Friday, July 30, 2010

Strategic Shift

I have been confident for the past few months that if I stuck with the professional problem solving, I would make my fortune. It would only be a matter of time. However, time is not an unlimited resource when money is not coming in to replace money going out.

I was talking to my fiancee last week and she suggested I should look for a regular job. I was not against the idea, but I lacked confidence I could find a job. You see, I am very good at many many things... job searching for myself is not one of them. Any employer would be fortunate to have my skills of problem solving, writing, personal relations, strategic thinking, computers, social media, etc. I would be very fortunate if I could tell them so.

Annie, however, was very confident that such jobs were out there and that I should go for them, so she searched online. (Jobs in the Valley is and excellent site by the way.) She found a few and the hunt was on.

The first thing we did in this process was set a deadline. I have until August 17th to find the kind of job I am looking for. After that, all the stops come out, and I will pick up whatever short term work I can get to fill the gaps until something more permanent comes along.

Fortunately, there are a few tricks that I have picked up along the way in how to find a job. That is why I have decided to cover this process in this blog, to share those techniques with you. Furthermore, to expand my playbook, I am read the book on job searching What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles.

My first insight that I will share with you today: make yourself stand out. Chances are that any job you are applying for has at least 50 candidates. This means that there is about a 50/50 chance that you will not even be noticed, your resume and cover letter discarded to the excess stack.

How do you stand out? Be more than just a couple sheets of paper. Email or call and confirm that they got your resume. This is a good thing to do anyway, because you actually want to know if they got it. Even better, consider this. If you ask someone to check to see if a resume is in a stack of resumes, what will they do? They will look through and find yours and look at it. Then, they will probably just toss it back on top of the stack. Sure, it will get buried again, but at least you know it got looked at once, and that is something!

I would love to hear what you have learned in your searches, and please share this with your job searching friends. Let's share ideas. And, remember, the whole purpose of the application is to get an interview. In other words, like many online endeavors in business, the Internet is a vehicle to get to the in person connection. Good day and good luck!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Panera Bread Shows How It's Done

I was at a meetup at Panera Bread this evening, and, more than any other restaurant I have ever seen, Panera knows the value of, and the way to keep, a group.

First, if you are not familiar with Panera, let me tell you a bit about them. Panera is a national chain of restaurants. They make panini, salads, and various other kinds of yuppyish food without seeming pretentious. Customers go to the counter to place an order and get a little remote vibrating device to inform them when their food is ready. They were in the news a little while ago because they are working on a model for a charity restaurant. The concept is "pay what you can." People who do not have the means can pay nothing. Others may pay more than the menu price to help those in need. Interesting idea that I think will work.

The group was expected to be about 5-8, but it turned out to be 17. This made Panera a bit small for the group. Hard for people at one end of the table to talk to the other. I have been to many places with various groups. Some places get it that groups are good and are friendly enough. Other places don't get it at all and harass the group, insisting that everyone order something. (Most places in the later category have gone out of business for some reason.)

This Panera, however, really nailed it. I have mentioned before the value of giving before getting. Well, tonight, an employee comes over with a tray full of smoothies, and not shot glasses either, but 8 oz cups. They were free. Smoothies all around. No particular explanation, just free smoothies all around. Later, a manager came by to clear plates out of our way so we could keep talking. (Normally you bus your own dishes.)

I rarely see such good table service at restaurants that have waiters, let alone one which is normally counter service. Needless to say, some full sized smoothies were purchased after the gratis ones were handed out.

This particular group will probably end up meeting elsewhere just because it is really too big for the venue, but you can bet that if any of those 17 people needs to pick a place for a meetup, Panera will be high up on the list.

This is a company to watch. Consistently high quality and service. One of the first restaurants to offer free wifi in every store. Excellent Twitter presence, and a creative mindset. I hope that they keep it up, as they continue to impress me in many ways,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Something to Give Before You Get - RFP Database

I have mentioned in earlier posts about the concept of giving something before you ask for something. Contacting a client and asking them to give you their valuable time so that you can offer your good or service which is of unknown value to them is a difficult proposition. Why should they meet with you based on your say-so of the value?

Today I met with David Kutcher of Confluent Forms. They are a company that makes custom web based programs. One of their side projects is a great site called The RFP Database. The RFP Database came about because Confluent Forms found that they were having difficulty finding RFPs and they thought that there should be a better way that checking the web site of every organization that might be posting RFPs.

At this point, unless you are a government contractor, you might be wondering what an RFP is. RFP stands for "Request for Proposal". If a company of government agency wants to hire a contractor to do something, from building a building to running electric lines, they post an RFP. People then bid on the RFP and the best bid, as determined by some sort of point based system, gets the contract.

The problem with RFPs is that they only work if bidders know about the RFP. If they don't, then you get contracts that only one or two contractors bid for, and they get it no matter how bad their offer is. The RFP Database seeks to address this by putting RFPs all in one convenient place.

This brings us back to what it can do for you, the salesperson or entrepreneur who is trying to figure out how to get into a conversation with a potential client. Let's say that you are trying to get in the door with a client who does branding work. You go to RFPDB and do a search for branding jobs. Then, you send the jobs to the potential client. They are pleased to get the leads, and perhaps they even turn those leads into contacts. Think this prospect might be a little more willing to make an appointment next time you call? I suspect so.

The best part about RFPDB is that it is really inexpensive to use. To get the information necessary to bid on a job, you need two credits. You can get credits in one of two ways: you get 10 credits for each RFP that you post to the site, and you can buy a credit for a dollar. Don't have an RFP to post? No problem, do a quick search of the web, find some RFPs that have not been posted yet and post those. It sounds like cheating, but it's actually how the system is supposed to work.

Of course, this concept can be applied to all kinds of things that you might offer a client, but this is a quick, easy way to find something of real value to a potential client.

Thank you for reading. Now go out, meet some real people, face to face, and send them some good RFP leads!

Note: Michael Whitehouse is not affiliated with RFPDB in any way. He just thought that the idea of using it to get the foot in the door with clients was awesome.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Law of Attraction

A friend on Twitter asked for links for an introduction to a 101 type post on the Law of Attraction. No one posted a reply, so, like I do, I made one, and here it is.

The Law of Attraction was popularized by a movie, and subsequent book, called The Secret. The Secret specified three steps in the Law: Ask, Believe, Receive. First you ask the Universe for what you want, then you believe that you can attain it and act as if it is already true, then you prepare yourself to receive it into your life.

This was a concept that I held to before I had heard of the Law of Attraction. I believe that what you can believe, you can achieve, and I have seen it happen, both for me and for others. This is similar to principles of "positive thinking", "visualization", and other concepts of positive projection.

You may be thinking, "Michael, that sounds like a lot of voodoo mojo hoohaa molarky! Think of what you want and it will appear. I'm thinking of a million dollars, but I ain't seeing it appear!"

Indeed, the Law of Attraction is not just a matter of sitting on your couch and thinking really hard about what you want. It is about thinking about what you want and how it will come to you. For example, you don't just think I want a lot of money, you think more specifically, "I want clients who will need my services and will pay what I am worth". You act in a way that supports your thoughts. You network, advertise, get your name out, and then the belief comes in.

What makes this work? There are three good explanations I can think of: metaphysical, charismatic, and psychological.

Metaphysical Explanation
There is a force at work in the universe. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. (Sounds like a good plot for a movie.) Some people see this force as God. Others see it as a natural force. Either way, one puts thoughts out to the force and the thoughts manifest as reality.

I am inclined to believe this because, at times, I have visualized, very specifically what I sought. Within a few weeks, exactly what I sought would be presented to me. I had to be alert to notice it and seize it, but it was there, precisely as I had specified.

For some who are more spiritually inclined, this resonates with them. For others, this might sound like a lot of superstition, so let us consider two other explanations.

Charismatic Explanation
If you believe, I mean really believe, that things will work out as you want them to, then you put a lot of confidence across over the desk to the person you are talking to. They will look at you and say, "I don't know what this guy's got, but I want some. Maybe if I hang out near him, some will rub off on me!" People like to be near that kind of confidence, and one who really practices the Law of Attraction will have that kind of confidence.

Psychological Explanation
A common motivational question is, "what could you do if you knew you could not fail?" The Law of Attraction has that effect. If you believe that clients are coming to you, you will not hesitate to approach a new client. What would you be afraid of? Rejection? Ridiculous, you have asked the Universe for new clients, and now you are acting out the belief that this request will be fulfilled. What if the prospective client turns you down? No big deal. The new clients are there, just not right here, right this minute.

The conviction that you will succeed also means that you will seize opportunities as they present themselves. When you hear opportunity knock, you will answer because you know that success is on order, and you want to be there when it is delivered.

This is, of course, just a quick overview of the basic concepts of the Law of Attraction. You can find more information on the Wikipedia article about it. I am certainly no expert on the Law of Attraction specifically, but I have had many occasions in my life where my thoughts became form, sometimes without any particular action, so I am a believer. Whether you believe in all this mumbo jumbo or not, the power of visualizing what you desire, is certainly real. Just remember what Henry Ford said, "Whether you believe you can or believe you cannot, you are right."

Now, visualize going out into the world and having meaningful interactions with people, then go and actualize your vision!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When Opportunity Knocks, Don't Be Afraid to Open the Door

Let me start this post my saying that I know a lot of people. A LOT of people. Not bragging. This will be relevant in a moment.

Among these people I know, some of them pick up hitchhikers. Some of them hitchhike themselves. Some meet people who they met online in person. Some of them talk to strangers. None of them have ever had an encounter where they opened themselves to a stranger and it ended disastrously. This is not to say that my friends and acquaintances lead charmed lives. Whatever terrible thing you can think of, I may well know someone that it happened to, but it was never at the hands of a stranger that they had accepted in. If it was caused by a person, it was caused by someone they knew: family, friend, spouse, parents, etc, not strangers.

On the other hand, I have seen people have the most fantastic opportunities because, when they heard the knock at the door, they opened it. They answered that message online. They talked to the stranger. They said yes, and they were rewarded.

Before I continue, I would like you to think about your own life. Think about all the encounters that you have had with strangers in the last year, in person, online, in public, at parties, whatever. Now, I want you to think about how many of those encounters have ended disastrously. I don't mean you didn't hit it off. I mean disaster: running for your life, calling police, hiding in a culvert kind of disaster. Got any?

Next, think about how many of those chance encounters led to something good, or even something wonderful. Perhaps it led to a long friendship. Perhaps it became a strong relationship. Maybe a business opportunity or an exciting new job/career. How many of those can you think of?

For example, I was talking to someone today who was approached on OKCupid, the dating site, by someone offering her a job. "Sketchy!" I bet you are saying. "What is his real agenda?" you might then ask. His real agenda was to offer her a job. He wants to know people as they present themselves day to day, not how they present in a resume. When she got the first message, she ignored it, thinking it sketchy. Then, he messaged again, and she spoke to him.

She'll be starting the new job, a job which will pay double her last job, a job which is a professional instead of a service job, in a couple weeks. (And I know the guy she's working for. He's perfectly legit.)

We are taught from a young age to be afraid of strangers. We teach our children that evil men lurk around every corner to victimize them. We teach women that every man is a potential rapist. We teach people that every businessperson they meet is looking to rip them off.

Ultimately, our society teaches fear. We teach this for all the best reasons, but the results are the true disaster. Out of fear of an imaginary peril which is so unlikely for any individual as to be unlikely to affect them personally in their entire lives, people give up very real opportunities to grow and gain in very real ways.

Next time you encounter such an opportunity, and you are tempted to shun it because it seems "dangerous" or "sketchy", ask yourself, "is this really dangerous or have I just been taught to think it is dangerous?" Perhaps it is dangerous. You have instincts for a reason, but your fear instincts may have been given serious growth hormones by modern society. Most people I have met are good people who want to do good for me, and I have been enriched by almost every experience I have had when I let people in. Try it. You'll like it.

Thank you for reading. Now go and talk to a stranger.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Web Design

A reader asked me to speak on the topic of web design. I will give the disclaimer that I give before many things I speak about. I am not a web designer. Well, I did make the Worlds Apart Games web site, which is better than a kick in the teeth, but not exactly a true work of marketing art. I do, however, have a good feel for what is and is not effective in the realm of marketing, which is really what a web site is.

When approaching any problem that you are trying to solve, you need to identify the problem clearly first. If you are thinking about getting or updating a web site, the first issue is what is the problem that you are trying to solve here. You might just be thinking "It is 2010, everyone but me has a web site, and I should too." This is actually a reasonable concern. If you are in business and have no web presence, you are not so much in business as you think. If I am considering doing business with someone, I will check the web first.

By the way, if you are in business and you do not have a web site, you still have a web presence most likely. Your name is probably on various review and listing sites. You do not have the believe in the Internet, the Internet believes in you. You probably would rather that the first thing that someone sees when they Google you to be your site rather than the review by YahooBoy9696.

Beyond just having a web presence, you will want to think about what you want the site to do. There is a wide range of sites and what they can do, as I will show in a few examples below. You can have a site that can do anything you have ever seen on the Internet if you are willing to pay for it. Forums, social networks, picture galleries, reviews, and anything else you can imagine can be yours. Large scale sites like that can be expensive for an individual to create, but if you are running a business, you may find the cost of building such a site surprisingly reasonable.

OK, enough talk. Time for examples.

First, an example of what I call a business card site. This is the simplest kind of site. As the description implies, it is like a business card. It gives a basic idea of who you are, what you do, and how to reach you. You can get a site like this for very little money. You can find very inexpensive hosting, and if you pay more than $15/year for domain registration, you are being taken for a ride. It's not flashy, but at least it will mean that something shows up if someone Googles your name.
A business card style site: Clean and Green Cleaning

Maybe you want to have a little more information on your site. Green Earth Computers' web site is a multi-page site. It is very straightforward and was made by the business owner. As you can see, it has various pieces of information, which give you a pretty clear idea of what Green Earth Computers offers. This is also a site that you can, with various resources available on the web, make yourself.

The next step up is a static site (a site that the user just reads rather than interacting with) which is professionally designed. Take a look at SkyTemple, a web design company that I work with. This site also has information on the company as well as other information that may be of interest to the community in order to draw more traffic. You will notice that the quantity of the information is similar to Green Earth Computers' site, but the presentation is snazzier. This professional presentation is where you will begin to experience expense as you move out of the areas of sites that can be built with free tools to sites that require professional design skills.

The next level of complexity is a site which is interactive in some way such as This site allows users to go on it to list their business, discuss issues with other users, ask questions, get information, etc. At this level, the site moves away from selling a product to being the product. For some sites, like WesternMABiz as well Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Twitter, OKCupid, etc, the site is the product. For other sites, they use these kinds of features to draw traffic in order to get eyes to the site to sell them other products.

This is, of course, just a quick overview of what you can do with the web. If you are interested in a more comprehensive look at what the web can do for you, contact me. I would be happy to meet with you for a free consultation on how to make the most of what the 21st century has to offer.

Go look at some web sites, then talk to people face to face to find out their reactions to sites, because ultimately the purpose of a web site is to elicit a response from the viewer, and because that gets you talking to live humans again and keeps you from becoming part of the Network!

Somewhat Important Notes:
Clean and Green Cleaning, Green Earth Computers, and Skytemple are all members of the Stone Soup Network, and I think they are pretty cool folks who you should do business with. If you do contact them, please be sure to mention that you heard about them from Michael Whitehouse's blog.

WesternMABiz is not presently a member of the Stone Soup Network, but only because I have not had the chance to sit down with Terran and get to know him as is required to be added to the network. He is well recommended to me, and I hope to bring him into the network soon.

I do have commission arrangements with web designers, so I do have a financial interest. However, I would never recommend for someone to get more web site than they need or can afford. My job is to give good advice. If that advice is helpful and generates commissions, more the better, but I would rather be helpful than paid.

Some books that might be useful to you:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Networking

When working in social media, it is very important to engage with your readers/followers. For example, when a reader asks you to touch on certain topics, it is good to do so.

Little Mel, one of  my readers, asked me to talk a bit about networking as well as a few specific questions. This is actually a topic that I will be offering a workshop on in the Fall. Watch the Upcoming Events Tab for more information.

What are your tips for networking?
There are many tips I could offer, but I am going to start with these three key bits of advice:

Only ask for something after you have offered something
This could also be paraphrased as "nobody cares what you know until they know that you care." The concept here is that you have to give someone reason to talk to you. If you sell cars, and you try to start a conversation about cars, they know that you are trying to get something from them. They have no reason to want to talk to you. You are trying to take something without giving anything.

When I am networking, long before I ask for anything, I offer whatever I can to the person I am talking to: the possibility of membership in my referral network, information about resources they may find valuable, solutions to problems, etc. Only after I have offered value will I even suggest anything I might want from them.

Be yourself
Some people think that they need to hide some part of themselves to travel in the business world. I disagree. There is only one of me. If I were to try to divide personal from business, people would feel that I was holding something back, and that is a major impediment to trust. This does not mean that I will tell everyone I meet everything about me, but it also means that I make no particular effort to hide any parts of my life as I network.

Nobody likes to be sold
Even when I worked for The Company, I made a special point of never selling when I was networking. If a person that I was talking to about Stone Soup expressed interest in The Product, I would suggest making a separate meeting in order to make sure that the networking and the sales never became conflated. This is the  biggest mistake that people make when they try to network. When you network you are not not not trying to sell your product to the person you are networking with. You are trying to build a relationship with a person so that they will want to introduce you to others and speak well of you, which may, in the future, generate sales opportunities. Networking requires long term thinking.

What is the best way to approach people?
Before I address this question, I should explain that I do not feel I really can say I have networked with someone until I have had the chance to sit down and talk to them for at least an hour. This philosophy impacts my approach. In approaching someone to network with them, the goal is to sit down with them for an hour.

How do I do it? Simple. I am straight forward and honest. I call or meet them at a networking event. I say something along the following lines. "(a)My name is Michael Whitehouse, and (b)I am working to develop a comprehensive referral list so that I can provide my clients referrals to any resource that they might need. (c)I would like to sit down with you for an hour or so at some point in the near future. (d)When is good for you?"

This approach has four basic sections. (a) I identify myself. Perhaps they have heard of me. Perhaps they have not. (b) I explain what I am doing, and, more importantly, what is in it for them. This project is about sending referrals. Referrals mean customers, and customers mean money. (c) Here I tell them what I want from them, an hour of their time to meet. (d) Closing the deal. This step is very important. Some people will do it for you if you leave it out, but if you fail to ask for a firm time, you can get the response of "yeah, sounds great, I'll call you back." Hate to break it to you... they won't call back.

(Obviously, your script should be different. You should use your name, not mine. Also you should find your own concept of value to offer.)

Once I meet with someone, the purpose of the encounter is to develop a business relationship. It is not to sell anything. It is not to convince anyone of anything. It is to build a relationship. Doing so requires exchanging information, learning about the other person, both their business and what they do personally. Many exciting opportunities have developed because I talked to someone about a side project or wild idea they had, and we found common ground there. It is also important that I explain to them what I do without being pushy or trying to sell anything.

Here is something important to realize. If you are making a good connection, you don't have to ask the person if they are interested in what you have. If you network well, connect well, you will develop trust. If you develop trust and the person you are talking to wants what you offer, they will come right out and say it. I will tell you that it blew my socks off the first time someone came out and expressed interest in The Product without my even asking. It really surprised me quite pleasantly the first time I was hired as a paid consultant without even suggesting that they might want to hire me.

Finally, how should one handle objections such as, "I've never heard of you, why should I listen to you?" or just plain being ignored.

Those kinds of objections are sales objections. They are things that someone will say if you are trying to sell them something, either a product or an idea. In networking, you should not be selling anything except for a business relationship with you: a voluntary mutual exchange of value. They should not need to listen to you because you are not trying to tell them anything. This goes back to what I said before, give before you take. Listen to what they have to say about themselves before trying to tell them anything about yourself. You will learn more and develop better rapport listening than talking.

As for being ignored, if you approach someone directly to set up a meeting, being ignored is not an option. Sure, there will be people that you are not able to make contact with. Move on and meet other people. As you make more connections and attend more events, you will meet more and different people who will introduce you to other people.

Little Mel, and other readers, I hope that you have found this information valuable. Now, make use of it, out in the world networking.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A House is a Home, Not an Investment

At some point in the past, people got it into their heads that housing was an investment. Like many fallacies, this started from a basis of truth. Families who had gotten into the housing market after World War II found themselves in a position to finance college for their children and grand children, finance businesses, &c due to the equity that they had in their homes. Furthermore, some properties rise dramatically in value, due to factors such as location and other market forces.

Then well intentioned people decided that more people should get to own homes because owning a home gave them equity with which they could improve their lives, especially since housing prices kept rising, increasing the value of the homes. Unfortunately, the equity is only of value to a family if they have the financial education to understand it.

Now, let us look at why this makes as much sense a planting money in the ground and expecting it to sprout a money tree.

Let's imagine that you have a tree fort in the woods (and let us assume that you own the tree under it), and you want to sell this tree fort to your friend for $100. There are many reasons that your friend may want to buy this tree fort, but if you were to suggest that this fort would appreciate in value and that this was an investment, you would likely lose a friend because he would think you were trying to take him for a ride.

Now, let us make this tree fort bigger. Perhaps 2000 square feet with two bedrooms and one and a half baths. Now, you are selling it for $300,000, and you suggest to the buyer that it will increase in value, and he finds that to be completely reasonable. After all, the amount of land is finite, people will always need housing, etc.

In some neighborhoods, land is an issue pushing up prices, but in most areas, they always manage to find some spot to turn into a new subdivision. So, in most places, the increasing scarcity of land will not significantly increase the price.

If you take this house and keep it ten years, it will be a 2000 square foot house with two bedrooms and one and a half baths. The intrinsic value of this house will not have changed. It will still have the same value. It will however be worth $390,000.

Ahha! You say. There it is. Price appreciation. But you have been fooled. The house did not appreciate. The dollar with which we measure the value depreciated. He house is worth exactly what it used to be in 2010 dollars. It is only because we are now considering 2020 dollars that it seems to be worth more. Now, when you think about the mortgage interest, new roof, new water heater, new vinyl siding, property taxes and all the rest, you probably put over $90,000 into this "investment" to keep up with inflation.

Don't get me wrong. I am a great fan of home ownership. You get to take money that would have been going to rent and instead build equity with it, but don't get carried away. Investment growth only occurs when the thing in which you are investing increases in value.

If you have stock in Raytheon and they build another missile factory so we can bomb Oilrichistan, the company has increased in value. If you have stock in Apple and they put out the new iWidget that will do everything but blow your nose ("There's and app for that...eww"), the company now has more value. In that case, you own a piece of that company, and you own a piece of the growth. Your house, however, is the same house it was ten years ago... just older.

You want a place to call your own: buy a house. You want investment growth: buy mutual funds.

Thank you for reading. Here are some resources you may find valuable in the real world: