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

SMBexchange.ca 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 (SMBexchange.ca). 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.