December 31, 2013


It's funny how much people can changeThe world keeps changing at an ever-faster pace. Are you?

In recent days, we visited the mall. That’s a place we rarely go anymore, which made the changes stand out. Since smartphones are commonplace, there’s now an iPhone/Android app to help you locate stores by name or product category. Perhaps the next version will give walking directions too.

The department store had a sign saying that if they didn’t have what you wanted, the sales associate would look online [on their website] and have the item shipped to your door (free for orders over $50). The shoe store didn’t have the right size in stock but we could order online. The salesman didn’t help further because he probably doesn’t get a commission for online sales. The sports store only sold the nicer yoga mats online (free shipping for orders over $99). In the future, we were advised to check on what was in-stock online to save a trip to the store. The camera store didn’t have any LED lighting kits on display, which meant buying without trying.

Imagine that. The bricks-and-mortar stores are sending you to their online stores. That’s different. Think of how consumer behavior is changing. The lesson is to look online, which makes an easy first step. That has consequences for what you sell and how you sell.

What are you going to do differently? When are you going to start? If not now, then when?

Prime For Change

We managed to find the yoga mats and LED video lighting on Amazon (links to aStore). Since we’re buying without touching the items, we relied on the reviews by actual customers on Amazon and YouTube.

While ordering, Amazon offered a free month-long trial of Prime, which has two key advantages:
  1. “free” two day delivery on many items (or upgrade to next-day for $4)
  2. no minimum order size (normally standard free delivery requires a minimum order of $25)
Now impulse purchases are even easier. especially with 1-click ordering. Prices are generally good on Amazon and the selection is much wider than any physical store can offer.

I’m planning to cancel Prime during the free trial because in Canada the $79/year price excludes Amazon Instant Video and the Kindle lending library. How strange. Naturally Canada has less selection and higher prices but that’s not Amazon’s fault.

automatic shipping update via Google NowTwo Surprises

When you are expecting delivery, you may want to track the shipment online. To my surprise, Google Now makes that effortless. Without even opening email, I was shown a link to the tracking page. Another surprise is that UPS is making the delivery a day earlier (which is next-day delivery).

Unexpected good news changes future expectations. What more might your customers be expecting because of their experiences elsewhere?

Get Started

Change takes time but deciding to change takes a moment. As a minimum, you can start by acquiring new skills. For instance, I’m going to use video more extensively and have been learning about depth of field, lighting and editing.


PS Last week’s post got missed because we were without electricity and heat for over 90 hours due to an ice storm in Toronto. This is the final post of 2013. Best wishes for 2014!

December 17, 2013


Logitech c920 webcam on tripodWe live in a visual world. Mastering your webcam is important and growing more important. You can use your webcam for video calls (Skype, Google Hangouts) and making videos.

I've been reluctant to use my webcam because I haven't liked the setup in my office. I've been working on that. Here's what I've learned. The steps are in order.

1. Put the webcam at eye level

You probably have your notebook computer on your desk low enough for typing. That’s too low for video. You risk showing more neck than face, which may not be flattering. Mind those nose hairs too!
How do you get your webcam to the right height?

If looks don’t matter, the easy way is to put something underneath your computer like a box or stacks of printer paper. You’ll want to make sure your stand is stable. If you plan on typing, an external keyboard and mouse help (and are worth having anyway).

It’s now easier to pretend you’re talking to a real person.

2. Look Directly At The Webcam

Your webcam is likely above your screen. It’s tempting to look at the screen whether you’re recording or Skyping. That means you’re looking below the webcam. This is less than ideal but less of a problem once your webcam is at eye level.

When you’re having an in-person conversation, you don’t look at the other person the whole time. You’re allowed to blink and shift your gaze. If you’re also taking notes, you’ll need to do this. You can do this when using a webcam too.

3. Have lots of light

Webcams work in low lighting but not very well. You’ll see a similar effect when taking photos with your smartphone. The apertures which let in light are much smaller than with a camera. This means you need more light.

Since the best lighting simulates daylight, why not use natural light? I face a large window in my office. That provides excellent light during the day. If you want more control and consistency, you can use artificial lights. I've been experimenting by putting lights I already have near the window. That means I can record with the lighting coming from the same general area.

If you want to get fancy, you’ll find lots of lighting options available.

4. Heed the background

What's behind you makes a big difference. What does your webcam see? You want to make sure that nothing confidential shows. You also want to create a good impression. Doors aren’t especially appealing on camera. What if someone enters the room?

If your office is messy, can you keep a portion tidy?

5. Dress appropriately

Video cameras see differently than we do. They seem to like blue but not stripes. You’ll find more details at Videomaker and Real Men Real Style.
You don’t want to look too formal or too casual. When recording video, you might want to  wear the same things every time, for consistency and branding. I haven’t figured out what to wear.

6. Get an external webcam

Built-in webcams have improved but don’t have the quality of an external webcam. They can’t match the flexibility either.

An external webcam that mounts on a tripod gives you flexibility. You also get quality since only the high-end models offer this connection (e.g., my Logitech C920 or the  Microsoft LifeCam Studio). You don’t need a fancy tripod since you won’t need to make many adjustments besides height and placement.

7. Stand up

When you put your webcam on a tripod, you don't need to sit down. When you stand, you still want the camera at eye-level. When you stand, the mess in your office is less likely to show. Clever huh?
Standing give you more energy. I tend to stand even when making phone calls and make notes on my whiteboard.

whiteboard on webcam8. Be creative

You don't have to use your webcam like the masses. What's a good style for you? Standing can help set you apart. Having a practical (but real) backdrop can too. I have a nice oak whiteboard. That lets me write and gives me an incentive to keep the whiteboard clean.

I’ve setup my webcam on a tripod facing the whiteboard, close enough to show what's on the board without zooming. The wide angle of the camera, shows me too. I am at the left of the whiteboard, which is ideal because we read from left to right. In my case, the lighting comes from my right hand side too.

9. Get a good microphone

The microphones in webcams aren’t very good. They'll do when you’re starting out but you'll get much better results with an external USB microphone. I've been using a Samson C30U with a shock mount and stand since 2009. There are probably better models now but I've had no reason to upgrade. Get quality and you’re set for years.

You simply set up your computer to use video from the webcam and audio from the USB microphone.

10. Get better video editing software

Basic video editing is easy if you have a good quality recording. You might want to trim the beginning or end, and perhaps add titles. As you get more experienced, you may find the video editing software that came with your webcam or computer isn’t adequate. There are lots of options for upgrading. I’ve used Adobe Premiere Elements and switched to Cyerlink PowerDirector.

You don't have to do everything at once. Start by getting a webcam that mounts on a tripod. Next get a tripod and finally get a USB microphone.


PS Items go on sale.

December 10, 2013


Focus on the right contacts with Contactually CRM
(Contactually provided no incentives for the writing this blog post. Since I'm now a big supporter, I’ve become an affiliate to help them thrive.)

A successful business requires a solid Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. The challenge is choosing a solution which is:
  • easy to use: adds contacts automatically from your emails and LinkedIn; shows social media feeds; notifies you of changes in your network such as new positions
  • scalable: to allow other users as your business grows
  • web-based: for access anytime from anywhere with nothing to install or maintain

Other Contactually IntegrationsOptions

You do have choices. I had Batchbook for almost four years but never really liked it enough to use regularly. I recently experimented with Insightly (tied to one email account and price based on the number of contacts) and Nimble (feels too lite).

If you’re married to Highrise, Pipedrive, Salesforce or SugarCRM, you don’t need to switch since Contactually integrates with them. That’s a solid sign that Contactually is different. If you find there’s too much overlap after your free trial, you might want to save money by dropping one.

Even More

Other useful features in a CRM are
  • email templates to speed up and standardize replies
  • pre-scheduling of emails (e.g., write at night and send in the morning)
  • track when emails are opened
  • unlimited contacts without a surcharge
  • sensible reminders to follow up
  • benchmarking against other CRM users (e.g., like RescueTime does for time tacking)
Contactually has all these features.

The Concept

Contactually is very well thought out. You get easy-to-use features without clutter or undue complexity. For instance, you can introduce two connections to each other with a few mouse clicks.

The basic idea is that you group people into “buckets”. That terminology still feels weird but is easy to visualize. Maybe that’s because we know what a bucket looks like. In contrast, synonyms like “group” or “category” or “tag” or “community” feel abstract.

You can put people into multiple buckets.

Email Templates

Contactually email templatesYou can send an email to some or all members of a bucket. You can even personalize these emails by inserting a name as when sending a newsletter. What's more — and this is very powerful — you can edit the message for each recipient separately.

Think about that.

Say you want to send the same message to 30 people but make minor adjustments for three of them. Does a BCC or email newsletter allow that easily? Contactually does. You get the benefit of a template and the customization of individual emails.

Previously, I’d create a draft in Gmail, copy/paste into an email and personalize. That’s time-consuming and error-prone.

nourish fading relationshipsRelationships

Contactually focuses on helping you build relationships by reminding you to stay in touch.

When you look up a contact, you get lots of relevant information such as the last time of contact, the emails sent and what they're doing via social media.

Contactually monitors what you do also and we'll update contact information from email signatures. You don't have to do anything. Sometimes you get emails from the same person but via different email accounts. Contactually is good at figuring this out. Some CRM systems are tied to a specific email account but Contactually lets you connect to as many as you like. Isn't that what you want?

reminders and tools to follow up (click to enlarge)Following up

When we don’t follow up, we lose opportunities and reduce trust. Contactually makes the process easy, almost enjoyable. You’re given tips on how to follow up. You get access to templates that others have created. Click on the screenshot to see options.
You have weekly goals for the number of follow ups and see your progress on a dashboard. This week, I’ve done none. There’s still hope, since I tend to follow up most on Fridays.


Contactually does not store a copy of your email messages. Instead, limited information is kept (e.g., subject line, sender, recipient). You can click on a message to read it from your email provider.

Sales Pipeline

Until recently, Contactually didn’t — gasp — have a sales pipeline. That was not a major omission. You probably know who your active prospects and where they are in the sales process. That's what many CRMs do and it feels redundant and painful.

Not Perfect

Contactually is not perfect but does keep improving. The support team is very helpful . They have live web chat which works well. They are open to suggestions.

For example, I wanted Contactually to connect to my newsletter service, Mad Mimi. Both companies were receptive and within months this happened.

Compare your performancePerfect for Freelancers

If you’re working on your own or in a small group, a CRM solution is especially important. Contactually feels like an addition to your team thanks to smart notifications.

It’s easy to adopt bad habits when you’re the boss. Contactually helps keep you track by benchmarking you against similar users.

Not Perfect

No CRM is perfect and you’ll have your own preferences. Most choices offer a free trial but experimenting takes time. Since a CRM solution contains your confidential information, how many options do you want to try?

If you’re a freelancer or working in a small group, do try Contactually. If you’re satisfied, you can stop your search and focus on your work. You’ll probably want the Small Business Plan, which has the features described above for $40/month. If you just want the basics, the Premium plan is well featured at $20/month.


PS Contactually doesn’t currently sync with calendars. Again, that isn’t a big deal.

December 3, 2013


electromagnet: turn on the electricity and get immediate attraction
With an electromagnet, you press a button and get immediate attraction. If speakers are the magnet, filling seats can’t be difficult. Or so I thought.

There are standard ways to organize events. You have a catchy title. You show the benefits of attending. You have early bird specials. You send lots of reminders. You get sponsors. You might even have affiliates.

I knew better.
I ignored the rules.
I learned lots of things that don’t work.

The Experiment

Money 50/50: Insider Advice for Today’s Topsy-Turvy Times had:
  • a proper venue with nice refreshments (University of Toronto)
  • excellent, credible speakers (each with large followings)
  • a topic of universal importance (money)
  • a novel format (30 minute segments: 15 minute talk + 15 minute Q&A)
  • lots of interaction (Q&A and networking)
  • no sponsors (tickets priced to cover the costs)
That’s not enough to fill seats. I was advised to pick a smaller venue with 50 seats. Since I knew better, I got room for 100 to meet the anticipated demand and spread the fixed costs.

Own Network

I thought I could easily fill the seats with people in my network who support my initiatives and the cause of objective financial education. The idea was that they’d attend and invite their friends. The math works:
  • 100 attendees = 10 (core group) x 5 (their friends) x 2 (the friends of friends)
That’s before any promotion by the speakers or other parties. Might need a bigger room!

I got the core group but they weren’t very successful in inviting their friends. That’s not their fault. There wasn’t much time and the invitation content focused on the speakers without mentioning the topics. November seems like an overly busy month too.

Its better to treat second level connections as strangers and make the event description compelling. That then helps the core group invite others.

Next Time

Here’s the strategy for next time:
  1. Have more lead time: select a date two months away
  2. Confirm the venue first: last time I had the speakers first and their schedules made getting a venue more challenging
  3. Gather supporters now: ask a core group to confirm they’re attending and will bring one or more friends
  4. Crowdsource: get help from the core group on the title, descriptions, content
  5. Select speakers: they now fit the event rather than having the event fit around them
  6. Market extensively: encourage everyone involved to help spread the word


Some matters will not be resolved easily. For instance, do you make the event free, low price or charge a premium price? There are pros and cons to each. I'm still concerned about the compromises from having sponsors. The biggest fixed cost is the room and audio visual equipment.

If there is a way to get the facilities free, the big remaining cost is refreshments. For a free event, its possible to skip the refreshments all together but that cheapens the experience. There may be some way to get food sponsors who don’t want special favors such as time at the podium. I'll explore but am still tempted to charge to cover costs. Paying shows commitment. Attendees will want to get their money's worth, which means showing up. At least that's the theory.

The main lesson is to pay heed to what works. It’s okay to break the rules, but understand those rules first.


PS If you’d like to experience the next Money 50/50 event, join the mailing list.

November 27, 2013


Microsoft and honesty?Honestly, Microsoft and Dell misled me.

I keep getting reminders to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. What's more, the upgrade is free and designed to fix annoyances with Windows 8 (e.g., the lack of a Start button).

I've learned over the years that Microsoft loves hype (Apple does too, but they often delivered in the Steve Jobs era). I've suffered by paying for lousy updates like Windows ME.

Defer Upgrades

My new practice is to only upgrade when buying a new computer. When I got my new Dell mere months ago, I wanted Windows 7. That operating system works extremely well and much of what I do is browser-based. Windows 8 didn’t offer anything worthwhile since my computer doesn’t have a touch screen. Dell didn’t allow a “downgrade” to Windows 7. That meant I got stuck with Windows 8. It's not horrible but its not unnoticeable improvement either.

Anyway, I kept getting these reminders to upgrade to Windows 8.1. I didn't earlier because nothing was broken  and I was wary of new problems arising. By now, the bugs had to be fixed, right?

The instructions say the installation only starts when you accept the new license. I figured I could at least download the new version. I decided to proceed yesterday. The process is very slow but I was able to use my computer during the download.


After hours passed. When I returned from a meeting, a message said my computer would reboot in seven minutes and to save my work. With normal updates you can delay the reboot until you're ready. I thought that was the case here. I expected another reminder, which I could also delay. No No No.

My computer rebooted automatically.

I didn’t have a chance to finish saving my work. This was very annoying because I was nearly done. After the reboot, I accepted the lengthy new license and answered several questions. After waiting and waiting, all I got was a black screen. The hard disk light keeps flashing, which suggests that something is installing. When I move the mouse, I see the pointer and the circle which indicates something is in process. That's been going on for hours.

Get Back

Apparently you can revert to Windows 8 if the installation fails. That option did not appear. An online search says that going back requires a reinstallation of the operating system. That means having to reinstall all the applications too. The data might be preserved.

In my case, I have backups made in real time via CrashPlan and Dropbox. I doubt I'll lose anything except time but time is precious. I'll call Dell because I have their highest level of support. From what I can tell from my online search, the difficulties may have arisen from the drivers for the video card. Either Dell didn’t update them or Microsoft didn’t install the the right ones.

The moral: beware of what companies tell you. Technology, updates can be much more of a hassle then warranted. That's a price early adopters seem willing to pay. I wasn’t. No gain. More pain.


PS Your clients may be wary when you offer them something new …

November 19, 2013


Taking notesThe palest ink is better than the best memory — Chinese proverb

“Let me write that down.”

Have you ever been in a meeting where the other person pulls out pen/paper or smartphone/tablet to write down something you just said? Even though the conversation has been going on for a while.

How do you feel?

Um ... didn't I say anything worthwhile before? That's the implication. We take notes when we want to remember something important to us. That's universal. Even if you think you have a perfect memory, who's going to believe you? When you don't take notes, you're implying that what's being said isn't very important. You may claim to have an amazing memory. Maybe you do. Will others believe you?

Taking notes improves your listening skills. You're now engaging another sense. You're less likely to daydream. You're more likely to focus.

Even if much of the conversation is banal, you still benefit by taking notes. As a minimum, you're improving your note-taking skills. Wait a second you say. When I'm writing notes, I'm not looking at the other person and reading their body language. True but you are paying more attention to what they're saying and how they are saying it. That has value too.


One of the best ways to pay someone today is with attention. That's exactly what note-taking does. You can take notes on your smartphone but this is slow unless you have a stylus as with the Samsung Galaxy Note series. When you use electronics, there's a temptation to get distracted. What does that unread email say? Even if you don't wander, the others may think you're not paying attention because they'd get distracted in that situation.

Using paper alleviates those concerns. At worst, you could be making a grocery list or jotting down words for a blog post. At least you're being more discreet then you could be with an electronic device.


Taking notes is very respectful. Even if you throw those notes away later, the optics look terrific and more will stay in your head. In my case, I scan the notes and give them a file name that helps with future searches. I put action items into a To Do list.

You don't need a large notepad. You can have a second smaller one that easily fits into a pocket or purse as a backup. For maximum benefit, start using it from the start of the conversation.


PS Taking notes is also worthwhile during presentations.

November 12, 2013


quarterlyWhat marketing are you doing quarterly? Consider switching to monthly for better results and possibly less work.

Glossy magazines from BMW and Mercedes don't follow a pattern I can spot. They seem random. I don't anticipate them. I don't know if I've missed an issue. Compare that with Wired, which arrives monthly. I don't know the target date but I know the frequency.

If you're sending an electronic publication like a newsletter, a quarterly publication is very easy for subscribers to overlook. We get so much email. If you published monthly instead, you've tripled your chances of getting seen and read. Besides, you get readership results sooner.

Staples flyer "sneak peek"Retailers

Staples has started sending an email on Monday to alert me of their sale starting on Wednesday. How annoying. I can peek at the flyer but don't bother since I can't buy. What they sell isn’t exciting enough to be worth the wait.

In contrast, Best Buy sends an email on Fridays and sometimes on other days of the week for special events. These are predictable and random. That works. You can usually buy right way, unless they’re having an “after hours” sale.

A quarterly publication likely takes more work but may not create the same impact since your readers may receive it at the wrong time for them. What if they wanted to buy last month?


What’s done quarterly feels like a project while monthly feels like routine work. More important, you build anticipation in your audience with a higher frequency.

We aren't constrained by page size or number of pages any more. We've eliminated the time and money that goes into printing. We can use a fraction of those resources to commit to a more frequent schedule.


You may feel you don’t have enough time to publish monthly. That's good because you’re then motivated to find ways to get faster. Maybe you compromise slightly on the quality (more like a blog post than a magazine article). Does that really matter? Remember the 80/20 rule.

It's easy to procrastinate if you publish quarterly. There seems to be so much time. Besides, if you're late by a day or two, who will know? With a mailed publication, they won't. With email they will. Worse, they can quickly refer back to past issues to see if you were consistent.


I published a monthly newsletter on the second Thursday of the month at 10 AM for 42 consecutive months. I posted the schedule for the year online to make the commitment public (and as a reminder to me). After a while, you don't want to miss a date.

Blogging is similar. There's a fresh post here each Tuesday. Activities which are daily, weekly or monthly become routine and scheduled. Quarterly and annual are tougher.

Why not the first day or last day of the month? The pattern would be easier to engrain but the day of the week keeps changing. Some issues would go out on weekends or holidays. That might matter. Who's going to read on December 31st or January 1st? Also, scheduling your work gets more complicated since you're doing things on different days of the week each month. That may be suboptimal for your workflow.

If You Must Be Quarterly

If you must do some marketing quarterly, can you pick a memorable day? For example,
  • the start of a new season (Mar, Jun, Sep, Dec)
  • the second of Jan, Apr, Jul, Sep (the start of a new calendar quarter)
  • the first of Nov, Feb, May, Aug (perhaps less competition)
Boosting your frequency helps make a more lasting impression on your target market. Getting readership data sooner helps you make changes more quickly. Don’t you want both?


PS Maybe what you’re doing monthly would be more effective weekly?

November 5, 2013


pulling an airplaneIf you’re selling the best product, at the lowest price, with the best support and at the highest compensation, congratulations! If not, read on.

No company excels at everything. Compromises get made. For example, life insurers that sell through independent advisors aim to be reasonably competitive. They often think they are. Showing otherwise takes some skill.

Let's say you find one company's commissions are relatively low. What can you do? Here’s a three step process which also works for other changes you may want.

1. Prove It

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
--- Benjamin Franklin
Talk is quick. Proof takes work. An apples-to-apples comparison goes far in getting change. For proof to be effective, you must compare fairly, unlike Hyundai claiming their Sonata is better than a BMW 525 (watch the commercial).

  Summarize your proof in a pleasant email and attach the evidence for review. Why not phone? You can but email makes your message easy to forward and leaves records that show you’re serious.

2. Tell The Right Person

Once you've got proof, tell the right person. If you don’t have rapport with the decision maker, start with someone who’s likely on your side. Who directly benefits from your sales? Your distributor or wholesaler probably does.

Do you carbon copy everyone you know on your email? No! If you started with the right person, they’ll likely investigate or forward your email to someone who will. When you involve too many people, you might slow down the process and alienate people who might have helped you.

3. Pause Before Following Up

People are busy. Marking your request "ASAP" may actually hurt. You're better off allowing a day or two for a reply. In the ideal world, you'll receive quick acknowledgment of your query and an estimate of when to expect an answer.

You might not get an immediate change but you will make an impression. Companies want to be reasonably competitive. Sometimes they aren't but didn't know. If others make similar requests, changes are more likely.


PS Refrain from going public via social media before, during or afterwards. You don’t want to damage relationships.

October 29, 2013


empty seatsWhen you're organizing a free event, how do you get the people who register to show up?

That’s tough since  there’s rarely a penalty for registering or skipping. Both are easy to do (or not). Incentives guide behavior and “free” messes them up.

There's no such thing as a free event. Even if attendees don't pay with money, they pay with time. Since time is precious, not going is cheaper.

Here are four ways to deal with no-shows.

The “Will You” Strategy

The fourth universal principle of influence is Consistency. We tend to behave in ways that match what we did in the past, especially when others can see us.

A restaurant reduced no-shows from 30% to 10% by adding two words to their confirmations. When making reservations, guests were asked “Will you please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation?”

Your registration form could have an extra question: “Will you please email if you are unable to attend?”

Your event reminder emails can have a similar message. Isn’t this making cancellation too easy? Perhaps, but you’ll get a better sense of how many are attending. That’s valuable too.  By encouraging cancellations, you’re implying there’s demand for the seats. Scarcity is another universal principal of influence.

The Public Commitment

We’re more likely to do what we say in public. Eventbrite lets your Facebook contacts know that you're attending. Meetup does too. Others may even attend because of you. Now cancelling is tougher.

Eventbrite lets organizers show the names of the registrants. That may also help get more registrations and higher attendance. 

Refundable Deposits

Since people are loss averse, you can use the power of money as an incentive. Although your event is free, you can charge a deposit to reserve a (general admission) seat and give a refund to those who show up. The no-shows are then the only ones who pay. That seems fair.

The penalties may not be enough to cover the costs for refreshments. You could ask attendees if they would like to donate their deposit to help fund the event. That gives attendees an opportunity to help if they are willing and able. As an extension, you could ask for donations to get money from people who support the cause but can't participate.


“… it is our policy to overbook. In case of a full program, your reservation may not guarantee admission. Unclaimed reservations will be released to standby customers ten minutes prior to the start of the program. We recommend that you arrive early.” --- Toronto Public Library Appel Salon
As you hold similar events, you'll get a sense of how many people don't show up. You can then overbook and encourage people show up early to save their spot. For a popular event, you may have to turn people away. The rejected ones won’t be happy, but they have an incentive to arrive earlier in the future.


PS Maybe you make tickets available in pairs?

October 22, 2013


baby conquers bear
The desire for perfection and the fear of making mistakes both get in the way of launching a brand. They need not.

As a case study, you can watch me launch Money 50/50. It’s for a series of live TED-like talks with audience Q&A. The speakers are credible bloggers, journalists and authors known for objective advice. The intent is to make learning about money engaging. How’s that for a challenge?

I could have waited to make sure everything was ready before telling the world but thought the incremental approach would be more educational for you and more practical for me.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

If you're worried about theft of your intellectual property, the incremental approach may be ideal. The format for Money 50/50 isn’t the work of genius but seems unique:
  • 50% talking / 50% audience participation: that’s the key reason to attend in person. If there were no interaction, why attend? The audience could simply watch the talks on YouTube from home (which means they probably wouldn’t)
  • the speakers are writers: that means they have the courage to put their thoughts on display for public scrutiny. Because they’re local, they’re approachable.
As I started looking for venues, I became concerned that my format might be “stolen”. While anyone can use a similar format for their cause (please do!), I didn't want to look like the copycat. That's why the first public announcement described the idea and format: the perfect live event to master your money.

Step Zero

The very first step is finding a short name for the brand that’s available as a website and Twitter handle. That meant brainstorming and checking for availability with NameChk. This took days of elapsed time. You might want to get help from creative people you trust. You might need to fabricate a name (e.g., as I did with Riscario and Taxevity).

Eventually, I registered even though a squatter has the Twitter handle @money5050. There are ways to reclaim a Twitter account from a squatter or impersonator. Showing you have a real brand helps.

Other Steps

imageEventually you will see these things in order:
  1. Website: launched (using the same Google Blogger platform as this blog)
  2. Twitter handle: @50u50 (for now)
  3. Newsletter: powered by Mad Mimi (done)
  4. Branding: using a simple placeholder for now
  5. Ticket ordering: powered by Eventbrite
  6. Community: on Ning or Google+
Clearly, all these elements are not needed at the same time, especially when you’re doing the work in your spare time.

If you're afraid that the world will see work in progress, are you over thinking? The world is busy. You can relaunch when you’re ready. In the meantime, you’re taking steps that will help you get noticed. 


PS You learn more while doing than while planning.

October 15, 2013


netflix_defeats_blockbuster_by_plaidklaus-d30yuo4 500x320Netflix gives you unlimited access to all their titles for one low monthly fee. That's tough to beat or refuse. The Netflix model has been adopted elsewhere (e.g., to emagazines and ebooks). Why not your business?

Really Unlimited?

Netflix doesn't seem to care what we view (new vs old, movies vs TV) or for how long. Time is scarce and no one can watch 24/7. That means there are practical limits on usage.

If you have unlimited Internet, your devices can consume bandwidth when you're away. You can leave Netflix running and some titles might autoplay but there's no point. You'll lose the bookmarks which keep track of how much you've watched.

Netflix has ways to track consumption. Perhaps they make micropayments to the content providers based on what we watch. The revenue for each provider would vary but Netflix can probably predict the total expenses well.

Your Turn

How could at least part of your business be Netflixed? What can you provide that's unlimited for a fixed price? You may be too close to be objective. Consider brainstorming with outside help.

Whether you offer a product or service, maybe you provide unlimited support via email and/or phone?

What about information? If you develop content, maybe you give unlimited access to the old stuff (which may not be as valuable). Next Issue does for emagazines. The publisher likely gets a micropayment based on which issues is read and how much gets read. That's better than earning nothing from that catalogue.

New Incentives

If you were paid by the hour and now get a flat fee per month, your incentives change. You've now got reasons to become more efficient because time now costs you money. Maybe you create an FAQ or use email templates. You then free up your time for more productive uses.

Side Benefits

Offering fixed prices helps by
  • improving relationship with customers since you've removed uncertainty from their bills
  • making you remarkable, which gives you the benefits of word of mouth
  • providing market intelligence by showing what’s on your customers’ minds
  • providing a predictable (and perhaps larger) stream of income

The Fine Print

Netflix doesn't offer as much as you might think
  • the selection is limited
  • the selection changes (titles expire)
  • the selection varies by location (each country offer different choices with much less in Canada than the US)
  • the latest titles aren't available until later
You can introduce limitations too.


PS Your transition can take time, as when Netflix started streaming videos instead of only mailing physical disks.

October 8, 2013


boy showing muscles
"What happens in wars between the strong and the weak when the weak side does as David did and refuses to fight the way the bigger side wants to fight, using unconventional or guerrilla tactics? The answer: in those cases, the weaker party’s winning percentage climbs from 28.5 percent to 63.6 percent. To put that in perspective, the United States’ population is ten times the size of Canada’s. If the two countries went to war and Canada chose to fight unconventionally, history would suggest that you ought to put your money on Canada." — Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath

Who’s scheming to defeat you?

As Malcolm Gladwell points out in David and Goliath, you can’t fight conventionally … if you want to win. How strange that there’s still such desire in doing things the normal ways.
"When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most of the time, underdogs didn’t fight like David. Of the 202 lopsided conflicts in Arreguín-Toft’s database, the underdog chose to go toe-to-toe with Goliath the conventional way 152 times — and lost 119 times." — Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath
Maybe getting an A for trying is seen as better than doing what’s needed to win.


We can’t have a shoot-out without guns. We’d lose.
— Jason Statham (The Italian Job)
There are other ways to win. Consider advertising. That’s a conventional way to get attention. Maybe you can’t buy enough billboards or TV spots to make a lasting impression. Maybe you can’t afford any. Instead, you could earn attention by creating solid content that your network helps you spread. That is doable but less glamorous. You won’t win an award for the Ad Of The Year.

Google’s new Hummingbird smarter search algorithm helps smaller publishers with relevant content get found. YouTube puts you on the screen for free.

Old Boy Networks

Maybe you can’t make inroads into private clubs where big business gets done. New opportunities emerge.

Golf is considered essential for business … especially by golfers on expense accounts. Not every successful person golfs. I don’t. While the golfers are sweating or getting soaked outside, you can bond with the nongolfers.

Look at all the diversity in people these days. Which groups are a natural fit for you? If you get connected to the ‘rising stars’, you’re well positioned for successes the old boys won’t see. Besides, they’ll retire someday.

Bigger vs Better

Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power. — Lawrence of Arabia
The Goliaths are often slow and wed to the status quo. Be quick and experiment. They’ll know you hit them but not how to respond. You have a huge advantage when they’re unbalanced. Look at what happened to former giants like Blackberry.

UnderdogOther Battles

Maybe you’re not a good writer? That’s fixable. The nature of reading has changed as we’ve moved from paper to screens. There’s more skimming now (notice how I use lots of subtitles?). There’s also more tolerance for minor mistakes. Besides, you’ll improve with practice if you get started and keep going.

Maybe you don’t have 20+ years of experience? You’re spared from unlearning the old, less relevant ways engrained into yesterday’s experts. With less mental clutter, you’re better positioned to adapt. You might have skipped the step from typewriter to desktop computer to laptop. Does that really matter in today’s world of tablets and smartphones? Some new services don’t even run on computers or web browsers (e.g., newsreaders like Zite or Google Currents).

Maybe you don’t have enough customers? That means you’re not bogged down with the wrong kind of customers.

Maybe you don’t have time or don’t know how. Who does? You could start small by investing 15 minutes a day. The learning and doing become simpler. Baby steps help you win the marathon.
We think of things as helpful that actually aren’t and think of other things as unhelpful that in reality leave us stronger and wiser.
— Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath
You achieve a sweet victory when you turn perceived disadvantages into advantages. We root for the underdogs in the movies and real life.


PS Maybe your biggest Goliath is inside you.

October 1, 2013


TEDxToronto ambassador badge 2013When you face border guards, be careful about what you say because you may not get in.

The delegates for TEDxToronto get selected through an undisclosed process. Perhaps that’s why the Twitter stream at #TEDxToronto overflows with praise even for the weaker elements. Besides, the hard-working TEDxToronto team consists of volunteers.

It’s tough to give genuine feedback. What if you think the hosts were better last year and that next year you'd prefer David Newland over Maestro Fresh Wes?


The purpose of a geography-based TEDx event is to highlight local speakers and encourage discussions. The real magic happens in the halls during the breaks and afterwards. There was lots of discussion at TEDxToronto, which is a solid sign of success.


TEDxToronto 2013: The Choices We MakeOver the past five years, TEDxToronto has found things that work. Here's what doesn't need to be changed:
  • the venue: Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music has three floors and feels just right. Last year's Sony Centre allowed more attendees (about 1,300) but didn't feel special. For some reason, conversations where more difficult to start. This time, there was more congestion, which made bumping into random interesting delegates easier. For instance, I spoke to Brian Goldman whose 2010 TEDxToronto Talk on the mistakes doctors make is well worth watching.
  • the delegates: last year, I talked to several people who didn't even know what TEDx was. One had never even seen a video on! Why were they there? This time, I met many first-timers who were eager to attend.
  • TEDxToronto note optionsthe printed program: last year we got program and notebook separately. This time, both are combined. There’s space to write beside the speaker's bio. The thick covers reduce flex. The only challenge is the lack of lighting in the hall. Maybe next year we can get pens with a soft glow at their tips?
  • the ambassadors: some returning delegates were ambassadors and got special black name cards. They were to start conversations and answer questions. This was my 7th TEDx event (third TEDxToronto) and I got selected. Normally I'd talk to fewer delegates longer. Given the role, I spoke to more delegates for shorter periods. The biggest "mistake" I saw delegates make was huddling with colleagues and talking about work. Split up and talk to strangers!
  • the timing: the doors opened at 9:30 AM for registration, coffee and mingling. The talks started at 11 AM. This gap was ideal — a nice, relaxing way to start the day.

The Speakers

The speakers were well prepared and spoke about topics they cared about. Some of that passion transferred to the audience.

Overall, the speakers were a tad depressing. I kept waiting for happy, inspiring outcomes. Here are examples of downers:
  • failing to get a prisoner of conscience out of prison (try selling that to Hollywood)
  • a suicide survivor (I wanted to know about the man who made the choice to stop him from jumping from an overpass, and how he’ll raise his 5-day old daughter)
  • challenges facing aboriginal people
  • violence against women in video games
  • dying children
These topics are difficult to discuss, which makes them easy to forget in our busy lives. The speaker selectors made brave choices but I would have preferred more good news.

Show us

Telling doesn’t work as well as showing. Some speakers lost the opportunity to make a bigger impact.
  • a blanket with embedded sensors is interesting but we only saw slides. Why not a live demo? Imagine the drama if someone is under the blanket onstage and we don’t know why until the end of the talk when we see the actual sensor readings.
  • three inventors from Thalmic Labs showed how the Myo gesture-controlled armband tracks electrical patterns emitted by our bodies. We also saw the previously silent man in the middle fly a model helicopter using the armband.
  • Rosie the hospital robot: Dr. Ivar Mendez controlled mobile robots in three locations across North America (Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and California).
  • Steve Mann wore what we might mistake as Google Glass. Could we have been shown what he sees in real time? Steve was thought-provoking though, contrasting surveillance (done to us) with sousveillance (we have the cameras).
  • Matthew Good created live music and told a story which felt more genuine than rehearsed. A nice way to end the day.
You can't top the anticipation of a genuine live demonstration. The speaker makes the choice to show more courage by taking more risk.

Which One?

TEDxWomen events in TorontoThere are now lots of TEDx events around the world (see calendar).  While each is different, there is also overlap. For instance, Toronto has three TEDxWomen events over two days in December.

Despite the choice, TEDxToronto stands out because of the volunteers, delegates and amazing videos.


PS I’m looking forward to seeing what changes next year … if I get in.

September 24, 2013


When you’re running a non-business event, finding a free venue is a challenge. We’re using Toronto as the example but the ideas apply elsewhere too.

You’d think you could get free space at taxpayer-funded locations like libraries or community centres. Unfortunately, the nice ones often charge user fees. In Toronto, nonprofit and charitable groups can get free space if sponsored by a city councillor.

If your group doesn’t qualify, you can meet at a coffee shop but you’re not guaranteed seating. Some locations are large or have a separate room. Just don’t count on getting a whiteboard, privacy or silence.

You might get space in a restaurant or bar if your group makes minimum purchases. I was once invited to debate in a semi-private restaurant room on a slow evening. The attendance was great (50+) but there was a party at tables nearby and we didn’t have microphones. Good for the restaurant. Not so good for us.

Thompson Block - ING DIRECT Cafe in Downtown TorontoCorporate Space

You might be able to get free space at an ING DIRECT Cafe (might change now that Scotiabank bought them).
“The Thompson Block as well as the ING DIRECT Café space are available at no charge to community groups for public meetings and events every day of the week.”
What if you’re not a community group? What if you want to hold regular meetings?

Nontraditional Ideas

Can you meet in the evening? There’s lots of space in cafeterias and food courts outside of lunch time. I wouldn’t pick the mall food court but a nonprofit like a university, college or hospital may work. If they’re large, they are likely relatively quiet.

Maybe you can commandeer a study room or lecture hall at a university or college. Again, evenings are best. Unless they check ID or have overzealous security, this might work. Advertising the location may be a problem. The gathering group could attract questions.

If you don’t want to be a trespasser, the safer option is to pay for reserved space. You don’t need to ask for permission. You’ve got a guaranteed spot.

Rent a room at the Toronto Public Library (click to enlarge)Affordable

If you’re part of a real nonprofit, you may be able to get lower rates. For instance, the Toronto Public Library rents rooms starting at
  • $20.40/hour for nonprofit groups
  • $122.40/hour for commercial use
If you’re an insider or can connect with insiders, you might get lower rates (or even free space). For instance, the University of Toronto rents rooms starting at
  • $8/hour for internal groups including audio-visual equipment (seats 80)
  • $26/hour for external groups plus audio visual equipment (seats 25)
Rent a room at the University of Toronto (click to enlarge)Ryerson University has a history of hosting many free community-based events like Podcamp Toronto. However, their normal rates look pricey (minimum half-day plus setup fee).


I’ve been looking for a proper spot for a campus for Krypton Community College (see a genuine innovation in free lifelong education). Here “proper” means a room with tables, a whiteboard and a door.

Overall, the University of Toronto looks like the best place after work. The classrooms are affordable (under $10 a week based on 10 attendees). There’s subway access (north/south and west/east lines). Parking is plentiful and relatively cheap. The environment feels right. There’s lots of space outside the room. Perfect.

Picking the right venue helps attract the right people. Maybe they're the ones willing to pay for the room?


PS Do you know of amazing free or low cost venues?

September 17, 2013


under the microscopeThe hiring process consumes vast resources — especially attention. Yet you can't tell if you're hiring the right person. Sorry.

As the divorce rates show, we’re not great at picking a mate either. We’re easy to fool.

Public Face or Private Place?

Candidates construct a facade and provide references from well-meaning sources who cannot be objective. As the mutual fund fineprint says, past performance doesn't guarantee future results. Yet the past get used to imply a future at least as bright. Your biases get in the way too.

Malcolm Gladwell says we learn more in minutes in a private place (not meant to be seen) than from months examining a public face (meant to be seen). Employers can’t examine bedrooms but there is a substitute.

What’s more private than your thoughts?

Granted, we self-censor what we communicate but hints of the truth peek through as the quantity grows. Online content forms a digital tapestry that’s quick and easy to examine.

Then Now and Then

You're hiring today for an unpredictable future. On 9/10, you can't tell how a candidate will perform on your equivalent of 9/11 and 9/12.

Given the right (or wrong) circumstances, great candidates flounder while the lousy-but-lucky flourish. As with politicians, we can't tell who's who until afterwards. Deciding is tough.
The WRAP methodology
I've hired badly and have seen too many bad hires. The basic experience, credentials, skills and fit were in place. The ability to adapt was not.

When hiring people who work remotely (say in sales), you can't see them regularly and their self-reporting is biased. There's always a big opportunity on the way ... and explanations for what went wrong due to circumstances which could not be controlled. It's easier to dismiss poor performance than dismiss a poor hire (Entrepreneur, mistake #4).

Signs To Mind

When hiring, look for proof of

The "Free Prize"

When the hiring process identifies more than one candidate who can do the basic work well, how to decide? As with an Android phone, the extras make the difference (ease of use with Moto X vs better specs with Samsung). As books and movies show, it's difficult to identify who will matter later. Gollum would fail the interview process but make a better guide than Google Maps or Mordor.

When you hire wrong, the big cost comes from the opportunities lost. Those we can’t quantify until we're able to run simulations in parallel universes.


PS There’s also the risk of losing your great hires (see

September 10, 2013


vegetables are healthyBoo hoo.
We don't have time.
We don't know how.
We might make mistakes.

These common explanations or reasons or excuses hold us back. Except when a sickness or another emergency rearranges our priorities


When you're sick, you're forced to make time. You're forced to learn how to get the  treatment. You’re motivated to overcome mistakes that could delay or complicate your recovery. Sickness makes us equal. Even billionaires have to adjust (Steve Jobs “buttoned up”), though having money buys more attention and brings more options.


How strange that we have time for sickness but not for health.

For health, we face no crisis or deadline. When sickness strikes fast, it's easy to blame bad luck, especially if you catch the latest disease that’s in the news. When the consequences come slowly (e.g. from poor diet, inadequate exercise, excessive stress) we know who suffers. It’s tougher to tell who’s to blame.

Lest We Forget

Soon enough, we go back to our normal. We forget that …
… we have lots of time.
… we have lots of know how.
… we we learn from mistakes.

You know of actions you could take to make your business better. Just because the steps aren’t urgent doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Even today, you can do business without a website, without being on LinkedIn, without having a smartphone. It's just that your results will likely suffer. The longer you wait, the further behind you get. Once you decide to act, you're at a significant disadvantage. Spending money may not be enough. As with exercise, you need time and what you learn along the way.

As Bruce Cockburn sang, the trouble with normal is it always gets worse. That means we better get better.


PS Start today. Tomorrow is 9/11.

September 3, 2013


Is recycling your target?You want people to read and share your content but lives are busy. They may not even notice, lack immediate interest or forget.

When you recycle content, you help them re-discover what you’ve already done.

1. Build To Last

To warrant future attention, your content needs to last. You can write about something which is of the moment but for similar effort, you can write something with future appeal too.

You may need to explain the interconnections.

For instance, my recent post about whether it’s better to pre-announce or ship compares strategies at Apple, Blackberry, Google and Microsoft. Blackberry had just announced they were for sale, which made the post timely. There are still ways to refer back to this post years later. Perhaps a company will have disappeared or changed strategies.

2. Build To Find

If your content is easy to find with a web search, you increase the chances of rediscovery with no further action from you (e.g., case study). You can’t count on this though.

You help with rediscovery when you embed links in your new content. I put links throughout my posts and at the bottom too. This allows readers to easily click to read something else (though not all links are to content I’ve created).

3. Build To Share

Content is easiest to share when all that’s needed is a click of a button. Social networks are your friend. You expand your reach when you have already built audiences on them. A newsletter is another mechanism, though sharing is often more complicated.

You may like creating PDFs, but they are awkward to read on a smartphone, consume bandwidth and take up storage space. Copy/pasting can be a hassle too. How do you track readership? Instead, you could put highlights in an easy-to-share-and-track blog post with links to the PDF.


When I write a blog post, here are the steps for initial readership
  • automatic tweet
  • manual posting on Google+
  • manual update on LinkedIn
  • inclusion in a monthly newsletter
School restarted today. I re-shared content from prior years (this and this) rather than writing something fresh.

This is Life Insurance Awareness Month. My new post about Boomer Esiason has links to timeless posts about prior spokespeople like Buddy Valastro, Lamar Odom and Leslie Bibb.

When there's a major storm, I've got ready-to-go content about inaccurate weather forecasts or snow plows or power failures or the aftermath.

As you create more content, you'll see more connections between what’s happening and you’ve already got. That creates more opportunities to recycle.


PS It’s A Wonderful Life gets recycled each Christmas.

August 27, 2013


You can accelerate the process of becoming visible and then memorable. Networking alone isn’t enough because you won’t be seen by most of your connections --- the ones who weren’t there. When they’re out of sight, you’re out of mind.

Let's follow a "fake it 'til you make it" model.

Fake Familiarity

Home Depot and GE hot water heatersI read story in a book years ago but can’t find references. Let’s assume it’s true.

Home Depot asked customers which brand of hot water heater they preferred. The winner was General Electric. That’s remarkable because GE didn’t make any.

How did GE win? People are familiar with the company, which makes many consumer products including ranges, microwaves and fridges.  Assuming GE made hot water heaters isn’t much of a stretch. Maybe the people surveyed didn’t know which brand they had and didn’t recognize the other choices. Maybe they gave the answer they thought the surveyors wanted.

Home Depot saw an opportunity to turn fake familiarity into real business. They approached GE and got exclusive rights to make hot water heaters under the GE name.

Show Up

To become more visible, start showing up at events. You needn’t announce your intentions. Simply start showing up and network. Consistently. You’ll start to get noticed.

You’ll become more comfortable and familiar. Soon, people will remember you as having been around longer than you were. They will even think you were at places you didn’t go because they’ll start anticipating where they expect to see you. You become like GE.


You gain little by saying you’re attending an event for the first time if people would expect to find you there (e.g., a trade conference). Why weren’t you there before? Maybe you didn’t know or didn’t see the benefits. Is either worth admitting?

Refer to yourself as having shown up.

For instance, if you say "I liked speaker X at this year’s Y Conference", your audience may infer that you attended in the past even if you're a first-timer. If you’re asked about last year, you can say that you couldn’t make it. That implies you normally attend.

Isn't this sneaky? You aren't saying you did something you didn't. You're letting people infer. Marketing is about the stories people tell themselves. Leave gaps and your audience will fill them in.

Spread The Word

As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

As you start showing up, you gather valuable information and insights. You then have a universal lasting gift that’s easy to share via a regular newsletter (e.g., Mad Mimi gives low effort results). Thanks to tracking codes, you’ll instantly see what’s working and with whom.

By sharing, you remind your fellow attendees about the event (not everyone takes notes). More important, you inform your larger group of connections who were not there. That’s leverage. As you become their eyes and ears, you become more valuable and visible even if they are out-of-sight.


PS Buying a Home Depot “GE” water heater may not be a good idea …