December 21, 2009

Three Lessons from 2009

As a year winds down, we have time to reflect on what happened. Here are three lessons
  1. the simpler the more universal
  2. out of sight, out of business
  3. the visible touch
The Simpler the More Universal
in 2009, I created two new simpler presentations
  1. How to Succeed with Entrepreneurs (which became a three-part series)
  2. Do You Market like It's 1999?
These presentations suit a much wider range of audiences. Simpler content is more memorable. Since the content is more universal, audiences pay more attentive. You stand out from other presenters. You are easier to remember and easier to recommend. You are more likely to get invited back. That leads to business.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Business
Retailers stay in regular contact with customers and prospects. You don't have their budgets for advertising but you can certainly stay in touch via a monthly eNewsletter. You can track what your readers click on and add more of they like next time. Conventional e-mail does not let you see what works.

The Visible Touch
LinkedIn can be the core of your marketing. And it's free. Would you do business with someone who won't use a phone or e-mail? Why would you do business with someone who won't link to you online? LinkedIn is now a sign that you're open for business and serious about your business. if you're not on LinkedIn, you've got an unlisted number. Hiding from prospects and clients costs you money.

Class dimissed!

The best to you and yours during the holidays.
May 2010 give you what you yen!


December 14, 2009

Multiple Email Accounts Make Life Easier

We can't stop email from filling our inboxes but we can save time organizing it --- especially on smart phones.

Simply use multiple email accounts. As a minimum separate your personal and business email even if you're self-employed. You can go further. Most of your email is probably noncritical. Just stuff to read. Why not use a third email account for these items? Gmail works well.

On a Blackberry Bold 9700 (and probably other models) you can have up to 10 email accounts. This seems excessive but shows a good design. Here's a way to setup your accounts:
  1. strictly business
  2. personal
  3. for reading (work and personal)
A different structure might suit you but you get the point. You can also setup multiple email accounts on your computer with Microsoft Outlook.

You no longer lose time in organizing your email into folders or categories. You no longer clutter your business email account with unnecessary messages. This makes life (a bit) easier.

To save even more time, unsubscribe from what you don't often read --- even if you feel you should be reading those emails. Because you aren't. You can also setup rules to redirect or categorize emails for the messages that remain.

The tiny screen and keyboard of a smart phone still annoy me. Whenever possible, I read and reply to email from my netbook. The larger keyboard and screen make a big difference.

Blackberry Bold 9700
Until last month, I had an ancient corporate locked-down Blackberry 8703e (photo) with a thumb-straining scroll wheel that kept breaking. I had three refurbished models in three months, each with other problems like burned out pixels or sticky keys. Many features were disabled, including Gmail, web access and the weather icon.

What a difference with the Blackberry Bold 9700. Everything runs. everything works. The screen is amazing. The keyboard takes some getting used to because the keys feel smaller and tilt towards the hand you are most likely to use. You may already know about these things but I'm coming from the dark ages. There are no moving parts. The click wheel is now a trackpad similar to what you'd find on a notebook computer. The trackpad is much faster and easier to use. Even intuitive.

Personal activities don't belong on your corporate calendar but you want all your events in one place. The Blackberry merges multiple calendars from different Gmail and Google Apps accounts. You can add an entry on your Blackberry and select the Google account of your choosing. The same goes for contacts.

You now have the advantage of a seamless backup of your e-mails, calendars and contacts. All you need is a computer with a web browser.


December 7, 2009

The Magic of Dropbox for Sync and Sharing

Stop sending attachments by email. Stop worrying about losing files from theft of your computer or a hard disk crash. Stop fretting about backups.

With Dropbox you can. (In case you're wondering, there are no affiliate links in this post.)

I found this elegant productivity booster just weeks ago. If you're in a corporate environment you may find access blocked but you may find uses at home, with friends or for hobbies.

I was looking for a way to access the latest version of key files on different computers. Normally, this would require emailing the files or moving them between machines with a USB memory stick. That's inconvenient.

Collaborate Online
You can share files with Google Docs or online Web storage but this can be a hassle. Suppose it's an Excel spreadsheet. You may need to download the file, edit and then re-upload. Not fun.

Use Dropbox instead. The concept is remarkably simple and seamless. You put files in a special folder on your computer called My Dropbox. By default, this is a subfolder of My Documents. Instructions probably differ slightly for Mac and Linux users.

A copy of anything you put in your Dropbox goes online. Now you have a backup and anywhere-access to the files.

Work Locally
You may never need to access the files online because of an amazing feature. Copies go onto the hard drives of the computers to which you gave access.

Suppose you have a work computer and a home computer. You can now edit the files you put in your Dropbox on either machine. Changes show up on the other machine within moments. Bye-bye e-mail. You won't even notice Dropbox working quietly in the background.

With Dropbox, you get effortless archives and anywhere access. You work on files right on your computer, which is convenient and does not require an ongoing Internet connection.

Where do you store your passwords? I use KeePass Password Safe which is free and open source. I always want access to the latest passwords everywhere. Dropbox makes this automatic. I can now add, change and view passwords on any of my computers.

Dropbox gives you 2 GB of free storage which is great for a trial. That's what I'm using right now. As your storage needs increase, you can upgrade to 50 GB for $10 US a month.

Dropbox is remarkably easy to use. You don't need to think about it at all. You just work the way you normally would. The synchronization takes place in the background.

If you want to share files with others. Say you're working on a project for a client. You can set up a folder in your Dropbox and give them access. You both have access to the latest files without the bother of e-mailing.

The files in your Dropbox are not encrypted which may be a concern. However you can use normal tools like TrueCrypt (free, open source) for that purpose.

Since Dropbox puts the same files on different computers, disk space can be a challenge. I want access to the same files on my main notebook computer and netbook. That's impossible because the netbook has a much smaller hard drive. The workaround is to only put selected files into the Dropbox, which means that many files aren't shared. Maybe this shortcoming will get fixed in the future.

I didn't realize that a badly-needed tool like Dropbox existed. I'm still amazed at how well and simply it works. See for yourself and share your thoughts.


December 1, 2009

Brad Pitt, Bluetooth Headsets and You

DITCH THE HEADSET. He can barely pull it off and you are not him.
--- Wired, Issue 17.08

Are you one of the few who still wears a Bluetooth headset in public? I never have. US usage plummeted from 43% daily in 2008 to 26% in 2009.


Brad Pitt strains to overcome the geekiness but the worry lines and sweat show the struggle. What if you ditch the phone altogether?

I spent a week without a mobile phone ... and survived. I felt lost the whole time because I couldn't connect with others. The day I got my Blackberry Bold 9700, I spent hours using it --- mainly email and the calendar. The next day, I left home without it ...

Over the years, I'd forget my Blackberry 1-3 times a week. I'd remember when I got to my car and then go back inside to get it.

What was going on? I didn't forget my wallet, briefcase or keys.

My subconscious was saying disconnect. Focus.

My car has great Bluetooth integration but I avoid the phone while driving because I can't take notes. Much better to use voicemail. I don't answer calls during meetings or during short breaks either. Why? To be present in the present. We're lousy at multitasking and digital overload fries our brains (Wired, Feb 2009).

Phoning from a quiet environment when you can concentrate makes your communication more intense. Less frequent contact creates scarcity, which increases your value (the second universal principle of influence). As a bonus, you (can) manage your time better and get more done.

Others stay connected during the day, at night and on holidays. You've seen people wandering around with Bluetooth headsets or phones at their ears. Continuous availability reduces value. Are their connections deep? Are they visible on Facebook or LinkedIn?

Showing your connections influences others in good or bad ways. Some socializers build mediocre, shallow networks. Some introverts create meaningful connections.

LinkedIn also makes the recommendations you receive visible. There's no better place for testimonials because only your connections can endorse you. This make the value of the recommendations easy to gauge.

What if Bluetooth headset usage drops more next year? Stash yours beside your CB radio and cassette Walkman. No worries. No sweat.


November 26, 2009

Download The $2,500 Brain Alchemy Masterclass for $0 until Nov 30, 2009

This power-packed program contains some of the best marketing and sales ideas ever discovered.
--- Brian Tracy

The Internet is rife with free offers. This one's real but expires on Nov 30, 2009, which may be based on New Zealand time. So act now.

What Is It?
The Brain Alchemy Masterclass teaches you how to get, keep and grow clients. You get an audio recording of a live three day seminar with notes. The regular price is $2,500 US. Ouch!

Why Bother?
That's what I wondered too. Since I read the Psychotactics blog from Sean D'Souza, I was confident the content would be good. That shows how well blogging establishes credibility. Plus, Sean has an engaging sense of humour.

Excellent Ideas
Some ideas may be new to you or reminders. Either way, you'll benefit.

The attendees actively participate. This makes the sessions much more engaging and valuable than listening to Sean alone.

Even for free, is The Brain Alchemy Masterclass worth your time? Yes.

The beginning is dull. You get the normal self-promotion telling you how good the course is. This is as annoying as the commercials at the movie theatre or the movie trailers at the start of a DVD. Feel free to zip past the boring bits.

Sean writes in an engaging, entertaining way. I never heard him before and did not care for his voice. You may feel the same about my podcasts for Riscario Insider. I continued listening. Either Sean got better or I got more comfortable with him. Or both.

No Time
When can you find time to listen to the course? Worry about that later. Stop. Download the course. Then continue reading this post.

Back already? Great.

We find time for things that matter to us. We also make time for things we're forced to do (like tax returns). I cheated. Since many of the ideas were familiar, I listened and made short notes while spending two days cleaning up my office. You'll get better results by listening more intently and over a longer period.

Too Late?
If you're reading this post after the free offer has ended, don't despair. You can pick up many ideas by reading the Psychotactics blog. Maybe the free offer will be repeated. Back By Popular Demand.

Thanks for sharing, Sean.


November 23, 2009

Ways To Boost Your Sales With Seminars

What do Do Not Call lists and Do Not Spam lists tell you? Strangers don't want you to interrupt them. Advertising also interrupts. That's okay because you can use simpler, cheaper and more effective techniques.

Seminars get you new customers and more business from current customers.

You leverage your time by speaking to many at once. Attendees feel less intimidated than meeting you one-to-one. Yet few advisors conduct seminars or run them optimally.

Let's explore essentials like
  • the perfect delivery
  • the perfect location
  • the perfect topic
  • souvenirs
  • staying in touch
  • getting feedback
  • organizing your seminar
The Perfect Delivery
Seminars work best live in person. However, you can use webcasts or conference calls, which you can record to replay. This is your chance to shine. If you're not comfortable presenting, become the host and invite guest speakers. This isn't as good but gives results if you establish some credibility. You can learn to present over time --- a valuable skill.

The Perfect Location
You can attract audiences to your office if your facilities are suitable. It's better to present where people already gather. Associations and groups need presenters to fill their calendars. Your contacts may know places. You get
  • endorsed by the sponsoring organization
  • an instant audience with no effort or cost
  • invitations to speak elsewhere if you're good
The Perfect Topic
Pick an intriguing topic to attract attendees. Your title and description matter. Pick a topic which subtly shows your expertise. Whatever you do, keep the content simple and entertaining. You want to motivate, not just educate. Your audience forgets the details but remembers how you made them feel.

Do you repeat the same topic or run a series? It's much easier to find a new audience than to hone new presentations. If you want a series, consider getting guest presenters. Audiences have trouble believing that you're an expert on many topics --- even if you are.

Be sure to give the audience ways to remember you.
  • give meaningful handouts
  • have a meaningful website
  • stay in touch with an eNewsletter
Staying In Touch
For best results, show attendees a sample of your eNewsletter and ask them to sign up on a form while they are there. Input their names online later. This works much better than asking attendees to sign up on their own once they get home. They forget or don't bother.

If you have pre-prepared a list of attendees, add a column to indicate whether they want the eNewsletter. If you're bold, you can go further. Make your eNewsletter a free gift for anyone who registers (even if they don't attend). Again be sure to show a sample. To keep your readers, have content that helps them. Show consistent persistent generosity.

Getting Feedback
You can't get better if you don't know what to improve. Be sure to ask the attendees to fill out a feedback form. This can give you quotations to help you promote future seminars. Take a look at the audience responses for
Which affected you more, the typed comments or the scans of actual handwritten comments?

Organizing Your Own Seminar
If you don't pay attention to detail, sloppiness reigns. Your signs are crooked. The coffee is stale. The room is too cold. The screen is too small.

Your audience can sense when everything is well organized. They infer that you'll also pay attention to their needs. You may need help organizing.

You can reduce your workload and look more professional by using Eventbrite or Meetup.
Use Eventbrite for online bookings (an example). Eventbrite will
  • show the location (address and map)
  • email tickets
  • send reminders
  • create an attendee list
  • let you send a post-event feedback form
You select the information you want to capture. By default, you get the email address because that's needed to register. You'll probably want the first name and last name also. You can export the data collected into your client management system.
If you want to create a community, use instead. Since members can see other members, there is less privacy, which may be an advantage or disadvantage. Meetup is better for an ongoing series of events.

Meetup will even market for you by sending invitations to members who expressed interest in a topic like yours.

To establish credibility, participate in meetups and show enough information on your profile to reduce suspicions about your motives. Most organizers don't bother doing this and come across as self-serving.

Seminars work without much work.


November 16, 2009

Waving, Not Drowning: Career Options for an unMarketing Actuary

It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do.
Elbert Hubbard

As you may know, Industrial Alliance (IA) shut down the National Accounts division across Canada on Nov 12, 2009. [Update on Nov 18: officially, these are structural changes and the division continues to exist] I was part of that team and am now self-employed. You'll find the details on Riscario Insider in a blog post and podcast. I've been getting condolences, congratulations and questions about my career plans. I'll share my current thinking here.

Thanks to a nice severance package, there's no pressure to grab the first position available. So I'm taking my first-ever sabbatical before considering the possibilities.

We're going to India from December 6 to January 1. This was preplanned --- my first visit since 1972. Now we can plan and enjoy our trip without the added pressure of work during this busy time of year. I'll also skip the holiday lunches and parties, which will help with my waistline.

When National Life was getting harmonized into IA during 2004-2005, I was the product actuary. My nine staff lost their jobs over two downsizings. That's when I was most vulnerable since my old job disappeared.

Fortunately, IA saw unmined potential and I became a field-based marketing actuary supporting National Accounts, Managing General Agencies (MGAs) and MD Life. How could I help increase sales? To find out, I visited advisors across Western Canada. This lead to a well-received presentation tool, which I named Conceptia. The output was developed in Excel in collaboration with leading advisors. We made insurance strategies fast, flexible and friendly.

I concentrated on two major unserved needs:
  1. helping consumers understand by chiseling away complexity
  2. helping advisors stop marketing like it's 1999
Which other company would have given me such opportunities? If you've known me over the years, you know how much I've grown. Thanks for your help too.

I've focused my entire career on helping consumers tame their financial risks. I had this goal as a product actuary when developing flexible products, drafting accountable policy contracts and designing effective presentation tools.

As a marketing actuary, I directly help advisors help their clients. I want to remain close to advisors and consumers in person and via technology. Blogging since February 2007 is an example of this commitment to consistent persistent generosity. You'll find 267 posts here and on Riscario Insider.

Mastering new portable skills expands career opportunities. I've now got numerous ideas for the future, each with pros and cons. Some options may not be available or practical. This list is no particular order.
  1. advanced marketing for another insurer: continue providing case support, marketing tips, training
  2. product actuary: use field experience to develop products, strategies and tools to increase sales
  3. advisor support role at a distributor: help advisors and build the organization
  4. insurance specialist at a National Account: apply techniques developed while volunteering at IA Securities for 16 months; resulted in higher sales of IA products than most other National Accounts in Ontario
  5. insurance specialist in an independent team: ideally partnering with an investment advisor and/or accountant
  6. insurance specialist solo: perhaps helping advisors with their larger cases
  7. apprenticing with a seasoned advisor: learn proven techniques and modernize the marketing to ensure future growth
  8. marketing coach: helping advisors or distributors boost sales by marketing better
  9. writer / presenter: turning words, ideas and the stage into a business
Wait, there's more. A cashier at a gas station asked if I was a chauffeur. So many possibilities.

Your Thoughts
Are there other options? I'd like to narrow the list in January. I'd welcome your suggestions as comments below or email sent to

If you can get paid for things you'd do for free, you'll have a happy life.

The future looks friendly and bright. I'm neck deep in water but waving, not drowning.


November 9, 2009

How To Prepare, Promote and Practice A Brand-New Presentation

Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don't have to worry about money no more. And I said, that's good! One less thing.
--- Forrest Gump referring to Apple

Have you ever walked along the edge of a cliff without noticing and later marveled that you didn't fall off?

I got invited to kickoff Day 2 of the IFB Summit from the mainstage. What an opportunity. That's where I've seen excellent keynotes from
I gladly accepted since I rarely address an audience of several hundred. This time I had an ideal, rehearsed presentation. That's when the trouble started. My topic, How To Succeed With Entrepreneurs Part 1: Be The One They Want, overlapped with another presenter.

Sell Before Making
I quickly came up with a brand new presentation. Or rather, the title and description.
Do You Market Like It's 1999?
Change with the times. You know plenty about products and sales strategies. What about this real challenge: how do you entice prospects to pick you over your competitors? How do you stay in touch before and after a sale? How do you create a powerful first impression without needing to be there? Discover simple, inexpensive ways to market better. Explore a market yearning for your help … if you stand out. Discover what works in this timely new presentation from a marketing actuary with the passion for simple. Copy the concrete real-life examples to stop marketing like it's 1999. Or 1989.
That was enough to entice registrants to pick my breakout session. Selling before making works well. I used the same approach when launching Marketing Reflections: subscribers agreed to receive an eNewsletter that didn't exist. I then tailored content to suit them.

Next came the wrong end of the 80/20 rule: 80% of your time creates 20% of the outcome. There's no synergy here. Only work and attention to detail. That's fine.

By the time the content was ready, the presentation was hours away. That's when I realized that I wouldn't have time to practice even once. Oops. What was I thinking?

Mental Rehearsal
I knew how the presentation would flow and roughly what to say for each slide. I'd mentally rehearsed the sections while drafting the content. Dr. Maxwell Maltz unveiled this now well-understood approach in Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960. It works beautifully.

The trickiest section related to the importance of a having a proper email address. To ensure the words flowed and had punch, I wrote down bullet points and turned them into last week's blog post. How's that for recycling?

One insurmountable problem remained: pacing. I did not know how long the presentation would run. I had 75 minutes and could easily be off by 15-30 minutes if nervous energy sped me up.

Arrive Early
I arrived early and coordinated with the audio/video crew. I wanted them to play a video clip. You got a sneak peek in How to apply consistent persistent generosity. As a precaution, I had my presentation on my computer, a memory stick and a portable hard drive. I had the video clip on a DVD and in two other formats (MP4 and AVI).

This preparation paid off. A technical glitch prevented my computer from projecting. That's just as well because I forgot my trusty wireless presenter mouse in the car. I would have been forced to stand in the worst possible spot: behind the podium. There was enough time to put my presentation on their equipment via the memory stick. The formatting got messed up on the title slide, which was easy to fix. I could now use their wireless slide advancer, which allowed mobility. To drain nervous energy, I walked to the AV booth and back to the stage. My voice was ready since I'd avoided milk, caffeine and sugar. While John Dargie introduced me, I took deep breaths from stage right (with the microphone off).

I found my rhythm within minutes of starting. The presentation went much better than an unrehearsed mainstage presentation deserved.
You never know what you're gonna get.
--- Forrest Gump referring to a box of chocolates

November 2, 2009

Does Your Email Address Say You're Cheap, Generic and Inattentive?

T-shirts give you comfort, convenience, and choice. Unless you're in a specialized field, you wouldn't wear one to a client meeting. You might like to, but wouldn't.

T-shirts are walking billboards.

You're more likely to wear clothing with hidden or subtle branding. You want to project the right image.

So why promote another company with your email address? If you're in a big company, you probably have email in the format If you're independent, you may have a generic email address makes you look like a small company. Like having a PO Box instead of a street address.

Message Transmitted | Message Received
If you're using an email domain from another company, you might as well wear a t-shirt. You're advertising that company, which makes you look cheap, generic and inattentive. Businesses outside Toronto often have phone numbers starting with area code 905. Yet, their mobile numbers often start with Toronto's more prestigious 416. That's the same idea. You'll see women carrying fancy shopping bags from Gucci or Chanel. The packaging matters even if the bag holds today's lunch.

Here are perceptions your email domain may create
  • AOL pollutes (remember the landfill-clogging deluge of CDs years ago) and symbolizes 11 years of failure
  • Gmail from Google annoys Microsoft lovers
  • Hotmail from Microsoft annoys Apple fans
  • Rogers (cable Internet) symbolizes high prices and lousy customer service
  • Sympatico (Internet from your phone company) also symbolizes high prices and lousy customer service
  • Yahoo means unprofessional: a yahoo is a yokel, rube or hick
The perceptions may be wrong. For example, I once got great customer service from Rogers. So what? You don't know what your clients think and only that matters. Why put yourself at a disadvantage you can easily overcome?

Why Get Email At Your Own Web Domain
Having your own web address for email helps in several ways (even if you don't have a website)
  • pride: you feel good with a professional email address
  • portable: you can move to different Internet providers without losing your email
  • memorable: you won't have to put up with; you can use instead
  • branded: you advertise your own domain wherever your email address appears
  • web-based: for anytime, anywhere access
  • inexpensive: can even be free with Google Apps Standard Edition
A .COM domain costs about $10 US a year. If you need help with the configuration, ask your email provider. Or a teenager. Pay them with a t-shirt.


October 26, 2009

How To Apply Consistent Persistent Generosity

The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.
--- Walt Whitman

What you're doing right now gets you some results. How do you get more clients? How do you keep the ones you've got? To improve your results, try consistent persistent generosity. This catchy phrase is the title of a very short blog post from Seth Godin.

Consistent means continual and predictable. A regular frequency helps build expectations.

Persistent means long-lasting and unconditional. Like the Eveready bunny, you keep going after others fade.

Generosity means giving something the receiver values. Not regifting stuff you want to ditch. Or handing out Frisbees because you assume everyone likes them as much as you do.

The Perfect Gift
The perfect gift has immense value but won't put you in the poorhouse. How about giving information? This is easy on the environment, inexpensive to send and has no calories (unless you're sending recipes). Batteries aren't included, but batteries aren't required. Unlike soup, you don't need to add more water to feed more mouths. Information stays full strength.

To invoke reciprocity, Dr Robert Cialdini suggests your gift be significant, personalized and unexpected. Information meets those requirements and has greater value when timely.


Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. --- Seth Godin, Permission Marketing
Except on Halloween, we're reluctant to give candy to a stranger's child.

We want our messages welcomed. Advertising annoys. Most messages are generic and useless. If you've had laser eye surgery, you won't get more because of a sale price. If you don't ski, learning about a new resort doesn't help you.

How Social Media Helps
This snappy video shows the changing ways we communicate and stay in touch.

Why not share the best of what you know for free? You lose nothing if you believe we're surrounded by abundance. Your uncommon unconditional gifts will set you apart and draw people towards you. Generosity begets generosity.


October 19, 2009

Three Serious Lessons from The Second City Comedy Troupe

You can see a lot by just looking.
--- Yogi Berra

Shut Up And Show Us Your Tweets! That's the title of a new show by The Second City comedy troupe in Toronto. As a bonus, a set of live improv follows each performance.

You laugh and laugh. You even learn lessons. Here are three:
  1. Toil to shine
  2. Embrace risk
  3. Give free samples
Let's examine them.

Toil To Shine
If you don't sweat in private, you'll sweat in public. Practicing in private is better and less embarrassing.

The performance ran smoothly, with no obvious mistakes. This precision takes practice, which shows. What attention to detail. The actors said the right lines the right way at the right time. The right lighting illuminated the right spot at the right time. The right sound effects played at the right volume at the right time. We laughed and clapped on cue too.

Practice makes you a master ready to seize the opportunities that arise.

The cast of six showed mastery of their craft. Best wishes for continuing success to Rob Baker, Dale Boyer, Adam Cawley, Darryl Hinds, Caitlin Howden, and Reid Janisse. While they wait for greater opportunities to shine, they're satisfying the 10,000 hour rule. Time well spent.

You can also invest in becoming your best. What's the downside?

Embrace Risk
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that's where the fun is
--- Bruce Springsteen, Blinded By The Light
Improvisational comedy is risky and that's part of the appeal. You can't tell what's going to work and each performance is different. You might flop, but if you fail like Apple you get better next time. You reduce the risk of failure with a skilled, attentive team. Each member pays attention and contributes the best they can in that moment.

Collaboration is also the key to success for advisors, according to McKinsey and LIMRA.

Free Samples
After the main show, the doors opened for free improvisation. I thought this meant that anyone could get on stage --- not a welcome prospect. Instead, they meant that anyone could watch for free.

By removing the cost barrier, the troupe let anyone see them in action. Some passersby who dropped in probably bought drinks and perhaps tickets for a future show. This is the first universal principle of influence in action: reciprocity.

How can you offer free no-risk samples? Perhaps via seminars (live or recorded) or articles (ideally accessible online).

Even if you forget the jokes as you leave the venue, you'll remember the fun you had. What a great lure to return for more. And to bring others with you.


October 11, 2009

So What If Banks Sell/Promote Insurance Online?

I used to like to go to work but they shut it down.
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found.
Yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed.
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed.
--- Dire Straits,
Telegraph Road

Canadian banks dominate the sectors they enter.
  • Trust companies? Gobble, gobble.
  • Investment dealers? Gobble, gobble.
  • Mutual fund distribution? Gobble, gobble.
  • Mortgage loans? Gobble, gobble
Is insurance next?

Banks can't sell or promote insurance in their branches. Four months ago, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) ruled that a website isn't a branch. So banks can sell/promote online. Banks quickly integrated insurance into their main bank websites. This week, OSFI's boss, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said banks can't market or sell online. What this means isn't clear. This reversal shows the power of insurance advisors in lobbying their local politicians.

Banks already play a key part in the insurance world. They own insurance companies. They sell insurance products from various companies. They have insurance offices close to bank branches.

What Do You Think of Banks?
According to research released by advisors, 59% of Canadians are "concerned about banks becoming bigger if they are allowed to expand into other businesses such as selling life and health insurance from their branches." This study ignores the Internet.

According to research just released by the banks, 77% of Canadians have a favourable impression of banks because "they receive good, personal service, have no problems with their bank and that their bank is there for its customers’ needs".

Do the findings surprise you?

What If ...
Let's suppose banks can sell and market insurance online in the near future. How can small independent advisors survive?

Would consumers really buy insurance online? Maybe not, but that's not the point. We research online. Maybe you'd buy from the place that educated you.

Look at all the industries battered by the Internet, mega competitors and changing consumer tastes
  • Home Depot vs small hardware stores
  • Superstores vs small grocery stores
  • Best Buy and Future Shop vs small home entertainment stores
  • Wal-Mart Supercenters vs department stores and grocery stores
Consumers picked the winners with their wallets.

Manic Sunday
To protect small operators, big stores could not open on Sunday or the day after Christmas. Consumers spoke and the laws changed. Big means mass market, which leaves many unserved niches waiting for you.

A Simple Idea
Here's a simple idea: fish where the fish are. Since consumers look for insurance online, get online too. This is easy and inexpensive. With a good website, you will attract traffic. As a minimum, you must show up on search engines. You'll find earlier posts help make you easy to find and credible.
You can't tell the future but you can plant and nurture the seeds of your success. You've always got competition but you can adapt. No matter what happens.


October 5, 2009

Are You Seen as a Commodity Like a Netbook?

On the surface, netbooks look interchangeable. That suggests you can buy on price.

What if your prospects see you as a commodity too?

Here's what you'll find in today's typical netbook
  • same memory (1 GB)
  • same single core processor (1.6 GHz)
  • same hard drive (160 GB)
  • same operating system (Windows XP; Vista doesn't perform well)
  • same screen size (12.1" or less)
  • same screen resolution (1024x576 or 1024x600)
Blocking Innovation
Two big companies block innovation in netbooks: Microsoft and Intel. If we buy their cheaper products, they lose sales of their more expensive products with higher margins.

Microsoft sets maximum specifications on netbooks. Manufacturers who follow the rules pay about $15 US for a copy of Windows XP. Go beyond and pay four times more: $60. Is it any wonder that even the largest computer makers follow Microsoft's rules? Five "rebels" soon surrendered.

Competition helps. Microsoft faces competition from Linux and Google ChromeOS, both free. Intel faces competition from the AMD Neo and ARM Cortex. Computer manufacturers would rather sell more expensive equipment but want a portion of this growing market.

The Little Differences
Despite the similarities, you'll find surprisingly big differences among netbooks
  • keyboards: generally bilingual in Canada (e.g., Acer,Fujitsu, HP, Samsung, Toshiba), which makes the keyboards more confusing (exceptions: Dell, Lenovo)
  • build quality: plastic, "ruggedized" (for kids) or metal
  • layout and size of keys: the left shift key on the HP Mini is the size of a normal key and so is the right shift key on the Sony Vaio W
  • location of buttons on the trackpad: left/right (HP), bottom (most common), underneath (Dell)
  • battery life: longer weighs more
  • heat: some designs get too hot for comfort
  • reputation or design: you may prefer Sony over Acer, despite the higher price
When products become more similar, the minor differences matter more. You may prefer a particular colour. The placement of a key or the trackpad buttons may truly annoy you. Yes, we can adapt but why bother when we have other choices?

What About You?
You're not forced into sameness the way netbooks are, but you have the handicap of selling the invisible: services.

What makes you stand out from your competitors? Not from your perspective but from the eyes of your clients, prospects and centres of influence. In terms that matter to them.

Minor differences can set you apart. A little is enough to be the one they want.


September 28, 2009


The best-kept secret to advisor success is collaboration in the form of permanent teams.

Does this surprise you?

This finding comes from two trusted names in research: McKinsey and LIMRA. They surveyed 1,200 experienced US advisors selling insurance and financial services. There's probably some validity for other types of advisors and small businesses.

I learned of this study during an intriguing and thought-provoking presentation by LIMRA's Brent Lemanski entitled Forces of Change: Issues Facing Distribution Leaders.

Let's explore further.

Types of Advisor Teams
Advisors can work in different ways
  1. solo: 55%
  2. solo with low support (1 assistant): 22%
  3. solo with high support (2+ assistants): 14%
  4. multi-advisor: 9%
Moving from low support to high support increases income by 39% for advisors with 3-9 years of experience. Would you turn that down?

Another report shows that the average net income for categories 3&4 (multi-advisor or solo with high support) is 80% higher than categories 1&2 (solo with no or low support).

Let's define success as having 250 clients and being in the top quartile of all advisors in financial services. The likelihood of success
  • more than doubles with low support (2.1x higher) or high support (2.4x higher)
  • more than triples with a multi-advisor team (3.4x higher)
    What's Wrong With A Solo Practice?
    Here's what Brent suggested. If you work solo, you have few clients in the beginning. So you can spend plenty of time on each one. You learn inefficient techniques and don't develop systems. As your practice grows, you spend an increasing proportion of your time on administrative work. Now you're too busy to manage your smaller clients well. Adding an assistant would add revenue and increase client satisfaction at limited cost.

    Have you read the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber? This must-read classic advises you to build a business you can sell or franchise (even if you plan neither). You need systems and procedures that others can follow to provide consistent, quality results. A solo practice which relies entirely on you is called a job: you haven't constructed a business that anyone would want to buy.

    Three Benefits from Teams
    Members of teams benefit from
    1. building skills by getting mentored (95% agree)
    2. succession planning (89%)
    3. reducing personal expenses (77%)
    As you'd probably guess, solo advisors underestimate the value of teams. They answered 75%, 72% and 54%, respectively. That's a big difference.

    If you're solo --- like most advisors --- do consider creating a team. Brian Tracy says you're only working when you're prospecting, presenting or following up. An effective team frees up your time to do what matters most. Yes, there are hassles when you turn your job into a real business but look at what you can gain. Maybe you can experiment at low risk and low cost with a virtual assistant (see Marketing Reflections | Issue 3). What do you think?


    September 21, 2009

    Picking the Right Mobile Internet Solution

    There are three kinds of death in this world. There's heart death, there's brain death, and there's being off the network. --- Guy Almes

    All I need is the air that I breathe? Not anymore. In business, we need air conditioning and always-on Internet access too. Cheap, reliable, high speed access is a competitive advantage for cities and countries. In Canada and the US, we pay plenty for little. We don’t have much choice.

    With a netbook computer, you’re likely using the Internet extensively, which makes online access essential. Here are your options.
    1. WiFi
    2. WiMax
    3. Cellular
    Let’s examine each in more detail.

    WiFi is the best choice ... if you can get a signal. That’s the problem. Not enough places offer free access. Each network has its own login process. From my downtown Toronto office, I get signals from
    • the University of Toronto (but I’m not a student, which means no access),
    • OneZone (which blankets downtown but costs $5/hour, $10/day or $29/month plus tax)
    • various other closed networks
    If I only needed access from my office, OneZone would be viable, but I travel.

    Starbucks gives two hours of free access per day. That's great but there’s no Starbucks near me and I don’t frequent coffee shops. It’s not practical to go to go somewhere else each time you want a signal. There’s free WiFi from Toronto Wireless, but I'm out of range.

    Unfortunately, Toronto does not have much free WiFi. The US is more progressive. In lower Manhattan, a business coalition provides free WiFi. In San Francisco, bus stops have free WiFi as an incentive for riders.

    If only there were aggregators that would give you low cost access to different networks. Enter Boingo Wireless and iPass Connect. Each has 100,000+ hotspots. There’s considerable overlap. Hotspots include Starbucks, OneZone, McDonalds, FedEx Kinkos, and even some hotels (with iPass). The cost? A reasonable $10 US per month.

    What if you're often in locations without accessible WiFi? Like your client's office. You probably can't connect to their network.

    Security is also a concern. How safe is a public-access WiFi network? Can your transmissions be intercepted and decoded? The true risks may be limited with appropriate security on your computer and use of sites secured by SSL or VPN. I haven’t evaluated the risks but would not bank online over someone else's WiFi network.

    WiMax was meant as the solution for stationary mobile Internet access. It hasn’t taken off. You get reasonable prices (30 GB for $50/month) and decent speeds with Rogers Portable Internet (see blog post). I used it for ages but stopped because the modem needs an electrical outlet. That gets to be a hassle. If your netbook or notebook runs on batteries, why can’t WiMax run from a USB port? The power consumption requirements must be too high.

    If you can get a signal on your mobile phone, you can get cellular internet. You simply plug a USB modem or aircard into your computer. You can even buy a computer with an embedded receiver, which is convenient but stops you from moving your connection to another machine. You have access while moving too.

    Speed is surprisingly good. The problem is cost. In Canada, you’re paying $30 for 500 MB, $35 for 1 GB, ..., $85 for 5 GB. In addition, you pay the hefty cell phone surcharges for system access and 911. Then taxes get tacked on.

    How much data will you need? Hard to say. Luckily, some plans are tiered. If you use more than your allotment of data, you’re bumped up to the next band. So if you use 600 MB, you’re charged the rate for 1 GB. This can save you money over picking a 2 GB plan and using much less each month.

    With reservations, I opted for cellular internet access for true mobility. I picked Bell Mobility (which claims wider coverage) over Rogers (which claims faster speeds). I’m told that in real life, speeds are similar but could not compare.

    Overall, I’m very pleased with the speed. I’m using 30-50 MB/day with email and light web surfing. That's more than I expected. There must be applications running in the background that chew up bandwidth.

    How can you save money? You can bundle services with one provider (cable/satellite, home internet, home phone service, mobile phone). You might have access corporate rates through your employer or your spouse’s.

    Since data rates will likely drop, I picked a one year plan.

    Imagine always-on Internet access that’s too cheap to measure. Maybe someday. At least we have workable mobile solutions today. With mobile Internet and a netbook, my smartphone is becoming more of a paperweight.


    September 14, 2009

    Do you annoy your clients without knowing?

    You don't intend to annoy customers but maybe that happens. Let's look an example and a possible solution.

    The Situation
    I wanted to send an agent $10. PayPal makes this quick, simple and flexible
    • use the recipient's email address or phone number
    • pay from your PayPal balance, bank account or credit card
    • transact from the PayPal website or your mobile phone (US only)
    • free except for credit cards (you decide whether the recipient or you pay the fee)
    This agent required the use of a specific service. Let's call it "2PAY". The registration requires that you're at least age 18 and have a mobile phone from selected providers. That's not too onerous. Registration includes the following mandatory fields
    • your date of birth
    • your occupation [how can this matter?]
    • username [why not use your email address?]
    • mobile PIN [one more thing to remember]
    • two security questions [why not one?]
    • language preference [even though the whole page is in the language you choose]
    You also provide access to your bank account or credit card --- restricted to MasterCard or VISA. American Express cardholders aren't welcome here. Once you add a credit card, there is no way to remove it.

    Enter your postal code in the usual format (e.g., A1B 2C3) and you'll get an error when you Submit. This wipes out some other info, which you get to input again.

    To activate your account, you get a lengthy mixed case confirmation code on your mobile phone. You input this on the "2PASS" website on your computer. A link then gets sent to your computer. You click on it and enter your logon information.

    I sent the $10 after wasting 20 minutes on a service that falls well below expectations and Internet norms. In contrast, PayPal takes mere seconds and accepts Amex.

    Terms of Service
    Here are excerpts from the Terms of Use
    You agree to have access to computer with a minimum web browser version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or 7.0, or Mozilla Firefox 1.5.0 or 2.0, and the ability to receive and read e-mail [users of Google Chrome or Apple Safari are breaking the rules]

    ... not a deposit account and may not be insured by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation or any provincial deposit insurance program [but you're responsible to pay them anything you owe]

    You agree that we may keep any benefits provided by a financial institution that holds these funds.
    [how is this fair? why kind of benefits are contemplated?]

    In addition to the fees that we charge, you acknowledge that you may also be required to pay fees and charges to others [you get to pay and pay]
    The terms go on and on. PayPal provides free protection with no limits on eBay
    "So go ahead, shop with confidence. PayPal is with you every step of the way."
    You get no guarantees with "2PAY". If you have a problem, that's your tough luck.

    There's More
    I passed some feedback to "2PAY" directly on their website and got this form letter reply
    Thank you for your email. Due to the security vulnerabilities of email communication, it is [our] policy not to respond to inquiries specific to a particular account by email. We apologise for any inconvenience. [I didn't send email. I used an online form. They sent me a copy by insecure email.]
    For assistance with matters particular to your account, please give us a call toll-free at 1-888-XXX-XXXX anytime between 11am and 8pm EST. ["anytime" excludes weekends and early birds.]
    The folks at "2PAY" didn't intend to annoy with their PayPal clone. You have noble intentions but may annoy too. How would you know?

    Objective feedback is difficult to get. Here's a different idea. Invite observant communicators outside your target customers (and family) to review what you take for granted. Things like
    • the clarity of your marketing material
    • the quality of your handouts
    • your follow-up process
    • your voicemail greeting
    • your email signature
    • the overall impression you create
    Any volunteers?

    September 7, 2009

    Beat your Blackberry (or iPhone) with a Netbook

    I never wanted a Blackberry or iPhone. Don't get me wrong. I'd be lost without my Blackberry. My aging 8703e is very reliable and solid. Convenient size. Crisp screen. The battery lasts all day. However, I'm in no rush to upgrade because smartphones have severe limitations.

    A smartphone works best as a phone and calendar. Dialing is effortless when you select a contact from a list and without your calendar, how do keep track of your appointments? Synchronization with your network protects you if your device breaks or disappears.

    Problems with a Smartphone
    Needs evolve. Even the latest "gee-whiz" smartphones like the Palm Pre or iPhone 3GS compromise with tiny screens and tiny keyboards.

    Reading an email that runs more than a few lines is an ordeal. You can't see highlighting or comments typed in italics or a different colour. Forget about file attachments. Browsing the web is a pain after the novelty wears off. Composing multiparagraph emails isn't much fun either.

    A smartphone is too dumb and a notebook computer is cumbersome. How about something in-between?

    The Netbook Advantage
    You can buy a netbook, a tiny notebook computer, with wireless access and long battery life for $300-400 (and falling). Compare that with the price of an unlocked smartphone. You get a 10" screen with 1024x600 resolution, a 160 GB hard disk, 1 GB of RAM and a single-core 1.6 GHz processor and Windows XP. The keyboard is only slightly smaller than on your notebook computer. The netbook weighs less than three pounds and fits easily into your bag or onto an airline tray.
    A price exception: Nokia's first computer, the Booklet 3G costs a staggering $820 US.
    Get Bluetooth to make unlimited phone calls for only $2.95 US a month with Skype to any phone in the US or Canada. Compare that with the System Access Fee on your smartphone.

    You won't find much difference in netbooks among brands, which makes buying easier. Manufacturers don't like netbooks because they make about $6 on a $300 unit. These margins have kept Apple out and Toshiba just entered recently. Retailers don't make much either. Microsoft loses $50 US of potential revenue when Windows goes on a netbook instead of a notebook. What choice do they have Linux is free? Intel loses $250 US of potential revenue compared with a high end chip in a notebook.

    All this translates into value for you.

    What You Can Do
    At first, a netbook looks like an expensive toy. Indeed, a netbook makes a great computer for a student. Or for portable web surfing around the house. Road warrior Mitch Joel opened my eyes to business uses.

    Perceptions mislead. You can run Office 2007 in a pinch. If you're using the Internet, you'll find performance is fine. If your current computer is several years old, you may find the netbook runs faster.

    Here's where a netbook shines over a smartphone for email, web surfing and cheap phone calls. There's no learning curve because you already know how to use a computer and can install the same core applications.

    The Positioning
    A netbook does more than a smartphone but less than a full-featured computer. And that's just perfect.

    This week, I'm starting to use my netbook for presentations. I'm also investigating mobile broadband for places WiFi isn't available. I'll share the findings.