Guest Blogging…

My friend Greg Verdino is taking a little relaxing vacation at Walt Disney World this week.  Greg didn’t want his blog to “go dark” for the week, so he asked some folks to guest blog in his absence.  Greg always has great content and is focused on Marketing.  I wanted to give him something that was thematically aligned, so my post is an updated version of one I did here a few months back.  The subject is Niche Marketing and it should be posted on Monday.

I’m just the warm-up act.  The guys that follow me are really great writers so be sure to go to Greg Verdino’s Marketing Blog every day this week to read posts from Ryan KarpelesJonathan Salem Baskin,  & Matt Dickman.

The Next Chapter

20050819-punk-blog-for-food.jpgI started the summer with a major upheaval in my professional life. Losing your job after so many years of employment is a shock and for many, in my demographic segment, finding a new job that provides the same income can be extremely challenging. Some end up like this guy, but since “positivity” is one of my top strengths, I approached the situation with minimal worries. A lyric from one of my favorite, obscure bands says:

“Take the spill, it will make you feel dizzy and then give you wings.”

It’s true. Over the last four months, I have built an incredible network of new friends and business associates in the Richmond, VA area. That’s Social Networking “old school” style and it has opened doors to many opportunities. I’m actively engaging in one or two of them and one has become the next step in my career.

Tomorrow will be my last unemployed Friday. On Monday, I start a new job as a retail consultant with IBM’s Global Business Services. It’s a role that’s going to take me places; lots of places. A great opportunity to work with and learn about different retail operations and hopefully help build better customer experiences for those clients.

I’m not dead, really

I have broken one of the important rules of being a successful blogger.  I have let the blog go dark.  The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for me and my focus has been on things that have little to do with the normal content of this blog.  As a result, I just haven’t had the time or the motivation to write anything other that Twitter tweets.  That should change starting next week (more on that to come this week).  In the meantime, I thank my regular readers for their patience and promise to get back in the groove soon.


Collaboration and the Power of Social Networks

collaboration.jpgUpdate:  I’ve had some interesting responses to this post in the past week.  A couple of interviews are scheduled and Geoff Livingston over at The Buzz Bin asked me to do a guest blogger recap which should come out this week.  Thanks for your ideas and keep ’em coming!!

Testing…. Testing… is this thing on?? Good! Every day, we hear about the power of social networks to…

  • share new ideas
  • make a difference through charity
  • connect people with common interests
  • enable long-distance collaboration

This is truly the Age of Conversation and there is much to talk about. Thanks to the social networks that I have been participating in over the last 18 months, I have “met” and had conversations with more interesting people from around the world than I ever imagined. As LinkedIn demonstrates, the real power comes the fact that the people in your network also have networks. I may have 100 friends but if each of them has 100 friends, then I potentially have 10,000 friends and this enables ideas to spread very quickly. Given that potential, I would like to take my extended network for a test drive to see what it can do.

A few weeks ago, I told you about a small IT consulting business called Impact Makers. Started by Michael Pirron, a Richmond, VA Social Entrepreneur, Impact Makers is “competitive social venture,” a for-profit business model with a nonprofit mission. The idea is simple –

Create a company that works to make profits, but instead of being based on maximizing shareholder value it’s based on maximizing community value.

To my knowledge, this is a new and unique business model. It is a nonstock corporation overseen by a volunteer board of directors. Its books are open to the public, its officers earn salaries but no equity, and all profits are donated to charitable partners. Those partners must be nonprofit organizations that meet four criteria: They must be secular, nonpolitical, local and have a philosophy of helping people help themselves. For its first charity, Impact Makers chose Safe Harbor, a Henrico County-based advocacy organization for victims of domestic violence.

Steal this business model, please!

While Pirron wants prove that the model works through Impact Makers, his larger objective is seeing the business model spread. He wants people to steal the idea, refine it, apply it to other types of business and create community value in as many places as possible. After writing about Impact Makers and connecting them with some of my readers who also participate in Social Entrepreneurship, Pirron asked if I would help with “marketing” the company’s business model and concepts through social media. In other words, get the “Conversation” started.

That’s where you, the people in my network, come in. I would like your help by suggesting ways to communicate the concept and by communicating it to people in your networks that might find it interesting or even actionable. There are lots of ways to get involved:

  • Share the idea with people in your networks. Have a conversation about it.
  • Interview Michael Pirron for your blog or podcast
  • Connect Michael with other prominent bloggers/podcasters who focus on innovative business models or social causes
  • Suggest ways to effectively communicate Impact Makers’ message to non-profits and academia

Get the idea? Take a look at my previous post and Impact Makers’ website for a quick overview of the company. Then use the comment box to let me know what you think. If you want to contact me for a “conversation”, my e-mail address is here.

Are You Giving Your Employees a Great Experience

flip.jpgI like to talk about the value in delivering great customer experiences, but for retail businesses, which rely on store employees to deliver that great experience, it’s just as important to deliver great employee experiences.

I was standing in line at Lowes yesterday when I heard one employee tell another about his five-year award. From the way he described it, it was clear that Lowes, like most companies, recognize service milestones with some sort of meaningless trinket. This exchange reminded me of my own experience after 20 years with Circuit City in which I received an email instructing me to a website where I could choose from five items (ladies watch, mans watch, golf bag, desk clock, luggage), all of which really conveyed how much the company appreciated my service (sarcasm intended).

A number of studies estimate the cost of recruiting, hiring and training an $8/hour to be between around $5,000. At around 70%, retail has one of the highest industry turnover rates and many companies experience rates significantly higher. To put this in perspective, a big box or specialty retailer with 50,000 employees averaging $8/hour will spend $175 Million each year replacing employees. This cost does not include mistakes made due to lack of experience or the cost of lost productivity.

Why does retail have such a high turnover rate? The chief reasons include the obvious ones (pay and benefits), but also include things lack of job security, inflexible work scheduling, fairness, poor communication and lack of recognition. Much of this boils down to failure of store management to develop good relationships with their employees.

Companies invest every day in customer retention. What would happen if the big box or specialty retailer spent some of that $175 Million a year on employee retention? What if store managers could spend less time recruiting new employees and more time developing better relationships with the ones they have? What if, instead of an e-mail telling your employee to select a 20 year award, you and high level managers or executives wrote personal notes to thank the employee for their service. Would consistently great employee experiences lead to great customer experiences? I think so. What things are important to providing a great employee experience? I like these:

  • Providing good work environment with clear values and goals
  • Ensuring equitable pay and fair treatment
  • Demanding results while caring about people
  • Giving frequent, direct and honest feedback about performance and opportunities
  • Discussing and mapping employees’ careers 18-24 months in the future

What are some other ways to create great employee experiences?

Circuit City 2.0 in Second Life


Looks like Circuit City is finally developing the four island Second Life estate that was purchased back in May ’07. As some of you may know, I was in charge of the Second Life project before my job was cut, so I’m really interested to see if what they build follows the strategy that I proposed.

IBM developed a Circuit City store on IBM10 last December which generated a good deal of press, but like most corporate sims, its usually empty now. The store was never really intended to be a permanent home for Circuit in Second Life. It was primarily for demonstration purposes to allow IBM to showcase what could be done for retailers in SL. The content of the store has not changed at all in the last six months and there has been no effort to develop community engagement at the store, primarily due to contractual hurdles with IBM (its their island).

As a starting point for planning a larger SL presence for Circuit City, I did extensive research on early real world brand entries, speaking with counterparts in other companies as well as marketers, branding experts and others. It didn’t take long for me to come to the same conclusion of many prominent Virtual World observers:

Most real world brands just didn’t understand how to approach the medium.

It would not be appropriate to reveal details of the strategy I proposed as Circuit has not done so and it may not be what they are going with in the end. I will say that the strategy leveraged lessons learned from other real brand builds and was specifically designed to promote engagement on several levels. I have not been in contact with anyone from Circuit since I left, but from the 30,000 ft. view on the map display, they seem to be close to an announcement.


Sunrise over the Atlantic - Duck, NC

Summer is my favorite season. I love the warmth and the long days. I love the sounds, meals outside, sunrises at the beach, lightning bugs and lightning (except when it hits in my backyard). I’m happy that Summer doesn’t really end for another three weeks, but with the Labor Day holiday now past and start of a new school year, the transition to Fall has started.

This year, the transition from Spring to Summer was a painful one for me with the loss of my job after 23 years. I was outwardly optimistic, but a bit shell-shocked. Although I got really good at networking, solid opportunities were elusive and I spent much of this summer worrying, making it pass by way too quickly.

I’ve spent the last two weeks at my favorite vacation spot, the village of Duck on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A series of barrier islands subject to frequent coastal storm, its beaches are always in a state of transition. You never know what to expect when you arrive for a visit. Sometimes they’re wide and sandy, other times narrow and pebbly, but the salt air, the rhythmic crashing of the waves and the squawking of the gulls remain constant (and good) regardless of how the sands shift.

Over the last two weeks, I have not written much here and what I have posted has been rather light. Instead, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the positive things from the last three months. I have been able to spend most of the summer with my 13 year old daughter. I’ve started playing music with a couple of bands, something that I have not done for many years. I’ve build a large network of professional contacts. I’ve met several local entrepreneurs and have had ongoing conversations with them about how to develop their ideas. I have also continued to develop friendships through conversations with my “digital friends” (that’s you guys). So although the course that the summer took was not what I had expected and the sands of my future continue to shift, the experience was a good one.

Several people have told me that, just when you think you won’t be successful in finding a new job, something always pops up. For me, that’s starting to happen; things are “popping”. Summer is starting it’s transition to Fall and I expect to be “transitioning” along with it. As with Summer or the beaches of the Outer Banks, I don’t know what things Fall will bring, but I expect the experience to be a good one. In the meantime, I’ve got three weeks of Summer to enjoy.

Hold the Quechup

I’ve been had.  I should have known better, but in my eagerness to check out new Social Networking sites, I quickly replied “yes” to an invite I received this morning  from someone I trusted. The invite was to join Quechup.  The name should have been the first clue, followed quickly by their slogan, “the social networking platform sweeping the globe”.  That’s funny, I’ve never heard of them.   The fact that the person that invited me hadn’t mentioned it on Twitter AND would share one of his invites with me also seemed odd, but I jumped in anyway.

Like many social networking sites, Quechup allows you to bump your Gmail or Yahoo contact list up against it’s database to see if you have friends already in the network.  What they don’t tell you is that they then send an invite to everyone in your contact list, saying that you gave permission when, in fact, you did not.

In my book that’s called SPAMMING!  These guys should be shut down now!

If you received an invite from me, I am truly sorry.  Please delete the email and do not register on Quechup.