few facts. That's something I would love to see change. They say you don't know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes. And, that is so true. We all have our baggage, challenges, and obstacles. Some openly share the drama of their everyday lives and others live lives of quiet desperation.

The next time you're quick to gossip at the water cooler in the break room or to form an uncomplimentary opinion about someone, stop and think. Do you really know the whole story? And, is the whole story even your business? Things are frequently not what they seem--and objects may be closer than they appear. 

Give 'em what they want

As a business owner, entrepreneur, consultant, or employee, we all have our own agendas. Sometimes we set those priorities ourselves and, other times, they come from above. But, they're always there. We need to move that inventory, push this service, promote that product, and get people to do what we want them to. But, what ever happened to listening to what our customers and clients actually want?

On Mother's Day, I wanted to take my mom to a fancy brunch and then out for a spa day. Sounds delightful, right? A swanky day for the two of us. How could she not be thrilled? When I presented her with my plans for the day, her response was less than enthusiastic. Her counter proposal? Come over with a pizza and then have me assemble this big audio cabinet that's been sitting in her den in a box for the last two years. Of course, since it was Mother's Day, I obliged.

Four hours and nearly 200 parts later, I had my mom's cabinet assembled. Was it how I anticipated spending Mother's Day? No. Was it what my mother really, really wanted? Yes. Within two minutes of me finishing the project, she had a big smile on her face as she scampered about the house grabbing things to put in her new cabinet.

On Mother's Day, my mom was my customer. She wanted; I listened. And, she was happy. So, why don't more of us listen when it comes to our businesses?

Sure, we all have a bottom line to meet and some things we enjoy more than others. But, if we're not in business to make our customers happy, it's all a waste of time.

Look at your business closely. And, most importantly, put on your listening ears. What are people telling you? What would make their lives easier, happier, and more fulfilling? They're showing you what they want each and every day with the actions they take, or don't take. Listen to them. And, then be a hero and give 'em what they want.

Authenticity is the secret sauce

It's a new world out there. We're all online and everything we do in the social networking space cements our professional reputations and our personal brands. What we say, how we say it, and the actions we take define us--and all the world is watching. But, how real is what you're putting out there?

This week, 90210 actress AnnaLynne McCord made headlines when she tweeted a photo of herself without a stitch of makeup. She made a surprising move and shared her authentic self with the masses. Blemishes and all. Do you share just as openly?

Left: AnnaLynne McCord with makeup and hairstyling. Right: AnnaLynne au natural. 

When we blog, tweet, podcast, or do other things online, we're trying to brand ourselves by creating an image. That public image, however, is sometimes very different than our authentic selves. Behind the metaphoric makeup, we all have imperfections.

Your professional goals may be to become the next Darren Rowse or Mari Smith, but it's not gonna happen. Know why? Only Darren is Darren and only Mari is Mari. To try to be them is nothing other than a goal to be a cheap knock-off. Instead of being them, shouldn't you be the best version of you? And that doesn't mean more mascara or a flashier website.

So, here's the reality. We all work hard to perfect that public image; to ensure we're portrayed in the best light possible. But, instead of worrying about the spin, how about being real? The truth is being authentic is powerful. It's something that makes people relate to you, cheer for you, support you, and remember you.

Regardless of what you put out there to maintain your image, there's no hiding from who you really are. You know yourself better than anyone. Why not share that person--the real you--with the world? Flaws and all. You may be surprised by how liberating and empowering a little authenticity can be. 

Finding your million dollar idea

Everyone says it. Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life. As someone who's had jobs that I've loved and jobs that I've hated, I can attest to this. I'm sure you can, too.

Today, I was reading the story of Brad and Jera Deal. They took a hobby that they enjoyed with their children and, over time, turned it into a $10 million business. You may have seen them on Martha Stewart, Oprah, or Rachel Ray. In short, they take photos of everyday things that resemble letters of the alphabet. They then frame each letter individually and people can buy letters to spell out words, names, or phrases. You can watch Brad and Jera's story below:

The thing that makes this story especially noteworthy to me is that it is a creative endeavor that was born out of a routine, family activity. Brad and Jera didn't sit around trying to come up with their million dollar idea; they were cultivating that idea all along. They only had to recognize its potential.

Look at your life. Your routines, your habits, your hobbies. Do you have a system you've created for organizing yourself? How about something you've rigged up because no "real" product existed to meet your needs? Have you been doing something that you enjoy, that others might enjoy, as well? Think about it. Really think about it.

Sometimes, opportunity doesn't knock because it's already in our homes. It's sacked out on the couch with us as we watch Seinfeld reruns and thrust our hands into a bag of Cheetos.

Wake up. Open your eyes. Examine your life. Is that million dollar idea already in your world just waiting for you to notice it?

Can a social media vacay ruin your online presence?

You know what they say about a reputation. It takes a lifetime to build and only a minute to destroy. I kind of feel the same way about social media.

The last three weeks, I've been crazy busy. Personally and professionally, I've been burning the wick at both ends. I plowed through it all and met my obligations, but my tweeting, blogging, and Facebook page have suffered. As my social media channels got a little dusty, people said buh-bye.

When I wrote my post last week, I only got two comments (I love you Vanessa and Jeanie!). I haven't gotten that few comments in a long time. My engagement on my Facebook page has plummeted and my retweets are non-existent. I'm back where I was three years ago!

But, I'll persevere.

As I've always known, succeeding in social media takes a constant presence. When you fall by the wayside, so does the community you've worked so hard to nurture. In reality, I did post to Facebook, I tweeted, and I read other people's blogs, but I wasn't able to put the time into engagement. That's the sweet spot. That's what makes the difference.

The truth is, life catches up to all of us. Work, family, unexpected problems and obligations get the better of everyone. The answer isn't to quit, though. The only solution is to start again and rededicate yourself to your online presence.

So, here it is. My second post since I've returned from my social media vacay. Hello? Is anyone out there?

Does your retail space come with baggage?

So, you're opening a new store! Good for you! It's a fresh start in a new space, but do you know who that storefront isn't new to? Those in the community you'll be serving.

There's a restaurant near me. It's nicely decorated outside and looks inviting. But, I will never eat there. Know why? It used to be a funeral home. Yeah, I'm sure they took out the dead bodies and the embalming fluid, but I can't even begin to think of having a panini in a place where viewings were once held.

A few miles from the funeral home, er, restaurant, I saw someone outside yesterday hanging a sign for their brand new business which will open in a few weeks. A spa. Looks like the kind of place that will charge high prices to make you feel pampered and pretty. But, I just can't seem to look past the fact that this place was a porn shop for the last 20 years.

As a new tenant who's excited to open up your new store, you may not have inquired about what used to be in the space. If you're not from the area, you probably wouldn't even know. But, for those looking to open up a retail store, be sure to do your homework. Ask what used to be there and for how long.

Maybe the rest of you aren't as particular as I am. I'm a bit of a germaphobe, so that probably comes into play a little bit here. But, these retail spaces have baggage that I'm not willing to overlook.

I'm eager to hear your thoughts on the matter. Would you dine at that restaurant? Would you strip down for a massage at the spa? Does the baggage bother you? Or, is what's in the past of no consequence?

Change your life by choosing a theme song

Music is a powerful way to create a mood. Don't you get your best workout when you listen to high energy songs on your iPod? Now, instead of using music just to make you exercise harder, imagine if you used it to shape your attitude toward work?

I recently read a post by Claudia Anderson-Scimeca where she wrote about your life having a soundtrack. I was immediately reminded of the TV show Ally McBeal and how her character had a theme song (for those those who didn't watch, Ally was a neurotic lawyer who still loved her ex-boyfriend despite the fact that he was now married to someone else). Even though Ally's therapist had suggested she come up with a theme song to help her cope with her romantic feelings, I can't help but to think the idea may be of benefit in the business world.

Imagine it.

You've just started your own company and you're about to walk into your first client meeting. Your theme song starts playing in your head. Is it Bon Jovi's "It's My Life"?

What about when you get up in the morning and you know it's going to be a tough day? How about putting Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" on in the jukebox in your mind?

Need an extra dose of booyah before you do that big presentation?  Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" kicks into gear in your noggin or how about "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor?

Going to a networking event? How about putting "Get the Party Started" by Pink onto the turntable?

Getting psyched up for a comeback of epic proportions? How about the little-known, but incredibly uplifting "Far from Over" by Frank Stallone? 

Or just want to go for an all-occasion theme song? "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey never fails or what about "How You Like Me Now" by The Heavy or "TNT" by AC/DC? 

Think about it. A theme song can be your own little secret. No one needs to know that you're playing it in your head and getting pumped up for what's next.

Why not give it a whirl? Hire a DJ and let him loose in your mind. What will he play? What will your theme song be?

Being first is not the key to success

Have a bright idea? Take it to market! But, don't fool yourself into thinking that because you're the first to offer a product or service, that you'll dominate your niche. Case in point: Hydrox cookies.

Now, one of the things I love about social media is that I learn so much. For example, this week I saw an update on Google+ from Matt Fox that said Hydrox came before Oreo, despite popular believe that Hydrox was a knock-off of the now famous cookie. "You don't have to be 1st to market with a product to dominate the market," Matt wrote. He's so right.

I looked into the history of Hydrox a little more and verified that it was, indeed, four years older than Oreo. For the trivia lovers, the "hydr" stands for hydrogen and the "ox" stands for oxygen, which when combined creates water. I don't know about you, but that makes no sense to me as the name for a cookie. But, I digress.

So, think about your niche. Have you held back because there's already competition out there? Have you talked yourself out of something because you think you have no chance? The reality is that Oreo is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and Hydrox no longer exists.

Why are you waiting? Being first doesn't make you better. It just makes you first.

Trusting your gut can make or break you

You know that feeling you sometimes get that tells you something isn't right? Well, that's your gut telling you to beware. As humans, we tend to rationalize away that feeling. However, trusting your gut is something that can help you make better decisions, earn more money, or sometimes save your life.

One of my favorite non-fiction books is The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker (click freely, this is NOT an affiliate link). It discusses the power of one's intuition as a means of avoiding violent crime. It's a great read. But, there's lots of other scenarios where we should trust our guts, too. Should we do business with Mr. Smith? Is Ms. Jones someone who can be trusted with our large financial investment? Will Mr. Applebee deliver the project to the big client on time?

Trusting that feeling deep inside ourselves is something we should all do more.

For example, I'm a big-time animal lover. Whenever someone passes me with their dog, I say "hi" and ask to pet him or her (the pup, not the person). I love pooches. Except, that is, the brown and white dog that I pass in my neighborhood sometimes. This dog always makes me uneasy; he seems unpredictable. And, although I feel like I'm offending the dog's owner, I stay clear when I see the dog approaching.

Today, I learned that the dog bit someone in an unprovoked attack and had to be put to sleep. I feel sorry for the dog and the owner, but I'm glad I trusted my gut and kept my distance. That could have been me on the receiving end of that bite.

The next time you have a decision to make, listen to your gut. Don't rationalize away warning signs. Don't be so optimistic that you don't see the reality of the situation. Trust your gut. It should be your business partner, your accountant, your counselor, and your most trusted friend.

Have a story to share where you trusted your gut and avoided a bad situation? How about a time when you ignored your gut and found yourself in a world of hurt?

What would you do with an extra 24 hours?

Today is February 29, a day that only occurs once every four years. It's an extra day. A full 24 hours.

As you go through your day today, look at each minute--each hour--as a gift. Will you use your extra day to take a chance? Make a difference? Create a memory? Change your life?

Time is something that seems to grow on trees when we're young. As we age, time becomes more precious. We complain that we don't have enough hours in the day; that time flies by too quickly.

Today, on this leap day, do something outstanding. Whether it's something personal or professional, don't let the this extra day slip away. Embrace it. Cherish it. Relish it. Rock it.

What will you do with your extra 24 hours?

Can you be humble one day a year?

humble: not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive  

Today is National Be Humble Day. A day for all of us to remember that we're not better than anyone else. A day to give credit to others.

You may think you rock; and maybe you do. But, chances are, you didn't get where you are today all by yourself. Others helped you by lending their support, money, connections, or resources.

We all have things we're good at and accomplishments we're proud of achieving. However, no one likes a braggart. Being humble is a trait that too few people possess.

For today, let us all remember to be humble. Don't be arrogant, don't try to get all the attention, don't feel that you've failed unless you've gotten the masses to recognize how great you are. Be humble. Be gracious. Then, just be.

Can losing business win new customers?

You're in business to make money, right? If you sell products, you want them out of your store and into your customers' hands. Money in the hand keeps your bottom line happy, right? But, how do you handle things when your customer wants to return something? Do you strike an attitude because you don't want to return the cash or go through the inconvenience of a return? Or, do you seize the opportunity to win over the customer for life?

This month, I was working on a project with a colleague and went to purchase some supplies. I bought eight, 10-count packages of DVD covers from Office Max (it was my first time there). Since we needed more than they had in stock, I ordered another 12 packs from the clerk.

The project I was working on took a quick turn and no sooner than I received a call indicating that the remaining DVD covers arrived from the Office Max warehouse, my partner decided to skip the DVD sleeves altogether. Now, ordinarily I have no qualms about returning unused merchandise, but I felt bad that they had shipped 12 more units to the store at my request. And, now, I was flaking out and I didn't need them. I was genuinely sorry and went back to the store prepared for the clerk to be annoyed with me.

After a minute with the cashier, he passed me off to someone else because his shift had ended. It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting Hernan, the store manager. I said, "I feel so bad that you guys went through the hassle of ordering these for me and shipping them here, and now I don't need them." Hernan's response? "Don't feel bad. Feel happy. It's a great day and we're all lucky to be alive." Wow. I was stunned.

Although the two returns took longer than I expected, I didn't mind in the least. Hernan was a pleasure to talk with and he was the nicest retail associate that I've ever met. As he scanned my 20 packets, he said hello to a customer walking by and asked him how his vacation was. The customer smiled and responded.

Hernan restored my faith in a lot of ways that day. There is still good customer service out there and, even in a big city like Los Angeles, there are folks who make a point to know their customers. From this point forward, I'm an Office Max fan and it's all due to Hernan.

Think you can't gain a loyal customer by losing a sale? Think again.

Does failure have an expiration date?

Ever tried to do something and failed? Did you try again? How about again? Did you finally give up, knowing that you tried your best but just couldn't do it? Me, too. But, it turns out failure sometimes has an expiration date.

This morning I was driving in the car and "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People came on the radio. There's a section in the song where the chorus is done in whistling. When that part came on, I broke out in a beautifully lyrical whistle. But, the thing is...I can't whistle.

When I was a kid, I tried to learn how to whistle countless times. I couldn't blow out and make any sound. Throughout my adolescence, I'd try and fail. Whistling was something out of my reach.

As an adult, I suppose I forgot about whistling. It's something I'm never around. But, when that chorus kicked in on the radio, I instinctively whistled my little heart out. And as soon as I was about five second in, the shock set in. Amber...can...whistle!

Are there things you've tried in your life and failed at? Starting a business. Balancing a budget. Writing a book. We all have things we've tried to do which ended in failure. Most of us have even tried multiple times before we decided to give up. But, it's never too late to try again.

Who cares if a year has passed. Or five or ten. Maybe that break is just what you needed. Perhaps the life experience you've obtained during that time, your environment, your mindset, or some other circumstance has changed just enough to turn that former failure into a raging success.

So, today, I invite you to revisit something which you previously failed at during your life. A big thing or a small one. It doesn't matter. Just give it another try. Who knows. Maybe your failure has an expiration date just like mine did.

* Disclaimer: I never really knew the words to "Pumped Up Kicks" until I wrote this post. Click here for the lyrics and an interesting debate on the meaning behind the song, some defending it saying it's about bullying and others upset that it's about school shootings.

How to organize a tweetup

Forming online relationships can be a rewarding experience. However, the icing on the cake is when you can actually meet those cyber connections in person. Don’t know how? How about hosting a tweetup

Tweetups are informal get-togethers that are promoted via tweets. The good news is you don’t have to be a professional event planner to host a gathering; it’s actually really easy. Remember, in it's purest form, a tweetup is an open invitation to anyone in your Twitter stream who would like to attend. You never know who might RSVP, so embrace your inner adventurer! 

If you’re new to the world of hosting tweetups, here are some tips to get you started: 

Start with the basics
Pick the day and time for your tweetup. Be sure to give careful thought as to what would work best for your attendees (e.g. early evening, weekend, etc.)
Identify a location
If you choose a restaurant, call in advance to be sure it can accommodate a large group and ask if it can do separate checks for your guests (lots of people at tweetups prefer to pay individually). Be sure the location you choose isn’t too loud. You’ll want everyone to be able to talk with one another. Also ask about parking options and associated costs. Most importantly, ask if the location has WiFi. If people can’t tweet during the event, you’re doomed. * To go the extra mile, actually visit the venue. Anytime you’re hosting an event, you should know as much as possible about the environment.
Create an online invitation
One of the best resources to do this is Twtvite. It’s easy and it’s free. Be sure to include information that people will want to know. Are credit cards accepted? Will they need to bring cash? Does the restaurant allow for separate checks? Is there a parking lot and is validation offered? Remember, you want your guests to know all the important details that will help them arrive to your event with smiles on their faces!
Tweet out the word
Twtvite will give you a link that will go to your own personal tweetup page with all the details. Tweet out the link to people in your Twitter stream and be sure to create a hashtag for your event! 

Be an early bird
If you’re the host, you’ll want to be there at least 15 minutes prior to the start time to welcome people, direct them, and answer questions.
Collect names
Send around an attendance sheet and ask people to write down their first and last names, along with their Twitter handles. Yeah, this is old school, but not everyone has their Twitter handle on their business card.* To go the extra mile, provide your guests with name tags. It’s amazing how many people won’t recognize someone by their “real” name, yet will squeal with delight with they hear that person’s Twitter handle! 
Connect your guests
Tweet out the names of those who are in attendance. This will allow your guests to see everyone else’s handles, check out their profiles or websites, and follow those whom they aren't connected with yet (remember to use your hashtag so everyone can easily see all the tweets!). * To go the extra mile, start a Twitter list and add all your attendees to it. Then tweet the list to everyone!
Document your event
Take photos, tweet them, and let everyone else know how much fun they’re missing!

Get feedback
Tweet your guests to invite their feedback. Was the restaurant too expensive? Was the time too early? Would they be interested in getting together regularly? Be sure to solicit opinions so you can iron out any kinks before your next tweetup!
Plan, plan again
If your first event went well, why not host another? The great thing about organizing a monthly tweetup is that you get a wonderful variety of repeat guests and newbies. 
Tweetups don’t have to be complicated. Don’t worry about inviting speakers or having an agenda. To be successful, all you need to do is provide a fun activity during which people can get to know one another. It can be dinner, an afternoon picnic, a trip to the local amusement park, a beach clean-up, an ultimate Frisbee game, whatever!

So, let’s take score.

Who’s been to a tweetup? How about hosted one? What did you think of the experience? Or are you a tweetup virgin? If so, what better time than now to jump in feet first and plan one!  Are you game?

The dangers of saying thank you

I'm big on saying please and thank you. However, Emily Post never warned us about the dangers of good etiquette.

You see it all the time on awards show. Actors and directors win an Oscar or an Emmy and when they give their acceptance speeches, they wrack their brains trying to remember everyone to thank. Hilary Swank became the butt of lots of jokes in 2000 when she forgot the thank her hubby Chad Lowe when she won for "Boys Don't Cry".

Most of us don't have to worry about Golden Globe Awards or Oscars, but plenty of us work on cross-departmental teams at work or with groups of people on special projects. When the work goes well, it's important to thank those who made it happen. But, how do you make sure you don't pull a Hilary Swank?  

First and foremost, keep a running list of everyone you work with. Need someone to compile some important data for you? When they deliver, add them to the list and note what they did. Have to bring in someone to help you with code or design? When they submit their deliverables, add them to your list. In short, when someone gives you the materials, assistance, or guidance you need, add them and make note of their contribution. But, only when they they give you what you need (and not just when you ask).

When your project is complete and it's time to acknowledge the people who made it happen, go back to your list. It's easier to omit people that you listed than it is to try to remember the many people who helped you over the weeks, months, or sometimes years that it took to reach your goal. 

Omitting someone from a thank you email, speech, or other form of acknowledgment is downright embarrassing. It makes you look bad and hurts the feelings of the person (or people) that you forgot. Don't let it happen to you.

Sure, thanking people can be dangerous. However, if you're diligent in noting contributors and contributions as you go, you can make yourself a thank you pro!

Gotcha: The captcha meets advertising

You never know where advertising or product placement will rear its ugly head these days. Sometimes It’s benign and other times it’s slap you in the face with a handful of linguini obvious. Today, I’ve got a linguini story.

I hate captchas, but I hate spam more. So, I begrudgingly put the squiggly letters and numbers into the box when I’m asked to do so. Imagine my surprise when Mapquest used the captcha to advertise Verizon FiOS (see below).

It’s one thing to make me see an ad for FiOS, but it’s totally another thing to make me have a prolonged relationship with the ad. As a consumer, I see the advertiser name, I commit it to memory, and then I type it. That’s three times the product infiltrates my mind.  Sure, it’s a little over the top. However, I think it’s pretty brilliant.

I’m frequently the first to complain when advertising or product placement goes too far. But, utilizing the captcha is too darn clever for me to ignore. As users, we’d have to jump through the captcha hurdle anyway. So, if Mapquest can find a way to monetize it, more power to ‘em!

What do you think? Are you more inclined to remember a product if you’re forced to interact with it in this way?

The one thing you can do to improve your life

I'm not one for new year's resolutions. The only one I've probably ever kept was when I decided to become a vegetarian. However, this year I'm making one huge resolution that will spare me unnecessary aggravation, save time, and reduce clutter.

I'm throwing out pens that don't work.

Ok, sure, this may seem like the stupidest resolution ever, but think about it. How many times do you grab a pen to write something and discover that it doesn't work? You swirl it around on a piece of paper to activate the ink. And, if it doesn't work, you mindlessly put it back in the pen cup. You put it back! Crazy, right? Yet, so many of us do it.

If it doesn't work, ditch it! Ok, this could be said about a lot of things, but let's just focus on the pen for now.

I'm taking a vow this year and I ask you to join me. Throw away all the pens in your life that don't work (this includes dried up markers!). Leave the aggravation in the gutter! Don't waste your time trying to loosen ink that dried up in the 20th century! Decrease the clutter in your life by discarding the things that serve no purpose.

2012 is the year to say buh-bye to the duds in the pen jar. It's a small thing that can make your life better and soothe your senses with a warm feeling of calm and clarity. It's easy, achievable, and tangible.

Won't you join me on this life-changing journey?
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