Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Business Journaling

In business we have to keep lots of records. Most of those usually include numbers. Revenues to be input, expenses to keep and track, receivables, payables, projections, estimates, the list goes on.

We have a lot of text records, too. We save memos, seminar notes and handouts, magazine articles. We have day planner pages and calendars. There are often mountains of paper that are kept in the wake of a business that’s moving forward.

Much of that record keeping is important and valuable to various aspects of your business. But it can be very confusing to use all these disparate documents to capture a picture of what your business is really doing and what it’s really like. To that end, I think it’s a great idea to set up a business journal.

A business journal is a lot like the personal diary you might have kept as a kid. It’s a chance for you to keep notes on what’s happening in your business, and how you’re dealing with it.

Why to do it

  1. A safe-keeping place for your memories and your ideas.

As you work and live through any difficult and rewarding endeavor, you’re building up experience. Much of that experience is intangible, more and more so as it fades farther and farther back into memory. The ideas you have that flit through your mind, exciting and clever though they might be, are even more intangible. One way to make them both real is to write them down. Then they become captured on the page, and can be referenced. The ideas can be brought out later, the memories can be revisited.

  1. A record for those that follow you

You might not think of your company as being something historic, and in the big scheme of things it might not look that way right now. But who knows how it will grow? Did Eric Clapton know that he was going to be such an influence on popular music the first time he picked up a guitar as a child?

Even if your business doesn’t grow to such earth-changing proportions, your history will still be of interest to your children and any that would take over when you leave the business.

  1. A record of your progress

How often has someone taken on an endeavor, and after struggling with it for a time, gave up just short of their goal? Often that happens because during the day-to-day struggle of making things happen, it’s difficult to step back and look at the progress that’s being made. Often, I’ll look back at my personal journal or my studio blog and realize that I have, truly, come a long way.

  1. A resource for you to study

As you look back at a journal, it’s possible to review the events and challenges that you overcame in the past, and review the ideas that never got fully implemented. New ideas and new ways to implement old ideas can come forward. Sometimes, bigger trends can be seen and taken advantage of.

  1. A way to work through problems

Many times I find myself in the middle of a problem with my business that I just simply can’t figure out. I don’t know how to overcome the challenge or to sort it all out. In times like that, it’s very helpful to sit down and just start writing about it. As I put my thoughts on the page (virtual or tangible), it begins to sort itself out and becomes clearer to me. Sometimes, solutions come. Other times, I simply find a better perspective. In any case, it usually ends up better.

  1. A chance to practice writing.

A practical consideration: A lot of doing good business is tied up in written communication. Writing every day can only help that. And, if you do it on the computer, that will only help your typing speed.

How to do it

  1. It’s your journal, set it up how you like it.

There are lots of ways to journal. Get a blank book, a three-ring binder. Type in MS Word or some other word processor. Blog. Whatever works for you. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to do it, because it’s not THEIR journal, right?

  1. Start today

Don’t put it off. You’re doing business stuff today, so start today. Put the date at the top of a page, and start writing.

  1. Start with today

Let’s say that you’ve been in business a while. You’re not a beginner. That means you’ve missed a lot of events in your “history” that passed before you started journaling.

Forget that.

Don’t stress what has gone before, just start with today. It’s much less overwhelming and much easier. If you want, you can go back later and rewrite all the backstory.

  1. Write in it each day that you do business related things

Every day that you do something related to your business, write about it. It doesn’t have to be much, just a simple paragraph or two. You are working on your business every day, right? Then write every day!

  1. Write the details of what you did

Often in the details lie the learning. So, as you write about the details of what you did that day, you’ll remember, learn and grow from them.

  1. Write how you felt about it, not just what happened

In addition to writing the raw, dry facts about what you did, write how you felt about it. Did you encounter challenges? Did you fix a problem? Write about how that impacted you. Not only will that help you see your personal growth, it will make it much more interesting to read years later.

  1. Brainstorm ideas

This is the perfect place to write down the raw, untested ideas as they flow from your brain. Not all of them will be good ideas, and not all should be implemented, but as you write them down, you preserve them for future analysis and revision. Maybe years from now, an idea will be feasible, whereas now it might seem crazy.

Journaling can be a lot of fun! As I go back and read my old studio blog entries (my form of business journaling), I remember shows and recording sessions. I can see how far I’ve come and how I’ve gotten through the slumps and the phases of manic activity. It’s really been a big blessing to me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lifetime Achievement Award

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine.

Imagine that you are approaching the end of a long and fruitful career. This is not necessarily the career you are actually in. You’ve been working at this effort for the greater part of your life, and as a result, you’ve been able to accomplish some wonderful things.

As you approach this time of your imagined life, an announcement comes. You’ve been chosen for a special Lifetime Achievement Award. It will be presented at a special testimonial dinner, with all of your family and friends in attendance. Many of your friends and colleagues will be speaking as well.

While you’re imagining this great event to celebrate your lifetime of work, here’s some things to think about:

1) What is the award? Name it. While you’re doing your imaginings, it’s not necessary to imagine yourself winning a real-world award, like a Grammy, an Oscar, or a Nobel. In fact, it’s a little more personally revealing to make up the award, and it will seem to be more real if you actually give it a name.

2) What is the award for? If this is to be a Lifetime Achievement Award, what achievements are being celebrated? Remember, you’re imagining yourself possibly years from now accepting this award, so they don’t have to be things you’ve actually accomplished so far. These can be general contributions to a certain area or facet of life, or they can be specific successes.

3) Who are the speakers? Usually, when someone gets a big award like this, there’s lots of people that get up and speak about the recipient. Sometimes, someone will put together some kind of retrospective on that person’s life. At your awards ceremony, who would be the people that would speak? What will they each say about you and your accomplishments?

4) What is your acceptance speech be like? Finally, you’ll get the chance to stand up and express yourself as well. What will you say about you? What will you say about your accomplishments? What will you say to those that have honored you with this award?

5) What is being served for dinner? :-) Hey, I like to imagine the yummy things, too, ya know?

What’s the point of all this? It seems to be a simple exercise in conceit, right? I mean, what’s more arrogant than giving yourself an award?

Well, as an exercise, there’s a real purpose. As you write out the answers to each question, and then study them over, you can discover some very interesting things. You discover the things that are truly most important to you in your business. When you identify what the award is for, you’re identifying the one thing that you think is most valuable to you. When you imagine what you want your friends, colleagues, and family to say about you and your business, you’re telling yourself how you want your business to impact the world around you.

And when you imagine your acceptance speech, you’re acknowledging how you feel about that purpose.

Now you have a clear vision of what your business should grow up to be. And with that clear vision, you can begin to plan steps to get to that end. Small steps at first, that will eventually add up to giant leaps.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Getting Your Pitch On

I want to share with you an experience I had recently. In my ongoing efforts to promote my CD, “One United Generation”, I got hooked up with a distributor, WindRiver. As a part of that alliance, they invited me to a very exciting event. It’s called the LDS Booksellers’ Association Conference. It’s a chance for all of the authors and artists, distributors, producers, and end retailers to all gather and meet. The subtext, of course, for the whole event is for the buyers hired by retail shops to find all the latest and greatest in books, videos, audio and music CD’s, games, and other products all aimed at the market for Mormons. It happened here in the Salt Lake City metro area. I'm not meaning to preach, I just mention that because it's the context for the whole story.

It was a fascinating study in niche marketing.

But I’ll save that article for another day.

They set me up at a table, with copies of my CD’s. I would chat it up with people as they walked by, sign a freebie CD, and show them the order forms and hope they would place a wholesale order with one of the other staff there at the booth. It was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to meet lots of cool people.

It was also a great chance for me to learn how to get my pitch on.

Let me clarify:

As I got started in the morning, I noticed something. Everyone that came up to me asked me what my music was like. I hadn’t thought of anything to answer that. "What IS my music like?" I wondered… Well, it’s kind of all over the map, stylistically, but it’s all sort of centered in classic rock. The lyrics are all uplifting and positive, not slimy or sleazy at all. It’s varied, but it rocks. It’ll really appeal to teenagers, but it also has some grown up fans, as well…

I started to explain this to people, and I could almost hear them start to fade and yawn inside within a few sentences. I could see the “That’s nice, thanks” in their expressions as they wandered off.

Then, in the late morning (fortunately, before the lunch rush), I remembered something I’d heard from both business speakers and music industry types. If you can’t sum up your sound in an identifiable catch phrase that will grab someone’s interest and make it clear exactly what you’re doing, you’re in trouble.

The business types call it the “elevator speech”. You imagine you’ve just stepped on to an elevator in an office building or in a hotel at a convention, and someone asks you what you do. You have 15 seconds, 20 at the most, to tell them before the doors open and they step out onto their floor. What will you say? How will they react? How can you grab their attention so they ask for your card?

Well, there I was, without my elevator speech, and I was in trouble. I wasn’t signing very many CD’s, and the few people I was giving them away to didn’t seem to be that impressed. My pitch was falling flat.

So, in a lull before the lunch storm, I took a minute and I came up with a catch phrase that I thought would draw them in, and make them go “Really? That’s interesting!”

And I tried it on some people. One by one, as they came up and asked, “What’s this like?” I said, “It’s Mormon rock! It’s kinda like Aerosmith meets the missionaries!”

And before I knew it, I was signing CD’s. By the end of the afternoon, I had completely run out. My elevator speech was working!

Here’s some things to think about while you’re making your own elevator speech:

  1. It’s gotta be short – Remember, you’ve got a matter of seconds to deliver it. The fewer words, the better. When I’m writing (as all who read my articles will attest), I tend to get wordy. I think there are lots of others who have the same tendencies. That’s OK, the trick is to edit down afterward. Start with all the things you want to say, and keep trimming and trimming.
  2. It’s got to sum up what you’re all about – The big challenge that I found with this was that I had to actually decide what I was all about. How can I sum it up when I don’t know? If your business is so scattered and diverse that you can’t make a clear summation, then that might well indicate some troubles in your business.
  3. It’s got to give them something familiar to connect with – By using the name of the band Aerosmith in my speech, I gave them an identifier. It’s something they already know and understand. From that they know that I’m not playing soft pop, but rather harder classic rock. It’s also not an obscure indie band that only a few people will know.
  4. It’s got to show how you’re unique – Part of what grabs people’s attention is something different, unique. At the same time that I’m connecting with something they’re familiar with (see above), I’m also taking them somewhere they’ve never been before. In the Mormon market, there’s really not a lot of rock music, especially that sounds like Aerosmith. And the concept of hardened rockers opening their front door and meeting missionaries from any church is a surprising image, isn’t it?
  5. Not too vague or all-encompassing – “I create long-term technology-based business solutions to enhance corporate effectiveness and profitability” might cover all your bases, but it’s to vague for anyone to grasp. It also uses too many meaningless buzzwords and sounds like a rejected corporate mission statement. You’ll have them yawning and hoping their floor arrives soon. Clearer, more specific, and with more punch. “I use computers to fix companies” is a step in the right direction. It’s punchier, but it’s still a little vague.
  6. Prepare it in advance – One of the biggest mistakes I made that day was that I threw myself into a situation where I needed a pitch, an elevator speech, and I didn’t have one. Making it up on the fly is tough.
  7. Practice it – Say it over and over in your mind until it becomes automatic. So it flows off your tongue while you’re shaking a hand, or being introduced. It helps to come across with confidence, not hesitance.

Some more good advice about your elevator speech can be found at

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is There a Handicap Parking Space in front of Your Virtual Store?

Today, I went to website and saw an award-winning advertisement that really hit me. It was all about how a handicapped person sees the world. It recast the minority as the majority. It imagined what the world would be like, for example, if almost all people were in wheelchairs, and people standing upright were out of the ordinary. To view the ad, go to

Since I have a child that is probably going to live most of his life in a wheelchair, this ad appealed to me very strongly.

It made me think about our websites. What are we doing to help those that are impaired in some way access our sites? Isn’t their money as green as anyone else’s? Their credit card numbers work the same as mine, don’t they? We want them to be able to buy from us, too, just like everyone else, right?

In some cases, a web business’ prime target audience (for example, seniors) could have a large percentage that have some level of disability. Designing for adaptability would be a necessity for such a site.

Now, it’s also true that in a lot of website design systems and templates we don’t always have as much control over a site as we might like. One can also go so far to the other extreme that a site might well be very accessible to a handicapped person, and lose all of it’s enticement to the rest of the world. The idea is to compromise. To do a few things and keep some simple guidelines in mind so as to make your site MORE accessible than before.

  1. Realize what assistive technology people are going to be using to experience your site. Someone who is visually impaired, for example, might have a big monitor and be using an enlarged font size to view your site. Or, they might be fully blind and be using a text-to-speech conversion software. Someone with mobility issues, like my son, might be using some specially designed pointer technology, like an adaptive mouse or track-ball instead of a standard mouse and keyboard.
  2. Many states and cities have adaptive technology centers that help the disabled to interface with technology. lists some of these state centers. These centers will often have adaptive technology experts who could give some great advice on what sort of changes could be made to a site to make it more effective.
  3. When preparing text for your website, take special care for the formatting. The text color should contrast sharply with the background. Pay close attention to the font style and sizes. Avoid sharp contrasts in fonts and both have some great advice in this area.
  4. When writing the text of your site, “front-load” the paragraphs with the most vital information so when the visitor listens to the site in a text-to-speech (T2S) conversion program, they will be better able to direct their navigation of the text.
  5. Avoid “click here” text links. Instead, make the clickable text descriptive of where the link will take the visitor. This will make much more sense in when read aloud by a T2S converter.
  6. When installing a graphic, write a sentence describing the picture in the alt text area of the img tag. When the page is being scanned by a T2S converter, this will be read in the place of the picture, and the visitor will understand what the picture is about. Bonus hint: If you use search terms in this descriptive sentence, it can also boost your ranking with some search engines!
  7. Most sites rely on good pictures to capture a visitor’s attention. But someone who is visually impaired can’t see the pictures, at least not as clearly. So, make your product descriptions very descriptive.
  8. Numbered lists are easier for T2S conversion than bulleted lists.
  9. When laying out your page, plan for more whitespace and less clutter. Not only is that easier for a visually-impaired viewer, but this will also make it easier for someone with fine-motor issues (like moving a mouse pointer) to click on links and navigate.

These are simple things that can be done a bit at a time to make a site more available and effective for more people.