Monday, February 28, 2011

Tips for Strategic Customer Service

The business of business can be tricky. If you want to effectively manage your client relationships, you really have to be proactive at all times. Sitting back and allowing events to unfold results in chaos. And chaos in business can happen quickly and without notice. Really it's about being a true leader and effective project manager to build productive client relationships. Here are some helpful tips to make you a better business person and project manager.

Get out ahead of your clients not behind them -- always be thinking like your client thinks. Consider what could become a problem if left to fester unattended. The best way to figure out what lies ahead is to look at what came before. This means if you had a past problem chances are it could become a future problem. So, solve it before it has a chance to happen. For example, if an account manager was not servicing her clients well in the past and problems popped up, chances are if the manager is still on the job and has not received training, these same problems are likely to arise again until that manager has changed her ways. Put a contingency plan in place and execute it. When you get out ahead of problems, they don't have a chance to become a problem. You nipped them.

Be responsive around the clock -- put a system in place that enables you to be a responsive manager. Don't ignore phone calls, emails or texts. Client management means meeting your client's needs. When you ignore them, they don't feel important, and that in and of itself, can cause problems. Neglected clients don't have high praise, and that can hurt your business' reputation. Word of mouth can go both ways -- positive or negative.

Be a good listener -- clients want to be heard. If you have the need to be right and take a defensive stand with your clients, all they really want is to be heard and acknowledged. Who's right doesn't matter in the big picture. And besides, the customer is always right anyway. Error on the side that they're right and how can you serve them better. Also, just sit and listen and let them express their feelings. Don't interrupt them. Just be a good listener. You'll find that once they've "vented" their frustrations, it diffuses the situation, and you can move on.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Five Great Tips to Launch a Successful Business

Entrepreneurship takes a great amount of discipline and respect for the "job." No, it's not a job, but you have to in many respects treat "as if" it were a job. The first five years in business are the test. While I did not go through the standard first-year angst like many business owners do (most business die on the vine within the first year), I have learned valuable lessons as to why I did not face the uphill battle toward success. I have several colleagues right now eager to go independent. Here are five great lessons on how to successfully make your first year "the first year of the rest of your business," and not your trip to bankruptcy court.

Focus and stay the course -- this is probably my number one tip of all. Focus on what you're doing and stick with it. I'm not saying be inflexible. I'm saying just get on board, don't get caught up in the traps and challenges, and know in your deepest heart of hearts, this is it. You will make it and there is no other alternative.

Play time is play time -- work time is work time -- I can't tell you how many people either screw up business, lose sales or destroy their reputations by spending more time "off" then on. A business is not a free pass to the swimming-pool deck. It's not cause to take a vacation every other week or even month. The more time you spend distracted, playing, taking time off, etc., is time spent away from building business and being successful. When you fail to be available to your client; repeatedly cancel and reschedule meetings so you can do something else; ignore emails and phone calls so you can get your nails done on a Tuesday morning; and put off meetings while you take your 10th vacation in a row; the net result will be client losses, cancellations and general knowledge that you are not available.

Responsiveness builds customer loyalty -- your policy to respond to and be available to clients should be top-priority. You should respond as quickly as possible and within 24 hours if you're unavailable for whatever reason. I have had numerous clients comment on how impressed they are with my responsiveness. What this creates -- even if it's not true -- is the impression that you are there for your clients. It produces an intimate, deep relationship that engenders a sense that they are your no. #1 client -- and whether that is true or not it's not the point. When a client feels "married" to you as his or her service provider, it creates loyalty -- and loyalty produces more opportunity for up-sales.

Take it out of the digital to the voice or face-to-face to build a real relationship and solve problems -- another ill-advised policy is to avoid talking or meeting clients in person. If the client lives in town, you should go out of your way to see them. If you're having a challenge, pick up the phone and call them. Nothing gives you a better impression of emotions than a phone conversation. Email and texting is dangerous. It's curt, abrupt -- and doesn't convey attitudes. Clients can mis-perceive what you really mean -- and that can be dangerous to your relationship. Also, I've worked with two people now who did this -- send one line emails to answer deep concerns or solve problems. One word doesn't instruct, inform or communicate. Take a moment and really respond. Don't send off monosyllabic, cave-girl or guy speak. Do not communicate this way with your staff when you're trying to tell them what you want. It doesn't work and comes off like you really don't care.

Reward your team -- take care of the people who make you great. Treat your team with the respect and courtesy they deserve. Loyal staff build great companies. If you're such an ego-maniac who doesn't understand or appreciate her staff, you'll soon find your staff treats you the same way. Giving your team rewards, bonuses and raises makes them feel valued and important. It shows you appreciate them. I'm taking my hard-working team on a retreat to Bodega Bay to stay right on the ocean. They're thrilled to go -- and I can assure you their morale is high as a result.

Do You Realize Your Office Affects Your Brand too?

I recently walked up to an office to meet a client. As I walked up through the entry, I noticed the building was dirty and in need of some serious paint. I also noticed the garden wasn't well kept. As I walked into the building, I saw scuff marks on the walls and dirt and grime smudged into the carpet. And finally, I arrived at my destination -- and to my disdain, I noticed the furniture was second-hand, dirty, grimy, and gross. The walls had not been painted in years and clearly had a layer of grime on them. This was a white-collar professional's office -- this might be more forgivable at a contractor's office where dirt and grime is part of the job. What impression did the lack of upkeep and rundown decor leave behind? Not a good one. It answered so many questions about whether or not I wanted to do business. This company did not care about its image, and therefore, a high probability existed they would not care about their brand. They clearly didn't invest in their own company. The question of whether or not they had any money went through my head; which therefore, led to the question of whether or not they could afford to pay me if they hired my company to do a project. If you cannot afford to have an office space or maintain an office space do not have one. Work from home and invite your employees to do the same. You can also rent meeting space or hold off-site meetings. Do not invite clients to any old office, because you think it's better than Peet's Coffee (Peet's Coffee is nice). Why? Because you really cannot afford to leave behind the impression you are either poorly funded, cheap, tacky or careless with your image. If you can't decorate or you lack style, then I suggest you hire a decorator. Here is the real deal, you cannot afford to have a rundown office space. It will kill business and business deals. Yes, "Bob" people are that shallow -- if you want to think of it that way; but everything you do, wear and where you work leave an impression. Make it a good one.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Most Ridiculous Questions I Get Asked

It's Friday and I've decided not to be super serious (not that yesterday's blog could be categorized as "mature in nature"). But I network a lot and sometimes I get asked the most ridiculous or plain-as-the-nose-on-your face questions. Here are just a few to keep you smiling.

"Are you an avid reader?" -- this question always comes during a business meeting. I've now been asked it a handful times -- and certainly enough times to merit a mention on the blog. OK Fred, yes I am an avid reader. And here is a very good wager we could make: I bet I read more than anyone I know. Really? Really Fred? Really? Did you just ask a publisher and editor that question? Here is a question for you: How high is your IQ?

"Do you want to take a class on writing?" -- I've been asked this one at least a half-dozen times while working in my booth. What really just cracks me up, is this question typically comes from some person who asks just as she is touching, picking up, or glancing through a book that sometimes even has my name on it. Again, really? Really Suzanne? Really?

"Do you like what you do?" -- Another common question. Do I like what I do? Let me ponder this one ... hmm ... um no! I totally hate it. Of course, I like what I do. Let's get real! I'm not in some dark coal mine or something am I? I am doing something most people only dream about doing. Yet another silly question. Maybe I'll thrown them off next time and really say, "No, absolutely not."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hand-Slap Rating System on Marketing and PR Mistakes

Yesterday I devised this unique rating system. It's called the "Hand-Slap" system. I decided that for every silly or ridiculous thing I saw someone do with their marketing, PR or book, I would rate it based on how many hand slaps I thought it deserved to let them know a measure of how "bad" it was. And when I say, "bad," I mean bad for business, bad for your image, bad for your brand, and just an all-inclusive bad! A version of this will appear in my newsletter too. So here is the rating systems decoded: 1H = moderately bad; 2H = bad enough to mention; 3H = not good; 4H = should not do it; and 5H = what were you thinking? So, here are some recently reviewed acts that require the slap-down.

True Confessions in Memoirs that Include Terrible Deeds = 5H
True confessions are salacious and draw people in. They are titillated and want to hear what you're going to confess. It's OK to "confess" stories where you learned an important and valuable lesson. It's not OK to confess stories for the pure thrill of getting it off your chest. The following confessions should be kept lock and key in your head: drug stories where you admit you loved it, you still do it, and you don't intend to stop doing it; drinking stories of any kind where you are not sorry and in fact proud of your antics; sex stories where you do some pretty racy stuff and now intend to share it with the world, which will also include your mom and dad; scandalous stories where you're the main character and you have no remorse over your participation. All of these stories are bad for every reason I described in the introduction.

Social Media Bad Behavior = 5H
Hmmm ... so far these descriptions are getting fives ... but I digress. What is up with people and social media posting that shouldn't be publicly posted much less posted at all? I'm horrified how outstanding professionals who are even in the marketing and PR industry and should know better post completely inappropriate personal information or worse shots of their bikini bods. Seriously, you realize employers now use Facebook and Linked-In to check up on job candidates, right? And if you're not looking for a job, realize clients look you up ... and these very same prospective clients will watch you. They will not alert you they are out there watching, because they're sizing you up to do business. Please be careful what you decide to put out on what is essentially a public bulletin board. Your image could be forever tarnished. And I'm talking about all those "fun" party shots too -- say bye-bye!

The Inappropriate and Irrelevant Blog Posts = 3H
So you have a blog -- that is great and certainly a positive step forward for your marketing. What are you posting on your blog? I hope it's about business-related or at least related material. Even if it's your personal blog, be careful what you post. If you work for a corporation and you "vomit" all your angst on your blog, prepare to be fired. It's still the Internet! It's public, and your boss may see it. Do not post anything related to the following: your bedroom antics, your party pictures (even if it's empty bottles of beer), your true feelings about your job or co-workers or product, your hatred of your neighbor's dog, your political viewpoint if its contrary to your day job and you work for the other party, and the list goes on. Measure everything you post by simple criteria: can it hurt my image in any way, shape for form?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What to Expect from Your PR Person

Public relations, widely known as the "airy-fairy" stuff, can be difficult to measure. Expectations of one's publicist can range from demands to be get exposure in a specific media outlet (mostly Oprah) or dozens of reviews ... a day. Neither of these requests is reasonable. On the flip side, your publicist should not use the often unquantifiable results as a way to avoid actually doing the necessary work to get you a reachable 1-5 requests per week to feature or review your product. If you're hiring a publicist, here are some things you, as the consumer, can ask for to ensure your publicist is spending the hours they say they're spending -- and leave no question in your mind that your publicist did her best job to serve you.

Measurements of Success -- other than a bump in sales this is a tough one. Your product may have been reviewed in many publications but your sales don't reflect it. All you can expect or ask of your PR person is outreach to the media. It's then up to the media and consumer to respond. The results are difficult to measure outside of sales. Did it increase exposure to your brand? Are you now more recognizable? Did the traffic to your website increase (exposure) or your blog? Are people commenting they saw the article (exposure)? If you've experienced none of these results, your campaign is not working.

Transparency to Monitor Efforts -- you should not accept a bill for 50 hours without feeling confident that your PR person did what she said she did. The easiest way to monitor this, is to ask to be "bcc-ed" on the pitches. This method also prevents your publicist from using your valuable time to build a report that should tell you the same thing. Yes, your in-box will be full, but you will see each person contacted and what was pitched. When your publicist bills you 50 hours, you know exactly how she spent her time and what she specifically did.

Wire drops are easy and not a good way to generate publicity -- and if your PR person performs a wire drop but fails to follow-up with each outlet, it's an utter waste of time and effort. Follow up means, she called or wrote them a pitch. A release picked up on a wire feed goes to an area of the online website where little if any traffic will read it. It's generic, biased (because it's a release), and most people don't read them or give them credibility. It also doesn't take much effort to do a wire drop. An hour at the most to set it up and drop it. If your PR person bills you 10 hours for a wire drop, buyer beware.

Press releases dripping with grammar mistakes -- you have every right to expect your publicist knows grammar and spelling. It's unacceptable for any PR person to do one of two things: submit a release cluttered in mistakes or ask you to write the first draft and then she "quasi" fixes it (only there are still mistakes). If your publicist does either of those two things, buyer beware. It's sloppy, unprofessional work, and you deserve better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Write a Memoir that Sells

Many people have an itch to write their memoirs. In most cases, the people who approach me about it have a compelling story to tell. The problem with a memoir is that unknown authors can't sell it on their name -- so the story must be provocative and interesting and unique to make up for it. Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction, so that's a plus. But really your story can't be the same old, same old. It has to truly be a story! Something on the scale of epic saga -- something I will want to turn the page to find out the ending. Today, an author pitched her story. I have to say, it was very compelling. So much so that I asked her to pause while I ran to grab something so that I would not miss a moment -- a very good sign indeed. The best way to think about writing your memoir when you lack the name to sell it, is to ensure it's just a great story. Great stories sell. Well-written, great stories sell. If you're not a writer with a great story, hire a ghost writer. This gal is probably going to hire me to write it. Or focus on the execution of the great story. The forthcoming 3L Publishing book Silent Voices is structured in such a way that the author foreshadows and builds tension with such talent and grace. In fact, she built up the emotional tension so well that when you have the release with the climax, you can't help but cry. You cry for what happens, but it's almost a release too. And that is truly a skill. So if you're going to write any kind of memoir make sure it's, well told, intricately written with skill and talent, and fascinating, provocative and/or inspiring.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Three Most Common Grammar Mistakes

I read a lot of raw copy all of the time. Like most things in life, common mistakes get made. You would be completely surprised what are some of the most common. So for your better edification, here are the top three most common mistakes I see made in manuscripts.

The never-ending quotation marks -- this one seems strange to me. In dialog, writers will put quotations after every sentence in a string of dialog. It goes like this ... "I want to go the grocery store." "I'm going to buy Frito's for lunch." "Then I'm going to come home." Until recently I had never seen this done. And then out the blue several manuscripts started coming in with this dialog written this way. The correct form is: "I want to go the grocery store," she said. "I'm going to buy Frito's for lunch. Then I'm going to come home." Do not put quotations marks after each sentence. Put quotation marks around the entire string of sentences said by the same character all at the same time.

Now I "lay" me -- is it laid, lay, lie, lying. Here is my advice, Grammar Girl gives you a handy reference chart for lay. I suggest you go look at it. I still get confused and struggle with this one. So, I have taken to referring to the chart whenever my mind is in grammar overload.

Passive voice is the bane of my red pen -- new writers use passive voice as routinely as they eat. The problem with passive voice is it clutters your writing. Passive voice clutters your writing. (You see what I just subtly did?) Passive verbs include is, are, was, would, etc. Again, hope on over to the witty Grammar Girl where she will give you a quick lesson in passive voice and know some "is" out of you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

eBooks -- The Publishing Revolution

I am asked all of the time what I think will happen with eBooks and paper products. If you think this is a new question -- that would be no, it's not. I got asked this same question back in the '90s when the Internet revolution hit to the peril of the magazine industry -- and I was publisher during this time too. No doubt eBooks are impacting the marketplace. One would have to have "rectal cranium" disease not to notice the eBook readers for sale and the capabilities on iPad. The question, though, is will paper-based books go away? The answer is, "Not anytime soon." eBooks augment the market and give people more options. Some people will exclusively read their favorites books on their digital readers. Others will read them exclusively in paper. Others will do both. Remember, an eBook reader breaks when dropped into the water. So, those beach readers won't want to take their Nook out into the Caribbean. Then you have the issue of third-world countries where they don't have a library much less digital readers. Those people are happy to have any kind of book. So, we have a long ways to go before we say good-bye to paper books. Is it a good idea to offer eBooks as part of our product line? Of course it is -- and we will over time. Is it a good idea to exclusively offer only eBooks? No, as I just said, some people always want paper. And this will definitely change over time, but not tomorrow and not today. Is this impacting the marketplace? Yes, absolutely, but it's not the reason Borders filed Chapter 11. I think what you're going to see happen with bookstores is a diversification of the products and how you procure the products. Shopping exclusively online is no fun. People will always want the shopping experience. So to naively suggest that physical bookstores will go away is ridiculous -- but the bookstore experience will remain. It just won't look the same either.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

So You Want to Write a Children's Book?

We have a lot of writers who approach us about publishing their children's book. Here is what always both amuses and confounds me. Nine times out 10, these writers have not studied what children like. They are convinced that having been a child at one time in their own lives, they understand today's children. Well, today's breed of young children are not yesterday's. These are kids who fondest wish for their birthdays is an iPad. Yes, my now teenage son wanted an iPad. My daughter who just turned 7 plays on it. She would rather play Club Penguin than crack a book, which we don't allow in this house. She has to show a healthy interest in books too. And with the paradigm shift in interests, and most importantly, expectations, kids expect more from their books too. Flat pictures just don't always carry the show anymore. And the books my kids do love are often not what you would expect. This week's favorite is Bad Kitty Gets a Bath -- a black-and-white illustrated grade school book. My daughter howls with laughter over this book. She loves the humor and sarcasm written just for her level. But when I read Bad Kitty, I am the one making her laugh. I am making Bad Kitty even funnier. So on one level you have kids who want a side of special effects with their books, and on the other hand, sometimes it's still just all about the content. But don't come to me without having tested your concept on your audience. And here is what is going to just kill you. I test out the children's submissions on my kids. My daughter is the perfect age. If the book doesn't meet her standards then your dead in the book water. Don't take offense to it. I'm not your target market -- she is!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Philosophy of Boundaries

This post comes on the hinges of a deeply personal conversation I had with a dear and trusted family member. She has recently gone through some humps in the road called life. The themes in the conversation resonated not only as important to one's personal life and how they conduct that life, but also in business, and I thought I would share some of the insight. You can take away from this what resonates with you, but the real theme is personal responsibility and boundaries. In this person's case, she was faced with some of the usual corporate politics, and she did not like them. She was also faced with some personal difficulties, as she was ending a relationship. First, what she realized is that she needed to take responsibility for what she had done in the past that put her where she was today. We live in a culture that typically makes the blame game permissible. Something happens, not my fault. I didn't do anything. It's the other person's fault. We even seek permission from others to "support" our blame game. We live in denial to support our blame game. Accountability goes out the window. I didn't do anything. This all happened TO me. Bo Bradley, founder of Manifest U, calls this "Victimhood" and uses a cute reference to a well-staped "V" on the forehead to make her point. "Whoa as 'V.'"

First, on the road to taking charge is self-awareness. What part did I play? What really happened here? Once you stop pointing the finger outward and point inward, you will likely come to some interesting revelations. And then the next step, involves boundaries. Set appropriate boundaries for any situation -- and most importantly honor those boundaries. And here is something super interesting. When you honor the boundaries you do two things -- you tell people your word is good and your boundaries cannot be pushed, and you honor yourself.

My friend going through these difficulties realized that she needed to first realize she needed boundaries -- and then she needed to set them -- and then she needed to honor them. What I have found is that when I honor my boundaries, I make a strong statement about my worth. It actually feels great to honor boundaries. You are then as good as your word, and those people who would step over those boundaries soon learn something too. They realize they cannot do that, and they know you have integrity. It doesn't mean they will always like this fact, but it's a excellent practice both personally and professionally. And here is the best part. You will feel good about whatever the decision that resulted from setting those boundaries. It's an interesting process, but it's also a healthy, mature process to embrace. And you'll find it's very good for business -- and a balanced, stable personal life too.

How to Artfully Say "Boo"

So my financial advisor Cindy Fuzie skillfully taught me the art of how to say "boo" to provide the perfect reaction to either bad marketing and PR or networking behavior. The following are random acts of marketing or just "acts" that are "boo-worthy." And while reading this, you too can learn how to "artfully" say "boo" at the appropriate moment.

I'm a guy at a women's networking group and I say, "I came to Nevada because I divorced my wife. The old battle axe." -- Boo!

I decide that touching certain body parts at an inappropriate time is funny. -- Boo!

I have a wretched case of halitosis and decide to breathe in deeply and exhale quite strongly at a person I am trying to do business with. -- Boo!

I visit a table display and set my wine glass down right on top of the beautiful new book Daughter of the Caribbean -- and leave a nice purple ring on the book. -- Boo! (In this instance, "boo" applies to coffee cups, glasses of water and any container that holds liquid that when potentially spilled could destroy paper-based products aka books.)

I also decide to touch and touch some more all of the books on the table, bend them, and press them -- and not buy a single one. -- Boo!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Attack of the Killer Bad Breath

I network a lot. When someone steps into my space and starts talking right into my face -- and they have horrible breath ... awful! Just remember when you're out meeting new people that they have comfort space they keep around their bodies -- especially when they don't know you. This woman just insisted on talking within inches of my face. I kept stepping backward, and it didn't matter. She stepped forward. Soon I was playing a two-step game to get her to back off. She was utterly clueless and every move I made to back away, she moved to "catch" me. Her breath was beyond disgusting. Now I am sympathetic to her breath problem. God knows I drink my fair share of coffee and have my moments; but if someone keeps stepping away from you then (a) you are doing something to invade their comfort zone or (b) your oral history is in question -- and either answer doesn't matter. Just remember to respect another person's comfortable space zone which is roughly three- to four-feet away, and you will avoid doing the "two step," and having them secretly wish you would go brush AND get away.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Excerpt from "I'm Not Even on the List"

I'm still tinkering with whether or not I should do my memoir or not. So, I thought I would publish a chapter and see if anyone actually reads it. (Warning: there are minor errors in this as it's a raw copy.)


1
The Intrepid Writer on the Road and Vomiting on Airplanes

OK, so onward to my next job at the California Department of Water Resources. I have a lot of really fun and funny memories of my 2.5 years spent roaming up and down the State Water Project with my now long-time friend and photographer Dale Kolke. But before I tell you the most memorable moments of that job, I will give you a little bit of insight into what it’s truly like to work for state government and some of the less-than-satisfying moments working with what I would call today either crazy or inept.

Me posing for photographer Dale Kolke for Earthquake
Preparedness month.
As I mentioned in the last chapter, state workers are an odd breed of laziness and often craziness. How the state breeds such oddities can probably be attributed to the one fact that you can do anything short of “going postal” and kill your boss rather than be fired. So, job security and longevity often follows. You would certainly never be fired for incompetence or laziness – that’s not possible. And then you have the other factor of politics and political appointments ushering in any number of unqualified nitwits with no experience or background in the jobs they are given (“given” is the operative word here).

Whether qualified or not, people often find themselves appointed to very high-paying positions by virtue of having known someone in the right political party du jour. This situation, of course, led to my former office chief’s (we’ll nickname “Netty”) scenario where a degree in anthropology and practically zero background in public information and communications led to her appointment as the chief of what … oh, a public information and communication office. Now any questions about why someone incompetent is put in charge should have been answered.

Well, Netty and her sidekick, “Madge,” were absolute pieces of work.  I believe they were nicknamed “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb” by disrespectful co-workers. I didn’t call them that, because I wasn’t nasty enough to, but many people more jaded than my younger self took great pleasure in those nicknames. Why? Because Netty and Madge were not qualified for the positions they held; so mayhem and ridiculousness that went on around there were not surprising given that neither person in charge seemed to know what she was doing.

Netty even allowed one co-worker we’ll name Filthy Francis to collect trash and debris in her 10 x 10 cubicle. I’m talking day-old sandwiches, half-eaten salads, candy-bar wrappers, half-empty coffee mugs, dried-up bread on the floor – you name it, Filthy Francis collected and let rot on the spot. I think today in our somewhat more enlightened society, we might call Francis a hoarder. Did Netty do anything to reprimand, insist on clean up, or chastise such blatantly disgusting behavior? No. When you walked passed Filthy Francis’ cubicle it smelled like decay and old food – truly disgusting!

I know every big organization or corporate culture breeds its fair share of crazy, but this was crazy layered in the bureaucracy of the moronic structure of government and stupid policies that resulted in the non-stop nonsense where student workers (I was a graduate student at Sacramento State at the time) did more actual work than the idiots who got steady paychecks, and enjoyed endless job security and benefits aplenty. How did I notice this disparity? Because as I noted earlier, I sat across from people like Bob who read the paper all day, casually sipping coffee, once in a while looking up, and nodding as I worked away – and people like Netty neither seemed to care or do anything about it.

I will also never forget that despite being in graduate school (not grammar or high school), I got treated like a child. Not a young professional fresh off her bachelor’s program where I got a degree … wait for it … in the actual area I was now working (public relations), but a “student” – and the stigma was ridiculous! I was 22 years old when I started – of legal drinking age, graduated from college not high school, and attending a graduate program where I was studying English with an emphasis on creative writing. But every time I was introduced not as the editor of the internal magazine DWR News, but as a “student,” the often paternal and condescending engineers would start talking to me like a 12-year-old neophyte.

“This is Michelle Gamble-Risley,” said my immediate boss “Joanne. “She’s a ‘student.’”

“Oh!” the engineers would say, stare and nod. “Can I get you your baby bottle?”

They didn’t really ask to serve me infant formula in a bottle, but they talked down to me just the same. It was a blast! I loved being talked down on a regular basis. And sometime later, we’ll discuss what it’s like to work with engineers and information technology heads but not now.

The "po" mouth student at work.
I also found it particularly enlightening to be treated like a poor-mouth “student” by the well-meaning office assistant “Ling-Ling” who at some point got it in her head that I was part of the needy and impoverished population and started bringing me her Salvation Army castoffs. Because you know, “students” don’t have any money. OK, to be fair Ling-Ling didn’t mean to come off like some insensitive idiot, handing off her black cardigans sweaters, but it was yet another offense taken while working there. I actually – despite my limited income – dressed very nicely and managed my money so that I could stretch a dollar and buy nice things at Macy’s on sale – and I always dressed professionally, clean and attractive, which made Ling-Ling’s offerings all the more objectionable. In fact, I am today still a true “fashionista” only now with a bigger wallet from which to spend – but I digress.

So as part of my student stigma, they (meaning the bureaucratic idiots that ran the place) decided that all students must be “chaperoned” while out in the field on assignment. Since about 50 percent of my job as an intrepid writer required I go see and interview people I was going to write about it, this ridiculous requirement that forced full-grown adults to be “supervised” meant that I traveled a lot with the photographer – and nine times out of 10, the photographer turned out to be Dale, who is still a dear friend.

Dale was a lot of fun to travel with. He is very easy going and funny, and he was also single at that time so we swapped dating stories. Dale is also one of these total “fun-facts” guys and could cite endless hours of trivia about the most seemingly obscure things.

“Michelle, do you know how long the State Water Project is?”

“Why no Dale, how long is it?”

“Seven-hundred and one miles,” he would cite these numbers with dead-on accuracy.

Yes, Dale knew those kinds of mundane and sometimes even useless details. And while some might find the endless deluge of details perhaps less than scintillating, I like that sort of thing and found it interesting, so we made great travel buddies. In fact, I didn’t like it when they assigned another photographer – one of the guys was a letch who pawed all of the women. I was quite grateful to see Dale’s name assigned to the job sheet – especially if it involved out of-town travel.

Needless to say, Dale and I took many adventures on that job. The most memorable and unpleasant was the trip to Los Angeles to Pyramid Lake – no idea what the assignment was – where I had an allergic reaction to a medication I was taking for a bladder infection. The drug built up in my system and led to toxic overload that made me very, very sick. At the time, I had no idea why I was sick.

So, I’m sitting in a rental car, and we’re driving to the airport – oh wait! Let me back up. I got sick and vomited in someone’s hotel room bathroom, and I don’t remember whose it was – and then we had to go to the airport. I’m sitting in the backseat in the middle seat all scrunched up. I’m feeling really nauseous and concerned I might hurl in the car.  The idea of puking on my boss Joanne who was sitting next to me was not on my list of ways to get a promotion. The sicker I felt, the more uptight I became – and I start feeling this strange tingling, numbness in my hands that go cold and clammy. Now I think I am having a heart attack and I’m truly alarmed!

“Dale!” I cry. “I can’t breathe! I’m having a heart attack.”

Dale, who is like I said the king of trivia, says, “No, you’re having a panic attack.”

“A panic attack?” I am thinking. “What the hell is that? Isn’t that some mental condition?”

Overwhelmed and now embarrassed because I’m having a “panic attack” – and I’m on some level a little horrified that I’m even having a panic attack at all, Dale proceeds to coach me this through this problem. And my boss Joanne encourages me to just let it go on the side of the road versus have a panic attack over it – probably good advice; but quite frankly I’m finding the whole situation totally mortifying, which all things considered is completely ridiculous.

And now what am I worried about? Getting on the plane and barfing – or not being able to control what now is building up on the “other end,” if you catch my drift. This whole scene is just awful. I am sick, and I want to go home. It’s one of those moments where you just want to cry, “I want my mommy,” and I might have broken down and actually uttered those words.

So the tale continues with me eventually making my way onto the plane. I’m still really sick. And now I’m confined in an airplane, and it’s about to take off. Of course, I sit down and immediately look for the barf bag. Dale is sitting in the aisle seat across from me. I’ve now got the bag open and ready for what is inevitable. The plane starts down the runway and ascends. You know you can’t get out of your seat in takeoff.

I turn to Dale and ask, “Can I use the bathroom now?”

“No, we have to stay in our seats,” he replies.

“OK,” I respond, turn my head back and proceed to vomit into the bag.

I remember sitting there and retching so bad that my feet in winter-white stilettos tilt sideways. And the poor gentlemen sitting to my left – can you imagine his misfortune sitting next to the young woman puking in the bag? It must have been quite unpleasant for him. I wasn’t oblivious to his discomfort, and at one point, I turned to him. “I’m sorry,” I uttered with a half apologetic smile on my face.

She pukes and apologizes; you know that is such a female thing to do. As if I could help it or wanted to throw up on the airplane; nobody wants to vomit on a plane I promise you. I look back at stuff like that, and I realize I spent a lot of time apologizing. You were mean to me, and I would apologize. I once had a lover who asked to have sex with me, and then implied I threw myself at him. He asked me. Don’t worry, though, I apologized. Heck, I think I even wrote him a letter of apology. Whatever … seriously and now I’m completely digressing.

So that story ends with a trip to the emergency room. The good news is it’s the first and last time I vomited on an airplane … knock on wood. Now it’s not the last time I got sick on a plane, and of course, Dale was there for that next stomach-turning adventure. This happened on yet another story assignment where I was going to ride in a two-seater airplane up and over Mount Lassen to Hat Creek.

Now before I realized that maybe a two-seater airplane wasn’t such a great idea (and we’ll get to that), I was completely excited. I thought it would be a blast to go on this adventure in a small plane. Oh, yeah! I begged for that assignment. I mean, I got up early and was completely sold that this trip would be so much fun. So, Dale and I drive the two hours up to Lake Orville to board this plane that is going to be piloted by a DWR employees who is also a pilot. I think Dale knew better … but of course, didn’t warn me of the perils of flying in small planes.

We take off. It’s all fine, but within minutes I noticed the plane feels almost like you’re in a motor boat in choppy water or a snowmobile breaking trail (if you’ve ever done that), and it’s kind of bouncing and bucking. It’s not like a jumbo jet that levels out and calms down. This unexpected thrill ride continues, and now I’m getting airsick. I’ve always gotten car sick, but never airsick. Oh, and I feel totally awful. Dale turns around and looks at me, because I’m so quiet.

“Oh!” he says a little alarmed. “You look green.”

Yes, I’m turning a healthy shade of green. What does Dale do? He’s a photographer remember, and he decides now is the time to memorialize the moment on film. Thanks Dale! So, he snaps a photo. If I talk to him before this book is published, I’ll see if I can have him dig up the shot. I looked terrible, but there’s this slight smile or disagreeable smirk. It kind of suggests, “Thanks a lot!”

So we get off the torture craft and I am so nauseous and miserable. Hat Creek is in the middle of the Lassen National Forest, which is actually called the Crossroads of California. We’re on the northern side of Lassen Park – and it’s a remote area where the lava of the Cascades and the Modoc Plateau, and the sagebrush of the Great Basin meet and blend to form these massive lave fields. It’s quite a sight. One thing though … there isn’t any real town, and as a result you won’t find a Rite Aide, CVS or pharmacy out in the middle of the wilderness. And now I’m realizing I’m going to have to get back on that two-seater aircraft to go home. I’m so sick to my stomach, I am now wondering what I can do to hitch a Gray Hound bus home or rent a car, because I’m not getting back on the plane without taking Dramamine. These thoughts are ridiculous. Again, no towns equal any bus stations or car rental places either.

Am I thinking about my assignment or the beautiful high country that I am now trekking around in? No, I’m completely and utterly obsessed with how I am going to get my hands on some Dramamine. I suppose I probably prattled on and whined about this problem non-stop to poor Dale, who was sympathetic and tolerant. I get like that if I’m dreading something I’m quietly running down a checklist of ways to avoid it in my mind.

Well, as we drove out to Hat Creek through this absolutely stunning forest to do whatever we were there to do, which seriously I can’t remember since it was probably a highly technical story, and it’s been almost 25 years – and it’s not very interesting anyway.  I spotted an odd little building in this very small town with (get this) a drive-thru pharmacy! Just remember, at this time in the late ’80s, drive-thru pharmacies didn’t really exist yet. Rite Aide was not sprinkling every corner of suburbia yet so that mere idea or suggestion of not only a pharmacy, but also a drive-thru pharmacy in this blimp of a town in the middle of the high country was just priceless. I made Dale promise to stop on his way back to the airport so I could buy some Dramamine, which now I want to tell you something else. I had never taken Dramamine before, so this story goes on.

We’re on our way back to the airport after visiting the Hat Creek site, which the whole country was so beautiful – and did I mention it was a clear sunny day with vibrant blue skies? I had never seen the lava fields either, and they were these rolling rock fields covered with shorter pine trees and sagebrush growing in the crevices. It was very unique and almost other worldly. It was also the beginning of my many work-related travels where I’ve been privileged to see so many places on my employers’ dimes. In fact, I wanted to write this book, because I’ve had this fortunate life full of really incredible experiences, but again, I digress.

We go, of course, through the drive-thru window, which by the way is really a window – you know the old-fashioned kind you can slide up since the pharmacy is originally someone’s house. Very funny that it’s an actual window. Window slides up, older lady passes out the packaged Dramamine, I pay, and we pull away. I’m so smiling right now, because I forgot until this moment about that window. The directions on the Dramamine advise you to take it 30 minutes before your encounter with whatever causes motion sickness. By the way, I am 5’ 9” and weigh about 125 pounds – a fact that has not changed over the years. So, while I’m tall I’m very petite. I proceed to take the suggested two tablets without any thought or concern.

We board the airplane without any problems, and soon we’re back up in the air flying through the chop and the plane is bouncing just as before. But hey, guess what? I’m not feeling sick … but then something strange happens. I suddenly realize I can’t hold my eyes open. I’m unbearably tired. I don’t understand. Why am I so tired that I have to sleep? I felt fine earlier. Soon, I’m hunched over completely asleep. We land and Dale wakes me up.

“We have to go, wake up!” he nudges me awake.

“Huh?” I say as I try with all my might to force my eyes open. You would think I was drugged … well, I was. Dramamine causes drowsiness. One pill would and still does knock me out – two pills do exactly what was happening and completely knock me cold. I somehow manage to drag myself into the car.

As we’re driving, I finally manage to conjure a semblance of consciousness and say, “I don’t understand. I can’t stay awake.”

Dale is completely laughing at me. “Dramamine causes drowsiness.”

I can barely comprehend the meaning of drowsiness. Who is he kidding? I’m not just drowsy. I’m completely drugged and passed out. I could not have kept my eyes open if I tried. Now mind you, I’m on the clock, and I’m supposed to be working. I tell you the state paid me that day to sleep.

Photos by Dale Kolke, circa 1990.
Another memorable trip found us backpacking up into the Minarets, which are a series of jagged peaks located in the Ritter Range, a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada and somewhat close to Yosemite National Park. They were renamed the Ansell Adams Wilderness, so you can imagine how beautiful and rugged the terrain. I grew up vacationing at my parent’s cabin located in the wilderness area outside of Sonora pass in the Stanislaus National Forest on the northern side of Yosemite. I was used to backpacking, and loved the wilderness areas. This trip sounded absolutely amazing to me. We were going to measure some kind of dam levels at 10,000 feet at a crystal-clear serene high-mountain lake. You could not get in by car, and it was only accessible by hiking or horseback riding.

OK, all of that sounds really fun, right? Horseback riding all day up into the high country … all right sign me up! Now I’m being sarcastic about these trips, but I totally loved parts of it, but there are so many things no one warned me about so I’m completely and ignorantly delighted about the trip. Plus, I had no money at this time, so these trips replaced vacations. I’m mean, oh hardship. I’m getting paid to backpack. Should I whine so more?

So, we stay the night at these old, rickety cabins, which is where the pack trip begins at the base of the peaks in a remote forest location. The tour guides pull out a string of pack mules. We were packing in food on the mules. OK, that was unexpected, but fine. I had borrowed camping supplies and a pup tent from my parents, and we’ll get to what happens when you borrow a tent and don’t know how to put it together. I’m introduced to my Palatino horse named Cora. As it turns out, Cora is the kicking horse, which we will get to that too.

Circa 1990 -- Me trekking around what is now Ansell
Adam Wilderness Area.
We loaded up and hit the trail. If you don’t know anything about the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, they are predominantly uplifted granite, which means we would be riding our horses across many granite pathways. Here is a piece of trivia for you: Horses hooves are smooth. Granite rock is smooth. Do you know what can sometimes happen when a smooth hoof walks up a smooth surface? You guessed it. The horse slips … backwards! Do you have any idea how scary it was to ride a horse that occasionally and unexpectedly would slip backwards? Oh, and I mentioned that propensity to kick. Yes, and she didn’t like other horses to close in too much on her hindquarters, so what did Cora do about every 10 minutes? Kick at the other horses. So between the slipping and unexpected kicking, I was scared I would say at least 50 percent of the time.

Here is another fact about the high country. In the summertime, thunderstorms can move in pretty consistently. We’re not talking a little sprinkle, but a heavy shower as you’re riding through the forest. We brought ponchos so it wasn’t that bad – and it was certainly better than the lower altitude where we were walking through dust so that you were covered in it. I much preferred the drench than the dirt layering my clothes. So, the first day we were rained on pretty consistently and toward the end of the day, a storm set in and wouldn’t let up. It began right as we were descending down into the lake as a slight sprinkle that soon erupted into a full-scale shower.

We’re being rained on and unpacking. I pulled out my powder-blue tent and had this unpleasant realization that the tubes used to construct it are missing. I have to confess, this situation is typical Michelle. I didn’t double-check my supplies and here I am – tent and no poles. Now I have essentially a tarp with no structure to hold it. It’s pouring and getting cold – and we’re all drenched. Good-guy Dale uses his ingenuities and suggests we string a rope across two trees to hold up my tent roof … good idea. Thank you Dale. Soon, I am all cozy and protected in my tent when I suddenly hear this cursing.

“Shit! God damn it!”

First, in the 25 years I’ve known Dale, I’ve never heard him cuss and only seen him really get mad once! This was it.

We are camped on a hillside. Did I mention that? No, so we have set up our camp on a slope. Dale found a sort of shelf to build his tent. And here is a fan fact. Dale’s tent is only a cover without a bottom, and instead the camper rests on a ground cover over the earth, which he did. I have to tell you, Dale felt pretty proud about this setup. It made for a lighter-weight tent and easier construction. But as the downpour continued for hours, it turns out that shelf sits in the middle of a kind of streambed – and a torrent of water now flows through the middle of Dale’s tent … with no bottom. And he’s soaked and cursing!

I can’t help it. I burst into laughter. Dale doesn’t think it’s funny. I don’t blame him. It’s not funny, but it’s, well, funny – and I’m laughing despite myself. I’m immediately offering assistance to help him move his things to a different location. After some shifting, we get the tent out from the middle of the flowing water. Then Dale settles in for the night.

We light a fire, and Dale announces he’s going to go fishing. We were camped mere yards from Mirror Lake, and the lake is stocked with trout. This suggestion sounds great, as I know what fresh trout tastes like. We used to catch Brook Trout at the cabin with our hands – and Mom coated them in corn flour and fried them – yum! So I follow Dale down to the shore. He indeed catches I think either two or three Rainbow Trout. I’m completely thrilled. He takes his lightweight cooking pots and utensils – and believe it or not, he brought some salt and pepper. You can’t say Dale doesn’t come prepared. So, he takes the trout, cleans them, and stir-fries them in the pan. He even brought some kind of olive oil to stir-fry them with. Good going Dale. And wow! Here is the truth – it’s the best trout I’ve tasted before and since. Who knew stir-fried fresh trout tasted so succulent?

The trip ends with a trek back down to the lower elevations where there are no thundershowers to dampen the ground. The dust is stirred up, as it’s very dry up there. I also forgot to mention something about riding a horse several days in a row. You get saddle sore. Yes, you’re nodding, right. I’m not talking a little sore. I’m saying my crotch and thighs hurt so bad I have to stand up most of the ride back home. What does pain mean exactly? I don’t know how to describe the chafing and soreness, but it was unpleasant. I was extremely pleased to get off that beast they called a horse. Bye-bye Cora, you kicking, sliding ornery four-legged creature. Then at base camp when I removed my sunglasses though, I looked like a raccoon. The dirt had coated my face. I felt dirty, dusty and ready to go home.

We eagerly drove back to town and stayed the night at the Shiloh Inn. I was never more grateful to find a shower in my life. And so ends the backpacking trip to the Minarets. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Here is your entertainment for Valentine's Day. So, I am married -- let's just put that out there first. I'm pretty sure many of you who know me or recognize my name realize a hyphenated name generally means marriage too. Well, Facebook seems to be -- for some people -- a valuable tool not for marketing but for trolling ... for women ... or I suppose men too. I recently got a letter from an interested male commenting on my appearance and then proceeding to describe himself as my prospective suitor. Part of the description involved a reference to (wait for it) ... "good hygiene." I was rather amused that apparently these days "good hygiene" is somebody's version of a great way to describe his or her attributes as attractive. This reference to this ability to keep his body clean about had me on the floor LMAO. Since when did the ability to use soap and water become a lure for the opposite sex? I assume that at least 80 percent of those who live in the U.S. practice good hygiene -- at least I hope so. If this is what online dating consists of; all I can say is, "Thank God I'm married!" And as such, here are the flowers I found in my office today! Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Smells Like ... Victory!

OK, I might be in shock and awe or just awe and shock -- either one works. In the last few weeks, I think the recession officially ended here in the 3L country. I have literally been picking up new projects daily. All of the marketing and PR momentum appears to be paying off. I even picked up prospective work on a Sunday afternoon if you can believe that one. At the rate we're going, we just made gross sales reflective of someone's middle-class income ... in one month. If this is any hint of what's to come, I must say it's utterly shocking and very, very cool. If I can impart any wisdom to you 3L watchers wondering what's the super-secret sauce, here it is: You must market and do public relations for your own company. All of the advice I give in my first book Smash: A Smart Girl's Guide to Practical Marketing and PR, should be followed to the letter. I don't live in a "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" world. I am all about the "say" and "do." You should be writing newsletters, blogging, networking, and promoting your company to the press. You should make your company and brand as visible as possible. And when you've done all of those neat tricks, repeat and repeat some more. It might take weeks, months or years, but it will pay off. And one more thing: throw in a healthy dose of passion and commitment. You will not fail -- no matter what ... even in the recession.

Sell Your Book with Your Winning Personality!

I don't know what it is about some of those folks who dwell in the sub-culture called Author-Dom. Now the vast majority I meet are really terrific, open and interested full of questions to which I try to answer. Then exists another strata where they act pretentious and irritated that I don't think the next best-seller is standing in front of me. This attitude embraces arrogance and entitlement. I don't know if they're trying to overcome low self-esteem and pump up their chests to make some sort of statement about their skill levels or they're just obnoxious. For those of you who approach me with the attitude, "I am published hear me roar," and you want to work with 3L Publishing, please be advised. I am sizing you up too. I don't work with people I don't like. You could hand me a $1 million and that would not solve my desire to not work with Mr. or Mrs. Full of Themselves. Entitlement and obnoxious behavior includes the following: talking down to me, just because you're published (did you not see the table full of books in front of you?); name dropping famous people you think will impress me (I know famous people too ... so what?); and acting generally over impressed with yourself (whatever). Just be respectful when you speak to me. Realize I didn't just drop off the author turnip truck and don't boost about your overly punctuated writing skills and then ask me (as you lean over my books), "Do you write, honey?"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Table Displays + Networking = Successful Event

My intrepid assistant, Madeleine Harner (L)
and yours truly (R).
Today I spent my morning and afternoon working the crowd at the Roseville Galleria. Here is the lesson with selling books. If you only have a book to sell, you won't really be able to make back your money unless, of course, you're John Grisham. We sold a healthy number of books; but the real value comes from the networking and connections. I must have met at least a half a dozen prospective authors more than just a little interested in our services at 3L Publishing. Part of the gig also allowed me to speak and while it was not a rocking, huge crowd, an intimate gathering sat down with me to discuss their projects and ask me questions. At least two authors from that gathering were more than a little interested in my company and services. And while one author already published her book, she wanted a publicist, so that was a winner too. My advice, always have more than just a single product to sell if you're going to purchase a display table. Better yet, have an agenda even if that perhaps includes networking and maybe seeking speaking engagements.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Watch Out for the Lemer Poop!

I always find where there is smoke there is a whole, heaping pile of flaming Lemer poop. Even when I worked corporate, I ran into this problem time and time and again. If you have small poop trails or even minor poop smudges that a problem is stinking up your company or a staff member is acting up, chances are it's a lot worse than you ever suspected. I used to encounter animals gone wild when one of my staff members would quit, well, leave because their performance was subpar. Well, once said employee exited the side door to unemployment, and I started reviewing the work left behind, I was usually in for a really ugly surprise. Sometimes a string of ugly surprises. Here is the lesson, if you start hearing even minor complaints about a person's work or performance, don't ignore it and work off good faith that all is well. I've made this mistake as just mentioned a number of times. I am a trusting person, so I always assume that when someone says they've done the job -- and most assuredly done the job right -- that they are being truthful. But if a client (or a string of clients) starts to rattle your cage with suggestions that maybe the Lemer has left the juggle, then perhaps it should be a notice to more than the Lemer Catcher that they need to go find the animal on the loose. In more direct words of caution, don't ignore the writing on the wall. Don't assume all is well. If one client complains about the crazy, little Lemer, just realize there maybe a lot more Lemer poop sitting behind the curtain. It is in your best interest to find out sooner than later if the Lemer has smeared the poop too. Lemers can be messing, little beasts -- and cleaning the cage can be a really gross job.

Table Displays that Rock

Now I spend the majority of time pointing out what people do wrong with their marketing and PR -- it's funnier. But today, I wanted to point to a table display done right. Jolin Halstead, managing director of eWomen Napa chapter, had her incredible table display next to mine. Let me say that Jolin's incredible Fairyterra just knocked mine out. She used this very whimsical, earth-based display with beautifully packaged giveaways in little tie bags with a fantastic backdrop. Some real thought went into this display and a dash of creativity. I should have taken a picture of it. Here are some key "done-right" points: would this display have worked for my company, no. This display branded her company perfectly. She uses a self-created program to help parent-children relationships. She had her earthy fairies in this display too. It was branded with the correct colors and ideas that convey her company's image perfectly. She took the time to think her brand through, as was evident by the details. She didn't do homemade cards and make critical, common errors with her signage I see done all of the time. She definitely put her best foot forward. I think what happens when some business owners purchase a display table, they don't take it seriously enough, and thus, we see the homemade displays reminiscent of your 6th-grade science fair display. So next time you're going to do a display table, be a Jolin. Think it all through. Brand it right. And hire a professional to do your design and marketing messaging.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good Queen/Bad Queen

I saw a request for information on bad bosses today on HARO. It got me to thinking. It would probably be fun to write a book on the subject of bad bosses, which I think the subject is being covered. Well, I have had my share of poor management and bad bosses over the years. Part of the reason I left corporate in 2006 had to do with a year spent with "Captain Crazy" where I thought working for a patient in an asylum look particularly attractive after dealing with this woman. So what constitutes a good/bad boss? (or in this metaphor "queen"). Here are some thoughts to at least make you chuckle.

The Queen of Play Time. The bad boss whose idea of management involves a Mai Tai and a Hawaiian beach somewhere while you hold down the fort is not a good boss. Someone who feels their play time is more important than your time, period, needs not run a company. The Queen of Play Time plays more than works. Then she gets stressed out when you actually expect her to help you. It's her company after all. Don't work for or with the Queen of Play Time.

The Queen of No Time. This particular your "heinous" is too busy to provide guidance and assistance to her staff. She barks orders if she gives them at all. She is also famous for one syllable emails where she is supposed to give you instructions on how she wants something done.

The Queen of Crazy. This boss is famous for the no-win situation. You're doomed no matter what you do, because crazy is crazy and lacks rationale thought. The Queen of Crazy tells human resources it's all your fault even when for the last 10 years you have a clean record and she just started with the company six months ago ... yeah, right about the time you started getting called into HR.

The Queen of Blameless. This particular ruler takes zero responsibility. She blames her staff for everything. Throws her staff under the horse-drawn carriage, and never has anything to do with anything that went wrong. She even continues her blameless defense when her entire staff has turned against her and gone to the other side. Even through all of that, she tells herself she had absolutely nothing to do with it. Management must have brainwashed her staff. She is truly a no-fault manager.

The Queen of Substance Abuse. This ruler is particularly scary because she uses "substances" on a regular basis and keeps a handy nip in the top drawer of her desk. This particular queen babe needs a serious reality check. Nipping on the job, arriving drunk to meetings, and acting rude or losing her ability to cognitively think certain things through because of altered states is pretty scary not to mention frustrating, because no one understand her orders through slurred words and inappropriate comments.

The Queen of Finger Pointing and Yelling. Another particularly fun queen to work for regularly points and shouts at her workers. Her idea of a morale boost involves a swift finger in the face and a good raised voice along with plenty of put-downs and a nice cutting comment on top.

And let me say, that if you work for anyone who behaves in those ways, run, get a new job, move on, and never look back.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What do Core Business Values Mean to Your Success?

Are you a business owner? Are you thinking of starting a business? Or are you working for a company where they have an employee manual that describes what are referred to as core business values? If you do not have them or you don't understand them, then here is a quick study on why it's important to not only know what they are, but also write them down and make sure your staff knows. Core business values in many respects are your own values -- except they apply to your business model. We all have some kind of values whether we recognize them or not, and some of you have set the bar on some rather low values (but I digress). At 3L Publishing, here are our core business values and why we have them (this will help clarify).

We put a premium on customer service. We believe that you provide not just good customer services but great, memorable service. Why does this matter? Happy, satisfied clients not only return for more business, but also tell friends and associates about their experiences. Word of mouth can make or break a company. You don't want word to spread you don't care about your customers, because the converse of what I just described will happen too.

Happy clients make for great overall relationships. By putting a premium on high-quality service, you also build strong relationships and create happy ones. Happy clients are easier to work with. You create a genuine positive atmosphere. Everyone gets along well.

We only work with people we like. Most people don't have this luxury. Our core value is to create a positive atmosphere. By working with only people we like, we build that corporate culture we want to work within -- and of course, the converse is true too.

We value integrity, honesty and a high work ethic. We lead by example, don't we. If we want to be treated honestly, fairly and with respect, we have to treat clients that way. What we put out there is reflected back to us. So, we go that extra mile to ensure we operate with honesty. We honor our integrity. We treat clients with fairness. Again, this attitude is then mirrored back to us. You see how this affects overall business?

And while we have a strong work ethic, we value our family time. We work together fairly to ensure that work is work; play is play. We create appropriate boundaries between the two. Yet when the company is working like a perfect wheel with the spokes in support, we can all enjoy a balanced and harmonious work environment. Where one person doesn't shoulder everything while the others play or vice-versa. When the inequity is created the wheel gets out of alignment. So, we work hard to maintain a balanced and harmonious corporate culture. And thus, morale stays high. Staff are happy. Clients get the results of happy morale and the converse, again, goes into affect.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Page 1 - Line 1 Downfall

Many authors and writers out there would be shocked to know that I can tell by almost the first line in a book whether or not it's a winner or loser. I know you're thinking, "How can she tell by the first line?" Well, I'm not sure what it is about terrible manuscripts, but they show their flaws almost as soon as the authors has typed a single word. I recently was given a book to read. Published by one of our fellow publishers aka vanity press, I was immediately captivated. No, not by the scintillating prose. The author makes the clear beginner's mistake right from the start -- she writes in passive voice. Passive voice is like being a victim -- everything happens to you! This error was followed by equally flat and uninteresting writing. (Also, if you don't know what is passive voice, please go to my favorite website, Grammar Girl, and look it up ... I heart Grammar Girl.) Did I know by the first line this book wasn't getting published at 3L? Absolutely and within seconds. The lesson: Always make your first page as amazing as your last page. You would actually be surprised how many writers will tell me chapter one stinks ... but you know, skip that and keep going. If your chapter one really smells rotten like it got sprayed by a skunk, let me give you a piece of advice: you are not ready to publish. Put your best chapter one forward or not all.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why FREE is Never Really Free

I always find human nature so bloody predictable. Whenever we fail to assign value to what we do, it's never a surprise that other folks won't either. If there is any lesson in life, it's always value what you do lest you get taken advantage of. I can't tell you how many times prospective clients show up and ask for favors -- and if I do them the favor, they act like spoiled children, demand more and then poof! Off to gleefully frolic in the long grass. I've had this happen a number of times among authors. One author without really thinking asked my opinion about her manuscript. Now my coaching services are not free, but in this case, I was under the impression he intended to sign up. So, I gave him my insight into his first chapter -- and then (you guessed it) poof! He took my suggestions and said he would use them and then maybe get back to me. See! Do not do people you barely know favors. My time sucked up and no reciprocity. And what really kills me are those who just think they're entitled, period. My favorite one comes from a woman who literally demanded I read her entire book and get back to her. OK, first I barely have time to read paying clients' books. Second, who are you? And third, why do you think I owe you this? Again, I get paid to do this kind of work. And it isn't endearing when people demand things. And finally, my last on the list of demanded freebies was a group member of my writer's group who complained about the free venue. So Bob! If our free venue bothers you so much, why don't you pay the next room fee at the Ritz. Again, watch out what you give away. And watch out for those who think you owe them everything, including a free spaghetti dinner just because they're so special.

All Hands on Deck when it Comes to Promotion

I've decided PR requires all hands on deck to make it work. We are promoting Daughter of the Caribbean, and I already pounded the Oprah camp pretty hard. I did get a response back from the producer -- just not what I hoped to hear. The author Norma Jennings did not let rejection dissuade her. She went in the back door. Her daughter had a friend who is friends with a producer of Jamaican decent over at Oprah. So, what did she do. She approached the friend who gladly passed it on. Not only was the producer excited, but she requested a copy for Oprah! So far enthusiasm has been great -- and we are sending positive energy toward great results. So for author who rely only on us for all openings, it's not your only avenue. Persistence is key. And persistence from all possible connections works best. Because having opened the door from all different sides only reinforces the name of the book. And maybe with enough buzz generated, we will move forward! At least that is what we want to do.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Three Mistakes Not to Make with Clients

When doing client work, it can be fraught with a difficult push-pull power relationship; who is really in charge? When a client pays for services, it may seem like they get to call the shots. Yet it's your company and expertise they rely on. But think about it for a moment. All companies have to answer to someone. Big companies have to answer to their Board of Directors and customers. So, power is not absolute no matter who you are and where you work. In our business I see people makes mistakes in how they interact with clients and what they push back onto a client when, in fact, it's their responsibility even though it might appear that maybe it's not. If you work in a marketing and PR or even publishing group, avoid these common pitfalls:

It's-not-my job syndrome. This is the mistaken belief that you don't have to provide a client service because you don't believe it's part of your job. Here would be another example. I offer to provide a press release as part of my services. Instead of asking you for background material to write your release, I actually ask you to write a draft and give it back to me. That act is not the right approach. The client has hired you to write the release. You write the release, period. You do not ask the client to write the release for you and then you supply a few edits. That is not good customer service -- and, in fact, that is a cop-out. Client paid X hours for you to write it not them.

Mistakes, mistakes too many mistakes to count. Never ever turn over an incomplete draft of anything to a client. An early draft of something like a newsletter or blog post or press release with one small edit is fine; but turning over a draft riddled in mistakes and errors always looks bad. You are in charge of your product to the point where you want to make it look professional. Your client is sure to be turned off if you expose them to a draft that appears you frankly don't know what you're doing.

The business of details count. Glossying over something and only looking to finish it isn't good. Make sure you are always detail-oriented. Anything less than that looks sloppy or incomplete. In any project big or small, it's the attention to details that impress. People are not impressed when you skip over small things to leap to the finish line. Always turn over your very best effort to your clients whether it's the first or final draft -- especially if it's a printed piece. And here is my joke once something is printed: if it was wrong yesterday it's still wrong today.

Please help me rebuild my following, tell your friends about the new First Word blog!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Doing the Right Thing isn't Easy

The last few weeks have been a challenge. The transition of the company during a growth spurt wasn't exactly a picnic. I've been juggling transitional issues along with continuing to ensure my clients receive seamless service. And all during this transitional phase, a common theme emerged -- integrity. A wake of hurt client relationships was left in my care. The easy thing would have been to ignore it. I have a huge sales month ahead of me. Why should I go back and mop up a mess left behind by someone else. Not my responsibility. I didn't damage the relationships, right? Well, here is the thing Friend-Os. It's my company. It's my brand. And whether I was the one who made the mess was not relevant. What was relevant was that I be the one as the CEO and president of my company and its leader to return to the scene of the crime and make restitution to those hurt by it. That is called integrity. Integrity means you step up and do the right thing. And doing the right thing meant giving back to those who felt taken from. Again, not easy. It will mean thousands of billable hours lost; but in the end it restored relationships. It restored faith. It created goodwill. And from the ashes rose new opportunities. Because those who felt wronged now felt differently. New project opportunities came from it. So while sometimes doing the hard thing looks, well, hard, it is really about doing the right thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Welcome to First Word - Blog

Hello First Word Friend-Os. And you are a Friend-O if you're reading my blog. I know you maybe surprised to find an entirely new blog after reading the M-Com blog, but "it's new day, it's a new start, and I'm feeling fine," to quote a famous song. 3L Publishing has an old face with a new CEO. Michele Smith has stepped down, and I am now 100-percent owner of the company I helped found. This experience while not on the top of my list of things I intended to do, is a positive for the company overall. If you review our catalog, you will notice I am the editor or contributing writer to every single one. So, nothing is going to change in terms of our look and feel and our exciting product line. Our books have always been hand-picked by me and influenced by me. So, our audience will notice very little change in the coming weeks. Most of the change involves transition and settling down. We have a bright year ahead, and we've already accomplished our highest sales ever just this month. I'm proud of my team, and I'm excited about what is to come. So, stay tuned and enjoy my daily rants and raves and hopefully useful insights into marketing, PR, books and business in general. So, welcome to the new and refreshed 3L Publishing - First Word Blog.