Shout Out to the Brazen Careerist Team

Brazen Careerist, an online community known as the career center for Generation Y, recently revamped its site and make it more socially interactive. It started as a network of 50 beta bloggers and has grown to over 350 20-something, Gen-Y bloggers (I joined in May 2008). First off, congrats to the BC team for their hard work and how far they’ve gone and how far they’ll continue moving forward.

What is amazing about the site/community is the commonality shared among the entrepreneurial members. Each member brings unique aspects of their young, yet accomplished careers. For example, I met Allie, a public relations and social media analyst who had a great podcast interview with Blagica, an Internet Marketing consultant. Earlier today, I had a brief phone conversation with Clara, a recent MBA grad and we bounced ideas on social media marketing. We exchanged over twitter. Additionally, I wrote a post on experience and political careers and referenced Jen who now writes for change.org on Women’s Rights. This goes on and on and on.

I look forward to future opportunities and doors opening by remaining active in the community.

Why Online Networking Can Be a Blessing…and a Curse

Networking used to be attending special interest meetings, exchanging business cards, and making phone calls. Today, it’s still that. However, the growth of social networking sites has enhanced the experience in many new ways.

Social Networking

Sites like Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIN, and other community oriented groups makes it easy to connect with old acquaintances and new connections. I’ve been to professional meetings and later connected to people I met over LinkedIN. On the flip side, I’ve been to casual social gathers and connected on Facebook. Other status updating sites like Twitter, makes it even easier to connect to random people you’ve never met. More importantly, as you “follow” their stream of updates, you eventually get to know them really well, often even better than your real friends. Many active social networking advocates even go as far as recommending that you build an online presence, or more accurately, an online brand through these social networking sites. See Social Media Reality Check: How Deep is Your BrandTiffany Monhollon.

The logic behind this is simple: social media has the ability to connect you to some of the most influential, popular, and interesting people in the world. The problem behind how many people apply this logic is also simple: simply having the word “friend” or “follow” between you and someone else doesn’t mean a real connection exists. – Tiffany Monhollon

The act of “friending” someone is very similar to trading business cards, except the online profile reveals so much more information. Rather than simply a contact tool, it opens the window into a person’s personal and professional portfolio. While person to person networking is essential (See Networking is Critical to Business SuccessNewly Corporate), here are five reasons for using social networking sites to connect to people:

  1. Economies of scale – Unlike your Rolodex, it takes very little time to go from a handful of connections to hundreds and even thousands. With a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse, you can broadcast information to your network, as well as receive a constant stream of information from them. Just don’t forget about quality vs. quantity: It’s about the QUALITY of your connectionsJun Loayza.
  2. Ease of use – While it can be intimidating to understand the concepts of feeds and streams, once you have things setup, it’s pretty much “set it and forget it.” The amount of resources (time and money) required to maintain online networks is vastly less than person-to-person networks. Even tools such as socialminder sends you weekly e-mails to remind you who to contact and even recommends articles to send to your contact.
  3. Record keeping and analysis – For better or for worse, online interactions are logged and archived, usually at the loss of personal privacy. However, it also keeps a history of your social interactions to your network. New tools, such as socialminder, even provides analytics on how often you are communicating with key contacts, and even recommends news articles to initiate conversation.
  4. Open doors – Social networks grants you access to a vast range of issue topics and group interests, all at your finger tips. There’s no geographical constraints or resource restrictions. For example, go search Twitter for key words and you’ll have instant access to thousands of people interested in that topic.
  5. Leverage the power of crowds – Never before has it been possible to pose questions to your network and get responses so quickly. Sites such as Digg uses the power of the crowd to percolate items of interest through online voting whiles sites like Alltop uses complex algorithms along with the constant “chatter” online to bring resources of interest to the top.

DSC_0053.JPG
Creative Commons License photo credit: Andrew Feinberg

Conclusion

While nothing beats having a sit down cup of coffee with a business associate, it can’t hurt to expand your network exponentially using social networking tools. However, just don’t think that your online social network is a real indicating of how many “friends” or “followers” you truly have. That requires old fashion “keeping in contact” with people through real conversations and discussions. Social networking sites are only a mechanism for doing so and doesn’t replace one-on-one interactions.

Furthermore, the ease of these sites and the ability to reach hundreds and thousands of contacts can be a curse in of itself. As the number of sites you use, and the number of friends or follows you have increases, the level of effort also increases and brand dilution occurs.

My next project is to develop a social media/networking goal setting worksheet and strategy document a la Social Media Reality Check: How Deep is Your BrandTiffany Monhollon. The tool will assess your goals and purpose for maintaining each site and determine the optimal sites to allocate your resources. Any preliminary thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated in the comments section.

Should My Company Join the Social Media Revolution

Social Media is the latest Internet phenomenon. Viral videos, blogs, networks, tweets, are just among the hundreds and thousands of ideas, concepts, and mediums being popularized by the millions followers. However, it seems that unless a company employs 20-somethings, or have a employee base that is technologically adept, their attempts at entering the social media arena is just a blunder. Mashable published a post on 35 companies that have made good attempts. There’s another list of 234.

Don’t do it just to do it

Quite often, companies jump into “social media” because of a recommendation from marketing, or from a dinner meeting tip from other partners. They then setup a blog and simply regurgitate their corporate marketing materials. Customers and consumers are very keen. They see right through it. Traditional media such as print advertising and tv advertising works because it’s clear that it’s advertising. Social media can be used as a tool for having a conversation, or exploited to promote products and services.

Take the current presidential campaign. Almost every candidate has some type of facebook page, twitter updates, and so forth.

Dr. Lee, OutRun meeting
Creative Commons License photo credit: G A R N E T

Develop a Strategy for Entering Social Media

Before a company, either corporate or small business considers joining the social media revolution, it should develop a strategy for doing so:

  1. Determine vision and goals – This includes developing a set of outcomes you wish to achieve. It can be to build upon an existing brand, business development, market a product or service, or simply to open up to the world.
  2. Review existing implementations – There’s a couple links at the introduction that lists existing companies use of social media. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just terrible. Spend time following a couple companies or individuals to see the “conversation” or story that comes with social media.
  3. Develop content – Social media is give and take. It’s not all take. For example, if using Twitter, the tweets should provide freebies to the readers. It shouldn’t be a constant daily posting of links to your site. Provide some value to the subscriber. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow some of your fans as well. They can provide instant feedback on your progress.
  4. Interact – Just having a facebook page, a blog, or any of these mediums for the sake of having one doesn’t mean you or your company is “in the loop.” Truly understand what it’s all about, even before participating. When you finally do join, contribute to the daily conversation. At first, it may all seem erratic and not a real “conversation.” However, over time, the noise clears out and you really do see the feeling of the crowd.
  5. Get Feedback – Listen to comments posted on your blog, or responding tweets, and so forth. Your followers will provide you feedback if you’re posting too much, commercializing yourself, or not sharing enough information. You’ll find out quickly, you just have to listen.
Bottom line: Social Media can be a very powerful tool for research and for marketing. Use properly, it can propel your cause or company. Use for only business purposes, it can destroy your reputation.
Great Resources:
  • Facebook Pages: Using Them to Benefit Your Organization, PR Interactive
  • Know some? Leave comments.

Does Experience Matter?

With all the election frenzie particularly about Republican Vice President candidate Sarah Palin in the blogosphere, it brings me back to the question, does years of experience matter? This post isn’t about whether Palin is qualified, or even whether McCain or Obama should be president. Rather, it’s a general question of work experience.

For many 20 somethings entering the workforce, many working side by side with their elders and having their experience questioned at ever turn. I often hear things like “I have 20 years of experience doing this and that…” Just having 20 years of experience doesn’t equate to quality. For example, 20 years of experience performing clerical accounts payable does not equal three years of experience as CFO. One year of consulting experience at McKinsey is better than five years of experience processing invoices in accounting.

In fact, in consulting, it’s not experience that counts, it’s the ability to use different methodologies and creative thinking to solve problems, both inside, outside, and somethings in and out of the box. It’s not being a subject matter expert by memorization or by doing it all it, it’s the ability to learn a new subject quickly to come up with useful recommendations.

We have an unparalleled depth of both functional and industry expertise as well as breadth of geographical reach. Our scale, scope, and knowledge allow us to address problems that no one else can. At heart, we are a network of people who are passionate about taking on immense challenges that matter to leading organizations, and often, to the world. McKinsey.com

Finally, and also avoiding political discussion but brushing with controversy, Sarah Palin may not have 40 years of experience. She may not have experience in foreign policy, or _________. If, and that’s a big if, she is a good thinker, an innovator, and a leader, then she will be able to shape policy and make great decisions.

Confusion with Optimal Personal Finance Strategies

I consider myself financially savvy. I participate in the company 401(k) plan with match, max out my Roth IRA, saved well over six months of emergency living expenses, and have no credit card debt. I have a car loan and student loans and rent (because housing prices are too expensive in California).

However, over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to the Dave Ramsey radio show on XM on the commute home and have been questioning my personal finance strategies. Dave’s strategies include a seven step process to financial peace:

  1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
  2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
  3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
  4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
  5. College funding for children
  6. Pay off home early
  7. Build wealth and give!

From the few weeks I’ve spent listening to his radio show, I’ve determined that his foundation is to eliminate all forms of financial leverage, or simply, debt. Being a trained economist and avid reader of business and personal finance books, I’ve been led to believe that debt is a powerful tool for using “other people’s money” (OPM) to achieve one’s goals. To pay for college, I took out a few low interest loans. To buy my car, I took out a bank loan. To pay for daily expenses, I paid with credit cards (and paid the balance off monthly).

While in theory, using debt can be advantageous, particularly if you can borrow at an interest rate lower than what you can earn investing the money, it doesn’t factor in the human component and risk. Debt is inherently risky, hence the need to apply interest rates depending on the risk levels. If these large multi-national firms, such as Bear Sterns and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are going under due to poor debt and risk management, what makes you believe you can do better without an army of accountants and lawyers on your side.

If you have to take a loan to buy something, you can’t afford it

Car Loan – It does not make sense to use debt to pay for a depreciating asset. In other words, you are paying the bank or the car dealer, for a car that loses value year-over-year. After I pay off my loan, I’m keeping the car forever. Paying $400 to fix a radiator is always a better choice than paying $20,000 for a new car to replace the junker. Keeping your current car is always a smarter choice than buying the latest hybrid to save on gas prices.

Student Loans – While most financial planners and schools say that student loans is an investment in your future, it is only so if you are in a field that can generate a positive rate of return. If you have to take out massive loans to attend a private school and cannot get enough scholarships, then you can’t afford it. I wish someone told me this before I took out my loans. Instead, I’m paying monthly payments for the next 10 years.

Mortgage – Everywhere I read and everyone always says that your house is the best investment you can make. Is it true, or is the housing industry that powerful, like DeBeers with the diamond industry? People say that buying a home is a good choice because you get to write off the tax.

Let’s say you pay $10,000 per year in interest payments to the bank (which is realistic during the first years of the mortgage). Additionally, assume you make $70,000 annually. If you use the tax write off, you would pay taxes on $60,000 of your earnings ($70,000 less $10,000). At the marginal tax rate of 25%, you would “save” $2,500. Put it another way, you paid $10,000 to a financial institution to save $2,500.

Sure, the “housing prices always go up.” During this mortgage crisis, a lot of people are finding out that housing is like an investment. It goes up and down. Unlike stocks, you cannot buy and sell as easily. The transaction costs (broker, agent, closing costs) wipe out any profits and add to loses.

Having no debt is a great way to become wealthy

While economically, it makes sense to keep debt that is low interest, such as a low interest student loan or a 0% interest credit card, emotionally, it does not. From month to month, those debt payments are painful. It gives you a sense of poverty or that you’re enslaved to the creditors. As such, you spend more to feel better and save less because you feel like you have less.

In step 2, “pay off all debt using the snow ball method,” Dave recommends writing down all loans and arrange in order of smallest balance to largest. Pay the minimum balance on all loans, and pay as much as you possibly can on the smallest debt. Once the smallest debt is paid off, start paying the next one, and so on. Using this technique, you get “small wins” and feel like you’re making progress in eliminating debt.

Furthermore, Dave recommends really attacking the debt. He says that you should live on rice and beans, and consider taking on a second job to generate more income.

So what’s the right answer?

 Having spent a good part of a summer sitting at Barnes and Noble’s business section and reading all types of personal finance and investment books, I am now officially confused. What’s the right answer? Mathematically, I know what the right answer is. Add in the human factor, and the equation gets really confusing.

Thoughts?

The Day After 7.11.2008 – When Apple Failed

Yesterday, 7.11.2008, is day that shall be remember as the day that Apple missed the mark with the iPhone 2.0 launch. In an attempt to do a world wide single day launch extravaganza, the demand caused Apple’s servers to crash and left many current iPhone users hoping to upgrade in the dust and would-be owners to come home empty handed, or worse, with the phone but not activated.

Let’s see what went wrong

  1. Apple chose to launch the iPhone 3G worldwide – In a massive launch date and celebratory fashion, the new iPhone was going to be launched in more countries than before and even with more anticipation.
  2. Apple released the App store earlier than the iPhone 2.0 firmware upgrade – Users were able to browse through the App store, and even purchase apps, but were left waiting for the firmware upgrade. The firmware was actually leaked the day before and a few brave souls actually successfully upgraded.
  3. Both iPhone and 3G iPhone users were competing to upgrade at the same time – For the iPhone owners who chose not to upgrade to the 3G iPhone, they could upgrade to the 2.0 firmware. In order to do so however, the iTunes had to wipe the phone, install the software, and reactivate the phone. That’s where the catch lied. Not only did the the lines of 3G iPhone buyers had to activate their new phones, the millions of current iPhone owners upgrading their software were forced to activate their phones, all at the same time.
  4. Everything launching occurred within the 24-48 hour window of time – As we all know, Apple customers are fanatics. They’re not going to wait unti next week when the lines die down to buy, they want it now. For current iPhone users, they wanted it six months ago when Steve Jobs first announced the new software enhancements and the App Store.

What Could Have Happened

  1. Phase the Launch of the 3G iPhone – Rather than release the 3G iPhone to so many countries all at once, Apple could have devised a slow roll out plan. However, that would have left potential customers angry and continue to put pressures on illegal exporting of unactivated phones.
  2. Release the iPhone 2.0 software upgrade a month after the 3G iPhone launch – Current iPhone users would not be competing with the 3G iPhone activations during the 24 hour period. This is after Apple decided to cut the iPhone from $499 to $399 and then created a better and faster phone for $199. *Slap to the face*
  3. Release the iPhone 2.0 software before the 3G iPhone launch – The flip alternative to option 2 would have been to “thank” the loyal iPhone customers with a sneek preview of the 2.0 software and App Store, creating hype around the new iPhone. However, thinking with an evil marketing and business development mindset, that would have reduced the number of iPhone upgrades. After installing my new 2.0 software on my 1st generation iPhone, I’m satisified with what I have. There’s no more desire to upgrade for 3G and GPS.

What Next

After the dust settles and the techies at Apple are working full steam ahead, we’ll look back and say that the launch, while full of problems, was a success. In fact, the whole blogosphere, twitter streams, and  social media was clogged full of iPhone stories. The last 48 hours would have been extremely annoying for Blackberry owners or anyone who didn’t care for the iPhone. For everyone else, it was fun to see such excitement in traditional media and in the blogosphere.

It will take some time to determine the true success of the iPhone, and what alternatives will be coming out of Apple’s pipeline. Will there be a smaller “mini-iPhone?” What about a flip phone? What about a tablet iPhone? Will enterprises be quick to adopt the iPhone as the de-facto standard, or will the Blackberry continue to reign dominance?

In my next post, I’ll review the iPhone App store, focusing particularly on Application “spam.” How will Apple control the number of Apps available, specifically reducing the number of useless apps?

Using Workflow Analysis to Improve Business Processes

What is workflow? In the simplest sense, it is the daily routine we follow to perform from the simplest to most complex tasks. It can involve a single task by a single person or multiple complex tasks completed by various individuals or teams across geographical locations. For the complex transactions, workflow is built into enterprise systems such as SAP, PeopleSoft, and the many Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Each transaction has a defined flow for information to go from one desk to another desk based on defined rules.

On an individual and personal level, workflow can enhance a worker’s productivity. Many sites, such as lifehacker, and books, such as David Allen’s “Get Things Done,” provide recommended workflows to enhance productivity.

Workflow analysis also provides a further opportunity to hone and tweak current processes. Let’s take a common task and go through a workflow analysis: Responding to an e-mail.

A Workflow Analysis

Here is a potential workflow for responding to e-mail. While it’s complex and broken into many steps and processes, the reality is that we respond to e-mail without putting much thought into it. When we do break the processes down into individual steps, we can determine if there are duplicate efforts or processes that can be incorporated.

  1. E-mail arrives in inbox.

  2. Determine if requires action.

  3. Determine level of effort required to respond.

  4. Delegate, defer, or respond.

  5. Determine if the response need to be sent to other interested stakeholders.

  6. Develop initial draft.

  7. Quality assurance process.

  8. Send.

  9. Determine if additional steps are required.

  10. Close out processing.

The gist of my e-mail response workflow is determining if a response is needed, the level of risk involved, and effort required before sending the response. In all instances, I perform close out procedures, such as archiving the conversation, flagging it for additional follow up, etc.

While this may seem like overkill, it’s actually a useful technique to map out our daily tasks and determine if it’s redundant or if certain steps can be avoided.

motion gears -team force
Creative Commons License photo credit: ralphbijker

Lesson learned

While this example yielded a very basic analysis, it provides a visual explanation on workflow mapping. Advanced software tools, such as Ravenflow, can provide better mapping of processes. In my example, I use OpenOffice presentation tool. When work tasks result in flaws, mistakes, or failures, a workflow analysis can identify holes that may cause or lead to negative results. For example, if you constant forget what happened at meetings, develop a workflow for initiating the meeting, confirming invitees, setting the agenda, and recording and distributing the minutes. On a more micro-level, if the meeting minutes are not accurate, perhaps a process can be included to vet the minutes to the participants before formal distribution.

Who else can workflow be used to enhance your work?