Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thinking and Growing Something

I meet many people in my personal and professional lives who have a fairly negative view of the world and their position in it. I will hear things like "my life sucks", "I hate my job", and, worst of all, "what can I do about it?" Indeed, they are all correct, but not usually for the reason that they think.

Perhaps you have heard of the book The Secret, which discusses the Law of Attraction. Some people have objected that the topic of the book is no secret as it has been discussed in ancient philosophy for thousands of years. It is true that people have known this secret for a very long time, but it is also a fact that most people today either do not know or do not believe the fundamental truth that thought makes reality.

This past summer, I was in what one might have referred to as a bad place. My fiancée and I were living off of about $400 a month, earned by working a stressful, dangerous job that I disdained, falling about $1000 into debt with each passing month. My hope of salvation, the position with New York Life turned out to be a waste of time, and no better prospects lay on the horizon. I still carried $7000 of credit card debt from running Phoenix Games as well as $25,000 of business debt. Add to that the fact that the worse things went, the more my fiancée despaired and lost patience with me.

One day, Annie told me that it was time to act. Rather than thinking of myself as someone who could not make money, rather than thinking of my situation as insoluble, it was time to change things. She is a smart one, and I do well to listen to her, so I did. After an entire summer of my wheels being stuck in the mud, I made the decision to turn things around. I decided to find a new job. Not to look for a new job, but to find one.

15 days later, I was signing the paperwork at American Income, a company I am still with and enjoying immensely. The most amazing part of this whole story is that a week after I made my decision to change my situation, American Income contacted me based on my resume online. This same resume had been online for all of 2010, but it was only after I made the decision to climb out of my rut and get back on the highway that the Universe saw fit to place the opportunity before me.

If we resign ourselves to failure and misery, we will have failure and misery. People who expect the worst are rarely disappointed. People who expect the best are, likewise, rarely disappointed. This does not mean that you just need to change your attitude and suddenly money will rain from the sky. There will be road blocks and obstacles, but, remember, a detour means that you are going somewhere in the first place. You don't get anywhere until you start driving, so drive on.

I have been reading Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. It is like The Secret, but much better written, so I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Life on the New Job

I have not had much chance to blog as I have been very busy with American Income. The job is, indeed, everything that I thought it would be. For one thing, unlike a certain other insurance company named after a certain state just to the west of mine, this one has already given my an actual, real life, honest to God, paycheck. I put it in the bank and bought stuff with it. It was an unusual experience.

I have been in training for about three weeks now. For the last two weeks, I have been riding along with managers, watching them run appointments and make sales. Next week, I will be out making the sales myself, with the managers along to watch and keep me out of trouble.

AIL provides me all the leads I could ever use. The encourage me to get referrals because the leads cost them quite a bit of money, but as long as I am making a good effort, the leads will keep flowing. I will never have to worry about starving for lack of people to call. All I have to do is be my normally charming self, get on the phone and make the appointments.

The best thing is that these people that I am calling have actually requested that someone call them. They are not just mortgage leads or some other demographically selected group. These are people who filled out a card and mailed it in saying that they wanted to be contacted. I set appointments with about 75% of the people I reach on the phone.

The training is also excellent. The managers are always right there, both when starting out and when one is out in the field on their own. They don't just answer questions, they ask questions to tease out what I could be doing better, even when I don't know what the next question might be. Their success is based on my success, and it shows.

Relevant to this blog, now that I have an actual job where I have actual leads, I can go out and meet with actual clients. This will give me much more to talk about, regarding the people I meet. It also means that this great network that I have built on the premise that I would have clients who would enjoy being introduced to the people I know will finally come into play as I meet with over a dozen new clients a week.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Job Search, Day 15 - Mission Accomplished

Today, I received the following phone call:
Caller: Michael, I would like to offer you the job that you interviewed for this morning.
Me: I would like to accept that job.

With that, an appointment was made for me to go to the main office in Hartford to fill out the paperwork. I will be working for a company called American Income Life Insurance Company out of their new Springfield office. When I first was contacted by them, I was a little skeptical because they were so eager to hire me.

It turns out that their business model is to work with labor unions. (This is why you likely have never heard of them.) They work with union leadership to offer products the union members. The members then send in requests for more information, and the agents follow up on that. This means no more cold calls, no more blind prospecting, no more selling to friends and family. As the manager I spoke to said, "business should be business, and personal should be personal."

The reason that they are so eager to hire is that they have made arrangements with unions in this area but they did not have adequate sales resources in place to meet with all the members who were interested. Thus, they must build up a sales office rapidly, and I am part of that.

The best part for me in my current situation is that I should have a paycheck in my hand by two weeks from now! This is very exciting news. As Annie said, "What's money?" It's been a while.

Doing my due diligence, I did a little search of the Internet to see what I could find on the company, fearing that I would find that they were some terrible, sketchy scam. I was very pleased to only find one negative web site in a quick search. They have a good BBB rating and a good AM Best rating, so they are legit as a company. I also looked around their web site a bit. They not only seem to be a good insurance company, but they seem to be a progressive company.

Find me another insurance company that says this on their web site:
Our agents have walked picket lines on behalf of striking workers, collected food for needy families, and participated in coordinated Get Out The Vote campaigns nationwide for progressive campaigns.

It is also the only 100% unionized insurance company in the world: unionized not because the employees were disgruntled but because the company wanted to show their dedication to the labor movement by becoming a part of it.

This is quite a job I have come into, and I look forward to where the path will lead. It's a good thing I did not give into my skepticism and I checked the place out.

Overcome your skepticism. Get out and see what opportunities await you.

Update August 5th, 2017
Since apparently this article still gets some hits, an update on how this turned out. I worked for AIL for about a year and a half. They do have leads for union members, but they do not have as many as I thought they would so success is largely dependent on how many referrals you are able to get from each appointment. For the right person who has a talent for sales, AIL is a great opportunity, and, while it is straight commission, it is likely you will start making money fairly quickly because you are given leads right off the bat. Everyone who puts in the effort and follows the system makes at least $20-35K/year, and some do over $100K their first year, and the difference between the first category and the second is talent and skill. I'd definitely recommend this company to anyone who wants to get their feet wet in selling. They are good people doing good work.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Job Search, Day 13 - Green Ink Makes Black Ink

I had a great interview with Ink Solutions yesterday. Unfortunately, they are looking for a part time position, which is not sufficient to my needs. This is unfortunate, because they are a fantastic local business. They sell refilled ink and toner products, which not only allow customers to save money, but they are great for the environment, preventing waste and pollution. If you use a printer, inkjet or laser, which I bet you do, and if you live or work in the Amherst or Northampton area, you can save money and help the environment by getting your ink and toner there. They even have soy based toner.

See, I know that you were worried that this blog was wondering into becoming a job search blog and you were worried that you would never hear about interesting people in the Valley again. As you can see, I still meet interesting people during the job search.

As for the job search, the phone keeps ringing with folks who want to interview me. I have an interview tomorrow morning with an Insurance company in Springfield. They apparently want me for a management trainee position. I am a little skeptical about what this opportunity really is, but we'll find out in the morning.

That is one of the challenges in the job search process. There are many very legitimate jobs out there, but there are also some that are not quite so good as one might think. I found one job ad offering to pay for writing work, but I dropped pursuit of that one when they asked me for a credit card number to pay a $2.95 fee.

There are also a great many "opportunities" that are commission-only. Most of these opportunities are legitimate, but only about 10-20% of people who go into those fields make it. The rest will find themselves making little to no money. If you were counting on making your fortune, and you make $50 a week, you may find yourself in some serious financial straits at the end of the process.

Don't be afraid to interview every opportunity, but don't be afraid to walk away if it is not right for you either. Now, walk away from the computer and find your fortune.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Job Search, Day 12 - The Power of Networking

On July 22nd, my fiancee convinced me that, if jobs could be found, I should hunt for them. On the 23rd, she sent me a list of jobs to look at. Smart lady, that fiancee of mine.

Last Friday, I received expressions of interest from four companies. Two of these, I found through Jobs In the Valley, a local jobs site. One was a short term job through Craig's List, and the fourth is through a friend of mine who is the officer manager of the company.

At both of the two through Jobs in the Valley which are showing potential, I knew the person in charge of the hiring through previous networking of business activity.

You will notice a trend here. Of the four jobs that are showing good potential, three of them have some kind of personal connection. As they say, it is not what you know, it is who you know. You might be thinking that's great for Michael Whitehouse, a compulsive networker, but what does that mean to you, Mr. or Ms. Reader?

There is no secret to knowing people. You just have to meet them. How do you meet them? Call them up and ask to meet with them. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, it is. Find people who are working in fields that you would like to work in. Not sure where to find them? Ask your friends who they know in the field. Check LinkedIn to see who is in your extended network. You do have a Linkedin account, right?

Once you identify people that it would be good for you to meet with, contact them. I recommend the phone for this contact. Tell them who you are and that you would love to sit down with them for 15 minutes to get their advice on your search. Tell them that you chose them because you know that they are knowledgeable and well connected, and you knew that they could help you.

No one is going to argue with that kind of assessment of themselves, and most people like to be able to help people. It's a great ego boost, and it works well for you because once you meet with them, their ego gets tied up in your success. If they can help you, they feel better about themselves.

When you meet with them, remember, this is not a job interview. You are not trying to get them to give you a job. You just want to get whatever valuable advice you can from them. It is possible that they may decide to call someone on your behalf or even offer you a job, but don't expect it.

Send a thank you note. An email one immediately, a paper one by snail mail right after. Thank you notes are rare in business these days, and yours will stand out.

If you are searching for a job, good luck. It's a tough world, but as they say, the harder you work, the luckier you get. Now, get up and find that job.

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:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don't Get Too Busy to Be Successful

In my travels, many of the people I meet with are owners of small businesses, and I have found, both in my own experience, and theirs, that there is a common trap that many small business leaders fall into. That is the trap of thinking that anything I do myself is free.

On the surface, this makes sense. If you have someone else do it, you have to pay them, and that costs money out of your pocket. If you do it yourself, you don't have to fork over cash immediately. Thus, costs less, right? Wrong!

If you run a business, your business does something, and you probably have some skill in doing so. You should be building things, writing things, selling things, networking new opportunities, negotiating contracts. You should be doing all that stuff that owners do!

In economics, there is a concept known as opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the true cost of something. It is the highest value alternative. If you are offered free Red Sox tickets and free Nightwish tickets for events on the same night, and you can only go to one, then the cost of going to the Red Sox game is nothing, since the tickets are free. However, the opportunity cost of going to the game is missing the Nightwish concert.

So, if all calls into the office ring your phone, and you answer this phone and set all the appointments, confirm all the clients, and do all the other phone work, the cost is nothing, but the opportunity cost is all the other things you could be doing with that time, like training staff, developing advertising, attending networking events, not to mention the lack of focus that such interruptions may cause.

Every business is different, and every business is in a different place financially. Perhaps you are in the place where the money simply does not exist to hire a receptionist. That is another story altogether. In that case, bookmark this post and reread it when you have some cash flow.

However, if your business has cash flow, look at what the principals of your company do with their time. Are they spending their time turning their valuable skills into revenue for the company, or are they spending their time on tasks that could be performed just as well by a high school student looking for experience in the working world?

Not sure if the principals in your company are putting their time to the most effective use? I do offer free consultations, and that is time with a very low opportunity cost.

Thank you for reading. As always, I implore you to get out an talk to real people face to face, but only in the way that is the most effective use of your time and talents!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adventures in Automotive Networking

Imagine, if you will, that you are a sales manager. Your income is mostly based on the sales that your dealership make, which is mostly dependent on the ability of your salesmen to make sales. Each and every sale that is made in your dealership is money in your pocket. Now, imagine that a man comes in and tells you that he works with people connecting them to quality salesmen and that he would like to bring some of his clients to your dealership. Not only that, but he will not expect you to pay him until after his client has signed on the dotted line and made a purchase. Perhaps, you might meet this proposition with excitement?

As I have been preparing to do professional problem solving work, I began to think about what the most common needs I might encounter would be. When I sold cars, I learned that the North American Dealer Association estimates that most drivers replace their vehicles approximately every three years. Not having any car salesmen in my network, I felt that this blind spot should be quickly remedied.

Car sales is an excellent area for me to develop the network because it is such a win-win for everyone. For the client, it is great because they don't need to wander from dealership to dealership. They can avoid pushy salesmen entirely, and not have to worry that they will not get a fair deal. They will know that the salesman I send them to will have an ongoing business relationship with me, and that the salesman would not want to jeopardize that relationship by mistreating one of my clients.

For the salesman, it is an equally fantastic arrangement. Most car salesmen, with integrity or otherwise, find a barrier of mistrust when they come into contact with customers. People are very anxious in the car buying process, and they are afraid of being taken advantage of. A customer that I send in to a salesman that I trust will have greater trust with the salesman, making the whole process easier for everyone.

It is a win for me because referral fees, known as "bird dogs", are common and understood in the car industry. Making it easier to arrange these kinds of win-win-win arrangements... usually.

So, the time comes to make contact with car salesmen (and saleswomen). I figure that I can go to reputable dealerships, talk to a sales manager and meet an experienced salesman. The theory is that a salesman who stays in the industry, probably understands a thing or two about the importance of relationships.

I was in for a rude awakening. Apparently, people who run car dealerships are not well versed in a little thing called networking, and I would like to share with you a few of the peculiar reactions I have received in my search.

The first dealership I visited, I thought I would play customer first. I am in the market for a car in the next few months, so it seemed a reasonable idea. I spoke to a salesman and explained that I was looking for a used car, but that I was not looking to buy for a month or so. At this point, in the conversation, when I was a salesman, I would have taken the customer out to the lot to show them a bit of what we have, with the understanding that the inventory will change over time. I at least would get the customer's information so I could call him later to follow up. This salesman had a different approach. With his biggest salesman smile, he said, "come on back when you are ready to buy."

He is not in my network.

A little while later, I stopped at a local dealership and spoke to the sales manager. I explained the program with less polish than I do now as I was in transition between working for The Company and working as a professional problem solver. I also was still waiting for my new business cards to come. The sales manager I was speaking to, it turns out, had only been with the dealership for about three months, about the same amount of time I have been building the Stone Soup Network. He, however, told me to come back when I was "established;" an interesting sentiment from a manager who had yet to spend a winter in his current dealership.

A few days later, I was on my was back from central Massachusetts, and I stopped at a dealership on the way home. I spoke to the sales manager this time. I explained the whole concept, as I explained it to you above. At the end, he looked at me like a cow looks at an onrushing locomotive and asked, "I don't understand. Are you looking for a job or are you trying to sell me your service."

I explained again, and I think he got it this time. At this point, he seemed quite baffled as to which salesman to refer me to. I mean utterly dumbfounded. He finally settled on the salesman who happened to be right behind me. I spoke to him for a bit, and found him about as excited about the program as I was when I received socks for Christmas as a child.

He seems a fair enough salesman, but is not my first choice to send someone too.

There is a dealership which a couple of people had recommended to me, and I felt that they would be excellent for the network. I figured that a place that treats customers well must understand the importance of relationships. I went in the front door and found a bored looking woman behind the counter. I had the names of the owners, so I asked for them. She said that they were were not available, and, looking at me like something she had scraped off her shoe, she asked me what it was about. I started by saying that the dealership had been recommended to me and that they had a good reputation. "Yes, we do have a good reputation," she replied, as if I had commented that asphalt was black. I explained the program, to which she replied that they already get enough referrals from customers and that they do not need anymore.

That's right, this dealership is maxed out for referrals. They don't need anymore.

I will be calling back later when I can talk to an owner.

Fortunately, not all of my visits have turned out this way, and I have found a few excellent dealerships. The difficulty of my search drives home to me to value of what I am doing. I am spending dozens of hours driving from dealership to dealership so you don't have to. If you are looking for a car, don't drive around to a dozen dealerships and deal with people who don't get it. Just give me a call, and I'll point you in the right direction.

On the other side of the coin, if you have dealt with a salesman who treated you right, please send their info to me. Good car salesmen are rare, and they deserve to have more business sent their way.

Normally, I implore you to get up from your computer and deal with live people... unless those people are the salesmen who inspire the story above. Then you might better off just reading back issues of People I Meet.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Price Versus Value

What an amazing deal! It's 70% off!

Perhaps you have heard this sentiment. Perhaps you heard it from your own mouth. Sometimes, it is indeed the case, such as when Big Y has their very impressive Buy 1 Get 2 Free sales. However, sometimes something is not a deal just because it costs less than one might suggest it should.

I got started on this line of thinking when I met with Scott Alexander, a salesman for Teddy Bear Pools and Spas. We were discussing the difference between Teddy Bear and the discount pool places. There are discount pool places which will appear to cost thousands of dollars less than a local, established store. One might think that they will save a lot of money in this way, but this is where you discover the difference between price and value.

At the discount place, every summer, they contract with whichever east Asian manufacturer will offer them the cheapest price. For installation, they will hand you a list of private installers with whom they have no established relationship about whom they know very little. Once the pool is finally installed, God help you if anything breaks. The discounter does not have a parts department. They have an 800 number you can call. If you are lucky, the company that made your pool will still be in business when you try to replace the part. Either way, you are probably on your own the find the part.

If you go to a local place like Teddy Bear, it will certainly cost more up front, but, to start with, you will be buying from an experienced professional who knows about pools rather than some kid making minimum wage who doesn't know swimming pools from betting pools. Once the professional salesman has worked with you to get you the right equipment for your needs, the equipment will be installed by in house professionals, not contractors. If the pool has a problem, you can contact the repair department at the store who will draw parts from their own inventory, which includes parts going back all the way to the first pool model they sold.

The same is true in all kinds of other industries. There are places where you can get cut rate prices on cut rate products. Some of the products are just as good as the more expensive ones, but some of them are not, or perhaps the service or other intangibles are very different. Before you buy solely on price, consider what the true cost of your "discount" merchandise is.

Personally, I would generally rather work with a professional salesman than an untrained clerk or a web site. A professional can offer solutions that I might not have previously been aware of. Sure, these solutions may result in additional purchases, but if it is something of value to me, I am happier for the purchase.

Looking for something and want to be introduced to a trustworthy professional? Let me know. Those kinds of connections are what I do all day.

Thank you for reading. Now go out and learn from a quality professional face to face.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Will You Be Able to Trigger?

I have expanded and shifted the focus of my career. Where previously I had been an agent of The Company, who sold The Product as well as doing a little problem solving for clients on the side, I am now a professional problem solver. This change has occurred for two reasons.

I had found in all my networking that the world is full of fantastic opportunities, and by being with The Company, I was forced to let them pass unnoticed. In a more freelance problem solver capacity, I would still be able to independently sell The Product, but I would have the option to seize other opportunities as they came along as well.

The first reason is a good one, but, on its own would not have been enough to convince me to make that shift. The other issue is that The Company does not pay commissions until one has reached a certain level of sales and fulfilled some other requirements to "trigger full time." One of these requirements for me was wrapping up some issues with a previous business I used to run. Unfortunately, said wrapping would cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. This is quite difficult to do if it is the condition for receiving my commissions.

This condition had been mentioned when I first started with The Company, but I was told that it would all work out, so I should not worry about it. As time went on, and things became more challenging in terms of personal finance, I remembered that little obstacle that I had been told not to worry about. When I spoke to my manager about it again and pressed him a bit, it became clear that this was not merely a small obstacle, but an insurmountable one.

At that point, the choice became very clear. It was time to go. Then I wondered, how many other people are in that same position. Not precisely the same place, but something comparable. We often advise people to give something their all and focus on success, but how many people are giving 110% to a project in which they will never be able to trigger.

Not every dead end is a failure. My work with The Company was a fantastic opportunity which led me to everything else I am now doing. All the networking I have done so far was because I was developing my career with The Company. They taught me a great deal about sales, time management, goal setting and many other things, and I look forward to working with The Company in a freelance capacity. Had I stayed on what had been a highly productive path, however, I would have found myself in a dead end.

It is important to focus on success, but, every now and then, raise your eyes to the horizon and make sure that the road you are running so hard on actually goes somewhere.

Now, take your road out into the world and meet someone interesting today!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

I'm sure that you have heard the old saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." There are generally two kinds of people who say this. Some people say it as an excuse for why they cannot get ahead in life. This kind of person will say it in this context:

Well, you know, I got a degree, and I got a great resume and I've done this and that, and even the other thing, but I didn't get that great job. I've just got this dead end thing. I don't know why I even bother. After all, it's not what you know, it's who you know. If I was born rich, I'd know the right people, but I wasn't so I'm out of luck.
Ever heard someone talk like that? That is the more common use of this saying. However, the other kind of person who says it is someone like me. I completely agree that having the right contacts is absolutely vital in getting where you want to go in the world. The difference between me and our friend quoted above is that I have come to discover one very important secret.

Ready to learn the secret?

OK, here it is...

You can meet people. Let's say that you feel like our friend quoted above. You are stuck and don't know where to turn because you do not know the right people. What do you do?

The first step is to believe that you can get what you want. If you don't believe that you can get ahead, then you will never get ahead, no matter what you do.

The next step is to figure out what you want and ask for it. When I decided to create a network, I knew I would need to meet with a lot of people to set it up. The way I met with them was very simple. I called them on the phone, explained what I was doing and said that I would like to meet with them. What do you think they said when I asked to meet with them? Every single person I spoke to agreed to meet with me. Every single one.

The original concept was that I would sit down with them, learn about what they did and tell them a bit about what I did for the Company. It went something like that, except for the fact that I would usually find listening to them talk about what they did so interesting that I would have to force myself to remember to mention my own work. I have learned more about the world in the last three weeks than I did in a year of college, and it is only just starting.

Something else happened when I sat down to meet with these people. Opportunities came to light. When you take two motivated, enthusiastic, creative people and put them together, you would be amazed at the ideas that can come out. From talking to Tom Gilliam (@Tom_Gilliam on Twitter) came the idea of Stone Soup Network Meetups. After talking to Val Nelson, I realized the need for a LinkedIn Group. There are all kinds of other things which may be developing from the contacts that I am not even at liberty to discuss here.

Ultimately, my point is that if you want something, go for it. Don't just wait for something to happen, make something happen. Even if you don't know what the proper first step is, take an action, see where it leads. Wash, rinse, repeat. It may not get you where you thought you wanted to go, but it will certainly get you somewhere.

Here is a link to Business By Referral, the book that got me started on the road to the Stone Soup Network.
Additionally, another book you might like is Never Eat Alone, a book about building a personal network even if you don't think you know anyone of consequence.

Not sure where to start getting into the world of networking? Drop me a line. I'll help you out.

Hint: It must happen face to face. The Internet doesn't count. Go meet live people.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Can't I Do That Myself? The Value of Copywriters

In developing the Stone Soup List, I have met with quite a few copywriters. One of the greatest challenges that they face is that many people in business do not understand why they should hire someone to do something that they think they can do just fine themselves.

In the last week, I have met with three excellent writers: Christine Parizo, Bill Sweet, and Shel Horowitz. Christine's experience in the legal field makes her excellent at translating 'legalise' to English, making complex technical concepts understandable to the general public. Bill has extensive background as a print journalist, experience that he puts to great use by interviewing clients to gather the information that he needs to create the client's image in words. Shel has been writing for many years about making business green, ethical, and community oriented, and has an extensive resume in some very impressive circles.

The challenge that all these professionals face is that many people, not wanting think themselves poor writers, think that they can do it themselves. The result is too often businesses with beautifully laid out documents that contain text which is uninformative, unconvincing, or just plain uninteresting.

I well understand this mindset because I have been known to hold it myself. I, however, have a very valid excuse. When I ran Phoenix Games, I ran it for the benefit of the community, without the benefit of profit. Thus, the cost-benefit analysis really did say that I should do it myself, since the company was so tiny that it would have taken a 100% increase in sales to justify any professional. I also happen to be a natural born writing genius to make up for my lack of good sense, but that is neither here nor there.

So, if your company is like Phoenix Games, a financially inviable company that you are keeping going because of its vital value to the community, I can accept the decision to do everything yourself. If, however, your business is profitable, hire the professionals. Why? Because success in business is caused by specialization. If you have someone who is very good at sales, you want them out selling as much as possible. If you have someone who is a great chef, you want them cooking as much as possible. If you are running a business, I suspect that your greatest skills are in areas like planning, networking, sales, etc, thus those are the most profitable uses of your time. So, if that is the most profitable way to use your time, why would you spend that time on something like writing copy, which you only do once in a while? Wouldn't it make more sense to hire someone whose greatest skill after years of experience is writing, freeing you to use your best skills to keep the revenues flowing into your company?

I can pick up a baseball and throw it, but that doesn't make me a pitcher. Likewise, you can string words together, likely in a fairly clear and legible way, but are you sure that the what you are putting down is what you want your customers to pick up when they read it?

In this last paragraph, I am putting down my appreciation for you reading this post, and hope that you will soon pick up and go have some face to face human contact.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Are You Prepared?

Today I met with Jennifer Snyder, a lawyer in Hadley who works specifically in areas of end of life issues. She works a great deal with elders around passing on their estates and setting up their long term care plans, and that is pretty interesting stuff, but that is not what this post is about today. Today we are talking about the rest of her work with us young folks who think nothing bad will ever happen.

It is common and fairly reasonable for a young person such as myself to simply assume that life will continue on for many decades into the future without major incident. For the vast majority of 30-somethings, indeed, death is a far off concept. However, the unexpected can happen, and there are very important legal documents that a person should have in place in the event of catastrophe.

Before I go on, I should make it clear that I am not, in fact, a lawyer myself. I did not even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I am simply sharing with you what I have learned from various sources, including a chat this afternoon. This post should not be considered legal advice, and if you are in the habit of taking legal advice from bloggers who do not even specify their industry of profession, I advise you (as a non-lawyer) to reconsider your legal advice strategy.

I will briefly explain what each of these documents is and what terrible thing could happen if you do not have them. For each of these, there are defaults, more or less, in the law, but some of the defaults are complex, and some are expensive, while most are not what you want them to be. These three documents are a "Health Care Proxy", "Durable Power of Attorney", and a will.

A Health Care Proxy is a document that specifies who is allowed to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated. There is probably someone that you would like to have this power. This person may not be you mother, and if you do not have a health care proxy, it could be your mother, or perhaps your father, or maybe your son, or it could be someone else. When you are in a coma is a bad time to be haggling over legal vagaries of who has the authority to decide if they should try to risky surgery, give you an Aspirin or just pray and hope for the best.

A Durable Power of Attorney gives someone the authority to make financial decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated. Why would this be important? Let's imagine that you, in your excellent foresight, have disability insurance, which is sufficient to take care of the needs of your family, should you become disabled. Your chosen disability is that of a coma. Your husband goes to the bank to take out money to pay the mortgage, electric bill, etc with the money that is coming from the insurance policy that you had the wisdom to set up. The teller will politely explain, "I'm sorry sir, only your spouse has access to this account. If you want to access to it, you will have to hire a lawyer for $2500-$5000 and go to court to get a ruling that you can access this money." This assumes a very well educated teller, I suspect, but this whole interaction would go much better if your husband could show a document showing that he has Durable Power of Attorney, which would give him access to the money.

Finally, the will. You probably are familiar with the concept of a will. I specifies how your estate would be split in the event of your death. If you think that you don't have a will, you are mistaken. You do have a will, but the will is not written by you. It is written by the state in which you reside. Perhaps you trust the legislature in your particular state to plan your estate for you. Personally, I do not trust the folks in Boston to plan a lunch at McDonald's for me, but it's up to you.

Most specifically, if you have children, you want to have a will. Depending on your state's laws, if both you and your spouse die, your children could end up with your parents, or they could end up with your spouse's parents. They could end up in state custody while a fight occurs in the courts over who gets them. They could end up somewhere else. Wouldn't you rather be sure instead of trusting that things will hopefully turn out alright for everyone.

If you have these documents in place, good for you. You are well prepared. If you do not, I strongly suggest you consider getting them into place. There are many great lawyers out there, including Jennifer Snyder whom I met today. You could work with one of them. Have an allergy to lawyers that causes you to tear up and develop blotchy skin, at least find something online. I can't vouch for how good online forms are, but I can guarantee you that they are better than no form at all.

Thank you for reading my blog. Perhaps you found it informative. Perhaps you did not. Either way, don't forget to get up from your computer from time to time to go out and meet with other live human beings!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Welcome Readers

In my work for The Company, I do a great deal of networking. It all started when I was talking to the person who first got me into The Industry. His name is Bob, and he told me that he likes to keep a list of good professionals that he can refer his clients to as an additional service to them. It's one thing to be able to help someone in your own field, but once you help them by referring them to a good computer repair guy or a trustworthy mechanic, they realize that you think of them as a client rather than a walking commission.

I then read a great book called Business By Referral by Ivan R. Misner (the founder of BNI). He talks about forming a network of people so that you have access to the resources and information you need before you need them.

This got me thinking that it is great to keep track of people I can refer as I encounter them, but why stop there? Why be satisfied with only the people that I already happen to knew. Rather, I would go out an actively seek out professionals, sales people, business owners and artisans. The goal: create a referral network so comprehensive that I would know someone to refer for any possible problem that someone might have.

The project really started moving when Kiernan Gulick-Sherrill, a good friend of mine of many years, and the talent behind Green Earth Computers, invited me to come as his guest to the Mill River Chapter of BNI. I met a bunch of really interesting people there and met with a number of them one on one (a process that I discovered is known as a "One to One" in BNI) to get to know them and see if I would feel comfortable adding them to my referral list.

As I started meeting with people, I found that everyday, I would go home having learned fantastic new things about all that is available in the Valley, and I wanted to tell everyone.

With plans to meet with over 10 people in the next week, I realized that I will have fascinating things that I want to share for a long time to come, so I thought that now is the time to enter the world of blogs and share what I learn.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, "Michael, I do something that is awesome and interesting, and you should refer me to people you know."

If that is the case, I would love to meet with you, because meeting face to face is the only way that I will add someone to my list. All the tweets and blogs and instant messages in the world do not give me a feel for a person, and I do not want to have to say "Go talk to Frank. I've never actually met him, but he sure does Tweet well!"

I have reached the length that the attention span on the Internet allows, so I will conclude here. Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time reading this. Now that you are done, make sure you get out and meet someone face to face today as well.