Sunday, November 29, 2009

Quiet on a Saturday night

Where is your "quiet place?" For me, oddly enough, it was in the laudromat on Saturday night. Amongst all those silent machines, flourescent lights and strangely loud/silent television screens, I found some solitude.
As a community leader, business owner and activist, I find being alone lately a deeply private and renewing span of time. While I was there, for about an hour, the only other person who came in was local police officer. He was documenting a break-in which had occurred that morning around 4 am. Someone had tried to break in to access the money in the coin changing machines. The perpitrator had been caught and nothing had been stolen.
This was a particularly surreal moment because the television show COPS was blairing from one of the TV screens. I chuckled at the irony but did not share it. As some of you may know, my partner, Anthony has been away now for over a month. He usually does the laundry. I felt close to him while drying and folding. Is that strange?
Regardless, what I wished to share with you is the importance of solitude, silence and reflection. In my partying 20s, the idea of being alone doing laundry on a Saturday night was even a possibility, now, it seems a kind of luxury. The luxury of doing a basic task, looking within and having some quiet time seems particularly important to those of us that are usually "on stage." Be sure to appreciate it for what it is, not missing the other distractions that may call to you.

When is it time to end?

When do you know it is time to end a relationship with a client? When do you end a relationship with anyone in your life? When have you been hurt enough to move on?

One of the statements that I have tried hard to live by is: "Change occurs when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change." We all get different things from our work and personal relationships. We often receive monetary compensation, recognition, accolades and perceived power over things or people.

What is subtle and often not thought of when it is time to end is our own vanity and pride. We often will continue because we think we are smart, talented or "special" enough to change the way the world works. Often, we do this with little or no compensation, believing we can make the critical difference! Do not be fooled by your own vanity or desire to be the critical piece in a failing business. Step back and be objective about what you can contribute. It may be that you can make the difference, and be sure that you are able to be appropriately compensated for those efforts. All too often, we are limited by our own self perception and end up working for little to no return.

Be a smart entrepreneur, know enough when to say "enough!"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Richard & Homelessness

Today I spent some time with Richard. He is homeless. He came into the bike shop angry because he needed a new tube and thought we had given him a "slime" tube so he couldn't deflate the tire to change spokes or the tube. He is dirty, old, ugly, profane and hostile. He oddly enough didn't smell, other than the faint smell of old tobacco smoke. His bike looked like the one pictured, but less nice and more laden than with his stuff (which most would call "crap"). He had layers of clothing which were ratty and his hair, face and hands were caked with the dirt of outside living.

We started off on the wrong foot - him yelling and me firm that I wouldn't help him. We both calmed down after we saw the other wasn't being disrespectful to the other, we just didn't understand what the other was asking for. Then we both decided that the other was not an enemy, but rather a potential solution for his bike or my customer.

This was a strange revelation for me. I told Richard how much the repair would cost - $25 (which is the retail price point) and he agreed to that price and that he would pay it. I believed him.

He commented on my name, Seth, being similar to Set, the Egyptian god of evil and that must explain my foul disposition. He referred to his as a result of his name and the history of English monarchs who were vile with the same name. His hands moved swiftly and with certainty over the wheel, though he complained that his eyesight was failing. He laughed at himself in a genuinely self-deprecating way. I was stunned.

Homelessness is a problem in our world. Richard reminded me of a simple truth: He WANTED to live that way. It is not my place to attempt to provide what I think he needs, but to treat him the same way that other customers would be. Yes, he may have some mental illness, he may be an alcoholic, he may be far outside the norm, but he deserved to be treated with simple equality. If I constantly ask for that as a citizen, shouldn't I ensure that I treat others the same way?

Sue Sylvester, the aggressively competitive cheer-leading coach on the television show "Glee" in a recent confrontation with Mr. Shuster, the glee club adviser, said to him, "You don't know the first thing about me." Apparently, I didn't know the first thing about Richard either; he paid in cash, full price and even said "thank you."


Do you have expectations of yourself and your business? During this time of Thanksgiving and pre-holiday madness, you might want to evaluate what they are. The reason I present this has to do with two very emotional conversations I had with two important people in my life: my father and step-dad.
Right after stepping off the plane in Michigan and unexpectedly going to the grocery store, my dad proceeded to have a very intense set of questions to outline the "expectations" of our relationship going forward. This was primarily an overview of monetary concerns that he had, or in actuality, what he did not wish to feel "obligated" to me. Then, Thanksgiving rolled around and my step-father seemed to be aghast at my failure to be making in excess of $100,000 per year. I humbly indicated what my compensation and lifestyle is really like and the realities in which Anthony and I lived in.
Some other people could have been offended or hurt by these parent's remarks. I took it in stride and looked at my life and my business objectively. It reminded me that simple survival is not sufficient in today's world, but rather the need to accumulate some assets and eliminate any and all obligations to others is part of the dream of many entrepreneurs. I am proud of the fact that I don't owe money to anyone for starting my companies. Though I still have school debt, I have survived five years of being in business including some of the worst times in recent economic memory. I share this to be a bit cathartic about what happened, but in addition to remind you, gentle reader, of the need to keep envisioning your success not just today, but how to be free of other's expectations. At the same time, you need to have clear sight to what YOU want out of your life and business. I am so thankful that I never feel I go to work anymore. I am just living my life and clients and customers pay me to live it! Isn't that remarkable? It is for today, but those conversations reminded me that at some point, I have to possess enough to sustain myself and my partner in our non-working life. Should I just continue to reposition my life and business so that I am always compensated for living it? That certainly seems like a possibility. What do you think?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tree Lighting, Thanksgiving & Black Friday

Here is the official Press Release:

The Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce says a BIG HEARTY THANK YOU to the community for two outstanding events this past week. First of all the 30th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner served over 100 guests and 40 volunteers at St. Anne’s church. A fun time was had by all and an attitude of gratitude abounds. Special thanks to Bryan Hardwick of Seacoast Grace Church who spent countless hours coordinating efforts. Donors for the dinner include Anytime Fitness, Ayres Hotel, Binney Chase, Bogart’s, California Seashells, Crema Café, Devyn’s Garden, Dr. Oaxaca, El Burrito Jr., Finbar’s, Hennessey’s, Kinda Lahaina, Mahe, McDonalds, Merle Norman, Miss Seal Beach Pageant, O’Malley’s, Ruby’s, ServPro, Sweet Jill’s, LOTE, Tru 11 Form, Pavilion’s, Seacoast Grace Church, and Walt’s Wharf. Special recognition goes to Father Bob Vidal of St. Anne’s Church, Shirley Broussard, SWARM Group, Barbara Wellington, Volunteer Coordinator. There are two women in particular, Virginia Fairman and Joan Wofelt, whom without their dedication over the last 30 years, we would not have this grand tradition.
Next day, the 2nd Annual Tree Lighting at the Pier was a resounding success with over 250 people in attendance. Children played in the winter wonderland with trees provided by Snowy Pines and a photo cut out created and donated by Hampton Inn and Suite. Hot chocolate, coffee and cookies donated by Crema Café, Bogart’s and Pavilions were enjoyed by all. The FireDept. Reserves provided the antique fire truck for kids to see and climb on. The modern fire engine delivered Santa to the scene much to the delight of everyone there. Harbour Surfboard provided a surfboard for the Santa photos background. Seal Beach Animal Care Center and Surfrider foundation were on hand to educate and solicit volunteers and donations for their organizations. Coast party Rentals provided the popcorn machine. As the sky grew dark enough, Seth Eaker, President of the Chamber of Commerce, led the crowd in a countdown that culminated in the lighting of the tree covered in colorful LED, environmentally friendly bulbs! You can view the tree all month long in Eisenhower Park at the foot of Seal Beach Pier. This new tradition has taken hold and remember to SHOP LOCAL this holiday season!

Personally, you can see I had fun with the key volunteers and Santa! Boy was I tired! I love what I do in the community, and it is wonderfully draining. If you wonder how to increase visibility for your business - go be a leader. Trust me, I know. Also, it helps drive sales on days like Black Friday. People seek you out not because of a sale, but because they know you make a difference!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Take a moment and just be thankful for your clients, friends, family and spouses. None of us get through it all by ourselves, so the people around you deserve your respect and thanks!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Consistency in your voice

Consistency is one of the unchanging laws of marketing and branding.

Inconsistency will erode awareness, loyalty, integrity and trust. When most people mention consistency, they mean visual consistency and there's no doubt that is critical. Making sure your materials have a recognizable look and feel to them is critical to your brand's success.

Today, however, let's focus on a different kind of consistency - you actual voice.

You've heard the old axiom “how you say something is more important than what you say.” That doesn't just mean the words you use. It's also about the attitude, tone and style. Have a clear idea of what your company's voice is. Regardless of how many different writers are involved, your materials should always be in the same voice. How do you "sound" in your communications pieces?

~ Are you formal?

~ Conversational?

~ Do you use short, choppy sentences or long, descriptive paragraphs? In other words, cadence.

~ Do you strictly adhere to grammar and style rules or do you take some liberties? What about slang or industry jargon?

What does each of those choices say about you?

Don't assume the right answer is based on industry stereotypes. Imagine the tone and style differences between a corporate law firm and a law firm that specializes in family law.

Your voice goes beyond the written words. What is the attitude of your radio promotion? How about your signage? Is your voice consistent in how you answer your phone? The signature line on your e-mail? What about your press releases and sales promotions materials? Your on hold message? Is it positive, distracted or just blah?

Think of all the ways you communicate to your customers, potential customers, employees, and vendors. How consistent and strong is your voice? Trust me, it matters.

-Thanks Altus Agency for the insights and thoughts presented here!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Being Thankful - Early

My op-ed piece for the Sun Newspapers which will hopefully be published for this Thursday's paper:

“Abundance is, in large part, an attitude,” remarked Sue Patton Thoele, a powerful contemporary writer. This year, in Seal Beach, we have an amazing number of blessings and abundance to be thankful for this year. We have a balanced budget and reserves in our town, incredibly low crime and great public services. At the same time, we have the natural beauty of Southern California and a fairly stable if not robust local economy. There are city-wide improvements which are occurring on storm drains, wells and other infrastructure projects. We have citizens making great positive impacts: Bill Ayres, Cypress College’s Citizen of the Year for Seal Beach and founder of the 5K/10K Run, Pastor Don Shoemaker of Grace Community as the Christmas Parade Grand Marshal, Kim & Steve Masoner of Save our Beach, Eric Lenahan of PONY Baseball (and the Chamber) and so many others.

At the same time, some things are a bit troubling in our society right now. There was the horrific shooting at Fort Hood, an act of homicidal desperation; a continuing degree of unemployment with an expectation of continued governmental support and now a sweeping set of health care reform to deliver yet more services to more people. Our national budget is in deficit and we continue to spend money as though we can print our way out of any problem. We vote for entitlement after bailout but seem to miss the issue of accountability to our taxpayers. We have a troubling cleanup occurring in our Bridgeport neighborhood by ARCO with not a lot of clear information going to our citizens until recently. For the second time in our history (the first being Prohibition), we are actually taking rights away from our fellow citizens in both California and Maine: the right to marry. This is troubling for me, as I am directly affected by that “taking.”

Among these concerns, there are a few other “unsung” heroes of our town. These heroes keep us on track and I think we owe them a debt of thanks. They are the activist who create a strong voice for their constituents – Mike Buhbe, Joyce Ross-Parque, Robert L. Goldberg, Eldon Alexander, Patti Campbell and a few others. Since the Chamber started having a government and public relations presence two years ago, I have been proud to be among them; these individuals have demonstrated a commitment to positive change that is admirable. Regardless of where you might stand on an issue, they are actually speaking about them to our Council and Commissions. Thank you.

Perhaps we should remember the words the famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might also pray in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.” In Seal Beach we have a tradition of improving our community. Impact Seal Beach on November 14th brought over 150 volunteers together to improve our parks and public spaces, we are about to have our 30th Annual Seal Beach Thanksgiving dinner at St. Anne’s and will welcome in the holiday season with our Holiday Tree lighting on “Black Friday” – so be sure to visit Main Street and then enjoy the festivities at Eisenhower Park on November 27th.

We must continue to come together to help preserve the quality of life within our town. I would ask each of you, how are you involved in community? Do you volunteer? Do you encourage your friends and family to participate? You should. Only through action together can we continue to grow that magic that is Seal Beach. So take a moment and be thankful for our unique community. Speaking for the Chamber, I know all of our member businesses thank you for a great year. If we don’t see you at the Chamber Annual Thanksgiving Dinner, then surely we will see you, your family and friends during our largest ever Christmas Parade on Friday, December 4th!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A multitude of sins in high sales. . .

One of the things you should be prepared for in any business is the reality of a need to "hide one's sins." No, I don't mean you should break any laws or evade paying taxes, but I do think that our own vanity or pride can help us in business by driving us to higher sales. Our businesses are a reflection of our own identity. The more successful the business, the more gratified we become as owners. Realize this and use it to drive you to further heights of effort. Only you can author the success of your business, so don't be afraid to hitch some of your vanity to the yoke of your business. Also, remember that with higher sales, you have more cash flow which almost invariably leads to a greater number of choices in your business.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Creative placement

Do you ever think about where your brand is placed? What is it next to? Who might wear a t-shirt, carry a pen or have a piece of logo merchandise? Though some movies and media do a great job of making this fairly ridiculous as you can see! Makes me not want to buy Wonder or Old Spice ever again.

I would recommend that your brand and products whenever possible are attached to attractive, successful people. The more you can associate the brand with qualities that society places value on, it helps. Also, consider placement in areas which are complementary but unexpected. Imagine a shelf of cold medicine with a section of Campbell's Chicken Soup. Obviously not a cold remedy, but certainly a complementary product.

Look to brand your products or service in interesting ways. Your volunteerism, community engagement and identity within a town is critical to how you are perceived. Make your brand shine every day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Returning from the Vineyard

Well, there is something incredible about having your family own a vineyard, winery and tasting room. Seriously cool.

Not just from a conversation standpoint, but making wine is amazing. The vitality of the product, the vibrance of wine aficionados, the sensual experience of drinking wine, the art and science of its production and the passion of those who create it. My father is an exceptionally creative man, with the mind of an entrepreneur, the soul of an artist and a heart of enduring love. His wines embody a dry farming, terroir of glacial marine soil, deep clay and hearty vines. The reason I share all of this is not for you to buy his wines (though you could be encouraged!), rather to appreciate the style of wresting a product out of essentially nothing. When I evaluate business, one of the things I look for is the level of vertical integration a business has. In Longview's case, from grapes to final wine bottle, nearly everything is done on the estate. This allows a level of quality control enviable by nearly any business. Dad checks on things every step of the way. This ensures he never has to compromise on his product. How many compromises do you make? What does it do to affect your customer relationships? Do they really get the level that you personally would stand behind? If not, maybe you need to bring more in house. At the end of the day, YOU are your own brand.

Oh, and feel free to go order wine! Go ahead and tell them I sent you!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Getting ready to leave for MI

How do you know what to pack for a trip? When is the right time to leave clients when you own your own business? How often do you see family?

I know some of these questions seem puerile, but you need to answer them if you are in business for yourself. In the last three years, I have traveled to be with my mother during a hospitalization, my grandmother after a massive stroke and then eventual funeral and my father's prostate surgery and recovery. Combined, these trips were more than a month out of my life. I am of course VERY thankful that I have the kind of life where I can just leave as needed. There are some simple rules of thumb I use about travel in my professional life:

1. Family come first. Period. You only have one family and when they need you, you go. No one on their death bed ever said, "gee, I wish I worked more."

2. When possible, schedule time where your absence actually reduces the expense to the client, or can be offset by other factors for the client (a less busy time, etc. . .)

3. Provide advanced notice and ensure your absence can be adjusted to.

4. Use time away to reflect in a relaxed way on issues in your professional life and to brainstorm some solutions for your clients.

Anyway, I am excited about a trip to see my Dad and family in MI. May be cold, but should be fun! It is always good to see the latest in the vineyard and tasting room.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

State of the City

Today I was a guest of the City of Seal Beach. It is quite a switch from being reprimanded from the dais by the Mayor. LOL - I guess I have made it. Seriously, the last three years of living in Seal Beach has taught me that it is of VITAL importance that you PARTICIPATE IN YOUR COMMUNITY.

Let me pause to let that sink in.

Want to hear it again? PARTICIPATE IN YOUR COMMUNITY!!!!!

I am frightened and discouraged by the complete apathy by many of my fellow citizens. Go use your rights of free speech and assembly. Go advocate for positive change. Go make the world a better place as only you can do. We all have lives, please, I implore you, don't lead one of quiet desperation. Lead one of great strides, active help and make a difference. Today I knew I made it when the mayor made a joke with me in it. Two years ago, the Chamber of Commerce would not even have been invited. Now we represent a powerful constituency of nearly 250 member businesses of all sizes and are providing feedback on zoning, policy and major funding issues in our town. The City you live in has the power to keep you in business or not. They control many elements of your external marketing, your conditions of use for your business property and even hours you can operate. Reach out to your community leaders and build bridges not bonfires of hostility.

Finally, I would make a personal call to action to all of my LGBT brethren out there. COME OUT in your community. Show up to a public meeting. Talk about your rights. Insist on them. I will not drink out of a separate but equal drinking fountain. I will not give up my seat on the bus for someone else (unless they need it by means of disability). I will not accept a separate but equal marriage or civil union. I will not be quiet as a business leader because I am not "abnormal" - I am a vital part of the community because I participate. Shouldn't you participate too?

ps - thanks to the Mayor, Boeing (as I sat at their table) and City Manager. I really had a good time!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Relationships matter

I was reminded today about the importance of relationships. How do you feed the relationships in your own life? What about your business? What do you do to sustain them?

I guess I wasn't done talking about them from my trip to Philly. Getting ready to go to Michigan. Wanted to make sure I shared some gratitude with some clients. Have you made a point to actually get out there and say thank you for the work they give you? I know that without them, I would not be able to provide for us and keep living the dream! They are:

Main Street Cyclery -
Beach Fitness -
Crema Cafe -
Violet Source Healing -
Altus Agency -
The Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship -
The Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce -

And so many others. . .thank you!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reflections on Philadelphia

Going back to Philadelphia is always a bit bittersweet. There are so many memories there that filled my life and now, several clients which continue to keep bringing me back. Having now been in business successfully for five years, there is a line of satisfied clients and boards that I have been a part of. It is amazing how if you continue to deliver on your promises, have integrity and keep focused on the important things in life: family, friends, experiences and your real passions, you end up with abundance and a steady stream of improving conditions.

A big thank you to Chris D., his new boyfriend Mikey, John W., my former business partner Josh and his lovely wife Djung (and their new boy!), my client DJ and of course the irrepressible David S. for making the trip so fun.

Coincidentally, I was able to spend some time meeting with a supplier of a current client Advanced Sport International (ASI). They have a great operation and it was a pleasure meeting with Roy, Pat and Greg. Fascinating how companies of any size often confront the same issues of communication, silos and client relations. Having fresh eyes often helps. My visit reminded me of the importance not only of long term client relationships, but the importance of being open to opportunities with those businesses which also provide services to your own clients. By helping them, you ultimately help those you work for. The battle to provide always increasing value is never ending.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Children & Parenting

What is happening with parenting in the USA? Seriously. My friend John and I were out to dinner at Marathon Grill at 16th and Samson in Philadelphia at 8 pm on Friday night. Across from us, a table of 5 adults and two children were having their meal. What was incredible to me was the 3-4 year old standing up on the high chair and screaming, then running along the booths and playing with blinds. What was more incredible was the ineffectual attempts by the mother to control either child's behavior. After 30 minutes of this, including an episode in which both children darted away from the table (still screaming) and were in the way of servers and other guests, John lost it.

Shouting directly at the kid, "SHUT UP" in an unquestionably authoritative voice, the restaurant was swept into silence. For about 5 seconds.

The mother was offended, the presumed father was so outraged he got up lunged at my friend and had to be physically restrained by his "bros." The entire party was aghast at the nerve John had in speaking to their children.

I continued to eat my fantastic coconut shrimp and take another sip of my Pinot Grigio. Fully prepared to step up and poised with my knife in the other hand, I actually thought the scene was going to devolve into violence. It didn't and after apologies and other harsh words from them, they left. Nearly an hour later, as I was outside on my cell phone coordinating some other members of our party arriving, I noticed the "daddy" and three of his friends standing on the opposite street corner waiting to continue this in a more physical manner. They shouted at me and then finally stalked off into the lovely evening air. What did this say about them, the messages they were sending to their children and the role of decorum in public places? Apparently it is better to take offense and then violent action than to discipline your own children.

I share this because the level of kindness in public places seems to be declining. We are all to blame for this - my friend shouting, their expectation of tolerance by others, the willingness to get physical and the "pack" mentality of status and retribution. Is it any wonder we are looked at so poorly by other nations and cultures? Should we expect kindness when we are certain, as the parents were of their own moral "rightness." Perhaps we should all look more closely at our motives and feelings, thus taking responsibility for ourselves before we are so quick to blame others. We could all use a bit more kindness in our lives.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Night - Part Deux

I am once again frustrated and enraged by my fellow neighbors and citizens - this time in Maine. Thank goodness for Adam Bouska (and partner Jeff Parshley) and his NoH8 campaign. It is a powerful representation of where we are as gay citizens in a culture which asks us to be less than what we are. Why is this?

From a business perspective, the prevention of citizens by government to marry seems an exercise in futility. Over time, every ethnic, gender and religious group has been integrated. The fights are costly, divisive and result in countless lives being affected in a negative way until acceptance. Doesn't it seem silly to make gays the whipping boy of our time? Do you really think it is going to turn out any differently? Who will need to get shot before the public realizes how ridiculous the arguments of those opposed to same sex marriage are?

Also, as a special message to all of our religious institutions - be careful of what you support now, for later, you will reap the harvest of the seeds of hate. When you have your tax exemption removed because of your involvement in this issue, you will look back and only have yourself to blame. As a species we need to move forward in harmony. Marriage is not a zero sum game, it is non-zero sum where your support and understanding now will pay dividends to all of us later. Mark my words, those who oppose us will never gain the benefits of the LGBT community dollar, business or network. We are well educated, affluent and highly brand loyal - all of the marketing research proves it. So check back and if others have ideas for how to move this along, please comment.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Natural, Easy Transition. . .

Anthony left today. He flew back to London to convert his FAA licenses over to the JAA in the UK. In addition, his visa was up, so he needed to go renew it. What happens during this process should be "easy and natural" but as in many things, it is harder to have your partner gone than here. I'm sure many in a relationship (and some who aren't) understand. I really look forward to him being gainfully employed!
The issues of work, immigration and pay are critical for many businesses and industries. Who is willing to do the work, who is qualified to do the work and what is reasonable compensation?
This certainly isn't confined to pilots. There are many highly technical or trained jobs which have more demand than supply, as there are those in which unskilled labor is aggressively sought out by immigrants. Should be be protectionist in our workplace? I am not so sure. One of the issues facing small business is the level of expectation of employees: benefits, salary (or any compensation), vacation, sick leave, etc. . Dovetail this with the expectation of our government to tax the owners, the business itself and the employees, that is a lot of friction to producing quality goods and services. Perhaps we should be less forceful in controlling who is eligible "to work" and instead allow the business to decide who the best employees are. Wouldn't that make more sense?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day - one of the celebrations not necessarily a focus of in the USA, but one which many cultures recognize far more than Halloween. We did have an amazing time at Halloween and Trick or Treat Main Street was particularly successful. This blog post is in honor of a facinating book I have read: The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. Totally worth at read!