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January 2, 2012#

A look back on 2011 in my life

While I try to make sure that I build in some personal experience with my morale and motivational posts that I write, I rarely take a moment to just let you guys know what’s going on in my own life. As is common this time of year, there’s been a lot of “year in review” articles. Since I’ve never done it before, I think I’ll take a moment and reflect on the past year and what all has happened.

Started a new job at Tulsa World

Though I never thought I’d be part of the “dead-tree society”, I proudly took a job as a web designer and front-end developer at The Tulsa World in late December 2010, just three days shy of the new year. In the past 12 months we’ve rolled out some pretty ambitious designs and ideas that will go a long way toward securing the future of what has now become Oklahoma’s largest family-owned newspaper. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of that. It’s been the most fun I’ve had in my entire life.

Gained new clients

I’ve started a great relationship with a client that opened up a new world for me. More on that in a bit.

Split the company

After a tumultuous year, my partner and I made the extremely difficult decision to go our separate ways this fall. Leaving Rocket No. 9 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I will miss working with Colin very much.

Lost some clients

You win some, you lose some. In addition to the wonderful clients I lost through the split from Rocket No. 9, this year I parted ways with a client who’s been with me since the very beginning of my career. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing that I could no longer provide what they needed, but glad to see that they’ll be okay.

Got back into comics.

As a kid and into my teenage years, I was a semi-regular reader of comic books, particularly Robin, the title series for Batman’s junior. DC’s launch of “The New 52″ provided a perfect opportunity to get back into doing something that I thoroughly enjoyed in my younger days. In addition, it made for great conversation with some of the other comic geeks in the newsroom. By and large, the stories I’m reading now are outstanding. I’ve avoided some of the more controversial ones.

Began journaling on a much more regular basis.

I have the wonderful website of ohlife.com to thank for this one. Their friendly email they send me every day has been a great asset in continuing to write about my day almost every day, which is where the bulk of this post comes from. Sidenote: the desire to begin and continue a near-daily journal stemmed from what I’ve read about the success of folks who write things down. I’d strongly recommend you do so as well, even if it’s just a quick recap of your day.

Read some great stuff!

  • Got that whole box of Louis L’Amour books! (Thanks, hon!)
  • Quitter – A superb book by one of my new favorite authors.
  • Entreleadership – A book I knew I was going to purchase as soon as I saw who’d written it.
  • The Mackay MBA of selling in the real world. If you don’t know who Harvey Mackay is, you apparently don’t work in the business world.
  • Weird – This novel from Lifechurch.tv’s Craig Groeschel is one the best I’ve read in dealing with a culture that seems to run cross-grain from everything we’re taught to believe as Christians, and how to deal with it.
  • Re-read The Richest Man in Babylon. More relevant than ever. I received this as a gift from a beloved Aunt when I graduated from college in 2003. Though it were originally written in 1956, the principles listed in this story about handling your money are just as important today as they were then, if not more so.
  • Currently absorbed in Steve Job’s Biography. Enjoying it so far.

Discovered what I really love to do.

I hope that everyone has a moment in life where the idea of what they were born to do becomes as crystal to them as it was to me. When I met Jenny Deramo and her husband Brian and saw what they were doing and why, I knew that my new passion in life was to help her and others like her. From this passion comes the resurrection of my old company, with a new zeal and mission. I’m sure you’ll hear more about it later.

Had some really great moments with my family.

Most of these were with my wife and son, who is now 2 1/2. Being 2 is such a wonderful age. You’re exploring, learning, laughing, deciding and generally causing a stirring mix of emotions for mom and dad. My two-year-old has become extremely talkative, and is one of the funnest people I know to carry a conversation with. One particular experience that stands out: every day during the spring, summer and fall we made sure we spent time outside. Nathan’s favorite activity going into Summer was looking for worms under the rocks that surround our flowerbed and goldfish pond in our front yard. One day, I had completely forgotten why we were outside in the first place, and my son interrupted the conversation I was having with my wife with a stern rebuke. He pointed his chubby two-year-old finger at me and with an adorably hateful look in his eyes said, “Daddy, worms!” My wife and I laughed our heads off for a moment and then of course we went to check under the rocks for worms.

Some other memories from this year that stand out:

  • 7 years married to my wonderful wife.
  • The look in her eyes and face (and body ;) ) as she begins achieving her weight loss goals.
  • The grass-fire that my brother started at our family’s annual Independence Day gathering.
  • My great-grandma Butch (a very extraordinary woman) passing from this life into eternity.
  • How out of breath I was when I began running again for the first time.
  • The joy of watching my son lift his hands and close his eyes as he begins singing a worship song from church, unannounced, in the middle of our living room.
  • The fulfillment of preaching to teenagers.

And so many more that I can’t recount now, but will remember at some point during life. Thank you Lord, for all the great memories, laughs, good food, warm hugs and fellowship with the people I love this year.

Bring on 2012 – I’ve never been more ready or eager to see you.

Habakkuk 1:5

December 23, 2011#

Product Review: Moo Cards

Moo Card

I’ll be giving some more freebies away in the next few days, go Like the Facebook Page to find out when!

This is not my real face. Promise.

This is pretty much my face right now. I just got my Moo cards. Yeah, “moo cards”. As in, what a cow says. Congratulations, you’ve seen Sesame Street.

I’ve long been a fan of the company because of their quirky sense of humor and the fact that they have turned a mindlessly-not-unique item – the business card – up on it’s head.

While we’ve all been super happy to create snazzy designs on our business cards in the last few years, lately things have really began to shake up the industry – particularly the notion that the business card industry is dying. Rather than succumb to that notion, Moo has embraced the industry whole-heartedly and had a grand old time proving that this old dog still has a few tricks left.

Aside from being quirky, sassy and just plain funny. And aside from making great products, Moo has put a ton of thought into the details. Literally, every single minute detail has been pored over with the single question, “how can we make this better?”

The software

The software is great. It’s fast, easy to use and they’ve got a ton of ideas. You can even use the ideas and designs that others have come up with. Who’d have thought about using your cards as price tags? Or bookmarks? The way that they think outside the box and incorporate the suggestions and uses of their customers shows how receptive they are to ideas that can keep this struggling industry alive.

The product

The cards themselves were great. Here’s how they look:

Guaranteed to leave her breathless. Or something.

First of all, they don’t come in a cardboard case. These cards get outfitted and packed into a tough case that feels just like you’re getting an engagement ring. Finally, a case that you wouldn’t be adverse to storing your cards in and showing them off. Beautiful.

Fewer trees had to die for my cards than for yours.

The cards themselves are great too, because they’re about half the size of a regular business card which a) makes it easier to port around more of them and b) draws the eye with their size difference. Women would say they were “cute”. I say they’re efficient.

Good for separating your cards and their cards, or your stuff and her stuff.

The tabbed cards that come in your box are another one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. I spend my Saturdays hitting the local independent retailer shows, and I’m always grabbing other cards. Now I have a great way to file them! I also noticed that the lid to the jewel box will still close when the tabs are inserted. Winning!

The Accessories

Best. Invention. Ever.

This little accessory was suggested at the very last page before purchasing. Without hesitation, I added it to my order. It only set me back about $4.00, and the life-saver of having my cards with me wherever I go appealed to be in such a great way, because I kid you not that I meet folks interested in my services in some of the most unusual places. Next time, I’ll be able to say, “Why yes, I do have my card with me!” Boom. Client landed.

Everyone loves free stuff!

Lastly, the free passes for part of your order off next time ensure that you’ll get additional business from me, and that I’ll be telling my friends all about you. Or writing about you in awesome blog posts.

If you’re interested in purchasing Moo cards yourself, use my referral link! http://moo.com/share/chf5p6

I’ll be giving some more freebies away in the next few days, go Like the Facebook Page to find out when!

October 27, 2011#

Getting to WIN: Discovering your dream and going after it.

Career_planning

Lots of people are out of work right now. According to most polls, and depending on the area in which you live in, around 9% or more. People are gathering in Wall Street and politicians are ensuring that a jobs plan of some sort are integral to their campaigns. It's no secret: jobs are scarce.

Or are they? Where I live, in the midwest, I see Now Hiring signs everywhere. Granted, a lot of them are for restaurants or gas stations or other venues outside your normal 9-5 office job, but it proves that this whole "There are no jobs" excuse is completely false over here. I think a larger part of the problem falls into two things, and both of them have to do with a single dilemma: vision.

Long-term vision

Remember in second grade, where you stood up and told everyone what you wanted to be when you grew up? When I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer. My days were spent largely engrossed in comic books and Batman cartoons, and while I knew even as a second-grader that I couldn't grow up to be a super-hero, I still liked the idea of being able to help people and save the day, so becoming a cop seemed to be the logical choice.

Like most of you, where I am now is not where I dreamed I'd be at second grade. The difference is, I'm okay with that. I'm still finding a way to fuel my passion for helping others, even though I'm not wearing a badge. I have never allowed that vision I had as a tyke to dissipate.

I really believe that's largely where the problem lies with so many of our out-of-work citizens that will tell you they are "in between jobs at the moment". They have no vision. They aren't sure what they want to be when they grow up, and consequently, they have very little direction in their lives towards any sort of goal. It's why you'll often see them going after the latest and greatest movement of the moment or getting into trouble, because they have no vision.

In his book Quitter: Closing the gap between your day job and dream job, Jon Acuff quotes from a magazine article about actor Ryan Gosling who, after the success of The Notebook got a job making sandwiches in a deli. His reason? He didn't want to end up without any vision from lack of just working. He said that the problem with Hollywood is that people don't work. They make a good movie or two and then they get into drugs. He submitted that the world would be a much better place if "people had a pile of rocks in their backyard and just moved them from one place to another."

Short-term vision

In other words, work will keep you going, even when your vision is blurred. I learned this myself last year. In June of 2010, I lost my full-time job and took the opportunity to try to get Rocket No. 9 into my full-time gig. A major problem was, I didn't have the self-discipline to get up and hustle like I should have and next thing you know, we were having some serious financial problems and my marriage was stressing pretty badly. So, I went and got a job. At a video store. Working nights. My responsibility to my family forced me to apparently put my dream on hold for awhile.

The kicker? Within 90 days of getting that job, I had another one, full-time, making good money, doing what I love. And Rocket No. 9 is still alive and kicking, and in fact, is doing better than it was when I was doing it full-time. I'm convinced this is because I did what I needed to do to strengthen my vision with work. Even though it wasn't work related to my vision, it allowed me to keep going and making progress.

If you're one of the people in desperate need of a job, go get one. Even if it means humbling yourself and getting something you're over-qualified for. Maybe you can even find an internship doing something you really enjoy. I'm confident that as you step out and begin to do something with your hands, you'll see your own vision gain some clarity and give you direction in your life.

Image Source: https://plus.google.com/u/0/107863815725205770085/posts

October 26, 2011#

The wonderful problem of having too much work.

Full disclosure, this blog post comes as a result of reading Paul Down's article on the same subject this morning. While he tells about how he specifically will deal with it at his shop, I'll attempt to give a more generic approach to how to handle this sort of problem.

One day several years ago, my pastor got up and began to deliver an issue the church was facing: the church parking lot needed some repair and expansion, and they needed to rethink how the process of getting out of the parking lot worked. With two Saturday night services (at the time; they have since scaled back to one) and two Sunday Morning services, traffic flow was a big issue, and could quickly turn a pleasant church-going experience into a very unpleasant one.

The thing he remarked on was this: "This is a very good problem to have. There are loads of churches that would love to have this problem." And it's true, isn't it? As freelancers or business-owners, having more work means the prospect of more money, which makes you more profitable. The idea that you would have "more than enough" is a utopia that a lot of us only dream of. And on occasion, we're likely to have it happen to us. The question is, how do you manage it successfully, so that those you have to turn away because you're booked solid don't leave with a sour taste for your company? Or more importantly, how do you handle it when more work than usual comes through your door and you need to take it in order to pay your bills or your employees?

Why you would want more work

The company isn't doing so well, so this influx of work is a much-needed blessing. At the same time you're saying your prayer of thanks about this influx of work, you should be planning out how to spread this around and stretch the money so that you can do your best to keep the company from becoming so thin again. Pay your debts. Save for a rainy day. Buy more tools, people or marketing. Use your newfound work wisely, because these things tend to come in clumps, not streams.
You've needed to delegate more tasks to someone else, and this will allow you to hire the additional staff to do that. Use caution here, and plan thoroughly, because you don't want to spend the money to hire someone, only to have to lay them off later because you didn't plan well. Be sure to hire this employee in order to not only take some of the load off of you, but to earn their own keep. They need to be able to produce enough that you can keep them on for the long haul.
 
You've got the room and staff to handle it, an increase in production is a good thing. This is seemingly a perfect situation, but it rarely happens like this. By definition, getting "more than enough" work means just that – it's more than enough, hopefully not more than you can handle. Explain to your staff that things may be busy for a little while and give them a plan of what's going to happen as you guys handle these new orders. Will people be working weekends? Overtime? Will you need to shuffle people around a bit, perhaps moves a salesman to the production floor in order to keep up? It's good to have a plan in place ahead of time for these things, instead of trying to throw something together at the moment you need it.

Why you might need to turn that project down

Do you have a sufficient workforce to handle it? If you don't, do not try to force it to work. I cannot express how important this is. Trying to force a square peg through a round hole is only going to lead to some bruised knuckles and a failed experiment. I used to work in a manufacturing setting, where there was a goal on how much we wanted to make that week or that month, but once we surpassed that goal, there was literally no stopping it. It didn't matter that we were busting at the seams with work already – it just kept pouring in. The result was a lot of grumpy people on the production floor, and a boss who didn't understand why his people weren't thrilled that we were raking in profits by the truckload. Their inability to successfully turn away work or outsource it inevitably lead to my leaving the company after only 7 months, which left them in worse shape than before. Your company relies on your customers and your team equally, and they need to coexist peacefully.

Does it align with your corporate vision? In my business, I care about passionate people. If I'm on the tail-end of a project and someone comes to me with the prospect of a deal involving bringing their passion to the web, I will at least give it some thought. If possible, I'll schedule it for sometime after my current project finishes, but if this prospect is on some sort of deadline because of a big event or other essential element, then I might work some extra hours to make sure they get taken care of. I'll do all of this because it aligns with my passion and vision: working with others who have a passion for what they do.

How to turn away work.

Most of us never rehearse how we'll react when we find out we've got too much work, so our reaction seems to be to knee-jerk and can leave everyone feeling let down if we're not careful in our approach. If you find yourself suddenly with too much work, here's what you do:
  • Reschedule it to a later date if possible.
  • Refer them to a colleague. And then, as a show of good will, check in on that project from time to time to see how they're taking care of what would have been your project. This will show the client that you really care about them, even though they're not your project.
  • Outsource it. I rarely do this because it means that I won't have a lot of control over the final project, but sometimes I just can't find any other alternative.
How to prepare for more work.

Try to find out when "more work" will strike.  Are you launching a new advertising campaign, or does business pick up at certain times of the year? Be sure to have temps waiting in the wings to come in and pick up the extra slack if needed. Get them in there and trained before the big rush hits.

Talk to your team about how to handle more work. You're less likely to have people on your team mad at you if you explain the situation to them and explain what's going to happen, as well as take time to hear from them on their own reactions and ideas. If you hear a collective groan from your team whenever "more work" comes it, it means you're not communicating with them effectively on how to handle the situation.

Do you have any other tips on how to handle having more than enough work? I'm sure many of us wish we had that problem. Let me know in the comments!
October 24, 2011#

The best advice Steve Jobs ever gave Larry Page

Google-apple-logo

In a short clip on 60minutesovertime.com, Steve Jobs, initially miffed at Larry Page and Google for "ripping-off" his iPhone with their Android Operating System, decided that since he'd been mentored by other great tech industry pioneers like Hewlett and Packard, he would give Google's CEO some advice of his own. Arguably, it's the best he's ever received.

Focus. Don't be like Microsoft, making products all over the map. Find out what you do best and focus on that. (Author's note: this is some advice that Google could definitely benefit from. While they have great products, a lot of us think that they're spread too thin, and need to return to their roots and evaluate where they're concentrating their efforts.)

Don't be too nice. As a CEO of the second most valuable company in the world. Steve Jobs has been well known for accepting nothing less than the absolute best people and the absolute best work from those people. He stressed to Page that it was important to build a team of excellent people and that on occasion, it would require that he "blow some people off".

I believe that having a clear-cut goal and vision for your own company is essential to your success, and this advice from Steve Jobs rings true to that principle. Laser-like focus and a clear idea of who you want to be associated with – things that Apple became famous for – are very much needed for any company wishing to leave the sort of legacy that Steve did.

See the video here.

Question: If you had the chance, what sort of business advice would you leave to some up-and-coming CEO in your industry?

Image Source: intomobile.com