Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

The Right Questions

I was watching the Dems’ debate last night. I’m pretty much a political junkie and this has been an interesting few months as the Democratic candidates sort themselves out en route to a nominee.

As I was watching, I was reminded that the next year is really a very long job interview for a very big job. Watching the debate in that context made me realize that the moderators weren’t approaching it that way at all. They were asking the wrong kind of questions, at least right up until the last one about “someone we’d be surprised you’re friends with.” Let me explain because if you manage a business, hiring is one of the most important tasks you have.

If you’re still asking lame questions such as “tell me about yourself” or “where will you be in five years,” you really should leave the interviewing to someone else. The purpose of an interview is to find out things that aren’t on a resume but which have a huge impact on a candidate’s ultimate success or failure. In my mind, “smart” is the main thing I’m looking for along with intellectual curiosity. I spend my time trying to get answers that demonstrate a candidate’s possession of those qualities or lack thereof. To you, some other things might be important. You need to hone your questions to shine a light on the areas that are critical to you.

Don’t ask “yes/no” questions. Do ask hypothetical questions that reflect the reality of what will be the candidate’s day to day job. I used to test the candidate’s knowledge of my company to see if they really wanted to work there or if they were just looking for a job. “What did you find in your research about us that surprised you?” “As you were finding out about us, what questions came up that I might be able to help answer for you?” If the answers are vague or focused on things like salary or benefits, this is a person who wants a job and not a career. That’s fine, but it’s not what I want.

Asking the right questions can make all the difference in assembling a team for the long-term or constantly having to replace people who either leave for a better gig or who aren’t really qualified in the first place. The right questions get you the right people. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Changes In Latitude

I did something today that I consider a bit of a milestone and I’d like to share it with you because it brings up a bigger point. One of the areas that I used to help clients with was Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While I never claimed to be an expert on the subject I knew enough to get clients started in improving their rankings, often to great effect. In order to stay current, I had 10 different feeds from blogs relating to SEO funneling into my feed reader. Each day I’d peruse the latest and great information, trying to stay current so my advice would be solid.

I also had half a dozen feeds from the advertising trades and six others that talked about analytics. Reading them throughout each day, along with the feeds on the sports business and many tech feeds, probably took a total of an hour or two each day, and when there were big developments, often longer.

I got that time back today because I deleted those feeds from my news stream. I’ve changed the focus of my business to franchise consulting and frankly, keeping current on tech, advertising, and media when I have very little practical reason to do so (other than to amuse you here on the screed) was an inefficient use of my time. While I am still subscribed to a number of feeds in those areas to maintain a knowledge base, I’m cutting the cord on most of them.

What’s been surprising as I hit the “delete” key is how long it has taken me to do this and that’s the point I think is relevant to each of us. It’s hard to let go. I still consider myself a TV guy even though I haven’t worked in the TV business for almost 20 years. Most of the people with whom I worked are on to other things or retired. I couldn’t let go though and was faithfully reading the trades I read when it was my daily life.

I’ve been at this new line of consulting for a year. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and business is good. Despite that, it’s a struggle not to look in the reaview mirror sometimes at the business life that was yesterday instead of spending that time focusing on what’s ahead. I’m hoping that deleting the feeds and freeing up some time will encourage me looking forward and I hope it’s something you’ll think about as well. As Jimmy Buffett says,

Its these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same

Make sense?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Variations On A Pimento

Happy Foodie Friday! Years ago I started serving pimento cheese as one of the snacks I had available as guests arrived for Thanksgiving. I can’t recall what started me down this path. As a Yankee, it was not a food that I’d eaten other than hearing about it being offered as a sandwich on-site during the annual Masters Tournament. The guests liked it and I served it thereafter. In fact, it became a household staple of sorts.

Little did I know at the time that I’d end up here in the South where pimento cheese is as common as mosquitos. What I didn’t understand, however, is how its use is as widespread as it is nor the seemingly endless number of variations, both personal and commercial. Everyone’s mama makes THE BEST pimento cheese and you can go from tailgate to tailgate at any pregame and find out just how different a single food can be. Of course, one look in any southern supermarket will tell you the same thing. There are dozens of brands and often several flavors (jalapeno pimento cheese, anyone?) from each brand.

As with many things southern, pimento cheese was born in the north and moved here. This is a terrific history of the stuff from Serious Eats but in a nutshell

The original version started out as something quite different: the marriage of cream cheese and canned pimentos, two popular and newly-available products of the industrial food trade.

It evolved into the basic grated cheese (usually cheddar), mayo (Duke’s, please) and pimentos recipe over time. The variations upon that basic theme are endless. I caused a bit of a stir when I presented my variation on the theme by adding green onions and Worcestershire sauce to mine, using two types of cheese. A friend ridiculed me until the friend’s mama tried it and loved it. So much for my Noo Yawk tinkering!

This is the third time I’m writing about pimento cheese and yet each of the posts has been different. Why I raise this topic here at all in a business blog is that it reminds me that not everything we do in business has to be completely new or innovative. Just taking something that’s basically good as is and making it a little better can be a win. Think about how Apple made the mp3 player better or Amazon transformed online shopping. eBay made a better auction engine and the Japanese saved their economy by taking things that were developed elsewhere and improving them.  It’s not finding the needle in the haystack that transforms your business. It’s often figuring out how to make the haystack itself just a bit better.

I’ve yet to sample any pimento cheese here that is made in a way that’s delicious but incomprehensible. Most of the time, it’s a variation that is smart and understandable and makes you wonder why you didn’t try that. I think a lot of the great things in business are just like that, don’t you?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

A Beautiful September Morning

I was going to write about something else this morning but then I looked at the calendar. Today is the 18th anniversary of what is arguably one of the most significant days in America’s history, one whose aftereffects permeate a lot of our daily life here in the USA. Many of them are big and obvious. Wars that have gone on for nearly two decades as a result of that day and the financial decisions we’ve made as a country to support them that affect everything. The sometimes scary and intrusive security measures we’ve taken at airports and elsewhere. The suspicious looks some folks give to others based on their clothing or appearance.

What 9-11 changed in me was something different. My strongest memory isn’t of the smell that wafted northward to where I worked in midtown Manhattan nor is it the incessant sirens as first responders charged into lower Manhattan to try and save lives. My strongest memory is of how beautiful the September morning was and how it’s hard for me 18 years later to experience a crisp, clear morning with a clear blue sky without thinking of that horrible day.

I used to commute via train to my job. That morning, I was heading to the office before catching an afternoon flight to SF with a group of my NHL peers to meet with a client the next day. We had actually switched our flight. We were going to go out that morning on what became one of the planes involved that day but that’s another discussion. I vividly remember coming up the escalator out the Grand Central and looking up at the beautiful sky as we rose. As I left the station, the cool air hit me and I might have even said out loud “what a beautiful day for flying.” No clouds, no wind, no NYC smells, just clear blue air.

Within the hour, the world had changed. A co-worker ran into my office saying a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I said it must have been a small plane and planes had hit buildings in NY before. We turned on the TV as the second plane hit and realized that this was not an accident.

The rest of the day is a blur of making phone calls to check on friends, receiving phone calls from people checking on me, wondering how I’d get home since the trains and other transport was shut down, and helping my staff deal with the day. The one thing that still won’t leave me though is the memory of leaving the station and walking to my office on one of the most beautiful NY mornings ever, a wonderful day for flying.

No business points today. Please think about those who were lost on 9-11 and those first responders who are still paying the price for their bravery.

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

For Yourself, Not By Yourself

I left corporate America at the end of 2007. In the dozen years since I’ve worked for myself. Oh sure, I have always considered the clients for whom I consulted to be my bosses, but at the end of the day, I was on my own.

If any of you have been, or are, in a similar circumstance, you know that it’s both a liberating and terrifying feeling. There is the freedom to spend a beautiful day at the beach or on a golf course instead of working. After all, you’re the boss. Along with that freedom, at least for me, there was always guilt that I had taken the day to play or run errands rather than grinding it out as I had done for the 30+ prior years of my business life. I guess the Protestant work ethic applies even to Jews…

While I’m still working for myself, the last year I’ve not been BY myself. As a franchise consultant, I’m a part of a much broader network of several hundred other coaches. We share information, I have access to ongoing education about franchises and how to do my job more effectively, there is someone doing collections for me, and the network actually even finds leads for me if I want. I’m in business for myself but not by myself, as is the case with any franchise.

Candidates (people considering investing in a franchise) sometimes ask why they should go with a franchise instead of using their capital to start up their own business. The statistics answer that question for me. 90% of new businesses fail in anywhere from the first five years to as little as the first four months. 90% of franchises are still in business after five years. There is a reason for that, which is that you’re investing in a proven concept. The mistakes have been made, the operation has been refined, marketing plans have been tweaked, and all of that is being handed to you as part of your investment along with training that can last from a few days to weeks, with ongoing mentoring and education for much longer. Pretty spiffy, and a route I wish I had taken a dozen years ago instead of trying to figure it all out on my own.

So what can go wrong with a franchise? I think the two biggest sources of problems are when franchisees don’t follow the model or when they are undercapitalized. In the first case, ignoring the model is basically throwing away what you paid for and diminishing your success rate quite a bit. In the second case, ANY business will fail if it’s undercapitalized no matter how well-run it is. Counting on immediate cash flow to support the operation (or your ability to eat!) is short-sighted. That’s why franchising makes even more sense since there is a track record of what capital is needed to get the business up and running for the first few months. It’s actually so clear that the franchises put those costs in their Franchise Disclosure Document (item 7) and those are numbers I have and discuss with folks as they are looking at investing.

Being in business for yourself is great. It’s even better when you’re not by yourself. I can show you how to make that happen for you. Just click here and let’s get started.

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Filed under Franchises, Thinking Aloud

A Yankee In Tailgateland

Not only is today Foodie Friday but it’s also the day before the college football season begins in earnest. While I’ve always been a fan of the college game, it wasn’t until I relocated down here in the South that I fully understood the passion and deep community involvement my neighbors have with their college football teams.

Photo courtesy Jonathan Ray

If you’ve read this screed for any amount of time you know that I root for the Michigan Wolverines. That said, I hold season tickets for NC State, one of the local teams. Frankly, given what I’m about to write, I’m not even sure that the tickets are necessary but it’s the only way to get a decent parking spot so you can TAILGATE!

Yes, I’ve learned the joy of tailgating, which is something Southerners appear to do not only at football games but damn near everything else from hockey games to concerts. I suppose some of them are pre-gaming a funeral as we speak…

In any event, tailgating is BIG business all across parking lots. I’d seen some of it when I went to games at Michigan, but it’s NOTHING compared to what goes on here. I suspect that a good number of folks really do just sit in the parking lot without game tickets and watch on TV. The food is sometimes your basic hot dogs and burgers but there are incredibly elaborate spreads too. At some southern schools, there are $25,000 spreads put on for hundreds of people as well as repurposed shipping containers made into tailgating palaces.

What’s the business point today? Had someone come to me for a business idea in my previous life in the sports business, I would never have thought to look at tailgating. I would have been missing a fantastic, and still growing, business. It’s a good reminder that we need to get outside of our little bubbles. Yankees don’t really have anything like this at games up north and although I went to dozens of venues in the South for games, I was working and didn’t hang out in the parking lot.

Our personal bubbles restrict the news we see, the information we digest and the decisions we make. It isn’t until we break out of them, either purposefully or by accident as happened to me with tailgating, that we grow. As people say to me when offering some odd-looking pregame snack, try it – you’ll like it!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Back To School Again

It’s the time of year when the kids head back to school. I wish I could join them. Knowing what I know now, and more importantly, what I don’t know now, I’d make better use of my time there. Of course, like the quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain, I tried not to let my schooling interfere with my education.

I’ve written before what I think the only two things one needs to learn while in school, but to sum them up it’s the ability to:

  • Acquire pieces of information, figure out which pieces are accurate and synthesize your own ideas or opinions based on them;
  • Express those ideas or opinions clearly both verbally and in writing.

Does that make you smart? Not exactly although you certainly will sound a heck of a lot smarter. It does make you well-educated in the sense that you’ve obtained the most important skills education can provide. Smart, however, is an entirely different deal and I want us to think for a few minutes today about the different kinds of smart one can be regardless of education.

I’ve never made it a secret that I have a deep affection for smart people, especially those smarter than I am. I always tried to find job candidates who were, above all, really smart in every sense of the word. What do I mean?

First, there is the kind of smart where one is able to synthesize information and develop great insights. Yes, that kind of matched the first part of being well-educated. I’d couple that with intellectual curiosity, however, to make one smart.

Second is what many people would call educated. This is being full of information, what some might call book-learned. However, just because you can puke back a lot of facts, which might make you great at Trivial Pursuit or the trivia contest at your local tavern, you can’t really fool me that you’re smart unless you couple it with the other two parts.

The third part is being emotionally intelligent. As Wikipedia defines it, this is

the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).

In many ways, this is the most important of the three “smarts” in business since it’s the one that helps you behave optimally in areas like customer service, employee management, and partner relations. I know there are other kinds of “smart” – street smart that is probably the personification of Twain’s statement, IQ-smart, which is just raw brainpower to name just two, but I think my three are the ones most critical to business – and life – success since they can be learned and developed while most others one either has or doesn’t.

So as the kids head back to school, maybe this is a good time for each of us to think about how we can get smarter too. What do you think?

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