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.