Saturday, November 29, 2008

Objective Attained


Today is my 20th blog post.  I had promised myself to write at least 20 entries this month and now I am successful.  What I feel this experiment has proven to me is that keeping a blog allows the individual to record their thoughts and experiences in a cogent way which serves as a vital record.  It also has proven to me that blogging is a worthwhile endeavor for my business, as clients and friends have reviewed and reflected on my blog.  Next month - lets try for some comments!

I would encourage you to consider writing a blog, at least as an experiment.  Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Tree Lighting

Wow! Tonight was the tree lighting in Seal Beach! The first annual (I hope)! I participated with lots of great support from Nina V. & Natalie K. from the Chamber and several others. The Chamber put it on and these photos are from a great new blog that I have subscribed to It is a "hyperlocal" site which explores it's locality with great depth. We probably had 200+ people at the event which served hot cocoa, cookies and carols from the Los Alamitos High School Choir. I really think that the Public Works department of the City did a great job creating the tree by using an existing palm tree and "green" LED lights which are low power consumption.
Clients ask how they get local response - the answer - be part of the community!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Being Thankful

It is Thanksgiving "eve" and I have a simple message to all those who are clients, friends, family or gentle readers - thank you! Thanks for:

  • The insights, comments and laughter you have shared with me

  • The love and affection

  • Your trust

  • Your business

  • Our experiences together

  • The work we do and have done together

  • Your time

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Coming from Greatness

What do you do when someone asks for a refund? In small business, how meaningful is a single customer? How do you treat someone when you feel that returning their money is not fully fair? Particularly in a tight economic time? What if a client simply doesn't pay you for services rendered?

Wow - these things do come up, perhaps more often than any of us would like. For me, in the last 4 years, I have been been in the situation of a client owing me money three times. In each case the money was substantial (to me) and my angst over it was significant. In none of the instances was I short of providing value - something had changed on the part of the client, and they were either unable or unwilling to pay me. The first two times I really got upset about it, by the third time, I was simply resigned.

Small business ownership exposes us to risk. This risk comes in many ways, but most often, we are held at our word and expect others to hold to theirs. My recommendation is to realize that a small percentage of projects/clients/customers will not follow through, but the majority will. That being said, when someone asks for their money back or simply never pays you - hold your tongue, take a deep breath and realize that if you come from greatness and simply allow it to pass, it will come back to you in ways you never expected. As I near Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all the people who I have touched (or who have touched me) in my journey with Black Marble Consulting. So remember to come from greatness and be particularly thankful for each and every experience.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Friends and listening

My dear friend John W. called last night. He wanted to share some thoughts about his workplace and where he is personally. It was wonderful to just listen. I think all to often we find ourselves too "busy" just to listen to friends. It is harder when people are in other time zones - that three hour time difference really makes it necessary to plan when you talk. Make sure that you take time to listen to those who are close to you.

As he shared, it helped me put some client issues into perspective, and provided some insight for how to help them better. His story triggered additional thoughts in my mind about what was happening both in his workplace and in the client's. I think it also really helped him to share it.

I miss the time spent with close friends just checking in on their life and feeling how they are. Do you ever miss it? I wish there was a way to connect quickly over long distances which is easy and inexpensive and not "virtually." Remember to take time for them - they will help you in ways you never imagined.

Early Thanksgiving & Birthday thoughts

One of my clients is Main Street Cyclery in Seal Beach, CA. One of the team members is Julio - who just celebrated his 23rd birthday. What was cool was that he didn't broadcast his birthday, but simply mentioned it towards the end of the day. He has many of the qualities that I think employers look for: focus on tasks, responsibility, good communication skills and a pleasant demeanor. Further, he shows up for work! In a time where there is much uncertainty and often little loyalty to a business, all of our team at the bike shop takes ownership of creating a successful business.

So I wanted to share some early Thanksgiving thoughts.

1. Family is number one - I have parents both who have survived cancer, multiple hospitalizations with my partner and dealt with friends who have sero-converted. Be sure to always make time for family. You never get any of those moments back, and you need to be there when times are good and bad.

2. Come from a heart full of appreciation - We have so much to be thankful for: life, liberty, health, friends, family and a nation which is at the lead in the world. Much still needs to be done to right wrongs and make the world better, but if not for the accident of my birth, I would not enjoy so many of the liberties that others have fought and died for. Be grateful and humble for what we have.

3. Do something to help strangers & pay it forward - In addition to family be sure to do something to help others. Sometimes it is the comfort of strangers which can start to change the world. Give of your time, treasures or talent in some way which will help in ways you can't directly perceive. An example is the Community Thanksgiving Dinner in Seal Beach - I am donating a bottle of champagne to the volunteers (LOTE) who help make that happen. If we all did three nice things as businesses and individuals, how much better could we make the world?

4. Take some meditative silence to fill your heart with joy.

5. Tell people (when appropriate!) that you love them. Give hugs generously.

6. Thank your employees or team members.

Go ahead and make the world a better place! Have a great week.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holidays & Shopping

What does the holiday season mean to business?  For many of us (or with clients in it!), it is the retail season.  Customer service is at a premium right now, because consumers are particularly sensitive about spending their money.  The service part is simple - customers are not always right, but they are always right about "their" money.  You just need to be thankful and take ownership of any problems for them.  So no matter what, take on their concerns - that will reassure them that they are being cared for.

All too often communication is hijacked by emotional responses, and the holiday season is rife with them.  To put yourself with the customer in a "we" posture, rather than an "us" vs. "them" will pay dividends.  Other small business owners have been asking me and my clients, how we can be doing so well in this economy.  Much of it has to do with the service provided.  A prime example of that is the Crema Cafe at 322 Main Street. (check it out)

There the owner, Tarit, constantly focuses on hospitality rather than customer service.  It is a nice way to transform the idea of service.  If you make people feel at home, not only do they feel more comfortable, they generally treat your staff and your business more respectfully.  The more you can shift your team into the idea that customers are part of your extended family and ultimately THE reason we all get paid, it helps the team feel more empowered to provide higher service and more thoughtfulness while providing service.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Communities create anniversaries to recognize major events.  In many ways the recognition of milestones are particularly important for business.  Over 80% of businesses fail in the first five years, and having had a business in existence for four years - I can personally attest to how hard it is to keep going.  In today's marketplace, the entrepreneur has to constantly ask "how am I bringing value" - to clients, customers, stakeholders, the community and even your own family.

I went to a great anniversary event at O'Malleys on Main Street last night.  Brian Kyle, was celebrating 10 years of success in running his restaurant and serving the Seal Beach community.  This milestone was significant and really great fun!  It also showed that he wanted to appreciate his patrons.

What anniversary might you wish to share with others?  For that matter, have you celebrated an anniversary anytime in the last year?  If not, plan one now!  We hear doom, gloom and horrible economic news all the time on the news and about our economy.  Stop buying into the crisis - buy into yourself and your business.  If you don't, others certainly won't.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tribal Leadership and Staff meetings

Clients often wonder if staff meetings are important. After all, in small business, employees could be doing so much more "productive" things. In reality, most research has indicated that employees or team members are most productive when certain basic social, emotional and intellectual needs are met. Questions such as: "Do I know what my job is? Do I have the tools I need to do my job well? Do I get regular feedback? Do I have a best friend at work? Do I have an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way?"

In the Gallup Organization book - First Break All the Rules , this concept of needs is explored fully. So by allowing the group to come together in a controlled, tribal fashion, the power of the team focuses on growing the capacity of the team. I would encourage your business to have regular team meetings - but somewhat sparsely. They are as a client reminds me "like pearls, slowly built up over time - and precious as a result." Another great resource book is Tribal Leadership which explores how leaders and tribes cause each other to grow.

So go ahead, plan a team meeting. With a clear agenda, a firm timeline and good participation, you will be pleased with the results, and so will your people.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Day without a Gay - 12/10/08

Wow! Found this about a general economic boycott for a single day.

I would strongly encourage you if you support equal rights to close your business, take the day off, volunteer or create positive change on that day for human rights. What is a single day out of your life? We give so much to the workplace - why not simply acknowledge equality for a single day for people like me who are fighting for it.

Make a difference. Be an ally.

Old Friends

My stepfather, Jim, has a powerful observation about life: "Beware of those who don't have old friends." Considering that he is 73, that means something. His friends have been dying - particularly some this year, but his message is simple. Those who are able to sustain friends for most of their adult life are generally good people. When I look at my parents (all of them!), I see that they do indeed have life long friends: my dad and Sam Farr / friends from Carmel, Mom and Mary Jane, Papa and Jim Smith, Barbara and Roberta, etc. . .Even I reflect and see friends from different eras of my life - Chris R. & Niti S. from high school, Rick S. from Sewanee, S. J Carter, Terry "Jean Arnell" from Nashville, John W., Chris D., Dan W., Dave & Chris, DJ, David S. and now Tara T., Susan B., Robyn G., JoAnn A., Barbara B., Dave D., Tarit T., Bryce B. Andrew S., Cameron V., Julio C., Joey A. and more. . .

So when we consider business deals and allies, you might want to check and see how many old friends the person might have. It gives a whole new perspective on how people interact and will likely interact with you over time. A great resource to consider how your friends impact you is the book Vital Friends by Tom Rath. You can get more info about it here:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekly objectives

As I have mentioned in the past, having a sense of urgency and a focus on objectives helps all of us in business.  Over the last few days, with fires and other events here in Southern California, the creation of specific objectives helps keep things in perspective.  I would urge you to simply craft a list of target tasks or activities for the week.  Having a concrete deadline helps keep things on track for your life and your business.  One of my objectives is to have at least 5 posts a week or an average of 20 per month.  So get going on your task list!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Power of Priority

Today focused me on the issue of prioritization - the step by step isolation of what activities are best suited to attain a final goal. My goal for my clients is simple, to allow growth and positive strategic direction. We are constantly barraged by "the ringing phone" - that which is urgent but not necessarily important. I was reminded that we have to take time out to get out of our own heads and be involved in activities opposite from what we do nearly all day. For example, most of my work time is spent on solving problems, analyzing solution sets and communicating with or for clients.

So today, I took some time to be present in my own body, without letting my mind be racing for a solution or insight. My friend Josh, talked to me a great deal about meditation and the process of clearing the mind of thought in order to expand conciousness and derive harmony. This let me recharge.

As a result, several solution sets for challenges became apparent and my stress level declined immensely. I felt able to handle everything easily and with out pain. What a great place to be! So to all of my fellow entrepreneurs, remember to as my father says "make haste slowly" - slow down, be present in the now and rest your mind. Solutions will present themselves and you will be far less anxietous than you were when you were filled with the urgency of the world. As I mentioned yesterday - have a real sense of urgency, but don't feel compelled to fill every moment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Timing and Respect

Time management in small business is a critical skill.  Also, it is vital to be respectful of other people's time.  In reading a great book A Sense of Urgency, by John Kotter, it has become clear to me that urgency is something we all could do with quite a bit more of!  Don't be confused by distractions and "busy work" - stay focused on measurable tasks which connect with goals and objectives to help your life (and/or your business) become both more meaningful and more efficient.

Further, by treating time with the respect it deserves, others tend to respond favorably to your message.  You acknowledge the importance of other's time, you do what you say in the time allotted and your credibility increases.  All of our time is valuable.  As a consultant, I am amazed at what some some businesses or advisers do with time.  Sales people interrupt our days and I find myself directing them to an appointment or turning down any "opportunity." One appointment I had today was with Time Warner.  They wanted a $15,000+ buying decision today, with no real discussion or evaluation or study of the program proposed.  Of course this was impossible.  Further, by shortening the meeting to 3 minutes, neither my time nor the sales reps was wasted.

So for today - remember time is worthy of respect and your punctuality and swift decision making is part of what makes you nimble and effective in business. 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Power of Reading

This has been a week of trying new things to develop communicating my business. I started this blog and now I have been reviewing my reading list with my LinkedIn profile. Reading is one of the great loves of my life - it transports, entertains and thrills me. The voice of the author, the lives of the characters and the lessons learned are all part of what I enjoy so very deeply. If I could recommend one activity to fellow entrepreneurs, it would be to read. Reading can take place at your convenience and can be paused with even less effort than we pause our DVD players, iPods or streaming video; we just look up from the text. It also engages the mind in a way quite different from watching television (which I abhor) or even being engaged in conversation.

It was remarkable that within just a few moments I could recall dozens of titles of books which thrill me and have taught me valuable lessons. So please, take a moment, get a book and feed your mind. Go get a library card - you can read in the USA for nearly nothing. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Politics, Parking and Business

Parking, like traffic is a constant concern, not only in large cities, but also in small towns like Seal Beach.  One of the things that Seal Beach has going for it is non-metered 2 hour parking on Main Street.  This certainly is convenient for shoppers in our town.  However, parking can be a limiting factor when zoning codes run up against business centers - like in the Seal Beach Center.  Long story short: the Zoning Code is under referendum. The parking spaces were miscalculated for the Center.  Any change in the Code for shared parking is prohibited for 12 months.  So pretty much the vacancies can't be filled in the entire shopping center.

This code problem and the decisions of City Council have created ripple effects which are only just now being felt.  This is true for many things in business - the socio-economic & political environments dramatically affect business in ways which can never be fully anticipated.  This will be true for Proposition 8 as well.  All we can do as leaders in the business community is to lead by example and to provide as much support as possible.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Creating advertising value in a tough economy

As a consultant I always look how we can create a marketing splash for small business which doesn't involve large expense.  The idea of cooperative marketing advertising pages (Co-Op ad page) is one which can really help.  What do you do?

You get one agency or group to sponsor part of a page in an advertising vehicle which works for multiple advertisers.  For example - the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce might help members buy a Co-Op ad page in a newspaper by anchoring one segment of the page.  This strategy is in place for several of my clients and can reduce ad costs by more than 1/3.  Currently I am doing that with my client Navigaytour and also several in Seal Beach, via the Chamber.

Advertising is not something which needs to be expensive, it can be something targeted and shared.  Just because it is tough in the economy - this is the time to advertise.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proposition Hate

As to the Proposition 8 - I can't tell you how upset I am. I am angry, hurt, disenchanted and feel rejected by my own country and people. I cried with Anthony this morning. It was not fun. This may be the final impetus to leave the US. I think we will relocate to the UK sooner rather than later. I find it sad that of all the social issues - abortion, drug legalization, farm animal treatment. . .the side of decency won. Only in the category of gay people did we revoke a right or prevent it from happening - Florida, Arizona and California. It proves to me that no matter what people say bigotry, homophobia and segregation are still alive in the United States. I am disgusted with religion in general and churches in particular.Obviously Anthony and I are not the same as other couples - our own citizens and neighbors just told us so. We were told essentially as blacks were in Selma, AL and all across our the nation: "You can't drink from this water fountain (traditional marriage) it's for white people (straights), because we have these other drinking fountains (commitment ceremonies or whatnot) for you colored folk (gay people)." American's might want change on a great many things, but Californian's don't want change about their "values." As to fear mongering and the language of hate that the Yes on 8 people drummed up - "they will teach it to your kids," it obviously worked. Business and the economy will suffer in California because the dollars which would have been spent here will leave, along with talented people who thought they were moving to an accepting place. I know California will lose us.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pre election night musings - Proposition 8

Tonight I had an amazing workout with one of my clients - Barbara Bartee. She is a remarkable woman who has created a great personal training center - Beach Fitness. You can see it at She and Bryce Turner (her business partner) have convinced me that after 17 years of weight lifting - it is still fun to get in the gym and train hard.

Along these lines I am thinking hard about Proposition 8. What an unfair piece of legislation.

My partner Anthony and I have lived here in Seal Beach, CA for the last two years and we are seriously considering marriage both here and in the UK (since he is British). We have been together for 8 years in what many would describe as a "marriage." Why our actual contract of marriage in the state of California would affect anyone else seems completely absurd to me. Life is too short to let others interfere with our life and pursuit of happiness. If there was another word which was as integrated within the legal system so that we could enjoy ALL of the same rights and benefits as a marriage, I would be fine with using that word. Ironic that people choose semantics to create a "bastion of righteousness." So very absurd.

In the world, I would think there are more meaningful issues we could solve or fight for. "Sanctity" or "righteousness" just seems to vague, social and petty anymore to me. I hope everyone who is eligible gets out and votes tomorrow. It is a duty for all citizens.

My first post - an Op-Ed piece

So I wrote the piece below and it was published in the Sun Newspaper here in Seal Beach a couple of weeks ago. Now, I feel that since there isn't a website, I would start a blog and begin posting my observations about business and community. How do they interrelate? How do they support or interfere with each other?

My clients range in size and location, so I thought talking about the state of business now, when the economy was in flux was a good time. Anyway, here it is:

Why is business growth important? What do you do again? Why should I join the Chamber of Commerce? Why do you help produce so many events, if you are not like getting paid for it? How is your business doing?

I get these questions a lot, particularly lately with the stock market and Wall Street in a stunning period of volatility and our economy in the worst state it has been in at least the last 30 years. As my Economics professor told me getting my MBA, “stagflation” is the worst position for an economy can be in – and we are there. This period, when the economy is stagnant and the value of our currency is declining (resulting in inflation) it is very distressing. What does any of this have to do with our Seal Beach? Well, after being here for two years and working closely with the Chamber, City and various clients I thought it would be important in this election year to talk about the fundamental role of business in a community. As a consultant, I constantly observe and analyze business, so I can sum it up in a single word – growth.

The arguable measure of any community is its ability to create a quality living experience for all members of that community. We have seen through the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the former Soviet Union and in countless attempt to control market economies that the regulation of business in excess results in contraction. In our town, the ability to shop, work, educate and live in the same geographic space is part of the magic that makes Seal Beach so special. Thankfully, many of our merchants are still doing well. Part of that is due to local residents keeping their discretionary spending in the local market. The events in Seal Beach are such that all residents can enjoy them – this leads to shopping and spending with our businesses. When those events have lots of community support – government, business and resident, than a community can truly reap the benefits of this positive spiral of growth. We not only have local support, we attract visitors and their spending. Business drives this growth through job creation and value creation within a community. We can outshine other cities and towns in California, by all working together to resist the divisiveness that economic strain produces in all of us.

Though there are many disagreements in our community about property rights, community benefits and various measures on the ballot, I hope we can recognize that everyone in the community wants to have the “best town” according to their vision. We should strive to find the common ground for all members of Seal Beach and supporting the engine of growth – our local businesses. Come to the October 25th – 26th Sidewalk Sale, dress up for Halloween and shop in our various business centers, come out to our Christmas tree lighting on November 28th and participate in the spectacular Holiday parade on December 5th! Get out there, vote for what you believe in, but don’t neglect to vote with your dollars – by supporting local businesses and the events, which showcase them and ultimately our community.