December 18, 2012


Stop aheadWhen we make plans or resolutions, we think about what we're going to do. Unless our days and/or weeks expand, we face the hurdle of finding the time.

We can put new items at or near the top of our priority lists. Other items will drop off for lack of time — unless we're told to squeeze them in too.

Clear The Clutter

We develop habits and stop noticing how they drain us, unless we pay attention. Where is your time going now? Consider using time tracking tools. Ask others where they think you’re misusing time.

Now, decide what you'll no longer do in your personal and work lives. You then free up time for the new. More important, you free up mental energy.


courtesy of Marta Dragonfly | click to view the Marketing Reflections archive
As a supplement to this blog, I've been sending out a free monthly newsletter, Marketing Reflections. The goal is to help you pause, reflect on your marketing and then act. Each issue had links to five articles worth a (re-)read.

I didn't mind creating the issues and readers liked them. That's still not a win/win because of the hours consumed. Also, the newsletter stopped serving a marketing purpose since I already share content via social networks.

The final issue, #42, shipped last week.

Stopping is more difficult than continuing. Even when I decided, I had misgivings. Yet, I felt lighter. That's a sign of a good decision. I knew many readers through past corporate work but we haven’t stayed in touch. The newsletter was maintaining an artificial connection.

A simple newsletter was sapping my mental energy. I didn't know until I stopped.

Your Case

Don’t you do things that make little sense today? Can’t you make better use of that time?
You could stop what seems unnecessary and see if anyone notices. That's cowardly compared with announcing your intention. Give your reasons and you might get commended for being proactive.


What might you stop? Here are ideas.
  1. Stop waking up to news: feel good instead
  2. Stop checking email before breakfast: get ready first
  3. Stop meeting for the sake of meeting: review the need, frequency and format
  4. Stop checking email all day: focus instead
  5. Stop disruptive multi-tasking: even if you’re a great juggler
  6. Stop responding to fake rush requests: you encourage poor planning
  7. Stop putting out fires: find ways to prevent them
  8. Stop taking on projects without proper time estimates: be realistic
  9. Stop being a bottleneck: you're more valuable when you enable and empower
  10. Stop feeling guilty on vacation: the world will survive
  11. Stop using two calendars: pick paper or electronic
This is the final post of 2012.

Best wishes to you and yours during the holidays.
May 2013 be the best year you've seen!


PS Don't stop reading blogs!

December 11, 2012


which way?What you do may be clear to you but not to others. Don’t blame them. Life’s busy and attention spans short. Refresh your positioning instead.

The Challenge

Positioning is tough. If you say you’re a coach, you’re easily stereotyped even though you’re unique (at least until cloning). If you pick a clever title (e.g., “Angle Coach”) and tagline (e.g., “Changing By Degree”), what you do may not be clear. If you’re given the opportunity to explain, you’re stereotyped again.

What you do may have evolved since you positioned yourself last time.


I've been calling myself a Marketing Actuary for years. That’s reasonable because I own (this website) and have helped entrepreneurs market better. My last official title in the corporate world was Director of Advanced Marketing.

While I have a personal website,, some people have trouble remembering or correctly spelling my name. In contrast, Marketing Actuary is easier to remember and leads directly to me.
The only drawback is confusion.

My real work involves life and health insurance (education, reviews, sales). I’m really an “insurance actuary” but don’t show up in a web search with those keywords.
I started calling myself an Insurance Actuary last week.
I changed my tagline from “actuary to the wealthy” to “actuary | advocate | blogger” earlier this year. My new title gave me a better idea: “promoting insurance literacy”.

My name is spelled “Promod”, which is usually pronounced “pro-MOD”. The correct way is “pro-MODE” (which rhymes with “commode”). “Promote” has a similar sound and positive connotations.

Financial literacy is a big problem but the battle focuses on investing. Who’s talking about the more specialized world of insurance? I can align myself with “promoting insurance literacy”. It’s even true, since I started a financial wiki in 2006 (Riscario) and blog in 2007 (Riscario Insider).

Clever, huh?

Your Turn

Your positioning may still make sense to you. What I've done might suboptimal. That’s okay. There’s value in making changes even when they’re less than perfect. You get closer to the ideal.
You don’t need fresh business cards while you experiment. Instead,
  1. Make the changes on your LinkedIn profile.
  2. Modify your “elevator speech” or commercial.
  3. Gauge the reactions and make adjustments.

Getting Ideas

You may have trouble figuring out better ways to position yourself. As a start, ask the people you know how they’d describe you. Take notes. You may not get a flash insight but you’re gathering data. Think about what you’re being told without over-analyzing. My process took several weeks.

If you’re stuck, ask for help. Look for someone who specifically does positioning.

One Small Step ...

My changes are minor but I'm already getting good responses to Insurance Actuary | Promoting Insurance Literacy. I've also got an untapped niche, a “blue ocean”.

When you reposition yourself, you get fresh perspectives. You see yourself differently and others do too. You may think your new position isn't far from your old one. It is.


PS If you say you do more than one thing, you’ll look like a generalist.

December 4, 2012


admit one
Big business can afford to host free events and advertise them. They often have their own facilities. If not, they have the budgets to rent space and provide refreshments.

You may not.

A free-to-attend event is not free to run. If you don't have a good estimate of how many will show up, life gets stressful.


You can use an event organizing system like Meetup or Eventbrite to collect RSVPs (LinkedIn Events shutdown last month). You still won't have a good idea of how many will really attend. If you host events regularly, you'll develop estimates. Perhaps 70% attend. If your room holds 70, you can overbook and allow 100 registrations. Airlines and hotels have mastered this process.


click to readThe difficulty arises with newer or less frequent events. Attendance might fluctuate even if you registrations are relatively constant. As an organizer, the waiting gets nerve-wracking. If you have free speakers, it's unfair to them if the attendance is low.

I’ve organized events. My most embarrassing experience was with THE Social Media Workshop in 2011. The speakers were excellent. Since members prepaid for the year, they could attend for free. Yet attendance was low. The speakers say they forgive you --- the right people attended. Maybe that's true but low attendance is embarrassing just the same.

The Solution

You've probably guessed the solution: charge in advance. You then get solid facts. If you're going to be disappointed, you might as well find out early. Even a small ticket price boosts the commitment level. Otherwise, excuses like the weather get in the way.

You could have different prices:
  • early bird: limited quantity, limited time [could be 2 for 1, rather than a discount]
  • regular: ending 1-2 days before the event
  • at the door: have a surcharge to entice pre-purchases
You then encourage early registrations --- a nice way to reduce stress. Eventbrite and Meetup let you show how many have registered and how many tickets remain. There are costs for using those services but peace of mind has value too. You could boost prices, to offset the service charges.
If you don't sell enough tickets, you have advance notice to cancel or reschedule.


Free events raise suspicions. What are the organizers selling? Even if the answer is nothing, you may get too few of the right people (and too many of the wrong).

Besides increasing commitment, charging increases the perceived value. The ticket price needn't be high. If you're not aiming to make a profit, you could use the money for catering or donations. You could even give refunds at the door.

If you're worried that paying attendees will expect a better event, good. You'll now have even more reasons to give attendees value.

Refund Policies

If you cancel the event, you'd give refunds. If a registrant cancels, do you refund the ticket price? Maybe not. Make the ticket transferrable instead. That way you maintain attendance numbers. Isn't that what you want?

Why Bother?

Why are you organizing events in the first place? Maybe you team up with other organizers to create bigger happenings. Isn’t that a win for all?


PS If you're creating a big special event, you can use Picatic, crowdsourcing for events. Besides collecting money, you’ll gauge interest early.

November 27, 2012


Imagine going to a retailer’s website and not seeing prices. Would you bother to get an estimate or would you opt for a site that tells you?

You’re used to finding prices and details online. Your customers are too.

“Wait,” you say. You're selling a service. Each case is unique. You can’t simply show prices online. That’s the common thinking among accountants, lawyers, fee-only financial planners, web designers and many others. Here are three reasons given for withholding prices.
  1. too complicated
  2. hiding from competitors
  3. prices change
Put your calculator away. Let’s examine each point.

Too Complicated

Your pricing may vary with
  • the type of work: routine vs. customized
  • the hours: actual vs. estimated
  • the client: e.g., family vs. corporate, remarried vs. married
  • the scale: discounts for bigger projects
  • the urgency: ASAP vs. soon
  • the number of revisions: normal vs. excessive
You must have a formula of sorts, probably based on an underlying hourly rate. You could describe your process and give examples of typical cases. Yes, you can reserve the option to revise prices for unusual situations (ideally before the work starts).

If you develop standard packages for common situations, you clarify what you do, eliminate pricing surprises and help others refer you.

Hiding From Competitors

If you're competing on price, you may not want your competitors to know what you charge. That's also an excuse for refusing to put your process or samples of your work online. You may think that what you’re doing is special and prone to copying. Potential buyers may see what your industry does as generic and interchangeable — unless you help them understand and value the differences you bring.

Clear and meaningful positioning reduces your competition. Back in 2007, Hyundai was comparing the Sonata with the BMW 5-series. Really? The comparisons could become valid in the future, especially if BMW partners with Hyundai on new engine development (Digital Trends, May 2012).

When you hide from your competitors, you also hide from your market. Adding details like pricing helps your real audience choose you — your clients, prospects and collaborators.

Maybe you worry about being seen as pricey. You may have reasons for premium pricing, such as extra expertise or more quality assurance. Show why you provide better value.

Prices Change

In a service business, the cost of materials is often negligible. You have flexibility in setting prices.

Maybe you maximize profits by charging prospects different rates based on what you think they’ll pay. Personalized pricing (Six Pixels, Nov 23, 2012) is contentious, especially when we’re the buyers. Publishing prices would get in the way.

You might build more trust and earn more business by having uniform prices. Not everyone wants the lowest price. You might increase your revenue by having extra (published) charges for more scenarios/prototypes or faster results.

Think Like A Customer

Would your clients prefer clear pricing? Give it to them. You give them peace of mind. You differentiate yourself. You help them refer others to you. You put pressure on your competitors to follow your lead. You might get media attention and attract like-minded collaborators.

With fixed pricing, your profits on each client vary. You now have incentives to improve your efficiency to improve your margins. You might even charge a premium for a fixed prices with pay-as-you-go pricing as the other option.

If you don't show your prices, you raise doubts. Build trust and you build business.


PS It's November. If you start now, in a couple of months you can say "since last year" :)

November 20, 2012


safety deposit boxesIf you're in business, you need a proper Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. When you’re starting, you may be tempted to use paper, your email contact system or a simple spreadsheet. As your business grows, you need better. It's best to have a system from the outset but you can add one now. The ideal solution is
  • easy to use
  • scalable
  • web-based

Easy To Use

Using a CRM system takes discipline. Some corporate systems are onerous and get underused even if mandated. You don't want a solution like that. Many systems offer free trials. Be sure to try before you buy even if reviews say a system is excellent. You may not like it. A system which doesn't get used is a waste.


Your business may start with a single person: you. Using a system still has merit. Your contacts are probably your most valuable assets. A CRM helps your organize them and track activity.

As you add more users, the pricing varies. Take a look now to see if you like the structure as you grow.


A web-based CRM system saves you the hassle of installation and ongoing maintenance. Some systems integrate social media to give you a current snapshot of contacts and their activity on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you use Google Apps, look for a CRM solution that integrates well. For instance, Insightly is reasonable but tied to one domain (as far as I can tell). If you get email at more than one web domain, that's a limitation. For example, I have email accounts at,, and personal Gmail. However, I want to use a single CRM system since a contact is a contact.


Batchbook CRMI've been using Batchbook since January 2010. It meets the requirements above. The problem has been integration with my Google Calendar. I'd like to input events in either my Batchbook calendar or my Google calendar and have them appear in the other place.

Batchbook is currently relaunching with all plans offering unlimited users, which is bizarre for small business. The pricing is
  • $20/month: 2,000 contacts, unlimited users
  • $50/month: 10,000 contacts, unlimited users
I’m currently on the old pricing which allows unlimited contacts: one user for $15/month and five users for $30/month. This structure makes much more sense even though I’ve got no plans to add 10,000,000 contacts.

Batchbook lets you synchronize contacts with different Gmail and Google App accounts. If I get a business email at my personal account, I can easily add it to that client's record on Batchbook. You may find that fits well with the way you work.


Insightly CRMIf you're using Google Apps, try Insightly. The pricing is compelling
  • free: 3 users, 2,500 contacts
  • $29: 6 users, 10,000 contacts
Insightly works reasonably well. The free plan may be all you need if you don't mind being tied to one web domain.


There are lots of other solutions. I explored some recently but didn't find they fit my requirements well.  You may feel differently.


Will your CRM provider stay in business? There are no guarantees. If your business is successful, you'll have money to pay for a migration. When you're test-driving a solution, try the process of exporting the data.

If you’re in business, you’re big enough for CRM.


PS How do you keep track of your clients?

November 13, 2012


the water's fine
Putting yourself on display helps you overcome the #2 fear which Napoleon Hill identified: the fear of criticism.

During the year, you'll have opportunities to earn recognition for your business and yourself.

There are business excellence awards and speaking opportunities. Even TEDx events may require you to apply.

At the Toronto Small Business Summit,  The Globe and Mail is offering the opportunity to get featured on the Report on Small Business website. Here’s how.

Waiting To Get Chosen

It's nice if someone else nominates you (accept the gesture). Nominating yourself may look a tad underhanded. However, if you don't tell your story, you may find that you get ignored. That's worse.
If you tell your story, you get to use your words.

Good Odds

Entering a competition takes more effort than clicking a Like button. This small effort is big enough to deter entrants. You put the odds on your side just by entering. Answer the qualifying questions well and you're among the elite. You may only face a handful of opponents.

Better Odds

When applying, read the questions carefully and think about your answers before replying. Perhaps draft your replies in a word processor and review them.

The questions are often simple but deep. The Globe and Mail is asking why your business deserves coverage. In particular,
  1. What makes your business unique?
  2. What challenges does it face, and which ones has it overcome?
  3. What can other small businesses take away from your experiences?
Developing answers is a worthwhile exercise for any business and for you personally.


We're always judged but not always fairly. When we evaluate ourselves, we can convince ourselves of greatness that others don’t see.

In a competition, the evaluation is objective. The judges are trained. Attempts are made to reduce biases. The resulting feedback is very valuable.

Improving Your Skills

During the process, you use different communication skills.
  • written: to qualify
  • verbal: if interviewed (at the Small Business Summit, the five finalists pitch to the panel of judges in front of a live audience)
Maybe you feel you're worthy of winning but don't feel you have the skills to express yourself. A free private mentor or paid coach can help. You would likely benefit from Toastmasters if you find the right club. That’s also an ideal place to get lots of feedback and learn by watching other members.

Marketing Strategy

If the award warrants, develop a strategy to market your nomination. The stages might be nominee, finalist and winner. Even if you don't win, you're still among illustrious company. As a minimum, show your placement on LinkedIn.


Regardless of what happens, you're getting known by a larger group, including the judges. You may make valuable connections (though I'd wait until afterwards before connecting on LinkedIn and/or meeting again).

After you go through the process, you'll get a better understanding of how you differ from the winner. Make changes and get ready for the next competition.


PS When did you compete last? When will you compete next?

November 6, 2012


transparent worldHave you noticed how the world has become transparent? We have instant access to information wherever our smartphones have a signal (and reasonable roaming charges). We no longer have to guess. We can find out when we have a doubt.

As a result, we find example after example of how our trust has been violated. Here are assorted examples from @trustandyou:
Each person, company, or sector looked worthy of trust but betrayed us. In this environment, who do you trust? Who trusts your business? Who trusts you?

Get Started

Building trust was never easy. Building trust in a transparent world is tougher. The process starts with you.

You need to be worthy of trust in the eyes of others. That requires chemistry (people like you), credentials (you can do the work) and congruence (you keep promises).

Your ongoing generosity is a powerful tool to build trust when visible online. Here's why:
  • chemistry: strangers get to know you, which helps them like you and choose you
  • credentials: you demonstrate your up-to-date abilities
  • congruence: you show that the interests of your clients come first (e.g., you advocate for them)

Be Visible

To stand out in a transparent world, you must be visible. Yes, that’s scary but if you hide, you are invisible. You disappear as an easy-to-examine option.

Think of billboards. Companies spend plenty to be visible but they start fading once the ads disappear. Which provider has the great Internet experience? What was that television show with that tough looking guy? Which yogurt has a special ingredient? We forget.

You control how visible you are. You know the basics. Have destinations like your LinkedIn profile or website. Have invitations and reminders to visit your destinations by posting regular updates where your target market can see them (e.g., places like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+).

Your Ingredients

33 universities have partnered with CourseraSince expertise goes stale, you need ways to show that your learning is current and relevant. How are keeping fresh?
You can take free courses from universities like Stanford through Show what you complete on your LinkedIn profile.

What books have you read and which ones are you reading? Show them on LinkedIn via the Reading List by Amazon plugin. Write about the book to verify that you did read it. Perhaps contrast/compare with other books to show deeper mastery. Your entire network gets informed when you update your list.

Reading List by AmazonYou can also learn for free online by doing a Google search. Show what you're finding that's valuable by posting links. I mainly share by LinkedIn and Twitter.

You have other options such as paid courses or personalized coaching. How you learn isn’t as important as showing that you’ve learned.

The best way to show mastery is by applying the lessons. You can create free instantly-accessible samples in the form of text, audio or video. Live presentations also help but reach a much smaller audience unless you also record and post them.


Building trust in a transparent world takes continual effort. The rewards grow as you continue and others quit. What you do adds to what you’ve done. Your digital tapestry makes ever stronger impressions on each new visitor.

You're easier to find than ever before. You're also easier to dismiss.


PS Would you rather go back to the opaque world?

October 30, 2012


nail in tireFrankenstorm Superstorm Sandy brought days of rain and wind. Because we're in Toronto, we've been spared the brunt. We were still affected in ways we didn't expect.


On Friday night, we lost electricity from 8:30 PM to 10:30 PM. Imagine the terror of talking to family members for two whole hours! Our neighbors were without power until the next morning.

Because of that outage, we had our flashlights and candles ready.

De-lighted Again

Sunday was uneventful apart from rain and wind. On Monday afternoon, we were without power from 2:30 PM for 3-5 hours.

We thought we were better prepared. Both our vehicles had less than half a tank of gas. I could not get mine from the garage. We had work done recently and the workers locked the door. We couldn’t open it because we don't have a key ... because we never lock that door.

Luckily one vehicle was in the driveway. We went out for cash, gas and dinner.


When we got back, the electricity was back. I took my SUV for fuel. On the way, the Check Tire Pressure warning light came on. Strange. I stopped but didn't see a tire that was obviously low. When we got home, I checked the air pressure. The rear driver side tire was down from 32 psi to 20 psi.

I used a 12V electric pump (once we found it). That's when I noticed a big nail or screw deep in the tread. I decided to call Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance. That's when I realized that I didn't have their phone number or the vehicle’s VIN number on my phone. Poor preparation.

I got through around 10:15 PM and spent a few minutes on hold. The friendly roadside assistance operator  asked if I had a spare tire. I don't. Because I have Bluetec diesel, there's a tank for fluid in that spot. A tow truck was dispatched to take my vehicle to the nearest MB dealer for service in the morning. The truck was supposed to arrive within 30 minutes --- faster than a pizza. It didn't.
towed away
I called back at about 11:19 PM. I learned that the tow truck broke down. Another one had been dispatched and should arrive in 10-15 minutes. I backed my vehicle from the garage to the driveway to help simplify the towing. The tow truck left at 12:20 AM.


We were less prepared than we thought. That's an important (and recurring) lesson.
There's also the issue of unmet expectations. The tow truck operator could have phoned when delayed. Imagine if you were stranded on a desolate road instead of at home. Yet, I couldn’t blame him. He was out working on a bad night while I was safe at home.

Overall, the service was satisfactory but there could have been more communication.

Blessings Uncounted

Bad storms may affect others but what matters most are the little things that affect us directly — in this case, the inconvenience caused by a nail.

If I hadn't gone to get gas, I wouldn't have known about the nail until driving today. I might have stopped, visually noted no problems and continued. What would have happened? Maybe nothing. Maybe a blowout on the highway and an accident. I'm lucky but don't feel lucky. It’s sunny outside right now. I’m wishing Sandy blew all the leaves off our lawn before leaving.

Once our electricity returned, we started taking it for granted again. The next time it disappears for more than a few minutes, we'll be annoyed again. We are fickle and forgetful. Your clients are too.


PS I'm reminded of the poem in which a lost nail results in a lost battle (see For Want Of A Nail). I had a nail too many.

October 23, 2012


have a seatWe get better with help.

Networking wizard and continual learner, Paul Nazareth has an effective personal board of directors. You can too. His board is virtual. He meets with each member at different frequencies but they don’t meet each other. The result is a flexible network of private mentors for free.

The Problem With Groups

Group peer mentoring may seem better than having a set of private mentors. Groups have practical problems:
  • coordination: you want everyone to attend, which gets challenging with schedules, travel and disruptions
  • monopolization: in a group, some members are more vocal and consume too much of the time
  • chemistry: when does everyone in the group value everyone in the group?
Our lives are already filled with hassles. Who wants to add more?


I don't like the term "board" or "mentor" since that suggests a hierarchy. Besides, a board can fire you! I like "mastermind" (and wrote about three) but find too few are familiar with Napoleon Hill's concept. I prefer the term "peer mentoring", which suggests equality and mutual help.
A mentor gives advice the only way possible: from his or her perspective. The world has changed drastically. What worked then need not work now. Does someone from the era before the Internet (perhaps even before personal computers) understand today? The generation gap has become a chasm. The principles remain (e.g., build trust) but the tactics change (e.g., share online).
A peer is someone you consider comparable to you. Not a master vs student. You agree to help each other. You want someone you trust since you'll be sharing personal details. Decide before you start. You may want to meet several times, ideally under different circumstances. Ask mutual connections about them. Agree to an ongoing commitment (e.g., monthly). You're free to cancel at any time but start assuming you'll continue indefinitely.

Why Free?

You’ll find many people willing to (help you) fix your life for a fee. Can they? Will they? Are they the right choice for you? Are they making you independent or reliant?

Your doubts and their unknown level of skill can impede your results. In the end, you are responsible for the results. Getting help for free takes more skill since you must have something of value to offer. How can you lose by building skills?


I’ve never paid a mentor but you might want to if:
  • you have a budget you want to spend
  • you have specialized problems
  • you want faster results
  • you don't have any suitable peers (and your network can't suggest any)
  • you think there is a “right” way
  • you don't have the time or interest to co-organize
  • you stick to commitments that cost money


I have a private peer mentor at Rotman (not endorsed by the business school, but doesn't that sound impressive?). We meet monthly. The dates stick without last minute changes. We start on time (4:15 PM) and end on time (5:15 PM). This reliability is rare but makes the experience rewarding.

We both take the process seriously and are making surprisingly good progress. We're competing in who has the most good news (i.e., accomplishments). That's motivating (though I feel I’m the laggard).

The Plunge

You can find a private mentor on your own. And then another and another until you have enough. You have complete control. These mentors are free because you've shown the courage to ask them and you help them in return.


PS Who helps you get better? Who do you help?

October 16, 2012


image“The SMB Exchange looks like an excellent initiative with lasting benefits. I’m looking forward to attending and participating.” — me

The quote shows my thinking three months before the first-ever SMB Exchange. Did the Toronto Board of Trade deliver an event that melded learning and networking?

Yes, exceeding my overall expectations.

Kudos to Ravi Nayak (Director, Membership Services), Alison Morin (Marketing Intern), Jeffery Veffer (Director, Product Innovation) and the others involved.

What Worked

The SMB Exchange sold out (say 150 people?). Extending the introductory pricing probably helped. Sometimes "sell out" means reducing the number of tickets and arranging the seating to fill the space. That didn't look like the case here.

Some people left after the keynotes by Peter Oliver (partner at Oliver & Bonacini) and Rick Segal (CEO and co-founder of Fixmo). Their loss. The breakout sessions were full enough without feeling congested.
We were assigned to different tables in the main room for:
  1. the keynotes
  2. the morning case study
  3. the lunch case study
Changing tables is great for networking and discussions. The three breakout sessions had unassigned seating. As usual, I sat in the front row.

When I spoke to Ravi afterwards, he pointed out that seeing one person three times in a day has more impact than seeing them once at three separate events. I hadn't thought of that but agree.
Case Studies
Case studies made the SMB Exchange special. We talked about our own issues twice during the day. We got nice, spiral bound workbooks with all the case studies submitted. That’s an opportunity to review the challenges facing attendees we didn’t meet.
Diamond seatingDiamond Seating
The seating for the breakout sessions was arranged in a way I've never seen before. Picture an open diamond-shaped space in the middle of the room with rows of seats around it. This structure encouraged discussions. You were continually looking at everyone except anyone behind you.

I expected the speakers to walk around like caged animals. That happened in the first session but other speakers sat down at one end of the diamond, which made them harder to see and harder to hear. Speaking tip: Stand up. You’ll sound better and look better.
No PowerPoint
No one used PowerPoint, which was refreshing and allowed the non-theatre-style seating.
There was plenty of time for discussions, though less than I expected. When attendees asked questions, the speakers tended to answer. The moderators could have invited more audience participation and asked fewer questions themselves.
While the speakers did mention their businesses. I didn’t feel they were trying to sell us anything. That’s refreshing.

Ideas For Improvement

As usual, there was some room for improvement.
Expand The Workbooks
Our workbooks were filled with case studies but didn't show the breakout sessions, session summaries or speaker bios. I found the two streams confusing and selected sessions based on the content. We were allowed to go to whatever we wanted.

As pre-work, we were asked to send in (i) an elevator pitch and (ii) a case study. Both could be combined by starting the case study with an elevator pitch.
Train The Facilitators
There's a knack to facilitating. The key is to stay in control. That means keeping track of the time with a watch to ensure that everyone gets their allotment. Otherwise, the people at the end lose out.
Capture The Memories
There was an opportunity to take lots of photos and shoot lots of video. I like putting as much as possible online but that might be too extreme for the privacy-conscious. As a minimum, a roving photographer and videographer could nab content for a summary. That's great for memories and future marketing.

Video is the ideal way to capture testimonials from the attendees onsite. Just edit out the bad ones. There was an email survey afterwards but the results were not made public.

Tips For Attendees needs more membersYou get more from learning events like the SMB Exchange if you
  1. Do the pre-work (which is about you and your business)
  2. Bring lots of business cards. They’re cheap and take little space in your bag
  3. Prepare one question (or more) per session in advance. If it's not answered, ask it.
  4. Take notes (which means bringing pen and paper)
  5. Participate (which also encourages other attendees to seek you out)
What happens after an event? Often little. The SMB Exchange has a special website to help us stay in touch ( It’s free and currently open to non-attendees. There’s not much activity since there are few members.

I’m looking forward to next time.


PS The breaks could be longer but that would mean staying longer too.

October 9, 2012


Signs of skill and expertiseTestimonials are essential but they have  limited value. You need them as a sign of credibility but they read like fiction and look too general.

I’ve never had a client hire me because of a testimonial. I have received clients because of my skills and expertise. How do you show what you know. Your digital tapestry helps. Outside endorsements do too.

LinkedIn has introduced an elegant solution: endorsement of skills and expertise. (Let’s say “skills”, for short.)

The New Way

In the past, you could list any skills on your LinkedIn profile, even if you didn't have them. Likewise, resumes are also peppered with impressive words without signs of proof.

Now there's accountability. If you agree that a connection has a specific skill, you "vote" by endorsing them (like a Google "+1"). Their profile shows the number of votes and who voted. That's transparency.

A Simple Plan

Make sure that your LinkedIn profile shows the Skills and Expertise section. Make sure that you've got appropriate skills listed. If you’re not sure what to show, look at some of your connections for inspiration.

When a connection posts an update, take a look at their profile. See if you can vote for any of their skills. If a skill is missing, you may be able to add it. If not, ask your connection to add the skill so that you can endorse it. They won't mind.

Some connections are nearly invisible because they are inactive on LinkedIn. Review all your connections alphabetically (I'm at G). If you can't endorse each one for at least one skill, ask yourself why you’re connected. (Possible answer: you think they have skills but don't yet know from your own personal experience.)


Protect your reputation. Do not endorse a skill unless you have evidence of it.

There are limits. Some people have too many votes in too many categories. These same people tend to have too many testimonials (and cross-testimonials). Who are they fooling?

Some connections claim to have skills they lack. Maybe they don't know they’re lousy at Public Speaking (say). That's a problem. Perhaps they're exaggerating. That's a problem too.

I'm planning to disconnect from questionable connections.


If you're reluctant to endorse your connections’ skills, what's the problem? Maybe you're unwilling to show generosity. Why? When you do something nice, bad things rarely happen (outside of the movies). Writing a testimonial may be daunting but voting for a skill is not. Try it.


When you vote, you increase your visibility by showing up on another profile. That’s advertising of sorts and might bring you more visitors.

See who else has endorsed the skill of a connection. Maybe you want to invite them to join your network. Generous people make great connections.

Getting Votes

How do you get votes? By giving. The universal principle of reciprocity will bring you votes.

You may be surprised by the results. In the beginning, I had more votes for Blogging (a hobby) than Life Insurance (my vocation). Bad optics. I "cheated" by asking two connections who knew of my insurance skills for their endorsements. Luckily, they agreed. All other endorsements came without asking.


PS You may be surprised by who will (and won't) vouch for you.

October 2, 2012


LinkedIn 30 day action planAt the end of 2011, I said I was sick of social media and planned to write about other topics instead. I've lapsed occasionally because I keep getting requests for help. I recently spoke to advisors at an Advocis Peel Halton event on Social Media and Branding.

I spoke about building trust with LinkedIn and presented this 30 day action plan with three segments:
  1. Your past experience
  2. Your ongoing generosity
  3. Your current relevance
You can do everything yourself but may get better results with help.

Past Experience

Your past experience helps establish your credentials from studying and work experience.

Credible testimonials are the best way to show that you had the skill to do what you did. You especially want testimonials from clients. You can also get them from colleagues and others but these are not as relevant to potential clients. Action: Get three or more testimonials. 

Your LinkedIn Profile tells the world about you. An incomplete or poorly completed Profile says you don’t care. How does that bring you clients? LinkedIn guides you through the process of building your Profile. You can make changes gradually and make revisions later if you're not happy. Pay particular attention to your Summary. This is your infomercial. Use the first person ("I") and write the way you talk. The rest can use third person. Make your content simple to understand. Big words and long sentences rarely impress. Action: Complete your Profile to 100%.

Ongoing Generosity

Giving changes you and invokes reciprocity, the #1 universal principle of influence . Giving valuable information online costs you nothing but adds to your digital tapestry and creates a stronger first impression on visitors.

Action: Give at least five testimonials. If you won't go on the record to say nice things about others, how can you expect to get testimonials? Do not give/get testimonials from the same people. If you recommend me and I recommend you, we both lose credibility. A reader can easily think we're biased and ignore both of us. Doubt grows very easily and is tough to erase.

Giving testimonials is also a nice way to nudge or remind others to give you testimonials. You’re leading by your virtuous deeds.

Since a testimonial is static, you need signs of ongoing generosity too. To say up-to-date, you probably read information regularly. Some of the content will be relevant to your LinkedIn connections. Action: Post two or more updates every week. Posting an update takes mere minutes. Because updates take very little effort, nothing magical happens. If you’re consistent, your connections start noticing you. If your updates are useful, they start paying more attention to them (and you).

Current Relevance

Just because you have solid past experience and post updates doesn’t show that you can do the work today. Times change. Have you updated your skills? You may be an expert in Blackberries but that’s less relevant when Android and iOS rule.

To show that your brain still works, answer questions. Action: Participate in Groups. Avoid Groups loaded with your competitors. They are not going to buy from you. Focus on the Groups your clients visit. By participating, you’ll start to become known. Your answers get seen by people who aren’t even your connections. Maybe they will want to hire you or connect with you.

Creating original content changes you from a parrot to a pundit. Creating content like blog a post is time consuming. Within LinkedIn, there’s a hybrid solution. When you post a link to show ongoing generosity, also add content to show your thinking. You’ve got lots of options. Maybe you supplement the article, point out weaknesses or interpret. Action: Create original content.


Here’s my full live presentation.
You can also get the slide deck and other resources.


PS Every step in the action plan is free.

September 25, 2012


bucket brigadeAre you tired of meeting competitors wherever you go?

That happened this weekend at the sold-out Canadian Personal Finance Conference (CPFC12) hosted by Preet Banerjee (LinkedIn) and Krystal Yee (LinkedIn). The main attendees were experienced bloggers and journalists. They all compete for a scarce, irreplaceable resource: your attention. Yet no fights took place.

You have many distractions and can scat at any instant. Writers compete by improving. They don’t prepare comparisons: more semi-colons than any other blog. They don’t have specials: 25% more words while quantities last. They don’t push fluff: new formatting; same great content.

But Wait

When we care about the subject, we go to more than one source. We want different perspectives from experts we trust. For instance, you won’t get all your marketing advice from one place.

Bloggers help themselves by helping each other succeed. They link to one another’s posts and leave comments on their blogs. By cooperating, they make their niche richer and deeper. That helps attract and retain readers.
Sometimes real competition prevents cooperation. If you’re looking for the lowest loan rate or the highest saving rate, you might only visit the site that Google ranks highest.

In business, rivalry interferes. Will the Apple store ever say your needs would be better served by Windows or Android? At least you know the biases before you go in.


Vendors cluster. You’ll find burger, pizza and sub places near each other. You get used to going to that area even if you don’t always buy the same thing.

In downtown Toronto, the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche dealerships are nearby. You probably won’t buy all three (if any) but proximity helps you compare and contrast. You might try and buy a brand you weren’t considering before.

But First

If you are selling tomorrow, be very careful not to pitch people who are only interested in buying things that are about today. Before a marketer or organization can sell something that works in the future, she must sell the market on the very notion that the future matters.
— Seth Godin,
truth and consequences
Personal finances are about the future. People who need help may be too busy with the latest iFrenzy to pay attention. What about your clients?

Maybe your real opportunity comes from boosting awareness of the category of service you sell. You can’t do this alone. You need help from vendors in the same niche and credible advocates. Amplify each other (unless prohibited by corporate policy).

When your real competitors are ignorance and indifference, team up the way bloggers do. A bucket brigade gets better results faster. All win. As awareness builds, buyers become more plentiful and discerning. You now have an opportunity to earn your share (or more).


PS This post was trimmed by 187 words. Get less words … for a limited time only!

September 18, 2012


Pen or electronic?Maintaining a To Do list is challenging. An entry could go in different categories (e.g., business, family, personal). What you need to do a task varies (e.g., phone, car, office, computer, quiet). The priorities differ and change. The due dates do too. Any system you use will have ways to deal with issues like these.

I use a combination of Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

The Tools

The challenge is finding the right tools and using them consistently.

Ease of use varies.
  • pen/paper is fastest but the least organized, easiest to lose, least likely to be with you when you’re on the move and toughest to reorganize
  • with electronic tools like your smartphone, tablet or computer, input takes longer but the lists are well-organized, easier to share and tough to lose (with sync and online backup)
With any system, there will be tasks that don't get done. As the list of incomplete items builds, it's easy to get overwhelmed and stop using the list. It's like missing gym visits and finding it easier to stay away than return.


Being able to add, edit and remove tasks anywhere is handy. I want to see the list on my smartphone, which I'm most likely to have with me. For inputting items, I prefer my tablet or computer. When working with a team, support for different devices helps. I have collaborators who use iOS and Android. Web-based tools are a compromise but less inviting to use than an app.


You may want to share some tasks with your team and keep others private. Sharing might not be free. An environment like GlassCubes may help if you have a budget and other needs (free for two workspaces with unlimited users).

Messed Up

Recently, I've been using
  • assorted paper (whatever is at hand) without organizing the pages
  • Toodledo: web-based, integrates with my Pocket Informant calendar (which syncs with my Google Calendar) on both my Android phone and iPad
  • CRM: for some work-related tasks that I want to associate with specific clients
The result is a bit messy and inconsistent. Maybe a hybrid is the best solution for now. Your thoughts?


PS You might want to try the Twitter-like Fetchnotes, which is free. As a bonus, you get a generous 25 GB of Box storage for free if you’re not a current Box user (see MakeUseOf for the steps).

September 11, 2012


TrustCloud logoHow much do your clients and prospects trust you? How much should your clients and prospects trust you?

Testimonials are necessary but not very convincing. Have you ever seen a bad one?

Trust can't be measured empirically but there are attempts to do just this. Enter TrustCloud. You get a score between 1 and 1000, where higher means better.

No scoring system will be perfect even if one puts you at the top. There is still merit in the quest. It’s interesting to see what gets rewarded.

You're A Believer

You may skeptical about algorithms but they already make predictions for you. Google predicts your search query as you type and gives results tailored for you. Amazon predicts what you may also want to buy. Netflix predicts what you want to watch (your personalized Top 10) and how much you'll like a movie (actual rating vs your projected rating).

The results keep improving.


TrustCardTrustCloud looks at your activity on networks like Facebook, Google+, Klout, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you’re not active online, your score will suffer. That’s reasonable since it’s difficult to trust people who aren’t visible. What are they hiding? Why are they hiding?

TrustCloud gives you credit for participating in social media for years (Longtimer), networking (Connector) and having many people read your posts (Influencer). Your network can recognize you for virtues like accountability, compassion, generosity, punctuality and reliability.

Marketing Tips

TrustCloud is fairly new. You might as well sign up and see your grade. You'll also see ways to improve your score. You may have competitors who work in megacorps that restrict use of social media. That will hurt their scores and give you an edge.

Once you're comfortable with your score, start showing it. This achieves two goals
  • transparency
  • raises expectations (clients expect from others)
imageI'm currently 745/1000, which is considered Good but feels a tad embarrassing. I'd like at least 800 (Very Good). However, I wanted to make you aware of TrustCloud now.

Changing Behavior

Knowing you're being measured may spur you to improve your score. Even if you don't care how you compare, your clients and prospects might. Even if they’re indifferent today, tomorrow they may want to know.

There's nothing stopping you from engaging in virtuous behavior online. Now you get rewarded too.

Other Measures

You may already be familiar with measures of influence like Klout or PeerIndex. They are worth using too.


PS For all trust all the time, follow @trustandyou on Twitter

September 4, 2012


Back to School/MarketingSchools re-open today. Do you remember your lessons from years past? Not what you learned but how you learned. Those old lessons can help with your marketing now.

The Process

To succeed in school, you need to plan ahead. That means knowing basics such as  exam dates and when projects are due. To remember, you also need to make a schedule. A combination of a Google calendar and a To Do list works well for me. You also need to stay on schedule. It's very easy to fall behind or (re-)establish bad habits.

Having a support group like a mastermind works well (here are lessons from three).


We're not done yet. You need to learn. That means to
  • be open to learning
  • study (sorry!)
  • share what you learn
Green Eggs and HamIf you're not motivated to learn, you won't. At least not very well.

You're not learning unless you're stretching yourself either. You may have loved Green Eggs and Ham. Maybe Dr. Seuss did too. He didn't stop there. His final book, Oh, the Places You'll Go! shows a definite evolution and also reaches a different audience than One Fish, Two Fish.

You don't really learn until you share what you’re learning. Blogging is one way, even if your readership starts small.

No Excuses

We were forced to attend school. If you aren't interested, too bad. If you don't have time for an assignment, too bad. If you're confused and falling behind, too bad. You may have more leeway today but that’s hardly permission to make excuses or procrastinate.


In school, our grades show our progress. In business, the marketplace grades us. We may think we're doing well because we don't get a regular report card. Are we fooling ourselves?

To get feedback earlier, show your progress. Seth Godin is doing this on Kickstarter for The Icarus Deception, his new book. He’s already posted 14 updates. Your market may find your process more fascinating than the results (though make them great too). It’s easy to communicate via Twitter and blog posts.


In school, we're told how many subjects to take. In business, we're already busy. We need projects or sub-projects we can complete in a reasonable timeframe. You might find that three months is just right — not too long, not too short. Maybe you plan by calendar quarter or season.

What's the right subject to tackle?

You might want to work on your strengths for mastery or on a weakness for outsized results. For example, I learned the basics of video editing this year (see YouTube). The results aren't amazing but they are a huge step for me. I'd like to get better but progress will be slower and take more effort. For hands-on experience, I volunteered to work on community television.


How do you learn? Where do you go for help? You may like having a teacher or tutor. You may prefer learning on your own since there's so much available online and in books. If you're stumped, you can think, procrastinate or get help. Just like in school.


PS Your first assignment is to figure out what you want to do. Class dismissed!

August 28, 2012


new coat of paintAre you in a group that wants to retain and add members? Here are steps to become more effective online. The focus is on nonprofit, volunteer-run groups.

The actions are free or low cost, easy to maintain, and with measurable results.

Do they work? See for yourself. A similar process was used at Goodyear Toastmasters during my 2011-2012 presidency.

Step 0: Web domain

imageGet a web address. If you don't have one, buy one through Google Apps, which will also give you free email and other niceties without mastering terminology like DNS and CNAME.

Consistency helps. Use a service like NameChk, CheckUsernames or NameChecklist to find a name that’s available for multiple sites. This may not be easy or possible. Do what you can.


Step 1: Gmail

Your free Gmail account is your passport to the online world. Even if you're using Google Apps, the following steps will rely on having a basic Gmail account. Where possible, use Google services. They're free and probably help with the ever-important search engine rankings.

Step 2: Twitter

Twitter is essential for broadcasting what your group does. Follow all your members and encourage them to follow your group account. Twitter gives a way to promote members and the group.
You’ll need your Gmail address to activate your account.

Example: @gytm81 (since @goodyeartoastmasters is too long when tweets are limited to 140 characters)

Step 3: Google Analytics

imageOnline, you can measure results and trends. Google Analytics is free, easy to use and widely supported. You’ll need your Gmail address.

Step 4: Blog

A blog shares the expertise of members with the world in a way that search engines love. Use Google Blogger to setup an account with your Gmail address. Connect to Google Analytics, even though Blogger already has analytics.

Draft and publish a post to make your blog live before completing the next steps.

Use Disqus for comments (and an indirect way to get traffic).
AddThisFor sharing content, use AddThis (or ShareThis). There are plugins that go into your blog template. If you don't understand how to use them, you may need help. It's good to get these features incorporated at the outset before your content and traffic grows: mistakes and changes will have minimal effect.

Use Google Feedburner to make your content available by email and newsreader. Connect your Twitter account so that tweets go out automatically when a new post goes live.

Example: (a weird web address but short and consistent with Twitter)

Step 5: YouTube

YouTube channelCreate a YouTube channel using your Gmail account. This is the place to post your videos. You can then embed them into your blog posts and other places.

Example: (long but relatively easy to find on YouTube)


Your group probably has a website already. If not, at least have a placeholder. Add life by using a design that incorporates your tweets.
If your needs are minimal, your blog can also be your website.

websiteExample: (“obvious”, which helps with web searches)


To show your content is believable, create accounts on
  • Klout: measures online influence (login with Twitter)
  • TrustCloud: gives a ranking of trust from 1-1,000 (like a FICO score)
Your scores will be low in the beginning but should grow over time. Add them now so that you don't need to worry about them later and to start your history early.


MeetupThere's more you can do.
  • Facebook: page if relevant (example)
  • LinkedIn: business page (embedding Twitter), discussion group (post links to blog posts and encourage members to Like them; may wish to make this private)
  • Pinterest: if your group uses visuals (for photos, Google+ or Flickr may be better)
  • Eventbrite: if you have events with admission
  • Meetup: to attract guests, issue tickets, and allow member discussions (example:


You're not done and never will be. There are challenges with
  • maintenance: easier with volunteers, ideally more than one
  • participation: if members don't participate, the online efforts will fail or place a burden on the few participants
Depending on your technical skills, you may need help from other members. Consistent branding is also worthwhile but not essential prior to launch.


There’s an important side benefit from renovating your group’s online presence: members may follow your lead and improve theirs. That’s a nice way to retain members and attract more.


PS What would you add or change?