Learning from Authors via Conference Calls

A few months ago, I read a tweet regarding a teleconference with Guy Kawasaki, John Jantsch, and Penelope Trunk. It was to promote Guy’s new book “Reality Check.” Up to this point, I had no clue what Author Teleseminars were about, other than a few of my trusted twitter friends had posted a phone number and a conference call code. What the heck I said and I dialed in.

To my surprise, it was facilitated very well by book marketer Elizabeth Marshall, of Marketing Marshall. The conversation revolved around entrepreneurs and panel provide real world insight into starting a business, bootstrapping, working with investors, and more. Unlike a real book tour, a virtual conference calls allows you to participate in the convenience of your own time and location. The most insightful part of the call was the Q&A session at the end, where people posted questions and asked the panelists.

At the end of the call, and almost every call, Elizabeth usually presents a special offer. For example, in Guy’s case, it meant buying three of his books, and getting three other books for free. Other offers include a free seminar by the book author to improve marketing efforts.

Upcoming February 2009 calls

To give you a feel for the type of quality authors and panelists on the call, here’s a sampling of the February calls.

CALL #1: Wed, Feb 11 at 3pm ET (Get Content Get Customers #2

This is the 2nd call in the Get Content Get Customers book tour featuring Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett and experts Brian Clark (copyblogger) and Rohit Bhargava (big following on twitter).  Their first call was a BIG hit, so I know this one will be great as well.

Continue reading “Learning from Authors via Conference Calls”

The Stimulus is Not the Answer

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your historical inauguration. You have open doors, inspired, and motivated our generation and generations to come. History is in the making each and everyday you wake up and carry the burdens that our nation faces. You inherited one of the most ailing economy that our nation has faced since the Great Depression. Many may argue that this economy is, by many folds, more complex, more interconnected, and affected a wider reach than ever before.

As our economy continues to spiral down, showing signs of economic slow down, weak consumer confidence, high unemployment, and a poor credit market, it is without a doubt that government needs to take action to jumpstart our economy. Partisan disagreement between the philosophical debate between the right and the left have put our great nation in divide. Even your valiant efforts to reach across party lines and seek input from both parties was met with great opposition by the Republican Party when the House GOP voted against the bill.

The stimulus bill is mostly government spending, and some tax cuts. We cannot mortgage our future to spend our way out of debt. To improve our economy, you must ask the American people to remain strong while they tighten their belts. The road ahead is not a smooth one. It will not be a quick fix, but rather a long and painful evolution of the American economy. As bad investments are revalued, bad debts written off, failing companies close shop, and those who cannot compete are ran out of business, we will wean ourselves off the greed and unsustainable spending that got us into this state.

We must push for fundamental reform in the way Americans work, save, invest, and produce. We must not let bloated union contracts and inefficient manufacturing leave us behind in the world market. We must not put bad money into failing investments and artificially sustaining companies that cannot be sustained. We, like our parents, must let our children learn from their mistakes and let them fail. We must reform fundamental change to our tax system to remove impediments caused by a system that slows American ingenuity and hard work. Only by reducing the burden of government can our economy run freely again.

President Obama, please don’t rush to push the stimulus bill out. Do as you promised during your campaign, to go line by line and cross out pork barrel spending. Push for reform of our tax system and free the American economy to run the way it was founded to run: freely.

The American will is strong and continues to be strong. We will climb back to greatness. We will not relent and we will not give up. God bless America.

Government Transparency Is Making Data Understandable

What is government transparency? President Obama promised to post all non-emergency bills brought to his desk on his website for a five day public review period. In a memo to his staff, Obama wrote, “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing.” While on the surface, these initiatives and policy changes to open government is a positive win for the public, it presents some concerns on defining exactly what transparency means.

invisibility_cloak

Take the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or simply the stimulus bill. Over 1500 pages of text were drafted for the bill. While posting the text of the bill online, making it easily accessible to the public, and providing free access to the documents can be touted as transparent, burying information within 1500 pages is not. Transparency is not only making government data and information publicly available, it is making it accessible and understandable.

Simply making raw data available on a website does not promote transparency. For example, the difference between a well written budget document and a poorly written one is the ability for the general public to understand what its government is planning to spend. The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) publishes guidance for developing a Budget Book that includes information beyond just the budget data to effectively present information to the public.

Bottom line: Not only should government publish and make information available for the public, it should provide guidance (in the form of Cliff Notes) and instructions to interpret that data.

Next steps: Find good examples of public transparency.

Surviving an Economic Downturn: Improve Customer Service

Every once in a while, you run across just exceptional customer service, above and beyond the regular call of duty. In the fast pace world we live in, we expect the cheapest service, removed from all human contact: self checkout at the grocery store, ATM’s, drive through oil changes, automated car washes. Recently, I encountered world class customer service at an Audi deal. Here is my account of the story.

The Story

Just recently, I took my wife’s Audi into the dealership for a once over, including an oil change, transmission change, and overall inspection. This was a complete 180 from my regular Chevy dealership. The scheduling was done via online form, with e-mail confirmation. I came in on a Saturday morning and waited in the waiting room. There were nice leather chairs with coffee shop-like tables, with the latest daily paper on each table. The service rep offered me a cup of coffee prepared with their Starbucks automatic coffee dispenser. They also kept in stock water bottles, and pastries.

On my second visit, to follow up on a few repairs, I experienced the same level of attention. Rather than having to stand at the desk, the service rep offered me coffee and told me to wait in the lobby area. While I sipped on my coffee, read the paper, and checked my e-mail (with free wifi), he came up with the itemized estimate, paperwork to sign, etc. He scheduled me for a shuttle to take me back to my office (and even offered to pick me up when my vehicle was done.

Later in the day, I received a call with an update on my services. He also mentioned that my “world class, German designed” car had on a Ford dealership license plate frames and the wrong screws. He offered to replace them with nice chrome ones with the appropriate hardware. I asked for his manager’s name and contact because I wanted to share my experiences with management.

My Note to Management

Customer Service

He called me later that evening to thank me and said that the manager called the team together and read my e-mail aloud to everyone. He couldn’t stop thanking me and that I have no idea how much of an impact it makes on him, and the rest of the team.

Lesson learned

Compliment people when they go out of their way to provide exceptional customer service. It’s hard to come across good service now a days. If you do, take a moment to do so, especially to raise it to management and to publish it to local papers, online reviews, etc.

Holiday Slow Down is a Good Time to Replan

Holidays are a great time to “Press the Reset Button On Your Life.” Whether you’re taking time off for Christmas, or protesting for a more inclusive holiday season free from religion, the fact is, that people are socializing, spending time with family, or on vacation. Other than the service industry, things do slow down, and this presents an opportunity to revisit your priorities, plan for the upcoming year, and reflect on the concluding year:

  1. Refine and validate that your goals are still aligned with your values. Call it New Year resolutions or what you may, goals are important because it gives you milestones to track your progress. A healthy balance of long-term strategic goals and short-term quick wins can help you monitor your success. Reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked in 2008 and what you can do differently in 2009.
  2. Revisit and prioritize your commitments. In a world of limited resources, primarily time and money, we have to ensure that we’re committing our resources to what’s working and reduce or eliminate to what’s not. This means evaluating what social networks you belong to, whether it be virtual (twitter, facebook) or real (clubs, associations), and determine the time and resources you are committing to each. Are you putting in too much effort for little return? If so, consider eliminating that from your commitment and focus your energies on the ones that are providing you a healthy return (more contacts, personal satisfaction, conversations).
  3. Secure your life though financial independence and adequately insuring it. Take the steps needed to financial peace of mind. If you’re not there yet, try Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps. This means saving for an emergency fund, paying off debt aggressively (if you have debt), and taking steps to save for retirement (never to late or never too early). Also don’t forget to make sure that you’ve adequately insured yourself to prevent catastrophic losses. This includes home insurance or renter’s insurance, adequate insurance for autos, particularly for bodily harm, and flood/fire/etc as relevant in your geographic location. The more you have, the greater you have to lose, so protect yourself accordingly.

Regardless of the amount of reflection, planning, and prioritization, be thank for for what we have. In these tough economic times, we’re lucky to have a job, a roof over our heads, and a warm meal. Things can be worse, and they are for 95% of the world.

What else are you doing to prepare for the new year?

What is Twitter and Twitter Resources

Started in March of 2006, twitter has grown beyond a small group of users to adoption by mainstream media. It’s rare to go to any social media site and not see a reference to someone’s twitter account. The following is a brief walk through from the “what is twitter” stage to “how do I become an expert” stage. These are some of the best resources I’ve come across, no surprisingly, through tweets.

What is Twitter?

In an earlier post, I referenced this great video. It’s a very quick and brief walk through of what is twitter. Though limited in scope, it clearly explains how twitter works.

How to Get Started

Due to the popularity of twitter, there are countless resources to help you get started. First off, read “How to Setup a Twitter Account” by Darren Rowse, author of ProBlogger and now his newly created Twitter Tips site. Also check out “10 Easy Steps for Twitter Beginners.” Another great resource is “Twitter for Beginners” part 1 and part 2 written by Charlene Kingston.

The 140 character limit corresponds to the character limit of SMS text messaging. Originally, twitter users interacted by sending text messages. If what you want to say can’t be compressed into 140 characters, then you probably shouldn’t be using twitter to communicate. At first, it may seem like a crazy mess, particularly if you start to “follow” a lot of users. Over time, you start to notice people you like and also notice some that you don’t. Remember, twitter is opt in. You choose to follow someone. They are not obligated to follow you back. If you don’t like what they have to say, unfollow.

Okay, now what?

Now that you got your twitter account setup, read up on “Twitter Etiquette” at Twitter Fan Wiki. Don’t forget to get a fancy background by reading “Personalize Your Post on Twitter” by Stephanie Gulley.

You can also start using tools such as twirl and tweetdeck. They are desktop applications that allow you to quickly scan, get updates, and respond and post tweets. Mobile users, have tools like Tweetsville and Tweetie, for the iPhone.

Okay, I get it, now how do I get better?

Advanced users can read “How to Use Twitter as a Twool” by Guy Kawasaki. Some of the advanced twitter users have thousands of followers and can quickly broadcast their message across a wide range of audiences. Before you

Any other good resources that I missed? Share your experiences with Twitter in the comments below.

Participating in Local Government Can Be Rewarding

$700B to the financial sector. $25B to the auto makers. A couple billion here and a couple billion there. At the national and federal level, decisions are made that affect millions and cost billions. At the local level, say city and county, decisions affects thousands and costs thousands to hundreds of thousands to a few million tops. It can be as simple as where to transplant a tree to how far back from the curb should the property be.

“When you choose to serve — whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood — you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream.”

Lessons Learned

I recently applied for and was appointed to the City of Davis Finance and Budget Commission. As a commissioner, I review technical finance and budgeting issues that the city faces and make recommendations to the City Council. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Local government is very low level work. The issues that face local government does not have the same appeal as national issues. It includes how much to budget for fire and police services and whether to fund another fire station. However, local government is where the real action happens. It’s where the Billions from the federal government finally get spent and effect positive (or negative) change.
  2. Participating can be very rewarding. While participating in local government for a small city won’t give you the press that most politicians get or even A-list bloggers get, it can be very rewarding. Decisions made and recommendations presented affect people. This is real change down to the lowest level.
  3. It’s great on the job training. Where else can you learn about development impact fees, the city budgeting process, or financial forecasting but actually see it and experiencing it. True, most of my undergraduate and graduate courses have already covered these topics, however, seeing it first hand is something else. Depending on how you participate, it can provide subject matter knowledge and experience.
  4. People you meet are well established. Local government is typically resourced by experienced and well established people. There are also very many 20-somethings in prominent local government positions including City Council, Mayors, and County Executives.

St. Paul City Councilmember Dave Thune
Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuckumentary

How to Participate

There are many ways to participate in local government above and beyond voting. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Sign up for President-Elect Obama’s “America Serves
  • Visit your city’s website and search for appointed positions, such as commissions, committees, or work groups
  • Volunteer for local city services such as libraries, public safety, parks
  • Run for office
  • Attend city council meetings
  • Attend public meetings for transit agencies
  • Make sure that government is open
  • Find resources at change.org
  • What other ideas do you have? Post them in the comments below.

Since joining the commission, I’ve found that the lessons learned, connections made, and reward are many fold. Not only does participating returns positive results, it affects the community you live in and the lives of those around you.