Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bloggedy Blog Blawg - Part One

The following is an article I wrote for a site called Network In Austin. It currently appears on their "Resources" Page.

Bloggedy Blog Blawg – Part One
By Thom Singer

“Do you Blog?”

This seems to be the new question that is popping up in business and social circles around town, across the country and throughout the world. A year ago almost nobody, except those who were really hip, had heard of blogs, and now they are one of the hottest topics on the internet.

What is a blog? A blog is a reverse-chronological log that is hosted on the web, or also called a weblog (blog for short). It can be either formal presentation or a random connection of thoughts. It can have posts from one author or many. There can be open commenting from the general public, or strictly just snippets from the blog’s owner. Individuals, companies and political pendants now have blogs, as they are a very easy tool with which to communicate to a wide audience via the web.

Before the 2004 presidential campaign I had never heard of blogs (I guess I am admitting that I am just not terribly hip). During the campaign both Republican and Democrat supporters began to break news (and some fake or fabricated news) on blogs. A lot of information on the Swift Boat Veterans issue and the CBS Memogate stories were put into the public domain, not by the established news media, but rather by the bloggers. For better or worse, these blogs on both sides of the political isle were widely read and they themselves were one of the big stories of the 2004 election.

Following the November elections, the term blog (or is it “blawg”?) has started to become a household term. I would regularly hear people talking about friends who were “blogging” their vacation, or corporate CEO’s who interacted daily with customers via the “company blog”. In March I attended a marketing seminar on blogging. At the start of the program they surveyed the audience about blogs, and most participants, like myself, had never read or written a blog.

That was when I decided I wanted to figure out why someone would blog in the first place. Since I am a frustrated wanna-be writer, I decided to give blogging a try. I am releasing my first book this summer, Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships, and decided that if nothing else, a blog was a good way to help search engines, like Yahoo! and Google, find my website. With this in mind, I decide to make the topic of my book, networking and business development, the theme of my blog.

Thus The Business Development / Networking Blog was born in March of 2005.

Since my book was not due out for another four months, and because the blog was just and experiment, I decided to keep it a secret. I wasn’t looking for any publicity, nor did I care if anyone read my posts. This was just an exercise in regularly writing articles on a topic that I know something about. The benefit was that linking my articles to my book’s website, it quickly succeeded in the goal of helping the search engines find the book’s main page.

But then it got interesting. The more I researched how the blogosphere operated (blogosphere being the cyber world of those who blog), the more I realized that there is a whole blogging community. I discovered that one of the things bloggers do is to create links from their page to the pages of other blogs that they respect and read. I had uncovered many other business, marketing and sales oriented blogs that I began visiting, and linked to these pages from my blog. I also installed a piece of software counted how many people visited my blog. At first there was just one per day, and that was me. But then I started noticing the count was rising. Through my participation in the blogosphere, people were finding my blog and reading my posts. A couple of bloggers would quote my posts and link to my page. I started to receive emails from people who praised my work and then people I did not know began to pre-order my book.

There now appears to be a few regular readers of The Business Development / Networking Blog. I was at a cocktail party recently and was introduced to a local entrepreneur who, upon hearing my name, stated; “Oh, I read your blog!”. Wow. I will admit, that was a very flattering.

Like the fax machine, cell phone, home computers and the internet, blogs are not a fad. The future is here and it involves blogging.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Monday, June 27, 2005

Go To The Orchard And Pick Your Customers....Not.

On page 25 of the current issue of Fast Company Magazine (July 2005) you will find a very interesting essay titled "Customers Don't Grow on Trees", by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. These two seasoned business consultants and authors know a thing or two about customer service, and they have a new book: "Return on Customer: Creating Maximum Value From Your Scarcest Resource" (Currency Books). Their article is an important reminder of how businesses need to place a higher value on their current clients.

Customers are the only reason you build factories, hire employees, schedule meetings, lay fiber-optic lines, or engage in any business activity. Without customers you don't have a business.

But how often do we forget this in our quest to get the sale and hit the numbers for the quarter?

Peppers and Rogers suggest that companies should focus on the ROC (Return on Customer) rather than the ROI (Return on Investment). By doing this you will not only be able to focus on the need for current revenues, but also guard yourself for future income. Too much attention to what YOU need NOW can weaken your bond with your customer. In the end, if the customer feels that your company is putting too much attention on its own short term goals, they will eventually take their business elsewhere.

They conclude the essay by reminding the reader that customers are not an unlimited resource. Getting customers can be harder than raising money, but if you cultivate your relationships with your customers then you will have an source of capital. Thus, focus on your customers instead of your bankers and venture capitalists and you will be more likely to succeed.

(****"Return on Customers" is a registered service mark of the Peppers & Rogers Group).

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Weekend Blog 3

The weekend blog is an "off-topic" section where I can comment on any subject.

"Where A Kid Can Be A Kid"

The Chuck E Cheese Restaurant was obviously founded by a marketing genius. My kids love this place. Really, they cannot get enough of the pizza, the games, the indoor play ground and the live show. The motto of the restaurant is: "where a kid can be a kid",...and is well known to many in the USA from their widely run TV commercials, and it rings true to anyone who has ever been inside a Chuck E Cheese!!

However, the second half of the motto should be "where and adult can lose his mind". This place makes me crazy. And not for the reasons you might think.... it is not the loud cheery music, screaming brats, or grown-ups dressed up in furry animal costumes.

This is an establishment that kids are begging to go and all the parents cannot stand the taste of the food. Granted, I am sure the business plan is to save as much as they can on the ingredients in the pizza, so I will let it slide that the pizza tastes like greasy cardboard. However, they have some other items on the menu for adults (for which they charge a premium price), including sandwiches and a salad bar, .... and none of it has any flavor. I have tried it all, and I have quit eating anything they have to offer.

Also, they did away with the kids meal (at least at my local CEC). I used to be able to take my daughter in for a little pizza and a soft drink for under $4. Then I could give her a few more dollars for games and rides, and it was win-win situation (she had fun, and I did not spend a ton of money). Now the food alone is around ten bucks (and I am not eating any of the slop). We used to go there often, now it is a rare occasion. Thus less money is going from my wallet to Mr. Cheese.

If I ran CEC I would upgrade the food for the adults. The experience is already delightful for the kids. If they had entrees that one could actually enjoy it would make parents bring their kids in more often. I am not suggesting that they go upscale (I mean, come on, it is still Chuck E Cheese)..... but I have been to a lot of pizza joints that have reasonably priced food that tastes good.

But with all that said, what they don't have in the culinary arts, they make up for in their marketing skills, because when I take my kids there today (oh yes, I am going there today!!!), the parking lot will be packed. So what do I know, maybe it is not about the food.

Well, that is my rant for the Weekend Blog.

Oh, a side note, my three year old daughter loves everything about Chuck E Cheese except for the guy in the mouse costume. Anytime the character walks around the restaurant meeting the kids, she cries and screams "GO AWAY, RAT!!!!". Now that makes me laugh.

Have a great weekend.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com



Friday, June 24, 2005

Believe In Your Product/Believe In Yourself

A post on Tom Kane's Legal Marketing Blog last weekend got me thinking. His post, titled: "Believe in what you are selling" is directed at lawyers (as "legal marketing" is the focus of his blog)....but it is powerfully true for everyone.

If you own a business or are in sales, the lack of commitment to what you are doing can be terminal. A great quote that Kane sites in his blog is from Harry F. Banks: "A salesman minus enthusiasm is just a clerk." Wow. Think about that. Even if you are not in sales, insert any job title in that quote and it is still as powerful.

You have to have passion about what you are doing or you will fail. I know many people who toil along in mediocre careers that just pay the bills. They do not get excited about going to work, nor do they give 100% to succeeding in their chosen vocation. While everyone goes through days or weeks where they feel disconnected from the joy that a thriving career can provide...if this become the normal state of things then I recommend making a change.

I do not necessarily mean changing jobs. A change of attitude can be just as powerful.

To change your attitude is not easy, but you can do it. Focus on what is good about your work situation (come on, there is certainly something good), and do not dwell on the negative. Tell yourself that you are going to go in everyday and find ways to contribute more to your company than you did the day before.

I am a big believer that accomplishment leads to a better attitude. Often we get overwhelmed by the fact that we have so many things to do that we do not see the contributions we are already making. Make "to do" lists daily that show all the tasks that you need to accomplish. Write down all the tasks, not just the big ones or those that are behind schedule. Then cross off the tasks as you complete them. I always find when I do this, that I am getting more done than I had realized and success breeds success (which means I am able to get to more tasks when I feel I have momentum).

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Get Over Yourself

You do a great job. You have a great network of highly connected people in your business community. You are praised by your peers for being a peak performer. Now get over yourself!

Often times when someone is very successful in their career they begin to believe their own press. They start to view those they meet as "supporting players" in their life. These individuals are easily annoyed by others who they do not perceive as having their level of knowledge and experience. Their natural instinct is to be rude and dismissive.....and everyone around the knows this is how they operate. Most of the time they do not realize they act in such an unacceptable manner. Other times they might openly acknowledge their behavior,.... not caring how they are viewed by the people around them.

In any conflict, their first reaction is to IMMEDIATELY blame the other person for the disagreement. They would never step back and objectively review the situation. They wont compromise or share the responsibility for the misunderstanding.,,,,and NEVER would they accept the guilt or apologize.

Have you ever encountered a person like this? Have you ever been this person?

Look around at the people with whom you work. Do you constantly ask yourself, "what are these people doing to help me?"....OR do you ponder, "what can I do to help these people, thus helping the whole team to succeed?" If you are waiting for everyone in your life to serve you, then you will be waiting a long time.

Discover ways to assist your co-workers, clients and others. Realize that while you might have achieved high levels of success, that you were not born with all of your knowledge and experience. Most likely someone helped you achieve your accomplishments. If you believe that you made it alone (and if you really believe this, you are probably lying to yourself), you should still find ways to help others. Reach out to those who are "up-and-coming" in their careers, and give them a hand to climb to your level of success.

If you think it is lonely at the top, maybe this is because you have never invited anyone else to join you!!!

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Peak Performers

One of the best business books I have ever read is a 1986 classic written by Charles Garfield; Peak Performers: The New Heroes of American Business. Garfield spent nearly twenty years trying to figure out what causes some people to strive to be the best, while others bask in the glow of mediocrity.

He discovered all types of individuals can become peak performers, and that they are made....not born. Regardless of industry, he uncovered these superheros of the business world in every corner of the United States.

Possessing key attributes, a peak performer will very likely:

  • Be motivated toward results by a personal mission
  • Posses the twin capacities of self-management and team mastery
  • Have the ability to correct course and manage change

Every field has those who reach the top. There are those who are in the top 10% and then those who are the top 1%. I am facinated by those who have that "spark". Amazing are the people who are able to work harder (or is it smarter?) and do so without visible signs of effort. They accomplish more than others in the same profession. These people stand out in everything they do.

I have a friend who we have call "Midas". Since college he has had a spectacular career, is able to spot great investments, and helps others build their companies.... the whole time having the ability to maintain a phenominally strong network of business and personal contacts. All that, and he still has a great family life.

How about you? Are you a peak performer?

Feel free to post your comments to this blog on what you believe makes someone a peak performer.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer

thom@thomsinger.com

Monday, June 20, 2005

Networking Makes You Live Longer

My blogosphere friend, Bruce Allen, had an interesting article linked on his Marketing Catalyst Blog last week. The article from Reuters.com was titled "Friends May Be The Key To Living Longer" by Merritt McKinney. It reports on a study out of Australia where they tracked the longevity of older people, and found that those with a larger circle of friends (aka: a network) lived longer than those that did not, over the ten years of the study.

McKinney stated, "What the study showed was that older people who reported better social networks of friends were more likely to be alive at the end of the study than people with fewer friends. Similarly, people who reported strong networks of confidants -- people with whom participants shared a close, confiding relationship -- tended to live longer."

All this talk about "networking" is important after all, and there might be more to it than just building up your career! I have always said that everyone should treat their relationships as if they were an item of great value. It turns out that the fountain of youth....the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow..... the holy grail ....have been with us all along,....like Dorothy and her ruby slippers. The prize is in the people we know.

Your relationships with others are important. Cherish those around you and make it a point to enlarge your circle of close friends. Your life might depend on it.

Click here to read the whole article.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Weekend Blog 2

The weekend blog was created for off topic content.

Father's Day

Sunday, June 19th is when we celebrate Father's Day in the United States. While I am the father of two daughters (wonderful, smart, delightful girls - I might add) and I am almost forty years old, .... I still do not see Father's Day being about ME. Don't get me wrong, my wife and kids treat me great all year long, and especially on "dad's day"... but Father's Day is about MY DAD!!!

Sadly, I do not get to see my father very often. He lives 2000 miles away, and I only make it to California on rare occasions. Yet the man is so much a part of who I am, that it is like he is inside me all the time. I especially see how much of an impact he has had in shaping my life in the way I raise my own children. Sentences like "Don't run with a stick, you'll poke your eye out" or "STOP....no running by the pool, you'll slip and break your neck" just fly out of my mouth without any warning.

(My brother, Bob, points out that he never knew anyone who lost an eye from a stick or broke their neck by a swimming pool....Yet growing up dad made it sound like a regular occurance that we must actively avoid).

He was older to be my dad. He was almost 52 years old when I was born. He and my mother, who was 40, had three sons who were over ten years old. I do not think they were planning on more kids. My mom used to tell me that they did plan on having me, but dad sometimes refers to me as the "surprise"..... and will add that "surprise" is an "accident" that worked out for the best!!! I do know that they were convinced that their late-life baby would be the daughter they had always wanted. Oh well, I did eventually add the only two granddaughters to the family (the other eight grandchildren are all boys). It took them five days to figure out a boys name, as they had been set on naming me "Nancy".

Having lived in this world since 1914 (He was born 11 years after Kitty Hawk and Los Angeles had a population of 500,000 people...think about that for a minute!), he has a great prospective on life in this country. He has lived all of the history than most of us have only read about. Dad was a soldier in World War II and exemplifies all of the traits of those from "The Greatest Generation". He loves his family and friends, and has lived a life that is a great example to everyone who knows him.

I am very proud to be Al Singer's son. Happy Father's Day, dad.

And Happy Father's Day to everyone who reads this blog and their dads.

Have a great weekend.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Friday, June 17, 2005

We All Scream for Ice Cream

Last night my wife and I attended a local comedy club, with the delightful couple who own the local Kaleidoscoops Ice Cream Shop franchise. They had received some free tickets to the club and had invited along a small group of friends, ...and asked us to join them.

We have become friends with them over the past two years, as having two young daughters, my family can always find a reason to go celebrate an event over an ice cream cone. There are many such events worthy of a special occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, report card day, first day of school, last day of school, ....Tuesday, Thursday!!! I laughed that you know you eat a lot of ice cream when the owners of the shop invite you to join them out on the town!!

But this couple is a perfect example of what makes certain small business people successful. They have a great product (Kaleidoscoops has really good ice cream, especially the chocolate chip mint.... much better than that other ice cream chain), but more importantly they have a great "customer service attitude" and create a true sense of community for those who frequent their store.

Everyone in our neighborhood who knows the establishment will tell you that the ice cream is good, but the proprietors are great. Friendliness to all who comes in the door is standard, but they have an extra special way of making everybody feel special. Especially the children, who is what ice cream parlor's are all about anyway!!! My kids love going there and want to see Bob and Dolores as much as they want to get an ice cream cone (well, almost). They are always excited to see their repeat customers walk in the door and get to know their clientele personally.

Business professionals from companies of all sizes can learn from these ice cream entrepreneurs.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Buzz and Brand

Author and professional speaker Sam Horn tells a great story about a group of pre-schoolers who are asked to tell their teacher what sounds the barn yard animals make. When she said "cow?", the kids all replied; "Moooooooo". To her inquiry of "sheep?", they cried; "Baaahhhh". And when asked what sound a duck makes, all the children screamed; "AFLAC!". Now that is a great example of creating buzz and building a solid brand. Before that funny duck came through our television screens, none of us had probably ever heard of supplemental insurance.

Creating a recognizable brand is something for which every business and businessperson strives. It makes selling your product much easier if the client already knows and trusts you and/or your company. But it is not an easy task.

I have just finished reading a great new book by author Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone. Keith is considered one of the world's greatest "networkers".... and has a list of accomplishments which proves that he knows how to turn his extensive roledex into profitable business ventures.

While the book is full of wonderful advice for anyone wishing to create stronger business relationships, my favorite chapter was the one called Broadcast Your Brand (Chapter 24). If you read no other part of this book (and I recommend you read it from cover to cover), this chapter contains of some of Keith's best nuggets of wisdom, that apply to everyone who needs to create buzz for themselves or their company.

Intermingled with great suggestions on promoting your cause, dealing with the media, developing your message.....Keith tells the reader the important truth: if nobody knows how good you are, then you and your company are not attaining the full potential. At the end of the day, nobody will do it for you. You are responsible for creating your own image in the business community.

In 1997 I read a phenomenal piece by Tom Peters in Fast Company Magazine titled: "The Brand Called You". While this was written over eight years ago, it still rings true today for anyone who wants to achieve success in their career. Click Here to link to the article.

Keith's book is available at Amazon.com and do not forget to read his blog.

Have a great day

Thom Singer
thom@thomsinger.com

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Don't Let The Bad Guys Get You Down

Inevitably when you know a lot of people in your business or personal life, somebody will let you down. Probably more than just one person. I am a big believer in the power of networking and building mutually beneficial relationships with lots of people, but with that will come some disappointments. There will always be individuals who are naysayers, critics and those that just suck the joy and enthusiasm out of the room.

A friend of mine was recently upset by the fact that too many people in her network were "takers" and not "givers". She herself works hard to reach out to everyone she knows and constantly helps others in business and personal situations. She had always believed that if you do for others, then others will instinctively reach out to provide you with the same level of support. But recently she noticed that there were many people who not only would take her friendship, but then do nothing to return it.

I think this is common. I wish that the whole world embraced the concept of selflessness, but throughout human history there are countless examples, large and small, of just the opposite. I am reminded of the movie Pay it Forward where each person did a good dead for someone else in the world with the only request they they "pay it forward",... meaning the recipient someday do a miraculous favor for another person. Eventually that good deed would come back to the person who started the chain. The problem is that this only works if EVERYONE reciprocates. Everybody has to "pay it forward" or the chain of good deeds dies. The problem is that that too many people are selfish. Sometimes on purpose, other times simply because they get caught up in their own issues or mistakenly inflate their own level of self-importance.

I thought a lot about my friend's situation. She is a selfless person, and by no means expects people to reciprocate, .... but as human beings, we all have emotions and feelings. In addition to these feelings, we also can have expectations of others that are too high. I am not saying that you should not hold people accountable for their actions, but rather realize that people may be dealing with personal problems that they do not share publicly, thus not allowing us to fully understand what motivates their actions.

I have had many people who have disappointed me throughout my lifetime. But I have many other relationships with people who are amazing friends, co-worker and mentors. If I was to put everyone I have ever met onto some kind of "cosmic scale", the positive experiences would so greatly outweigh the negative ones that the scale would tip over.

My father always told me not to let the bad guys get me down. He has a wonderful way of looking at the world and at society. He instinctively saw that those who cut you off in traffic or are rude in restaurants have their own problems. He always told me to focus on the good in my life and don't spend too much time worrying about the rest. Do I still get angry when I am treated poorly? Absolutely. But I know that my true friends and respected colleagues are the antidote to those who would try to bring me down.

Have a great day

Thom Singer

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

How to Reach a Niche Market

As everyone in marketing knows, being able to get your ad seen is easy... but having it seen by the right people is a whole other story. Too often companies buy ads without having really thought about who is their target market. They just market to market.... without any forethought about the results they are seeking. They get caugh up in having to take advantage of the opportunity at hand, and throw large sums of money at advertising that never produces results. If questioned about the lackluster performance of their marketing efforts, they call it "branding".

Harry Joiner, who has a great blog called "Proven Ways To Get New Customers", had a good post the other day that explains this in an amusing way. Click Here to read his post.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer

Monday, June 13, 2005

Networking for Networkers

The other night I was fortunate to attend the book release party for my friend Steve Harper's book, The Ripple Effect. The book, as I have mentioned in a previous post, is about the importance of building strong personal relationships, helping others, and changing the world. If this launch party was any indication, the book is well on it's way to achieving these goals.

Over 100 people who know and respect Steve Harper came out to buy the book, support the author and network with other cool people from the local business community. It was an eclectic gathering, and everyone there understood the power of networking and how relationships with other people can be incredibly beneficial. While I did not know many of those in the room, it availed me the opportunity to meet many fascinating new people. It was a room a-buzz with networking. Steve instinctively knew how to bring networker together for networking.

One of Steve's mantras is that if you throw a stone into the water...the ripples you create will cross the whole pond. One is not even aware when the ripples begin, just where they will end up. I think that there were many connections made at this event, and only time will tell how those people will effect each others lives.

Congratulations to The Ripple Effect. And don't forget to read Steve's Blog.

Have a Great Day

Thom Singer

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Weekend Blog

I thought I would try something new with the blog on the weekends. As the blog has been evolving (and actually attracting readers), I am attempting to provide some useful content and links for readers who have a desire to learn more about networking, business development, marketing, PR, etc.... However, I thought on the weekends I might try to have an "Open House." Just some random posts. So what the heck, I am giving it a try. Please feel free to let me know what you think of the idea and the off topic posts. You can email me or post a comment.

The Best Cookbook In The World

Yes, my first random post of the weekend blog is a blatant commercial for my wife's cookbook: The Mad At Martha Cookbook. Sara and her friend, Kelsey, released this book two years ago. At the time I gained 15 pounds, because I had to sample all 150 recipes in the book. Thus, I can tell you first hand, that the food one can make from this cookbook is delicious.

The premise of the book is that certain food shows and magazines make cooking a gourmet meal an intimidating task. Many men and women would rather cater or serve pre-packaged foods than undertake some of the culinary marvels that they are told they need to create in order to be successful in the kitchen. This book tells you that cooking should be fun and easy. You should not have to grow your own basil or blow your own glassware to properly serve dinner. They make it easy. Every ingredient can be found at a regular supermarket....you do not have to go to some random specialty store in New England to buy anything for these creations.

And the best part, anyone can follow the easy steps to make these foods. Some are very simple, others a bit more complicated....but they tell you in advance how much prep time and cook time you should expect.

My favorite recipes? The Cranberry Chicken, The Fudge (It is my sister-in-law, Yvette's recipe...and it is so good that I feel sorry for all other fudge), and Thom's Chicken Enchiladas (Yes, I made up that recipe....so I have to like it....but others say it is good too!!!)

You can buy the book through Barnes & Noble or at www.madatmartha.com. Oh, and it makes a GREAT GIFT !!!!

Have a fun weekend.

Thom Singer

Friday, June 10, 2005

Events to Remember

When you are planning a corporate event, try to make it unique. I say this because I am often invited to attend seminars and cocktail parties that could easily be mistaken for any other event in the business community. It seems as though companies want to reach out to clients and prospects and have them attend their sponsored events, but they do not want to push the envelope by creating an event like no other. It is risky to host an event that is different, but the pay off can be huge.

I have two examples of event I have hosted for clients and prospects that I would like to share with you. Both of these took place over four years ago, and yet those who attended still talk about these gatherings. I do not recommend that you copy these events (as that would not make them unique, but rather just another copy-cat party), but rather, let the stories inspire you to come up with your own one-of-a-kind client parties.

A Little Wine. Several years ago my co-workers and I decided to host a VIP reception to say "thank you" to all of our clients. We had the local office open for one year, and wanted to create a special event to honor those who had done business with our company. Rather than simply host a dinner, we created a wine tasting event at a local "hot spot". At the time, Sullivan's Steakhouse was (and still is) a top place for business dinners. On any given night the "whose-who" of the business community in Austin, Texas could be found dining on some very good steaks. We rented the largest private room and enlisted the assistance of the restaurants sommelier to create a memorable experience for our guests. We had room for eighty people, so we invited only one or two executives (and their spouses) from each client we had worked with during the previous year. The sommelier selected six phenominal wines to sample, but he also delivered a great presentation on how to order wine at a business dinner. The food was superb, and the wine amazing, but having one of the city's top wine experts spend an hour with our guests made it unique and memorable.

At the end of the evening, each couple was able to select a bottle of one of the wines they had sampled in an beautiful wine bag to take home. Five years later I still hear compliments about that evening from people who attended. It was a true "stand-out" event.

Whose on First? The other event I would like to share with you was a trip to a baseball game. While taking clients and prospects to major league sporting events is not unique (large and small companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on box seats and luxury sky boxes every year), this outing to the ballpark had a bit of a twist. First, Austin does not have a major league sports team (well, the University of Texas certainly counts in the minds of Longhorn fans around the world). However, we do have a few minor league teams in a variety of sports. I purchased a block of thirty tickets to a Round Rock Express baseball game and invited my clients, and others in my network, who had four-year-old children to be my guest at the Dell Diamond. My own daughter had just turned four, and I knew that the minor league teams put a big focus on other events in the stadium that make it a true family venue. Fourteen busy, career focused men had a great time taking their kids to the game. For many of the children it was their first professional baseball game. The wife of one of my clients shared with me later that while she herself had been invited along to many business events, her son Nicholas had never before been invited to join his dad at a networking function. For the record, NO....I did not have my daughter handing my business card to the other children!!!

If you want to stand out from your competition, look for unique ways to reach out to your clients and prospects. Be creative, have fun, and host events that are remembered forever.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Do You Have A Peer Group

If you want to advance in the business world, one of the best ways to do this is to surround yourself with other people who are ambitious, connected, smart and want to help you achieve your goals. There are many names for a formal peer group, the most common being "A Mastermind Group", but whatever you call it..... there is no substitute for having a group to turn to when you are faced with making tough decisions in your career.

Eight years ago I helped form such a group. Originally there were seven members. We met twice a month, once for breakfast, the second time for happy hour. The purpose of the group was to build a team of advisors that each member could turn to for advice and support in our quest to advance our careers. We met regularly for one year. Everyone in the group saw the benefit of the association, but then a few members left the group (for various reasons). The second year there were four who remained. The four of us continued to meet for the next three years. Every member achieved great successes during that a time.

While we no longer meet regularly (one member moved away, the other left the business world to become a writer and musician), we are all still great friends who continuously turn to each other for all kinds of advice in our business and personal lives.

If you are interested in forming a business peer group, here are the steps that you should follow:

1. Find a group of five to seven like minded business peers who are not your competitors. You are not necessarily looking for your current friends. I suggest starting with one or two people you know, then each of you invite another person who is unknown to the others.

2. Establish a regular meeting time and place, I recommend twice a month at first so that you can forge deep relationships. Meeting only once a month will make it take longer to build trust and understanding with the whole group. Have everyone agree to attend regularly for one year. At the end of that year everyone can reassess if it is worth their time.

3. Commit to confidentiality among the members of the group. What is said in the peer group stays in the peer group.

4. In the beginning let each member talk about themselves and their business for a few minutes at every meeting. Once everyone knows each other's situation and aspirations, then you can allow whole meetings to be focused on one member.

5. Look for ways to help the other members of your group succeed. Do not focus on what they can do for you. The more you try to help them, the more they will return the favors.

If done correctly, this group will become like your personal board of advisors, and can help you achieve more in your career than you had ever expected. The results that can come from the power of a strong network will amaze you.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com

PS- We are making the final edits on my book: "Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships" this weekend and will be sending the manuscript to be typeset next week. It should be off the press by late July. You can pre-order the book at www.thomsinger.com

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Engage Your Marketing Team

How good is your marketing team? Do you even know what they do on a daily basis? If you are fortunate enough to work for a firm that employs a professional marketing staff, do you regularly spend time with them and engage their talents to help market your practice? Many law firms, accounting firms and other professional service companies now have marketers on staff to help promote and protect the image of the firm, however, not all the fee earners know how to get the most out of these great resources.

Twenty years ago many firms did not have marketing departments. Over the past two decades, marketing and business development professionals have found there way, to varying degrees, to important roles inside these firms. However,they are still under-utilized and not properly respected by many of the professionals whom they serve.

I spent three years as the marketing manager inside two large law firms. I was amazed at how some partners and senior associates viewed my role as a trusted advisor and important member of their team, while others seemed to look at me as a necessary evil. One day I met a senior partner at a rival firm who told me that the fact my role even existed inside a law firm made him sick (his firm also had a professional marketing staff). He said he favored the days when law was a "profession" and not a competitive business, and that he did everything he could to avoid his firm's marketing manager. I think this is very short sighted.

Another lawyer I worked for had a nickname for me: "Cost Center", since my salary and marketing budget was an expense, and I did not bill hours or directly create revenue. While he and I worked closely together, and the nickname was just a joke between friends, it is not uncommon for many professionals to honestly feel this way about their firm's marketing staff.

How about you? Do you avoid your marketing department or use them as a valuable tool to help further your career? How much time have you spent getting to know them, and understanding their background and learning what special skills they many have that you can tap to grow your business?

Here are three tips to help you get the most from your marketing staff:

1. Get to know them. If you have never been to lunch with your marketing team, then you need to remedy this situation. You would be surprised how helpful these people can be to help you get quoted in article, speaking engagements, etc..., but like all humans, they are going to give these opportunities to the people they know best. As a partner in your firm you may believe that the responsibility is theirs to get to know you, but you have it backwards. If you want the support staff to truly support you, you need to reach out to them and build a professional relationship like you would with a client or prospect. Too many senior professionals get caught up in the hierarchy. Some partners will only go to lunch with other senior partners. Get over yourself. The partners that I have seen who work closely with the marketing staff usually are the ones who seem to do the best at business development. Coincidence? Hmmmmmm.

2. ALWAYS treat everyone with respect. I have seen too many partners lose their tempers and treat staff in a disrespectful manner. It is not in your best interest to have the marketing team think you are a jerk. It is very hard to sell a product you do not like. Think about it, they have the power to help promote YOU....if they hate you, they wont do it. While it is very easy in a professional services firm to think that only the fee earners are important to the success of the practice, this is not the reality. Everyone on the team contributes.

3. Help them grow in their career. Too many times we prejudge people and decide in advance the level of their capabilities. Work with them to help them on tasks that are beyond their level of expertise and allow them to develop new skills. I worked for one manager who would assign me projects that we both knew I had never done before. He would acknowledge that we both knew this was a stretch for me, but would assure me that he was confident I was capable, and he would offer to assist me with it at any time. Through these experiences, I was able to grow, but more importantly, I developed amazing respect for my boss....and I would do work extra hours to help him promote his practice.

Do not waste the resource of you firm's professional marketing staff. Reach out to them and make them your partner in success.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Why Network?

Why should any person dedicate the time necessary to create a business network? Many professionals believe that it is not necessary to build personal connections with others, they mistakenly think that if they just do a good job, people will line up to do buy their product or service. One law firm I know actually bragged publicly about being the "best kept secret in the legal field." A senior partner once told me that while his firm was an Am Law 100 firm (which is a listing of the 100 largest law firms in the United States), that they did not believe in advertising or other forms of PR that would raise their visibility. He was strongly convinced that the credibility of the individual lawyers was all that was necessary. He went on to tell me that clients are sophisticated and do not like law firms that promote themselves. He would have even eliminated the firm website. While that might have worked in 1955, that is not a smart way to do business today. If you think that you are succeeding by being a "secret", imagine how much better you would do if prospects who needed to purchase your product actually knew about your existence.

Below are five reasons why everyone should network:

Your career requires you to develop new business. No matter what your role in your company, it is your responsibility to help promote the image and visibility of the firm. To relax and hope that someone else will do it for you could mean that you will eventually be looking for a new job. If you work in a professional services firm, then you must take finding your own clients into your own hands, even if you are not currently being encouraged to do so. Those with strong client relationships are never the ones who get the pink slip in rough times.

People do business with people they know and like. Although it is true that buyers use logic when researching potential vendors, they make decisions based on their gut feelings. Everyone claims to deliver great service (do you have a competitor who claims to suck?), and the prospects can often not tell the difference. An good example is to think about when you are looking at a tall building in New York City. While standing on the sidewalk, they all look very tall. If you are not up in a helicopter, then you may never know which on is actually taller. When a buyer cannot tell which company is "better"....they will always buy from the person they like more.

Knowing others makes the tough questions easier to answer. If you have a large network of business people, then if you get asked a question that is outside of your area of specialty, you can still provide value to your client. If you do not know the answer, you can lie (bad idea), tell the person asking that his inquiry is out of your field (which provides no value), or you can tell them that you personally do not know the answer, but that you can put them in touch with someone who is an expert in that area (thus positioning yourself as a resource).

It strengthens the visibility of your business. Going out into the business community and networking helps promote the visibility of your company, and makes people think of your product or service when a need arises. If your friend was a jeweler and you got engaged, whom would you turn to for a ring (hopefully you said your friend and not a stranger at the mall).

It helps you further your career . In today's business climate, you never know when you could find yourself out of a job. All kinds of companies experience lay-offs or go out of business (yes, even law firms, accounting firms, hospitals and other "professional" firms). If you have a large network of people who know you and your abilities, your phone will ring. It is much better to have people chasing you when you are in need of a job. Even if you are not out of work, you want to be the person who is considered when a big opportunity arises inside or outside your current company. If nobody knows you, they cannot call you to offer you a new job.

The bottom line is that knowing people will always benefit you and your company. Get out from behind your desk and reach out to others in the business community. Do it today.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com

Monday, June 06, 2005

Career Karate

I sometimes get caught up in the routines of life, and I believe that I am not alone. We wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast, drive to work, do our jobs, have lunch, complete tasks, drive home, eat dinner, spend time with the family, watch television, go to bed. Then the alarm goes off and we do it all again the following day.

Sound familiar? Do you feel the need to jump start your life? Does your career need a good kick in the pants?

This weekend I attended a karate competition with my eight year old daughter. She has just begun her participation in martial arts, and this was the first time I had ever accompanied her to the dojo. While watching the events of the day, I kept noticing a sign on the wall that listed six words to encourage and motivate the students of the traits that make for good karate. I could not help noticing how easily these words can translate to our lives and our careers.

Below are the six words. If you apply them all into your daily routine, not only will it help you overcome the monotony that might plague your life, but it can inspire you to achieve greater things at your job.

Integrity. Do you always maintain a high level of personal standards that guide you in making decisions? If you believe in always doing the right thing, then it makes it much easier to know what to do when faced with a hard choice. Never allow yourself to take an action that is not in line with your own belief system. Always strive to do the right thing in any situation and you will find that you will have few regrets, regardless of the results.

Discipline. It is sometimes hard to take action, especially when the tasks seem boring or unimportant. If you have the discipline to "just do it" (yes, NIKE has the right idea) you will find that you can accomplish more in your day. Procrastination will always put you behind on your schedule and feeling as if you are not living up to your potential. Make a commitment to roll up your sleeves and conquer whatever assignments are on your plate.

Focus. In today's world of mass media, the internet, cell phones and countless other distractions, it is easy to not stay focused. You need to be sure that when you are working on a project that you are not distracted. You need to have know what your goals are and keep your mind calibrated toward completion of your task. Do not watch TV, listen to music or check emails while working on a project.

Speed. In the highly competitive business world, you need to move fast. The old saying "He who hesitates is lost" could not be more true in 2005. If you want to stand out from your competition you not only have to deliver a great product or service (anything less is not acceptable), but you also must do so in a timely manner.

Confidence. Believe in yourself. People are drawn towards those who know in their hearts that they will succeed. Nobody will follow a leader whom they do not trust, and if you do not trust yourself, they wont either. You don't want to be cocky (cocky is bad), but you must be confident.

Endurance. Nothing quiets the critics better than longevity. I have seen many people come and go in the business world, but those that prove themselves do so by not giving up and showing up everyday. If you can continue to succeed in your career day after day, year after year, then you will have done better than all who have fallen into obscurity. Show up and work as hard as you can.... Then show up the next day and do it again.

If you adopt these five words into your daily routine, then you will be on your way to achieving your own career blackbelt.

Have a great day.

Thom Singer
http://www.thomsinger.com

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Art of the Follow Up

Networking is not just about going out and meeting people. Having met someone does you little good in the business world, since when you do not really know that person, you cannot use that one meeting as an entree into asking for business or a referral. The problem is that too many folks have confused going out and trading business cards with building a real network.

To honestly call someone part of your "network" you must know them at a deeper level, and there must be a mutual relationship. It is common to meet someone one time and then not remember the person a short time later. In other cases it is possible to connect with someone who will grow to be a great friend. Advancing the relationship does not happen automatically, and it will not happen at all if you do not actively work to build on that initial meeting.

While there are many different ways to cultivate a business friendship, today I am writing about the first step in advancing from that first encounter. To leave your network to chance is not in your best interest. You need to reach out to the people with whom you want to know better.

The follow up note is a great tool to get to know someone better

When you meet someone at a networking function and determine that you want to follow up with them, the best way to do this is to send them a short note within a few days. While this seems like "business 101", I am regularly surprised by that this is not a common practice. Even in today's high tech world where sending an email is about the easiest way EVER to correspond with another person, very few people take the time to do it.

This note does not need to be long (you are not writing War and Peace). Three or four short sentences can make you stand out from the crowd of people that others meet on a regular basis:

Dear Bryan,

It was a pleasure to meet you last night at the Chamber of Commerce dinner. I enjoyed hearing about your company and wish you continued success.

Please let me know if I can ever be of any assistance.

Thom.


Better than sending an email is to mail a handwritten note (yes, the good ol' US Postal Service is a great tool in today's business world). While the handwritten note takes more time than an email, it will definitely set you apart. I have always sent handwritten notes to new people I meet, as well as "thank you's" or "congratulations" to those I already know. I write, on average, about ten notes a week. That is around 500 per year, yet I receive less than fifty. It is rare that people will go the extra mile, but those who do are remembered for their effort. You want to be one of those people!

Start today. Look at the stack of business cards from the last event you attended. Pick out the two or three people that you would like to get to know better and send them a follow up note. You will have a much better chance of building that contact into a friend who can refer business if you reach out to them. Don't leave it to chance.

Have a great day

Thom Singer
http://www.thomsinger.com

Thursday, June 02, 2005

You're Fired!

This is from the Professional Marketing Magazine, Summer 2004. www.pmforumna.org.

"You're Fired!"
By Thom Singer

My wife, Sara, took our five-year-old daughter to the ear doctor. They patiently sat in the doctor’s office. They waited. And waited. After 45 minutes she inquired of the receptionist, who said that the doctor was running behind and would see them any moment. At each of the previous visits, she had also been forced to wait a minimum of 30 minutes.

After another 15 minutes, Sara calmly asked the receptionist for our daughter’s chart. Puzzled, the receptionist asked, “but why will you need it?" As politely as possible, my wife said that she was going to find a new doctor. The receptionist still did not understand. “But you have surgery scheduled in two weeks." “Not any more,” replied my wife, “You have disrespected my schedule every time I have been in this office. YOU’RE FIRED!"

In moments the doctor herself was in the waiting room trying to explain that there were other patients who had more pressing issues, but that she could now see them immediately. “No, thank you," Sara said. "There are plenty of other doctors. You are fired." With that she took the chart and left.

Most surprising to me was that we never heard from the doctor or her staff again. Ever. Having a background in business development and client relations, I was positive that they would call to apologize and reschedule the surgery. They obviously did not care.

Arrogance

Everyone seems to have a story about a doctor who made them wait and then was arrogant about it. However it makes me wonder about our own client services in professional firms.

1. Always be responsive. One of the most common complaints about professionals is that they do not return phone calls in a timely manner. It is not enough to hide behind the fa├žade that you have a hectic schedule. To tell a client that you are too busy is sending a message that you view your own time as more important than theirs. Worse is to tell them that you could not get back to them because you are so busy working for other clients. It actually tells the client that they do not “make the cut” of what is truly important.

Make it a point to always check your messages or have your assistant monitor your voicemail and email. When you are truly swamped, have your assistant or another professional return the call and inquire what is needed. If possible, they can immediately take care of the situation. If the client really needs to speak to you directly, you will know in advance what will be discussed and how much time the call will take.

2. Do not let yourself get into the situation of not being responsive. The doctor in the story was always running late. You do not want this as your reputation. Everyone will have occasions when they are over worked and fall behind, but do not let this be your routine. Schedule fewer things during your day, and plan for breaks in between conference calls and meetings. If your early meeting runs long, you have a time cushion. Time is a limited resource, treat it as such.

3. When you have made a mistake, apologize. If you have made someone wait, or failed to return a call, own up to the mistake. Apologize. Tell your client that you understand that their time is even more important than your own, and that you will not let it happen again. Then, don’t let it happen again.

All professionals need to remember that they are always being judged by co-workers, clients and vendors. Everyone faces the same time constraints. Do not get so caught up your own busy schedule that you disrespect those around you, or you might just hear the words “You’re fired!”

Have a Great Day

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Your Goals and Your Soul

I am a big believer in the power of goal setting. I have discovered that it is much easier to make good decisions when you know what you want to achieve. My own life has been touched by successes when I have clearly defined goals, and marked by failures when I am simply drifting along the path. This is not to say that I have always achieved every goal I have sought, but sometimes making it part way is a success unto itself.

While I do not often write about religion in regards to business, I do think that you must be true to your own spiritual beliefs in the business world. If you are a person who has a religious belief system, you cannot ignore those convictions in your actions at work or eventually you will become jaded and find yourself falling short in both your business goals and your spirituality.

One former co-worker, "Craig", is an elder in his church. He wastes no time in sharing this information and likes to show others that he is a "good" Christian man. At the same time, I witnessed him make some ethical blunders and other selfish choices in the work environment. His reaction is to claim that,"this is just business", rationalizing to others that it is okay to circumvent his understanding of right and wrong to help progress his career. The part he does not understand is that co-workers and clients notice these inconsistencies, and rather than helping himself, he actually limits his success.

Another important thing to remember is the old saying; "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!". While humorous, it is also the truth. In my own life, I believe strongly in the power of prayer, and I have always linked my goals to my prayers. I have found that you must be clear on the goals you set and for what you pray. In 2004 I was in search of a new job. I set out looking for a new opportunity that would provide me with "more responsibility, more authority and more money." When I found a position that offered me these things I felt elated that my prayers had been answered. What I failed to realize was that I also desired to work for a stable company with a real "team" environment, and to work for a boss that would be a great role model. Since I had not clarified these desires as part of my original goals (and prayers), I ignored them when making my decision to accept the position. From the beginning the job was a disaster, even though it was exactly what I had thought I wanted. I lasted less than a year. When I moved to my new company I was very clear with myself (and God) about what was important to my "soul", not just the title and salary. I now have a job that has meets all these requirements.

Get to know yourself at the core and be true to your "heart and soul" both in your personal and business life. Never ignore your spiritual beliefs in your work environment, as to do so will leave you unfulfilled. And finally, set your goals and pray for the ability to achieve greatness.

Have a great day

Thom Singer
www.thomsinger.com