#40in240 Project – Get the Book!

My friend, and a truly intrepid marketer Todd Schnick recently took on a large and ambitious project. He wanted to create a book, a mini-MBA of sorts for recent college grads so they could learn from and be mentored by folks who had been out of school for a while and had some experience.  Todd created a simple but effective platform #40in240. Todd gathered 40 of “Atlanta’s best and brightest.” his words not mine and asked them to write in 240 words or less something for the college student just getting out of school. I’m proud to be part of the elite group of individuals who contributed to this project although I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to hang with many of these awesome contributors.

I want to sum up and share a few of the main points shared throughout the book.

  • Find what you love and do it.
  • Do it
  • Get started and don’t quit
  • You’ll be afraid. That’s okay do it anyway.
  • You’ll fail that’s okay do it anyway, and do it again.
  • Get Help
  • Forget what critics say
  • Trust your own brand of crazy
  • Take Risks – they often aren’t really all that risky

There are many many many more lessons to be taken from this wonderful and free book and the lessons are really for everyone not just the recently graduated.

I’d like to thank Todd for pulling this project together and including me with all these wonderful and talented people. Todd thanks for being an example of what can be done when you DO what you love.

Go get the book from Todd’s site here.

Listening

When I first started working for IBM back in 1999, they sent me to basically what I would call a training camp. At the camp they taught us project management, selling, consulting, negotiating and Listening skills. The truth is to be effective at any of the first four skills I mentioned you have to be an effective listener. We learned what it means to actively listen and how to use the information we gather to best serve our customers. I didn’t realize at the time how much value there was in learning that skill but it has served me well in my professional life and has allowed me to advance in my career.

Listening however is a skill that is changing. Years ago listening meant you were hearing what a person said to you in a face to face or phone conversation. Today people talk using other communication devices. Today when people talk they don’t always speak to you and often you are not the intended audience of their communication even if they are talking about you or your brand.

What you do with your listening and how you respond hasn’t really changed as much as the tools you use to hear what your customers are saying. I’m going to cover some of the free tools available to you today so you can better hear what is being said about you and your brand.

The first tool is really understanding what you want to listen for. This at first may seem simple but it honestly takes quite a bit of both skill, and refinement.

I feel the best way to explain this is with an example:

For simplicity sake I’m going to use the keyword – Shipping. If you do a search on the word shipping using some of the tools we discuss momentarily you’ll see that you get a bunch of stuff about free shipping but for our purposes we don’t care about free so I’ll use a negative work Free. So any tool I use will  search for: Shipping -Free

Over time you may see other key words that you do not wish to show up in your search such as FedEx. Then your search would look like this: Shipping -Free -FedEx

The point here is that you can and should truly refine your search so you get the most relevant responses to the information you are looking for.

Now that we covered how to narrow your keyword set let’s look at a list of tools and what you can expect from them:

Technorati Blog Search  – Save the RSS to a reader and get regular updates on your topics.
Google Alerts Search     – See new results as often as you would like in your email.
Twitter Search Twiter Search     – Save the search as an RSS feed and see what has been said about your topic lately.
Addictomatic Searches Bing, Google, YouTube, twitter and a host of other networks. Brings back the most recent conversations about the search topic .
How Sociable Looks at mentions and provides a score based on how often a brand is mentioned in social networks and search engines.
IceRocket Blog Search looking for mentions of a term
Back Type Looks at mentions on twitter mainly.
Social Ping Active monitoring and notification from twitter
Google Insights    Shows trends for searches    Allows you to see search volume across multiple keywords
Google trends Shows trends for searches    Shows volume over time on a single keyword
OMGILI
search forums
Social mention Blog Search

Service as a Standard

Is service a standard for your business? How far will you go to ensure your customers are satisfied? When service is a standard you don’t have to get hung up on issues of how to satisfy a customer you just do. We experienced an excellent example of service as a standard over the holidays.

We drive Toyota’s and over the holiday’s Toyota did a lot to ensure we continue to drive Toyota’s for a long time. We were driving from Atlanta down to Orlando so we could visit Disney for a few days. It was an exciting trip to be making with the family. We stopped in Valdosta Ga to get gas. I was inside with the kids and somehow my wife managed to insert 3 gallons of diesel into our gas tank at which point it occurred to her that something was wrong. So along with a few headaches we brought the car to the local Toyota dealer at 5:00PM on December 23rd. This was just going to be a nightmare, or so we thought.

The dealership luckily was open and the service manager hadn’t left quite yet but they had already sent home all the mechanics. The did have  an apprentice on duty but the service manager wasn’t comfortable having this guy work on the car. He wanted to make sure the job was done right. He asked if we could stay overnight. We reservations for that night in Disney and breakfast with the characters the next morning.  Obviously staying in Valdosta would have killed that. They started calling rental companies but everything was closed. We were obviously upset and that is when Toyota made me a customer for life.

The Service Manager said look, no one will come in here tomorrow looking for our loner car. You guys can take it and just bring it back on Monday to pick-up your car on the way home. WOW! He got us to Disney and saved our vacation. But this story isn’t over.

On Monday when we drove back and picked up the car they didn’t charge us for the loner car.

NOW THAT IS CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Do you go the extra mile to ensure you have lifetime customers? What do you do to ensure customer come back?

2011 Words for the year

2010 has been a great year for me personally and I’ve built quite a following in my DADvocate Project. I’ve also seen much success throughout the year. Interestingly I didn’t really set 2010 goals. I wanted to but for some reason I never really sat down and took the time. I guess I was really quite busy at the beginning of the year with launching the DADvocate project so I never got around to setting goals or resolutions.

This year I’ve decided to take a different approach. I’ve decided to choose three words. As a fan of social media one of my favorite bloggers is Chris Brogan. He has been choosing three words a year as guide posts since 2006. I read about this for the first time in his January 1 2010 Post My 3 words for 2010. Chris does a much better job of explaining that the three words should serve as a guide post for the year and has talked about how to choose the words. I’m not going to attempt to explain the process or reasoning, I’m just going to share mine for 2011.

Health - Health is about making choices. Choosing to pick the better option doing it constantly. Health is physical mental and societal. Health is also educating my self and my family. Health is choosing the best option in business decisions. Always ask when thinking about a topic is this the best healthiest decision?

Connect – I’ve spent time building community and content over the past year and I need to continue building that content, I’ve also connected with the dad community and special needs community to some degree. I need to connect more broadly across communities and stay connected. I need to always ask how can I connect deeper? How can I grow this relationship?

Mastery – I chose the word mastery to drive myself to build stronger deeper and more complete projects, further my skills and build accomplishment. I thought about words such as plan and execute but they were not broad enough. I want to master my projects and my skills. I will ask does this task or decision drive me closer to mastering this project or skill? Mastery also means that I have to measure results and adjust to see what works best. Mastery means being thorough. Mastery is a powerful and awesome word and will create some powerful movement.

Gifted Artist!

I’d like to tell you about a truly gifted artist. Interestingly I met her at a tweet-up. IT seems I’ve given a lot business to people I’ve met at tweet-up’s lately but I can’t even begin to explain how happy I’ve been with the work from the talent I have met. I mentioned Chris Jordan my new insurance agent in a previous post. Chris has quickly become a friend. Havana my new graphic design artist and friend is also incredible. I had told Havana about my DADvocate Project,/a> and she was interested enough to really help me out and gave me an incredible price on work that is just truly priceless. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words so I’ll simply provide a few pictures.

Havana goes through an incredibly detailed process while creating her work and the outcome is simply amazing and as I said before simply priceless.

You can find Havana on line at her website Koko Graphix, on Twitter @havanatweets, or Facebook. Please connect with her next time you need some work done. Oh I almost forgot. I was a typical client who didn’t know what I wanted and when I asked Havana to go beyond what we agreed to she did. She provided me with extras, such as parts of the image, and directed me to web sites for color schemes and even produced a set of social media icons just for my site. Havana is awesome and you should use her if the need ever arises.

Choose a New Insurance Agent – Marietta Based Chris Jordan – Atlanta Insurance Live

I met @thechrisjordan at a tweet-up at @fuegomundo sponsored by @toddschnick and @stephaniealloyd. Chris is an insurance agent and I had already started following him on Twitter. After the social Part of the tweet-up a number of us stuck around for dinner and Chris and I sat next to each other. Chris is a really bright guy who is using Social Media as the fundamental backbone for his marketing process. I’d spend time writing about how well he is using social media but another friend @NotEasyToForget James Ball has already done a wonderful job and I’ll simply refer you to his article, Social Media: Selling Insurance from the Bathtub Since 2009.

What I’d like to do in this article is sell you on going to Chris’s site and requesting a quote. Fist let me say I am not being paid to do this article and Chris is not currently aware that I’m writing it. This article is consistent with this site’s main objective of promoting small businesses in Marietta and Roswell and I have recently become a Life Insurance customer of Chris’s and I will be switching my home and car insurance to Chris as well. Let me explain why.

Atlanta Insurance Live is Chris’s site and his business is based out of his home in Marietta. On the site he provides copious amounts of information about insurance and insurance issues. He begins to build trust through providing information about his industry and by giving the reader a sense of his personality. Chris is a friendly and funny guy as you’ll see in his entertaining video’s.

Another important point about Chris is his availability. I was working late one night and on Twitter. I saw Chris get on and said “hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you for a quote” This was at 12:00AM in the morning. He readily got on the phone with me, took my information and provided a quote by the next day. You can’t ask for better or quicker service than that. Additionally when I asked about my insurance needs he did not try to up sell me to a crappy whole life product I didn’t need and he was honest about how, when and where one might need a product like that.

I have a busy schedule. I work 40+ hours per week, I blog, I’m training for a 1/2 marathon and I have 3 kids and a wife. I’m busy! Chris actually when out of his way to come to my house on a Saturday afternoon and spent 2 hours with me going through paperwork and making sure I was comfortable with the transaction. Chris is the real deal. Many insurance agents spend all their time acquiring new customers but don’t do jack to service them. I have no doubt that Chris will continue to be excellent as an insurance agent.

So if you are here in Georgia and you need insurance, spend a few minutes asking Chris to help you out. He will make the process painless, ensure you get the services you need and most likely save you money. He saved me $40/month and increase the value of my Life Insurance plan by $250,000. Chris is a independent insurance agent and will be able to help you out. Go ask him for a quote. or Talk with him online live at Insurance Live.

DADvocate Header Design

As I mentioned in my post The DADvocate Project Branding Contest – Win a free Twitter Background! I wanted to open up this branding process to the DADvocate community at large and and gain some feedback. Admittedly I also want to give my designer some exposure since I think she is AWESOME. So please leave some comments about your thoughts and you’ll have the opportunity to win a free twitter background designed by Havana. Check out her web site Kokographix.com

The design process starts with the interview:

Havana Interview – The DADvocate Project Branding from Kevin Metzger on Vimeo.

After the interview Havana spent some time drawling and brainstorming with me so she could be sure we were thinking along the same lines.

DADvocate Header Design Brainstorming Part 1 from Kevin Metzger on Vimeo.

One of neatest things about this process was her introduction of children into the design during her creative process. It was something I would never have thought of but I really like how she worked it in. What do you think?

DADvocate Header Design Brainstorming Part 1 from Kevin Metzger on Vimeo.

There is a third page of work shown here which i hav not posted video for.


All this work resulted in the four following ideas. What do you like about them? what would you change?

How should Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Use Twitter and Why?

CHOA – or Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is a terrific organization. We recently spent a weekend there with our son when he had RSV. The hospital is amazing. They make you feel comfortable, they have hundreds of services, they offer room service to the parents, they have educational tv programs for adults, there is a computer lab, they have wifi, they do everything necessary to make a hard and scary time easy for the kids and the parents. Children’s is flat out an awesome organization.

While I was at the hospital I was on my computer and decide to see what kind of social media presence CHOA had. It turns out they really don’t have any social media presence at all. This is a true loss of opportunity for an organization such as Children’s because it is such a cheap and effective way to reach their target audiences both customers and donors. The day we were in the hospital happened to be the day of the Children’s parade in Atlanta. Seeing only five tweets mention the parade or CHOA  amazed me and I posted one of them.

Children’s is way too valuable a resource to our community to have such little presence in one of the largest twitter markets in the country.

What would be the objective for Children’s to use Twitter. The number one thing to keep in mind is that social media of all kinds is meant for relationship building and to funnel leads into your sales funnel. So if I were positioning CHOA I would recommend focusing on a major goal of spreading the word for fundraisers and leverage the technology to inform and attract more people to charitable events.

The initial strategy and measurement for this type of work with twitter would be quite easy to implement. A landing page or blog post should be set up specifically for an event. Then  a URL shorten-er that tracks click troughs could be used to send tweets about the campaign.  That is the simple part, the larger part of the twitter effort would be to capture the brand image of service and provide users on-line the same service they get at the hospital. This strategy can be taken in many directions, such as providing nurses to respond to simple customer questions or having doctors tweet about the benifits of a particular surgery. The possibilities are truly endless.

Encouraging customers to tweet about their experience with CHOA would be another great objective and could be accomplished with a messaging campaing asking for feedback from parents. CHOA could choose to measure the success of this program simply by looking at the increase in tweets about CHOA from non CHOA accounts.

Ideally CHOA shouldn’t have to tweet about their parade on the day of the parade because their followers will do it for them but that won’t happen unless CHOA is out there actively interacting with the on-line social community.

Play – Roswell, Ga

This is an unsolicited w/o interview review of Play in Roswell Ga.

Overview

Play is an awesome facility where children have the opportunity to enjoy trampolines, ball pits, inflated moon walk type jumpies, playing with parachutes, slides and other gymnastic type equipment. They have play areas for little kids too; sand tables, trains, and more. Play is a great place to take the kids for a birthday and they even offer opportunities to drop your kids off on Saturday nights.
Play also has a parents lounge but it seems to need a little work at least on the weekends. I would suggest Internet access, coffee and perhaps playing something on the tv.

play 3

Experience

We visited Play last weekend for a birthday party. They always do a great job of getting the kids involved in the activities and the kids working the parties are well trained. They know how to interact with the children and are good about keeping to a schedule that keeps the kids interested.

We have not hosted a party there but based on how they organize it I would be willing to.

play 4

Online presence

Play’s online presence consists of a web site and a Facebook page. They also maintain a news letter.

I signed up for the news letter the other day and did not receive an introduction news letter. I also signed up to be added as a friend on Facebook and have not yet been added. This is almost a week ago now. The web site is great and provides all the details about when they are open, when you can bring your kid in to Open Play and when they offer “Kids night out” or babby sitting. They also have classes and even free offerings such as story hour. It’s great that they list all this on their web site.

play2

Recommendations
I believe Play is missing a few crucial opportunities to leverage their existing web site and electronic media for marketing purposes and to bring in additional business.

For a business like Play it makes sense to send an initial news letter/Autoresponder along with a coupon for signing up. Anybody who signs up for this news letter obviously is a potential, if not already a, customer. Since this customer went to the trouble to provide you an email address an is inviting you to stay in communication with them you should give them an incentive to come in and Play. The news letter is the perfect opportunity to do this.

Facebook – The Facebook page can be a real opportunity to create a community between all of your customers but it won’t work if you don’t get people interacting immediately. I would also move from the Friend page to more of a Fan page.

A Facebook fan page is searchable by the search engines and someone looking for Play type activities in Roswell might find the page and Bam New customer. In the fan page you can host conversations and get an interactive conversation going. You can also host pic’s and video that your customers might enjoy. The other major advantage to Facebook Fan pages are the ability to advertise on Facebook. Facebook PPC (pay per click) advertising is incredibly well targeted. You can advertise to women between the age of 27 and 40 who live in specific postal codes. The integrated Fan page gives an excellent place to direct those parents to. Also there is less administration because anybody who wants to can become a fan.

Finally if were examining Play’s online strategy I would consider a blog. The blog can be updated weekly with video testimonials, each week’s events, and even child safety or child care type tips. The blog could be linked from the existing web site which is excellent and provide parents a way of staying in touch with Play and other Play parents. Play might even consider video taping a Story Time or some other event to help bring the Play experience to parents on-line.

I don’t have any business suggestions for Play today as I’ve only been able to observe the operation and online strategies. I believe Play has an excellent operational strategy in place since all employees seem to be well trained and enjoy working with young kids.

All in all if you are a parent in North Atlanta you need to take your kids to Play and check it out. They are awesome.

play 1

Housing Economy Views and News 2/8/2010 – Bob Zartarian

How sad, less than two weeks of focusing on Job creation and were already back to Health Care Reform, something that has mistakenly had the limelight for a year. We’re also back to Tea Parties, the KSM trials and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that dilute the focus on Job creation. Important no doubt but not the priority that Job creation can and must be.

If the economy was strong we could deal with issues we WANT to tackle but they are unnecessarily taking the emphasis away from the NEED to create Jobs. As a country we need to distinguish between Needs and Wants. I’m fine with Reforming Health Care and debating those other issues but they are WANTS and not NEEDS (yes, there is already a way for the uninsured to get health care).

The statistical anomaly that recently brought down the unemployment rate at the same time as unemployment rose must be ignored. What we should be more concerned about are the tax cuts that will be allowed to expire at year end and the elimination of the program to buy Mortgage Backed Securities by the Federal Reserve in less than two months. The Congress and the administration must increase demand which will ultimately put people to work. Forget targeted stimulus – it has no lasting effect and is rife with waste and abuse. There are plenty of examples from the past year to prove that. Stop the plan to take more taxes from the American people. It may create a double dip recession.

The solution: reduce payroll taxes, reduce corporate taxes, eliminate capital gains taxes, keep the “Bush” tax cuts, eliminate the “death” tax and watch the economy “SNAP” back. Tax revenues will rise, we’ll be able to balance the budget and pay down the deficit and the country will recover. Let’s strengthen the employer class, put people to work and then address our WANTS.

Bob Zartarian  –  These views are strictly my own

Your Friendly Neighborhood Business Systems Architect