Stuff – How Much is Enough?

Too Much Stuff

Stuff I Haven’t Worn in Well Over a Year. It’s Gone Now.

I‘ve always believed that less is more. It’s a worldview that informs a lot  of what I do. In music, fewer notes almost always works better for me than lots of notes. In writing, concise is better than verbose. In web design, white space is better than gratuitous design elements. But here’s the thing – and I’ll use music as the analogy. To say what you want to say in fewer rather than more notes, each note must mean more. Each note has to have emotion, has to be expressive, has to breathe, has to let the listener fill in the blanks and use their imagination. B.B. King is a master at this. Every note he plays tells a story.  I can’t  explain it. It  just is. And those whom he has influenced – Eric Clapton comes to mind – have that same quality. Don’t get me wrong. Clapton can rip off a blizzard of notes when he wants to. The point is he doesn’t have  to.

Same  Goes for Stuff

So when I came across this wonderful blog post by Julien Smith about stuff, I had an epiphany. I have too much stuff. Somewhere along the line I heard that if you have clothes in your closet that you don’t wear for an entire year, you don’t need them. So, like a man possessed, I threw open my closet door, identified the stuff I hadn’t worn in years, threw  it in a big pile on my office floor, gathered it up and brought it to the nearest Goodwill box.  Ahh! What a relief. And as an added bonus, Julien’s post contained a link to a fascinating video by Graham  Hill, the founder of Life Edited, a site dedicated to the proposition that we can all live a very happy, fulfilling life while leaving a very small footprint. Hill  puts his money where his mouth is. Literally. He lives in a tiny apartment in Manhattan that can somehow seat ten people around a dining room table, sleep two guests comfortably in their own beds and a whole lot more. You’ll have to watch the video to see how he does it.

More About Stuff

All this attention on stuff got me thinking about the classic George Carlin bit about….well it’s about stuff. How much we have, how much we want, how we protect it, how we build our lives around it, how it runs our lives. This clip is 26 years old but like all great comedy, still very relevant. Take a break from sorting through your stuff and watch this. You will laugh. A lot. I promise.

And Now Back to You

Have you ever thought about how much stuff you have? Do you ever wonder if you need  it all? What do you do with it? Do you still have unopened boxes you’ve carried around through several moves? Do you tend  to get rid of stuff every now and then? I’d love to hear from you on this one. Talk to me?

WordPress Invades Hub 2012

WordCamp 2012

When I was deciding which CMS (Content Management Platform)  to adopt as my primary web building tool, I chose WordPress because of the size and enthusiasm of its community. Well, I just wrapped up WordCamp 2012 (read my take on WordCamp 2011)  hosted, again, by Boston University and can tell you the community is growing in both size and enthusiasm. It’s also getting younger – or maybe it’s me just getting older. In any case, I’m encouraged by the collective intelligence, creativity and determination of our 20 and 30 somethings.

Who Are All These Smart People?

So as I did last year, I’d like to thank the following people for making me smarter:

Web Designer's Guide to WordPress Book Cover

Jesse Friedman’s book. As he says, “Buy It!”

*Jesse Friedman wrote a book. Here is how he told us about it: “Oh, by the way, I wrote a book. Buy it.” I’m certainly going to, even though, as Jesse said, “you’ll have to wait four months to get it.” Gotta love the off-handed manner in which such a bright young guy announced such an impressive achievement.

See you all next year.

 

I Network, Therefore I Am

Buffalo Wild Wings in Saugus, Massachusetts hosting a networking event sponsored by the Saugus and Peabody Area Chambers of Commerce

Socializing is one of the most basic of human activities. This has been true since the dawn of man. Whether around a fire after a grueling hunt, or the television after an episode of American Idol, we love to gather and tell stories. We are social creatures. It’s what we do.

Socializing With an Agenda

I like to think of networking as socializing with an agenda. Madison Avenue got it right in the seventies with this classic commercial for Faberge shampoo. (I’m not hawking Faberge products. The video is for illustrative purposes only.) Remember the line “they’ll tell two friends and so on”? That’s networking.

Then there’s the young man who, in the early forties, developed a method for turning black polyethylene slag, a waste product produced in oil refinement, into a material that was flexible, tough, non-porous, non-greasy, odorless and translucent. He knew he had something but it wasn’t until he met Brownie Wise in 1948 that he and his product became household names. Brownie’s idea was to hold informal social gatherings in peoples’ homes to demonstrate the product. “If we build the people,” she was fond of saying, “they’ll build the business.” Apparently, Mary Kay and others were listening. The man was Earl Tupper and to this day, the Tupperware Home Party, remains the exclusive outlet for Tupperware. Earl Tupper sold his company to Rexall in 1958 for a staggering $16 million. That’s networking.

Note: Thanks to the Archive Center of the National Museum of American History for the Tupperware story.

Networking Etiquette

I said that networking is socializing with an agenda. There is nothing wrong with that. But you must play by the rules or you will lose the social capital you have earned and may never get it back. Here are some tips that work well for me:

  • don’t play at being interested in others. Be genuinely interested.
  • ask people what they do before you start talking about yourself. Listen to the answer. Really listen.
  • don’t lead a conversation by trying to sell your product or service. Instead, seek to establish your expertise or authority.
  • dress appropriately – this  may seem obvious but I’m still amazed at how many people show up at networking events dressed for the beach, or the nightclub or …. well you get my point.
  • act appropriately – this too may seem obvious, but if you’re spending more time chatting up the bartender than the other professionals in the room ….. well you get my point.
  • business cards – yes, exchange business cards. That’s why you’re there – to expand your professional network. But don’t, I repeat, don’t add your new contacts to your mailing list without asking permission. This is a real pet peeve of mine.
  • don’t be shy – this is a tough one. If you’re shy by nature than the whole idea of networking is probably challenging for you. Remember that everyone is there for the same reason – to make new contacts and expand their sphere of influence. Once you introduce yourself to a few people you will get into the groove.

The thing about networking etiquette is that the rules aren’t codified or written down anywhere; they’re mostly a matter of common courtesy. But like all rules, violating them comes with a penalty. Many of the people you are likely to meet at networking events are seasoned business professionals. If you come to the party shamelessly selling your wares or talking about yourself non-stop or grabbing business cards and leaving, you will not be taken seriously. That’s the penalty.

And Now Back to You

Are you a networker? Do you belong to any Chambers of Commerce or other professional networking organizations? Has your participation helped you grow your business? What tips can you give others to get more out of networking? Talk to me.

Worried About the Next Generation? Don’t Be.

Linda Samuels and Laverne Auguste

Linda Samuels (left) and Laverne Auguste (right)

Recently my good friend and colleague, Linda Samuels, invited me to sit on a panel of professional business people and entrepreneurs at the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University in Boston. The purpose of the gathering was their experiential/field research presentation of their business plans by four of Linda’s Executive MBA students. The members of the panel were there to listen, take notes, ask questions and make suggestions for the path forward. We were, after all, working professionals who presumably had taken our share of hits, gotten up off the canvas, persevered and  kept going.  I was honored to be invited.

College or College of Hard Knocks

There is a presumption among those entrepreneurs of my generation who did not go to college that the lessons learned in the so called  “College of Hard Knocks” are far more valuable than those learned in college. Not true! If I had been half as prepared to start my business as Linda’s students will be, I would have made fewer mistakes, lost less sleep and made more money. No matter how comprehensive a business plan is, you can never totally avoid the hardships of starting and growing a business. Linda’s students know this. That’s why their plans include an exit strategy. When I jumped into my business I didn’t know what an exit strategy was. I did what the Vikings used to do. I landed on foreign soil and burned the lifeboats. I couldn’t  “exit” if I wanted to.  So much for the “College of Hard Knocks.”

St. Lucia’s Gift to the World*

Laverne Auguste Presenting her Experiential Field Research

Laverne Auguste Presenting her Experiential Field Research

With Linda as my advisor/mentor and her commitment to my learning, I can truly say I felt empowered to conquer the entrepreneurial world.

Laverne Auguste

Back to Linda’s Executive MBA students. Meet Laverne Auguste. She is from the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Part of the Lesser Antilles, St. Lucia is located north/northeast of the island of Saint Vincent, northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique. As of 2010, its population was 174,000. Its main industry, like much of the Caribbean, is tourism. It’s easy to see why. Because her success depends largely on being first to market it would be imprudent for me to discuss the details of Laverne’s business. You will have to wait until she graces the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine. I will say this: She will create jobs and raise the standard of living first in her native St. Lucia, then throughout the Caribbean and quite possibly the rest of the developing world. Why do I say that? Because she has “it” – that combination of talent, passion and resilience that fuels all entrepreneurs. A young woman with her intelligence can succeed at anything. But she didn’t choose just anything. She chose something that she is passionate about and believes in. It was her passion and commitment that inspired her to name her company after her  grandmother, Martha Auguste, who instilled values in her as a child and even today is a major influence in her life . The fire is lit. It won’t go out.

My Takeaway

Listening to Laverne talk about her business was inspiring. Her plan was thorough and thoughtful. It covered every foreseeable  contingency. It  was also eye opening. I came home, pulled out my business plan and chuckled to myself. Let’s just say I had left some things out. Like burning the lifeboats. I will be going back to my plan and reworking it.

And Now Back to You

I’d love to hear from successful entrepreneurs who did not go to college. Did you ever wonder if your path would have been easier if you had? Do you feel like you missed something that you couldn’t have gotten any other way? Or looking back, do you think college wouldn’t have mattered that much? Talk to me.


Suffolk University's EMBA ProgramFind out more about Suffolk University’s Executive MBA program.


*In the interests of thoroughness I should point out that two Nobel laureates, Arthur Lewis, an economist, and Derek Walcott, a poet and playwright, have come from the island of St. Lucia. My guess however, is that future generations of St. Lucians will remember Laverne Auguste for having a greater impact on their daily lives.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Homepage That Is

For better or worse, we live an a world of short attention spans. When it comes to websites, particularly homepages, attention spans gets even shorter. Once  landing on your homepage a visitor will decide in 5 seconds  or less whether he wants to continue to explore your site or leave and go somewhere  else. That’s why it’s so important for your homepage to be engaging. Generally speaking a good homepage should be uncluttered and  easy on the eyes. Since a picture is worth a thousand words I submit the following three homepages for your consideration:

The Ugly

Ugly Homepage

What makes this site ugly?  The site title – Sixties Press – is on a dark graphical background and is difficult to read. The navigation links are all different text colors and are on different colored backgrounds. Why? This homepage makes me want to run away screaming. I was around in the sixties. This site would have been ugly then too.

The Bad

Bad Homepage

This homepage is a Monty Python parody right? Well, no it isn’t. It’s a for real website. Where do I go? What do I do? How do I find what I’m looking for? Be warned! Staring at this homepage may cause seizures. I don’t know what else to say.

The Good

Good Homepage

Disclaimer: I use MailChimp as my Email Newsletter hosting service of choice. I am not, however,  on their payroll. I have chosen MailChimp as an example of  a good  (good is an understatement) homepage because it’s everything a successful homepage  should be.

So what makes *MailChimp’s homepage so good? The way it answers the following questions:

Q. What does this company do?
A. Easy Email Newsletters

Q. What can I do here?
A. Sign up for free

Q. What kind of place is this?
A. A fun, friendly place

Put another way, MailChimp’s homepage is clear, focused and easy to digest quickly. Compare it to the first two examples and you’ll see what I mean.

And  Now Back to You

When you see a homepage for the first time, what do you look for? What makes you stay and what makes you leave? What are some of your homepage pet peeves? Talk to me.

*MailChimp’s award winning interface was designed by Aarron Walter, the author of Designing for Emotion.

Thank you to webpagesthatsuck.com for showcasing frighteningly bad websites year after year. Take a quick visit. You’ll see what I mean.

How Not to Write a Blog

My introduction to blogging was through a colorful Canadian who hails by the moniker Yarn Harlot. If you like funny, then this is your gal – even more so if you have thing for wool, which I do.

The Yarn Harlot, aka Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, writes about knitting and life and yarn with such a unique perspective that she attracts even non-knitters. Her blog led to book deals. The books led to talks all over North America. Now, those books and talks draw in more readers for the blog, creating a sweet little loop toward ever growing popularity. As an indication of how many readers she has, each post draws more than 100 and often more than 200 comments.

Looking at this as a newbie blogger, it all seemed so simple. Start a blog, get a book deal, give some talks, watch the blog audience grow, get a bigger book deal, give more talks…you get the idea. I knew it really wasn’t that easy when I launched my blog, knitaway.blogspot.com, but in the back of my mind, I had hopes of at least building a small following.

After a lot of time and effort, that’s all I ever generated with that blog – a very small following. No book deals. No speaking engagements:  Just a tiny audience that consisted of my mother and a couple of friends.

It wasn’t a total waste. I had fun. I connected with some people in other parts of the country that I would never have met otherwise and I have a great online journal. What I didn’t get, however, is something some people would call a “return on investment.”

That’s fine if blogging is a hobby, or something you want to do just for fun. But, if you want to blog to build your expertise or promote your business, you certainly have to get more readers than my mother, or your mother, or your mother’s mother, for that matter.

So do what my father says and “Do as I say, not as I did.”

The blog isn’t about you, even if it’s about you

The topic may be your thoughts and activities, but ultimately this is about your readers. What do they want to hear or know about? Maybe you’ll entertain them with funny stores from the shop. Maybe you’ll educate them about a particular subject. If you’re tempted to write about your root canal, that’s okay as long as you can answer the question, “Why would a reader care?”

Listen to others

This is actually one thing I did. I spent a lot of time on other people’s blogs. I read them and commented on them. Many of those people became a part of my small audience.

Blog regularly

Since mine was a hobby blog, I never felt a strong obligation to post on a regular basis. I’d go weeks without a post. This is a big part of why it never progressed beyond a hobby blog. This is a quick way to lose potential readers. Even if a reader is blown away by a post, he’s not going to keep coming back if there’s no new material. There are just too many other great things to draw his attention.

Know your audience

When I started blogging, I thought very little about who would read my blog. This is something you should think a lot about. Who do you want to reach? You may want a broad audience, but you are best off focusing on one specific person. This will help you tailor the blog and make it personal. Plus, once you know who that is, you will have a much easier time finding good material because you will be looking for things that will interest that person.