Real dreams never die

leap-of-faith

So there’s this thing. I’ve had it for quite sometime.

It’s a dream that I – we – started as an experiment. A product to see if there was a market for it. A business started out of a felt need.

Question was, did anyone else feel the need like we did?

No market research existed for our target market. Heck, even today there is great debate over market findings.

But we did it. We dove into the “experiment,” knowing we could be throwing money in a black hole, likely with no return.

We were wrong.

We did break even. It took three or four years, but it happened. Our experiment had worked, better than we could have imagined.

So why didn’t we keep going? Right about then, one of us ran out of time, the other out of money. We kind of got stuck. For an experiment, though, it wasn’t bad.

Still, it was hard to shutter the business. Looking back, we were going against the grain – way against the grain. Market awareness wasn’t yet there. We couldn’t get shelf space where we needed it. Besides, there were no distribution channels – yet.

Now, nearly 20 years later, all that has changed. Funny thing is, the market is still there. In fact, it’s bigger – much bigger. Could the demand still follow?

I think it’s time to see if there’s still life in that dream. I’ve been exploring how to revive it, and I think it can be done.

We’ll have to wedge it back in via the margins – the way most small businesses start. And we may have to bootstrap it – again.

It was successful before in a less promising environment. It could be successful now, right?

There’s only one way to find out.

Ogilvy and great content

I need to do a better job of cleaning out my bookmarks. Found this under a pile of moth balls, so I had to dust it off and air it out.

david-ogilvy-don-draperCopyblogger’s original post was inspired by the father of all Mad Men.

No, not Don Draper (left). I’m talking about the real father of advertising, David Ogilvy — the copywriter’s copywriter and author of the creative classic, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Because before social media, there was advertising. And then social media changed everything.

Copyblogger clearly anticipated this transition, which changed one of the sexiest industries forever. (Although from experience, I can tell you: it wasn’t all that sexy. Pan Am would’ve been a lot sexier.)

Basically, good content is good content, regardless of its era or semantics. Call it advertising, blogging, whatever. It’s content no matter how you slice it.

Advertising = Information

While advertising has long been perceived as a trendsetter in pop culture, Ogilvy viewed it as content that informs.

Granted, the path to the consumer dollar today is kinder and gentler, and less linear. But the idea is the same: Make your content so useful that people want to take action.

Ogilvy summed it up like this:

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’

To board or not to board? That is the question

Woman dressed in suit talking in meeting

A few years ago, I joined my first board. As a strategist, I looked forward to contributing to the success of a nonprofit.

Like with anything new, I had questions about “how this works” and what I should expect. Most of those surfaced as I served and learned the ropes. Along the way, I asked people I knew whose board experience I could learn from.

Based on their experience and mine, I decided to share a few pointers – especially for people looking to give back to their community and beyond. It’s not an exhaustive list, but good food for thought. I’d love to hear yours, too, in the comments.

Dos and Don’ts of joining a board
If you’re considering joining a board, it’s good to go in with eyes wide open. Because engaging in this kind of work really should come with a clear understanding of commitments and the real needs of the organization from its trustees.

  • DO join a board if the organization’s mission is something close to your heart. It helps if you’re knowledgeable in the space it serves, too.
  • DO join a board if you have specific skills or a network that can be helpful to its advancement. Are you networked with like-minded people? They might be able to support the org or even be committee or board candidates themselves.
  • DO, in most cases, expect to do some fundraising. That means at some point, you’ll need to pound the proverbial pavement with your contacts and others, in hopes of helping your organization reach its revenue* goals. It means asking for money. Lots of folks are very uncomfortable with this, but let me tell you – if you have the right potential donor, they want to be asked. I’m a pastor’s kid, so I grew up hearing calls for offerings. And apparently the “ask” rubbed off on me, so I’m not at all shy about it – especially if I know someone has demonstrated interest in lending financial support before.
  • DON’T join a board without a clear idea of what your time commitment will be. If you only have 2 hours per month that you can devote to it, make sure it will fit into your schedule so you can maximize your time and make the best contribution possible. Nothing breeds resentment like demands that exceed your availability or don’t consider your time.
  • DON’T join a board that has not clearly outlined and agreed to domains and responsibilities of staff and board members.

What would you add to this list if someone asked you whether they should join a board?

*Don’t be fooled by the word “nonprofit.” Like any for-profit, a nonprofit needs income (revenue) to meet expenses like payroll, program administration, marketing and donor development. Many parallels are clear, too: Donors = customers; program development = product development. At a high level, the needs are basically the same.

Photo credit: UN Ebola Task Force meeting on 19 September 2014 via photopin (license). No derivatives.

Three years to unwind

fashion-hand-person-4956

I’ve had two big “aha” moments in the last couple of weeks — three years in the making, apparently. (Slow learner, I guess.)

Turns out, up until three years ago, I was pretty tightly wound.

Like a lot of people, I worked my butt off for a lot of years before hitting the proverbial wall. And like many people, I burned out. And then I got laid off, taking it hard and going through the requisite grieving process, making sure to excel at the anger part.

It wasn’t long before I was again in the same position … without a full-time job.

Tough times? Well, yes. Freelance work was coming in, so that was good. But it wasn’t the point. The point was, I was angry and hurt all over again. I thought I’d “done my time” first time around, only to be subjected to it a second time, in rapid succession no less.

That was then, this is now

Fast forward to two days ago.

Well. The first round wasn’t “all there was,” apparently. It wasn’t the only lesson I needed to learn – that work or career wasn’t everything there is to life. The second “break” was for deflating, for finding ways to “come down” and appreciate the life I’d been blessed with.

I wasn’t thrilled about the solitude again, even though it’s exactly what I needed. I’d been accustomed not only to being around people, but being there for people. This time, the only people around were me, myself and I.

Now, I have had time to discover new things I enjoy spending time on. In fact, I can’t imagine my life without them. And I can’t imagine not spending the quality time I’ve found with old friends, my family and especially my husband.

Three was the magic number

I couldn’t be more thankful now for a season I thought was a lost one, a wasted one. In retrospect, one year less would have made the process incomplete. And if there’s another year to go, I guess that’s what it will take.

But by God’s grace, I feel like I’m nearly back in one piece. My head is clear, my heart is pure[r] and I’m ready for service again.

I could’ve sworn there was no haystack there this morning

Field under a cloudy sky

Photo by OeilDeNuit

When it rains, it pours.

Such is the life of the freelancer. When not thinking about revenue streams several months out, they’re slamming project on top of project, usually to make up for possible gaps and often at the expense of personal margin and quality of life.

It comes with the territory.

After spending the last two-to-three years in that mode, I sense something’s about to happen that will force a significant choice – one that favors quality of life and doesn’t look anything like what I would have expected at this point.

Today, a whole lot of work-like “needles” piled up, almost in real time. Tonight, I’m sorting through the resulting haystack, in search of one or two “keepers” and some peace of mind.

I love how scary things often end up being good things. But for the moment, I’m still on the scary part.

And we thought blogging was risky business

meerkat on yellow backgroundAs if life with social media weren’t real-time enough. I never thought I’d be curious enough to jump into video, let alone real-time video.

For the moment, I’m not. Not personally, anyway. Heck, I hardly take selfies, much less video of any kind. But I am fascinated by emerging technologies and their potential uses.

I’m sure the response to live video tweeting tools is something like it was back when blogs and social media were winding up, especially in corporate environments:

  • Too risky: Who’s gonna control outgoing content?
  • Too raw: Great. Now we need another editor.
  • Too transparent: The execs will never let us do it.

And yet, just like social media, opportunities abound. If your marketing or communication needs call for the immediacy of video, it’s official: the tools are here.

The space is definitely evolving, but between Vine (edited), Meerkat and Periscope (both real-time), a few practical ideas that come to mind are:

  • Conferences, concerts, sporting events: Real-time action & “reporting” (I cringe to use the term, but hey, these tools make citizen reporters of us all, with or without contextual info)
  • Farmers (or any) markets: Stream what’s at market – today only
  • Flash sales: Discounts on new or limited inventory; viewer-only discounts
  • Restaurants/Food Trucks/Food Service/Cooking Classes: Watch it being made; drive instant traffic
  • Disaster response & fundraising: Show what it’s like “on the ground” (depends on availability of communications services, which can be a tall order in a crisis)
  • Oh and of course – law enforcement. Can’t forget that.

The possibilities are really endless and don’t necessarily have to be invasive or high-risk, although for those of us unaccustomed to putting our entire lives out there, this can feel pretty voyeuristic.

Some folks will “go there” and it will be interesting to see how responsible users will be. But I’m more excited to see how this space matures and the good things it has the potential to do. My mind’s wheels are definitely turning.

My Bruce Lee fetish

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I’ve been fascinated with Bruce Lee since I was a kid. I’m a bit young to remember The Green Hornet or other early movies of his, so I must have watched his appearances on variety shows (didn’t he have one himself?) and probably some competitions.

But one biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), stays with me.

I’m not a martial artist, but as an avid tennis player, I know what games my mind can play on me in competition. In Dragon, I recall hearing a quote or view from Lee that went something like, “Every point is a new opportunity to win.”

For some reason, I can’t find anywhere that he in fact ever said that, but to me, the idea is as good as gold.

It changed my tennis game, how I think about it and myself while competing. When I think I’m out of gas or will, I remember that line and that there’s always a reason to keep pushing, fighting or pursuing.

After all, it ain’t over till it’s over.

 

Coming out: The Maverick Leader

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Not that anyone needs another assessment. But if you know me, you know I am quite fond of them.

I’ve taken a bunch of assessments over the years, but the ones that stick with me are Myers Briggs and StrengthsFinder, which show how you respond to or interact with the world.

But one that, until last year was unknown to me, the Fascination Report, tells how others perceive and respond to you — how you uniquely fascinate them. I got my report while job-hunting, a season that challenged my sense of self, in hopes of getting a good idea of how I come across to others.

The results of my report: I’m a Maverick Leader. (Kind of feels like I should go out panning for gold and stake my land claim.)

In most ways, it nailed me. Unconventional thinker, pioneering, irreverent, entrepreneurial. While I ideate in non-linear ways, I then use a linear approach to implement my ideas.

By the way, it’s not lost on me that assessments – heck, comparison with others – is an all-out American sport, one that can doom us to not ever become what we were designed to be, if we’re not careful.

And granted, assessments like Myers Briggs, StrengthsFinder and others are not always spot on. Worse, they can be used as weapons in the workplace. On the upside, however, they are helpful in identifying our strengths and weaknesses – enough to inform where and how we do our best work, what arrangements make us happiest, etc. That’s what I look for, anyway.

Does it run in the genes?
So I was reading up again on my family, namely my dad’s father, the career grocer and occasional bootlegger.

One aunt tells me he had a little bit of a wild streak in him, shutting down his and my grandmother’s businesses so they could move north to work in the fields.

Picking up and moving like that was typically a necessity for most Mexican families in the U.S. during 1930s and 1940s, not an option. But he needed to get out and see other places,and this was his way to wander — with the entire family, 13 kids in tow.

I’ve always wondered where I get my nonconformist gene. Maybe I’m onto something by looking at my family’s history. Maybe I’ve found it.

Need to get something done? Visualize it that way.

The outdoor tennis season is finally upon us, and I’m anticipating my competitive season. For the record, the word “competitive” is relative. I still pay to play, unlike pros such as Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Simona Halep of Romania and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

I’ve been warming up indoors, and now outdoors, the last several weeks – drilling and just hitting with other players.

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I find myself practicing as much in my head as on the court, envisioning points in singles or doubles – mostly singles, since the match is all on me.

  • Will I be able to negotiate the court with good footwork?
  • Will my serve hold up and be a reliable tool?
  • Are my knees up to all the running, stopping and pivoting?
  • What about my down-the-line forehand – can I get it around a player who’s 6″ taller than me and has the wing span of a 747?

In my head, I can.

And that’s what really matters. Regardless what the activity is – a tennis match, presentation, project or learning a new skill: when it’s showtime, having visualized it is half the work. If I’m going to try it at all, I need to be able to see it in my mind.

By then, enough of me will be convinced that it can be done, and that I am the one who can do it.

The rest – it’s just execution.